Monday, December 26, 2016

Synapse Pruning & The Signal to Noise Ratio

First of all, I know I never finished the hitchhiking updates from November. I made it home safely and felt bad about not finishing until I remembered: no one's reading them anyhow! So...who cares? Literally! If you happen to be an anomaly, I apologize. I'll finish them , eventually. Then you'll be able to hear all about the Russian trucker watching porn as he DROVE, or more accurately swerved, down I-80 in Iowa. True story. Good times. But, not why I'm here this early morning...

This link is about how motherhood changes women's brains.

Interesting read, sure, but pay attention to the part about "synapse pruning". It's the brain's way of, as I like to put it, "getting rid of that which does not fucking matter to make room for that which does." And make whatever remains more efficient.

Friday, November 11, 2016

11/10/16: The Nebraska Exodus

Particularly after Phoenix, I was smart enough to let things marinate until the wide angle view of perspective arrived. Before Fort Morgan, this was useful, but the forthcoming hitchhiking stretch could/should have been written in the moment. If you’re one who enjoys the light “then this happened” fare, you’ll dig it. There's plenty coming for the rest of you.

Thursday, November 10th

After struggling for 36-hours, I finally snapped back to Raton-normal. The new body clock woke me up at 4:45am thrilled that, despite Colorado's November chill, there was neither condensation nor frost. With the exit ramp’s lights, breakdown was effortless and by 5:30 I paid coffee-homage to 2008's Conoco Shrine—unaware that I’d stealth camped for the last time on this trip. In fact, that morning I planned (ha!) to camp across Nebraska and Iowa for the foreseeable future!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

11/9/16: Colorado Springs to Ft. Morgan - Building Antibodies

November 9th began drowning in reactionary cynicism. It ended honoring a dead friend and the effect he never knew he had; a humble 1st person tribute to the resonating ghost of my first ‘real” ride from a tortured man who'd become infamous and dismissed in death simply as a cop-killing monster. The man I met was much more.November 9th began drowning in reactionary cynicism. It ended honoring a dead friend and the effect he never knew he had; a humble 1st person tribute to the resonating ghost of my first ‘real” ride from a tortured man who'd become infamous and dismissed in death simply as a cop-killing monster. The man I met was much more.

HAPPY TANGENT: Good news! For this trip, the last post is mostly it for naked political commentary. Congratulations! You survived! Have a Tootsie Roll. Or a big bag of Freedom Cheetos. No, that wasn't a political statement. It was me having some fun with your triggers.

11/9/16: The Electoral Post-Mortem

With Trump’s election, Wednesday morning stood in hilariously stark contrast to Tuesday’s. Whatever “connection” I’d felt just 24-hours earlier was dead and replaced by a generalized sense of annoyed cynicism. The early hours of November 9th felt like a complete personal political post-mortem. In fact, they were only the initial incisions.

Graced with hindsight, the aforementioned warning bells were now deafening. I thought back to 2008 & 2009 and the dozens of conversations with people so disgusted with "the system" that they’d rather blow it up than have it maim them any further. I remembered the conversations in Peru: warning people, to their semi-arrogant “progressive’ amusement, that Trump was a threat. And that one should never underestimate or bet against willful 'merican ignorance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

11/8/16: Raton to Colorado Springs - The Orange Interloper Ascends


Until the very end, election day 2016 was refreshingly non-political. For at least 2-years, if not longer, almost everyone had been ready for November 8, 2016 to end. Rather than a righteous expression of democracy, to most Americans the electoral process has become a tortuous, brutal endurance test. Be reasonably assured: anyone preaching recycled, long-winded, election-based “patriotic” American ideals are full of shit and simply wanting to hear themselves cackle. The senses-battering saturation with all conceivable means of spin is exhausting. By the start of any election year, people are just trying to survive the carpet bombing style propaganda campaigns disguised as “discourse” and non-stop political advertisements. In an odd way, I’d escaped the final onslaught by being on the road! I’d figured out my cellphone predicament the night before but as election day dawned I was without data which mercifully left me disconnected.

The night was cold but the Bellyache Mountain again performed admirably. The bag/bivy tandem combined with the plush grass to create a perfectly comfortable, restful nest. Until I got out and started shivering! As in Flagstaff, the bivy had a coat of thick frost and my water bottle had frozen. Unlike Flagstaff and Albuquerque: no condensation. Anywhere. At all! Bazinga! This time, I was (finally) wise enough to cover the backpack with its rain fly, so the Palisade avoided the frost and its accompanying melt.

Monday, November 7, 2016

11/7/16: Election Eve On The Santa Fe Trail

Albuquerque-Raton, NM

It wasn’t a restful night, but I slept well enough in my creepy dirt nest. The first thing I noticed when waking up at 6:30: everything was soaked. Again. This time, rather than condensation: desert dew. Since I’d slept outside of the bivy, the sleeping bag bore the brunt. As did the uncovered backpack. But, moisture aside, the sleeping bag rocked again and the shell kept its insides dry. Still, I again needed to dry it before stowing it for very long. At least I was still at a Flying J. Easy fix.

The second thing: a car parked nearby in the nothingness! It was just 40-50 yards away and sitting directly beneath the massive sign luring I-40’s traffic to the Flying J. I don’t know which creeped me out more: a car so close to my nest or that I hadn’t heard it pull in!

“Whatever, Adventureman. The sun is up. You’re visible. Everything about this nest is creepy and generally uncomfortable. Quit gawking. Get moving. Dumbass.”

Sunday, November 6, 2016

11/6/16: "Bus, Bus, Foreigner's Tour Bus"

Flagstaff-Albuquerque

After my creepy 4am awakening, the frost coating the bivy convinced me to stay snugly in my sleeping bag for an hour struggling to get more sleep. It was still dark, I had no idea how to deal with the frost layer before re-packing the bivy, and the condensation inside the bivy sack had collected onto the sleeping bag. All new complications needing to be dealt with. And the sun wasn’t even beginning to rise.

I purchased this particular bag in Phoenix because Big Agnes marketed the Bellyache Mountain as having a water resistant outer shell as well as containing “water repellant down”. I’d hesitated switching to a much lighter weight down-bag before because they’re traditionally known to be useless once they get wet.; the down would clump in older bags and they’d lose their ability to retain heat. But, over the last few years, technology has developed to combat that significant problem. If Big Agnes’s “Downtek” worked, the weight/packability would make one worth the investment. Despite the considerable condensation, one thing was certain this Sunday morning: the moisture hadn’t penetrated its outer shell and gotten at me. And it still felt like a furnace! So far, so good. I just didn’t want to extract myself! But, I wanted to spend another night in Flagstaff far less.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

11/5/16: "Remember, Remember the 5th of November"

After almost two weeks, on Flux Capacitor/Guy Fawkes Day, it was time to get moving. With Standing Rock as a tentative “plan” (ha!), we decided north from Phoenix was the best option and around 11am we packed Dexter The Dog into Jefe’s truck and took I-17 toward Flagstaff.

Compared to Nevada, I-17 has an abundance of suitable hitchhiker drop zones once Phoenix’s sprawl is left behind. Jeff generously decided on Camp Verde, 90-miles away; only an hour south of Flagstaff and my new target: I-40 east. Meet the new goal. Same as the old goal.

Friday, November 4, 2016

10/24-11/4/16: Phoenix, AZ - El Jefe Revisited

Some backstory is in order for those who have joined the party since 2010. Jefe and I grew up in the same town and have a history running back to the first Bush administration. He moved west in the late 1990’s, and we managed to stay connected by phone and me paying infrequent visits before and after I myself moved west in 2004. When Chris and I decided in January, 2010 that we’d meet up at Slab City , in the California desert near the Salton Sea, I Dirty Dogged from Santa Fe to Phoenix so Jeff could join us for a night or two. He was there when we encountered Leonard Knight and Kevin Eubank and I believe he even met the infamous Ray. We then occasionally got together in 2013 while we lived in Tucson. For whatever reason, La Casa de Jefe is frequently on the way! We hadn’t seen each other since my move to Chicago in late-2013, so a visit seemed likely from the moment I landed in Las Vegas.

We quickly got re-acquainted, which is never hard, and things quieted down significantly over the next several days. He worked while I spent the mornings with his dog and cat updating my blog, editing video, and contemplating Mexico.

Monday, October 24, 2016

10/24/16: Phoenix - Go Forth Boldly, Young Man

Aside from a rather comical episode of sleep/smartphone induced disorientation leading me to spend 5-10 minutes believing I’d slept thru Phoenix and was arriving in Albuquerque without my backpack, the Greyhound from L.A. to Phoenix was uneventful. I arrived just as the sun rose and spent the next several hours at the terminal waiting for Jefe to get out of work and pick me up.

