On Someone Else’s Time

Img_0530Each morning I rode the elevator down to the lobby and walked outside to sit on a bench out front waiting for my ride. From where I sat I could see a large Wal Mart-esque shopping center, a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, and an Applebee’s. The view from my hotel room facing the other direction was better. The breeze was warm. The birdsong was foreign and I think it was rendered by grackles.

At 7:30 AM the dirty little pickup would rattle up and skid to a stop under the awning before the double glass doors of the hotel. The driver would climb out, toss a cigarette aside, then nod at me as he disappeared inside. Shortly after he would return with four or five other men. They were all from Texas. Our bags would be tossed in the back of the truck and we would squeeze inside for the ten minutes of death defying transport to the manufacturing facility. The others chattered away in Spanish. I clung to the handle over the door as if my life depended on it. It likely did.

The police vehicles seemed to drive with their lights flashing all the time. One I saw was an armored truck with a big machine gun mounted in the back.

Img_0640I spent my days in a conference room with white boards on two walls. On my first day, a Tuesday, all of the employees, even the Texans, wore navy-colored shirts. The second day they were all in khaki. I asked one of the men who spoke good English how they knew what color shirt to wear. He explained it is a schedule; Monday was white, then blue, then khaki, etc. I nodded. “So you don’t all text each other in the morning and make plans for what to wear then, eh?” I said. He didn’t seem amused, but I was.

Having just read Jim Harrison on the plane trip south, I expected to be troubled by efforts not to look at lovely round Mexican asses all week and I hoped I wouldn’t be too obvious about it. That sounds lewd, I know, but I’m unabashedly an ass man and I’m married to a woman who has been known to point them out to me. Yet I hardly noticed. I was captivated by so much jet black hair and dark, dark eyes. Not just the women, but many of the men too. And the music of being surrounded at all times by the lilt of a tongue I could only understand one word of in about fifty.

The restrooms in this old building were up the stairs and to the left. The men’s room wasn’t filthy, but it wasn’t exactly clean either. Only the cold faucet worked, and the water struggled to flow even from there. I had hoped that in Mexico all the janitorial work would be performed by white dudes with silver hair and cufflinks, but I was disappointed. The short, stern woman who performed the clean-up duties in this place was at work one time in the men’s room when I arrived to put it to use. Rather than interrupt her, I detoured into the women’s room (these were single rooms with locks, so there was no risk of walking in on someone). This cell was even dirtier; the single toilet lacked not only a lid, but a seat, and the rim was grimy. I certainly wouldn’t adhere to a dress code for someone who couldn’t be bothered to put a seat on my shitter.

Day three, Thursday, my last day, was a brighter blue shirt day. I knew that no matter what happened, I was out of there for good at day’s end, and nothing was going to get me down. Then I realized I would never know what color the Friday shirt was. I was disappointed.

I guess we have a kind of “business casual” dress code where I work too, but I’m never there. I’m good for holding up the bargain for at least one day on each of these work trips, but then, depending on the environment I’m in, I let it slide. I am, in many ways, unfit to be employed by anyone.

The usual driver picked me up early Friday morning to deliver me to the airport for the flight home. He was sniffling and sneezing and coughing and I was convinced that, after months of stiff arming the illnesses of people around me, he would be the one to give me a cold. He was wearing a company shirt.

It was black.

I still haven’t gotten sick.

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Shrinking the World in Minnesota

hhbc-1When I was in Louisville earlier this summer, my last evening there I had dinner at a place called Eiderdown. I also had a couple beers I really liked called “Flaming Longship” from a small brewery in Minnesota, Hammerheart Brewing Company. This is what they are all about, per their Facebook page:

Two brothers (in-law) brewing hoppy, smoky, and often oaked beers that are influenced by the beauty from the lakes of Minnesota to the wondrous mountains of Norway.

We love good beer, Nordic history, vast forests, epic mountains and of course, the lakes. We have made it our mission to keep the flame of craft beer burning by brewing great beer in our own style and supporting the spread of craft brewing world wide. BREW STRONG!

While in the Minneapolis area last week for work, one evening I decided to drive an hour to Lino Lakes and visit the brewery. It’s a cool place; wood floor that clumps nicely underfoot, exposed beams, a dragonhead prow over the door, Nordic flags out front, etc. I ordered a beer, told the bartender the story of how I’d heard of them, then took a seat at a long table to soak it all in. A few minutes later a long-haired, bearded guy sat down across from me, introduced himself as Austin Lund, and proceeded to question me re: where I’d gotten the beer in Louisville. Turns out that not only is Mr. Lund one of the two brothers (in-law) that own the place, but he’s also the Master Brewer. AND he is from Louisville, and has only been in Minnesota a couple years.

