Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lastly . . .

Dear friends,

I am in Prague with indefinite plans, and here I will leave you for some time, for blogging has always been a love/hate diversion from my greater writing projects. Splat. Feel free to read the four years worth of material/crap I have on this little platform of mine until I honor you with more poetry.

Write me if you have something to say or miss the tone of my letters, and I will respond with a literary kiss on both cheeks.


For your cultural pleasure, a Czech dragonfly

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: The End

The first time I left Texas, I mean really left Texas, on an adult trip, was when I was nineteen. My then girlfriend and I drove from the loose center of the Lone Star State to the loose center of the Grand Canyon State. We stopped at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico on the way; a two-mile meteor crater east of the actual Grand Canyon; the Grand Canyon itself; miles of “Indian” reservations; the remarkable ruins of ancient cultures that were either eradicated by foreign invasion or allowed to die by resettlement; and even the city of Tombstone, romanticized for people being shot through with bullets. I loved the southwest. I loved Arizona, and for a long time afterward, I boasted it my favorite state of the union. As a man cycling through it thirteen years later, I saw it for what it really is: a sprawling region of fat rednecks, brandishing American flags and automatic weapons under a grimy cloak of fascist racism. Of course, I’m generalizing. It’s still a physically beautiful state, rich in history, geology, and geography, but without brains, it’s just a bubbly pair of breasts and a pretty face. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, fuck Arizona. If I never return there again, I’ll not miss the place. It’s a . . . pleasing sensation to discard, without hesitation, something you once treasured. It’s dynamic. It’s discovery. It’s growth, and I see now that the only reason I marveled over the place at all is because I was still a boy, so full of shit that it was impossible to see that I didn’t know shit. I’m still filled with said refuse but at least I know it now, and at least now I can finally think for myself. It’s liberating, this relatively new freedom from mental slavery. *clickety heels*

Minds, however, are not the only aspect of being human that change (or warp, depending on your perspective) with the passage of time, and from a darkening of the mind to a waning of the heart, the body is just another turn of the screw. Muscles inevitably weaken during their lifelong press against the imprisoning physics of gravity, and from behind the bars of our windowless cells, skin sags and spines curve our droopy faces too far out in front of the rest of our palsies, and then one day, if we are not careful, we are old, tapping around the perimeter of a mall in trembling orthopedic shoes, cursing a generation twice removed because it is unlike the shitty generation we thought we were a part of while watching it on our computers.

The worst part, however, is the sensation that there’s nothing left to discover. Curiosity’s last light has set over the western horizon and darkened the prehistoric striations of the Grand Canyon into one shade of apathy. Intrigue is as dilapidated as the mud bricks of a lost Native American structure, weathered by the destroyer of all culture: time. The proverbial curtain of this lifetime theater has been unexpectedly drawn to reveal a stage of nervous barkers caught in a private congress of despair, and once you recognize their cries as sympathetic attempts to distract you from the inescapable truth that you and everyone you know will die, there is nothing left to do but leave the show and master the one thing that will survive this carnival of brunches, luxury cruises, birthday parties, vinyl collections, . . . greed and greed and greed: your soul. There never again will be an Arizona to meet with nineteen-year-old swagger, for the screw is tightened and we’ve followed the velvet rope of convention to the summit of disrepair where we will each die in our own time, having forgotten to live.

On the morning of January 15th, the cycling portion of my journey ended. I had known it would potentially happen a few days before as I had used all but one of my spare inner tubes along that vicious westbound stretch of Interstate 10, and the harsh desert had receded the tread of my back tire to total baldness. A final bounce over a jagged rock deformed the shape of the same tire, and a tiny hint of its guts were wearing through. I knelt in the blazing afternoon that day, staring at the damaged rubber, trying to conjure the future while remembering the past few days. Frustration dripped from my eyebrows and beaded at the end of my nose, and in the spirit of the South, I squatted there like all the other knuckle-dragging denizens in their cages, confounded and angry at nothing and everything. I stood and looked toward the wavering horizons of the east and west. Nothing. Nothing near and nothing far, so I changed my inner tube and nervously continued riding on a tire whose life expectancy I accurately predicted to be two more days.

It wasn’t just the tire, however. I had burned through more savings than originally projected. Food was a big deal. Sometimes granola, fruit, and dried meat just wasn’t enough, and no matter how awful an omelet and stack of pancakes made me feel after a day of digestion, my imbecile body demanded the calories and whenever the opportunity presented itself, Rocinante the Third was leaned against some mom and pop café while I unapologetically stunk up a booth, juice, coffee, and a buffet of licked-clean plates piled strategically around my book and hunting knife. I also stayed in motels more often than anticipated. The mind is a curious thing. The complete mental resistance I had to sleeping in outside discomfort was unexpected and I can only attribute it to the fact that I wasn’t a springy youth full of milk and sweetness. My insides had soured. I perspired more and consequently, I smelled like hell. I ached more, and I was 1,000 times more concerned with monsters. What’s funny is that as soon as I was completely without a choice, I wasn’t bothered by it at all. Who knows? Had I been riding across country at 20 instead of hitchhiking, perhaps I’d have been just as averse. We’ll never know.

