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Around the Solitude

One Man in a Car (To Say Nothing of the Guitar)
Random thoughts East of California and beyond.

Everyone needs a break from time to time. The break from everyday routine, chores, schedule, walks and talks. For some, the ideal break is a family vacation on the beach – Hawaii, Caribbean, Mediterranean. For some it’s the endless nightlife and city fun. For some it’s the adventures mountain high or ocean deep. For some it’s the retreat in the quiet of a forest, looking into and talking to the Self Almighty. I am not against any of that. While there are many warm sandy beaches, city lights and quiet forests, I choose driving as a form of meditation. It’s just me with my solitude and minimum personal possessions: pair of jeans, basic travel necessities, computer, phone and guitar.  

First I decided not to write road stories this time. But then I changed my mind. It can’t be in the idle state for too long. It needs action. It needs to create. Always. Just like we can hold the breath, but we can’t live without oxygen. I am realistic there are not too many people who will read this, but I am writing it anyways. It’s the process for its own sake. Beware: this is not a Travel Guide but rather a collection of random thoughts about nothing and everything, the thoughts that occurred to me while looking at everchanging visual decorations outside the window of my imagination.  

Also I decided to write it in English for no apparent reason – it just feels that way. Something we don’t have to, and often simply can’t explain. The phrase stuck with me from my failed attempt to learn Japanese a few years ago, where they have 3 sets of symbols to write words, and when I asked “how would you decide which one to use in any given circumstance, a sentence or even a word?” The teacher replied “I just feels that way”. Oh, sure enough it just feels that way. Good enough. 

So, it’s October 2019. I am East of California. I am on the road without any specific destination or schedule. This is the whole point of this pointless trip. Well, I have a few things planned ahead and a few people to meet. There’s inevitable structure in everything. After all, I couldn’t go West for my car can’t handle Pacific Ocean all that well. I need to make a reservation for the next night, fill up the tank and follow basic rules of the road, including speed limit +10 MPh. 

My car is not really mine – it’s a rental Nissan. It’s white and most importantly – new. Once someone asked Henry Ford “What’s the best car?” expecting him to state his name one more time, of course. His answer was “The best car is a new car!”

DAY1

I started late but was lucky not to get into the usual traffic of South Bay Area. I am on Highway 101, going South. Shadows of the road are everywhere …

Very soon it got dark and I didn’t feel I should be driving too far. It’s pointless not to see anything around and just move your physical body from point A to point B for no other reason (see above). Online friends from Expedia helped find the place to stay along the route. I was Central Coast city of San Luis Obispo, just about 3 hours away from the starting point – Los Gatos. Check in, room # 125. It was uneasy day and night before. I need some sleep. Good Night!

DAY2

San Luis Obispo is known for its university – Cal Poly – and is very young. Students are everywhere. It turns out everyone is studying that well and some join the homeless population, which is substantial (but not nearly as numerous as in San Francisco). The sky is blue and the sea is green. I am on the road again. South 101. Destination? For today it’s the place I’ve been to years ago – the heart of Orange County, Newport Beach.

DAYS 3-4

Beach in the name of the city is for a good reason – there’s good sandy beach that stretches for miles, with piers and boardwalks. Renting a bicycle. Riding back and forth several times. Good workout after a long drive. Houses on the first line, right next to the boardwalk, right next to the sand, right next to the ocean. I am sure it’s very expensive, and people want to highlight this all they can. They sit on patios so everyone can observe their process of “enjoyment”. 

Unlike Bay Area there are so many americans everywhere! Where are they all coming from? Where are Chinese, Filipino, Lation, Russians, Europeans, Indians? Music everywhere. Mostly in bright C-major key, simple harmony for easy consumption by locals. 

Magnificent sunset! The sun and the ocean care less about what people build, how they live, what they eat, drink and listen to. They don’t care about the baseball scores or earnings-per-share. The sun and the ocean make their own harmonious music, their own beautiful colors. 

I decided to stay here for one more day. Why? No reason. It just feels that way. Meantime, I assembled mini studio in my hotel room – small MIDI keyboard, computer, microphone and guitar – that’s all I need. The sound is not in strings, mics or computer files. It’s in the head. It’s always been that way. We often overload ourselves with studious, expensive rare guitars and microphones forgetting what this thing is for, and how little we need to be able to express ourselves in the form of music. Or maybe such an overload is just an excuse, a justification of inability to create sound, meaning, harmony? Who knows ..

DAY5

Bright new day! “OK, Google. Find me nearest Starbucks”. Tall coffee, sprouted grain bagels, double-toasted with butter, water no ice, please … I’ve been ordering this exact same thing for the last two years. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Starbucks to deliver such a simple order. For my own sake, I captured the accuracy of fulfillment and ran some basic statistical calculations. Here are the results:

24% – Everything looks good!
26% – No coffee (quick reminder at the register helps)
28% – Cream cheese instead of butter (caught at the register too, it’s $4.35)
32% – No water
44% – Bagel not extra-toasted or not toasted at all
58% – Bagel in a paper bag
65% – Water with ice

Watching how people deliver the order. First, someone carefully listens to you, smiling. Then she’d type everything you said on the computer. Next, someone else, or often the same person, would go and “fulfill” the order right away. Sticker with my name attached to the cup of water, just to make me feel somewhat special. 

Employees, good people I am sure, are put by the company in the position where their human qualities are needed less and less. They are a mere extension of The Machine. Often it feels they have become machines themselves. They don’t think. They execute instructions according to the training. In the world of computers this would be a “firmware” running in your wireless router or printer. Bad firmware? Please consider updating to the most recent version. Good firmware? Smile!

We are all afraid of mighty Artificial Intelligence (AI) conquering the world and making us humans its slaves, or just killing the unnecessary biological beings outsight. Wrong! Many of the biological beings have already become half-machines, with their “natural” intelligence turning into a pre-programmed set of instructions. Starbucks is just one small example. Police, factory workers, military personnel, customer support representatives, office clerks, bank loan officers, teachers etc. and even software engineers have become increasingly machine-like in their daily dealings. 

Enough philosophy of The Machine! Coffee cup is empty. “OK, Google! Navigate me to … (hmmm) … Sedona, AZ”. Sedona is 472 miles away which will take you 7 hours by car in light traffic. Thank you, my artificial intelligent assistant. Unlike human counterparts, it rarely makes mistakes, but it does too – no one is perfect. Let’s go! 

DAY6

The road was quite uneventful. I got to Sedona very late, darkness all around. Small motel, small room. Cold! We all got spoiled in California by the endless summer all year around. Having lived in much colder places in the past, this weather (+3C) is of no surprise for me. There’s no such thing as bad weather if your clothes are warm enough as they say.  Good night, Good morning …

Sunny day. Much warmer weather. Daily temperature fluctuations here are much bigger than in California. Oh, WOW! The view! Red rocks are all around, mountains, valleys, sediments of all colors. I’ve got to see it closer. Let’s explore …

No matter where you look, there’s something to see, right from the center of this small town. With its elevation of 4,350′ the air is crisp and fresh, and visibility is near-perfect. Driving around, finding, thanks to Google, a few good spots to make photos. There are many trails. People walk, people ride on rented Jeeps or even their own SUV’s. 

