"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

Monday, March 22, 2010

3/22/10: Monterey, CA-Marinate for 24 Hours

Monday was quiet, and understandably a bit difficult. As I began to reflect over the previous few days, a cold realization set in about how I had gotten here, and the ensuing isolation and introspection called into question many things. I reflected back to just 4-days earlier, and how everything had felt “right.”

NOTHING felt “right” now.

I was severely disillusioned, and seriously questioned my both my motivation to, and purpose for, traveling this way. Powerful ideas were bubbling beneath the surface, but for the first time in memory, I honestly wasn’t sure that I cared. I eyeballed Greyhound and Amtrak as easy escapes and access to a much wanted reset button; had either had a terminal in Monterey, there’s no question that’s exactly what I would have done!

I was obviously still annoyed with being left in Monterey, but also again felt guilty. I had to acknowledge at least a mild, grudging respect for Karen and her, for the most part, forthrightness. While we were Exxon Valdez-grade oil and water, at the very least I never had to question where I stood with her, and shew deserved credit for that. I posted a message to her Facebook page apologizing for the way things turned out and wishing her well on the trip east.

Coming to terms with Ray, of course, was not so simple and I was in fact in the embryonic stages of yet another personal and literary Rubicon: questioning what I would (and would not) share about this bizarre experience.

You'll recall, I had also sent him an email the night before plainly (and emphatically!) expressing how I saw things, and offering him the opportunity to tell me what had happened, if in fact my “assessment” was inaccurate. After offering NO indication that anything was amiss before vanishing, I thought he at least owed me that. I decided that if that never came, all events were fair game, and I would be completely honest in offering my lone perspective of them. As I said before, to me "reactionary explanation" is the textbook definition of "offering excuses."

On Monday, and for the near future, I wanted to believe that there was more to this insane development than clashing with Karen. Even faking after-the-fact indignation would taste better than this! Honestly, it was probably also ego. I didn’t want to believe I had come all this way chasing his published hype and my private narrative.

The universe tried to jump start me a bit through a nice conversation with a cool guy I met at McDonalds. He too was amazed that I had been left after coming all the way out here and asked what happened with them, but we both laughed when he stopped himself and said, “From where you sit, it probably doesn’t matter, does it?

He warned me to be careful around Salinas (gang activity) and encouraged a northerly route along the bay toward Santa Cruz, explaining that it was a college town, had a hostel, and that I’d be more likely to find the “right kind of people.”

I bounced between the notions of hoofing his way, and heading due-east from Monterey toward Salinas and 101, while also learning that I could take public transit all the way to either San Jose or San Francisco if I chose.

In addition, I have a sister, nephew, and niece all living in Fresno and I hadn’t seen any of them in 15-years, so this seemed like an interesting and unexpected option, although I wasn’t sure I was up for the drama. My girlfriend astutely explained that while Ray & Karen would leave a putrid taste in my mouth, a trip to Fresno may be exactly what the doctor ordered to salvage something positive from this trip. While I saw the logic, I wasn’t feeling it. This entire escapade now felt like a failed abortion of a trip, and I its doctor.

Beyond that, and another comical “Vern” moment that saw me needlessly scampering around like a Desert Storm commando that evening, Monday was quiet & somber.

There was never a conscious decision to stay in Monterey another full day. I just did. When Karen responded to my well-wishes as soon as that evening, even offering advice on things to watch for as I presumably headed north, I knew they'd had access to Internet, Ray had chosen to ignore my email, and I’d likely never get even the courtesy of a direct explanation from him. He and Karen both knew I would write about these things, and he was choosing to remain silent--presumably leaving it to me alone to tell the tale. Until the tale was told, that is! Stay classy, San Diego...

As I reflected on just how much I wanted to share, I wondered: what did he think I would write? Did he assume they’d be fake yarns of Kumbaya, S’mores, and wholesome family living? I wondered: had he, in the glee and positive glow of the post-Slab City and “Ray's Camel” moments, passed my link along to others who may be shocked to read of his actual, unfiltered exploits? And, believe it or not, I began putting an excessive amount of thought into whether or not I should care...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

3/21/10: Monterey, CA-Ray's Kryptonite

Of course, it was Karen!

How she found us I have no idea, but what was exceedingly clear was Ray's reaction to the sight of her van. He resembled a child meeting his mother at the airport or as though he had seen a friend who’d gone missing years before emerge from a volcano!

Based on his reaction the night before (“I’m sooo glad to be out of that fucking van!”), it was not the reaction one would expect. Watching him scamper like a Dune Deer across the sand toward her van, after Saturday’s repeated declarations, snapped things clearly into focus. He was presumably going to see what she wanted but I had seen enough to know what HE wanted.

By now, I knew the drill: this would take awhile. I held out hope that he would return announcing that Karen had continued on her way, so in the meantime I began my first video update for the blog. Ray was in Karen’s van long enough for me to shoot several takes- each 4-6 minutes long.
A half-hour later, he returned saying that Karen wanted to cook “us” breakfast. I am certain of very few things in this world. One of these things is that Karen was NOT concerned with whether I'd had a proper breakfast! Having received my furlough the night before and just eaten a ton of oatmeal, I had no interest at all. So, when Ray again invoked “another free meal” I told him that I wanted nothing to do with this, and he should just go by himself. 

An interesting conversation sprouted when he aptly used my words against me and asked, “What about seeing Karen as part of the experience?” Well, shit.

To retort, I asked why it was that he could not just tell her to move along and catch up later. With an unmistakably desperate look in his eye he quietly yet emphatically answered, “Man, she’s got my Kryptonite!”  

Apparently, Karen had THE thing that he seemed to acknowledge owned him: pot. "Great!" I thought. I came to California thinking I had found someone with whom to explore ideas; someone with depth, insight and a commitment to something larger than life. Instead, I found the unholy spawn of Spicoli, Sally Struthers..., and The Sham-Wow Guy? 
  Ray insisted it would only be for breakfast in her van and implied that we would not be leaving the beach, so I finally (and fatefully) relented. 

I should have stayed in the sand. As soon as we were back at the van, rather than “cooking right there” we were climbing in to "find a level spot”…and then toward town to “find water”.

Oh, fuck NO! I was NOT going to be part of yet another scavenger hunt encompassing the greater Monterey metropolitan area. And, voice shaking and quickly rising, I told her so. We had barely gone ¼ mile at this point when Karen said something that still astounds me today, “Todd, maybe it’s time you and I should part company.”  

Say it aint so!  

At this point, my temper was in charge and had released the Kraken: the obnoxious radio-guy, whose job is verbally attacking everything Karen said, deserved or not. When she asked me where I would like to be dropped off, I said I didn’t give a damn; I had food, water, and two-feet… “Wanna drop me in the middle of a field? Go the fuck ahead!”  

Naturally, Ray just sat there. I did hear him say, “Aww, come on dude…” in a tone implying that perhaps I was out of line. Maybe, but, why exactly was I here again? All of this over the course of just another ¼ mile. This was to be quite the legendary ½ mile!

When I finally calmed down and resumed civility, I asked Karen to drop me at McDonalds. I told Ray that I would wait while I charged my phone and if “breakfast” took all day, would just meet him back at the dune. Ray had that now-familiar, embarrassed, timid, expression on his face when (addressing Karen because Ray isn’t “allowed” to use a phone) I said, “If something changes, call and let me know so I’m not sitting around waiting for a ghost.” Taking the totality of everything into account, I felt justified in my frustrations and figured they would just spend the next few hours getting high, or whatever, and we would move on from there.

