The Hobo's Paradox

"Hoboes differentiate themselves as travelers who are homeless and willing to do work, whereas a "tramp" travels but will not work and a "bum" does neither." Source.

My slogan "Eat When You're Hungry, Work When You're Broke" and my overall plan to Sail a little, Work a little, Sail a little [hopefully sailing more than working] has inspired significant research, or daydreaming on the road, which led to the discovery of the Hobo's Paradox! Also, I just read Kerouac's On the Road, am always on the road and strive for Vagabondism.

The Hobo's Paradox: It is absolutely worth any amount of physical labor in order to arrange or finance an extended period of travel or idleness.

Keroauc picked cotton and vegetables in California, was a Merchant Marine and did construction to finance his cross country explorations.


What Can You Do?

I drove through Wisconsin in the inky darkness of midnight.  The little town had an airport next to a Toro Mower Plant and a couple truck terminals.  The air was crisp and the leaves and longer grasses were thickly frosted.

I was supposed to pickup a new-to-us trailer and head on down the road to a load.  The trailers were on a grassy back lot without much light. They were clean and white, like ghosts lit only by a sodium light on a pole half way back to the terminal building. The outlines of former logos made grey splotches on each side and on the nose. 

Another driver pointed out the last trailer with a license plate; I hooked up.  Dispatch gave me a specific trailer number and told me the trailers were marked in small felt marker letters; I unhooked.  Slipping and slogging around on the frosty grass, I found one other plated trailer, but neither had my number.  Dispatch reassigned me to the trailer I had been hooked to; I re-hooked. 

I huffed long silver clouds of exasperation in the chilly air as I cranked the dollies back up.  "What can you do?" I asked my unconvinced self.  Something caught my eye and I looked up.  Up over the dark outlines of trees at the end of the yard.  Stars! 

Out here on the eastern edge of the prairie, in the boondocks, far from any city lights, stars crowded the sky.  Smaller, Dimmer stars and shades of galaxies textured a backdrop for major stars and constellations.  The sky was abuzz and a blaze.  I stood there staring, my head craned back on my neck.  Slowly turning around where I stood, I soaked them all in.  I thanked the stars for coming out and blessed the clouds for staying away. 

I had my answer.  The stars had shouted down "What can you do?"  What you can do is slow down and take a look; find the beauty. 

Cruising on into Minnesota, with a fresh attitude, a serenity, eyes wide open.  The sun broke through behind me, four deer and a majestic buck stood on a ridge over the other side of the highway.  I went by a field full of bison.  Later in the morning, a bald eagle soared over me as I found my exit. 

The most spectacular sight was over the Mississippi River.  To enter Minnesota from Wisconsin on I94, you go down into the river valley at Hudson.  South of the bridge is a wide swath of river surrounded by pine covered hills, fancy houses and marinas.  To the north the river narrows behind a larger marina and rows of boats swinging on moorings. 

In the cool just barely fall morning, the water was warmer than the air.  Opposite of springtime, the shallows along the river bank had cooled compared to the deeper waters holding onto summer's disappearing warmth.  As the cool air came down into the valley, a shallow fog skimmed off the banks.  In the center of the river, a great cloud rose up.

The cool air  swirled down into the valley like running down a drain.  The fog built a cloud in a roving oval.  The thin fog from the banks juts into the air and makes a bigger cloud; an upside down pile.  A column of fog piling up; quietly swirling and expanding into a compote shape.  An apparition, the Grail, in gossemer whisps, calling out to Arthur, but somehow lost on the edge of St. Paul rather than nearer to Camelot. 


Stupid Human Tricks.

I'm walking into a Meijer's in Lexington, KY when I notice a service van parked right up front. I can read "Pop A Lock" across the hood. As I'm thinking that this is a weird name for a locksmith, I make out the logo is the Plan View of a minivan with its doors open. Aaaahhhh! Pop A Lock! A guy who gets people back into their cars. Hold that last thought.

Later, leaving the store, I'm right behind a guy with four or five bulging plastic grocery bags, arms straining. We both turn right out of the store and I can't help but notice we are two shaved heads, he's got a gold hoop in his ear, mine is silver. It's a middle aged poser dork parade. Then he stops short at the Pop A Lock van. Oh, it's him. Baldy proceeds to grab at the handle of the van, but the handle snaps and stays locked.

We've all done this. You grab the handle, thinking it's unlocked, and then tear three layers of skin from your fingers as it rejects you. I could give anyone a pass for doing this same thing. Except this guy! You'd think a guy who helps people get back into their cars EVERY DAY, would know whether he's locked the door or not. I'm just thinking. . .


Two Wolves

I found this cool Cherokee Legend in a book called "Buddha is as Buddha Does." In looking for a good picture, I found the legend plastered all over the web. I really liked it, so I'm going to show it to you anyway.

Around a crackling fire, a Cherokee Grandpa is attempting to explain life to his grandkids. He says, "There is a great fight going on inside me; a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil; he is anger, fear, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, and guilt. The other is good; he is love, peace, joy, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, and kindness. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person."

The grandkids thought about it for a while and then one asked, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee, looked off into the smoke curling up from the fire, and replied: "The one you feed".

The book is excellent. Find the book here.

Find out about the author.

See the author speak about his book.


Yeah! This guy knows how I feel!

I found another soul known for raving about the scenery . . . and doing something about too.

Gary Snyder is a great American Poet, Environmentalist and Buddhist. Check out his poem "For All." It appeared on the Writer's Almanac today. A good match for my Memorial Day Camping Post. I wish I'd heard Keillor read it this morning on the radio, but I found it on the website. Click Here.

Gary Snyder Quote:
"We are fouling our air and water and living in noise and filth that no "animal" would tolerate, while advertising and politicians try to tell us we've never had it so good."

More Links:

An article called The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder in the Shambala Sun, a Tibetan Buddhist Mag.

A page of Poems and Quotes on Kerouac Alley, a Beat Generation Site.

Have Fun!


Memorial Day Camping

I've mentioned this before, in "Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" Robert Pirsig talked about people sitting in front of the TV and then driving around on vacation watching but insulated from the world by a plate of glass. From one hermetically sealed environment to the other. Nowadays, we are surrounded, nay hypnotized, by images behind glass plates; we drive to work looking through the windshield, sit down at a desk behind a computer screen, drive home again and turn on a TV or another computer. We have people, I'm guilty, going to resturants or coffee shops and opening a laptop to stare at. Cellphones now allow people to wander through life staring at anything except the world around them. Its a wonder we know anyone else at all.

When I was a child, I was filled with wonder. All my trials and tribulations came later; self inflicted and self fulfilling. Our family was a camping/outdoor family. Back in the day when you would let kids wander around the woods of a gigantic state park without a second thought. I've been blessed, and cursed, with an Explorer's Mind and a Vagabond's Heart. This must be why I am always raving about the scenery. Oooh, the sunset on the water and the blinking lights, yeah I know, but it gets me going.

We were always camping on Memorial Day it seems. It was the first of several trips each summer. Almost before my memory, Mom and Dad took us camping. We had a trailer/tent combo thing. I can squint my mind's eye and almost recall. It was sheet metal and red. The tent folded off the side of the small trailer; bunk in the trailer and tent over it and on to the ground. There was storage under the bunk. It seems like it was from Sears. The kids were on the ground; Mom and Dad in the bunk. Years later an acquaintance showed up in the infield at a race with a completely restored version of the same unit; stripped, powdercoated, recanvassed. It was beautiful.

In addition to Memorial Day, Grandad and GG, as they are known now, took all the grandkids, between the ages of 6 and 12, camping for two weeks each summer. These were magical trips. Partly to make sure that Midwest and East Coast cousins knew each other. Perhaps even more important, but also catalyzed by hanging out with distant cousins in the woods, complete universes were opened to our young minds. There was exploring and discovery; play and creativity. We went to Ludington, Lake Champlain, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Disney World. It opened our minds to so much. I could write volumes.

The visions come pouring back: wild blueberry pancakes; squirrel bread made from acorns and left over pancake batter; huge hikes; wildlife; calisthenics up on the tent platform, and just being in the world and soaking it up. Even the rain pounding down on the roof of a camper, while GG read to us from "The Wind in the Willows" or "the Happy Hollisters." I've probably written 10 pages in my notebook just describing Ludington State Park. I haven't even put any people in the story yet.

Another part of camping, oddly, was golf. I can't remember how many times "the guys" went off and played a round of golf. Clubs were essential camping gear it seemed. We had a natural foursome; my Dad, Grandad, Uncle Bob and myself. I felt so grown up going with them. My game never amounted to much but I learned so many things from all three of them.

Music was a part of camping too. Uncle Bob got me started on the guitar hanging around campfires. He and Aunt Chris sing so sweetly together. We had great singalongs. We would hang paperplate signs on bathroom mirrors around the park. "Campfire Singalong, bring your instruments. Admission: a log for the fire." Some years it was just all of us. Other years there were many. Or sometimes just at our own site, people would stop along the road to listen.

