Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Pollyanna States of America

There was a time when I really believed in grassroots movements. But as I got older, (and wiser), there's nothing grassroots about grassroots.

On the surface, this recent movement to remove all signs and symbols of the Confederate States of America appears to be an altruistic push to give black people a "friendlier" place to co-exist. But the truth is that you can remove all the statues you want, and you will still have racists.

But what it does do is make Americans forget about our past.

It actually does hurt me as a Japanese-American that my fellow citizens have largely forgotten about Japanese concentration camps here in the United States. Kids today are no longer taught about it in history classes.

But do Japanese-Americans feel more comfortable living in the United States, now that we removed all the evidence? No. Japanese-Americans are still being called, "Japs", "Gooks", and "Orientals". Americans still refer to Hondas and Yamahas as "rice burners" and "jap bikes". It's still not a comfortable place.

If anything, the fact that we've taken down all remnants of Japanese-hatred somehow has caused the opposite effect. Blacks and hispanics don't consider Japanese-Americans to be minorities anymore. Somehow, we are now maligned as being part of the "privileged".

Let's also remind ourselves that it was a Democratic President who gave the order to round up all Japanese Americans, seize their property and bank accounts, and imprison them in camps, for the simple belief that Japanese-Americans could not be trusted.

Yes, a Democrat, a liberal, a "champion of human rights", did this.

Do we really think that by removing all tangible evidence of the Confederacy we will create a friendlier America for Blacks?

Apparently, people are believing it.

I was responded to by someone who argued that the reason why such a movement is happening right now is simply because it is needed, and it is the right thing to do.


Keep in mind that liberals could have removed these symbols decades ago if they wanted to. But they chose not to. And why is that?

The Democratic Party chose not to do it under the Obama Administration because they needed Southern votes to get Hillary Clinton elected in 2016. They chose not to do it in previous administrations because the South was divided over their support for Democrats and Republicans. And well before that, the South had always been strong supporters of the Democratic Party. But things have changed so much recently in the Democratic Party that southerners have felt under-served and have since migrated to the Republican Party.

In addition, more blacks voted for Trump in 2016 than they did for Romney in 2012.

This is alarming to the Democratic Party.

The movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy is about the Democratic Party trying to reclaim the Black vote in 2018.

And yet, Americans actually believe it's some kind of grassroots movement that happened on its own, like some kind of magical, universal, love that grew out of the goodness of humanity.

And that's another thing.

It's not that these whites want to make blacks feel more comfortable with the country they live in, but because they want to make themselves feel better.

But again, it hurts me to think that Americans want to forget about history.

I don't want anyone to forget about what happened to Japanese-Americans in World War II. I don't want anyone to forget about what America did to native tribes across the the continent, and I don't want anyone to forget that Blacks were enslaved in this country. I don't want the truth to be forgotten.

Grassroots movements don't just happen by themselves. They are orchestrated by very powerful political parties, who have alliances with media outlets. And this is both on the left and the right.

And everything is this way.

I majored in music when I attended college. I learned that songs reach the Top 40 charts because of the influence of the record labels, not because people actually like the songs. Products that reach nationwide distribution get there because of the influence of big brands, not because consumers actually want them.

Do we actually believe the Patriot Act was about protecting Americans, or about giving the federal government more power to monitor us? Was Obamacare about extending health insurance to more Americans, or about giving insurance companies more subscribers? Was the outlawing of marijuana about protecting Americans from drug abuse, or about protecting Big Pharma from competition?

People, don't be so stupid!

We are still a nation of Pollyannas.

Of course racism is wrong. But signs and symbols are not racist. They are just signs and symbols. They are merely reminders of where we came from, and why we shouldn't go back.

If you want to remove racism, then do what Germany is doing now, and imprison people for simply having a belief.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

When People Are Too Self-Minded to Care

My pickup truck and new trailer at Love's in Gary, Indiana
Customer Service seems nearly absent here in the greater Chicago area. As Sash and I pulled into Gary, Indiana, the childhood home of the Jackson Five and reportedly the "murder capital of the United States", we learned quickly how people here don't give a shit about other people.

The Love's Truck Stop was the one of the few places we could find that sold propane. So not really aware of how bad the neighborhood is in Gary, we pointed our truck and trailer towards that direction. The phone by the propane tank was not working, forcing Sash to walk into the Love's store building to request service.

