Tag Archives: travel

They Didn’t Learn it at Home: they learned it everywhere

I have recently seen a spattering of high school and college kids getting caught on cameras saying and doing racist stuff. The public reaction is most often shock and horror, which is appropriate, and then there is this accusation that this is surely an indicator of nefariousness among the adults who raised these kids. I hear “They must be learning that stuff at home”.1_multipart_xF8FF_5_chimney rock 007

Maybe not.

When it comes to ignoring, dismissing, or disparaging the experiences or ideas of black people in America, that message is taught in the air. No one needs to be at the chalk board. Just like a child learning to walk, if left alone, they will figure it out.

The truth is that very intentional steps need to be taken in the home for a child to NOT learn the messages of assumed black inferiority, or more to the point, the inherent message of white superiority.

The idea that white is the default setting of all things America, be it citizenship, relatability, models of behavior, or representatives of corporate or skilled positions is built into how we go about our daily lives. Yes there may be, and increasingly are, representations of “diversity” throughout our environment, but they are very much just that- diversity. They aren’t the norm or the default but rather representations of the deviance from that norm. There is whiteness and then there is all that other stuff we like to sprinkle into the white pool and we call it diversity. Many of us may love diversity, but really we see it as extra. When all things are left to themselves, they float and rest in whiteness. So much so that it needn’t be named or acknowledged.IMG_6422

Because of this anything outside of white is a thing and people react to “things” in all sorts of ways. Some of us don’t really think we have “things”, as in cross-fit is my “thing” or saving the whales is my “thing”, and those of us who think we don’t have one tend to dismiss the “things” of others. I may think extreme attention to physical fitness is a distraction from things that matter, like literature, and if I am that sort of person, I might even tell jokes about cross-fit (the other day I tried to kill a roach by spraying it with Axe body spray, now the roach is named Blake and it won’t shut up about cross-fit). That would be a bias and we all have them, and we should keep them in check. Keeping our bias in check is not being overly sensitive, it is being appropriately sensitive.front gate arch

When it comes to race, this default setting of white in America means that anyone or any time blackness, or race at all, is brought up, it immediately registers as a “thing” and we tend to react accordingly. Some are into it, some dismiss it, but is not the norm. Those that mock things they aren’t into generally, will likely mock those who complain about the killing of unarmed black people because race politics aren’t their “thing”. Those who generally ignore things that don’t interest them, will likely just ignore those who claim gerrymandering intentionally suppresses the black vote, because making politics a race issue isn’t their “thing”. And then there are those who, like puppies, get excited about every”thing” and jump out to join a march or rally or just a conversation about whether or not the Oscars have been whitewashed with the same uninformed fascination I might give to excavating shipwrecks along the Outer Banks. That isn’t really my thing but it sounds cool.

Realizing this will help us understand why kids do stupid things regarding race. Understanding this is the first step in changing. And we do in fact need to change. Because America does not need to be white. America has never been a geography or system where only white people live and work. Those who aren’t white deserve full recognition and that recognition should go so far that it is assumed and need not be called out- but we are a long way away from that.

That is the goal and we cannot get there by skipping the in-between parts. That would be like running the first and last mile of a marathon but not all those pesky miles in between. Though I would argue that this is what American has historically done. Every time we start running the marathon of race (see what I did there?) we get a little bit tired and skip all the way to the finish line and just ignore race as if it is suddenly irrelevant. And when we do this without truly changing the default setting of whiteness, what we really do when we ignore “race” is ignore the people and ideas and issues that aren’t white. When we ignore race, deny its relevance, or simply do nothing, we let the environmental default do the teaching for us. We are left to the messages sent by television, peers, music, peers, schools, churches, or even just soccer teams.

And when the default is whiteness, and the default goes unchallenged and unchanged, that is what racism is.

