10,000 miles running on empty


On Wednesday December 12 at 3:07pm PST, Catbird and I shared our ten thousandth road mile as we beat rush hour traffic into Portland on US-26 E. The escalation we experienced during our descent towards the Columbia River was wound with the celebratory feeling and guilt of accomplishment. Our millennial mile experience brought to surface the many contradictions at the heart of our journey:

individuality / cultural-cliche

autonomy / (co)dependence

achievement / privilege

sustainable city / fast food living

engagement / unfulfillment

I. individuality / cultural-cliche

Before departing on Oregon Trail 2012, I was well aware that I was participating in a multi-generational celebration of the American narrative of individuality and independence. (This American mythos has spanned centuries from the country’s beginning in an escape from religious persecution to the “frontier” that drew mass migration across mountains and deserts to the pursuit of spontaneity by the Beats and its admirers to the recent migratory patterns for millennials after the economic fallout).

However, as I experienced in Boulder and later upon my arrival to Portland, I felt less like a self-directed individual, and more like an obnoxious cliche. Rich suburban white person who loves traveling the world. Check. Over-educated young adult moving to Portland because he hasn’t chosen / doesn’t want a career path. Check. For every one of me, there were 10,000 more.

II. achievement / privilege

I also had no illusions from the get-go that I was free of financial, race, and gender privilege. Clearly purchasing a vehicle, smartphone, and equipment before a several month long road trip without any income and student loans is not an opportunity many people encounter in their 20s. As I traveled, these privileges either receded in my consciousness as I encountered fellow travelers or became glaringly salient as I found myself houseless in Portland yet not without a vehicle to sleep, travel, and commute in.

My Mom was amazed by my accomplishment of traveling thousands of miles across the US, backpacking in remote wilderness, and finding work in PDX. Friends found the trip inspirational. Yet, it became obvious that as tough as it could be, I had a safety net and I was in some way “playing” vagrant. On the one hand, this is a life I chose for myself, grounded in my values. On the other hand, it is a delusional attempt to shed the privileges I have access to for being a white, affluent, cis-male. Had I been trans or a cis-woman, I would not have enjoyed the psychological security from feeling safe living on the road, and had I been dark-skinned or driven a more conspicuous vehicle, I would have received as much leniency and disinterest from the police.

III. sustainable city / fast food living

Another irritating contradiction is moving to the pacific north west to be a part of more sustainable and socially conscious communities, but through surviving out of an automobile on a fast food diet. There is no essential mandate that comes with a car to eat out while on the road, but if one is a houseless employee who lives in a sprawling suburb and who doesn’t dumpster alone, fast food is very fitting.

Tucked away in the comforts in an unofficial sex-for-housing work exchange I had access to a masticating juicer, Vitamix, wicked food processor, a gas stove, and a spacious fridge. Living on the road I have a small Jetboil, can opener, spork, and unrefrigerated food storage behind my front seat. Fixing a meal on a backpacking trip in the privacy, warmth, and dryness of desert dusk is exciting, but cooking up Progresso lentil soup or Tasty Bite Chana Masala at night in the chilly rain in a public parking lot, not so much. The former is romantic and your only option; the latter can be humiliating (or at least conspicuous and invasive) and less appetizing than your alternative, picking up a hearty Chipotle burrito.

The cost to the environment from commuting to work and downtown via car may be high, but the cost to one’s bank account and patience is less. With the exception of rush hour, one can shave off an hour of transportation, and unless one is commuting from Hilsboro to the PDX airport in a Hummer, the $3.30/gallon is softer on the hemp wallet than the $5 roundtrip ticket. With no house in which to store one’s stuff, one carries extra weight wherever you go. With lack of food storage and a kitchen, one can’t reduce much waste from the necessity of packaged and ready-made foods. One tries to rationalize it by thinking one takes up less space and energy (from cooking and heating), and leaves housing options available to people who need them more, but by the end of that thought, one’s ego deflates and the guilt returns.

IV. engagement / unfulfillment

One means of diluting the guilt of privilege, unsustainable living, and hypocrisy is volunteer work. I joined a half dozen organizations ranging from hospitality for the homeless to conservation guide at a state park to board member of a vegetarian outreach organization. Filling every corner of one’s temporal existence left empty after being disposed of by one’s ex-lover gives one destinations to dart back and forth between. But as meaningful as those destinations may be, one can’t shake the empty feeling that returns to one when one arrives to one’s automotive companion. No matter how many admirable deeds and attractive people one does, the meaning is compartmentalized and lacks a larger framework to make one’s work and social life fulfilling. There is no cohesion of a narrative self, no synchronized relationship to a world that just fits.

V. autonomy / (co)dependence

Ultimately, my journey failed to inspire me, to attract love to a particular project, place, and/or person.¬†The more absent love, the more salient one’s dependence on another becomes, possibly the more one would like to escape that dependence in “freedom” and “autonomy”– which are really just code words for a narcissism that closes its eyes to its yearning and fulfillment through others. How often is the quest for self-sufficiency a quest to escape a human condition, to wind up on a treadmill of freedom from, never arriving at a for.

Oregon Trail 2012 may have been a success in many ways, but not in such a way as is most necessary. Without love, “I” am abandoned. I’m tangled up in my own thoughts and string like a strip of used tape that, once pulled apart, sticks to nothing else, that is essentially used up. Like tape, humans have the propensity to stick to things, to nestle their way into the folds of others and be apart of something larger than themselves, to share something with an other–whether human or nonhuman. It’s wearisome to be blown around, unable to stick, bouncing off those objects one might otherwise love. After a while, it becomes part of what you are–forever wanderlust for a sticky situation.

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Oregon Trail: List of Follies 2


I am not bear meat. Seriously, I made it out of bear country alive even after all my unbelievable blunders. Those bears will have to go hungry this winter, I guess. Poor bears ūüė¶

These last few days, I’ve felt so liberated. Not liberated in the ecstatic, transcendent, and joyous state of existence we normally associate with that word, but more “liberated” in the sense of being free of any sense of belonging and identity. Well, not quite, but I’m in the habit of brewing a mug of melodrama each morning I wake up along the cold, wet streets of Portland. It’s an existence that others would consider depressing, drab, and dangerous, but in many ways its not all that bad. I get to eat out a lot, spend time at the library, do a lot of walking around the city, live at a more leisurely pace, etc. It’s a bit exciting at times. More on this later.

How did I end up here, you ponder to your little self as you impatiently skim through this introduction for the “good part” in your pajama bottoms? I’ll tell ya’ eventually. In the mean time, my “List of Follies 2” is an excellent spark notes version for you internet-junkies. Consider it an instruction manual on how NOT to behave if you want to have slightly important things in life like a job, somewhere to live, and someone to love you.

What do you think: Did I fuck up more than I did during the first part of my journey? Have you made any of the same mistakes? Would you like to share or give your own two cents on the good life?

