Friday, November 18, 2005

the only reason to have a house (part 2).

coffee mornings. i love my coffee mornings and as much as i have loved getting to know coffee shops along the way, there is something lovely about having a different coffee shop every day. one day we sipped coffee on a picnic table by the citra, fl post office. one day it was coffee mornings in cool grindz in tallahassee, fl. they gave me a free visor and a free refill. i kind of consider them a corporate sponsor of sorts. jack calls coffee "nirvana" and i drank one too many cups of it over pancakes in his quincy, florida home.


we left the living word baptist church early in the morning. we had conflicting reports as to whether we'd be welcome there. frankie and lewis, two 10 year olds we met riding their bikes in the parking lot, seemed to think we'd be fine camped out behind the church. we startled the neighbors across the street and they thought we might just want to move along. so like i said, we got up early and crossed the st. john's river into palatka proper without coffee pretty early.

we found a nice little grassy park right on the river banks and settled down onto a bench that went all the way around a nice shady live oak. we made coffee and saw lots of people walking along the river. everyone seemed to know each other and there were signs and posters along the way. i took my cup of coffee down to get an idea of what was going on. there was a scroll of little baby footprints unrolled on one side of the walking path. there were other signs. signs documenting how many abortions take place in florida every year. signs linking the number of baby footprints to that number of abortions. a lady told me that it was a walk for life. was a lot to take in that morning.

in a similar way, we hit the road early on the way out of high springs. the first baptist church of high springs has a pretty thriving day-care and the minister asked that we not be around in the morning as the kids were dropped off. so once again, katie and i packed up and headed across the street to the civic center for breakfast and coffee. before we sat our bikes down, before we got our stoves started, we saw local, small town politics in action. kirk eppenstein, larry travis, johnny thomas, were running for two seats on the board of city commissioners. there were banners, signs, and twenty people reminding traffic on US 441 to get out and vote. larry travis even had a go cart covered with his name.

katie and i were stopped and asked to sign a petition to place an amendment to "protect" marriage on the florida constitution. as much as i love the morning and the sunrise, thinking before coffee is a struggle. i got out that we weren't registered to vote in the state of florida and continued on to our picnic table. i spent my breakfast digesting the scene and keeping score on the lady petitioning voters. who signed the petition? who didn't? who did they target? were they hitting voters on the way in or out? i leaned in to try to overhear different conversations. i thought about protesting the petition. heckling them. making signs against their signs. i thought about taking a petition to keep the amendment from coming to vote in the next election. i had those upset shakes. i could tell that if i started talking about it, my heart would come out of my mouth.


coffee was how we met loren and found a second place to stay in neptune beach. shelby's coffee has a wonderful front porch running amuck with dogs and little toddlers and shaded by palmeto trees. turns out that loren, two tables down from us, was one fourth of the nicest group of musicians you would ever want to meet. the whole band lives together in a house named for the band, the chroma-dome. they have two bounding dogs, one playful cat, a living room that is one mic short of a full-on recording studio, and a stack of rolling stones. katie and i sat in the kitchen after dinner and got to listen to a chroma practice / jam session. i was looking over the october 20th issue of rolling stone and reading an article entitled 'the war inside the peace movement."

i thought the article was well written. i would say it is well worth taking a couple minutes to head on out to the local public library to check out the stack of rolling stone back issues. the article talks about groups such as operation truth ( and cindy sheehan (, and how they grapple with other peace organizers like the international answer ( my new sources are a funny blend these days. katie and i stop at lots of gas stations to fill up our water bottles in the bathrooms. i always scan the headlines. local papers, usa today and when i'm lucky the new york times ... the rolling stone article was especially topical considering the headlines lately have been "2,000 Americans killed in the war in Iraq," "Lawmakers spar with execs from Exxon, Chevron over high prices, record profits, consumer pain."


a big reason for this trip for me is bike advocacy. i figure the more people that see bikes, the more people that start talking about bikes means the more people will remember how much fun pedaling around can be.

the only problem is that no one believes their home is bike friendly. really, i've ridden across north carolina, down south carolina and georgia, and i've come across florida into alabama. no one in these places thinks of their community as being safe for bikers. it was a big argument with my mom. her point was that it is not safe to bike around my hometown because people aren't used to seeing bikers. my point was nothing will ever change if people don't sart to see bikers. so i told her i would bike now and hope the streets got safer later.

wow. so far we've jumped from an abortion demonstrations in palatka, to a petition to ban gay marriage on the florida constitution in high springs, to an article about the peace movement across a nation, to me biking across the country in hopes of making roads safer for biking.

i've got the coffee shakes here on the back computer in the dizzy bean cafe so i might not be able to pull all of this together on my own. i also don't think i could put it so eloquently so i'll let wendell berry help out with a quote taken from the hidden wound.