So we have to fight that. We begin by teaching that all people have value and none of that value is based on pigmentation. That is mile 1 of 24. Mile 2, and I think most, but definitely not enough of us have been at least this far, is that skin color, that thing we call race, isn’t really a biological thing. Skin does not make anyone fast or slow, smart or dumb, lascivious or prude. Melanin, hair texture, face structure, none of those things are related. Got it. But then comes miles 3 through 23. I think mile 3 is listening to black people. I don’t mean watching black people in order to be entertained, because America has always done that, but I mean when black people, or really all non-white people but I think we have plenty to chew on if we actually invested any real time and effort listening to African-Americans or Native-Americans. Listening not talking. Again, and I really do need to repeat this, because listening to is not the same as listening about. Plenty of messages out there are about black people, I am saying the work of mile 3 is listening directly. Then next maybe asking- but not sharing. You see most of us, because it is such a human thing, after asking one little bit and hearing a little about someone else, we then share a boat load about ourselves. I know I’m a criminal offender in this regard. But white people shouldn’t do that here. We have more than 300 years of sharing all and everything about white America, we can afford to shut up for a little bit.

There is a lot more to do after that but we have never gotten even this far. There is still plenty of asking, and voting, and investing, and teaching, and repairing, and then probably more investing, before we get to mile 24 and we can start “ignoring”. I’m not sure how long that will take but I do know that marathons aren’t run naturally. What I mean is no one just sat there and waited their time and found themselves having completed a marathon. They had to train and run. We will never get to race not mattering in America by just waiting for it to happen. We cannot just wait for all the older runners to age and pass away. All this does is clear the course but it doesn’t run anywhere. And we all get fat waiting.

If America is a set of ideals, and laws, bound by a physical geography, there need not be any real place for skin color in that definition. If we stick with what America is or should be striving to be, or claiming to be, it also need not be defined by a language. Or a religion. Because the ideals of liberty and justice open to all, should in fact mean all Americans. But historically it has meant white Americans. Meant it so much that we at some point just stopped saying it out loud. But we never changed the default

So when high school kids get caught on video making light of lynching or saying racist things, we shouldn’t act so surprised. We shouldn’t assume that something extra nefarious is going on in that home. It could just as easily be that nothing about race is going on in that home. And that is exactly what doing nothing will get us.

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Norton Simon Museum: ballet will hunt me down and find me

The grandstands for the Tournament of Roses Parade are set up on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, CA right in front of a building with the name Norton Simon on the wall. That unremarkable building is full of remarkable art.

VanGogh,  Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, old, new (ish), Europe, Asia, and American.

But mostly they have Degas.

I’ve seen the Little Dancer Aged 14 many times in several places, but I hadn’t previously seen her with all of her class, instructors, the corps de ballet and a bunch of ladies in bathtubs. The Norton Simon Museum has three rooms of Degas and ballet.

I didn’t know they had these there.

I often joke that I spend the majority of my life driving and the majority of that driving is to ballet classes. I don’t dance, but I have a little dancer not yet aged 14, and even when I left her home, I cannot escape.

So to balance out the lady dancey dance I ventured out on a personal quest to find artistic depictions of true manliness.

The European artists had quite the offering in every period and across several genre but when it comes to athletic fopishness and swagger, the Asian artists were the clear winners.

The French did not take the loss well.

But in my search for artistic manliness, meaning a little bit of stylish swagger expertly and intentionally executed in oil marble or ink, I found a little extra bit of manliness that wasn’t so pretty.

Like how the painting below done in the 1500s features two older men plotting the “seduction” (word on the placard) of a younger woman and after failing, accuse her of adultery for which she is condemned to death, only to be saved at the last moment.

Then, in another room, where I see Adam and Eve portrayed as the original man and women together, I turn around and see the natural next step where the man is sexually assaulting a woman.

There were additional depictions of assault that I have chosen not to post.

I will add that the Asian artists scupltures while much more explicit also appeared much more consenting.