There was a special clearing at Ludington. On one end was a playground; on the other a fire ring that must have been 10 feet in diameter. We would start the fire, set up some chairs and tune up the guitars. The singing would begin. By the time night fell, we were surrounded by dark woods. The fire ring end was mostly grass; the playground was dirty sand. Above us was a large oval to the night sky and the stars. The green of the woods faded to a dark border. The stars stopped where you could no longer see the trees.

With much anticipation, we would hear whole families coming down the trail, crashing through the woods, to join us. One year, a bluegrass festival was in a nearby town. Several of the musicians were staying at the park. They came down through the woods, one of them pushing a dolly loaded with instrument cases. That was a great year for the singalong.

Although I have squandered much of it, it was such valuable experience for me to perform in front of people there. At first, I just had a guitar and was strumming off to one side. Later, I joined more of the festivities wholesale. What a life it was. I have been working now to get back to where I was; the chops, the confidence.

Memorial Day is close to my birthday. The family always went out of their way to do something for me while we were out and about. One of my favorite Memorial Day memories involves Clown Cupcakes [Mom is already laughing]. Mom knocked herself out that year. We were at a church camp, Six Lakes I think. It is a classic Michigan campground. Roads and sites are carved into of the woods. A large clearing made for a picnic area up near the woods and gradually becomes the beach. The Mid Michigan beach in the Woods is unique. There is more grass than sand. From the picnic area down to the lake, the tables, grills and shelters thin out. The large open area is for sunbathing and frisbee; maybe lawn darts or horseshoes. Then, right at the water, there is this ridge and a step down. Tufts of grass hang over a cut that drops down to sand. Most often, some plastic sheeting is coming up from under the sand. If you didn't lay down plastic and then sand, the grass would just take back over. Walking out into the water, you knew where the sand ended. The sand, dumped in place to create a beach, gave way to the natural muck of a Michigan Lake bottom; clay and dirt, sand and bluegill poop squeezes up between your toes. There's nothing like it.

So, that year, my Mom baked a couple hundered cupcakes. That would have been a lot, but she also planted a plastic clown head in the top and frosted each one to look like a clown suit. The clown head was a head and a daisy petal collar with a spike for a neck. Each cake had two or three frosting clown suit buttons down the front and some detail for arms on each side. They were works of art; individually frosted works of art. Lots of bright color; especially red frosting.

In grade school, we were given this pink chewable pill sponsored by Crest. The pill stained the plaque around your teeth and gums. The school nurse would look in everyone's mouth and she could tell what kids weren't brushing very well. Mom's red frosted clowns had the very same effect on the kids at camp; many of whom were apparently not brushing as well as they might at home. It looked like a pandemic of pediatric gingivitis.

I will always carry with me the experiences, the wonder, the joy and the love that I got while camping. There is nothing better for a kid than to be turned loose in the woods. To be able to find a squirrel skull or a twig that looks like a rifle or a pine cone that looks like Richard Nixon. There is pure joy in a child's discovery of little pieces of the world. You don't have to let your kids wander around a huge state park; let them run around your backyard or that little park down the road. Just let them get out there and get dirty. It's like planting their mind in good soil.



I'm in Wisconsin tonight, but I could throw a rock and hit Minnesota. A couple weeks ago, I was here in Wisconsin. Back then, I was in the "V" created by I-43 and US45, north of Milwaukee. I was running from Sheboygan over to Lomira. Cutting across on some county roads and state highways, I had another great drive. There were fourway stops and long curves; dairy cows and fishing lakes; clumps of trees out beyond corn fields and beautiful old barns. I saw a barn with a huge cornice over a door; an eagle perched at its peak. Near Random Lake, I drove through a small artists community. There was a sign for "Pottery and Forge" and several studios; paintings, quilts, furniture.

I saw some poor sap driving an Accord or a Corolla or something. In the front, with him, was an older lady. Probably a Mother-In-Law because in the backseat was his wife . . . and she had the GPS! Talk about a well equipped backseat driver. There was a big sign for Bob Fish GMC, a car dealer. His logo was a very nice graphic of a dolphin. A porpoise dolphin, not a dorado dolphin, which is, of course, a mammal, and not a fish.

When I was at MSU, my parents and brother and sister lived in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. The nearest real mall was four hours away, here in Wisconsin. The terrain in Wisconsin is similar but less remote. I began to think of a U.P. Trip I made with some housemates:

I lived in a house a block off campus at Michigan State. It was a great house; subdued, yet had great parties when the time was right. All the right stuff was available. We had a gigantic purple bean bag chair, the Grape, in front of the TV. It had to have been 8' in diameter. There were a couple couches and an entertainment center. The dining room was sparse with a table and 5 or 6 chairs. The kitchen was nicely done; good enough for 6 guys.

Past the kitchen, the wall into the garage had been knocked out and down a couple steps was a JennAir Indoor Grille set into a brick arch. The room had some barstools, exposed brick, a skylight and fake ferns. It was so 1970's, it looked like the set of a Porno Flick.

Just past the indoor grill on the way to the deck was a hot tub. I kissed my first wife, the first time, right there in the tub surrounded by steam and cedar carsiding. Just out the sliding glass door was a deck, the width of the house and 10 or 12' out into the backyard. That summer I had a strange loopy sunburn on my chest from sitting on that deck with a guitar. I was jamming with a guy who had just chosen Med School over going on tour with Amy Grant. Fool!

From the front, the house was a plain looking colonial. Oh, but if the interior walls could talk.

A half dozen of us occupied the house. John, whose dad owned the house, was finishing up a Civil Engineering degree. And although he as the son of a suburban Detroit dentist, he drove a jeep and carried himself like the love child of Thoreau and some husky woman in a greasy tshirt who cooked at a lumber camp in the far north woods.

Loren was a photographer. I don't remember what he was studying but he left town shortly after I did. Last I knew, he was in the Canadian Rockies capturing images for National Geographic. We had a couple of Pre-Med students and Buck. Today, Buck would be called a Metrosexual. He was doing a marketing internship in town and plucked and preened like a supermodel. Whatever he was doing, however, seemed to work with the ladies.

Most of the housemates made a trip up to my parent's house in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. Three or four piled into my Bronco II; the tailgate stuffed with gear. There were two or three more in another car. I'm not sure how we got away with imposing so much on my unsuspecting family.

We left East Lansing one afternoon and tore up the highway. US27 and then I75. Just as we crested the Mackinaw Bridge, the tollbooth came into view. We should have thought about that. And, really, the toll booth operator has little more power than a snow plow driver or the person at the counter of the Secretary of State Office, but it was a man in uniform. My truck was filled with smoke. Smoke we didn't want anyone in uniform to smell. "Tollbooth!" I screamed! Down came the windows; the sunroof popped open. If we hadn't been 100 feet over the water, we would have flapped the doors to fan it out. We must have looked like a car fire, rolling down to the tollbooth with smoke pouring out all the windows. In reality, I'm sure no one even noticed.

There's more. Read it here.



If you haven't read 2008/03/29, it is below and comes before this post. Or click here to read it.

The morning after the early spring blizzard in Wisconsin, I make my delivery; a drop and hook. The drop goes fine because the truck before me parked on the ice and snow. He couldn't get out from under his trailer because he has no traction. I find a spot where they've just pulled a trailer. Parking on the small patch of asphalt, I get right out. Hooking is another story. The parking lot is covered in crispy snow and ice. Last night's heavy snow was wet enough that after freezing last night it is like a rink. Where's Snoopy and his Zamboni? I get under an empty just fine, but it takes a half hour of rocking back and forth to drag the trailer out.

I send my empty call and get my next load assignment. The comments say "Driver must have 50 to 75 blankets." Where am I going to find blankets?! It's a Saturday morning, there's a terminal a couple hours away, but are they open? I ask dispatch for help. "Already taken care of" they say. It must be another drop and hook.

I drive through more of the aftermath of the blizzard. There are trucks and cars and their tracks in the snow of the ditch. My pickup is further north and west. In the stark snowy landscape of Minnesota, the place is easy to find. Finding someone who works there is another matter.

There were several cars on the north side of the building. Around on the south side, there are a few trailers and three locked doors. I check the trailer nose boxes for paper work, but they are all empty. Further around back, a couple more locked doors. I drive around to where the cars are; two more locked doors. There is one last door down by an overhead door. As I tentatively tug on the handle, it clicks open!

In a large open space under the yellowy haze of sodium lights, there is metal stock all around me. I can hear the steady chuck and clunk of metal forming machinery. Around a corner, there is a young guy running a shear. He is a good part of the chuck and clunk as his shear clips off a piece of steel and it drops into a bin. Looking up, he pauses just long enought to thumb over his shoulder to another guy. For all the cars in the lot, these guys are the only visible work force.

The second guy tells me to check the backs of the trailers for paperwork; trusting souls. Back on the other side of the building, I find my paperwork in an unlocked trailer with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I'm on my way.

