Sunday, July 26, 2020

Floods and Shoes

This time of year – for the past few years at least, I am usually filled with anticipation and excitement. Things are about to happen and I am like a little kid who knows he’s about to go to Disneyland. Okay, maybe not quite just like that, but all hyperbole aside, things that I look forward to all year are about to pop off. The big one is my big motorcycle ride that centers around the annual quintessential motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD – the ride to and from, much more than the actual time spent in Sturgis, is always the highlight, at least since the my second time there. The spectacle of the event, the Mecca that is Sturgis used to be the highlight, it was the first two times I went. But not much changes there year to year, really, I still go because it’s like a hub; “been there, done that” and I get the t-shirt every year.

There are other things coming up as well. My newest grandson celebrates his first birthday in less than a week, a brand new fall semester at California State University, Sacramento (Sac State) is only about a month away and some of my own, personal, annual milestones of significance are also on the horizon. All of that, however, is clouded by a global pandemic, by COVID-19. Everything is different now and, while all of our lives have been significantly altered, I am not complaining or joining any “for” or “against” movements. It’s a fucking virus, it doesn’t care what we think, if we believe in it, if we don’t, whatever – it will do what it can, it will flow where it can, just like water does. My job is to make sure it doesn’t wash over me or mine… I’ll come back to that later.

My ride to Sturgis this year was going to be epic, much more epic than normal, much more epic than it is still going to be, despite the pandemic. I would already be gone more than 10 days, more than several thousand miles and, by now, on my way up to Nova Scotia. I don’t ever firmly nail these things down (which helped when the pandemic hit – no reservations to “manage”), so I’m not sure exactly where I would be, but this was the “coast-to-coast, border-to-border,” 10,000(ish) mile summer. It was (and still is) a bucket-list ride that would be in progress right now. As is, it will be just another two-week, 5,000 mile, five or six state “normal” Sturgis ride. I know, it still sounds epic – it is – and, to more than a few, perhaps a bit reckless, even stupid, but it’s my job to keep the water from washing over me and I can do that. However, there is more to say about that, too – and I will.

All of those other things and more – not just my things, but everyone’s things – have been affected by the pandemic, and that is true whether or not one “believes in it” or not. (Just as an aside: Writing that, and it’s not the first time, always strikes me as odd. It’s tantamount to writing whether or not one believes in science.) Of course, those who are discounting some or all aspects of it are more angry about the ramifications, about their “rights” being taken away, but we’re all, graciously or not, suffering. Some have been refusing to suffer, refusing to deprive themselves of the comforts our society has built, refusing to believe the science, and the results are beginning to accumulate. One of those results is one of my closest friends who is in the hospital fighting for his life right now. He is not a “science-denier” or a hoax-believer, but to say he was taking to virus seriously would be false – he was not being careful. Many of our friends have not been and at least one other has been hospitalized, though in his case the severity is not as bad – he is recovering. Both are very social people and have been, gradually, as the weeks went by, more and more social. They are not the only ones.

My employer, Sac State, and the entire California State University system, made the decision early on to migrate the majority of our classes to online, distance learning. There are some courses that must take place on campus, in a classroom or, more likely, a lab, but all of my sections will take place virtually. There are obvious advantages, but they evaporate when compared to the collaborative learning environment that is lost. Add in the additional (and in my position, unpaid) work required to migrate curriculum to an online environment, and all of the commute/parking/flexibility advantages don’t even rate. However, the water will not flow over me or my students and despite being adjacent to the American River, there will be no flood of any kind at Sac State.

The pandemic will affect all those other things I look forward to, as well. However, for those who might be following the news, for those in the “biker” (I hate that term and what it represents, but it’s about to prove itself useful) community, the “controversy” over whether or not to hold the 80th Annual Sturgis Rally is over, the rally is on and that is that. There are many reasons why is was not cancelled, the main one is that is not a discrete “thing.” There is no singular “Sturgis Rally.” There is the town of Sturgis and it participates. There are the various campgrounds, like the Buffalo Chip, and they participate. There are other local municipalities, like Deadwood, and they participate and finally there are various organizations and they participate, too, but no one “owns” it. It grew organically over the years and is a regional event, a festival not unlike Mardi Gras – it can’t be wholesale “cancelled.” Only the South Dakota governor could do that and she was not inclined to. And even if she did, the bikers were coming anyway.

