Monday, August 8, 2011

HELL OF ROAD TRIP USA V: THE FINALE



COLORADO

I personally reject the eastern part of Colorado that looks like Kansas. Colorado is required to fit into the Rocky Mountain archetype. So I have removed the first two hours of the drive from my mind. I will say that it is baffling to me that the city of Denver could be a mile high, because the drive doesn’t feel or look like a climb at all. It must be the longest steadiest climb in the U.S. We were late for a date with Vanessa’s sister Lauryl, so we didn’t get to see much, save for a small town that advertised itself as “friendly and full of family values.” We had a few hours to kill before Lauryl got home, so we followed our usual method of finding interesting parts of cities—ask around about what part is ‘dangerous’ and go there. I forget the name of the neighborhood, but the houses were tiny and quirky and the people eccentric and pleasantly unpredictable. It was then time for Captain America: The First Avenger with Lauryl and Sam. A brief digression on the film:

For all the red-white-and-blue advertising, I was pleasantly surprised to find the film not jingoistic at all. On the contrary, the enemies are fascists, and at the end we fast forward to present day, where the U.S. military now seems quite fascist itself in its tactics of paternalistic secrecy and violence-for-the-sake-of-security. The message seems to be that WWII was the last time there could really be a captain ‘America’ we could root for. I also like the more Nietzschean than Christian ethical sensibility in which good and bad are of the same ilk (both the Red Skull and Captain America took the same super serum, which amplifies both good and bad). It was brilliant to have Captain America’s career begin as nothing but propaganda for the government. During that phase, he wears a cheesy costume identical to that in the original comic books (later when it’s time to be a true warrior he adopts the modernized one on the movie poster). The message seems to be that the original take on Captain America was also ideological propaganda. Nice move. The film does well to stay conscious of the more disturbing elements in this character's geist and zeitgeist. On the other hand, as with most films, the villain’s motives for world domination and the psychology of his followers are disturbingly simplistic and barely registerhouldn’t someone who yearns for a human being beyond what we are today—an ubermensch—already love human beings? This is a standard Christian misreading of Nietzsche, in which it is assumed anyone who wants a superhuman must not like humans. It’s the opposite—they love humans so much they want to see them outdo themselves. LINK TO NIETZSCHE? It’s idiotic the way they create villains who are so faithless and cruel to their followers—you don’t win so many followers without being appealing to them. Tim Burton’s version of The Penguin serves as a good counterexample—his army of ‘bad’ guys is convincing because they are all freaks like their leader who weren’t accepted by Gotham’s good citizens.

After a ridiculously hearty meal at The Breakfast Palace (which beat out Breakfast Queen in our crazed breakfast search that morning), we took off into the Rockies. Two hours driving into a sunset stretched out over the Rockies, punctured by the absurd quanity of peaks. We were on a roll, ready to make it all the way across in one evening when Vanessa reached for her backpack and found nothing. We had left it in Denver. Back to Denver. Poor little Toyota Yaris (named “Aayla Secura”). Luckily for us, Brie and Lucas saved the day. They were a couple drinking a coffee in Frisco, CO, and they invited us to stay in the cabin that they from a friend. I admired their willingness to trust complete strangers, especially given that the cabin wasn’t even theirs. Nothing warms my heart like United Statesians who aren’t afraid of strangers, even when they’re ex-cons and sex workers. A far cry from the nurse taking my blood, who told her co-worker "I used to have to take blood from the prisoners. I would shake so much they'd have to give me ____ every time." I asked the nurse if she was afraid of inmates. She looked blankly at me like it was obvious, then bristled: "Well, it's just a very intense situation." The implication that prisoners are a threat to anyone and everyone, including a nurse there to help him, is vile to me.

Anyway, Brie and Lucas cooked us dinner and breakfast, we blew their minds in return for the meals, and we all watched Disney’s “Aladdin”, which contains the barely disguised sex scene “Whole New World.” The cabin seemed stuck in the eighties—it came equipped with VCR’s for every TV and an original Nintendo gaming system with all the games my brother and I fought over as children, until my Mom got sick of our addiction and stomped on the machine (bravo Mamma! You saved us from a form of addiction more ruthless than nicotine). There were also large books on how to ski better written in the sixties and seventies. One talked about a ‘revolutionary’ new French method. As an admirer for real French revolutionaries of the sixties, I am always annoyed when advertisers use the word ‘revolutionary’ for a bourgeois leisure activity. A recommendation: do drive the Rockies. Don’t take the interstate they tell you to take through Salt Lake City or below them down through Vegas (unless your car is old and overheats easily).

