Why Do Anything?

My increas­ing mate­r­i­al nihilism has result­ed in pre­dictable exis­ten­tial nihilis­tic philoso­phies. The fun part is that there super­fi­cial­ly clear con­tra­dic­tions between what I enjoy mate­ri­al­ly & what I think exis­ten­tial­ly. There’s a part of Cities in Flight by James Blish, where he describes humans as “local anom­alies in the sec­ond law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics” which, for years, I thought was a pret­ty excep­tion­al way to describe the unique­ness & impor­tance of human­i­ty. How­ev­er, the more I observe human­i­ty, the more mis­an­throp­ic I become. I guess we are unique & impor­tant, but in vice, not virtue. We’re less anom­alous, but rather more effi­cient at con­tribut­ing to the entropy of a sys­tem. Earth was doing fine until colo­nial­ism & the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion basi­cal­ly trashed the place in a cou­ple hun­dred years.

How do humans make the uni­verse a bet­ter place? This is a fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed qual­i­ta­tive ques­tion, philo­soph­i­cal­ly (what is ‘bet­ter’?), but nev­er­the­less quick­ly gets to the point of con­tention. The typ­i­cal mit­i­ga­tion offered to bal­ance the entropy we con­stant­ly impose upon the mate­r­i­al world is our achieve­ments of con­science. Our work in phi­los­o­phy, art, lit­er­a­ture, music, sci­ence. The results of our sen­tience, sapi­ence, and sagac­i­ty are all of these great things!

This is an almost tau­to­log­i­cal self­ish fal­la­cy. We aren’t bad because we do good things. But the good things we do can only be appre­ci­at­ed by oth­er humans (who might not!), while the bad things we do affect our entire world. The pas­sen­ger pigeon will not feel tran­scen­dent when it hears music because 1) as far as we know, crit­ters can’t expe­ri­ence that emo­tion and 2) we killed them all. Polar bears will be extinct in my life­time because of human-dri­ven cli­mate change. Do the sum of the achieve­ments of human­i­ty bal­ance the harm we do? I’d rather have polar bears than poet­ry. Even our achieve­ments are an increase in entropy.

Why do any­thing, then? It doesn’t mat­ter either way, real­ly. What­ev­er you do is going to end up dust. An eth­i­cal nihilist, I guess, would be some­one who attempts to lim­it the entropy they add to a sys­tem, even though they know it’s a futile task.

Checkpoint

This past year was a tough one. The first half was spent on high alert with a project that went wid­der­shins & the sec­ond half was spent fail­ing to recov­er from being dumped by the woman I want­ed to mar­ry. Rela­tion­ships with my mom & a once good friend are now soured because they con­sis­tent­ly pro­vid­ed the oppo­site of emo­tion­al sup­port after this occurred. My kid has some behav­ioral issues at school & com­mu­ni­ca­tion with his mom remains close to non-exis­tent.

I know that many oth­er parts of my life are just fine & that I’m priv­i­leged and ahead of the game com­pared to many oth­er peo­ple. I have excep­tion­al cowork­ers & an intel­li­gent & sweet child. I can pay all of my bills, donate to char­i­ty, and vol­un­teer with a non-prof­it. That doesn’t change the fact that I can’t sum­mon the ener­gy to seek hap­pi­ness any­more. Get­ting dumped broke my heart & it still hurts too much to poke around inside to fig­ure out how to fix it.

I’m try­ing to find some goals to grasp on to for 2018 where suc­cess and fail­ure are in my con­trol. I’m hop­ing that will help me feel bet­ter.

  • Lose 20 pounds, get into shape, & com­plete a sprint triathlon
    • I plan to track diet & exer­cise to reach this goal.
  • Learn the basics of machine learning/neural net­works to build a poet­ry gen­er­a­tor
    • There are online tuto­ri­als to get me through the first part, the sec­ond piece will be a bit more seat-of-the-pants, but I look for­ward to some cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing.