"I'll have a guy come out to you", the clerk barked at Sash, sounding almost like Queen Latifah getting snubbed on Peoples Choice Awards. Sash was shaken, but thus far, unconcerned.

I stood out there waiting for the guy to come out. About 20 minutes later, I walked back in to ask again.

"I sent him out there, where were you!" the clerk spewed and stared at me.

"I was out there waiting", I answered defensively.

She called the guy up on the phone, talked to him, and then put the phone down.

"He said he went out there and you weren't there!"

What could I say?

"Fine, I'll send him out there again."

About 10 minutes later, the slowest walking, fattest belly blubbering, indifferent shoulder shrugging, 20-something year old guy with a Chicago White Sox cap worn backwards, comes out and fills both of my tanks.

"I'll see you inside", was all he said afterwards.

I followed him into the Love's store. I paid the receipt and walked back to the truck.

"I bet he never even came out", I said to Sash. "He just looked out the store window and gave it one glance, and didn't see me, so he gave up."

That was the first of our experience with horrible customer service in the larger Windy City area.

Hammond, Indiana, I hit the Wal-Mart to pick up a couple of camping chairs so we had something to sit on inside our new toy hauler. None of the chairs I wanted had price tags on them, When I got to the check out line, and raised up the chairs so that the clerk could scan them, she mentioned not finding any tags.

"Yeah, I didn't see any" I said.

She got on the phone to call someone in Home & Garden. About 5 minutes, she asked me if I knew the price.

"I think it said $14.88, but I'm not sure".

Another few minutes later, she gave up waiting, and started looking around. She finally saw one guy she recognized from Home & Garden.

"Ladarius!" she yelled out. When he looked her way, she waved him to come over.

"Do you know the price of these chairs?" she asked him.

Ladarius made a strange face, looking up and down over these chairs.

"Do you think these are $14.88 each?" she asked again.

Ladarius finally smiled and spoke with a deep voice like Shaquille O'Neal, "Yeah, that's the price!"

"Are you sure?" she asked him.

"Of course I'm sure, I work in Home & Garden."

So I got them for $14.88 a piece. Honestly, I'm sure that was the price, but looking back, I guess I could have said they were "$9.99" and still got them.

At a Popeye's Chicken in Joliet, Illinois, the girl taking drive-thru orders spoke with such an Ebonics accent that only Barbara Billingsley from "Airplane" could have understood. Sash wanted a "Number 4 combo", so I just said that. When the girl asked about a drink, I said "iced tea, unsweetened." Then she asked about sides. Sash wasn't expecting to be asked about sides, but blurted out "biscuits". The girl said, "No, what sides!". That's when noticed that biscuits wasn't an option on this combo. "French fries" I yelled out, just trying to say something.

I then heard her ask if that was all. "No", I continued. "I want a 5-piece chicken strips, no combo". She asked me what sides I wanted. "No sides, just the strips." She raised her voice and asked rather slowly, as I was stupid. "Do you want a number 6 or number 7".

I said, "I want a number 7, but without the sides or drink".

I could hear a faint voice in the speaker saying, "He doesn't want a combo, just the strips."

"Oh, you want just the strips?" she asked me.

"Yes,  just the strips."

"OK" she answered. "Take a look at the screen and tell me if that's right".

(In San Diego, she'd have been fired for saying that. She's supposed to read it off to me, politely, to verify.)

After pulling up to the window, this girl reached her hand and muttered a price without even looking at me. I handed her a credit card. "Here you go", she handed me the credit card back, along with the food, all without looking at me, and showing no interest in me as a customer.

And it turned out she gave Sash sweet tea.

Similar thing happened at the RV Park we've been staying at. Hollywood Casino in Joliet has an RV park which yielded good reviews on Google Maps. But the woman at the check-in desk seemed completely uninterested in us. When Sash asked for her attention, the woman blurted out, "Excuse me I get to you in a moment!" (Picture Aunt Esther from "Sanford & Son" about to comdemn Fred to Hell.)

At another Wal-Mart in Joliet, the black cashier guy bagged the groceries for the black lady in front of us. But when he finished ringing up our groceries, Sash and I stood for a moment looking at him, thinking he would bag up our groceries too. But he didn't. He just turned his attention to the next person in line. It seems that racism is alive and well here.

