Nomadland Thoughts

5/24/2021- Cloudy, Misty Monday & I welcome the Rain.

As I finished reading Nomadland by Jessica Bruder last night, encouraged to hasten my reading pace by notice of an ending Libby loan, a few things came to mind from my past and also with regard to my future. Concerned as she is with the modern reversal of retirement security and with the working poor shouldering the onus of most of the economic risk taken by a corporate oligarchy today, I felt my heart lift and sink alternately as she detailed many experiences and reflections with which I was personally familiar from my 2 month Van dwelling adventure in Maui back in 2015. As I read about the hordes of dispossessed 50-70 somethings roaming the desert wilderness in search of warmth and community, low wage slaves to unscrupulous Land Management concessionaires and Amazon shipping facilities, I empathized with their plight in search for a safe place to park their lives. 

Changing my once-in-a-lifetime travel plans in the fall of 2015 to begin from Maui rather than Thailand for what I hoped would be a period of world travel for which I had saved years, I found myself unhoused in days by the misrepresentations of my oldest friend in Portland, who had not plausibly confirmed my stay with her landlord. My only other acquaintance on the island offered a filthy 2002 Chevy Astro Van in which he had camped irregularly around the island. I had to gut and sterilize the interior before moving in with the help of my girlfriend who had arrived a couple of days before to celebrate her birthday with me on the island. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having everyone at the laundromat watching you withdraw the contents of your vehicle in the parking lot; sweep roaches, rats, their feces and so much trash out of your living space as others stare on in amazement and judgment…with your honey in tow.

There were few legal and safe places to camp on the island. I found myself moving constantly for ice, water, food; trying to blend in, cultivating stories to explain my lack of local address, maintaining the camouflage of a well maintained vehicle, mindful of the predatory innuendo attached to my white van. As Bruder reaffirms, In America, if you don’t have an address, you’re not a real person. Multiple encounters with the police, ominous road wanderers, and tacit dismissal by wealthy tourists occupying the same beaches all reminded me that, “When people think you’re homeless, you start to feel homeless.” Although my gal rose above the situation with a kindness that allowed us to bond even more closely in the moment, I could not deny the disquiet I felt when she left, now left to my own to enjoy what I could of my unintended Van Dwelling experience. A bittersweet time indeed, I found peace briefly in Haleakala and the rare surf session, but little elsewhere during my stay on an island turned amusement park for the rich only.

As I consider my future as a disabled, now middle-aged man still suffering from spinal disfunction & chronic pain that has limited my earning capacity for all of my adult life & most particularly in light of the stark picture of the continued rapid decline of any income parity in the American economy, I see a great likelihood of my return to mobile life, and perhaps not so far off in the future with COVID economic dislocation and Trump’s strategized polarization of American society into Haves and Have Nots. Stephen Jay Gould’s quote form the novel stays with me, “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” Without even delving into the acceleration of hardship wrought by human induced Climate change, I consider all of the economic misfortunes blamed repeatedly upon the victims as the world burns. I’ll continue in my poverty to embrace minimalism, rejection of consumer culture and, most importantly, the Hope of the Road, fostered simply by the exciting intimations of forward momentum. 

Thank you Jessica and All those interviewed.

From Silvianne’s rendition of Roger Miller’s classic in the novel…

Old beat-up high-top van,

Like livin’ in a large tin can,

No rent, no rules, no man,

I ain’t tied to no plot of land.

I’ve got cool forests for summer fun,

Winterin’ in the Desert sun,

I’m an old gypsy soul with new goals,

Queen of the Road!

My friends still think I’m insane,

But for me their life is way too tame,

If I sometimes sing the blues,

Small price for the life I choose.

I’ve found all space is hollowed ground,

If we will but look around,

In our sacred search for the New Earth,

Queens of the Road!

….And you can pick up Nomadland to read the rest!

Sunset from the back of the Van at Baldwin Beach: One of the Better Days

Mr. State Trooper, Thank You

Shout out to the Po-po! One man’s recent experience in a time of very poor relations….

I knew right when I gassed the pedal to get around a hulking, diesel spewing pickup truck outside of Ranier that I was in trouble. Just as the opportunity presented itself to get around some very slow moving traffic I had been following for a few miles along Highway 30 out of Astoria, I accelerated very quickly hoping to pass multiple vehicles in what I assumed would be a short window of time. Even before I had cleared the truck, I noticed the Oregon State Highway Patrol car, and it noticed me. Cursing the timing of its presence and my luck, I quickly slowed to reinsert my vehicle into the flow of traffic after my pass, too little too late. I saw the shiny silver Dodge blink its lights, pull to the side of the road and cut a U turn quickly. My heart sank as I thought of the encounter to come.

