Category Archives: travel

oh, america

Sometimes I get this niggling urge to go live in Europe, take public transit everywhere, enjoy raw milk cheeses, and explore cities established more than a few centuries ago. I like bridges, you see, and winding streets and architecture that’s had time to crumble. If I ever get my shit together, maybe this will happen. In the meantime,  I will admit to a deep and profound love of Americana in all its forms. This love, by the way, is completely without irony. Is sincere.

Chicago is sort of great simply because of its mid-century signage — oh, terminus of Route 66, how I appreciate your existence. Nostalgia for the west, the closing in of the prairie. It’s so spectacularly beautiful, even now. Totally the best thing about the Northwestern suburbs. Remember, guys, this used to to be the fucking frontier!

Now, while I do not love the back-and-forth trek to Kentucky– and please, no comments on Indiana as the great corn-growing crossroads of America, because while I like a tenderloin sandwich and GNR as much as the next girl–

It is still a fucking balls-ache of a state that takes HOURS to traverse in any direction, assaulting your senses with bad country music stations, billboards encouraging you to reverse your vasectomy and remember that you’ll meet Jesus after you die, and also the relentless smell of cow shit. And corn fields stretching to the horizon, industrial farming that makes me weep for the loss of the yeoman farmer (shut up, I’m allowed to romanticize just a wee bit here), and profoundly sad about the reach of agribusiness and the thumbhold of King Corn.

Last trip back, though, I did make a spectacular purchase at a truck stop. Possibly ironic, but it pleases me immensely.

WOLVES ON A DREAMCATCHER, people. It is no three-wolf moon shirt, I grant you, but it is my new writing talisman and I CHERISH IT.


the southern states from afar

Incredibly amped to watch Rich Hall’s program for BBC4 on the American South — which seems particularly apropos in light of the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird. Both because he’s from the region and is more apt to sympathetic to its not-usually-very-favorable-representation-elsewhere, and because it will likely go into much more depth than similar kinds of fare that only flits over huge swathes of geographical territory in an attempt to make some kind of sweeping generalization utterly lacking in content.*

Hall contends that one Hollywood movie above all others has cemented our perception of Southerners as a bunch of deranged hicks: Deliverance. John Boorman’s searing 1972 picture about a group of city slickers on a rural white-water-rafting weekend who are ambushed and raped by a family of deadly, banjo- and shotgun-wielding yokels has imprinted itself on our minds as the authorised version of the South.

‘Because it’s so powerful,’ Hall says, ‘Deliverance has created this image of the toothless, small-town, inbred hill-billy that has stuck. When you start doing that banjo music, even kids who have never seen the film know what you’re talking about. That banjo riff has become shorthand for an entire region!’

Precisely. Every region, every country, every place has its yokels and freaks. I need only direct you to the terrifying white-power enclave that is Eastern Washington/Oregon, where folks consider themselves the “Real Confederacy.” (I don’t know what that means, either. But unlike many of the arguments about the Confederate flag, which often masquerade as ‘heritage’ or ‘history,’ this is about race, pure and simple).

Once, in Spokane, or as I now refer to it, scrub-brush-Devil-country, we stopped at a Perkins, where, in the smoking section, one booth away from us, was a guy who had three swastikas etched into his forehead. Like Vivian from The Young Ones, but less discreet. He sat there, snarling, with a cloud of flies encircling his head like some kind of mad insect entourage. (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.)

I appreciate the effort at rehabilitation because it strikes me that Southerners are one of the last marginal groups that it’s okay to mock and ridicule. It’s why I make sure to intersperse my speech in high-falutin’ situations with y’all and all y’all** as much as possible, and why I contemplated spending a whole quarter at the University of Chicago talking like Julie from the first season of The Real World just to see what would happen and how differently people would treat me.

Wonderful that Mr. Hall has a dedicated following on the other side of the pond. I treasured his Sniglets books as a child. Example: Ufluation (yu flu ay’ shun) – n. The peculiar habit, when searching for a snack, of constantly returning to the refrigerator in hopes that something new will have materialized.***

*For which see: Stephen Fry in America. Just too much material to cover in too little time, it ends up looking like a crack-a-loon highlights reel of our shattered society swizzled together with some broad-brush strokes about the states and their inhabitants. And I am pretty much on board with anything Mr. Fry takes on, but this series did nothing for me. John Barrowman did a similar “road trip across America” for Children in Need, not that I’ve watched it. Because: why?

**This is the grammatically correct plural form of y’all. Really.

***Otherwise known as “How I spend the majority of my time, if you include the pantry in this definition.”

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road scholar (found item clothing)

Road Scholar: Visiting The Goonies House

I’m always up for a road trip, no matter how trivial. You want to drive 60 miles through central Kentucky to see a historical marker by the side of some windy rural highway (with no shoulder, natch)? Count me in. Make a hundred and thirty mile round-trip to get frozen custard and see the church where Joan of Arc allegedly heard the voice of God speaking to her, telling her to rise up against the English? Sold!