Magnificent Sedona! Red is the color of rocks. Red is the color of the day. Endless forms and shapes – vertical pillars, flat top mesas, mountains in the traditional sense of the word. The views from the ground are great, but, thanks to another artificially intelligent friend – Mavic Pro – I can fly around and see what the birds see. First, it seems aerial footage is not as grandeur as it’s supposed to be. But wait – you just need to find the right spot, right speed and right altitude. Some luck is quite necessary too. Say, when you are up in the air, found all this and then realize you forgot to move the memory card (no photo or video without it) from your pocket to the pocket of the drone, or it’s at 29% of battery, just enough to make it back, all you can do is enjoy the view and say outloud “how great!”. And a few other words too … 

I have to say ground photos and videos don’t give you the same picture as the real thing. Perhaps, we can say the same thing about drone footage from up in the air. Our imagination makes miracles, impossible to transfer to other imagination, or even to our own at later times, on the computer screen. It’s not the same thing! Maybe future generations will come up with a better way to capture and preserve the visual experience. Until then …

My bird can fly far but not that far. Per its marketing materials it’s 4.3 miles (6.9 Km) but marketing materials rarely fly themselves. Realistically speaking, Mavic can fly about 1.2 miles (2 Km) to be able to return somewhat safely, and even that is on the edge of low battery emergency landing somewhere else (this comes from past experience). 

I found a good spot in the shade to take off. Nice quiet neighborhood, somewhat flat, no power lines. Ready to take off. But wait: people here are super-vigilant. Few citizens-on-patrol come by, looking suspiciously at me with this strange four-propeller aircraft flashing all its lights. And even more so – me, getting into the car with radioactive two-antennae control unit. “What are you doing here?” I am asked. 

Well, I could answer with the same question but I am trying to be as nice and educational as possible. “I am flying” (Oh, shit! This sounds weird and is totally inappropriate for the situation. Besides, it’s a lie. I look like a human. Humans can’t fly. Not yet, at least) “Well, I am filming from the air, and this is not more than a photo camera with propellers”. OK, first signs of understanding detected. Such a relief. “What exactly are you filming?” Thinking twice not to confuse anyone, or law forbid, not to make these people call the cops (these machines would have much less to ask!) “The mountains! Red rocks! The nature!” 

I think my openness and friendliness finally played their part. At the same time, I realized I should not be here for too long. Blue sky is for everyone but black top asphalt surface is not. Harsh reality of property ownership. Meantime, my bird was on autopilot, and once almost ran into a rock but somehow Mavic and the mountain made a deal not to collide (or else all my footage would be lost). People, oh people, why can’t you learn from this?

To say these are red rocks, mountains and mesas is to say nothing. The Nature and the Chaos itself created such a variety of shapes and colors unimaginable for us, mere humans, to fathom. Although some locals would disagree with me, I don’t think it’s the work of a white-beared dude in the skies some 6000 years ago. It’s impossible! Who would teach him (him?) to express such enormous creativity? And if there was such a teacher, who would have taught her? And so on. It’s possible though for us to appreciate and enjoy it. Let’s leave it there and not look for another silly explanation.

Spoken words communicate even less than photos and videos when it comes to magnificent Sedona. I’ll let you look at them or better yet – invite you to see it for yourself in my album. It’s well worth it. 

DAY7

Good morning, Flagstaff, the home of some 70,000 people at 6,909 feet (2.1 Km) above the sea level. It’s very young, thanks to North Arizona University and very fresh, thanks to the altitude. I didn’t stay here for too long – came late and left early. But one episode is worth mentioning. 

“Do you make a living out of music?” I was asked by elderly couple in the hotel elevator, them looking at the guitar I held. I happened to say “Yes” but I lied. In fact, very few people can make a living of music in that sense, and they are mostly entertainers.

The phrase “to make living” in modern American language means one thing and one thing only: to generate enough money to support one’s material being. A job. Factory worker, clerk, CEO, politician or janitor – doesn’t matter. But is this really living they are making in a broader sense of the word?

We didn’t have enough time for a more in-depth linguistic discussion on the topic – only three floors down, and the elevators are nowadays fast. Besides, it fit their expectations perfectly well with my haircut completing the profile. They went on with their chocolate cookies and plans for the next restaurant as I overheard them speaking. I went on too, thinking this thought that comes back to me every once in a while.

Minutes later, I said to myself, “I did not lie”, but not in the sense they would understand in a 20 second chit-chat (I hate small talk in general). But how could I communicate this to the people with pre-existing mental condition affected by money and entertainment?

In the end, it all doesn’t matter at all. Thoughts, these little fluctuations of electricity in our brains – everyone has their own – come and go, come and go without a trace. Nothing changed. Life went on too.


Road East. Interstate 40. Arizona. If you think a desert is one large empty space with nothing to see, you are wrong. Indeed, deserts are different too. For the record: I am not driving through sand dunes and camels.

In less than an hour I notice the brown road sign Nat’l Landmark. Interesting, let’s see what’s there. It turns out, about 50,000 years ago one sizeable rock from outer space visited plane Earth and chose the geo-coordinates 35.0278° N, 111.0222° W for its landing. Indeed, it caused the big noise, explosion, destruction and all the other nasty things. People didn’t have iPhones back then, and didn’t manage to record this fact of plant’s history. In shame for the disturbance, the rock went into hiding and is still at large until now.

However, the rock left a large crater for us to see, the Star Spangled Banner to be proud of next to it, and the admission office to pay $20 for all this. It’s very educational with the movie about the crater, pieces of space debris believed to be belong to the rock and a spacious clean bathroom.

I decided to have another look at this taking off from the parking lot and soaring to 500 meters up in the air (sorry FAA, but I checked for the aircraft in the area more than twice). The crater is huge! Compared to its size, everything created by humans – cars, office and even the Flag (sorry, Mr. President) – look rather small and insignificant. We often grossly overestimate all the things we make.


Interstate 40 is not as dull as thought it is. I drove here once before, but it was dark and I didn’t feel like looking around. Two more hours East and another Nat’l Landmark. This time the sign says “Petrified Forest”. Let’s check it out! The sun will be up for another couple of hours. The next stop is undefined and hotel reservation unmade. Exit 311, turn right, then left, then (pay $20 at the entrance and) go for 28 miles. Enjoy the view …

I’ve seen petrified trees before, and was somewhat reluctant to drive 28 miles to see them again. They are look like trees, heavy and hard as a rock. But 28 miles .. heee. Let’s see what else is here. Besides, I am already past the $20 gate. What I saw exceeded all my petrified expectations! They call it Painted Desert. The same Nature and Chaos than created Sedona landscapes, painted sands and hills of Arizona desert.

The hills are not high, and they are mostly below where you stand and what them. It feels if someone dug a large basin and then poured colored sand all over the place. The shapes often resemble paws of gigantic animals – prehistoric imaginary cats.

