Tag Archives: travel america

Version 0.23


In my “roomette” on the Sunset Limited, the train I’m taking from Houston to L.A. Thus far, things have been enjoyable. The train attendant is a friendly, amiable chap. He setup my bed, which I am now lounging in, and politely answered the couple of questions that I had. My expectations for meals may well be very much exceeded too if tonight’s supper was any indication.

I’m looking forward to the next 34 hours or so. I have much work to be done, and with no distractions should be able to plow through a fair bit of it. No wifi is likely to be a boon.

I’d like to sum up my thoughts on Houston, though I’m not certain I did or saw enough in the three short days I was there to justify that sort of thing. Furthermore, because I was there for such a short period of time there is likely little that I will have to say. So why even write about it? What is the point if I don’t feel like I have much of substance to write? I guess I feel that there may be something in it worth something to someone—perhaps it will encourage an arts lover to travel there, because if there is any reason to travel to Houston, it is for the arts scene.

I found the city to be a surprise for various reasons, so as a journal entry this will be written regardless, but to post it publicly for the consumption of others…. I just don’t know…. Granted, I could toss this whole blog in the garbage and I doubt it’d make much of a difference to anyone, including myself, because, after all, my primary audience for writing is myself, not anyone else.

Now, with my usual “what is the point of doing anything” ramblings out of the way, here are a few thoughts on the city of Houston.

Houston is a big advocate of the arts. This is something I was not expecting to find upon first investigating the city. Its Museum of Fine Arts is two, and soon to be three, beautiful, spacious (prodigiously so in places) well designed buildings, and should rank highly amongst the best art museums in the world in terms of its collections (this is arguably the most important qualification to check off when ranking museums, I would suppose), but of equal importance, in my opinion, is its curation. The rooms, many of them, are large, and this is necessary in order to give the displayed works space to be; to breathe, as the saying goes. This is very much a case of less is best. It also contains in one of its buildings a theater within which they regularly show movies. Sometimes these are art-related, sometimes not. In fact, one of the reasons I visited the HMFA was to catch a viewing of a new film on Edgar Degas.

Aside from the Museum of Fine Arts, the one other collection of artworks and antiquities objects that one must pay a visit to is The Menil Collection, 1) because it’s one of the best collections of works, brought together by a married couple, on the planet (and it continues to grow through gifts to and acquisitions by the foundation), and 2) it is FREE. Essentially it is a labor of philanthropy, with works from Picasso, Joan Miro, Mark Rothko, Renee Magritte, Max Ernst, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and many others on display, along with a fine collection of artifacts from the South Pacific, Africa,  Byzantium, and ancient Greece. As well, there is a permanent installation by Don Flavin housed in its own building, and another dedicated to Cy Twombly. Also, near to the Menil Collection is the Rothko Chapel which I may dedicate a post to my experience there later.

While in the HMFA I had a conversation with a lovely, older couple in their 70s or 80s about the museum and the city. The woman approached me after I had taken a photo of the city skyline through a window, her favorite window as it turned out, that was draped with small, aluminum beads as well as a piece of perforated fabric, all this presumably to diffuse the light which would shine through blindingly, and glaringly throughout the morning. Well, she recommended to me that I check online for information regarding theaters and plays, as there is a strong thespian community, and numerous theaters throughout the city. Unfortunately for me I forgot. Typical… Well, they were lovely people. The gentleman didn’t want to stop talking to me about the city and its history. Meanwhile, his wife is trying to get him to move along. Sometimes it can be such a pleasure to speak with older folks, particularly those who glow so warmly as these two did, who still have an interest in life and in their community, and who have something of importance to impart, some story to tell to a tired, solitary traveler, an appreciator of the arts.


Version 0.21


Distracted by too many gadgets, and things in the gadgets, and things in the things in the gadgets. There is a red light beaming from my forehead, like a third eye to see through the dark. Red because it glows dimly and is difficult to see from a distance, but I can see by it to read and write just fine. This is ideal because I’m camped behind a fence bordering houses in a neighborhood and it’s not so late (nine pm) and I’d rather not be seen.

I stayed with an extremely Louisianan couple last night in Sulphur. That day was mentally taxing and long, as days with headwinds in the range of 15-25 mph are, and I missed my estimated day’s distance by twenty miles or so. Remembered in the nick of time that their was a Warmshowers host in the area, texted her and she sent her boyfriend out to scoop me up in the dark, around 6 pm. Good thing too because I discovered after texting her that I had lost my bottle of stove fuel, God knows where and when, so that had I camped I would have had a cold, miserable, unsatisfying dinner of two bananas and a Clifbar.

