Muerte Las Vegas! …y muerte White Militias

NOTE: I’m publishing this a few months late because on the day that I wrote this, the Las Vegas massacre occurred when one of the portly white men mentioned below took out his insecurities on concert-goers. Because I didn’t want to appear to be taking pleasure in the murders that occurred that day, I saved my ire. Here it is now, though, uncut and and uncensored.

Jade and I left Los Angeles early in the morning and began our long journey home on I-15, through desert of eastern California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. The heat that hastened our retreat from LA also scorched us along this stretch, and the temperature never dropped below 100 after noon. Even along a major highway, the desolation of the desert was palpable, and we drove countless miles without seeing any fellow travelers and passing abandoned gas stations and homesteads, eerily preserved by the arid climate. Jade had never been to Las Vegas and demanded that we drive down the Strip, a request I ruefully acquiesced.

Vegas is a cartoonish nightmare, a collection of the purest elements of everything bad in the United States. Sunburnt tourists crowd wide streets covered with prostitute business cards in front of gaudy casinos, built by Donald Trump and Saudi Princes, which offer a topless show and steak dinner for $17.99, while failed comedians stave off suicide by telling sexist jokes on the street corners. Desperate used car salesmen and Mens’ Rights Activists push buttons on slot machines for hours, holding out for that one big win that will make them men again in endless gambling halls. In concert venues next door, every musician that had a hit ten years ago performs every Tuesday night, powered by a combination of formaldehyde and off-brand cigarettes. Beyond being a cultural wasteland infected by every disease that watching too much TV can give you, the city is also creating a real-life wasteland all around it, because, built for no reason on a patch of desert, it sucks both water and power from Lake Meade and the Hoover Dam nearby, starving the Colorado River and forcing Mexican farmers hundreds of miles downstream into destitution. Finally, after creeping along behind drunk 16-year-olds taking selfies outside the sunroof of the limosine their parents rented them for about 15 minutes, I cleansed myself by burning my clothes, spraying hand sanitizer into my eyes and vomiting into a trash can, then slammed on the accelerator, hoping the stench of cultural death wouldn’t linger too long on the car seat. After a few more sweaty hours of travel, we made our way to a South Utah national forest, hoping for a bit of respite and lower temperatures. And after we gained a few thousand feet on the desert floor, we were rewarded with sub-80 degree heat and the crisp smell of pine – but we weren’t alone in the forest.

On the turnoff to the forest service road that would be our camp for the night, we were greeted by a portly middle-aged man adorned in camo fatigues and brown and green face paint. Shrugging him off as an oddity, we found a level spot and settled down for the night, but over the course of an hour or two, a few dozen hummers, heavy trucks and ATVs packed with middle aged white men wearing camo and sporting assault rifles sped down the road past us: we had camped in the nest of a survivalist training camp. We slept through a tense night, and though we drove away the next day unharmed, the knowledge that a few miles away, insecure neck-beards in middle management were role-playing the end of the world with military-grade weapons pushed us to unease. They seemed friendly enough – the only one we had made eye contact with waved at us, and they kept to themselves – but did they know that we had just protested their brothers in fragility in the Bay? Could they see that Jade was a POC? National Forests are often remote, and this one was no exception. If the survivalists had wanted to make trouble, I didn’t have any cell service to call the police (Jade would not call the police), and were armed only with pocket knives and bear mace.

We survived through the morning though, and found solace in the deep ravines and incredible towers of Zion National park and took the longest hike we thought wise in the heavy heat. A few hours North, we finally found the land promised us by Pete Seeger: the Big Rock Candy Mountain (yes, a real place). We filled our water bottles in the lake of whiskey and took a few pictures as souvenirs, then moved east again. Bryce Canyon was only a few miles from our campsite, and we took a long driving tour over its ragged peaks and painted rock walls. We made friends with another couple, also traveling by truck camper, and kept pushing east, through the beautiful river gorges of Capitol Reef National Park, and further still through some rough backroads and into Colorado. Jade and I met with her close friend, Olivia, in Ouray, CO, and reminisced and relaxed at the closest thing that mountain resort town had to a dive bar, the Silver Eagles (nicknamed, ‘the dirty bird’ by locals), and pushed east again, over the continental divide for perhaps the 5th time on our trip and into the lower peaks of southeastern Colorado. A lesser-known National Park, the Great Sand Dunes, lies, down there, and we spent a day scorching our bare feet on hot sand and wading into a seasonal stream just below the incredible piles of sand.

