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Thursday, July 31, 2003

 
Chapter 3: Jay J Armes, Michael Savage, and a Death Defying Drive The next day the plan was to leave El Paso and try to drive a good portion of the way towards the Grand Canyon. After doing a laundry, we stopped in a small mexican restaurant to grab something to eat before starting. Across the street was a two-story yellow stucco building, with an iron gate that was shut. Next to the building was a large billboard advertising the services of “The Investigators”, obviously some team of private detectives. I didn’t pay it much attention until we had finished, and standing outside I noticed the cartoon detective figure featured in the billboard, who appeared to be running while firing a gun at some unseen evil-doer. What I noticed was that the person pictured in the cartoon had no hands; instead he had a set of hooks, one of which was holding the gun. I remembered something I hadn’t thought about since the 70s, a character by the name of Jay J Armes. Jay J Armes was a famous private investigator who had lost his hands due to a childhood accident. As an adult he became a private investigator, a sort of cut-rate James Bond type, who always seemed to work on high profile cases but was most famous for using hooks or various fancy implements as artificial limbs. I remember that my older sister was somewhat enthralled with him for a time, for reasons I never quite understood. A biography I found on a website promoting Hispanic heroes describes him thusly: ARMES Jay J., 1938-present, (physical impairment), Born [Julian Armas] but changed his name to Jay J. Armes. He was born in Ysleta Texas. In 1949 at the age of 12 he was involved in an accident that resulted in both of his hands being amputated and hooks were placed as artificial hands. Some people say he’s the best private eye in the world. Another site describes him as a bit of a flake, and if you look around “The Investigators’” website you will actually find Jay J Armes action figures and paraphernalia. Other websites dedicated to him show him posing with various celebrities (including GW Bush), and playing with one of his pet Siberian Tigers on his estate. We opted not to try to do the tour of the building, which means that we missed out on seeing the wax sculpture of Jaye J sitting on a sofa in the lobby; reputedly it’s there to fool any assassins who might come looking for him. Instead we got on the road and took a side trip to the White Sands National Monument, which is, oddly enough, a park where there is a large amount of white sand made of gypsum. As in hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of acres worth of the stuff. Looks exactly like snow, except the temperature is 95 degrees and you can’t slide on it down hill. What can I say? The park is about 50 miles south of the site where the first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945. We were set to get off of the interstate after going west for a bit, and take highway 180 northwest to a place called Eagar, AZ. This would put us within striking distance of the Grand Canyon the next day. Before we managed to get to Hwy180, however, we listed to a 20 minute rant by Michael Savage on one of the local radio stations. I’d never actually heard the man before, and I must say I was quite hypnotized by his performance. Lots of complaining about “liberal scum” and that kind of thing. I could almost feel the spittle coming through the car speakers, and we were using the rear ones. Mercifully, we drove out of range of the station carrying his siren call and we headed northward towards Eagar. What I didn’t realize when I suggested the route we took was that this particular stretch of highway was listed as “scenic” on the map. I had failed to notice the telltale line of tiny green dots placed along the route in the road atlas I had referred to. The designation “scenic” in this type of context can mean that you will drive by expansive vistas of beautiful countryside or scenery, forcing you to take many unexpected stoppages to take a picture for posterity. It can also mean that you will drive up and down twisted, winding, steep mountain roads where you are literally inches away from certain death should you ever take your eye off the wheel to actually look at what you are driving past. This can be dangerous enough in the daylight. By the time we got to this splendorous section of the road it was pitch black outside. For over two hours I gripped the wheel as if possessed, not daring to look anywhere except a narrow strip visible directly in front of me. I highly recommend this little jaunt (taken only at night, I must emphasize) as a cure for every conceivable form of mental illness, because when (if) you finally complete it you’ll be very glad to be alive. After many near death experiences we finally rolled into Eagar, but found that it was closed for the night. Springerville (just down the road) offered shelter and an unbroken ice machine.