These two were a fascinating yet at the same time utterly boring couple. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of them. When Jay picked me up I told him I was planning on pitching my tent somewhere around the Rec Center in Mossville (where he picked me up the next town over from Sulphur) if they were unavailable, but he told me that could have potentially been bad had I had to go through with it because there were “blacks” living all around, and there had been murders at that Rec Center several times over the years. I was naturally somewhat taken aback by the brazeness of the statement, as I think many might be. Later there was another incident at a gas station where we tried to break a sixer of beer and the Indian attendant at the counter (there’s a stereotype for you) refused to break it and Jay stormed out annoyed then went on this rather uneducated, conspiratorial rant about Arabs (which Indians are not, of course), how this one fellow could have sold him the two beers and put the rest in ice but didn’t because he was too lazy, which then led to the statements that they’re (Indians, Arabs, I don’t know, but it’s interesting how to the ignorant that whole part of the world just gets grouped together, like all the peoples and the whole of the population is all the same culture) going to buy up all the gas stations in the country and stop selling gas to Americans which would somehow shut the country down, or some sort of cockeyed, outlandish, nonsensical horseshit. It was clear that he had no clue what he was talking about, but was simply flailing about mentally, attempting to make sense of something frustrating him, changes in the country, or perhaps in his own state, city, or community, that he doesn’t understand and is unable to grapple and reconcile with (like, probably, hundreds of thousands of other Americans).

I thought these peculiar ideas coming from a guy who travelled the world with his father in the merchant marines for many years (favorite countries being Sweden and Brazil (Recife, specifically, in Brazil). These comments, though, contrast sharply with his desire to take his most kind lady friend out to Colorado, then to New Mexico to explore the lands of the Apache and Navajo Indians. He practically glowed talking about this, and it was clear to me that he has an admiration and esteem for the natives of this land. Being there and listening to him speak I could hear it in his voice. Racism, it seems, is not nearly as cut and dry a topic as many people like to think it is, but this was the first time in my life that I had witnessed this sort of polarity of it within one person.

After arriving to home for the night Jay was kind enough to cook up, in his words “a real cajun meal” which in this case meant rice and two kinds of deer and pork sausage. One was storebought. The other was made from a deer his son had slain. Not sure where the pork was from in that one. I’m not quite sure where the “cajun” comes from in this respect either, unless he just meant “cheap.” Maybe it’s cajun because the sausage was a bit spicy. Really the meal just struck me as extremely simple and rustic. And honestly not all that good even setting aside the fact that I prefer to stay away from meat if at all possible. Still, it was better than the sausage, egg and cheese biscuits he brought back from Burger King the following morning for breakfast. His girlfriend, Rebecca, however, whose WarmShowers account it is that I contacted was the most welcoming lady, giving me a hug upon our introduction and treating me as a respected and honored guest. For a time she did bookkeeping for a bike shop in the area, but after a change of ownership she was let go. She doesn’t need to work though, and said she wasn’t at all upset about being let go, actually expected it, and very nearly welcomed it if it was for the benefit of the new owner. Currently she’s been scavenging lumber, nails and various other useful raw stuffs as materials for creative projects—benches for a friend’s outdoor wedding at the moment, but has other ideas which she is formulating projects around. For the last fourteen years she’s been volunteering her time with an organization that handles taxes for destitute and poverty stricken people. She says she does taxes for three to four hundred people a year. An astounding number. That was the task she had set herself at when I arrived—re-certification, actually, so that she could continue her philanthropy. Her home is full of knick-knacks and memorabilia. Family photos primarily. Remembrances. Pictures of her dead husband. A photograph of a family dog who had died a few years back. Christmas lights strung over and across everything. The small Christmas tree still up, decorated, standing on a table beside the television that is always always on so that I feel I’d go brain dead if I was to be there for too long. Eventually chit-chat got tiresome, and I was tired as well, and being as nothing much else was happening I went off to my bedroom where I could hear through the walls and the door the television blaring in it’s brainless stupid way.

Version 0.15

12-29-18, NOLA

First espresso of the day. First COFFEE of the day. Still no sustenance in the form of solid food. Wondering what to do about that. Had planned to get beignets at Cafe Du Monde but I refuse to wait in that line even if it “moves fast” as I’ve been told; it’s a good thirty or forty yards long.

The espresso was okay. Long creamy body, balanced sweetness, but still just meh. That’s my experience with Nicaraguan coffees though, even if it’s not a very longstanding experience. Anyway, the coffee shop is Spitfire. A hole in the wall with four stools to sit on in front of two planks of wood anchored to a wall. Two women on staff currently. Espresso, pour-over, cold-brew, and some specialty drinks make up the menu. It gets crowded in here quick. Simple L-shaped counter with an espresso machine and POS, wood laminate floors, and a stucco like wall finish.

I leave Spitfire with either Mammoth or Stumptown as my next destination. Strolling down Royal St.—a tiny one lane lined with antique shops, jewelry stores, and bad art galleries, I come to an intersection where opposite me looms a Walgreens. It seems so anachronistic, so foreign to this place that I am strolling through (which itself is a bit anachronistic to the current century) that I am for a moment quite taken aback. Like while wandering through this living theater I somehow stumbled backstage, to the real world as it were. I stand here staring at this anomaly for a short while until I am accosted by a crazy African-American guy looking for money for McDonald’s. I offer to buy him a sub at Subway in exchange for a photograph. He agrees but won’t stop moving around, creeping here and there, turning his head this way and that so that getting a portrait is like trying to pin down with a needle a squirming worm. I get one though. Quite magnificent too. A portrait of the maniac in the midst of his mania. Something is wrong with his foot or leg so that he has to limp alongside me, all the while he’s talking about things I don’t even remember. Certainly nothing important. Likely nothing at all. Just talking to talk. Like he has all this verbal puss building up inside of him that this continuous chatter is a squeezing of the pimple which then just reseals and builds up again immediately. If he doesn’t talk, no matter what it’s about, all this puss just backs up and becomes an even greater abscess, and then God only knows what he might do. We arrive at the Subway and all he wants is a six inch tuna salad on wheat, plain. Then asks me to get him a beer across the street, something he very plainly does not need, to which I decline. He’s rather unpleasant to the Subway staff, but clearly he suffers from a mental condition. He seems quite irritated with everybody, and has an acerbic, vitriolic temper. He starts talking to someone else and I take that as an opportunity to escape.

