Thursday, March 15, 2007

Us and Them

There are few things in this world that make me as upset as the government overstepping it's boundaries. For the record, I am a registered Independent, but I also embrace many of the Libertarian philosophies.

In 1996 the people of California voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Now, I'm not going to address the ridiculousness of marijuana being illegal in the first place. The history of marijuana prohibition is an unfortunate blemish in the annals of America. You can go here to read about how the United States government came to despise the evil weed. I also won't discuss the facts regarding marijuana's status as one of, if not the, largest cash crop in the US, supporting many families who would live in abject poverty otherwise. I obviously support the legalization, or in the very least decriminalization, of marijuana. But what I also support is a state's ability to govern itself, and that's really what this argument is about.

In 1999 Husband and I attended the Million Marijuana March in San Francisco. In addition to smoking bowls on the steps of the federal building, we saw Angel Raich speak. It was extremely moving. Yesterday the Supreme Court decided that Angel Raich would still be subject to criminal prosecution for using marijuana, at the advice of her doctor, to keep her alive. She suffers from many chronic problems, not the least of which is a brain tumor. Because she has no appetite and suffers from chronic nausea, the doctor suggested that she use marijuana to combat these symptoms. Other prescription drugs she tried hadn't worked. This case has been in the nation's highest courts for several years. The decision that terminally and chronically ill people can't use a drug that eases their suffering because the federal government arbitrarily decides it's bad is just wrong. WRONG!

What is equally as wrong is that the federal government has ultimate control over individual states. It makes no sense whatsoever that states can pass laws, by an overwhelming majority, and the federal government can override the decision of that state. It's not only presumptuous on the part of the feds, it is a gigantic waste of time and money.

It is wrong for the feds to presume that they know what's best for a state just because they're the federal government. The people who live in the the great states of our nation have a greater sense, hopefully, of what they want done in their state. Since the people are the ones who live and work and pay taxes and contribute to the economies of their state, they should have a good idea of the types of policies and legislation they want. How does the federal government, thousands of miles away with it's own more pressing world issues to deal with, going to extend its' oppressive thumb to squash the will of the people of California?

And if the case is that states can't pass laws without the approval of the feds, then the whole system needs to change. Why should states waste valuable resources on bills, and voting, and legislator's salaries, and the subsequent litigation that occurs when the feds challenge a law? If states need approval from the feds, shouldn't that be the first step in passing a law? Shouldn't there be some system where all potential laws from all states receive approval from the federal government before the people can vote on them?

Well no, I don't think it should work that way. I think in reality it does work that way and the federal government does it's damnedest to hide that fact. The federal government has grown to a point that it can no longer be controlled. It's unfortunate that there are people who wish the feds would do more and be more involved in our lives. I feel very confident that I can make reasonably good decisions for myself. And when I fuck up I don't want the federal government involved. That's the last thing I'd want. I think there are services that the feds provide that are good and necessary. But that begs the question, could those services be even better if they were run by private organizations?

I'm not offering solutions because I frankly don't have any. My ideal life involves about 20 acres deep into the mountains, being almost totally self-sufficient and living off the grid. This isn't the life for everyone. My point is that I desire to live far out of reach from the feds. I just know that our current system of government is not working. Period. And it's getting worse. I have ideas about how it could work better, namely leave state decision making to the states. Fuck federal funding! But, I'm not a politician or a lobbyist or an attorney, the three most evil careers one could have. I've said more than once that if we got rid of all the politicians, lobbyists, attorneys and tele-evangelists the world would be a much different, and better, place.

Back to pot. I'm not a pusher and I appreciate people who don't want to smoke weed. I will never try to convince anyone that they should or should not smoke. But marijuana is like alcohol in that, it can become a problem for some people. People can form a type of addiction to it, though there is still no definitive proof that marijuana is actually addictive. But it can suck people in to the point where they become useless stoners, just like they can become useless alcoholics. I'm both a stoner and alcoholic, but I'm certainly not useless. Uselessness is not a good quality.

Here ends my diatribe.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 7

Alright friends, this story is almost over. Thanks to several Greyhounds last night I am suffering, again, from hangoverus majoris. When will I learn? Probably never. When also will I learn that it's much too easy to get into arguments with loved ones when you are slightly, or significantly, intoxicated? Hopefully soon. Anyway, here is your next installment.

