Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sturgis, 2017 - An Epic Journey, Part Deux


Five thousand, two hundred and seventy five miles
For the past two weeks, I have traveled in 10 western states logging more than 5,000 miles on my motorcycle. Almost a week of that was spent in Sturgis, SD for part of the 10-day annual rally that attracts as many as a half a million motorcycle aficionados. Suffice it to say that I am a motorcycle aficionado. This was my fourth consecutive pilgrimage to this veritable motorcycle Mecca and each has been a little different.

This year my journey started out with a two-day solo ride from my home near Sacramento, CA, south along US 395 to Bishop, CA for the night. At less than 300 miles, this was the shortest day on the road (that is, not including the days spent in Sturgis). The next day I rode through Death Valley to Williams, AZ. From Kingman, AZ – paralleling Route 66 on I-40, I was on familiar ground. However, from Bishop through Death Valley was not and I was simply in awe of not only the starkness of the desert there, but also of the road leading down to more than 200 feet below sea level. I left Bishop very early in the morning to beat the predicted 117-degree heat that day, so when I arrived in Furnace Creek at about 9:00 a.m., it was only a little more than 90 degrees.

Four Corners Monument
In Williams I met my friend who rode out from Baton Rouge, LA. Bob and I then rode up to and through Grand Canyon National Park, through the Four Corners Monument to Durango, CO. From there we rode up the “Million Dollar Highway” (US 550) through Silverton and Ouray before settling down in Grand Junction, CO for the night (my third, Bob’s fourth since our respective departures). Although I’ve ridden much of this route in the past, some of it was new to me and what wasn’t was absolutely worth riding again.

The net day we continued generally north towards Cooke City, MT. Our original plan was to ride through Yellowstone National Park to Cooke City, but the distance we needed to travel that day made it necessary to divert around the park. Because our schedule allowed for two nights in Cooke City, we were able to ride through Yellowstone and Grand Teton to Jackson Hole, WY and then return to Cooke City, circumnavigating our way around Yellowstone the next day. We did not expect much out of the ride from Grand Junction to Cooke City, and for large sweeps of that ride we got exactly that, however, there were a number of stretches that were unexpected in their grandeur. What we thought would be a largely utilitarian ride turned out to be as glorious as anything we’d ridden the entire trip – including roads like Bear Tooth Pass that we knew (me from personal experience, Bob from my stories and motorcycle lore) would be epic. Grand Junction, CO to Vernal, UT – epic. Vernal UT to Rock Springs, WY (Flaming Gorge) – epic. The Wind River Canyon – epic. And from Cody, WY to Cooke City, MT, over Chief Joseph Pass – epic.

Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone and Grand Teton Park were beautiful from a sight-seeing perspective, but due to the crowds, the buffalo and the low speed limit in those parks, the ride itself was not what I enjoy most about motorcycle treks. However, that was merely a prelude to the next day, a ride up and over Bear Tooth Pass – at almost 11,000 feet – into Red Lodge, MT. From there we made a course to Sturgis, but the first half of getting there was not just another utilitarian ride like it could have been. This was a route my friend Art and I rode home two years earlier, but I told Bob to make the decision as to the way we would go. I felt that with all the excellent roads we had already ridden, getting there on that day was enough. However, he chose the exact same route Art and I rode, taking the Big Horn Scenic Byway in Wyoming. Again, epic. By the time we reached Sheridan, WY, we settled into a leisurely (but with an 80-mph speed limit, fast) ride on I-90 to Sturgis. We arrived in the afternoon on Thursday, August 3rd and checked into our cabin (really a fully self-contained suite, complete with a kitchenette) at the Elk Creek Resort.

