Posts Tagged With: rural America

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

Categories: Food & Drink, Oregon Trail 2012, Review | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Oregon Trail 2012, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Categories: Food & Drink, Oregon Trail 2012, Review, Travel Narrative | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Oregon Trail Day 1.2


Day 1: On the Road
Date: April 18, 2012
Journey: Chicago, IL to Lincoln, NE
Total miles: 529m (40.5mpg)

… continued from part 1

IV. Agri-Cultures of Animals and Machines (Illinois)

It had been a while since I had driven through western Illinois. I used to travel in this region on my way to and from college during vacations, but never this far west. Past DeKalb, were several egg confined animal feeding operations [CAFOs], or what people call “factory farms.” This would be the last I would see of land animal life in a long while. Animals were absent out here. I wondered how many drivers ever thought to notice. The replacement of companion species and wildlife by machines had become so common place, that this was once the home of other life besides humans and corn, wheat, and soy had been lost. It reminded me of¬†Aldo Leopold‘s hard words on Wisconsin’s relationship with a prarie plant:

In [the cars] there must ride at least 10,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise.

Yet animals as a general class of beings ought to be a much more noticeable absence. We interact with them everyday at restaurants, grocers, and in the kitchen, but their lived existence has become all but part of a mythical past or never never land. One does not think much of animals until someone brings up an argument of their “rights,” and then comes out the argument that if we did not kill them, where would all the animals go. If only they got out to the country and witnessed that the animals are gone, stuffed into warehouses and feedlots, their wild cousins extinct or displaced from the land presently devoted to feeding “livestock” with unsuitable crops. The crisis between our relationship with animals is one of space and ethos. We no longer dwell with, amongst, or on them except in the abstract field of debate and internet memes.

 

V. The Poetry of Place (Illinois, Iowa)

Wind turbines stood like giants in the horizon. Were they the herald of a new age of sustainable technology or an ominous signpost of an age where the land would no longer be inhabited by humans and animal others? Their was something so foreign about them, as if they were artifacts of an alien civilization.They were so elegant, but also so sterile. The land looked even more efficient and productive under their whirling shadows.

Yet, even the tallest of the titans paled in comparison to the sea blue dome above. Was it just me, or was the curvature of the Earth clear as day under the concave sky? Outside of the city one could experience the vastness of space, the stretches of what was once a sea of prairie. It was humbling to drive through such an expanse. The churches seemed fitting. The mosaic of soft clouds above beckoned some form of worship or at least a moment of reverence. Compelled to narrate my excursion through analogies, I could not make sense of my experience otherwise. The open road has poetry at its essence.

The Ronald Reagan fed into I-80 like a capillary into a vein. The road is the circulatory system of modern America, part of “the American experience” and its commercial excellency. Capital circulated through this vast system, and so did people.

I popped out on the other side of the Mississippi. I was in the West–sort of. Often people bash Iowa. They say it is a bore to drive through, but they are probably just not paying attention, or perhaps I arrived during the right season. On I-80 there were not so much of corn fields in sight, but there were undulating paved roads banked by lush green fields and trees. Catbird breezed up and down as if it was her first flight on the road.

As the road conditions scrapped-off some of my car’s fuel economy, I thought about the interstate highway system. It’s designed to transport people and capital from point A and B as efficiently as can be. But was efficiency the ultimate value of an open road? They could have flatten out I-80 for a little extra dough to save that much more fuel. It would have perhaps saved money and resources over the long term, but it would have eliminated the geography and history of the land. The tides of traffic and and ebbs and flows of the road gave testimony to the land and its inhabitants. To iron out these inefficiencies would be to erase the land of its personality and the experience of place. Agriculture had already butchered the land up into a grid, each piece having become property, and not much more. The obstacles to efficiency was a reminder of the alterity of the earth, which prevented us from getting too caught up in our narcissistic narrative of our mastery over it. The winds and bombs forced us to look and perhaps even respect that we were traveling not only in between landscapes, but through a living history of meanings and beings.

 

VI. Half-way Stretch (Iowa, Nebraska)

At a rest stop before Des Moines, it had not been more evident that I would have to make this a two day trip. ¬†And I definitely wasn’t going to make dinner at¬†McFoster’s Kind Cafe¬†(which i had been looking forward to reviewing for at least a week). It was at least four hours away from Omaha–the midpoint to Greeley from Chicago–, and I had just woken up from an accidental nap. I couldn’t just show up somewhere at midnight and expect a place to stay and I had made a rule not to stay at motels/hotels/hostels during my trip, so I searched for campsite on Galaxy and found one in Lincoln, Nebraska that got good reviews. They had spots open for cars and tents and would allow me to pay in the box when I arrived so I would not have to pay up front if I decided to travel any more or less.

Although the drive was beautiful, the repetition on the road offered a lot of time for self-reflection. In fact, I had so many during the drive about love, sex, and death (including my mass murder of insects) that I decided to dedicate¬†a whole post¬†just to them.¬†There were, however, every now and then breaks from the common scenery such as the “World’s Largest Truck Stop” outside of Iowa City, equipped with a parking lot of spaces the size of semi’s and a gas station with several fast food chains inside. You’d think you were in Texas. I entered Des Moines after nightfall. The city was lit up and the Capitol looked beautiful. I had never been to Des Moines, but wish I had some time for a visit after seeing all the pedestrian bridges over I-80.

