Monday, September 29, 2014

Bob Dylan - Idiot Wind (New York Version 1974)

Wither art thou, Saddam?

Ali ibn Abi Talib (circa 697 - 661 AD).
Hyderabad, circa 1800.
The current situation in the Middle East, specifically Iraq and Syria, is giving new meaning to the term quagmire.

The United States is once again getting sucked into a war that it can not ultimately win, an intractable conflict that has its roots in the area at least as far back as 661 c.e.

In 661, Mohammed's cousin and son in law, Ali, was knifed in the back with a poisoned sword while praying in Kufa.

Ali, Mohammed's appointed successor (he was ten years old when he was the first person to recognize the voice of the prophet),  a member of the Quraysh tribe, he was in line to be the fourth Caliph after Mohammed.

The killing raised a lot of understandable enmity and the neighborhood has never been quite the same since. And so the rift between the Shia (the followers of Ali) and Sunni was born. This struggle is a huge never ending fight currently being played out as a war between the proxies of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

It is tough to get a bead on all of the factions in the area. There are groups whose identity is primarily tribal and ethnic like the kurds, who are mainly Sunni but include other ethnic and religious subsets. There are other groups who identify more by creed, like Islamic State and Hezbollah.

It is also important to note that post Ottoman Empire, all of these Arab and Islamic countries were sort of created out of thin air, borders and nations were loosely drawn by the British, and sometimes inhabited by a host of different tribes that oftentimes hated each other.

Iraq was demarcated in 1920 by the League of Nations when the Ottoman Empire was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres. The region was placed under the authority of the United Kingdom as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. A monarchy was established in 1921 and the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from Britain in 1932. In 1958, the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic of Iraq was created.

The country was controlled by the Ba'ath party from 1968 to 2003. Although the country is majority Shia, an estimated 65%, the Ba'athists were Sunni. Sunnis are estimated to comprise about 30% of the country with an estimated 5% of the population being Chaldean Christian.

When Saddam Hussein was in power there did not seem to be a lot of religious enmity between the people. Women were allowed to wear western dress and be educated. It was not a theological realm, more a rank dictatorship. Saddam was no choirboy, he led an awful arabization campaign in the northern Kurdish areas but pretty much kept a grip on things. And sadly, like Tito in the Balkans, he may have been the last and only man that could.

After the fall of Saddam, the United States refused to incorporate Ba'athists into the new government, what may have been a fatal mistake on the part of our country. We were worried about Saddamists infiltrating the nascent state. The power and pendulum swung over to the Shiite Dawa party of Maliki, a party that had some serious scores to settle. Now the minority Sunni, accustomed to power,  were the aggrieved party.

We currently have a situation where there is a full scale religious civil war taking place, the last thing we want or need to get in the middle of. There is a good reason why cops hate getting involved in domestic disturbances. Real volatile and a quite easy way to get killed.

We spent ten years in Iraq and billions of dollars equipping an ineffectual Iraqi Army that cut and run at the first sign of trouble. Now we seek to repeat those mistakes in Syria, under the delusion that there is some neutral moderate party that will fight the Islamic Front, a Sunni group.

The President of Syria, Assad is an Alawite Ba'athist who has aligned with the Iranian Shiite axis and invited his Hezbollah allies in Lebanon to help him kill his enemies. Not a very nice guy, has used chemical weapons on his own population.

The Nusra Front (Sunni), an Al Qaeda group is in Syria trying to take Assad down. There are scores of others as well, some getting quickly folded into ISIS's cloak. These groups are concentrating on the Syrian Kurdish areas, seemingly the only good guys in the whole movie.

By the way, the Syrian regime wants to be our new bff and gang up on the ISIS from two directions, further fortifying the Assad regime.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend and just watch us hold our nose and make nice with Hezbollah and the Iranians. We might have to cut the Israelis off but hey, everybody knows Obama can't stand them anyway and sometimes you have to break a few eggs.

In Iraq there is now talk of finding Sunnis willing to fight the incoming sunni Islamic Front. Good luck with that.

I could go on and on but will spare you this monday morning. We all have things to do. I will try to wrap this up. At the risk of sounding like an islamophobe. There are no good actors in the region, with the exception maybe of the kurds. Many of the groups that we are fighting are already using our own weapons against us. The internecine hatreds that now exist are unsolvable. The people are at least culturally, barbarians.

Who else kills and beheads aid workers, health workers, peacekeepers, journalists, people whose real and ostensible purpose is only to help them and their countrymen?

In Indonesia, the middle east, now in our own country, Africa with Boko Haram, everywhere there is this type of senseless violence against innocents, the answer is, while not politically correct, only too clear. There is a creed and people that never learned how to get along with others in a civilized way.

You can only hear about such and such being a religion of peace so many times before you begin to wonder why so many adherents never got the message?

If ever a region was crying out for a nuke and a reboot it is the current middle east. The idea that we will find a bunch of good guys some place that will serve as boots on the ground is ludicrous.

Massive air power to protect the kurds and let everybody else do each other in.

I was sitting at a black jack table with an Iraqi and tried to talk regional politics a while back and can still feel the glower when I brought up the Kurdish problem.

"Fuck the kurds," he spat. I decided to forego the rest of our conversation.