For the next couple of hours I drank McDonalds coffee while charging the phone and chatting about the latest drama. All called were of the opinion that there was no way Ray would just not come back! I mean, I had come all the way out here on his invite; and besides, who does that?

I returned to the dune only to discover someone had pitched a tent on it in the middle of the day! No matter. I was content to read & write until Ray returned. I had to laugh when, on the return walk I discovered that the bike trail just yard from our campsite was actually part of the California Coastal Trail-- the trail running the length of California that he was interested in learning about. Six-hours after the McDonalds Meltdown, the sun was plummeting with no sign of Ray or call from Karen. As the afternoon progressed, while I found it inconceivable how ANYONE could do it, let alone Ray, it increasingly seemed likely I had been ditched! I refused to accept it because I thought Ray was a decent person, and I had left half of my food with him! He wouldn’t have lured me 1,000 miles (have I mentioned that?) only to ditch me at a McDonalds and steal my food… would he? 

My girlfriend saw the writing on the wall long before me, and implored that I call Karen to get confirmation AND... my food! Muttering, “What kind of piece of shit does this?” I called and predictably got no answer. Leaving an obnoxious message requesting my food, I began to process what was likely happening, and needless to say, I was pissed but not to the degree one might think!

Through the day, I’d had time to reflect and write. Many previously unnoticed indicators now poked me in the eye; things beginning the moment I had arrived in Cambria. I sensed them, but was not interested because I wanted to believe both his published hype, and the narrative I had published in my mind. Nevertheless, when my call went to voice mail, reality struck and I became mobilized.

I had lost a full day needlessly waiting around, and now needed to find a spot to sleep. I began gathering information on buses and trains in the event I decided to bail out. What was the point in being out here now? Then the phone rang. It was Karen returning my call. In a happy, matter-of-factly tone, she told me that Ray had left my food in a plastic bag on the dune we occupied the night before. 

Remember the tent? There was a plastic bag sitting next to it all day long, but I paid no attention assuming it belonged to whoever was inside. Seeing that the tenters had left it when they had gone, I trekked over to see that it was indeed my grub. I also now realized that, knowing my whereabouts, they must have dropped it off almost immediately after leaving  McDonalds so Ray would not have to deal with me face-to-face.  

Karen, ridiculously, claimed that Ray had left a note with it, but of course there was nothing but food. What would he have said in a note? That he found the consideration to leave a "Dear Todd" was, and still is, pathetically laughable! With any integrity, conviction, or belief in his actions, Ray would have held his head high, looked me in the eye, and severed ties in person. 

As Chris has astutely pointed out, I can handle anything as long as I know where things stand. After his "kryptonite" comment, I probably would have just written it off, wished him well, and maybe asked for a ride out of Monterey! Had he treated me like an adult and shown consideration for the fact I had come out here to see him, I would have held some respect for Ray. Instead, he chose to drop my food in the sand, run away, hide behind Karen, and leave it to his 60-something year-old caretaker to both lie about "the note" and act as his over-the-phone hatchet man. 

To this point, we'd had no apparent problems whatsoever, and even if we HAD, an 4-year old knows that this NOT how you treat people. Sure, I had acted far from perfectly, and perhaps I should have dealt with Karen differently, but THAT merits a lack of common, basic decency? It would seem that a man feeling truly justified in his actions, and one with the morality he's staked a claim to in newspapers, would have walked into McDonald's with his head high; setting an new example to go with his old-story by walking a quick & simple yet honorable & noble path. A path that required the "Courage of his Convictions.

Instead, Ray chose the coward's route: slinking away either out of guilt or to avoid unpleasantness. In retrospect, "why" matters little after-the-fact, and becomes little more than a run-of-the-mill excuse... and you know what they say about those?
Now, the theme continued as Ray hid behind both Karen and the handy fact that he isn’t “allowed" using a phone. Though she almost surely had a hand in this, sadly it was left to Karen to try to hopelessly justify leaving me on this beach after (all together now) coming 1,000 miles to see him. Another of the few things I'm certain of- she took great joy in this-- not that I blame her:
Since he’s doing this for charity, [Ray] thinks that your behavior was inappropriate and doesn’t reflect well.”
They abandoned me "for charity!"

Bwaaaaaahahaha! I wondered: What exactly was so criminally "inappropriate" about my behavior, and how would that reflect on his "charity" as compared to, say, perpetual pot smoking? Which reflects more poorly? Ray never conveyed to me that my "behavior" was abhorrent, and was in fact playing along, so I never asked if this was in fact what he thought. Rather than rendering immediate judgment and offering an instant "fuck you," I instead offered a final opportunity to regain command of his vocal cords, and the story, via an email sent that night:
Todd March 21 at 10:03pm The official Karen verion (sic) of what happened is that you decided to move on because "youre doing this for charity and my behavior doesnt relect (sic) well" or something similar. Is that accurate? Are these your words or Karen's? I thought things were ok with you and I and was looking forward to things. If I was wrong, at least say so to my face; dont dump my food in the dirt then hide behind an old woman. If Im missing something, Id like to know... Sent via Facebook Mobile
I never received a reply. Yet, a few weeks later, I got an immediate answer when I emailed about his passion: W.R. Hearst and Cannabis legislation!

Hearing Karen’s reply, I adopted her uber-obnoxiously friendly tone, wished her well, and that was it. Things quickly reverted to habit, and I climbed up some higher dunes, made camp, and stumbled toward Monday and beyond. I was back within my familiar comfort-zone, what bothered me the most was my faulty judgment, the lack of principle as compared to the marketed rhetoric... and being in Monterey!

3/21/10: Monterey, CA-A Temporary Furlough

Sunday the 21st started off well! Ray and I sat on our little dune, had a rather extravagant oatmeal breakfast, a few belts from my nearly empty little bottle of rum, and chatted around the distant perimeter of our metaphysical ideas.

Ray’s professed theological beliefs reminded me of my own. In many ways he appeared quite spiritual, yet wary of religion. But, with the “glad to be out of that van” and “get one more meal out of her” comments still top-of-mind, I remembered reading a few Facebook comments from people he’d met along the way--ones religious in nature. I wondered: was he again playing The Chameleon now, or had he maybe played them? The tricky thing about uncovering Chameleons in the wild is that you’re left deciding for yourself what their real colors are. I’d soon be left with no doubt whatsoever…

**Mini-Rant Alert**
Ray surprisingly asked my “opinion of George W. Bush” and his time in office. Eeeek! I offered that, rhetoric and mastery of the English language aside, I saw little distinction between he and Obama; that in my opinion, who’s in office means next to nothing. From what I’ve seen, tangibly, Obama had done very little differently than Bush--and NOTHING to repair the damage. The PATRIOT Act? Guantanamo? Wiretapping? Two preemptive, ineffective and economically debilitating wars? Bombing villages and killing civilians? Where dat change?

Beyond that, Insurance Reform was on this morning literally hours from becoming law. Yes, it’s Insurance Reform—MANDATING health insurance--not reforming access to health care. To call the legislated hand-over of millions of  NEW customers to insurance companies “Healthcare Reform” is an insult, not “nitpicking” or semantics. Words--they be important!