Nebraska was not as hilly and lush as Iowa, but had its own natural beauty… at least on the other side of the windshield. Then I rolled the windows down it smelt like beef jerky and burt tires. Omaha also looked like a cool city, or at least they wanted you to think that from I-80. It had a bridge decorated in giant heart art and an epic welcome sign three stories off the ground next to the beautiful engine train car. Outside of Omaha, I fed my second tank ten gallons of what might be called “corn oil,” the Midwest’s finest. It was also the first time I was excited to pay $3.50 for a gallon of gas–$0.60 cheaper than in Lombard.

At midnight, I finally arrived at my $19 a night site at¬†Camp A Way, an RV campground in Lincoln, Nebraska. I bumbled my way around the office and bathroom in the dark to fill out my information and deposit my money for the night, but there were no such forms, no map of the property, and no access code for the bathrooms. I made do with the envelop and pencil I was provided and drove down to an empty site and parked there. I cracked open the windows for some night air and laid awkwardly on the backseats. Sleeping didn’t come quite so easy this time, but it felt darn good ¬†to be on the road with such an extended period of solitude and a bright future ahead.

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Even Loved Ones are Sent to Slaughter


In the summer of 2008, I was invited on a field-trip to a small stockyard in a small town with several churches and dollar stores called Bath, NY. The stockyard is one of many in upstate New York associated with Dairylea Cooperative, the largest milk marketing cooperative in the Northeast with annual sales approaching $1 billion dollars. Dairylea‚Äôs mission: ‚ÄúDairylea will be farmer-driven. We will seek to maximize net returns at the farm by preserving and enhancing milk markets‚ÄĚ.

The following is a previously unpublished record of my field-trip to the Bath (Live/stock)Market:

Hershey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young jet black bull stared at me through the wooden pen, his eyes saturated with anxiousness and confusion. He was reluctant to move any closer toward me from the back corner of the narrow pen, but nonetheless curious about the cows in the adjacent stalls. He was the by far the healthiest and most beautiful beast in the stockyard that day. But he was just one of many dozens of beasts stalled up, unaware of their fate to pass from one master to another.

A couple stalls down was a small heifer with an udder so swollen it nearly touched the dirt floor. She too was quite the beauty, though noticeably underfed. Unlike the black dehorned bull, her eyes displayed grief and unnerving anxiety. Quite possibly she had just been separated from her calf not more than an hour ago. As I pondered her familial fate, I was called by Dan, a cruelty investigator, to follow him into the back where the small animal market was soon to commence. Perhaps I’d see this mother’s child.

Walking to the small room in which the animals were corralled into I witnessed a woman electric prodding her calves into a large wooden pen adjacent to he corral. She had at least six males, many of whom may end up being sold as veal. Dan had told me occasionally a big buyer would come to purchase animals for slaughter. For the most part, however, the people there were small, local dairy farmers‚ÄĒthe kind many food activists like to support over industrial dairy which comes from anonymous and environmental devastating sources. A veal calf entered the small space, cautiously creeping toward a possible exit, but no exit existed. He wouldn‚Äôt move any further while the auctioneer rolled numbers off his tongue, so an older man-presumably his current master‚ÄĒslapped him in the face to get him moving into the center.

The farmers stood and sat in the three tiers, gazing down at the animals as they entered. Adorned with leather boots, flannel and button down shirts, jeans, and either baseball caps or straw hats, they were the genuine image of the rough-and-tumble farmers one might imagine. Modest and dirty folk, the men had very short hair and were typically lean‚ÄĒthough, this included a not-so-modest beer gut‚ÄĒand fitted with wrinkly tan leather skin. The women were more varied, but tended to be on the overweight side, some severely so. Some couples brought their children and even their mutts. The children, all boys, dressed like their parents and displayed a great deal of interest in the animals, even a drive to participate in the market. The young boys exemplified an impressive deal of self-confidence and the older boys had nearly fully adopted the disinterested and unreflective disposition of their parents.

During this visit I noticed a machine that scrolled digitally through numbers to the left of the auctioneer. My first guess was that it regulated gas, lighting or temperature. It was not until I read the ironic text on the machine did I realize that it was displaying the weight of the soon-to-be auctioned calf in the corral. The text read:

SURVIVOR

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

WEIGHT INDICATOR

Enter calf. He must have been born not more than a couple days ago. His umbilical cord, now a shriveled wire, dangled from his belly. His eyes seemed as though they‚Äôd pop out of the socket as he stared with extreme intensity at the rest of the room. He stumbled around, having not yet learned to walk properly. In the space were two men who held shepherd canes. One was Terri, a droopy-eyed middle-aged man with a bushy blonde ‚Äėstache in overalls and a John Deer hat, who immediately whacked the calf on the back upon getting up. The other was a severely obese man in his twenties acting in bored indifference, bumping the calf around as he tried to escape through a small opening, before he too tapped the two-foot tall, orphaned infant with the side of his cane. The calf was sold for under $15. Now came the spent sows, who after having birthed several litters of piglets, likely confined in gestation and farrowing crates, were not healthy enough to produce any substantial profit to keep in production. I was quite horrified to find that all her life was worth to these men and women was $6.

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