"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, August 22, 2010

8/17-8/22/10: New York to Idaho-Doug

With the sun falling, and having no luck in my shitty spot, I was contemplating nesting possibilities when a 4-door Toyota with Vermont plates recklessly pulled over on the narrow shoulder, and waved me on. When I said I was going toward Erie, he shockingly replied, “no problem”, told me to hurry up, and suddenly I knew I would make it on time to catch my brother and, barring any complications, his ride toward Idaho and Oregon.

Aim for Maine. Land in Oregon. I am the traveling sharpshooter.

Doug was tall, about my age, had long curly hair, familiar cheap monotone clothes, and judging by the large boxes of open food cans, laid out buffet-style, was traveling somewhere distant and gave an initial hippie impression. That generalization was woefully mistaken. Yet, he would prove to be a powerful reminder of our ingrained, unavoidable duality.

Doug had the rare combination of being supremely arrogant and at the same time pathetically awkward. Assessments aside, it quickly became obvious that Doug was brilliant and suffered from the stereotypical social deficiency that often comes along with it. He reminded me of someone genetically spliced from the DNA of a Slabber and Sheldon.

Doug was driving from Vermont across New York and on his way thru Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and ultimately Montana investigating various places along the way that he described as “unspoiled” parks and nature preserves. I loved the coincidence, of course, especially uopn learning that one of the places he targeted was, literally, five-miles from my sister’s house in Ohio: my destination!

Nature, botany, and geology are Doug’s primary passions. He had methodically targeted unspoiled spots in nearly every part of the country, and meticulously planned, to the point of obsession, every detail to immerse himself in them. He raved about, and offered an impressive home-schooled seminar on, the geologic history of New York’s Adirondack Mountains, while mocking that I had been at their doorstep and not bothered to investigate "God’s Country." I made a mental note. While I am sometimes inclined to engage in obnoxious hyperbole Doug did not seem prone to exaggeration!

A Happy Reflection 

In an earlier life, Doug had been quite successful in New England real estate and made a great deal of money in another business venture. And had been miserable. We often finished each other’s sentences while exchanging personal anecdotes about learning how an external pursuit of “stuff” left us hollow inside. He ultimately sold everything, took an extended through Europe, and now lives much as The Friar and I do: he works when he needs to, but not to buy clothes, cars, or LED TV’s. He works to travel, often doing menial labor, and, as he told it, with much greater satisfaction. For him, work is not a practice in perpetual servitude or careerism: the jobs end once they’ve served their purpose and he recommences living life again.

We spent a great deal of time sharing stories and exchanging social philosophies while bemoaning the willingness of most folks to subjugate their lives to the implanted idea of “career”; to become an unquestioning cog in a decaying machine. I haven’t written much about that in a long time. But it’s still there and it was quite clear that Doug and I had a great deal in common, at least in this area. We’d made similar decisions after drawing similar conclusions. As we weaved thru western New York, I also heard the familiar, “I never pick up hitchers, but something told me to stop” which triggered a twinge of warm, faint nostalgia.

An Uncomfortable Reflection 

Doug’s other, and more significant trait, at least in this narrative, was his blunt and overwhelming disgust for people that seemed to stem from arrogance and contempt as well as a poorly concealed, deep seated sense of rejection. When we stopped for gas he seemed to actually go out of his way to be rude to nearly everyone he interacted with. It was embarrassing. I found myself shrugging as if to say, "I don't know what the fuck's wrong with him either!" His comments made it clear that he was either showing off or that he considered these people his inferior minions and wouldn’t suffer the effort of disseminating an unnecessary common courtesy! This extended beyond words; he was a prick driver as well!

He provided some insight into this as we approached Erie. Doug told of how he was ostracized and made a spectacle of as a child because, as he told it, he was “so much smarter” than everyone. He smugly told how, even as a youth, he could think several steps ahead of everyone else, even teachers, and use his intellect as a stealth weapon. In his eye, the battlefield is the mind. And he's Napoleon. From the passenger’s seat, there was a veiled, enraged, hurt child striving to show off and impress me with mental muscle. The closer to Erie we came, the more pathetic he seemed. I was also disturbed a bit. These insights were entirely too clear, and frighteningly familiar. Using intellect, ideas, and venomous words as weapons to reap vengeance? Hmmm....