At a rest stop in the days following, I sat on a bench with a casino cup of hot chocolate, reflecting over my predicament, when an elderly traveler materialized at my side (as old ladies tend to do) and kindly bombarded me with a series of personal questions that culminated in a final and tremendous “but are you enjoying your ride?”

I didn’t have an answer.

To say yes would be mostly untrue, but to say no would change everything. How could I continue in the same manner as before after speaking aloud the hard words that I had fallen out of love? Still, I didn’t need to pollute the air with my admission. The old woman’s simple question wrecked my deniability by it’s very standing, and for the first time, I turned to see the straightening of my divine mountains and exquisite sea to the littered margins of a road most traveled. It was a good question. I could ask the same of you, in fact, and presume a comparable reaction. Are you enjoying your ride? Your day-to-day along your own personal highways? Are you happy or are you just existing? It’s an important question and not one I’d have expected from an old woman in a souvenir Arizona sweatshirt. “It’s . . . okay,” I told her with a shrug, and we parted ways.

It was that day that I remembered who I was cycling across the country for: myself. Two weeks prior, I had stopped telling strangers that I was “trying” to make it to Texas, as though I was protecting my ego from failure, and instead, I switched to I’m “going” to Texas because the question of willpower was answered affirmatively. It was doable, and I had no doubt, and still know that I could have rolled all the way to the Atlantic if I wanted to. It wasn’t hard. If you have two arms and two legs it can be done. If you’re missing any combination of appendages, still, it can be done. Like all things, you just can’t be afraid to try. Once my mind had conquered matter, I lost interest, and turned instead to what I was riding toward. My first and only baby niece whom I had never met; my elderly grandmother whom I wanted to kiss goodbye before embarking on my next adventure; and lastly, my reason for leaving the greatest city in North America: love.

My last morning as a cross-country cyclist.

Austin, Texas

I estimate my bike ride to have been around 1,200 miles when Rocinante the Third and I started hitchhiking, something I’ll perhaps post about. What’s next, you ask? Nach Berlin! Then Prague, where the world will continue turning again.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 7

Days begin and days end, again and again. I straddle my conveyance furiously scribbling additional fiction for a book that I wrote a long, long time ago my ears blister and peel, burned by wind and sun cars stop so their drivers may fulfill an irrepressible curiosity and ask my business I meet a finely wrinkled cyclist with an unexpected kindness of discourse and the word “Aryan” tattooed into his neck my wheels turn wildly off course and suddenly I am on the 101 with objection and disquiet I read from One Hundred Years of Solitude in the pink dusk between cities at a midnight rest stop, a sorority voice delicately tells her dog, Ellie, to “get busy” over and over and over and over again until I want to unfold from my cocoon like a terrible butterfly and squeeze the shit out of Ellie myself our desperate measure of time advances from 2011 to 2012 and with perfect introspection, I have a quiet birthday.

I reached Los Angeles on Wednesday, January 4th, nine days after leaving San Francisco. Nine days is slow by cycling standards, but all inhibiting factors considered, it’s still a 500 mile bike ride (381 by automobile), so I was pleased with myself nonetheless.

Now, I could tell you of the mustard pollution that heralded the City of Angels miles before my arrival. I could tell you how I crossed the 100-mile sprawl of that coastal metropolis; how disconcerting it is to hear tires hiss with escaping air once a plague of desert thorns are plucked from their swell; how sandstorms would have choked and blinded me had I not had the foresight to wear goggles over my eyes and a bandana over my mouth; how different people treat those they perceive as socially marginalized; how the interstate was a loveless companion; how Phoenix gassed the same yellow pollution that L.A. did; how absolutely wonderful the embrace of an old friend feels after a decade apart; how hard and claustrophobic the back of a police car is; how real fear becomes you when you know there is life-threatening debris in the road, though it can’t be seen for the immovable night; how lovely a moonlight ride through the desert; I could tell you what it’s like to be padded after by an animal with the face of a wolf and fur as red as blood; how the cruel wind can on one day push you uphill then antagonize on another by forcing a downhill coast to an absolute standstill . . . all day; how a rushing semi-truck could momentarily disrupt the opposing wind and suction you a few blessed feet on it’s tailcoats or simply make you wobble from the sudden lack of resistance; how sand colludes with sweat to layer your sleeping face then grits in your teeth then finds its way into your eyes even when they are tightly shut and roaming in restless dreams; how much sand tenderizes fingertips and lips; how much sand actually hurts; how suffocating and hot and cold a bivy sack can be when you’re so congested that you have to unzip the night shroud to face a blistering torrent of sand, sand, sand to spit sand, then breathe in sand, and spit sand again before enclosing the new sand that has invaded the tiny shelter; how 75-cent hot chocolate from rest stop vending machines were tiny comforts that made the chill in my bones forgettable from the ephemeral brim to base of those little casino cups.

I could tell you all of this, in great detail, rich in description, provocative in rhetoric, sexy in prose, but a funny thing started happening when I reached Los Angeles, and it’s happening all over again as I reflect on the second half of this journey: I stopped caring for my bike ride. It would take the entire ride through Arizona and a wasted tire in New Mexico to fully accept this.

