|Posted to NoEndMerry Band.
I’m just back from a 7 day mini-walkabout between LA and SF. I took some notes, but was unable to post to the list consistently. I will be posting reports every few days in a effort to recreate the trip virtually and chronologically.
If you want to read along, each post will start with “ROAD#: yadda yadda”.
ROAD: LA up
Every time I come to LA I like it a little better. This is strange because, well…it’s LA. But I’ve come to see that LA has a soul, a soul of storytelling. Lots of places lack soul. I’ve also come to see how lots of folks in LA are really cool, smart, driven and fun.
Anyway, more on this later. I’ve been to nice parties and good times on this mini-walkabout so far. Lots of plant aided laughing last night, out in the suburbs West of LA on the 10. It’s been a long since I smoked. I find myself relaxed by it where as before it made me paranoid. Must be a state of mind thing? Can dope be a barometer for mental health? If you’re solid and healthy, peaceful, it’s just relaxing and funny. If you’re stressed and conflicted, it makes you feel more so? This is what happened with me. Although the next morning my mind feels dull and stupid, so I’m not going back to full time smokage.
I’m staying with my friend Rachel, or I’m supposed to. After having been dropped off at my friend Helen’s I’m waiting for her to pick me up. Helen is an old college friend. She is an ex track star in college and currently doing database work and in a self admitted dope phase. It’s her first at 29.
She lives upstairs in an old Victorian three blocks from Venice Beach proper. It’s a beautiful one bedroom “shotgun” flat. The first room is an old kitchen, the next is her bedroom, the last on the street is her sitting room. The sitting room feels like a porch. The windows are always open and curtains blow around. You can smoke in her, cats come and go, and her front door is always open into a tiny hall where her two neighbors leave their doors open most of the time. She knows them very well. After 6 years she’s managed to mine out a great life and wonderful friends who live close together in LA. It’s been hard, but she’s a filmmaker and actress at heart, so she belongs here and knows it.
The door that leads outside is down some stairs and even that stays open. There are cat doors everywhere. Helen and her friends are here, two thirty something women, Biz and Christina. Christina is a sexy, pierced, photographer, paralegal, single mom. Biz is a native American corporate a product manager. We sit and they get high. I watch. They are relaxed and womanly, and enjoying being little girls on the weekends.
They giggle and laugh as close friends do, despite my being there. I’ve known Helen for years, which I guess is enough of a passport into peace. Puns flow.
Helen points at her foot as if it was a dog and says, “heal!”
Biz points at her big toe and laughs, “Toe-tally”
Christina squints and looks around, “Something smelly is afoot”
The women leave for a barbecue inland. I want to go with them. Instead I say for three hours in Helen’s house reading and feeling the ocean breeze hit my face. Rachel picks me up at 6. She’s pretty frenetic.
That night Rachel wants me to meet the man she’s “working on things with.” I want to follow Helen and the single folks. I am not in a “working on things’ space.
Rachel and I finally negotiate a plan. She and I think too much so even small decisions are painful and drawn out. But in the end, they are better. I have dinner with her and the guy, then i take her car to Helen and the pranksters. It’s much more fun to be with single folks just playing around, then dysfunctional relationships and interpersonal reconstruction projects. But Rachel is a good friend, and I’m worried about her. I do my best to support her, to not give too much advice, and to listen. I mostly fail and end up telling her that she’s crazy to be with this guy, and that she should concentrate on her career and friends and loved ones. We part well, but a little strained from being in such different personal places.
The next morning I fly to Oakland, BART into the city and walk to Eric’s warehouse.
ROAD 2: @Eric’s.
I’m in a geek/art loft now a few blocks from the Moscone center. Our most excellent listboy Eric has been kind enough to let me tap off his DSL line and crash at his cool pad. My laptop is resting on his FreeBSD slab of a server as I write this. I like that.
Eric’s loft is like a retro 50s industrial junk shop with religious overtones. Huge neon clocks, crosses pined to the walls. Statuettes, strange tanks with wooden snakes on top, and real snakes below. A 1930s barber chair is in the small communal kitchen space. 3 to 6 other folks share this kitchen area. I can never get a precise number.
Skylights afford the only light. Eric and his roommate’s pad is adorned with guitars and huge posters of models and New Yorker covers. Eric has just got a new digital camera. It looks like a sci-fi gun so we’re calling it the “Ion Canon” which is cool because it’s made by Canon.
Eric’s roommate was recently sucker punched by a jealous boyfriend and has a huge shiner blemishing his amazing ballet dancing body. His father and are plotting revenge. They are close and seem loving and wonderful to each other as they lie on the couch legs over legs.
ROAD 3: North Beach Searchers
By 10am I’ve been given an organic juice breakfast and had an interesting discussion with the father as he sat in an ancient barber chair and smoked. The chair is old enough to have built in ash trays so you could smoke while you got a haircut. Imagine doing that now!
I run into a friend around midday who tells me that he’s realized that his wife is not his soul mate. But it’s OK and he lovers her. I think about that for hours.