We spent the next 90 minutes or so just swapping stories. Talk of the outdoors, wildlife, beer, beer culture, his trips to Norway, things like that. Bottom line is that if I didn’t have a friend in Louisville I’d never have encountered Eiderdown, never would have had the Flaming Longship, and never would have ended up having a great evening in a strange place that made me feel good about the people I share the world with and my place in it. That doesn’t happen often. When it does it’s pretty cool.

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I had a free afternoon before the morning of my departure. There is a company who makes canoe paddles I’ve had my eye on for some time now called the Sanborn Canoe Company. They’re about three hours from Minneapolis, but I figured what else was I going to do? I pointed my rental car south and east. The day was gray and rainy and blustery as hell, but that didn’t bother me.

I’ve made the drive on I-90 where Minnesota and Wisconsin meet a couple times before and it’s gorgeous. It’s not flat at all, there are plenty of rolling hills covered in trees. This time I also hooked up with Highway 61, which runs sort of N/S along the Mississippi River. This terrain is nothing short of breathtaking, particularly on a wet and cloudy day like mine, where the bluffs and cliffs appear and disappear in the mist. I enjoyed it immensely; it reminded me of the Columbia Gorge in Oregon in many ways.

Sanborn is just a wood shop that sells paddles and other stuff. I was maybe there all of 20-30 minutes. The guy I talked to — a younger dude, his name escapes me now — was one of the founders and also very friendly. I don’t think they get a lot of drop-in visitors, but I got the grand tour and had their manufacturing process described to me. These guys are another example of the type of people I find so inspiring: folks who pick something they love to do and figure out a way to make a living doing it.

I’d like to get down through there again. There’s never enough time to explore these places, it seems.

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Joshua Tree

JT-11Vacation started at 4:30 AM on Wednesday morning. We blearily got to the business of gathering up our stuff (we’d packed the night before) and heading out the door. A few hours, a couple flights, and we were feet-on-the-ground at LAX about 10:30 AM. An hour waiting through a beleaguered check-in at Hertz and we were on the road, headed south and east to Joshua Tree National Park. We stopped at a Trader Joe’s on the way and stocked up on fruit and sandwich fixings.

A few observations we made right away:

  • The street signs over the freeways in LA, normally a bright green, are gross with traffic grime to the point of being beige. “Greige” was the color Julia assigned to them. That amused us.
  • Southern California is terribly dry with drought.
  • The Prius we had ended up in looked small on the outside, but was surprisingly roomy on the inside.
  • There are a shitload of windmills out on I-10, more than I remembered.
  • Driving through the town of Yucca Valley, the last town before the town of Joshua Tree, was a disappointment that tried to diminish my otherwise good cheer. It was overrun with the typical Starbucks, Wal Mart, and fast food franchises one sees everywhere. That worked against my vision of what I was hoping to experience during this part of the trip.
  • Joshua Tree the town quickly reestablished my vision of what I’d hoped to see in a grimy, run-down desert town.
  • We enjoyed speculating on the people who come to desert towns to live, with their bizarre arts and willingness to sacrifice comfort to make lives in them. We both admire and are fascinated by these people.

It was 99° and 3:30 PM or so when we arrived at the Safari Inn, our home for the night. A perfect little roadside dump of the type we prefer when we travel (“I like my motels like I like my women,” I quipped shortly after squeezing into our room, “Roadside and cheap!”), but charming, with a nifty little courtyard out back.

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We made our sandwiches, talked about Gram Parsons and his death at the Joshua Tree Inn, relaxed a little, then I went out to explore. Bought a hat and a sunglasses case. Verbally jousted with the creepy proprietor at the Circle K. Even found the World Famous Crochet Museum, pictured below in a swipe from Dita Von Teese’s Instagram account:

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Dita, unfortunately, wasn’t there waiting for me. Next time. . . .

 

That evening we drove up into the Joshua Tree park to be in position to watch the sunset. The landscape is indescribable, and photos do it little justice. We listened to Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds. We stopped at a couple spots on the way up to Keys View and just wandered around. I saw a speedy little lizard. The forests of Joshua Trees were gorgeous. At the top, we were joined by a number of other tourists there for the same reason. I was stared at relentlessly by a young German kid. The smog over the Coachella Valley was thick. It clouded every direction. The sun set. We descended to our motel room, ate another peanut butter sandwich, then retired. We’ll be back.

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Hopping World to World

This is an interesting thing to think about, something that has struck me on a few occasions as well. To lay the groundwork, here is a paragraph from a book I just started reading called Another Great Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer. The book is about the two weeks he spent as an observer on the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier in the American Persian Gulf fleet. In this excerpt he is talking about the sudden change of worlds from the time he boards an aircraft in Bahrain to when he lands on the deck of the carrier. Dig it:

seaI have never known anything like the suddenness of this change. Compare it with the experience of flying from London and landing in Bombay — from freezing winter to eighty-degree heat — at two in the morning in January. Even a change as dramatic as that is gradual: a nine-hour flight; a long and slow descent; taxiing round the airport to the gate; immigration, baggage claim, leaving the terminal. Typically it’s an hour and a half before you find yourself out in the Indian night with its smell of wood smoke and the sense of vast numbers of people still asleep. Whereas here, one moment we were traveling at 140 mph and the next we had stopped, the hatch opened and we had entered another world with its own rules, cultures, norms and purposes.

