Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Back in the Wash

It’s an easy place to get lost. A quiet and serene sweep of desert scrub brush, shifting sands and soft whispering winds. It can change its appearance in subtle yet curious way on almost a daily basis. It’s a perfect capsule of silence capped around your ears. Everything around you seems dead and yet is alive in a hundred different ways.

There’s usually a small muddy creek meandering by. The scrub brush is usually full bloom except in the dead of summer. Nesting birds’ flitter about endlessly. The stillness there can be deafening with only a few fleeting sounds floating by. All is peaceful until every couple of years when the rains come and wash that complacency away with astounding fury and force in just a matter of moments.

After the storms, the leftover residue slowly settles into the newly formed crags and crevices and the wash goes back to its dormant life once again.

I experienced that here in the desert several years ago. A record three and a half inches of rain fell in one day. Contrast that to an average rainfall of five inches for the entire year and one can understand the magnitude of the hard rain pounding on concrete soil.

Before the rains, the wash was alive with horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking.

Horse trails become mountain bike meccas. Hikers wander the wash, meandering back and forth as the rutted grounds give way to dry beds. Arroyos cut in the corners and debris lies crumpled up in distorted jumbled piles randomly deposited everywhere. Then after the rains, new trails are forged on a totally altered landscape.

Fortunately for me, the wash isn’t the only place I’ve found for tranquility and peace in his part of my world. The best views of this ever-changing tapestry of desert landscape are from the mountain trails that climb up to the summit.

As a fellow hiker commented the other day. “It really is one of the best playground for adults in the world.” I’ve also found a host of other newly discovered venues to get lost in around the Coachella Valley.

Whether it is walking the berm and scaling the heights above, they are all magnificent escapes just steps away from my home. Places to meet and greet and at the same time go solitary if I want to.

Its heaven’s confessional where I reveal my earthly sins; the good ones, the bad ones, and the fun times in-between to nobody else but me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

What is Cool Anyway?

As a young man growing up, there was one status symbol I never achieved. That was to be cool. Even today, I know ‘what I wasn’t’ but still can’t grasp what it was that I thought ‘I wanted to be.’

Back in the day, there seemed to be one sure guideline to follow on the pathway to ‘coolness.’ Since appearances meant everything for an impressionable young boy, Playbook Magazine seemed to have it down to a tee. The slick glossy tabloid to all things hip covered the whole spectrum of ‘cool’ things, places, people and attitudes.

Playboy told me that this coolness was reflected in the arts, architecture, music, film, and dozens of other esoteric cerebral ventures of commerce. It was all images and icons for hungry eyes like mine to take in. Playboy became ‘the’ major purveyor of that message when a young editor, operating out of old Cow Town, started up his own journal to herald and embellish this new scene for the cool set.

That illusion of something special was embellished, relished, and enriched by the monthly unfolding of Playbook centerfolds, cool cars, hot bachelor pads, and jazz. On the musical front, I never understood that among the hip crowd, jazz spoke a language only they understood. I was more of a folkie type.

Outside of that fantasy world of bunnies, bachelor pads and cool cars, there existed the ordinary mundane life I was living. In that world of teenage angst, lust, confusion and pipe dreams, a plethora of quirky and colorful characters defined their lives and occupied ours by their dress, style, mannerisms and diction. It was a world of first images that held tight behind a façade of individuality, which, of course, it never really was. The birth of this grand illusion began about the same time I entered the world. It morphed, grew more sophisticated and finally presented itself at the most opportune time….the late Forties and early Fifties.

After World War Two, there was a migration of artist types to the West Coast, primarily California. Coupled with a burgeoning economy, thriving new industries and glorious weather, the West Coast became a mecca for the average Joe as well as his beatnik cousins. I caught wind of this seismic shift in American culture through an art exhibit at a California Art Museum several years later. The museum recreated their exhibit in a coffee table book which I bought.

‘Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture of Midcentury’ was one of the most ambitious exhibitions ever organized on this seminal period, encompassing the painting, architecture, furniture design, decorative and graphic arts, film, and music that launched mid-century modernism in the United States and established Los Angeles as a major American cultural center.

This was before the late Fifties and early Sixties swept me into the teen world of class and cult and sexual misinformation. There were the hard guys with their slick hairstyles and choppers and hot rods. The jocks with their letter jackets. The Brains hid out in the library with their books and slide rulers. And every school had its cache of rich bitches (male and female) with their parent’s money and cars. These cool kids had it all in one form or another. They were all ‘with it’, except maybe the Brains. Everybody envied the Brains because they were going to be our bosses sometime in the future.