IMG_6298

Bus stations are never “ordinary”. The collection of humanity gathering at Greyhound always make for superb people watching, and Phoenix is no exception. Along with the typical strutting examples of facial tattoos and recently parolees, I did meet one interesting, familiar character.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

10/23/16: Barstow, CA - Jad, Drifters, and a Dirty Dog Escape

The clouds kept things warmer overnight. I was finally snug and toasty and climatologically undisturbed inside the bivy until around 7:30. I got moving immediately. Just as I finished packing up stray raindrops fell. They didn't stick around, but it was a prelude of later.

I finally had a goal: southwest on I-15.  Barstow. Of course, when hitchhiking there is no way to plan anything. So, I'd just take it a step at a time and let my arrival determine the next move. From Barstow, I was inclined to hitch at least to Flagstaff. But, it's rarely easy to switch interstates and always a crapshoot. I knew nothing useful about the I-40 situation other than there was (apparently) only one direction to go: east. Route 66's killer dies itself it Barstow.

Inexplicably, I went inside to charge and write. Somehow, I'd actually forgotten the 12:30 Barstow Greyhound that would be the best option for both Jeff and I once I arrived in Phoenix. He works early mornings, and an evening arrival would be easiest on him. And me. I wouldn't have to lounge at the luxurious Dirty Dog terminal.

After putzing around for 45-minutes or an hour, I suddenly realized my idiocy. I topped off the water, decided to forego Subway, and hustled over to the exit ramp for the first time hoping some good luck got me to Barstow by noon.

Few things about actual hitchhiking are consistent. One is: expectations and "hoping" that the hitchhiking gods mercifully conspire to assist my pre-conceived plans never works. Whenever I feel like I "need" a ride by a certain time, I never get it. The Hitching Gods have their own ideas. They've repeatedly made it clear that my "plans" (ha!) mean squat.

And thus it went.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

10/22/16: Primm, NV - Parolee Theater (Video)




The night inside the bivy was still slightly chilly, but much better. See, genius? It's worth the extra effort required to, you know, climb inside the damn thing!


Casa del Dirt


Having a live chat to Germany from here. "Viva tech! I hate you! No! I love you! I'm so confused! Hold me..."

Friday, October 21, 2016

10/21/16: Primm, NV - Signal Acquired

Stop me if you heard this before, but I woke up. Cold. Around 4:30. Familiar? Thought so. I'm sick of typing the same embarrassing anecdote in this space. Just go cut n paste this part from the four previous days. Cool? Good.

I rolled out of nest as the sun rose around 6:30 then spent the morning establishing a little routine: sitting at a stool inside the Flying J charging and writing.

I also rediscovered the beauty of Subway's 12" cold cut combo. Eat half in the morning. Half later on. Food? Done! And thank God. Planters and cheap beef sticks were getting really old! I appreciate the low cost, but I'm almost afraid to ask: What animal tastes like that, Matador? Nevadan Desert Snipe? Manbearpig? Or was that something trapped, caged, and butchered beneath Groom Lake?

**Related Fun Fact: Area 51 now shows up on Google Maps . #TheMoreYouKnow #TheTruthIsOutThere**

Thursday, October 20, 2016

10/20/16: Primm, NV - Mormon Ambassadors; A Desert Oasis

The first rule of Hitch Club: don't expect women to pick you up.

The second rule of Hitch Club: Forget vehicles with kiddos.

**Show of hands. How many of you parroted Tyler Durden? That'll teach you to get ahead of me.**

Such silly ride expectations will send you straight into vagabond therapy.

Knowing all this, I didn't even bother looking at the minivan; it was driven by a woman about my age with a teenager in the passenger seat as went by. So I was shocked when I glanced over and noticed them backing down the ramp's wide shoulder toward me!

10/20/16: Jean, NV - Tuning In; Bugging Out

Another cold night turned into a surprisingly chilly day. The winds kicked up and, despite the sun, temps hovered in the upper 60's all day leading to a surprisingly comfortable hoodied Wednesday.

I woke up around 7:45, packed up the gear in a much more efficient fashion, and proudly found myself back at my spot by 8:15--only to discover that nearly all of the trucks were already long gone! In that annoyed moment, I resolved to be awake earlier, much earlier, if I found myself in Jean again Thursday.

The primary theme of the day was set the night before as I lay writing in the nest. "Digital Detox" once again. Presence. Being "here". As I was writing, I found myself hypnotically looking up at the moon and Orion...then back down at my phone as I finished a blog post. I found that almost silly while, at the same time, tried how technology has changed and I needed to adapt; learn to use this connectivity as a tool rather than a habitual crutch.

For much of the day, I sat there with the phone off. No music. Nothing. And in a pseudo meditative state. Completely immersed in where I was and what I was doing. My observational senses heightened because my attention wasn't fragmented between " here" and everywhere else. It was almost intoxicating as I found myself remotely connecting with people from beneath my shade tree. Looking beyond the thin, often judgmental "appearance" veneer as people walked by, pumped their gas, or walked in to get their snacks and drinks.



It's hard to explain, but the general feeling was empathy. And it was borne from having forged a tangible human connection with the "real" world. I remembered this from my other trips, but back then I was typically preoccupied with getting somewhere. Not today. Today, again, wasn't about my personal selfish mobility. It was about really "seeing" people and re-focusing my eyes on the reality of humanity. The trip's personality was beginning to show itself. And, yes. Today, I was the Truck Stop Philosopher. And content with that.

Get On Your Bad Motor Scooter & Ride!

Around mid-afternoon, three loaded down motor scooters, complete with trailers stuffed with gear, pulled into Terrible's. I was fascinated! These guys had taken the bicycle touring idea and adapted it to scooters! I had to check this out!

I slung on the pack, walked over to the gas pumps, introduced myself, and asked what they were up to. They were three guys from Las Vegas in their 20's who were planning an extended scooter tour . This was a little trial run to test things.

My people! They had the explorer's "what's really out there?" mentality and were setting forth in their little motorized ships to see for themselves. With an intense, optimistic sense and embracing of adventure. They'd seemingly embraced the "Live! Now!" notion and I loved them for it. Their almost uncontrollable excited energy was contagious.

When I told them what I'd done since '08, they had a few tactical questions about what to bring, etc. My advice: Dont make my mistake by overthinking. Just go! Don't fucking worry about it. You'll figure your own method out along the way and almost immediately.  In fact, that's part of the fun. Take too much if you must. You can always get rid of it along the way. Overlook something? Get it later.

We chatted at the gas pumps for at least 20-minutes and exchanged social media info before they left, and a large part of me wished I were tagging along. I was excited for them and even slightly envious that they were at the beginning when everything lying ahead was an exciting, invigoratingly nervous mystery! They were "alive"! And, as with the night before, I was struck by the intense reminder of "why I do this".



Meeting these guys, and being able to keep in touch moving forward, tempered any potentially pesky dogma surrounding Digital Detox. They were playing the role of returning to The Cave to show the Upper World to those still chained beneath. Even if it was unintentional and via Instagram.

No. Selfishly hoarding these experiences in a personal vacuum was certainly not the answer. One could effectively argue that the act is the height of self-centered narcissism. Not everyone "can" do this. (The day's empathy at work.) If you can even slightly help these folks by allowing them to experience these moments and insights, even second hand, why wouldn't you?

As these young men sped away on their scooters, I made friends with my smart phone. This thing can be a positive asset if it's "used" and not "using" me.

Shortly thereafter, I walked up to a NHP trooper and asked him to clarify the state's hitching law. What I learned? That the only part of hitchhiking that's illegal: raising your thumb! I could sit at the I-15 exit ramp. I could have a sign. I could even WALK the fucking interstate! I just couldn't...hold my thumb in the air. 

Really?

"What. The. Infernal. Fuck?"

Time to Go

Looking back on it, my useful time in Jean came to an abrupt end when these scooters sputtered off. That was what I needed, and from that point forward, I was first being gently nudged along. Then not so gently.

People always implore me to "be careful". I've never had trouble with rides. At ALL. It's always the seldom seen other travelers, "Rainbow Family" Dipshits, or occasional homeless dude that wigs me out. West Virginia in '12 for example.

Early in the evening as I was listening to the Cubs-Dodgers again, I was joined at my little desert Oasis by a desperately sketchy and disconcertingly nervous little road rat who spent much of the evening scampering around hunting and harassing disinterested truckers for rides. It was as though someone had methed-up his Newports. Think: overly aggressive panhandler. Of course he stopped over long enough to bum a smoke and use my Sharpie to make a sign. Then he vanished to the ramp to try getting to Primm's Flying J that night.

I hoped he'd have some luck, but unfortunately he didn't and would reappear shortly before I decided to bed down and prepare for an early Thursday.

"Just great!", I thought.

"Now I'd have to sneak back to my spot then lie awake in my rocky little dirt nest to see if Tweaky McBallsuck found me."

Plus, I was sure that, in the interim, he'd ask for another smoke simply to use it as a segue to tell me all about how the cops keep trying to frame him. Or how "that lyin' bitch fucked him over". They almost always do. It's fucks like this that makes life more difficult out here from top to bottom. At least the stories are good.