The Last Leg

Usually calm and unruffled, Sue was clearly distraught about our circumstances. When we told her that Dusty, Annie and Nick had gone over Sugarloaf by themselves and quite unprepared she almost came unglued. While we were all worried about our friends, it hadn’t really occurred to us that their lives could actually be in danger. Nate, Husband and I became immediately sobered by the thought of our friends stuck on top of the mountain without so much as a stove to keep them warm.
We were headed towards the cars to leave a note for Dusty explaining that we were on our way to Chuck and Karen’s. Rather than picking us up, he should drive straight there and we’d give him the details later. As we drove down the highway we saw three sorry-looking backpackers walking along the road. We knew at once it was Dusty, Annie and Nick. We all yelled out-loud in excitement upon seeing them. Sue pulled into the parking lot of a nearby lodge and dropped Nate, Husband and I off before turning around to pick up Dusty, Annie and Nick.
Husband, Nate and I stood in the lobby of the grand lodge looking quite out of place and pitiful. I was soaked to the bone, my shoulder was now immobile, we’d just spent three days camping in the wilderness and looked every inch like that’s where we’d been. Husband walked around the lobby in search of a cigarette vendor. Nate and I examined the huge 3-D map of Alaska while I tried to control my shivering. A woman approached us and asked me if I was okay. I smiled and gave her my best “Yes, thank you”, not wanting to get into details with a complete stranger. Finally Husband came back, cigarettes in hand, and we adjourned outside to indulge. Nate even joined us.
We hadn’t even smoked half a cigarette when Dusty, Annie and Nick pulled into the parking lot with Sue following behind. When Dusty saw Nate with a cigarette in his hand he proclaimed, “It must be bad if Nate’s smoking.” We all laughed at that but decided to save the details for Chuck and Karen’s house. Once again we loaded ourselves into the vehicles and drove back to Waugaman Village to retrieve David and Mary. When we were all together again we headed to Chuck and Karen’s house. We were all exhausted and our minds were set on hot showers and cold beer so our conversation was relatively limited during the drive. Husband and I were riding with Sue and she continued to tell us of the dangers of Alaska. She said that probably the reason Dusty wanted to go over the mountain was to avoid another river crossing. Apparently that is one of the more dangerous things one can do in Alaska, and many backpackers don’t make it home after drowning in flooded rivers.
Chuck and Karen’s house is a secluded paradise. They built a log home on many acres outside of Cantwell from the ground up, mostly by themselves. They cut and stripped all of the logs they used to build it. While they were stripping the logs, Karen filleted her thigh with the stripping tool. It was very deep, requiring stitches. They live two hours from the nearest hospital though, and the situation was pretty dire. So Chuck got the gun they use to staple the dogs’ wounds closed and proceeded to staple Karen’s leg closed. When they did finally arrive at the hospital the doctor examined Karen’s leg and said the staples looked great and to come back when she needed them removed. That is a tough lady. Thankfully that setback didn’t keep them from finishing the house. They picked out special logs to serve as columns inside the living room and paid particular attention to details like that. The kitchen counters are made from formed and dyed concrete and are simply gorgeous.
As we pulled into the driveway we heard the sled dogs barking to greet us. At that time they had about 30 dogs that they actually used to pull sleds in the winter. Neither Chuck nor Karen was home from work yet, but we were instructed to make ourselves at home. Husband and I were getting out of the car as Annie and Nick pulled up behind us. It was the first time we’d talked to them since we separated. Husband asked Nick how their hike was. His answer was chillingly serious. “I seriously thought we were gonna die up there.” This was coming from a cop. We couldn’t wait to get inside and share our adventures.
We took several trips back and forth from the cars to the basement in order to unload everything. What food we had left in the bear canisters was now soaked and inedible. Practically everything we had was wet and dirty, so Sue started a load of laundry. Once everything was unpacked and in the basement we headed upstairs to collapse for a while. Nick and Husband volunteered to get beer while the rest of us rested or started helping Sue get dinner ready.
Chuck and Karen arrived home shortly after Husband and Nick got back with enough beer to ease our aching bodies for the night. They were eager to hear about our trip in full detail. While David and Mary showered the rest of us were happy to tell our tale of adventure. I was almost embarrassed, feeling like our experience was minor compared to what they deal with at the park. But as we talked about crossing the Healy Creek, Karen’s eyes widened in amazement. This was obviously something she didn’t hear about every day. One of the things I learned from Karen is that you should always unbuckle your pack before you cross a river. That way if you do need to get out of it you’ll actually be able to. She examined my shoulder to make sure it wasn’t dislocated and decided it was most likely a pulled muscle.
After a couple of beers, it was Husband's and my turn to shower. The bathroom in Chuck and Karen’s is something out of a spa. The bathroom itself is spacious and airy. There’s a huge window in the shower and double showerheads. Not just double, but the giant heads that feel like you’re in a rainstorm. Lucky for Husband and I, Chuck and Karen are tall and short respectively. Chuck is easily a foot taller than Karen, like Husband and I. They have the showerheads adjusted for their height, which suited us perfectly. As I undressed for the shower I noticed that I had a fairly serious injury on my lower leg. About six inches above my ankle, my shin was swollen to the size of a lemon. Right in the middle of the blue and purple swelling was a hole about the size of a ’22 bullet. It was black, as if it was trying to scab over. I hadn’t even noticed pain in my leg since my shoulder hurt so bad, but it looked disgusting. I have no idea to this day how it got there. I showered the best I could through excruciating pain and in the end I felt wonderful. It’s easy to appreciate a shower when you don’t get one for a few days.