Landscapes and color change rapidly from red, brown and orange sandy hills to white and grey TP-like “structures”, the remnants of old mountains, with layers of black and yellow. Blue Arizona sky completes the picture perfectly. It’s endless! 

Such a day …

—-

DAYS 8-9

The border between Mexico and the US is not a line but rather gradual transition. It’s definitely not the spupid wall our rulers command to build nowadays. New Mexico, the territory that’s not so long ago was a part of “just Mexico” (and not too long ago before that did not have any country affiliation) has something of both worlds. In the middle of Albuquerque, NM, you are not really in the US, but you are clearly not in Mexico. You are somewhere in between. 

It just feels that way. No, it’s not the poverty of the Mexican streets vs. extravaganza of New York CIty skyscrapers. It’s not homeless people, which are many in the one of the most expensive places in the US – San Francisco – around 7-the street and all over the city. Believe me, I’ve seen places in the US compared to which a remote drunken village in Russia would look like Manhattan. It just feels that way.

No, I don’t question the integrity of official borders a bit – the do exist. After all, tacos and enchiladas here are priced in USD, whereas much the same dishes two hours south can be paid for in pesos (truth to be told, the US dollars there are OK too). But am trying to look at it from one level up, from human level. Many things in nature are almost invisible from the ground, and so clear from just a few hundred feet up in the air.

What are borders? Natives lived here without borders and didn’t even think of such things as H1B visas to Cherokee people to enter Navajo lands (Apache are not eligible!) to stay and hunt there for up to 90 years. How come the two alien European empires – Spain and Britain – came here and not only established the lines between their possessions but also divided people? Spain and Britain have no natural borders at home. Their descendant breakaways compensated for this in full. 

One thing you need to be careful here with – food. It’s good and tasty, but it’s spicy! When I say this, I meant it. If you think Bay Area Chinese, Indian or Thai restaurant has too much spice in their dishes? Double it. Double the result. Make 2.7182818284590452353602874 the power of it. For the record: I am not a food expert the slightest. But it just feels that way. 

DAY10

Howdy Lonely Star State, Howdy Texas! First it was rain and fog, fog and rain. And, what is this white stuff coming from the clouds – snow, hail, or something in between? Living in the Bay Area you quickly forget such nature cataclysms of nature. Four Seasons sounds more like an overpriced hotel chain. 

Everything is big in Texas. The red, white and blue flag (no, it’s not Russian), five-pointed stars, Christian crosses, guns, bulls, houses, meal portions, people’ waists and even the speed limit. Well, this one could easily be more, or be dropped altogether – the roads are good and it would not cause any problems and the traffic cops would have more time for eating donuts vs. making speed traps. What’s not that big is the gas prices! Texas, please teach California how to do this. People there will really appreciate it. 

In the North-Western portion of the state of Texas I am reminded time and again how different parts of the country are different. To be frank, I don’t think of the United States as a single country, but many, at least six (with my apologies to those with deep patriotic feelings and The Department of State). Texas is one. A big part one! literally and figuratively. 

Driving through so many states in such a short time exemplifies and highlights the devicity, invisible when you live here or there. I don’t know why and how to explain this properly. It just feels that way to me. 

How did people live without mobile phones before? And I don’t mean only calling or using Google maps which is indeed important to. How else would I drive that far without getting lost or ask for directions once? Paper maps? Forget about.

Nevertheless, there’s one more important of technology in hands – the ability to capture on the spot bits and pieces of experience in the form of tiny dots: red, green and blue in color – photos. In the past, their memories would quickly fade it and they had to dig their past trying to restore them. But not anymore! 

Of course photos are not the experiences themselves. But they are good and sometimes reliable references to trigger such experiences. We can live through these experiences over and over again. Of course if you want it. Our imagination makes miracles when it comes to experiencing something. It’s not what it is, but what it seems to be. It’s always been that way it will always be that way. 

Who knows, maybe in the future, near or far, they’ll come up with a way to replay your memories with 100% accuracy (how would they compare?), or even restore the past experiences based on today’s photos. Who knows? The science fiction predicted even crazier things. Let us be positive and imagine such a possibility while taking pictures of our today’s life events. 

Wichita Falls, TX. Hotel. Good night, good morning. “OK, Google, navigate to the nearest Starbucks”. Well, not the one in the Target superstore, another one. Well, not the one in the local grocery, the real one! Ahhh, coffee is coffee everywhere. Let’s go. 

DAY11-12

Driving I-45 South. Still rain and fog, but that white stuff from the skies, snow of something, ya know, is gone. The temperature is up to up to 72° as per Mr. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a German physicist and inventor (22° per Mr. Anders Celsius, Swedish astronomer and physicist). This is very California! I like that so much better than the white stuff. But the humidity, oh no … But no complains. The reality is what it is. Or rather what it seems to be. It all comes down to the experiencer, AKA you. 

Hey Houston, what’s up! Nice to see you again. I feel like I am riding a spaceship. No, I don’t have a problem. Downtown lights. Highway. Everything is one big cloud. I am looking at my hands on the steering wheel. Is it me driving, or is it just a movie about myself? I am living or am I just watching it right now? It definitely feels that way. Much like when you play a classical piece on the piano or guitar. You don’t really control your hands. At least not in the same way when you shovel, button your jacket or even type these words. It’s different. It’s all the rehearsals of the past and the feelings of the present. You try controlling your hands – you fail. Instead, you mentally look at yourself from the outside, and notice you play or drive, while thinking about something else, or better yet – not thinking at all, just feeling.

Galveston. End of the road. Gulf of Mexico is next but my car is not amphibious. It’s not even mine, it’s a rental. Let’s make a stop. Good night, good morning. Nice hotel Four Points! Off season it’s half-empty and not as expensive as in the summer. One of my arch-enemies – a refrigerator. They have it nowadays in the room of any hotel, including some shitty Days Inn. 99% of the time it works to freeze the empty space, the thin air, while in accord with thermodynamics, produces some heat to the room. And most annoying thing is the noise. The noise day and night. The noise for no reason at all. Everything has to have a reason, doesn’t it? So, my first action in a new room is to switch the damn thing off. Some chains enhanced their fridges with the on and off switch Smart move! Not Four Points. Sorry, machine, I have no other choice but to unplug you.

The weather here changes so rapidly. You take off when its 100% sunny, and in less than 3 minutes you are in the clouds – where did they come from – and heavy wind. 5 more minutes, and the clouds are gone. Repeat. The water is unusually warm for those coming from North California. But the color of the water is different – ours is so full of reflections and shades of aquamarine. This one is pale and dirty. Everything is a balance. 

It’s nice to walk the water without freezing off your feet. Just kidding, I can’t walk on the water. They say one dude did this some 2000 years ago. But they say and then believe so many things that are questionable, or outsight false. In Texas, it’s better to keep this thought for yourself, or else they can shoot you. Somehow, Christian crosses and guns go hand in hand here.

It’s this time of the year when Harley Davidson bikers from all over the place come to Galveston on their iron horses to make a roaring noise, play loud music, occupy all the restaurants and hotels, drink beer (or whatever). They call this Lone Star Rally. Leather and motorcycles are everywhere. Intelligence and sophistication are in the air … I may never understand this culture, to this community, and maybe I am not supposed to. 

DAY13

Good morning, sun, you are back! You are so often underappreciated in California!  Today it’s sunny but very very windy. And cold. I can’t believe just yesterday my car air conditioner was on. 

We are taking a walk around the old part of town – it’s not that bit – with a friend of mine who lives not far from here. Victorian style houses, waterfront with historic sailboat Elissa and a couple of modern days oil rigs with no names, Rosenberg library – oldest public library in Texas, still used for this purpose today. 

Time to go, time to go! Time to say goodbye to Galveston, and Texas. Louisiana is next. It just feels that way.

DAY14

Welcome to Louisiana! First thing you notice here is the “diversity people”, 9 out 10 to my unproven observation. If Google or Facebook moved their headquarters to New Orleans, they could solve one of their publicity problems in no time, and can easily let go of their Chief Diversity Officers, or rather make them do something more useful. I mean, in California we have diversity too, but it’s different diversity. It just feels this way.

Sunny hotel morning. The scenic view promised by Expedia turns out to be power lines and construction site, with “scenic” jackhammer sounds in the morning. If you think, we not only share the Euclidean three-dimensional space – streets, rooms, buses, squares – but also the space of sound. It’s so much easier to make the sound than to muffle it. Airwaves take and move the density fluctuations (AKA sound) in all directions without asking anyone. 

When a Harley Davidson biker is enjoying the sounds of his “motor music”, there are other people around who are forced to listen to it too. Say, you don’t like a specific kind of music, or just looking for a quiet reality to concentrate and reflect but someone else is following you with a loud radio, playing exactly the music you don’t like (but he does!) all the time. We managed to preserve our privacy in 3D space. We don’t push or come too close to one another (except for some special circumstances). Why can’t we extend this to the privacy in the space of sound? Japanese have something like this in their culture, but Japan is too far from here.

In this town music is everything. It’s one of the two major jazz capitals of the United States, and perhaps the world. The second one being Chicago. Personally I like traditional Chicago jazz better than traditional New Orleans jazz. To be honest, I don’t like traditional jazz all that much, and prefer its modern forms.

“There is a house in New Orleans” – remember that one? I do. I know it from the very early stages of my musical development, in a galaxy far away (called USSR) without understanding the lyrics for I did not speak English back then. Everybody learned his first guitar chords with this song, starting with Am, then C nicknamed “crocodile”, D and F with the most difficult barre on the first fret. It takes time and practice. 

And here I am, in the very place this song is about. The story is rather sad and I am not going to do what the main character has done. He said this very explicitly in the lyrics (I spик Englиш now) and made a pretty compelling argument for all of us. 

I have to warn you though – never ever ask locals to perform the tune. Musicians here play for money upon request. They know this song very well, no doubt. But they hate it! A drummer may even throw one of his drumsticks at you. In the South they can get real crazy sometimes, ya know! Besides, drumming under influence is perfectly legal here. Just like in Kansas City you don’t want to ask musicians to play “I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come”. Trust me on this one. 

French Quarter. There are very few French living here today, if any. This was a long time ago before Napoleon sold his colony, Louisiana, to American government for just $4. Four meals at McDonalds! Well, they didn’t know how much industrial junk food was back then. 

The street named after bourbon. Just like its cousin, Las Vegas Strip it is pale and lifeless on the broad daylight. But when it gets dark, It becomes something else. It becomes itself. Everything is flashing, dancing, eating, drinking, smoking (or whatever), selling and buying. Fun everywhere. People are having it left and right. Up and down. The cult of fake. They create this image, believe in it and if they are drunk enough, live by it (and if not, there’s plenty of bars to make the necessary adjustments). 

They decorate themselves in mass-production cloths [placeholder for Nordstrom and Forever 21 ads], silently competing whose is better. Some show just slightly visible, but noticeable – or else what’s the point? – signs of material wealth and status [placeholder for Versace and Rolex ads]. Or even something custom-made, something different from Rolex, but not that much different. It is all in the same dimension of the same 2D space. 

Many act “wild” but there’s very little in it from real wilderness. It’s pretending play. Two-three year olds do this, thinking they are acting in the real world and their actions are much closer to the reality than this. 

What’s common among them all – each one creates the outside image of him/herself, the “look”. What’s inside? Who cares! Maybe it’s deep, thoughtful, beautiful. Maybe there’s another universe inside, we just don’t know. Bourbon street is not the best place to explore that. If, of course, there’s such a universe in the first place. Or there could be. 

But isn’t this universe just another image for inner consumption of the mind? Are the thoughts and ideas just a mental decoration, not unlike the clothes, gadgets and acting “wild” decorating some 130 pounds (60 Kilograms) of the body? Don’t quote me on the number, in the South this varies greatly, and mostly to the upper side.       

I hate Las Vegas. Period. I don’t hate New Orleans. What I suddenly realized I can’t act the way they act. I can’t think the way they think. I don’t judge anyone. I observe. But that’s all. I can pretend to be them. But why? It just doesn’t feel right to me.

DAY15

Bye, Louisiana. Hey, Mississippi, how are you doing! The state, not the river. Well, the river too, but I met you already in Louisiana. We is friends! Hey, spellchecker, relax – this is how they say it here, I am just trying to tune in. I can’t possibly sound or look like a local. 

I wanted to take a break from the long but interesting and emotional audiobook, switching the car sound to local radio. I was trying to find NPR but they don’t broadcast it in the countryside. 

Instead of familiar “Fresh Air”, “Science Friday” and “Talk of the Nation”, I found a station with the announcement that caught my attention: “Jesus and the Stock Market”. I am not a big expert in the Wall Street trading, neither I am super-religious – I am not religious at all, thinking all these illusions belong the a circus. 

At the same time, I got burned in the past by my own “buy” and “sell” actions, and later by those I was advised by paid professionals. The difference was not that much, and professionals even outperformed me in losing my money. What’s done is done. I don’t play these games anymore. But you know what? Listening to this Christian radio station in the middle of Mississippi, nicknamed The Magnolia State, I finally understood what went wrong with my financial decisions of the past: without knowing it fully, I was listening to the wrong guy!

As per this broadcast, when the market goes up, you naturally want to catch the wave. You hesitate a bit, then hesitate a bit more, and then finally buy stock. You know who is advising you? Satan himself. You bought everything at the highest prices possible. All this time Jesus was on your side, but you didn’t listen until it’s too late. What happens then? The stock market following its unpredictable fluctuations, goes down. 

What are you thinking now? Oh My Dog, I am losing money. What used to be mine 100% is now just 98%. And tomorrow, who knows, it could be 96%. It’s unfair, isn’t it! What do you do? Nothing at first. Patience, patience and patience. This is how the financial adviser, this speaker of the Satan, told you. You hesitate a bit more. It’s 80% now. Enough is enough, you declare to yourself and everyone else, including the adviser. Sell! All of it! Sell it before it’s too late. It’s your choice. Of course. This is how free markets work. 

