"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2/28/10: Watching the Wheels

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I'm o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
When I tell that I'm doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go,

People asking questions lost in confusion,
Well I tell them there's no problem,
Only solutions,
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
I tell them there's no hurry...
I'm just sitting here doing time,

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.

-Watching the Wheels
John Lennon

Once the bus finally got on the road, the ride was thankfully uneventful. After appearing utterly incompetent just a few days earlier, my nemesis driver pulled us into Albuquerque two-hours late on this Super Bowl Sunday, but still ahead of the approaching storm.

There was to be no word from Chris for nearly a week. The last I knew, he was 20-miles south of Tucson and struggling to get out of Arizona. About a week later, I learned that Chris had made it to El Paso Monday, then hit an epic wall. He remained stranded in El Paso for THREE NIGHTS! To me, this is astounding! In two years , I have never gone a full day without a ride...let alone two or three...across the river from Juarez-the most dangerous city in Mexico!

Naturally, he chose not to pontificate on the metaphysics after what had transpired in Phoenix, but he didn't need to. When I learned that the occupants of his latest lillypad had made a 1,000-mile round trip to "rescue" him, I had all I needed. Remember them signs? They're not always pleasant! When we chatted later there would be no mention of that!

Also, his rescue nearly wasn't. After driving 500-miles, his friends couldn't reach him because of his dead cell battery. In fairness, he apparently didn't know they were coming and thankfully they happened to spot him on the last pass before leaving. Hearing this sent me into hyper-observation mode; curious to see how this would affect him, and what the reality of Austin would hold.

As for me, the initial idea was to remain in Santa Fe just long enough to kick "The Crud", then either return to Slab City, or perhaps east to Florida for a bit of Spring Training, then Atlanta and Nashville to see friends.

What I hoped would be a week turned into three. Whatever it was would not let go! As March approached, I finally felt better, had found a Rideshare to Tampa, and made tentative "plans" (ha!) to leave the last week of February...

You've heard how "plans" and I get along, right?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2/6/10: Phoenix, AZ-Deja Vu

It was clear Saturday morning that I probably had contracted at least a mild case of bronchitis; my lungs were on fire. When I was young, I came down with something-bronchial about once every winter, but had avoided anything beyond chest colds for many years. My primary concern now was getting either Pneumonia or Swine Flu, which was making its rounds through Phoenix. Chris had given me some generic antibiotics, but in my eagerness to cut weight, I had deemed them unnecessary and mailed them home on Tuesday! If this WAS bronchitis, and I were to resume traveling from Phoenix, it would be Mucinex, rest, and simple hope that allied with my immune system.

Late in the afternoon, I received a call from Chris. Oscar had dropped him on the other side of Tucson, and Chris was already complaining that he wasn't making progress. No one appeared interested in stopping and he offered that he seemed destined to walk that night. While I sympathized, I was on the lookout for these "signs" we once talked so much about...and uninterested in spin. This sure as hell sounded like one, not just because of the circumstances, but also his tone.

As the day progressed, so did a sense of familiarity! It began to resemble Port Townsend, particularly at the end in September when my body trumped my ego's urge to keep going. I spent the afternoon updating and coming to the realization that Phoenix was done. There was no need for me to stick around just to "be sick." I was close enough to do that from home where I'd be better armed to fight this off. And, what was I going to do if I went back to Slab City with pneumonia? Cough, hack, and whine about it in the bivy? What, pray tell, would that prove? No, fuck that. My self esteem's fine! Despite my well-documented arrogance, I can handle humility and common sense!

This visit had also run its course as far as El Jefe was concerned. The bus was scheduled to leave Phoenix at midnight, so we had about an hour to hang out after he returned home from work. Start to finish, this had been a good visit and I hoped that Chris and I had left at least ideas, perspective, and encouragement with him. He probably would have let me recuperate there, but I wanted to bow out gracefully and thank him with my absence; let him have his space!

It slowly became clear what this Slab City excursion actually was, and it was NOT the beginning to 2010 as I had assumed. It was a preamble. The shaking loose old habits, crutches, and dormant mindsets. It acted as a rubbing-of-the eyes, and things felt a bit as though 2008 & 2009 themselves had collectively ended; that a whole new cycle had begun. Indeed.***

Who loves his metaphors?

Before I knew it I was at the shiny new bus station, and cursing Greyhound again. Naturally, the bus was 2-hours late before it even left, and guess what! It was the SAME driver as from Albuquerque to Phoenix with 10-days before! The very same who had left us sitting unattended for 2-hours at the closed Flagstaff terminal with NO explanation! WONDERFUL!

A snowstorm had closed I-40 east of Flagstaff, so there was yet another twist: my bus would instead be re-routed SOUTH on I-10 and through Tucson. That meant I would pass within yards of Chris, who I envisioned I would witness huffing down a frontage road in the middle of the night!

That never transpired, but there was one final piece of coincidental irony. One of the kids in the van going in to Niland to "sign up for government cheese" the day we left Slab City was on my bus and heading home to Virginia.