I couldn't get that asshole out of the picture.

What started out as a spider bite turned into wicked sun blisters

That's Scott. He's a decent and good man

Cotton. Lots of it.

Beginning of New Mexcico

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 6

Rust. On my bicycle, that is. Before leaving San Francisco, I had laboriously scrubbed and sanded the original coat of paint off the forty-year-old apparatus known as Rocinante the Third with the grand vision of repainting it yellow, red, and black, the colors of Detective Comics’ evil “The Reverse Flash.” My glorious procrastination resulted in my riding off on a bicycle that looked like disease, but since I’d grinded off the protective coating of lacquer, oxidization finally answered a question I’d long had: is Rocinante the Third composed of steel or aluminum? Steel. Anyway, it must have been the hard sea air. It gave my ride a little character. Still does.


The Santa Lucia mountain range was beautiful and awful all at once. On one hand, riding along the ocean from the superior vantage of a mountain range was almost . . . Olympian, and at 40 miles-per-hour, I was Hermes, swift-footed messenger of divinity, skirting Mount Olympus on an errand for the king of gods. Once my control over the awkward load I was riding between became more manageable, obstacles on the road ahead withered to secondary importance over the expansive sea a thousand feet below my course; the sparkling water became a sight I constantly kept watch over for I knew then as I know now that although it’s quite possible I’ll find myself back on the PCH someday, the burning sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair, the song on my tongue, and all the time in the world was a symphony that I’ll never be audience to again. A traveler may drive the countryside with windows up and air conditioner cooling and never know what it’s like to fly with clothes flapping against one’s back and the ground tossing stray shoe laces only a fatal step away. That spot of Earth alone made the trip worthwhile, and I wanted to remember. That’s what these posts are about. I will remember. Always.

On the other hand, however, when I wasn’t coasting downhill with delusions of grandeur, I was pushing my heavy bicycle uphill. If I were a god, I was only a demi and my one weakness was the cruel irony of ascension. My arms ached; my legs burned; I dripped with sweat; my skin was red; my stomach grumbled; my lips cracked and bled. It wasn’t uncommon for passing cars to see me sagging over Rocinante the Third as I dragged my heavy feet beside him. “Almost there. Almost . . . there,” I’d say to myself, only to discover that my almost there was only the footprint of Mount Olympus. Hell. Many hours were spent not actually riding but pushing uphill. It was truly a test of will and athleticism, for I came across one, two . . . many abandoned Rocinantes along that little upheaved shred of land, where tide and altitude no longer inspired but damned a heat-frazzled rider on an existential sally. I am relieved to say that after thirty-two winters of wondering why, I’m tired but I am undefeated. My body and mind are strong, and in that corporeal microcosm of the human condition, I did what’s been done since the world’s first atheist pointed to the sun and declared, We are alone: I pushed on. I pushed on past bicycles and dead riders whose personal quests ended not by surrender, but by the imposition of speeding automobiles who knocked men and women off their saddles, out of their helmets, and into roadside shrines for the quiet of grieving pilgrims. I pushed on past the misty plumes of little gray whales breaching the ocean surface as they snorted seawater from their enormous bulk and gasped for the same air that swelled my chest, and when my bodily limitations sang in concert with the demoralization of my mind, I pushed on until my “almost there” arrived and the warm California air rippled through my clothes and I was moonwalking in the winged shoes of fantasy again.

Low altitude

Also from a low altitude. Unfortunately, I didn't take photos from a godly vantage. I'll just have to remember, and  you'll just have to imagine or google.

Whenever the road was empty, I allowed myself a joyous weave through the curve of north and southbound lanes until forced back to the margins. An occasional car would patiently cruise by and honk out a jingle while young people waved from within or folded themselves out windows to reveal toothy smiles through their windswept hair. A BMW with windows down and sunroof agape drove erratically past until I met the mirrored eyes of its driver and his upwards thumb poked out of the roof of his expensive car. “You’re awesome!” he cried, not speeding off until I acknowledged his ruling with a precarious wave. I mention such . . . applause not out of self-admiration but because they were frequent and tremendously encouraging when not startling and extremely dangerous. If you ever see a gear-laden rider on a winding and rolling path with mountains to one side and a calamitous drop-off to the other, don’t honk at him, folks. The heart-stopping wind gusts are terrifying enough, and quite frankly, I already know I’m awesome.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 5

I had been asleep and then suddenly, I was not. Crunch. Snap. My pupils dilated the green from my eyes in order to observe the darkness around me, and my eyelids complemented the action by widening the periphery of my chicken-shit sight. Stars shone through the black web of pine branches that towered over my nest, and far, far below my cliff’s edge, ocean waves swooshed hard against America’s Golden State as they have long before it was named and as they will long after the last memory of the enunciation, California, dies with its thinker. I listened, quiet as prey. Sea lions echoed from some unreachable beach, happy in the security of their congress, unaware that the greatest predator Earth has ever known lay half-reveling in his understanding of their place between land and sea, and half-trembling within his papoose as a babe without a tribe. The bicycle that had rolled me 150 miles from San Francisco leaned heavily against my guardian tree, still saddled with necessities and ready for sudden flight.

