Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Salt & Pepper

The Space In Between

Black & White, Mustard and Ketchup, Ying & get the idea. Everything has its counterpart.

On my recent day off from work (I take a lot of them, seniority has it's perks) I took my car into the shop to have some work done on it. If you have read enough of my ramblings, you know that my car is not a practical thing; it is more of a hobby. It is also more of an expensive hobby. I guess it is considered one of those mid-life crisis toys that men get when they turn 50. It is also one of those things that every 18 year old dreams of having. Let me tell all you young'uns one thing, the reality isn't quite what you dreamed it would be.

So on my day off I am driving the "Red Rocket" to the other side of town for some $150/hour TLC. I am passing folks left and right and turning a few heads as I go, which is basically what this car is designed to do. More than once, I have driven down the interstate and thought to myself that "I am living the dream", while at the same time calculating in my head how much it is costing me to traverse each mile of asphalt.

I ended up at the dealer and droped off my toy, handed over the keys, chit-chated for a while and left. The dealer has never worked on the car for less than 10 days and I knew I wouldn't be seeing the Red Rocket again for a while. That is just part of owning an expensive adult toy. There are long periods of separation.

Since my wife was home sleeping off some anesthesia from a recent dentist visit and in no shape to drive a car, I hopped on the local bus system for the 2 hour bus ride back to our house. This was the other side of the coin.

Phoenix is a driving town. It is built on the assumption that everyone has an automobile. Although, Phoenix has improved its bus system over the past few years. They had to, with the shifting economy and the influx of immigrants that need to ride it. This city is really spread out and you can't walk anywhere, especially when it is 110 degrees in the summer.

I boarded the west bound bus at its terminus and grabbed a prime seat. What I got to see over the next 2 hours was a succession of folks getting on and off the bus at almost every stop. There were construction workers with tools, office workers, students, elder folks in wheelchairs, some transients, and a whole mess of young Hispanic woman with several toddlers in tow. After a few stops, the bus was standing room only.

As I sat in my chair with my sunglasses over my eyes and my iPod plugged into my ears, I got to watch this whole inner-city opera of characters come and go to the strains of Nino Rota's music composed for Federico Fellini's early films of the 1950s and 60s. It was all a bit surreal.

I mused how each of them would react to driving the rocket to their destination. I wasn't being smug or condesencding. I just wondered if they thought they would ever be living their dream and what it might be.

I as I stared into their faces, I saw the cross section of America that many people don't see while commuting to work in their Chevrolets and Lexus. Some of these bus riders had aspirations and hopes that hadn't been crushed by corruption or bad luck. Some had lived hard lives and it showed in the lines around their eyes and on their foreheads. Some didn't seem to have a clue and were just going through the motions.
This was the 'melting pot' that we all hear about in history books and in social studies. It is a real thing, not just a cliché.

If the politicians that are spending mountains of money to get themselves elected president really want to get my vote, they need to ride this bus for a week. They need to give up their seat for an elderly woman; they need to stand next to the foul smelling drunk. They need to contemplate the 15 year old rapper with the tattoos and the pierced lip. They need to stand holding on to a strap for 50 minutes until their anlkes swell and their feet hurt. They need to become one with the 'melting pot'.

This is one of the little things that the Red Rocket has taught me. It is just one end of a spectrum. Seeing the spectrum from both ends has given me a much better view of all the things that lay in between. Strength isn't found at the ends, it springs from somewhere in the middle.

Sleeping Bus Rider

Monday, March 12, 2007

Three Coins

R.I.F. (Reduction In Flow)
[Federal Building, Phoenix, AZ]

If you live in a big city there are a lot of distractions. Noise made by helicopters, airliners, traffic and pedestrians is everywhere. It is enough to drive you insane sometimes.

When I was young man, fresh out of college and looking for my first job in the Pacific Northwest, I lived in Portland, Oregon. I really loved this city. During those lean years, I had a copy of War and Peace. Every day (when it wasn't raining) I would walk downtown to a huge fountain complex, climb up on one of the high perches in the middle of it, sit down and read Tolstoy for about an hour each day. It was a wonderful experience, because even though I was in the heart of a modern metropolis, I could be totally alone and at peace with all the water falling around me.

Ira Keller Fountain, Portland OR

But now I live in the Desert Southwest. They have fountains here, but they aren't the same. The State Motto of Arizona is "Ditat Deus" (God Enriches). A reference to the bounty of land. This may have been true back in the 1950s, but with the influx of millions of people (many of them illegal from south of the border), the land can't provide as much as it used to.

Wesley Bolin Plaza, State Capital, Phoenix, AZ

When it comes to public works in Arizona (building, roads, bridges, etc...) they don't tend to fund things for the long haul. They build it, and when a fiscal crisis hits, they tend to yank back funding. The end result is that the public works fall into disrepair, and are often times never revived. The end result is money wasted.

City Hall, Phoenix, AZ

Such is the case with the fountains of Phoenix. They were once pretty common. Places where the madding roar of the city could be hushed by the sound of falling water and the cool mist from their spray would comfort the citizens passing by in 100 degree heat. But not anymore. They are tomb stones to miss-management and the shrinking water resources of a society that is unchecked in its growth. There are no more refuges where you can find solitude to read a book or get lost in your thoughts here.

Public Library (Main Branch), Phoenix, AZ

Although, I haven't noticed any brown golf courses around Phoenix, and the fountains in front of huge planned communities in the suburbs still seem to flow. If you have money and influence, the water still bubbles. If you just pay your taxes here, the well ran dry a long time ago.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Wake Up Gary.....