Thankfully he vanished. I don't know if he got a ride or what, but once he went behind the truck stop, I never saw him again. No complaints there. I did lie awake for a bit but, after the events of being found the night before, I was mindful of being overly paranoid while still not being careless. I set the alarm for 5am and dozed off, on top of the bivy again, around 11.

I woke up at 4:40. Cold. Again! I packed up in the dark, it was still an hour before sunrise, and got to the parking lot around 5:15. I was still a bit late. Several of the trucks had already left. I drew up an "I-40, 70, or 80" sign determined to at least try my best to catch a truck and get moving. No luck. Not even close.



Around 8:30, I was looking at my phone trying to connect with Scooter Guys, when a shiny little black sports car occupied by a couple of young black guys pulled up to my spot beneath the tree...and asked me, with excessive, contrived politeness, for money.

I laughed. Obnoxiously. Out loud.

"Really? You're asking ME for money? If I had money, I'd be on a bus!", I lied.

"What's a bus?", the driver answered.  Without a hint of humor or irony.

Then the passenger took over. He looked me up and down and immediately I knew where this was going.

"That's a nice jacket. Nice boots. Saw that phone. We could just come back and take all that shit. And your wallet, too."

Again, I laughed as the car began slowly driving off. The passenger said something to the effect of "see ya later" as they turned right toward I-15. I looked him dead in the eye and smiled as if to say, "Yeah. Maybe I'll see you, too", then eyeballed them as they got on I-15 north back toward Vegas.

Well, shit. Yup. Definitely time to go.

I drew on the events of the past two nights and didn't let paranoia rule the day. I was pretty sure that they were just punks looking for an soft, gullible target and had failed. Otherwise, they were poor excuses for thugs!

Nevertheless, I couldn't be certain.  So, I waited for 15-20 minutes to see if they returned, went inside to grab some beef sticks and water, then walked to the I-15 southbound ramp. My pesky decision was suddenly made. Fuck everything to do with dealing with Las Vegas. I was going south. At least as far as the next exit, Primm, where I knew there was a Flying J.

The only question? Would anyone stop? I was bolstered by the fact that it was only around 9am and I had never been completely shutout when I'd spent a full day actually hitching.



I drew up a sign for Primm, then sat for nearly three hours. Right about the time I began wondering if this was the day I'd finally get shutout, I looked over to see that a minivan had pulled over and was backing up on my direction.

My first ride was from the most unlikely of sources. And far more than a positive counterbalance to the morning's silliness...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

10/18/16: Jean, NV - Tuning Up

Cold. Late.

That was my first night back on the road. Once I finally got to sleep, it didn't take long to remember how chilly the desert can be at night. I woke up repeatedly between 4 and 6am almost shivering in my old, 20-degree sleeping bag. Sure, there are no mosquitos and little chance of rain in the desert. But there are other reasons to fight the lazy tendency to just toss the bag down and go to sleep. Like fire ants. They didn't get to me, but close enough!

"Hey! Genius! You have this fancy-ass bivy sack for a reason!"

I'd repeat the same mistake again that night. And the next. And the next. What's the definition of insanity again, Adventureman?

The Jean Nest

I finally got a little decent sleep after the sun rose and warmed me up and managed to snooze in my little rock nest until 9:15. I then spent quite awhile organizing and repacking the mess strewn around the backpack and deciding what I didn't need for task #2: finishing the incomplete gear shipment home.

It turned out that the overpriced UPS Store run in Las Vegas was completely unnecessary. There was a post office literally across Las Vegas Blvd. (yes, the same one!) from Terrible's. I wobbled across the road and boxed up the excess while cursing the fact I'd sent my jeans home the day before.

The next order of business: food and electricity. I needed to charge the phone and battery pack I'd depleted while writing and editing video and, because of my hasty departure from Vegas and the generally hectic nature of the previous day, I'd actually forgotten to eat. My body, or more accurately, the 40# bag on its back, rudely reminded me, immediately, that it required fuel. Thankfully, there was a single readymade solution to both problems: Denny's! To the casino!

I spent an enjoyably refreshing couple hours eating a massive omelette, drinking a dozen cups of coffee, and writing in my journal while my phone and battery pack got full bellies of their own. And spent entirely too much money. I rationalized it by comparing this Denny's run to my first few days whenever I go to Mexico. I usually fly into Cancun, take the ferry to Isla Mujeres, then proceed to party way too much for a few days before clamping down and becoming economically frugal. A $22 breakfast? Comparatively, that's fiscal child's play! And, besides, I needed it.



After breakfast, routine kicked in. The weather was perfect; sun, breezy, and mid 70's as I returned to Terrible's, assumed the position beneath my comfy shade tree, and waited for some variation of divine transportational intervention. Or, so it would seem.

And, again, it nearly worked. A slightly overbearing redneck from Dickson, Tennessee wandered past as his dog came my way to lick hello before relieving herself in the grass. He asked what I was up to, and when I returned the question he shared how his wife, mother, and sister had all recently died. Bad enough. But then one of Dickson's gangs wanted him to join up because (of course) he was a profound badass. When he refused? They threatened to come after him.

Dickson had understanbly lost its limited charms.

So he'd sold his house and ridden his metaphorical wagon west with his friendly dog and whatever he could fit into the van and the large trailer he towed. A timeless Coming West theme: To Start Anew. Where? He had no idea. Other than "not Nevada". In fact, he was rightfully eager to get "back to California" ; something I thought I'd never hear from a proper Tennessee redneck.

He swung his jam-packed van along side on the way out and apologetically said he'd give me a ride if he had room, but "the dog ain't givin' up her seat." 

The pup did look happy and content in that passenger's seat. Who was I to mess that up for her after all the unsolicited friendly licks to the face?

Shortly thereafter, I had this trip's first law enforcement interaction. If you're a veteran of my old blogs, you'll remember these typically being invasive, thinly veiled, blatant violations of "reasonable search and seizure": random, unfounded ID checks. On other trips, I'd taken a bit of a standoffish, if not obliquely combative, attitude to these police state tactics.

But, I've apparently mellowed. I chose to smile and be as positive and cooperative as possible. Why make life any more difficult than necessary while I'm here? Also, why not give the cop a chance to prove he's not a badged bully-cunt?

Lo and behold, he'd stopped simply to let me know that, while what I was doing now was perfectly fine, hitchhiking was technically illegal in Nevada. Convinced it was coming anyway, and in an attempt to get it over with, I proactively offered up my ID. And he refused it. 

Well, shit! A cop. Just doing his job. And helping me out with useful information? Hey! Michigan! Maryland! Pay attention!

I smiled and even shook his hand as he left and felt an appreciation that's sadly too rare today. That wouldn't be my last interaction with Nevada Highway Patrol while in Jean. Each were positive.

The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. No rides. And again: no real effort. At least now, after the hitchhiking statute lesson from my new lawdog friend, I didn't feel slothly about avoiding the I-15 ramp and began wondering about possibly walking Las Vegas Blvd. south to the next town, Primm, and its Flying J.

Around six, as the sun was falling, a young man between 17 and 20 walked with a pronounced limp past me on the way to the casino. I said hello, and told him to be careful as he struggled to cross the busy road. He meekly nodded his acknowledgment; clearly somehow disabled. He initially had trouble getting across and I nearly jumped up to help, somehow. But, he made it on his own. And I didn't think much more about it.

I was still there, listening to the Cubs-Dodgers  playoff game, when he returned an hour or so later. He waved and smiled this time as he returned to the truck parking area. Five minutes later, he re-appeared again. This time with a man I assumed was his father. This smiling fellow also had a strong speech impedement, but was quite friendly and offered me a beer he had hidden in his front pocket. I politely, but emphatically, declined thinking the last thing I needed at this point was impairment! I thanked him anyhow, appreciating the gesture.

Then he walked over to me and coyly, secretively even, slipped me a five dollar bill. Unprepared and taken aback, I took it not sure what to think. Let alone say. Where did this come from? Maybe I read too much into it, but this was WAY out the ordinary. The best I could figure was that he was trying to express gratitude for something, and I was deeply moved by the act...an effect having nothing to do with the $5 itself, but what it represented. A bit more of my toxic, divisive summer cynicism melted away and I was again reminded of why I do this. These two: obviously a couple more of the abundant good guys.

I finished listening to the Cubs game and made my way back to the same sleeping spot feeling much better about things than the night before. My "Spidey Senses" were tuning in and it had become obvious that they had NOT atrophied. In fact, they seemed more enhanced. I hoped to lay out my bag and crash early, but my night wasn't quite over.

About 10-minutes after setting up and lying down to decompress and reconcile everything, I noticed a rather larger person's silhouette coming toward me from the parking lot!

"What the fuck!"

Instantly, I sat up and instinctively puffed my body out in some bizarre, primitive attempt to make myself look larger than I am! I also reflexively dug the knife out of my pants pocket.

This was something new. I've been stealth camping since 2008. This was the very first time I'd ever been found! Never even close! Before tonight! Of course, the paranoid reptilian brain went into hyperdrive.