 

THE LIST OF FOLLIES:

  • Day 46: Touching the Oakland Inner Harbor without proper sanitary footwear
  • Day 48: Taking a beautiful, radical, poly chicana (who would later never respond to my friendly texts) out to an expensive organic vegan lunch.
  • Day 49: Buzzing around Berkley to find chili garlic sauce for the dinner I was supposed to make for my host in West Oakland two hours ago.
  • Day 50: Getting lost in the neighborhoods of Twin Peaks and subsequently killing my feet, freezing my ass off, and practicing my urine retention skillz.
  • Day 50: Not signing on as a “Sex Model” at Kink.com.
  • Day 51: While in a time crunch, taking two extra hours pondering life and justice at Alcatraz, an hour detour to Berkley for vegan ice cream, and taking the wrong exit/bridge back into San Fransisco during¬† peak rush hour.
  • Day 46-51: Driving up the curvacious CA-1 in sea mist at dusk (and well into the night) because of having miscalculated the free days I had in the Bay Area before spending two full days with an online friend.
  • Day 54: Passing up all the ancient forests of Redwood National Park because I became overly indulgent in the morning.
  • Day 55: Freezing-up in horror as a van engulfed in 10-foot high flames rolled in reverse towards Catbird and I.

The Era of Asshole-ness

  • Day 4/59: Freezing-up out of intimidation when my amazing date tossed my insinuated-kiss challenge back at me.
  • Day 5/60: Making up for the past night fuck-up by going with my heart (vs. ego or brain) to make a (successful) move on someone I would be living and working with for the next three months and hardly knew (even though I promised myself “never again” to living with a lover twice before)
  • Day 4-6/59-61: Polling friends on facebook for advice on and interpretation of my romantic life, (polling that reads a lot like obnoxious and inappropriate bragging and bro-ness)
  • Day 8/63:¬† Sleeping over at another person’s house less than 24-hours after sleeping with someone else for the first time.
  • Day 9/64: Thinking being open and honest would be a good idea.
  • Day 13/68: Inviting someone with whom I share mutual affection (a someone who is very insecure and also someone I cannot get a good nights rest with) into my bed to cuddle before going to sleep to wake up hours later.
  • Day 21/76: “Correcting” a sensitive someone by suggesting that she should use gendered pronouns for nonhuman animals.
  • Day 21/76:¬†Asking someone who liked me when she was planning on leaving my bed with her dog, (a dog whom had just snapped at my face in her bed).
  • Day 27/82: Absentmindedly shutting a dog into his crate while another was already inside.
  • Day 31-32/86-87: Immaturely withdrawing because of someone’s lack of faith in my knowledge about tick removal, escalating a mutually infuriating conflict to the point of no return (or so we thought)
  • Day 38/93: My grandmother slipping on a sidewalk, hits her head, and does not return (not my folly, but a very sad, unexpected death)
  • Day 46/101: Returning to a hospital with a reputation for having dickhead doctors for a medical checkup.
  • Day 2011: Taking on an extremely ambitious project, procrastinating a year, and moving somewhere 20-60 minutes from an available library whose resources I can’t access because I am not enrolled there.
  • Day50ish: “Accepting [a film review] with major revisions” for an academic journal from an author who is not fluent in English.
  • Day56/111: Snapping at that someone for “stealing my fan” from the communal/study space for her cabin.
  • Day 73/128: The first time ever telling a woman she is “being a bitch” for unproductively (hostilely and sarcastically) referencing everything I’ve ever done wrong while I was chatting with a friend.
  • Day 86/141: Selecting a Thai restaurant as the venue for a date, only to read that “No meals can be made Vegan” on the menu immediately after my date arrives.
  • Day 91/146: Poorly anticipating how much cleaning up I had to perform before leaving the sanctuary.

The End?

  • Day 56/147: Forgetting to print out a map of Crater Lake National Park (where there is no cell reception) before I arrived at night (when the visitor center is closed) with no available campsites, and no cash for the Wizard Island cruise
  • Day 57/148: Forgetting to submit my payment for my Lost Creek campsite and possibly having my tent confiscated.
  • Day 58/149: Relying on a flaky stranger (who told me before he went to bed that he’d kill me if I touched his daughter) to host me for a night in Eugene, OR.
  • Day 59/150: Taking home a drunk young woman covered in chocolate vegan pudding into my new car.
  • Day 60-68/151-59: Prioritizing sex over Portland job searches.
  • Day 65/156: (Too stupid to even mention) on Alberta!!!
  • Day 69/160: Dehydrated and ill-fully bumbling around southern Washington.
  • Day 72-73/163-64: Inefficiently purchasing food and materials for my solo wilderness Olympic NP trip.
  • Day 77/168: Impatiently speeding to the Hoh rainforest and barely missing a bobcat.
  • Day 77/168: Temporarily moving in with my present lover until I find a job (even though I promised myself “never again” to living with a lover three times before [see day 60])… Oh, the heartbreak.

To be continued…..

With Love,

Dean

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Oregon Trail 2012 Greatest Hits


On October 3, Oregon Trail 2012 “officially” came to an end.

In 85 days (plus another 3 months of work at an animal sanctuary), I had journeyed west across the great plains from Chicago to the foothills of the Rockies; I rode the undulating mountain roads to a Krishna temple in the Mormon Utah Valley and dove south into the ochre slick rock of the Colorado Plateau; I backpacked into the depths of the Grand Canyon and replenished my body with legendary Ronald’s vegan donuts; in a day, I touched the lowest point in the country and ascended 9,000 feet to the top of Yosemite; I¬† trekked from an infamous prison in the San Fransisco Bay to a raunchy porn studio in the Mission district; I indulged my mind, body, and spirit with an outstanding human being along California 101 and an insecure, bitter one in the Rogue River valley; I found an amazing relationship with another woman in Portland and brought together old friends in a messy triangle in Seattle; I ferried Catbird to the Olympic peninsula and trailed up into the sub-alpine meadows of Sol Duc where I camped in solitude for four days. Now I face the toughest challenge yet: acquiring employment in the PDX.

Updating this blog was much more difficult than I anticipated during my adventure. With only a smartphone, droid app, and unreliable AT&T access to data and wireless for the first portion, and all my non-work time researching and writing a paper, keeping in touch with friends, and managing an interpersonal time bomb the second, I did not fulfill my original writing goals. I do plan on continuing my entries on my experiences and reflections in between job apps, although, not in the same detail as before. In the mean time, I would like to share with everyone my favorite moments and meals.

May I introduce to you, Oregon Trail 2012’s Greatest Hits!

 

EVENTS & ACTIVITIES

[0] Deliberating, planning, organizing, and coordinating an epic cross-country road trip (Chicago, IL)

[1-2] The optimism of the open road during the first two days leaving Chicago (IA and NE)

[3] New Belgium Brewery Tour (Fort Collins, CO)

[4] Hiking up to Nymph and Dream Lake through snow in sandals (Rocky Mountain NP)

[4] Listening to life insights and stories of my friend from Australia (Boulder, CO)

[5] Solo nightwalk through downtown (Denver, CO)

[6] Conversations about philosophy, love, and life with one of my best friends from college (Denver, CO)

[7] Reuniting with my best friend from childhood over a vegan potluck (Breckenridge, CO)

[8] Listening to Final Fantasy VII orchestrations while driving through the Rocky Mountains

[11] Meeting and hanging out all day with a local and total stranger (Salt Lake City, UT)

[12] Sunday Night Love Feasts at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple (Spanish Fork, UT)

[18] Researching genealogy at The Family History Museum (Salt Lake City, UT)

[20] Listening to Ennio Morricone while driving through Southern Utah

[20] Driving along the Colorado River on 128 (Moab, UT)

[20] Entering Arches National Park at sundown (Moab, UT)

[21] Delicate Arch and Devil’s Playground (Arches NP)

Solo wilderness backpacking in Syncline Loop (Canyonlands NP)

[26] Sunrise at Monument Valley (Goulding’s)