Mount Rushmore
For the next six nights, we would stay at Elk Creek, located about half-way between Sturgis and Rapid City, SD. The next day I picked up my girlfriend at the Rapid City airport and she stayed until the following Tuesday. Christine and I have been on many rides, including a long weekend trip to Southern California, but to ride out to Sturgis with me on my bike was logistically difficult from several perspectives. The time needed and the luggage space for both of us were primary among the logistical challenges. However, flying in to meet me there and out before my ride home solved that issue and also allowed me the time to make the ride there and back. Part of Sturgis is having my motorcycle there and, at more than 800 pounds, it is a bit much to be checked baggage. Having Christine there made what would be “just another Sturgis” not just another Sturgis. We did almost all of the Sturgis stuff – people-watched, shopped, ate, and, of course, we rode. We went to Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, rode Iron Mountain, Custer State Park, Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood, Keystone, Sundance, Belle Fourche and more. The following Tuesday I rode Christine back to the airport before packing up in preparation for my three-day ride home.
Mount Rushmore with me, Christine, Pat, Terry, Don and Michelle

Victory Dance
Not to take anything away from the time I spent with Bob and Christine, but the ride home, this time, holds a special place on this particular trip. Not more special, but different special. As much as I enjoy riding with others, and as much as I enjoy spending time on my bike with my girl, and as much as I like riding in and around Sturgis with a half-million like-minded souls, I am equally happy riding by myself. The three days back were just that – Christine was already home and Bob was riding back to Baton Rouge. I did not have a route planned (generally speaking, I never plan a specific route when I ride by myself), but the possibilities included both roads I’ve ridden before and those I have not. I chose to go south through western Nebraska and then west through Cheyenne, WY and Denver, CO before stopping for the night back in Grand Junction. That ride took me almost 700 miles and right through Colorado Rockies on I-70. That stretch of interstate is among the most beautiful I’ve ever ridden – comparable to I-80 through the Sierras and I-90 from Coeur d’Alene, ID to the Montana border. I got rained on a little (just the third time throughout the entire two weeks – that must be some kind of record), but besides that minor inconvenience, the ride was incredible.

The next day took me west through what was left of Colorado, though all of Utah and into Ely Nevada. The road through Utah is magnificent. I passed, but did not enter, a number of parks and monuments and I could not help but think that, with all the grandeur surrounding me (mostly on I-70, but from Salina, UT on, I was on historic US 50), how did they decide where these parks should go. I can only surmise that as awesome as what I was riding through was, the parks must be that much more spectacular. A return trip with many more detours is definitely on my list. I spent the night in Ely after about 430 miles of riding. So far, the return trip covered all new roads for me.

"The lonliest road in America."
My last leg took me the rest of the way on US 50, a stretch deemed by Life Magazine “The loneliest road in America.” It was not meant as a compliment, but the state of Nevada took advantage of the slight and turned it into a marketing tool. Now, more than 30 years later, the old Pony Express route has many travelers with their “US 50 Survival Guide” in hand, getting their “passport” stamped at various stops along the way. Collect five of the eight stamps available in Baker, Ely, Eureka, Austin, Fallon, Fernley, Dayton and Carson City and the state of Nevada will send a certificate commemorating the achievement. I collected six – I skipped Fernley and Carson City. Regarding the road itself – I have ridden far lonelier roads, including its US Interstate sibling to the north, I-80. US 50 is chocked full of history, heritage, stories and scenery. True, there are not a lot of people along the way, but those who reside in these scattered small (and not so small) towns are friendly and genuinely welcome visitors. While there are several long, straight stretches, they are broken up by surprisingly technical twists over several mountain passes.

I think it’s safe to say that Life Magazine was dead wrong about US 50, but it’s not just because their characterization of the road as monotonous, barren and boring, it is in the idea that places with no or few people are, by definition, lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind – there are those who are lonely in a crowd of people. I have been there myself. What I sought and what I found (and I knew I would) was solitude. Unlike loneliness, solitude is difficult, if not impossible, to find if there are too many people around. I stopped a few times along the way and most of those stops were in places that I could walk right out on the highway and not see another vehicle or person. I was alone with my thoughts, but the furthest thing from my mind was any inkling that I was lonely. And as I remarked in one of my Facebook posts, with my motorcycle, gas in the tank and miles of pavement, who has time to be lonely? It was magic.