At Stumptown on the ground floor of the ACE Hotel. I remember reading in a coffee publication when this place opened to much fanfare and interest. Now, looking around, it just seems old and outdated. A bit abused. Worn out. It’s lost its sheen. Lost its luster. There is a door inside the cafe that opens onto the hotel lounge. Everyone in there sitting on the couches and chairs looks bored, like a bunch of monkeys sitting in trees waiting for something to happen. It’s a strange sort of motionlessness in there, like at any moment a bomb could go off, and that’s almost like the most likely thing to happen. It’s a period of subdued pandemonium, like this moment’s just been wrapped up in a straight jacket that a nut in a madhouse might wear, before the dinner bell goes ring-a-ding-ding, and once that’s done its drunks either at the table or at the bar or at a different bar, and the riots and the whoopee!, and the dynamite and the sex and the headache the next morning, and some more sleeping in soft beds with soft pillows and the room service bringing up breakfast and coffee and lastly the question of are any of us happy? because if we really were what reason would we have for carrying on in this way.

I’m going out for a drink.

Version 0.14


New Orleans at last! Currently at a little, ramshackle cafe, Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, with colorful tables and chairs; and walls of painted wood boards, the paint worn completely away in places so that the bare, old wood showed through, and faded nearly colorless everywhere else; horses and their jockeys in mid-race form painted across the top, and a couple of old ceiling fans connected via a belt to a pulley on each. It is a decidedly second-wave shop. One of those fair trade joints serving coffee that “tastes like coffee”. It’s comfortable, warming, welcoming, and they serve day-old baked goods for a dollar. There is a strong community vibe here. I actually like it a lot. It’s sort of my ideal coffee space, and is reminiscent of the feel of an old cafe I frequented when I made my first forays into coffee shop culture. I just wish the coffee was better. That said, like the ubiquitous American diner with it’s $1.50 unlimited refills, the coffee quality or lack of, is part of the experience.

Across the street at Cafe Degas, a woman is picking glass out of her car from a smashed rear window. Crimes of opportunity are pretty common in the area according to my friend. She doesn’t seem upset, merely resigned. I wonder what, if anything, was stolen.

Back at the laundromat. Lost track of time at the cafe. I haven’t been to a laundromat in years. Forgot how I missed it—the people coming and going; the noises of all the machines, some rather surprising so that you think they might explode, or maybe just breakdown and stop mid-cycle. Walking tentatively, and slightly bemusedly, into a laundromat after having been away for years is an awkward experience. Where are prices for the machines? Where is signage with directions? Where is the change machine? Is there an ATM? Where are the detergents because I don’t have any of my own? You’re like a blind man clacking around with his cane. But once you get everything sorted—once you withdraw your money from the ATM, once you exchange it for quarters, once you figure out how to get the detergent you want from the dispenser, and once you’re tossing your clothes into the wash, it feels like home again, then you walk over to the cafe and read a book or write about your experiences entering a laundromat again for the first time in years, or you walk home, or you just stay at the laundromat and read or write there.

I particularly like, at the laundromat, the notes stuck to the machines proclaiming them “out of order.” Some of these are just sticky notes applied to the drier window perhaps, or a scrap of paper taped over the quarter slot on a washer. There are other reminders too; reminders to remove things from pockets, or to check for gum and other sticky substances because we, the laundromat, are not responsible; and notices that your clothing will be removed from the drier and you will be charged if they sit for too long. And many of the signs appear to have been designed in the 90’s. A combination of hand-written lettering and MS Windows clip-art. It must be a sort of laundromatist’s unwritten code because I’ve never been to one thats signs were designed any differently.

It’s 7:30 and I’ve found a bar I like: Bar Tonique. Ordered a Veux Carre. Never had one before but it has things that I like: brandy, whiskey, vermouth, etc. Should be interesting. You know, new drinks, new experiences and all. I feel like I should be paying $16 and not $9, though, so I’m skeptical about the ingredients’ quality. It’s a nice place, regardless. All warm brick; warm, worn wooden bar; warm, low lighting; weird sort of teal ceiling that isn’t really teal; and a chandelier of sorts that looks like it was made from the same part of various of the same model lamp; a bit disjointed and lopsided. Like they had eleven of a thing and cut each thing off at the same point and took those cutoff parts and stuck them together, all radiating from a sort of central rod. It’s one parts Beetlejuice to one parts Alice Through the Looking Glass to one parts Frankenstein. The menus are written in big letters, colorfully, on chalkboards mounted on opposing walls. There are two ceiling fans turning slowly, as if they know they’re supposed to be working but also know there’s no damn point in it so they’re just going to give the least possible effort. And just like the motivation of these fans, there’s a guy on the opposite side of the bar from me with a blank look on his face, and he’s sitting in front of a basket of citrus and his face is brilliant red so that he looks just like a juicy piece of fruit himself, and I can just imagine the bartender picking him up thinking he was a piece of fruit and placing him on her cutting board and slicing a piece out of his cheek or lips or nose to garnish a cocktail.