Ray offered no opinion of his own, and having embraced a new, happy separation from politics, I didn’t ask. But, he did say that he found my view cynical, apparently harboring “hope” within political institutions with a subtle implication that we should support our “leaders” and help them toward “change.” With unlimited corporate-campaign funding now legal & top of mind, and hearing Ray through a single and perpetual camel-shaped filter, I heard, “man cannot serve [both] God & Mammon.” Supporting a system whose primary concern, and sole entry fee, is wealth? Well, you get the idea. It didn't occur to me at the time, but I wonder: Who would Jesus of the Camel vote for? Or, would he abstain?  **ALL CLEAR**

It was a nice morning! I continued sorting out my intense aversion to Karen, and again admitted that I should have been able to coexist, allowing our paths to peacefully run parallel for awhile. Yet, until that point I mostly saw a woman hindering my obsessive Mission of Discovery. I again recognized that I failed to accept that Karen may have been part of this chapter’s tapestry. However, while I was willing to accept my role in this failure, I also began to recognize more clearly and acknowledge the actual cause and source: Ray. Specifically, his unwillingness to take control of a situation he himself created, leaving two hard-headed people with clashing agendas battling it out.

By early afternoon, the plan was to relax and enjoy the day while perhaps seeing a bit of Monterey. My phone needed juice, so we commenced packing and prepared for a quick trip to the nearby McDonald's where we’d hash out details over coffee. Suddenly, Ray began excitedly waving his hands screaming toward the nearby beach pull-in. By the way he carried on, I thought perhaps Jesus Himself had returned. It was a resurrection of sorts...but Jesus? No.

It was…

Wait for it…


Saturday, March 20, 2010

3/20/10: Monterey, CA-Karma Chameleon

"I'm a man (a man) without conviction
I'm a man
(a man) who doesn't know
How to sell (to sell) a contradiction

You come and go, you come and go
-Culture Club

Karen thankfully tempered her eagerness to hit Highway 1 with a willingness to relax and enjoy Saturday morning’s welcomed sunshine. After saying goodbye to Nick, I embraced my mild hangover while climbing into the van hoping to curl up and sleep my way to Monterey. I was tired, cranky, and the hangover didn’t help the fact that wanted no part of this ride. Using my remarkable superpowers of psychic perception, I clearly perceived that Karen wanted me along even less!

Some repeated perspective may help explain why gratitude was the furthest thing from my mind.

In 2008, Florian picked me up a few miles north of this very same campground just before sunset, so I saw the stretch from near Hearst Castle to Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park through his rented RV’s headlights. Running with Rael’s initial suggestion, I wanted to take it slow to Monterey. I hoped to find myself literally immersed in this immensely beautiful part of the country. The emerging reality resembled a repeat of 2008 with sunshine. Based on Rael’s words in the weeks leading here, I saw Karen as an unnecessary, intentional roadblock; interference rather than an enhancement. What's more, Monterey held little attraction! I still can’t explain why, although I believed I had visited there with Florian without being blown away. For two-years, I had confused Monterey and Santa Cruz but still: I just didn’t feel it!

Karen planned to meet a friend in Monterey that night but to her credit she also hoped to take her time, enjoy the ride, and stop often for pictures etc., so to sum up: Leaving San Simeon State Park, Saturday lined up as one to mentally shut down and prepare for better things.

The incredible landscape did NOT disappoint. Mother Nature makes it abundantly clear: THIS is where the North American continent ends-- dropping 1,000 ft. into the largest ocean on Earth! The fog returned periodically setting this natural stage with a kind of Heavenly/Otherworldly decor; one with an unparalleled raw, unspoiled, intense beauty that conjures up powerful emotions and implies a "connectedness." I’ve felt that in few other places, like Oregon and The Berkshires. You’ll either “get that” or won’t, but this stretch of Highway 1, from San Luis Obispo to its end in Northern California, is the rarest of places: the one exceeding its hype!

Looking ahead at the thin little ribbon of road, winding precariously perched on the cliffs, I thought of George Carlin’s observations about how utterly powerless humans really are and saying that Earth's “gonna shake us off like a bad case of fleas!” Seeing this place, then visualizing LA, Chicago, and Detroit, I wondered if that would be such a bad thing in the grand scheme of things! These are the moments of clarity that I love the most; those directly attributed to living this way for more than a day or two. Again, you’ll get it or won’t, but it’s energizing and enlightening when unplug long enough to become part of actual reality! That connection illuminates the ridiculous facade we’re conditioned to accept as The World. This was the immersion I had hoped would last a few days rather than just a few minutes. Fail.

January’s string of Pacific storms that delayed me in New Mexico, snowed Chris into Big Bear, and damaged Salvation Mountain, had literally caused portions of Highway 1 to collapse and our ride was sprinkled with regular CalTrans workers and lane closures. Whenever she stopped, Karen would play the dual role of agent/Marketing-PR representative, making damn sure that anyone within 45 ft. of her knew of Rael's in-progress heroic epic, and that Slab City was in fact THE western hemisphere's adventure destination of choice!

Rael and I temporarily decided to get out of the van around Ragged Point or Lucia, but ultimately elected to stay with Karen “just a bit further.” Rael expressed curiosity about finding my old friend, the California Coastal Trail, and this was honestly much safer than walking this winding, twisty, busy two-lane road with no shoulder... one that invites distraction! Rael told me in unambiguous language that he was “sick of being in that van” and wanted us to get on our way, but that he’d “like to get one more meal out of her.” This set off alarm bells. Alarms ignored because we’d soon be moving on from all this. That comment, however, further highlighted and returned to the forefront this predominant “all things to everyone” trait; one clearly displayed (with hindsight) from the start.

Big Sur is merely 20-some miles from Monterey and beyond the dramatic splendor of Highway 1 so it was pointless to get out now. We had missed the road at which we planned Karen to drop us off and she was quite happy when we agreed to ride these last few miles to the city, reiterating that she’d happily take us to the north edge of town-- my lone request in exchange for agreeing to this.

The disconnected, ignored confusion swirling around our agendas finally became unbearable when Karen began speaking in matter-of-factly tones about what “they” were planning to do in San Francisco, and more importantly: WHEN and for how long! It appeared clear to me that these plans had been discussed in detail, and flew directly opposite to my understanding of things! It was now plain that I was the missing link in this disconnected loop; Karen clearly thought I was moving on…soon…and her field trip with Rael would continue.

Rael made precisely zero attempts to clarify things choosing instead to silently alternate anxious, almost sheepish glances between Karen and me. Personally, I had done enough guessing. It was time to push some “water through the pipe” and find our little crack. As Karen succinctly put it as we meandered into Monterey, Rael had “two dates for the Prom.” He had inexplicably made conflicting, separate arrangements with both of us. 

In the 2-weeks leading up to my departure, there was absolutely no indication of Karen's involvement. As you’ll recall, it was when I got to Cambria that he told me Karen was on her way and wanted to take him to San Francisco. Of course, he had “explained everything to Karen, and she knew that we would be traveling together ‘for awhile.’” He also assured me that he had declared that if she wanted him to ride to San Francisco, he’d need to first discuss it with me because I had “come all this way to hang out with him.

Someone was full of shit. Looking back at Karen’s behavior and Rael’s peculiar, quiet avoidance of these conflicting expectations…and his silence…it quickly became clear about whose canoe I was using to navigate this river-of-bullshit! From what little I gathered, Karen probably thought I was passing thru Cambria and happened to temporarily cross paths with Rael or something! My first mistake was assuming I was safe in taking The Chameleon at his word, and not addressing the issue with Karen directly in the first place. It wasn't my last.

