Showing posts with label Las Vegas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Las Vegas. Show all posts

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..."