Our last tourist stop before pushing through to Jade’s childhood home in Grand Island, Nebraska, was the memorial at Ludlow, far in SE corner of Colorado. From 1913-14, the miners at a number of coal mines in the area went on strike and set up tent camps near the now-defunct town of Ludlow. On April 20, 1914, after escalating tensions between the company thugs, national guardsmen (brought into pacify strikers), and the striking miners, company guards set up heavy machine guns at the edge of the camp and fired thousands of rounds into the tents, where the strikers and their families were sleeping. The miners shot back and were able to retreat into the mountains after several hours, but after the smoke cleared, 26 people, mostly women and children (including a 3-month old infant), lay dead. The United Mine Workers since erected a monument to those massacred, a solemn reminder of the fact that ‘class war’, not so long ago, was not whatsoever a metaphor.

It is interesting to juxtapose the struggle of the miners at Ludlow with the stupid confrontations of people like the survivalists we saw in Utah (note that the militia-types that took over an Oregon wildlife sanctuary office in winter 2015-16 were just found not guilty). Until the legalization and regulation of labor struggles in the LaGuardia and National Labor Relations Acts of the 1930s, the struggle of the American working class, especially when isolated in company towns near mines or logging camps, quite often had an armed component: strikes were routinely met with bullets and bombs from company thugs, which strikers had no choice to defend themselves against in a like manner. Now though, the image of armed people standing off against Federal forces conjures images of Waco, Texas, or survivalists at Bundy Ranch. The latter are universally middle-class men threatened by the political advances of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, and identify the cities and the interloping federal government of the enemy. The old Maoist strategy of the peasantry cutting off the cities has been lampooned in America: now the rural elites form into paunch-bellied militias and play soldier out in the mountains, while the Left has all but abandoned any concept of rural struggle.

After some pondering of these contradictions and a long drive across the all-too-familiar cornfields, we arrived in time for supper with Jade’s parents in Grand Island. We had survived 3 months and 10,000 miles on the road – we were home.

 

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Capitol Reef National Park, a little less known than others.

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Bryce Canyon. Nothing else like it in the US.

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The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Patrick is drinking straight from the whiskey lake.

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Las Vegas. Though not shown in this photo, the streets are filled with a level of garbage and moral compulsion that would have broken Jade’s camera.

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La Resistancia en California!

 

Our prolonged stay in the Bay allowed us to spend my birthday weekend attempting to “bash the fash.” However, after planning out our two hour voyage back to San Francisco on account of the state cancelling buses running near the protest area the night before my birthday in order to arrive, we received word that the rally had been canceled. Instead, the Patriot Prayer group (which holds vague undertones of white supremacy), announced that they would hold a press conference at Alamo Square, near the Haight-Ashbury area. Luckily for us, this allowed for easier travel from the East Bay, despite a twenty minute uphill climb.

 

We arrived early to a familiar protest sight of indigenous dancers and small gatherings of people from all walks of life and leftist political groups. Within a few minutes, we spotted some comrades sporting red roses and DSA shirts and witnessed someone get arrested for no apparent reason. However, about an hour after our scheduled arrive time, our fellow DSA members began wondering where the rest of their group was, as they had reported being on their way. We soon heard a loud shout of “DSA!!—your comrades aren’t being let in!” resulting in the most heated confrontation of the event. The SFPD, clad up in riot gear uniforms, had blocked off the street about a block away from the park. On the other side of the barricade, we could see large DSA red rose flags and a crowd of protesters trying to attend the main event. After minutes of shouting “Let them in!” and attempting to forcefully move the barricades ourselves, the security further tightened, and the pigs lined their barricades with bicycles and began pushing us back toward the park. Eventually, they agreed to open up a barricade three blocks away to let everyone in, but by the time this happened, it was announced that the press conference in Alamo Square had also been canceled and that the white supremacist groups would be having indoor pop up press conferences around the city. Confrontation was thus avoided again, and we took to the streets in celebration.