It far from earth-shattering but served as a useful, centering reminder: focus on the complete tapestry of the last ten days, not just the last 48-hours...

Friday, February 5, 2010

2/5/10: Phoenix, AZ-The Famous Final Scene

Thursday night's incessant sneezing turned into Friday morning's "Crud." I woke up with my throat killing me, and was collecting stuff in both my head and chest although other than that...I felt great!

When Chris had Oscared off Thursday, the idea was to connect Friday morning and figure out a time to meet at REI. After all, that was the flame to my Slab City Moth! The hipbelt on Chris's pack had gone to hell, and as mentioned, the rubber on the shoes Lynette had bought me had already begun separating from the leather, and I was going through the now-standard cycle of obsessing about weight and contemplating downsizing my backpack if they had a suitable model in stock. Yes, by the time we learned Chris was already there, it was obvious that hours of fun was to be had at REI! Literally.

By the time we left 2-hours later, I had my boots and Chris had his new pack. Even El Jefe had barely escaped buying one! Watching him go through the process reminded me of starting this process from scratch and having to learn everything about gear. I was actually a bit nostalgic for these days of discovery; the excitement and possibilities of "what if." Capture that, and you'll have Youth in a Bottle.

From there it was back to Jefe's for the afternoon where the three of us spent the next couple of hours chatting and philosophizing about some of the "why's" behind this way of life. It was nice, and Jefe seemed to eat it up; he was quite interested in what the two of us were doing. Physically, I was feeling progressively worse as the day went on.
Chris had set up another date with Oscar, which included a ride to Tucson (and toward San Antonio) sometime on Saturday. When Oscar called to let him know he was near, we shook hands, he walked off, and that was unceremoniously that. A slight, familiar-but-faded sense of missed opportunity hovered momentarily in the air, but I understood that what "could be" is quite different from what "should be", and most certainly is often completely foreign from "what is".

Jefe gave me an amused look as I snapped a photo of Chris walking off, but I clearly thought that this was probably it. The story had yet to be fully written but even then, immersed in the trees, I could see the forest well enough to understand what had happened over the past week.

Chris was off to his next mystical lillypad, and I was eager to hear how the events transpired on I-10 between Tucson & San Antonio, and then once he got there.

I still believe strongly in the things that he and I had supposedly agreed upon. Slab City, Quartzsite, and Phoenix had served to re-clarify and reinforce these things--the primary of which being that events tend to cooperate and work in unison FOR you if you're "on-track"; if you're synchronized, things just seem to "flow." These "coincidences" are strewn throughout this blog. I wanted to see what happened to Chris in the immediate future; to me, this would be an indicator if he was in fact tuned-in, or that he was pretending to resonate on a fabricated frequency...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2/4/10: Phoenix, AZ-Peasant Rage

1. Of or relating to the common people of ancient Rome: a plebeian magistrate.
2. Of, belonging to, or characteristic of commoners.
3. Unrefined or coarse in nature or manner; common or vulgar: plebeian tastes.
1. One of the common people of ancient Rome.
2. A member of the lower classes.
3. A vulgar or coarse person.

the common people

plebeianism n.
plebeianly adv.
plebeian; pleb: In British, French, Irish, Australian, New Zealand and South African English pleb is a derogatory term for someone thought of as inferior, common or ignorant.

Lex and Val's legendary hospitality didn't end at their RV nor did our conversation's end with Wednesday. An eventful Thursday began with Val making breakfast and Lex continuing with his merciless shredding of an obsolete system, useless politicians, and a complicit, but increasingly restless society.

Most of Lex's rhetoric seemed to be directed toward Chris, which I found utterly amusing! Chris, to my knowledge, has little passion for politics and at last check, "held out 'hope' for Obama". Taking this into account, I found it odd that he was actually engaging Lex in these chats, although Lex did most of the talking and Chris plainly seemed to speak from Lex's established lead, offering nothing contradictory or original, other than proclaiming that Lex "should read Todd's blog." He was the congregation's "Amen!" to Reverend Lex's sermon.

For my part, I was again picking my spots and biting my tongue; generally comfortable within my familiar observer role; observing Chris as much as anything. He seemed to be enjoying the  experience; one whose pursuit seemed meaningless the night before. I also concluded that this Peasant Rage had taken phenomenon status over the last couple of days and was still trying to take its temperature and examine its source in Lex.


After Lex & John had left for work, we had another nice conversation with Val until their friend Keith arrived. Val had arranged for us to ride with him all the way to Phoenix as he was on his way to the airport to pick someone up.

Our stay with Lex and Val was barely 12-hours, but left an impression on me. It was yet another smack in the face, and legitimized this overwhelming sense of familiarity. Something was most definitely afoot in the desert southwest! The same as it had been on the Pacific Coast and Idaho in 2008, in various places and particularly up north last year, and now everywhere I seemed to look in '10. There was no "warm up"; 2010 had kicked me in the mouth almost immediately, beginning with the conversation Chris and I had had Sunday night in the desert.

