Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?
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In contrast, walking by a female car-camper makes me feel rather good. She is a talented musician and a dog lover -- she might have four or five of them in her tent and jeep.  She is always doing something. I have talked to her a couple times when her dogs came out to say hello to mine, as we biked by.

Perhaps the contrast comes from the vibrations she gives off that seem to say she only does this seasonally, and it makes no practical sense to buy a regular RV for a short stint in the desert.

At first, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Four dogs. What do they use for common sense?" But the more accustomed to her I became, the more it seemed like she was offering an authentic, anthropological performance that befits the human female. I like to think of people as a type of wildlife. 

Previously I had complained that I couldn't see any positive role for female campers. Most of them seem not only useless, but to be outright liabilities. In contrast, this woman was doing what they have always done: staying busy with three things at once, providing existence, survival, comfort, security, and pleasure to the other creatures in her life.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thoughts for a Rainy Day in Arizona

The woman at the bakery was quite serious when she complained about Quartzsite business being down this year. Well, I was certainly doing my part to help, considering how many times I have been into the bakery. Perhaps she should stay open more than four days per week? And really, being closed on Saturday! But what do I know about running a successful business?

Still, perhaps we should all do our part, and try to come up with fresh business ideas to bring the crowds back to Quartzsite. The only sure winner I can think of is ... drum roll... clip-on dreadlocks. Why should millennial hitchhikers from California get all the babes? Old guys need a chance, too.
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A hard rain last night. How strange that I felt so resentful. There is supposed to be a secondary rainy season in the Sonoran Desert in mid-winter. And after all, I appreciate green ocotillo stalks and spring wildflowers. Since I prudently stayed camped on desert pavement, there was little chance of getting stuck in the mud.

So I should have enjoyed the rain. Perhaps I am no better than the tourists (from cities) who I usually poke fun at, as nature-frauds. Or I could take the easy way out and blame it on "genes." White people have usually lived in dismal climates of cold, clouds, and mud. It is hard for us to believe that we can get too much sunlight.

Still, it is strange how difficult it is to follow along with what makes sense.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Benefits of Classic Books

At the beginning of World War II, George Orwell started an essay off, as German bombs fell in his neighborhood. It was a scary time for the Brits. His essay was full of a determined optimism. He concluded with a prophecy of how the war would go:
...but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.
That sentence knocked me over, when I first read it. Looking back at it later, I wondered why it made such an impression. After all, it essentially says what the old proverb does: 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.'

Although there is some historical glamor to discovering some "new" truth, this experience reminds an individual how exciting (and more frequent) it can be to rediscover an old truth. Old truths become uninspiring as they devolve into bumper sticker slogans and one-liners. They become stale clich├ęs.

An individual must stretch to see their own particular experiences as a thinly-disguised reprise of something larger and more universal. For instance I play with that idea when mountain biking in the western states, by seeing the mountain biker as the reincarnation of the cowboy-era archetype of the 'lone rider of the plains', who in turn was just a reincarnation of the European knight-errant of the Middle Ages.

I doubt that motor-sport people appreciate that connection. They probably think that a mountain biker is just a health nut/exercise puritan.

Do you think that they see their sport as the reinvention of something noble and timeless? Perhaps they do, but I can't imagine what it would be.

More generally, creative re-invention is the purpose of reading classic books, quite unlike many people's notion that one reads them just for the snob appeal, or as a form of literary ancestor worship. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why Do Road Tramps Talk Shop So Much?

I go back and forth when using quotes from classic books, that is, I give an anecdote from my own life that seems to illustrate the principle described in the quote. Perhaps some readers would prefer that I just give a juicy, classic quote, without watering it down with my own stuff. Hopefully it adds 'value' to intercalate my own experiences with the quote.


Recall George Orwell's "The Spike", 1931, written about his experience in homeless shelters with smelly bums:
There was nothing to talk about except the petty gossip of the road, the good and bad spikes, the charitable and uncharitable counties, the iniquities of the police and the Salvation Army. Tramps hardly ever get away from these subjects; they talk, as it were, nothing but shop. They have nothing worthy to be called conversation, bemused emptiness of belly leaves no speculation in their souls. The world is too much with them. Their next meal is never quite secure, and so they cannot think of anything except the next meal.
It brought a wry smile to my face to think of Orwell's thoughts as I camp near Quartzsite, at this time of year. This must be the limiting case of "tramps" talking shop, even if they are bourgeois tramps, instead of the smelly kind that Orwell was writing about.

If you look for it, you could probably find an affinity group for people who own, say, the 'Bloat-box' brand of RVs. They are all convinced that their rig is unique because the color scheme uses a certain shade of blue-gray that swoops downward -- instead of upward -- towards the front of the rig. You would not make a new friend if you pointed out that 'Bloat Box' uses the same top-tier suppliers as the rest of the industry, that is, Ford, Atwood, Norcold, Dometic, etc. 

The existence of these affinity groups is a testament to human nature: people can't relate to hordes of people. They want a community, a tribe, of manageable size. And it has to be based on some sort of commonality. Let's be optimistic and hope that there are better ways to find your tribe, someday.