By the time I arrived in Carson City, I was on familiar turf. Thousands of others were there, too. The magic was almost over, but not before a nice ride through South Lake Tahoe, up and over Spooner Summit and descending the 7,000 or so feet back home. I have ridded that section of US 50 more times than I can remember, but this one was different and I am not exactly sure why. Maybe it was because for the first time in a long time I did not take the magnificence of that stretch of highway for granted. As awesome as so many of the other roads that took me out and back were, here is this one in my own backyard that ranks right up there with any of them. And I was almost home. It was the last of the magic before hitting Placerville, the traffic and the heat of the greater Sacramento area. But that last bit of soulful riding placed the perfect bookend on the perfect ride.

Red Lodge, MT

Church Rock, AZ
Bear Tooth Pass

Main Street, Sturgis


Friday, July 28, 2017

Sturgis, Tracked

My Sturgis trip begins tomorrow. I'll have much to say and show here, on Instagram and Facebook, but I also set up a live tracking app/website that should provide live (where there is Internet connectivity - buffered where there is not) location and track data. I have, in essence, enabled myself to be tracked through GPS and the Internet. I have no idea how well of even if it will work, but to the best of my understanding, hopefully those interested will be able to follow along. That's it for now, I start this adventure in the morning. Here is the link where I can be found:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Free Time

And before I knew it, summer was one third over…

As a college professor, I enjoy the same extended breaks that many teachers do. Although I have taught and would teach summer sessions (and even winter inter-sessions), that is not likely to happen this summer. And, truth be told, I enjoy the breaks. I have an obligation to be available for work in my profession, and although I am available, I have no problem with having an abundance of “free time.” It is especially nice considering teachers are almost always working during the school year. There is always some work that needs to be done outside of class and that work often must be done at times others are traditionally off work on their weekends and evenings. In essence, we get our Saturdays and Sundays all in a row in the summer. When I am asked what day of the week it is, in the summer my answer will be a tongue-in-cheek, “Saturday,” no matter what day it actually is. Sorry/not sorry.

But back to this idea of “free time.” Presumably, that is the time one enjoys when he or she is not otherwise obligated through work or some other responsibility that demands one’s time. In that respect, my summer is full of free time. It’s not all free, there are numerous things that are part of life that must be done - responsibilities and other  things that take time - but I guess if one enjoys the freedom of when those things are done, it adds an element of freedom that I do not have during the school year. Even those things that I do outside the classroom that are largely up to me as to when I do them, they still have deadlines. For example, I still have to prepare for class before that class actually meets. And too often the only time available is on Saturday or Sunday or in the evening. If I am asked what day it is on a Saturday during the school year, and that Saturday happens to be one in which I am buried in paper grading, I am not quite so jovial in my response. Love my job, hate grading.

Where was I? Oh yes, this idea of “free time.” I have some right now. I am using it to write this. I have been writing, and writing things like this, for a long time. It is not my job, per sé (it was when I wrote for a living), but it is certainly part of it. Now I write less and read more, but I always intend to write more when I have some time… some free time. So, while I am doing what many do for money, this is not a job and I am not getting paid. I’d be willing to bet that most poets write most of their poetry for nothing, that most musicians write most of their music for nothing, most painters paint most of their paintings for nothing, most photographers shoot most of their photos for nothing, that most art is created for the sake of art itself, that most of it never realizes a profit. Most of the time, the time used to create is literally “free time.” And, speaking for myself, it isn’t really work in the classical sense anyway.

I like to spend my time during these long breaks doing both something and nothing. Downtime does not bore me, I do not feel any pressing need to always be doing something. But it’s also true that most of the doing nothing I do is doing something. Every summer for the past few I have taken an extended journey on my motorcycle - the last two summers included one that took two weeks and was several thousand miles. Some might call that a vacation and, to a certain extent it is, but it is a far cry from what most would enjoy and while mentally relaxing (again, not for everyone) it can be and often is physically grueling. Is it doing something? Is it work? I guess that all depends upon how one frames those terms, but it is clearly not a job. Perhaps one day I will figure a way of “selling” the experience - the story - through some medium, but right now that is not how I wish to spend my time. Creating it, yes - selling it, no.