By the time Husband and I were done dinner was ready. Sue brought all kinds of food with her: spaghetti, salad, bread, I think even brownies or cookies. She went all out to make us a great meal. And it was great! Husband was very interested in the house so he and Chuck talked a lot about that. The rest of the night was in that vein. Lots of talking, retelling our favorite parts of the story we just made, talking about the rest of the trip for Nate, Dusty, Annie, Nick, David and Mary. They’d be kayaking near glaciers the next day and were all excited for that. As the evening turned into night the party died out, people made their way to bed, and Sue eventually went home. Dusty, Nate, Husband and I stayed up late into the night talking about everything and nothing. Dusty was really concerned that we’d had a good time and didn’t think of him badly. He felt terribly responsible, for some reason, about what had happened. We assured him that we’d had a life-changing experience, an incredible one at that. We’d seen and done things we never dreamed we would. At some time late that night the four of us called it a night and retired to our respective beds. The others had an early day and a long drive to Fairbanks or wherever they were going. Husband and I would also have a long day, but we didn’t have to leave quite so early.
I slept a somewhat restless sleep with every move sending shooting pains to my shoulder. Nevertheless, the bed was heavenly, much better than the ground. When we awoke Chuck and Karen had already left for work. Dusty and the gang were packing up their gear and having a light breakfast. Chuck told Husband that we could hang out as long as we wanted as long as we put the dog in before we left. We helped the gang pack up and soon said goodbye. Husband and I watched them roll down the driveway and down the road until they disappeared. We went back inside and cleaned up what we could before taking some time to enjoy the house a bit. We lingered on the deck and looked out over the mountains in the distance. The birds sang to us and the trees whispered their goodbyes in the gentle breeze. We were sorry to leave and wanted to soak in the last bits of beauty that we could. Soon we would be back to the reality of California.
Annie and Nick rented a car to get to Dusty’s house, and now Husband and I were returning it in Anchorage. We packed up the mid-sized sedan after making sure Chuck and Karen’s house was in order and started the two and a half hour drive to Anchorage. Our flight wasn’t until midnight so we decided to walk around the city and have dinner until we had to leave for the airport. The only remarkable things about the drive were all of the fireworks stands along the highway. By stands I don’t mean your typical “Red Devil” stand that you see every Fourth of July. These are STANDS, easily as big as a small convenience store with every type of firework imaginable. One of my favorites had two giant blow-up gorillas on the roof, of which one was wearing a pink and yellow polka dot bikini. Classic.
Anchorage sits on a large bay with various shipping liners dotting the water. Husband and I found a place to park that was in close proximity to downtown and the beach. We walked towards the large wooded staircase that led down to the sand. In the middle of the wooden platform stood a statue of Capt. Cook and a plaque commemorating his discovery of Alaska.
After walking along the ocean we made our way towards the tourist zone of downtown Anchorage. We meandered through the stores, browsing the 1000’s of moose and grizzly bear related items. After picking up a couple of gifts for friends and the hand-drawn map of the Nenana River Gorge we were ready to eat. After passing up a couple of very crowded restaurants we found a brewpub, I think called the Blue Heron. We were seated at a window booth that looked out over the expansive bay. The food was great; likewise the beer, and we relaxed and enjoyed our last few hours in Alaska.
When time beckoned to us that it was time to drop off the car, Husband and I walked slowly back to our parking spot and headed to the rental car office. After an uneventful car return we waited in the parking lot for the shuttle to take us to the airport. What can I say about the airport? Flying at this point in time is at best marginally annoying and at worst, the biggest pain in your ass ever. Our check in was somewhere in between. We had the advantage of carrying only our backpacks, which we had to check and we were checked in, boarding passes in hand, in relatively good time. When we got up to the terminal we spotted a Cheers, yes in Alaska. Husband and I figured the best way to kill time before our flight would be to drink, so we did. We sat in the Cheers, watching fellow travelers and reveling in our memories of the last few days. Eventually we made our way to our gate and prepared to board the plane.
The red-eye flight back to Oakland made me never want to fly again. My favorite part about it was the screaming child who screamed at the top of its lungs throughout the entire flight. It was almost humorous that the cabin lights were off encouraging people to sleep, but no one would attempt to silence the screaming child. At long last we made our decent into Oakland where my parents would be waiting for us. We were exhausted from the flight and from the trip, and happy to be back home. Although Alaska had been one of the best experiences in either of our lives, there was something very comforting about being home.
We told my parents about our trip as they drove us back to Sacramento. They were both in disbelief upon hearing about the Healy Creek crossing, but thankful that we were home safely. It still amazes me when I think back on our trip. An unbreakable bond was formed between the eight of us. We experienced something that will unite us forever, if only in our memories. I will never forget our adventure in Alaska, and look forward to passing this story on to my own children someday. This was one of the best experiences of my life and it taught me more about myself than I expected it to. I learned that I possess a strength I didn't realize I had, and that I am capable of maintaining a rational mind through the most challenging circumstances. Among the lessons I learned there, these are probably the most important to me. Above everything, however, the relationship and the memories I share with my traveling companions are the most important.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An Anniversary, Of Sorts