I have read some very sad accounts of what is happening in the villages that the Kurds and Yazidis so recently shared with their fellow iraqis. Here, here and here.
They knew him as Abdul Qadir, the handyman who repaired air conditioners, refrigerators, TV sets and any other busted appliances in their northern Iraqi town.
But after Islamic State forces took over the predominantly Kurdish town of Birdiya, residents learned that their pleasant, reliable Mr. Fix-It had another nickname, Haji, and was playing a senior role supervising checkpoints for the Sunni Arab extremists. He was killed Aug. 22 in a U.S. airstrike near the Mosul dam along with two other Islamic State fighters, according to Kurdish military officials.
"He used to come to my house. He knows my family," said Yusuf Ibrahim, who fled his home in Birdiya as the militants advanced. "And now we find out he wanted to kill us."
Sunni neighbors that had lived peacefully side by side with their fellow villagers for ever, or at least since Saddam's arabization campaign, were now fingering them and turning them in to ISIS.
ZAKHO, Iraq — The afternoon before his family fled the onslaught of Sunni militants, Dakhil Habash was visited by three of his Arab neighbors. Over tea, his trusted friend Matlul Mare told him not to worry about the advancing fighters and that no harm would come to him or his Yazidi people.
The men had helped one another over the years: Mr. Mare brought supplies to Mr. Habash’s community in the years after the American invasion, when travel outside their northern enclave was too dangerous for Yazidis. Mr. Mare bought tomatoes and watermelon from Mr. Habash’s farm and sometimes borrowed money.
But his friend’s assurances did not sit right with Mr. Habash. That night, he gathered his family and fled. Soon afterward, he said, he found out that Mr. Mare had joined the militants and was helping them hunt down Yazidi families.
“Our Arab neighbors turned on all of us,” said Mr. Habash, who recounted his story from a makeshift refugee camp on the banks of a fetid stream near the city of Zakho, in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We feel betrayed. They were our friends.”“I called my closest friend after we fled, an Arab man who owned a shop in our village,” said a Yazidi man who identified himself only as Haso, declining to give his first name out of fear of reprisal. “
When I asked him what he was doing, he told me he was looking for Yazidis to kill.
Sunnis try to downplay the betrayal.
By the time IS was expelled from around Amerli, many Sunni civilians had fled, fearing for their lives. They have few places to go and are too frightened to return.
"If a regular army were holding the area we could return, but as long as the militias are there we cannot,” said a 30-year-old displaced Sunni resident of one village near Amerli, who asked to remain unnamed. "They would slaughter us on the spot."
He admitted some villagers had supported IS, but said it was only one or two for every 70 to 80 households, and that the rest were innocent civilians who were too scared to stand against the militants or had nowhere else to go.
The new Iraqi Prime Minister, Abadi hopes to reunite his country against the ISIS threat and not to repeat the sectarian mistakes of his predecessor. It may be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle, too much hatred, too much blood spilled. 

Wishing that things were different and hoping that there is someone you can count on is not a sound foreign policy. We would be quite foolish to bet on such a strategy. What is not needed is for United States ground troops to be involved in a permanent battle without any end in sight. 

Kurdistan in Iraq is a legal entity, the only one in all the nineteen provinces. Recognize them and give them independence.  Too bad if the Turks don't like it. They should be more active themselves in confronting Isis. 

Split the rest of the region up into small homogenous blocks that hopefully have less desire to do each other in. Pluralism is not a concept that seems to have a lot of hope for success in the region, might take another century or two.

Or find another Saddam Hussein.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Aurora García

Mi familia

Seven years in, I guess its time you meet the family. Or at least some of them. My brother John sent me this picture, 1966 family gathering at the gypsum dunes of White Sands, New Mexico. My stepfather worked there for five years, an early drone designer for Ryan.

I'm the little chap in front, all of nine years old, maybe just nine, sans spectacles, they came a year or so later. Thankfully my ears eventually flattened out. When I tell people that we had 12 people in the house in El Paso they don't believe me but it is true. You learn to eat very fast. Don took his pointers in discipline from Goering or Himmler so you kept your elbows off the table and your mouth shut if you knew what was good for you.

That's my mom on the right with the sunglasses, Adelle. Crazy brilliant, progressive, loved to pick up strays and take them back to our nest. Teacher, editor, writer, agent, super high powered intellect. Did I mention batshit crazy?

Behind her is my brother Buzz, 16 months my junior, given name David Jonathan. Lawyer turned restauranteur. Behind Buzz counter clockwise is Gail, Don's niece. Gail and her brother Rusty, (not shown) lived with us for a couple years when her alkie dad had a breakdown. From Colorado. Rusty and I fought like banshees.

Next to Gail without the glasses is my sister Barbara, now a CPA. In front of Barbara with the sunglasses is my oldest sister Liz, serious rebel genius turned government coder. In front of Liz is Pretam Gandhi, a sikh from Poona, studying engineering at Texas Western. Lived with us for a year or two. A black guy named Ralph hung around a lot too.

Don't know how we jammed the whole lot into the green 64 fury station wagon with the simulated wood trim. Also don't know how we managed to evade the neighbors and their torches and pitchforks with our family's all around weirdness and atypical mien. It was a strange time and we were stranger still, definitely did not fit in.