"He saw you walk back here and he's coming to steal your boots and Clif Bars!" 

The reality? scared the living shit out of him! He wasn't a vagrant predator. He was either staying at the casino's hotel or in an RV, had gotten stoned, and didn't want to risk possible interactions with the police. So, in his inebriated state, he thought it was wise to cross I-15 on foot to get to the Chevron station on the other side! Why? I have no idea. And, after the shock was in no mood to ask. But, there I was. And he was legitimately terrified I was going to shoot him!

He was almost comically apologetic, despite the fact that there's now way he could or should have expected me to be there. That, after all, is the point of stealth camping! He lingered for a minute trying to defuse any potential conflict, obviously picking up on my own agitation; an aggression I was subconsciously projecting intentionally! "Project strength to avoid conflict." I think that's a Fight Club thing. Tyler Durden. Get to know him.

My new friend never made it across I-15. He discovered the fashion perils of encountering barbed wire and returned defeated 5-minutes later. This time, thankfully making plenty of noise so as not to startle me! And, repeating his request that I not shoot him. We spent 10-minutes chatting before he mercifully left me alone. It took 40-minutes before Mr. Reptile Brain was finally convinced he wasn't just scoping me out for a return 2 am assault. In retrospect, almost another Vern Moment. But not quite!

The only return that night: the cold. Of course I stayed atop the bivy again. And again, woke up at 4am. Freezing.

Genius.

Monday, October 17, 2016

10/17/16: Day #1 - Jean and The Tin Man

In retrospect, the decision to hit the road Monday (10/17) felt a lot like the original choice to leave Chicago the week before: completely unprepared. When I woke up and sat down to write that morning, I had no idea where I'd be struggling to sleep in just a few hours!

 The day's big event was supposed to be a simple post office run. But, without making a conscious "decision", I  gathered the rest of my stuff and by 2:00 we had made my dropoff at a UPS Store (unable to fit everything in the one overpriced box ), and were on I-15 south heading out of the city to terra inc├│gnita. My only pre-trip request: "when I leave, get me to a decent spot betond the city sprawl!"

I didn't have even a vague notion of where I was going, so direction didn't really matter. I suggested Hoover Dam, thinking hitching the road south toward Kingman would be a good way to break myself back in and that I could eventually go whatever direction I decided by the time I got to I-40.

Natali didn't want to drive that far, so it was essentially a decision between north and south on I-15. North almost surely meant Utah: The mythically infamous Hitchhiker Blackhole! So, since we are already on the south end of Vegas, I told her to just go south and make it easy. From there I relied on her knowledge of the area. She had a spot in mind, so I trusted her judgment.

The Rusty Tin Man Creaks Forth

Maybe 30-minutes later, Natali exited at Jean and dropped me off at Terrible's, a Shell station/small truck stop across from a rather large casino otherwise in the middle of Desert Nowhere.

The spot had everything I'd need to get my legs beneath me: a gas station for food, water, a Denny's across the road to get coffee and charging facilities, and truck parking. Also, an abundance of open space for stealth camping. We hugged, I snapped a pic, and suddenly I was hitchhiking again. For the first time since my short and family-aborted Texas to Colorado run in 2013.

The first emotion: youthful exhilaration. An excited sense of utter uncertainty psychologically framed as "adventure". I'd had this feeling several times before. This time though, it was tempered. "Been 'here' before..." Considering it had been so long, I was surprised that almost instantly I reverted to instinct, method and experience. I automatically surveyed the grounds, walked inside for water, some snacks, and cigarettes.

Yes. The cigarettes were back. I'd left Chicago with vaping gear planning to decrease my nicotine levels along the way and quitting a week or two later. Good plan. It had worked before. Except, the previous week my battery had gone to hell and I was forced to drop an unplanned $50 on a new one, tank, and coils. That was ridiculous and pissed me off. "Fifty bucks?!? Why not just fucking smoke? How the hell am I going to keep this battery charged?" I answered that silent question immediately. when my smokes and I were reunited. And yeah, it kinda felt good! Hitchhiking and smoking go together like cigarettes and booze; smokes and coffee. Trump & Putin. It's weird.

Why am I even explaining this? Don't judge, fuckers.

The second instant realization: a repeat of the week before. How moving from "abstraction to action" annihilates the internal "what if" anxieties. As soon as we were on the road, the "what ifs" turned to problem solving and forward motion. I was reminded more than once of the "molehills" in the lead up to my original departure in 2008. How everything I'd worried about for nearly 4-years was proven ridiculous. Almost immediately. Our minds are both our greatest assets and our biggest nemesis.



There was a shade tree set in a perfect spot between the parking lot and the road. An ideal place to be seen by the traffic coming and going. I plopped the pack down beneath it and exhaled. Almost immediately, I nearly got out of there. Had I been "saltier", I believe I would have.

A truck driver saw me and my setup, walked over, and said he could tell I wasn't a bum and asked what I was up to. I gave him the now-unfamiliar, unrefined, and poorly articulated "out to see people without electronic eyes" version and we spent 10-15 minutes chatting. He talked about how he'd given rides to people similar to me and how they'd stayed in touch. In retrosepct, it's obvious he had taken into account that I'd just been dropped off and was waiting for me to ask to come along. But, apparently I was waiting for an engraved golden invitation, not wanting to seem (feel?) like a transportational panhandler. Had I been a bit more tuned in, this trip would look vastly different. He went north. Presumably toward Salt Lake City or Reno.

Almost directly on the heels of my new trucker friend came Curt & Judy. They were in their late 50's or early 60's, had parked their RV at Terrible's, and were in the area to do some off-roading in their 4-wheelers. They struck up a conversation while walking from the RV to the canino's Denny's. They were quite curious about my base motivations and we hit it off immediately. We shared philosophical views about the existentially corrosive effects of chasing money and careerism, among other things. I told them about the inspiration I drew from Plato's Cave and gave them an Upper World Photo card with an invitation to contact me via my Facebook page. They invited me to let them know if I made it up to Seattle and I immediately warned them about such polite, off-handed invites! I tend to take folks up on them from time-to-time! Eh, Shawn? Kim? Jeff?

While I slightly hoped to find a ride Monday, there was no "real" effort. Any hope stemmed mostly from directional indecisiveness. I had no beacon whatsoever. I'd decided that I'd wait for my first "real" ride out of the desert and off I-15's north-south LA to Vegas/Utah asphalt funnel. Thus, despite my vast experience failing in such matters, I was targeting trucks. And had just let one go!

Yes, I was certainly rusty.

In reality, it was good to just sit with myself and just be. To slowly disconnect from the electronic eyes, embrace the old "Sit Down and Shut Up" idea, while simultaneously basking in the positive energy of the post-drop off day, and reconnect with the real, raw world.

The cynicism that I'd felt returning all weekend as I attempted to "pay attention" to the election and "current events" almost immediately evaporated and was replaced with positivity borne from real interaction with real people in the "real" world. I know of no better "therapy".

The previous week's ideas about Digital Detox were certainly top-of-mind Monday, and would be for the foreseeable future. Clearly, I'm no prospective Luddite! But, finding balance and a sense of intentional utility with technology is obviously key. I'd never tried hitchhiking with a full-on smartphone, and I was rightfully concerned about it before I even left. But, the usefulness is undeniable. On Day 1, I shot and edited video and found myself finishing and uploading my "October Surprise" post while stashed away behind the truck parking lot! And, yes, I also occasionally found myself habitually reaching for my device as I became bored. But, at least I was mindful of it. At the same time, I was mindful of Plato's "Return to the Cave".

Finding a spot to camp as the sun fell around six was a breeze. I laid the bivy/Thermarest out on the semi-rocky ground, flung the sleeping bag on top, and laid there unable to sleep. I was semi-productive with the writing and editing, but I couldn't shut down the brain.



Clearly, there was more to this trip than I was even aware of...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

10/16/16: Las Vegas - Dabbling With Digital Detox

I had been to Las Vegas a couple of times. Once when I transferred Greyhounds when I was 13. The other for an airline transfer. Leaving the airport in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with Natali was the first time I'd actually seen the strip, even though from afar.

Except for her to walk her dog, the two of us didn't leave the apartment until Friday. We spent 2 1/2 full days just talking about everything imaginable and getting to know each other. Nearly nonstop from when we woke up in the morning until we went to bed. It was exhausting but, in some distantly familiar way, exhilarating.

For those two days, I tried putting the notion of Digital Detox into practice. Despite the glaring irony and inconsistency, that have their reasons, I've been concerned about living and seeing the world electronically for a long time. After reading a fantastic piece (online) by Andrew Sullivan about his struggles to reclaim his humanity and essence from cyberspace, I decided to give it a shot.

For these two days, the phone was in another room and the TV stayed off until there was an actual specific purpose for either of them. Facebook? Ha! Nearly a nonentity.