Another mistake was giving Rael too much credit--wanting to believe he was who he appeared to be...who I wanted him to be. I would make that mistake several more times, and at my peril.  I wanted to assume, believe, and expect the best in Rael (sound familiar?) rather than following my own long-established protocol: deal with folks by operating within the events of the moment and acting accordingly—not based on what you want, hope, or expect from people. In my defense, there was no way I had just traveled 1,000-miles (have I mentioned that?) to philosophize with a cowardly, childlike, pothead/traveling salesman! Was there? My judgment couldn’t have been this off! Could it? This would clearly turn around if we could ever break free from Karen! Right?

This was a watershed moment, but (characteristically) I failed to see it clearly in-the-moment, though I did sense it. Had I embraced my instincts, the following days would read quite differently but as it was Karen and I found ourselves negotiating visitation rights like a twisted divorced couple. After some quick wrangling, it was decreed by the court that I would get Lil' Azzie through the week before Easter (still 15-days away), and Karen wanted him ON Easter itself, as well as perhaps a day or two before and/or after-- during which time I “could go camp in Marin County or ‘whatever!’” For the most part, Karma Chameleon sat silent thru our impromptu custody hearing, with no opinion either way, seemingly happy to let grownups decide what was best for him.

With custody granted, Karen commenced on a Tour de Monterey including an introduction to 17-Mile Drive and most of Pacific Grove while she researched her return-route to the comedy club. Unfortunately, she had only a vague idea of the place’s name and no address. This made things challenging, even with her GPS unit, one which Rael was comically afraid to even touch or glance at due to his imposed “rules”! We were wandering around blind as a bat, the sun was falling into the Monterey Bay, and I still had no idea where I was sleeping.

I needed to be out of this van. It was critical that I got away from Karen, immediately. My voice shaking with frustration, I bleated, “just let me the fuck out at the light. I’ll find a goddamn bus.” Rael finally spoke up…sort of…saying beneath his breath that no, Karen needed to "follow through" and get us where we needed to be.

Remembering to breathe, it dawned on me that I could access Google from my phone and even with Karen's limited information, I quickly had an address, phone number, and called to confirm that her friend was indeed working. It’s amazing what happens when you work to help solve problems rather than sit and brood about them. Had I taken that attitude before hand, we could have easily saved 45-minutes.

We were soon on the shores of Monterey Bay, at Monterey State Beach, where I finally said goodbye to Karen, thinking that maybe I’d see her again in San Francisco. The sun was long-gone, but with its large dunes this huge, never-ending beach seemed to hold endless camping options. In situations like this, it’s often best to go hunting for a spot at night, long after everyone else has left.

Karen drove off and, knowing I was happy to be freed, out slithered the now-familiar “all things to everyone” Chameleon. As we walked along Monterey Bay, Rael immediately and emphatically re-expressed how thrilled he was to “be out of that van.” I thought of hearing him repeatedly and openly slam Kari, and then immediately tell about riding with her which forced me to ask myself, "Why suffer riding with with her if she's such a negative, angry, hostile shrew?" I may have been rude in telling Kari to “go fuck herself,” but at least she knew who she was dealing with! It reminds me of that quote that says the immoral man wrapped in the cloak of fake morality does more harm than he who's naked in his immorality. Again, I ignored it, instead hearing Chris's ghost proclaiming that it's best to "expect the best in people." I have since concluded that it's true: Hope floats. So does bullshit.

The answer to my Query of the Hostile Shrew is likely the same as to why he stayed with Karen despite supposedly wanting "out of that van": Rael inadvertently alluded to volumes of likely-truth when he said he'd like to "get another meal (and pot) out of her." Manipulating well-intentioned people for food, money, rides, and drugs was likely both ethical child's play for him AND a necessity due to the ridiculous, draconian restrictions his GloryQuest handlers imposed upon him. He was encouraged to solicit money for environmentalists, but forbidden from soliciting food for himself. Of course that could turn the best-intentioned person toward chameleonship and to develop the skills of Master Manipulator. Besides, is this such a stretch for a man whom, despite the righteous, born-again manifesto, had thrown people from their homes for a living? I'll take "no" for $1,000, Alex.

I paid attention, and slowly reconciled his biblical-proclamations with an increasingly inconsistent, and apparent reality. This duplicity showed itself while Azrael and Karen regularly gossiped like housewives about nearly everyone they knew at Slab City, so rest assured: I was not mistaken in thinking I was immune! After repeated tensions with Karen, I knew that I was certainly a target and could only imagine what was said! What was certain: The Chameleon assuredly played both sides. Being emotionally cold-blooded, chameleons will verbally snuggle up to whatever warm body is there; who they are depends on the company of-the-moment.

In fairness, this is a primary, necessary trait of the road dog and can be a valuable survival tool! Yet it's just that: a "tool" to be utilized then packed away. The ability and willingness to "change one's colors" is the root of the ancient mistrust of nomads and the "no-account drifter." It's a distrust fueled by the fact that people feel fear they don't really know who they're dealing with, and this distrust is something I've seen or felt almost every day I've been gone.

The wind picked up and the fog rolled back in but my spirits were high. I was glad to at least feel in control of myself again! We settled on a small dune directly overlooking the Bay, shared a shot-bottle, and chatted for a good while before dozing off to sleep.

Before falling asleep, I began processing and analyzing my intense impatience and allergic reaction to Karen. I could see why we frustrated each other: we were both stubborn, intense, and kept uninformed. While that’s true enough, there was also something troubling about my reaction to the situation in general: my inability to Sit Down & Shut Up; failing to just "go with it" The very thing I had just mercilessly chastised Chris for. I told Rael that I wish I were able to see Karen as part of the experience rather than impeding it.

Even inside the bivy and sleeping bag, the fog and unshielded mid-March winds off the chilly Pacific and Monterey Bay made for a frigid night. We defined Sunday as a day of improvisation ahead of time and was it ever! However, the simple term "improvisation" fails to cover what Sunday held. Combined, it was probably the most trying, enraging, insight inducing, chain-reaction day to date--all the way back to 2008, and would cement Rael into his place as, next to Dennis, the most significant character in this little extended drama, although it would take an eternity, some help, and a healthy dose of brutal honesty for me to accept why.

Sunday, March 21st was one for the ages; you’ll fuckin' LOVE it!

Friday, March 19, 2010

3/19/10: Cambria, CA-What Would Jesus Sell?

Friday night was more of what I expected from this quick layover in Cambria, while it also introduced the theme for the immediate future. With Nick (’08) and Rael (Slab City), this was the never-before-seen opportunity of melding two of my distinctly separate experiences into a third, and I was curious to see what conversations, thoughts, and ideas spawned from the three of us.

Once the campsite was secured Rael & Karen vanished spending an hour or so “preparing burgers” while Nick and I got reacquainted over beer and tamales. After re-emerging from Spicoli’s Van, Karen socialized long enough to eat and was off to bed relatively early, probably eager for Saturday’s arrival after accommodating me and delaying her migration toward Monterey.

A priceless and entertaining scene presented itself when a young, charismatic, and informative ranger paid us a surprise visit. He spoke with (what sounded to me like) an Irish accent, and to my astonishment demanded Karen’s vehicle-paperwork claiming the license plate “didn’t match.” A fucking park ranger. What is HE doing running registrations? Is that not John & Ponch's domain? To Nick’s amusement, I asked exactly that. I wanted to know on what authority, as a park ranger, he “reconciled” the registrations of properly PARKED cars? He informed me, with a straight face and in all seriousness, that he “has more authority than the C.H.P.” It seems that park rangers are something akin to marshals out here, especially between Morro Bay and Big Sur/Monterey where there are far more parks than towns. Shit. Don't go Braveheart on me!