In front of Pretam is my stepsister Donna, we haven't talked in years. Very toxic. LDS. Her brother David, who I idolized, is not in this picture and ended up dying on a motorcycle.  Donna is holding young brother John, now a fuel cell designer and engineer, very smart.

So who isn't here? Don, my stepfather at the time. My mom divorced my real dad when I was five. He remarried and they adopted two girls, Laurie and Amie. Amie died in a car wreck in 1983. My dad remarried again, a wonderful woman named Shela, with her own two kids, Richard and Sarah.

Early on we had another foster daughter, Sherie, whose prim air force boyfriend turned husband made me eat toast and french fries with a knife and fork. Asshole.  Plus we had a couple brindle great danes, a sheepdog, many cats, turtles, etc. The show dogs had the life (and diet) we kids aspired to have.

There you have it.

Who Are The Brain Police?

Get a warrant.

"If I'm not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn't be a secret police file on me." Mp3 founder Michael Robertson

I haven't really gone off too much on the current events front lately. It is so easy to be inundated with bad news these days if that is your pleasure. I did want to point out a couple things that got me to thinking.

I wrote last year about the license plate detection program that was being tested in San Diego. Cops roll through supermarkets, shopping centers and a variety of other places and scoop up license plate data. Reports are that they are reading roughly 3 million license plates a week.

A libertarian software bigwig, Michael Robertson, filed suit against this type of surveillance, which triggers all sorts of probable cause and privacy issues. Robertson sued in 2013, seeking all the license plate data the agency had on him in a database. A judge has now ruled against him in court.
"We saw these as records of investigations used by law enforcement and thus exempt from the Public Records Act," said Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG.
Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal agreed with government lawyers that the records are sometimes used for law-enforcement investigations such as to locate stolen cars, and therefore can be withheld under the public records law. She also concluded that the public interest in disclosing the information is outweighed by law enforcement’s need to keep it secret. So now everybody in the United States is a suspect in a great big criminal investigation to be named at a future date.
"Bacal said the information is “clearly being used in an investigative capacity in furtherance of law enforcement purposes.”
She said if the information was made public, it could be used by criminals to identify where cameras are stationed or what police are investigating."
Granting Robertson's request "would create a precedent that these records are available to anyone requesting their records — including the very criminals seeking to discover and exploit weaknesses in the (license plate reader) system," she wrote.
So much like the warrantless NSA data mining that Snowden exposed, all of your information is now fair game for the police state, to be used to track you and just in case you may engage in criminality at some future point in time. This is like something from an apocalyptic Philip Dick novel. We are all suspects in an investigation to be named later and the constitution becomes once again seriously diminished.
"If I'm not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn't be a secret police file on me" that details "where I go, where I shop, where I visit," Robertson said in an interview with The Associated Press prior to the ruling. "That's crazy, Nazi police-type stuff."
On the other side are government and law enforcement officials who say they're not misusing the systems and that tracking and storing the data can help with criminal investigations, either to incriminate or exonerate a suspect.
"At some point, you have to trust and believe that the agencies that you utilize for law enforcement are doing what's right and what's best for the community, and they're not targeting your community," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. John Gaw said.
Sergeant Gaw, I have news for you, we don't trust you. There is an added concern that the heavy usage of police cameras that we are starting to see will soon be coupled with facial recognition capability. The spy apologists have chosen a great time to retool their arsenal and chip away at our privacy rights, at a time when the ISIS terrorism bogeyman makes the slender man pale in comparison. We cede these protections very easily when people get scared.

Ex FBI gumshoe turned congressman Mike Rogers had my favorite quote on the subject:
Rogers: I would argue the fact that we haven't had any complaints come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated, clearly indicates, in ten years, clearly indicates that something must be doing right. Somebody must be doing something exactly right.
Vladeck: But who would be complaining?
Rogers: Somebody who's privacy was violated. You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated.
Vladeck: I disagree with that. If a tree falls in the forest, it makes a noise whether you're there to see it or not.
Rogers (astounded): Well that's a new interesting standard in the law. We're going to have this conversation... but we're going to have wine, because that's going to get a lot more interesting...
FBI Director James Comey is unhappy that Apple and Google no longer want to play ball with the government and allow them access to their user's encrypted cell phone data.
"I get that the post-Snowden world has started an understandable pendulum swing," he said. "What I'm worried about is, this is an indication to us as a country and as a people that, boy, maybe that pendulum swung too far."
I think that the American public have spoken quite clearly on this, Mr. Comey, from the left and the right. We believe that we have the right to privacy, even from our own government, and the specter of the terrorist threat pales with the possibility of surrendering our constitutional rights.

Good for Yahoo for fighting the government strong arm tactics of the Obama administration, ridiculous fines even before a FISA court had held that such snooping was legal. Thank you Apple and Google as well.