Later that day, another old friend Kevin came into the city and we hit Hotel Utah for a strong tall bloody Mary. He’s looking long haired and the same. We hit it off as usual. Spooky by we’re on the same time zone too, both long hair, and loosing hair. Both feel solid and less manic and crazy. Both accepting things.
Kevin’s daughter is 4 and getting smart he tells me. Last night he was napping in front of the TV and she came up and said,
“Daddy, I’d like to watch TV. Since you can nap in your room, but I can’t watch TV anywhere else, could you go to your room?”
He was dumbfounded, but could not no awake enough to argue, so he went to his room.
Kevin and I hit North Beach and check out my old pad on Columbus and Union by the park. Pilar the flower lady is still at my door. She remembers both our names, and my ex Chris and my back problems.
We ate at Viva, drank wine, talked. We walked by North End cafe, where NoEnd started. It was closing but one of the Java jocks was still there that I recognize.
My old place at 365 Columbus is now $780 a month, I paid $365. The city is full of amazingly real and attractive women. Very different the San Diego. Hard to explain. They seem more real, darker hair, more in shape minds. San Diego has the feel of in shape bodies, fake bodies, and soft minds. Of course that’s at San Diego State.
That night Eric and I watched “The Searchers” a 1956 movie by John Ford till. “The Searchers” is often put in the top 10 movies of all time by critics. It’s a normal Western on the surface, but it’s tense, racist sexual, and violent underneath. Masterful storytelling. Ford was amazing. They say Orsen Wells watched his other more mainstream classic “Stagecoach” over 30 times in a room before directing “Citizen Kane”. They say he did it because he considered that movie to be like film making 101, the basics and the rules. Then he broke them, but he learned them first. I notice on this viewing of “The Searchers” that Ford moved stories along fast, that he cut major time chunks out, and like Eric pointed out, his blocking of characters in the frame was great. He also had a brilliant cinematographer on this shoot.
After the flick there is a 1950’s black and white documentary on the making of the searchers. A man in a suit, smoking, hosts it. He tells us that they set up a town in Monument Valley for the shoot. The trucks are amazingly crude, all industrial and clunky. It’s amazing they could get the shots they did.
We woke up late, geeked out online, and then hit the streets for a walk through south park, which was calm.
Next up we hit MOMA and saw a great exhibit by John Viola, a video thing. *Very* cool use of video projection screens. There were three highlights for me.
1. A camera focused on a drop of water. The image is displayed 20 feet high on a nearby wall. If you walk into a lighted spot on the floor you can see yourself in the water drop. The drop gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, then it drops! BOOM you hear from huge speakers as the water droplet hits an amplified drum below it.
2. A large room with a 10 ft piece of clear Plexiglas hanging in the middle. A projector displays the image of a wooded hot tub on one side. You can see the same image on the other side too. The image changes a little bit, but mostly you’re board and wondering what is going on. Then a man gets out of the hot tub. He is naked with his back to you. I find myself walking to the other side of the screen to see him from the front. I’m straight so this is mildly disturbing on its own, but not as disturbing as the realization that I’m able to get behind the TV! But the image is the same when I get there…hummmm
3. A huge room with a 30 foot screen standing up in the middle. A man on fire takes up the entire screen. The sound of flames roars throughout the room. But, if you walk to the other side of the screen you see a man under a waterfall and you hear the water rushing over his body. Then you realize it’s the same sound as the fire!
Later that day I’m tired and fueling up at Farly’s cafe. The NoEnd meeting is tonight.
ROAD 4: NoEnd meeting
I go to Terrazzo to help setup for the meeting. Steve has put a lot work into the place. The meeting is warmly familiar and also more evolved.
No more futons or beer in the middle of a circle. Now it’s chairs in rows and panels. I don’t like the rows, it means someone is in front and someone in back. We still go around to each person, which is great. Phil and Steve do a great job shepherding the group.
PacBell and DSL companies are here tonight. One of them is represented by the guy who wrote the Majordomo software. He does well, and talks the most. We like him. We can sense he understands us and is not bullshitting us too much. We can take a little selling because we know it’s his job, but we can’t take too much. We want straight talk objectively removed from the person’s company as much as possible. He feeds us well.
I wonder weather he’s a great salesman because he is reading the crowd so well, or weather he’s just being himself and it’s working.
The other companies suffer from either selling to hard so we don’t believe their objectivity, or putting out the PR/marketing messages they were ordered to. NoEnders don’t like that. We concentrate on the geek.
I worry about the heat the room and find Steve to open some windows. I worry about the time and boredom factor. I scan the crowd for looks and vibes and watch my clock. I marvel at how the conference table, which I thought was set to far out of the circle, is only used by one person. The rest lean up against the front of the table, or the wall, to be closer to us. I think going around to each person before starting really brought them in. It feels good to still have my group senses working a little. All in all it’s a great meeting and great to see folks again.