The next day, I'm sitting outside a store in Indianapolis. I-465 was in much better shape than the last time I was here, so I'm early. I made a couple passes by to conoiter my approach. On the second pass, I just hit the four way flashers and get out to walk around. It's going to be easier than it looks from the road.

Three hours later, and two hours past my appointment time, the guys show up to unload me. Then my box beeps and I've got a preplan for one o'clock about 45 minutes away. The unloaders manage to eat up all my time. I help them toss blankets back into the trailer.

Exasperated, I ask dispatch what to do with the blankets. I've got about 40 minutes to do my 45 minute trip. I've driven to the next exit down the highway to a truckstop to do my paperwork. Dispatch asks how many and I tell them I've got 50 or 60 blankets. Their answer comes back "put them in the nose of the trailer." My answer is a new ETA. I give myself two hours to deal with the blankets and drive to the next customer.

When I climb into the back of the trailer and start to fold and stack, I begin to realize there must be over a hundred! I'm never going to get all this done and get to the next stop on time. I'm tired and frustrated and then it hit me. . .

I've become a student of Zen Buddhism and struggle to keep it in my daily life as a trucker. I really enjoyed the book "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living." It is very Zen with just hints of Buddhism. The authors discuss adding Zen to any religious practice. I highly recommend the book and was glad to use it that day.

Part of Zen and Buddhism is mindfulness; a single minded focus on the task at hand. Even when that task is simply living your life. The extraneous and the negative get in your way. Another part is accepting life as it presents it self. Dwelling on the past or the future does not help you. You only have just this moment to do the right thing. If you do what is right, right now, the past and the future don't matter. Byron Katie is a Author and Life Coach or something. She's made a statement that oozes Zen whether she meant it to or not. She says: "Life is simple. Everything happens FOR you, not TO you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it - it's just easier if you do."

When I realized that I was giving over to my anger and frustration, I remembered my Zen Mindfulness. I took a deep breath and dropped it; let it flow through me and out. Focusing on the blankets, I laid one on the floor like a tarp to rake leaves on to. I concentrated on just the task. I pulled a blanket from the pile; found two corners and lifted them over my head folding them together; then a fold the opposite way and another. I began a stack on the first blanket and reached for another. When I missed a grab at a blanket or dust got in my eyes, I let it go; barely recognizing the thought. I purposely did not check the time. A truck slowed as it went by the end of my trailer, I knew he was chuckling at me. I let that go too. Soon enough, I had a pattern, a routine. It wasn't "Dancing With the Stars," but I had a rythm.

In what seemed like only minutes, I was dragging my third and final stack toward the nose. I was done! I checked my phone for the time. I had lots of time to get down the road! I was winded but felt good in that tight way after some exercise or a morning hike. Maybe, if I had let myself get pissed off, I would have been done just as fast. The attitiude, however, was completely different. I felt good. I was smiling. The rest of the day did not carry the weight of upset. There was nothing to forget, to get over. This is the key. There was nothing. It is really that simple.

Mindfulness means many things. It can be brought into your life from different angles. Another angle I've used is about snacking. It is easy to have a bag of pretzels or something on the dash as I head down the highway. This leads to what could be called mindLESS snacking. Just driving, reaching in the bag for a handful . . . and then another, and another, not thinking at all. Applying mindfulness, I still snack, but I get a handful of pretzels and then close the bag and put it away. There is a beginning and an end to the snack. Even if I decide at some point to have another handful, by the time I reach my destination, I've eaten a lot less pretzels; mindful that I didn't need the extra.

Broadening mindfulness, I can more easily defeat my rationalizations. I am one of the most creative and acrobatic rationalizers. This let me fall into the habit of eating in the truckstop more often than from my truck. Truckstop food choices are some of the worst. But it is so easy to just have a burger and fries. There are salads, if you look. I've gotten back to eating healthier again and mostly out of the truck. Mindfulness is not just about doing the right thing for yourself, it is doing the right thing for the universe. I am trying to eat only my share. It is so easy, in this country especially, to feel like you can just eat anything you want. Being mindful of the suffering of all sentient beings means most Buddhists are vegetarians. As my studies continue, I might get back to that myself.

It is easy to sally through this life without considering the consequences of your choices and actions. You can waste your days feverishly planning your future. You can live staring only at the carnival mirror of your past; all while life passes you by. Both are hollow. You can fill your days without really knowing where you are headed or what you want. Pull back into this moment. Think it all the way through and consider the full consequences of your decisions. Be mindful.


I've got one last winter driving story for you.

As I write this, I realize what trouble there was on each end of this trip. It began as weird spring weather in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Above several hundred feet of elevation, the fog was very dense. In a boat, there would be nothing but the sound of the water lapping on the hull and the rattle of the rigging. The watch would be on deck staring into the surreal expanse of grey; straining their ears for the bell of another vessel. Instead, I'm straining my eyes hoping to catch the wisp of some color or the glow of tailights before it is too late. I hope I'm going slower than whoever is in front of me.

A truck looms out of the fog. It starts as the faint constellation of two low tailights and the DOT marker lights over my head. My confidence is shaken as I quickly slow the truck. I follow this guy for several miles. He is achingly slow. After a couple trucks and several four wheelers pass us, I decide to go around him. Up and down through the mountains, the haze squelches all frames of reference. I feel like I am flying by his truck. Looking down at the speedometer, I'm barely going 47 mph!

Finding an exit ramp in the fog is interesting. In the mountains, it is just plain spooky. My directions say "off ramp, turn right, 1/4 mile turn right at light, use second driveway." I can barely see the leading edge of my hood. Creeping along, I find the customer and drop my trailer. The empty trailer they give me is ancient and illegal; one of the DOT lights is out. 13 feet in the air, I can't replace it myself. With barely enough legal hours, I make a pickup and then find a truckstop. I'm beat; mentally tired. In the morning, I'll get that light fixed.

Hanging around waiting for the shop to fix my light, I see the Weather Channel National Map. Snow and winter storms the whole length of my trip from Middle Pennsylvania to Northwest Wisconsin. Chicago and Milwaukee are supposed to get it bad tomorrow. A simple light fix expands to include service on three of the four wheel hubs on the trailer. I am now several hours behind schedule.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana have no snow and hence are no problem. As soon as I cross into Illinois, it begins to snow. It's not real bad until I get to Wisconsin. It is snowing very hard. A heavy wet spring snow in the high twenties. It is freezing.

The change in the road is immediate. There is so much wet snow, and it is so cold, there are half mile long strips of ice under my passenger side tires. It feels like it is an inch thick. I can see only a little better than when I was in the fog.

My heater has two settings; "Off" and "Weld." I've had it off for a little while. The ice sneaks up on me. Suddenly, ice is freezing on the windshield in the widow's peak where the wipers don't reach. Ice is forming on the wipers themselves. Wiper fluid barely keeps the salt off and does little to melt any ice. It makes the ice on the wipers worse. The road is a little better because it is snow covered. We are down to one lane as no one braves the hammer lane. You can't even see it.

I am no fair weather driver, but I want to find a place to stop. My problem is that it is 22 degrees and I don't have enough fuel to idle all night. With diesel fuel over $4.00 a gallon, the company is understandably stingy with fuel. Instead of running out of the top half of the tanks, they are running us deep into the bottom half. Tonight, that's a problem. My fuel stop is only 100 miles from my delivery. I have to press on regardless.

Ice on the wipers is so bad, I am having to knock it off. I can't pull over to do this as the few exits I've seen haven't been plowed. Getting back on the highway could be a problem. To stay ahead of the wiper ice, I have to reach out the window and snap a wiper. To do this, I have to find a straight patch of highway; turn off the engine brake; roll down my window; stand up in the cab, coasting; reach out and grab the wiper as it cycles toward me; and snap the wiper without rolling off into the snow. Not just off the highway, but outside the two tracks of those before me is dangerous. There are times I'm crouching down or leaning to one side to be able to see; putting off the wiper snap as long as possible.

By the time I reach my fuel stop, I've driven 35 or 40 mph for the last five hours. Almost a futile exercise and physically daunting as well. I haven't been able to reach the passenger wiper. It has five pounds of ice on it; as big as my arm. There is a quarter inch of ice on the headlights. No wonder I couldn't see! I fuel up and send a message that I won't be making the delivery tonight and park. It is the sleep of Van Winkle.

In the morning, on the way through the last 100 miles, there are four trucks jackknifed and in the ditch. One looks bad, tractor folded around on the trailer and 50' into the woods; fifth wheel first. I made the right call.


Almost Heaven, whatever.

I'm having this love affair with West Virginia. I just love driving through the state. In fact, the Appalacians, in general, make for a great drive. Just recently, I had a wonderful drive from North Carolina up through the western end of Virginia into West Virginia and then into Ohio.

