Home town

While sitting at a gas station in rural Louisiana we were approached by a man getting gas. He was curious about two raggedly looking white people were hanging out in the parking lot next to two fully loaded bicycles (we don’t always stand out for being white, but in this town we did). He asked us what we were doing and where we had been. When we told him the places we had been in Louisiana he commented that we had seen more of the state than he had, and he had lived in that area his whole life. This was not an uncommon sentiment, in fact, we had said the same thing before to people visiting our previous “home towns”.

It was common for me to remark on this when I lived in tourist traps like DC and Los Angeles. I never really explored my town unless people were visiting me. Instead, I would spend years in the same city and go to the same places each weekend. The same bars, the same bike routes, the same restaurants, varying only occasionally but not really going much beyond my neighborhood. I never explored my own towns until I was leaving.

It is a shame. Many of the places I lived had amazing sites and experiences just outside my comfort zone. DC is a prime example. You can take a bike trail from DC to Pittsburgh, but I didn’t realize that route existed until I left. There was even free camping along much of the route. There were cool little towns with quirky coffee shops and restaurants. I could have abandoned the terrible swamp town that is DC and been in small town Maryland within a few miles along the bike trail, but I never did that.

When we settle into a new town after the bike ride (probably Baton Rouge at this point) I want to make a point of exploring more. You can find a lot of hidden gems just by opening Google Maps and typing in “camping”, or you can use ReserveAmerica.com to find local campsites. Then, when you find a campsite just plug in biking directions from where you are and take off. Just about anyone can find a campground 30 miles from their home and make a weekend trip out of it. You leave Saturday morning, liesurely bike 30 miles with your gear in a backpack, and then camp. On Sunday you reverse the trip.

I’m sure there are other things to do besides camping. Most cities have museums, tours, botanical gardens, and parks to explore. Or you can find rivers to raft, intramural leagues to join, or vineyards to visit. Every town we visit has amazing things to do, and every town we visit is someone’s “home town”. I wish I would have realized the potential of my home towns before I left.

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First Impression Bias

Travelling the way we do creates a very unconventional and biased view of certain places. Little instances (like me almost getting hit by a car two days ago) will skew my opinion of a city so negatively that I don’t ever want to visit again. Even something as simple as the weather being rainy the whole visit can poison the city in my mind. This isn’t really fair, most negative events we face could easily happen anywhere in the world, but because it happened in a specific place that place is tainted for me. This first impression bias is something that I want to get over, I want to give places a fair chance and find the good in all of them.

The same first impression bias can be a positive thing as well. When we meet cool people, have good weather, or have a nice route into the city (even if it isn’t representative of the city as a whole) we end up discussing living there some day. This is particularly true if we meet or stay with super cool people. In fact, as I think about the cities I loved the most it is the people we stayed with that made it a great experience. Just knowing that a network of like-minded people exists in a city is enough to make it a potential place to live. I’m not sure if I should go out of my way to correct for these irrationally positive feelings.

I really do believe that most people can be happy just about anywhere as long as a few basic things are present, but what those things are kind of depends on the individual. Some people need wide open spaces, while others need some sort of active night life. Some need biological family nearby, while others need their logical family nearby. Some need to be able to own a multi-bedroom home, while others just need 9 sq. ft. to call their own. The first step to being happy in a place is recognizing the foundational elements that you need.

I think I’m pretty lucky in this regard, I can be pretty happy in any city of at least 90,000 people (but not too big). I don’t need a rocking night life, though I would like a decent number of food options and maybe a place to see a shitty band or listen to a comedian occasionally. Ideally, I’d like to have a smaller home with space for Higgins to play and a garden to grow vegetables. I want rent to be low enough that I can work part-time online without a supplemental job, and maybe a river or mountains within driving distance. Having a college in town would be a plus to bring a younger, more liberal and tolerant element to the city, and to provide continuing education opportunities. I’m not so concerned with the legal environment in most places, like Heinlein said “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them.”

So far on this bike ride there are about 30 cities that meet this criteria with about half of them having a super positive impression in my mind. There are even some upcoming cities like Austin, TX and Asheville, NC that already have a positive view in my mind.

These are the cities that meet our basic criteria in the order in which we encountered them, with a * next to the ones we loved a lot:

  • San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Arcata, CA *
  • Ashland, OR
  • Eugene, OR *
  • Bend, OR *
  • Corvallis, OR
  • Astoria, OR
  • Olympia, WA *
  • Spokane, WA *
  • Missoula, MT *
  • Helena, MT
  • Bozeman, MT *
  • Billings, MT
  • Dickinson, ND
  • Bismarck, ND
  • Fargo, ND *
  • Cloud, MN *
  • Madison, WI *
  • Milwaukee, WI *
  • Green Bay, WI
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Kalamazoo, MI *
  • Bloomington, IN *
  • Louis, MO
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Columbia, MO *
  • Tulsa, OK

Saying Good Bye

To be honest, I thought someday I would get used to it. You think after all the transitions in my life… Oregon to military, military to college, college to Washington DC, Washington DC to Los Angeles… I would get used to saying good bye to new friends. It still isn’t fucking easier. Maybe it isn’t supposed to be. Maybe the difficulty, the held back tears, the moments of second-guessing all are a testament to the love I’ve found and the bonds I’ve formed. Maybe it is a good thing that it is hard… it still sucks though. 