But most of this art was old- from the past, and art museums aren’t just about what is on the walls.img_4326

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Admirable Insanity: Robolights

Kitsch and art are parallel lines that never cross. Some artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and I could even argue Klimpt, sort of brush up against that line, but the whole genre of pop art acts as a buffer between the two making absolutely sure that those lines do not cross.

Unless you are in Palm Springs.

Imagine the Watts Towers but replace the Antoni Gaudi influence with Tim Burton. Just as the Watts towers are a backyard monument built “just because”, so is Robolights. But Robolights has a bazillion more Christmas lights- and toilets.

Approximately 30 years ago Kenny Irwin Jr. started building giant robots in his backyard. He was 9. Since then he has graduated art school and inherited the family house, but he has never stopped building. When I say never stopped, I mean I am unsure when he stops to eat because this place is the macabre junkyard version of kudzu. It is thick, ever growing, and covers everything.

When I first visited the place and posted pictures online, the most common questions were what and why? Neither can nor should be answered. Robolights is the kind of place that must be experienced not explained.

I can tell you that there is a feature touting itself as one of only two microwaved microwaves in the world, which would be Kitschy, but while viewing the torched appliance you are standing on a path lined by thousands of little skulls flanked by microwave legged robots under an archway holding up a roller coaster of shopping carts filled with aliens.

Everywhere you look something is spinning and flashing and probably features a skull or a toilet. And it is all in some dude’s backyard in residential neighborhood. Which on paper makes this completely kitsch. I am arguing that it is not.

When Duchamp presented a urinal as artwork it was initially rejected but is now considered by many as a foundational piece of 20th century art. Comic books aren’t necessarily taken seriously, but when Lichtenstein paints one single comic frame and blows it up larger than life, collectors pay millions. It is hard to say where the line really is.

Typing out descriptions of Robolights just doesn’t work. I’m not saying its on par with the Mona Lisa, but writing that there is this painting of an acceptable looking woman who is kinda smiling but not really, would not do justice to DaVinci. Same idea here. I’m not sure Kenny Irwin is really “saying” anything, but I’m also not convinced Leonardo had some grand message when he painted Mona.

What I am definitely saying is that we should all go see the Louvre, and Kenny’s house.

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Foundation Room: worth the dry cleaning

Every now and again​ Yelp serves up more than you expect. I picked the Foundation Room because it was the closest thing to my location with an acceptable number of stars.  What I got was almost enough to inspire an arson laden revolution against Olive Gardens world wide. But do not fear, as I think your endless bread sticks are at least one Yelp dollar sign into safety. I don’t think I could rile up the masses for anything past 2.​

The Foundation Room is the restaurant lounge attached to the back of Houston’s House of Blues. I guess this makes it a chain establishment, which should offend me, but it didn’t. The decor could be best described as South Asian rock n roll in red and orange, the service was casually attentive, and the food was the best I’ve had in Texas. I would need to investigate the locations in Vegas, Chicago, or New Orleans to see if the ambiance is dictatorially scripted, but after testing Texas I might be up for finding out.

I chose to eat in the lounge with the live music, versus the back room with booths, making it my own fault that the table was at knee level. Moving sauce covered chops from plate to mouth without dripping on your suit is hard with a table that low. My scientific testing says it is impossible.

But whoever that no-name, or maybe not-yet-name was, up there singing Jill Scott and D’angelo covers, made the suit splatters worth it.

 

 

Yelp didn’t tell me I would hang out way past my bedtime, or long after the check was paid, just because I liked being there. I’m not sure I have ever loitered past paying at an Olive Garden.img_1069

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Texas Toast: and brisket

When asked about food I easily fall into an oft repeated diatribe against chain restaurants. Occasionally I wonder if I am being unfair. But then I remember that I have not once, not ever, seen a pickup unloading stacks and stacks of mesquite logs at a Chili’s, or T.G.I. Friday’s, or any other of those other places that list “smokehouse” items on their menus.