 

After drinking a celebratory round with the DSA, we took a brief break from the political action on the streets to hang out in NoiseBridge Hackerspace with Blake. NB is a super cool space for people to create things and work on technological and hands-on crafty projects in an anarchist model, where all the means of production are provided at no cost. They have everything from laser cutters and woodworking stations to sewing machines and synthesizers, but we spent all of our time at the button making machine. In just a couple hours, we pressed out a variety of radical DSA buttons, including rose and sickle, Asian hand DSA symbol, and the catchy new slogan which you will have to ask Blake about (hint: Nazis done). We then scoped out some cheaper bars to conclude my best birthday memories thus far.

 

The following day brought us back into the political scene, as we joined in the Bay Area Rally Against Hate in Berkeley to protest yet another gathering of self-proclaimed white supremacists. Thousands gathered at UC Berkeley for your typical hype up chants and speakers from a variety of groups before taking to the streets again in attempt to meet the enemy. To nobody’s surprise, the racist groups had relocated to an indoor location right next to the public park where they originally had planned to gather. Upon marching to the building, the crowed stalled and witnessed the state security defending the doors to the building, as riffs of “Which Side Are You On?” lingered in the air. It is also crucial to note that we were stopped directly in front of the anarchist juggalo group, “Struggalo Circus” and their horrendous music (plz donate to their online campaign to send them to DC even though they already met their goal). However, things started to get fuzzy as we caught word that the crowd of anarchists at the front of the march were going to the park that was barricaded off, and the Socialists couldn’t make up their minds whether or not to follow them. After waiting in the heat for what felt like years, we ended up masking up with wet bandannas (tear gas had been threatened by the Berkeley PD) and walking around the block in the opposite direction of the park. By the time we reached the park, all the action had already gone down, and the worst of the white supremacists had already trickled out of the building and faced the anarchy. To be honest though, I was severely disappointed with this turn of events. Firstly, the anarchists clearly looked like they were having more fun, as they had managed to surpass the police barricades with ease so that they could have some occupy the Nazi’s would-be stomping ground. Secondly, had the rest of the march followed, we all could have been there for the action in a true show of solidarity. By leaving the anarchists to fend for themselves and dividing the large group amidst all the action, we ended up with salty liberal news headlines that only focused on the violence committed by a small group of anarchists against one racist dude, while declaring all antifascist protesters as equally violent as the racist hate groups themselves. Not only did these media reports totally ignore the other 7000 peaceful protesters who were just as agitated and hold the same antifascist ideology as those who were scrutinized for throwing punches, but it allows for space to completely ignore the fact that fascists have been coming out in public, seeking legitimacy and threatening the lives of so many people. Despite my own saltiness and vows to be an anarchist next time, we had another good post-celebration with the DSA and some hella good vegan sandwiches before departing from the (now) Nazi-free Bay.

 

While we are still decompressing from all of the awful media pieces and analyses of the Berkeley protest and mainstream perceptions of “antifa,” we have since found a home in brutally hot Los Angeles. Our journey south began with a trip to the beach in Santa Barbara, which Patrick thoroughly enjoyed while I dried out and got a headache from the sun. However, BevMo pulled through, and I was able to enjoy Imperial cerveza en la playa to commemorate my two year anniversary of flying to Costa Rica. We then suffered through a sweltering hot night in the hills northwest of Santa Barbara before making it down to LA, which is just as hot.

 

To start off the LA experience, we shot over to the nearest shabu shabu in Koreatown, then hiked up to the Griffith Park Observatory, which overlooks the entirety of the city. It was a truly astounding view, but we could not finish the hike on account of the heat and opted to read about the planets and geology things I already knew (and which Patrick did not, despite having taken the exact same Astronomy course as I did at Drake) inside the observatory (also fun). We then beat the rush hour traffic over to the LA Catholic Worker, which has been an incredible experience on account of their generosity of letting us park in their driveway and help out with all of their hospitality the past two days. Last night, we joined in on “choir practice” with wine and whiskey, as we belted out a round of “City of God” and “I Saw the Light,” along with other non-Catholic favorites. We were then convinced to stay for their liturgy, which brought me back to some not so great times at Catholic school, but ended up being the most lively mass-type event I had ever been to, as the homily consisted of a lesson to not always listen to authority and to take collective action as people to bring justice to the world (classic CW). The night concluded with meeting all the cool Catholic Workers over dinner and taking a shower for the first time in what felt like centuries.