I wasn’t combative with Marshall McFife, but did editorialize enough to let him know that this arrangement seemed strange and more importantly could lead to confusion and needless confrontation from citizens (like…me) who fail to reflexively bow and behold the majesty and implied authority of a badge, costume, and gun.

I asked if it had to do with California’s deepening economic vortex-- one careening toward catastrophe. The skeleton crews and empty park kiosks were new compared to 2008. This was one thing, but I wanted to know: are things in such financial disarray that the state must consolidate "law enforcement" personnel to this extreme? Ranger McFife professionally tap-danced the specifics while patiently and politely answering my pesky questions. He wasn't power tripping; just doing his job. He grasped that fundamental distinction between "at-large enforcer" and the role of public servant. What a quaint concept! I'd heard there were enforcement officials like that. Then again, I had also heard of the "chupacabra".

Karen’s registration was fine. As he turned to leave, I jokingly asked if he knew Bono. He laughed, rolled his eyes, and went on about his business. Nick and Rael quickly reminded me that he had said he was Scottish, not Irish. I either amused or offended him! Whatever. I was buzzed and confused, and ...it was funny! Besides, here was yet another Scotsman taking an American's job! Where's the xenophobic outrage when it needs to distract folks from MY ignorance?

For the rest of the night, the beer flowed as I learned more about Rael after encouraging him to tell his story to Nick. Rael told of his job as the court’s “judgment enforcement officer” and how he ultimately realized who he’d become when, without emotion or feeling, he evicted an elderly woman from her home—for debts incurred by her granddaughter. Apparently, that granddaughter had taken advantage of her grandmother’s contractual naïveté and Rael was her material assassin.

To hear him tell it, it was a job (insert Nuremberg cliche' here); one that bought the house, boats, cars, and women. It was the pursuit of the American Dream, and considering he how he had earned and embraced the nickname “The Reaper”, an identity as well. He then recounted the liquidation of his house, truck, boats, etc., donating the money, and now here he was.

To this point, I had heard much about his adopted non-profit’s redeeming qualities (I already knew from hocking them on the radio). I heard, and was shown, how the Copper Spur tent is an ingenious piece of lightweight craftsmanship and told how Big Agnes provides “customer service” rivaling that of Jehovah Himself.

Rael's story was passionate, but mostly anecdotal. What plainly stood out, to me, was what I had NOT heard, including in his just-recited bio: nothing about the spiritual/ psychological fault lines. Those presumably running deep enough to create the explosive, life-changing tectonics needed to stagger, rattle, and roll someone from “Reaper” to “Camel.” Speaking from my own experience, this seemed entirely too... clean.

We skirted around the fringes of the biblical and moral implications of Matthew 19:24, “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Rael claimed to have been greatly affected by Jesus’ answer to the related question, “What’s a rich man to do?” Our Redeemer’s (paraphrased) reply in Matthew19:21: Sell your shit, give your money to the poor, and follow me. (Jesus... not Todd) Beyond sterility and taken at face value, this also laid an interesting intellectual foundation, forcing me to silently ask, “Who exactly are you following if your secondary focus, just beneath the glory of Guinness, is raising someone else's money and selling tents and clothes--rather than what you claim (in print) brought you here?” Personal glory and proxy capitalism. In Jesus' name. Amen. Just how he drew it up!

What would Jesus sell?
Using Randleman, NC and Pastor Snake's sermon as a reference, I offered that, to me, it seemed that if he truly believes he has been “called,” any desire and perceived “decision” to share his story, feelings, and experience, beyond the fluffy “people are nice and nature kicks ass!” fare, are irrelevant and egoistic in nature; it is his DUTY to birth that with which his “God” has inseminated him! Otherwise, I thought (again, to myself), he’s no more remarkable than any other of the innumerable glory-seekers looking to make a name for themselves through increasingly common and mundane “accomplishment of endurance.” Another Glory Quest camouflaged by “cause”?

If Rael’s muzzled his Inner Voice and hidden the very Splinter which triggered his epiphany-- in favor of corporate marketing and charitable fundraising-- hadn’t he simply just altered for whom he collected? Court or corporate interest: wasn’t he still serving Mammon? If he was altering his behavior for (no photos were to be seen of him smoking… anything!) and now found himself soliciting companies out of “wanting their gear,” had he simply done a rationalizing end-run around materialism?

Ye cannot serve God and mammon.(Matthew 6:24) Again, Jesus was not ambiguous in his hostility toward wealth. It seemed that rather than finding “acceptable” causes and oblique pursuits of wealth, He demands that “those who would be righteous” effort to separate completely from it AND its influence. In addition, there are also numerous verses regarding hypocrites, one of my favorites being, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them." (Matthew 6:1) Perhaps there's no connection, but regardless, Rael’s drastic actions and newspaper interviews coupled with his deafening "lack of voice" did NOT add up.

Beyond that, after 36-hours Rael struck me as optimistically driven, yet surprisingly demure, oddly guarded, and extremely tentative for a man who had gone to such extreme moral measures. He had the faint, familiar scent of a man slightly resembling those others who were cleverly co-opted by vested interest--and didn’t realize it.

Despite the rhetoric, based on what I had read, seen, and heard, Rael looked, through my eyes, a lot like The Extreme Traveling Salesman! Going door-to-door, park-to-park, and town-to-town soliciting donations for environmentalists, hocking sleeping bags and tents, while exploiting his world record and extreme environmental “awareness” as his sales pitch. How do you suppose His Redeemerness feels about His Word being used as an advertising campaign?

These were the subtle, embryonic, yet persistent indications of disconnect; a troubling and increasingly visible chasm between Rael’s adopted narrative and cold reality. Superficially, it seemed to me that he was in simple pursuit of finishing his walk, extending his record, pursuing a book deal… and the eternal Holy Buzz!

Karen noticeably exploited both Rael’s wants and needs, in all likelihood as a way of hedging her bets and positioning herself so as to benefit from Rael’s “sure-to-come” biographical glory! Karen’s pot was Rael’s, and so long as they traveled together-- so was her food. Karen is a wily, savvy, experienced, forward-thinking road dog, and she positioned these commodities like candy to a child! Before reading on, be sure you mentally note the preceding sentences. They are critically important, although to reiterate: on this night these insights were just nagging primeval instincts. I was engaged in trying to ignore them in favor of a benefit of the doubt after coming 1,000 miles to hang out with Rael! Have I mentioned yet that it’s 1,002-miles from home to Cambria?

While this was the first real foray into these important ideas, I was by now intimately familiar with and constantly observing Rael’s vocal and fanatical pro-Marijuana/ Cannabis stance! If Rael is “interested” in abstract theology and environmentalism, he’s absolutely obsessed with the pot cause. While he’s a bit hazy and hesitant to discuss practical philosophy, he’s confident, articulate, passionate, and precise when it comes to hemp; a wealth of information regarding prohibition and talked at-length about William Randolph Hearst’s role in criminalizing pot. When he got going, Rael reminded me a bit of the character telling of George Washington's love for pot in Dazed and Confused! But, to his credit, he had a firm grasp on the subject, and frankly made a great deal of sense.

He also ceaselessly spoke of what sounded to be Shangri La; the Promised Land of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties in northern California! It sounds as though this were where pot has been liberated; where ganja grows and flows free. Where hitchhikers are instantly picked up and presented a packed bowl for their ride! This... is Rael’s passion. This… is his “cause” and Karen’s eternal supply medicated and influenced nearly everything from the moment I arrived.

