The Gila Ride

Light my fire...It seems like a long time ago.

It was the 1989, and I’d pretty much given up on DeVry Institute of Technology. I was making good money as a programmer back then – it was a good time for programmers. I’d bought an FZR 600 off the showroom floor, cash. It was a nice trade-up from the mountain bike I’d been riding all over Irving, Texas, through the back-trails to get here and there.

Between work and classes, I didn’t have much time. The friends I had were… really, more of acquaintances. I told everyone I was heading to see some family. I wasn’t. I was getting away from everything.

Dropping some bags in storage, I saw a familiar face – she used to come around and see a roommate at one point or the other, but she was dropping some stuff in storage too. She waved, I waved, and we talked – it ends up she was heading to New Mexico. I had some time to kill. New Mexico it was.

Hillsboro. That sounded interesting enough for me. We camped in my storage area that night and broke out at dawn.

I had a light backpack set up for myself; she had a duffel that I tied to the back of the bike. We rode out.

There’s nothing quite like riding a motorcycle on the open road. Stopping for gas, bathroom breaks, bad food and worse coffee, we made it there in 2 days, just enjoying the ride. I learned that the FZR 600 was not intended for long rides, but I was younger and bulletproof.

We got to Hillsboro, she directed me where she was going, and I dropped her off.

“Where you off to?”
“No idea. I saw a cafe, I’ll eat and figure it out.”

A hug, and off I went to – I think it was – the Hillsboro General Store’s Country Cafe. It ends up I was in luck – it was the only place in town to eat. Eyes watched me as I moved to sit, but everyone was friendly. Small town, and I’m not from the small town. And, really, I probably looked dirty.

A thoughtful meal, a pack of smokes at the General Store, I sit on the FZR, arms draped over the handlebars. Leaned forward. She’s walking toward me.

She has her duffel. She walks up, a question on her face. It’s dim, but I can see the question.

“Where you going now?”
“No idea yet.”
“Texas?
“Nah.”
“Been to the Cliffs yet?”
“Nope. What Cliffs?”
“Take me with you, I’ll show you.”
“Hop on.”
“We need some gear.”

We got some sleeping gear, camp cooking stuff and rode out. I didn’t know how long we would be there. She seemed to have an idea, so she lead the charge.

And so we rode out to Gila Cliffs Dwellings (they didn’t have a website for it then), where we hung out for… a week. Really. We didn’t know anything about the Mogollon Culture or the history of the cliffs. It just seemed like a good place to be and we were good at avoiding the Rangers. There were a few jokes about ‘pic-a-nic baskets’. Aside from scrounging food, we just hung out in the dwellings and stayed out of view.

It ends up we just needed a place to be for a while – apparently, like the Mogollons who had made the dwellings.

Millennia of evolution has taught us that night is the time when we’re safest in our most modern and conveniently stocked caves.

Our homes are still caves, bathed in electric light with comfortable places to sleep in safety. Children still fear the dark, as do more adults than would admit it.

But all of that lacks stars.

We pollute the Earth with all these lights at night that you can’t really see the sky. We spent a lot of time looking at the sky. We also didn’t talk too much – she had her reasons, and I didn’t have too much to say. When one of us was hungry, we made something – and handed the other person some of it. It’s just the way it was.

She was scribbling in her notebook. I was scribbling in mine.

Half of the week passed before she asked, “When do you think we should go?”
“Not yet?”
“Not yet.”

It was a good way to live. I’d sit there watching how the place was built – imagining how people lived there once. Maybe had a family. Maybe it was really noisy. Or maybe they were quiet like we were.

I don’t remember why we left- it seemed completely natural. The odd thing was that she threw her notebook in the fire before we left and stared at me. I nodded and threw mine in the fire too.

We left, and as we were hopping on the FZR, I asked her where she was headed. She shrugged. Something in the way she had acted, been and spoke made me think of Hillsboro, but I wasn’t going to mention it. I figured I would just stop there on the way to whatever came next.

It’s a short ride back, really, and I was rested. I started slowing down around Hillsboro and she tapped me on the shoulder. I looked over my shoulder, and she was pointing past the town… and she meant it.

A week later we ended up where we’d started from. A quick hug, and we went our ways.

We didn’t know each other’s names.

We didn’t seem to have to.

These are the little interludes in life that happen when you ride off the beaten tracks, the rat races, and the common… wisdom.