What I discovered? It was so much easier to concentrate on the conversation, focus on who was in the room, and maintain a sense of positivity and presence without the distraction of having "the whole world" right there in front of me.

Out of sight, out of mind. The simple act of making the iPhone a non-reflexive, non-habitual entity made the entire process work and I felt reconnected to the "real" world. That's something, not coincidentally, that also happens when I travel in Latin America without cellular voice or data. And, a corresponding and inevitable disconnection also typically occurs when I get to a hostel with...you guessed it...wifi! Then it's like Starbucks. A roomful of people posting selfies and oblivious to each other's existence.

Peru was an inadvertent case study in that. I spent two of my three months off-the-grid at Chris' eco-hostel 13,000 ft. up the Andes skirt. The only power was gathered by modest solar cells. Everything after sundown was done by candle light. Wifi? Ha! Slow, rudimentary cellular internet at best. And it didn't work most of the time. Internet wasn't a taken-for-granted utility. It was a sparsely used tool. Hour long trips were planned to go down the mountainside to Huaraz just to get it. And not very often.

In the meantime? People...talked! To other real people! Who were IN THE ROOM WITH THEM! Eureka! When they weren't talking ? Reading. Writing. Taking world class hikes. Just sitting down. Shutting up. "Being". Without any contrived external entertainment.

It was a bit unnerving at first, but the mental batteries recharged and clarity of thought and focus returned. These weren't just my observations. Other people from different backgrounds around the world noticed, commented on it, and appreciated it as well. There were ways to bring wifi to The Hof if Chris really wanted to. He didn't. That's exactly why.

One other Peruvian observation: even after all that time unplugged I still an unconsciously resumed old habits as soon as I returned to "civilization". Our brains are being rewired and reprogrammed by our machines.

Another thing I noticed last week: How politics changes my entire mood, vibe, energy, and general outlook. And, I don't need to be discussing it for that to happen. Social media or TV? Doesn't matter. As soon as election "news" or commentary is put in front of me, and I put any degree of focus in its direction: ZAP! Whatever positive energy that was there before was gone. Cynicism floods in to replace it. And it was sometimes difficult to get it back. More so the longer I was immersed in it. I would have another stark in-person example provided for me the day I finally began the real"trip"! (Foreshadowing now!)

There is an incredibly instructive, overreaching society-based idea to be mined on that last point. Obviously, I'm not unique in that regard. I'm simply not wanting to poke this complex observation into a fucking iPhone while lying on my sleeping bag behind a truckstop in the desert! Not the "cushiest" place I've written! (Foreshadowing Forever!)

Sadly, this little two-day experiment didn't last. Natali left Friday night to stay with her cousin so she could take her to the airport early Saturday morning. I was alone in her apartment, so my flirtation with cyber-celibacy ended abruptly.  It started with me innocently editing and posting a YouTube video. Before I knew it I was right back where I was. Habitually grabbing the phone like a crack pipe. And wondering how this was going to be when I finally hit the road! A smartphone? That had never been attempted!

The rest of the weekend wasn't worth talking about. The TV came on, phones went in hand, and that short, surprisingly intense connection we'd forged was mostly gone. I suppose my little visit to Las Vegas was a miniscule microcosm for what I was describing about Peru. No phone: human connection. As soon as it returns? Poof! Zombie from Electronistan!

In retrospect, I should have left Sunday. But, since I'd not given myself time to think thru everything thoroughly before I left, I needed a post office. Or, so I thought! (Make Foreshadowing Great Again!)

One thing for sure: by Monday morning, it was obviously past time for me to fly...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

10/11/16: The October Surprise

When I returned from Peru in February, the "plan" (ha!) was to spend the summer hitchhiking. A glorious and heroic return to the method, adventure, and free-flowing existential orgies of 2008-2010. With a "real" camera this time! Then vocation took over. I underestimated how difficult replacing the computer that was stolen last fall in the break-in would be and how much I had to learn about putting digital photographs on paper! Long story short, I got sidetracked. Not that I "couldn't" go. I didn't feel "right" about half-assing this exponentially expanding photography project. Before I knew it, it was late July. My first photo show was rapidly approaching in August. My remaining resources were put into production and presentation. I had no expectations but lo and behold! I sold things. I made money. Then I entered another spontaneous show in September. I sold more things. I made more money.

 

"Hey! Maybe I was right about this photography thing." Unfortunately, the summer wasn't just photo shows. Life's never that singular and monolithic, is it? It was also complicated by redneck Vulture Family Values drama. The details aren't for you to consume, but suffice it to say that in a spasm of self-destructive rage, I sold my camera and telephoto lens. I put some of that money toward upgrading my travel gear thinking, wrongly in my fit of DNA disgust, that I was ready to scrape photography to the ground and just "go".

I'd been here before. I should know better. Add an unneeded photo gear complication for later in the year. That would be fun to deal with! After the last show, things got annoyingly familiar. Again: what the hell was I going to do? It was almost October. Getting late in the year to be thumbing and stealth camping, unless I was eager to be fucking around in the snow. Which, if you've been around from the start, you know I'm most certainly NOT!

My friend Natali and I had been tinkering with the idea of me starting a trip at her place in Las Vegas for the past few months. She'd been subjected to my indecisiveness firsthand. After a couple of weeks of mentally masturbating and creating all sorts of the old, familiar doomsday narratives in my head, September had become October, and I decided to jump.

On Tuesday the 11th, I bought the ticket to Vegas. For that night. I gave myself approximately 8-hours to prepare for a completely improvised and open-ended trip. The only things I was mindfull of at that moment: "I'm sick of the sound of my own voice. I'm sick of the same internal conversations. I know what this is: the same irrational, contrived anxiety that stopped you from starting this for four years, from 2004-2008. Unfounded fear. And you know how ridiculous it was then. How the imaginary mountains were in practice tiny molehills. Figure it out on the fly. The only way you'll do it is to take your own mind out of the equation. Fuck the camera. Just go. Dumbass."

I went. Before I could second, third, and tenth guess it. As soon as the ticket was bought, all the abstract redundant silliness of the summer abated. What mattered was what was ahead of me. First: getting the gear together for my flight! I had to focus and act. Amazing how useful that is. By 8:30, I was headed to O'Hare. I had no idea what to expect beyond getting reacquainted with my friend. And, once in the air I noticed a remarkable mix of both excitement and calm resignation! I'd always talked about just "going" no plan. No expectation. Just to see where the road took me. I was finally doing it. And without "planning not to plan"! It's neat when you realize you can still surprise yourself.



I shot an email off to Chris. He understood. And, despite everything you just read, there would be a mini encore performance as well as a cementing of some recent realizations in the coming days. Particularly about the absurd corrosive effects of social media.

 How does that saying go? "If you're suffering, you're thinking..."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Revised Gospel of Joshua

If you're religious and found this via a "Gospel+Joshua" search on Google, you're lost and should probably leave. Search engines are secular. So am I. There. Fair warning.


For the rest of you? This will be music to many, many ears.

I'm slowly, almost remedially, coming to the practical understanding of just how much of a thief "politics" is becoming. I'm not even sure this shit qualifies, but it's steadily and increasingly robbing us of our commonality. Dividing people along contrived, imaginary lines. Lines eagerly accepted by hordes of people whose only moral compass is set by their chosen ideology's definition of North, rather than their own. That's the only explanation for the term "conservative Christian"!

With acknowledging pre-apologies for likely relapses and a couple of purging posts to come: I MUST find a way to abandon this folly. Because...it really...doesn't...matter.

If Trump wins? Putting aside the Nuclear Winter scenarios that involve the jilted Orange Crush nuking his strong Russian Stallion for cheating on him with Sisi, the Left will fracture and radicalize. Just like the Republicans after Obama's inauguration, and the liberal version of Tebaggery will be just as annoying and vile. Hell, he hasn't even been elected and they've already begun going full-frontal extremist, eh Jill? How do Bernie's Babies like their new nursery?


***

"It's completely different! We're progressiiiiiiiiive! We're evolllllllvinggggg!" 

Ugh. I know, I know. Now sit down. And shut the fuck up.

***


Where was I? Ah, yes....

Hillary. Typing it makes me ill and in any other year I'd be wiping my ass with this election. But, I'm actually voting for The Hilliazard. Plugging my nose doesn't even begin to describe it. I detest her. But, I have to. Trump is tapping into something historically ominous. He, and what he's mindlessly unleashed, is literally (proper use) dangerous. On a catastrophic scale. And, handing an orange, inarticulate raging ape the Nuclear Football? That is literally (proper use!) the height of irresponsible stupidity.

But, on the other hand, if and when Clinton staggers & stumbles into the Oval Office, do you suppose Trump's White Walkers will be heroically vanquished? Will we all sing Kumbaya and roast marshmallow around an enlightened national campfire? Will we all have a Coke and smile before wiping away a happy tear of newfound national unity and hugging it out?

Ha! Hardly.