I had struggled to justify to myself the extended stay out at Seaview in the Sou’Wester after continuing financial struggles with career transition via COVID pandemic and the closure of my restaurant. But I really needed the break from the noise generated by my heavy footed upstairs neighbor and her fussy schnauzer. With battles over noise levels daily hindering my ability to record Voiceover spots from home, a release valve for my frustration was essential. Now I would likely be adding to that sum, and the frustration, significantly. I thought of how reasonably I had driven for the last week despite being baited endlessly with rubber neckers and distracted drivers as I proceeded up and around the Olympic Peninsula. I thought of how ridiculous it was to be getting a ticket on the way home from a vacation intended to calm and revivify me. I felt myself a fool and acknowledged as much into the rearview mirror as the State Trooper pulled in behind to follow me for a few miles before finally dropping the hammer. I hoped that he might sense my acknowledgment of error and contrition.

The lights came on, and though I considered Hunter Thompson’s advice to give a little chase to earn my pursuer’s respect, I decided against the move, preferring to implement my diplomatic skills. I hurriedly tidied an interior disheveled by nearly a week of travel glamping. I worried that the state of my interior might provoke a search. The clothes, gear and grocery sacks littering my backseat after a week on the road could work for or against me. I might be seen as either a happy camper or a homeless vagabond. I’m ashamed that the threat of the blue and red lights cow me still into a need to justify my actions. Such is the game of authority. 

Officer Kean, a younger athletic male in his 30’s with a close cropped hair and a tattooed arm sleeve, stepped to my passenger side window and informed me that our conversation was being recorded. I assented as he asked if I knew why I had been stopped. Calmer than expected, but still quaking a bit internally, I went on the offensive and apologized profusely for my error– I explained that I had been trying to pass the large diesel for a few miles and unfortunately chose an inopportune time to do so. As he requested my license and registration, I laughed nervously at my poor timing, him spotting me just as I began to execute the pass. No way I could deny my speed.

Although my insurance e-card in my iPhone Wallet was missing the vehicle make, and my registration form lacked the authorization signature because it had been completed online during COVID quarantine, I presented them as calmly as I could, remembering to inform the officer that I was reaching into my glove box. Officer Kean nodded, watching me closely through the opened window. I could hear the silence as I reached across to the glove box. He informed me that he would return shortly.

Officer Kean returned to his automobile to confirm my license, registration and driving record. Meanwhile, I attempted to find calmer breath, and I practiced accepting this surprise pitfall at the end of an otherwise glorious, spontaneous outing. My reward to myself for surviving privation in heavy isolation for the last year and more would not be lost despite this setback. I thought that perhaps I had deserved a cross check for too quickly forgetting the calm I had sought to achieve with the unexpected expenditure of my very limited resources at the moment. I munched on some dried cherries to distract myself, to regain my composure for whatever came next.

Officer Kean returned calmly and began with an admonition to practice greater care in passing on this road where there had been many gruesome accidents of late and to allow greater patience in passing when allowed a longer passing lane, as with this portion of the highway. I monitored his face to determine what his tone indicated, where he was headed with this. He acknowledged my frustration with slower traffic and the need to accelerate significantly when attempting to pass in a short distance, but he cautioned me to practice better judgment. I readily agreed, thinking it better to do so even if I still received the ticket. He warned of the high cost of speeding violations in addition the dangers it presented, some $265 for a ticket at my speed of 80 in a 55 MPH zone, honestly not too much short of the price tag for my 4 day stay at the Sou’Wester. My heart sank further as I began to rationalize the coming ticket as punishment for my irresponsibility for taking time off that I could not afford. 

And then, having warned me of the potential dangers of both the roadway and my passing technique, while also apparently weighing the circumstances of my transgression (possibly mitigated by the bad luck timing of the maneuver), Officer Kean thanked me for my honesty and let me go with the warning he had just offered. He said that he rarely encountered such accountability, and he very much appreciated it. Tears nearly came to my eyes with gratitude for this Officer of the Law for allowing that my pass was justified though ill-timed, for responding to my honesty when I admitted my wrong, for interacting with me simply and straightforwardly like a human being. Given the ongoing hostility between the general public and the police stemming still from the continued murder of innocent black folks around the country, my heart is full with the experience of something different from this unfortunate narrative. 

Although I well realize my privileged position as a white male in this encounter, I am nonetheless pleased to report a positive encounter with another human being, an Officer of the Law, who really did protect and serve me. I might have reached 5 miles above the speed limit for the remainder of my drive, realizing with renewed regard the pleasure of my freedom and the beauty still all around me as I regained perspective:) I was fortunate enough to enjoy this and still am. I might have lost it with the pass, with a misstep in communication with authority, or by any other means really. I’ll take my medicine with a smile this time, and thank you for a clean getaway, Officer. 

To Add Content…

4/29/21- Hazy, Overcast Thursday.

