Fear and Loathing on the Way to Galveston

A trip to the heart of the American Dream

The White Whale as captured by the author

I drove the 117 miles to Owensboro and arrived at Buddha’s in the early afternoon. This was the first leg of our journey to the heart of the American Dream. I gassed up the White Whale, a 2011 gas guzzling Nissan Maxima, the day before, and put together a road trip mix to listen to on our way down to Galveston. We were going to Galveston to recapture our past and rekindle a friendship that had cooled off over the years.

We had both been to Galveston before and though we had separate memories we were both eager to see her pretty sea wall, hear the sea wind blowing, and see her dark eyes glowing.  

I like to listen to the sounds of the 60s while on a road trip with nothing else on my mind but driving fast, grooving to the music, and avoiding the law if at all possible.

Daniel “Buddha” Hildenbrandt was one of my oldest friends and a spiritual adviser. He was also a teacher at the local community college. He taught communications and was fond of saying, “the main problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

We called him Buddha because of the pudgy nature of his physique. He just looked like a Buddha.

When I got to his place, we watched TV until about 5:30 pm when his daughter, Mara, arrived to fetch a key. After she left, we went out to get a bite to eat at Owensboro’s one and only Sushi place. I knew it was going to be a problem when I noticed the chefs behind the sushi bar were Mexican. I had the Hibachi Chicken. It was terrible.

We went back to Buddha’s place for drinks and more TV. I lucked into a Harold Pinter play on YouTube I’ve been wanting to see: “The Birthday Party,” starring Harold Pinter himself and Joan Plowright, in a BBC production. It was pretty good, but you have to be into Pinter to enjoy it. Buddha wasn’t so he went to bed to read while I watched the rest of the play.

The next day was Friday, October 2. I woke to the news that Donald Trump and Melania Trump both have contracted the coronavirus. Is that karma or what?

We are living in strange times. I was thinking of love in the time of Coronavirus. 1,000,000 dead and Donald Trump was still president. This was before the insurrection at the nation’s capital and Moscow had yet to declare war on Ukraine. The best was yet to come.

We packed and loaded the car. We had to make a pit stop in Evansville so Buddha could see his psychiatrist and check up on his meds. Apparently, I am traveling with a madman. That’s OK. We’re all as mad as hatters here. All the best people are.

We finally got on the road and headed west. I figured to push as far into Arkansas as I possibly could before stopping for the night. We made it to Hope, which was in the first ring of hell. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was getting there. We crossed the river Acheron into the abyss. The dreams weren’t broken down there, but they were definitely walking with a limp.

We checked into the Best Western Motel. The maskless clerk behind the desk kept asking us if we wanted one bed or two.

“Two beds, dammit!” Buddha muttered, shaking his shaggy head.

“Do we get a discount?” I asked. “AAA? AARP?”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a discount alright,” the clerk snapped.

“Well, what’s the rate?”

“$75.00 including tax. Do you want one bed or two?”

“Two beds, dammit!”

“OK! Can I see your credit card?”

“Any restaurants in the area?”

“You can Google them and they will deliver.”

“OK. What room?”

“105. Right around the corner.”

Buddha was already heading out the door on his way to the room on foot. I drove around. We unlocked the door and unloaded the car, then took a moment to get settled. Buddha went to get ice.

I Googled the restaurants in the area and found a Pizza Hut and a Dominos. I called both but got put on hold at both places. Well, what could you expect in a little town called Hope, deep in the Arkansas interior? Bill Clinton territory as it were. The town sucked just like Monica Lewinski. Finally, Dominos answered.

“I’ll have a medium Supreme delivered to room 105 at the Best Western Motel, please. When will you deliver it? One hour? Wow! Well, go ahead. We will just have to wait.”

While waiting for the pizza to arrive we made the drinks.

We had picked up some liquor a few exits back. We got separate liquors because Buddha always buys cheap booze and I can’t stand the whiskey he usually gets, so I get something a little better. Turns out he got Ezra Brooks and I got Jack Daniels.

“Well, hell, if I’d a known you were getting Ezra Brooks, I would have drunk your booze. Ezra Brooks ain’t bad!”

“No, you wouldn’t! You’re not drinking my booze! You just drink your Jack Daniels!”

“What the hell Buddha? You don’t think I would have replaced your whiskey? You mean to tell me you wouldn’t have shared?”

“I don’t want to have this conversation right now!”

“Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“OK.”

We drove the rest of the way in silence.