To repeat: I have no moral or ethical quarrel with, and am perfectly comfortable around pot— even having a bit myself! I fully agree with what's clearly the common sense path, full legalization, and I'm happy to see that momentum appears to have made it inevitable.

Karen's pot wasn’t the only thing that seemed endless—so did Nick’s Friday supply of beer! After meeting some neighboring campers in the wee hours of the morning, this remarkable night would come to a close. But first: some impressive foolishness on my part.

I had hit my four-month "smoke-free" mark four days earlier, but tonight it ended. It wasn't as though I was particularly craving a cigarette, it was more that I wanted to confront the cigarettes in order to prove that they no longer “owned” me. I took drags from Nick and Rael’s cigs early in the evening, and got nothing from it. After everyone had gone to bed, I grabbed one of Nick’s Marlboro's, sat alone by the fire, and smoked it. It hurt, tasted like ass, and immediately zapped my energy. There was none of the, “Ahhhhh! Nicotine!” I remembered from quitting before. I found myself hot-boxing the cigarette to get it over with rather than wanting to smoke it! How times have changed!

While this was asinine and not something I’d advise, it’s served a purpose. Before this, I had sporadic, mild cravings every two or three days. They’ve since stopped. It’s eliminated any residual “euphoric recall” and reinforced why I quit in the first place. It also helped me remove their mystique as something “all-powerful” that must be feared; avoided at all costs at the risk of my eternal soul! I’m not afraid of cigarettes anymore. I just downright don’t WANT them! There’s a very big difference!

3/19/10: Cambria, CA-Moonstones & Battlelines

I finally exhaled Thursday night and slept like a corpse. The Sierra Designs tarp shelter performed admirably on its first night of active duty, keeping the dew and Pacific moisture off me and the backpack while providing the privacy and space not offered in a bivy alone.

For the gearheads, the Origami is a lightweight, floor-less tarp shelter utilizing five equilateral triangles and a telescoping pole/walking stick/guy line as a center support. It looks like a little teepee. The Origami can be set up in countless configurations depending on terrain and doesn’t weigh much, so I envision it as both a compliment to the bivy and as a replacement for a full tent.

Weeks on the west coast (not to mention out east) meant that I would inevitably run into the kind of weather better ridden out in something other than just a sleeping bag cover, especially over two or three days! Further down the road, I believe that parts of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge are actually designated a rain forest. Even if it’s not, the fact that it COULD be justifies the extra weight! Plus, in normal weather I can still partake of the bivy’s stealthiness. Even with the Origami AND the bivy I’m still 3-pounds lighter than with my original ‘08 tent! My first night beneath it convinced me it was a good call. Ask me again in July.
Inside the Origami
The first sounds heard on this contrasting, entertaining, and eventful Friday were, again, the early morning cackles of Karen. Stumbling out into the sun needing coffee, I was happy to see Melody hang around most of the morning before making her way north up Hwy. 1 toward San Francisco. I again marveled at how this random Craigslist Rideshare had gone so well and what an excellent kickoff to this new little adventure she was, not to mention the chemistry she found with Ray & Karen. After Melody left, it was to be seen just how this odd collection of diverging agendas, not to mention strong personalities, would mesh!

One of the high points of my first visit to Cambria in 2008 was meeting Nick. He is a local who was on an overnight bike tour of sorts and happened to peddle in to the Hike & Bike while I was mending blisters. We’d had excellent conversations and one of my top priorities was to make every effort to reconnect with him while I was in the area. To that end, we exchanged emails beginning when I arrived in California eventually arranging to meet at the campground Friday night. Nick would bring beer and camp with us for the night. These arrangements were made before I knew anything about Karen and were understandably NOT open to debate.
As you'll remember, somewhere along the way it was decided that Karen was taking Ray (and by extension—me) toward Monterey, and after Thursday’s fog, Friday’s sunshine lit a fire beneath her. She wanted to hit Highway 1 ASAP and since she had the vehicle, logically felt as though she were in charge.

After Melody’s departure, Captain Karen began setting schedules, or at least tried. She was not pleased, offended even, to hear that I, and therefore Ray, weren't going anywhere Friday. I was adamant about seeing my friend. Ray was in the middle and, since he had failed to mention Karen before I arrived, had little choice other than to meekly support me, although I strongly suspect he would have much preferred to vacate this spot where he had spent the last five days. If so, he never said it.
A quiet, unwelcome voice began slowly creeping in asking where all of this odd, seemingly out-of-place static from Karen came from. Ray described her role as a simple ride north, and was far from ambiguous about the fact that he was eager to move on, away from her! From what he'd said, I assumed Karen knew that we had made arrangements to travel together until Easter.

So…what the fuck? Based on this, my attitude was simply, "If you don’t like how things are playing out, hit the fucking road. You were never part of the equation!" Aren't I a gem?
Combined with her commentary the day before about what I could say and about whom, a possibly ominous tone was set. The savvy, observant, and seasoned TZX.com reader may be noticing glaring disconnects (Sit down!) and subtle hypocrisies (Shut Up!) about now.

Me? Completely disconnected with an acute case of tunnel vision, and Karen was perceived as impeding the light at the end of that tunnel. However, while I WAS a great deal disconnected, the tension wasn't borne only from a basic impatience. It had a great deal of help.
Ray, Karen, and I then decided to set off to Cambria for library/Internet time followed by lunch at Moonstone Beach. If you’re new, you'll need to understand that I am quite slow in the morning and don’t move quickly for anyone other than mother nature. This quietly infuriated Chris and I warned Ray about it well in advance. Being on Slab City time, this (or her newfound inconvenience?) bothered Karen and by now she was probing boundaries and trying to discover the best way to achieve her desired results from me.

Her initial tactic of choice: smartass comments accompanied (and supposedly diffused) by a smile. My response: smartass comments obnoxiously reminding her, with a smile, that she’s free to leave for Cambria, or anywhere else, at any time, but I WAS having coffee, I WAS brushing my teeth and was NOT keen on having my leash pulled in the meantime. I do sure hope my smile softened her metaphorical stool….

Once we left, the afternoon in Cambria was nice. We paid a visit to the familiar library where I suggested to Ray that we tried video blogging. California is visually stunning and simple pictures usually fail to do it justice. Filming and posting short blurbs from various familiar/ scenic places like Big Sur, Monterey, and the Golden Gate Bridge would make more frequent (albeit fluffy) updates possible, while personalizing & making the process much easier! I could use my phone to both record AND upload these videos initially to the blog and Facebook. From there? Who knows, but the ideas came in a flood; a flurry would last most of the afternoon and cause a quick piece of priceless, out-of-place mini-drama.
Once at Moonstone Beach, Karen made sandwiches and repeatedly packed their ever-present bowls (I had by now remembered why I quit smoking pot, so passed while they “medicated”) for lunch while Ray and I continued brainstorming video ideas. He told of a friend who runs a popular hiking website and had once offered him state-of-the-art, lightweight video equipment in exchange for trail and park footage. Supposedly, he already had offered Ray walking sticks with mini video cameras mounted in them! He had turned it down because he wasn’t sure he liked dealing with the technology. With me on hand however that would be NO problem.
As we explored the technical possibilities, Karen became surprisingly annoyed with all this talk of “he and I.” Out of the blue, she contorted her face and like a child blurted out, “Include me, dammit!”