Yesterday I want to a Game of Thrones party at my best friend’s house. It was the last opportunity to say good bye to a lot of the friends I have made while in Los Angeles. And the good byes aren’t over, this weekend at Lucidity I will say good bye to another group of beautiful souls who have helped me learn to love myself and others. These are people who I have come to look forward to seeing, people I meet with a warm embrace, people that I can open up to (even though some of them would rather me not). I wish I would have spent more time with them, made them more of a priority, and tried to build a stronger friendship and forge more memories. But alas, what’s done is done. There are no more days for new memories in LA, at least not for a while.

While it hurts to leave these people, I am not sad about the future. Because I have been through this before I know that many of these friends will be in my life forever. Hell, my best friend and I have known each other almost 25 years and have only lived in the same city for about 10 total. I hold on to people who mean something to me, thanks to Facebook and the internet that is easier than ever but it is more than convenience, it is in my nature. I may not talk to them much (hell, I don’t talk to them much now) but they are always in my heart and they always pop into my head at the best times… “Oh man, I have to call Josh, he has got to hear about this”, “Hey, Dagny would love that”, “Oh Blayne… if only you could mow down on these cheesesticks with me”, “Damn, where’s James when I need him?”, “I wonder what Emmett would think of that?”… I wish I contacted them more than I do. In a very real way they are part of my family and when thinking of them I am home.

Home isn’t geography for me. It is where I can be unapologetically me. It is where honesty, love, and peace prevail above politics, social status, or religion. And the people I say good bye to as I start the next chapter of my life will always be my family and home. I know that if I need them they will be there. I love them and will miss them… but I know that any physical separation means nothing when our minds and spirits are connected. They are my ka-tet and that is a bond that doesn’t break, no matter how far I roam. 

I heart Los Angeles

 

I-heart-LA

I love Los Angeles… and for some reason that seems to baffle a lot of libertarians.

Southern California (and LA in general) has come to represent all the evils of statism run a muck. The economic policies continue to be a drain on the economy and new regulations are driving jobs and businesses away. They hate guns like many progressives but can’t seem to embrace marijuana as fully as other western states. California is all that can go wrong, yet I still love it, even if my fellow libertarians bash it.

I love it because my happiness is derived from more than an economic rating. The beaches, the culture, the opportunities, and the people all outweigh the mandates by state and local agents. I certainly pay higher taxes than I’d like, but I live in a city where I can openly discuss sex and drugs without being cast out. Even among libertarian circles in DC the idea of openly advocating for drug use is frowned upon at best. I am happier among individuals with shared values, regardless of the elected officials in the region. To allow  ones happiness and actions to be determined by the government is to cede control of our lives to the very institutions that libertarians claim have no authority over us.

There is a certain irony in being called foolish for living in such a statist place by people who live in Washington DC and have often never spent time in LA. Even those who have visited LA make the same stereotypical complaints (it’s too big, traffic sucks, etc) that reflect a tourist mentality who spent too much time in Hollywood. LA is the only city I’ve been to where you can find any social group you wish… burners, Buddhists, hipsters, surfers, professionals, artists, musicians, students, conservatives, liberals, anarchists… LA has it all. It also has a thriving underground economy that seems to flourish despite ridiculous laws that shows the entrepreneurial spirit that is strong and difficult to measure.

LA certainly isn’t perfect, I’d love to have lower taxes, better firearm laws, and a less militant police force, but I love it. Not everybody will like it here, but I think more people should visit and come to understand it before just blasting it due to some measure of government intrusion. There is so much more to life than evading the state.

Burning Man 2013

13_theme_cargocult

This year already feels different for Burning Man. Not better or worse, just different. There isn’t the hype built up that was present last year when anxious burners flooded the internet with videos, pictures, and questions regarding ticketing and the theme. I don’t remember anyone hypothesizing what the theme would be this year and when the announcement was made it barely hit my social network radar. That might be because the organizers did not launch much of a campaign this year to build up excitement or maybe it is due to the fairly obscure theme (Cargo Cult) or maybe both. Regardless, this year is looking to be different from an institutional level and it will be very different for me as well.

My first burn in 2011 was a point of self-reflection. I spent a lot of time just being free and dealing with my personal issues with my military history, relationships, and my future. It was a time of healing. I needed to be comfortable with “me” before I could be comfortable part of a “we”. It was a successful year and allowed me to enjoy myself in a different way in 2012.

My second year was more social. My camp from 2011 had mostly scattered but I was more seasoned and joined some of my friends at a new camp. I was more open to trying new things and made a proactive effort to be part of a community. This wasn’t as successful as I had envisioned due to my personal life at the time, I was just finishing my bike ride across the country and lacked any real foundation. Having a room to myself was an amazing luxury that I utilized a lot for meditational and sleeping purposes.

Now 2013 looks to be different once again. Due to other commitments and changes the group I have gone with in the past will be rather small and not part of an established camp, but there may be many new attendees. Many of my friends are looking to take the plunge, including at least one of my partners. The partner dynamic at Burning Man may take some discussions, particularly given others that might be present as well. Overall though, I am excited about it.

My first year was “me”, the second year was being part of “we”, and the third year looks to be a year where I am an elder or senior member of “we”. So far every year at Burning Man has faced a personal and institutional evolution, something that is scary but also very exciting.