Shortly before leaving New York, I offered Doug gas money to ease his airtight budget if he’d let me ride along to Sandusky or Toledo. My new plan (ha!) was to meet Michelle, who had offered to pick me up as far away as Erie or Cleveland, then coordinate with my brother from her place near Toledo. The closer I was to Toledo the better, Doug agreed, but said he was stopping for the night just past Erie, on I-90 at the Ohio Welcome Center, and I'd need to find a place to sleep.


No problem! I found a secluded spot for my bivy snuggled beneath some evergreens and we were back on I-90 toward Cleveland by 6:30 Wednesday morning. I was looking forward to both ending this little Massena-Ohio sprint, and a leisurely day touring northern Ohio’s natural wonders with Doug. Natural wonders in Ohio? Really? Little more than the Cuyahoga River's chemical blaze came to mind!

Yes, it really happened! 
The first stop was impressive, and something I would never expected to find in any city, let alone Cleveland. Rocky River Metropark is a beautiful, nearly undisturbed preserve IN Cleveland. Yes, CLEVELAND! Doug seemed impressed with Cuyahoga County, and gave Cleveland his thumbs up. I had to grudgingly agree, besides...it’s not like I was complimenting Columbus! Ick...

Rocky River Metropark, Cleveland
Through the morning and afternoon, I found myself hiking a wetland preserve near Sandusky, reading while Doug explored another preserve in the middle of nowhere, then exploring Marblehead Lighthouse and its adjacent state park. At each stop, he’d euphorically bound down the trails for extended, giddy hikes and return with tales of his intrepid Adventures in Botany! He had a love for and a bond with nature that I admired a great deal. This was his element, and he was quite likeable while he was in it...and as long as there were no people interfering!

Cedar Point
Lake Erie Near Sandusky, OH

Near Port Clinton, OH
A Troubling Reflection 

Throughout the day, we had inevitably talked politics and sociology. Doug’s worldview was an interesting ideological hybrid. Being from Vermont, he had traditional libertarian tendencies, but he also was quite progressive when it came to issues like energy and the environment. Economically he was Milton Friedman’s persistent wet dream. “To the right of Attila the Hun”, to steal a line. Socially, like many of us willfully loitering out on the fringes, he believed society to be on a downslide and saw sustainability, both individually and on-scale, as essential to survival.

However, what will stick with me forever was Doug's chilling, unwavering, and disturbingly reptilian lack of compassion. When it came to unemployment, social security, food stamps, health care, or anything to do with assisting the poor, he was convinced that caring for these “freeloaders” equated to growing an inoperable economic tumor that would consume us all. Doug’s platform: “Austerity Now! Austerity Tomorrow! Austerity Forever! Fuck Them!

I tried to appeal to Doug’s sense of humanity and found none. He was ready to go to war to protect the endangered Flatulent Pink Flamingo, but when it came to his own species? Social Darwinism. No mercy. Natural Law. Economically, everyone was to be left to and at the mercy of “The Market.” Ultimately, I asked him if he thought we should just throw the poor, sick, and starving into the streets as they did in medieval London. “Absolutely!” Can’t keep up? Out of the gene pool!

Doug’s lack of basic compassion was reminiscent of my earlier conversations with various economic and social “anarchists” I’ve met over the last few of years, particularly in the Dakotas and Slab City. Admittedly, they also mirrored some views I entertained and tinkered with since ’08. Through conversations with some of my Teabagging friends, as well as reading some of their in-depth ideas, and watching the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill this summer, I’ve concluded that this brand of socioeconomics is, at best, inhumane and beneath civilized culture. At worst: an deluded rationalization for greed & cruelty; financial cannibalization and exploitation of the most vulnerable.

To make matters worse, I saw it coming. The backlash I predicted in December of '08 now has a name: Teabaggery. While he admirable despised the Alaskan Road Whore, Doug’s clever arguments and verbal gymnastics seemed to echo all the other austerity-driven propaganda and did little more than provide Teabaggery with clever nuance.

“Not My Problem” should be the emblazoned upon every Teabagger’s calling card; avoiding taxation in the name of “The Market” is all that matters. The Market is literally God. Is there nothing held higher? I asked, is there’s no higher ideal in this world than the ability to accumulate and hoard wealth, even at the expense of others? At that, he gave me his patented arrogant, amused look saying he hoped I understand that at this point in my life. Proudly, I firmly reject it.

