Monday, November 24, 2008

First Stop: Phoenix


Continental Airlines continued to impress us on the final leg of the trip between Houston and Phoenix.—although I have to admit I raise an eyebrow to a $5.00 Coors light. Again, though, I wish I had gotten the name of the flight attendant who just added a bit more fun to the trip. If anyone from Continental is reading this, it was an older woman—sorry, darling, I don’t know how else to put it but you were put together really well and had a lot of life in you—on Flight 1705.

The surprise about Phoenix is how big of a city it is. I had no idea. Someone told us it’s the fifth largest city in the United States, and it just goes on for miles. You can see it from the air that it just sprawls. Sue and I found the hostel after about an hour wait for the bus at the airport. We’re trying to do as much as we can on a budget (that means as cheaply as possible without compromising our trip), and when we learned that Phoenix had a bus system we thought we give it a go, saving ourselves two days’ of rentals. But the sad reality is that the bus system in Phoenix, as it is in most American cities, is woeful. We spent more time waiting for buses, and therefore wasting time, than we really wanted. Sue and I figured there are maybe three cities in the entire U.S. with decent public transit systems: New York, Boston, and Washington. It seems that with the Big Three begging for money in Washington, and President-elect Obama promising jobs and a greener environment, a large scale, nationwide public transportation system would be just the ticket. It’s green, it makes jobs, it promotes a healthier life, grows industry. Good idea, right? So why don’t I think it will happen?

We got to the Central Station in Phoenix and missed our connection--that particular bus had stopped running for the night--but the hostel was within walking distance anyway, at least walking distance for us. We walk a lot. We ended up finding the street but couldn’t find the actual hostel, going down this dark street looking at house numbers. Suddenly we hear this friendly voice out of the darkness, “Are you looking for the hostel?” It was Antonio, a young student who lived upstairs at the hostel. He said we had that hostel look: backpacks shouldered, and a lost look.

The hostel in Phoenix is a safe little hippie haven hid behind a stand of bamboo. Sue, a gregarious, helpful woman with a very liberal bent, runs the place, and there was the usual assortment you’ll find at a hostel. A serious young man was eating a sandwich made of bread that appeared to me to have bits of straw in it. He was riding a motorcycle down to South America, and said he was going to stop in Costa Rica and learned some sustainable living skills. Okay. An older woman traveling alone.

The room was neat and tidy. Phoenix on a Sunday is a bit weird. A bit of a ghost town, with the only denizens being the homeless, the down and out, and crack addicts. We figured everyone was out in their homes in the suburbs, but upon leaving the next day it didn’t seem much better. Antonio told us that the recession hit hard there. Construction is the main work, and that pretty much went bye-bye.

We hit the Heard Museum, a great place to learn about the local Native American culture. We stayed in Phoenix for a day, thinking we’d hit the Heard Museum and the Botanical Gardens to learn more about what we’d see up north in Flagstaff and Sedona. More waiting for buses, and a long bus trip to the Botanical Gardens proved fruitless. No one seemed to know where the Gardens were—a curious thing. It seemed a lot of people we talked to in Phoenix, aside from the crazy crack addicts, had no idea where anything was in the city. And if they did, they gave us directions using the points of the compass. It was always, you have to go west, or east. The Botanical Gardens required a reservation, something that wasn’t in the guide book. It would have been nice to know since we wasted hours getting there, wandering around looking for the Gardens including getting on the phone with them (walk north, when later I figured out she meant south) and riding back to the hostel again.

Another note on Phoenix. It kind of looks like what the world may start to look like if this recession really takes hold. Kind of a ghost town. It was all neat and clean,, but everything was empty. The streets, the museums, just a lack of any vitality or energy. The urban area itself wasn’t very people friendly. And there are a lot of homeless and/or very poor. A lot. Again, on Sunday, that was pretty much all there was on the streets. Kind of a weird, Road Warrior kind of world.