Snap. Present. Crack. Tense.

There it is again. The zippers of my sleeping back jingle as irrationality snaps my fingers over them and divest my body of all midnight trappings. I sit up in the warm night and lean into the dark, listening, still as a deer, tight as a copperhead. Tumbling waves hypnotize, and against my sense of self preservation, I am uncoiled and gently lulled back to shallow dreams on my unforgiving hoody-pillow.

Crunch. Snap.

The little Maglite I keep among clinking objects in my sleeping bag has blasted away the immediate shadows to reveal an impenetrably course tangle of Pacific vegetation. Off. Darkness. Deductions smash through my mind like wild marbles: it’s light-footed; it’s cautious; it’s making no vocalizations; it’s trying to be quiet. Distance. It’s still relatively far away. But where? The mountainside echoes down and up and sideways. Where is it? Nothing. The ocean mitigates my hysteria until the foam of my bedroll mashes into my face and I am sleeping again.

Crunch. Snap. Crash.

I am standing. The sneakers I’d worn to tatters in San Francisco house my tingling feet, hastily tied and ready for jump kicks. Whatever it is, it’s closer. With no other weapon, I fire a warning to my creeping tormentor from deep in my chest. Beware! I cry out, For however compassionate, I am the keeper of a tradition. I am Man, eater of all things, lord of earth, sea, sky, and the fledging domain of space. Come closer, creature, and you will be destroyed, decisively and completely, for you have your tooth and claw and perfect adaptation to your place and time, but I have abstraction and the Devil’s hands. “Go on!” spills from my lips as a concise alternative, and when the animal responds with a panicked run in my direction, I do the same in an explosive and magnificent show of opposing cowardice. Invisible pine switches whip my face and extended hands as I scurry back toward the highway, and the thick bed of sloping needles underfoot causes an arm-flailing wipe-out onto its spongy surface. Twice.*

Ah, the road. Safe. Predictable. Visible. It’s been quiet all night, and only the ocean and my beating heart are sounding at all. I walk a ways to see over the cliff side but my flashlight, like the dull glow of Ichibod Crane’s trembling lantern, returns nothing from the ether. All remains black and blue under the radiant moon and my adversary is once again still and silent in its canopy of light. Miles before me, the oceanic horizon is defined by the abrupt end of the moon’s elongated reflection across the water, and unexpectedly, the Pacific seems smaller with the sun gone. Nothing takes the enormous night from the wilderness between cities, though, and stars in their thousands twinkle throughout a galaxy that we have inexplicably begun to understand. Midnight’s emergency abandons my mind, and I perch onto a roadside boulder and watch for meteorites to burn into our atmosphere. My vision has acclimated to what light is mirrored from the sun, and I consider a world with two full sentries of the sundown. I consider one with three. How strange and brilliant the night would be with sixty-six Jovian daughters astounding the twilight with splendor, their colossal size pulling the marrow of our bones like high tide. It’d be easier to remember that we’re composed of the universe and that our systems extend not only to convecting air currents in the atmosphere but well into the magnetic alchemy that holds Earth’s weathered pearl of a satellite at our service. Who am I, I wonder. What am I? Why am I? The question of design and purpose and the undeniable model that all things follow from the orbit of electrons to the orbit of the earth and the orbit of the sun returns to agitate my thoughts, like an answer momentarily forgotten while in this dreary process of living and breathing and eating and shitting. Sea lions laugh at me as I stare at the dancing shadows of my cave wall. Their wild merriment spires higher and higher until it is dispersed by the same wind that tousles my hair. There’s nothing on this mountainside to fear. There’s really no reason to fear anything.

I check my phone. 3am. Low battery. No reception. The sterile glow is offensive to my existential tranquility and I am momentarily blinded as I return it to my pocket. My mind is alert but my body is heavy, and for the first time, I feel the bruises in my hands, the soreness in my back, and the tenderness of my sweet behind. My weighty feet scratch the pavement of the Pacific Coast Highway as I drag them back into the wide embrace of my tree. The cushioning layers of brown pine needles sweep my feet from under me again and I fall twice more before kicking my shoes off and zipping my sleeping bag to my nose again. The ocean cradles me to sleep and before my eyes are fully closed, a white light streaks through a tangle of branches and across the sky.

*Recognize something here, people. I’m not afraid of the wild. Remember when I so courageously confronted a little black bear cub at Big Bend?** I’m a Texas man, folks. Thus, I know Texas creatures.*** It reminded me of the time I was hitching east across Canada and had to take a whiz. The countryside there is beautiful but the thick underbrush of Canadian forests is so impenetrable that my ignorance of their fauna made for a nervous pee when my man parts were positioned only inches over a sea of alien plants and their invisible alien animals beneath. Same thing in California, only my penis wasn’t out.