At Ravenswood, WV, I left the Interstate, a rare treat, and headed to Columbus on US33. I went across this cool steel bridge as a lazy tug nudged a half dozen coal barges downstream. With its wake on a funky angle, I watched the tug work the barges around a curve. Southeast Ohio is just more West Virginia that happens to be north of the river. The drive through the Hocking River Valley is one of my new favorites. Along the way, I saw a sign for the Fur Peace Ranch. Fur Peace is a play on "a fur piece down the road." The ranch was started by Jorma Kaukonen and his wife as a "ranch that grows guitar players." Jorma and his famous friends put on guitar camps throughout the summer. Jorma was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. He is a Piedmont fingerstyle acoustic blues guitar master. One day, I'm going to go to camp there.

I went up into Ohio for a delivery past Columbus. from there I picked up and headed right back down through the Virginias to North Carolina. This time I couldn't avoid the Interstate. Crossing the river north of where I did before, it was getting late and I needed to stop for the night.

I got off the hishway at the romantically named Mineral Wells, WV. Sometimes, coming off that solitary black ribbon of highway onto an exit can be information overload. There was two hotels, a McDonalds, two convenience stores, a four wheeler gas station, a Federal Express terminal, two truckstops, a strip bar, a BBQ joint, an adult bookstore, and a bar. Somehow, I drove past the poorly marked service road and missed both truckstops. Now, I was on a narrow WV State Highway. Ever the optimist, I just knew there would soon be a place to turn around.

Around the curve, I saw a large crane shovel. I slowed to turn around, but the lot it sat in was lumpy loose gravel. Not wanting to get stuck, I kept rolling.

There were a couple small businesses. Perhaps, I could swing into the edge of their parking areas and do a "U" turn. The Five O'Clock traffic was all around me. I didn't want to tie them up. Drivers can get a ticket for too much of a traffic delay.

Now there's a sign telling me the bridge ahead can only handle trucks and buses one at a time! Just across the bridge, a stop sign and another strip bar. At the stop sign, two WV highways split. One looks narrow and residential. I took the other one. Leaving the stop sign, there is a tight curve. Shifting gears and watching my tailer come around and trying to decide if I can get behind the bar to go back the other way I came. And I'm watching the four wheelers buzz around me like gnats. I might have made it behind the bar, but I'd rolled too far before deciding. I'm on a hill that curves off to the right. There is barely any shoulder here for the rock outcroppings but I stop to assess my options. Cars are going into the other lane to get around me. Where did all this traffic come from? When a Harley Dude and his wife go into opposing traffic and around me, I know I've just got to move.

::This has been a special preview version of the Sailorbum Blog. ::

Read the rest HERE.

Baby, why you been gone so long?

My truck is a "condo." Beside being my Home-Sweet-Truck, it has an extra bunk for team driving. The roof line of the sleeper is higher and there are a couple windows where the cab roof angles up to the sleeper height. Last night, in Minnesota, I was in the bunk watching a nice storm pass. The sky was purplish grey. The lightning would flash splashing a bright yellow on the clouds nearby; like goldleaf. The truck and trailer shook in the gusts while the rain came down in sheets.

I've been avoiding work on a couple creative projects lately. Like the cloud lightning, my brain flashes energetically but nothing is touching the ground. My schedule has been a little crazy as well. That promotes my procrastination. I'm working on a real long post. It'll get posted as a preview with a link to the rest. Be well, do good work [stolen from Garrison Keillor].


West Virginia Early Morning Springtime

Driving through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio today spring was deafening. The wildflowers were singing everywhere. The buds on the trees were chiming in. The Dogwoods on the edges of the valleys were shouting to be heard. The backbeat was a glazed brick silo, some ramshackle plank sided outbuildings and old barns. Grey, weatherworn wood falling off frames topped with old metal roofs. Every roof was the wine dark burgundy of decades long rust. Cows and goats walked on grass so proud to be back from the long winter that it just shouted green; glowing as if lit from below.

Last weekend, I was driving through Kentucky and Tennesee. All I could hear was the sproing-oing sound of spring springing. The mountains were sprinkled with bursts of color, like a fireworks display. Trees were popping their buds. There were neon green trees and burnt yellow. Trying to read the bark, they were both maples, I think. And a golden brown I think was oak. Near the Kentucky Tennessee border, a bright purplish pink was everywhere. It covered shrubby little saplings and gnarled trunks alike, sumac maybe.

During the week last week, Dad rode with me to Bay City to uncover the boat. We talked about the grey green drab of pre-spring that we passed. Michigan is just behind these lower states, but it's coming! "In A Mist" seemed to weather the winter fine. It was good to walk around her dragging my fingers along the curve of her hull.

Dad helped as I restrung a tarp over her aft half. I had two tarps from stem to stern, covering her decks for the winter. The forward tarp came off for ventilation. Keeping the air moving is important to keep the mildew down. I left the huge tarp over the Main Cabin hatch and the cockpit. These two areas are where I'm getting some water leaking in.

I organized a little down below and pumped the bilge. There was water passed the knuckle on my index finger; maybe 2". That was not as bad as it could have been. It was clean clear water so I don't think I have any rot going on; just a leak, or leaks, somewhere. I'm sure the cockpit coamings are leaking. They need rebed. Then there is all manner of deck hardware from stanchion bases and blocks, to pad eyes and winches that could be leaking.

I have been visualizing the cabin as I drive around. It was good to take a moment in the cabin and reacquaint myself with her proportions. The pilot berth is higher and nearer the center of the main cabin than I thought. This will become a pantry of sorts, I think.

I can't decide if I think there is less work than I thought; probably not. The cockpit floor will be replaced, the holding tank replumbed, and some wiring done. I am looking forward to spending a some quality time in Bay City this summer.


The Pope calls the kettle black.

Nancy Gibbs wrote
in Time Magazine about the Vatican's new sins. Yes, the Seven Deadly have grown stale; confession attendance, not to mention church attendance, is way off. In a sad attempt to remain relevant, Pope Benedict is out with sins to watch out for in the modern age. I won't give them any help in this matter by listing the new sins, but you can read them in Nancy's column which is very good.

Hypocrisy has hit an historic low with this new list. On the list is "becoming obscenely wealthy." A sin of the highest order apparently. This coming from one of the world's largest holder of real estate; this from a church of ostentatious cathedrals on every continent, save the Antarctic. The picture I've used today is a cathedral in Cartegena, Columbia that is embellished with gold. The Pope visited this place and blessed it and the crown that is the central feature of the altar. It will take years for the Catholic Church to become irrelevant, but I think we've just seen the lurch of off balance above a slippery incline.

Friends that knew me when I was a geek will be amazed by this but who is a greater positive force in the world? I think Bill and Melinda Gates far eclipse the Catholic Church of today.

Furthermore, do you remember the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church? The leader of the "Moonies" who competed with the Hare Krishna to sell flowers in Airports in the 1970's? Do you realize that he is a powerful figure in CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN POLITICS in our nation's capital?

The Rev. Moon believes that he is the Messiah. He is here to unify all religions under him; hence the church's name. Rev. Moon tried many ways to become powerful in this country. His success: The Washington Times, a newspaper more partisan than any other in the country. A trumpet for conservative beliefs and schemes that makes Fox News jealous.

I listened to a radio program today with the author of a new book,
Bad Moon Rising.
Apparently, Moon founded this newspaper that reports outrageous stories about conservative opponents that then get carried by conservative commentators and other rags as "it has been reported . . . " Moon gives a lot of money to Republicans and apparently some to Democrats as well. He has tremendous influence in Washington. There was a ceremony, attended by Washington elites, to celebrate and declare Rev. Moon as the Messiah. Two congressman were on had to present a crown to Moon's wife and a huge, flowing robe to Moon.

There are tales of corruption, drugs, and business empires, like a monopoly on s
ushi in America of all things. Check out www.consortiumnews.com/archive/moon.html and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Myung_Moon.


Road Sketch 2008/03/20

Driving around in the end of winter, the grey, brown, half green carpet left after the snow has receded, is depressing. It's 50 degrees but my truck is covered with road salt. Winter is gone but the freshness of Spring has not yet begun. It leaves an undead, worn out middle time.

Let alone we have Investment Banks who, in their greed, have forgotten what it means to “invest;” an International Community more concerned with being “fair” to the athletes of the world than to the Tibetans literally running for their lives. These relatively pampered athletes from relatively free countries are allowed to pursue their dreams. All the while, we mindlessly consume all manner of goods from China without giving a thought to their brutality that barely hides below the surface. World News is as dreary as the season.

And then I stop in a Rest Area in South Carolina. The sun is not quite up, but it is already warm enough for shirt sleeves . . . and I hear birds! Down by the parking lot, a staccato tweeting call; up near the building, a sing-songy throaty call. I have no skill identifying bird calls, but I know the call of Spring. The songs of birds reclaim the air from the chill of Winter.

Later in Ohio, I see the scamper of a squirrel on the shoulder. And then Butlerville, OH, I've built a shed almost as big as their Post Office. There is a roadhouse biker bar, the Kingpin, across the highway from a trailer park. They're advertising live music out here in the boondocks. I could live there. There is a carryout pizza joint in a garage next to a mobile home advertising they match competitors coupons. There may be a glimmer of hope. Some of us just keep grinding along making a good life; even out here in the sticks.