I have been around long enough to have known a few people personally who have entered “retirement.” Some of them had a tough time adjusting to all the “free time” that became instantly available. When one has worked a regular job for an entire adult life, anything more than a week or two break from the nine to five, Monday through Friday can be confusing, even intimidating. None, however, ended up saying, “screw this, I’d rather punch a clock.” They all adapted and some are doing far more now than they did when so much of their time was not “free.” I am faced with two months of free time left. I have many things on my calendar, including another extended motorcycle trip, but I feel as though I need to be doing more of this, more writing.

I have been meaning to write a couple of books, a memoir and a novel, both of which have been marinating in my head for some time. In fact, some of it has spilled out in written words, but none have lit fire, yet. This summer was going to be that summer. I will not put any artificial deadlines on either project - that’s not what it is about. And though I am likely to expose both to the possibility of publication, neither is being written with that goal in mind. Because my bucket-list 48-state motorcycle summer is being pushed back to next summer, this summer is the summer to get some things done. But, the time is still free and to put any such demands upon it diminishes its freeness. Therefore, this thousand or so words will have to suffice for now. They were indeed written during my free time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Still Waters

Since my first concert on December 2nd, 1978, I have attended literally hundreds of them. That first show, just days before I turned 16 years-old, was among the best. In fact, until my second concert just a short while later, my first show was simultaneously the best and the worst I’d ever seen. But there are other reasons as well, reasons that could not be qualified at my young age and with my limited experience.

That first show, however and in retrospect, remains among my “top 10.” It stood the test of time. For my first concert I was fortunate enough to see Black Sabbath on their “Never Say Die” tour, the last tour before the band and lead singer Ozzy Osbourne parted ways. That, in and of itself, gave the concert an historic legacy, but it was even more than that. There was a little upstart garage band out of Los Angeles that was the opening act, a band that was beginning to make a name for itself. Named for the last name of the two brothers who founded it, that band is now rock legend - Van Halen.

My second concert featured Cheap Trick opening for the Doobie Brothers and from then on I went to concerts whenever I could. I have seen bands that have come and gone, bands that have endured, bands that have reformed, bands that feature all and none of the original members and, sadly, too many rock stars who have since died. Some of those concerts were thoroughly forgettable and some left an indelible mark on my very being. 
A few have made it into my “top 10” list of best concerts ever. Before I get to the latest inductee into that top 10 list, there are some things one must understand about the list itself. First of all, there is no actual “list.” My top 10 list is simply an accolade paid to a particular performance that not only meets my rather lofty expectations, it exceeds them in ways that are unforeseen. I cannot know going into a show, no matter how high the bar, if it will be all that. Furthermore, do I not have any clear idea which concerts are on it; and there are very likely more than just 10. Be that as it may, when I am leaving a show saying to myself or to whomever I am with, “That was one of the top 10 best shows I’ve ever seen,” it is saying something.

Last night I attended one of the top 10 best concerts I’ve ever seen. The Roger Waters “Us and Them” tour made a stop at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Arena and it was, as I commented to one of my old friends who will be seeing the same show in Las Vegas, almost beyond description. And, like any live performance, it could never be captured in mere words anyway, but this show was beyond even that. There are some personal factors that make it more profound than any particular performance at face value. First, it is important to consider that in my extensive concert going repertoire, I never saw Pink Floyd. Also, considering the version of Pink Floyd I most identify with is the David Gilmore/Roger Waters iteration and, since Waters played extensively from Pink Floyd’s catalog from Dark Side of the Moon though The Wall, I was, for all intents and purposes, at a Pink Floyd concert. Finally.

Everything, the spectacle, the lavishness, the technology, the theatrics and all else that are hallmarks of a Pink Floyd concert were present last night. The musicianship was perfection embodied and the sound system was so crisp and so clear that I might have been wearing a pair of über-expensive, audiophile-geek headphones. Furthermore, as art is best when it speaks, Waters went beyond the already socio-political themes of the tracks with visuals oriented to the events of today. Right here, right now. Indeed, the music, most of it written decades ago, was eerily prophetic, especially as interpreted in the live performance. Although the audience was, arguably, not entirely of the same political stance as Waters, oddly enough the music appeared to trump (sorry/not sorry) the message it carried. In other words, the music of Pink Floyd brought even those on the right back to a perhaps more idealistic time in their lives. It seemed to be enough, at least for those on the right whom I have a personal relationship with, to overlook the overt political (and, to be perfectly frank, anti-Trump) message.