 

We were then up early this morning to help out with the hospitality, which involved preparing and a meal for about 1000 people at the Catholic Workers’ Hippie Kitchen on Skid Row. The whole process took about six hours, but it was done efficiently with lots of volunteer help and expertise. Despite the brutal heat, it was great to be back in a familiar zone of community interaction and involvement. We spent the rest of the day sweating, walking around Little Tokyo (especially Daiso), and eating really good food, including Mexican/Asian burritos and vegan froyo. While our time in LA has been spent well, we are definitely ready to hit the road again, just to get out of this terrible heat heat. Big Rock Candy Mountain (aka Socialism), here we come!

 

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DSA flags arrive at the SF march!

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John Noble, this is for you.

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Patrick: all wet in ocean

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La cerveza de Costa Rica en la playaaaaa

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Not mentioned: Hot-ass walk on Santa Monica beach to pier

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Not impressed by Hollywood capitalists

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Impressed with view of LA

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This is said view from Griffith Observatory hot-ass hike

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View of city from LA Catholic Worker 3rd story porch

The Poor Part of Silicon Valley

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The fire in Modoc Forest successfully put out by the firefighters that we fed and our pockets significantly heavier, Jade and I decided to resume vacation mode. After completing some overdue truck repairs, we fled the incredible heat of the Sacramento Valley and headed to the coast for some sea breezes and long hikes. Though unregulated logging companies had managed to destroy more than 90% of the old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, a handful of Redwoods in far NW California still stood, and we made camp a few miles south. Not wanting to miss a thing, we decided to walk the longest day hike in the forest. Though our calves regretted this decision about halfway through, the views of some of the last remaining old-growth Redwoods was unforgettable, and a highlight of the trip so far. Filled with awe and soaked in sweat, we snuck into a nearby campground and showered, then headed south again. The Bay was waiting for us.

Highway 1 is famous for its incredible views and sharp curves, and Jade and I ingested a full day’s worth in our loaded-to-capacity truck at about half the speed limit. We made it to the Bay and shot through to Palo Alto, cradle of Silicon Valley and a city welcoming to RV-dwellers. We camped on a busy thoroughfare with dozens of RV neighbors, paid $8 for a beer at a bar hosting a Google Corporation function in the back, and crashed. The next few days were spent searching out the cheap bars and reconnecting with a few of Jade’s friends – Eddy, a fellow survivor of Grand Island, NE, and aspiring student loan-sufferer at Stanford, and Blake, a roving communist currently fighting corporate control and government censorship of the internet at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. We toured the Museum of Capitalism, a traveling exhibition of the horrors of the free market, and sampled some of the finest faux meat we have ever tasted first at a Chinese Kitchen and then at a Vegan Soul Food joint. After hearing horror stories of rental prices $2500 for a one-bedroom is considered reasonable in San Francisco proper), we decided to commute in the rest of our Bay activities, and moved our parking spot to my new in-law’s driveway.

Christa and Jeremy (along with their lovely au pair, Andrea) raise their two young children in a small exurb called Orinda, and graciously opened up their home to us for a long stretch of our stay in the Bay. We talked politics and rent prices, cooked for each other, and generally hung out for a few days. In between the nights in Orinda, we managed to find vegan sushi burritos, visit the former HQ of the Black Panther Party (now a pastry shop), tour Berkeley’s campus, avoid the worst-smelling of the hippies in Haight-Ashbury, and generally see everything that was free to see in the Bay.

Seeking to work in food service a bit more, we met up with the Oakland Catholic Worker, a very well-organized group of Christian anarchists who had us help them with a grocery giveaway, one almost identical to one the Des Moines Worker runs but with 5 times the food and participants. Like every good Catholic Worker, the Oakland CW operates a hospitality/charity function but also regularly practices political activism, and we made plans to meet up at an upcoming demonstration. After the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, right-wing extremists were launching a new wave of rallies, including two in the Bay area in two days. Because Nazis don’t protest themselves, Jade and I are preparing for a weekend of antifascist demonstrating with comrades from the San Francisco DSA and Oakland CW. See you on the streets!

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The legacy of the Panthers lives on at ‘It’s All Good Bakery’. Kind of.

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Beach camp, twilight.

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Jade is on a pier, with a new hat.