[26] Monument Valley tour

[28] Walking the West Rim (Grand Canyon NP)

[29] Camping at Bright Angel at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with lovely strangers

[30] Driving at sundown on US-89 from through painted desert from Sedona, AZ to Zion NP

[31] Lunar Eclipse at Glen Canyon Dam (Page, AZ)

[33] Angel’s Landing and The Narrows (Zion NP)

[36] Driving all night to eat Ronald’s Donuts after 8-years of waiting! (Las Vegas, NV)

[37] Making out in the Rainforest and Venice, Italy (Las Vegas, NV)

[38] Mystère (Cirque du Soleil) at Treasure Island (Las Vegas, NV)

[38] First official couch surfing experience (Las Vegas, NV)

[39] Bad Water the lowest point in the US (Death Valley NP)

[40] Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley (Yosemite NP)

[47] California fruit stands on CA-580

[47-50] Staying and chatting with my scholar-activist friend (Oakland, CA)

[50] The SF Armory Kink.com tour (San Fransisco, CA)

[51] Amazing home-made dinner, wine, and dessert date at Callie’s (Arcata, CA)

[..] Driving at sundown in The Rogue River Valley (Ashland, OR)

[..] Tossing hay in The Rogue River Valley

[65] BDSM make-up sex (Jacksonville, OR)

[..] Taking care of dogs, cats, horses, pigs, and goats at an animal sanctuary (Jacksonville, OR)

[107]Party People at the Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, OR)

[..] Listening to audiobooks for the first time ever and loving it (e.g. The Odyssey, America: The Book, Fahrenheit 451)

[129-31] A weekend of wooing a (potential) lover who drove 5 hours to visit me

[136] Witnessing a man who drove two 18-hour round trips to adopt a dog he fell in love with, adopt said dog

[148] Sunset from the Watchman (Crater Lake NP)

[150] Hanging out with an old vegan-feminist friend from college (Eugene, OR)

[151] Driving through the Willamette National Forest

[151] Chatting with a favorite former student (now grad student and teaching fellow) who is inspired by me

[151-59] A week of sleeping in and dining out with the lovely Annichka (Portland, OR)

[155] Public sex downtown (Portland, OR)

[157] Kicking ass at Crystal Castles and Pac-Man Vs at Ground Kontrol with Texas friends (Portland, OR)

 

[162] Reuniting feuding friends from a New York animal sanctuary (Seattle, WA)

[165-68] Braving bear country by myself for 3 full days and nights (Olympic NP)

* Top 20 “Holy Moments”

 

DINING OUT

Tofu Scrambler Plate at Eklecticafe (Moab, UT)

Chocolate chip pumpkin muffin at Love Muffin Cafe (Moab, UT)

*Yelow Curry at Thai Sapa (Springdale, UT)

Green Curry at Benja Thai (St. George, UT)

*Every vegan donut at Ronald’s Donuts (Las Vegas, NV)

*Taco Salad at Red Velvet Cafe (Las Vegas, NV)

Inferno Mysore Dosa at Mint Indian Bistro (Las Vegas, NV)

*The Latin’tude at Pura Vida (Las Vegas, NV)

*Southern Fried Tofu (Catfish gumbo) at Souley Vegan (Oakland, CA)

*Gourmet Spicy Chicken at Golden Lotus (Oakland, CA)

Yasai bowl and Moon Garden rolls @ Cha-Ya (San Fransisco, CA)

Cajun Scramble at Golden Harvest Cafe (Arcata, CA)

BBQ Veggie Burger at Grilla bites (Ashland, OR)

*Spicy Basil and Tofu at Thai House (Jacksonville, OR)

*Tempeh Fried Steak Combo at Cornbread Cafe (Eugene, OR)

*Combination Mung Pao at Van Hanh (Portland, OR)

Taco Salad at Papa G’s (Portland, OR)

Buffalo Bomber at the Veggie Grill (Portland, OR)

*Sweet and Sour Chicken at Bamboo Garden (Seattle, OR)

* Top 10 “OMFG!” foodgasms

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Time has us by the Strings


Just now, while searching through my old files, I found a letter I wrote to my ex just over 10 months ago. Since I haven’t had time between co-authoring a chapter, working on a farm, and dealing with yet ever more exciting “ex-relationship” drama, I thought I’d post it here. <But then I changed my mind at the last minute>

 

I. An Untimely Self

This letter was my final attempt to move my ex through logos, and it’s failure to do so–the failure to rebuild trust and intimacy with meaning–left me disillusioned more than ever with reason. At the end, I resorted to ethos, to find a common meeting ground, a simple, common, everyday activity to bond over, but every invitation was blocked. Logos and ethos could not have access to pathos so long as I had become the abject of my ex’s subjectivity. My attempts at logos and ethos were in fact a symptom of the larger problem. Both tactics pressured her to live by my time, rather than letting her be as she had become in her own time. The tactic I should have followed was kairos, an attentive, self-restrained patience.

Although what she said most often was that she needed space, what I think she really meant was time. Within the tradition of liberal humanist discourse, personhood has been defined territorially, not temporally. To say one needs to be oneself is interpreted as one needing distance from being touched, from being affected¬† by something outside. The subject, to have integrity, needs to be autonomous–not dependent on others–to properly perfect oneself according to one’s own image. Yet such existential independence is rarely achieved, especially when space must be shared. To let one be is not so much leaving space as it is respecting time. For who we are changes, and although change can be very painful, it must be affirmed if we are not to act violently to ourselves and others, to manifest suffering.

 

II. A Puppet of the Past

I cringed when I acknowledged that this letter retains relevancy in the present. Reading the letter encouraged me to reflect on my recent behaviors over the past couple months to make amends with someone I became very intimate with and likewise had to live and work with in the aftermath of intimacy. I find myself making the same mistakes,¬† attaching myself to the value of “I” and the possessiveness of “me.” Each time a powerful “relationship” comes to an end, I feel simultaneously devastated and empowered, for I have learned through my faults. But history teaches me that it is so easy to let faults slip through our consciousness back into the body of habits. I discover myself repeating these uncanny words.

Without losing myself, I will not become someone else. Yet, after months on the road relatively cut from my former roots in Texas and Illinois, I cling fast to my bumper during each intentional swerving maneuver to release me. Consciousness and swerving has helped clean up some “noise,” but has not established a new paradigm for my being. I sit on the side of the road lost in thought, but not of the past. My familial, fraternal,¬† and romantic relationships are knotted around my ego, suffocating it of creativity. The knots tie me down to people and land I am thousands of miles and hundreds of days apart from, playing me like a marionette. I’m a puppet of the past. The more force I apply to these strings, the more tangled I become; the more I act like a Man, the more of a mockery I prove myself to be.

 

III. Concrete Reality: Time has got us by the Strings

Must one accept our string, our knotty personas, to move beyond it? To master oneself, one must not attempt to master others, but to master kairos, to master a situation by allowing it to be and be undone. For years I have attempted to  master time, to conform the present to the fantastic future and the future to my representation of it in the present. But to live in fantastic expectation, to force things from out of the present,  only works so long as the fantasy is not traversed.

The difficulty of reality is our exposure in time, our ineffable exposure to ghosts from the past and omens of the future. Reality is that time has us, not us it. Karma is the catching-up of time when we believe we have moved beyond it. Suffering is the manifestation of reality’s disillusionment of our ideals once time has tagged us. Once tagged, we are not¬†I, but is. And is is all there is. If we cannot accept that, we cannot accept ourselves, and so we suffer even as time has passed us by. We continue to dragged ourselves behind or run ahead of cars, and so eventually feel the friction of reality against our flesh, tearing us apart without pulling us together.