That night we all go out drinking down the street. While outside for a smoke a very tall man comes walking up. He’s actually pretty young. We’re standing on a hill and he’s uphill from us, making him even taller, like 2 feet over me. He’s friendly and philosophical. He wants to get into computers, which brings a chuckle from the group. He talks of putting parachutes on planes for safety, and space exploration. We ask him about perspective and he says it’s wild up where he is. He says the world is not built for him, the amusement park rides, cars, everything. He picks one of us up to give us a look from his height. It’s a strange meeting, and he’s strangely musing for his age.
That night I crash at Russ’s.
ROAD 5: Russ’s
Russ’s house one block off the Haight in San Francisco. He lives with his sister, her husband and their 2 year old in a rent controlled classic Victorian walk up. There is a home office where all three have stations, phone headsets, cell phones, pilots, and DSL connections. Russ and his sister’s husband do computer work, programming, and writing, and web stuff. Russ’ sister runs a bakery.
We go out for breakfast after some work time in the morning. We pick up the 2 year old boy from makeshift day care in a beautiful Victorian around the block. Russ reads a story in Spanish to the kids. It’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” I take a picture. We come home. NoEnder Benoit (pronounced ben-wa), an ace XML programmer, comes over for a meeting. His accent is thick. Russ says he’s the best XML guy in the city. Russ and him team program. He is a keystroke guy, never mousing and slinging code like lightening while he talks about what he’s doing, the logic, the ways to change it. It’s to fast for me to follow.
Russ is collaborating with Benoit and they work as one. I have never been able to be around programming without wanting to become a programmer. But that happens with a lot of things, and there’s only so much time in the day.
All the time the 2 year old plays around us. He interrupts, plays ball, and bangs on drums, and Russ encourages it, but doesn’t focus on the kid, so he doesn’t stay for long. Amazing really, imagine a two year old in a large corporate office banging on drums! Work would stop. But if we wanted him gone, he’d want to stay more. Instead he gets board with us and finds his mother.
It’s remarkably relaxed, and Benoit and Russ take it all in with ease. He’s amazing to watch them work, Beniot teaches as he writes the code, making it possible for Russ to work with the code when he’s gone. There’s a dog around, but it’s like a cat and doesn’t bark.
“You can stay as long as you want, here’s a key,” Says Russ.
The environment is built around being a sane person. I can’t help but feel like it’s all a test. But a good one. Computers, information, programming, big money work, people, and a kid to play ball with, can you handle it all? Will the group sense love and harmony? I’d like to think that if you were a dangerous or bad person, you could never handle this kind of place for long.
Tomorrow I’ll have to extract myself from this womb, and be off to a youth hostel in Santa Cruz. I have a date with a redwood campus.
ROAD 6: Santa Cruz
I thought SamTrans went to Santa Cruz from the Daly City BART, but it doesn’t, so I had to hitchhike.
I thumbed it from Half Moon Bay. The last time I remember hitch hiking was when I was 5 and a few of us decided to leave school and go to town. We made it halfway before some parents found us.
The bus driver from Daly City had mumbled something positive about mass transit to Santa Cruz, so I had gone too Half Moon bay, figuring there was a transfer from their to Santa Cruz.
Half way there I asked around and found out that nothing goes to Santa Cruz down the highway 1. We’d wound around the coast down to some little town and now I was screwed. It was 6 o’clock and not the time to hitchhike, too late. Plus, I had two bags, one of which had my laptop and tech. gear.
A nice bus driver gave me the run down of my options. I could bus to Palo Alto and over the mountains, transfer, and catch something over on rt. 17, which would be “hell” according to him. He wasn’t sure the busses would run late.
I had a bus drop me off at a hostel in Montera just outside of Half Moon. I made a sign at a gas station saying “Santa Cruz” and started hitching. It felt great. Like performing to a passing crowd. I had a new bright tie dye on and hoped for some young hippies.
But I also knew that shirt was too clean and new, a sure sign of a tourist tie-dye. The sun was sinking and I was thinking of back up plans. Hotels would be it really. Eventually an older guy picked me up. It’s a thrill when you hear the tires of a car hit the dirt on the side of the road. You know they’ve stopped for you. You pick up your stuff and run to the car. You look in. Make a judgment call on what you can see. This first ride looked good. Nothing scary in sight. He said he could get me to Half Moon bay proper where I could hitch at a light and near hotels.
At the light I started again. The sun was still sinking. The hills were beautiful in the light. It was quiet, country quiet. Even in traffic you could feel the absence of that pervasive underlying vibration and constant movement that you feel in any large city.
A young guy picked me up next, said he’d hitched the coast a lot but could only get me a few more miles. He gave me his number in case I was stuck at night.
“I’m not gay or nothin’,” he said, “I just know how fucking cold it can get on the coast at night.”
He dropped my by a trailer park on Rt. 1 in the middle of nowhere. I felt alive. It was silent, the hills were rolling nearby, the trees quiet. Ocean sounds. Sparse traffic. I had about 20 minutes before dark. I kept fidgeting with the sign making sure people could see it. I smiled at the women passing by, some smiled back. I nodded at the men driving by, some flashed a hand signal of the thumb and forefinger held up about an inch from each other. Now I suddenly remembered my mother teaching me that signal, that it means “only going a short distance.”