UTAH AND NEVADA

Onward through more vast space, empty of construction. Like Arizona, Utah and Nevada are states where you tend to keep your drugs in your lap so you can stuff them into a crevice on your body if you get pulled over. Many voting citizens are much more concerned about marijuana usage and gay marriage than they are about poverty and homelessness. We went to Arches National Park and continued our arch-themed trip (see last post on St. Louis). After an hour there with all the cocks and cunts nature has to offer, we took off down the “loneliest road in America”, Highway 50. Of course, since Nevada seized on that moniker in its advertising, it has become quite un-lonely, but it’s still an amazing stretch of mountains and valleys broken up by only three small towns, running halfway through Utah and all the way through Nevada.

Many of the towns in this area were former mining towns, which means that today they’re barely functioning. We spent the night in WHAT, Utah, in a room with 8 beds, designed to accommodate travelling groups of laborers. The ‘café’ part of the motel and café’ was inexpensive and featured tableside meant-to-be-funny books by a local writer, with platitudes and stereotypes about women, marriage, etc. Our waitress was so surprisingly cute Vanessa couldn’t believe she’d never stripped. She had, however, been trained in nursing and given it up because waitressing paid more than nursing. (Wow.) The town was mostly Mormon, and the bars were still called ‘social clubs’, despite Utah’s recently changing their laws to allow for actual bars.

We really wanted to stop in a polygamous town but unfortunately they were too far off the road. We settled for the town museum in Eureka, NV, with its printing presses, schoolroom, and other artifacts from the late 19th century. I was most interested in a collection of newspapers from 1934, and read stories about the exciting new WPA and Tennessee Valley projects and the big corporations that sternly warned of the likelihood that they would lead Americans towards unionization and communism.

We went to a small Shoshone American Indian reservation by Ely, NV. I didn’t expect to be anything less than depressed in a reservation, but I wasn’t prepared to see three or four houses with American flags waving from the porches. That’s like a rape victim cheering her rapist on at a high school football game. Yuck. Part of the problem is that the military seized on the proud warrior traditions in these cultures and put forth an "American soldier" to fill the gap left by the more noble battles of the past, including the AIM movement.

Like a lot of the USA, the towns were sad and the space inbetween more gratifying. At least the long stretches of rocky canyons and red rocks can admit of no classism, except I guess for the fact that the working class can scarcely afford the gas it costs to cross this area! In desolate parts of the country like central Nevada, you can find state and national parks with no one in them—it’s just you, the ghostly whistling wind, and the thousands of years old petroglyphs that predate even the American Indians as we know them. One set of petroglyphs was in such an unlikely place, in a fiercely hot ravine accessible only by very bumpy dirt road, with only one sign and a couple of picnic tables, that it altered the definition of ‘tourist spot’ for me. Only the hardiest tourists would camp here (for free). We saw no one. The petroglyphs were oddly avant-garde, with humanoid shapes boasting strange and indecipherable geometric additions. These were drawn a few thousand years before Homer dreamt up the Odyssey. We’re not so young a land, after all.

HOME AGAIN! I LIKE TO BE THERE WHEN I CAN

After two days of unfathomably unfamiliar territory we pulled into Reno, our yearly launch point on the way to Burning Man. From there on out we were in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas, which for us by now means either excitement about the Burn to come or excited processing of the Burn that just happened. It was a good lesson in keeping our senses and critical skills attuned and working together, now that we were in familiar territory. And that is how we ended Hell of Road Trip pt. V, at my parents’ house in Los Gatos, CA, after picking up Lindsey in Berkeley: determined to continue to act, even at home, like we were on the road, talking with ‘locals’about their labor and leisure practices, noting the city planning or lack thereof, finding the quirky spots, and overall training our senses for the most important truth: there is nothing you've already seen. Nothing repeats. All is new every time, every glance, every moment. After all, we are in route, always changing, always moving, and doing it best when the destination is not held dogmatically in the mind like a guard rail. Here’s to the perpetual road trip, at home and abroad.