In high school and even college, the rest of us were merely background distractions for those crowds of easily identifiable clichés. We were simply invisible fill-in wallpaper to their exciting fun-filled lives.

I came of age (but never broken through) back in the Sixties when all the cool music, cool chicks and cool cars were emanating from Southern California. It was a mecca for immature, wonder-ing wandering minds like mine. The Beach Boys painted musical pictures that wetted my appetite for sand under foot and bikinis in sight.  Annette Funachello and Franky Avalon showed me what beachcomber life was all about, Hollywood style.

As cool as it is to think that one is cool, the concept can be a slippery slope, easy to feel but tough to grasp. It’s evolution in midcentury America now seems but a series of willful misunderstandings. It started out as black style but became white style. It was a response to alienation but became a mark of belonging. It came from the language of outsiders, but it became associated with very old ideas of about aristocracy and good taste.

After a lifetime of never being cool and accepting my fate as just average, I think I’ve stumbled upon the true meaning of cool. And from my own kin no less.

In retrospect, I think my granddaughters have shown me the new way of cool. Maya, age 17, Samantha, age 15 and Charlotte, age 12, have all embraced the style of mixing and matching vintage clothing with something new and modern. They’re cool because they’ve become masters of their own fashion sense.

Perhaps, doing your own thing is the ‘real’ cool thing to do. Follow no one else but let your heart and desire lead you on.  It means doing your own thing and ignoring the masses or cult favorites or TikTok glimmers of the silly and insane.

Past symbols of ‘cool’ are now old enough that they’re coming back in a strange amalgamation of form and style. The younger set sees them as new and trendy. Veterans of the movement see a resurgence of a colorful past. Me, I see form and function but little else.

Sadly, even now that I have an idea of what cool is, I don’t think I’m there yet and probably never will be. I’m just going to continue doing what I want to do. So, if doing your own thing is now the cool thing to do, maybe I’ve finally made the grade.


Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Bike Tour Electrified

Europeans have been doing it for years. Now American are slowly starting to catch on. Years ago, when I lived in Copenhagen, it was one of the primary modes of transportation for just about everyone. Now Amsterdam and other European cities continue to vie for prominence with their focus on two-wheel transportation.

One of the unexpected but welcomed results of the Covid-19 pandemic was a surge in bicycle sales across the country. People rediscovered the joys and benefits of bike riding, touring, exploring, and commuting. It was almost as if a whole new generation had stumbled across this safe alternative to the car culture. It was an easy way to exercise and a great way to explore one’s neighborhood and community.

Now the evolution of the bicycle continues with the E (electronic) bicycle. New manufacturers have blossomed around the world to satisfy the tremendous desire of folks to go electric. I succumbed last summer with my own Aventon Level Two race car that can top out at 28 miles per hour. It is an absolute gas (no pun intended) to ride, cruise and power along.

Magazines and web sites that cater to the biking crowd have gotten very popular. Web communities like Cycle Chic, Copenhaganize, Citylab and Planetzien are among the many sites that carry biking-related articles. Bike sharing outlets like Minnesota’s own ‘Nice Ride’ are expanding their outreach efforts. Bicycle riding has been rediscovered all over again.

Heck, I knew that a lifetime ago. I got my first bicycle in fifth grade and I’ve been riding all my life. My first bicycle was a 100-pound land cruiser called a Huffy. It was clad in more metal than a Sherman Tank. In the end, I think riding that dead weight gave me the strength and endurance to run marathons later on in life. While all the other kids were darting around town in their light weight Schwinn bicycles, I was running over and crushing fixed objects with my mobile steamroller.

Fast forward ten-to-fifteen years and my first serious bicycle was a French-built Peugeot.  It was a ten-speed racing bike that, in fact, had a total of 15 different sprocket settings. After settling into my first job as a writer at the Minnesota Department of Health, I paid $115.00 for my new Peugeot at a bike shop in the East Village near the University of Minnesota.

Later that year, I rode my first Century on my Peugeot. In cycling lingo, a Century is a one-hundred-mile bike ride completed in one day. There were selected water stops along the way but it was still an out and back route that encompasses urban, suburban and rural roads.

I did the TRAM twice, the second time with Brian. TRAM stands for ‘The Ride Across Minnesota.’ It’s a five-day ride from one side of the state to the other, usually encompassing four hundred plus miles. Daily lengths vary but usually average between 70 and 80 miles per day.

My new Aventon E-bike now allows me easier peddling up hills and for longer distances while still enjoying the scenery around me. It’s been a blast to venture back out and explore old haunts along with new ones along the way.

As long as I can keep my balance and the old legs and back don’t give out, I intend to keep pushing along and enjoying the scenery along the way. Just like when I was a kid.