Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 – TURNING PAGES – 2015

What inspires us to turn the page, round the bend or seek the next rise in the road?

Perhaps it’s our individual histories – our experience from previous pages, twists and bends and summits.  Something rewarded us, so we look forward to the next something.


Humankind has been celebrating mid-winter holidays, I surmise, since the time we feared the mid-day sun was shrinking into the southern horizon.  The nights grew long, the days cold.  Would it ever return north?  We hoped we’d packed in enough provision to see us through whatever was to happen.

Our revelry buoyed us against the cold and darkness.  We prayed that the sun would return and it did. 

Over the course of history, somewhere early on, we realized that spring followed the darkness and with the spring would come the warmth of sunnier days and some sort of rebirth.  Plenty would follow.

Fast forward a million and a half years or so: We no longer scrabble for food – well, most of us don’t – but we do battle the winter blues.  Combating those, we throw up a tree, spangle it with lights, roast a turkey or a ham, and share gifts and kisses.  Soon, we find ourselves reflecting about the year gone by and anticipating the one upcoming. 


Collectively and individually, our innate desire is to explore some next chapter.  We seek to unravel the mystery around some next bend.  We want to conquer some next summit that we’re sure will steal our breath.  And we know we’ll be welcomed back to the hearth when we return.

So one year closes and another opens with inspiration – perhaps a humans- only emotion.  Moving forward, we trust that our travels will be rewarded with wonder, bounty and love.  Maybe that’s why we keep turning pages.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Pres

Sunday, December 7, 2014


But I’d trade all my tomatoes
For a single yesterday…

Butchered lyrics
from a great travelin’ song

I’d be deadheading a flat rack down the coast on US 101, overnighting about King City, then headin’ out before dawn fueled only by dishwater coffee and a pancake sandwich slathered in imitation maple syrup and a couple of eggs.  And a side of hash browns.  And rye toast.  (If my mother calls, tell her I had the rye toast dry.)  My destination?  Lompoc: Roger Ramjet’s home base back in the 60s.  There, I’ll load up.  The manifest?  Tankards of bulk Chardonnay, strapped down good.  I’ll swing back north through Salinas and Frisco, and across the Gate.  We’ll off load ‘er a couple of hours north, near the southern edge of the Emerald Triangle.  Then I’ll find a neon lit boot-scoot in Healdsburg and throw down a cold one.  That’s the plan, at least.

In preparation, I purchased an iron rod so I could occasionally stop by the side of the road and bounce it off the rig’s tires and a new deck of playing cards to roll up into the sleeve of my t-shirt so it’d look like I was toting a pack of Marlboros, or better yet, Chesterfield straights.  That’s what the long haul truckers do, right?

It’s a two-day run.  One I’ve looked forward to: the freedom of the open road, the whining of the tires on the slab, the rhythmic slap of the wipers streaking across a pitted windshield, sunburned elbow out the window, singin’ “Bobby McGhee.” Truck stops with dyed-red-haired waitresses I’d never see again but who’d refer to me, like a regular, as “honey.” Sweet, blue diesel fumes.  Sleepin’ in the back of the cab with only a musty, moth-eaten army blanket and an AM radio for company.  Maybe I can pen me some lyrics overnight.  You know: about the romance of life out on the four-lane.

Reality often differs from fantasy or the dream world.  While in college and during my first few years of teaching, I did a little trucking to help make ends meet.  My rig this weekend would bring new meaning to the term “little trucking.”

The winemaking daughter lashed six empties onto a five-by-twelve trailer and sent me eight hours south to pick up some raw material she’d secured through a broker.

I didn’t find myself racked out in the sleeper because a Nissan crew cab doesn’t come with one.  Rather, I made arrangements for a night in a motel about half way down and ended up in a room that had been declared “non-smoking” about 48 hours prior to my checking in.  Breakfast, ninety minutes down the road the next morning, was an omelet and some weak coffee and banter with the waitress was pleasant, even a bit flirtatious. 

Barreling down 101 with a trailer, I found it a better plan to maintain some sort of a schedule than to stop for any of the historical or scenic attractions along the way.  Besides, parking with a trailer is a pain.  Therefore, added to my motorcycle bucket list is a comprehensive tour of all of California’s missions using 101 as the main corridor for the ride. 

Forty years after my stint as a casual trucker, I still harbor nightmares of the freight I improperly stacked only to have it collapse and spill and the hours I spent at the end of my shift swabbing out gallons of varnish that didn’t make it to the paint store.  So I was delighted that the folks at the facility from which the bulk was being purchased were able to fill the barrels without having to loosen them from the trailer.

The return trip began shortly before noon and it would be ten o’clock before I would finally shut ‘er down.  Periods of heavy showers through the Bay Area brought out many of the western hemisphere’s amateur drivers.  Just south of Morgan Hill, an empty pickup hot-rodded past me on the left and slipped into the truck lane I was using.  At about 70, he hydroplaned across a flooded section spinning 90 degrees.  I braced myself for a crash.  When his back wheels met traction he rocketed off the freeway and up an embankment about forty feet where he still may be mired in the mud.  One can only hope.

North of San Jose, 101 was clogged because of Friday commute, lousy road conditions, a spate of rain-induced fender benders in the gathering dusk, and the fact that a parallel freeway was closed due to some civil disobedience over a recent grand jury finding elsewhere in the nation.  Then there are those surface street miles in downtown San Francisco where US 101 ceases to be a freeway. 