A short work of fiction in 4 parts.

Chapter - 1, Pelicans

Chapter - 2, Pirates

Chapter - 3, Sentinals

Chapter - 4, Cubes

Gary had the chills. A storm front had moved in during the night and it had been raining all morning. He was already frustrated from the drive into work. When it rained in this town all the drivers slowed to a crawl, which made his 45 minute commute to the office twice as long. To top it all off, the office air conditioning was on which made the damp air seem even colder.

For a Monday, it was pretty quiet in the ‘cube farm’. Most of his fellow co-workers hadn’t shown up for work yet, even though it was almost 8:30am. Gary had been busying himself with some left over work from Friday. He e-mailed another copy of the spreadsheet to Ralph in accounting and had pulled up his favorite news websites to find out what had been going on for the past two days.

Gary’s co-worker Bob poked his head over the cube wall.

“What’s Up, G-man? Have a productive weekend?”

“Somewhat. Can’t say that it was too enjoyable, but I suppose you could say I got some stuff accomplished. How about yourself, Bobster?” Gary replied.

“Lawn mowing, car shopping, laundry…you know, the usual manly stuff. Aint’ this weather a bitch? Betcha half the staff call in sick just to avoid commuting in this shit.”

“No doubt, should make for a quiet Monday….I hope.”

“Speaking of which, Der Furher won’t be in today either. I guess Rick had something pop up unexpectedly. His secretary said he won’t be in today.” Bob added.

“Really?” Gary responded.

Gary downed the last of his second cup of coffee and stood up from his chair. “Nature calls big guy, back in five.”

“Hope they restocked the toilet paper, they were out on Friday.” Bob responded as he disappeared back into his cube.

As Gary walked down the hall to the men’s room, he wondered why Rick wouldn’t be in. He rarely missed a day of work. Rick broke his arm once playing flag football with his kids and still showed up on Monday with his arm in a cast.

He had returned Fran's call on Sunday but all he got was her voice mail. He wanted to talk to her about a lot of things but hadn't heard back from her.

Gary entered the men’s room and found an empty stall. He closed the door and sat down. This was his second office. This was the place where he could sit in relative isolation and think things through without interruption. He had a lot of things to think about at this point.

Soon after he closed the stall door, he heard two co-workers enter the bathroom. From the sound of their voices it was one of the company vice-presidents and someone else from the finance division.

“So what do you think the scoop is? Was it just an accident or do you think there is something fishy about it?” the voice from finance asked.

“Something sounds funny. From what he knew, she was supposed to be in San Diego visiting her sister, not driving back from Mexico. I am sure there are a lot of questions he'll be asking. At times like this, he'll have to juggle a bunch of things; telling the kids, making arrangements, calling relatives, friends, whatever. I don’t envy him the task. He won’t be back in the office anytime soon.” was the V-P’s response.

Gary sat in silence as he heard the V-P wash his hands.

“Sometimes you never know what’s going on in life until……..” the voice of the finance worker trailed off as both men left the bathroom and the door closed behind them.

Gary got up from the seat, left the stall and headed back to his desk. He sat down and started browsing the internet news stories for his local area. In the archived section, buried in the stories from 2 days ago, it showed a young women killed in a roll over accident south of town.

Gary sat frozen as a wave of doubt, grief, sadness and anger rolled over him like a torrent. He lost track of the time until his cell phone rang and jolted him back to reality.

He looked at the number on his phone’s caller ID. It was an incoming call from Fran!

Gary opened the phone and put the receiver to his ear….”Fran?”

"Hello Gary, this is Rick……we need to talk."

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Newer Isn't Always Better

I am sitting here lamenting the end of something. It has actually been gone for quite a while.

I keep coming across the notion that newer isn't always better. There are things that I used to buy or wanted that I can't get anymore at any price. The stuff of my dreams really aren't obtainable anymore, unless I want to manufacture them myself, which just isn't practical.

I don't drive much anymore. Don't need to. When I do, I have a toy car to move around in. It is more of an ego machine than anything else. It is hardly practical and pretty expensive to run. It is 16 years old. The ones they make today are much more expensive and not as well made.

I suppose it is a loss of innocence. We used to dream big and the American Capitalist Dream Machine was there to fill those fantasies, because the machine dreamed big as well.

But those dreams all got lost somewhere between the Summer of Love, the Vietnam War and Watergate. I suppose the Apollo Moon Landing was the last time we really dreamed big and lived large. It has been a slow decent into mediocrity since then.

Pictured above is the 1958 Cadillac Biarritz Convertible. They only made them for about 3 years. Lord knows how many are left and what they might go for at Pebble Beach or the Barrett-Jackson Auction. I am sure they would be worth more than our house.

It isn't that they were great cars (they were). But their real value is they stand as a monument to what our dreams were. And you can't buy those dreams anymore. The Cadillac’s of today pale in comparison. And besides, most folks want Hummers these days anyway.

I have to struggle to remember that there was a time when I looked forward to going for a drive. Back when the roads were empty, I didn't have to pay taxes and my parents owned a car like the one pictured above.

I feel for the kids that get piled into the mini-van to be shuttled through traffic to spend the afternoon at the mall. We lost something in getting from there to here. We lost a lot more than we realize.

(Clicking on the picture, takes you to the website where more of the hand made behemoths are viewable.)