Scourge and Transparency

The Rise and Fall of Advanced Social Journalism during the Early Twenty-First Century

Archive for March 2013

When In The Bay Area

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I was riding Greyhound up the California coast with a recently released Guatemalan sitting next to me. He could hardly speak any English and was very happy himself after leaving prison over problems with his immigration papers. I had become familiar with various hand signals Latinos use to communicate with gringos. This gentleman made an A-OK/circle with his thumb and finger to describe San Francisco.

The city seemed more downtrodden than I had expected, however, this could have been the neighbourhood I stayed in – for example I saw a man urinate in the middle of a busy street like he was spitting out gum. In other ways San Fran was demographically predictable – everyone and their mother was gay and there was tons of Asians. Only when one comes to town are they overwhelmed with all the media and mythology that has surrounded the area. From Dirty Harry to Full House; from the Beatniks to the Hippies; from Hard-Boiled fiction to Mrs. Doubtfire; from the zodiac killer to Vertigo – the list goes on and on. Another interesting point is that of the six weeks I spent on the road in the summer of 2012 the 4 days in San Francisco were the coldest. This corner of the continent is cut in some kind of separate vortex of romanticism and environment.

When one goes from coast to coast they notice the different ideologies along the way. People have been trekking west for generations and bring populism with them towards the setting sun. One sees this in the flamboyant attitude of those in California. Everyone is happy to express themselves whereas back east people are much more cynical in their old, crowded industrial metropolises.

I spent the next 72 hours on a steady diet of beer and complimentary bagels. Kerouac and HST have both pointed it out: if you’re on an epic binge you have to remember to eat and drink water. On the first day I awoke and felt like I was going to faint the moment I got out of bed. And then after walking along the beach towards the Golden Gate Bridge, past so many residents walking their dogs, I could barely lift a finger once I sat myself down. Nevertheless pure excitement and serendipity kept me going.

I had been laboriously reading Desolation Angels since Texas and just before arriving in town Kerouac was recalling wondering alone half-drunk through Chinatown. A situation I would by chance find myself in – although I wasn’t in the least bit lonely. A new a drinking buddy I made told me there was a plaque dedicated to father of the Beats somewhere in Chinatown. On the scheduled day of departing town I went to look for this commemoration. Quickly I was disillusioned due to the thronging of people and lack of description of what exactly to look for. Finally I gave up and saw a bar down an alley advertising happy hour. As I walked towards the establishment I looked down to find that I was standing right on the very plaque had I been seeking! Not only that, but the street was named after Keroauc and the bar I went to drink at was on old hang out of Jack and Neal Cassady right across from Ginsberg’s book shop! I even talked another enlightened traveller into purchasing On The Road.

The night previous I had met a lovely young German girl in a gay bar and it wasn’t the humping that woke the other hostellers but our hilarity at attempting to recover disarrayed clothes in the dark. She had easily talked me into staying another day in town and that evening we returned to the city’s oldest gay bar for its’ $2.50 beers – little did we know that that evening’s entertainment would come free of charge.

When we entered “the Gangway” the first thing we noticed was a Tranny drunk out of his or her mind in loud argument with an elderly man who seemed to be more-or-less unconscious. The transsexual then stumbled out of the bar shouting obscenities – past an old lady in a wheel chair with curlers in her hair – with no sense of femininity and hardly able to walk in glittery high heels. We ended up paying for maybe one drink each but got completely hammered. A moustached man with a slurred high voice and a constant childish giggle bought us far more intoxicants than we needed. Also surrounding us was a young Asian man with a head the size and shape of a television set and an older gentlemen drunk out his mind on some fruity concoction constantly repeating his astonishment and nostalgic towards my youth. At one point when Queen was being played all the men sang in unison to ‘We Are The Champions’. Based on the fascinating serendipity of my stay in San Fran I half expected Harvey Milk to walk out of the men’s room at any moment.

On my final day in town we toured Height-Asbury and after three days without a hot meal ate the most delicious Thai food that my lips have ever touched. I said a melancholic goodbye to my Fraulein and caught a bus to another town.