**Anything to bring that story up again.

***Case in point: I once went charging through thigh-high water in a Colorado tributary because I thought a beaver was thrashing into the tall river brush I was standing ass-deep in. It turned out to be a school of ducks, but the episode was forever dubbed “The Great Beaver Attack” by my friend’s dad who saw the whole thing unfold. You may call it cowardly; I call it a bravado for life.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 4

Coastal farmland. I love it. It’s something I’ve never seen before. Rolling hills, combed neatly with endless rows of things that grow, but at the beach. That was probably the single most favorite part of my little ride: the Pacific. It was always there, just over my right shoulder. Sometimes I’d follow the road’s course a few miles inland and forget about the ocean until it would cut through what I thought were clouds and prove to have been there all along, blue and gray and continuous, the sky intemperate but the ocean calm, pacifico. Glorious.

I ate an orange that day. An electric orange that tingled my thirsty mouth and inspired praise for Mama Earth. I thought of the little seed that had been patted into the ground to produce the complex system known as Citrus sinensis, or an orange tree, so that this little round fruit could bud from its branches and accompany me through clouds for a while. I enjoyed it until it was gone, every wedge of perfectly unbelievable chemistry held to a sun that prismed through mist and fog, and then I enjoyed it even further as a celebrated memory while I pedaled away from the discarded rind. Here’s a nugget of advice if you’re ever riding your bicycle along the Highway 1: stop at the fruit stands. Holy shit, you won’t regret it. If you’re riding a long distance at all, take fruit. They’ve never made more sense to me than in my time of outstanding humanity, where thirst and hunger and fatigue return our minds to the corporeal, to a kingdom of animals, separate from the idleness of feather pillows and streaming videos and complicit misinformation. It made me feel I was a part of a system again and not in contrary to one. I liked that.

Monterey. Suddenly, I was there, rolling along a scenic bike route with scores of families pointing at sea lions that draped over boulders poking out of the turquoise bay. Stilted buildings extended colorfully into the ocean, their well-manicured rustication a picturesque backdrop against a curling fog and filtered rays of sunlight. I weaved through high-pantsed elderly who held their arms outstretched as though doing so could keep their bustling surroundings in place until they could gather their bearings; pimply teenagers awkwardly following their vacationing parents like conflicted ducklings; breaths of French and German and high-hatted English, exhaled from bodies not yet fattened by the adulterated food and drink of the New World. Blues and blondes and greens and sandy browns. Whiteness, pinked by a holiday sun. I torpedoed through their ranks, my foam bedroll brushing past bent elbows that kept expensive cameras aloft, making no apologies, slowing when left with no other option. It was, after all, a bike lane. A clean bike lane, wide and free of debris. All I had seen of Monterey, in fact, was a far cry from the realities of a dense population such as San Francisco, where even in areas of kept wives whose job it was to remain firm and beautiful and to spend money, trash still fluttered in the street and the black-toothed smiles of the forgotten were ubiquitous even if overlooked. It bothered me. This beautiful place, gilded to cover things that could never be kept from my eyes again, existed. It was a Disneyland of barkers and colored balloons, and its deception was upsetting.

I squeezed the levers on my handlebars and lowered my feet to the ground as my bicycle stopped. A brief consultation with the magic of Google Maps made my spirit sag with profundity as I realized I had been enchanted for miles off track. You’d be surprised how easily and how often I did that. There’s a lot to look at, other than the road.

The rest of the day was spent pushing my bike up hill, drenched from fog and sweat. When I finally stopped, the day old pizza I had been feeding on from my dank backpack was ejected from my stomach with a forceful hurl; the happy smiles of the Monterey Peninsula’s immaculate tourism beaded its poison out with my cold sweat and swirled with bile and undigested slices of mushrooms in a toilet that I held onto with white knuckles. But I felt much better and fell asleep remembering oranges.

The day found solutions for my battered gluteus maximus. Just in time, too, as I was having trouble sitting.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 3 of . . . whatever

I rolled into Santa Cruz my second day out. It was a minimal 47 miles from the prior night’s transient rest but considering my out-of-shapiness and goddamned uphills, I call it a winner. My hands hurt. The tremendous pressure my upper body placed on them made gripping anything but the handlebars a painful experience. I still have yellow calluses on both palms and the pinky and ring fingers of my left hand are still without full sensation. I expect that kind of nerve damage to recover with time, but we’ll see. Oh, and my ass hurt. Wincing in pain hurt. A strange sensitivity that I’m sure only all-day athletes know (or people about to be dead) is one of complete muscle exhaustion. In the early days of my ride, I’d leap onto my bike, muscles coiled like springs, and zip up hills alternately whistling and singing songs that no one else could hear. By the end of each day, however, my entire body moved with my pedaling feet in the same way one kicks his legs when trying to achieve just one last pull-up, and my strength, most notably around the ass region, no longer kept me upright in my saddle so much as it sagged around it and weakly held on. I guess it’s appropriate to say that I had a weak ass, which is strange, wouldn’t you say? How many times have you ever literally stressed your ass out? It refuses to labor after a certain point and then you're just sitting on meat with nerves in it. My back and neck hurt, too. It’s a lot of work, balancing a computer at the end of your spine, especially when you’re riding 20-40 miles per hour and having to constantly watch the road ahead for obstacles, the road behind for cars, and the world to each side, not to mention registering and adjusting for the pain in your hands and unresponsive nether regions.