Still, why all the shop talk? RVers aren't living on the edge, as Orwell's tramps were. They are wallowing in modern comforts. And yet they act like they are just hanging in there.

Is it because the RV industry pulls in such ultra-bourgeois people, so obsessed with their comforts and status symbols, and so timid and indoorsy, that they are fool enough to think they are having an "adventure," instead of merely pissing away their children's inheritance?

Friday, January 6, 2017

George Orwell Camps in Quartzsite

Rereading some essays of George Orwell, I really appreciate how much the world lost when he died so young. Why has it been so enjoyable to read him?  It isn't just for his opinions.

Much of the credit goes to his adventuresome life of poverty, suffering, war, and wide travel. He is like Jack London in that sense. There is a manliness to a writer who hasn't spent all of his life in a parlor, drinking tea with dowagers and maiden aunts; in the bubble of a college town, writing research grants to the Ministry of Culture; or at a desk job, stamping paper with "Approved!" Such a life is necessary in order to write about life instead of books, and things (processes and actions) instead of words.

The refreshment that the reader feels may result from the healthy balance in Orwell's writing. Although he aims his pen at interesting experiences in the real world, he never drowns in the minutiae of concreteness. Each observation seems well-chosen and pregnant with a wider significance. His writing is at its best when he holds back from explicitly pounding at this wider significance, but instead, unselfishly allows the reader to finish the job. 
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Let's take an apparent digression from Orwell, before returning to him. Currently I am camping in a lightly regulated area. All in all, I love this feature. But of course it means the accretion of an unsavory clientele.



At such a place once, a fellow camper and I had a laugh at how prejudiced a camper can be against a rig different from their own. The prejudice works in both directions, but it is especially aimed at a less expensive rig. 

For instance, I feel "creepie" every time I drive by two car-campers in my area, despite them being quiet and unobtrusive. Seldom does it occur to me that people in expensive motorhomes feel the same when they see my converted cargo trailer!
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Orwell wrote about an experience he had as a young man, staying at a Salvation Army-like mission with a bunch of smelly bums. ("The Spike", 1931.)

To occupy the time I talked with a rather superior tramp, a young carpenter who wore a collar and tie, and was on the road, he said, for lack of a set of tools. He kept a little aloof from the other tramps, and held himself more like a free man than a casual. He had literary tastes, too, and carried one of Scott's novels on all his wanderings. He told me he never entered a spike [a shelter for the bums] unless driven there by hunger, sleeping under hedges and behind ricks in preference.
This is exactly what I was experiencing, so it gave me a good laugh. It also brought to mind the odd rigs and 'rubber tramps' who hang out in Quartzsite at this time of year.
We talked of life on the road. He criticized the system which makes a tramp spend fourteen hours a day in the spike, and the other ten in walking and dodging the police...

...and at that he changed his tune immediately. I saw that I had awakened the pew-renter who sleeps in every English workman. Though he had been famished, along with the rest, he at once saw reasons why the food should have been thrown away rather than given to the tramps. He admonished me quite severely.
'You don't want to have any pity on these tramps--scum, they are. You don't want to judge them by the same standards as men like you and me. They're scum, just scum.'

It was interesting to see how subtly he disassociated himself from his fellow tramps. He has been on the road six months, but in the sight of God, he seemed to imply, he was not a tramp. His body might be in the spike, but his spirit soared far away, in the pure aether of the middle classes.
I cackled with glee when I read this. Here I was, a genteel tramp living in a converted cargo trailer, turning up his nose at 'van tramps' and car-campers! It is delightful to read a classic book and then get lucky at applying it to my own life. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

When a Significant Book Strikes You

Occasionally the lyrics of a song can make a great impression on the listener. They aren't just trying to rhyme. Nor are they wailing about their frustrated lusts and infatuations. The thoughts are important and fundamental, and they managed to make them so concise that they fit into a song. Incredible!

Books can be like that, too. The 'soul' of the reader is so weary of being insignificant flotsam, rushed along by the cultural effluvium of the times. If it manages to get even a glimpse of a truthful Big Picture, then life hasn't been wasted.

That is the effect that reading a book had on me, recently. The book was Pat Buchanan's "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War." You may enjoy the book even if you don't agree with every opinion of his.

Here we are, a century after the 'Great War,' and we are still suffering the consequences of World Wars I and II and the Cold War. None of the fundamental assumptions of the American Empire ever get talked about in the daily news. 

The glorification of the military can not be questioned in America. Flying on an airplane for the first time in 20 years, I noticed them announcing that military personnel were allowed to board the plane first. How hopeful it would have made me if ten civilians had shouted 'Why?' when that announcement was made. At least I had the satisfaction of boycotting my sister's burial in a national military cemetery, you know, with all the other "heroes who have sacrificed to protect our freedoms." I would believe in the Easter Bunny before I believed that whopper.

By taking aim at the foundation (or 'creation') myth of the American Empire, the "Good War" of World War II, Buchanan is doing a bold thing. Doesn't it seem strange that an Irish Catholic kid like Pat would be such a radical debunker of the prevailing myth of modern America?

Perhaps not. Maybe the greatest courage is likely to be demonstrated by the believers in one myth, such as Buchanan's Catholicism, when they take aim at a rival myth.