Burning The Future

It has been such a long, hard fall from radical capitalist, but my ears and eyes are open more often than my mouth lately. There are things that make me angry today that I wouldn't have listened to just a year ago. I am humble.

I listened to another radio program about a documentary film. "Burning the Future" will be on the Sundance Channel later this month. The film "is director David Novack's searing expose about how the coal mining industry in West Virginia has transformed the naturally lush mountain landscape into a wasteland, destroyed the region's fresh water supply and caused widespread health issues for area residents." [1]

Setting aside Global Warming, I think that we can agree that burning coal is not good for the environment. Or, if you must, not a net positive. See me after the meeting. The U.S. Industry has been cleaning up since the 1960's, we thought [more on that in a moment]. The drab, grey-snowed Dickensian cliche of Soviet Era Eastern Europe or 1950's England got its cheery patina from coal smoke.

The preview I got of the film, and reading their website, made me angry. The two examples I am about to give you, will make you angry. To make it worse, I'm going insist, first, that its your fault. Make no mistake, this is on us. Our insatiable appetite for inexpensive electricity is causing this to happen. From the garish lights of Times Square and Las Vegas, to your local shopping district, to the fools with their houses covered in Christmas lights, to simply that light that is on in the empty room; it is our fault. Here is the trailer for the film:

You've heard of scrubbers probably; the units installed on smokestacks to clean the smoke before it leaves. Or at least you are aware of the latest oxymoron; Green Coal is all the rage. The cousin of Lancelot Link in D.C. even spoke of Green Coal in his State of the Union Address.

What I didn't know was of a process by which coal is "washed" before it is shipped to power plants. Impurities, thus removed, allow for cleaner burning coal. Good, right?!? WRONG!!! This washing process leaves behind a toxic, greasy, black pudding called coal slurry. Much worse than my black mayonnaise. In West Virginia, where coal is king, there are retention ponds, euphemistically called impoundments, filled with this poison. There are billions of gallons, yeah, 'B' billion, of this toxic pudding behind dikes in the mountains there.

These impoundments are not lined. The stuff just sits there leaching into the ground water! Moreover, there have been dike failures, flooded hollers, and deaths already. Why are we hearing about Britney and Lindsay and not this! Google News has 473 related articles about Britney's Custody Costs; 209 about Mountain Top Removal, see below.

The people of Appalachia have always been close to the land. There are still people there who forage wild plants for food and medicinal herbs. Ginseng is a high dollar cash crop. The families of hard working coal men supplimented their income and their diets from the mountains. Now this is not just being taken away, it is being destroyed.

The latest method to extract coal is called Mountain Top Removal. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than the tiresome and expensive digging of coal, the coal companies literally blow off the top of the mountain and scoop the coal out like a cantaloupe. How could someone ever have thought this was a good idea?!?? Rather than by expensive mining equipment, when the dust settles, the coal can be sifted and rounded up using off-the-shelf construction and earth-moving equipment. The industry argues that this practice should be expanded. It's about jobs they say. Yet, coal mining employment is down to less than 10% what it was 20 years ago. New "modern" mining practices use much less labor.

The good people of West Virginia, many of them with current and former family connections to the coal business, have their homes shaken and their dreams, literally, shattered by the massive explosions of Mountain Top Removal. One small boy was killed when an explosion threw a rock through the roof of his room. As much as 750 feet of mountaintop can be lost to one of these operations. Further, the forests and meadows that occupied the mountain top are lost. With nothing left but rock, rain washes off the mountains in torrents. Families that used to get flooded from below when the creek backed up, now get flooded from above too. The chemical residue of the mining operations sweeps down and soaks into lower soil. Homes and land have been swept away. One woman lost about 5 acres. Land that she used to grow vegetables on.

Ironically, I have felt a connection to West Virginia. I spent a weekend there a few months ago and have driven through many times. The hardwood covered Appalachians with ubiquitous rock outcroppings poking through here and there, have a special rugged beauty. The people are wonderfully nice. I rode a City Bus into Charleston from Nitro; at least a half hour ride. I had pleasant conversations in both directions. There is an active music and arts community. Just recently, I mentioned "Mountain Stage" a fabulous PRI radio show, it comes from West Virginia. [Hi, Adam] The thought occurred to me that WV would be a beautiful place to live for a while [after the boat, after the boat, after the boat. . . ] Now, I find it is being poisoned, blown up, and defaced on an almost biblical scale.

John Prine sang of missing Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Literally, missing it because "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away." In WV, hauled away might even be preferred to stewing in a toxic, black, greasy pudding. There is an elementary school downhill from one of those dikes. Next time, you walk by an empty room with a light burning inside, think of West Virginia and step in there to turn it out. If you can, speak out against this.

Check out John singing "Paradise" with some friends:


Fun with Highway Signs.

I delivered in Danvers, MA, a suburb of Boston, and didn't need to pick up until the next day. Lucky for me, my brother and his family live in Quincy on the southside. I haven't seen them in quite a while. My nephew is only 2 yro, so he is a whole different human than the infant I knew. My niece is 4 and cute as a button. I got to spend an afternoon with Tim and the kids and then an evening with everyone when Kathy got home. It was wonderful to see them all.

Tim and I even snuck out to catch some blues that night.

In Massachusetts, I saw one of my favorite signs. "CAUTION: Reduced Salt Area, Next Two Miles." I'm sure that it is for some watershed or other environmental reason, but I hear it is good for your heart too.

I have been trying to remember where my favorite highway sign was. Thursday morning I drove by it again. It is somewhere around the 185 mile marker on I-80, heading east. The sign has had a few iterations, but it's final version is the greatest; the best sign I've seen all year.

Hanging from cables run across the highway is a diamond shaped sign that says "Bridge May Be Icy." Some time later, PA DOT added a small rectangle bolted to the bottom tip of the diamond. It says "3/4 Mile." The last modification was to accessorize the sign with lights. There are two yellow lights on each side tip of the diamond and a small rectangle was bolted to the bottom of the first small addition. The new says "When Flashing." Taken together it says

"Bridge May Be Icy"

"3/4 Mile"

"When Flashing."

I wonder how far away it is when it is NOT flashing.


Yeah, Me and the LDS

I think it is the Church of the Latter Day Saints that runs a TV commercial I'm thinking of. A young woman helps an older lady to cross the street. The camera pans to a guy in a work truck noticing significantly. Cut To: The guy from the truck helping a woman who has dropped her groceries. The camera pans to a man noticing significantly. Cut To: The second man helping someone who . . . You get the idea. And you've probably seen the commercial. I think it is the Mormons. Regardless, it is some church suggesting that we ought to be nice to each other; help each other; care about each other.

Many people think that Buddhism is simply "living in the moment." That is almost it but what it really is is doing the right thing at this very moment. Knowing yourself well enough, dropping your trivial likes and dislikes, getting to the heart of you. Then making good choices. However, since we are all one, doing the right thing for you at this very moment is, actually, doing the right thing for the universe at this very moment. This is where I find myself agreeing with the LDS or whomever airs the ad.

It wouldn't be that hard to be a little nicer to people. Maybe its the election cycle, but I think we've lost our way. People are just being nasty. We've lost our sense of community and our honor. We need to care about and take care of each other.

Most often I am driving down the highway with the CB off. I turn it on when I need it; in a traffic jam, in bad weather or at a big warehouse facility. On a daily basis, people are just stupid and ugly on the CB. There are plenty of exceptions but MAN! Take it easy, people!

Ohio is a bad place for racist crap on the CB. Today, the discussion was how long Obama would last in office, because someone was just going to shoot him. There were volunteers. It made me sick. Finally, before turning it off, I told them I hoped Barack would make Jesse Jackson Vice President. "None of you stupid MFers could shoot him then, could ya?!??." I felt better. Actually, I felt better when it was off. Damn traffic jam got me all worked up. Then a couple guys suggested they needed some practice and might start by hunting me down. Yeah, time to go.

I pulled into a truckstop tonight. In line at the fuel desk to get a shower, the girl behind the counter is Generation "Why Me." She has the thingy in her nose, a tat on the inside of her wrist. She is having trouble and bristling with attitude. Come to find out, they have updated the computer system and some of the items aren't entered yet. One driver gave up when a case of bottled water just wouldn't ring up. He actually put it back on the shelf. The managers are gone, the girl is alone in the store. It isn't all generational. She isn't getting the support she needs. My buddy Jim and I were always pushing for training and support during system changes where I used to work. We often wrote instructions and did training. I could feel for her.

The showers are being remodeled as well, so I have to go out to a trailer in the parking lot to clean up. I had a great idea on the way back in.

It really is more work to be a complainer. And, it comes back on you eventually when you don't help others. It is so simple to be cheerful and helpful. And it really isn't that much extra work. Like Willie Nelson sang "It's the little things that mean a lot."

Let me tell you about an Ol' Trucker Trick I know, to show you how easy it is.