Cities. They’ve never been a very positive thing for me when traveling on foot or in this case on two wheels. There’s more gravity in them, I think, with all downtowns holding their greatest mass. Before you know it, you’re too near and the redneck fauna of each strange place is staring at you with gaping mouthholes as you count the distances between Denny’s as markers of your progress out of their stinking orbits. Cities and towns along the

Pacific Coast Highway
are different. Their density houses transcendental degenerates that are all around but who will only engage in conversation if they suspect you’re one and the same because there’s a sleeping bag over your handlebars and a foam bedroll behind your seat. I willingly entered Santa Cruz, eager to strut about the boardwalk where much of the 20th century’s most influential movie, The Lost Boys was filmed, but after being accosted by a muscular man with blue tattoos covering his shirtless body and completely hairless face, I lost a little mojo.

He came dancing out (literally) of a motel as I was walking my bike past and called out for me to wait. I waited. He was drunk and probably on something else, but I still shook his feeble hand and accepted his immediate hug afterward. What? There was a bicycle between us and I had an easily whip-outable hunting knife poking out of my pocket. Besides, you can’t reject a hug. It’s sad. What if he had overdosed in his motel room or was killed crossing the street and I was the last person in his life to have denied him human contact. People hugged me on my way out of San Francisco, but before that? Jesus it had been a while. It’s easy to forget the coldness of isolation when you have people to love you, but I promise there are beating hearts in your life right now that could really use a good happy-to-see-you embrace. Anyway, this man, Stabby, as I’ll call him for I never got his name, gave me an honest and accurate caution about sketchy places with a sad and apologetic wag of his head when I asked him if he knew any cheap motels in town to stay the night. “Now,” he said with surprising clarity, “you can find a room, or you find accommodations. There’s a big difference.” Luckily, he had an extra bed in his room that he was willing to let me have for free. “I just want to make sure you’re safe,” he insisted as his eyes blinked out of synchronization. I’ve done that before during my hitchhiking days, staying with strangers, I mean. Spare motel beds, spare bedrooms, living room floors. People are trusting, but I’ve also turned down a few offers and as I had no intention of being ass raped by this self-proclaimed “prison type,” this was a gracious refusal situation. I told him I was going to keep riding but I’d come back if there were no options. Cities.

I checked into a motel* near the boardwalk and spent the evening reorganizing my gear the way experience commanded. Somewhere through the walls of the inn, a man raged at another human being, the Coke machine outside my window occasionally clanked out a can for whoever trickled in their change, and a TV mumbled in the next room. A studio audience applauded. I ordered a pizza and sat cross-legged on my bed eating it, clean and exhausted and totally naked, my head tilted beneath each cheesy slice, until I tipped back into greasy dreams.
*There would be many motels in my future, but I’ll take a moment now and justify that luxury. . . . On second thought, blow me. I don’t have to. When you ride your bicycle across a country in winter, you can do it your way.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 2 of . . . a few

I’ve spent a lot of time considering how I’m going to present this little adventure, but since it was three weeks and a day long, I’ve settled on destinations and memorable experiences.

First, unless some of your brain is scooped out of your head, it’s hard to forget how to ride a bicycle. What is hard, however is learning to ride a bike with an extra 50lbs of gear distributed over both wheels. The whole apparatus becomes as off balanced as an ironing table and what’s worse is that if your bungee cords are only pretty ribbons around your stuff, you’ll find yourself, say, at the BART Civic Center station for an hour, strangling your belongings down after they’d lobbed off like a heap of mashed potatoes while you were carrying the whole mess down an endless flight of stairs because the escalator was under repair. Next.

At the onset, learning to turn a heavy bicycle was an alarming issue. I had a basket over my handlebars (a practical accessory that inspired emasculating chuckles from an unexpected several people) and the weight from my front load initially forced harder turns that jackknifed the front wheel and was the basis of all my early howls of panic. I never crashed, however. I fully expected to and came close on many shrieking occasions, but never a wipe out.

Don’t rely on the junk hardware that bicycle gear comes with, either. Get your own. The nuts on the cargo rack over my back wheel fell off within hours of my departure. Not only could that have ended my trip on day one, but it could have made me dead. I happened to look at the little bolts after a breezy downhill and discovered the locking nuts were gone. Miraculously, they had fallen in the same spot I was standing. The next hour was spent unpacking all my stuff to get to my tools, searching for a couple of longer bolts that I had and hoped would fit, and then staring miserably down and into the rain grate where I had dropped the necessary allen wrench to fasten said bolts. What’s worse is that the possibility of losing precious tools or screws down the gutter actually crossed my mind, as I was practically standing over it, but with dim-witted resolve, I decided to be extra careful. A woman passing by offered me a fistful of Twizzlers as a gummy agent for the end of a stick. Sweet, but completely ineffective. I was lazily chewing them when a Skyline Park ranger happened by and wedged a pickaxe into the heavy guard to lever it up. Problem solved.