Road trips, in fact, have formed the basis of many of my closest relationships. When Mike (editor’s note: Erin’s better half) first moved to Portland, he was super excited to hear that we were only a few hours away from Astoria, Oregon, home of the house at the heart of The Goonies. When I confessed that I had never actually seen The Goonies (gasp! Truth be told, I hadn’t seen Star Wars until I was sixteen, either, and only when I had to watch it for an English class on archetypes. Yes, I was raised in a barrel…), he insisted that we rent and view it.

Another late night, chain smoking and drinking cheap bourbon, we hit upon the rather brilliant idea of taking a road trip to see the Goonies house. Not prepared to wait until morning, we hit the road at about three a.m. Did I mention that there was a massive storm brewing? (This is Oregon, mind you…) Well, there was. And we had rather inadvisedly spent the whole of the last week watching the first season of Twin Peaks, so we were already kind of on edge, thinking we saw Leland Palmer or Bob lurking around every corner. Driving through the dark, every rasp of branch or lash of rain against the car was, naturally, a sign that we were going to crash the car and have our livers eaten by a serial killer.

Highway 30 was pitch black, littered with the fallen limbs of pine trees that had cracked and been bashed to bits by gale-force winds. But, ever stubborn, we pressed on. Arriving in Astoria—and this was before GPS and iPhones and things that, you know, tell you where the fuck you are—we drove around in circles for a good hour before finding the house. The house! It was….truth be told, just a big ramshackle Victorian two-story. Nothing to write home about, I guess, save for the fact that it was the setting of that movie.

Having seen what we came to see, and quickly realizing that there was little else to do in Astoria at 4:30 in the morning, we turned the car around for the long drive back. But not before I had a chance to pee outside, next to a dumpster, behind a gas station (one that didn’t open for another three hours). Not exactly a hotbed of exciting city life, mind you.

Anyways, roadtrips? Awesome. But a bit of planning never hurt.

From the source material:

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indiana, pascal, atheism

Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.

~Blaise Pascal

If you are going to have an afterlife, why not just have a physical afterlife? Just come back as a tentacle with a set of lips looking for huge lumps of chocolate to fuck, it’d be much more reasonable.

~Dylan Moran

Extended visit with the family this weekend, which meant a trip back to and through the Bible belt. Three hundred miles (exactly the length of Indiana, but no shock there) always sets my blood boiling, as I have to drive past about a bajillion billboards telling me that Jesus is the way and the light and to be afraid of hell because that shit is firey realness and not have abortions and get that vasectomy reversed and blah blah fucking blah.

The state motto is “Crossroads of America,” but we like to pass the 6 hours thinking up alternative slogans which sum up the situation much better: “Indiana: You Could Do Better” — “Northern Indiana: Gateway to Mordor” — “Cow Shit and Ethanol” — “Not Maintaining our Tolls Roads” — and “Indiana’s Finished On-Ramps: Coming 2017.”

I mean, this is the  state license plate of Indiana. And I’m fully aware that it is, no shit, the official motto of the United States, which ostensibly dates back to the American Revolution and Civil War, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Much less because I have to see it every time some stupid red pickup truck or tricked out Camaro pretending to be participating in the Indy 500 cuts me off going 90 plus mph on a desolate stretch of I-65….A bit of off-hand Deism I can handle, whereas a full-on onslaught of religious babble meant to stave off the spectre of Communist godlessness feels painfully dated and shameful.*

Pissy and judgmental as I am, I nevertheless avoid confrontation at all costs. So every time someone tells me how they’re praying, or they’re ‘blessed’ or I hear some mention of salvation on the radio, I grit my teeth and nod. I’m not going to get into it, because I’m not eloquent enough, and I utterly lack the energy to argue with irrational people.

Course it doesn’t help that evolutionary theory sounds just as half-baked as intelligent design. As Dylan Moran puts it–

Science is a joke. Look at the scientific explanation for the origin of life as we know it. No wonder we have creationists, you know, those people – God love them – who tell their children that, you know, originally we all went to school with dinosaurs, or whatever it is that they tell them. But no wonder they exist, because listen to the explanation for the origin of life itself – it doesn’t sound very scientific. “There was a big BANG! And then we all came from monkeys.” “What? That’s it?” “Yeah, shop’s closed, fuck off!” I need more than that! There must be more than – BANG! *monkey sounds* “Honey I’m home!” – come on! It’s such a boring theory, anyway! It’s much more interesting if you reverse the order.

I manage to calm myself with hearty doses of QI and Stephen Fry/David Mitchell, like this nice bit on Pascal’s Wager and heaven for atheists (would that it were true!)–

Nor do I think Pascal is entirely wrong about the nature of belief and the role of causality and praxis within it —

“I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards?” Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. “Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?”

True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness. “But this is what I am afraid of.” And why? What have you to lose?

W/r/t old Blaiseytron, some parts of the Pensées are actually quite lovely. It’s not necessarily the kind of book I would take for lolling on the beach, but it can be nice in small doses. Man’s condition, Pascal says, consists of “Inconstancy, boredom, [and] anxiety.” I take no issue with that. In fact, I should probably see if that’s been copyrighted, because it would make an excellent title for a memoir.

* “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic Communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, it is proper” to “remind all of us of this self-evident truth” that “as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail.” Good times, 1956.