In writing this, I feel as though I’m resigning myself to fate, writing against resistance. Do I prefer life as a puppet over life as a person or has my thinking finally become just as tangled up in knots as my identity?

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A Call for Solidarity on Climate Change


We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate…. what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy ‚Äď one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light…this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it.

– Bill McKibben 2012

 

Global Climate Disruption used to be an issue I focused on as much as trans-species justice, but since having become focused on food justice and more extensively on privilege and identity, it‚Äôs been an issue I’ve direly neglected.

I write direly, because this is THE issue of the century, and perhaps of all of human existence given it may be the greatest tragedy in the last 100,000 years or more. From a god-like position, this is “nothing’ given the existence of life on the planet. But we are HUMANS, and this affects us and all the other species who brought us into existence and came into existence with us, many species also populated by sentient and social beings.

But this isn’t something humans in the universal have reaped upon the earth, but modern Western civilization in general, and the capitalist, engineer, and political elite specifically. Something like 40% of all anthropogenic contributions come from the US and China (and China has been polluting a lot only recently and its population is four times ours!). The elite, however, who control the capital and political candidates are not even the .1% Yet, the elite indirectly pull the strings for no greater reason than making a profit (as if their millions of dollars weren’t sufficient).

Yes, we all contribute, especially the more affluent of us in first world nations; and institutions do need to be changed to reduce all of this. But is it not the case that the enemy is equally the apathy, ignorance, and dis-empowered-feeling of the 99% as much as the arrogance and decadence of the 1%?

 

The power of numbers is in our favor, but the social organization, education, and empowerment is missing. And this is not an accident. The political and economic elite prefer it be this way and so our education, political, media, and economic systems are designed to dullen critical thinking, prepare us to be cogs, and give us bullshit “solutions” that don’t address the fundamental problem of democracy’s subordination to capitalist gain. Some environmentalists will refer to population growth as cancerous, but the truth of the matter is that the cancer is the political-economic imperialism of the ruling elite, their lords in congress. and the ideologue conservative (including most democrats) constituency and consumers.

Since global climate disruption is an issue that disproportionately falls on the backs of those whose backs have nearly been broken by growing markets and “development,‚ÄĚ it is an issue which all progressive/radicals should be united on. Given all these movements dream of a just future and that GCD makes any just future impossible, it‚Äôs clearly in the interest of the 99%. This should be an opportunity for the greatest solidarity between socialists, first world environmentalists, third world decolonialists, and students and professors everywhere.

We need coalition building if this is going to work, even beyond that of efforts to make incremental changes to policy. This is an urgent issue that cannot be put on the backburner, because if it is, not only the dish will be cooked, but the house it’s cooked in will be as well.

 

Unfortunately, it’s even hard to convince people who are already sympathetic to the issue to socially organize and be politically mobile. This is because the majority of people are struggling to maintain what they have now and either gain back what they have lost or achieve what has always been unfairly out of reach. Yet, GCD is only going to make these unfortunate and unjust situations much, much worse for them and their children and their children’s children.

I think it‚Äôs sound to speculate that GCD will further bifurcate the haves and have-nots, and the solutions to addressing the corruption in political systems will become more limited and desperate. Not only do we all face a looming ecological crisis that will translate into food, refugee, and economic crises, but these will in turn translate into political crises. The non-violence revolutionary movement in Egypt may not be an option as the small number with half the world’s wealth control the militaries and police to protect their hoards of wealth and technologies from a righteously angered populous. The worse part is that this is all irreversible and that we may be at a tipping point, meaning we can’t even predict what technologies to develop and where to deploy them as the global climate is drawn into a torrent.

But as people repeatedly note, there is opportunity in crisis. Either way, the world WILL be radically altered. It is our action, however, that will dictate whether it be altered by techno-science, capitalist patriarchy or by human solidarity with one another and with other species. Will everyone’s fate be contingent upon the entrenched values and institutions of the past or the political aspiration of international justice for the downtrodden and their allies?

 

 

*The poor political and media interest in the Rio conference may very well correspond to the increasing apathy and burnout many of us advocates have fallen into and be part of a larger social¬† phenomenon. Bill McKibben’s latest article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in last month’s Rolling Stone, however, inspired me to write a several page long reaction to something I read online–something I haven’t done in a long while but used to do regularly between undergraduate and graduate school.

I haven’t posted much update on my adventure lately due to priority commitments, exhausting work days, lack of privacy, and an otherwise frustration. I promise to update the blog more in the upcoming month!

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Oregon Trail: Boulder 1


Day 3: An Uncanny Self

Date: April 20, 2012
Journey: Fort Collins, CO to Boulder, CO
Total miles: 1,079 miles (39.6 mpg)

Continued from part 1

III. Age, Race, & Class

My time with Krista ended at the tasting room of the smaller, but still popular, Odelle Brewing Company. There I had the much talked about 90 Schilling (amber ale) and a taste of Krista’s $15 chemistry set of beers they called a taster tray. My personal favorite was one of the darker ones, but alas, I forgot.

Meanwhile, she, her roommate and I made some conversation over our beers. I had mentioned how much I liked Fort Collins so far, but that it felt almost too cozy. It was too white and affluent for me… what a thing to complain about! Her roommate was several years older than us and didn’t feel the same as Krista and I about wanting a more diverse home. She mentioned how she had already explored different cultural experience, had gotten her taste, had been transformed, and now wanted a comfy place to settle down. She wanted comfort and security, a home, a family, and maybe kids. Something didn’t jibe with me about the way she was addressing multiculturalism, and I had a feeling Krista felt the same, but Krista was a courteous, kind friend and a diplomat. I was a philosopher.

“I don’t want to live in a perfect bubble. I feel responsible to transform the world, and I cannot do that from a bubble. To change the world, we must work with, not for others, and that means dwelling with them. And who am I to advocate changing the world if I am not also willing to risk myself? Not necessarily my life, but my identity. I grow bored and sick with myself when I stagnate. I want transformation. I don’t see unsettlement as always a threat. Often it is a promise for liberation.” She patiently listened as she bit down on her artisinal cheese. Krista said she felt similarly. She wasn’t looking for security either. Her roommate said she used to feel the same way, but attitudes change as one gets older. Would we feel similarly when we were in our thirties?

By the time we returned to their home to pick up my car, I had a lot to drink, but my filling lunch tapered-off the affect of the alcohol. Too their extreme delight, more alcohol awaited us. Her roommate’s father from the Northshore of Chicago had shipped her two boxes of wine from his wine cellar. Thirty bottles laid inside each box, each worth–according to the roommate–an average of $30. Some were decades in age. I figured after the shipping, the whole shipment cost $1,000… just for wine. I was irritated, angry, and a little disgusted.

They were both so giddy with glee, but that’s not what scratched underneath my skin. It was the second day in a row that I found myself confronted with my class privilege and guilt. I was disgusted with myself, my situation. Back in Chicago and Texas I hung out with people from more modest means, but the people from my past were wrapped up in the same social networks of private higher education as I was. It was a revolving door one gets swept up into, but one is fooled into thinking one got inside because of one’s fine skill. It was not so much accomplishment though as it was privilege–the otherside of class oppression. My situation was inescapable, I knew that; but finding myself more aware than ever before of privilege made me feel guilty by proximity. I once lived with gleeful ignorance. I was like that. And now that I was a different person, what had changed. What had I done to bring justice besides “raise consciousness”? I felt just as guilty of the omission of action, more unaccomplished and fake. I couldn’t wait to leave for the next stop on my itinerary.

IV. Boulder: First Impressions on 4:20

I

Galaxy directed Catbird and I down CO-119. When we passed through a buzzing, affluent strip of a town, I thought I had arrived in Boulder, but it was actually another medium-sized city called Longmount. Fort Collins had already impressed me with its vistas of the foothills of the Rockies, but as I continued south-west, the foothills grew closer and larger. The higher-grade roads felt like roller coasters. Catbird accelerated down the slopes with ease, veering toward the sharp contrast in the horizon of puffy white clouds, deep blue sky, and green textured mountains. Entering town and taking a right onto Alex’s street, my lips curled into a smile. The grandeur of the beauty brought instant joy. I was in the mountains. I was in this legendarily awesome city. I was hanging out with awesome people and eating great food. Le sigh.

Alex welcomed me into her apartment. She had just returned from the campus square, eaves-dropping on the annual 4:20 celebration. I originally planned on arriving early to report on it and it’s history on campus as well as its contemporary suppression by the police, but I was bourg-ing on microbrews and I, as a foreigner, was not allowed on campus during the event. This year, Alex told me, was more dispersed. The loom of pot smoke wasn’t nearly as large as it had been in previous years. I hadn’t missed much. With that said, Alex took me to Pearl Street, a cosmopolitan strip of cute, locally-owned shops and restaurants. This section of Boulder immediately reminded me of Ithaca, a mountain college town in the glaciated hills of upstate New York along Cayuga Lake.

She was leaving in several weeks to start her summer job as a tour guide for an American travel company that took young Europeans and Japanese folk on an adventure across the American West through our National Parks. I had already planned my own trip and was doing it solo, but Alex had always been an inspiration and a bit of a trip adviser. If it weren’t for her, I probably would have passed through Page, AZ and Kanab, UT and missed out on their grand beauty. After she completed her summer, she had just a little bit of school left and then another 6 months or so “training” microorganisms to eat toxic and man-made chemicals in the southern seas around Antarctica.

If it isn’t obvious, Alex has pretty good taste and it was this taste that drew her to Boulder to attend school. Boulder: a city hording gorgeous people, shops, bike lanes, and foothills. It was almost too good to be true. Almost. My friend Emma who had attended school here was able to articulate my sentiments exactly: Boulder is a retirement home for hippies–white dudes in dreads in the haughtiest eco-fashion, women flashing their brilliant, perfect white smiles, and¬† children running around as free spirits without threat of any disciplining. In appearance, it’s as close to a utopia one can imagine a non-intentional community/development could be. The happiness was contagious, and although I wasn’t immune, I became adverse. Boulder had struck a chord. But why? Continue reading

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Oregon Trail: List of Follies


I am not bear meat. At least not yet.

Hopefully my month-long absence didn’t keep any of you up at night, peering suspiciously into the eyes of the childhood teddy bears you secretly hide beneath your beds, right next to the boogeyman and crocodiles. I haven’t had much down time and computer access to do much blogging since my work at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, UT. I left you on Day 3 and now I’m practically on Day 50. I have a lot to catch up on! The good news is that I’ll be settled next week for several months in southern Oregon. The bad news is that my activist-academic obligations have caught up with me so posting will be put on the backburner.

To wet your curiosities, allow me to a list several stupid things I’ve done so far on my trip (after thoroughly documenting my follies, I realize I’ve committed several baker’s dozens)!:

THE LIST OF FOLLIES:

  • Day 0: Putting up resistance to receiving a pair of trendy, non-scratched, properly prescribed glasses to take on my trip as backup to my contacts (which I haven’t worn since the first week).
  • Day 1 -present: Ingeniously leaving my laptop at home as if I would not waste hours on the internet on my smartphone, and as if I could actually blog from the shitty cellphone formatted wordpress page.
  • Day 1+: Daringly seeing how far I could go with my low gas tank (Seinfeld-style) before needing to refill.
  • Day 8-21: Assuming my digestion problems for two weeks were related to the Indian food I was eating, and then continuing to eat it in epic proportions.
  • Day 9-12: Flirting hardcore through texting with someone hundreds of miles away who I was never going to hookup with when I already was doing so with another person a hundred miles away who I was going to instead of catching-up on reading books and writing blog posts.
  • Day 15: Being stupid-late for a date because I wanted to see the Later Day Saints’ Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
  • Day 18: Parking a mile and a half away from my destination in Salt Lake City because of expensive, non-vacant two-hour parking spaces when parking was ridiculously-vacant and free. And then later forgetting where I parked, and realizing that I parked in a closed parking garage and had to make an illegitimate exit.
  • Day 22: Navigating Catbird into a four wheel drive-recommended campground in the blazing desert heat, and trapping myself in the coral pink sand.
  • Day 23+: Deciding I didn’t need sunscreen.
  • Day 25+: Commencing a four mile hike into the desert on a busy trail without stopping at the pit toilet first.
  • Day 25: Embarking on a solo backpacking trip down into the lair of a mountain lion 1,300 feet below on a primitive trail at sundown with an inadequate map.
  • Day 27+: Not once, not twice, but several times not making reservations at campsites, forcing myself to sleep in Catbird on pull-offs and rest stops… after sleep-driving.
  • Day 28: Haphazardly joining tours I know nothing about, and frustratedly sitting next to a bunch of naive tourists from Europe and Japan for an hour and a half.
  • Day 29: Purchasing non-synthetic oil to feed Catbird because I thought the auto-mechanic was pulling a fast one on me by telling me I should purchase the synthetic which costs three times as much.
  • Day 29: Arriving at Mathers’ campgrounds in the Grand Canyon without a map in the middle of the night.
  • Day 30: Walking the entire West Rim trail late in the day, and getting lost in the Grand Canyon for the second night in a row.
  • Day 32: Abstaining from refilling my water reservoir as I hiked 4,500 feet out of the Grand Canyon, running empty on water with a mile left on the strenuous climb in the merciless heat, and then discovering at the top that I had a filled Nalgene in my backpack’s side pocket.
  • Day 33: Reluctantly purchasing a beer from a hunting and fishing shop I accidentally walked into while wearing vegan propaganda, and then having nowhere to drink said over-priced beer except in an alley across the street from a poster condemning underage drinking.
  • Day 33: Clumsily staring straight into a solar eclipse above the rim of complimentary NPS eclipse-viewing glasses.
  • Day 35: On a whim, wading chest-deep through the Virgin River for several miles in trail runners without any water protection for my electronics, books, and notes.
  • Day 36: Swimming through the chilly waters of a slot canyon that also happens to be housing a wind tunnel for 30 mile per hour winds.
  • Day 24: Assuming there would be affordable vegan food in south-central Utah.
  • Day 39-41: Choosing Las Vegas as a multiple-day destination on my trip.
  • Day 39-41: Inviting family to hang out with me in Las Vegas.
  • Day 39: Only purchasing 6 vegan donuts to eat in one day from Ronald’s Donuts.
  • Day 40: Stubbornly ordering the ghost-pepper option on an Indian restaurant menu despite two waiters consistently discouraging me from doing so, and then signing a waiver confirming how stupid I am, and that the restaurant is not responsible for any injury I bring to myself.
  • Day 41, 42: Procrastinating to make a reservation for a Yosemite Park campsite the day before I arrive, and then waiting until¬† I’m driving through the Sierra Mountains (assuming I would have cellphone reception) to tell them I will be late so they would not give it away.
  • Day 43: Reading all the exhibits at the Yosemite Visitor Center and Anawahee Museum when I had to check-in and out for the night before to avoid being charged an extra $20.
  • Day 43: Deciding to continue a stroll up a strenuous trail around two massive waterfalls with tractionless-Teva sandals.