Many organizations did withdraw, many vendors did as well, but many, like the City of Sturgis, after much deliberation, decided to participate. As I said, the bikers are coming anyway, the city does not have the authority to “shut down” the city and, by participating, not only collects a ton of money, it also pays for and institutes regulations and controls, including an increased law enforcement presence. The control this year is greater and includes pandemic-related safety measures, but I predict that many if not most of those will be ignored. Because the demographic consists of a lot of freedom-loving, hoax-believing, science-denying “bikers.” Not all of them, certainly not me, but a lot. Am I riding into a hornets’ nest – or a flood?

Yes… and no; I can protect myself and I will, but the how is not the point of all of this. Because the reality is that if everyone did the simple shit and kept their spit to themselves, we would be able to do most all the things. Almost all of them. Those who are saying that the virus is so small it will pass right through masks are either ignoring that viruses don’t travel that way (they need a vehicle and the vehicle, in this case, is spit, water droplets that are very small but too big to get through masks) or they are ignorant. Pick one. The same goes for the distance – six feet appears to be the magic number where those heavier tiny spit particles fall out of the air before making their way into someone else’s mouth, nose or eyes. It might seem kind of gross that y’all been living your life catching other people’s spit all day every day, but you have. Deal with it. That, and transfers from your hands to your face (mouth, nose and eyes) is how you catch most illnesses. They, like this one, are preventable. But first you have to believe it’s real.

I have friends and family who are concerned that I am going to a place where so many others who are not concerned are congregating. I get it. I am fortunate in that my experience with Sturgis and the attitudes of the “biker” population will help me with avoiding certain over-populated areas and I will certainly wear an N95 mask when I cannot avoid them. Furthermore, and I actually made this decision pre-COVID, I’ll only be there for four nights and only three of those will be officially “rally” nights. The five days there and the five days back are not going to be an issue – staying away from others while on the road is easy – and it is what I seek while on the road anyway. As far as the Sturgis crowds, the spectacle and all… I enjoy observing, “people-watching,” but I’ve never been comfortable “in the mix.” I’ve seen enough tits, drunks and shiny stuff to last a lifetime, I won’t be missing a thing if I never set a foot in downtown Sturgis, Deadwood, Keystone or any of the other “hotspots” (and I never go to the campgrounds anyway).

These are a lot of words that probably don’t much matter. I want my friends to take this shit seriously. I want the so-called “bikers,” to continue to love their freedom, to question authority, to remain non-conforming but to not ignore reality when the flood is coming. And I want that for others, too. This is not and should not be a political issue, it is and should only be a medical one. Once “sides” started getting taken, everyone started losing. If you think a mask is controlling you, if that is the ground you’ve decided to stand on, you already lost. Your fucking cell phone has more control over you than a mask or the government ever will (except you do know the government can access that, too, right?), but you’ll never give that up, will you? I know, I know… it’s really hard to be consistent in the ever-changing world. Every time you turn around you’ve become a hypocrite all over again. Well, maybe now is a good time to talk about shoes and how well they fit and whether or not y’all should lace them up and wear them. Some shoes work better in floods than others and not all shoes are waterproof.

Thursday, July 09, 2020


As I continue to collect years, the number of notable annual dates, particular days of the year that are personally meaningful for whatever reason, continue to increase. So, too, are those dates that once were, but no longer are. When I was much younger, my birthday was very important – in fact, in terms of personal annual occurrences, that day was the only one that held any special meaning to me for the first 15 or 20 years of my life. Nothing else that I remember today holds any special place in my memory from first very memories to around 1980(ish). And, truth be told, I’d prefer to just forego all occurrences of December 6th in the future. Of course, that day will not go away – my 59th December 6th (my 58th birthday) is just a few months away.

As the years have ticked by, other dates have become important to me as well. I was married on Feb. 7th, 1987. I have three boys, each of whom has a birthday. I was divorced sometime in 1990 (I don’t remember the exact date, but there was one), I bought my first new car, bought a house, kids first days of school, graduations, deaths – all have a footnote in my personal history, many are attached to a particular date and even those that do not have a specific date, a general time of year spurs a memory. Many of the older ones have faded in detail and magnitude, including the time-memory trigger (my first wedding anniversary is a good example, when February 7th comes around, I usually don’t even think about it), but they are all still part of what makes me who I am.

It seems that this time of year brings up a host of more important and relatively recent anniversaries. I got married again in on July 12th, 2012 and that divorce was final on July 9th, 2014 – six years ago today. I remember that, still, because the marriage and ensuing divorce was fairly recent and it was such a disaster right from the start. And it was a disaster I not only should have seen coming – I did see it coming, and I did it anyway. I don’t often wish I could “undo” mistakes, but that was certainly one of them. However, I did learn a thing or two, and among the lessons learned actually paid off just about a year ago – another “anniversary” of sorts. I dissolved an almost three-year relationship that was considerably more healthy than my marriage was, however, it was no longer a positive contribution to my life. The lesson? Love is not enough. It alone will not rescue a relationship. The time had come to end it, this time I did so before I did things that would become much more difficult to undo.