A stop at the north tower vista point of the Golden Gate Bridge afforded the only scenic shot my camera would take on this little adventure. 

The sixty-eight miles from the south bay to here consumed two hours and forty-five minutes.

By 10:15, I am at home (I am to deliver the goods locally the next morning) sitting in front of a gas flamed fire with a dram of Knob Creek over ice and reflecting on my days as a long haul trucker.  I’d listened to a lot of NPR and other than the omelet, all I’d had to eat was some pie and ice cream at a Denny’s outside of Soledad.  But I'm not hungry.  Just tired.

And satisfied.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, December 1, 2014


My UC Berkeley enrolled niece did a little research on the issue of tuition increases juxtaposed to the text of 2012’s Proposition 30.  She correctly found that Prop 30 made no specific promises protecting tuition levels for the UC system.  In a query to the Church of the Open Road, she laments that while she doesn’t like the proposed increases, she is appalled that those protesting are trotting out Proposition 30 as a promise unkept.  And what did I think?

Is the tuition increase a bad idea?  Sure it is.  The State of California can and should invest more in higher education – back at the institution’s inception, tuition used to be free for California residents – because, the thinking was, the more well educated a person is, the more productive that person will be within the state’s economy.  But is the tuition increase a back-step from a promise made when proposition 30 was passed?  Of course not.  It was never part of Prop 30.  And that’s the detail that is conveniently omitted when rallying the troops.  The protesters appear foolish trying to employ an arrow that’s not actually found in their quiver.  Perhaps they’re way too wrapped up in how the increase affects “me.”

As far back as I can remember (let me suggest that that goes back to my college days, although I must admit I may not be able to recall what I had for dinner last night) folks have been mobilized either for or against some cause.  In the 70s, it was opposition to the war in Vietnam, something that, if I’d been paying attention at the time, I probably would have opposed.  But when demonstrators closed the college for two days in protest, it prompted me to think less about our involvement in Southeast Asia and more about me getting cheated out of a couple of days worth of instruction that I’d paid for.  I was a kid who’d never left town.  What did I know of the world?  It was pretty easy to only think about myself in this instance.

Fast forward to now and we have incident after incident of protests and disruptions promulgated by organizations promoting a what’s-in-it-for-me binary view of an issue in order to whip up a rent-a-mob mentality among those who’re not acclimated to looking deeply at an issue (or who have little to do with their time that is actually constructive.)  The framing of the tuition increase as a we’ve-been-cheated protest is but one example. 

Binary thinking is a scourge on America.  Binary thinking thrives in an environment where and participants wallow in an easy and comfortable form of intellectual laziness.  It blooms when acceptance allows pesky details and truths to be left out if those ideas run counter to the desired narrative.  Binary thinking causes people to talk over or past one another rather than with each other.  Binary thinking says that something is either right or wrong, black or white, good or evil, moral or immoral.  In binary thinking there is no room for discussion or compromise.  Witness Ferguson.  Witness immigration.  Witness healthcare.  Witness firearm regulation.  Heck! Witness holiday gatherings for some families.  No discussion.  The one who yells loudest, wins.

No-middle-ground binary thinking is what we see going on in our public discourse, whether it is on AM talk radio, in the Twittersphere, on Facebook.  Sad circumstance.  The result is anger, distrust and even violence.  Rarely, if ever, solution.  Rarely, if ever, progress.

The thing is, somebody profits by all of this.  It’s like the kid on the playground who walks up to a another and says, “So and So thinks you’re a (fill in the blank).  Whereby “Another” gets fired up at So and So, and if the dispute ends up in an argument or fisticuffs, the kid who started it just sits back and enjoys the fracas. 

In big-people America, the sound machine has tapped into that path-of-least-resistance intellectual laziness to which too many of us now succumb.  The “machine” has figured out how to use (or misuse) flashpoint words like freedom, socialism, liberty, Nazism, liberal, “Democrat Party” – the list goes on and on – like prods.  One of those words attached to an issue an individual is concerned about can fire the person up to the point that they don’t want to or need to see the shades of gray that really define what should or could happen to resolve things.  Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are great at this.  I’m sure there are folks on the left as well.  Each side only says enough to ignite the base, then they sit back and profit.

Back when I was a kid in my teens and early 20s, in spite of the war and the protests, we felt our generation would be the one that could turn things around and set America – and then, of course, the world – on the right track.  (Cue John Lennon’s “Imagine.”)  But somehow, we lost our way and didn’t accomplish that.  About ten years ago, the publisher of the Sacramento Bee put forth the question “When did the idealism of the Baby Boom generation change?”  I responded (asking that it not be published) that I wasn’t sure exactly when, but it occurred sometime between when in a president’s inaugural address we were admonished to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and when, twenty years later, a successful presidential candidate rode into office asking the electorate: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Somewhere in that timeframe we became binary in our thinking.  And the question was a simple one:  “Is it good for me or is it not good for me?”  The greater good was lost somewhere.  That greater good will remain lost until we return to an embrace a larger perspective and throw off the shackles of binary thought.  Once we’ve done that, we can constructively address racial divides, immigration, healthcare, firearm regulation and, yes, UC tuition. 

Heck!  Even Thanksgiving dinner might, one day, be pleasant!  Wouldn’t that be cool?

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press