Rather than take the relatively sterile I-10 into Phoenix, Keith decided it would be easier to get the two of us where we needed to go if he took US-60, meaning we'd get to see 120-miles of rural Arizona. I was happy with that! Keith was in his 70's, retired, and from Flint, Michigan. He escaped Michigan's ridiculous winters in Arizona.

The three of us talked about many things and Keith, notably, never bothered with "what ya gonna do when you're done?". Instead, he offered a glimpse into his mindset when he told of joining the military out of school, and later being glad he didn't "rush off to pick a career." He said he had no idea what he wanted to do and would have "just fucked off" in college had he not gone out to "live a little" first. I found it remarkable that this 70-year old man contradicted the establishment in favor of, "Live First!" He held that mantra tight, which gives me hope for myself...and others!

Keith was this "theme's" final example. Keith has witnessed Michigan's economic starvation firsthand, and while not affected as badly as some he, too, harbors a special sort of rage-also directed squarely at the government. He is yet another who's abandoned "party" affiliation, and discarded political dialectics. He is, like many, disgusted with Obama and the rest of the Democrats attempting to market and sell what I've rebranded "Insurance Reform" and deceptively selling it as being primarily in the "people's" interest. Keith sees thru Iraq & Afghanistan, wonders why Guantanamo is still open, and has a particular hatred for The PATRIOT Act, sarcastically wondering why "Obama hasn't repealed it yet" in wonderfully obnoxious tones! Soon enough, the conversation turned to something brought up by Lex the night before while I was on the phone; a conversation I had missed but a topic I liked: Demonstration!

Coalition X: A Rant

We began speculating about a massive cross-country, March of the Unemployed converging on Washington at about the time of the mid-term elections with the goal of forcing revocation of the PATRIOT Act and to "raise awareness" as to how much rage is really out there. Even the ENRAGED are scarcely aware of how much ANGER is pulsating just beneath the surface of American society. Don't be mistaken: It's NOT directed at Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, or even that greasy bastard John Boehner. Not specifically. It's directed at ALL OF THEM, COLLECTIVELY. It's not just a particular political party, IT'S THE GOVERNMENT AS AN INSTITUTION that's losing the "consent" of the governed! Read your Constitution if you need that put into perspective.

God help the politicians if the Plebs ever realize how powerful they are. The system has unwittingly built the opposition Army, and this could be the foundation of what I call, for lack of a better name, Coalition X: where the binding ingredient has NOTHING to do with race, background, or religion. The singular common bond would be simply: poor. The economically manipulated and oppressed; the realization that the American Dream has become something that, as Carlin said, "you have to be asleep to believe." With millions unemployed & without hope of getting their jobs back, and pissed about it, WHY NOT ORGANIZE? What else are they gonna do with their time?!? Trust that they'll be rescued by a government "that threw them overboard thirty-fucking-years ago?" Send resumes to India?

The time's long past for a timid "regress of grievances"; let the towns police themselves. When the "policing" turns into Establishment Thugs overstepping bounds and trampling rights, as it will, we'd show it. We'll have "embedded journalists" and thousands of tiny little camera phones... most with immediate access to the Internet! The philosophy worked in India and Alabama in the last century. Of course, in my opinion, this is all "best-case" and supposes that the tired, muddy masses will organize. All indications are that they won't. Collectively, we're the animal afraid to escape the zoo because he'd have to fend for himself; unchained prisoners of dependency and fear.

We all loved the idea, and we spent a good amount of time dwelling on the embryonic details until it became painfully apparent how far Chris and I have moved in different directions. When he began to speak from his predictable, redundant, politically correct place about keeping an eye on people in case of looting, I went from beyond disgusted to disdain. A million people? (We think big!) "How exactly would you do that? Wanna hire the Hell's Angels and repeat Altamont?" Demonstrations should be a bit messy, and should inconvenience a few. Otherwise, why not just take out a billboard?

Admittedly, I probably didn't hear him clearly and surely wasn't treating him fairly. After his first few words, for whatever reason all I heard was Wendy's silly Port Townsend Proclamation claiming that in the event of Armageddon, "there'd be no need for guns in Port Townsend because the community would come together." I've never fully recovered from hearing that utopian notion presented with a straight face and without protest!

Since reconnecting with Chris in '08 I've taken a hard right turn. I'm obviously fed up with Agenda Monkeys, "progressives", and now Utopians in particular. But, in a vacuum Utopians would provide a valuable service: surrendering goods without a fight.

[See later: Lambs to Wolves (2017)]

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2/3/10: Quartzsite, AZ-Preacher, Lex, & Val

Leaving the Oasis, we almost immediately had a ride into Niland. The folks running the Karma Kitchen were driving vanloads of people into town to sign up for "government cheese" and offered us a ride. In the van were some teenagers I had yet to see during my stay, and I found it rather odd to see these kids signing up for public services, but it didn't bother me in the least in fact I was happy for them! "Bleed em dry!"

I chuckled as I recognized that, so far, my metaphysical senses had begun the year subordinate to the political/social ones rather than overshadowing them, as was the case in '09. This was an interesting balance.