For me, the message through the art of the music along with the theatrics were all a seamless whole. I have had the distinct displeasure of going to a concert where the artist took a break from what I paid for (specifically, to hear music) to go off on a political rant. Even if it is an ideology I agree with, I do not buy these tickets to be held hostage and preached to. Waters did not do that, and I would say that his message, delivered through the music of Pink Floyd, was the best shot at gaining any adherence from the “other side.” While hopeful, I don’t know that even the skillful mosaic Waters wove is enough to nullify the polarization we are in the midst of. But one can hope. In the meantime, I was witness to what I missed in years gone by - a Pink Floyd concert that will go down as one of the top 10 concerts I’ve ever seen.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

On This Day...

Facebook's "On This Day" feature is probably one of the most interesting things they've ever added to the platform. I know, like most everything else, they did not come up with the idea, but now that it's incorporated into the platform itself, it sure is a handy way to look back. This time of year - the end of the school year - has been enlightening to me since before Facebook, let alone any tools it usurped to look back. I can find similar enlightenment from this time of year, years past, in my blog, which also predates Facebook. There were some common denominators, among them a sense of relief of having made it through another year and a sense of optimism and anticipation at having made more progress towards my ultimate goal, the latest of which was a Ph.D.

However, prior to around 2010, that ultimate goal was not even on the radar. It didn’t really become a possibility until near the end of my MA program at California State University, Sacramento. And even that ultimate goal (which I finally, officially, achieved in 2012) wasn’t on the radar until after I finished my BA, also at CSUS, in 2007. So, this ultimate goal, as ultimate goals tend to be, was a moving target. But at some point, I would have to top out and change gears - again. That moment came slowly, agonizingly so. From the time I entered the Ph.D. program at Louisiana State University in the fall of 2011, that goal would only be realized when I could place the salutation, “Dr.,” in front of my name. It is a lofty goal and certainly one that I never saw myself even considering. More than that, it wasn’t just not on my radar - ever - it was beyond my capacity not in terms of what it would take to get there, but beyond my capacity to dream it. That level of excellence was not in my cards and it wasn’t until it was that I realized how little credit I had given myself.

Although I did achieve moments of excellence and while I did advance to doctoral candidate, I cannot and will not be placing any new letters in front of my name. My ability to do what was required to get there is no longer in question - I have proven I am capable of achieving dreams beyond my dreams. What I lost was the willingness. With “only” a dissertation standing between me and that ultimate goal, I found myself in a series of moments of inspiration and dedication that deflated into desperation and disinterest. My motivation waffled from one extreme to its polar opposite, it would be all “let’s do this!” or all “fuck this!” Finally, last spring, “fuck this” won out, but putting it that way discounts the unbelievable amount of soul-searching that took place before coming to that decision.

There were three things I could have left LSU with a Ph.D., an MA or nothing but the experience of attending such a prestigious school at such a high level. To be clear, even the “nothing but” scenario would have been thoroughly worth my time there. But since I had already endured the boom or bust cycle of attaining this one last “ultimate goal,” at least (no exaggeration) 10 times, I saw a pattern that was likely to continue until option “nothing but” would catch up to me. I had enough coursework and had passed my qualifying exams for the Ph.D., and that was more than enough (much more) to be awarded another MA, this time from an R1 (doctoral) university. But I had to get it within a five-year window. The Ph.D. would allow me two more years, but I had come to the conclusion that I was, in fact, done with school. The willingness and the gung-ho attitude I maintained for more than ten years of full-time student-hood had left me. I was done and I still believe that nothing would have giving me what I needed to finish that “only” thing I had left.