Limbo

arrowsThere is always more than one direction to take, more than one path to follow or make.

Always. It doesn’t feel that way at times, but there always are options.

Limbo isn’t indecision. It’s when the pull between different choices are balanced enough where one simply doesn’t go one way or the other, or the other,…, or the other….

Don’t worry. It’s temporary. Something changes. Something always changes. It just may not be what you want as you get sucked down that path, shrieking down the drain as the Coriolis effect uses you as a demonstration.

Or it could work out.

Paths

Unfinished DrivewayIt all comes down to paths.

Some feel that their courses are set, that destiny is cast in stone – but ask them what decisions they made that day, and an honest person will admit many including having that conversation with you.

We tend to forget decisions we make that lead us to the Now. Everything we do leads us down paths, creating trails through time. Some are made concrete, some are not. Some are relationships with people, some are relationships with the environment, some are relationships with ourselves.

It all comes down to paths. Should we go down that beaten path? Should we beat a path? Or should we stand here, staring at our feet? Even at rest we are in motion, even our indecision is a decision.

We are creatures of paths.

Walls.

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, BostonOne of the most rude and unforgivable things that you can do to another human being is be kind to it.

Picture waking up every morning, going about your business and walking past people who are hitting their heads against walls. That’s all they do. Clearly, it’s not good for them. And every day you see it – and you see a lot of people doing it, as you head yourself to your particular wall to hit your head against.

If you ever make the mistake of trying to stop them, you will be accused of being rude, some will get angry with you – you’ll even be told to mind your own business. You might make it your life’s work to go around and stop these people from hitting their heads on walls, and in doing so you’ll find yourself to be a public enemy.

You’d be a horrible person, some might say. Some might say that you don’t understand, that they need to hit their heads on walls to… achieve something that, if they get it, they won’t be able to truly appreciate because of their brain damage.

So instead of hitting your head on the wall of stopping people from hitting their heads on their walls… You learn to walk by, to leave them alone. Even the ones you like. You’ll greet them, they’ll greet you…

And maybe a few of them will say one day, “Why isn’t his head bleeding?”

You just can’t teach some things.

Some things have to be learned the hard way, and handing out helmets simply delays that.

To Contemplate, to Understand.


Contemplate
I’ve been reading “Labyrinth of Solitude” by Octavio Paz – an overdue read – and he made a point about how the Mexican way is to seek contemplation, and the North American way is to seek understanding.

My inner Mexican contemplated because my inner North American didn’t understand. Of course, I’m not Mexican, and to label myself by a continent is pretty foolish – the latter not stopping people from doing it – but the point is that there is a cultural difference between the two, and I have always preferred contemplation.

The world I have lived in has constantly tested my understanding, giving grades along those lines, and I often find myself in conversation with people who believe that they understand something because someone told them, or they read it somewhere… someone else’s contemplation becomes their understanding. It isn’t earned.

I suppose in a world that constantly moves faster, borrowing the contemplation of others and making it one’s understanding is the way forward for a lot of people through formal education systems. It’s probably why I never truly thrived in them consistently, only thriving in demonstrating understanding subjects I had contemplated. This might be perceived as a flaw. I see that it demonstrates a flaw in society.

A borrowed understanding is not true understanding; a borrowed understanding comes from a context that is not your own. An understanding – a true understanding – comes through contemplation, and therefore is never complete.

If you understand that, I do believe you missed the point.

 

 

“Brilliant”

deepartShe called me as I passed, from where my grandparents once sat. I know the voice; our last parting in 2011 was not pleasant and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with this again.

A deep breath and a sigh. She is, after all, one of 3 people older than I am in my grandparent’s family tree. She and her sister the last of my father’s 7 siblings. She is, after all, someone who had as good of intentions as anyone else, and having poked a few bears in my time myself, I could respect that she’d gone toe to toe with some larger bears. Like being a female doctor in the 1960s and 1970s, even in Trinidad. That deserves respect. She earned that and no one could take that away.

I found myself waiting for the silver gates to open, pondering the Christian metaphor, then passing through them. There was no St. Peter at the top of the stairs, just an old Aunt in a wheelchair. She looked… small. She looked… old. But those eyes – those eyes were alive, lucid and had the wit behind them that I recalled from childhood. A light brown, a hazel, keen and alive in a face that had looked at the rigors of time with a smile. She had forgotten, as had I, what we had been upset about. The board was started anew.

The game awaited.