That’s all I have had the ener­gy to come up with. Sor­ry for all of the com­plain­ing.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Justice, Trauma, & Healing

Man. I don’t know how to clear­ly write about this; it will be long & messy. I’ve spent a few weeks think­ing about the gestalt of the sex­u­al assault & harass­ment sto­ries that have per­me­at­ed the news. At first I was hap­py to see that ser­i­al offend­ers, who had used their pow­er cor­rupt­ly, were receiv­ing actu­al con­se­quences for their actions. At the same time, I felt like the con­se­quences were being enact­ed by unin­volved, non-author­i­ta­tive par­ties. I think now that my per­cep­tions there we formed by the way the sto­ries were framed in the media. To be hon­est, I think the deci­sions were made because it’s just good busi­ness to virtue sig­nal in this way. They are shocked, shocked to find gam­bling going on here!

Justice

I’m still unsure how I feel about this kind of moral jus­tice. I go back, again and again, to my Catholic upbring­ing:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And ear­ly in the morn­ing he came again into the tem­ple, and all the peo­ple came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Phar­isees brought unto him a woman tak­en in adul­tery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Mas­ter, this woman was tak­en in adul­tery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law com­mand­ed us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempt­ing him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his fin­ger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they con­tin­ued ask­ing him, he lift­ed up him­self, and said unto them, He that is with­out sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being con­vict­ed by their own con­science, went out one by one, begin­ning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman stand­ing in the midst. When Jesus had lift­ed up him­self, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man con­demned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Nei­ther do I con­demn thee: go, and sin no more.

John 8:1–11, KJV

And now see that I’ve prob­a­bly missed a few points in this les­son. I’ve always tak­en it to mean sim­ply: You, a sin­ner, should not con­demn oth­ers who sin. Yet this is only a wise moral func­tion when you have the pow­er, and the accused does not. With­hold­ing con­dem­na­tion of those who abuse their pow­er per­pet­u­ates that abuse.

I do not begrudge the anger and sense of vic­ar­i­ous vengeance that women are feel­ing as these pow­er­ful men are held to account. Injus­tice should always be appro­pri­ate­ly addressed. Yet at the same time, I am look­ing for, but not see­ing a path of mer­cy or restora­tive jus­tice avail­able here. Maybe it’s there and I’m miss­ing it? More like­ly, I think, is that this is just white guys final­ly get­ting a taste of what women & minori­ties have lived with for thou­sands of years. If I under­stand this par­a­digm cor­rect­ly, I am wor­ried about it. I want to assume that our goal as eth­i­cal, empa­thet­ic beings is to cre­ate a soci­ety where insti­tu­tion­al­ized forms of oppres­sion cease to exist because all peo­ple are look­ing out for all peo­ple. That’s tough though, because we’re trib­al & clique-ish by nature. Vengeance and vig­i­lan­tism are trib­al behav­iors. So while I do not begrudge the feel­ings, I also do not know what goal they progress us toward.

For chil­dren are inno­cent and love jus­tice; while most of us are wicked and nat­u­ral­ly pre­fer mer­cy.

G.K. Chester­ton, On House­hold Gods and Gob­lins, 1922

Trauma

Of all the pow­er­ful or car­niv­o­rous ani­mals… the wolf seems to have been the most impor­tant for the Indo-Euro­pean war­riors. Reflex­es of the old word wlk­wo, “wolf,” are found in lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of prop­er names, and [in the names of] numer­ous peo­ples, such as the Luvians, Lycians, [et cetera]…Stories of lycan­thropy are well known among the Greeks, Romans, Ger­mans, Celts, Ana­to­lians, and Ira­ni­ans, and these would seem to be trace­able to these ancient war­rior prac­tices.

In Ger­man­ic myth and leg­end, say Brown and Antho­ny, these fer­al war-bands “are called Män­ner­bünde… a label often applied [by schol­ars] to all sim­i­lar Indo-Euro­pean insti­tu­tions.” Män­ner­bünde means “men-league,” league of men.

Toward their con­clu­sion, Brown and Antho­ny spec­u­late on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of a sym­bol­ic trans­for­ma­tion into a beast of prey. The wolf war­riors, they sur­mise, “would feel no guilt for break­ing the taboos of human soci­ety because they had not been humans [at the time].”