Version 0.10

Today I unexpectedly covered over 90 miles from Eastpoint to Seacrest. I rolled into Central Standard Time some point west of Apalachicola and so I kinda gained an hour. I say sort of because the sun goes down when the sun goes down. It’s just earlier or later depending on what side of the line you’re on. However, there is a psychological effect that this has upon you when you realize that suddenly the time is two o’clock when you thought it was three. I still ended up cycling into darkness but arrived an hour earlier than I would have had I still been on Eastern Standard Time.

I felt really down last night and early this morning. Wanted to be away from the visitor’s center before nine o’clock, which is when they opened, and I was at quarter of. I was a bit surprised to see the employee not show up until exactly nine, but it saved me the trouble of having to explain myself to someone. Had a cold breakfast of muesli, banana, yogurt and peanut butter overlooking the Gulf, which was beautiful, unlike my mental state. However, no coffee because I couldn’t find the handle for my grinder after digging around a bunch for it, so I looked for coffee in Apalachicola and found some at The Apalachicola Chocolate and Coffee Company. It’s a cute little place. Coffee was terrible, but the baked goods were great. Had a delicious brownie covered in frosting, only some of which I ate while at the cafe; the rest I saved as much needed additional calories for the bike ride.

While at the cafe I sent out some WarmShowers requests because at the time I wasn’t sure where the hell I was going to be ending my day, much less where I might sleep. Called a guy who was okay with me staying the night to let him know I wouldn’t be in Seacrest because it’s 95 miles and I was pretty certain I wasn’t capable of putting in that distance today (of course here I am), or that I just didn’t want to. But this makes a perfect segue. Even though I did put in those 95 miles, that’s not something I want to do regularly (or again), especially having spent two weeks in Tally; my legs aren’t there. But at the same time despite the fact that being in Tally was awesome, I ought to be in New Orleans, or past New Orleans, right now, but I’m not. So I want to make up time, but after yesterday, feeling rough about two-thirds of the way through it and sleeping so poorly, it doesn’t make much sense. What is the point of the trip? It’s certainly not doing long days for the sake of doing long days. It’s to photograph the United States, and to write about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. That is all. But there being a deadline for the start of this Australia trip of Doug’s is driving me up a wall. I hate deadlines, most especially when they interfere with my personal plans and projects. It’d be cool if I could get across the country, but at this point I don’t even know if I’ll make it to Houston or Austin. Probably Houston at least, but definitely not Big Bend National Park which is a place I dearly want to visit, and the thought of not getting there is disappointing, so I’m trying to knock out long days, but that’s not going to work for me. So I’m just going to pedal my bike, take it day by day from here on out. I’ll get to where I get to and there is no changing that. As Henry Miller says, “the main thing is food. Trust to Providence for the rest.” I keep that in the back of my mind all the time. Some of the time…

Anyway, while I was at the cafe I struck up conversation with a guy who had kayaked the Apalachicola river over the course of six or seven days and had just finished earlier that morning. He was meeting his wife in town and spending the day there. He showed me some photos of the river, how high it was and how fast it was running (FAST). Normally, he said, he likes to camp on sandbars, but there weren’t any the river was so high. He sleeps in a hammock though, so finding a place to hang it up wasn’t much of a problem for him. Brings an enormous solar panel with him too that is like the size of a twin bed sheet almost, but it folds up pretty small, though I’m skeptical how small something like that can fold up. He was a cool dude. Curious about my bike. I wish him and his wife the best.

I actually would have liked to have spent more time in Apalachicola. Seems a quaint tourist town now, but has a deep maritime history as the Apalachicola River, miles across at its mouth, is an enormous river that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. And there is still a community of working watermen there such as there are on some rivers that make up the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the Bay itself. There is a photographer who has a studio in downtown Apalachicola, Richard Bickel, who’s done a lot of documentary work in that area amongst the communities of watermen. It’s beautiful stuff, printed in pretty large format some of them. A lot of posed works, which I don’t fault him for, but numerous candid photos of the men working and the boys playing, and some gorgeous atmospheric landscape pieces.

After leaving town I was surprised at how good I felt and how well I was moving along. In fact I felt great for almost the entirety of the ride, which was a remarkable change from yesterday. To the right of me and the left along Highway 98 were pine plantations only a few miles outside of town. Two enormous pine plantations. At least I think they’re plantations because they’re all growing in rows and that’s not really a thing nature does herself, like one doesn’t see clouds in regiments like one sees at a Navy football game with the marching on of midshipmen. The ocean waves roll onto shore as they roll into the shore, which is in some ways regular, but not exacting like a metronome in its regularity, and plants don’t drop their seeds in a straight line, and the wind and the animals don’t plant them in neat rows. This is a distinctly human characteristic, this type of organizational neurosis. But these pines some of them, I guess from the hurricane, are bending gracefully across rows, touching others gently as if to say “we’re still alive!” That is unless these bent ones are truly snapped somewhere, not bent, and then they’re grabbing onto the living in a sort of desperation, a fearful begging, terrified of what might come next.

