HELL OF ROAD TRIP PT. V BLOG
I’ve been a lifelong roadtripper. I took my first one with my high school comrade Craig the summer after high school. We took off in a tiny car with no destination or map, winding or way up to Seattle and back. We slept in the car on suburban streets, or else at people’s houses we happened to meet. We ate grocery store food and spent almost no money, and filmed everything in a ‘Furthur’-like movie. The catchwords were ‘aimless’, ‘passion’, and ‘weird’. This is version five. It’s nice to know that this praxis of deterritorialization became the dominant theme of my scholarship later in my professional career.
It’s a long hot desert from L.A. to Arizona. Around three hours into the trip Vanessa informed me breezily that she had brought ALL our drugs with us in the car. And let me tell you, Hunter S. Thompson would be proud of our selection. Smart people would not be proud of Vanessa’s shocking naïveté at attempting to bring them over the border into fascist states like Arizona and Texas. There are dogs. (Poor misused doggies. How would you like to work for a cop?) So, we stopped at a rest stop just outside of Arizona and sadly said goodbye to an eighth of my paycheck, still lying there in a dumpster in case any of you are desperate for free highs. We thus passed safely through the border patrol checkpoint, who are mostly uninterested in white people anyway. They like to use countless taxpayer dollars to satisfy the white people whining about taxpayer dollars used to give illegal immigrants health care and schooling. We listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Line” and “Balboa Park” to contemplate the plight of entirely mistreated immigrants. What a joke of a job, anyway, ‘border patrol’. Borders are symptom of a disease called sovereignty, which can only be cured by an opening into a concept of the people as multitude.
What can I say about Arizona besides that? Nothing, except saguaro cacti are sooooo cool. I love their independent spirit. I like the poly ones with one strong base and three-five strong upright branches. Took a long walk through the desert. For all the dessication, it’s soul-quenching. New Mexico? Well, we only stopped in Lordsburg, where we visited the ghost town of Shakespeare only to find that it was closed. Towns can close. A family owns it. A family owns a town. Back in the day it had hundreds of residents and absolutely no law enforcement. My kind of town. Let us police ourselves. Lordsburg, like most small American towns off this stretch of the 10, has been left behind by trickle-down economics and its legacy, continuing through the Bush tax cuts and Obama’s shameful continuation of them. People can work in a Mexican restaurant or in law enforcement (border patrol) or fire management. We met a lady from New York and discussed the ridiculouslessness and fruitlessness of the drug war. Everyone fretting about how dangerous Juarez and the drug trade is, trying to curb corruption and capture gang leaders when all they’d have to do is legalize all drugs. Duh. Duh. Duh. This no-brainer at first sounded strange to the locals, but as they figured out that they were serious,t hey let their guard down and actually agreed. Apparently you have to watch out with views like that around here. They needed a safe space to agree.
Do you know how long it takes to drive across Texas? Probably as long as it takes to drive all the way top to bottom in Italy, during which time (in Italy), you cross though hundreds of languages. There are of course a few languages on hand in Texas—the German/Czech contingent is particularly odd to me. But it’s laughable that the dominant conservative caucus in Texas talks about ‘taking back Texas’ or taking back America, when the white people behind it are the minority, their favorite places all have Spanish names, they could barely exist without immigrant labor, and they stole the fucking land in the first place. If anyone should be ‘taking back America’ it’s the natives, anyway.
We stayed at a trucker motel next to a thinly disguised whorehouse in El Paso. The first Dunkin’ Donuts appearance warmed my soul as always. Then we drove. And drove. And drove. Texas never ends. Across the Czech and German towns, alongside frontage roads, stopping at bars with locals who started out giving us odd looks but soon opened up. (I think my sparkly shorts with the cut-out sides contribute to our initial reception. Or else it’s the communist/atheist/free love Reed College T-shirt. I usually stay away from the tourist areas of big cities, and even from big cities in general when I road trip, but I recommend the Riverwalk in San Antonio to anyone. It’s a bit like Pirates of the Carribean ride. The flora is amazing and if you go late at night are so there are few people, just you and the ducklings, in your short sleeves and shorts sweating at midnight.