Chris and I made our way to the south end of town, and set up shop to see how we'd fare tandem-hitching on this state road. We figured if nothing came of it, we could catch the dollar-bus toward Brawley in an hour or two. I was just as curious to watch Chris as I was to see how we'd travel together-or if we'd even get a ride!

I had repeatedly heard how he "was in no hurry" now. After hearing him profess his love for Sit Down & Shut Up, and even his attempted hijacking of The Side Car, I wanted to see it for myself! I've told Chris (with annoying frequency) that I would love to see what happened to him if he wasn't always "running somewhere." Considering it was Wednesday and that he had originally wanted the starting gun to sound on Sunday, I was open-minded about the possibilities. This could be cool.

With that as a backdrop, we threw our thumbs in the air unsure of what to expect. I was amused at how easy it was to settle into hitching! It had been 5-months, but it was immediately an old hat. We didn't sit there too long before Christian pulled over on his way to El Centro. He was the perfect way to begin the trek toward Phoenix; he was very friendly and the conversation quickly turned to society and politics. Not long after he dropped us off in Brawley we would be in The Preacher's truck heading east toward Blythe... and the theme would become blinding.

Brawley, CA

The Preacher
The Preacher is from Texas, and yes, he IS a preacher. One who swears profusely and loves pot. He himself had just left the Slabs and was on his way to Quartzsite, Arizona before returning to Niland the next day. He quickly offered to take us all the way to Quartzsite instead of Blythe, and I began to wonder if we'd make Phoenix that afternoon. He had a small pickup with a cab, and Chris chose to ride in the back with his two dogs, who would provide entertainment themselves!

He professed to be a man of God, but I would categorize him as a borderline revolutionary: disgusted with everything Federal Government, Democrat AND Republican- and quite loud about it. He did little to conceal his disgust for law enforcement as we stopped at the Border Patrol checkpoint-- so they could look at us and ask if we were citizens. Here was someone as offended by this arbitrary "papers please" bullshit as me! It set off a firestorm of conversation that lasted all the way to Arizona. I got a kick out of this middle-aged redneck. He was another of the people I've met with regularity all over the country for nearly two-years. He was pissed off and no longer suffered official, disseminated bullshit. He has equal hatred for each political party and, like many more than some are comfortable in admitting, is ready to do something about it even if that "something" is just withdrawing his support.

As he laughingly pulled a handgun from beneath his seat immediately after passing thru Border Patrol, I thought about the distinctions between he and the hippies/ pacifists preaching peace, love, drum circles, and Communitarian Responsibility. If there's ever a vacuum, are these the factions competing to fill it? Smart money's on the one willing to fight for himself, even if that means slapping the wrong people from time to time. Sorry, hippies. In that world, you're prey.

I greatly enjoyed this ride thru the Imperial Dunes then across the Colorado River back into Arizona. I was glad it was Chris sequestered in the back and not me! When we finally detrucked in Quartzsite, Chris realized that this was the guy to whom Melissa had handed the bunker when she left. Small world.
Imperial Dunes, CA
Lex & Val
From there, it looked good for Phoenix. We had a few more hours of daylight, were at a very busy intersection, and considering the events of the day so far, (remember, it had begun at Slab City's Oasis Club) it seemed to be shaping up as one of the "memorable" ones.

Chris had made a curious decision however; one that seemed a bit out of character for him. Quartzsite happened to be the winter home of his friends, Lex & Val, whom he'd met on his walk and met up with in Boise last September. It appeared to me that he was again simply favoring the sprint at the expense of looking around. I didn't think much of it at first, after all they were his friends and it was his business. We tried both the exit ramp and the truckstop, but things were now more challenging.

We considered hitching separately and things suddenly felt a lot like the Iowa 80. At some point, I asked Chris about his decision not to call his friends, who had made a point to tell him where they were and to look them up if he happened through. His reasoning was, "I don't know if they got my email" or something. It seemed ridiculous not to at least call and leave a message, and I told him so. I handed him my phone and he gave them a call. A short time later, Lex & Val were at the truck stop to presumably go for coffee or something. After chatting for a few minutes, we were reacquainted (I had met them both at Lynette's in Boise) and they whisked us off to the RV park where they spend their winters insisting that BOTH of us stay for the night, despite the fact that their son was also living there.

With their dog and cat, it was crowded! Even with this obvious inconvenience, their hospitality was the thing of legend! We were offered showers, which after a week at the Slabs I pounced on. Then began the conversations. Care to guess the topic? (Hint: It wasn't American Idol.)

I had heard much about Lex and Val from Chris over the last 2-years. Lex had spent years riding horses across the country to Idaho and spent his summers there. I learned this night that they escaped the communists in eastern Europe decades ago with Lex escaping a Russian concentration camp as a child in Czechoslovakia, finding his way to the US, and essentially being enslaved by people HERE as a result! Val had a similar experience escaping Romania. Now retirement age, these two delightful people have worked hard and paid their dues only to be rewarded for their service to society much the same as everyone else: with a smack to the face and a struggle to keep afloat. Enter-- the chat.