"it occurred to me that there was another measure for my life than the amount or even the quality of the writing i did; a man, i thought, must be judged by how willingly and meaningfully he can be present where he is, by how fully he can make himself at home in his part of the world. i began to want desperately to learn to belong to my place. the test, it seemed to me, would be how content i could become to remain in it, how independent i could be, there, of other places."
- wendell berry. the hidden wound.

nothing really matters if it misses people, if it misses a community, if it has no home. no amount of theory or doctrine or petitioning or marching matters at all if it doesn't connect with people.

what is a walk? a sign? a scroll of baby feet? if it doesn't help families or mothers or babies.

what is a petition? or a sticker? or a website? or an organization? if it doesn't work on marriage enrichment or activities to bring families together or communities together to support better families.

what is a peace movement? a march? a protest? a demonstration? if the point is lost and it doesn't connect people with people and faces and hearts and real stories you can touch.

and what is a bike ride? what is bike advocacy? if it flashes through town quickly, whizzing downhill too fast to count. wouldn't a community benefit more to see the same rider all day everyday. doesn't a point need to be repeated to be remembered? doesn't your point need a home too.

lost in paragraph paragraph paragraph.

there is no way to describe a cypress swamp.
in fall. fading grey.
the spanish moss winning over.
but the cypress burns like any appalachian leaf i've ever seen.
not as large but as burning.

the grasses too.
fading. changing.
like long leaves.
stretched from fingertip to toenail.

like the rapid fire of acorns under wheel

like how we laugh every morning at elevenwhen we joke that today feels like fall.then the joke goes bad with blazing hot sun burned lips by one.

Watermelon, part one

[Tallahassee, Florida]

Tuesday night we slept under a live oak tree next to the cemetery at Pine Grove Methodist Church in somewhere, panhandle florida (the nearest town was Wellburn, FL but even that was 10 miles away). Before I went to sleep i saw not one but two old yellow school buses turned into trucks and filled to the brim with watermelons. They sped by and made me curious. I even wrote in my journal: "tonight i saw several old school buses converted into trucks, filled with watermelons (i think). i hope we see one again tomorrow so i can take a picture."

Wednesday morning, after taking a few rubbings from the cemetery gravestones, kevin and i biked on. Maybe ten minutes later, there they were, the school bus trucks. Really, i've never seen it before; picture this: school bus, the color of kraft macaroni and cheese. But it's as if someone came along with an exacto knife and easy-as-pie cut out the upper rear section of the bus, turning it into a school bus pick-up truck (or, if you will, the school bus version of the 'el camino'). there were two of them parked in front of a green field. I knew right away: watermelons! off to the right of the field (which was maybe the size of two football fields - maybe - i'm horrible at estimating area) there were two men.

"hey, you guys want a piece of watermelon?"
"oh yeah!"

we pull over and plop down our bikes. the two men are perched next to the bed of a black pickup truck. In the bed, split raw open, is a fresh watermelon: pink fruit, fleshy, dripping, just waiting for some teeth and gums to wrap themselves around it, chew, and swallow. fresh watermelon meat that is summer and sweetness, co-mingling with seedless seeds, the small off-white kind you can swallow without noticing, all cupped by a pale green rind, the armor of the outfit. I've been biking for over a month and, partially due to lack of space to pack it, and partially due to low funds, i've probably been eating on average one, maybe two pieces of fresh fruit a week, in addition to the daily handful of raisins in my oatmeal and gorp. The sight of this fruit, cut open and naked and looking so tasty there on the back of the pickup truck, made me swoon. That watermelon took on georgia o'keefe proportions to me, right then and there.

We chat with the men about our trip, tell them where we're from and all that. There were the usual exclamations. "California? On bicycles?" I've heard the latter phrase so often that i can imitate it in an almost perfect southern accent. "You're crazy!" They introduce themselves as Mickey and Willie.

"Help yourself," says one of the men. they both look middle-aged, maybe in their 50's or 60's. A mother-of-pearl pocket knife was sitting stuck in one of the halves. I drooled, picked up the knife, and started to cut but the knife swung back as pocket knives will tend to do if you use the wrong side.

"You might want to turn that around," one of them says, laughing.
and quieter "I guess Yankees don't know how to use knives...." i miss this comment but kevin tells me about it later; i probably take more offense to being associated at all with the baseball team of the same name than the northerner stereotyping itself. but i didn't care: fresh watermelon! kevin and i both carved off juicy chunks, and practically inhaled them; we were kids in a candy shop...