Of course I talked about it before making my decision. I spoke with my family, my peers, my mentors and my friends. All were supportive, but not all felt abandoning the Ph.D. was the best idea. Fortunately, I was looking for input and support, not necessarily direction – that I had to arrive at on my own. Some felt I would have moments, be they short or extended, of regret. That was accompanied by an appropriate level of concern for me and how I would deal with that. The truth is that I have had many moments of regret, but that doesn’t translate into my decision being a bad one. Indeed, even with those moments, those unavoidable moments when I wished I could muster the willingness, I still firmly believe that was not going to happen. Would it have in the next year or so before I would run out of time? No one knows, but the past did not point in that direction.

More directly, my career would have benefitted in ways both known and not. But the other side of that coin is the stress of not doing what I needed to be doing was weighing heavily on me, too. That stress has manifested in a few ways, some of which I am only now realizing. One was that I used to write – a lot. I also used to read much, much more. Since completing my coursework in the spring of 2014, my output has steadily declined. It is only now, a year after I plucked the dissertation monkey from my back, that I am again beginning to enjoy both. I am also becoming a better professor, even if my lot in academic life would be better with a Ph.D. And I am beginning to really feel what freedom from all that feels like. I often regret the failure, but I never regret the experience. And, lest anyone forgets, being awarded a BA and not one, but two MAs is no small achievement.

With just a little more than two weeks left in my fourth semester of full-time professorship, I finally feel as though I am hitting my stride. I am feeling once again motivated to do some things, maybe even great things. I have a palpable feeling that all that back-burner shit is finally coming up to the front. Indeed, I feel like it’s time to get some things cooking again. Re-reading all about the many fits and starts I experienced bovver the past few years, I am happy to be free of the pressure. That is not to say I regret not achieving that ultimate goal, sometimes, but I am at peace with the decision I made. It was not one taken lightly. One cannot live life as long as I have without some regret along the way. Today is a good day.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

With a Whisper, Not a Bang

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything really substantive. That’s really just another way of saying that it’s been a while since I’ve written anything really good, or worthwhile, or compelling or beautiful or [fill in the blank]. True, I’ve managed to stir up some shit on Facebook, and it might even be true that some of that shit needed to be disturbed, but when it comes to writing something - really writing something, it’s been awhile. I can’t explain why, entirely, but there are some factors that likely come into play. None of them are particularly important, however. If I wanted to write badly enough, I would have. If I was sufficiently motivated, if I had something compelling enough to say, if my “creative juices” were flowing, I would have put it down on (virtual) paper. But I did not. I used to all the time, but for the past couple of years my output has been minimal. Good, perhaps, but minimal.

I think I’d like to have something to say about what has been happening politically in recent years. I mean, I do. I have thoughts, opinions and stances. I still get outraged and encouraged. But it seems that anything I might come up with that helps me (and, if written well enough, others) to get a better understanding of the word we live in, has either been said, is unsayable or, most likely, futile. People are rarely moved by much anymore. I guess changing one’s view, or opinion, or belief or any modification of one’s world-view constitutes a sign of weakness. It seems that only belligerent steadfastness, a refusal to acknowledge or admit that one’s position is not in line with reality, that only the most rigid are strong has permeated not just the body politic, but all bodies. It is exhausting to put together well thought-out, beautifully written prose only to have them dismissed as partisanship, fake facts or worse.

It can’t last forever. Something’s got to give eventually. At some point the truth, reality, facts, and all other iterations of the Universe in its universality will win. At the end of the day, only what is gets the luxury of stubbornly remaining what it is. Facts are not influence by what anyone thinks about them, they simply are. Being is its own evidence. Science, for all that  humans try to interpret it in one way or another, is still about discovering what is and, sometimes, what is not. Scientists might care, might have an angle, might be egotistically invested, but science itself does not care. It will win, whether we are here to document it or not.

George Carlin had a bit that poked fun at the environmentalists. It, too, could be interpreted in a number of ways, but if one knew how Carlin used his art to move people (persuade them to see things in a different way), they might come to the same understanding that I did. He was not an anti-environmentalist, but he was attacking how the environmentalists were framing a real scientific reality. He took issue with their “Save the Earth” mantra. Carlin pointed out that our planet was just fine before we evolved and it will be just fine after we are gone. We should not be worried about saving the Earth, we should be worried about saving ourselves. And, to carry that a step forward, we needn’t worry too much about saving any of the people who are alive today - we (as a species) will also be just fine, today, and for at least the immediate tomorrows. The planet’s ecosystem will not collapse upon us. It is the generations not yet born who will have to deal with that fallout.