My grandma was born in Modesto, California in 1917. She was born on July 4. The last child born to a woman in her fifties, her mother hadn't even picked out names for the baby in her belly. The doctor named her Grace Liberty.

By the time my grandma came into the world her father had managed to gamble away most of the family's money. There were five children to support and the Depression was effecting folks on the west coast in the same way as the rest of the country. The house my grandma grew up in was a house in name only. It was actually a cook house. It was a one room shack with no sink, no bathroom, no running water. There was a bed and a stove. My grandma was wrapped in blankets and placed in the stove during the winter so she would stay warm. Rather than a bathroom, my grandma used an outhouse. During high school the bus drove right by the house to pick up my grandma for school. She would try to time her visits to the outhouse so that she wouldn't be coming out of it as the bus drove by.

My grandma had two dresses growing up. Her family was poor, that's how it was. She had two older sisters, so she was supplied with hand-me-downs throughout her life. But probably because she wanted her own clothes, she learned how to sew. Her first job was as a seamstress where she earned 33 1/3 cents an hour. She used the money to buy fabric to make clothes.

My grandma grew into an exquisitely beautiful woman. She was teased horribly when she was a child. There were people in her neighborhood who wouldn't allow their kids to play with her because she appeared to be "ethnic". Born with black hair, brown eyes and olive skin that would tan to a deep brown in the summer, she was often mistaken as Mexican. While we have no proof that anything untoward happened between my great-grandmother and someone other than her husband, there have always been rumors that my grandma was illegitimate. She never learned to see her beauty. Her strong, high cheekbones, her long slender fingers, soft, glowing skin, and a smile that would knock you over were all embarrassments to her. In her entire life I don't know that she ever had a positive thought about herself.

She was married at some point to my real grandfather, Morgan. (I say real because he died when my mom was 10, and my grandma remarried to the only grandpa I knew, Rocky.) They were not married in a church, there was no elaborate ceremony. They were married by a judge in the courthouse, she in a smart blue suit, he in his Air Force uniform. Morgan was a flight instructor in World War II, teaching young pilots to fly Mustang bombers. Because he was in the Air Force they moved around a lot, but always stayed in California. After the war was over, my grandma had her two children, my aunt then my mom. (If you're interested, here's the story of why my aunt doesn't talk to us anymore.) She had one miscarriage, a boy, between the two girls.

My grandma and I had a very special relationship. She would never say it aloud, but she favored me over her three other grandchildren. She loved us all equally and treated us all equally, this was very important to her. But we had a special connection, a bond that none of the other grand kids had with her. In my eyes she saw what she wanted to be. She saw nothing but love and awe and wonder and a woman who was perfect and could do no wrong. I loved my grandma more than any person on this earth.