Bradley Manning, aka Chelsea,  has a very interesting article in the Guardian recently, How to make Isis fall on its own sword. Off the current subject but definitely worth reading.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fuck All Those Perfect People - Chip Taylor & The New Ukrainians

Going Going Gone

"Not much to be said, it's the top of the end... "

A nice workup of an oft forgotten Dylan masterpiece from Planet Waves. And an acoustic version from the bard himself that I have never heard before. I forget how much I like Planet Waves, don't listen to it enough, the rich textures of Robertson and Co. providing such a lush backdrop for the singer. Listened to quite a bit of Dylan on this trip. Not like we will have him around forever. Going going gone

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I asked a man at an antique store in Silver City where a photographer might go to take some good pictures. He mentioned a place called Ben Lilly. Said it was up the fifteen towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Well I had never been there. They were at least an additional hour and a half away. Shoot, I tells me, why not?

I made my way up and down the narrow mountain road, which has the official designation "Trail of the Mountain Spirits." At times it was slow going, especially with me having to stop at all the nice views.

I couldn't even begin to describe how gorgeous and wonderful the Gila Wilderness is. Way off the track. And the charts.

America's first designated wilderness, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, it is spectacular and verdant. Great rock formations, you can see why it made such a good hideout and home. Three forks of the Gila River converge here, before dropping into the Colorado River below. Geronimo was born here. Deer abound on the side of the road. The area is said to host over 330 different bird species.

I made my way up the heavily graffitied Ben Lilly monument, named for a long passed local farmer, who evidently long ago trapped a lot of bear and cougar in the area, ostensibly making it safer for the women and decent folk.

I drove on the rather long route to the Gila Wilderness, finally stopping at the Ranger Station and getting directions to the trailhead. The rangers told me the best shots were taken from off trail.

He also said that it was verboten to do so unless you had special clearance and permission, which I clearly did not. So I would just have to make do.

A steep hike up the down staircase, the normal entrance was flooded out the day before. Around fifteen ancient pueblo families were said to have perched in these Mogollon cliffside eyries around 1200 a.d.. The five caves had about forty rooms total, essentially early condominiums.

The caves somehow evaded the spaniards and were not discovered until the 1870's, unfortunately they were then quickly looted. Mummies have been found here as well as well as trade items like macaw feathers and over 32 species of plant remains including beans, corn and squash.

It was great to walk inside the caves, the only cliff dwellings that I have been able to explore quite like this.

I have been to Chaco, Mesa Verde and Canon de Chelle and this is a much richer and more direct experience. Bit dusty inside but worth it.

I hope that you enjoy the photographs. I have many more and look forward to sifting through them. Click on one and you should be able to see all of this batch in a slideshow.

I left the trail exhilarated, happy to be pushing my body and cardio after so long in the car. Happy to once again be in the middle of nowhere, the place where this person feels best.

One of my favorite fictional detectives was the character created by the british author Arthur Upfield in the 1920's. Inspector Bonaparte, or "Boney" was half aboriginal. When things got too hot in the city, he would strip naked and head into the outback scrub to reconnoiter with the forgotten parts of his psyche. That's me, except maybe for the naked part.

Sir Douglas Quintet - "Mendocino" - 25 January 1969, Playboy After Dark

Points west

I am finally back. Close to four thousand miles put on the van this trip, my right ankle is sore from pushing the accelerator pedal. The show in Texas was tolerably good, maybe even worth it if I get some after show business. Met some new clients, showed my face and wares in a new arena.

Van is reasonably okay, a few new cuts and scratches, a new check in the windshield courtesy of the car next to me kicking up some gravel near Fort Stockton. One near miss that brought me perilously close to total disaster, more on that later.

A few quick thoughts on the show and the trip. Texas is a very clean state, much less trash and litter than California. The restaurants are good, the state was beautiful and green, the rest stops are clean  ( although you are advised to watch out for the poisonous snakes, just what I want to see when I am on the can) the people are courteous and polite, albeit pretty conservative.

Saw two great bumper stickers on the trip, can't disagree and very Texan in attitude; God bless our troops, especially the snipers and Political Correctness was responsible for Major Nidal. I don't think I offended anybody at the show, two conversations about the Texas educational standards and I only brought it up once. She fled.

I started driving west from Houston monday morning, after filling up with gas. Cheapest I saw this trip was $2.99. I decided to hit a few barbecues that Bradford had suggested I check out. The first was Joel's, a rather flea bitten affair by the highway. Just my style.

It was early in the day and I decided to stick with the brisket and establish a base line. Pecan pie looked good but a man needs a certain amount of discipline and it was early in the day.

Joel's had atmosphere galore but the brisket was a little dry and only so-so. I headed down the road.

Next stop was the City Market in Luling, Texas. Now this place was like going to barbecue mecca, the real deal. A dusty old town with an oil museum, I finally found City Market by the train tracks after calling Mike for directions. Mike is a true expert Texas barbecue man and this was his favorite spot, so it definitely had my attention.

I walked into the old building, like heading back to 1910 and looked around. Stand for pop in the middle of the room, check, Cash register, check. Happy people gorging themselves at tables, righteo.

Just one question, how do I get food? A few seconds later I had it figured out. There were two doors to the inner sanctum at the back of the room, in and out.

Sort of like a dungeon or maybe a maternity room. I walked back and you could have bottled the atmosphere. Black streaked walls, the place was positively medieval. I ordered brisket and a pork rib. Should have taken a shot but I ate it too fast, washed down with a Stewarts root beer. Quite possibly the best beef I have ever tasted, maybe better than the place Leslie and I once found near Round Top. Bradford had given me a map of other places to try, a place up by Austin, the original Rudy's, Franklin's, etc. but I was starting to overdose on mesquite and thought it might be time to layoff for a while.