10 minutes before dark an old VW microbus appeared and I prayed for hippies, or their kids at least. Sure enough, they stopped!
A young couple greeted me.
“Are you an ax murderer?” the woman asked when I opened the little side door. She was beautiful.
“No, are you?” I say.
“No,” she says with a smile that could untie a knot. The guy driving seems unconcerned and just smiles. I got in. They turned out to be Canadian and said they could get me to within 7 miles of Santa Cruz. The guy had very long black curly hair and was slight and wide faced and also beautiful. The girl was a sandy blond little hippie chick, with a pinch of earth mother. Clear skin and warm vibe. We talked about things and ended up on my tie-dye shirt. I told them about my hippie mother and said, “I’m not really a hippie, more a techie flower child. My mother was a hippie, it was her revolution. Mine is technology.”
That line is getting old, I thought.
“I told you his shirt was too clean,” the girl said to the guy. He admitted she was right with a grunt.
“Good eye. It’s a tourist tie-dye, but I was desperate for a ride,” I said.
“That’s cool,” she said.
I wasn’t sure, but I think I felt a little pang of resentment because I’d played on their beliefs and tricked them in a way. “Cool” with hippies can often mean “uncool.”
We watched as the sun set out the dirty windows of the 1966 split window VW bus. Since they couldn’t get me all the way to Santa Cruz, they suggested a cab from their stopping point. I offered them the $20 I’d give the cab if they got me to the Hostel. The guy was broke so he was happy to do it. Money changed everything, but not in a strictly bad way. I was carrying more tech. in my bags then the combined value of the bus and everything in it. I laughed to myself.
They hostel is an old Victorian house with cottages out back. I spent $36 for two nights, with rented sheets, towels and a locker. Any traveler can stay at a hostel, not just students. The crowd was a few families and mostly German students traveling. Each cottage had bunk rooms for 8 women and 8 men in two different rooms. Nice bathrooms for each gender, and a few cottages for couples and families.
I asked around and hit the main street where the action was. I gave a bum a buck to tell me the skinny on bars and food. The strip was a nice semi-yuppie ghetto. Kids, skaters, professors, shops, students, hippies. Pretty small town. I was hungry, but didn’t want to sit alone so I walked.
Coming up on a street band wailing away someone handed me a fresh cup of lentil soup and homemade bread. They were giving away food and the suggestion that “god loved me.” I thought that if God was around that night, he must love me, and I ate my free dinner.
I also thought that if God was not around at all, ever, it didn’t matter because these people loved me and gave me soup, which was a good thing. Therefore, weather or not God exists at all, it’s a good thing because the belief usually makes for good folks, opportunists, freaks, and sickos excluded.
A quick beer at a dive bar, and I’m now writing this on the porch of the cabin about to go in and bunk with the travelers. There’s an 11pm curfew here. I feel like a kid.
So far, Santa Cruz is cool. Mellow, university centered, and friendly. Tomorrow, my date with the campus.
ROAD 7: UCSC’s CAMPUS
Large, sprawling, sunny, fields, redwoods, canyons, no center, lots of paths, few signs. This is the campus of UCSC.
Before bussing to campus I made some of my favorite sandwiches. Provolone, Procuitto, on French bread. No condiments. I have my laptop and water. In the supermarket I remembered camping tricks, especially how cool it is to buy trail size stuff like tiny soap bars, and shampoo bottles.
I arrive and promptly get lost. I find a trail along a deep but small canyon. The dirt on either side being held only by tall redwood’s roots. It’s redwood dark, the dark that comes from strange trees like these, ones with branches high and none down low.
Walking along marveling at the campus I almost bump into some deer. Deer. Hummm, haven’t seen that in a while. Last time I was looking for deer in the woods I had a semiautomatic 12 gauge shot gun with me. I also had a fear of actually shooting a dear. Not because of any moral thing, but because I had no idea how to skin it and I knew I had to skin it right if I was going to eat it.
These deer were fearless, tame. Campus deer. I stop about 20 feet away and snap a photo. Some students job past and the deer jump off to the side. I sit and have one of the sandwiches I made. It’s great. I resolve never to eat any other kind of sandwich as long as I live. I marvel at how I have gone this far using all those silly condiments and cheap meat.
I see a small buck deer push on up the canyon. The female I saw before comes back out with her two kids. I walk past then slowly. They are above me in some redwoods and bushes about 15 feet away. I stop and watch them eating and walking slowly. The mother is leading. She walks into a stand of small redwoods and disappears. But she is there, I can see her outline, and she’s close. But she is not there if you didn’t know she was.
I come out on a field and realize I’m totally lost and have to double back. I hate the idea of retracing my route, so I find a deer path down the canyon and take it. In the bottom of the canyon it’s colder. I remember being a kid in northern California. I remember all the tricks and the how to run through the woods at a full sprint.
Bushwhacking up the other side of the canyon takes my breath away. I’m a mess by the time I get to the top. Lots of spider webs, leaves, sweat. When I was a kid I could follow the dear paths with ease. But now I’m too tall. Deer paths are not for me anymore.
