Tuesday, December 6, 2016

God Bless America

I went to a thrift store because I was still reeling from being forced to surrender my Alligator Jacket in Las Vegas. The Thrift Store funds a senior center next door and I heard someone playing piano so I went in to listen. It was guy playing some cool Roaring '20s tunes. Man it was good. Then I noticed that he had a sheet of braille in front of him to remind him of song titles. The guy is blind. Well, he asked for request that included the word "Angel" in the title or lyrics. This guy was doing requests from memory of any song that had the word Angel in it. What? So I requested "Earth Angel" from the '50s and he played it in two octaves. Man. Then I asked for Angel Eyes but he did not know that one so he's more of a showtime and pop tune pianist because Angel Eyes is pure '40s lounge jazz. I asked him if I could play a song from my fake book and he said, "Sure, after the pledge and announcements."

The other senior centers I've been to are long term care facilities but this was a true meals for seniors dining area that was open for lunch only. So, the veterans and retired farmers of Western Arizona come for community and socializing. There were a few announcements about the meal times and someone announced that he was going to visit family for Christmas so he would not be there and everyone wished him safe travels. Then, the host held onto a big American flag and everyone said the standard pledge of allegiance. I even joined in because I was drawn into the solemn honesty of the moment, a room of 70-80 year old men and women  with VA hats saying the pledge of allegiance. I swear if I had recorded it then the video would go viral in this hollow, shallow nation, but I did not get a video because I was saying the pledge of allegiance. But it wasn't over. The blind pianist, Bob, sat back down at the piano and everyone launched into Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" and I sang that one with the crowd too. No mention was made of presidents or of politics. It was non-partisan and I feel that the generation born in 1930 is the last who do not get a video of every fart and song and grinning mockery of themselves to post on the internet. I was proud of that crowd, they did their best with what they were given. These were the independent elderly, not ready to go to a long term care facility but also not able to cook for themselves. One man wearing a WWII veteran cap told me his wife had died 4 years earlier and he'd been coming here to eat lunch since then.
Bob sat down to eat, which involves feeling for his food and then putting it in his mouth and I sat down and played some rough, out of practice, Broadway songs. My Funny Valentine seemed completely out of place but Let it Snow seemed ok. The experience got me thinking about the people I met on this journey and how I should only write about people and experiences rather than punditry of ideas. My ideas should be explored through people, not the other way around. So I dedicate this to some of the people I met, the highlights.

Can Food - This morning I awoke in a Walmart Parking lot and all the parking lot entrances were taken up by people with signs asking for help. Hey, the Salvation Army can ring their bell and this is also the season for giving to homeless people. I bought two biscuit sandwiches and asked if he wanted one. He said, "I'll take anything."

At a truck stop in Utah I watched some basketball with a truck driver who had been in the well service industry until gas prices plunged. He said the hot dogs at Burger King were 'actually, pretty good.' and he thought about buying one and then decided there was no point and went to his truck. A woman in the same dining room was sitting with a bible. Her husband is a truck driver and she was waiting for him because his heater had problems and also his transmission needed service in Las Vegas. So she was waiting patiently for her husband.

A Trump supporter was playing a guitar outside the library in Cedar City. We got to talking about The Beatles and agreed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was their peak of originality. He was worried that Veterans were being treated worse than illegal immigrants and that job opportunities were being taken by foreigners. "Trump speaks for me." he said.

Shared a campsite in Canyonlands in Eastern Utah with a photographer from Illinois. We both thought the price of $20 for a patch of dirt was too high so we split it. We shared some premium Colorado weed and marveled at the Milky Way on a night that was so clear and moonless that we could see about 50 commercial planes to the south traveling in and out of Las Vegas. It was an epic night of shooting stars, cold, freezing, but epic universal vistas. I said, "Maybe this is the weed talking, but I love weed." I also spent ten minutes hunting for my gloves which were in my pocket. He was horrified Trump was elected, horrified a lying reality show celebrity had fooled voters into thinking he was qualified to be president without even a PTA chairman position under his belt. We commiserated and tried to rationalize the insanity, while enjoying the scenery and purity of the Canyonlands. He went to Monument Valley and I went to Capitol Reef.