So, why should we care? Seriously - why should we? It is painfully obvious that many of us do not. Many of us are all too eager to dismiss science - invoking the same human liabilities I mentioned earlier - as proof that there is no problem. After all, we do have to take some of that research on faith; we all cannot be scientists, we have our own jobs to do. But it’s not just scientists we must have faith in, we have to extend that same faith to all sorts of things we do not, cannot or don’t have time for. I have to trust that my HVAC person knows the ins and outs of heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The same goes for any profession that requires specialized training, education or experience.

I am not trying to change anyone’s opinion about whether we are fucking up our world or not. I am not trying to persuade anyone to be a more critical consumer of information. I can’t. I have tried and failed. The point of all this there is a wall that prevents anyone from doing that. We don’t need to build a fucking wall, we already have one. There are plenty of people who know how to look at a variety of information and form opinions about it - but the sad fact is that no matter what evidence of what is is put in front of too many people - educated, smart people - if it means altering in any small way what they already believe, it somehow constitutes weakness and therefore no such alteration or modification will even be considered. And that - that - is weakness. That is what our downfall will be.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Twofer

It’s hard to believe I haven’t written anything for this blog so far in 2017. It is not as though I have had nothing to say, quite the contrary. Those who are my “friends” on Facebook know that since the end of last year - since the presidential election, precisely - I have had plenty to say. And plenty more on other topics, too, from the innocuous to the important and everything in between. Sadly (or, maybe not), Facebook has taken the default role in my online presence. This is nothing new and was not going to be the subject of my musings today, but it is ironic that just last year I was I the midst of a Facebook “hiatus.” I didn’t just abstain (which is difficult when everything that happens regarding my profile generates some kind of notification), I suspended my account. I was in Facebook never-never land. And it was good.

But not so good that it left any kind of lasting impression a year later. In fact, were it not for Facebook’s little features that keep track of my activity, I would not have remembered my stop and start dates or even whether it was two weeks, six weeks, or more. And upon my triumphant return it was clear that both my presence and my absence had no impact on the medium. Sure, some friends missed my online friendship (particularly those whom I only have an online “friendship” with, but also a few with whom I have a history of friendly debate), but in the world of Facebook and social media, whatever I have to add is lost in the noise. It’s not just me, far more “famous” people contribute, too, and their impact, when compared to the whole, is negligible.

Still, if it didn’t do something for me, I wouldn’t do it. What Facebook does for me, primarily, is simple enough. It is what my blog did early on - it gives me a means of publication and the opportunity to build an audience. At one point, I had several thousand “hits” on The 25 Year Plan every month. Since I have not been publishing there regularly, my hit counter has spent more time not counting than it has spent counting. But I get a fairly good amount of response, feedback, “likes,” shares, etc., from Facebook. Why? Because unlike my blog of late, I “maintain” a presence on Facebook. But I have expanded beyond Facebook, too - linking my various profiles in a cross-posting manner. I guess I could do that on my blog as well, but it’s not really for that. It’s more for what I am doing right now; It’s more for this.

So, after three paragraphs of talking about what I was not going to talk about, I probably should write about what I came to my keyboard to do.

A few years ago, I started fooling around with video from these new, so-called, “action cameras.” About the same time, the iPhones and their knock-offs (sorry, the Samsung Galaxy and all others did not innovate, they imitated) were gaining traction. The video from cell phones, smart or otherwise, was not as good as these new purpose-built cameras, and between me and my kids, we tried a few. My boys mostly used them for snowboarding and four-wheeling, I stuck to mostly recording motorcycle rides. The video in all cases was only so-so. It was not, at first, anything remotely resembling “HD” and as far as the editing software available, it was clumsy and/or expensive, usually both. But despite the obstacles, they showed a great deal of promise. Today, the stunning quality of smart-phone video and the rise to the top of the action camera heap by GoPro is evidence of the promise the technology held.