We both know the game, and unlike last time, we were both on our game – we both circled the board mischievously, testing each other, learning each other. And this woman knew she would get what she wanted – the trick was finding out what I wanted. I left the board ahead of the game; what I wanted she could not give me… the truth is that no one can give me what I want. But what she wanted was incidental and aligned with my goals and I said that, so we came to an accord. She pondered me a moment, realizing I had let her win without myself losing. She said as much. And I simply said that the most common mistake people make with me is not taking me at face value – that my face value, for whatever reason, confounds people.

She laughed, and then she said, “You know, if you had done ‘A’ Levels down here, you would have been brilliant.” ‘A’ levels are the Advanced Levels, things I did not do, running away with my Ordinary (O) levels which were even then more advanced than the U.S. I even have documentation from the U.S. Navy that proves that.

Still, what she said had me thinking today. There are times when I suppose we all look back, searching for some regret to have – and I think we all have a few hidden somewhere that we forget about. This was not one of them.

That what she intended was a compliment I understood, but she didn’t understand why I left after O’s. It was to get out of that house, and to that end, there was no way I could stay. No way I could do ‘A’ levels. I might have completely lost my mind. Granted, if my home life were happier – or even content – I would have done them, but that would have required being in a better economic position. And what if I had been in a better economic position? When you think back 3 decades at circumstances and environment, you can’t help but wonder a little.

What I did say to her was, the right thing even after some soul searching today. I simply said, “No, I’d just be someone you understood better.”

A pause. The eyes narrow, thoughtful, but her mind made up. “You could have been brilliant”, she repeats.

“Instead, you got this.”

I’m just a nomad that moves stones. Anything more than that is hubris.

The Bret of Different Skies.

NASA Sees Bret, Cindy and DoraIt’s no surprise, really.

Some cyclone became a Tropical Storm, and that Tropical Storm gained a name. Bret. An unimaginative editor or writer at the Trinidad Express newspaper quickly dubbed it ‘Bad Bret’. Now Bret has a price tag of a billion dollars. Politicians have resorted to… oh, I suppose you should call it politics though it resembles the refuse on the floor of a flooded kitchen, recently pumped out, the smell of decay evident.

It was all fairly predictable, and I truly wanted to write something funny about it – but in the end, I was sick after having mopped up Brett’s drippings from a roof all night and I haven’t been feeling very funny. In fact, it’s the beginnings of a dull rage.

Trinidad and Tobago has a love affair with a few things. It’s important to understand this.

Litter

Let’s take that low hanging fruit. The drainage is typically filled with rubbish, and that rubbish did not magically appear there. It did not suddenly get warped in from another dimension.

People threw it on the ground, it ends up in drains, drains lead to rivers… and so on. So, when you occlude waterways… well, let’s put it this way: Trinidad didn’t flood as much as it had a stroke from living a poor lifestyle, plastic plaque on it’s arteries finally stopping the flow and creating the hemorrhage that people are complaining about now.

Lack of Planning

Forget for a moment the technology failures surrounding Bret that I documented. Let’s not talk about the Minister and Minister, Prime, out playing golf – because, really, if I were the Prime Minister I would be expecting people to do their jobs and know that my job would come after. Personally, I might have shot some pool.

The point here is that there were people who were supposed to be doing jobs. The day before Bret struck, my social media accounts were filled with a long list of who would be closed after Bret, including Tobago’s governmental offices. The Prime Minister would come out and say that people in government offices should come out to work. I’m not sure what he meant, but what I thought was that the one time that government offices need to be open and dependable would be the day after a potential disaster. Instead, this all beckoned the bacchanal of the Prime Minister not caring. I’ll stop there with that because calling political opponents names is also something I’ll be touching on.

In some ways Trinidad and Tobago is a Libertarian paradise. There are Laws for building that are conveniently enforced, there is some rudimentary land Law that puts private landowners in financial straitjackets when it comes to people building on their land. Nevermind electric connections or water connections. Someone always knows someone.

By the time you could get an injunction, you might have 3 generations of a family in it – and the police, despite it being trespass, even with a surveyor present, will tell you that it’s a Civil matter, and that you should go to a lawyer. All of this will require High Court, which means it’s not cheap and it’s a long and arduous process – which culminates, unpredictably, on either the landowner ‘winning’ – where the house is torn down at their expense, with public outcry… or the landowner ‘losing’, where some other arrangement is come to.