It wasn’t until I got to Port St. Joe that I slowed down, and that was only because there, and further along in Mexico Beach, these towns were a demolition. Basically the closer you got to Panama City and Calloway, where the eye passed so i was told, the more calamitous everything looked and the worse the devastation was. I don’t even know how to explain the appearance of these places, to verbalize it, to paint a picture. It is a thing which has to be seen. One has to walk through the demolished neighborhoods, along the streets that were once impassable, completely washed away in places. Trees down, roofs ripped from houses, windows shattered, trash in the trees, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers strewn about the streets, houses piles of rubble. Along a section of the coastal road in Mexico Beach there were regular mounds of concrete debris, almost like ant mounds, as though there was some care given in cleaning up and setting aside for removal what once was certain persons’ homes. I clearly remember passing one row of apartments or small homes that were built up on stilts, and one at an end had fallen into the one next to it, and that had collapsed into the next one, and that into the next, and it was this sort of weird dilapidated embrace of wood and vinyl and metal and concrete leaning to. One could imagine the slightest wind pushing the whole thing, all six or seven of these buildings, over into a heap. There were homes without windows, without anything. With new windows where there weren’t windows before: that is gaping holes in their walls. And people are still there trying to put their lives back together. There are a lot of contractors from all over rebuilding for people, repairing damaged buildings, building new buildings. Well, rebuilding for money of course, but the people who have money are those who are paying them. These contractors according to Marty my Warmshowers host come from all over—Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana… It’s sort of disgusting when you think of it. They smell blood, just like a pack of hyenas. And then these people who I guess want to move back once their house is rebuilt, I wonder if they’re a bit mad.

Speaking of Port St. Joe, as I was stopping here and there taking pictures on my way out of town I passed a couple of ladies who had some tents setup, and a sign for free food. Curiosity got the better of me and I turned around to see what the meaning of all this was. A man driving past actually shouted out his window to me to “get some free food!” So I got some free food. Free food for anybody! Burgers, hotdogs, baked beans, sodas, chips. It worked out for me, and all the while I’m sitting there eating these ladies are telling me I should come up and get some more, but I wanted to be able to ride my bike afterward. Still had a long way to go, and by this point I was pretty confident I could make it to Seacrest. While sitting there on a parking block I asked them what they were all about. In short, they’re from Pensacola but the lady has a small church in town—just a tiny, concrete structure. They were actually set up on the front lawn of it. The lady tells me that she prayed to God that if the building itself was spared, that is the walls were still standing, that regardless of whatever else was damaged she would repair and reopen it. And so she is. There was actually a man working inside while I was eating my lunch. I’m not sure who she’s aligned with out there—a church group, I suppose—but she tells them what she needs and they get it for her. Then the ladies set up here, give away food all day, go home, and come back the next day, on and on and on. Port St. Joe currently has no restaurants open, nor is there much in the way of markets for food; I recall only seeing a Dollar General Market on my way through. So they’ve been doing this for several days or weeks now. The generosity nearly brings me to tears. I’ve never seen anything like it before (the generosity nor the kind of destruction a hurricane brings), and this was two months ago. I imagine this will not be a most enjoyable Christmas for some people. But just the same, simply having a Christmas is something to give thanks for.

After Mexico Beach there is this insanely long stretch of straight road, that is actually kind of nice, that passes by, or bisects Tyndall Air Force Base. The base was a total demolition. Marty told me they aren’t running much of anything right now. I saw and heard three or four jets on the ride today so I guess they’re just running at low capacity. The place got steamrolled. Hangars and buildings ripped to shreds, because it’s all like basic, simple construction for that stuff, just sheetmetal and concrete. The air force lost some planes that were grounded to have work done to them, so they couldn’t get them out with the others that were evacuated. The hurricane just tore them up, sort of picked them up and tossed them around like a small child playing with his toys. That was a crazy stretch though. Super flat, and straight as an arrow for I don’t know how many miles. At least ten with maybe a slight curve. Then I crossed a pretty awful bridge with no shoulder into Parker and Callaway, and if I thought that Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe were bad, these two towns on the edges of Panama City were far worse. Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe are like gulf resort towns. There’s money, and so there was rebuilding going on. There was life there. There was a sunniness, a sense of hope. But these other places, Parker and Callaway, and a bunch of Panama City too, are like cities of the dead. They’re basically ghettos (using that term loosely as I was only cycling through), and it was pretty clear the money doesn’t exist to be able to clean up something like that. It all looked like a war zone, like an army marched through and annihilated everything, or plunked itself down on the perimeter and shelled the places with their artillery, everybody in town walking about shell-shocked, zombie like, half dead inside, hopelessly fouled up. I saw a sign in someone’s yard stating “You loot, I shoot.” However, once I passed through Panama City things cleaned up a bunch, and the rest of the twenty miles or so was just pretty easy pedaling.

Version 0.08

I just met Yoda. The incident occurred after I had finished my lunch on the covered patio at Greenwise, a supermarket. I’m currently reading again Orwell’s great book, Down and Out in Paris and London, and just finished up a chapter of the book that takes place in London where Orwell is on the bum, forced to march endlessly with the many thousands of other tramps who did this daily as, thanks to certain English laws in the ’30s (and likely the decades before, and perhaps after), they were compelled.