ADDENDUM: FAMILY REUNION IN BIRMINGHAM, AL

The day after we returned, my wife and I flew to Birmingham for a family reunion of the Israel clan. Plenty of interesting people there but I think if I heard one more person insinuate how bad unions are for America I would have blown up. Lindsey winning a freestyle MC battle at a downtown bar was a highlight, as was the Birmingham history center, and the Civil Rights Institute (which was mysteriously missing communism and Black Panthers), but I think the top moment was when the whole clan was performing a string of karaoke numbers, mostly country with a little Vanilla Ice and Bon Jovi thrown in. We were all white and the servers were all Black. I went up to one of them and said: “I would pay a large sum of money if would put Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” on this Karaoke list so I could perform it tonight.” We both laughed hard and long. Let’s end on that note: Ice T.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

HELL OF ROAD TRIP pt. V USA PT. 5


MISSOURI, KANSAS


Missouri contains some of the best drives we’ve ever seen. I didn’t tell you last blog about one of the other amazing drives: through the backcountry of Pennsylvania. Always leave the interstate if you want interesting stores, people, roads. This particular road took us through towns called Desire, Panic and Paradise. In desire, we saw a sign for ‘local honey’ that lead us to a private property. We couldn’t figure out why such a poor-looking house owned four horses until we saw the buggies in the shed: Amish! The 7-year old girl rocked a baby on the porch as if she was a mother, not a child. Other children played with homemade toys. The father wore a long beard, Jim-Carrey-in-Dumb-and-Dumber haircut. Everyone had dirty clothes. He brought out honey in repurposed salad dressing bottles, for only two dollars a generous bottle. Delicious. We could see the bees buzzing in the hives across the yard. My phone went off during the transaction and the little boy looked at is as if a UFO had landed in my pocket. The drive took us through towns with populations under 100, where we pretended to shop for bunnies, bought cinnamon rolls from an arrogant Israeli (“What country do you think I’m from?! The country that doesn’t take shit from anyone.” OK, thanks Israeli Steven Seagal), and wondered incessantly what the hell people do for money in towns out here without any stores, plants, factories or tourism.

Missouri held its own with Pennsylvania and Louisiana in the beautiful drive department. We once again left the interstate and followed the Missouri river, through rolling hills of surreal bright green. We passed our fair share of racist landmarks, such as the Daniel Boone home (not to be outdone by the Pony Express stations that glorified the brave riders who had to put up with “hostile Indians”). The air was hot and wet and hung on you like a giant jellyfish. Not just in Missouri but everywhere. We chose one of the hottest Julys in recent history, and the heat followed us around the entire country like a determined child molester until the first bits of relative cool (by that I mean temperatures in the nineties that actually felt like the nineties, since the humidity was gone) in Denver.

Time and space bent every which way on this trip, as we tried to ignore the maps and trust our senses, so you won’t mind if I discuss St. Louis after I discuss the drive which succeeded it, will you? St. Louis has my favorite monument in the entire USA. It’s called the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, but since the last thing I want to pollute such an amazing work of art is the memory of our genocidal ‘expansion’ (a euphemism for invasion), I will simply call it THE ARCH. It’s surprisingly big. It’s surprisingly abstract for something so big. We in the USA like our memorials to be more obviously referential: big presidential heads carved into rock, big statues of Lincoln or Washington, or a massive cock (the Washington monument) to symbolize how Washington tries to penetrate the rest of the world, contemptuous of consent. But the arch is magnificently unique. Shiny metallic and higher than the whole city, it’s the antidote to our usual border symbolism: gates, fences, walls, buildings. The arch is open. It goes both directions, a liminal space between east and west United States. Vanessa and I stood below it, watching the Mississippi river flow), and promised to make an arch of our families, marriages, work, bodies, and, if possible, country. Amen. No wonder the one of the most brilliant tours of all time, U2’s “Popmart” featured a massive arch as its centerpiece, and ended with a big bleeding heart on the screen under that arch.

St. Louis is the murder capital of the USA. Not the metro area, of course—just one of the areas where we like to shove the people of color. It has some of the smallest houses in a United States city I’ve ever seen. We stayed at the Congress Inn for 30 bucks, with its two dollar key deposit and four free channels of porn. I respect a motel with free porn. It’s the least we can do in a country that insanely outlaws prostitution. Vanessa called the premiere strip club, Centerfolds, and was invited to work there, but got sidetracked by the arch and its bizarre museum with animatronic American Indians and settlers. St. Louis hasn’t had a Republican government or Mayor since the forties, so it makes sense that the museum was less brazenly racist and revisionist than some of the shit we saw in Texas, Kansas and the Carolinas. We read about the various American Indian resistances, all of which end in defeat. It is mind-boggling the number of treaties that the U.S. government broke, lied about, changed, etc. Every time a tribe made a deal, it seemed like it couldn’t possibly get any worse than this. But in fact it did, every dishonest and broken deal by dishonest and broken deal, for two centuries, until the last real glimmer of hope in the 1960s and 1970s, the height of the American Indian Movement (AIM). This land was in better hands when its people believed in spirits rather than a single improbable and ridiculously cruel God.