This is a strange town. You’d think any town built on oil would be repulsive, but it has a thriving arts scene, an openly-gay mayor (wait, TEXAS?!), a plethora of unique museums, an irreverent rock n’ roll tradition (“Houston Noise”) , delightfully strange city planning (I like the streetlights), and my favorite venue The Sacred Dice ever played at, Superhappyfunland! That’s where I write from tonight, one of the many couches in this Eastside arts/music happy land that, just as when we played here five years ago, let us crash here for free. I spent the past hour talking to the leader of the Houston insane-rock band Rusted Shut. His girlfriend and bass player of 23 years left him unceremoniously by telephone. Imagine the music industry and your love life falling apart at the same time. And yet he presses on, playing gigs at places like this awesome little multi-color fuck you to capitalism from which I write.
Every great city boasts unique weirdness, and in addition to the weirdest and best music venue, there is an Orange Center for Visionary Art and the Houston Art Car parade. We went and prayed to the god of Orange at the bizarre and tangy house built at the End of Hope (1979), and then to the universal gods at the Rothko chapel over in the museum district. By far my favorite chapel, the Rothko is an unsassuming square brick structure on the outside and a grey and black circle on the inside. There are meditation cushions and benches from which you can contemplate the Rothko canvases, which at first appear to be sheer matte black, but in fact admits of subtle variations in color and pattern. Since black absorbs all light, and since the chapel is organized in a circle rather than the spatial separations between worshippers and holy (wo)men of most churches, temples, mosques, etc, the effect for me is a presentation of the sacred as all inclusive and non-hiearchical—sacred communism! We left feeling very centered.
On the way out of town, my Dunkin’ Donuts locator iphone app took us to what was once a Dunkin’ Donuts but is now “Dunk Donuts”. They kept all the same logos and advertisments, blacking out the ‘in’ in ‘dunkin’ with a sharpie. Dunkin’ Donuts refused to lower their franchising fee so the local owner just took things into her own hands. Hilarious. Everything else was the same, even the donuts and (sacred of all fast food delicacies) the coffee.
Just when we were beginning to believe that we were in a sequel to Sartre’s No Exit in which the Texas highway goes on forever, we crossed into Lousiana. Almost immediately everything looks different. Coming from California, it’s always bizarre to see the houses with no yards to speak of—they’re just plopped there on green plots with no fences between each other (I like that, needless to say). Things get junglier, stickier, wetter, yummier, greener, sexier, greasier. We took tiny ‘highways’ deep down into the bayou, bypassing Interstate 10. One is struck first of all by the poverty. We passed through ‘historic districts’ with nearly all the businesses permanently closed (saw this in Texas a lot as well). So many shotgun shacks, cheap mobile homes, and houses falling apart. We stopped at a Waffle House (I love how they’re all shotgun shack-shaped as well!) and heard three stories from three people working the 8pm-4am shift. “There’s nothing here for kids, for anyone, really,” said Crystal, speaking of Morgan City, Lousiana. “There used to be arcades and stuff but that’s all gone.” She overcame a prescription pill addiction (apparently the big drug out this way, after a meth phase half a decade ago) to win her kid back after her husband died. They pay her $3/dollar. We tipped her 40 % but I left with a deep sadness and bitterness about this country and the ravages of capitalism. It’s not just the low wages, poor benefits, and union-busting. It’s the utter lack of money and effort (owing in part to the scandalously low tax rates) put into the kinds of community resources that by comparison are overflowing in Europe. And what you always hear out this way—the cops are corrupt. Of course.
But my god the food. It’s the only food in America that doesn’t make me embarrassed when showing it to European friends. We took a walk through what seemed to us like a jungle today, in the Palmetto State Park, and ran across massive black wild boars and a gaggle of armadillos who, apparently because they are well armoured, did not care how close we got. We’ve been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, mourning the death of Clarence Clemons, and no one besides Woody Guthrie got the United States better. Every sax solo cuts to the heart these past few days, and Phish broke our hearts with a touching, thrown-together and abject tribute to Clarence . In any case, it makes me want to tip everyone 30%. I am disgusted at my rich friends who tip 15%.
We finally went to a strip club here in Houma, LA, off the 90. Vanessa has been wanting to go to a bunch for her research. This one was the size of my garage and featured the most overweight stripper I’d ever seen. She was a marvel to watch as she shook her butt relentlessly for the pleased patrons. We met a dancer named Georgia who invited us to spend the night at her place. She has three kids, the first when she was 17. Her husband is a rigger working off the coast, and is gone for weeks at a time. I’m now at a Waffle House writing this at 1:35am, waiting for her to get off work. See you in Mississippi.