As she got older I began to do things for her, just as a favor, not because she wasn't capable. I cleaned her house, ran errands for her, that sort of thing. I saw her every week, at least once sometimes more often. She came to almost every one of my soccer games for the nine years I played. And even after I went away to college we remained very close. We talked every Wednesday night.

A Wednesday night came when things went horribly wrong. I made my usual call to my grandma. See, how it worked was I would call her and then she would call me right back so I wouldn't have long distance charges. I had just moved into a new house with a new roommate after getting out of the miserable situation with The Bitches.

When my grandma picked up the phone she sounded distant, sick even. It took her an especially long time to call me back. When she finally did, her voice was frail and weak sounding. I asked her what was wrong and she said she was tired.

"So how is the new house?"

"It's good grandma. I like it. It's close to campus so I can walk to school."

"That's good sweetie. So you're happy. "

"Yeah grandma, I'm happy."

"Good sweetie. I love you very much."

"I love you too Grandma."

When we hung up the phone I called my mom. I told her that she needed to check on Grandma because she didn't sound right.

The next morning I was awakened by a too-early phone call from my dad. I could tell; I knew the second I heard his voice that my grandma was gone. She had died the night before.

I already had tickets to go home because Spring Break was starting in a couple of days. I packed my bag, called a taxi and prayed that people would leave me alone as I boarded the plane to fly home. I cried silently during the flight as I tried to emblazon every memory of my grandma in my brain.

That was the worst day of my life.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Some Drawings

I started drawing seriously about a month ago. Something just clicked inside my brain and I was able to really see something in my head and put it on paper. These are just some drawings I've done in the past month. The tree is a tattoo I drew for Husband. The koi fish is the tattoo I'm going to get on my other hip. The chrysanthemum is the tattoo I'm going to get on my back. The dinosaurs are a drawing for KB's son. I'm very excited because I just realized I can use my web cam for a camera. So I'm going a bit picture crazy right now.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Saucerful of Secrets

My first real, full-time job was at Starbucks. In fact, our crew opened the first Starbucks in Sacramento, California. I was a senior in high school, which would put the year at '93 and '94. I went to the open interview a day after I had my wisdom teeth removed, and my cheeks were very swollen. Despite my appearance I was hired on the spot by the district manager, Milissa. I drove a tan Jetta, which I loved, though that has nothing to do with anything. I ended up working at Starbucks through the summer until I went to college, and then worked at another store in Portland for a couple of years, and then transferred to another store back in Sacramento after I graduated from college.

Through my experiences at Starbucks I developed a theory that I believe is even more relevant in the year 2007. I believe that Starbucks is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our society today. Of course, this assumes that I'm right about what's wrong with society, and I am.

I will spare you the details of how this java giant started and how it morphed into the corporate caffeine pusher it is today. If you're interested in that, just follow the link above. What I will point out is that when I quit in 1998 Starbucks was a completely different entity than when I was hired. When I was trained in '93 we were required to pay attention to every detail of the coffee making process. We had to time our shots so that they poured between 18 and 23 seconds. Any shorter or longer and they were thrown out. Coffee was measured precisely so that every pot was consistently delicious. We had only three sizes, three syrups, and only a handful of drinks. This made it possible to take the time necessary to provide patrons with an excellent cup of whatever they were drinking.

Fast forward to 1996 or 1997. New syrups are added. New drinks are created. Venti size is now offered. Eggnog is being used to make lattes for the love of God. It's no longer so important to pour perfect shots or keep the steaming wand clean or brew a new pot of coffee every hour. Now the only goal, our only focus was to keep the drinks coming out fast and keep the customers relatively satisfied in the process, all the while maintaining a "warm and comfortable atmosphere" where our customers will feel like they're in their living rooms and will want to linger and sip coffee all morning.

And this is when my theory began to piece itself together. Society in general has become increasingly disconnected with itself. People no longer greet each other with pleasantries when they pass each other on the street. We prefer to speak into tiny electronic boxes rather than strike up a conversation with a stranger, or talk with the person who's sitting at the same table. We are obsessed with information and we want it immediately. We require an infinite number of options for any given thing, whether it's upgrades for our vehicles or ringtones for our phones. And often we are unsatisfied with the available options and invent new ones so we can get exactly what we want. Because it's unacceptable that we should compromise even a little bit. We deserve exactly what we want, we're entitled to it. And our children are even more entitled to get exactly what they want because it's unacceptable that a child should experience one iota of disappointment. Our children are our future, after all. Do it for the children.