By the time you liquidate your assets, you lost 25% plus commission. Never again! You say. But worry not – in the next 3 or 4 years you’ll forget about it. Did you listen to Jesus this time? Hell, NO! You listened to the same old dude on the opposite side – Satan! Don’t you ever do it. For more details please visit our Temple of Christ Church at so and so address. Call us 1 800 so-and-so or visit us on the web at www.so-and-go.org. And this was “Jesus and the Stock Market” where we help to be on the right side of your financial decisions. Have a good day, and Bless You Dog! Amen …

Jackson, the capital city. Most of them in all the 50 states share some things in common. Each one has the Capitol Dome of more or less the same shape and color. Each has Washington, Lincoln, Monroe, Congress and State streets. Each one has lifeless capital buildings where politicians some to make it look like they are doing something useful for the rest of us. That’s an illusion, you know. But they do it so craftily and skillfully we don’t tell the difference, while paying for their services, and paying quite a high price. Indeed, they call it democracy, freedom, choice, our values, etc. – the lyrics of this song is quite long. Remember the broadcast? Ask yourself who do they serve. Satan? Jesus? Maybe. But maybe it’s not that simple and very simple at the same time – they serve The System, acting as the servants of their masters – financial elite, part of which they often are themselves. If you are in this category too then you can proudly say “they serve us”. Or more constitutionally correct “Us, The People”. 

To my surprise, they are fond of beauty pageants here in Mississippi. They often commemorate the names of the lucky winners on the road signs. Miss. Department of Revenue, Miss. Women’s University, Miss Board of Education, Miss Department of Correction (oh! That’s interesting), Miss. Highway Patrol – I’m sure some like all kinds of beauty, but I am not one of those, and would rather not have met her in person, especially on the road. 

I mean, I follow all the signs and rules, including the speed limit Well, in reality 10 MPH over it, or else it’s plain dangerous and you’d look suspicious. But seat belts! I am notorious not to wear them. My first car didn’t have belts, so I got so used to not wearing them. I don’t advise you to follow me in it, but please don’t judge me either, especially when I drive alone and cannot possibly cause any harm to anyone. Except for exhibiting a bad example. But hey, why don’t you stop looking at my window, setting up even example even worse than mine.

Looking around I can’t help but notice the landscape around highway I-55 looks very familiar. Pine trees are almost the same as I grew up with in the galaxy far and away – in Perm, Russia, especially on the right bank of Kama. Shadows of the road complete the picture.

DAY16

Bye Mississippi! Welcome to Tennessee. To tell the truth, I’ve been to Memphis once before, but it’s on my route and why not to stop here one more time? Besides, I don’t want to drive for too long in a given day. It’s a sunny morning and I am in downtown. One thing that disappointed me – Gibson permanently closed their guitar factory here, moving it to Nashville. It’s not that far, but it’s not worth driving there just to see the factory. My main guitar is a Fender Stratocaster, made 1624 miles West. I have Gibson too, but I am mainly a Strat guy when it comes to electric guitar.  

OK, what else is here? The Pyramid, of course! The city is named after ancient Egyptian settlement, not far from Giza, where the world’s best known pyramids are. Memphis Tennessee has only one pyramid, The Pyramid. It does not belong to a Pharaoh or even its modern incarnation – The President of the United States. The country is democratically ruled by corporations, so The Pyramid proudly displays the sign of the large wilderness-themed hunting franchise Bass Pro Shop. 

After all, the Mississippi river doesn’t really look like Nile, but that’s OK. Perhaps, it looks even better. 

When it comes to music, Memphis TN is (better say was!) known not only by Gibson guitars. Elvis Presley himself is from around here! How could I forget that? No, I did not. I had to pay tribute to the King of Pop visiting Graceland, his home in the past and his museum of the present.

I don’t consider Elvis to be a great musician, but he’s clearly one of the greatest entertainers in the world of music. The two things are closely related but are not the same. I mean, he’s OK and I like the sound of his songs. Actually, not really his – Elvis recorded more than 600 of them in his music career but did not write a single song on his own. The entire generation listened to his voice and that’s good enough. 

In the museum they say he fulfilled the American Dream, raising up from virtually no one, with not much money in his pockets, to the highest levels of popularity and extravaganza. Money is everything, and everything is money. This is how pop culture and its branch – pop music – work. You deliver a service that’s on demand, something everyone is craving for. You hit the right spot – you are lucky! Mullions will start buying your goods and services with their hard-earned dollars, pounds of sterling, pesos, marks, yens, even roubles – who knows? You become a king. The King!

Great. But isn’t there something money can’t buy? Of course, say The Beatles. Love! Money can’t buy me love. Full agree. Anything else? What about creativity in its pure form, no reward, no good-money-good paradigm proposed the author of Das Kapital? Does creativity exist as a thing in and of itself, independently of the millions of voices and pockets ready to buy it? I think so. I’ve had this argument with my friends and I’ve lost it miserably every single time. Everything is entertainment, they say. Indeed, I reply, but there’s something else. Something different in kind, not quantity or even quality. I am still standing, yeah yeah yeah …

Now matter where you are on this creativity debate, Elvis Presley is one of the icons of his era. We pay respect to what’s left of him six feet under the ground, but more so – his legacy, his voice, his records and the unique style he has created. Long Live Elvis!

Oh, almost forgot: I like his choice of airplanes – Convair 880, named Lisa Marie, and Lockheed JetStar, both super cool, with low-bypass engines popular at the time. Sorry, professional …

Bye, Memphis, Bye Tennessee. Welcome, Arkansas! I am not going to stay here, and on this trip it’s not more than a fly over for me. What I like here is gas prices.

But wait – cotton fields! I have to stop to look at them, and make a memorable picture. I have not seen how the cotton grows in my life. The place I am from it’s too cold to grow it, and the places I lived after (Kansas and California) don’t have too many cotton fields, at least I have not seen one. And here it is ..

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high” – well, this is about a different state but that’s the only song I know about cotton. A good song, indeed … 

DAY17

Saint Louis, Missouri. Heavens kindly asked me to take a break in photography sending thick overcast clouds, making everything around super gray, even The Arch. I mean it’s made of steel and is naturally gray. But I like sunlight shining gray better.

When they built The Arch they said it’s going to last for at least 1000 years. Wow! Those who said it knew very well they wouldn’t be responsible if something goes not as planned. Perhaps they learned from Michel de Nostradamus, the first one to realize if you predict the future, do it beyond your lifespan. Please. Or else, you and your head can quickly become two separate pieces. 

I chose quiet suburbia over noisy downtown for accomodations. Nice place! Clean, safe, spacious. But there’s one thing here I am not sure I like: everything is square. Everything! The streets, the buildings, grassy lawns and even the crosses on the Protestant churches are rectangular. Maybe the shape people’s minds too, you know. Speaking from experience. I have lived 1/3 of my life not too far from here. 

Wildwood, Missouri is a typical well-off Midwestern suburbia with sleepy arrays of uniformed houses (yes, mostly square-shaped), endless Walgreens / CVS, MacDonald’s / Burger King, Office Depot / Staples among other popular franchise names. Note that you always have a choice of two of the same kind. 