My take on all this is that the people in the greater Chicago region have become too self-minded to be concerned about other people. It's not that they are "selfish", but more concerned about themselves than their community or fellow man. Service employees don't seem to view customers as important, but as a commodity with which their jobs are built upon. We're more like cattle to them, move 'em in, move 'em out, while paying more attention to their smartphones and workplace gossip.

Taking a few steps back, what I see is that both Trump voters and Hillary voters in this region are actually the same people. They are both equally indifferent to each other, and both frustrated with the world they live in. They both have their idea of freedom and equality and think the other side deserves to have their tubes tied and balls snipped. The only difference is that Trump voters want guns and God while Hillary voters want entitlements.

Both are just means to fuck the other side.

Sash and I really don't like it here, and won't be coming back.

And it's not just here. I've been to other areas of Chicago, including downtown Chicago, Waukegan, Lisle, Naperville. And Sash has seen her fill of downtown too.

Otherwise for me, it's further proof that the Mississippi River is a surreal boundary between two very different Americas. Even the Rocky Mountain range is yet another similar boundary. Having grown up on the west side of the river and the west side of the Rockies, I just have a very different view of humanity and society. The term "commie pinko bastard" is often used to describe people from where I come from. But the truth is that there are very few commies, and far fewer bastards on my side of the river.

I'm not suggesting that where I come from is better, it's just what I'm used to, and works for me. I suppose millions of people in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area are used to this, and it works for them too. We just see people differently, and view customer service far differently.

The good news is that I don't have to return, and won't be contributing to their local economy

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Monday, April 17, 2017

When Am I Going to Get a Real Motorcycle?

Daimler Reitwagen (1885)
generally accepted as the "real motorcycle"
You know, I've been thinking about that myself too, because many people have asked me the same question over the years. I mean, if it had been only one person asking me, I would have brushed it aside and not given it much thought. But, five, ten, fifteen, twenty people? I don't know, I've lost count since I first started riding in 1985.

The last I checked, my Honda ST1300, for lack of calling it a motorcycle, has two wheels, an engine, a seat that I straddle, handle bars that I steer, and a twist grip that I throttle. I had thought that counts as a "motorcycle".

In fact, the last I checked it seemed to be "real" too. That is, I could touch it and know that my brain responded to stimulus.

Do I have a real motorcycle or not?

The fact is that I hear a lot of people talking about "real this" and "real that", "authentic this" and "authentic that", and am left wondering what actual value is there in being "real"?

I suppose you can see this discussion leading into a tired, well-beaten, mule.

But to digress from lifeless philosophical discourse, I often see the words "Real Mayonnaise" printed on several different brands of white condiment-filled containers, and have been able compare them with other brands that don't use the word "Real". They both seem to taste similar, have similar properties, and have comparable ingredients. In that case, what is the value of Real?

I could imagine someone telling me "Oh, don't use that shit, get some real mayonnaise."

"Real mayonnaise is made from eggs". Actually, the original recipe didn't use eggs.

Though technically, the US Food & Drug Administration actually does have a regulation on what can be legally marketed as "mayonnaise" (Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part §169.140), "Real", of course, is a subjective matter.

I remember in 1990 when Toyota advertised itself as the "official car of Southern California". Brilliant, because Southern California is not an administrative division, and there is no governing body to counter such claims. And even though "Southern California" is often described in American culture, Californians themselves can't even agree on where to draw border.

In addition, I often tell Sash what a joke "proper English" is because there is no such thing as proper English, or "standard English" for that matter. There is no law in the US Code defining how one should communicate, pontificate, or confabulate using the world's most spoken language, and there is no body of government-appointed custodians determining how it's letters and punctuation marks should be properly strung together.

Instead, all we have is a group of middle-managers at Merriam-Webster going around the table raising their hands on accepting a particular word into their Dictionary, and how it should be defined, classified, modified, and pronounced. Somewhere, somehow, this company was granted authority on what is a "real" English word.

A few years ago, Rachel Dolezal, a woman born to white parents, and who has zero African ancestry, claimed to be black. It caused black people to become angry, arguing that Dolezal is not a "real" African-American, and doesn't know what it's like to be discriminated against. Is being discriminated against a prerequisite for being African-American?

Then, there are kids who say that "Monopoly money is not real money". But what if you had an antique Monopoly game board with all the original pieces, cards, and money, except that it was missing its original $500 bills? Would you be willing purchase some antique $500 Monopoly money just to make your set complete? Could that be construed as having "real" value?