I'm not complaining. Sue and I don't always have to have pretty when we travel. We travel, as much as anything, to learn about the world, and believe me, you can learn a lot sitting on a bus loaded with the down and out. You learn what's out there. You learn a bit of their lives. You can see their desperation. Their mistakes. Their meanness and their kindness. They'll reach into their pockets for a quarter a young mother doesn't have, and they'll stroke the head of their sleeping boyfriends. They look mean and irritable and sometimes downright scary. You see the demons that infect and inflict their minds, and you can't help but have a little pity for them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Adios Boston...TSA at Logan are goons


Adios Boston. And we’re not missing you. Not in the least. So happy to get away, from the cold—it was 21 degrees this morning when we left for the airport. So happy to get away from all the nasty, irritable, crummy people you have to deal with on a daily basis in the city.

But travel is just really rolling with punches, and it started out great last night when, for some reason, we thought we our flight left at 8:30 a.m. when in reality it was 12:50 p.m. How can we live like that, you wonder? We just do. We were packing last night and doing all the things that planners would have had done days ago. Sue and I are just kind of loose and free like that. So suddenly we could sleep in on our first day of vacation. We finished packing this morning, watered the plants, tucked away all the guitars in cases, and headed for the T to go to the airport. The last time we traveled—when we went to Austin for the music festival there—we took an early flight and had to take a taxi to Logan. It cost us $35.00, just an example of how the good citizens of Boston will rip you off any way they can. There is no way that ride is worth $35.00, but in Boston you just gotta bend over and take it. Today, it was a $2.00 ride on the T. And a nice guy on the platform was nice enough to take our picture as we froze waiting for the Red Line. In the summer the breeze that comes off the bay is so welcoming. At this time of year it’s brutal and cutting.

The real shitty part came at Logan. We’re flying Continental, which is turning into a real nice surprise. The people are nice and friendly and accommodating. Checking in, we learned that Continental partners with Delta and Northwest, both of which we have membership in their frequent flier programs. Everything for Sue and me is geared to saving money and figuring out ways to travel. That we both could collect frequent flier miles on this trip was something we would jump at. The Continental rep was so nice and patient, even giving us the numbers for Northwest and Delta so we could call and get our frequent flier numbers.

I wish now that I had had the wherewithal to get her name so I could post it here, because the level of service we received was about to get ripped by the TSA goons manning security.

Rude, obnoxious, stupid, louts…keep filling in the words. You can be polite and tell people what they have to do without resorting to being little bullies. Where do they find these people? Oh, wait, I know, these are the people for whom McDonalds is too good. These are the people who got picked on when they were kids—because they are all such obvious nerds and losers. Am I being harsh? I don’ t think so. Remember: these are the incompetents who let the planes loose with terrorists on 9/11. That’s not gonna happen again, is it? Not on these losers’ watch. I bet that little legacy is emphasized during their team-building drills.

Nazi Helga yelled at Sue to go through the metal detector. The same Nazi snapped at me to take off my belt before going through the metal detector. What the…? These people can’t show a little respect? A little class?

But the real kicker came when my luggage had to be searched. I did the most unthinkable. I actually had a Swiss army knife in my hiking shoe. I had thrown it in there a couple of days ago when I was pulling gear together. I had completely forgotten about it. All of our toiletries and other dangerous carry-ons were checked in Sue’s bag. I’ve traveled with it for years, long before our idiot government ever got it in its head that Swiss army knives and bottles of shampoos will bring down a plane. So, would I really purposely try sneak it on a plane? Would I really test the mettle of this crack security staff? And lo, did I make this joker’s day. Do you get special points for averting terrorists? Do you get a special hurrah in the TSA break room?

He dug through my luggage like pig after truffles. Until he victoriously yanked the knife out of my shoe, I had no idea of anything. And I do not like being accused of something that I didn’t do. You know who I’m talking about, old man with the flesh hanging loose off your face and speaking with an Irish accent. Oh, you are such the tough guy. I do not like people who take glee from other’s misfortunes, and that’s pretty much the kind of person TSA has hired. School crossing guards who were laughed at and grew too big for their britches.