I awoke early (5ish) again with burning, aching pain in my joints in my neck, left knee, and low back. It was significant enough to awaken me out of sleep, to encourage a visit to the medicine cabinet and to mandate some deep breathing back in bed for another half hour as I returned to a restless slumber. I thought of my comment the previous day to my father as the sound cut out of our conversation…that I was finding myself again exhausted by the ongoing onslaught of acute pain in my joints and nerves. Though I’ve experienced many breakthroughs and more days now (not exactly pain free) but functionally capable nonetheless, it seems this week that I am having a tougher than average time moving through my pain with greater positivity. And although I well realize by now that my mental state has as much to do with the impression left by this pain as with any other variable, I am not finding much confidence in my ability to mitigate my emotional responses to this onerous life scenario.

Still, after some coffee, a meditation sit, and some messages from the family and friends with whom I’ll meet tomorrow along the Olympic National Seashore, I am feeling better than a few hours ago about the work ahead today and also my ability to comfortably perform it through burning nerve sensations, joint stiffness and muscle soreness. Thankfully, I have observed that I can forget about these sensations if I am focused well enough upon something of interest and/or inspiration. And I have 2 strong VO spots to record today, my favorites this week in addition to the PIE script I plan to read for class tonight. The others involve a visionary Environmental Policy Act Bill- NREPA and a children’s book read in the vernacular of a New Orleans’ native. And though I am not, the New Orleans Accent is one of my favorite character voices to attempt and generally in the vein of a Dr. John type brogue. Both are Narration excerpts, one in Conservation, the other in Children’s Literature involving VO niches I love dearly. I am actually thrilled to practice this sort of material which speaks both to my creative impulses in Character Voices and also to a life purpose in supporting a Conservation legacy.

As for the state of my creative pursuits, I am thinking again of posting some of my thoughts, along with cocktail recipes, political statements and preferred VO spots to a WordPress website blog that I have not used so actively, only as a URL address to receive those interested in my body of work so far with a few Voiceover and Film clips and a short Bio. I’ve thought for too long that I had little to say that anyone might wish to hear. I have also been worried about offending friends, family, and others with a direct articulation of my thoughts, but the worry fades as I realize how little attention I am actually paid in the barrage of white noise content which now abounds. Nor is it that I wish to be critical or rude, but having witnessed firsthand responses to my words for some 40 years now, I have a sneaking feeling that I will earn some unlikes at a minimum, though my hope is rather to delve with some degree of integrity into what I see at the essence of the interactions I experience with the world. Neither right nor wrong, just my observations. I just experience, process, articulate, assimilate. It keeps me connected to my life, so I continue.

SO much content. So little substance. Do I wish to add to the noise? May my voice cut through some of it with greater insight and integrity. That is my hope. I was thinking as I walked yesterday through Tryon Creek Park here and was interrupted almost immediately by one woman frantically shouting for her lost dog and another talking on her phone while making a point of passing me on the trail, only to remain right in front of me, very much annoying me with the volume of her conversation. As I listened to the birds return to the background, momentarily silenced by the cacophony of human cluelessness, I thought how much nicer it was to hear the calls of those winged animals than any emanating from so many humans now imposing themselves upon natural settings. A misinterpretation of recreational use and value and a glaring misalignment with one’s habitat, loud human voices in the woods often obscure the greater beauty and calm of a place and also the cultivation of those qualities to which visitors are originally drawn. Please check yourself at the tall trees; it is no longer about you.

I don’t want to go back to Normal

Work in Progress…Lately I hear a number of people bemoaning the lack of regularity, the upset of the habitual patterns of behavior that many have come to embrace, the comfort attached to a stasis upon which they may rely. I think that if nothing else, events of the last week and the focus of the light on continued police brutality against people of color, black people in particular, show us that the Normal to which many would like to return is an unacceptable plateau for many others. The Normal to which these people have been subjected has resulted in a subjugation that disallows for their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. That Normal possesses none of the trappings of the America that we customarily emulate. Yet, since many white people are not affected by the same sort of rough treatment that their counterparts of color are subjected to, they fear a change to the system under which they have largely been protected because they have not been subject to the repeated and excessive harassment at the hands of authority that our black folks have faced daily for years. A shift in consciousness to recognize and accept the experiences of others in different circumstances than our own is required to face this enemy of institutionalized racism. The shift requires only that one consider how he or she would like to be treated and then to treat others in such a manner. Once in recognition of this seemingly ordinary piece of wisdom, one would enact it daily through actions of a deliberate nature of reinforcement towards his/her fellow humans without regard to personal gain or punishment. A simple epiphany so rarely celebrated and adhered to, a new normal based upon this simple tenet (Do Unto Others…) would be a Normal I could rally behind. To witness this, I would even venture to accept sacrifices (though I have heard of none requested) simply so that all people might enjoy the same protection under the law and compassionate consideration as human beings engaged in the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There should be no retreat from this simple stance. Our nation of ostensible freedom and opportunity in actuality founded upon genocide and slavery, one wonders if it is in fact possible for disparate groups of humanity ever to live peaceably together in cooperative effort for the betterment of all. Please God, It has to be. Yes, I want a new Normal.