So then, what makes Harley-Davidson a "real motorcycle"?

Well technically, Indian was building motorcycles before Harley, as was Royal Enfield. Are Indians and Royal Enfields more real than Harley?

My Honda ST1300, Glacier National Park, MT
If chronology is a causal element of "real", then you'd have to go back to 1867 when Ernest Michaux, of Paris, France, fitted a steam engine to a bicycle that his father built, creating the first ever motorized bicycle. But if you want to get technical about the word "motorcycle", you'd have to go Phoenix, Arizona in 1881 when Lucius Copeland built a steam-powered three-wheeler that he named, "Phaeton Moto Cycle".

But the motorcycling world tends to rest only as far back as 1885 with the "Daimler Reitwagen", a two-wheeled, gasoline-powered vehicle that you sat on top of, steered with handlebars, and throttled with a twist-grip. It was invented by Gottlieb Daimler, whose company Daimler Motoren Gesellchaft eventually became Mercedes Benz.

So is a "real motorcycle" that patterned after the 1885 prototype developed by today's Mercedes Benz?

Where exactly, does that leave my Honda ST1300?

Well, people often tell me that it doesn't really matter if Santa Claus is real or not. What matters is that the one thing you really hoped for actually did find its way to you on Christmas morning, regardless of the who, what, where, when, and how. And if that's all that's needed to make Santa Claus real, then perhaps that says a lot about a brand of motorcycle.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Adjusting to Smaller Living

Our San Diego apartment, April 7, 2017, the day we moved out.
Nearly a week-and-a-half burned here at a cheapo hotel in Tucson, AZ, and I'm already itching to hit the road. Just 10 more days and Sash, myself, and our beagle will be moving into an RV.

The RV is being built at a factory in Nappanee, Indiana. Interestingly, RV manufacturing is a huge industry there in the "Crossroads of America". Quite a few brand names are built in tiny farm towns of Hoosierland, and it's no surprise that much of their labor comes from the Amish. But while all of these RV brands can claim to be "Amish built", these factories all use power tools and robotics.

For me, it's like Harley-Davidson saying "Assembled in the USA" instead of "Made in the USA".

But putting all else aside, this is a big change in our lives.

Just yesterday, Sash was binge-watching, "Tiny House Hunters" on HGTV, and it just started to hit me that we're moving into a tiny house too, albeit a toy hauler that feels more like a man-cave than a Winnebago. A few years ago, as we kicked off our Road Pickle tour, she mentioned that we would one day buy a tiny house. I guess it's coming true.

Yesterday, I ordered a 3/4 inch 300 ft lb torque wrench on Amazon because the company that makes the weight distribution hitch for my pickup wants a couple of bolts torqued to 260 pounds. So, I had originally looked all over Tucson for a hardware store that sells such a tool, but the biggest one anyone stocks goes up to 150 pounds. Moreover, it's difficult to find a hardware store that sells sockets with a 3/4 inch drive.

But isn't that how people accumulate tools? Because the industry designs each thing to be unique?

I've had people say, "Hmmm", when I mention that we're having a toy hauler built. That is, most folks seem to drive their pickup truck to an RV dealer and buy whatever is in stock. I kinda expected to do that too. But this particular brand we wanted, "Aluminum Trailer Company", limits the amount of toy haulers they make. They mostly do trailers for utilitarian purposes (cars, horses, trade shows, et al). So, when you visit one of their dealerships, there are not a lot of stock available. Hence, Sash and I picked out all the options and specifications we wanted and had a dealer fire it off to Amish country.

Originally, the dealer was going to charge me $3,500.00 to have the toy hauler delivered to San Diego, where Sash and I had been living. But it seemed like paying that much for delivery was insane, and all they were going to do was have a driver tow it to us. So, it seemed like I could drive out there and tow it back myself for less.

So that's why we're here in Tucson right now; it's our first stop along the way to Indiana.

Another thing we're adjusting to is "smaller everything".

That is, the refrigerator in the toy hauler is about 3/4 of the size we're used to. The television we plan to put in will be about half the size we're used to. The kitchen oven and stove top is much smaller. The sink is much smaller. The shower is much smaller. Even the washing machine that Sash plans to get can only handle about 3-4 pieces of clothing at a time.