Find­ing some way to deal with guilt must have been cru­cial, not only for indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the leagues but for their soci­eties as a whole. This is because mem­ber­ship in the Män­ner­bünde last­ed only for a set peri­od. If you were still alive at the end of that time, you had to inte­grate your­self back into your old com­mu­ni­ty. In order to per­form the roles soci­ety now need­ed you to per­form — fam­i­ly man, work­ing stiff — you had to shed your taint­ed and bloody sav­age iden­ti­ty.

For some, this would have been impos­si­ble, no mat­ter what psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms were deployed to help. But many oth­ers must have man­aged the rein­te­gra­tion well enough. The rota­tion back into nor­mal­cy is doc­u­ment­ed in the Vedic texts: “At the end of four years, there was a final sac­ri­fice to trans­form the dog-war­riors into respon­si­ble adult men who were ready to return to civ­il life. They dis­card­ed and destroyed their old clothes and dog skins. They became human once again.”

Eliz­a­beth Scham­be­lan, League of Men, N+1 Mag­a­zine, Spring 2017

A few days ago, on my 37th birth­day, I woke from a night­mare into a pan­ic attack about my father’s emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal abuse. Stuff that hap­pened 24 years ago! I chose to not inter­act with him after I was 13. He’s dead now. I haven’t con­scious­ly felt any need to deal with it for years. But that trau­ma is still inside & hops out always unex­pect­ed. So while I might not be able to empathize with the par­tic­u­lars of a trau­ma, I know what it is like to be sub­ject­ed to it in gen­er­al.

There’s no time lim­it on trau­ma, and peo­ple don’t seem to be very good at acknowl­edg­ing that or help­ing oth­ers deal with their own. The entire­ty of the arti­cle I quot­ed above is worth read­ing. It offers a well con­struct­ed anthro­po­log­i­cal argu­ment that humans have essen­tial­ly been punt­ing on how to deal with the trau­ma caused by “men as wolves” for longer than record­ed his­to­ry. Soci­eties give men tac­it per­mis­sion to inflict any man­ner of destruc­tion, but no tools for pro­cess­ing what they inflict or receive. I have shared deeply held, vul­ner­a­ble feel­ings with close friends and fam­i­ly this year, and have been told by on mul­ti­ple occa­sions, by women, to suck it up and be a man.

I also see the ampli­fi­ca­tion some­thing like this receives:

and the pop­u­lar­i­ty of #menare­trash and I get real­ly frus­trat­ed. This kind of behav­ior is func­tion­al­ly no dif­fer­ent than per­se­cu­tion that’s been direct­ed at women for­ev­er. It comes from trau­ma, but just cre­ates more. Everyone’s life is a teach­able moment. If men are trash, and not sup­posed to learn from the expe­ri­ences that women have, then how are we sup­posed to get bet­ter? Many men are not equipped to fig­ure this out on our own. Many of us lack any sort of emo­tion­al sup­port net­work for our own trou­bles, and typ­i­cal­ly peo­ple don’t look to men to pro­vide emo­tion­al sup­port. I don’t know how else peo­ple are sup­posed to grow and under­stand each oth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty, if not by learn­ing about each other’s lives, being open to that shar­ing, under­stand­ing that harm will hap­pen, and being will­ing to accept and work through when it does.

Healing

I don’t know that any­one is good at inter­per­son­al heal­ing right now. The trend con­tin­ues toward polar­iza­tion in all things. I am nat­u­ral­ly inclined toward coop­er­a­tion & peace­mak­ing. I want to wel­come the repen­tant & prodi­gal back into the fam­i­ly. But heal­ing & for­give­ness can only occur when all sides want it. While I’m quite moti­vat­ed to cre­ate accord in most things, I have almost zero inter­est in heal­ing & for­give­ness when peo­ple hurt me deeply. At the same time, I have no desire to call them out on it. After I jumped out of my dad’s car, he was dead to me. It’s been the same way with any­one who has betrayed my trust on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el: friends, fam­i­ly, & part­ners. That’s prob­a­bly not healthy, it’s def­i­nite­ly not heal­ing, & I think it relates direct­ly to what peo­ple refer to when they speak of tox­ic and/or frag­ile mas­culin­i­ty. But I’ve got no oth­er tools to deal with it.