As I continued to make and serve increasingly more complicated drinks, and observe the crazed outbursts of angry customers who had been eternally traumatised by taking a sip from a drink that was somehow not up to their standards, I noticed distinct similarities between the life inside a Starbucks and the real world outside. And I realized that rather than stick with their guns, to not compromise what had skyrocketed Starbucks to the top of the coffee food chain, the corporate monkeys had decided they needed to provide the public with everything they demanded. They decided that in order to stay competitive and viable, they would let the public tell them how to run the show.

People want eggnog? Give it to them! People want blended drinks? Give it to them! People want a thousand syrups to choose from? Give it to them! People want faster service? Give it to them! People want things toasted? Give it to them! People want eggnog before Thanksgiving? Give it to them! People want stores to open earlier? Give it to them! Give the people what they want! By all means necessary!

And this is exactly what's wrong with society. People feel entitled to everything, all the time, exactly the way they want it, and the answer "no" is unacceptable. And corporations have decided that the people are right. Our government, in large part, has decided that the people are right. The same people who are eating themselves to death, allowing their children to turn into pasty, video game addicted lard asses, providing their children with growth hormones, feeding them on crap every day, going to the same job that they hate in a car they can't afford, coming home to the house they can barely pay the mortgage on, using the maxed out credit card to buy KFC for dinner, these same people are the driving force behind corporate decision making and advertising. And these people have decided that speed and choice are more important than quality and relationships.

Gone are the days when you can stand next to the bar and shoot the shit with your barista. Even if you go to the same 'Bux every day, you probably don't know the names of the people who serve you every day. Why would you? You're busy on that important call even while you're ordering your drink. When I first worked at Starbucks we were encouraged to make small talk with the patrons of our store. We were encouraged to tell them our names, to make french presses and pass around coffee samples to people standing in line, or sitting in the store. We were encouraged to mark out pastries as samples throughout the day, as a treat for people. Now, I'm betting, it's all about the bottom line. Things like wasting coffee and pastries is probably frowned upon these days.

So when you look around and wonder why your small, local coffee shop or deli is shutting down, remember the masses, the sheepish masses. Their lust for a Starbucks on every corner is largely to blame. (Hey, supply and demand. Starbucks wouldn't open a store on every corner unless they were making money. If 'Bux builds it, they will come.) Personally I haven't been back to a Starbucks since I quit. I make an effort to patronize my local, non-corporate stores whenever I can.

This has been made much easier by moving up to the mountains. Our town has one fast-food place, Taco Bell. I do not eat Taco Bell. So that's that. We have to go grocery shopping and I cook dinner and make lunches and make breakfast every day. Every store in our town, besides Safeway, is owned by someone we know, or who lives in our town. It's a different life than living in the city.

However, it is impossible to escape the sheep. They're here too. So far as yet though, no Starbucks.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Alaska Story - Part 6