I continued down the road, plunging into the monotony that is Texas. I needed water and stopped at a gas station. Noticed the sacks of deer corn for sale outside.

"You feed them with that or blast them?"

"Well, both really mister,"the young lady said. "The white tails are thick as dogs around here."

I hardly pulled my camera out the whole trip. Everything with the crappy camera on the HTC phone but I hope you get the general drift.

A few comments. When I left Ford Stockton the first time, something literally stunk. Wasn't sure if it was the hotel, me, what the hell it was? It turned out to be Texas. West Texas smells, specifically like burnt fossil fuels. Kind of like Mt. Doom at Mordor might smell.

Very pretty though, nicer than I remembered. Lots of pretty flowers, no bluebonnets this time of year but lots of black eyed susan ant other stuff. A pretty vine at a rest stop, fruit undetermined. Anybody know? You must...

Didn't see a lot of birds, a large falcon or kite with a dark eye on the way out, sitting on a fence post. Looked like a goshawk but my friend Steve says it would not be a typical area for them to roost. Noticed a beautiful brown raptor on the way back west.

I made it to my first trip deviation around 2:30. I had wanted to explore the caverns of Sonora. located about 15 miles south of the freeway. I never got a detour on my august trip and it might have hexed me and contributed to my heart ache. This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful caves in the world, speleologically speaking.

I drove out, only to find out that the last tour of the day had already left. Damn. Will have to arrive early next time. Bought a little fudge. I had heard reports of vandalism to the beautiful butterfly formations and the girl gave me the sad story.

In 2006, a punk kid from Houston, 29 years old, broke off a piece of the butterfly helictite speleothem and stuffed it in his pocket as a souvenir. Might grow back in a half a million years or so, please let me know if you are around.

Humans, you have to love them.

I drove and drove and about a hundred miles from Van Horn, my old nemesis, and disaster near struck.

The rain had started to fall again and it was getting pretty dark. I was fiddling with the radio when I looked up, just in time to see the large object in the road directly ahead of me.

It was a truck tire, replete with wheel and I had no chance to swerve, hitting it straight on doing seventy.  "Oh, my god!" I felt it scrape all the way down my van's spine. For a few nervous seconds I watched my gauges, sure that I had done in cooling, transmission and various other systems.

But nothing happened. About forty more miles I pulled into a gas station and checked the underside. Disaster narrowly averted, once again, my specialty seemingly.  Told a guy in a truck what happened and called the cops to alert them to the hazard. It was really pouring and the mud getting in and out of the place was incredible. Later I found out it was a 250 year flood that had killed that day in both El Paso and Phoenix.

I found a hotel in Van Horn, not wanting a possible repeat with the gendarmes at the Border Patrol to happen late at night. I was sweating bullets thinking about what might happen this time, if I would be spending more extended time in a cell for my crime of offending their canine.

Next morning I hit the road early. Passed a herd of pronghorn that sprang into the bush upon sensing my scrutiny. I made it through the border check with a little small talk about my show, then a wave on down the road. Another disaster averted.

Talked to my wife. Evidently we have a broken water pipe. Asked the neighbor to help in my absence.  She has been without water for a couple days and I feel bad.

I drove towards my old hometown, El Paso. It was clear and didn't look quite as bad as on the way out. Passed Signal Peak and Hueco tanks.

The pride of MacArthur Elementary drove right on through El Paso. I decided to have breakfast in Mesilla, a wonderful town, maybe my favorite downtown in New Mexico. Loved to visit when I was a kid in Las Cruces. The Billy the Kid Bar is now the Billy the Kid gift shop. The old town is slow and somehow regal in its tranquility.  Unchanged.

The town square is much like the zocolo near my home in Las Cruces as a kid. Lovely place to stroll around on a warm evening.

I miss the lightning of New Mexico from my childhood. It was so dry that the blankets often made strong sparks when you opened them up.

I have a lot of rich memories of this place, will have a psychic connection forever. I was formed in the southwest, out of the native dirt and clay.

Had breakfast at Josefina's, from a nice mexican apache woman. Walked around the plaza for a while and just took it all in.

I think that it is important to circle around in our life, to come back around on and touch those things that were important to you once again. Places and people. Get a reality check, maybe see how things turned out.

I had an old love contact me through a friend while I was on Facebook. A very important old love, my first. I couldn't process everything that was going on at the time, it was right before my show and I ultimately severed contact with the proxy for one reason or another. She had said that my old girlfriend was aware of my writing and photography. Now I had last talked to this person in the late 70's, a very long time.

But I am happy that she reached out, only wishing her the best. Because to some degree, we helped form each other as well. I am very grateful to this person. Would be interesting to talk, if you are reading this, and you feel like it, drop me a line. Or not. Love for ever, to everybody.

I continued into the heart of New Mexico and suddenly had a wild hair. It is quite possible that I had never been to Silver City, don't remember going through there with Diann, never with Leslie. So I turned right and drove an hour or so north... New trails to explore.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eddie Kendricks

Just keep truckin' on...

