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.

The original plan (ha!) was “maybe’ a week. Once the World Series went on to seven games, the visit stretched out with it! Plus, the quiet daily solitude helped. He doesn’t have cable so I was able to slap my headphones on and efficiently dive into writing, editing, and processing my previous stretch without distractions.

The World Series wasn’t a throw away; I shouldn’t treat it as such. I live quite close to Wrigley Field and have been a big baseball since I was a kid. With my photography becoming more of a serious thing, the likelihood of the Cubs finally playing in their first World Series since 1945, and possibly winning their first in 108-years, was worth serious consideration. Even if I wasn’t inside Wrigley Field, the photo opportunities in Wrigleyville would be, literally, once in a lifetime. In my impatience the day I bought the ticket (and flew out), I dismissed all this with a “Well, they might not even make it beyond the NLCS!” I was wrong. So , with reverberating memories of missing the Rockies’ World Series by leaving my Coors Field camera gig for the last radio position in 2007, I watched how wrong I was with three random truckers at a Flying J in Primm, Nevada instead of outside Wrigley Field! If I wasn’t going to be in Wrigleyville for baseball history, I thought I should at least be watching. I arrived at Jeff’s on Monday. The World Series kicked off Tuesday and Jeff and I watched it play out thru all seven games.

Other than that, with one notable exception, there’s not much to tell about this near two weeks. Ultimately, despite all the hand wringing, I decided against venturing to Tijuana and into Baja Mexico. It seemed silly after last year to take an expensive Mexico trip without a “real” camera. Once I knew I was eventually heading north, probably toward North Dakota (in November!) and the Standing Rock DAPL protest, I mailed stuff home while having more cold weather gear shipped back, then at the end of my stay replaced my dying sleeping bag with a warmer, and returnable, down bag from REI.


I should point out that Standing Rock wasn’t particularly an activist nor ideologically driven choice. I needed a destination. And, while I generally supported the general idea of their stance, I was more interested in seeing it with my own eyes to discover whether the narrative put forth by their “non-corporate” yet “activist media” (“The gubmint is waging secret warfare and the corporate media refuses to report it!”) matched the actual state of things on the ground. In my nose, which more often than not is accurate (!), something had begun reeking of Occupy and I wanted to judge for myself. With my own eyes. I began scouring Craigslist’s Rideshares and sent out feelers, but figured the northerly hitch would be straightforward enough with the exception of Albuquerque and Denver. Cities I at least knew well.

By Sunday, I’d been in Phoenix for 6-days was feeling my travel legs whither a bit. But the World Series was getting quite interesting after, and despite, the Indians taking a 3-1 lead. I was firmly entrenched in what Chris likes to refer to as my “nesting mode”. I hate that description. He’s kind of a dick for using it. The fact that’s it’s perfectly accurate and exactly what led to my “Two Day Rule” in 2008 should not matter to you. At all. Your presence implies you’re on my side. Et tu, Wordpress?


I digress.

Monday was Halloween. The setting for the aforementioned “notable exception”. I’d like to say it came from nowhere, but to be honest it’s been happening on devices nationwide for years. On Halloween it broke free; escaped its cyberspace quarantine, zipped beyond wisely established norms of polite social decorum; even common decency; providing me the final cherry with which to decorate my yummy Social Media Disease parfait. Not to mention a not-so-small level of humility and maybe a dash of fundamental shame.

In the interest of full-disclosure, this is a cut n’ paste from a much larger piece I’m writing. So, yeah. You can look froward to reading it again! I'm not paid by the word, so I'll recycle my own words at will. 

Primer: Social avatars- virtual online characters. Think Neo inside the Matrix.