Even by my standards, Lex is passionate. He's not shy about telling you what he thinks and, like everyone else I seem to run into: PISSED! He told us several times that being "out there" we "see things as they really are." I absolutely agree with that and have tried to explain it to dozens of people- usually to no avail. He got it with no solicitation.

Again, the theme held serve. I was witnessing venomous dissent; another call to tear it down. The difference here was that these were NOT radicals living out in the desert. These were not gun-totin' ultra-conservative separatists up in Montana. Here was a couple who should be enjoying retirement who instead have their adult son living with them as all three struggle to keep it going.

Like many others I have encountered, they did everything they were told and expected to do. And, for what? That question has NEVER been sufficiently answered. The pattern was undeniable. The cacophony getting louder.

As I curled up on the floor of their little RV and dozed off, I was getting an idea of what was happening. The Plebeians are stirring. Stirring despite being ignored; stirring independently of the Patricians. Once outside the media/ social bubble, you'd need to be blind and deaf not to notice. It also seemed apparent, based on the past couple of years and these familiar moments of human synchronicity, that things were aligning. I even pointed out to Chris that we had seemingly "combined our experiences." I now know what these significant events and people look like; this Wednesday seemed FULL of them and Chris had been part of it. All we had to do was relax and let it gel. The problem with that? The "we" part...

2/3/10: Slab City-Ray's Camel

Wednesday's plan:

1- Chris and I awaken at 6am
2- Coffee at the Oasis Club
3- Catch one of the two early buses going south from Niland to Brawley
4- Hitch east to Blythe, CA and I-10 toward Phoenix

Surprisingly, it didn't stray far off course, with one colossal unforeseen exception. Ray was also up before the sun and joined us at the Oasis for coffee. I was surprised at how many Slabbers turned out, before remembering that most sacked out by 8 or 9! As had been the case since Sunday, the Oasis clenched on to us. Before I knew it, it was 9:00 and it would be at least midday before we caught a bus.

Moth eventually joined a few others congregated around a table having some surprisingly provocative conversations. I participated a little, choosing instead to mostly watch and listen.

I'm not typically impressed by those who consider themselves "progressives" (hippies), and I generally find anarchists ridiculous, especially when babbling about Utopian solutions that require organization or cooperation!

These folks, however, couldn't be characterized so conveniently- despite showing hints of both. There was an articulated, angry social consciousness lightly resonating through the Oasis that morning; something familiar. It was that "something" that I'd found from California to North Dakota to North Carolina, and had hoped to find in abundance at The Slabs. Here it was.

It's amazing what you find when you position yourself to see it. Slab City is NOT simply full of rubes on the run from statutory rape charges or hiding from child support. In fact, they are just as informed- and far more insightful than the generic CNN junky watching from his furnished cage. I would also wager that the typical "aware" Slabber's tendency toward defiance and independent critical thought had most likely made him incompatible with Dialectic Parrots simply squawking manufactured talking points.

In fact, that's exactly why many make their home in the desert. They could not be told what to think or who to be. The more I listened to these folks and chatted with Mike Bright, the more this trait became apparent.

With that, an exciting, yet troubling, theme quickly became apparent and continued for the foreseeable future; something I first (ignorantly) attributed to the locale: more tangible rage, frustration, and mocking ridicule directed at the government and its minions. And, in a far greater degree than last Fall. This would be the catalyst for some mini-drama later on.

As we were enjoying the atmosphere of the Oasis, Ray produced an article written about him for Chris to read. To this point, I hadn't been impressed with Ray's walk. It reminded me of Chris': achievement for ego's sake. It also reminded me of Gary and the King of Cliches Stephen Newman-- I'm keenly wary of "cause jockeys!" Take mental note of that for later.

Part of this was Ray's fault. He has a story; the details of which he'd failed, until now, to mention. One whose coincidence I would scarcely have believed and, once learned, commanded my immediate interest, and more importantly: respect. The regular reader knows that is no small thing!

When Chris had finished, he emphatically told me that I "needed" to read it.

In a nutshell, Ray spent many years as a Judgment Enforcement Officer; basically a repo-man for the courts. He would attempt to coerce payment, then seize property...even evicting people from their homes...because it was his job description.

"Just following orders; just a job." Exaggerated Nuremberg comparisons could be made, but he was good at it. He'd earned the nickname The Reaper. All considered, it's remarkable that I could muster ANY respect for him, but we also shared a favorite Bible verse and an affinity for camels:

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." -Matthew 19:24
Remember that? At some point, Ray had a powerful epiphany as a direct result of this verse. However, he took the rare step of fully putting the entire story into context, thereby making it more than a superficial, abstract idea resulting in little more than eloquent lip service. In response to a question asking what the wealthy man's to do in order to become "righteous", Jesus is said to have replied, "Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor... and come and follow me." Sound familiar?