KANSAS

After a stop at the astoundingly good Gates BBQ in Kansas City, where the waiters are so nice you think they are going to walk you home and tuck you in, it was into the great void of Kansas. A motel in Abilene, KS, right next to a ramshackle trailer park, replete with friendly Mexican-American roofers from Pueblo, CO who were shipped here to work for three weeks. In the morning we ate at a café with literally no décor (it was like eating in a cardboard box) except for dire signs about teenage drinking. I like to read local papers, especially editorials, so I picked up a Topeka paper and read an editorial about how disastrous it will be for the working class (they didn’t use the word ‘class’, of course, because they like to participate in the United Statesian whitewashing of all issues of class) if Obama made good on his promise to diminish the tax breaks for corporate jet owners. Yes, seriously—corporate jet owners. The plane industry is big in Kansas, but it was yet another attempt to perpetrate the lie that if rich people (oh, sorry—“Job Creators”) don’t get enough tax breaks they’ll just fire every one and maybe even stop working altogether. News flash: rich people love money. They won’t stop earning it even if the government takes a higher share of it (as in nearly every other Western country). And when they do lay people off to try and scare people into never voting down tax breaks again, that’s a fault of a capitalist system that makes it too easy too fire and manipulate workers. Another example: the most powerful Kansan energy company, Westar, is threatening to drastically raise consumer energy prices because of new EPA pollution standards. Sorry Westar, it’s simply time to earn less money, not raise the prices of the 6-person family living in the shotgun shack in North Topeka.

Ah, Kansas, thanks for adding fundamentalist Christian bigot Pat Roberts to the Senate. Then again, if Burroughs wanted to die there, it’s got to have something. There’s always something brilliant, weird, and unlikely hiding in every state. One of Kansas’s such wonders is the Garden of Eden. Who knew the Garden of Eden was in Kansas after all? We went through a French-Canadian (that’s right!) town, where one of the daughters who spoke no French (only the old people barely do) had repainted all the storefronts’ titles in French . We tried to eat steak at a place googlemaps led us to called “Bill’s Steaks”. We drove through the non-paved streets of this town, whose five businesses were all closed at 3pm, only to be directed to an abandoned schoolhouse where we met Bill, who did not in fact own a steakhouse but rather a place to buy wholesale gigantic slabs of beef. Oops. Through fields set off by rock fences we rolled along through towns that the maps said existed but our senses said did not: everything caved in and vacated. Just when you thought it truly was a ghost town, a mechanic would emerge from a crumbling building with a faded, nearly unreadable sign like ‘Car Repair’ and you’d realize that place is actually open. In rural Kansas I kept wondering—where are the Black people??? Take note readers: that’s a good question to ask wherever you go and see none. Then ask ‘why’? Hint: LINK

The next part of the blog is Colorado, and should be a departure from Kansas, shouldn’t it: Rocky mountains, big important city, thin mountain air. But strangely, once you cross the border from Kansas it still looks like Kansas for an hour or two. I wish states magically changed color when you cross the border like they do on maps. We drove into Colorado still reading about Kansas in a tourist map that included such gems as “What is There To Notice About Fences”. Answer? “Oh, many things!” This brochure told us that although there were many places to get facts about Kansas, what we held in our hands was the only one with “fun facts about Kansas”. Oh, many things.

Have I made it clear yet my main pieces of road trip advice here? (1) Leave the interstate. (2) Talk to the locals (3) Go to the quirky not-so-touristy stuff. Finally, I should add: never believe white people who tell you to stay away from certain areas. Don’t do that. Go there. Remember the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter, where it turns out that it's so 'dangerous' only because of racist fear/disdain for the locals (centaurs)? Remember the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy? Avoiding people is just taking the blue pill. Those houses that are far from each other so you don’t have to hear or see other human beings except when it suits you—they’re just an illusion in the matrix. Real life, real humanity is only the whole thing, the totality, the manifold. Get in.

The Sacred Dice - A Revolutionary Salon

The Sacred Dice is a salon of musicians, scholars, poets, sound sculptors, activists and artists of all kinds committed to art that is committed.  That could get us committed (to an asylum).  That disdain's art for art's sake and artists who have no idea why they do what they do.  We know why we do what we do--to create and celebrate community in a country still stuck in capitalist fantasies of individualism.  If you want in, you're in.  If you want out, don't worry--you already are.