So when I recently visited Texas I did not eat at Texas Roadhouse, but rather my brother took me to an actual Texas roadhouse.

Ribs and brisket, side of slaw, potato salad. The food was great, the company was even better (because it was my brother), and while we comfortably ate outside in November, two guys were adding mesquite logs to the stacks that surrounded the building. At the Pit Room in Houston, the wood decor isn’t decor, it is fuel for the fire. No shtick, just barbecue.

So moving forward, should you want to know how I feel about eating out, just know that I no longer have any reservations about my explicit, overt, stated-up-front, bias against those share-holder liable staples of mall parking lots nation wide with their dispassionate standardized menus and liquid smoke injected ribs.

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Kicks, Cars, and the Green Book: Route 66

I first knew the song thanks to Depeche Mode, my Dad probably knows it thanks to Chuck Berry, most kids today probably know it from Pixar’s movie Cars, but the song Route 66 first hit the charts in 1946 thanks to Nat King Cole.

I live on Route 66.

I get both my kicks and my groceries there.IMG_0374

Touted as Americas first interstate, Route 66 stretches from Chicago to
Santa Monica. Oddly enough, for a road that stretches across so much of the country, most of that road goes through nowhere.IMG_6160 My particular stretch of that old road is the kind of no where that filled up with people yet never quite became a place. There isn’t a solid there here.

When driving through nowhere you best mind the gas gauge.IMG_6165

Back before the Prius cars needed lots of gallons for very few miles and this meant pulling over and filling up in places like Cucamonga California- or Barstow. Because of that long gone need, or maybe somehow in honor of it, my little stretch of this road is frequented by all sorts of cars you don’t see every day in other places.

I live where old cars go after they die.IMG_1699

When me and my little one stopped by the only museum in my city, they had one artifact that surprised me. They had a Green Book. I had heard of it, known what it is, but never seen one. It wasn’t in great shape and was framed.IMG_6153

The Green Book was something like a AAA travel guide for Black people. This was necessary because, much like planning out where to plug in a Prius, in those days you had to plan out your pit stops, and only certain pits would do business with Black people. The Green Book listed the places a Black family could fill up, eat, or stay the night.

Which I knew but didn’t really think about in California. Not that California is immune to that sort of thing entirely, but sometimes in my mind, back when stuff like that was in its hey-day, California didn’t even exist.

Sometimes my mind is wrong.IMG_3176

Anyone out there know where I can get my hands on a copy of the Green Book? That little museum (which has the friendliest docents I’ve ever met) could use a better copy.

Green Book

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Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: aptly named Antelope Island

To my knowledge there are no homes where this buffalo roams and I did indeed see antelope play.IMG_8952

The best part was I didn’t have to go far to see these animals. I didn’t even have to get out of my car- but I did get out of my car. My wife and children were screaming, “What are you doing? You are going to die! That thing is going to eat you!”

None of those things happened (the dying that is. I really did get out of the car).IMG_8969

They didn’t happen because while I can be categorized as a tourist, I’m not exactly the kind you call stupid. At least not when it comes to interacting with wildlife- though I have been known to metaphorically poke bears.IMG_8877

First, I know both bison and antelope are herbivores, and second, I didn’t try to touch anything while staying far enough from the animal and close enough to the car, to run if I had to.

I’m not new to this game.

Though I did see some guy in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off creeping up through the grass toward the buffalo. he didn’t die either though I did think he was stupid. I didn’t say it out loud, just in my head, which was still not nice despite its truth.IMG_8917Antelope Island is out in the middle of the Great Salt Lake but you can drive there on a causeway. You can see it from the city but not many people go there. Which makes it kind of nice.

If you don’t want to be around a lot of people.

I don’t mind people but I love expanses. Vistas. I love being in the center of everything or the middle of nothing. It is those in-betweens that I don’t like, speaking geographically not ideologically.

Though the extremities are where you normally find sleeping bears to poke.

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