I round a tight stand of 7 redwoods I find myself in a parking lot of student services, my destination. I revel in my woods man skills and the fact that my compass has not been totally fucked up by urban America. Of course it was a short trip.
Student services is a loss. But I do find a door marked “Web development.” I open it and find two young surprised geeks. We talk. They point me to the best on campus restaurant. They like the school, saying it’s relaxing, and pretty much a research institution so there’s a lot of critical thinking. I get the feeling they do chafe against the small town-ness of the area though.
Now I’m sitting on a redwood deck amid redwoods at a redwood health food restaurant. There’s a sign on the wall that reads, “Don’t panic, it’s organic.” Reggae plays. It’s hippie dippie, but it’s also very hard to get into UC, so it feels like a lot of thinking is going on between the woods bunny’s parties.
It’s very strange to be staring out a deck into the redwoods and be on a major university campus at the same time. Nobody knows who I am, or that I’m visiting, or that I’m writing about them right now. They think I’m a student because I look like a student.
I have a meeting with a graduate advisor. He’s frank. My Master’s is mute if a get a Ph.D. Total loss of time. I have to start over in a new field, because if I do that, he tells me I can get $120,000 in NSA and other grants. He surprises me by saying that my Master’s grades are not that important, because it’s not that competitive. It’s the under grad grades, recommendations, and GREs that matter for NSA grants. I’m depressed. He suggests I take a long look at UCSD, that Santa Cruz is a great campus, but not to come here because of that.
“It’s just another pretty face,” he says smiling at me, “if you know what I mean.
After the meeting I duck into a thick part of the woods, following a dry rock culvert. I find a stand of 100 foot redwoods clustered in a large gully. I nap.
The mosquitos buzz around my head, but they don’t byte. Must be Santa Cruz mosquitos, just being friendly and keeping me company I think.
Later, cruising downtown again I stop and pay a poet to read to me. It’s not bad. He’s a graying hippie who’s marriage broke up 15 years ago an he decided to take a swipe at the career he always wanted. He tells me Santa Cruz was drastically changed by the earth quake. He says the quake killed the hippie thing, no more topless hippie chicks dancing to guitars in the middle of the street. He points to a “Very upscale condos” sign nearby. We mull for a minute and change the subject.
We agree that the only thing worse then knowing your fate in life, is to not know and have a lot of opportunities.
Now I sit in Pergolesi Cafe on Elm street I think, outside in the potted trees listening to Web heads talk big bucks and lack of back-ups and mod crowd teens talking about the “Alien” movie and drugs. The Guinness I’m drinking is good and there’s a giant palm tree lite from below right near me. The sun sets. The sky is blue and black. Soon it will be time to go back to the Hostel and sleep.
I’m posting from the San Jose Public Library. Silly me, I thought I’d be able to find an cyber cafe in San Jose proper. No luck. My laptop and clothes packs are getting heavy, but it’s great exercise and I’m getting better at walking long distances with them. This is a skill that is a little scary to think about for long.
The bus drive over the Santa Cruz was mystical. Trees and mountains. Winding roads, roadside bars, dirt roads leading to unknown places. It reminded me of driving through Tennessee.
Sitting in a cafe in Santa Cruz before the bus left, I saw a tip jar that had a picture of a weight lifting Patrick Swazie. A sign over it that read, “Hero of the stupid.”
I heard also heard a man saying good-bye to a friend dressed head to toe in black and red leather. He had a black and red rice rocket motorcycle out front. The bike guy sat with legs up on a chair looking cool. As his friend walked away he yelled back to the biker guy, “Remember! Rubber side down!”
ROAD 9: Soul of San Jose #1
San Jose airport amid a Friday crush. Friday Aug. 20, 1999
What is the soul of San Jose?
On a recent quasi-interview in L.A. San Jose came up since the job might move there. Having never really been to San Jose for long, I asked my interviewer what it was like.
“It’s like LA,” he said, “but without a soul.”
I was very taken aback. The mere suggestion that anything north of Santa Barbara could be less soulful then LA was shocking. Don’t get me wrong, I love LA and its quirky, crazy vibe. I even have friends in Venice who have very nice lives in cool old houses. I even like to visit them and hang out. But it is not Northern California.
Today I think I see his point, for today I bussed over the hills from a three day stay in a youth hostel in Santa Cruz to downtown San Jose. Then I bussed into city center near Market.
My hair is a tad long and looking ragged, and after 6 days of lugging around my two black backpacks (one with a laptop) and my leather jacket, because you always need a leather jacked when you travel, I feel, and look, almost homeless. But that’s another essay. Needless to say, I am enjoying my freedom and have come to San Jose unannounced, alone, and appointment free. My only reason to be here is to check out downtown, and get a plane to LA.
I walk the streets. I see a rasta dude with a dread lock down to the patent leather belt of the banker’s suit he’s wearing. He’s attacking the steps of a bank with a very slick looking woman in the lead.