Back in the store, the poor girl is snarling in frustration. She might have an attitude, but tonight, she deserves to. I'm sure she doesn't get paid nearly enough to deal with a bunch of cantankerous truckers who have to shower out in the parking lot, and can't even buy water. A couple guys walk by with duffel bags, not believing that the showers are outside. I told them it was the hose around the corner. "You just hold it over your head." :o)

Back to my fuel desk girl. She snarls because some older trucker brought his wife in who also needs a shower. Now they have to reconnoiter the trailer to get her in there.

"Man, I need some chocolate. What do you recommend?" I ask up at the counter.

She pauses, almost not understanding, but recovers to suggest a Take Five bar.

"What are they like?" faking I've never had one.

"Oh, it's peanuts and caramel and a pretzel or something crunchy like that." She is just glad to be able to empty her mind of the store issues; she's getting into it now. "I really like them," she adds at the end.

Bingo, I've got her right where I want her.

"Back in the middle aisle," she shouts as I wander toward the junk food.

I bring two King Size Take Five bars back. There are five people, counting the old couple, hanging around waiting for a shower. The unease just kind of hangs around the place. I drop the bars on the counter and start shuffling through my wallet.

"Two Ninety Eight."

I hand her three ones and then push one of the bars across the counter. "This ones for you. Maybe your night will get better," I say.

"Oh, WOW! Thanks!" She smiles wide and chuckles. It's like a whole different person showed up. Now that's magic. And I didn't have to saw anyone in half.

As I walk out the door, I hear my two pennies drop in the "Need a Penny?" dish. The old trucker's wife is smiling at me as I pass. And just as I push the door open, I can hear the rustle of a Take Five wrapper.

Try it you'll like it. The candy bar's not bad either.


I never wanted to be a treehugger!

You see the weirdest stuff out here on the road. I see a lot of shoes; just one at a time. Once, I remember seeing a woman's belt in the middle of the highway. How did that happen?!

If your moving in the near future, please take some extra care tying stuff down. I see single couch cushions and box springs almost every day. Just the other day, I saw a whole series down the same highway. Had to be the same guy. First, an oscillating fan; like you'd buy at Walmart or somewhere - in a couple chunks on the shoulder. Then one of those 3 drawer Sterilite storage units - blown to bits. And finally, three resin patio chairs - all with only three legs left.

I won't gross you out with road kill stories, but two beavers in 36 hours is not just sad; that's weird. I also shouldn't tell you that I think I saw a bear cub once. That is really sad. My sister will get a weird satisfaction in amongst the sorrow. When she was a single digit age, about when you want to "have" things that are your own, she claims she saw a bear; presumably a live one. The family was travelling through the north woods of Michigan, on the way to Grandma and Grandpa Townsends in Cadillac. We were on I131, I think, anyway, it was a backwoods highway with these steep banks on either side. The forest started on the ridge. By the time the ridge crested away from the highway it was thick. Amy exclaimed that she saw a bear. No one else did, but we were running up this highway in the woods. She probably saw a bear, but that hasn't stopped my brother and I from saying "A bear!?! . . . yeah, right" for the last 25 years.

Another thing that I see way too much of out here on the road - plastic grocery bags! Wow, I've never been a treehugger and I used to be a plastics guy, but they are everywhere.

When I was in the plastics business, and involved in recycling, we successfully lobbied against a mandate to put corn starch in plastic grocery bags. The corn starch was added to the plastic to make the bags somewhat degradable. It wasn't perfect but it supposedly would have sped up the breakdown of the bag. It also polluted the plastic and made it un-recyclable. We argued that the bags would be collected, recycled and used in other products. It is time to revisit this issue. Bags are blowing everywhere.

Now the trouble with corn starch is the corn part. Food prices are rising, in large part, because of the increased demand for corn to make ethanol. Don't get me started on corn! Corn is used, directly and indirectly, in almost everything the average American eats, but that's a story for another day. I listened to a radio program about an incredible sounding documentary called King Corn.

There is actually a lot of trash around. I don't understand it. Growing up in the 70's with "Give a Hoot; Don't Pollute" and the Litterbug, I wouldn't dream of through something out the window. There is a certain percentage of truckers who live like Neanderthols but they are not responsible for it all. Two summers ago, I was walking a Lake Michigan beach that I knew very well as a kid. I was deeply saddened by all the trash I saw in the sand. I've never thought this way, but I was disgusted. We need to be better stewards of this world. That is not a political statement; that is a fact.


And while I'm at it . . .

Click the image for background on the horrendous situation in Burma. The Junta has announced they will hold a referendum, in May, on the constitution that they wrote and hold elections in 2010. This in a country without even the right to assemble or the right to criticize the Junta or their "path to democracy." The constitution purportedly disqualifies opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, perhaps because she already won one election they refuse to recognize.

Think about it . . .

This may give away the punchline, but I was listening to Mountain Stage, a very cool PRI show, and the Guthrie Family Legacy Tour made a stop. Arlo was talking about his dad's early life and I had an epiphany.

California was invaded once before by migrant workers. They showed up with little more than the clothes on their backs, driving vehicles that barely ran. They had large families and camped along the sides of farm roads. These migrants were so desperate, they would do any work for very little money. They weren't exactly legal; they were definitely not invited, but California came to rely on them.

. . . they were from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl!!!

We are tossing around the Immigration Issue during this political season without considering that we are discussing human lives. They are us; We are them. The question of legality is really more a symptom of a system that is broken.

The Okies helped to tranform the San Joachin Valley into the Agricultural juggernaut that it is today. Today, Mexicans are working those same fields. If you would really like to pay $10 for a head of lettuce, go ahead build the wall. Walls have done so well for Germans and Israelis.

We need to fix the system and to treat each other, all of us each other, as equals in this world. Sorry, this blog is usually not political; I couldn't stop this one.



Do you remember the old asphalt siding that was printed to look like brick? You can still see it on old farmhouses out in the holler.

There are times that my heart aches like an old farmhouse. The wooden screen door slams randomly in the wind. The porch leans a little downhill. At the corners, the old faux brick siding is peeling; gently waving in the wind. Last night, I just wanted to move back to Indiana. I missed my friends; I miss the bands and the music I was chasing. The road is a selfish and lazy lover.

Then this morning, I crossed the Monongahela River. There was a marina down below the bridge. Boats were scattered around; pulled for the winter. There is something about a hull; even when it is not splaying the water. There is just something about a boat. I long to be on the water.

I miss my friends and family tremendously, but I am doing the right thing. I need to be on the water to be whole. I continue to work on my life and my plan. That tear in the asphalt siding still blows in the wind, but below that faux brick is real brick and mortar just waiting to be in the sun.


Question Everything.

Question = Reflect.

Question Authority. Question your beliefs. Question your lifestyle. Question your habits. Question everything you've got. Especially, question your prejudices, your anger, your frustrations.

I have been away from the blog for a while. After switching companies, I teamed up with a guy. We hit the road; I drove, he slept, he drove, I slept. It is hard to find WiFi when the truck usually doesn't stop. Actually we did once in Missouri but that is another story.

Sitting in orientation for the new company, there were about 11 of us there. One guy stood out. He bristled with old school trucker attitude. He was negative and inappropriate. His jokes, comments and “F” bombs always seemed to creep in just at the wrong moment. He was asking these tedious detailed questions. You could tell he was angling to work the system. I even had the thought “I wouldn't want to team with THAT guy.”

The new company was looking for teams. They have some business coming up in March that requires several. A team is two people in a truck; running 24/7. One sleeps, the other drives. It is good money they say.

So, after doing lots of paperwork and getting another drug test and physical, we were waiting around for truck assignments. They were short of trucks in Grand Rapids. Some guys were getting sent out in rental cars to Kansas City or Dallas to get trucks. Another way to get a truck and hit the road was to team up with someone.

The recruiter called for me and I found his office. Sitting there with the recruiter was THAT guy. They wanted to know if I would consider teaming. I really wanted to get back on the road again. The only way I make any money is if the wheels are turning. It was the fast lane out of town. I decided to do it. The worst case scenario was three weeks out and then jump ship when we came round to home again. I teamed up.

I was pretty much spot on about the guy. He was a curmudgeonly old school trucker; working the system. And complaining about the system. He was prejudiced has hell. But he was more than all that too. He talked and flirted with all varieties of fuel desk ladies. He had a solid trucker etiquette and a big heart. When we were sitting still, the DVD choice, his DVDs and his DVD player, was always mine. We even called on his brother when we were stuck in Minneapolis. Tequila, pizza, football, Pirates of the Carribean, and a guitar fix. And he showed me huge patience, above and beyond the call of co-driver.

I drove a semi with a clutch for a week and a half; and then spent six months driving an automatic. He had 20 years of driving under his you-know-where. There should have been trainer pay on his ticket for all the help he gave me. I would never be floating gears if it wasn't for him [“floating” is shifting with the engines rpm's rather than using the clutch]. There were times when he heard me struggling from the sleeper and got out of bed to help me. So many things about driving a manual transmission, life on the road and even trucker folklore, I wouldn't even know if not for him. I came to appreciate him immensely.

