Scourge and Transparency

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

Posts Tagged ‘traveling

The Cape Fear

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I had not written a word until on my way out of Florida. And I have to admit I was somewhat happy to be leaving the state. The region is like every possible demographic and stereotype of America is crammed into one isolated and humid peninsula. There they have the rich, the poor, the very poor and the rich that are still culturally poor. I should ask the Floridians to not take offence here but who am I to tell people how to feel? – go right ahead and shit on me. My observation is partially based on 6 hours in an Orlando bus station where I expected my company to be Mickey Mouse but I got methheads instead. In spite of what happened in the foreclosure state it was all but a detour on my way to the bottom of the Mississippi River – New Orleans.
When I finally put pen to paper, while waiting at a roadside bus stop sitting on my bag, I took a look up and saw that I was directly beneath a palm tree. During the previous week I had for the first time swam in the ocean (although technically the Gulf of Mexico, still sea water nonetheless). People that grow up on the coasts always shit bricks when you tell them you’ve never seen the ocean – as if they’re unfamiliar with the Midwest or therefore assume that you are unable to even swim. I grew up near the Great Lakes and although it isn’t salt water the pollution has a distinctive taste and smell as well. The bus to the land of Cubans and crocodiles was a long 20-plus hours with layovers. Needless to say I was very irritable and groggy.
The reason I was stopping down that way was to visit my father. I was guaranteed some hearty free meals and birthday money – both of which were much needed. Unfortunately it is incredibly difficult getting through to my dad even face-to-face and almost like emailing a brick wall. I told him I was travelling coast to coast and could stop by his neck of the woods for a few days around the beginning of June. He said he was leaving Florida at the start of July but I could fly home with him – completely disregarding the clear description of my travel plans. Not only that, he spent the 48 hours I was there complaining that I should stay for another week. While sitting by the beach and having everything provided for me would be enjoyable, I had to move onto more exciting places – as scheduled.
Even though I had time to scribble in my journal, only moments prior I was worried I’d miss my bus and have to stay in Florida even longer. Despite having told my absentminded parent the date, time and location of my departure he coconsciously – or unconsciously – decided not to consult a map or arrange transportation to the bus pickup until minutes before it left. It seems my father was more concerned with me enjoying a “vacation” instead of realizing that I wasn’t on a hardly deserved holiday but on a pre-planned backpacking journey.
Instead of spending two days and two nights wallowing in some much-needed sleep, gluttony and time poolside I was dragged on an exhausting and stressful sabbatical. I was pulled through tours of neighbourhoods and beaches that all looked alike; woken up for breakfast earlier than when I would have set my alarm on a work day; introduced to people whose name and relation I instantly forgot; and more-or-less treated as if I had just become potty-trained. When I arrived at the condo after two nights on a bus without showering, shitting or shaving I desperately needed a good deal of time to get myself together. But after 15 minutes with the door locked behind me my father went into a panic; banging on the washroom and shouting because he thought I had obviously died. This wasn’t even the worst of it. While eating supper with some guests I excused myself so I could take a shit for the first time in four days. I had left some crumbs on my plate and instead of the dinner party departing after finishing their meals they all sat and waited for me to return from defecation. It was at this point that I informed my father that I was mature enough to be in the bathroom alone without worrying him.
The few days I spent in the Sunshine State were certainly something of a jarring experience. The miniature and moist vacation was squeezed between wild binge drinking and filled with child-like annoyances and pampering. It goes without saying I would have preferred more time to rest my head and less encounters at bus stations with people who looked like, and probably had been, arrested on COPS. Yet in hindsight it probably did me good to remove myself from a steady diet of crackers and alcohol in preparation for the Big Easy.

Written by shanedantimo

April 1, 2013 at 5:37 am

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

The Winds Of Shit

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Some summers ago I decided to take a short trip to some coastal cities I hadn’t visited before. I had scheduled to see Philadelphia first, with a layover in Baltimore, followed by a couple nights in Boston and maybe one night in Portland or somewhere. Most likely I would have a few days leftover to make it back to my cousin’s wedding in Southern Ontario. I also needed to reach Ottawa to pick up my only reasonable suit, bring it the 6-hour plus trip to Hamilton and have it dry-cleaned as well as make myself presentable in other regards. I had two weeks to do this all, which was plenty of time – most things considered. What I hadn’t considered was eventually not giving a shit about anything except the most basic responsibilities, coming into contact with some very interesting folks and a hurricane.