I hope you had more fun reading these than I had experiencing them.

With Love,

Dean

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Oregon Trail: Fort Collins


Day 3: An Uncanny Self

Date: April 20, 2012
Journey: Fort Collins, CO to Boulder, CO
Total miles: 1,079 miles (39.6 mpg)

I. Virtually Dead

I was alive! I had just woken up in Catbird during a large storm. Somehow I had managed to squeeze in a nap at one of the absolutely worst times. Catbird was veering down I-25 toward Fort Collins at about 55 miles an hour and I had gotten a head start on ending the night.

I should have probably took my mom’s advise and not driven at night, but this kind of thing even happens during the day. I carried a Monster energy in the car for these occasions, but was to confident in my ability to stay up to drink it. I’d like to think that my years playing F-Zero for the SNES, in which I somehow still came in first after zoning out¬†during several laps on easier tracks,¬†saved my life. But¬†given that scoring 200s in Wii Bowling did not improve my game in the real world in the slightest. I’ll have to be find more justifications for my obsession with video games… and drive more responsibly.

II. Birds of a Feather

The funny thing about the internet, and Facebook more specifically, is that it can make special occasions banal. For instance, when I arrived at Krista’s door and said hello, it had been six years since we had talked face to face and exchanged more than a couple sentences at a time; yet, it felt so “normal.” It reminds me of those times when I return home to Duke after being a part for nine months and he seems almost unphased, but when an absolute stranger comes to the door, he gets dogshit excited. (Now that I made the analogy, I realize it’s not a very good one. I could delete it, but I like that I reference Duke in this post). The point that I’m not trying to make but am is that I’m perpetually alienated from my experiences. I don’t take reality at face value. Perhaps that’s why I like philosophy.

Krista wasn’t a philosopher, but she was into environmental and women’s studies and that’s one reason I liked her so much. She’s also really friendly and pretty cute. She had gotten involved with owl research in California on disease in Barred and Spotted Owls and was invited to apply to¬†¬†CSU-Fort Collins where she is working on a masters degree in wildlife management She wanted to pursue her next degree in a different field to work on the impact of the environment on women’s health issues (This could be all wrong. I’ve been taking terrible notes and it’s been two busy weeks later). I asked her what perspective her women’s studies background provided her in her program, but she didn’t have much to say about it other than that it was still a bit of a boy’s club.

Before spooning her guest mattress, I met her roommate who also happened to be from a neighboring suburb of Chicago. At the time, it didn’t register to me how close it was to my home–partly because I never went there and also because I was really tired. Krista offered me a drink. We all laughed.

The next morning I treated myself to a shower. A little 3-minute hourglass suction-cupped to the tile wall made me smile as I got in, but guilty after coming out long after the sand hand emptied into the bottom. Thereafter, Krista introduced me to her backyard chickens. Actually, they were a friends. She was chicken-sitting. (I just had a terrible and perverse image pass through my mind after I said that out loud). She, her roommate, and her roommate’s boyfriend were thinking of getting their own chickens, however. (I later learned that her roommate had met her partner at the time when he was her TA. It was a scandal I could relate to.) They lived in a really nice house. Part of what made the house so cozy were all the animals. Not only the chickens outside but a couple cats and a deaf dog. “You must be so happy to be living with all these animals,” I asked in the form of a truth statement. She was, but it could also be a lot of work.

III. A Taste of Fort Collins

Speaking of which, Krista had to run to her lab on campus and bring her bike in for repairs. We had just enough time for lunch. The detour gave me an opportunity to get a limited perspective of the town I once considered living for grad school. Fort Collins has a special feel. It’s brisk, the people are laid back and they wear casual workout and camping gear. Oh, and the city’s/state’s car is the Subaru Outback (Krista and her roommate each had one). The downtown area seemed pretty new, yet rustic and cozy. The thought passed through my mind that this may be somewhere I could call home.

REVIEW: Indeed, if Tasty Harmony, the local vegan restaurant, was as tasty as it advertised itself to be, perhaps I could be persuaded. I was really impressed with the interior design of the space. The relaxed earthy colors and textures and oriental decor rang with a healthy, spiritual vibe. Just like the rest of Fort Collins, the place was super cozy and the wait staff were very kind, hippie-esque folk. Fortunately, I had already predestined my meal so I needed not spend an hour slobbering over the menu. (The waitress tried to dissuade me with the special, but I wouldn’t budge). Kentucky Fried Freedom it was. Krista stuck with the Tempeh Reuben she had enjoyed last time. The KFF did not appear to be that big of a meal (by my standards)l: there were only two “chicken” pieces, a scoop of grave, potato, pinto beans, and sauteed greens, however, the gluten “chicken” and the rest was very filling. Krista, too, was filled by her sandwich. Having been spoiled at Chicago Diner for several months, the KFF did not blow me away, but the “chicken” and gravy were pretty tasty. The Reuben also scored on texture and flavor, but did not impress. I ordered a chocolate chip to go, which was a delicious way to end our meal. Each item hit the golden mean of chew and moisture. Overall, Tasty Harmony scores very high on atmosphere and service, high on taste and hunger satisfaction, but a tad high on price. In any case, I highly recommend hitting it up if you are in Fort Worth. <4.5 carrots out of 5>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop: New Belgium Brewery. Word on the street was that Fort Collins didn’t sport many attractions, but if there was one you had to experience, it was New Belgium. Founded in 1991, this Colorado microbrewery broke out onto the scene with its amber ale, Flat Tire–a common beer on tap or in bottle at many many bars. A combination of their notoriety and the IPA trend, their Ranger is also another crowd pleaser. Despite their large size, New Belgium has a good reputation for sustaining its environmental and social values. The brewery itself was designed to minimize its environmental impact and after several years of employment, workers receive a NBB bike. As is the case with Odelle, NBB refers to its employees as co-workers.

I wasn’t thinking ahead and almost missed out on my opportunity to see the birthplace of Fat Tire and family. It was a Thursday, but tours are FREE–yes, you read that correctly–and fill up days in advance. Luckily, Krista and I were able to get walk-in tickets to the next tour (which runs every 30minutes for an 1.5 hours).¬† The inside of the building was beautiful. The colors and textures were vibrant and relaxed blues, greens, yellows, and reds. Their tasting room featured 11 of their year-round brews and another three from their Lips of Faith series. Three dimensional found art collages made from bike gears, wood, and obsolete technology adorned the walls. The inside was brightly lit by outdoor lighting. Near the entrance, one could purchase recycled rubber dog leashes and frisbees among other cool merchandise. Even more impressive, the front room had a twisty slide and a stand filled with NBB postcards that they’d send anywhere in the country for free. I decided to buy a Fat Tire Frisbee as a souvenir and sent my friend in Texas, a beer snob, a little message.