posted by gunther at 9:54 PM Link

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

 
Chapter II: How To Find Cool Places In Strange Cities So we arrived in El Paso late on Tuesday, worn out by the previous day’s frustration and unexpected additional driving. We managed to get a decently priced motel with a pool, that wasn’t too far from downtown. The first task the next day was for me to find a branch of my bank and get myself a replacement ATM card. This took surprisingly little time, but only was possible because I had the foresight to bring my passport on the trip. I only took it along on the off chance we’d spend some time in Mexico, thinking that without it there could be difficulty getting back across the border. Having accomplished this major task, and guaranteeing that I’d have ready access to whatever meager cash still remained in my checking account for the duration of the vacation, we set about attempting to find “cool places” in the city. How do you find out what places are cool, and where you’d like to hang out at night, in a city you’ve never been to before? There are a number of ways to accomplish this, and I offer a few heuristics to guide you in this process. Caveat: What is “cool” depends on the individual, obviously. My idea of entertainment probably doesn’t compare with the average randomly chosen person. If you think that someplace like “Polly Esther’s”, or perhaps a karaoke bar, or even a Luby’s is the place to party, then this strategy is probably not going to work for you. Think “alternative”. Not “alternative” in the sense of “alternative life style” (although gay clubs can be good for dancing if you like that kind of thing). Think “alternative” as in, everyone wears black, there are multiple tattoos and/or piercings, the DJ plays at least one song by either The Cure, Marilyn Manson or Trent Reznor per night, there are few people wearing cowboy hats, etc. The first strategy is to find a good music store, preferably a used record or CD store. These places usually have fliers or posters about upcoming shows at local clubs, both live and DJ. Failing this, ask the staff at the store what they think. Most importantly, these record stores usually carry one or more of the local rags that will provide information on the local scene, and they are invariably free (which to someone who has just lost their wallet is a considerable advantage). If all of this fails, try to pick out someplace to eat and ask the wait staff. Not any place too expensive, just pick it on the basis of what the wait staff looks like. If they have tattoos or piercings that are visible to the casual observer, or are pasty faced and Goth looking, appearing as if they have never seen the light of day, chances are they know lots of interesting things to do at night. If all of this fails, get a bottle of wine, go back to your hotel room and watch cable. El Paso turned out to be a city that offered surprisingly slim pickings in terms of nightlife. Granted, it was a Tuesday night and it would be hard to find things to do on Tuesday even if we were in Beaumont. But we did eventually find one club that seemed like the most appealing candidate from a set of poor alternatives, a place called Club Dedo. It featured something called “Metal Night”, which after a few days of sleeping in tents and wandering around the desert sounded like just the return to civilization we needed. But more about that later… Tuesday afternoon, after getting my ATM card replaced, we decided to go spend some time in Cuidad Juarez, just across the border. You literally walk across a bridge and there you are. Juarez was much larger than I’d expected it to be (2 million we were told), and amazingly dirty and poor. I mean, El Paso isn’t exactly Beverly Hills but the contrast with Juarez was striking. We walked around for abut four hours checking out some of the local markets and just getting the feel of the city (at least that small portion of it), being approached about every two minutes by someone trying to sell us something, and becoming very used to saying “No”. There were adults. There were old people. There were kids. There were mothers with babies. There were kids with babies. They weren’t begging, but you can only use so many trinkets and candy, if you know what I mean. This was actually just walking around the streets. The actual markets we went into were much worse than this. The individual people who would approach would ask us once and then go away, moving onto to the next potential customer, knowing that the law of averages would eventually result in a sale to someone. And the tourists really are easy to pick out, no matter how much they dress down. They’re still white in a city of two million Mexicans. If you make your living by selling stuff to tourists, you can always pick them out, and in Juarez, they’re always there. The markets were another matter entirely. You’d walk down a narrow aisle between two rows of stands selling an unbelievable array of crap and the occasional vaguely half decent item. As soon as you passed within an arms length of any booth, the owner would immediately approach you and shove some ridiculous object in your face, shouting some dollar figure at you and offering to sell it to you. As your momentum carried you along, the prices would decrease with every half step as you moved on down the aisle. If you made the mistake of stopping to look at something, they’d be in your face again. It was only by leaving the market entirely that you managed to escape. All of this was a tremendous shock to my sensitive Canadian disposition. As we walked back across the bridge towards the border and El Paso, it occurred to me that I had no clue as to the reasons why two cities separated by nothing more than a dried up river should be so different in terms of wealth. But, I asked myself, can’t you get virtually the same contrast in any large city just by traveling a few blocks? In Houston, for instance. Or Newark. Or Mexico City. But what does it mean? What’s the answer? Why are some people poor and others rich? Is it due to institutional factors? Discrimination? Genetics? Laziness? Luck? At this point my brain was starting to hurt and I decided that this was not the time or place to spend a lot of time thinking about theories of the distribution of wealth. We crossed the border and spent some time checking out a section of El Paso that consisted entirely of really, really cheap stores. My one souvenir from this portion of the trip is a picture I took of a yellow t-shirt someone was selling. It had a large picture of Mickey Mouse on it, with the rather confusing caption below it of “Pokemon”. Later that evening, we went out to eat and tried to implement the ‘cool place” strategy I outlined earlier. Having failed to locate anything resembling a used record store, we were in possession of only a single local paper that listed clubs. One of them listed Club Dedo, and indicated that Tuesday night was Metal Night. We decided to eat first and then check it out later. We opted not to use the strategy of asking the waiter/waitress, since the restaurant we ate at was too yuppie. So with hope in our hearts and ginger-lemon-chicken in our stomachs, we went to Club Dedo. When we entered, the music was decidedly nonmetallic, and appeared to feature oldies by request (60’s through 80’s stuff, but good all the same). We asked the bartender when the metal music was going to start, and he said, “Oh, we haven’t had Metal Night in a long time. Probably two years at least.” So much for strategy and planning. We had somehow managed to stumble onto a half-decent place with good music and comfortable chairs, not exactly what we were expecting, but it killed a few hours that evening and made me forget about poverty, wealth, and the mysterious Mickey-Pokemon shirt.