First night in Moab was the supermoon, which I had planned to experience in one of the National Parks. A group of youths from all over the western united states and even Holland were in the hostel and had the same idea so they let me ride with them to The Arches. They were all about 22 years old and I felt like I was from another world. One was a young woman who is a youth intervention specialist who takes amok teenagers into the forest for two weeks to get their heads straight. She'd just returned from Guatemala so we had some things to talk about. A young man was a park ranger/biologist with a plate in his arm and a plate in his knee after skiing and bouldering accidents. He gave me all the advice on where to go in Canyonlands. One guy saving up money to buy land in Nicaragua had recently returned from Gates of The Arctic national park. We'd both gone to University of Fairbanks, Alaska. He asked me when I was there and I said, '1989' and he said, "Shit, I was born in 1992." The woman from Holland was touring The World for a year...and had been in Tahiti a mere two weeks earlier. A couple had driven from Baltimore to see Moab and The Arches. It was odd being around that many people who easily could be children of people I went to school with. Their vocabulary, nonchalance and high energy and diversity were nothing like how hipsters are portrayed. They all were obsessed with any light pollution so we hiked in The Arches with no flashlights or only red, night vision, lighting. They dried their own meat jerky and had dried fruit as snacks, talked about rappelling and climbing casually. Maybe Moab adventure climbers do not represent the generation born in 1992 but I was impressed. They were not slackers. No, they were not industrial welders or tradesmen or veterans, but they were not slackers and they were not going to idly stand by while the environment is destroyed. These kids were far beyond recycling all their wine bottles. They had bicycles hanging off their trucks, one guy was running a marathon across every National Park, another guy was bicycling to Patagonia. Some had kayaks, rock climbing gear, snowboards, skis, everything. It's easy to have a low opinion of hipsters but that's because most people don't visit Moab and see the elite of the Hipster generation. Best of luck to them.

I hung out with some Walmart campers in Cortez, Colorado. One guy said, "I'm a Mormon, but I don't know what that means." I told him I thought it meant he believed Joseph Smith was a prophet. He shrugged and smoked some weed from a small pipe. He'd been working on his truck and I told him that I had tools but after a day he'd finished the brake job. He'd had rear axle seals fail and that soiled the brake shoes with differential fluid so everything had to be replaced. This was a familiar job to me. He had a little dog with him, well behaved, never barked. He asked if I had a stove in my van because he'd seen billows of smoke coming out the chimney. I told him that I'd tried to start the charcoal fire with only paper and regualr charcoal, no lighter fluid and it had turned into a horrible disaster with clouds of thick white smoke pouring from the chimney and the stove top into the van...and wafting across the Walmart Parking lot, causing alarm from anyone watching. So I poured water on the smoldering charcoal and that made everything worse. So I had to reach into the stove and pull out the smoldering, wet charcoal and throw it into the bushes so it would stop smoking. This whole incident took place in 28 degree weather before I went to Moab. I had the windows open, smoke pouring from the windows and me holding my breath to reach into the stove. It was one of the worst stove experiences I had and all because I got too confident with the charcoal and tried to get it going without lighter fluid. I told him I now only use a base of "instant light" charcoal and then when those are glowing and ashed over I add more regular, cheaper charcoal and the red coals will quickly get the new ones burning. And no smoke is needed. It was a learning experience. The man nodded and smoked some more weed. His companion called out sarcastically from a car where he was sitting that, "Sure, the climate ain't getting hotter. No, we got chem-trails in the sky and crops dying on the vine and the only place that ain't an inferno is around 6000 ft up a mountain. But let's keep burning those fossil fuels." I wasn't sure what he was referring to, but I answered, nonsensically, "Yeah, and let's prostitute all our teenage girls out for the jollies of some San Bernadino pornographers, while we're at it." He quickly drove away and I shamefully walked back to my van. I know it's easy to be proud that you don't shop at Walmart but I caution this kind of insulation because it was Walmart shoppers who fell for Trump's Walmart slogan "Make America Great Again." If you don't sleep in a Walmart parking lot and shop there once in a while they you are truly out of touch with modern America. You might as well move to Labrador.

I camped next to some hunters in New Mexico. They drove way out to a national forest parkland and set up camp with two generators blasting Lynyrd Skynyrd music until 10Pm. I didn't talk to them, preferring to give them their space. They had a good time. The Sheriff actually visited me the next day, to check up on the campground, ask if there were any problems. He said there were only three sheriffs in the area. I'd found a live .330 gauge shell on the ground and was going to make some jewelry out of it but decided to throw it into the woods. I left that detail out of our conversation. What the hell do you do when you find live ammunition. I feel like I'd get arrested if I walked into a police station to have it disposed of. but I can't throw it away or leave it on a park bench. Man, I just buried it and hoped it would vanish.

I was at the library and a man's phone rang. He was hard of hearing and put it on speaker so everyone nearby could hear it. It was a collection call from an agency. He hung up on them and said to me, "They'll spend $1000 to collect $100. Makes no sense." I told him I knew all about it but they will eventually stop.

There were a few more and I'll add them later but those are the ones that stand out. That's America.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.