And I know you think you’re doing your duty. I know you think you’re so much better than these travelers you’re so high and mighty over, but guess what, joker? Two things. When I came back to see if I could retrieve the knife and check it, you looked downright scared when I approached you. I could see it. If you ever did find a terrorists you’d soil your cheap looking uniform. And when you told me you already put it in your locked garbage can and I just stared at you and your little buddies and shook my head, you looked like a worm, and you know you did. And here’s the kicker, Weiner Boy: Right now I’m sitting on a plane flying to Arizona for two glorious weeks where it’s sunny and warm, and sitting next to me is the sweetest redhead on the planet, and you’re back in Logan jerking off.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Wizard of Az

We fly out on Saturday.

The economy, this whole GM tornado that has my job in such a turmoil--ripping it out of the ground and tossing it about like a Kansas farmhouse--we're just going to ignore it.

We wondered for a moment or two if it wasn't a good time to take a trip. With my job on the line, with money so tight. But we saved and scrimped and we have hard cash on the barrelhead to pay for it. In the end, when they're lowering us in the grave we're not going to care one way or another. No one is going to care one way or another.

We could save the money. We could save my vacation time that would be handed back to me in cash if or when I get laid off. It would give us maybe a two-month cushion. Maybe.

I can't wait for 8:30 on Saturday, when the Continental jet's tires will leave the earth. I love that feeling. All the anxiety and worry of leaving will be gone. Job. Money. My kids and guilt. Thanksgiving. I know. It always happens for me. When the plane leaves the ground I always think, now it really is out of my hand. By 9:00--or at least by 9:30--I'm hoping to be tucked into my seat with a Bloody Mary and book in hand, wondering what's in store for the next two weeks.

And I think sometimes you just have to live, despite whatever the world flings at you. Sue and I have dreams. We want to travel, explore the world. She's done so much of it. I did a long time ago. We both want to get back to it. Live free, vagabonds on the earth. I can't think of a more noble occupation, to tell the truth.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Slow Down by Alejandro Escovedo

A beautiful song that Alejandro sang the other night, about slowing down, living in the moment, putting the past behind, starting over...all that...

Kind of a song for Sue and me...

Let me take your hand,
There's something I wanna show you
Close your eyes,
And you can hear
The music in the wind

Out on the pier,
That's the Ike and Tina Soul Review
I don't know
What this means to you,
But it was everything to me

I was, free as the sun,
Shining on our faces
Free as the light
That comes down
From some other places
Slow down, slow down,
It's moving much too fast
I can't live in this moment,
When I'm tangled in the past

Won't you take my coat,
Baby won't you wear it
There's so much
I wanna share with you,
Every little thing I am
Put your arms around my body,
Feel your skin against my skin
This is where my life begins,
Begins again with you

The past is gone,
But it still lives inside of me
Hold on tight,
As we slip into this revelry
Slow down, slow down,
It's moving much too fast
I can't live in this moment
When I'm stumbling
Through the past
Slow down, slow down,
Yeah, it's too fast
Loving this moment,
Gotta let the other pass

Slow down,
It's too fast
Live in this moment,
But I'm tangled in the past

More from Cities on the Plain

John Grady and Mr. Johnson talking:

"Did you break horses, Mr Johnson?

Some. Mostly just what was required. I was never a twister in any sense of the word. I got hurt once pretty bad. You can get spooked and not know it. Just little things. You dont hardly even know it.

But you like to ride.

I do. Margaret could outride me two to one though. As good a woman with a horse as I ever saw. Way bettern me. Hard thing for a man to admit but its the truth."

Eduardo and Billy talking:

"Your friend is in the grip of an irrational passion. Nothing you say to him will matter. He has in his head a certain story. Of how things will be. In this story he will be happy. What is wrong with this story?

You tell me.

What is wrong with this story is that it is not a true story. Men have in their minds a picture of how the world will be. How they will be in that world. The world may be many different ways for them but there is one world that will never be and that is the world they dream of. Do you believe that?