Behind Micky and Willie is a field filled with vine-like green watermelon plants that hug the ground. A few fruits smashed open in the dirt accent the scene. In that vividly green field about 20 hispanic men make their way through the rows of plants. They were a ways back but i could see the sun glint off a machete-like tool in the hand of at least one of them. A white 12 passenger van is parked off to the right, just past the edge of the field. I was talking with the two older men but kept being distracted by the men in the field beyond, moving methodically among green.

"How many bus-fulls do you get a day?"
"Usually ten. Our record was 18."
"Where do you ship them."
"First they go down south to be inspected, but then they go all over the country."

Man. Last winter/spring I worked with a study abroad program in Thailand, a program i had done myself a few years prior, a program that focuses on rurar development and other social issues. During the semester we did an activity called "follow the food"; four different groups of students traced four different food-products back to their sources: one of those foods was 'watermelon' and the watermelon group ended up on a middle of the night wild-goose chase that ended at a watermelon farm somewhere in northeast thailand pretty close to Laos. i hadn't been in that group, i had only heard about it, but was now wishing i had seen the thai watermelon field so i could compare. And i was thinking how the students who'd been in the watermelon group would get a kick out of seeing this.

Mickey had white hair and wore a kelly-green trucker's hat and wire rimmed glasses, taking on the appearance of a studious farmer. As we chatted him up he pulled out a pouch of southern pride chewing tobacco and tucked a pinch into his cheek. Meanwhile, Willie puffed a cigar.

"where did you stay last night," asks Mickey.
"At the methodist church, about a mile back."
"Oh yeah, that's where I go to church."

We wanted to know more about watermelon farming. And still in the background 20 hispanic men moved methodically through the field, row by row, under the hot and getting hotter 10am florida in november sun.

"Yeah, we used to grow big kinds, like the 'Congo,' they were 70 or 80 pounds."

"Woah," kevin and i both said at once. a 70 pound watermelon seemed awfully big to my mind.

"but nowadays they want the smaller ones." These were oblong, about 12 inches long and 5 inches wide, not too heavy, maybe 10 or 20 pounds (i'm as bad at estimating weight as i am at estimating area)

"Yeah, we try to eat at least one a day," Willy tells us, "These kind stay good for about a week. The ones with seeds get all sugary in the middle, but these ones keep real good."

Again our gaze shifted to the men picking. I couldn't help but stare and wonder what their lives were like.

"Yeah, i used to pick 'em myself when i was younger," said Willie, "But these days the only ones who'll work hard enough are Mexicans."

"Yeah, and most of them are illegal," adds Mickey.

We eat more watermelon. Chat about the roads we'll be biking on next ("that next right you're taking is a downhill road, the way you like it, huh?") And watch the workers some more. One last bite, and we're on our way.

"I hope it was a good breakfast."

"Oh man, it was the best in a while," says kevin, "we don't get much fresh fruit."

We get ready to go. Both Kevin and I pause first to get pictures of the school bus trucks. How could we not; when's the next time we'll see school bus pick-up trucks? Inside each of them were a few of the workers, sitting up towards the front. We snapped pictures. I waved, they waved back, and we rode away

The first thing I thought as i was pedaling away from the field: I could stay here all day. I could stay here for a few months. Hang out with Micky and Willie and eat lots of watermelon. Pick watermelon. Ask questions, learn about how they farm, what they use for fertilizer, what the soil is like. Hang out with the workers, hear their stories, make friends.

But we didn't stay, we biked on, that's the nature of a bike trip. I can only skim the surface during this ride, I can only collect sketches. That's what this trip is: sketches. And that's okay. This trip will be and is a real time overview of a slice of this country and a bunch of people we meet. And that's pretty neat. I'm getting to that point in my life where below the surface I'm itching to stay in one place for a while, and get to know that place and the people there. But collecting sketches into an overview now will inform my settled-down experiences later, and so for a little while longer i can justify this nomadic existence.

And the second thing that struck me while riding away from the patch: I was thinking how it would be interesting to work as a migrant farm worker for a while. But then i realized how silly that sounded. I have enough money to have saved up money to buy a bike and spend 5 months riding coast to coast. I can say "oh, it would be neat to work as a migrant farmer for a while," and i might even work as a migrant farmer for a few months or mayber longer. But i also have the freedom to decide not to be a migrant farm worker. I grew up in a middle class background and have had the economic support of my family while i attended college and have looked for jobs and stayed at their house for a couple weeks now and then in between jobs. I might be wrong, but i bet most of these watermelon pickers aren't exactly swimming in job opportunities. This is hard work, but it's their best option, and it allows them to make a living, so that's what they do.