That's exactly what Ray claimed he'd done. Yes, he sold nearly everything-and gone beyond. If I recall correctly, he signed his house over to a domestic violence shelter.  

He gave his house away. 

I read that he described it as "raising $100,000 before taking a step." To hear him tell it, he simply couldn't deal with what he had done in the name of "Mammon", and was in a sense paying penance. I found it remarkable that I had no idea Ray was religious in any way, and in fact I wonder after my own experience if "religious" is the applicable term. There was no preachiness about him; he played the role of a dude just doing what he does.

If possible, his humility may have been to a fault in the sense that I nearly missed his fundamental foundation. The "world record" and sponsors took center public stage whereas, to me, triggers are far more impressive. It's just one man's opinion and observation, but I believe these "triggers" run directly to my oft-mentioned Splinter in the Mind, The Voice, Nosce Te Ipsum, Vitam Impendere Vero, and many other ideas that I've "ranted" about here and other places.

After Andre and the aforementioned winter struggles, this coincidence was staggering. I wanted to pick his skull, exchange ideas, and decipher what exactly he hoped to find... if he even knew himself.

I wondered about the events of synchronicity that he may have experienced. I wondered if he had thought about the notion of being driven by a vision to a place still to be determined. I wanted to investigate that curious, familiar blend of ego and spirituality!

Before me was a guy who had taken the difficult step of an honest, brutally difficult inventory; he would likely be equipped to offer honest insights free from a comfortable Quixotic reality!

What did I do? I made sure he had a link to my Pondering Camels post and suggested that he read up on Andre. After all, Chris and I had a bus to catch!

Obviously, on an ordinary day I would have let Chris resume alone while remaining in Niland. I didn't. I ignored further exposure to another of these timely, significant people like Leslie, Andre, Pastor Snake, etc. in favor of predictably rehashing and reliving the past. I robbed myself of the possibility of meeting other Slabbers who may have turned into valued new friends in favor of recycled conversations and rationalizations; repeated results.

Of course, at the time I was having my own rationalization field-day. "Hey, this could be different than before. Maybe the conversations will bear fruit again!"

Before having too much fun at my expense, despite originally calling this decision a mistake I don't believe that it was. Wednesday morning was the first of a double-fisted event; the "beginning" I had sensed coming a month before--yet beyond the traditional meeting of a person with similar views and guided by a vision or The Voice. Ultimately, it would serve as a reminder of who I was, and what the hell I was doing!

In order to further bust out of this funk of self-doubt, I needed to experience the second half: the "ending" to this "beginning." As usual, I'd require reflection time to piece it together, and would have it forced upon me in the same way as Port Townsend. And, as usual, I would happen right in front of me, despite my blindness and egoistic objections!

As Chris and I left Ray, The Oasis, and Slab City behind, Shakespeare's famous line from The Tempest rumbled quietly in my subconscious: What's past IS indeed prologue!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2/2/10: Slab City-Deaf, Dumb, and Blind

Since 2008, there have been surprisingly few significant slip-ups when it comes to following that "Voice." I've been fortunate enough to catch myself at the last moment, or rescued by serendipity and subtle nudges from others. This was not to be the case this week. Mistakes would be made. They were significant. They were valuable. They were mine. All mine. If, while at Slab City, I had been focused and not creating my own doubt-induced Quixotisms, the next several days would look far differently than they shall instead lay out before you!

Over the winter, I had slowly lost my footing atop my foundation and my grip on the compass. Self-doubt cast a cloud of confusion and cost me the ability to both listen to and trust myself. There had long been a sense of stirring; even before the fact Slab City felt to be the site of significance. Endings or beginnings; not ones necessarily pleasant. The aroma of both foreboding AND excitement emanated around this visit, but being rusty, barely tuned-in, and clinging to sadly antiquated thinking, I based my observations upon lazy, short-sighted, and familiar assumptions- rather than staying grounded in reality and observing the obvious: fundamentals had been altered and flimsy foundations crumbled beneath the dead-weight of ego and rationalization. The remnants would be hastily pasted together using even more verbal gymnastics only to be quickly brushed aside by a swift, obvious metaphorical smack in the face. I'll clarify these thick sentences in time. For now, suffice it to say that this first week of February was both: an ending and a beginning. To the details...

I awoke immediately feeling quite guilty about barking at Kari the night before! That was, thankfully, put to rest when I was assured that she was indeed acting... I'll translate to: "unsavory." My impressions confirmed, I immediately felt much better. Kari, in fact, made her way over to visit Rael. She was smitten! Refusing to speak to anyone but Rael; her defiant display and the fabricated tension were both inappropriately amusing! Kari then announced, loudly, that she was off to presumably seek her intrepid adventure in Los Angeles. I figured this was the last I'd see of her. I was OK with that.

As Tuesday got underway, Chris hankered to get his "still not in a hurry" move-on, despite what appeared to be a blossoming situation. I on the other hand was NOT eager to leave! Slab City and I liked each other, and I thought highly of most of the people I'd met. At the time, this was secondary to the sense that there were interesting possibilities afoot with Chris, and I wanted to see them through.

