Well, my dear friends, it seems the road trip has come to an abrupt end, although I have promised to myself to one day return eastward and see more sights of the Americas. I have compiled many notes to write this letter to you, back in the comfort of home, so here they are at best I can supply them. I return to work in the next few days, and return to busy living.
Sunday, Sept. 26th
Several days after my last opportunity to write, we arrived in San Francisco. Staying at another college dormitory, with friends James has so quickly met within his group, I somewhat question the nature of the visit. It seems everywhere I go the major election looms, and I see many supporters around me that hate the President Bush, but when I begin to walk away from the colleges it seems to be more divided. I was accosted today by a young man on campus spreading papers promoting a vote for Proposition 'L'. It is hard to tell what the proposition is from the title, so I grabbed a copy and read more.
Me: So, Proposition 'L' plans on giving money to preserve old theaters? From the rather unique theaters I have seen, I don't know if the new ones are any worse than the old ones.
College Student: Hey man, are you against the arts or something? Independent film is important in today's corporate world. We're just trying to preserve a lifestyle, man.
Me: I don't believe the many states were ever meant to preserve your film with $10 millions, an unimagined amount. Who does this money go to?
College Student: It's going to "Save Our Theaters", a non-profit organization to preserve San Francisco's old theaters.
Me: With $10 millions, it's hard to say any organization is "non-profit". So the greatest advocates of this provision are the direct beneficiaries? Seems rather suspicious to me. Likewise if it's not a profitable effort, I sincerely doubt people would be willing to pay the prices to sustain it for any duration, without further tax spending...
College Student: Be suspicious then while the arts are destroyed. Corporate movies are expensive, so why not increase tax spending to see the alternative?
Me: A high ticket price is as much a cost as a higher tax, maybe you just take moving pictures for granted, but what I see is the many losing, so a few may profit in millions. I am not from around here so I can't vote on this issue, but if I were, I would surely vote against it.
College Student: Well if you aren't a voter here, stop wasting my time! Jeesh. Anyone else around here interesting in saving our theaters...?
Tuesday, Sept. 28th
Today I awoke early, with a commitment to travel the city and learn more about it's inhabitants. I was offered to join Daniel, to take several trips to sights around the town, so we visited several places and I include them in these notes.
A Crooked Street
Why such a place was ever chosen to build a street, I know not. However with the amazing flowers and mansions, it reminded me a little bit of the scale of beauty I miss so much ever since arriving here. Daniel just seemed to be amused that he was driving down the crooked and surprisingly steep road.
A Big Prison
Daniel's next destination was to drive to a ferry, to travel over the bay to a silent island prison. This federal prison, I'm told, held many who dare not escape it's walls, and I truly wonder, just what kind of government needs to build such huge prisons?
A Bigger Bridge
The last major object on today's tour was a giant bridge, the likes I had never been before. Daniel insisted upon walking the incredible length of the marvelous structure to get a finer view of it's architecture, when it was we fell upon something quite dramatic - indeed, a middle-aged man, dressed up in the uniform of the King of Burger, who indeed had climbed up past the guard railing and stood, facing the east bay, threatening to jump. A crowd of onlookers began to form, as I approached to ask the man what he was doing, against the advice of Daniel who stood just a slight bit behind...
Jumper: What do you want, can't you see my life's a living hell? Let me end it all...
Me: Well, good sir, if you are indeed to jump, and that is a long way to fall, and it more the less no difference to you, could you perhaps give me a few moments of friendly conversation, as between two fellows who still, for the time being at least, share the fact that we are alive?
Jumper: Well, okay, I suppose... but don't try to talk me out of it!
Me: While I do not share a callous disregard for one's own role on this mortal coil, I do have to inquire as to what causes impel you so?
Jumper: I suppose I should tell someone before I go... my name is Ronald Finkstein, and I've had many appointed positions in local and state government, a very important man. For 20 years I served the city and California, and now look at me! Forced to flip burgers to get by! (it was at this point, I noticed the man begin to cry)
Me: Well tell me then, Mr. Finkstein, what of these positions of such great importance, why do you regard occupation in civil service above your very own life?