I guess that's one kind of freedom these days: economic freedom. It reminds me of my friend Su from Thailand. A recent college grad, Su comes from a traditional Thai farming family; her parents sent her to a Thai college with the hope that her education will help her escape the farming lifestyle, will provide her with more economic opportunities; in the end, bottom line, they hope she will be freer then she was as a farmer, who they see as being chained to the land in a negative, old-fashioned way. I always remember Su being so amazed at the freedom i had; the price tag of a round trip flight between USA and Thailand was incomprehensible to her - Thai wages make a $1000 plane ticket outrageously expensive. She always tells me she is jealous of the freedom I have to travel and try out a variety of not-permanant (and as my mom would call them "not-real") jobs. Su has to work at a full time job she has been lucky to find - she has to help out her family, she could never afford the cost of even an overseas plane ticket, nevermind the trip itself. But isn't my "freedom" more than anything my ability to afford the plane ticket?

And there's a lot more to life than freedom. It's funny, because I'm jealous of Su's family and farming roots, of her strong connection with the place she comes from. And funny too that while she sometimes feels trapped, what she really wants to do is return home and learn to farm, but her parents say "No, you shoul be modern, you should get a job that pays well..."

And so we spin and try to figure out our place, and it's always changing.....

Check it out:::::

here you'll find a copy of 'Common Ground,' the magazine I helped students put together while working with the study-abroad program at Khon Kaen University in northeast Thailand. On page 39 you'll find "Follow the Food: Watermelon," an account of the watermelon group's trip to a thai watermelon farm. And on page 18 you'll find "The end of a cycle," a moving piece by Su that talks about her relationship with her family, farming, and the land.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

steel horse explained

[defuniak springs, florida]

my mom suggested i call these updates "bike shorts;" sorry mom, i couldn't do it. I also thought of "the sheel story," but both of these rate a little too high on the cheese scale...

"I'm a cowboy; on a steel horse i ride..." -jon bon jovi

In the song, bon jovi of course wasn't riding a bicycle - his steel horse was a motorcycle. But i'd like to think a bicycle is closer to a horse than a motorcycle: both horse and motorcycle use food for fuel and both will get you from here to there, though neither as quickly as a motorcycle or a car. When it comes down to it, I'm no cowboy (or cowgirl). I know I'm romanticizing the freedom that the cowboy stereotype usually embraces. I'm not even sure what a cowboy does these days (hopefully i'll meet a few out west, and I'll get back to you when i find out). I'm just riding, seeing the sights, and bumping into an interesting mix of folks along the way, collecting a few layers of sketches and stories from here to there....

"A1A beachfront avenue" [answers]

below are the replies to the questions i posed in my post titled "A1A, beachfront avenue":

--> answers from brandon, aka "Litebright," a Georgia native....

"Q> >in tree farms why do they plant trees in rows? in the 'wild', trees don't grow in rows, so I can't imagine neatly rowed forests are the healthiest...who owns most tree farms: individuals, communities, or businesses? What is most of the timber harvest in South Carolina and Georgia used for?

Most "tree farms" are privatly owned. The Govt. or a private paper company ex. Mead pays the land owner so much per month or year to grow the trees on the land and they are harvested about every 20 years. All tree farms consist of pine trees. Newer tree farms feature the staight rows of trees in which you speak of. This is beacause a tractor is used to plant the trees and it tills, aereates and plants the seed in one swoop. Older farms have more speratic trees but, due to labor cost it's much cheaper for a tractor to do it. Most of the trees are sent to the saw mills in south GA near Brunswick where they are broken down to chips and used as particle board.

Q. When is cotton harvested? Today, what percentage of cotton is grown on family owned farms? What percentage is grown on farms owned by agro-businesses? Who is cotton sold to? Who harvests it?

A. Nealy all farms are still family owned. If by family you mean the family has formed a company out of thier growing has become an agro-business. If you mean how many "real farmers" are planting and harvesting? Maybe 10% Cotton is shipped to Mexico where it made into clothing and such.

Q. What were small-town/rural downtowns like 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 30 years ago? 50? most of the downtowns we pass through are fading, trying to come up for air: more empty buildings 'for lease' or 'for sale' than open, thriving businesses seem to be the>trend.