He had, through the agency of another tramp he was marching with at the time, been introduced to a type of character called a ‘screever,’ a pavement artist, or more specifically, a person who literally draws or sketches portraits or scenes on a sidewalk in order to gain charity from passersby, who went by the name of Bozo. This fellow, Bozo, was one of the more peculiar characters Orwell met on his forced rambles around London because unlike the rest of the homeless and destitute, he had a level of intellect beyond that of the tramps whose main focus, perhaps unsurprisingly, was on the standard ‘tea and two slices,’ the next lodging house he might be sleeping in (if he could rustle up the needed payment), and scrounging cigarette butts for tobacco. Bozo had a small knowledge of astronomy, and developed a philosophy that essentially stated that just because he was poor and destitute with a mangled leg (BECAUSE OF the mangled leg) that didn’t mean that he couldn’t admire and take pleasure in the stars and their constellations. (“The stars and their constellations” may be taken as a metaphor for anything one might take interest in.) The key, in my opinion, to his intellectual acuity is that prior to destroying his leg he was well-traveled and educated. Yet, even taking this into account it’s remarkable that he was able to develop a manner of thinking which preserved his intelligence, interest in the world, and pride too, thus preventing him from going down the road that most in the tramping world found themselves on. He didn’t think much of this ability, and in fact looked down on the rest of the tramping world because no others had managed to develop this particular faculty.

So I had just finished reading this chapter, had just finished my lunch, and put my book away, readying myself to leave when up pulls this African-American fellow on a bicycle trying to sell me a bottle of water. I told him I had no cash to give him but I’d buy him something to eat if he liked, so we went into the supermarket, all the while chatting, and I paid for a roast chicken for him. He seemed to have a philosophy similar to that of Bozo, and I was surprised (life is so ever full of these!) and delighted by such a timely and coincidental meeting. I remember one phrase of his that he repeated to me a couple of times, and which he would tell others, that being: “it’s never as bad as you make it out to be in your mind.”

And, yes, he introduced himself as Yoda. It’s the name he goes by, and in our brief talk I could see that it’s for good reason.

Version 0.04

I’ve taken refuge tonight at the Unity House Bed & Breakfast, an unassuming, nineteenth century house located on a side street in downtown Madison. I was soaked again earlier today just after I had finished my lunch break of an hour and a half. It only rained for twenty or thirty minutes, but my stubbornness and consistent feelings of resignation at being soaked prevented me from moving off the road and finding some sort of shelter beneath a tree that would have availed me of being drenched, and even though upon arriving in Madison I was not as wet as I had been, the weather service is calling for storms tonight and I’m simply not keen on trying to sleep through that in my tent just to save some cash and then have to put on cold, wet clothes the next morning.

I was, as usual, in agonies over making a decision because of the high cost of accommodation so early on in the trip (paid lodging for three of four nights so far), but once the decision was made and I was firmly inside the bed and breakfast, with my bicycle rolled into a corner and my bags strewn in a semblance of organization around it, and receiving the grand tour of the place, I was near to ecstasy. To have made a decision! What a triumph! What a weight lifted from my shoulders! The hell with the money. I can earn more later, doing something, anything if I have to, but for now to be reclining in a stuffed chair in a warm room with food in my belly (which I cooked on my campstove in the bathroom of my bedroom), and to know that the money is spent and there’s no possible way to get it back, I am CONTENT, like a fat dog on the hearth of a lighted fireplace.

My room exudes coziness. The queen-size bed is nearly chest-high so that I nearly have to climb into it, and thrusts itself well into the center of the room. The thick memory-foam mattress is piled high with numerous pillows, There are two tables, each with a lamp, on either side of the bed, and an armoire against the wall opposite. Near to the bed is the rather large, comfortable chair I am lounging in, my feet resting on a sort of attached ottoman. There is a flatscreen tv which I will not use on a table against the wall opposite me. The closet is filled with women’s clothing. The floor hardwood stained dark, and a soft light effuses the room through the tall windows draped with lace curtains. In the bathroom my wet clothes are spread about various fixtures, hanging from hooks, etc., drying. All is peace.

Not all was peace today, though. In some places along the way I wondered if peace ever came. Not long after leaving Lake City I passed a Native American church: Broken Lands Native American church to be exact. What peace may be found there? Certainly none in the name. Is it found in the two half-built teepees on the property? Mere skeletons with no flesh, no skin, just a pile of lumber leaning against each other in the shape of a cone, as if by doing so they might manage to stay upright, and lashed together at the top. If there was any peace there it would not stay for long. Perhaps there was peace in the two crumbling, dilapidated hovels that I suppose served as the church proper for whoever worshipped there, but the doors were left swinging ajar, and windows open. Some perhaps shattered. But, too, there appeared little to keep peace contained within. Could it somehow be captured in the three rundown, decrepit, old cars in the lot, parked between the unfinished teepees and the church? None of those looked as if they might run. It appeared as though someone had parked them there years ago and promptly forgot about them. I just don’t think one could find peace in any of those three cars.