A former employer called and my co-driver decided to go back to them. He can run the way he likes to run there; and no satellite [cue "Satellite of Love" by Lou Reed]. I was trying to decide if I really liked team driving anyway. His departure just saved me from having that conversation. Team driving was more like a job. I wasn't writing; I didn't have my guitar with me; I really didn't sleep as well while the truck was rumbling down the road. My caffeine intake probably quadrupled during that time.

All in all, I am happy to be back driving solo. I will, however, always use, and never forget, all the help I got driving around the country [literally] with an old school curmudgeon. NH, if you read this, thanks again.


Blues for Buddha.

For 15 or more years, I have lived in a Black and White World. I was a student of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. There was right and there was wrong. There was proven and nonexistent.
There is something fundamentalist, however, in a view that defines the world strictly in terms of black and white. We are surrounded by Extremism today; from the Middle East to our own Nation's Capitol. I began to realize the fundamentalist nature of the black and white world I was striving to live in. All that philosophy was obliterated by my experience in New Jersey. If I felt that as strongly as I had about New Jersey, if I chose to accept that experience, I could no longer think in the same way.

An important book from my college days was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. After my discovery of Objectivism, I looked back on Pirsig's book as bunk. It wasn't shades of grey, but it fuzzed up the black and white. I have long wanted to reread Pirsig's book; just to see. Recently, I did. I feel my eyes are wide open again. Much of the book matches my current thoughts and the way I am _actually_ living my life.

Some of my early blog posts hinted of this new thinking. As early as April 17,
“If you are carrying around more than you need, that is too much weight. If you are trying to be someone you are not, you can't possibly be happy no matter what you tell yourself.“
Eerily on April 27 "Sometimes, even for an atheist, the universe seems to be sending a message." I don't even remember why I left that in! And even though it was my last post from my old perspective, on December 16, I threw in “All of us could benefit from a daily reflection.”

All this lead to further reading on Zen and Buddhism. I found a copy of The Complete Idiots Guide to Zen Living and recognized myself right away. I found great comfort.

The Monks of Myanmar touched me with their protests, though they worked for naught. I was intrigued that these Monks were protesting something seemingly rational and worldly. At an Outlet Mall Bookstore in Perryville, MD I found The Universe in a Single Atom; the Convergence of Science and Spirituality by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The book shocked me with it's scientific approach to Buddhism. There are many concepts from Quantum Physics that were foreshadowed in ancient Buddhist thinking.

This is not really new for me. As a child I had an experience that was profoundly Zen. I have mocked it in retelling the story. However, I now feel I was looking at it from the wrong perspective. While walking home from school in the Third Grade, I was chanting the word “was.” I can't explain that, I was a weird kid, but I remember it very clearly. I had been chanting for a couple blocks. Suddenly, I lost my grip on the the word and the world. Disoriented, I stopped walking. It was as if a flash of light had wiped my mind clear. Gradually, the word, and the sidewalk in front of me, came back in focus. It felt profound; like looking out over the Ocean or the Grand Canyon. In college, I had a bookshelf teeming with books on Zen. In those books, I recognized this early experience in the descriptions of enlightenment; satori and nirvana. In the Dorm, I practiced meditation on and off for a couple years.

The books have been gone for a long time. School finally caught some traction. A career path had begun to form in front of me. I had a life and my practice fell by the wayside. Years later, discovering the black and white world of Objectivism, I looked at my flirtation with Zen with a chuckle. I remembered the chanting 8 year old with a good laugh. If a kid could do it, how profound can it really be? As I explore this ground again, its not funny, it may be just that simple.

Further, wanting to sail off and explore the world, listening to Blues and American Roots Music wasn't ever really going to fit my former thinking. I have been in flux for some time actually; working my way back to happiness. Obviously, what I had been doing was not making me happy. I have made an effort to explore where I was when I was last happy. With the help of my Coach, I walked back through my travels and found treasure.

Part of what attracts me to Buddhism is the non-reliance on faith. There is no dogma, no palatial venues for stilted ritual. It is simply a path to a clear mind rooted in the present, free of the agony and suffering of misplaced desires. Buddhism is full of tolerance and compassion. There is no sense of good and evil, only ignorance and suffering. In short, you “focus on your mind, see what is in there, discard what is unnecessary, and focus on what truly brings happiness” [Wade Davis, Light at the Edge of the World, National Geographic].

The Buddha said that Life is suffering not in a draconian Original Sin way, but in an honest and direct way. Hey, you're human. You will do things you'll come to regret. You will be hurt by other humans; and even by the big bad world. This is part of the deal. If you can't get over it when it happens, you will suffer. If you are overly attached to material things or dogmatic ideas, you will suffer. If you think that the world will always be just as it is today, you will suffer. If you clear and calm your mind to develop an honest, open view of the world, you will get better. Let it go and it will be gone.

Buddhists don't hang on to their troubles. They acknowledge them and let them go. Let it burn through you but burn out. The Blues is very Zen in this way. People who don't understand the Blues think that it is a sad music. The singer sings about his troubles, but the Blues is happy music. The music has the same function; wallow in sadness in a song, acknowledge it – even celebrate it - but let it go. The joy returns. When B.B. King sings "You upsets me, Baby" or “The Thrill is Gone.” He is not decrying her or even what she did/does to him. He is celebrating the joy of being human. The joy comes back by holding up his troubles and then burning them down with visceral, gut-level music.

I am starting to see the outline of the answer in the fog. Happiness didn't come from the stress and the striving of the rat race. Happiness is wanting what you have, in loving where you are. Buddhism is not such a long leap from from where I was. Still I'm not sure where I'll end up exactly, but change is underway. Nevertheless, my slogan “Eat When You're Hungry, Work When You're Broke” is a profoundly Zen statement. Part of me was there before I was.

Right now, I feel like I've climbed too high in a tree. I am swaying in the thin branches, high at the top. Part of me is still holding tight to past thinking, like the last large branch. Another part of me knows that if I just let go, I will come to rest gently on the ground. I am not yet sure where I will land. As I read and practice, it will become clear. I know, when I'm ready, I will let go of that branch, soon. Some of this feels shocking. Some of you are lifting your chins off of your keyboards. I have a ways yet to walk, but I feel I am coming home.

What is the sound of one hand sailing?


Mojave Desert to Oakland.

As I drove through the desert of Arizona and California, the clouds had cleared. Stars! I could see stars! It has been a long time since the clouds, urban lights and my schedule had all allowed me to see the stars. Off to the Southwest, a bright light; probably a planet. Dead ahead, Orion. He has always been my favorite constellation, though I'm not sure why. Off in the dark to my right, railroad track runs parallel to the highway. There are often huge trains of containers going by. Tonight, the moon reflects on the shiny top of the rail; burnished by all that fodder for American Consumerism. Reflecting on the rail, the moon spot chases alongside the truck like the mechanical rabbit at a dog track.

As the sun slides into dawn, the desert shrubs begin as clumps on the hills and then splotches in the darkness as it crosses from black to charcoal grey. Supposedly, there's elk around here; signs have warned since Flagstaff. I haven't been privileged to meet any. In the early light, the desert is white tufted with brown and tan scrub grasses; like a meringue.

Morning breaks and I'm crossing the mountains, passing Bakersfield and coming down into the San Joachim Valley. I am just blown away. The sheer size of all this agriculture is astounding. Fields, groves and cultivation surround me and go to the horizon in all directions. I've lived in Michigan, Indiana and Florida; seen big farms and groves, but the magnitude is different here. There is cotton, oranges, corn, pecans and almonds; I smell garlic or onions. It goes on for 200 miles.

Coming up out of the valley and then down into Oakland, even the hills are shaped different around here. They seem to be tufted and folded rather than the rolling hills at home. There are wind turbines all over the place. They say that Texas is like a whole other country, well California certainly is too.


Holiday 2007

Some of you, Dear Readers, will be shocked to know my reading list for the last couple weeks. I have read "The Universe in an Atom; the Convergence of Science and Spirituality" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I am reading "The Complete Idiots Guide to Zen Living" and rereading "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig; a book that almost ruined my sophomore year at Michigan State.

Pirsig's book will make you think harder than you have in years. I did almost nothing else but read and talk about it in the Winter of 1983. I mentioned the Midnight Heathen Philosophes obliquely some time ago. My dorm friends and I stayed up to all hours saving the world many years ago. I miss that too. Pirsig has an interesting argument for a layer he calls "Quality" that comes before intellectual or scientific understanding. I've wanted to reread the book for some time.

I have long been a Scientific Materialist. If you couldn't touch it or smell it or prove that it was there, it didn't exist; an Atheist by default. This has not been completely satisfying for a number of months. I am not prepared to walk away from my previous sentiments, but I am exploring if they are enough. It seems a bit like cooking without salt or that blanket that is just a bit too small. My cold toes have been hanging out the bottom in recent months.