A. The Southern downtown has been slowing disapearing in the past 40 years. Most of this local development was tied closely with the local economy. The south took a hard blow when the textile, appolstry, etc type of jobs moved over seas. Just ask Valley about High Point, NC. The furniture capitol of the world. It's getting pretty run down itself. Anyway, now that everybody in these small towns are out of work they are forced to find the lowest price on comodities regardless of where they come from. Therefore.....Wal-mart=Good Jimmy's 5 & Dime=Bad..

Q. Are chuches the only/main consistent forum/catalyst for community in this country? Why? What are the other forums for community that are consistently found throughout the country? I'm at a>loss to think of any that are as powerful....

Not really sure about this one....Maybe Kiwanas..Lions club...Banks

Q. How old is too old to go out trick-or-treating?

A. I did pretty good for a 26 yr old... I've found that impersenating Tom Shane has its benifits"


--> the reply from my uncle Richard, who is currently living and working with communities and their water supply/wells in Bangladesh:

"Hi Katie:

Thanks for the diary from the south. Judging from the size of ur mailing list, I am sure that you will get agood variety of answers. About tree plantations, most of Maine is planed out in pine, but I am not sure it is all in rows. But most of it is used for pulp and paper, specifically to make newsprint.Cotton- used to be harvested by slaves, African americans. But when they introduced machinery back in the late 40's, there was a mass migration of blacks to the north looking for work. That is when the big Ghettos in the nth were created. I had a White couple in my church once in Rochester NY that grew up in East Texas and had picked cotton. They had to migrate to California during the Grapes ofWrath days. Churches-probably rooted deep in America's early Christian tradition. Halloween - maybe when you have to ask sombody else to carry your bag. Anyway-good luck as you head toward Katrina country.



--> the email reply from my dad, via my mom (my mom uses email, my dad doesn't.) my dad has worked in the timber/logging/sawmill industry for at least 25 years....

"An answer from Daddy re:trees, or as much as I can remember: Trees are planted in rows like that, because they are farms and the trees are a crop, it's not a forest. Rows make it easier to weed etc. And large companies own most of them, because it takes 40 years or so for the trees to mature, and what family farmer would plant trees only to be gone when they mature????"

Friday, November 11, 2005

good reasons to have a house (part 1.)

good reasons to have a house...
katie had a good list of reasons.
1. to have a bookshelf.
2. to have your cd collection in cases.
3. for a front porch.
4. for a back porch.
5. to have house parties.

moe told us she'd be home by 630. katie and i finished our beer and told her we'd see her back at her house. i should have known better. moe had a slew of different jobs at the bar. she was part promoter, part bar-tender, part waitress, part local celebrity, and part owner's roommate/part friend. i guess she was part cleveland indian's first base man too, but she only wore that hat for halloween once a year. she told us we HAD to come have a beer and when i told her i was worried about finding a place to stay, she offered us her yard.

it was a hectic night. when we finally found her green house, it was later than usual and buggier than usual. the potatoes boiled faster than usual. the ground was softer than usual which made the tent setting more difficult than usual. and if we weren't busy enough, the trick-or-treaters came.

i was at a loss. i had peanut butter. by the spoonfull? nope. would probably get messy in the candy bag. i could give them the cheese packet from my mac n' cheese, but it wouldn't come with cooking directions or pasta. yeah, probably not. i could give them oatmeal, but it isn't even sweetened because i used.... wait. my trail mix. i could give out trailmix. it had dark and white chocolate chips and raisins and... but that's the whole thing. i'd haveto give out handfulls of trailmix and no parent would let their kid touch unpackaged candy. no matter what kind of chocolate chips it had.

so when the first kids came up to the door, i say "nobodies home right now." katie argues. i ask her if it would seem less sketchy to say, "the people who live here aren't home right now. we're camping and cooking in the backyard. happy halloween." katie pulls out a bag of chocolate bars (the mini ones she'd had for snack) and gives out a few.

we sit down to dinner in the backyard. we talk about halloween ethics, about giving moe a bad name with the local kids. we don't want moe to live in that house that has lights on and people that you can hear but no candy at the door. those were the houses you glared at. those were the grudges hard to forgive. we also don't want to give moe the stingy name either. the only thing worse than the house with lights but no candy was the grandmother who gave out one little piece of candy. so little, it was hardly worth the walk to the front door.