I guess I need to fill in the dots a little bit. When I last left you I was itching away in a fleabag dump of a hotel in Fort Stockton, on the last leg of my trip to Houston.

I had just escaped being sodomized by the United States government by the very skin of my teeth, not to mention a bit of prescient foreboding on my part.

The last day of travel was not really all that eventful for the most part. I managed to stop in at a place near New Braunfels for some barbecue, Bill Millers. It was decent.

I had chicken and brisket along with jalapenos and is customary in these parts, sweet tea. They asked if I wanted rye bread and I got a very dark slice of bread that didn't really resemble any style of rye I am familiar with. Actually it was better than decent, the whole meal was pretty good.

No sooner did I get in the car than the sky opened up. The baja hurricane had made its way across the gulf and just started dumping. To paraphrase native Texan Stevie Ray Vaughn, the sky wasn't crying but she was sobbing hysterically.

I tried to drive through it for an hour or so but it finally got so I couldn't see the road in front of me and I thought I better get off the blacktop and rest. I pulled into a Love's Gas Station and thought I would wait out the storm. The parking lot soon flooded and the wind picked up like a tornado and I envisioned one of the stanchions in the parking lot falling over and crushing my car. What an ignoble end, near famous blogger and two bit antique dealer killed in freak storm, news at 11.

Soon many more cars followed my lead and joined me in the parking lot. When the truckers started getting back on the road and the rain slacked a bit, I joined them. After a couple more hours I made my way into Houston and found my hotel. It is situated on Richmond, in area most distinguished by its large number of gentleman's clubs.

I asked the lady at the desk about food and she recommended a thai place across the street that was supposed to be pretty good. I decided to walk over and thought that I wasn't ready for a large thai meal and I would try what looked like a Mediterranean place next door instead. Bad move.

I questioned the tattooed girl at the front of the joint if the food was lebanese and she sort of nodded but the restaurant was actually more of an all night arab social club, called Layal. Ordered lamb kebob. The most awful arabic food I have ever tasted. There were a bunch of swarthy dudes sitting around sucking on shisha from their water pipes, am I seeing things or are they looking at me funny?  I suddenly felt very out of place.

Like Stokely Carmichael walking into a klan meeting. I took the last bite I could suffer from the worst hummus and pita one could ever imagine and skedaddled, get out before ahab and co. could play let's pin the tail on the jew.

I arrived at the George Brown Convention Center at the stroke of 8 the next morning, in pouring rain, with a deep sense of concern. Roads were flooding all over Texas, schools were closing and it was not the ideal time to sell my wares. I would have to make the best of it. I wasn't necessarily pessimistic, more like ready for any eventuality.

I know that negativity can become a self fulfilling prophecy and wanted to be ready to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat if presented with such an opportunity. After all, I am good at what I do, I have certainly done it before, I have just been on a bad run of late and one of these days I will find myself, inshallah, back on the winning side of the ledger.

I drove around the gigantic edifice about three times before I figured out how to get to the proper dock. It turns out the place is so big that you can drive your car right to your booth and unload which was certainly cool and a new experience for me.

I introduced myself to the promoter, a very nice and pleasant woman, Rosemary, who thanked me for making the long trek and inquired about how I was feeling, since she knew I left home feeling so bad.

Took two days to set up my booth, piled high with a lot of fine silver and nice paintings, amazing what you can stuff into a Dodge minivan.

The morning the show opened, Friday, I was awoken twice, starting at five with an emergency alert on my phone warning me of serious flooding near my hotel and throughout Houston and urging me to seek higher ground. I  got two of those alerts and started to sweat. This rain was the strongest in ages and animals were starting to pair off, a flood of near biblical proportions. Certainly did not auger well for my prospect of sales.

I am not going to jinx it, I still have a day left, things could be better and I suppose they could be worse. Plenty of time before that fat lady sings. So I think that it is time to talk about food.


The highlight of this trip, like many of my excursions, has been eating. And this trip has been all about Colombian cuisine, a cuisine I admit to knowing next to nothing about. I have eaten Peruvian and Brazilian but this is different. I was driving around the area near the hotel one day and I found Marine's Empanadas located at 3227 Hillcroft.

I used to love the Argentinian empanadas from the little blue and white place on Pico when I worked in Beverly Hills ages ago and I decided to stop and see what Marine's was all about. Just a little funky place located in a strip center but I really dug it. In fact I have been back three times. 

The first thing that I noticed was the place was full of Colombians and the waitresses and diners were very pretty and guapo. There were funky Colombian music videos playing on the big screens from back home and the diners were really enjoying the music.A lot of afro beat, very bi racial culture.

I ordered the poblano sabroso empanada first time out, filled with chicken and deliciously spiced mole. It was pretty incredible, different than what I was used to as these empanadas are deep fried and not baked like the argentinian ones. Every plate comes with a hot green sauce called aji, which is just lovely. Watery, not thick but very piquant.

I then ordered the arepa con carne asada. Arepas are a delicious corn patty and this one was heavenly. The carne asada was cut as is customary, very thin. I decided to top the evening off with one more cheese empanada, the mozzarella making a perfect marriage with the green sauce.

I went back again and again. Barbecue beef empanada, spinach empanada, pork belly. This morning I had a wonderful cup of colombian coffee, a cheese empanada and one made with banana, cinnamon walnuts and cheese. Deelish! They accompanied my morning meal with a phenomenal chimichurri sauce as well.