On November 9th, probably around 6am ET, when the Wednesday news cycle's getting into full swing, Trump will scream "Crooked Hillary stole the election!" Then, predictably, his drooling White Walkers will further descend into fabricated Nationalistic Auslander Rage and simultaneously the militias will become something more than rural squirrel killing curiosities. Much more. Mark those words. I've never been more certain of anything than this. It's a ridiculous thing for most of us to hear oozing from a fully-grown humanoid's snout, but "take our country baaaaaack!" actually has meaning in that bizarre parallel conspiracy-fueled universe.

Someone wrote, "History never repeats. But it often rhymes." Something "rhyming" with Civil War is coming. There's no "coming together", fuckos. Look around. Read thru your fucking Facebook feeds with objective eyes. The loss of whatever tenuous collective connection we once had to a shared set of objective facts has sealed our general fate. And it's ugly. We've split into two screaming mobs. Each guided by contrived, mutually exclusive political religions. Their scriptures written and preached by snake charmers.

Not to be confused with Pastor Snake (second fr. right)

I assume you've seen War Games. This all reminds me of Joshua struggling to learn the futility of Tic Tac Toe. There is no "winning" scenario. NOTHING will be solved after November 8. Whoever loses will just re-mobilize for their counterstrike.

"Learn, Goddamit!"

For me, personally, it's surprisingly simple and it goes back to my let go of that which does not fucking matter.... idea I wrote about earlier in the week. There is literally (almost proper use!) no bigger waste of time than trying to "discourse" with the willfully ignorant. Futilely trying only corrodes respect. And, while it gives my ego a righteous boner, preaching to my choir is even less productive than spending the afternoon on YouPorn. Not even the gooey mess to show for my...efforts...and it distracts from other things I should be focussing on. Worse, it's robbing me of my my optimism, hope, what was once a freely-flowing sense of humor, and, because of the times in which we live, even relationships. It's reminded me more than once of the "brother vs. brother" description of the first Civil War.

And for what?! Is something changing? Have I missed it? All this...and it's getting worse! 

 "The only winning move is not to play." Hail, Joshua. But there is of course a problem. Despite my "two tribes" analogy, both tribes are NOT "the same". Even if I were to go into complete political radio silence, I'm still sure to be bombarded by these increasing, and increasingly audacious, displays of random "patriot" stupidity. I would literally (proper use...I think) lose no more respect for some folks if they told me they approved of child rape than I do via these emphatic fascist pronouncements of Trump Love. Sure, I can stand down. But, the loss of basic, fundamental human respect can't just be replaced. The damage to the relationship is done. It's permanent. Hey, I'm glad you're "keepin' it real" and all, but it also reminds me of the old Pantera song. "Be yourself. By yourself. Stay away from me."

And the echo chamber isolation grows. Yep. Winter is coming. Shit. It's almost here. Who's drinkin'?


Behold! The immaculate decree!
The original Joshua tablet as it was delivered to the Prophet Falken
inside Holy Cheyenne Mountain.


(You're very welcome, by the way! Happy to paint the above sticky picture for you. What's that? No Snapchat. Sorry.)





Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Useless Shit Epiphany

Ask any mildly observant chum who’s chosen “traveling” over “tourism”, and they’ll probably tell you how it’s filled with an abundance of experience-driven lessons, insights, and odd occurrences. “Trail Magic” it’s often called. Once you’ve felt it, the trail comes alive. And you’re either freaked out or hooked. My blogs are filled with these tales. I’m most certainly hooked!

But, while peering into the depths, I have a maddening tendency to miss the blatantly obvious mermaid frantically waving right in front of my face.

This is from my very first travel post, in May 2008:

“…about 1/2 mile down the road from the drop off I had a LONG list of the extra crap (like electric clippers) I had in my bag that I simply did NOT need! Lesson: stick to the essentials! Comfort items become uncomfortable on your back, and slow you down!”

Today I realized that there's a monumental, powerful lesson in these quickly scribbled words. One that, despite being in plain sight for 8-years, I completely missed. And, it was literally (proper use!) the very first "lesson". Even if it is one I’ve had to repeatedly be reminded of since!

It’s like clock work. First day of every trip: I find that I’ve overpacked out of the “fear” that I’ll leave something I’ll “need” behind. Then,  once I’m out there, I start bitching to myself (usually) about how I’ve brought too much as the added dead-weight makes my little comfort items very uncomfortable!

That's great, Todd. But, what makes your repeated, short-bus-silliness “monumental”? 

For the last few years, I've been struggling to develop a consistent, all-encompassing metaphysical philosophy, with tiny degrees of success. Finding cohesiveness in that is hard enough on its own! But I’ve also been trying to completely reconcile who I was in 2008 and 2009 with who I am now; trying to “pack everything” by tying every obscure lesson, detail, and insight from the last 8-12 years perfectly together into a very limited space, rather than just picking out the practical, useful parts and stowing the rest. I’ve been cognitively, and often emotionally, hoarding. And, completely missed the obvious connection and lesson of that very first day: "pack only what’s needed and what fits. Forget the rest!"

But, Self! What if I ‘neeeeeeed’ it??

"Have it sent. Or, you know, just pick it up along the way. Dumbass."

Back in 2004, when radio went Stage 4 and this massive self/species exploration began, the foundation was  Thoreauian: simplify, simplify, simplify! Figure out what's real and essential. That kernel led to the backpack. And, it’s taken this long, and perhaps Mr. Mushroom Voice triggered it, to realize that people, ideas, and philosophies fall under the “Get rid of that which doesn’t fucking matter to make room for that which most certainly does” insight. And, that it's nearly identical to the one I had literally (proper use!) 15-minutes in to my travels:

Unburden yourself from this useless shit, you silly fucker!

It’s the precise (if slightly less profane) abstract equivalent.

Before the "useless shit" epiphany. 60-65 pounds!


**"Trail Magic" Diversion:  I left my phone in the car and Chris graciously drove back from Denver to deliver it that first night. I was mercifully able to "unburden myself" almost immediately. Was it...The Universe? Did Jesus playfully pull my phone from my pocket? How DO they make marshmallows....

So, now I’ve begun the process of sorting out what I brought home from the last 8-years and remains useful for the next epoch's expedition. Setting my extra abstract “stuff” aside to clear room for the essentials. In this metaphor (and you should just get used to metaphors right fucking now), it’s become the process of finally separating the useful ideas, methods, and people from the warm creature comforts and incomprehensible ghosts. And letting the rest of my past’s clutter just lie. Unsorted, uncategorized, and boxed up in the closet. Although I’m sure I’ll find I’ve brought too much. Again! I can’t seem to help it.

Not everything you have can, or should, be taken on every expedition. In fact, that’s one of the main points. Nor can every idea, experience, or person tag along thru each epoch, chapter, or phase of life. And thats okay! There’s no mutual obligation to be universal or permanent. That’s growth. That’s evolution. Otherwise, you’re hoarding. And, unless you’re life is stagnant and stationary, that quickly becomes an impossible load for even Sancho’s trusty mule to carry.






Monday, September 19, 2016

The Social (Media) Disease v1.0

I need to preface this sprawling, sometimes disconnected composite post with a considerate warning: this is a bit of a slightly cynical purge that's a work-in-progress. And, as always, I reserve the right to tweak and edit it. I'll change the "v" numbers as I do. It's something I just need to begin working on because chronic, habitual, cynicism can be just as delusional and self-destructive as any ideology or religion. It destroys any perception and sense of possibility. And, nothing good has ever been achieved without that. Being immersed in the social media tar pit has ignited a toxic level of cynicism that’s counter productive, especially considering where my latest, obscure Internet outpost hopes to go. This is an effort to eliminate the poisonous goo to make room for that which really matters. If you choose to stay on this page, brace yourself. You’re about to get hit with a supercharged truth bomb. One that has an eventual counterbalanced punchline, but one you won’t read in this particular post.

Hey, it’s my way. Just go with it, fuckers.

***

So, what triggered a fourth blog? Glad you asked. And, by clicking over here…you asked. There were a few things.

Last week, I had a friend I totally respect and absolutely adore fully deactivate her Facebook account. Her reasons had to do with being fed up with Facebook’s general stupidity and another event sounding vaguely stalkerish; something I’ve experienced myself.

She messaged me beforehand to make sure we could stay in touch. That made me realize, again, something quite important and something that "should" be painfully obvious: At it’s very BEST, Facebook cheapens almost everything. Not the least of all, the notion of "friendship". Of course, I’ve found some real gems in Facebook’s steaming pile of humanity’s worst but, scrolling thru my list, I STILL mostly had a collection of faces and names who, unless I found ways to entertain them, would make no tangible effort whatsoever to maintain our "friendship" or "relationship". And, quite honestly, to a great degree, vice versa. Too many were there because of what they used to mean. Or, what I hoped they’d mean later on. Silly.

I’m sure there’s some very special “psychology” at play here, and I could articulate most of it, but I, for one, demand authentic “friends”. Having someone in your feed offering nothing more than "likes" or an occasional comment, isn't "friendship". That this notion is so widely accepted is relatively new.