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Patrick is also on a pier, and also has a new hat.

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These are some Redwoods that are alive.

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This is Jade on a Redwood that didn’t make it.

 

Fire Camp

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(above: actual picture of our campsite)

What Your College Degree Will Get You: Temp Jobs and Lots of Debt

We are proud and humbled to announce that our relentless job search finally paid off, and we were employed college graduates for eleven days. After a week of annoying the PeopleReady in Seattle (despite truck probs) to no avail, then suffering through the approximately 120 degree summer swelter of Redding, California – a town filled with sexist mechanics and sporting a YMCA that openly boasted of its contempt for the homeless and anyone  unable to pay ten dollars for a shower – a light became visible at the end of the tunnel. His name was Shan. He was thoroughly pissed off with literally everything about his job at PeopleReady. But he was ready for people.

Within a day of re-filling out all the paperwork by hand that we had already submitted online and watching safety videos about chemical safety notices, Patrick was lifting sheet metal for 8.5 hours, just as his sociology degree had promised. Meanwhile, I was reading a graphic novel biography of Malcolm X at the public library when Shan hit me up with an offer as well: Fire Camp was calling, and we had to go.

The Modoc July Complex was the largest wildfire system in the world by the time we arrived at camp on the evening of August 1. It was comprised of 72 fires in northeast California, and over two thousand firefighters from American Samoa to the Big Island to Alaska had been called in to aid in its containment. The drive up sent us through a smoky highway with a bright red sunset and fire red-lined setting, and when we arrived at Fire Camp, an even more dystopic scene came into view. Tents were scattered about the cleared area, and dirt was kicked up into the air with every step; firefighter units traversed the area from trailer to trailer, where goods and services such as laundry, first aid, and showers were provisioned as the world was literally going down in flames (it was a disaster area after all).

After struggling to find the check-in, we finally arrived at the trucks and trailers labeled “Zee’s Catering,” where we were quickly thrown into the not as literal fire of feeding thousands of people with a staff of approximately twenty-five. While Patrick got thrown onto the task of filling drinks, I was assigned to be “micromanaged to death” (RIP Louis) by running for the salad bar. At the time, it was a structure-less system where my already incoherent counterpart and I were expected to grab literally every ingredient for the salad chef, who refused to make backup salads, while also making sure salads didn’t run out, all while hundreds of people flocked into the food tent to eat. After three hours of that frenzy, we also had to chop fruit until 2:30am and were expected to be at work at 5am to serve breakfast the same morning, followed by a complete teardown and re-set up of the massive food tents and trucks so that we had more room to accommodate the growing number of firefighters.

Needless to say, I quickly discovered that the salad ladies’ inability to handle stress, combined with their severe lack of sleep always resulted in a loud shouting match of blame, misunderstanding, and asking me to get a manager to sort out every little issue. By the second day, I was more emotionally exhausted than physically exhausted despite the average three hours of sleep we had accumulated. But in a turn of both misfortune for them and fortune for me, the salad ladies had to take the weekend off to go to a funeral. As soon as their temporary replacements (Estevan, Trish, Steve, and David) rolled onto the scene with their radical idea of always having extra salads on hand, things magically began to work, with the exception of Kenny (some dude in charge of logistic stuff for firefighters) insisting that everything always needed to be refilled and the infamous breakfast incident where an entire table of food fell over while I laughed and ran away. It was around this time when I realized that my smooth and strategic days of running salads was coming to an end. The salad ladies would soon return with their shouting matches and emotional abuse. And so we vied for the only available option that would get us the goods: collective action.

As Patrick once mentioned, we had never experienced a situation where capitalists relied so heavily on our labor in our lives. With two brief conversations, I was quickly moved to the kitchen where I could serve food and wash dishes happily without being excessively yelled at for failing to do the work of three people within a system that didn’t exist in the first place. The company was so understaffed that they could have used my efforts just about anywhere. Our final thoughts were that if ever there was a place to conduct an effective walkout strike, this could be it. While that would require more long term organizing and working around/with more senior workers who swear company loyalty, if we ever find ourselves back at Zee’s, I can say it would definitely be worth the effort to receive higher wages and more healthy hours and work environments. While California’s minimum wage is $10.50, and we were paid both OT and double time for our 16 hour work days, the company was making approximately thirty dollars per meal, serving hundreds, if not thousands, of people per day and could definitely afford to reward its workers for giving up their entire lives for the four month fire season, considering we were literally living at work and being woken up by our managers at 4:45 in the morning (analysis brought to you partly by college degree, but mostly by common sense and reading books (i.e. not worth the debt)).