The word itself has some kind of magic in it: when you get to choose, doesn’t matter what, you feel personal involvement in decision making – the act of choosing A over B (doesn’t matter if A and B are almost identical). Even when you choose some #1 junk in MacDonald’s over, say, much the same junk #3, it’s your choice. Free choice! Therefore, you have the responsibility to like it, not MacDonald’s. This is the very basis of the “free” market of today where corporations “compete” and you choose which one is “better”. In Midwest suburbia they don’t think that much about this dilemma, just keep on choosing French Fries, feel the freedom and be proud of it.

Forget about fries. Seriously. What is choice and how free it is, or even can be? When somebody or something (the system, the government) is giving you a fixed and often very limited number of options (often just two) and choosing itself is not a choice? It looks like you exercise your freedom, your will is at work, but wait – it’s an illusion that you easily fall into, a trick not unlike magicians do to make you believe there’s a rabbit in the hat. 

Giving you a choice by itself is in fact putting limits on your freedom. Pepsi or Coke! Beware of the devil in this “or”! And even in the choices themselves for they are both very unhealthy. The freedom is to walk away or ask “water, please” but as you can see it was not a choice you were given. Do you want to jump off the cliff A or B? It’s your choice and your freedom. Enjoy!

All these random suburban thoughts are inspired by the heavenly sent thick overcast clouds, slight drizzle and 41° per Mr. Fahrenheit (5° per Mr. Celcius) making everything around super gray, even The Arch. Blame the skies. Praise the skies …

DAY18

Sun, oh, sun! Good morning! It’s so much better when you are up there than when you are not. We often forget that the sun is always up there and that the thick clouds above us have two sides – the one facing the sun is always bright and shiny, and the one facing us varies in color and mood. Just like everything has two sides – man and woman characters in relationships, yin and yang in Easter philosophy, cat and dog personalities, major and minor chords in music, noise and silence, often making a harmony. Oh, sun, one more day and I’ll begin worshiping you (sorry, Mr. Jesus).

Missouri hills. Missouri river. It’s this time of the year when the trees turn their colors to red, gold, green, with all the shades and shadows. It’s when the sky is crystal blue and the water reflections are crystal bright. I wanted to capture all this with a pocket-sized piece of technology – a phone. But the thing is, in the Land of the Free, you can’t just stop anywhere on the road and start taking pictures, unless you like to have a philosophical discussion with the gentlemen servin’ and protectin’ us all. I’d rather not. 

I picked the place  on the map I thought would be a good spot, and ask my robotic friend from Google how to get there. Easily! Just 5 minutes off the highway, and close enough to the river. The road was getting smaller and smaller, and at some point turned into gavel. No big deal. There was a car coming from the opposite direction, and the redneck looking lady (!) driving it looked like she wanted to have a word with me. 

I stopped and we both lowered our windows. “Do I know you?” – was the first question. “It’s quite unlikely” – I replied. My accent, my hair style and the California license plate was the best proof. Of course, she knew this and it was a rhetoric question. She also said that there are nice people living around here have guns, and they are so nice that they can shoot a stranger, and not in a photographic sense. I am sure they are guarding their castles, but to me they look more like sheds. If they are so worried, they could ask for military help, hire Raytheon or something …

Anyways, without further due, I decided to make a U-turn and go back to safety. Having lived in the Midwest I am pretty sure these people are nice, they will smile and greet you as their neighbor, but I am also quite certain they could shoot you as a stranger. Everything has two sides, everything has two sides indeed …

I made it easy: I stopped in the nearby gas station, and made all the pictures from the air with my “bird” DJI Mavic Pro. Missouri river it so beautiful outside the city! Colors and leaves. Bridges and reflections. Deep blue skies up above. I wish I could fly myself to enjoy it, but for the time being it’s only dots on the screen and my imagination. 

Hermann, the little piece of Germany in the middle of Missouri, founded in 1842, just 15 miles away from the I-70 highway I am on. So, let’s check it out! I’ve heard of it before, but have never been there. 

Of course, this is not the Germany you see when you go to Munich or Frankfurt. It’s the American version of, and a good one I must add. It’s tiny, it’s nice and clean and then serve good German food here, at least to my taste. 

There’s plenty of distilleries and breweries in Hermann. I am sure it’s the place to go in the month of Oktober. This time the year though the town is a bit deserted, with occasional tourist groups here and there. The locals are friendly and nice, they like to talk. I was asked whether I am German a few times. No, I am not, but my accent in English for some reason sounds close for them. I mean, I know a few words and phrases, mostly from the Soviet movies about World War II, but I’d rather now say them here.

Russian food has a lot in common with German and there’s a reason for it. Peter The Great who westernized Russia ages ago was fond of everything German, not to mention that in later times many of the Russian rulers, Katerine The Great among others, were ethically and culturally German. 

So, if you like Russian food, you’ll like German too. But please, don’t go to a Russian-themed restaurant called “Samovar”. There are many of them across the US, made mainly for Americans who are ready to pay for their interest in Russian food, without knowing there’s not much Russia in it. Who cares? Enough about food. I am not a food critic the slightest ..  

I am on I-70 West again. It’s getting closer and closer to subset. There was something truly spectacular in the skies that can only happen in the Midwest where everything is flat, and the sun is illuminating the clouds near the horizon. I can’t help but stop the car and take off my bird to photograph the experience. As usual, the little dots on the screen do not remotely represent what was happening, but it’s better than nothing. The sky is changing every second, and every next monet is better than the one before. Enjoy the show while supplies last. Darkness comes. It’s all over, all overs. Just the road and cars, cars, cars .. 

DAYS19-23

Oh, Kansas! I am not going to sing “I am going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come” for I am already here. Besides, having lived here for 14 years I am sick of this song much like everyone else. Outside people like the song but (unrelated) they often confuse Kansas State and Kansas City. To me, here’s a big difference and all these stories about Dorothy and the Dog carried away by tornado are about the state, not so much the City. I mean, tornadoes happen in the city too, and there are sirens everywhere going off every Wednesday @ 11 AM – something everyone got used to so much they treat it as a reminder, a clock, rather than a warning.

It’s interesting to go back to this place every once in a while. You know each and every corner! But it is not yours anymore. It’s a very weird feeling, I have to admit. I was not born in Kansas, neither did I grow up here and I am not trying to pretend to be native Kansan. On the other hand, it’s mine. I came here (to Overland Park, to be exact) from the galaxy far and away. At that time this was America to me. I can’t fully explain it, just like my Japanese teacher couldn’t explain the choice of the characters to write. It just feels that way!

The Plaza! All-year-around beautiful Pomona, the goddess of fruitful abundance in the City of Fountains (one of Kansas City nicknames), surrounded by illuminated signs of local bar-and-grills, global consumerist brands and water. Looks good, doesn’t she? 

Overland Park – the vibrant sleeping suburban community in the South, one of the best in the nation to raise a family according to many polls and reviews by respectable magazines and news outlets. 