The last time we had traveled together, outside of a night in Idaho, was way back in July at the Iowa 80. This ended with the disclosure that I was, literally, dreaming of punching Chris in the mouth. I wondered, had anything really changed? In the 3-full days I had been in the desert, the only noticeable changes in Chris were his new VisionQuest Narrative (now not going to Mexico), and instead of heading west, toward Denver or Port Townsend, he was running east toward treasures surely buried near San Antonio. Sure, he had stayed a couple extra days, but the efforts felt contrived and the results had little tangible effect. Rather than the actual experience being the texture, they appeared to be held as incidental at best; secondary. Useful only if confirming and/ or conforming to the pre-scripted scenario. Nothing deviating from the Heroic Epic would be suffered for long!

Don Quixote lives! Call me Sancho.

Around midday, Rael joined Chris and I on the 3-mile hitch into Niland where the two of us would presumably begin hitching toward Phoenix. I rationalized it away by pointing out that I could exchange my boots at R.E.I. The rubber had already begun separating from the leather, which WAS ridiculous considering how little wear they had, but it could have waited... for weeks if not months. I was simply trying to convince myself that it was a "sign" that the dead dog could still hunt. Behold: The Power of Bullshit! Damn windmills. We had a ride into Niland before even leaving Slab City.

Our first stop was Niland's library which is funded by Imperial County. The county, like the rest of the state, is insolvent. I learned of the county's fiscal folly because Tuesday is one of the two days their little library was open. And, big news: it wasn't to be that way for long. Earlier, a TV news crew appeared in town asking how the library's March closing would affect locals. Niland is a decrepit, dusty, dirty little place on the shores of the largest engineering snafu (The Salton Sea) in history. It has nothing to speak of, other than meth and its proximity to Slab City. I felt for these people losing their little library. You could see a resignation in the fact that Niland's residents really don't matter to anyone. At least they have meth! And panhandlers. One, a particularly aggressive and annoying tweeker.

With Chris checking the Internet, Rael and I headed to the little diner for lunch, where we were pleasantly surprised to again see the unnamed, congenial hottie from the night before. Our plan was to get a "real meal" at the diner, which Rael did, but by now I was realizing how much money I'd wasted. I decided to apply a new found discipline by depriving myself... of food. My idiocy is astounding.

Back at the library after an orange juice, root beer, and splashing warm running water (woohoo!) over my head while cursing the fact I had hair, I learned that there was extensive public transit running through Imperial County. Really? They can't keep this dumpy little library open, but I can hop a southbound bus to Brawley or even all the way to the BORDER at El Centro... AND FOR A BUCK? Well, shit. To hell with hitching! We concluded that we'd be better served getting up and taking an early bus on Wednesday. I was feeling frequent, and now-familiar twinges of dismay about leaving, so staying another night set nicely with me and delayed dealing with that little conflict and in the end provided me the opportunity to rationalize it away with, "at least there's one more night here."

The three of us had begun the hitch back to the Slabs, and imagine our surprise when Kari zipped by us, on her way TO Slab City... hours after her supposed exit to the big city! "What happened to LA?" we asked between laughs. It never occurred to me that she could have at least given Rael a ride, but almost immediately after she and her horn-highlighted passive-aggression sped by, we got a ride back with Kevin. I like that Kevin.

Not surprisingly, Tuesday came to a close at the Oasis around another fire. Kari apparently had trouble navigating to both LA and the cigarette store! She would periodically show up, bum a cigarette, sit there long enough to supposedly keep up appearances... despite saying NOTHING other than, "give me a cigarette"... then vanishing until she needed another. I'm glad I quit smoking; another "go fuck yourself" would have likely found its way into conversation.

The three of us returned to Rael's spot, setting the clock for 6am. Wednesday would be even more eventful; one of those days that set tones which would resonate and rearrange things down the calendar...

Monday, February 1, 2010

2/1/10: Slab City-The Oasis Club

Chris and I intended to meet Kevin early, but our late night made for a late morning. We hung around our spot in the desert before seeing Kevin return and making our way to his camper to say hi and start the day.

Kevin's a rare entity: one that should talk more! He's a wealth of information. This Monday morning: what type of vehicle one can acquire cheaply, gets decent gas mileage, and has sufficient space for a full-winter Slabbing or living inside while moving from place-to-place. During our stay, Kevin playfully suggested, several times, that we take one of his two remaining pit bull mix puppies. He had 4-other dogs who double as security for both people and coyotes... the later of which are heard every night. Kevin also had possibly the largest domestic cat I have ever seen, weighing in at 29-pounds, and serving as Head Mouser.