I still think that I favor the argentinian stye of empanada better than the colombian, baked instead of fried, but that did not dissuade my enjoyment of the new cuisine in the least.

I was telling some Houstonians and show compatriots about my newfound fondness for Colombian food and I kept hearing about a great place I had to try, Mi Pueblito. It was supposed to be fantastic, best of, heard great things especially about the soup. Last night JP and I had fancy and very nice french food at L'etoile but my taste buds are craving South American right now so I found Mi Pueblito tonight situated a bit farther down on Richmond.

When I got there a girl who looked suspiciously like a hooker walked in front of the van and I wondered a little about the neighborhood. Not to worry. What a fantastic meal.

The place was packed, the live band was great, the food was unbelievable, the cocktails were delicious, the mostly Colombian customers were having a great time, the waiters and waitresses were boogieing, in short the place totally rocked. I had thought about having the national soup, Ajiaco, chicken with potatoes, it is almost a requisite, but decided to wait for next time. Instead I ordered an appetizer of arepa with chorizo.

In broken but functional english, the very nice waiter made sure that I had plenty of lime for the sausage, a Colombian custom. I have to tell you, it was so freaking good. Marvelous. Best I have ever sunk my teeth into.

I thought about ordering the brown cane sugar lemonade but instead opted for a cocktail, tumba muerto, vodka, maraschino and grapefuit, he said it was an excellent choice and he was absolutely right.

Seated next to me, watching the Medellin team play soccer on the television, was an extremely nice and attractive young lady who once lived in Orange County. The older ladies at the next table all joined in song when the band cranked out Gauntanamera.  I imagine that this place made many of these people feel like they were back home.

For an entree I started with the national dish of Colombia, bandeja paisa. I ordered the normal size instead of the large and it was definitely all I needed. Bandeja paisa is made with rice, avocado, red beans, sweet plantains, sausage, carne asada, pork belly, arepa and an egg nestled on top. Everything but the kitchen sink.

They offered me a coffee when I asked for the check, on the house, but I declined. No room for dessert either. And they are known for their desserts, and delicious pastries and meringues. I was totally stuffed.

It was a meal to remember and I hope that I can continue to explore this cuisine once again somewhere close by in California when I get home! I will be savoring these taste memories for a long, long time. Might even have to return to Houston one day.

Postscript - I had to go back for one last colombian meal at Mi Pueblita before I left town. My desire was to order the famous soup but as luck would have it, they were out. They had a tripe dish but I just wasn't in the mood. 

Instead I had a tamal. I was offered two portion sizes and having seen their plates, decided to go regular instead of large. Good thing. The tamale was huge, covered a dinner plate. 

Instead of a corn husk covering like its northern mexican neighbor, the colombian tamal is wrapped in plantain leaves which keeps its contents incredibly moist.  More than enough food.

A fantastic meal, washed down with two glasses of brown sugar lemonade. Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Six Days on the Road - Dave Dudley

Don't blame the dog

© Bill Schenck 2014
I hadn't driven to Houston in years, well it's all on the blog, somewhere anyway. Last time out I was fighting cancer and sporting a stint 'tween bladder and kidney that caused the most constant and excruciating pain I have ever experienced in my entire life.

The doc now says he never should have let me go but that's water over the bridge at this point. Drove to Miami and back.

Five years ago. The trip was miserable and I wasn't exactly eager for a repeat. Funny thing when you get sick and have felt bad somewhere, that place can scare you forever.

I drove to Phoenix the first day to pick up some paintings from Steve. Weather was pleasant, never broke 107º. Almost that warm in Fallbrook.

We had a nice dinner at their friend's house. Ham and mushroom crepes, asparagus and a pecan chocolate pie with the best flaky homemade crust I have ever tasted.

I took off early the next morning. It would be a long day. I had a lot of miles to cover, two days to get to Houston, a city located in a god forsaken state that tends to go on forever.  I rarely take the Interstate 10 these days but drove it a lot as a kid as a passenger shuttling between San Diego and El Paso, the respective homes of my divorced parents and I at different times in our lives.

The area past Tucson was really pretty, greener than I remember in the Chiricahua pass area, following the old Butterfield Stage route. Read on a sign at a rest stop about Cochise and Geronimo, the latter hated Mexicans for committing some mortal wrong to his family and spent a fair amount of time hunting them down.

Read something else recently about navajos holding similar feelings towards their neighbors to the south, wouldn't wear clothes that might cause them to be mistaken for mex.

I crossed into New Mexico, starting to roll along, it was twoish and decided to have lunch in Lordsburg, not a great choice, a shitty western steakhouse that sold me an overpriced t-bone, fatty and gristly, accompanied by watery and tasteless corn kernels that obviously came out of an industrial sized can. A mound of ugly butter and sour cream supposedly hid a baked potato. I ate what I could stomach and scrammed. I had a lot of miles to cover.

Not a lot to report. I approached Las Cruces and the sight of the Franklin Mountains of my youth and felt a twinge of nostalgia. My stepfather, who did some things to us boys that would make Adrian Peterson blush, worked at nearby White Sands when I was a kid. We lived in an old adobe in Las Cruces with glass shards atop the parapet walls.