Based on the conversations Ray & I 'd had, this seemed outright batshit. Was Karen coming to Yosemite? Sequoia? Why in the hell would I think to include her in anything beyond this unwanted ride north? Seriously. What the fuck? Much later, I learned that she was just referring to the conversations we were having, but my interpretation speaks well to the bizarre, unexpected environment I found myself in!
The sponsorship chats themselves were enlightening. Ray was already “sponsored” by major, companies like Big Agnes, Under Armor, and possibly others. His journey's premise was marketed & sold as a quest for Guinness Book Glory which would, coincidentally, raise buckets of cash for the an environmental organization. A worthy cause to be sure, but in 24-hours I had heard NOTHING about what I thought was the real foundation; what I had come to investigate: biblical camels and the corrupting influence of wealth!

I had tried a few times to engage Ray in these chats, but he reminded me of a poker player: reading me while holding his cards close to his chest. I found the need to “read me” laughable! It's not hard to find out—just ask! The conversations to this point were quick and shallow but I didn't think too much about it. It was odd to be part of Karen's Traveling Circus, but I assumed that once out on the road somewhere we’d have plenty of time for these things.
Moonstone Beach

I didn’t learn much about Ray, but I learned much about corporate sponsorship, how to get their goodies and what they expected in return. From environmentalists to Under Armor, all the way to Karen, I saw that many had lashed themselves to Ray’s backpack. All I wanted was insight and conversation, but many others seemed to have a vested interest in him and even restricted what he could do.
These constraints are fascinating, and I should clarify a few things before moving on—like why Ray was hitching and riding with Karen if he was setting a walking record! The record is already his, and based on a continuous line irrespective of time: the trail can be left as long as he returns to that exact point.

Not quite as impressive, eh? It’s even occurred to me that Gary Coleman could probably break Ray’s record with this loophole and 30-years of free time!

Perhaps to compensate for that, some of the restrictions are rather medieval. He’s not allowed to use a phone, although he obviously can utilize the Internet. That means that he’s not heard any of his family’s voice in a year. Also, he can accept but is not allowed to solicit assistance of any kind. He must rely on the kindness of perfect strangers…without engineering it! And, “they” supposedly send people out to tempt him; to actually try to entrap him!
As a result, one thing Ray has become passionate about, and something that runs common through him, Chris, and I is that the simple act of immersing yourself in the world—not someone else’s interpretation of it—shows that there are undeniably and infinitely more good people than bad.

Reading September-March over the last two years, I am myself proof that it’s easy to lose sight of this while sequestered away in the cave living this thing we’ve been sold as “life” plugged into and solely relying on electronic eyes to filter and present someone's pre=approved, skewed vision of the world to us. Electronic eyes presenting a vision powered by agenda…

After lunch we walked down to the rocks along Moonstone Beach, taking pictures and shooting video. By mid-afternoon they decided to return to San Simeon State Park. I was unsure of when Nick was arriving and liked the idea of relaxing and writing in my journal before he did.

Karen, however, didn't know this and wanted her afternoon RayTime to be private! She parked the van at a vista point adjacent to the park, and then commenced to perpetrate one of the elite displays of behavioral-retardation ever witnessed throughout the whole of human existence.
We were discussing how to meet up with Nick and also catch a view of the regular dolphin display that would occur in a few hours, at sunset,when Karen began blatantly hinting that Ray should stay and let me go back to the campground alone. I would have been happy to leave them alone frolicing in peace and privacy, but she proceeded to perform a clumsy verbal tap-dance; the kind you’d do in front of a two-year old! I was waiting for her to start to spell out the big words!

At first, I thought there was no way I was actually witnessing this level of extreme douchebaggery, and I believe it caught Ray off guard, too, because he didn’t seem to respond either. When he did, there was again seen the sheepish look of a chameleon lost somewhere in the middle; trapped trying to be all things to everyone.
With the calming benefit of hindsight, it's just laughable that a 60-something year-old woman would bother with charades. In the moment, it contributed greatly in defining our remaining time together. I rolled my eyes, muttered something obnoxious, and walked back to the campground wondering when it would end!

From this moment forward, all of my interactions with Karen would be seen through the prism of, “when do you go away?”. I implied that I would return to the vista to see the dolphins and watch the sunset, but I had no intention of doing so.
I started to become more acutely aware... and curious... about the peculiar fact that Ray made no effort to mediating these intensifying rifts between two of his friends that he was responsible for bringing together. A quiet little voice got a bit louder. I spent the next few hours writing, napping, and seething.
The sun was already sinking when I woke from my nap and noticed that a ranger had left a notice asking Ray to vacate his campsite! It was Friday night, and he had already spent six days—four longer than the Hike & Bike limit, although it wasn't like the hiking & biking hordes were lining up at the gate! The ranger even repossessed the wood I’d foraged the night before! The bastard!
Immediately after reading the notice, Nick arrived with a whole lot of beer! We quickly reacquainted then drove to the vista where Karen and Rael still lingered. I introduced everyone, showed them the eviction notice, and what proceeded to follow was some sort of absurd bartering session! The campground cost a ridiculous $35 per night. None of us were eager to pay it, and after being “forced” to stay an extra day Karen flatly refused to pay anything.
Immediately sensing this, I elevated Karen's status to Enemy Combatant. I was on the verge of suggesting that she take herself to a parking lot for the night, or better yet: to Monterey! It was a conversation that, until Nick sensed the tension and offered to pay $20 just to keep the peace, nearly became ugly.

Again-- Ray did nothing to arbitrate, instead silently standing idly by like a child watching the grownups fight! Karen and I continued to go at each other with progressively increasing venom, and when she mentioned the use of “her food," as though Ray and I were a charity case, I reminded her that I had plenty of my own food--having planned on an oatmeal diet ahead of time--and my own money to boot! I took pains to clarify that she was neither necessary nor a necessary crutch to lean on--just in case there was any confusion!

By the time Karen offered her AARP (?) card to get 50% off the campsite, I just wanted her to go away, even if it meant I'd have to pay extra for the blessing!

In the end, Nick's cooler head prevailed and we decided to utilize Karen’s senior-card and pay the extra vehicle fee. Nick gladly paid $20 (of the $22.50) and I felt terrible about that, especially because he also brought tamales and a truckload of beer!
Once calmed, Karen and I surprisingly both saw the humor in the Vista Drama. She commented that she thought she and I would eventually be friends; that we’re just too much alike. Two people who speak their minds and don’t concern themselves too much with frail egos or fragile feelings. I had to acknowledge the obvious, but was in no way convinced we’d ever be friends-- although was slowly realizing where the problem really lie.
At times, describing me as "slow" is a gross understatement!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3/18/10: Cambria, CA Revisited-Ray's Karen

Pulling into San Simeon Beach State Park, memories came rushing back. The nostalgia was thick  as I saw spots that have since scorched themselves into my psyche; places only seen in my own photographs for the last couple of years.

It had been less than two-years, but the Odyssey as I now know it began with Pat in San Luis Obispo, and literally took off after mending my blisters at this very place. Meeting Ray here seemed fitting as a kick-off to whatever adventures lie ahead in 2010. The few minutes before seeing Ray felt a great deal like "coming home."

Melody's driving endurance is astounding, so the Pacific arrived much sooner than expected. A full day or two sooner! San Simeon Beach S.P. has only a couple of "Hike & Bike" spots, so finding Ray was a breeze. As we drove in between 8 & 9am, we found him chatting with a pair of bicycle tourists. After a visible double-take he was obviously quite pleased to see me there on Thursday morning after telling him to expect me Friday, or even Saturday. I introduced Melody, and the three of us spent the next couple of hours chatting.