Clean, spacious, safe, good schools, parks, movie theaters, shopping malls, variety of grocery stores, restaurants, Chuck E. Cheese’s, soccer fields, petting zoo. Wide open streets with not too many cars and almost no traffic compared to Northern California. The grass is green, the sky is blue, the national flags and trucks are huge, the people are nice and the local football team – the Kansas City Chiefs – is doing fairly well this season. 

Sometimes, people are overly nice here. The smile every time there is an opportunity, and even if there is not. Just in case. They say “Hi, How are you?” without much consideration about your inner feelings. It’s not really a question but more of a statement that requires “Good! How are you?” response. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in it. It’s best to tune in and play this game.

The weather is unpredictable. One day it is sunny and warm, and the day after brings the snow and blizzards caused by the Arctic Wave, as in response to all the people’s global warming efforts. No complains. After all, I grew up in a much colder place. No complains!

There are so many things to say and sign about Kansas City, including that tune, but I will leave it to The Beatles. Time to go. Moving on …

DAY24

Hey, Iowa! This is exactly what I expected you to be: fields, fields, fields. Farms and silos. I don’t know where exactly this image of the state came from, but it just felt that way before coming here.  Brief observations while driving along I-35 North confirm and substantiate my mental image, adding snow to the picture. 

I am sure it’s nice and relatively inexpensive to live here. I am sure so many people call it home and like it very much. I am sure there are so many things you don’t see when cruising along major highways. Another world – the world of prairie, the world of farmland, the world of occasional small towns – is to be explored. For the time being my destination is up north. 

Just one stop along the highway and one flight of my skybound companion – DJI Mavic Pro. As it turns out the drone is not a friend of frosty weather. No surprise! It’s made in Shenzhen, China and it knows very little about colder parts of the world. Quickly after take off it signaled me about critically-low energy levels left onboard, but I managed to land it safely to the snow. Whoo …  

DAY25-26

Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s up north and it’s unusually cold this year, as the locals say. But it’s nice! First off, it’s a city. Unlike many other places with the same salutation, even much bigger ones, Milwaukee is the city where people not only come to work but actually live in. It took me a while to remember the spelling of it and more so, link it to the way it’s pronounced – /mɪlˈwɔːki/. Locals say it a bit differently, something close to “Muakee” but written phonetics don’t communicate it well.

From the first site, the city is very German. It just feels that way. Churches with delicate architecture, detailed sculptures of the saints and with tall spires. This is where Catholicism clashed once again with the Protestantism, thousands of miles away from their birth places – Ancient Rome  and 16-th century Germany, more or less peacefully this time. 

Thanks Dog, it’s more than religion the German immigrants brought here when they arrived during the late 1840s: it’s their brewing traditions! It’s the many names with the first “K” instead of “C”, it’s the style of their houses and so much more. I mean, you are OK speaking English now. In fact, I am not sure how much can you practice German around here if you spoke it fluently (which I do not).

My skybound friend named Mavic made its final flight in Milwaukee night skies and this is the last picture from it. Taking off with nearly 100% energy levels, it could not handle the cold weather and signaled “emergency landing” mid-air. With all my efforts to bring it to safety, the landing turned out to be falling from the skies and breaking into pieces. R.I.P. Mavic!

Just like people running out of energy with chemical reactions inside our bodies slow down, we get old and cold, can’t keep up with the pace of our “flight” anymore, can’t balance ourselves in our “skies” and eventually fall. It happens. It will eventually happen to each and everyone of us. 

Let’s make as many “pictures” as possible. Let’s create while we can! Mere consumption of the casual everyday reality, and even having fun with it somewhere on the Bahamas (pick your favorite fun place) is plain pointless. Such a time and fun will be gone into oblivion as it has never existed, as we have never existed. Of course, not everyone will leave a creative trace as a philosopher, thinker, poet, musician, painter, actor, etc. or just interesting fellow to talk to. But it’s worth trying to “take off”, even without clear vision where the landing strip lights are and even without sufficient energy levels “onboard”. What else do we have left against Time Almighty transcoding bits and bytes of our pleasant (or whatever) memories into pure nothing?

Back to earth. Milwaukee has a beautiful riverfront and promenade! I wish more cities with rivers have this – hey, Kansas City, why not you? Magnificent lake Michigan waterfront. I am sure it’s much nicer summertime. For now, it’s icy cold and, no surprise, nobody is swimming – Russians didn’t settle here yet in sufficient numbers to do so.

But you can still enjoy the moonrise – we don’t have this in California, only moon and sunset – and the skyline of the city when it gets dark. While a pier, far into the lake, it feels like you are standing on the water looking both ways – to the East (the moon)

and to the West (the city). 

Milwaukee Art Museum is a piece of art in and of itself – inside and outside. I am not much into museums (inside and outside), but this one somewhat special. Located in the Michigan waterfront, it resembles a swan or possibly some large fictional white bird, with wings spread  217 feet (66 m) across. They open and close from time to time as if the bird was trying to take off. It didn’t so far. 

What’s inside is a good collection of European art, most notably French impressionists of 19-century. There’s also plenty of modern junk occupying most of the space that, to my taste belongs to a landfill (sorry, a recycle plant!). I mean, I like modern art in general. This in fact is what I like the most in visual art. It reminds me of modern jazz (as by late John Coltrane), just in a visual form. It’s pure chaos! But it’s not chaos at the same time. It is whatever you feel it is, and everyone finds his own meaning in it, or no meaning at all – that’s OK too. To me, such forms are not meant for meaning or even interpretations, but rather for pure feeling, something we can’t put in words or exchange intelligent thoughts about. It just feels that way ..

Speaking of Milwaukee I must mention two things, perhaps the best known in the outside world: Miller beer and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, both proudly “brewed” here, although unpatriotic ill-wishers say parts of the iconic American iron horse, or even the entire horse for some models, are mane in China. 

The [unsubstantiated] rumors about Miller beer are even less glamorous. The founder of the brand, Frederick Miller, immigrated from Hohenzollern, Germany in 1855 where he previously made beer too, but they say not a good one. According to the local Purity Law of the time he was not welcome in his homeland anymore. So, he found business opportunities the Land of the Free and became the Founding Father of one of the most popular brands of today – Miller Lite. Just like most of the popular malt drunks based on rice, low carbs and mostly marketing. Enjoy!

I am not much of a beer drinker, so I went to Harley-Davidson museum. Well, I am not a motorcycle rider or enthusiast either, but it’s visually better here, to say nothing, it’s warm inside with the 5° F (-15° C) outside. There’s history of the entire motorcycle industry and nice coffee here .. 

I don’t know how they travel on motorcycles when it gets cold, but it’s so so good to jump into a warm car and drive 10 MPH over the speed limit while listening to an audio book. Bye, Milwaukee, see ya!

DAY27

The Skies were not particularly happy that day covering the entire world below with thick clouds and cold mist. Looking at this, I decided to suspend, or even end my northbound journey, making a U-turn right on I-94 and going south. To my surprise, in less than 2 hours I found another city on the shores of the same lake – Chicago! 