We would occasionally tour the cotton fields and nut farms in the area and the New Mexico dust was firmly planted in our psyches forever. I wistfully drove past the old towns of Mesilla and Anthony, wishing that I had time to stop but I could not.

There are 347 miles between Fallbrook and Phoenix, 1513 to Houston. The 771 miles to El Paso meant that I was nearly exactly half done with my trip and I had already burned most of two days. I would have to put the hammer down.

El Paso is so ungodly ugly now, I lived there 1964 through 1968 and don't remember it ever looking so shabby. The rain was starting to fall pretty hard and I was caught in miserable traffic. I finally made it through town and made my way down the road to Van Horn about two hours later.

I saw the customs and border patrol check and wondered if I should turn my music down. I slowed to a crawl and smiled through the open window at the green clad agent. Another agent with a dog circumnavigated my van.

"Sir, would you mind pulling over towards those orange cones?"

I looked at him strangely. I was going to have to go through secondary. Was I getting busted? For what?

"Is there a problem, Officer?"

"Dog alerted on something. Grab your license, please step out of the van and keep your hands in the air and out of your pockets."

Oh, shit, what was going on? Now in case you are wondering, I  foresaw a potential event like this. I had cleaned my car and gone through it with a fine tooth comb. The last thing I wanted to ever have happen was to get caught in Texas with weed.

"You have any humans or contraband in the van?" I was asked by the demanding agent.

"No sir."

The next thing I know, no request for permission, no nothing, a dog is crawling all over my front seat. Agents are scurrying around pulling boxes out of my van. I told them that I was an antique dealer on my way to Houston to do a show but to no avail.

I asked them not to harm my fragile merchandise and to try to be careful. I promised them that they would find nothing in the car, because there was nothing there. But they were having none of it. They had caught themselves a big time smuggler and I needed to shut up.

I was led inside to a detention area, I shared a cold bench with two mexicans. I asked the agents if I could have a cup of coffee and they basically laughed at me.

They asked me if I smoked marijuana and I said that I did occasionally, that I had a medical card and smoked it as necessary for my cancer recovery but that I had nothing in the car and they could save themselves the trouble.

I got peppered with questions about where I was going and what I was really doing as they typed my vital information into their terminals.

I looked out the window and saw a man unscrewing my door panels, my rear hatch. They were literally taking my van apart. I started to get scared. What if they planted something on me? There are anecdotal tales of drugs being planted at the Van Horn Border Check on the internet, the Electra District Attorney admitted recently that it was a fairly common practice in Texas.

Or what if there was an actual roach in the glove box that I might have missed? People have received life sentences for a joint in Texas, 600 years for seeds. Was this the opening entrance to my grand nightmare, was I looking at six years in the stir?

More time elapsed, maybe forty five minutes. I saw my van being moved and asked the agent what they were doing with it?

"It is going to the x-ray machine now."

I watched the large white machine slowly move up and down the vehicle. I asked the agent why I never got stopped in Temecula at the checkpoint there?

"Marijuana is legal there. It's different here in Texas," he explained.

Another fifteen minutes...  An agent finally walked in and quite sullenly told me to grab my license, I was free to go. He looked very disappointed.

I walked over to the van and looked in the back. "Check everything out and see that it is in order. We don't want to hear about it later."

It all looked okay. The dog handler came over and told me not to blame the dog, he was just doing his job. A false read.

I'm thinking to myself, don't blame the dog, who's blaming the fucking dog? He's worried that I am harboring bad thoughts towards his canine? I blame you, the government, who feel that everybody who drives east on the Interstate 10 somehow is surrendering his or her constitutional right not to be stopped and searched without probable cause and gets the pleasure of having a dog crawling through and around their car and jumping all over their effects.

I'm blaming the Supreme Court, who have shit all over the constitution and the bill of rights and allowed the police apparatus to assume that everybody is a suspect in their stupid drug war. A Border Patrol that sets up permanent installations far from the border, positioned to ensnare the unwitting motorist with a joint, a task far removed from their stated purpose.

The dog was the last one I was blaming. In fact he was the only decent person there.

It was now 9:30 at night. I had lost valuable time while engaged in my government's dog and pony show. I had two more hours to drive to Fort Stockton. When I got there all the hotels were booked. I looked in my wallet, the wallet that had been untended in the car. Was it just me or were there now two hundred dollar bills missing? I guess I'll never know...

I was nervous and made a phone call, woke up a friend. He said that the dog reaction story was actually a ruse or pretext, it was my California plates that caused the stop. I really don't know.

The man at the Holiday Inn said I needed to drive two more hours to Ozona but they might be sold out too. I actually had a lot of adrenaline now and probably could have driven all night. But I didn't want to cut it to thin or have an accident. I had read earlier about a tow truck driver dying after hitting a deer and I thought I better stop.

Finally found a fleabag motel owned by bangla deshis or maybe pakis, certainly not Indians speaking hindi, these folks skin a different color, almost blue. Very funky place but there was a bed and that is what I needed at that point.

I layed down in bed and immediately started itching, oh shit, bed bugs. Texas was rolling out in all its splendid lone star glory, my nightmare was returning true to form. I quickly fell asleep.

To be continued...