Refresher background: Ray had suggested in early March that I join him for a "hike up the coast." I was here on his explicit invite, and the only thing "planned" was Ray meeting his Slab City friend, Karen, in San Francisco for Easter--still 17-days away. Upon leaving New Mexico the day before, Highway 1 was to be a slow exercise in conversation and improvisation; taking our time navigating to San Francisco, then maybe into the Marin Headlands before Ray returned to his walk, either in Yosemite or Sequoia--after the weather broke. What was to happen after this was speculation. If we got along (and I could keep up), there was the possibility of continuing in tandem up the coast toward Oregon.

With all that, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that Karen was meeting Ray HERE, and she wanted to drive him all the way to San Francisco! Knowing this--even the day before--would have changed things.

Ray assured me that he had explained things to Karen; she knew I had come all this way to meet-up with him, that he and I were continuing on, and that "if we chose to ride" I was welcome to ride along. "Well, gee...that's good to know after a 1,002-mile trip!" He obliquely implied that we could let her continue on alone, but that Karen "was offering a free ride all the way to Monterey or San Francisco!" It was obvious what he wanted to do. It was pathetic that he felt timid about asserting it. I figured we would get it hashed out once Karen arrived later that day.
The ride from New Mexico (and the preceding days of inadequate sleep) quickly caught up with me. Both Melody and I were exhausted, so while she spread out her sleeping bag I set up my new Origami shelter on 2008's site and fell fast asleep. An hour later I heard Melody, Ray, and Karen chatting outside and went out to meet my apparent new travel buddy. I instantly recognized her as someone I met at the Oasis Club during my stay at The Slabs. Karen traveled/lived over the winter in a conversion van with her small, white poodle, Squirt, had just spent some or all of the winter at Slab City, and was now slowly meandering back to Ohio via friends in Monterey and San Francisco.

There are a few things about Karen that jump out, especially in this relatively "normal" setting, at least relative to Slab City. Karen is in her 60's, resides in Cincinnati, is a self-described Relic of the 60's, and VERY attached to Ray-- initially, at least, to the point of creepiness. She seemed obsessed with spending time with and caring for him as though he were a stray puppy! Karen mentioned Ray's apparent intention to write a book often enough that it soon appeared that she was making sure she had her own chapter, complete with "guidelines" about what Ray could, and couldn't, write! I had to chuckle when he mentioned my blog and Karen offhandedly said, "Oh, YOOOOOU'RE a writer TOOOOOO?!?" Too? Ha! Poor Karen! Sadly, this was neither the last, nor least, of her misconceptions.

Within 5-minutes, Karen & I clashed--mildly-- when she asked if I had met Moth during my time at The Slabs. I told her yes, and that I thought he was a douchebag. Karen promptly and with a healthy dose of indignation informed me that I "couldn't talk about her friend like that." My reply was that I didn't "give a fuck whose friend Moth was, he was a douchebag" (she didn't argue that particular point at all!). I made it quite clear that I would speak freely...in any terms I choose...without a permission slip. Mr. Congeniality!

I didn't tell Karen to go fuck herself, but in a related story...

I then found that Karen is extremely close with Kari, the anorexic, cigarette bumming, part-time beer peddler from Slab City whom I had told to go fuck herself! I withheld that particular anecdote and offered no indication that I knew Kari, while at the same time learning that I had apparently dodged a large caliber bullet: She had almost arranged to meet Karen and Ray right here...at San Simeon!

Karen also commented that Kari "sadly" thinks of Ray "only as a brother." After hearing him consistently disparage Kari, I found it peculiar that he still had any sort of relationship with her--let alone an interest that anyone could even mistake as romantic! Perhaps she was kidding, but hearing his emphatic professions to the contrary, the entire Kari-exchange (and watching Ray walk its tightrope) provided insight that would prove invaluable with time & retrospection.

After chatting with Karen for a bit, I noticed a developing pattern with the people I had met at Slab City. Nearly everyone there has a dog, and it appears that many adopt their pet's method of establishing dominance and dominion: bark first, bark loudly, and hope they back down!

Just by it's very nature, I'm surprised to say that I doubt I would get along well at Slab City for long. I'll bark back, and look you in the eye while doing it. Many of those that Slab City attracts seem to readily profess a commitment to living an "authentic life," but too few appreciate direct, unfiltered, blunt honesty in return.

Like many, in fact, they will protect their personal narrative more than nearly anything. A genuine commitment to honesty is NOT just that which is "delivered by you"; it means you demand it from others in return.**

Obviously, this is a hypocrisy NOT limited to Slabbers, and would become increasingly clear as time went on. Despite the overwhelming majority providing lip-service and claiming to expect it, it would appear that (to quote Nicholson), "You can't handle the truth!" Fortunately, the truth doesn't care.
For her part, Melody was a treat and I could not have asked for a better thousand-mile Rideshare! She knows the difference between living and speculating; I'd define her as a Professional Liver-of-Life. She's seemingly spent time everywhere, including hitching in Central America and Australia. She's a wealth of information and ideas, realistic, and Melody does NOT suffer herself to be mired in the muck miring the Moonbeamers on Utopia Road. She was a much-needed breath of fresh air: a nice balance of idealism and realism, while not succumbing to simple cynicism. And, I love the fact that she once taught "at risk" kids their rights so not to be left at the mercy of "overzealous" law enforcement! I have kept in touch with her, and have a strong suspicion that I've not seen the last of her, especially since Boise/Portland seems to be an annual event!

Seal Vista
In her perfected non-committal way, Melody hung out long enough to catch the vibe from Ray, Karen, & I and I was happy to hear that she decided to stick around and hang out Thursday night. The four of us spent the rest of the afternoon trying to avoid Thursday's relentless nuisance: fog.

Karen proved herself to be the excellent tour guide, leading all of us into Cambria to see Nitt Witt Ridge. Finding the name clever, I had taken a picture of the sign in 2008 but hadn't realized exactly what it was: a house built into a hill that consisted SOLELY of scavenged and donated materials! It's been designated a landmark, and more than once while looking it over did it remind me of a practical Salvation Mountain.

Through Karen, I was shown the actual main section of Cambria-- a part I hadn't even realized was there! We toured a local mansion, then headed to the Elephant Seal Vista a ways past Hearst Castle and just a bit beyond where Florian & Veronika picked me up in 2008. Since it consisted of more than oatmeal and Raman noodles, I deferred dinner to Melody, Ray, and Karen's expertise while collecting wood and building a fire.

Nitt Witt Ridge, Cambria CA
Despite its peculiar moments with Karen & Ray, Thursday turned out enjoyable and when I chatted with my girlfriend that evening, I told her that things just "felt right" and as though I were on-track. I was enjoying myself to the point that I actually decided to join the others and smoked pot for the first time in 9-years. I've never been opposed or uncomfortable around it. Most of my friends growing up and during my radio days smoked. In fact, it probably would have kept me out of a lot of trouble had I chosen it over alcohol! The problem, quite simply, has always been that it puts me to sleep. I literally would end up in the fetal position curled up in the corner--conscious--but unable to move for an hour or so!

There was to be none of that this evening, but it would be COLD! Pacific air is sometimes like opening a freezer. Ray and I struggled to keep the fire going as we finally got the opportunity to chat about things before heading off to bed. Those things? Sports...of all things.

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