I'm still not really interested in defining what it "is", but I decided to follow Amber's lead and force folks to earn the title. It’s simple: Want to keep up with what's going on with me? Cool. Make some basic effort. I'm not going to spoon feed you via Facebook any longer. If you don't? I'll try to think fondly of your ghost. Really. I will. No hard feelings.

Something has become clear since Facebook exploded 8-years ago and we stopped “wondering what happened” to everyone: Not everyone was meant to cross life's epochs with us. Personally? After wallowing in this slop for nearly a decade?  I'm perfectly fine with that. BETTER than fine! I can't say the attempt has been successful, anyhow. Ive lost count how many fond memories were tainted or even destroyed by Facebook’s political, social, and general ignorance megaphone; the constant mindless displays of idiocy by people I used to respect. Used to. From here, it’s a simple realization: Email, phone calls, and these goofy blogs worked perfectly well once upon a time! Even better, actually.

From my perspective, Facebook must be treated like a ridiculously exclusive VIP room with a draconian behavioral policy. Start spewing your filth all over my page, or toward people I care about and respect more than you, like you’re in the Newsmax comment section? Out the air lock with you! (Thanks, Jim Wright.) “*But, what about all the times we got drunk and hunted questionable beaver in 1994*?!?!” Exactly. What about it? And yes, Billy Bob. I’m aware this is a two-way street. That only strengthens the argument. VIP Room now! VIP Room forever!

For the most part, I quit participating on other people's Facebook pages two years ago. I’ve also brutally purged then put my own page on lock down. In addition, I have a few who remain on double secret probation. Why? For the same reason I have "comments" set to "moderate" on this page. Genetic idiots and willfully ignorant trolls aren't just entitled to an unmoderated voice. It’s not covered by the 1st Amendment. Sure, everyone’s entitled to have one, but all opinions are NOT created equal.  Not in my world. And I'm certainly not going to provide a virtual open-mic to every random, drunken, retarded star spangled wombat staggering forth from all corners of the internet’s nether regions armed with piles of second-hand batshit propaganda.

Unless, of course, it’s controlled and exploited with of savage mockery and ridicule.

Random online interactions are risky and should be treated like 2AM bar whores. Kept at a safe distance lest you risk developing an embarrassing, unwanted, very public intellectual rash creeping down on your cyber-groin. One that itches every 10-minutes and just won't go away. We all know that person. In fact, I’d wager that “that guy” is reading this right now. And sometimes you're shocked to learn this metaphorical bar whore is someone you've known 20-years!


THE COUCHED MOB

When I returned from Peru in February, it was becoming clear that my predictions in South America were prophetic: The belching Orange Baboon could actually win! Not just the nomination. The election! It also became clear that the question, “How is this even remotely possible?” had a familiar sound. Germany. Late 1920’s and early 30’s. Since Im a kid, I always asked, “How the hell could people let that happen?” Now, we’re seeing it before our own eyes, in our own back yard.

So, I tore into my bookshelf. Biographies, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Knowing Trump holds a special place in his heart for Hitler’s public rhetoric, I devoured it all looking for similarities and connections. It didn’t take long, and it had to do with Freud, of all people. One of the books Hitler loved most was one he found while in prison following the Beer Hall Putsch: Freud’s book exploring the group mind. Mob mentality.

So, I downloaded Freud’s work (for free) from Google Books and a lightbulb went off, one that tied in to something I had noticed in August & September of 2014 while I was podcasting. The thing that led directly to my first purge and sequestering of random fucktardery. Not only are we isolating ourselves off in idea-proof echo chambers, there’s a mob mentality effect that’s glaringly obvious. What’s bizarre is that the Internet has made it possible to cultivate and exploit the Group Mind without gathering anyone into an actual physical gathering. Versions of the infamous Beer Hall rallies are being held on Facebook and other pages 24/7. These meetings are silently attended by White Walkers sitting on sweat-filled couches in dirty underwear. I mean, I assume they're dirty. I've not researched it.

As I said in the prophetic podcast next no one heard: go check these pages out! DO NOT ENGAGE ANYONE! Lurk. Lurk only! But, you’ll have your answer to the question of “how”. The mob will lead otherwise reasonable people to commit atrocities. There are examples stretching back thru Hitler and Napoleon to Caesar. There were community-minded family men who were vicious Nazis; in their normal lives they weren’t monsters. That’s the group mind and mob mentality doing its dirty work. And it’s in overdrive. Right here. Right now.

One of the beauties of hitchhiking is that I get people in single doses. Something I took away from it is that ”individuals" are smart. Often thoughtful. However, ”people" (too often your other "friends", family, and un-vetted random contacts), when they dress in their “ism” costumes are mobs of rhetorically drooling buffoons eager to take whatever social media disease they've contracted in their tiny intellectually incestuous bubbles and unleash it, literally, on the entire world. An individual 21st century mob-cell stalking the streets.

Mobs are groups of individuals who’ve gelled together into a singular mass of rationalized, primitive, willful ignorance. And, there's no functional distinction between the willfully ignorant and clinically retarded. Except for spelling and grammar, the interpersonal experiences are identical. And only an egocentric fool who's feasting on the sound of his own voice would attempt social, political, or even existential "discourse" at "the home". Therefore, online Mob Control is an essential practice.

There wouldn't be the need if we lived in a sophisticated, enlightened society both capable of, and willing to, critically examine their informational sources and check their own tendency toward ideological bias. We don't. We live in a collection of blissfully engorged, sloppy, Idiocratic mobs that have lost all connection, let alone commitment, to basic fundamental fact.

Want another metaphor? Cool!

“The People” are living in competing, incompatible alternate informational universes. Ones with completely different laws of intellectual physics. And, here’s the sobering part: it’s going to turn violent. Therefore, at some point the FCC, or even Congress, will likely need to address the explosion of fake, unaccountable media. There's a difference between a free press and a free-for-all tabloid orgy; for-profit conspiratorial fiction and extremist propaganda masquerading as "news". Right now, there's absolutely no distinction being made and we're suffering the results.

And, like it or not, the Internet as a whole probably needs to be regulated at some point. You're OBVIOUSLY woefully ill-equipped to simultaneously roam free in an informational jungle and choose your own leaders. You're basically being feasted upon as irrational psychological prey. Theres’s a Toddzillaism™ for that: Fleecing the Fucktards.

This is what makes my Cynicism Vein throb and almost burst. There's no treatment or cure for willful ignorance. Political and social discourse are only a temporary symptom of disease that’s about to go Stage 4.

Beyond the political vulnerability, our small simian brains can’t even begin to conceive of our own existence. But, we also can’t help but try. So, we fill in the blanks with staggering degrees of mythical, religious, and “spiritual” egocentric bullshit. Collectively, we delude ourselves into thinking we're divinely created little critters who are meant to run free. The functional reality is something closer to a mangy intellectual jackal that endangers everything nearby when it gets out of its pen.

Trump is incredibly revealing in that context. He recently added a Breitbart executive to RUN HIS CAMPAIGN. What happened? His numbers rose! He’s gone full-frontal batshit, and it's probably only going to get worse. People keep asking, “Why? How can this possibly be??” Because that’s what “the people” want. The guy who rhetorically puts their “threatened” tribe at the Center of the Universe and high atop the imaginary food chain? Complete with convenient scapegoats? Yeah, the mob will love it. It’s called fascism. There’s a precedent or two. And why the Founding Deities worked to thwart mob rule.

And how wise they were. People keep saying Trump is a "national embarrassment". Nope. He's a brand; an expert media whore. The fact that his Political Reality Show was even a temporary thing is the embarrassment. He didn't achieve that in a vacuum. Our shame doesn't lie in one ridiculous individual; he "should" have been taken about as seriously as Mama June.

No, the "national embarrassment" lies in the millions of fucking idiots, racists, and willfully ignorant fools who rationalize then eagerly gobble up his slop and support him through feats of "mental" gymnastics & verbal incontinence. Not to mention the bouts of uncontrollable public rhetorical-masturbation fits.

Wipe the "intellectual" goo from your stomach, fuckers. Have you lost all dignity? Did you have any to begin with? And, don't give yourself a lazy reach around by blaming Clinton. Trump didn't defeat fifteen Hillary clones in the Republican primaries.

To put a bow on the political aspect, I hope you're not seeing 11/8 as the finish line; the day "sanity" and civil "discourse" returns. You may vanquish Trump, but while you're basking in the self-righteous afterglow of victory--congratulating yourselves for winning an election against a babbling, poorly crafted Mussolini knockoff & reality TV star--the White Walkers are only getting angrier. And dumber. It's. The. Stupid. People. Stupid. Winter is coming.