Meanwhile, back in the motel room, we decided to watch a little TV while waiting for the pizza. It was 9 pm EST and 8 pm Central. Buddha grabbed the remote and engaged the “on” button. TV said, “No Signal.”

“Call the front desk and tell them the TV doesn’t work,” I said.

Buddha grabbed the phone, listened intently, punched the dial hooks repeatedly, looked up wild-eyed.

“No dial-tone! Motherfucker don’t work!”

“Call him on your cell phone.”

Buddha stared at the black desk set and started stabbing the numbers into his cell phone.

“Hello? Yeah, this is Buddha in room 105. The phone don’t work…. I’m calling you on my cell phone…. OK…OK…Ok. That’s not why I’m calling you. The TV don’t work either…OK…. OK…Ok.”

He hung up.

“What’d he say?”

“He said he would come down and try to reboot it himself.”

“Well OK then.”

So, we waited a few minutes, freshened our drinks, and munched on some smoked almonds. Pretty soon there was a knock at the front door.

Buddha let in the night clerk who again was maskless, but he was at least pretty friendly. He took the remote and began trying to reboot the TV.

About that time, we got another knock at the door. It was Dominos. Buddha answered the door. He paid for the pizza, $20.00 including tip.

The smell of the pizza filled the room.

“Wow, if you are getting pizza, I’m getting hungry.” This from the maskless night clerk.

“You want a slice?” I asked.

“No. No.”

The clerk didn’t have any luck getting the TV to work either.

“Let’s see, the TV don’t work, and the phone don’t work. Don’t you think we should get another discount?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ll give you another discount. I’ll give it to you right now.”

And with that, he left.

Buddha and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Then we devoured the pizza.

A little later on that night, the night clerk showed up with our receipt which included our discounts. All in all, an $85.00 room ended up costing us $65.00. Not bad.

We got up early the next morning and hit the road again right after breakfast. It was around Texarkana when the drugs started kicking in. It was only a matter of time before we would see the bats.

As soon as we crossed the Texas state line the environment seemed to change. The horizon stretched out further, the roads became wider, and the countryside a lot brighter. You could see further in all directions. There were also a lot of Trump signs. We were definitely in Trump country. If there ever was time to be traveling armed, this was it.

Donald Trump. The 45th president of the United States of America was nothing more than a screaming hyena, a barking dog, a snake oil salesman, and a carnival barker. But he held a death grip on American politics for four years, and even though he was impeached twice and lost a fair and free election he still has a death grip on the GOP and a large number of the electorate. One-third of the country thinks the election was stolen and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. What a mess! But I digress.

There we were, driving along US Highway 59 with an open road in front of us and Ruby and the Romantics blaring on the radio and I couldn’t help but think that here we are, 20 years into the next century. I remember the 60s as being a beacon of hope when the culture hit a high watermark. If you look back and squint your eyes just right, you can almost see where the crest of the wave finally broke and rolled back. It’s been downhill pretty much ever since.

Next stop: Galveston!

Psycho Blue Boots in the 3rd

Travels with Aunt Renie

Photo by the Author

Aunt Renie came to Louisville, Kentucky for a visit. It was in the spring of the year and nearing Derby Day, so I decided to take her out to Churchill Downs to watch the horses run.

We drove to south Louisville where the track is located and parked the car a few blocks away and walked the remaining distance to the track entrance. Aunt Renie is pretty spry for an old lady.

We were both able to get in for the admission price of only $1.00 as we were both senior citizens. Louisville likes to encourage its seniors to go to the track. We made our way through the throng of horseracing fans to a booth where they sell racing forms. I bought one and stuck it in my pocket. Then we walked out to the track and sat in the sun on hard benches and studied the form to make our picks.

We studied the racing form and saw that there was a field of eight horses for the next race. Aunt Renie had never been to a racetrack before so I had to teach her how to handicap the race. I am not an expert myself but here’s how I do it. The first thing I do is to study the form for the information listed about the horses for that particular race. First of all, I look for names I like. Something that clicks. Then, I look at the stats on that horse. Who is the trainer, who is the jockey, how much weight does the horse carry, how many races did the horse win this year, and last, what are the odds?

I take all these things into consideration and make a selection. I picked what looked like a winner: Psycho Blue Boots, the number 5 horse in the 3rd race. I suggested to Aunt Renie that we bet $10.00 to win on the 5 horse. If it won, we would split the winnings. She agreed.

I pushed my way through the crowd to the parimutuel window and placed my bet.

“$10.00 to win on the 5 horse in the 3rd race,” I said. The teller smiled, took my money, and punched my ticket.