Blowin Out The Candles

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The people working at the Greyhound station in Houston weren’t very friendly or helpful. You don’t often come across an enthusiastic service person in the United States – aside from people working at restaurants or bars. I guess it’s because of low wages and having to live off tips. Anyway, it would seem the next bus going anywhere west was to Dallas. That day I had been hoping to catch an earlier route to New Mexico or El Paso at least. That day was my birthday.
I even had to wait a few hours in the Houston bus station before leaving. Although it was not all a waste – episodes of Gunsmoke were playing continuously over the monitor in the secured waiting area. I had learned early on not to take any shit from bus station security dicks. I had nothing dangerous on me and if they did thoroughly (or not-so-thoroughly in most cases) search my bag they’d likely find alcohol of some sort. So when it came my turn to be checked before entering the ticket-holders’ area I flatly told them they’d need to repack my bag if they wanted to see what was it in. To which the obviously underpaid security guard replied, “alright, go ahead.” Of course it wouldn’t be easy to drink openly for several hours at least. This pathetic worry was diminished by my surprise enjoyment of the classic Western series.
I also met a southern gentleman (well maybe not a gentleman but a southern man) who told me he had been married in Las Vegas not once but twice! when I had informed him that that was my next booked and scheduled destination. After arriving in Dallas I had hoped to switch buses that day and spend a night somewhere in the southwest before rolling into sin city. However after sitting on the coach eight hours and heading just as much north as west I decided to cut my losses and look for a cheap motel to spend my 27th birthday alone with some cold beer and maybe a meal.
This is not as sad as it sounds and interestingly enough the next 24 hours proved to be very eventful if not celebratory. I walked into a liquor store and bought a king can of something cheap and asked the patron along with the local guy you find in these liquor stores not doing anything but conversing with the person working there where one could find an inexpensive place to spend the night. Locals always want you to take public transportation or find something where close instead of walking. They don’t understand that to a traveller a 30-minute, 45 minute or even an hour walk through a place you’ve never been before can be a leisurely experience. They told me to keep heading down this one street out of the downtown area and the further I would go the cheaper the lodging would get. Just barely on the outskirts of the city core I noticed an oddly familiar street and hill that looked like something I had seen in a movie. It was not a crowded area at all but I saw someone take a photograph of the grassy hill and a section of the street. It was at this point that I realized I had unwittingly walked to the very point where John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated in November 1963. Obviously this was as good a place as any to drink a beer. So I sat up on the grassy knoll for a rest and read a few pages of Hunter S. Thompson.
HST’s book The Proud Highway had been my faithful companion for the past few weeks on the road. It was the perfect book for travelling. The back cover even had a picture of the author sitting on a backpack somewhere along the road in the desert. It’s a collection of letters written by Thompson to various peoples from the years 1955-65 – an early part of his career when he would have been around my age. While The Proud Highway read almost like a partial autobiography, because it was divided up into short letters it was also ideal for the low attention span of a spaced-out wonderer.
Eventually I moved on to find a place to rest my head. The area began to look like a place where they’d find a corpse on The First 48 on A&E. When I turned into a gas station, and bought a small cigar and glass bottle of coke, the operator could not tell me where I was or how far I was from anywhere I needed to go. This is the beginning of the Hispanic region of America. As the sun came down and I walked further I released I did have a “long haul” as the guy at liquor store put it. Exhausted after well over an hour of walking I picked up 24 cans of Miller High Life for $15 and finally found a $25 a night room. You know you’re in a classy place when they need to have a sign above the door that reads “no prostitution or drug use allowed.”
I spent the evening of my birthday with the fan on the full blast, stark naked with some cold ones. Kind of like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Except that I also got text greetings from friends and watched a marathon of King of the Hill.
The first full day of my 27th year was arguably more self-destructive than mature. However, I did learn a thing or two and had enough of an unexpected and half-remembered time to make for a good story.
When I checked out I made for the grassing knoll again and talked to some conspiracy theory buffs about the history of the spot. Then I found a bar serving happy hour and drank some strong sangrias (regular sangria plus 151 rum). This was probably not a good idea since I had only eaten a rather disappointing Jack’n’Box breakfast on that very hot summer day. Another lone customer next to me was having his fill of food on the menu along with beers and whiskey. One thing I really love about the States is that people go to bars alone in the middle of day just to pass the time. I don’t know if it’s the price of drinks or the culture but that sort laid back indulgence isn’t practised enough Up North. I eventually started a conversation with the young guy over the similarity of our two shitty cellular phones. I quickly found that he was an Iraq War vet and when I told him that I had hours to kill before catching a bus to El Paso he was eager take me out for the rest of the day drinking on his dime.
I should have eaten some of the salty and cheesy dishes he had hardly touched so the booze wouldn’t have had such a lethal effect on me. The young guy didn’t care about money so he ordered anything he fancied at the moment. I, however, did care about my pride and couldn’t bring my self to speak the words “you gonna finish that?” no matter how broke and hungry I was. This, however, would have been the wiser choice. We went to the bar-infested end of town and got completely wickedly drunk. From what I can remember I had a good time. It was one of those afternoons when you meet a new person and ask every bartender “how long do you think the two of us have known each other?” to which they usually assume we’ve been friends for years. From spending an evening alone I had now met and got to know a perfect stranger.
When we really started hitting the vodka and beer hard my new buddy (whose name for obvious reasons completely escapes me) confided some of horrid shit he had seen and done while in The Shit in Iraq. I’m not gonna get into it here but let’s just say that people who have fought in combat have experienced things that have you view them with a mixed attitude of fear and respect.
I don’t remember how or when I made it back to the bus station but only came to in the middle of the night on some highway with a special issued military ring on my finger. When I went through my belongings I found missing the second pair of sunglasses I had lost on the trip and my personal bible: Hunter S. Thompson’s The Proud Highway. At this point such tragic depression hit that I was absolutely beside myself. I have tried not to give in to my obsessive side but when you fuck up and lose something that you felt was truly essential to what you were doing the only compulsion is to try and put yourself back to where you were before the shit hit the fan.
There was no getting the book back now but sunglasses could be bought at any pit stop. And because I was losing my mind over the wild stupidity of the situation I also purchased my first and only pack of cigarettes. Anyone who has got black out drunk, woke up the next day not knowing how they got there and feeling they had made mistakes will tell ya they prey on about how things were going so well till that tipping point when they went over the edge. I kept brooding about how I could have made things right by eating more or drinking something less hard. In the end one should realize: it is a lesson learned, don’t make any further mistakes in an attempt to rectify it and straighten out.
I had begun to become paranoid with worry that I could add getting on the wrong bus to my list of inebriated foolishnesses. Thankfully as I came in and out of sleep the sun rose to reveal the side of the road was filled with aridness and a bleak brown landscape. At the next pit stopped I walked off the bus with some black dudes who offered me their joint. When I looked around at the dry dirt and rust on everything I remarked “We’re in West Texas now,” and someone said “It’s desert from here on out.”

Written by shanedantimo

March 4, 2013 at 1:13 am