Kevin Eubank RIP: 12/11
I use the term "domestic" loosely. This cat apparently was seen fighting free from an owl, while being carried 20' in the air! He's confident that this "cat" has had its own run-ins with coyotes; it's totally unimpressed with any of his much larger dogs. Dogs are everywhere at Slab City. Many of the residents just let them breed, meaning there is an abundance of puppies-- who tend to all look the same! As with Kevin, they use dogs as companions, coyote defense, and as an alarm system.
Slab City's "Skate Park" held a congregation of eclectic people, some of whom Kevin thought would be able to instruct us on hopping one of the frequent freight trains rumbling through Niland. One of these "authorities" turned out to be the shifty little redneck who scoped us out the day before! He was quite surprised to see us again, especially with Kevin, and answered the few questions we had. His lasting nugget of wisdom: get off the train when it stops. There were a few others there who would chime in occasionally while playing X-Box or PS3 out of a van.

Wanting to charge my cell phone, Kevin fatefully directed Chris and I down the street to the Oasis Club: described as Slab City's "social club", where people look first when someone's not "home", and where Kevin said members can charge their electronics. The Oasis raises money by charging members $20/ year, which seems quite cheap, considering. Since I wasn't a member, Kevin said if I offered the owner a couple bucks, I should be fine. Mike was the proprietor. He initially came off as an ornery old coot, but he agreed to set my phone up on his electrical contraption; one using car batteries to funnel D.C. power into an electrical strip. I have no idea how it worked. But, the phone slowly charged giving me the opportunity to meet and chat with the interesting characters coming and going from the Oasis, one of which was a friendly old Dakotan wearing a cowboy hat, flannel shirt... and dress slacks, socks, and shoes. I would later recognize him as another extra from Into the Wild.

The anorexic bartender, Kari, also reappeared, much to the delight of the older male contingency; one obviously starved for female companionship! The baby-boomer response reminded me of my days as a carnie; how a person's allure is at times relative to the beholder's normal surroundings!

It's like Eddie Murphy's routine about the starving man and a Saltine: "This is the best cracker ever! This must be a fucking Ritz!" She temporarily vanished saying next to nothing but would reappear later-not coincidentally it appeared when the beer and cigarettes arrived!

The initial phone charge turned into an all day event. I was meeting people, having a good time, and Kevin stuck around for quite awhile talking boats with another Slabber wanting to sail for far off lands.

Late in the day, another young lady paid a visit from "civilization", and she was far beyond "Slab City Cute." Out-of-place gorgeous, in fact! I have since forgotten her name, but everyone knew her. I learned later that she had been an extended resident of The Slabs, had brought her RV, and was staying the night with boyfriend in tow. She was in her early 20's and fascinated me in that she was disgustingly comfortable wherever she was; she could obviously adapt to any setting. She took up a collection for beer soon after arriving, and with some of my money in tow, headed to town for Natural Light: The Official "Beer" of Slab City.

Despite his initial prickliness, Mike warmed up when I made good on the "couple bucks" to charge the phone. He promptly returned it, and began asking questions about where I had come from and what I was doing. It turned out that Mike and I had much in common, particularly political/social frustration and anger. He is from Silver City, New Mexico, was a teacher, and unplugged out of disgust. He proudly could not be told what to do or how to live, and although he never explicitly said so, I suspect holds little respect for those who can. We didn't chat enough, but I enjoyed the time that we did.

The sun fell, the fire started, the beer arrived... and, "coincidentally" so did Kari! I offered her a couple of my beers and settled in to my seat for the evening.

People came then went and we were joined by "Under Armour Guy", whose name turned out to be Ray, and who would become one of the biggest players & influences in my travels. About all I knew about him at the time was that he had set the world record for the longest continuous hike. But, he was far from done, and supposedly looking for far more than simple glory or his name in a book. He has an ultimate goal of 13,000 miles, is raising money for a non-profit, and planned to be out until mid-2011.

Chris, always looking to share the glory of his own walk, took to Ray immediately. The similarities were striking, not only in experiences, but especially regarding these supposed "predators" we call people. Ray, like Chris and I, had his faith in people bolstered by actual contact with them, rather than relying on hearsay and the media to shape/confirm his worldview. As the night went on, and everyone else but Kari went to bed, the three of us got along quite well.

Kari and I, on the other hand? Not so much. Even with the passage of hours and chugging of various people's beers, she remained creepy-quiet; when she did speak, it was usually to demand someone's cigarettes, or that fresh wood be brought for the fire.

As I was digging into my backpack, she said something since forgotten, but indicating she felt WAYYY too comfortable with me. And I had apparently had enough of her. Her last obnoxious comment was reflexively met with something to the effect of, "You need to just shut the fuck up." Ray had a horrified look on his face, probably expecting the apocalypse, while Chris was, by now, far from shocked. Kari replied with a timid, nearly inaudible, "You... didn't... just say that" to which I suggested that perhaps she had "misjudged" who she was fucking with. Apparently, Kari was unaware that she held no special status with me despite having her vagina coveted by the rest of Slab City! I knew next to nothing about her, so the whole thing just reminded me of Timmy!

Ray invited us to camp with him, so shortly after the 'Growl n' Hiss', we made our way toward his nearby spot. We discussed geeking out over gear the next morning while I felt shitty about sniping at Kari, wondering if I had barked a bit too loud...

Who? Me? NEVER!