Last weekend, despite my earlier post, I ended up having a wonderful holiday in New Jersey with my cousin, Sherry and her family in their beautiful house. Thanks to my sister, Amy, for setting the plan in motion. Sherry's husband took me sailing through the magic of a beautiful radio controlled boat he made. Their son kept me jumping with Wii Video Games and Guitar Talk. Sherry's wonderful and delicious hospitality was only overshadowed by the joy of being able to just hang out with them for a while.

We were headed into town. Sherry was walking the dog when a old song that her Dad liked began running through her head. Ben had lost a video game disc behind the entertainment center and was fishing around for it. He found a CD and set it on a shelf by the TV. As I pulled on my coat, I saw the CD laying there; Neck and Neck by Mark Knoeffler, x-Dire Straits, and Chet Atkins, country music guitar legend. I said something like "Hey there's some good music." The song that Sherry had been humming to herself just minutes before, was from that CD!

We took the CD with us and listened to it on the way into town. Sherry said her Dad must have wanted me to have the CD and gave it to me. Even just weeks ago, I would have gently scoffed at the concept, but I felt immediately that she was right. And I was comfortable with that. I even felt some relief, as if I was a little less unforgiven for what I described in a post last year.

Thanks again, Sherry, Ed and Ben. It was a great weekend!

I have been in flux for some time. My reading is way out in left field for me. There are many things I am thinking about in new ways. Stay tuned, this fertile ground for blog posts.

Friday Afternoon in Nashville, 2007/12/21

The Friday before Christmas, I treated myself to an afternoon in Nashville, TN. Not JUST Nashville, but Broadway St. Nashville! Home of the Honky Tonks. Tootsie's, Legends Corner, Bluegrass Inn, Station Inn, Ernest Tubbs Record Store and Robert's Western World. Robert's sounds like a Tack Shop as much as a Honky Tonk, but its the real deal. However, you can also buy a pair of cowboy boots there.

Thursday Night in West Memphis, I did some research on the web. Roberts has no cover and the burgers are cheap; works for me. I parked at the TA Truckstop right next to LP Field across the river from downtown. I filled up so I could get a free shower and clean up. Yellow Cab sent a hack in around front by the resturant.

The Cab Driver was of western Middle Eastern extract. Armenian or Lebanese; maybe. We talked shop; I asked him how business was and told him that I drove for Yellow Cab in Florida fifteen or so years ago. He asks me whether I like driving a truck better than driving a cab. I explain that I've worked several different jobs since then. It is nice to be in the same city all the time and be home at night, I tell him. He agrees.

We wind through Nashville after crossing the bridge. There is a Double Tree Hotel and the funky looking AT&T building with double spires. We go by Khan's Mongolian Grill and a Greek place. Greek sounds good. Anything sounds good, I've been starving myself in anticipation of a Honky Tonk Cheeseburger. Nashville is on a knoll. We go up toward the rise and then turn left and head downhill. There's the Ryman! And we've arrived at Lower Broadway. It is about 4:30 in the afternoon so all the neon is lost on me.

Stepping out of the cab, I am assaulted by music from three directions. Not super loud, like South Beach or Daytona, but definitely right at me. I walk into Robert's Western World. On Lower Broadway, the band or singer/songwriter, is always out front with their back to the windows. Robert's is basically just a storefront bar. The band is on the left just inside the door. On the right, the wall is full of framed photos of Nashville's finest musical craftsmen. On the left, shelves full of boots. There are benches on the side and a few round tables up near the band. The benches aren't really boothes but look almost like couches, but more like school bus seats. The bar is on the right with utilitarian but comfortable stools. There are more benches back toward the back. At the back, the restrooms are on the left and stairs to the right go to an upper bar that isn't open on a Holiday Friday Night. I sit down and order a PBR and a menu.

The waitress is a heavy set goth; I think named Rayna, but I didn't really catch her name over the band. She is very sweet. She has a Topless Mermaid tattooed on her left shoulder and a Sailor-Jerry-esque Cowboy Girl on the right. There is an Irish Claddagh on her chest and something on her lower back but I don't want to stare. I ask her for a cheeseburger with onion rings and another PBR. "My two beers for the month," I tell her. It's hard to be a drinker AND a truck driver, I explain.

The cook is named Spider. He has 70's short hair; like the blond Duke boy. Is that Bo or Luke? I couldn't keep track of them and I loved that show. I would just have them straight and Daisy would come on screen and I would forget what I needed to know about the boys. Spider has a grey goatee and a tattoo on his neck. It might be a spider. His neck tattoo is old. I didn't think they were that popular until recently. Spider makes a mean cheeseburger!

I ask Rayna and Spider if Gruhn Guitars is a guitar shop. They tell me it is and think the store is open until about 6:00. Spider tells me there are better places to go that are cheaper. Gruhn's is on the strip and a bit touristy. When I tell him I just need a new capo and I came to town in a Semi; to Lower Broadway in a cab, he thinks Gruhn's will work just fine.

Robert's Western World has music 6 days a week from 11:00 am to 3:00 am; yeah 16 hours a day. I had checked out the band schedule on the web Thursday night. However, with the holidays nearby, I really lucked out. Heath Haynes has the afternoon gig at Roberts. Most of his band, Heath Haynes and the Cryin' Shames, wanted to be home for the holidays, so Heath recruited some friends who have their own bands for today. Heath played the acoustic guitar and sang. He had a great stand up slappin' bass player whose name was so normal I don't recall it. The electric guitar player was Chris Cerrillo(sp?). And halfway through they were joined by a drummer. Heath introduced him as a lifetime friend. While I was trying to figure out if that meant "life partner" or anthing, I missed his name too.

Heath Haynes is great. He can sing anything with the help of an enormous vocal range. He sang as Elvis and Johnny Cash and then sang Buck Owens and some high and lonesome bluegrassy stuff without missing a beat. His guitar chops are very strong as well. While he looks like Michael Moore just out of bed, he was rockin'.

Chris Cerillo is just a fantastic country lead and fill guitar player. He looked for all the world like Paul Simon in a pompadour and a western shirt. His cheeks pulled in and lips pursed when he concentrated exactly like Simon's; especially in the "If You'll Be My Bodyguard" video when Paul was trying not to laugh at Chevy Chase. Cerillo played lightning fast leads and subtle fills. He had a vintage yellow Telecaster with the black sparkle pickguard and faceplate. At one point, I thought he had kicked on a synthesizer. He was playing notes with no attack. They just kind of bled into the melody like a Moog. Looking closer, I realize that the pinky of his pick hand was working the volume knogb on his guitar. He was creating the sound all himself. This is more amazing than you non-guitarists think. He was having to strike a note early for the delay in working the volume knob from zero back up. So as he was playing a melody, with the rest of the band going, he was picking on one beat and the melody was on another. I was freaked out. There were all kinds of Nashville Cat telecaster tricks; little chimy picks with his fingernails; bowing the whole guitar rather than the strings. He had a huge vocabulary.

Close to 6:00, I tipped the band and headed down the block to Gruhn's. Of course, I didn't just get out of there with a new capo. I bought a new tuner as well [thanks, GG and Grandad]. I've been wanting one for a long time. It tells me when my strings are in tune by the frequency of the vibration rather than the sound. It clips to the neck and "feels" the strings. The capo is one of the low profile spring jobs. I've needed one of those for a long time. I've still been using an elastic one that must be 25 years old. It was all stretched out.

On the way to Gruhn's, on the sidewalk on Broadway, there was a homeless looking guy with a nearly new Gibson Acoustic. He was playing some raw blues. His dog wore a leather jacket. Not like a dog wears a dog jacket. This dog, a Weirmaraner or so, was sitting perfectly still with a leather jacket around it shoulders and it's front legs in the sleeves. Further down the block, two guys who looked like they just left an office were each playing and sang together. I walked down past the Cotton Eyed Joe tshirt and souvenir store; crossed the street and went by an abandoned looking irish pub and along past Ernest Tubbs Record Shop. I crossed over to Legends Corner. There is a great big guitar out on the street with Willie, Patsy, Buck, Johnny, George, Waylan and a host of other Golden Era Country Stars painted on it.

I walked around a little and then went right back into Robert's Western World. After a couple more beers, I called Yellow Cab from the hall by the bathrooms where it was a little quiet. They never answered! I went out on the street and walked in the direction of the Truckstop, assuming I would find a cab along the way. I walked up and over the hill through downtown. I saw one Taxi; occupied. I was only wearing a polo shirt and jeans because the afternoon was warmish. Now after dark, with short sleeves and bald head, it was cold! I ended up walking all the way back. It was a mile and a half or two miles. The last bit was over the river and down into the neighborhood where the truckstop is. That last quarter mile was probably not the best place to be alone after dark. I have found, however, if you walk briskly [it was cold too, remember] like you know where you are headed, most people won't bother you. I went down a staircase off the bridge into an empty lot, under an overpass and across a couple parking lots to the truck. It hadn't been running so I had to warm it up. I turned both heaters to BROIL and sat there with my jacket on for a while. What a great afternoon!