Finkstein: Well, it all started 20 years ago, I knew the mayor and I was appointed to the San Francisco planning department. My authority was given to me to help "plan" the layout of the city's growth, and it was indeed what I did for 7 long years. If you built anything out of code or without the proper permits, me and my guys had your balls busted harder than anyone else in the state. We were for beauty dammit, not the spontaneous rubbish these people wanted to put up. Entrepeneurs... bah!
Me: Well, that's... odd. But do continue...
Finkstein: I was known best by local townfolk for my famed surprise inspections. Business owners, especially the smaller ones, all learned to rue the day they crossed paths with Ronald Jameson Finkstein... it was times to remember. I personally served over 400 shutdown notices in my 7 years running things... kept the order over the chaos of the city's growth, otherwise, who knows what would happen? Then I got promoted by some big friends I had made, to state tax assessor, I guess I proved a good intimidator...
Me: Please, continue...
Finkstein: And those were the glory days. I dealt with all manner of tax protestor and negligent civilian. Saw to it that many homes and businesses who were delinquent were properly foreclosed, and dragged anyone into court that evaded the tax, no one got a break from Ronald Finkstein. I was an important man, devised all sorts of tax solutions for the state's budget, which my friends in the state legislature got passed. I made our state great... now look at me! Burger King! An old man doing the insignificant work of children!
Me: Well, feeding people is not insignificant...
Finkstein: Don't patronize me! When the stupid brute actor was made governor, I, and many of my friends were ousted. It was only a matter of time, as I wasted away on unemployment, before my wife and kids left. She could see it... in my tired face, in my listless body on the couch, in the restless eyes... I was now powerless, impotent... in more ways than one! (it was at this point, he stood up from his post, and looked down into the bay waters) That's it! I'm going to end it all before I become even less of a man than I am now! I'm gonna do it!
Me: No sir! I think I see the source of your unhappiness and misery...
Finkstein: You do? Really?
Me: Yes, for you see, you have built your life around making the misery of others. To live life as a truly productive civil servant, you must think of yourself as the most unimportant of men. Your duties laid before you, you should be humbled, for the same people you serve are those who you seem to have conspired against. It is more important to feed than it is to tax, to "flip" burgers than it is to foreclose, and to upsize drinks than it is to zone apart the commons... as your job today is more diplomatic, beneficial and less destructive to the people than any held before you. To hold life is any other regard, my friend, is nothing short of a waste.
Finkstein: So you're saying I strove too hard to make my fellow man's life worse because I just wanted to feel important, and that because of that malice, I wasted that time? And that what I do now is actually better off for society than what I did with my days before?
Me: Well, yes.
Finkstein: It's true! It's all true! I wasted my life, it was all a big blur of hate and contempt. Always trying to be big Ronald Finkstein, and now I'm barely fit to be Ronald McDonald! I'm a little man, thank you for showing me this. I can't live knowing what I've become... but thank you. Goodbye cruel world! Gahhh! (at this point, Mr. Finkstein dramatically leaps off into the blue waters below... at the moment his feet leave the rail, two policemen come running up...)
San Francisco Policeman (the short one): Don't jump or we'll shoot!
San Francisco Policeman (the tall one): Shit! Too late.
San Francisco Policeman (the short one): Third one this month.
San Francisco Policeman (the tall one): Say, you two there, did that man say anything before he jumped?
Me: Yes, uhm --
Daniel: -- He said his wife cheated on him and couldn't take it anymore, something about not being able to get it up. Let's go Tommy... (Daniel clinched my arm and dragged me away back towards the end of the bridge where we have parked)
San Francisco Policeman (the tall one): They're all the same, it always has something to do with size and performance. Always worried that they're not big enough. Right partner?
San Francisco Policeman (the short one): Yep, it's a shame, a damn shame. The cleanup crew is on it's way, let's get the crowd dispersed and get outta here. There's nothing more to see here folks!
Friday, Oct. 1rst
James demands we stay in the area, so he can assist in local efforts. I don't entirely trust the unfavorable element he is complicit with, but it gives me time to explore and freedom to learn more, so I nod and silently explore the greater parts of San Francisco. The money still holds, and we still meet the budget. So I took one adventure down by the waterfront, walking a locality called Pier 39... a little walking was involved, but I opened the day searching the amusements on the pier, walking up and down enjoying the scenery. We passed through but had not explored this area, when we went to the big island prison, and Daniel left me off to walk around as I always do. Despite the amusements there was little to do as I did not want to break the day's budget. I decided it best to stay away from the amusements, and explore the stores.