We all, my boys and I, kind of got on board early, but our enthusiasm faded. We all learned a lot and much of that is still applicable. However, the time needed to produce video that entertains and informs without boring the audience to death is considerable. Even today, with the abundance of editing software and the extremely high video quality (my latest GoPro Session measures about an inch and a half square and captures video at a maximum of 4K resolution), making movies takes time. Enter the iPhone and its progeny. With tools like iMovie and other built-in software “apps” that deal with the video footage all on one small device, shooting, editing and producing video became somewhat simpler. Not exactly easy, but considerably easier. While I was in Baton Rouge one day, riding my 2007 Harley Road King home from the local shopping center, I had an idea that resulted in what is now known as “ShirtPocket Productions.”

But first, a few words about the entity, “ShirtPocket Productions.” It is not a real production company, at least not yet. It consists of one unpaid employee - me. It has yet to make a single dime; it has never submitted an invoice of any kind. We have never had a customer. Our expenses are not zero, but excluding the price of the cameras (currently three GoPros and an iPhone), there are none. Travel expenses, gas, food, lodging, etc., are all part of a whatever I was going to do anyway. That I ever decide to record video is an add-on, it is never the purpose. It is a fantasy company, a fun third-person entity I use to talk about myself when putting videos together. It is sort of Warren Miller-esque, but not really that, either. And, while it is not “real,” I have used the terms, “ShirtPocket Productions,” “SPP” and “ShirtPocket Short,” sometimes in conjunction with “the good folks at…” often enough, long enough and publicly enough to be able to claim the copyright to the names. In other words, although today it is a game, in the future it might be something more. Therefore, when it comes to ownership, the names are mine.

Where did the name come from? That ride home from the shopping center was warm - it was what one might call “t-shirt riding weather.” It just so happened that the t-shirt I was wearing had a shirt pocket. I was using an iPhone 5 at the time and for those who remember, the iPhone 5 was no wider, but considerable taller than the iPhones 4 and 4s were. When placed in my shirt pocket, the camera lens stuck up above the top of my pocket. I wondered, “what would the video look like if I started it, dropped the phone in my shirt pocket and rode?” It was not only pretty cool, it was the birth of ShirtPocket Productions. It didn’t become like it is today all at once. In fact, it didn’t become anything at all, it was just a passing thing, a funny play on words, a clever caption. Over time, however, the name and the enjoyment I’ve had with this "company" has grown into something that has become an expression that supplements the art of my still photography and writing.

It has become all too apparent that my interest in such things ebbs and flows. Actually, my interest in most things does, but these are sustained interests that I return to regularly, if not often enough (remember - this is my first post of 2017). ShirtPocket Productions goes through periods of dormancy, too. As I get better and more creative at assembling video (editing, soundtracks, etc.), I am able to do it more efficiently. But it is still time consuming. ShirtPocket Shorts are short - usually one to two minutes long. To create one, with music and fades and titles - even as amateurish as SPPs are - takes at least an hour, usually longer.

And I have learned some things along the way. For example, to use copyrighted music - which is most everything on the radio, in my iTunes collection, etc., it takes the permission from whoever owns it. Even if it is coming from the radio on my motorcycle as part of the ambient background “noise,” it gets flagged by YouTube, by Facebook and others. For my last two ShirtPocket Shorts, I didn’t even try to wiggle around the restrictions (doable, but temporary and I don’t want to open myself up to litigation - SPP doesn’t have a legal department). It turns out the Apple’s iMovie has a bunch of royalty-free music and other sound-effects that do not get flagged. While it is not the recognizable soundtrack I would like sometimes, it is good quality and, oddly enough, tends to refocus viewers on the video itself.

In light of all of this, I am using this return from a de facto blogging hiatus to post SPPs last two ShirtPocket Shorts. In an effort to include this blog more prominently in my online presence, it might be the perfect place to expand the storyline with words and, perhaps even dedicate some longer videos that are beyond the attention span of a Facebook “news feeder.” At any rate, with spring just around the corner and summer coming soon, the raw footage will be piling up. It might be time to give ShirtPocket Productions’ CEO a raise.