On the other hand there is no physical thing that can be representative of the glory of God. Or I should say all things, all places are representative of the glory of God. They are all the glory of God from the lowliest dung beetle (if one sees the dung beetle as for some reason being lowly, as opposed to quite marvelous and magical), to the noblest of humans, say Thailand’s king, or the queen of England (as though birthright means anything in the grand scheme of it all). That said, one can worship or meditate anywhere and find peace there. Often I think I can find more peace in a fingernail clipping than I might find in one of these ostentatious mega-churches that are popping up all over the place. Costs a lot less to build too. Powder it up. Turn it into a wafer. This is MY body. Go worship in your monolithic church, crosses gilded in gold, and the wine unwatered; or go worship at broken lands, broken dreams, broken hopes, and broken promises; it makes no difference. Go to the swamp. Sit under a tree. Lie in a prairie full of wildflowers. It makes no difference so long as you know peace and you feel peace. What’s important is the you, not the it (the thing), for you become it when you project yourself onto it, whatever it is….

A little bit farther along I espied what appeared to have once been a home beneath a magnificent Live oak with Spanish moss hanging from its branches, surrounded by vegetation, covered in vegetation, looking rather rotten and squalid, but looking magical just the same, covered as it was in moss and lichen and vines, green things growing out of its gutters, and that magnificent Live oak with its limbs spread wide over the hovel as if protecting it or wishing to embrace it. It would make a great place to squat or camp as well hidden as it is, what with the forest grown up all around it. I damn near missed it pedaling along. Had to come to a screeching halt as I just happened to glance over at it beneath the trees.

Later on I passed a manor of sorts. Manor Hill or some such thing on 90. Huge property stuck full of pine trees, beneath the pine trees tarps, beneath the tarps bails of pine needles. I’d never seen such a thing. Will have to research it…. Research done. Easy. Apparently pine needles are bailed (called “pine straw”) and used as mulch.

 A little further along I stopped for lunch in Live Oak, at a panaderia (a Mexican bakery). The young woman, who I took for the proprietor, as it’s called Sandy’s, is maybe in her late 20’s or early 30’s. She seemed excited to see me. I saw this look in her eyes as I walked in and she greeted me from behind the counter while at the same time walking around from behind it of “Oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into here.” Of course I could have, in an alternate universe, spoken Spanish quite well. But of course this is not an alternate universe; it is this one in which I speak very, very little Spanish. She was very helpful in a way that seemed to give her pleasure; I suppose this would be called “hospitality.” There was a warmth in her smile and an engagement with me in describing the menu items that one doesn’t experience often—the delight to delight—partly, I guess, because she was a fluent English speaker (and rightly guessed that I was not a fluent Spanish speaker and so was also likely unfamiliar with the menu) and Sandy’s predominantly serves the Latino population in and around town—though there was an enormously, effusively appreciative white man in his sixties there too, who needed to make a phone call and send some money which she helped with—so I think she WANTS more white people to come in and have a pleasant experience, which as a business owner makes sense because she should want to maintain the profitability of her business. In this case though, I think there was more to her helpfulness than simply the financial aspect. There is also, I assume, the desire to be accepted as a Latino and a Latino-run business in this small American town (thinking of the socio-political climate of the nation today, particularly with Trump in office), and also the desire for her bakery and eatery to serve more than just the Latino population, (because this creates a sort of cultural friction) but to serve a multi-cultural community. Of course in order to do this it takes some courage and curiosity on the part of non-Latinos to bother going in. And if both of these qualifications aren’t meant there exists this subtle tension, which of course is all mental, but just because its mental doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the more one looks at something as a “they” or “them” place and not an “us” place, the greater that tension becomes. This would, I think, be a more prominent issue in a small town rather than a city, not that it doesn’t or can’t exist in cities because it does there too under certain circumstances, but in a small town there’s no hiding it. In a city it can be sort of swept under the rug, so to speak. All of this is a bit of an assertion on my part of course. She didn’t show any preference to me, and she didn’t ignore those (Latinos) already there ahead of me, but she simply saw the need to help someone who perhaps was in need of aid in navigating the menu, for I’m certain there had to have been a look of unfamiliarity on my face.

Anyway, once things were explained to me good and proper, and my order was placed, I found a seat at the bar, and then a man older than her—perhaps her father, or maybe HE was the owner, or maybe even just an employee, and maybe not her father at all—cooked my food, and it was really good, basic Mexican fare: a torta which is basically a griddled Mexican sandwich, and may be filled with a variety of things: meats, eggs, jalapeños, mayonnaise, cheese, pickles, onion, etc. Not something I would ordinarily eat, and certainly not healthy, but I make exceptions when traveling in this fashion sometimes, and to have met those people at that tiny eatery it was a joyous occasion I think, and at the time I also thought it would make for a most excellent cultural exchange, which it did, and so was justifiable. And it was not long, twenty minutes in fact, after I finished my lunch and was on my way again that the rain began again.

But I’m here! In comfort and resignation!, as I wrote earlier. My laptop is resting beside me, and I’m still ensconced in the same cushy chair. I’m watching a short video of a couple who are visiting Martin Heidegger’s cabin in the Black Forest in Germany. They describe a ritual that he would practice regularly each morning upon opening the cabin door and setting foot outside, of collecting water in a white bucket from a nearby trough of a hollowed out log that was fed by a pipe projecting from the hillside. And each morning he would take this bucket of his and collect his water for the day, or morning, or whatever, and this was all part of finding and cultivating a connection with nature, with the land that his cabin was built on and was a part of. 