Taking a moment to eat a pretzel, I bumped into a man carrying a stack of decorative boxes, which I had come to learn came from a store that specializes in special boxes. Seems like a rather mundane profession... I stop to assist the boxcarrier.
Me: I apologize for the brisk manner of my walking young man, let me assist.
Barbary Coast Boxes Employee: It's no problem, just a little busy today. Big special order from a shop on Broadway & Van Ness that is having a pre-Christmas season gift giveaway and needs a few hundred of these gift boxes. Pain in the ass.
Me: Very sensible. Mind if I ask a question?
Barbary Coast Boxes Employee: Uh, okay, but I'm kinda in a hurry.
Me: Where do you stand on Proposition 64? You seem old enough to be voting.
Barbary Coast Boxes Employee: Yeah but, uhm, I don't know really know...
Me: No problem young man, just asking. Private businesses should not arbitrate "unfair" business practices, they tend to be biased, and there is no really unfair business in a free market, except that which is already illegal. Vote no.
I'd been catching myself doing this recently, researching the issues of the upcoming election and asking people random questions about those issues which apply to their locality. I'm surprised at the sheer number of propositions and measures to vote for... it makes little sense to a man like me that there be so many. Most people don't seem know know what they are... there are a few who do know, they seem to be rather obnoxious in their dedications, and I find myself compiling more notes for my letter to Congress.
So I walked further along the Fisherman's Warf, amongst the piers, to a small park to take a break. Daniel still had several hours before he would meet me again to bring me back at the dormitory where we are staying, so I had plenty of time to take in the experience, as well as take notes. A fisherman, walking from the closest warehouse, stopped by the park, and unwittingly, offered me company as he broke to feed some local birds.
Me: Hello good sir, from your ship and the processing going on over on that pier, I presume you are a fisherman?
Fisherman: Sure sonny, spent all morning out and got my beauty parked in Pier 45, but no fishing today... just sailed out for study, some researchers needed a vessel for deep sea diving, my boat was free. When I do get a chance for a new batch, you can find my better catches will wind up in Fish Alley Market... take a look, especially if you like big ol' crabs and salmon. It's nice to take an evening break in this park just before heading back home. I've been at this life for 44 long years, still doesn't change much. The tourists do, the people, but I don't bother with that.
Me: Well, surely you must have some worldly wisdom then, for it is a wise profession.
Fisherman: Well that depends on perspective. It gets kind of lonely out there on the sea, with a small crew of the same old faces, or young stupid strangers. Used to be really bustling, back in the day, when fishing was about finding someone's food, and getting them fed on the cheap, and no one had any major worries. Today it's mostly just oceanographers, not people who want to eat food, but people who want to study food. I always thought having good food on the plate was worth a good trip out on a boat... but these guys, they just want to keep me occupied, limit how many of "us" still keep going. Worried more about dolphins and beached whales than the hungry mouths.
Me: That's definitely a difficult state of affairs.
Fisherman: They keep me complacent... get good retirement benefits, special tax credits, leeway to switch professions if I want, but I never do. I have a feeling it'll be the same way everywhere someday, so why bother? I know the State of California would prefer we just keep working, never changing, never evolving, and always being watched for fear of ecological disaster.
Me: Well, forgive my ignorance of how things work, but why not invest your time in new innovation and invention? You must have an extensive knowledge of fishing. Maybe you can contribute something great to your work, and go to greater justify your time spent.