I like to think I’m pret­ty good at solv­ing prob­lems, but not in this case. I’m unsure what tools I need, and have not had good expe­ri­ences when I have asked for help in learn­ing to be more deft with the ones I have. I’m not even sure most folks are inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing restorative/redemptive meth­ods to heal divi­sions of any stripe. It’s way eas­i­er to just say ‘fuck ‘em’.

I have no con­clu­sions. I don’t even know where to go from here.

Practice

I did not let my son hug me
because he did not ask

I watch him with the other
children practicing Gong Bu

spindling limbs learning
those constant corrections

then Ma Bu aches their legs
these bodies young horses

grown eager
he quick bows and

runs to hug me, again
I refuse him

because he did not ask
first first

of all the things
I don’t want to do is

not hug my son
he has always been

both archer
and arrow like me

he is a wreck of tears and
fire Kung Fu he says

calms his mind he
needs a hug and

when I ask
he refuses

we are never at war
we are more at work

in wilds full of errant wind
chamfering together

our best honest voices
learning to ask the ground

with each fresh step
how best to walk upon it

What’s Missing in #menswear?

There is a dis­tinct lack of inter­est­ing takes in the world of #menswear (defined in terms of peo­ple who care about what men wear). There are two gen­er­al camps: peo­ple who tell you what to wear, and peo­ple who tell you how to dress. They are both inter­est­ed in “ele­vat­ing” the lev­el of how men dress, but the “tell you what to wear” folks don’t tell you why, and the “tell you how to dress” folks expect you to already know why.

I think there’s a gen­er­al igno­rance of design prin­ci­ples here that would be of greater ben­e­fit to men try­ing to dress well than just being shown what to wear or told how to dress, which, to be frank, are both patron­iz­ing. To abuse a cliche, what we have in menswear is giv­ing a man a spe­cif­ic fish and telling him how to cook it instead of teach­ing him to catch what­ev­er he wants and pre­pare it in a vari­ety of ways.

There’s also, quite clear­ly, a cap­i­tal­ist incen­tive for most of these sites — they make mon­ey by telling you about sales, pick­ing the items they think you should buy, and get­ting you to come back to the site using the most pow­er­ful 4 let­ter word: SALE.

There was a time when I was dressed by the inter­net. I made a lot of mis­takes devel­op­ing an aes­thet­ic, and I’m sure I’ll make more as it changes. In gen­er­al I’d like to see more dis­cus­sions of per­son­al aes­thet­ics and how a per­son devel­oped it. Dif­fer­ent nuances of taste, rather than style or fash­ion. Not every­one wants to be a hype­beast, pea­cock, or basic. If you pay too much atten­tion to how peo­ple say you should dress, you run a seri­ous risk of look­ing like you’re in cos­tume when you go out.

Where I Get My Information

  • Dap­pered — This is a good site for find­ing deals on basic stuff. They nev­er get out of “stan­dard white sub­ur­ban guy who works in finance” zone. I pret­ty much only keep an eye out here for plain stuff that I need for work, as they do a good job with sale round-ups.
  • Per­ma­nent Style — Simon Cromp­ton does an amaz­ing job chart­ing the world of lux­u­ry bespoke menswear. I can’t afford a damn bit of it, but I’ve learned a lot about cloth & fit from read­ing this blog. The next time I need to buy a suit, I’ll do a much bet­ter job from what I’ve learned here.
  • Put This On — This site is prob­a­bly clos­est to what I’m look­ing for in terms of help­ing you define an aes­thet­ic. They do a great job find­ing good sec­ond-hand pieces and help­ing you search on a bud­get. They’re way too LA-cen­tric though, and also want everyone’s to always wear a sport coat/blazer, cuff links, and pock­et squares.
  • Well Spent — Dai­ly rec­om­men­da­tions on well-craft­ed, not inex­pen­sive clothes. Very occa­sion­al­ly they’ll pull some­thing in a lit­tle off the wall, but typ­i­cal­ly they pick stuff that’ll appeal to the widest vari­ety of guys, or are offered by their spon­sors. I vis­it here to learn about new brands.
  • Union­made Goods — This is a store. Their clothes are always unique & I reli­gious­ly fol­low their look­books, as they get quite cre­ative. I’ve made more than one mis­take try­ing to make one of their looks work for me, though.
  • GRAILED — eBay for qual­i­ty menswear. Once you know what brands you like, you will find inter­est­ing stuff here, usu­al­ly at a deep dis­count.
  • eBay — The OG. Even with cus­tom, very refined search­es, it’s still like find­ing a nee­dle in a haystack.