Waugaman Village Part 2

Although I’d been in the water only a few minutes I’d floated at least 200 yards, probably further. As I sat on the bank I was aware of things going on around me. People were talking, the river was still thundering in my ears, drowning out sounds. I was very cold, as cold as I’ve ever been. For several minutes I just sat there and stared into space.
Husband stretched the elastic cuffs on my snowboarding shell. Water poured out from inside my sleeves. My backpack had somehow been removed from my back. I heard my brother tell me to get up and walk around. He was very concerned about hypothermia. I hadn’t given it a thought, but judging by my complexion it was apparently a legitimate concern. The color had washed out of my face and supposedly my lips had a purplish hue. There was an abandoned trailer near us and Husband ran inside to find anything that would help. He found nothing. David explained that although he and Mary had also fallen in, they were able to get out of the water quickly and without getting soaked. Miraculously this meant that Mary still had dry clothes in her pack, which she was bringing to me. As difficult as it was to walk, I did. My body revolted in every way imaginable. All of the muscles in my body were involuntarily twitching in a desperate attempt to warm me up. The human body is amazing that way. It will do almost anything to keep itself alive. I was so cold it was painful. I can’t describe how awful I felt at that moment. I was terribly embarrassed that this had happened and felt a deep responsibility, as if there were something I could have done to prevent it.
Everyone’s focus had quickly shifted to finding shelter and warmth. While Mary dressed me in warm clothes Husband, Nate and David walked back to the backpacks they’d dropped talked about what we should do. They decided that we should keep walking and find the closest phone to call Sue. She was planning on driving to Chuck and Karen’s in a few hours to make dinner for all of us, and we thought that given our present state she wouldn’t mind coming a couple of hours early. After getting the dry clothes on, Mary and I made our way to Husband, Nate and David. My usual chatty demeanor had changed significantly. I could hardly squeak out a word. I felt very detached from my body, as if I were watching events unfold without actually being part of them. As we neared the men I overheard them discussing how they would carry my pack. I immediately put that idea to rest. I refused to allow them to carry my pack, I wasn’t injured. Sure my shoulder was killing me, and I’d just floated down a creek/river, but other than that I wasn’t hurt. I still had the strength to carry my own pack and I didn’t want to further burden my companions. When I’d convinced everyone that I was still capable and able to hike we started out to find civilization.
We managed to find the road we’d driven on when we started the trip. There was an eerie silence hanging around us. Nobody knew what to say. We just walked through the rain and I think we were all trying to collect our thoughts and ourselves; trying to process what had just happened. Walking down the gravel road I watched the four people in front of me. I had no words to thank David for saving my life, which is what he did. I did say “Thank you, David. You just saved my life, I think,” just after he pulled me out of the water, but that didn’t seem adequate. I imagined what it must have been like for my husband and my brother to watch the scene unfold. As my brother later described, it was like watching something out of a horror movie. My feeling of detachment was still present. In fact I remember walking down the road, but I was watching myself. It was as if I was behind my own body watching things happen.
After a half hour, maybe 45 minutes, we arrived in at least a form of civilization. We were very close to a coal-powered electricity plant and an RV/motel campground. All of us remembered what Dusty said about people from Healy so we were very nervous about talking to anyone. Apparently Healy was not an especially friendly place, so we cautiously examined our options. In the end we decided to see if anyone was home at Waugaman Village, the RV/motel campground.
Nate and either Husband or David walked timidly to the front door and knocked. A man with dark hair, a mustache, blue shirt and trucker hat answered and immediately his eyes widened. Nate gave him the Reader’s Digest version of what we’d been through and asked to use the phone. The man, who’s name we never learned but we nicknamed him “Deer-in-the-headlights Man”, stepped back inside and closed the door without a word. Our hearts sank somewhat and we turned toward the power plant thinking that would be our next stop. As we started preparing ourselves to continue our journey the door opened and Deer-in-the-headlights Man told us to come inside.
We were led into the front room of what seemed to be a house. The front room clearly served as someone’s office, and there was a kitchen just off the front room. Deer-in-the-headlights Man occasionally walked up and down some stairs in the back, although that section of the house remained hidden from us. A large desk, scattered with papers of varying size, was centered in front of the front room window. At the desk sat Eds Waugaman, owner of Waugaman Village. Eds’s face beamed with a friendly smile as he inquired about our predicament. As we told him our story he chuckled often and the smile never left his face. As I studied our host I realized that he bore a striking resemblance to John Denver. So much so that I began to wonder if John Denver was actually dead. Perhaps he just needed to get away and flew all the way to Alaska. Whoever he was, Eds was quick to offer me a blanket, fresh out of the dryer, to warm up. He also made a pot of coffee and brought out some cookies. People in Healy aren’t so bad! Hanging on the walls throughout the office were hunting pictures in which Eds was ever-present. One depicted a dead grizzly with paws at least as big as my head. The pictures were fascinating to see. This was a true wilderness man, like Grizzly Adams, minus the bear.
As we were warming ourselves and I was finally beginning to feel normal, Eds regaled us with stories of his own. Apparently the surprise storm had stranded several dozen climbers on Denali and they had to be rescued by helicopter. And earlier, just that day, Eds had rescued his friend from the river rising to rapidly around the friend’s truck. What started as a hunting trip ended in a flooded truck and a grateful friend. Nate took this opportunity to get on the two-way radio and attempt to reach Dusty, Annie and Nick. After several attempts it was clear they were still out of range. Calling Sue was truly a last resort. We were sensitive to the fact that calling Sue would compromise Dusty’s ego, but we weren’t sure how long it would take them to pick us up. We couldn’t very well wait with Eds all afternoon, and no one wanted to keep hiking in the rain, so Nate called Sue. After explaining what happened and where we were, Sue said she was on her way.
We cleaned up our dirty cups and I folded my borrowed blanket. David and Mary were going to wait at Eds while Sue dropped Nate, Husband and I off at Chuck and Karen’s. We expressed our deepest thanks to Eds for taking in five soaking, tired travelers and waited for Sue outside. While I know I’ll probably never return to Waugaman Village I also know that I’ll never forget the kindness and the smile of Eds Waugaman. As Husband, Nate and I piled into Sue’s car I took one last look into the wilderness we’d endured and thanked God for my life.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Communication Breakdown

Boy oh boy, where do I start? I've got so much to talk about I'm really struggling to organize my thoughts.