Fisherman: Ha! In my youth I sure did think of that, hell, it was me and my then bustling crew who started using the newer longline techniques to catch the really rare fish, brought into the States by some Vietnamese friends of ours... made a rarity something pleasant, without the destructive nature of the drag-nets. But that doesn't matter to anyone anymore, just an avenue of exploitation to be licensed, taxed and shut up. When I was a young man I used to fish up in Bodega Bay, back then you could go fishing almost anytime, I remember the years when all of summer was fishing season, you caught what you could catch, and sold it for what you could sell it. There were so many people who loved to fish and got into the industry, if you fought hard you could take your small boat and make it a big boat, and in the end, make it. I have some kids now, they're in the trade, but the trade is dying... licenses are so expensive, boats and equipment costs all driven up by the regulations, and be damned if there is much money to even be had. Nowadays you can't buy your own boat, or earn it, you gotta be lent it by the processor, a corporate giant. No matter how many fish you catch, you'll be accused of overfishing, no matter how plentiful the nets, the computer models will defeat you. Doesn't have to be a reflection of reality... people believe it, they don't come out with me to the ocean to see for themselves, they send their government officials, who don't ever care to look. Fisheries are operated more for biological purposes, and not simply to produce fish, and while we keep catching them, I can see these predictions of shortages someday coming true... a self-fulfilling prophecy I suppose. With these meddlers wanting to write books on fish there are few who want to make sure they're there for the hungry. Of course the regulators never agree, keeping everyone, including myself, confounded and uncertain about what tomorrow will bring. All the while prices go up because fewer fish come to market at a reasonable rate. My grandchildren... they're in college, learning some other trade, where they should be. There isn't much of a future here in this place... just old men like me.
Me: Very discouraging, but you speak of it as a worthwhile trade nonetheless. Why are you so unhappy? Life should be a pursuit of happiness.
Fisherman: Don't get me wrong, it's a trade for old fools, and young fools alike. The fisheries are in constant dispute over who practices the worst exploitations... the sports fisherman or the commercial fisherman, both are just men trying to live happy, but it's a way for "them" to set us against each other. Fishers fighting fishers over fish... they, the regulators, wouldn't have it any other way. Makes the regulator's job easier... he can just tell me it was the sports fisherman who made him act, while telling the sports fisherman it was me, and the industry suckers into agreeing. I've learned that it doesn't matter if it's me or them... in the end, I believe, there will be plenty of fish, just fewer people around to bother them. The price of fish keeps going up, and they, the people, wonder why. I'm paid to shut up about the problem, not fight it. You'd be better off doing the same. Happiness isn't something to be pursued... neither is food these days.
Me: I see, well, good sir, I can only wish you luck on your expeditions. You have left me with much to consider. That is my friend, arrived to pick me up. Good luck with you trade.
Fisherman: Just remember sonny, all I wanted to do was feed a few people with some good food, the finest food in the world, in my eyes. I was too enthusiastic, too dumb and blind to see... in the end I found out it wasn't those fish being yanked from the sea and thrown out onto someone's plate. It's just one of those things you always figure out too late...
Tuesday, Oct. 5th
In the meantime, something was afoot. I explored San Francisco, and found it's sites interesting, and compiled many notes. While I was doing this, it seems James was up to something more than merely visiting. Rumors of a downtown laboratory being burned down circulated, in the papers and in the peers James seems to be spending his time with... only his peers don't seem to take the matter with much criticism. I asked James about what was going on, and he seemed to avoid the issue.
Me: You are not guilty of the destruction of someone else's property are you?
James: We're animal liberators, and I brought you on this trip because I was nice, not to question what I'm doing.
Me: My point is one of inquiry, if you aren't willing to answer the question...
James: Listen, buddy, you've embarrassed me in front of important people... in front of Earth Liberators. We're trying to save the world. Why you gotta make my life difficult, I don't know. I don't know what'd make you interfere in someone else's business. If Daniel wasn't such a good friend to me I wouldn't bother with either of you. You don't care about the environment, about global warming... and the good. These are means to the ends of preventing corporate corruption of America. You can't stop that so why argue?
Me: We'll see. Maybe I'm meant only as an observer for now. Have it your way.
James: I'm just hoping you shut up so we can enjoy our stay in Vegas. I've got some friends there and we got some money, if we win a little, we can go to New York and maybe even join up in a march on D.C... hopefully it'll be a Kerry victory march!
Wednesday, Oct. 6th
I was really rather reserved by the time we left San Francisco, but it was on the night of the 6th that we arrived in Las Vegas. I knew before leaving that I would despise this city. Filthy men who game and gamble, a city of crime and dementia, men thriving on their cares and whims and not their productivity... it seemed fitting that it is a hole in the desert, but I wasn't prepared for the lights and beauty of it's buildings. Of course I am not going to go with Daniel and James on their quest to gamble and risk their plenty, their prosperity. That is the gaming of fools. I may walk about, however, from the hotel we managed to budget for several days.