What’s in an Aesthetic

I haven’t talked about this much. But I do think there are some gen­er­al prin­ci­ples to fol­low if you want to devel­op your own taste after nav­i­gat­ing past the peo­ple yelling about style and/or fash­ion.

  • Know the basics. — Learn what clothes are best for your body type. Learn about what clothes are expect­ed in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Think about what your social life is like and don’t buy clothes for sit­u­a­tions that are infre­quent to you.
  • Learn about col­or. — You can’t go wrong with neu­tral tones, but you should fig­ure out which actu­al col­ors are good for you, and stick with those.
  • Looks mat­ter. — I argue with my kid about this all the time. Your appear­ance gives clear social cues to those around you. If you look like trash, peo­ple are going to have assump­tions about that. If you are way over­dressed, peo­ple are going to have assump­tions about that. Do you care about this? If not, then why are you read­ing this?
  • Spend wise­ly. — Don’t buy stuff that’s on sale just because it is on sale. Shell out for a some­thing that’s exact­ly what you want, or wait to find that item sec­ond-hand else­where. I wait­ed 4 years to find a $200 shirt I want­ed (but didn’t need) on eBay for $20. I wait­ed 2 years to find the a 2 per­son kayak on Craigslist for $200. I spent a year look­ing for the right priced antique oak kitchen table, and end­ed up get­ting one for $30 from a neigh­bor a few blocks away. Noth­ing slows your devel­op­ment of taste than con­sis­tent­ly mak­ing deci­sions based on whim.
  • Feel con­fi­dent  & com­fort­able. — Most impor­tant rule. If you are pick­ing out/trying on clothes and you have any lev­el of uncer­tain­ty, don’t get it. You should wear stuff you want to wear, that makes you feel great.
  • Bend the rules hard. — Once you feel con­fi­dent, you will feel okay bend­ing the hell  out of the rules. Gonna wear black and brown at the same time? What­ev­er. You can make it work.
  • There is no God. — Every­body claims author­i­ty on how to dress. Don’t buy it. Only you know what works for you.

Those bul­lets are the areas I’d like to hear more about, from peo­ple who have devel­oped their own unique taste & design for their lives. How do the mate­ri­als in a person’s life reflect how they under­stand them­selves? This pro­file of André 3000 is a pret­ty good exam­ple, even if his style won’t work for 99% of the pop­u­la­tion.

My son & I delib­er­ate­ly dressed like hype­beasts for Brite Win­ter Fes­ti­val in Feb­ru­ary 2017

Artificial” “Intelligence”

I use my “AI” per­son­al assis­tants inter­mit­tent­ly, most­ly because they aren’t very good assis­tants; yet. For these things to actu­al­ly get use­ful, they need to be able to do more than build lists, order things, send reminders, and pro­vide wayfind­ing.

Use Case: Adding a stop to my wayfind­ing

  • Exist­ing Func­tion­al­i­ty: I ask: “Dunkin Donuts along my route”. I’m told “Find­ing Dunkin Donuts along your route along your route.” and pre­sent­ed with a list of x num­ber of loca­tions that I have to scroll through, deter­mine which is the best option, and add to the wayfind­ing while I’m dri­ving. 
  • Bet­ter Func­tion­al­i­ty: I ask “Dunkin Donuts along my route.” and the assis­tant choos­es from the options avail­able and auto­mat­i­cal­ly adds the one with least impact on my trav­el time to the wayfind­ing.
  • Best Func­tion­al­i­ty: I say “Order my usu­al from the near­est Dunkin Donuts on my route” and the assis­tant: finds that loca­tion, places an on-the-go order using infor­ma­tion it already has, and sched­ules the pick-up based on trav­el time to that loca­tion.