First, our power is back on after a couple of days without it. That's one of the fun things about living in the mountains. When it snows, you're pretty much guaranteed to be without power for a time. But, that's what God made generators and wood stoves for. And we're eternally thankful that he did. But, that's why the lack of posts the last few days. The generator is only big enough to run a few things, and the computer isn't one of them.

Before I get to pure, unadulterated shit-talking, I know you want to hear about all the snow we got, right? Thanks to the sun we've had for the last couple of days, a lot of the snow has already melted. But we got dumped on. It looked like someone was standing on the roof dumping buckets of snow on us, like in the movies. It was awesome. We probably got three or four feet basically overnight.

So yesterday we played outside all day. We built a jump and snowboarded a little bit. Our neighbor, the cutest little kid named Brandon, okay he's like 14, not so much a kid but adorable nevertheless, brought over his skate. I've never ridden one before and it's kind of hard to get used to because your feet come right out. But it's really fun once you get the hang of it. Husband and I were launching off of the jump, trying to do tricks and stuff. It was a bunch of fun. The only lame thing was that I took a major digger on Saturday night, like an idiot. We went to our neighbor's houses that night and while I was walking from one house to the other I tripped over my bootlaces and fell hard. And yes, I managed to cut my hand, knee and elbow all at one time. Genius! Like a little kid I trip over my shoelaces. So on one of my jumps I landed hard and opened up my hand wound. OUCH!

Okay, ready for the shit-talking to commence? Now, you're familiar with the ex-Roommate. Well, just 'cause I want to, I'm going to share some interesting information that I learned over the weekend. Just 'cause it's juicy, catty gossip. I just want to be up-front about what it is. Anyway, ex-Roommate's name is Jason. I really don't give a shit about his anonymity anymore and it's easier for me to type. After he moved out and recovered from his broken neck, apparently he met a girl online. The girl is a friend of Mama and lives, or lived until this weekend, in Oregon. Jason is moving this girl into his house, from Oregon, and apparently thinks she's "The One".

Well, this girl is a recovering crack (I think that's right, crack) addict, who gave birth to an actual crack baby. The baby is now three years old.

First, a tangent. And I realize that this may not be sensitive or politically correct or whatever. But what the fuck? Why is it that seemingly all women who are alcoholics, in bad relationships, drug addicts, on welfare, living in their cars the most fertile women on earth? These women have no problems at all getting pregnant and birthing an alarming number of children given their life circumstances. But people who would actually provide a stable and loving environment for children can't get pregnant. I just find so much wrong with this. Bitter? Perhaps. Perhaps I might be a little bitter.

From what we hear from Mama, these two lovebirds have spent the last week or so in an Oxycontin induced stupor. (Who's taking care of the child? Who knows.) They are snorting it, so that's good. They recently went to a show, Michael Franti & Spearhead, and took the child with them. Because they were all fucked up on Oxycontin and drinking also, this ex-crack addict girl fell, FELL, on her child and was escorted out of the venue.

I don't think I ever mentioned that Jason has a record. He was arrested for domestic violence a couple of years ago and is required to attend anger management classes. Now this always bothered me, especially when he lived with us. He never discussed the details of the incident, but I was always a bit worried to be alone with him towards the end. So much so that someone was always with me if I had to be in the house with Jason. Jason has already thrown a knife at this girl and almost hit her with it. He has shaken the child to the point of the girl calling the cops. But, I'm sure they're destined to have a healthy and strong and loving relationship. I'm sure everything is going to work out swimmingly.

I really don't care about Jason's life. But I do care about having stories to share. Reality is too good sometimes, you can't make this stuff up. And I feel it's my duty, nay obligation, to exploit the shortcomings and personal problems of others for the sake of entertainment. No, I don't feel bad about it.

I'm sure I left some things out that are no doubt of the highest importance. However, that' all my Monday brain can manage right now.