I slept half on the beach and half in a motel that first night. The ocean was cold, and after around five hours of shivering rest, a steady stream of teenagers began trickling to a massive bonfire that was close enough for me to hear their young fun. My fingers were numb, and every time I’d doze off, a girl would gasp at almost stumbling over my body or a boy would speak with excessive manliness while investigating my presence . . . from a safe distance. Sometime before midnight, I repacked my gear in the dark, slipping in cascading sand dunes, my fingers cold and chafed from the sea air, my body and mind so exhausted that I could have flung my bike and wept into my hands. I expected despair, principally within the first few days and while trapped in cities, but it’s tough to prepare for hopelessness, especially when it’s self-inflicted. A major motivation for me throughout my little bike ride was a coworker’s sure voice repeating in my memory. “You are not going to make it,” he said in his kind Ethiopian accent. There wasn’t any malice in the statement. He could have said “you are crazy” with the same tone and it would have meant the same thing. You are not going to make it. At least it was a self-imposed hardship. I can’t fathom a life of war or hunger or disease or constant death, or one with the scarcity of resources to breed all four horses. To spend days and nights not hungry, but famished. To fall asleep every night without a sense of physical security. To anguish with fatigue but still be pulled to your feet and forced into mobility. My troubles were minor weariness and fat kids stepping on me in a gritty cold that was uncomfortable but far from unbearable. So, I wrestled my sand-sunken wheels back onto asphalt and returned to Highway 1 in the dark.

The highway intersection held me in place as the 27th of December turned into the 28th. To the north, lights and accommodation; to the south, utter darkness. My tiny headlight illuminated nothing at night and riding in the dark was incontrovertibly dangerous as I could run into any number of obstacles from a blown out tire to Sasquatch. In the next couple of weeks, I would learn and understand humankind’s very primal fear of the dark, but right then? Motel.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 1 of . . . a few

It’s been over a month since my last post and much has changed. For one, I have returned to Austin for reasons that are none of your goddamned business but that I will still explain in good time. I didn’t want to move back to Texas, but doing so was practical when considering the next phase of my plans so here I am.

I rode a bicycle back . . . mostly. It was a ‘70s Schwinn that I bought on Craigslist for 36 bucks. The big idea was to sand off the original coat of paint, lacquer it to a beautiful newness, and replace any moving parts that were worn or simply not working. During my ubiquitous lurking about San Francisco bicycle shops, a lot bike mechanics visibly turned queasy when I told them my intentions and even more so when my complete ignorance of bicycles shone through our conversations like idiot diamonds. It didn’t deter me. I expected discouragement and that’s essentially all I got from the few people who knew my plans. “What about this . . . ?” They’d say. “Have you thought about that . . . ?” I’d hear. “Why don’t you fly?” Squawk. “Fly.” Squawk. “Fly.” Squawksquawksquawk. Because I didn’t want to fly, you jerks. I hate flying. You step into a plane at one place and step out at another. Where’s the adventure in that? Besides, I needed a buffer between the two cities. I’d have probably burst into tears being suddenly in Austin again. A month-long crossing would be the perfect transition, an attentive mediator for the wars of my heart.

So I rode a bicycle . . . mostly. A bicycle that was wrecked when I got it but maimed further when I was finished with it. My intentions were pretty, but my love only took it so far, so three days before I left, I had it tuned up by the fellas at Mojos Café and Bicycle Shop on Divisidero (if you’re ever in the neighborhood (the coffee’s amazing, too)), and the solutions I was unable to discover on my own were quickly solved by hipsters with knowhow. I danced out of the shop, enthusiastically waving goodbye as the mechanics solemnly stopped working and watched me go. That’s the problem with technical knowledge, I think. These bike pros had an encyclopedic comprehension of their craft and one guy in particular was almost . . . theoretical when waxing velocity and weight distribution. They were so scholarly with their information that I’d wager their fear of so many potential dangers kept them from practical application. That or they didn’t think that anyone without their vast knowledge and experience was capable of doing what I was describing. It’s bike riding, people, not combat aviation. Anyway, I liked talking to them because they knew their business and because they weren’t friends, they didn’t have any rights to depress my eccentricities with overwhelming caution (though their faces and body language spoke volumes).

I didn’t train. I didn’t read about cycling. I didn’t find out what was legal or illegal. I didn’t buy Spandex or bike shoes. I didn’t wear a helmet. I didn’t even plan my route. It’s only 1,800-ish miles. My preparation was practical and uncomplicated: plan for rain and snow, heat and cold, hunger and thirst. Have money for accommodations, a hunting knife for bears and rapists. Even now, I don’t understand everyone’s disbelief and immediate certainty that it couldn’t be done. I wasn’t going to be taking a Sunday outing with my parasol and bell girdle. Of course it would be hard, but like I said, it’s riding a bicycle for God’s sake. If I ever decide to climb Mt. Everest with the same spontaneity, please, talk me out of it. Until then, keep your faceholes drooling at your televisions and not flapping negativity at my strange therapy.