I had actually suggested instead we get a 5-gallon bucket, fill it with water, soap, and clothes, and mash it with a toilet plunger. It'd probably handle a larger load, with less water.

For me anyway, the lure of living smaller is not so much about getting smaller-everything, but doing things differently. I mean, it isn't about having a smaller refrigerator as it is about switching over to foods that don't require refrigeration.

Years ago when I went motorcycle-camping with my friend Brian, he always brought along foods that could travel for days in his top-box. A can of soup, a fresh apple, a package of peanuts. I like the idea of sustaining myself on foods that I plan to eat sooner than later.

Somewhere over the decades I got this crazy idea that a loaf of bread had to be kept refrigerated. My first wife always did that. But I distinctly remember when I was a kid, my mom kept bread in a breadbox. I guess in those days, we could finish off a loaf of bread before it grew mold. For whatever the reasons are now, people require more days and weeks to get through the standard 22 slices.

I wonder how much food eventually goes spoiled because we tend to leave them in the refrigerator and forget about them?

So our last day in Tucson is Monday morning (April 17, 2017). From there, we keep going east. We pick up the toy hauler on April 25. At that point, tow it back to San Diego to pick up our motorcycles and our stuff.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Less I Know, the Happier I Am

State Highway 46, westbound, Utah
To marvel at the sight of a newborn child is perhaps to appreciate perfection. Just as with holding a brand new laptop fresh out of its box, or running your hand across the fuel tank of a new motorcycle, we take pleasure in something unadulterated, yet lament that it will never be as pristine as it is now.

"He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors." 
- Thomas Jefferson
In an attempt to downsize even further, I recently got rid of more childhood things. The old Mickey Mouse clock my mom bought me when I was a kid, the samurai swords that were in our living room when I grew up, pieces of dishware my grandmother handed to me, I felt ready to let them go. Even the Japanese geisha doll that my mom bought in the 1960s, and subsequently passed on to me with implicit instructions to take great care of, I don't want anymore.

It's amazing the amount of memories the brain can hold, and even more amazing of what emotions it associates them with. I suppose I could remember a lot more if I had only been more happier back then.

Maybe the reason why parents only take photographs of their children during happy moments is to save us from the pain of knowing all the shit we went through. I wonder how fucked up I would be if my mom videotaped herself beating the shit out of me, and saved them on Facebook for me to look at when I got older.

But instead of our minds developing into a well-crafted, evenly-balanced network of synapses, it's becomes more of a jerry-rigged patchwork of bridges, dead-ends, and detours designed to avoid the painful thoughts that mire our decision-making, and focus on what works to keep us alive.

Yet ironically, as I strip away more layers of material barrier, I feel myself getting closer to the truth of what I am.

And what exactly is that?

While it's generally accepted that knowledge comes with experience, I wonder if our path through life is more like a bell curve. We have to experience both the world and humanity just to end up back at where we started. We had to go through all that shit to discover that the less we know, the happier we are, that we're better off just being ourselves.

Those bridges, dead-ends, and detours are becoming more visible to me now that I don't need them anymore.

At the root of what I am is 50% of my father's neural network and 50% of my mother's. Everything else about me came from going up and over that bell curve. But if I were to strip away all of those experiences, I still could not be as pristine as I was when I was born. We can't unhear what we heard, and we can't unsee what we saw. It's a scab we can never pick off.

Truth is acceptance.

We tend to think that truth is reality. In fact, truth is not even fact. Truth is what is real to each person individually, just as "Harvey" was true to Elwood P. Dowd, and Santa Claus is to millions of hopeful kids. There are skyscrapers without 13th floors, and people who live on the 30th floor actually believe they are 30 stories up.

The root of what we are, is what we see in ourselves. Accepting that as true means we don't have to build bridges, dead ends, and detours to deal with the world we live in. Acceptance is to absorb everything we take in, add it to our neural pathways and not have to be traumatized by it.

"I am what I am, and that's all what I am." 
- Popeye
Another thing that's true is that I haven't been riding my motorcycle as often as I used to. I have been putting a lot of time into my website design work, playing Clash of Clans, and drinking beer. I don't know if that's going to change soon, but I know that life will change once Sash and I move out of this apartment and into our new RV.

By then, I hope to share more wisdom from the road with you.

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About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)