The tour began in a large room with two long wooden tables filled with NBB memorabilia underneath the glass top. There were seats and glasses for forty guests. Our tour guide was an energetic, peppy, round blonde from Indiana. She almost charmed all our pants off, we had such a huge crush on her by the end. Good thing we didn’t get more drunk. On the tour we had at least five four-ounce tastings: Dig, Shift, Biere de Mars, Abbie Grand Cru (their first beer), La Folie (sour). I can’t recall what each one tasted like, but the sour was my favorite. I had never been adventurous enough to try a sour before, but this one was free, was given a perfect score by professional beer drinkers, and our guide was hella cute. It had the smooth, bitter bite and sparkle of a good hard apple cider. Definitely my favorite of everything I’ve had by NBB. By the end of the tour, we had been given the brewery’s history, a discussion of the brewing process at the two-story-tall vats, a discussion of the bottling and distribution philosophy, and a ride down the twisty slide. Our guide was right: don’t touch the steel slide with your arms on the way down or you will bleed. I found out the fool’s way.

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Oregon Trail: Greeley


Day 2: 
Date: April 19, 2012
Journey: Lincoln, NE to Fort Collins, CO
Total miles: 1,033 miles (39.6mpg)

Continued from part 1

V. Greeley, Home of the Factory Farms

But the idyllic ranches along I-80 was a thing of Nebraska. I was in eastern Colorado now: the land of factory farmed cows. Along my route down I-76 since entering Julesburg, I was witnessing the monstrosity of the giant feedlots for what would be the first time. I’d seen chicken and egg factory farms in Illinois, Iowa, other states, and even Israel, but not these. Every dozen or less miles was another¬† concentration camp. I was driving about 72 miles per hour and it would take me over a minute to pass up these bio-generators from end-to-end. (Check out Google Maps: A mile and 15 miles north-east of Sterling. A mile from the Brush Municipal Airport. A half-mile east of the Empire Reservoir.)

The largest of all was not a filthy, ugly, barren dairy cow factory (with hundreds of “replacement calf” shelters), but a “beef” feedlot–much like the one seen in the opening scene of Food Inc.–on US-32, one mile outside of Kersey. Google maps confirmed my mental note that these were “mile-long factory farms.” The shit lagoons alone were the size of city blocks in Chicago. From the satellite image, the factory farm not only has more bovine inhabitants than the entire population of humans in the town of it belongs to; it is also larger than the entire down town area. A city within a city.

According to my friend in Greeley, the people (in general) are quite proud of their agri-business. It’s not something to hide, but to embrace as part of their identity. (The local roller derby team name is Slaughterhouse). This was even the case several years ago, before legislation was passed banning the burning of blood at rendering plants. The smell and toxins under the right (or wrong) wind conditions¬† could fill the city for days and even reach Fort Collins, 20 miles to the northwest.

In addition to the questionable values that finance Greeley and the environmental are the social issues in town such as gang violence and sometimes racial tensions/competition/hierarchy(not unlike those described in the NYT article, “Somethings Never Die“. (Cities with factory farms have high violent crime rates compared to cities with other industrial job-bases). Greeley is about half white and one third Hispanic with a growing Sudanese refugee population which is protesting Swift & Co., the owners of the packaging plant they work at, for more rights (as they don’t have much protection from serious exploitation). My friend knows someone who works for Swift & Co. in Human Resources who is trying to mediate tensions from inside the company. At times she’s tempted to leave her job at Subway for the much better paying white-collar job at Swift & Co., but her values get the best of her. In some places, violence pays.

(See my videos filmed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for more on this)

VI.Silver Lining?


When I arrived in Greeley, I was surprised by how suburban it was–far from the rural image I had in my mind. besides being a major player in animal agri-biz, it was also a university town. My friend is majoring in sociology at the University of Northern Colorado and was presently learning a lot about the social injustices and questions of privilege. Even with some more progressive-minded people, I didn’t hear much about activism in town beyond the labor issues at the processing plants.

My friend wanted to show me that Greeley wasn’t all that bad. She had found her niche with some local entrepreneurs in town who owned a restaurants, bike shops, a local magazine, and a hair saloon on 16th street. The downtown area was a lot more developed than I imagine it’d be–a much cozier area to reside than many other small cities I’ve traveled through. Then my friend warned me about wearing certain colors in bars (of which many bars banned due to gang violence). Afterwards, I began noticing all the shoes hanging from telephone wires above the streets.

Originally, I had planned on staying the night before at my friend’s place and spending the morning together so I could get to Fort Collins by the afternoon or earlier. There was not much to do, it seemed, in Greeley, and certainly not any vegetarian restaurants. She said we could go to either Chipotle or a local place she’d order a customized sandwich at. I chose the latter. I wasn’t going to waste my food tourism opportunities (plus, I was sick of Chipotle). I hadn’t had a “real” meal in about two days, so I had my fingers crossed that this place would satisfy my appetite.

REVIEW: The Crvsh-Room on 16th Street and 10th Avenue, wasn’t quite a restaurant or a bar, but food and drinks were served there. A cute little place with some cool art, nonetheless. My friend’s partner recommended I try a local beer, Oskar Blue’s Brewery’s Dale’s Pale Ale. I’m not as fond of pale ale’s as everyone else seems to be, but I liked this one. (Sorry, it was over two weeks ago and I’m not a beer connoisseur so I’m not going to attempt to describe why :P). Based on recommendation (and hunger), I ordered the guacamole and mango salsa appetizer with my vegan panini. The guac and mango salsa were refreshing. Adding jalapenos created more layers and complimented the zest.¬† The chips, however, were off in taste and texture. Not quite crunchy enough for me. The panini was a delicious combination of veggies and spinach, but the bread seemed like something bought from a grocery store and as a whole it didn’t pack many calories (something most people don’t ever complain about). After all was said and done (appetizer, entree, beer, and tip), it was only $16.¬† <3 carrots out of 5>

The dinner wasn’t as intimate and enjoyable as I would have liked it to be. After my appetizer came out, we heard a loud dog yelp. We went out to the street to see what happened. A man was joking with some concerned citizens on the sidewalk in front of his car. “I didn’t see it!” he laughed. The small puppy seemed to be alright, but had trouble walking. We weren’t sure if he was a stray, but he had been hanging out on the block for a while. Evidently, the man had hit the puppy while he parked his car. “I slammed on the breaks as hard as I could!” He was still smiling.

Besides, the dog instance, I wasn’t getting much attention because my friend was preoccupied with her iphone. (I would have been more upset about this before I became guilty of the same thing after attaining Galaxy). I started talking to the waitress, a friend of my friends. She was originally from Colorado Springs, but had moved to Greeley for school. She never graduated but ended up sticking around because it was a super cheap place to live. She put her concerns about safety and health aside. The other folks sitting at the bar were the owner and his possees who owned the adjacent shops. My friend’s partner explained that this is how good business is done, local networks and mutual aid. They didn’t say much to me, and I didn’t say much to them. They weren’t my kind of people; no interest in social justice and philosophy. They wanted to have fun and make money, and that was about it. (Even my friend sometimes wondered about them. They were white trust-fund babies, she explained.) Was I being judgmental? Probably. Alienating myself? Certainly.

My friend hadn’t seen one guy in a long time and wanted to hang out with him. I felt short-handed given that I had just driven 1,000 miles and set aside a day to hang out with her. Her partner took me to a microbrewery he liked: Crabtree Brewery. They didn’t have his favorite stuff in, the Oatmeal Stout, so we ordered the Eclipse IPA. Meanwhile, we snacked on faux-buttered popcorn and a super spicy sauce. We chatted a little with the owner who had a lot to say about the microbrew bandwagon. “Everybody thinks they are going to open up there own brewery!” he said. He worried that corporations would appropriate the culture of microbreweries. Afterwards, my friend’s partner¬† and I talked about the root and cure for societal injustices. He wanted to know what he could do. I shrugged. “I’ve been reading the literature for years and I still don’t know. If we knew, we wouldn’t have to ask.”