Use Case: Reminders

  • Exist­ing Func­tion­al­i­ty: I say: “Remind me to get up at 1am on Sun­day for the Ori­on­id mete­or show­er”. I get a noti­fi­ca­tion at 1am on Sun­day. I sleep through it.
  • Bet­ter Func­tion­al­i­ty: I say: “Remind me to get up at 1am on Sun­day for the Ori­on­id mete­or show­er”. An alarm is set instead of a push noti­fi­ca­tion, because the assis­tant knows I’m usu­al­ly asleep at this time.
  • Best Func­tion­al­i­ty: I say: “Find me the best place and time to watch the Ori­on­id mete­or show­er on Sun­day.” The assis­tant knows my loca­tion, checks the Dark Sky data­base for near­by loca­tions with low­er light pol­lu­tion, cal­cu­lates trav­el time to that loca­tion for best view­ing, and sets an alarm to wake me up so I can get there on time.

Oth­er stuff that would be cool:

  • Pay my gas, elec­tric, inter­net, and phone bills on Fri­day.” This finds the bills, and sched­ules pay­ment with my bank.
  • Send $50 worth of flow­ers to my mom the Sat­ur­day before every Mother’s Day” Bonus points if it knows what kind of flow­ers to send.
  • Add ‘The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy’ pod­cast to my morn­ing dri­ve Spo­ti­fy playlist”
  • Sched­ule 3 days of weight train­ing and 3 days of car­dio, and adapt the sched­ule based on missed work­outs.” This isn’t just putting some­thing on the cal­en­dar, but is active­ly pro­vid­ing the work­out details as well.
  • I want Ital­ian for din­ner twice this week.” This would find a recipe or two based on how much time it knows I have to pre­pare din­ner, and auto­mat­i­cal­ly add the ingre­di­ents to my list. Bonus points if it can ana­lyze past meal plans & pre­dict what ingre­di­ents I already have on hand.

These AI assis­tants are way less capa­ble than my child of under­stand­ing & inter­pret­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al speech and using con­text & ini­tia­tive to pro­vide a qual­i­ty return. If you don’t ask the ques­tion using the exact phras­ing they know, you’re wast­ing their time. Assis­tants waste my time if I have to learn their lan­guage in order to get half-func­tion­al results from them.

They may get smart one day, but the walled-gar­den par­a­digm is going to make it a pain in the ass. My AI of choice should work with all of my oth­er appli­ca­tions of choice, but I have a feel­ing it will be less by choice & more by neces­si­ty in the long run. I can’t see Google’s AI inte­grat­ing with Apple to down­load some­thing in iTunes. Or Alexa allow­ing you to order some­thing from an Ama­zon com­peti­tor.

Heartland Roadtrip

My 9 year old son & I final­ly took a fam­i­ly vaca­tion back in August. I’m hop­ing he’ll remem­ber this trip, unlike some of the oth­er adven­tures we’ve been on. We were gone a week, put 3330 miles on my car & had a pret­ty awe­some time. I left my work phone at home; I couldn’t tell you the last time I was ful­ly unplugged from a job. I can tell you the last time I took a vaca­tion that wasn’t to spend time fam­i­ly: 1998, when I took a week long school trip to Mex­i­co over spring break. Maybe I’ll actu­al­ly take an adult vaca­tion one of these days.

Trip Prep

  • The dog went to my friend for the week.
  • I obtained a cit­i­zens band radio, anten­na, & a copy of the same CB slang dic­tio­nary I had as a child.
  • I obtained 2 dis­pos­able col­or cam­eras for my son, & 1 dis­pos­able black & white cam­era for me. The pho­tos in this post are from that cam­era, except for the ones at the end which are from my smart­phone.
  • I made a bunch of sand­wich­es & filled a cool­er with those & water bot­tles. Eat­ing on the road is expen­sive. Also plen­ty of snacks.
  • Tent, sleep­ing bags, changes of clothes
  • A flask of bour­bon

The Trip

Day 1 — Chicago & Westward

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I got up a bit after 5, loaded the car, & woke up the kid about 10 min­utes before 6. He got dressed, used the bath­room, & we were on the road by 6:05am. Dri­ving from Cleve­land to Chica­go is expen­sive. A tank of gas & $20+ in tolls lat­er & we arrived at the Sol­dier Field park­ing garage ($22 base rate) to vis­it The Field Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry ($36). Abra­ham & I enjoyed the large col­lec­tion of mete­orites & look­ing at a full Tyran­nosaurus Rex fos­sil, but both of us felt a great pres­ence of colo­nial­ism, as much of the muse­um con­sists of arti­facts “dis­cov­ered” & trans­port­ed from their point of ori­gin. En route to Chica­go, my son got on the CB as “Kung Fu Kat” & request­ed a traf­fic report using the slang dic­tio­nary. It was hilar­i­ous.