posted by gunther at 11:57 PM Link

Monday, July 28, 2003

 
Chapter 1: Never Speak the Name “Presidio” In My Presence The vacation trip began with an all-too-long visit to a local car rental place near Hobby Airport. The car we were given was a Stratus two-door, which was kind of like riding in a spaceship. I.E., small, cramped, and with small windows that you couldn’t see anything out of. It also had surprisingly little power, and would ultimately prove to be pretty sluggish when required to climb hills. We set out at about 2:00 on Saturday, the 12th, intending to make it from Houston to Del Rio by the evening, and then head off to Big bend the next day. The highlight of the first days trip was passing through a town called Bracketville, where the movie set for John Wayne’s version of the movie The Alamo was filmed in 1960 or thereabouts. We didn’t get to see the faux Alamo because by the time we got to Bracketville the Alamo site was closed and locked behind a chain link fence. We had to be satisfied with taking pictures of the closed gate, with us looking appropriately sad in front of it. On the way out of town we saw a pack of dogs having sex in the middle of the street; we had to move to the other lane to avoid hitting them. Bracketville was some kind of happening place. On to Del Rio! Del Rio, Texas was distinguished by having one of the strangest bars I have ever been in. Actually, it probably isn’t all that uncommon in smaller towns, since it’s probably more efficient form a business standpoint to have a single larger place that caters to many different tastes than to rely on a smaller group of clientele that prefer a single type of music. Somehow, “Denim and Diamonds” managed to combine Hip Hop, Country and Western, crappy Oldies, and Mexican music into a single dance club. There’d be about 30 minutes of Hip Hop, for example, followed by 30 minutes of C&W. And so on. The most bizarre thing was the fact that there was all of this communal dancing that went on for most of the night. So, you’d get a long section with people doing a version of the Electric Slide (which I thought had stopped being popular around the same time that Dennis Miller stopped being funny). Then you’d have line dances during the country portion, and during the Mexican music, there’d be this mass circular procession around the dance floor for 30 minutes. Then the whole series would start over again. The next day’s driving was through the most desolate country I’ve ever seen, taking highway 90 west from Del Rio to Big Bend. By the time we got to the park entrance the staff had gone home. It was kind of bizarre standing at the entrance to this huge park and basically looking at a handwritten sign telling us to go on in, and just come back the next day to pay our entrance fee. We found an acceptable camp site in the Chisos Basin, which is surrounded by towering 1000 foot peaks on all sides. Over the next couple of days we managed to climb one of them, and take a side trip to see the Santa Helena canyon, which is coincidentally a sheer 1000 foot canyon carved out by the Rio Grande. On Tuesday, many rabbit and snake sightings later, we left Big Bend, determined to make it to El Paso before nightfall. This trip would take us through country even more desolate than what we passed through a few days previously. After many hours of driving we ended up in the town of Presidio, Texas. Deciding we needed a break, Karen persuaded me to stop at a convenience store and buy some diet Cokes. Then it was off to El Paso, via a town called Marfa. This is where the movie “Giant” was filmed, according to the forest ranger we got directions from in Big Bend. It is also the home of the “Marfa lights”, which is not a sports team or a cigarette brand, but some pseudo-mysterious lights that occasionally appear in the sky there and are claimed by some to be UFOs. So after getting the Cokes, it was off to Marfa. It was only as we rolled into Marfa, and we decided to fill the gas tank, that I realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me. Many panicked and repetitive searches through the car ensued, but the wallet was nowhere to be found. We reasoned (since we are both highly educated people) that perhaps I had left it in Presidio when we had stopped to buy the Cokes. But that was an hour away. With no other option, we drove back to Presidio in the hope that I’d dropped it in the convenience store, placed it on the counter, or otherwise left it in some place where it would be safe and secure, waiting for me to come and retrieve it. No such luck. The wallet was nowhere to be found. We finally resigned ourselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to turn up. I was out about $120 in cash, plus my two credit cards, ATM card, and driver’s license. There were also two gas credit cards belonging to Karen had been entrusted to my care, since I was doing the bulk of the driving. All of these had to be cancelled, a process which took another two hours to get straightened out. We arrived in El Paso just before midnight, after a long drive filled with many silences.