Organizing thoughts aside, Fire Camp became a lot more enjoyable with my new position, and things became less stressful as the fire became more contained and more people were sent home, making for smaller and shorter meal times. However, my favorite part of the experience came with my brief assistance at the drink station with Patrick and Alfonso, as we creatively labeled the juices, not limited to Purple Drank, Strazzzzzzzz, Ice-T (explicit), Sucka Punch, and 100% Not Guilty (OJ). The firefighters were amused, and many pictures were taken.

Eleven days later, our bank accounts have been replenished, the fires are over 90 percent contained, our bruises and blisters are half-healed, we are still not caught up on sleep, and I feel five years older. Yet we may just rejoin the Fire Camp scene next year, as it was an experience like no other that would allow us to not have to work for the majority of the year. Until then, we now depart to see some big trees and find places to park the truck camper in the Bay. Hit us up if you are in the area and have recommendations or want to hang!

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From Seattle, with Lenin.

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Too Many Activities for Wrinkles

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Amidst the flurry of repacking the camper, filling out applications for temp jobs, and watching Battle in Seattle, we settled into a rest stop halfway between Bellingham and Seattle to a truly tragic discovery: Wrinkles the sloth was missing! I shed many tears, cracked open a bottle of soju, and prepared to walk across the country back to Adventureland to win myself the jumbo version of Wrinkles in commemoration of our loss, but Patrick was quick to promise that he would bring Wrinkles back by the end of the road trip.

I still had my doubts. Wrinkles had been having a blast cruising through the mountains the past two months. Maybe he wanted to be free and ran away. At the same time, he was the mascot of the road trip. Therefore, no Wrinkles, no road trip. The instability was too much to bear. I was ready to roll into bed and give up on everything, when the landlord from the Buttercup (rental) house responded to our pleas. Before she could force the current guests to search for him, she informed us that the housekeeper in her employ had found Wrinkles!!! The journey to retrieve him now begins.

The housekeeper was out of the country all weekend, so we would have to wait until Monday to retrieve our beloved sloth. To help keep our minds off of our still raging despair, we took a stroll through the Japanese garden in Seattle and paid a visit to the VI Lenin statue, clad with blood-stained hands and some sort of wire around his neck. Even through such glory, the thought of Wrinkles floating around Bellingham kept me awake all night.

At long last, we made the trip back up to Bellingham on Monday and tried to be productive. As we struggled to figure out how the temp agency worked, we received this message:

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We quickly pulled into the garage of the rental and unlatched the armoire to find him: Wrinkles, saved at last, never to leave our sight again.

In other news, Patrick was quick to point out that we are currently living the conservative dream: we graduated from college, own our own home, which we bought with cash, and are relentlessly trying to get jobs while holding our family (sloth) at high value. With the grace of Xixi, we are now settled into our temporary home in the suburbs of Seattle, waiting on our temporary jobs to contact us. But no matter how frustrating the days of waiting have been, at least we have a sloth and not a soupy mess.

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Wrinkles has a problem.

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Jade has a friend.

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Wrinkles understands and supports the basic tenets of socialism.

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So does Patrick.

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As does Jade.

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Last sighting of Wrinkles before he disappeared. But we brought back Wrinkles!

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Out of the bag and into the street!

Non-Food Interlude, 1 of a Kind

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When Jade and I started this blog, we decided that we didn’t want to link to a GoFundMe or anything, and ask our friends and family for money so that we could travel and enjoy ourselves. We’re working intermittent jobs to sustain our travels, and that’s the way it should be.

However, someone recently asked us for a PayPal account so that they could send us some dough, so we thought we’d leave an email address connected to my account in case you happen to have extra money laying around and want to live vicariously through us.

I would suggest donating to great organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America, the International Workers of the World, or the Des Moines Catholic Worker before transferring anything over, but if you’ve already paid your dues, you can put bread in our jar via PayPal at stall.patrick@gmail.com.