But there are other even more important anniversaries coming up. One of them was a direct result of the freedom I experience of severing that ill-fated marriage – my first excursion to the quintessential motorcycle rally know as “Sturgis.” Officially, “The Black Hills Motorcycle Classic,” in 2014 I went to the 74th annual for my very first time. It was a dream of mine since forever and from the ashes of that marriage rose a near-perfect alignment of the planets that gave me and my Harley the opportunity to go and celebrate freedom. My seventh consecutive Sturgis excursion begins in about three weeks. Although the COVID-19 pandemic will change that experience significantly, the ride there and back (which is at least as important, if not more so) will be largely unchanged and although the four days I plan to be there will be muted, I should be able to ride the Black Hills and keep to myself.

There are two other anniversaries that are much more pivotal. They are not likely to be forgotten even though one of them I don’t directly remember. The first is October 17th, 2000 and the other is August 6th, 2004. The first, almost 20 years ago, is a day that nearly ended my life. In fact, it should have – not could have, should have. Due to a lifestyle will be explained by that second anniversary, I was involved in a wreck that put me in the hospital with major life-threatening injuries for three months, almost half of which I was in a medically induced coma. I don’t remember most of about six weeks of my life and what I do remember is nothing short of weird. The accident was my fault and I am profoundly grateful that I did not kill or seriously injure anyone else. The second anniversary, coming up on 16 years ago, is the date I got clean for good. I have not ingested any mind or mood altering chemicals – no drugs or alcohol – for 5,816 consecutive days.

While all of these various anniversaries are important – not the least of which are my boys’ and grandsons’ birthdays – those two days almost 20 and 16 years ago literally made the rest possible. The almost four years between that wreck and finally getting my shit together were a kind of purgatory for me – it was the time between the beginning of the end and the beginning of the beginning. I got clean for about nine months in March of 2003 only to go backwards at the end of the year. During that time I experienced medical complications, physical rehabilitation, incarceration, residential drug rehabilitation and the beginning of furthering my college education. August 6th, 2004 was not a good day – I reported to jail to do some time on a probation violation only to report to another jail a week after being released to do some time on the charge that got me violated. When I was finally free sometime in late September of 2004, I was beat, pissed off and hopeless.

I was almost 42 years old and lucky to be live, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I was not and never have been suicidal, but I get how some can feel that kind of hopelessness. I had two choices – stay clean or violate again and go to prison. But I did not see how staying clean was going to get me to a place where I would ever feel “good.” I knew drugs would at least make me not care (they stopped making me feel “good” years before). And I also knew that the threat of going to prison alone would not work long-term. I had some recent recovery experience and some recent recovery success, so I tried again, not at all convinced it would work. Day after day, I did what I saw others doing and day after day, without my even noticing, things got better.

In the Spring of 2005, I returned to the local junior college with a plan. I need just that one semester to transfer to California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) as a junior in the fall. Before that spring semester was over, I was able to look back one day and notice it was a few days since I was angry about anything. While I might not have been “happy,” not being pissed off all day everyday was a monumental improvement. Being angry all the time was fucking exhausting. Also, being clean, focused and motivated had a huge impact on my grades. By the time I graduated from CSUS, I had achieved a couple of 4.0 semesters and my overall GPA at Sac State was 3.83 – I graduated magna cum laude in the fall of 2007. Considering I was asked to leave San Diego State in 1985 with a 0.7 GPA, it is clear that being “dumb” was not my problem. Being stupid was.

Since then, I have gone on to earn a MA at CSUS, advance to Ph.D. candidacy at Louisiana State University (LSU) before using my work there for another MA (a “failure,” but in the world of failures, one that comes with a lot of success). I have had the chance to add other anniversaries like that ill-fated marriage, its subsequent divorce, six and a soon-to-be seventh Sturgis the acquisition of not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six different Harleys and many other material items – “things” that I like. The intangibles are more important, however. By just staying alive, I now have four grandsons. However, my career is, perhaps, most notable. When I returned from LSU in the summer of 2015, I applied for a lecturer position at CSUS. While not the tenure-track professorship I planned to be pursuing originally, I am still teaching at the school that gave me the tools to go to LSU and do something I never in a million years dreamed possible – doctoral research at an elite R1 university. And now, for the past five years, I have been teaching at the same school that did so much for me. Add another anniversary to the list.