I am in search of connectivity, but after asking three people, I can’t find a cafe with Internet access. I’m surprised. So I hit the library. They give me 30 minutes and know of no cyber cafes nearby. I hit the Tech museum next. They don’t have a student rate which surprises me. Three of the coolest robot machines downstairs are half broken. But it’s still pretty cool and the kids are digging it.
I witness a disturbing scene while at the a huge tank with three remote control submersibles.
A little boy is trying to control a little sub. He pushes all the buttons and moves the joy sticks at the same time. He watches the sub with wide eyes. He’s a scientist engaged in very serious preliminary cause and effect research with a new machine.
But his mother refuses to let her little boy research in peace. Just as he’s about to make a breakthrough, she grabs the controls.
“No, no, it won’t work unless I help you,” she says putting her hands on top of his and controlling his movements.
He grits his teeth and slaps her hands in anger. This happens three times in a row. My stomach turns. I get angry. They leave having each learned nothing and leaving me on the verge of cold cocking the mother and letting the little boy explore at his own pace.
I have just witnessed another asshole guy and bitter woman in the making. It’s a sad day. In a just world, she would have been gently required to step behind a force field by museum staff, and just watch her son in peace.
I keep repeating my new favorite though, “Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it saved the human.” In the park outside a see kids playing in a fountain, which is nice.
But there is a strange chill amid the banks and shops. I head for the busses and ask a drive how to get to the airport. The driver doesn’t know! I ask a couple of shop owners, they don’t know and suggest a cab. I try and find a cab, there are none. What happened to all the cabs? I wonder.
Eventually I find a train, and a train operator who knows how to get the airport. I now loose my sense of homeless freedom and start making phone calls and plans so that I’m not stranded in Burbank. Immediately I’m part of the chaos I’ve been avoiding for days. I now have responsibilities and there’s no woods to be seen.
I can feel the change in my body. I’m back in the collective, a part of the problem and a part of the solution. But I had a moment of being outside the collective. Of being just an animal on a little blue planet trying to survive and explore. It was deeply satisfying.
In the airport I use my frequent flyer card for Southwest. I’ve been forgetting to use the card, but I have been using my Southwest Airline Visa so I figure it will all work out. I now find out that Southwest Airline’s Visa card does not automatically update your frequent flyer miles! Bastards! You have to show your frequent flyer card for that. The company associate suggests that I call them to get credit for the last few flights. That I, me, call them! What insanity is this! What world have come back to?
The airport is a madhouse. I find an outlet and sit on the floor hiding in the screen of my laptop.
Now I’m in flight, waiting for my free ginger ale, a human kudo for behaving well and not letting my instincts take over and lead me on a revolt that would start with tearing out the middle seats on the entire airplane.
Strapped in my cage, I wonder about the soul of San Jose and hardly notice the miracle of flight happening.
I hope my friends got my messages and there’s somebody to pick me up at the airport.
ROAD 10: Soul of San Jose #2
The souls of two cities are being considered here:
First I’ll start with Hollywood. Now here’s a place with a precedent for money madness, media stretching, and revolutionary impact on society via a box. A place that willfully engages in the pure insanity of mixing art and money. On the face of it getting writers, actors, photographers, carpenters, artists, geeks, and editors together, and giving them millions of dollars to do something as a group, is absurd. But they do, and it all comes out of our little electronic boxes. Be it TV, Film, or the Web, it’s all in a box.
Comparing Hollywood to San Jose I begin to see the soul issue reveal itself. LA has a soul of storytelling. A soul of mythology and gods. A soul of art and a soul of money.
San Jose’s soul seemed to just be money. There was no art, no storytelling and fantasy. There were banks and databases and web sites and form fields. The Web is exploding here, like film did. But here it’s an information thing, a hardware thing, an ecommerce thing. Compared to storytelling, and stars, and directors, these things are just…boring.
Thinking back on my brief stay in down town San Jose, I must say that I have felt what my interviewer said about the soul of San Jose.
ROAD 11: LA, thirty something
Rachel talks fast. She writes things down. She laughs in a forced cackle. She stands when she can sit no longer and I can feel her craziness. It’s like a wheel on a car out that is out of alignment she doesn’t really start to wobble until she gets above 70 MPH, but she’s in LA without friends in an unhealthy relationship going 120 MPH. It feels like a wheel might come off soon.
I tire of it. I am not in that space. I’m stoned and relaxed. I’m sipping Yukon Jack and I’ve watched a Burning Man video. I want to talk quietly like a little broke, not like rapids. I’m working on things that are my own trip. I don’t even talk about these things much with anyone. I have consciously stopped talking about me and relationships because I realized that most of the drivel coming out of my mouth was complete unadulterated, recycled bullshit. It was a like a tape of thoughts I’d spoke about so much they said themselves without reflection of their truth.
I’m like the thirty something men Rachel talks about. Like most singles in their thirties, I’ve been hurt.
I’ve had my heart taken out through my ears and eyes and thrown on the 405 freeway in a dark night. I’ve felt it hit by cars and trucks, battered about the asphalt from lane to lane until the morning came and a rat dragged to the breakdown lane. Eventually a kind soul rescued it (for a price) and my heart was rammed back into my body in one punch to my solar plexus. Now, when I drive freeways at night I sometimes imagine all the other hearts that I’m running over.