According to the couple, or the man, Heidegger had a distaste, or disgust, for the Socratic idea of the duality of man, which is the separation of mind and body, that they are not a whole but are distinct and separable. I think more commonly people think of the; at least in a religious sense, which is what I was thinking of while watching this portion of the video (because it seems obvious to me that mind and body are not dualistic); separation of body and spirit. This is generally assumed as true in Western religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I’m for thinking body and spirit are one, though. The body is no different from the spirit; it is the spirit. And now I’m pondering Indra’s Net which, at its simplest, is the Buddhist philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things, the multi-dimensional spiderweb. There is a lecture by Alan Watts, called Buddhism as Dialogue, in which he speaks of Indra’s Net, and there is a line in there, and I quote, “That’s the meaning of Indra’s net. So that, this is called in Zen, to take up a blade of grass and use it as a golden Buddha 16 feet high.” Inside that blade of grass are contained all things, and Heidegger’s bucket it seems to me is a metaphor for this. This connectedness to nature, this mind-body-spirit meld, Indra’s Net, the blade of grass, and the golden Buddha 16 feet high. His white bucket is the blade of grass, it is the golden Buddha. It is perfect.

There is another quotation of Heidegger’s cited in the video that I feel is strongly relevant to me now: “By confronting what is often anxiety producing we gain our freedom from living a life just like everyone else, and our lives become our own.” And so this bike trip is a thing which I think defines me in that manner. It is at times anxiety producing, uncomfortable, not pleasurable, but it is my freedom, and it, among other pursuits, separates me from the herd. But is this important? This idea of Heidegger’s, I mean, not the trip. The trip is obviously of importance. Actually, scratch that. I don’t know that this trip is important at all. But then I’m one to question the importance of all things, of everything. So, should this idea matter? Is the herd inherently bad (not that Heidegger is explicitly implying that)? When one thinks of a herd of animals one thinks of protection and safety in numbers, the preservation of the species, etc. But the term “the herd” used in reference to humans is generally connoted as negative, as a bunch of lemmings walking off a cliff, as self-destructive, as a group of people feeding off each other, being only informed by each other and thus being siloed from other ideas and ways of thinking and so being ill-informed, incompletely informed, or outright misinformed; or essentially acting in the manner of dumb beasts which we are purportedly above (at least in intelligence), forming a circle, some facing inward heads hidden away, some facing outwards teeth bared, ready to lash out with horn or hoof at an offender of “the doctrine.” Yet, can these people be blamed?, especially when one takes into consideration the inbred objective of all animals, humans included, which is the preservation of life (and with that comes the preservation of all things dear to or associated with that person, and thus the group) and the continued reproduction of the species (this is simply the desire for sex, regardless of whether you want to produce a child or not). These people are simply protecting themselves. So you can see why they (the herd) might be looked down on by a more intellectual “elite” who have a greater capability of thinking for themselves (though these types often end up doing the exact same thing as the group they’re looking down on, and rejecting any idea that wasn’t propagated by their own or which threatens their own set of rules and ethics (the irony!). I think the best thing a person can do for himself is to intermingle, to raise herself beyond the fray, to understand both sides, but these people are rare. They’re also often the least judgmental of people because they have no doctrine to defend. Their doctrine is essentially the doctrine of no doctrine, or of everyone’s doctrine, because often multiple groups have valid perspectives and valid points to make (even if one has to dig for them). They’re also usually not so concerned with self-preservation, and as a result they have nothing to lose. This creates a fluidity in their interactions with these various groups and factions that those members of the groups don’t have outside of the group.

Anyway, I’ve written much, and thought deeply about this, and am frankly tired, and what happened to this travel blog? I think it is time to turn in.

To anxiety! To freedom! To the white bucket! To defining one’s own life! Joy to all the world!

November 6, 2016, North Arizona Landscape

Arizona landscape driving east from Flagstaff to Santa Fe: a flat plain interrupted by shallow ravines, the occasional wash, plateaus, mesas; dotted with pastel, mute, sagey green shrubs large and small. The occasional tree. The colors of the land, various and multitudinous: greys, siennas (burnt and raw), ochres, umbers, oranges, reds. On the whole, unsurprisingly warm.

Ahead, something that lies visible but which I can never reach, tantalizes with its unknowns, its questions: the horizon, a flat line like that which separates, yet holds together, ocean and sky, as if without it they would burst apart and anything and everything would be flung off, ejected, torn into the vacuum of space.

Very much a ranchers’ landscape and, once a wilderness where buffalo freely roamed, and the Navajo with them (or so I might imagine).

Railroad tracks paralleling Interstate 40, and a miles-long train, its individual cars bound together with an invisible string stretching from coast to coast, like a necklace encircling the throat of our mother, Earth.

Signs for Indian gifts, moccasins.
Earlier: “Petrified Wood From the Forest”
“Indian Ruins Gas This Exit Save”
“Indian Ruins Exit Don’t Miss It”
“Indian Center”

Here is one of the loveliest, most enchanting landscapes I’ve ever experienced. Today the air so clear. The horizon crisp.

Does a horizon have a beginning or ending? Does it simply go on forever, an arc around a human body? A halo played like a hoola hoop, as well as a symbol of divinity, rather than just worn as a crown?