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Meet the Suganumas (and the Jacobsens, and the Luthers): Reunion at Bellingham Bay

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Vancouver’s malls are more accommodating than their Walmarts, and we spent our last night in Canada between the Sears and a sporting goods store on a quiet street. Unwanted and underslept, we fled the Left coast of Trudeau’s neoliberal Northland and returned to the land of the free and free National Forest camping. Unfortunately, Google Maps failed us on the way to our camping spot and we were nearly stuck on private logging roads a handful of times on our way to our free camping spot. After finally finding a suitable spot, we settled down and spent the afternoon relaxing and preparing in Sin for our next adventure: Jade’s family reunion.

I had met Jade’s immediate family a few months earlier, and been wholly overwhelmed by their generosity and senses of humor, but the family reunion we were about to attend promised to be a touch more high-pressure than sharing drinks and jokes with her two siblings and parents. No fewer than 24 cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, uncles once removed, spouses, and partners were descending on the sleepy town of Bellingham, WA from places as far as Nebraska, Southern California, and Hawaii. An untold number of horrible comedies have been made about introducing the new boyfriend to large extended families, and even the whiskey and cheap beer we sipped the night before couldn’t stop my mind from conjuring worst-case scenarios. What if a religious aunt asked me when I last confessed? What if an industrious in-law demanded to know what sort of professional job I was going back to after our trip? What if they didn’t like my tattoos? What if the whole bunch simply found the idea of Jade bringing a white Iowan communist with ear piercings into their circle too ludacris and called the whole reunion off?

Fortunately, the generosity and good humor shown me by Jade’s parents, Guy and Deb, and her siblings, Adam and Sara, were matched only by that of her extended family. We spent the week exploring the Bellingham/Fairhaven area and sharing soup, crab, and poke (a Hawaiian traditional made of seasoned rice, salad, and raw fish). Bellingham is a quiet seaside town nicknamed ‘Twin Peaks’ (after the David Lynch series) by the locals and well on its way to transitioning from port town to an attractive tourist city. Jade, me, and the entire family toured the boardwalk and beachside park, took a ferry to nearby islands near Canadian waters (but saw no whales, to Jade’s great dismay), and generally relaxed in a longitude that doesn’t climb above 75 degrees this time of year while Nebraska and Iowa are in peak heat season.

After a few days of the small-city scene, Jade, her sister Sara, and I trekked to Seattle. After exploring the vibrant Japanese quarter and the import-only snacks it afforded us, we hit the sealine and walked up and down stalls peddling everything from magic trinkets to 12-dollar socks. Artwork we bought there reminded us of the open class revolt that had happened in that city in November of 1999, when delegates of the World Trade Organization were prevented from meeting by massive and confrontational protests, and posters on street signs reminded us keenly that the class struggle was still very much burning. The Transit-Rider’s Union had marched on City Hall a week early to demand a steep progressive municipal income tax to fund social services and curb creeping sales taxes, and local antifascists were hard at work mobilizing against far-right agitators. Seattle must be an impossible place to live, it seemed after our first few hours there, for despite the steadily climbing minimum wage and socialist city council member, rent for even the most modest apartments is topping New York City prices and gentrification, as ever, is pushing the poor further and further from the city center. We pondered these contradictions at one of the finest book stores we have visited so far, Left Bank Books, and hit the army surplus store to buy supplies for the struggles ahead (it was all too expensive, and I left without a thing).

We met an old Drake cohort of Jade’s, Xixi, along with her boyfriend Donald (no relation to the president, he informed us) at a hotel on the waterfront for a cocktail and caught up. She offered us a bathroom and shower spot at her condo (the greatest gift a friend can give in our situation), and we made plans to meet again in the coming weeks. Jade’s uncles were playing Hawaiian traditionals when we returned to Bellingham, and we turned in late with no plans to rise early. On the last day of the reunion, we shared a final supper and bid farewell. Sean Spicer had resigned from his White House post, and Jade and I went to the local PeopleReady temp agency to register for employment. The sun set on Bellingham Bay. It was time to get to work.

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Sara in Seattle.

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Debra (Jade’s mother) on the beach.

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Sara again, displaying her hula skills.

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Patrick sporting a bad haircut and mid-day grump.

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Actual photo of Seattle in November 1999.

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Who’s house?

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Jade and Patrick matched the other day. She pulls it off a little better than him.