Now I’m in a holding pattern. I’m looking down, working in flight, and waiting for a nice soft, safe and unhurried landing place in the next 10 years. No rush, I’ve got lots of fuel. I’ll take what I can safely get until then, but I will not rush.
The neat thing about getting older is that I’ve never done it before. I am noticing a deep and slow feeling of loneliness bubbling up with age. Having been raised an only child, this is alien to me. I like to be alone. I grew up alone, but surrounded by people. Like the cafes I am attracted to working in now.
The day had started with my old friend Helen being logged off of the Net completely for what turns out to be two days. I had flown into Burbank anyway. It’s 9 pm and I’m stranded. Helen is very offline, or really stoned.
I call an old under grad friend Doug. He saves me. We go out for drinks with his ummm-friend. She said “girlfriend” but he doesn’t feel good about that he later tells me. He’s thirty. There’s someone out there with a name that when said out loud still stings the scar on his heart.
I’m noticing a pattern emerging with single, childless, and over thirty, folks. My friend Rachel put it like this:
Women is this situation want to have kids and nest, but they usually focus on work and try and ignore society’s incredible pressure. They’ve been hurt, but they are ready no matter how the battle with their clock is going. I’ve dated several 30 something women and I must agree. Based on experience there is a disconnect going on there between my space and there’s. They obviously feel the strong pull to not just date, but they are fighting the pull because it’s so fucked up that’s it’s coming down on them from all of us.
Men on the other hand seem to respond to being single and scared in a different way. Mostly they seem to have adopted a “Been there, done that,” attitude, more like. “Now I’m waiting and not rushing, just working. I think I’ll hang ’till my 40s and then think about family and stuff.” They have a clock ticking, but it’s a monetary clock that ticks 60 dollars an hour.
My friend Rachel advises me not to date women in their thirties. She proposes a solution to this situation. If you’re a thirty something woman, date older men in their 40s who are ready to settle down. If you’re a thirty something guy, date women in their late 20s who are not.
Anyway, I’m drinking with Doug and his umm friend, Joeanne. He’s thirty, she’s twenty four. We talk about the upcoming burning man and going with a partner to such a sexual and vibrant event. They have friends who want to go, but are a little shaky on the relationship and freedom and stuff like that.
“I think it’s all about communication, and boundaries” I say, “I mean if you’re writhing around in the mud with a nineteen year old earth mama, that’s one thing. But if you end up behind the tent necking with her that’s a another.”
My alarms go off. I’m talking about relationships and what I think, something I don’t want to do. I vow to nip the bullshit in the bud.
“Ummm, not really for me,” Joeanne says.
“Well, Ok, if you end up sleeping with her,” I can’t help but modify.
“Well, not really,” Joeanne says smiling, “As long as you let her know what’s going on with me and like everybody is in the know on the whole thing. Maybe bring her to me to meet, that could be fun.”
Doug smiles a large smile and looks at Joeanne and then at me like a cat stealing milk. I look at Doug and can almost see the threesome going on in his mind. I am however distracted by the better one going on in mine and wondering about the one in her’s. Maybe Rachel is right, I think. Women in their twenties…
Back at Doug’s we get stoned and Rachel had come over to see me. She’s going through a very unhealthy time with men, still and again. She gets stoned. Shes been fucked up with guys, and women too, her whole life. She followed an emotionally closed down rich yuppie to Ohio for three years to build a business recycling tires for god’s sake. She’s brilliant, but she constantly puts her self in situations where she’s helping other people make money. She loves to learn from them she says.
She is now in LA after moving from Ohio a 20 year old emotional midget and loose canon of a man. She is frantic as she talks. You can feel the unhealthiness in the room. She writes down everything, and wants a copy of the burning man tape we’re watching because she’s, “discovered her tribe!” She’s reaching for any kind of tribe. For love.
All her friends tell her, she has to break up with this guy. The CODA meetings and couple’s counseling is teaching her a lot, but the school is insane and graduation is stupid because the degree is useless. She can work on her shit alone I think, and she’s knows it. She’s ignoring the real shit, her career and her future and is just waiting to be rejected, again, so she can suffer.
I know what she needs. She needs to get the fuck out of LA. She needs to find her closest friend and move in for a few months. She needs healthy love, sleep, and time to think and maybe take a class, or go to therapy. Help around the house and most folks will want you to stay. Instead she stands ranting about her job with a famous star’s kid and name dropping in a frantic attempt to get kudos for at least having a successful job, at least for next two months.
“Doug, you’re a great editor I can’t believe you made that burning man tape,” She says with alarming intensity. “I want to hire you on this project, I really, really want a copy of this tape. Can you do that, is that OK? I really mean it. I don’t bullshit, ask Caleb, I know what I like and I like this and need a copy, can you do that?”