Billy put his hat on. I thank you for your time, he said.

You are welcome."

Billy and John Grady talking:

"They sipped their coffee. The wind blew. They pulled their blankets about their shoulders.

I aint jealous you know.

I never said you were.

I know. You might of thought it though. Truth is, I wouldnt pull your boots on at gunpoint.

I know.

Bill lit a cigarette with a brand from the fire and laid the brand back. He smoked. It looks a lot better from up here than it does down there, doesnt it?

Yes. It does.

There's a lot of things look better at a distance.


I think so.

I guess there are. The life you've lived, for one.

Yeah. Maybe what of it you aint lived yet, too."

John Grady and Joaquin talking:

"You think we got em all?

Hard to say.

I'd say we broke a few of em of their habits.

I'd say we did too.

How many of Archer's dogs come up here with you?


Well we aint but got two.

They turned in their saddles and scanned the mesa.

Where do you reckon he's got to?

I dont know, said Joaquin.

He could have gone down the far side of yonder.

Joaquin leaned and spat and turned his horse. Let's go, he said. He could be anywheres There's always one that dont want to go home."

The maestro:

"I only know that every act which has no heart will be found out in the end. Every gesture."

Monday, November 10, 2008

AC/DC looking like it's time for the home

I'm sorry, maybe they can still rock the walls down, but this is an embarrassment to rock n roll. AC/DC looks like they escaped from a nursing home. What's with the Little Lord Falteroy outfit? I know it's his signature costume, but somebody tell Angus Young, I don't know what's going on in your mind, but we are going to put you in a home if you keep this up.

My God, Tina Turner is older than them, and look at her. That's hot. It ain't pretty watching people grow old, particularly when they try to insist they aren't. You gota make some changes, some adjustments. Old guys can rock, but this is all getting pretty sad if you ask me. Rock musicians are all looking like a sad collection of aging queens, cadavers, or nutbags. Like dancing bears in the circus, their fur starting to rub off in places.

Years and years and years ago I went to a Beach Boys concert in Las Vegas. They were the featured act at a big computer conference I was there for. And I never felt more like putting a gun to my head than I did then. All these boring white people chugging in their seats to Little Deuce Coup and Surfer Girl and all that Sloop John B stuff. I love the music, I do. But man, watching those people go back in time is like watching muskrat love. It's just belongs behind closed doors, if you ask me.

I've never liked nostalgia in any form. Family reunions. Class reunions--(God no, not those! Especially those.) Old college roommates sitting around, reminiscing. Middle-aged men thick in the waist sitting on bar stools bragging about their high school basketball/baseball/football exploits as if they happened just yesterday. So sad.

I like to live in the moment. Now. I want to know what you did today, not ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. The past is the past. It's done and done.

Cities of the Plain

"When you're a kid you have these notions about how things are goin to be, Billy said. You get a little older and you pull back some on that. I think you wind up just tryin to minimize the pain. Anyway this country aint the same. Nor anything in it. The war changed everything. I dont think people even know it yet.

The sky to the west darkened. A cold wind blew. They could see the aura of the lights form the city come up forty miles away.

You need to wear more clothes than that, Billy said.

I'm all right. How did the war change it?

It just did. It aint the same no more. It never will be."

From Cities of the Plains by Cormac McCarthy, the third book of the Border Trilogy that starts with All the Pretty Horses then The Crossing. Here we have a couple of cowboys talking about how their life changed. There aren't supposed to be cities on the plains. There are supposed to be cattle and horses and cowboys and ranches. Life changes.

That quote is so appropriate for today. The business on Wall Street changed the world, and I don't think people quite get it yet. It's going to change it in ways we can't even tell yet. And many of us don't know how it did it, but we'll see it. Like Billy said, it just did, that's all we'll know.

From the price of groceries to the the value of the dollar. To how we'll have to change our lifestyles. At least most of us. Many of us.