Facebook Avatars Escape The Matrix

Jeff and I went to a tiny Halloween get together at his apartment complex and toward the end of the night, the host’s neighbor stopped to chat. Seemed like a decent kid. Personable. Pleasant. Mid 20’s. I didn’t think anything of it. Suddenly, while he and the token liberal/anti-Trump partygoer were having a nice conversation, the liberal gun slinger decided to show off his political marksmanship and, out of the blue, yanked his Progressive Facebook Avatar from the Matrix dropping him, meme guns a-blazin’, into the Desert of the Real. The Trump supporter naturally reacted in kind then, predictably, it quickly devolved from friendly, polite, banter into The Battle of Arizona, and finally almost a physical fight.

What stuck out to me, aside from how rapidly it deteriorated: they were each obviously reciting their stockpiles of recycled Facebook posts; hurling them back and forth like delirious monkeys sling poo! There was no listening whatsoever. While one was talking, the other dug his heels in impatiently sorting oft-used, memorized collection of memes and pre-written Facebook flames while awaiting his turn to "post"!

What came out of it? Each left believing they were even more “right” because they “knew” the other guy was just parroting Breitbart/MoveOn propaganda. Even though they were both doing the same thing! One talking point jockey accusing the other…of talking point jockeying! Neither being able to see it in themselves! Righteous anger and “outrage” does funny things to people!

It was incredibly instructive to watch this happen in real-time. I didn’t say a word. I could nearly predict the conversational track/retorts and was simultaneously amused, annoyed, horrified, and embarrassed. Trump guy did nothing to instigate, let alone deserve, anything. It was the “tolerance” preaching “progressive” who decided to initiate hostilities. I was both embarrassed for self-righteous Liberal Guy not to mention arrogant progressives everywhere. Once the confrontation ended and Trump Guy went home, I told the Liberal Crusader exactly that.

I was also quietly embarrassed for myself. It’s been a long time, but yes, I know I’ve behaved just like Progressive Guy. I told him so. I also mentioned that watching this exchange was eye-opening. Progressive Guy was showing off for me. He wasn’t particularly hard to impress nor impress upon, especially considering the travel/hitchhiking stories he’d insisted on hearing for the previous hour or two. Ok. Fine. What was my excuse?

As it settled in to my mind, I saw these two as a red, white, and blue composite. Neighbors who, without politics, seemed to get along. Even like each other. Insert someone else’s pre-produced ideology and propaganda: they instantly looked and acted like they wanted to kill one another. Whatever sense of commonality, community—even simple, basic decency: gone. One preemptive propaganda volley hurled from Camp Left: instant civil war.

It seems obvious in retrospect that this sort of ideological fanaticism and radicalization is what's happening online worldwide. The problem is that many of us have forgotten what we have in common; things more humanly organic and important than left/right. Also, the echo chambered “alternative factual universes” effect . It's impossible to engage in dialogue when the participants lack a common language base. As this example illustrates, these “alternative universes” are wholly incompatible. They’re matter meeting antimatter. They see each other as “the enemy”. It’s impossible to overstate how dangerously destructive this is. If we don't rediscover a sense of commonality then reestablish a basic fact-based foundation, we're essentially circling the drain. It’s not happening anywhere on Facebook that I'm aware of. Least of which on any backwoods pundit's profile.


This event tied perfectly into ideas that were brewing before I left as well as many of the Digital Detox ideas in Vegas, Jean, and Primm. It would resonate even more loudly as this trip progressed and especially after it ended.

By Tuesday, the Cubs were winning game #6 and I’d made plans to ride out the week in Phoenix then hit the road Saturday. November 5. My Facebook birthday. It’s also Flux Capacitor Day and….”Remember, remember the 5th of November.” What better day to go hitching & frolicking? Plus…the election was looming. I asked Jeff his thoughts. This is what I got:


The Cubs completed their historic comeback on Wednesday with a classic game seven win in Cleveland. Chicago went wild. I know because I watched in unfold. On TV. From a beanbag chair. In Phoenix. That’s all I have to say about that. 

Saturday, Jeff offered to give me a lift out of the urban desert sprawl, so I left the direction up to him. It would get cold. Quick…