Doug is a little dazed. It’s too much too fast. “Sure, we’ll talk about, I’ll get your email or something,” he says. He’s alarmed at her neediness. She’s known him for an hour and is asking for personal favors that I also feel are out of place right now. Rachel has always let her personality go though, she doesn’t care too much what people think.
“Maybe we’ll talk about it tomorrow,” I say.
Renee confides in us that it sounds insane, but she’s addicted to relationships like the one she’s in. We listen with fascination and belief. Each time it gets better, but also worse. She literally can’t bare the thought of rejection from this asshole, but she wants it because she’s going crazy. She’s 34, he’s 24.
“It’s like cigarettes,” Rachel goes on, getting quieter, “If you spent five minutes with my family you’d understand. They’re sick. They did sick things to me, my dad and brother did. Now I am here and I can’t break away from men like this all my life. Watching this burning man video I’ve realized an amazing thing about myself. Wow, I’ve learned so fucking much tonight!”
I’m feeling the static coming from her. But I am the Buddha. I am listening and this is important because she is my friend.
“Breath Rachel,” I say, “tell us what you’ve learned.”
But I’m done with major public works projects on relationship problems I think. I’ve seen real love, and it doesn’t hurt most of the time. In fact it’s rather nice, even if it is a lot of work. I feel now it’s about timing and luck to a great extent. I am keeping my eyes open for the landing spot.
“Ok, I’ve learned that, Oh wait, I’ve got to tell you this story about my grandmother. She memorized everything that happened to her and would tell you the tinniest detail for hours if you asked, she’ll go on and on and on, like me now,” She says in almost one breath.
“Is that what you’ve learned?” asks Doug in amazement.
“It’s related, OK, the short version. I’ve learned that the reason I need to tape and write down everything is that I am so fucked up now that I feel like I don’t exist.”
I imagine a thread holding onto a draft of air.
“If I don’t record stuff, it won’t exist because Rachel barely exists anymore.”
Doug and I look at each other deadpan. I want to slide tackle her, wrap her up in blanket, throw her in a trunk, and take her to a family that loves her.
We sleep together on the floor that night. She won’t even cuddle with me. She’s incapable of handling the emotional side of that, and we’d probably end up having sex like in the past. I hold her hand across the bed, “It will be all right Rachel,” I almost plead. I’m worried. “You’re doing good for LA, you’ll make it though this in time.” We fall asleep.
ROAD 12: The End.
They say freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose. I say it’s being close to the animal in us. I’m riding back to San Diego in a friend’s car and thinking of my time of the road.
I had a moment of freedom on the streets of San Jose. I’d been on the road 5 days alone, and unscheduled. I took full fare flights to get to major cities, and busses to get around after that. Now my body was used to the weight of my two bags and the best way of carrying them. I walked cities with confidence, free of all appointments, meetings, or obligation. After 3 days in a youth hostel I was back in the groove of meeting people straight away and finding what I needed in any city.
One tactic I used in Santa Cruz was to give a pan handler a dollar, sit down, and ask them all about the city. This always spread into discussions about the very nature of life the universe and everything as well. This poet told me that he used the money from the street for coffee and cigarettes because he slept outside and you could eat for free in Santa Cruz, “if you knew what you were doing.”
In San Jose I’d walked blocks looking for an Internet cafe, then blocks back looking for the library. Each time my body had sweat with the effort, but I was used to it in a strange way. I was walking back to the trains when I had my moment of freedom. I can’t explain exactly how it felt, but it was a definite moment. I think it was when I saw a homeless man that looked a little like me. His bags were more worn, but his hair was long and he had a hat on. He had a road tan, which I now had, and he was looking around with that air of the homeless, that air of being in his living room, instead of the rest of the people who were traveling between houses.
I felt like I could slip away. I could live like him. I even had a laptop which would last a while and I could use a floppy to send my stuff off at the library. I felt the burden of the world fall from my shoulders. I felt the peace of being simply alive, with no agenda. Like an animal really, living right where I was, looking for food and safe resting places, staying on the high ground and near water, alert for danger, but relaxed.
Calling ahead to LA from a train platform killed this feeling as fast as it had come. In fact, as soon as I picked up the phone it was over. I was back in the loop and using the tools of the times. But it was nice while it lasted and I’m glad I’m heading for home right now in a nice car, with nice folks, all on our way to a bar with more friends. Better then being free and freezing under a bridge clutching a laptop and wondering what the fuck happened to my life.
I finish up my road report at a cafe in San Diego. It’s sunset time. Arriving I turn a corner in my truck and see an amazing cloud. It’s huge and looks like a nuclear bomb remnant. The top is thin and flanges out like the top of a strange bowl. The middle is thick and glowing yellow and red from the sunset. Thick bellows of cloud form this base. A jet flies towards it and I see how really fucking huge the cloud is. No other clouds are in the sky. Later a friend tells me that this cloud actually made the local news. He said it was a combination of thunder heads formed by the heat that had all gathered into one massive object. I watch it on a sidewalk outside the cafe with about 10 other people. I feel helpless in its presence, but it’s beautiful so it’s OK. It’s really just too big to understand. Better to just marvel at it I think.