Drawing on recent experiences, and particularly conversations with Brian over the summer about things like projection and cognitive dissonance, my bullshit detector was blaring, especially considering his story the night before. It seemed clear that Doug’s prime concern was less about social philosophy and politics and more about avenging himself as “the victim ostracized from the pack” only because he was “gifted.” There was entirely too much anger tainted with superiority and disdain to be just simple ideology.

Rant Alert 

Beyond him specifically, Doug provided yet another glimpse into the mindset of an alarming number of people. As I’ve said, I’ve seen them all over and have mentioned them periodically over the last two years. I’m no Rasmussen, but the anger is manifesting itself into something ugly. You need only to be aware of their pervasive dogma while listening to The Asshat King Glenn Beck, Rush, The Alaskan Road Whore, or any of the whackjob Teabaggery candidates like Sharon Angle or Christine O’Donnell. The fact the latter are legitimate candidates speaks volumes.

Doug’s clearly no anomaly; there are millions of Americans who are more than happy to throw whomever they define as a “freeloader” into the streets to starve in exchange for lower taxes. Never mind that the lower tax rates their avatars constantly bleat about won't apply to THEM!

Despite often clinging to their Bibles, they are perfectly comfortable in their “freeloader” judgment, along with any number of other designations with which they choose to label the “undesirables.” Meanwhile, rest assured they're not to be bothered being their brother's keeper, let alone anyone else!

They typically perpetrate all of this while clutching their crosses and wrapping themselves in the flag while arrogantly assuming the title of "patriot" and ridiculously belching out recycled, PBR-stenched phrases which include words like “tyranny” and “liberty”; all terms they couldn’t use in a sentence before they received their Teabag marching orders shortly following the election of The Socialist Antichrist.

Somehow, they equate freedom with gluttony and greed. Somehow they’re convinced that they know ANYTHING, about “tyranny!” Bloated, gun-crazed, redneck Americans moaning about “tyranny” is like Christians crying “oppression!” Fuck off. Listening to these arguments has convinced me that Teabaggery is the repositioned philosophy and legacy of Timothy McVeigh. He too championed Second Amendment remedies.

End Rant 

From this point forward, Doug was a resource. I kept the rest of our conversation away from political and social issues figuring that was the best way to keep the peace. I lied right there. It was a way to keep me in the car!

Late in the afternoon, I guided Michelle to a McDonald's in Port Clinton ending this little cannonball trip west. It had taken me 72-hours to get from Massena to Michelle.

As we sat waiting in the parking lot, I realized I had never given Doug the gas money I promised him. I concluded that the Karma Market and Natural Law conspired against him and chose not to provide. More to the point and to quote Deacon from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure: “He was a dick.” 

As we parted ways, we made the obligatory promises to stay in touch, but that was clearly not happening.

Ohio to Idaho 

There’s not much to tell about the next few days. I made an REI run and began processing the past couple of weeks before meeting up with Mike and helping him drive their version of the Oregon Trail.

The cross-country was uneventful, except for another rendezvous with the Iowa 80, and taking  joy watching Mike and Ally’s amazement thru the Rockies. Mike had never been beyond Iowa. I could literally see their faces light up with seeing places for the first time; places I now take for granted. It reminded me of my first trip west and how I was hypnotized. Its a different world out here; one where pictures and words just don’t suffice. They took a special liking to Wyoming and Utah, and I must confess: despite everything I have said about Utah, if I were leading my cult west I’d likely settle near the Wasatch, too! It’s disgustingly beautiful!
Near Laramie, WY

It was good getting to know Mike a bit more as we rode west along I-80 and, although Lynette and Dave were in the Antilles scuba diving, I was looking forward to stopping in Boise on the way back from Oregon for a reunion of sorts. My intention was to surprise them, and just have Mike and I show up. Unfortunately, I was unsure of their itinerary so shortly after we crossed from into Idaho I called to let her know we were around and that I hoped to see her at some point while we were in the Northwest.

To my shock, she almost immediately returned my call saying that she and Dave were in Salt Lake waiting for their connector to Boise! It seemed that we’d all be simultaneously converging on Boise in a couple of hours...