And personally, I think it will be for the better, in some ways. In many ways. I'm working my butt off right now to be completely debt-free in less than a year. I've been working towards that for a while now, before the recession. Just stopped using credit cards and lived with the cash in my pocket. I think long and hard before I spend even a dollar. Stopped eating out. Thought twice before even treating myself to a cup of coffee. Started taking the beer bottles back for deposit. Sue agrees. And even if it's only a couple of dollars, I say to Sue, that'll buy a lot of beer in Mexico. I say that because right now I can't see us living the rest of our lives in the United States. It's too expensive, not a very kind nation, right now at least, and I can't see getting old here. We're a cruel country right now. Maybe Obama and the Democrats will change that. But I'm not holding my breath.

I think all of this consumerism has really hurt us in a deep and real way. I think long ago people began compromising their values and ethics just to protect their big homes and second homes and wide-screen TVs and SUVs, compromising to the point where they don't even know they're doing it anymore. Living simply makes you look long and hard at what you value, makes you decide what you value. We--well, not me, but a lot of people--have had it awfully easy and been given so much. And living soft makes people mean and cruel. I know most think that living hard makes one hard, but my experience is that when someone suffered some, most people--not all but most--will be a bit more empathetic towards their fellow human. They know what it's like to suffer, to be in a tight spot, and by alleviating someone else's pain, it's like alleviating their own a bit. Of course some people just get mean and bitter, but they'd probably end up that way any way.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The election is over

Somehow I thought there'd be dancing in the streets. That the heavens would be opened up above the T platform in Wollaston, hovering over us all day long. But it was pretty much business as usual on the street, at the office. Except for a few of my younger co-workers who could not contain their elation, it was pretty much the same.

But it was different, wasn't it?

Walking to the polls on that beautiful Tuesday morning, through our neighborhood, past the old Victorians, through that golden light reflected off the fallen leaves thick on the lawns and the sidewalk, still clinging to the branches, it hit me more than ever that it was do or die for our country. That if we didn't turn it around on that day, we would sink and then we'd never have a chance to get out of everything we've dug ourselves into.

Even now, I'm not so sure that we can. It's like now, the concept is sold, now we have to execute it. I'm not so sure it's possible. It's an awfully tall order. But now it seems we'll have the rest of the world behind us. I think we'll be welcome back into the world order, and for those of you who don't understand that, what that means, well, I've said it so many times now, I'm sick to death of explaining myself. If you don't get it, it's not my job to educate you. You can drown in your own shit.

But I'm old enough to remember Kennedy and the Kennedy years, Camelot and all that. And just like the war in Iraq is so reminiscent of Vietnam, I do hope that this administration isn't the mirror of the Kennedy administration. Obama is not a god. He is a politician, and a darn good one, just like Kennedy.

I'm glad it's over and I'm glad Obama won by a landslide. And those who are saying that there's a lot of people who wanted McCain, the same was said by the Democrats during the last two elections. Be adult and rally around the president-elect and your country. But I'm afraid that's not going to happen, either.

There was a lot of ugliness and hatred. And it's still happening. Maybe it's who I choose to associate with, but my Facebook turned into an ugly, hatred-filled exchange by people I don't even know, people who I befriended because of our common interest in acting. And it was curious to stand back and watch these strangers. For awhile, anyway. How these people can stand to look at themselves in the mirror is beyond me. They think they're so smart, so worldly, and oddly enough most of them describe themselves as being Christian. What is it that Christians seem to be the meanest people on the planet? Is it because they believe in all that business about forgiveness? Just like the Catholics who have Confession, so no matter what you do your spiritual permanent record will be wiped clean, Christians fall back on some Jesus factor? Let me clue you in: There ain't no heaven and there ain't no hell. This is it. And what they fob off as practicality is simply meanness and greed and selfishness.

So, I'm glad the election's over. And I'm glad Obama won. But "it" ain't over. There's still a lot of strife and hatred and racism and I think it's still all going to come to a boil. I hate to say it, but I do.
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