Saturday, Oct. 9th
The first thing I began to notice about this city is that it's a place of excess, and of extreme convenience. There seem to be few clocks, and the place is active all hours of the day and night. Daniel and James have spent the last three days spending the remainder of our budget on wasteful excess, and I decided to confront Daniel about the issue.
Me: Where are we going to go next when we have spent this money?
Daniel: Tommy-boy, relax. We're gonna win a jackpot or something and then move on... don't worry. With all that money the PETA gave James... we're sitting on a temporary goldmine. Let's just ride it out. If the budget lasts, we'll surely make it a few more weeks, and join up in the demonstrations in DC post-election. I'm sure Kerry will win. Look at everyone around us. Up until leaving California, we saw nothing but Democrats, out there, drumming up support.
Me: This limited perspective we each have on this massive nation is not what I believe to be representative. Even the most... liberal polls (I hated saying the term in any context of today) dictate a certain parity. I don't necessarily trust them but I think they speak the truth. Look, how much of our time here has ever been outside the city? The fancy lights? There still must be great countryside expanses, smaller towns that we ignore, and plenty of peoples there. With the Electoral College, it should be those meeker many who help dictate the Presidency... not just the city dwellers, the largest concentrations who, conversely, live the most sheltered lives.
Daniel: I don't get you sometime, you don't like gambling, you don't like unemployment, you don't like the environment, you don't want Bush OR Kerry to win... maybe I pulled you out of the negative zone. Listen, I believed you the day I found you, at that... time machine, that you were who you said you were. But what's worse is that over the time I've got to know you... you don't even like America. You know the saying, love it or leave it.
Me: Listen here young man. You can spend your life wasting away being a part of James' tomfoolery. Any person who shall bet or play for money, or other goods, or who shall bet on the hands or sides of those who play at any game in a tavern, racefield, or other place of public resort, shall be deemed an infamous gambler, and shall not be eligible for MY honor or trust. And that's just my lecture today. Look at the big picture my friend, don't you see how this place of excess is this way because people wanted it to be? They desired a city of flashing lights? I like plenty of things in life, I just don't like the moral depravity I've witnessed since I've arrived here. Maybe my values aren't contemporary... nor relevant. I'm not here to know the difference, if I'm here I'm here for a reason. Just let me collect my notes in peace.
Daniel: Listen... I don't wanna feel like I just ditched ya here in this time, we'll get you home. Just let me get my stuff together first. I'm sure something will come along.
Me: It's not an issue of that. I have come to believe there is a greater problem at hand. Until then go out onto the city, and do what you will. I will have no part of your gambling.
Daniel: Suit yourself, party-pooper.
Tuesday, Oct. 12th
It was today I was bereft with bad news... James and Daniel, who had momentarily won $10,000 in addition to our budgeted $5,000, actually wound up losing it all in the same night. We now have lost our permanent travelling fund... and I wonder exactly what is next.
James: Well, it was like this. I tipped a few back and rolled the dice, and the guy next to me made me a ballsy challenge. I'd been winning all night! C'mon! I had a girl there, and she wanted to see me win another round, like in one of those movies, them blam! Cold like that guy in "The Cooler".
I didn't bother to comment.
Monday, Oct. 18th
With no one to borrow from, we have been reduced to begging for change, yes, begging on the streets to get the gas money to leave. Between the three of us we acquired $20. After eating, it was $5. Total we had something of $30, after nearly a week of being destitute. This of course, the natural result of foolish gaming. Irregardless, we are definitely without enough for gas home. James, I don't know exactly what he's doing... he promises Daniel that we'll win it big here if we stay and earn back a little money, but I think he's delusional still. He's calling for favors but the PETA people don't seem to answer. I'm contemplating getting a job for a week, to get the money needed to leave. I decided it was time to end this trip and return home for rest, so I called Natalie.
Natalie: Well I'm sorry to hear that hon, it looks like you're stuck for at least a week until I can wire the money. Look, what happened?
Me: This trip has been ridiculous. The people, ignorant of the world changing around them, or bitter at the fact they are part of those changes. It's decay Natalie, decay is what I am here to witness. I can see it most clearly in this den of sin. It's something I believe I'm here to observe... for a reason.
Natalie: Dear Tom, with the way you got along with my parents, I'm surprised you'd mention anything religious. It'll be okay, I should be able to send just enough to get you all home.