after dinner i decide that for the sake of the children, we have to give out the candy we do have. i give all of katie's chocolate out until i have two bars left. two small mini bars of chocolate. i call out to a big group of kids next door, i've only got enough candy for two kids so only two can come over. four kids come up the drive way. i frown. i ask them how old they are. tell them they should be old enough to count to two. then i tell them that there will be a trivia contest for the last two candy bars (mini chocolate bars, mind you.). i ask them to name the capital city of north carolina. never has a kid had to work so hard for so little on halloween. charlotte, reidsville, columbia, randleboro... the neighbor lady comes over with a big mix bag of chocolate bars. she tells me, "you can't do that to kids." and hands me the assortment bag.

sure we got started late in the game. we finished big though. at one point, the neighbors and moe's house(361 main st.) with me at the chocolate helm were the only houses on the whole block with candy. eventually, the neighbors put their little ones to bed and took to drinking in the back yard. i sat under the make-shift carport that's not a carport as much as it's a storage space (with everything to build, furnish, and sell your own home) giving out candy to the kids who had gotten a late start on the evening.

the best halloween costumes, in order...
1. ghetto from the north east
tied. ghetto bride from the north east.
3. a punk rock 11 year old with a shirt that said,"rock n' riot"
4. a two year old dressed as a pumpkin complete with painted orange face
5. a cowboy who bought the self-inflatable horse and pants suit from walmart.

(katie and i talked for a few days about whether the north east and bride referred to north east jacksonville or new england. jacksonville, fl is this huge sprawling city that goes on forever. all of the locals we talked to couldn't believe the s meant northeast jacksonville. they all agreed the reference was to new england.)

katie and i sat there and thought what the age limits were (a different strain of the ethics of halloween conversation). there seemed a certain age that you could still trick-or-treat to, a certain age that you started going to halloween parties instead of canvassing the streets for candy, and a certain age when you started giving out candy or taking your children to go get candy.

i took pictures of all the trick-or-treaters. one ofthe kids asked me why i was taking pictures and i told him this was my first halloween giving out candy.

moe finally came home. she'd forgotten a dinner and drinks date with a friend. she apologized. brough tout some candy. it was mostly too late though. we sat around and talked and katie and i ate moe's candy.

but at some point in the night, sitting there in between trick-or-treaters, katie and i looked at each other and just started laughing. i sat there wondering how these things happen. i have been to some pretty wonderful halloween parties but giving out candy is great fun too.

with as good as katie's list of reasons to have a house was. on halloween, i decided that giving out candy to trick-or-treaters is the best reason to have a house.



[tallahassee, florida]

some words i'd been wondering about.

according to the 'random house webster's school and office dictionary' i found in all saint's cafe in tallahassee, florida...below the definition is the context: why i was wondering about them.

chattel - (n) a moveable article of personal property

kevin is reading 'the hidden wound,' by wendell berry. in general, it's about . he came across the word 'chattel' and neither of us really knew what it meant.

deciduous - (adj) 1. shedding the leaves annually, as certain trees. 2. falling off at a particular season or stage of growth, as leaves or horns

i always forget which word means 'trees that lose their leaves;' riding by all these trees, it got me wondering again...

coniferous - (adj) pertaining to a tree or shrub that bears both seeds and pollen on dry scales arranged as a cone.

along the same lines as 'deciduous'....

iconoclast - (n) a person who attacks cherished beliefs or traditional institutions.

in gainseville, FL i found an ad for a shop called 'F.I.A., future iconoclast of america'; according to the ad they sold 'cutie tee's, skirts, pants, dresses, hats, shoes, bags, and gifts.' kevin likes my definition better: "someone who wants to smash the machine."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

st. george, georgia.

st. george, georgia. the name reminds me a lot of a guy i used to work with named earl early.
the town seemed just as quirky as the dishwasher who used to recognize me by my shoes from the other side of the Von Steuben dishwasher. if st. george, georgia wasn't redundant enough, we met a cat named george in st. george, georgia.

i guess that gets ahead of myself though. george from st. george, georgia belonged to bobby. and bobby reminded me more of dexter the dog and george the georgian cat.

katie and i rolled into st. george on friday night. we checked out the local haunts, the fire station and the EMS station, but no one was home. friday night, no school on saturday morning, i thought we should camp out at the elementary school. (its strange, there will be small towns like patterson, ga and s. george, ga and they'll have elementary schools but no middle school and no high school.) so... we throw down next to the recycling container. we start cooking dinner and we plan to drop a note off on the sheriff's front windshield when we go by to check on the pie situation at rhonda's diner (katie has been craving pie for a solid week at this point). we've gotten pretty used to people finding us before we find them. concerned neighbors, mostly, have come to our unofficial campsites to inquire. generally, as soon as we say the keywords... passing through, travelers, biking cross country... they agree. nod. make some comment about vagrants or transients and tell us to have a good night.