posted by gunther at 3:28 PM Link

Friday, July 25, 2003

 
We Have Returned The Gunther Concept clan have finally returned from a two-week vacation trip around the southwest. I'll be posting the highlights, interesting details, and some personal impressions over the next couple of days. For now, I'll just note with dismay that we've devolved on the Truth Laid Bear's ecosystem to the level of lowly insect.

posted by gunther at 6:38 PM Link

Friday, July 11, 2003

 

God Made Man But He Used the Monkey to Do It Courtesy of Tbogg comes this bit of information on the continuing efforts of the right to turn Texas into a theocracy. The Texas Board of Education is currently hold a series of meetings, and one item on the agenda concerns the textbook choices that will be available for Texas schools. The TBOE cannot edit textbooks, but they do need to approve them for use in the state. Given the size of the market for textbooks in Texas, it is thus fair to say that TBOE’s refusal to adopt any textbook will have a significant adverse impact on any publisher. It seems that a group called the “Discovery Institute” has taken the opportunity to submit a 55-page report which recommends changes in the way evolution is taught in Texas schools. Specifically, the report questions the accuracy of evidence supporting the scientific theory of evolution and the way it is covered in textbooks that are being considered for adoption in Texas. Raymond Bohlin, speaking on behalf of the Discovery Institute, said Darwin's Origin of the Species was not peer reviewed. "Often new scientific ideas are not welcomed in the scientific literature," said Bohlin, who holds a doctorate in biology and is director of communications at Probe Ministries in Richardson. … Trustees Terri Leo, R-Houston, and Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, questioned several speakers at the public hearing, asking whether perceived weaknesses in evolutionary theory should be included in textbooks. Leo said publishers shouldn't remove evolution or insert religion into books, but should present both the strengths and the weaknesses of Darwin's theory. "If we censor out scientific weaknesses, we limit the best of our educators by addressing them to avoid debate of different viewpoints and to explore the range of theories in the classroom," Leo said. The Board, which is elected, is heavily conservative. To see how conservative, you merely need to be reminded that as recently as 1998 (when they were less conservative) they voted to get rid of stock they owned in the Disney corporation in protest over the amount of sex and violence in movies produced by Disney (or more precisely, it’s Miramax unit). Given the obvious political leanings of the current Board members, it would not be at all surprising if the TBOE adopted the recommendations of the Discovery Institute and forced textbook publishers to include theories such as “intelligent design” (first proposed by Devo around 1978). They tell us that we lost our tails Evolving up from little snails I say it’s all just wind in sails Are we not men? We are devo! We’re pinheads now. We are not whole We’re pinheads all. Jocko homo Are we not men? D-e-v-o Monkey men all in business suit Teachers and critics all dance the poot Are we not men? We are devo! Are we not men? D-e-v-o God made man But he used the monkey to do it Apes in the plan We’re all here to prove it I can walk like an ape Talk like an ape I can do what a monkey can do God made man But a monkey supplied the glue

posted by gunther at 2:23 PM Link

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

 

A Coded Message for my TX.US Friend Since my postings on the Gregg Phillips issues, I’ve had sporadic increases in hits from people who come here searching for “Gregg Phillips” or “Enterject”. A fair number have come from a mysterious person or persons who whose only identifying tag is “TX.US”, and the nearest domain I can find that would correspond to this would be some computer operating out of a Texas State government agency. I’d like to have few words with this individual (or individuals), but since others are possibly looking in I’ll use a coded message. Ellohay! Owhay areway ouyay odaytay? Iway ouldway ikelay otay indfay outway owhay ouyay areway andway ywhay ouyay areway interestedway inway isthay informationway. Areway ouyay omeonesay ithway anway interestway inway ovidingpray oremay incriminatingway evidenceway? Orway areway ouyay omeonesay owhay isway eepingkay acktray ofway emay orfay efariousnay urposespay? Orway areway ouyay Egggray Illipsphay imselfhay? Ouldshay Iway ebay eepingslay ithway away argelay eakstay ifeknay underway ymay illowpay? Ouldshay Iway ebay eepingslay underway ymay illowpay? Ouldshay Iway areday otay eepslay atway allway? Ifway Iway on'tday eepslay, andway Iway oselay ymay objay ecausebay ofway oorpay erformancepay, illway Iway eventuallyway endway upway oinggay onway elfareway andway avinghay otay orkway orfay inimummay ageway orfay away ieentclay ofway Enterjectway? Eavelay away ommentscay andway Iway illway espondray otay ouyay.

posted by gunther at 12:48 AM Link