Me: My primary concern isn't being stuck here, I'm already stuck in my own pretense.
Natalie: Do you have food to eat?
Me: A local cafe has accepted my offer to wash some dishes and clean in exchange for some food, so yes, I should be fine. We sleep rather uncomfortably in the car for the moment, and have had no problem with local hooligans.
Natalie: That's good. Oh, another thing... your friend, Mr. Ludwig, he stopped by last night. He left a note for you, requested I didn't open it. I wasn't aware he knew where I lived... I only met him that once, while visiting you.
Me: That is indeed strange, but Ludwig is a kind, but resourceful fellow. I believe he entrusted it to you because he knows of our closeness. Please keep it for me as I will return, and thank you for directing the money forward, I will anticipate it and be fine in the meantime.
Wednesday, Oct. 20th
The cafe I found myself at did not put me on payroll, but fed me, Daniel and James, as compensation for my extra labor. In the meantime, James acquired sleeping space at a nearby dormitory, after making a few more calls to his friends. We would shack up with these conditions for the remaining days here in Las Vegas, until Natalie could "wire" the travelling expenses. The notion of whisking away money at a whim over vast distances, that was interesting to me, but with the other marvels of the time, I knew not why. I can only fathom how well this facilitates commerce. One particularly noteworthy conversation I had was with a cafe patron, as I gave myself a momentary snack on my break... although, it was slightly disturbing.
Me: Forgive my intrusion of lunch, good sir, but do you mind if I inquire why you visit this place, Las Vegas? I've been here nearly two weeks, and nothing appealing suits me, yet you seem enthused.
Young Patron: Well, I got married. Las Vegas, the wedding capital of the world.
Me: Well congratulations! I remember the joy of finding Martha, my late wife. We married in the Forest, her father's estate... the celebration was grand and the music lovely. Where did you marry this young woman of yours?
Young Patron: Oh, we did the drive through! Fun.
Me: The... drive through? I've heard that referenced to the restaurants, but what is this kind of wedding?
Young Patron: Oh, it was the Little White Wedding Chapel. You just drive up to the window, get hitched, and off you go, a happy couple!
Me: You mean... in the car? I'm rather confused.
Young Patron: Yeah! Take a look at this picture, it'll give you an idea of what it's like.
Me: Oh my... that's... well... sorry, I'm just confused. Is this customary?
Young Patron: Oh yeah! We were going to do an Elvis wedding but she wanted the drive-through, said it'd be more romantic. I'm just a sucker for romance! It's too bad our parents don't know yet.
Me: Your parent's don't know? The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family. There were not invited?
Young Patron: Nope! We eloped. Well I gotta get out of here, we got some gambling to do, then... the honeymoon!
Oddly enough... this was one of the few times I found myself with little else to say.
It wasn't until the 22nd, that Natalie was able to send the money, and the early morning of the 24th, just a few days ago, is when we returned home from our adventure. My notes are still not complete, and I have many observations to forward to Congress. I believe there is something greater at work, but I do not quite know what. I do apologize for my delay in reporting all of these events to you, as that was nearly a week ago when I arrived, however my good friend Ludwig has kept me busy as of late, with his important news, and I will extend that to you when next I write.
- TH. Jefferson
This is my first giant-sized double issue (and will be my only giant-sized double issue), kinda had to compensate for a month-long case of writer's block. Only one Thomas Jefferson original quote this time, and that was...
Any person who shall bet or play for money, or other goods, or who shall bet on the hands or sides of those who play at any game in a tavern, racefield, or other place of public resort, shall be deemed an infamous gambler, and shall not be eligible to any office of trust or honor within this state. - Thomas jefferson, "A Bill to Prevent Gaming", proposed Virginian legislation
Thomas Jefferson despised gambling and gaming, saw it as being fiscally thrifty to a point of fault. I don't mind being thrifty and gambling, but times really have changed since then. I wonder sometimes if he proposed bills like the Bill to Prevent Gaming seriously out of a philosophical stance, or if it was just his own moral indignation getting the better of him.
The election is approaching, I know, and I've already voted for Libertarian Michael Badnarik... had to vote for the good guy instead of the lesser of two common evils. My campaign is starting, and all I can hope is that you are weighing all the options. Check back again for TeeJ's reaction to the election hoopla.