so dinner is cooking, the tent isn't up and i hear beeping. it sounds like a cop radio so i figure i'll go meet the police. * better to meet them smiling, than hiding in the shadows huddled over dinner * this may be a good indicator of how untech savvy i am. i round the corner, and see bobby talking walkie-talkie style on his cell phone. the whole scene is intimidating. there is a 'no trespassing' sign on the tree in the front yard. bobby has on a grey t-shirt over grey long sleeve shirt. the yard is dark. shadowy. the dog is barking. snarling. i explain we're biking and camping out at the school. he mumbles through a tooth challenged grimace, "stay in my yard." i couldn't quite tell if it was a command, a question, an offer, or a suggestion. i tell him we're getting ready to eat but that we'll cross the dirt road later on.

i met dexter first though. there are dogs that smile. dogs and jump. that lick. that flop. dexter doesn't. dexter has a mean bark and a charge... no leash. dexter has a permanent snarl. jagged teeth that hang out from under un-closed lips. dexter didn't have doggy braces.

you know how people kind of look... or at least act like their dogs. dexter and bobby are a pair.

so we finish dinner and i'm still a little uneasy about the feeling i got off of bobby. we go over anyway. bobby has a barrel in the front yard. a truck parked next to a cluttered, shaky porch. the truck's driver side window is plastic wrapped and the bed is a storage space. mostly beer cans. the porch is supported by left over door parts. there is a slider/recliner on the porch. the trailer behind the porch is quiet and lit by a fuzzy reception from the TV. there are nick-nacks scattered around. the yard is rooted up from the pigs down the street. there is an old tent that lay in shambles. rusted. bobby said it was new. set up once and then left to rust. the yard for the trailer was framed by dirt road on two sides. there was a loose piece of wood over the front of the trailer. bobby said he needed to but the awning back on but he needed a ladder to do it. said he could probably just stand on his toolbox but...

bobby had a beer in hand and a pack of dorals in the breast pocket of the aforementioned grey short sleeved shirt. his face was wrinkled. concentric circles. hard lines. tough, old lines. from his mouth radiating to his ears. from his eyebrows rippling up toward more white than grey hairline. his skin had been sunburnt. squinted. the color of cigarette ash. greyscale. he looks more like samuel beckett more than anyone i've ever met.

bobby told us his ex-brother-in-law was an assistant deputy with the law. he said we'd get hassled all night if we stayed at the school. "they love that new school. some kids broke into it awhile back. broke into the cafeteria. they broke every egg in the whole place. just threw them all over the floor. and emptied the milk and flour too. like they was baking a pie on the ground. took the school all weekend to clean up after that. they caught em' though. the kids who did it. i seen em'. turned em' in. now, i mean, we did some stupid pranks growing up. but nothing much more than stealing watermelons. we'd steal em', brake em' open and eat the hearts out of em. leave the rest to rot. we got shot at a couple times. but nothing like them kids did." bobby told us another story of a stolen truck being parked in his yard once. they arrested the guys who did that too. the thieves told bobby they thought he'd appreciate the new truck and bobby told me he would have, if it weren't been stolen.

bobby's brother came over not much later. they started up the fire. mickey pulled up in a white pontiac. he said he couldn't afford to drive the truck round right now. 1974 ford. sure likes to drink gas, bobby said. mickey told bobby he needed a new barrel for his fire. mickey had a few extras out back of where he worked. he told bobby he'd haul it over one of these days. they talked and talked. it was almost as if bobby was samuel beckett. almost as if i was watching waiting for godot play out in front of me.

mickey was going to build a back porch.
bobby could get 5 gallons of sealer, but there was no lumber anywhere.
mickey built a front porch and a back porch on his house.
he was now screening in the back porch and wanting to build another porch onto that.
mickey threw his beer cans into the yard.
bobby threw his into the truck.
mickey lived with three women. well, two women and one four year old step-grandchild.
mickey really didn't care for women at all.
he worked to avoid the women in his house. if he had to be home, he did yard work or maintenance.
bobby liked mickey's friend. she came over every day to watch people's court with mickey.
the four year old step-grandchild was named jordan.
i met her the next morning. she had an eyeore sweatshirt on.
i told her she was more like tigger, but she said, look at my ears (the sweatshirt had ears) i'm eyeore.
bobby didn't really listen to kathy (mickey's friend). he just got her a beer and pretended.
mickey was helping his son move the next day.
roger was splittin' the sheets after he found out his wife was snorting the bill money up her nose.
mickey said bobby's sheets were ripped. bobby said shredded. bobby had been married 4 times.
mickey had been married two and a half times.
he's not married to kathy. she lives with him, and her daugher and her grandchild.
kathy gets a check that would be canceled if she married mickey.
so they date. and bobby is happy with dexter and george.