The race was about to begin as was indicated by the trumpet call to the gate.  I hurried back to where Aunt Renie was sitting and showed her our ticket. Just then the announcer announced, “They’re off!” And the race began.

“On the lead was Solient Green, on the outside Golden Band. On the rail was Shiftless Joe followed by Psycho Blue Boots. Royal Pain was moving up to fourth place, Psycho Blue Boots makes a sudden move…They are in the turn, Royal Pain is in third. Psycho Blue Boots moving up on the outside…now moving in…in the stretch Psycho Blue Boots takes the lead…at the wire…Psycho Blue Boots wins by nose!”

The crowd goes wild. I go wild Aunt Renie goes wild. We are winners!

We won enough on the race we were able to celebrate at one of Louisville’s most prestigious steak houses, Jack Fry’s. We had quite a day at the races and a nice meal to boot.

The next morning, I took Aunt Renie to the airport where she resumed her travels.

Next stop, Amsterdam!

Twelve Links in the Chain of Interdependent Co-Arising

Buddhism by the Numbers

Photo credit: Benn Bell

Twelve Links in the Chain of Interdependent Co-Arising

  1. Ignorance
  2. Volitional action
  3. Consciousness
  4. Mind/Body
  5. Six sense organs (Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind)
  6. Contact
  7. Feeling
  8. Craving
  9. Grasping/attachment
  10. Coming to be, being, becoming
  11. Birth
  12. Old age (decay) and death

Each link contains the other links. All teachings of Buddhism are based on interdependent co-arising. If a teaching is not in accord with interdependent co-arising it is not the teaching of the Buddha. Buddha taught that everything is both cause and effect. Interdependent co-arising goes beyond our concepts of time and space. The one contains all.

The presence of light means the absence of dark. The presence of day means the absence of night. The presence of ignorance means the absence of understanding. The Buddha said, “When ignorance comes to an end, understanding arises.”

Based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

The History of the World, Part 1

According to Al

Al Mitchell, man of a thousand faces

Al: Cynthia is on her way.

Me: Cynthia is going to be late.

Al: Well, she had to…

Me: See a film at the Jewish Film Festival…Yeah, I know, I heard you say that three times already.

Al: (Laughing) Well. you know that’s what happens when you get old.

Me: Al, I’m five years older than you.

Al: (again, laughing) Well, sometimes it catches up to some of us faster than it does for everyone else!

Al Mitchell, man of impeccable taste

Another conversation with Al, including Maureen

Maureen: When I broke my foot, I had to wear a boot. I called it, the Black Boot of Death. God, I hated that thing!

Al: I know people who when they had to wear a boot on their foot, would get another one to wear on the other foot, just to balance it out.

Me: (Only half listening): Wait a minute! Who do you know that wore a second boot?

Al: (stammering) Well, I don’t remember their names….

Me: (Listening closer now): Come on Al, give me a name. Name one person you know that wore a second boot.

Al (Stammering and laughing) Hamada, hamada, hamada….Well, I might have just made that up.

Al Mitchell, never a dull moment

Me: You are damned right you made it up! Caught you, didn’t I? Because your story was preposterous!

Al and Me: (Laughing and clinking together our plastic glasses of red wine.)

The Seven Factors of Awakening

Buddhism by the Numbers

Japanese Gardens, Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Benn Bell

The Seven Factors of Awakening

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation of phenomena
  3. Diligence
  4. Joy
  5. Ease
  6. Concentration
  7. Letting go

“At least once every 15 minutes, we need to practice letting go. Bear in your heart no hatred, utter no unkind words, remain always compassionate, with no hostility or ill will. The Seven Factors of Awakening are the practices of love.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

Zardoz

A Poem

My name is Zardoz

I come from the land of Ur

I come seeking relief

I am in disguise

Yes, I have come to tell you something

I need your understanding

I want to know the correct path

Sharing a good laugh with you would be nice

I don’t want to be sad

When I have what I need I will feel Ok.

Fork in the Road

Celestial Tip of the Day

Celestial tip of the day: when hiking on the orange Trail in Jefferson Memorial Forest, when you first start out, if the Sun is over your left shoulder when coming back be sure that the sun is over your right shoulder, that way when you come to the fork in the road you will take the right one. That is all.

How to Fix It

Poem

Collage and Photo by Benn Bell

How to fix it

Leave a legacy of love

Shovel shit against the tide until you reach the end of the line

Everyone has a story

And nearly everyone undergoes a startling metamorphosis

By morning

All is emptiness under the moon

The umbrella academy offers scant protection.