Back on the road & head­ed toward Wis­con­sin. Abra­ham was just hap­py to vis­it a bunch of States he’d nev­er been in before, but I was eager to get to some sort of Wis­con­sin Cheese House™ so I could obtain, if I was lucky, some New Glarus Brew­ery Wis­con­sin Bel­gian Red ale, my favorite beer of all time. We stopped at the Mouse­house Cheese­haus & my dream came true. I pur­chased the 3 bot­tles they had left in stock & kept them in the cool­er for the next 6 days.

Right after Abra­ham fin­ished one of my sand­wich­es, we got pulled over. We got out of a tick­et, I think, because my son had dried mus­tard all over his face & was cute & chat­ty with her about going to South Dako­ta. A few hours lat­er (15 hours after leav­ing Cleve­land) we arrived the Jack­son, MN KOA, where an out­door karaoke night was in full swing. This day wasn’t bad, I just knew it was going to be long & nut­ty — it did not dis­ap­point. We passed out.

Day 2 — Tourist Trapped & Okay With It

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& were up at 6 & back on the road to South Dako­ta. South Dako­ta is a mag­i­cal land where the speed lim­it is 80mph. Don’t go over the speed lim­it or you’ll get pulled over. I got a warn­ing here as well; the troop­er said since the speed lim­it is 80, they don’t give any lee­way. It was real­ly cool how cross­ing the Mis­souri riv­er result­ed in an imme­di­ate change in the land­scape as well as an imme­di­ate pres­ence of bill­boards & their siren songs for all the var­i­ous tourist traps that we end­ed up vis­it­ing. This includ­ed:

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.

This appears to be a city hall cov­ered in corn cobs & shucks.

The Badlands Petrified Gardens in Kadoka, SD

We stopped here on a whim — I love their old school sig­nage. Epit­o­me of a mid­dle-of-nowhere tourist trap, but we received some amaz­ing intel on how to spend our 2 days in the area from the old cou­ple run­ning the place. If it weren’t for them I might have skipped the Bad­lands or Devil’s Tow­er, and that would have been a huge mis­take.

Some Prairie Dog Place That’s Not on the Map

My pri­or expe­ri­ence with prairie dogs was an old-ass video game shoot­er. They are basi­cal­ly blonde ground­hogs. We stopped here so that my son could take a few pic­tures.

Badlands National Park

I had no idea this was so close to Mount Rush­more, or I would have put it on the list in the first place. Thank­ful­ly the folks at the Bad­lands Pet­ri­fied Gar­dens encour­aged us to take the scenic route. After so much prairie, dri­ving over a hill into a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent land­scape was a moment of unex­pect­ed awe. We’d been through an awful lot of dri­ving and seen an awful lot of stuff, but this is when Abra­ham said “Dad, this trip just went to the next lev­el!” The Bad­lands are not a place I would want to be lost and with­out water.

Wall Drug in Wall, SD

If you took all the signs for Wall Drug scat­tered across South Dako­ta, and assem­bled them, you might end up with enough to make anoth­er Wall Drug. Wall Drug is huge, so imag­ine how many signs we saw? There’s no real rea­son to stop here, oth­er than to say that you stopped there.

Mount Rushmore

We were worn out by the time we stopped here. All there real­ly is to do here is the pho­to op & it was near­ly impos­si­ble to get a good pic­ture out of either of us do to worn-out-ness. The most inter­est­ing part was learn­ing that the site is also known as Six Grand­fa­thers & is sacred to the Lako­ta Sioux. They are not pleased with the guys carved into it.

Whispering Pines Campground

We spent a great two nights here, def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend it as a spot to camp if you’re in the area.