We returned to 16th street to pick up my friend who had started to feel sick. I dropped them off at their trailer home and stayed to chat before I departed. We reminisced on Texas and got philosophical about animals and vegetarianism. Her mom had come home from work and it was probably the last thing she cared to hear about. She was clicking away on the computer at what seemed to be an MMORPG. I decided I wanted to make the most of my time in Fort Collins for day 3 as I was planning on being in Boulder before 4:20pm on 4/20/2012, so I did not stay the night in Greeley. I contacted my friend Krista who I studied with in Australia in the spring of 2006, and she said it was not too late to stay with her. So I said goodbye to my Texan friends–but not before dressing up in ridiculous costumes and taking photos– and drove westward into the foothills.

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Oregon Trail: Cattle Land


Day 2: Cattle Land
Date: April 19, 2012
Journey: Lincoln, NE to Fort Collins, CO
Total miles: 1,033 miles (39.6mpg)

I.The Next Morning

I woke up dry. Not a bad way to start the day. It hadn’t rained much the night before as had been forecasted, or if it had, it wasn’t evident. I seemed to be the first person up. It was 7:45.

If I was a dishonest son-of-a-bitch, I would have regretted putting money in the box the previous night. I probably could have gotten away without paying if I left early enough. The $20.75 seemed like a lot of money to pay simply to sleep in one’s vehicle–but I felt safe and I was not disturbed by cops or prostitutes, so…

I drove to the front to see if anyone was around to let me into the bathroom and sell me some fresh fruit. Before I had time to exit the car, a man came up to me with some change. “You over-payed,” he said. “Do you have the passcode¬† to the bathroom?” Thirty minutes later I was semi washed up, contacts back in. (They had been falling out in the morning because my eyes dried out). I went into the store and he and I had a little chat about traveling. He liked to travel every now and then since there wasn’t much offered in Nebraska. It also gave him an opportunity to meet people and get past the stereotypes he heard about (like those about New Yorkers being dirty and rude). That’s one reason I liked traveling to, I told him. He liked Lincoln better than Omaha because it didn’t have that big city feel. He like a lot of people I would talk to later, never moved far from their place of birth. This only recently became a primary topic of contemplation.

II. Entering Colorado

I was happy to be back on the road. I felt anxious being off it. The open road was a non-place–a space where¬† inhabited myself. Solitude. It was also a medium for adventure, something which I long associated as synonymous with “being alive.” In eight hours, around 4:00pm (due to a change in time zones), I would be in Greeley, CO. I hadn’t heard many nice things about it until recently when after my friend from Texas had moved there with her mom and boyfriend. I’d finally be able to pass my own informed (albeit limited) judgement.

After following the ever-important Platte River for (like the pioneers had) for several hundred miles, I arrived in Colorado early in the afternoon. I had remembered from a previous geology road trip–didn’t I mention that I’m a nerd?–that the east was pretty barren and flat. Barren, yes. Flat, no. I was in the foothills of the Rockies–if you’d even call them that. My gas was almost out, so I filled up my third tank in Julesburg. Luck had me at the one pump that I’d have to pay inside. I really disliked doing so. Was it the inconvenience? The human interaction? But this time it felt a little different because I was a stranger in town and it was an opportunity to meet a local.

The man at the stand was a large, thick black man with a stained white uniform. He was also the owner. I asked him, like everyone else I would talk to later, what he thought of his home. He liked Julesburg. In fact, he was born and raised there and had owned this business for about 35 years. He had family around, which was one reason he stayed, but that wasn’t the only reason. He, like the man at Camp-A-Way, would travel, but only as breaks from the everyday. He hit the clubs up in Denver. He liked that city a lot. We said our farewells, and I was back on the road. But now I could sense the mountains. I was in the West!

III. Ecocide

I really admired the horizons in Nebraska as I did Iowa and now Colorado. But at some point that day, I was hit by the obvious realization that I was not traveling on the same Oregon Trail as the original pioneers had. It was a different place completely. The place that once was, that was romanticized was for all practical purposes extinct. The fertility of the wheat fields were a distraction from the eradication of the mixed grass prairies, of which only 2% remain. People have much more sympathy for trees than grass.

This wasn’t just a product of the industrial revolution. The pioneers had brought the beginning of the end with them. An entire past and ecology had been erased from the flesh of the earth–the prairies and all their inhabitants: the peoples, cultures, meanings, stories, and languages, all gone. Well, not completely. Certain endangered languages, cultures, and species were being conserved by future generations, but in isolated pockets that were more like memorials, monuments, museums, and old-folks homes than sustainable and “restored” beings. I tried to imagine how different the horizon was for the pioneers and indigenous people before me and the century-old line of trees bordering the interstate. Was it lonely and populated back then, too?

IV. Thinking-Animals

Nebraska’s landscape along I-80, unlike Iowa’s, was populated with some animals. There were ranches. As always, I felt ambivalent passing them by. The cows had space, natural food, shelter, clean air and water, and families. It would not be a stretch to describe such beings as “happy.” Their was little direct human interference for most of their lives. Beautiful. I’ve long been struck by the beauty of large ungulate animals, especially bovines. Is it a prehistoric instinct of the time spent watching, chasing, hunting, and dreaming about them for tens of thousands of years of my human history? I loved the way they inhabit the land: in communities and with most of their time eating and resting. Maybe not so much for their sake, but mine. Just by watching them, I was becoming-cow. Ruminating on life, food, and the land.

I really appreciated being able to see them, to see animals other than the occasional bird, the road kill, and insecticide on the windshield. But someday soon, in a year or less, they would be “road kill” to. A semi with a livestock trailer passed me as I looked out onto the ranches. Inside were a couple dozen or more, some looking back. What was in those cows’ eyes? (I wondered if I had done the same in Iowa–taking a photo from the car–, if I would have been a potential target of the new ag-gag lawsuits that were made to threaten activists with even exposing illegal farming practices.) I wanted to see cows pigs and chickens, but not (only) in a context in which they were to be slaughtered and exploited. I wished to see them as I passed them on the road in healthy relationships with humans in which they were not objects to be consumed for profit.¬† I’d like them to be happy and free as possible in a way that is good for our culture and land and our so-called “humanity.”

A previous conversation I had with a friend suddenly became relevant: the importance of animal sanctuaries as a space for positive human-animal relationships. We had brought up the taboo: what if we did not spay and neuter rescued animals? What if we allowed them to nurture a new generation? Before we even answered, we imagined outrage at even the suggestion for “letting” more farmed animals in the world when so many needed rescuing and their were limited spaces and human and and financial resources. “Irresponsible!” I could imagine other activists yelling. Yet, do we hold ourselves to that same standard? How many children are suffering and need homes and resources, yet we (selfishly?) bear our own children? We call our reproductivity a right. Is this speciesist? Animal others are killed “humanely” when they are “overpopulated,” while poor and orphaned children are given a fighting chance, so there is a difference. I bookmarked the thought for a later time.

(Please comment if you have a position on this, btw. I’m curious.)

To be continued in part 2…

Categories: Oregon Trail 2012, Travel Narrative | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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