bobby started the fire with gasoline. mickey moved his car before he did. sure enough, a fire ball that could almost be considered an explosion lit up the fire barrel. mickey said we'd set up our tent in mosquito-ville. katie and i didn't mind.

we all sat around the fire. after riding fifty miles, i'm never much for conversation. so i listened to bobby tell stories. bobby and mickey. bobby had been in st. george for 10 years but he was from jacksonville. he only came up to st. george to build his mother a porch. he got up here friday night, finished the porch sunday night and sure enough she up and died on monday morning. bobby moved up here to live with his father. he said he was about the only one who could stand him. so they had lived together living off his father's social security. he would work occasionally. he did contract work. he helped mickey drive a rig for awhile. mickey had to give that up after he met kathy. kathy called him 47 times one day. after that, mickey knew he had to settle down. so he lived three miles out of town. which is funny, because st. george was more or less an intersection. two diners and two gas stations.

i listened into the night. i just sat, bobby brought out chairs, sat and listened to stories. stories like they should be told. or they should be heard. a story-telling/oral tradition where stories are passed down around a fire. mickey kept on saying he had to go buy gas and cigarettes but he never left. so i listened. ...

bobby's bathroom was the best par of the house. it was cluttered like the rest of the rooms. there were spiders and webs, an ash-tray and the toilet bowl was brown. but the walls were painted. the bottom half of the wall was blue. dark. no green. just a dark blue. the top half of the wall was white. where the colors met there were splotches. it wasn't even. or straight across. it was an ocean. there were ships sketched on the ocean. two ships. sail boats. fishing boats maybe. then, up the way, on shore, there was a half finished light house. the stripes were grey, black, grey, black, grey. the rest of the light house was penciled in but not finished.

st. george, georgia.

bobby said dexer would run across and play with the children during recess. said all of the kids knew him. loved him. the teachers liked him too.

george the cat from st. george, georgia. we saw him the next morning. he had a pretty chunk of fur missing from his side that i'm pretty sure i hadn't seen the night before. george was an outside cat. bobby told me he'd chase squirrels right up the tree. then george would meow and meow. bobby would say, you got yourself up er'. now figure out how to get down. sure enough, by the end of the day, he'd be down.

st. george, georgia quirky as a dishwasher who used to recognize me by my shoes. and earl would talk. talk and talk about anything. like bobby. like me.


"A1A, beachfront avenue" [questions]

[neptune beach, florida]

all of you who were in middle school in the early '90s will understand the thrill of reinacting that classic Vanilla Ice song (i won't name names, but there's a certain someone receiving this email who had "Wax a chump like a candle" hanging in big letters on the wall of her college dorm room, so i know i'm not the only one). we've been cruising Florida state route A1A the past few days and will again tomorrow for our last chunk of east coast riding down to St. Augustine before heading west. A1A has been beach towns, textured green and yellow sea grass, white wave foam in the distance, windy lunches on nearly deserted beaches (i have a feeling fall is the time to be in Florida) and of course, a generous smattering of stripmalls and sprawl

...but now that i've got that our of my system.....riding through rural South carolina and georgia, i've found myself asking and thinking more about questions than anything else. It might be a while before i come closer to answering them thoroughly, so I'll throw them out there. and if you know partial or full answers to any of them, please send your thoughts my way

>in tree farms why do they plant trees in rows? in the'wild', trees don't grow in rows, so I can't imagine neatly rowed forests are the healthiest...>who ownsmost tree farms: individuals, communities, or businesses? What is most of the timber harvest in South Carolina and Georgia used for?

>>When is cotton harvested? Today, what percentage of cotton is cotton grown on family owned farms? What percentage is grown on farms owned by agro-businesses? Who is cotton sold to? Who harvests it?

>>>What were small-town/rural downtowns like 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 30 years ago? 50? most of the downtowns we pass through are fading, trying to come up for air: more empty buildings 'for lease' or 'for sale' than open, thriving businesses seem to be the trend...

>>>>Are chuches the only/main consistent forum/catalyst for community in this country? Why? What are the other forums for community that are consistently found throughout the country? I'm at a loss to think of any that are as powerful....

>>>>>How old is too old to go out trick-or-treating?

we head back inland soon, so i'm enjoying the salty air while i can. hope you're enjoying your version of salty air, sand, and waves