Cousin’s

We stopped into to this piz­za shack for din­ner, it was full of bik­ers from the Stur­gis Ral­ly. One of those spots where peo­ple write notes on $1 bills and sta­ple them to the wall. Notable only because the table we sat at had a $1 from some­one from my home­town.

Day 3 — Devil’s Tower, WY & A Hail Storm From Hell

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Abra­ham some­how knew that Devil’s Tow­er was out this way & he talked me into the 3 hour round-trip dri­ve to see it. I was about dri­ven-out by this point, but I’m glad I took his advice. It was an amaz­ing piece of geol­o­gy & unfor­tu­nate that the name is a mis­trans­la­tion. This site is like the Vat­i­can for the Lako­ta Sioux & 22 (?) oth­er indige­nous folks. It’s real­ly called Big Bear Lodge (or some­thing to that effect, the word for bear & the word for evil spir­it appar­ent­ly sound sim­i­lar if you’re not pay­ing good atten­tion). We spent most of the morn­ing here & got back to camp in the ear­ly after­noon. We’d main­ly been eat­ing out of packed food from a cool­er, but went to a restau­rant near­by for din­ner.

As we left, a hail storm hit the area. This was some­thing very dif­fer­ent from every oth­er hail storm I’d expe­ri­enced. I thought it was going to crack the win­dows on our car. It end­ed up leav­ing about 110 dents & doing $1500 worth of dam­age to the vehi­cle.

We arrived back at camp & my awe­some tent had with­stood the storm with aplomb. We hur­ried inside & it grew dark and stormed all night long. I’ve nev­er expe­ri­enced a storm of this feroc­i­ty. My son slept like a log through the whole thing, but I don’t know how. I felt like we were inside the thun­der. It inspired this poem. I’ll nev­er for­get it.

Day 4

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We drove all day. South Dako­ta, Iowa, Nebras­ka, Mis­souri. Camped in Mis­souri and had some of the best south­ern food I’ve had at the Tin Kitchen in West­on, MO. Took our first show­ers in 4 days in the nicest show­ers I’ve ever seen in a state park. Hap­py Cen­ten­ni­al Mis­souri State Parks!

Day 5 — Saint Louis Pizza & New Harmonie State Park

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We went to the arch, of course, but the real rea­son we hit St. Louis was so I could have a St. Louis-style piz­za, which is the arche­type of piz­za. The quin­tes­sence of piz­za remains Piz­za King, but as for its prog­en­i­tors: the moth­er is clear­ly St. Louis & the father like­ly Chica­go. It was about 95° & 90% humid­i­ty, so we head­ed over to Indi­ana, where, if not any cool­er, was at least shadier. New Har­monie State Park remind­ed me very much of White­wa­ter State Park, where I spent much of my child­hood. We fol­lowed the sounds of a barred owl deep into the woods. It start­ed to rain, but the tree cov­er kept us dry & we saw a cou­ple of deer who didn’t see us.

Day 6 — Mammoth Cave & Wigwam Village #2

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Mam­moth Cave was the last big stop on our trip. The boy was too excit­ed to real­ize how tired he was, which is good, because we explored all around the cave and man­aged a great tour of the best bits of the cave before we spent the rest of the day lay­ing in bed at our motel. Wig­wam Vil­lage #2 was built in 1937 & the ceil­ing fan almost elec­tro­cut­ed me. The show­er was like a pres­sure wash­er, and much appre­ci­at­ed. Although the tack­i­ness of the motel now is quite clear­ly polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect, the place is owned by Indi­ans. From India. Can you taste that fla­vor? That’s the fla­vor of Amer­i­ca.

Day 7 — Harveysburg, OH & Home

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The final day was just a 6 hour dri­ve back to Cleve­land, with one stop on the way, in Har­veys­burg, OH. We cov­ered over 3000 miles in just about a week, with not even the small­est dis­agree­ment, until about 3 miles from home when I made my son try to do the math on how many miles we aver­aged per day. He sat next to me in the front seat almost the whole way, and every­thing we talked about was impor­tant. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Storify

Roadtrippers Itinerary

View Full Trip

Sundry Digital Photos

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(The rea­son this took so long to post is that get­ting the black & white pho­tos devel­oped was a com­plete dis­as­ter & took sev­er­al months to get done cor­rect­ly)