At no point in all of this do you hear about whether it was a good place to build a house. At no point in all of this do you hear about whether there’s good drainage. So much time could be saved before a High Court matter by dealing with practical issues, but instead the options are very limited and time consuming by default. In fact, if you blink, a landowner has to go about proving that the lands belong to he or her while the person building a house doesn’t have to prove anything. Wait, what?

And if it’s government land, that’s another problem altogether.

So that’s the base layer – what I call ‘vikey-vike’ development. If Town & Country planning actually rolled through flooded areas, should we bet on what percentage of homes would have plans?

Let’s not get into Regional Corporations going rogue, running roads on private lands based on the requests of some people… with no plans filed. Nothing.

So, this has been happening for decades. It creates it’s own problems of infrastructure, which you would expect, but it also caused some call to action – the government made some weak steps toward developing infrastructure in housing schemes, etc, but they were typically as well conceived as a stillborn. This is to say that they were well conceived, but conception is not the issue – bringing things to term is. And, really, Trinidad and Tobago isn’t very good at taking things to term. Since my earliest memories of Trinidad and Tobago, the Godinot bridge and Mosquito Creek were being widened. 2 Attempts so far have only compounded flooding issues rather than resolve them.

Oh, there’s fire under this pot. Plenty of lack of planning.

Substandard Projects

Speaking of substandard projects, here’s another problem. If, for example, there’s a WASA project going on – water pipes – and there are materials brought to do it – do you know how much of those materials are actually used? Do you know how much are sold by people who aren’t getting paid but have bills to pay?

I’m sure I don’t. I’m sure that every piece of material for a project is used as it is supposed to, and that none of it is sold. I’m sure that everyone is paid on time, and I’m sure that there are no problems like that. I’m also sure that I have been sarcastic in every sentence of this paragraph save this one.

So, a few years down the road, when a pipe fails or a drain collapses or is occluded, it becomes an emergency then that could have prevented during the project… simply by paying people.

Unless, of course, they order extra materials to sell ,which becomes a taxpayer issue and is not relevant to flooding.

Soap Opera Politics.

Even before the rains began I could picture the Members of Parliament in their tall boots, firing off as much political rhetoric as they could. And of course, distributing things. People want to be coddled, to be seen in their distress – but to use that as a political soapbox is as abusive as the rains themselves, even if the people do not feel abused. It’s amazing what sorts of abuse people will consider love if that’s all they know.

This just makes matters worse, really, particularly when it comes to floods. Playing on people’s emotions is the worst part of politics, particularly stirring the pot of anger when it has no productive way to come out. And it’s not to say that it’s a matter of who is in power – it’s what we call a pappyshow in Trinidad. Everyone acts as if they are concerned now when they did not make their concerns concrete before.

Show me hot air blowing after Bret, I’ll show you air that was not moving before it.

“God Is a Trini”

Well, if you’re not an atheist, that’s a hopeful thing to say, but it’s about as true as saying that any other abstract concept is a Trini. That anything that people pray to is a Trini. That anything that matters is a Trini. That a Trini is omnipotent.

“Pardon me, your omnipotence, Your Honourable Trini-Ness – your ass is soaked.”

And What Happens Next?

It’s all as if we live under different skies. Different perspectives of the same problems.

Apparently the politics hit the level of accusations of racism yesterday in Parliament – you’d think that a group of professionals that were elected could work together for the common good, but in the end it is not so. I won’t even do you the discourtesy of linking to articles regarding it because there is no journalism to be found.

Personal differences, high emotions, what have you – people were elected to do a job to govern the country and are always somehow doing their utmost not to work together.

It’s one of the wonders of Trinidad and Tobago, eclipsing the Pitch Lake – the illusion of professional governance, of working together. If there is only one thing to blame for the state of the flooded areas in Trinidad and Tobago, I would say it has been decades of politics that have robbed the citizens of progress. Of followers that will not criticize their own and will defend til death (or drunken stupor) their candidates of choice.

Nothing changes. The waters will recede, life will go on. Whoever is Prime Minister will change, or not, but the dysfunction will continue because of the one phrase in T&T everyone knows.

“We like it so.”

One day, people may stumble upon the idea that they live under the same sky, that the Members of Parliament are supposed to work together. Someday they may just elect someone else when their representative doesn’t get them results. Whining doesn’t matter.

But we’d have to get past a lot of other issues, issues that assure the soap opera continues to assure people think they live under different skies.