As my December 27th departure date approached, I shipped a few things back to Austin and pushed the rest of my San Francisco possessions to the sidewalk where I originally found them anyway.

Then I left.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The reluctant brownshirts

I loathe that citizens versus law enforcement has become such a focus of this beautiful revolution of the mind that has swept the United States, but because it seems these peace officer . . . armies* are in full force and are only strengthening their position, I suppose it’s appropriate to tie my literary bandana across my face holes, spark the wick of my Molotov cocktail, and wind my arm back.

The nature of state and local police is to “serve and protect” as we’ve all heard so often. It seems almost derisive as I tap out the phrase because anyone who’s spent any time at an Occupy encampment will tell you that under the duress of an impending raid, these servants of the community can be more threatening than anything imaginable. Why? Because they can hurt you, and by law you cannot defend yourself. As we’ve all seen, the police can jab you and crack your bones with dense sticks; they can cut your wrists and turn your hands blue with too tight cuffs and ties; they can burn your eyes and lungs; they can swell your throat or make you vomit; they can stun you with electricity; they can make record of your fingerprints; they can take your picture; they can take off all of your clothes and leave you naked and humiliated; they can beat the living shit out of you, and if no one’s recording you at that exact moment, no matter how morally, ethically, and lawfully wrong they are, you lose. Their ensuing paperwork and records can ruin your life and they can do all of this and more with complete impunity because the government, local, state, and federal, favors them. If you stand up for yourself, you are alone.

Should that be what’s going through my head when I join my countrymen to speak the unthinkable: I don’t like the way we are being governed. It’s taken a long time for me to recognize my right as an individual to say that. I don’t like the way we are being governed, and I’ll be damned if fear is what keeps me from singing it.

I never appreciated lone dissenters who have chained themselves to personal convictions, risking their very freedom out of principle, until I stood arm in arm with dozens of protesters, nervous and dreadful at the prospect of resisting the police. These people protesting aren’t just pot-smoking kids who are rebelling against authority. They are grown men, women, and yes, idealistic young people who are through with scratching by, paycheck to paycheck. They are Americans who have been ejected from their homes or jobs or both and while they might have once crinkled their noses to the homeless person sifting through garbage, they are one and the same now. They are people bankrupted by medical, educational, and a range of other predatory debts. They are people who didn’t irresponsibly have children that they couldn’t afford or take care of. They are people who were not dragging down the economy by leaning on so-called entitlement programs. They are people who were once okay but now they are not and they have absolutely nothing more to lose. That’s when you face rubber bullets and tear gas, not because you’re lazy or because you want to legalize marijuana. Simplifying the conversation to such corporate TV or radio soundbytes is a disappointing show of ignorance and misinformation. Besides, have you ever hurt yourself when you’re stoned? It’s, like, a ten.

In truth, I see no difference in “occupying” a public space and incessantly calling the office of an elected official to air your grievances over the policies he or she is supporting. What do you think? Occupy the phone lines? Do it from a public pay phone and when the police arrive to squirt pepper spray in your face and hog tie you into their squad car, perhaps the point will be made because that is essentially what is happening.

No one is calling to hate the police. There are remarkable men and women who risk their very lives every day, some out of principle, others out of appreciation for their livable wages, reasonable benefits, and comfortable retirement. Either way, they do what they are paid to do and they do it well. But when these (mostly) good people are purchased to guard the sanctity of American corruption at the expense of the very people who pay their livable wages, reasonable benefits, and comfortable retirement, something must be done. And “Stop and frisk”? “Papers, please”? C’mon, go fuck yourself. This is all of society, folks, and as awful as past gender and racial struggles have been (and continue), if this movement is suppressed by the police buffer between the super rich and, well, everyone else, the precedent will be devastating. As a people, we will have lost. It’s as big as Egypt, where the citizens there toppled their government and allowed their military to seize interim power only to find that they can’t get it back. The Egyptian military was wildly approved of before and during their revolution, too. Now they’re maiming and killing their citizens with weapons sold to them straight out of Pennsylvania.

As usual, I don’t have a solution. Who does? I am, however, able to say that I don’t like the way we are being governed. It’s a statement that many citizens in many countries around the world are unable to utter without fear of arrest, but if this moment of dissent is snuffed out by our family and friends who wear police badges, if we join the ranks of peoples who cannot voice their grievances against their government, we as a free society will have lost. So talk to them. Directly engage. Remind them of the great responsibility that by our consent they hold custody over, and to abuse this position of power and authority that we’ve entrusted to them is a violation of our social contract. It’s a violation in all aspects of the word. Remind them that they have a choice. Remind them that bashing out peaceful dissent is decidedly un-American, and ask what would move them to sit down and not stand up when commanded by a person with a shield, helmet, club, and skull dagger. Chances are our family and friends in law enforcement have no idea of the historical parallels they’ve conformed to repeating by unknowingly becoming the next
brownshirts. Show them.

It’s all or nothing now, people, but I’m afraid that individual police officers will never understand why what they are participating in is the takeover of a free society, and I’m demoralized with the worry that nobody cares.

Addendum: Have a look at this petition, please. Thank you, Jillian.
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