I love this kind of transition. Certainly I have had similar travel experiences to what Dyer relates between England and India, if less dramatic (Montana to South Florida in January is quite a change; as was returning from Panama to Missoula, via Los Angeles, going from 80° to -25° or so in a matter of hours) geographically. But it’s true: the plane serves as its own buffer of sorts, preparing one for something different upon disembarking, especially if it’s a longer flight.

What comes to mind for me was a short train ride. I was in Hayward, CA, which is just south of Oakland on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. The previous evening I’d ridden the BART train a short distance north into Oakland in hopes of seeing an Oakland A’s game at their dilapidated stadium, though on arriving I learned what I thought was a 7:00 PM game had actually already concluded, having been an afternoon game (doh!). Still, I got to see the stadium, which is a stop on the BART line. It’s a beat up old thing in a roughish part of town.

The next night I was back on the BART, only this time I was going all the way into San Francisco to watch the Giants play the Atlanta Braves in the gorgeous AT&T Park. I boarded in Hayward and proceeded north, through Oakland, then the BART turned west and plunged underground for the crossing —

— and surfaced on a completely different planet, or so it seemed. An urban, gentrified section of San Francisco, light years different from Hayward and Oakland, even in the dress and demeanor of the people. It was shocking. I had to walk a block to get on a different train to take me into the stadium, and it was fascinating to me. The return at game’s end, while not quite such a lurch in environment, was still enough to keep one a little off balance. Two entirely different economic and social realities, mere minutes apart.

I’m curious to anyone else’s experiences in such sudden and dramatic lurches in reality. I find them as intriguing as anything.

As gorgeous a place for baseball as you can imagine
As gorgeous a place for baseball as you can imagine

 

Seize the Day with Burning Might

spirit-caravan-tour-datesThe middle of last week I was in Texas and received a text from my kid. “Spirit Caravan is playing in Spokane on Sunday.” I almost didn’t believe him, but I looked into it. I knew they had reformed, and that they would be in the Northwest, but not particularly close. Spokane had indeed been added, and given that’s only three hours away, and it was an all ages show, the road trip was on.

Spirit Caravan is one of my favorite bands, though they broke up several years ago. Scott “Wino” Weinrich is a living legend to those of us into this kind of music. The last time the band had been through this part of the country (13 years ago!), not long before they broke up, I promoted and opened the show for them with my band, Lazerwolfs. I’d become friends with Wino; on a trip to Maryland a few years ago I saw his band at the time, The Hidden Hand, then spent the night and next day at his house. Over the years we’ve stayed in touch off and on, but I hadn’t talked to him since I saw him with Saint Vitus in San Francisco three or so years ago.

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Long story short, it was a great night. The band killed. Sherman (SC’s bass player) was great to hang with and swap stories. This is a dude who loves the life of heavy music (and weed) that he’s devoted his life to. Hell, even Al, the merch guy, remembered our time together in Missoula so many years ago. It was good to reconnect with him as well. As for Henry, the drummer, this was his first tour with SC. He also drums for Saint Vitus. He’s a friendly guy, whose only complaint is that he’d only had a couple weeks to learn the tunes.

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Most importantly, my boy and I got to hang out with Wino, and Sid was clearly thrilled. It’s a blessing to hang out with your idols sometimes, and it’s even better when they treat you kindly. That was really the point to me, as Sid was very young when he met Wino before. Now, as a young rocker himself playing a style of music that Wino is a pioneer of, it was a big moment for him.

Sid's face says it all
Sid’s face says it all

 

Here’s the song they closed with. It destroys me. It’s a cover of an Animals tune, recorded when Wino was in his band The Obsessed. The man has a soulful voice and one of the best set of hands in the world of guitar playing. Sweet riffs, and an ability to cut loose — like at the 3:20 mark — like few others. Hearing it live was something else.

 

At one point Wino was talking about his own children, and domestic issues, and other things guys — long in tooth and gray of beard as we are — tend to do when we get together. His oldest son, whom I’d met in Maryland as a toddler, is 13 now. “He’s really cool,” Wino said, with a smile. “He’s….” and he struggled with words, then he drew a circle with his finger, encompassing himself, Sid, and me, “He’s one of us.”

 

If you want to see a gallery on flickr of all these shots, dig it HERE. I’m pretty proud of them.

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