DELUSIONS & PERSONAL NARRATIVES: QUIXOTE PERSONALIZED

About seven years ago this month, I had an external realization that rocked my internal core and sent me reeling. It was one of the most difficult things I've ever even tried to personally reconcile and manage. To date, I have failed miserably. At least functionally. I dubbed it my Don Quixote Insight. Examples are shown above, but in an oversimplified nutshell, it's the idea that human beings are corrupted and enslaved by their egocentric need and reliance upon self-created comfortable delusions. Our willingness and/or need to abandon reality for happy internal narratives. Or to be snookered by someone, anyone, who provides them for us.

That little insight threw me into what I mentioned repeatedly my first post: I dubbed it (borrowing from Nietzsche) "The Abyss". I looked Quixote's Demon in the eye and, while the idea began as an observation of others, it quickly turned on me and ravaged a previously useful foundation and metaphysical engine. I've never really recovered and in many ways I've been wobbling along ever since searching for a sense of authentic replacement purpose. That's meant chasing money again so, again, it's little surprise I've had little success in finding that!

I've tried to put my spiritual genie back in the bottle but, of course, that's impossible. You can't "unlearn" something. But, in the process--usually out of desperate self-interest-- I've frequently searched for cracks in Quixote hoping to prove myself wrong so that maybe I could reclaim some of the lost audacity that came from believing "The Universe" was obsessed with my existence and happy to be my personal little bitch.

I've also spent increasingly short phases of the last few years almost bending over backwards trying to execute the mental gymnastics required to give humanity a sympathetic, merciful benefit of the doubt. But at every turn Quixote is left standing even stronger as my futile hope in resurrecting the Divine Noble Species Theology is savagely bludgeoned. I wish I still had the ability to freely delude myself. But I've recognized that the maiden was imaginary and the windmill is, and always has been, just a windmill!

Tonight it's crystal clear to me that our willfully ignorant, gleeful insistence on abandoning fact and reality for the drug of self-delusion is humanity's curse. And will likely be its downfall. I'd like to get melodramatic and tearfully tell you how tragic that is. I can't.

If you want to envision ”The Universe" as an entity, it surely isn't a benevolent "Sky Daddy" benefactor looking out for your well being and best interest. The reality is closer to a cold-blooded fucking reptile that doesn't care if we live or die. Individually or collectively. "The Universe" gives nothing; we get what we give. And deserve. And, if it's incapable of even basic collective introspection, a tribal species that's so helplessly self-destructive and murderously addicted to fantasy deserves to be squished and meet its demise as Carlin put it: as a failed mutation. A destructive bug stomped out on an evolutionary cul-de-sac and quickly forgotten.


Why hasn’t Hallmark called? I can't figure it out. Must be reverse racism. Wait. If I claim "gender fluidity" can I start blaming misogyny?

9/19/16: Happy Birthday! It's (another damn) Blog!

Welcome to blog #4. It wasn't supposed to be this way. That's a good sign. Perhaps you've heard about me and "plans" (ha!)?

Eight years ago, I set off on what was intended to be a simple escape. I had naive visions of Survivorman. Or that, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "I might end up somewhere in Mexico". I went so far as packing an SAS Survival Guide. My little "escape" lasted less than a week. Much less. With Dennis, it almost immediately became clear that this was more of a poorly-defined, ill-planned exploration than escape. In the next few months, my little notes became a blog. I named that one "Running With The Wind." It's still out there somewhere.

Seven years ago I set off on what was supposed to be a global adventure; one personally guided by "the Universe" and its "synchronicity". Then I met my dad's family. Then I met Andre. Then, I met Mr. Quixote. I named that one "Te Nosce": Know Thyself. It's still out there somewhere.

Six years ago, I was quietly reeling. Mr. Quixote had knocked me from my poorly rationalized Center of the Universe pedestal, and there was no climbing back. I took a few trips, but they were just...off. At least relative to the previous years. By this time in 2010, I was a quiet, hot mess.

Five years ago, I discovered "The Abyss" and realized I'd been trapped in it for two years. Thanks, Quixote! I began traveling south to Latin America. The writing dried up as I simultaneously lost my compass and began searching for ways to "monetize" my travels. Like every other pimple-faced "travel writer" I found in every fucking hostel from Cancun to Puerto Escondido. That failed. Miserably. I kept trying. This was also the last time I saw any of my "new family".

Four years ago, I ran into a former comedian Facebook friend who convinced me that video was the right and prosperous path to take. Thus Kirk helped beget Toddzilla. Toddzilla X to you. www.toddzillax.com to the Internet. "That Motherfucker Toddzilla" to entire swaths of Teabaggers & Trumpeteers.

Three years ago, I had a rather...lets call it an "existentially negative" experience with the "old" family while we gathered back in Michigan for a funeral. That combined with the now-negative "new" family outcome to calcify my cynicism and The Abyss blackened. We moved from the southwest to Chicago. Once here, I began dabbling (very lightly) in standup comedy as, with apologies to Carlin, a "place for my stuff". But, The Abyss just made me angry; I wasn't "funny". At least not on purpose. It failed before I even let it get started. The Abyss was winning.

Almost two years ago, I slowly began breaking free. On a spontaneously planned trip that wound up taking me from Mexico to Colombia by land/ferry, I found photography. Or, maybe photography found me? Not sure. Either way, I returned to Chicago with the seeds of a plan. I bought a camera, and learned how to use it.

Last year, I took my camera to Peru and paid a long-overdue visit to Friar Chris at The Hof, his off the grid Andean playground. I honed my photographic skills and returned with a bounty of photos. My intention was to print them up and sell them to fund traveling to more exotic locales. India & Nepal for instance. Then the Family Vultures reared their ugly beaks once again. In an uncontrollable  fit of existential, self-destructive rage, I decided to "scrape" everything. I sold the camera and resolved to just "get the fuck out of here".

I never went. There was a significant, mysterious, persistent psychological block combining with my urge to print the Peru photos that combined to keep me here to do a small photo show in August. The show went much better than expected and inadvertently gave me the excuse I needed to just "Sit Down & Shut Up" and come to terms with one simple fact: I've changed.

Apparently against my wishes, I've slowly evolved over the last 8-years. Significantly. I'm not the same guy who wandered off from Jackson Lake State Park in May 2008. Nowhere close. Thank God! To borrow from Thomas Jefferson, that jacket no longer fits and it's become clear that I've spent a long time in that depressive Abyss compounding things by beating myself for not being able to squeeze into that old coat; not living up to an out-dated self-image. Sure, that guy had some wonderful adventures and met some incredible people. But, he was also--in some ways--a damn naive fool! It may sound weird, but that's a wonderful thing to realize. Evolution. If I believed in Sky Daddy, I'd pray that I'm saying the same thing about who I am today in another 8-years.

So what is this? A new chapter? Section? Phase? I don't know. It's "something". As I sit here on this blog's, and coincidentally my own, birthday I've come to only a few tenuous and likely very malleable conclusions. I reserve the right to edit this list as time goes on.

1- I'm done trying to monetize anything. I'm the worst businessman/marketeer on the planet. It makes me feel filthy, whorish, and triggers self-loathing self-destruction. This isn't new. This anti-Mammon trait polluted most of my radio career and, in retrospect, it should have been obvious why the last 4-years have been largely, hollow, depressing, and frustrating. I firmly believe the mark of Sky Daddy's "beast" looks like this: $.

2- The Upper World theme says it all. If you're not one to read the classics, it's from Plato's Cave. I intend to get back to the ideas that were at the root of my initial "escape attempt"; my initial trek forth from The Cave: That the world we're caught in, observing, and fighting over is an illusion; something much closer to big shadows projected on Plato's walls. Or, The Matrix, if you prefer. For better or for worse, I'm a little fucking philosopher at heart. This is my notebook. The photo album is here: www.upperworldphoto.com  (Jesus wants you to buy something. He told me so.)

3- This blog won't have a political bent. If you were secretly hoping for more of that based on my Facebook history, sorry to disappoint you. To recycle The Matrix Metaphor, your political machines are the equivalent of Agent Smith. Too many metaphors? Want to stick with The Cave theme? Fine. They're the ones projecting shadows on the wall and selling that as "reality". "That one over there? That's a puppy dog! That one? That's a Mexican who wants to rape your daughter and take your job!" The fundamental point of this is to expose the shadows for what they are and offer glimpses outside the smokey, isolated cave; the air tight bubble self-sealed by anxiety, fear and dependence. With a heavy dose of poking fun at the unavoidable absurdity of it all. Presumptuous? I know! Ain't it great? 

What's that? You don't approve? Well, you should probably just...fucking leave. Quietly.

4- Rather than trying to tie everything together, I decided I wanted to start this with a fresh, clean slate. As you've noticed, I'll link things as they apply, but I don't want to be distracted by trying to tie everything together. I'm not sure I can at this point. So, I'll worry about the connective tissue later on. Friar Chris and I have something brewing down that line. That's foreshadowing. See? I'm literary and shit.

5- Im likely going to combine old methods. Lots of writing, some video from the road, and a few pics. I intend to use this to largely replace the Facebook Social (media) Disease. Plenty of reasons for that. 

What are they? They both affect and reflect on you. Watch this space, fuckos. And welcome aboard.