My first nights in Philadelphia were stereotypical. I did the regular tourist site-seeing: Ben Franklin’s grave, Constitutional Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (basically everything one would do on a vacation to that city except the Old City Hall and the Liberty Bell).  My first of two nights in town there was a movie night in the hostel and I enjoyed some wine and watched an entertaining contemporary sci-fi of which the name escapes me. It should also be noted that I had a black 500 ml reusable water bottle that I filled with whiskey to sip that evening and continuously throughout my journeys.

I had learned some tricks of the trade on a voyage the summer previous. From going coast-to-coast I knew I only needed to take with me the absolute essentials and everything had to be as light as possible. The backpack was crucial as well as a flask to hide booze, a single pair of pants and little regards for socks or soap for they were easily left behind. My dollar store water bottle would prove to be a security blanket I would carry with me to various corners of the continent despite haphazardly misplacing it on several occasions.

The morning after a pub-crawl in Philadelphia I couldn’t find my flask but it turned up in the lost-and-found of the hostel with a few sips of whisky left in it. My second day there took me to the museum and outside its famous doors looking at the cityscape I got that sense of euphoria one gets when they’ve realized the distance they’ve travelled, where they’ve been and where they are. However no one can ever predict where they’ll be.

After some serious drinking and a disappointing cheese steak sandwich I moved on to Baltimore. I had heard many things about the city many of which turned out to be true from simply walking from the bus station underneath bridges to get to the hostel. On the other hand much of place was quite elegant. Like many US towns it’s just the wrong corner or the wrong area that is the real cesspool. I had booked one night here but when I saw that travel to an Orioles game had been organized by the hostel for the next evening I decided to cancel my bookings in Boston, stay two nights in Baltimore and go on to one or two nights somewhere else before moving back Up North. This change of planning made all the difference.

Little did I knew that Hurricane Irene was making her way up the coast in the coming days and would cause transportation between metropolitan areas to be halted indefinitely. For the next four mornings I would wake up partially still drunk quickly bathe, pack and run down stairs seconds before checkout to find out that no buses were leaving the area. I would then immediately re-check in to a different bed, rest and then drink again.

The evening that the storm hit the city had everyone hauled up in the hostel. Many Europeans hoped to spend their holiday in cities more glamorous than Baltimore and were morose do be stuck inside because of the weather. I had, however, filled my flask with brandy even though this hostel had a strict no alcohol policy.  I noticed in the crowded common room another young fellow pouring a bottle covered in a bag into a coffee mug. He offered me some of his wine but I informed I had my own and suggested before the weather got really bad we go out to grab some liquor to sneak back and drink the storm away. With the incredibly low prices of US booze we could easily get ourselves drunk and cheer up the other travellers with offerings of rye and coke. In spite of our generosity we were the only ones to really hit the bottle and were eventually blackout wasted.

The next morning I awoke in bed fully clothed with shoes on and completely soaking wet. When I came down stairs to find my partner in crime he explained that after getting busted with the forbidden liquor we took to the streets to try and find a bar open during the hurricane. While we were lucky enough to find such an establishment we were much too drunk on our return home to find our place of lodging despite being within a block of it. The umbrellas were blown away, the clothes completely drenched and the only person we found to come out with us for a drink turned out to be completely off his cracker. This dude, whom we left at the bar because of his queerness, came back wildly drunk and threatened to kill all non-American lodgers by waking them up with a flashlight in the wee hours. He was eventually asked to leave the hostel the next morning over-shadowing my friend and mine’s disregard for the rules. When we finally returned from getting lost in the hurricane him and me broke into the storage room the staff had put our confiscated substance in. We were then caught red-handed drinking from the bottle in a locked closet. This is all very much a blur. My fellow alcoholic with the wine in a mug remembers it better than I. He turned out to be from Philadelphia of all places and was in Baltimore on business.

The next day my new buddy and I went to another Orioles game and up in the nosebleed seats we discussed drug use. He informed me that he knew where to meet Charlie back in Philly and asked if I wanted to crash on his couch for a few nights. By this time I was long over due to race to Ottawa and pick up my formal clothing, get back to Hamilton, have the clothes dry-cleaned and get myself a haircut with barely enough time to make it to the wedding. But looking down at the baseball diamond after a few tallboys of Miller Lite and a hurricane behind me it seemed like the absolute right thing to do: go back to Philly, sleep on a stranger’s couch and do some drugs.

In the end the couch turned out to be a floor, doing drugs turned out to be a serious binge, and my second stay in Philly acquainted me with the city of brotherly love that I came to know in the many trips back to that fine town in the months to come. On top of all this I spent my final night of this epic journey in a shady hostel in Harlem NYC smoking a lot weed with some middle-aged women. Finally I barely made it to the wedding with a Zeller’s suit on, a large beard and not really a hangover but in constant state of alcohol abuse. 

 

Written by shanedantimo

February 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm