Archive | January, 2022

…Then the Wind Kicked Up

19 Jan

So I mentioned that last weekend, I went camping. In January. In the desert. So after setting up my tent, enjoying my fire, I put it out and went to bed. Then the wind kicked up…

Now knowing it was going to drop down to 40 degrees F, I had this brilliant plan to create a cocoon to use my body heat to keep my comfortable. I brought A LOT of extra blankets. I had a tarp underneath, two tent liners, two sleeping bags, three pillows, and a quilt that kept me warm through a Connecticut winter. Then to add on top of that, I had three blankets that I didn’t care as much about, that I draped on top of the tent.

So when I got in that night, it was very cozy. Sure, it was cold, but not terrible, and my back wasn’t complaining for sleeping on that dirt.

What I didn’t anticipate was that a 10-15 mph wind was kick in through the desert and knocked my blankets off. So by midnight, my face was freezing. I buried my body under the quilt and the sleeping bag, and had to reverse my hoodie so I was breathing into the back to keep the chill off my face. Because I went to bed at 8 pm (two hours after sunset), I woke up at 3:45 to the rooster kickin’ off his Praise of Dawn. After another half-hour, I finally gave up and started the fire.

Now I normally wake up at 5 am, so this wasn’t terrible, but at home I have my coffee maker working by that point. Here I had to make the fire, get it hot enough, then wait for the water to heat before my instant coffee and cream could be drunk. Sounds awful, but this instant coffee is amazing. An hour later, I was warm again, had my coffee, read my book (by flashlight), and everything was right with the world. However, by the time sunrise had come (although it was overcast), the wind was so bad that I decided, “Screw it, I’m going back to bed.” In my tent, without the wind, I was quite cozy, and kept reading. Then a couple hours later, I was ready to drive to my convention (which I’ll save for another post).

Before I came back to the camp that night, I made sure to pick up somethings. One, I picked up some more charcoal (I had burned through an entire bag), but I also bought some chip clips, and some different food (because it turned out that there was a reason I was avoiding all this meat and bread). So this time, I clipped the blankets down on the poles and weighed down the ends with rocks. I discovered that I could pull the extension cord closer to my tent and plugged in my computer and phone (which got reception). So after my evening fire, I crawled into my tent at 8 pm and played computer games until 10 pm.

The blankets stayed on, my face didn’t freeze, and when I woke up at 5 am, I was quite cozy. This time, I didn’t have to use charcoal to start my fire, and got it going with one match. After my morning coffee and book time, I once again hid in my tent to play computer games. However, the sun finally came out, so by 9 am, it was actually getting HOT in that tent. I folded everything up starting at 11, and by noon, I was already heading home.

I had a great time–and glad to have had the opportunity to relax in the chilly desert. As for why I was in Tucson, I’ll have to leave that for tomorrow.

Chill(y) Camping, Southwest Style

18 Jan

Last weekend, I had to go down to Tucson, and the friend I was going to stay with ended up flaking on me. So instead of a lot of driving, I decided to camp. Now doing this in January, even in sunny Arizona, sounds like a recipe for disaster. But I decided I wanted to have a good story, so…

Now even the US Forest Service thinks camping in the winter is a bad idea, so you can’t reserve a campground around Mt. Lemmon (which overlooks Tucson) until April. Most of the commercial campgrounds are designed for RV’s, so that left me in a pickle. Then I discovered Hipcamp, which is basically AirBnB for camping, and listed a couple locations north of where I wanted. One of them was listed as a property that had a very hippie vibe. Even though that’s the exact opposite of what I am, I thought, “Okay, I don’t need to sing kum-by-ya, I just need a camp.” So I signed up.

I drove down on Friday, driving past Florence, Arizona, where I passed no less than six roadside stands selling Trump merchandise. Even in the most conservative town, I thought this was a little overboard. (Discovered later that the orange one was showing up for a rally on Saturday.) After two wrong turns (my own fault), I reach the campsite, and no one answers the door. Thankfully, there were a couple helpful folks, including an older man named White Wolf, who took me down to the campsite and guided me how to drive in.

And that’s when I realized, this wasn’t a “hippie theme,” this was a hippie commune. In fact, as I explored around, this commune had been around since the 60’s. It was a commune that had seen better days, but it was not dead. My campsite was next to two fenced off gardens, neither of which was prospering. There were about four houses on this tract of desert, a couple of RV’s, and… uh, maybe ten shacks in various stages of repair. Some had solar panels, furnaces, ovens… some were locked up, waiting for the next resident. However, there was electricity (through a chain of extension cords), water (pipes had been installed a long time ago), hot showers (for two minutes at a time), and even though we were in the desert, plenty of firewood. Turns out there was so much dead cacti (which burns fast and makes perfect kindling), dried weeds, and dead bushes that I could keep my rock circle going. (Though it did make me worry about setting off a brush fire.)

Because it’s a commune, maybe of the residents took their evening walk past my campsite, so I got to meet several of them. I saw more folks in the distance as I wandered around, so I’d estimate somewhere between 15-20 people lived on the property, from young kids to elderly; a good age spread. I met four large dogs, including Ginger (the white dog pictured here), who apparently was the neighbor’s dog, but enjoyed hanging out here more! Most of my conversations were short, but I got the impression that it wasn’t a classic commune, where everyone worked together to improve the property. They may have started like that, but now, the commune aspect was “you get to live here rent-free.” If you want to eat, though, you have to work somewhere off property. I met one gal who had just gotten off her night shift job, and I knew there was no need for a night shift on property. The camping and the yurt (which you can rent on AirBnB) helped pay the bills.

All in all, it was a very nice place to camp in a friendly community. However, it wasn’t like the residents were swarming you… they left you alone mostly. It was cloudy and getting chilly, so I thought I’d throw some extra blankets over my (rather cozy) one-person tent. After I enjoyed reading my book near the fire, the weather was dropping down to 45 F, so I put the coals out and went to bed.

How did that turn out? Well… I’ll have to tell you about it tomorrow!

“Really?”

13 Jan

I was walking around downtown Phoenix the other day–and inevitably I’m walking down a street where a homeless woman is sitting on the sidewalk. As I walk past, she says, “Really?!” It was a simple statement that bugged me the rest of the day.

Upon reflection, it bugged me the most because the implication is that I owe you something. It’s not like she had a sign out (like the picture I chose for this post), or a hat, she was just sitting against the wall on an empty street… literally just her and me for blocks. What do I owe the other hundred people I walk past on my way to work and back?

  1. Don’t bug them.
  2. Don’t stink.
  3. Don’t get in their way.

It’s a limited social contract, I realize, but it’s pretty straightforward. My obligation to my fellow Phoenician on a daily basis are those three. Now is that all we should be doing? No. But what was she expecting in this interaction?

The simple answer is money–and I go back and forth on this one. Years ago I felt like, “That’s a shitty way to make money, so if they’re willing to put in the ‘work,’ sure, I’ll throw them a buck.” Now I’m like, “We have a labor shortage in the simplest of jobs. You’re obviously healthy enough to work, screw you.” I don’t care if they spend that money on drugs, booze, or food (but let’s face it, it’s the first two), but I’m under no obligation to help you get those. The reason she (and at least three hundred others) are sitting there is because the county shelter, a food bank, a soup kitchen, and at least three other homeless services are there.

I give to one of those (and occasionally two others) because I believe that the homeless deserve to have help. So I’m thinking there are six locations within easy walking distance of my cube that will feed you, clothe you, help get you a job, and help you get housing. Yet there is a reason why you’re sitting on an empty sidewalk at 2 pm on a Tuesday. It’s not because you’re just down on your luck. It’s because the alternative is inconvenient to you.

In the end, the “really?!” tells me everything I need to know. My experience with homeless and ex-homeless people is that these are people who have exhausted every other connection they have. They have burned out their friends, they have crushed their family ties, and they think it’s all other people’s fault, not theirs. Why should I have to work? Doesn’t the government owe me something? You see me–give me something!

In many ways, that’s the greatest lesson that I learned and that many people haven’t. If I’m sitting in a bad situation, I did something to get me here. Sure, I may have had a bad break here and there, but my choices led me to this place. It’s my choices that will get me out. It’s never too late.

Somewhere Beyond the Barricade

12 Jan

Another lifetime ago, I was asked to review a book, and I promised I would get to it… right after the book on my Kindle. Well, three months later I did and… is it bad? Is it good? The answer was unsatisfying.

The name of the book is Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven. Now once I got past my knee-jerk resentment of the Dutch, I barreled into the text. Start with the good stuff: the book is incredibly well-written. The characters are detailed and multi-faceted. The setting is… interesting. But every time I read a chapter, I had a hard time starting the next.

Someone once said that being an author is like being a substitute teacher; you have the readers a reason to pay attention. So here are some of the things that threw me off while reading:

1. If it’s Chile, just call it Chile.

Alejandro’s Lie is set in Chile during the end of the General Pinochet dictatorship. Except it’s not Pinochet, it’s Pelaron. It’s not set in Santiago, it’s Valtiago. It’s not Chile, it’s Terreno. At first I thought, “okay, I can accept that it’s a made up South American country.” But it’s not, it’s in the Andes. Everything about this screams “CHILE!” and it’s not subtle about it. You mention America, Belgium, Cuba… why not Chile?

I only have a tertiary knowledge of Chile and its history (mostly from Death and the Maiden), but come on! Why not completely make up a whole country like Parador, where you can invent everything you want how you want it without offending anybody… but he doesn’t. Why just write about Chile and then file the serial numbers off?!

2. Your protagonist should actually do something.

The eponymous Alejandro, after ten years being tortured in retail hell Chilean Terranan prison for being the lead guitarist of a protest band, finally gets out and has nothing. He runs into a protest that goes violent and saves a rich woman from getting arrested. Okay, good start.

Then Alejandro is whiny for the next hundred pages. He has to be coaxed into everything by Beatriz (the love interest), including sex, to get back down with the cause. Everything that moves the plot is done by either Beatriz or Rene (the Belgian priest). What the hell is Alejandro’s lie? That he’s not really down with the cause? Yeah, we get it.

3. Everybody Hurts

One of my favorite radio hosts talks about he loves War and Peace, so I tried reading it again. I got to Page 250 and stopped reading because I just couldn’t care about any of the characters. They were aristocrats trapped in a cage of their own making. Interestingly enough, he also talked about how he hates Dune, which told me that his tastes and mine and completely different (I’ve read Dune six times–love it).

Alejandro is miserable about being tortured. Fine. Beatriz is miserable because of the oppressive father and oppressive ex-husband in her life. Okay. Rene is miserable because he feels like his life’s work is meaningless and he should have just banged his brother’s girlfriend and been married in Belgium. None of the characters actually want to do anything apart from a vague idea to free Terrano from Pelaron, but they certainly aren’t on fire about it. They’re too far up their own ass to actually fight.

Sure, this is more realistic, but it’s depressing as hell.

So… can I recommend this book? It is good, but it’s not for me. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction for just this reason. I want a story, not detailed character studies, and their interactions. That doesn’t interest me; but if you like War and Peace (or Russian literature in general), go for it. But I got about 2/3rds through the book in three months and it was torture getting that far.

Maybe I’m not the best audience to review your book. *shrug*

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