You can’t confuse its skyline with iconic skyscrapers Sears (now Willis) Tower, Hancock Building, impenetrable traffic the closer you get to The Loop, endless toll booths along the way and ridiculously high parking rates ($49 for less than 2 hours) with any other place near or far. Besides, I’ve been here 1001 times before. Don’t quote me on the number. It’s only 83,23% accurate. Just like all the other statistical figures that people come up with 2.32 seconds on average before mentioning.

“Oh, I love Chicago!” –  used say mafia bosses of the past. Later their descendants became wealthy men, lawyers and politicians, but the tradition remains. I completely agree with this statement (other than the parking rates). 

Welcome to Magnificent Mile, otherwise known as Michigan Avenue – the pinnacle of wealthy consumerism, Midwest style. This is where people buy things they don’t really need to show others they have enough money to do so, and others reciprocate and do the same. Meantime, the endless Gucci and Versace happily supply their junk to fulfill the need. On the good side, this whole “glamour” trend is winding down. 

I am almost 87.23% certain in my casual observations the young ones are less and less susceptible to showing off their symbol of status as primitive as expensive clothes, shoes, bags, glasses, etc. etc. with the exception of electronic gadgets. What do they really need? Healthy food, clean air and water, safe shelter with the basic comfort of the 21-st century, coffee in the morning (this one if the must!) and the Internet.  All this is not that much to ask. The rest is driven by nature and imagination. 

The older generation still likes the illusion of status in the traditional material sense. They like to talk about freedom. But how much freedom do they really have? They are forced to think they need so many things so they have to work, work and work (unless you are a lucky one with inheritance) without being able to exercise their imaginary freedom. For if they don’t, they will be quickly free to leave their mortgaged house or rented apartment. 

Forget Gucci! Forget mortgage! One lucky real estate crook-become-politician (with the lack of manners) has put his name in the large capital letters on the tall building in the most visible place near Magnificent Mile. Yahoo! Make Chicago great again ..

Looking back and North, I have to say Milwaukee and Chicago have a lot in common. The latter is a bigger and older version of the former, but not necessarily the nicer one. Just like older relatives or siblings among humans. 

Chicago downtown is known and famous for its modern style architecture of the 20-th century. The higher the better. Steel and glass. The city suffered the Great Fire of 1871 and the subsequent Great Rebuilding that shaped its skyline throughout the century and beyond.

I have to note the construction is still very active in Chicago downtown with new modernist buildings – residential and business alike – growing like mushrooms here and there, scraping the skies. 

One thing you always notice here – the noise! I don’t know how people living in The Loop manage to fall asleep. Or maybe they just don’t. The subway train running right in the center above the ground, nicknamed Chicago “L” (short for “elevated”), is making a variety of 100 decibel screeching noises that belong to horror movies. At times, it feels on the next turn it’s going to crash to the ground tons of its rusty metal. Hollywood sound guys should come here more often. 

Just half a day in the city, I didn’t have enough time to enjoy the music of this jazz & blues capital. Next time, next time. 

DAY28

From the Land of Lincoln, nickname for the state of Illinois, to Linkoln of the Land – the capital city of the state of Nebraska. Driving along the Interstate 80 I suddenly realized there’s not much difference around when you cross the border of a state. On the one side you see pretty much the same thing as on the other. The nature cares less about people’s creation – states, countries and borders. The most beautiful sunsets in Illinois are the same in Nebraska (sorry, Kansas, I love you too)

The large purple sun is unstoppable in its celestial way below the horizon. The multi-megapixel eye of my super-advanced Pixel 3 camera does not remotely catch the feeling of it. Maybe in the near or far future they will have a better way to capture human experiences. But hey, what to do? We live here and now and JPEG images are better than nothing. The rest is up to our imagination. It makes miracles! Quite literally. 

What else is to see in the great state of Nebraska? I was trying to find this out half a day, and the morning after, even after drinking the usual imagination opener “tall coffee” at Starbucks. Lincoln the City did not offer much other than an ongoing Saturday football game – who knew? – and no place to park as a result. The local college team (the city is not big enough for NFL) seems to be doing pretty well in its league, and everyone around seems to be a loyal fan wearing red, red, and red (on red) with the large “N” on the front side. Go Cornhuskers! Sorry, Kansas City Chiefs. To say nothing about San Francisco 49-ers. By the way, all the three teams wear red uniform by pure coincidence. 

Driving through the state and the city I can’t stop thinking of brand names such as: “Trucks Я Us”, “Tractors Я Us”, “Hey Stacks Я Us” and the like. If someone finds it useful, I’d like to claim my 100 shekels – that’s the local currency of the Bible and of the state of Israel, modern equivalent of about $20 – and pass it to my descendants if I don’t live long enough. Seriously!

DAY29

Welcome to Colorful Colorado! – said Google navigator out of the blue. Oh, that’s a bit unexpected. Bye corn fields. Hello Rocky Mountains! My favorite color in colorado is shiny show white, no matter what time of the year it is. You see white caps of the mountains from far away, and it’s one of the most magnificent views I have seen. You are not in the mountains yet, but sometimes expectations are better than reality. Imagination builds the mountains. 

Have you noticed the distant mountains look bigger than when you get closer? And when you are the foothill of the mountain, you wonder is this the same giant I was looking at before? I have. I think from the distance our imagination just has a lot more “raw material” to work with, but when we get close, the reality decimates most of it. Maybe it’s not only about mountains, but people too. As one Russian proverb says “eye to eye – no eyes to see”. I am not 79% sure it’s originally Russian but this is how I got to know it. 

Passing by Denver downtown I realized how little are all the things people created compared to the nature around. Skyscrapers, factory chimneys, airports, planes, bridges, highways, even the federal prison – all are dwarfs in the front of the mountains. Perhaps, this is true in flat places like Nebraska or Kansas, and even more so compared to Pacific Ocean in California, but it’s abundantly and undeniably clear here in Colorado. People! Don’t forget how small you really are. Behave yourself!

There are two ways to cross the Continental Divide – the mountain range that split continental US into East and West. The first and most common is to stay on I-70, going through a tunnel. The second, the more challenging one (and the one you must take if you carry hazardous materials onboard) is Loveland Pass, officially known as US-6. Sure enough, I chose the latter! The road serpantin goes up and up, snow on one side and a cliff on the other. Blizzards and avalanches are not uncommon here. On the very top – elevation 11,990 ft (3,654 m) – there’s a great view, cold wind and vast space to the left (West) and right (East). The air is thin and it’s a bit difficult to breath at first, but it’s well worth getting here. 

In this very place sometime ago I and three of my friends got stuck in the snow. Right on the top, right in the middle of the Highway 6 so no cars could move either direction. The weather one East side was perfect – sunny, crispy, calm – but when we got to the West side, in less than a minute it changed to a blizzard with snow drifts. Our unprepared front-wheel-drive Honda could not handle this well. Snow drift on one side in which we were half length of the car, and a huge cliff on the other where we didn’t want to be at all … Rush of adrenaline! Colorado natives, these tough but nice people, helped us out. Big thanks! In the process, my English vocabulary expanded with a few new phrases, mostly the curse words. 

It’s early November and the ski season is not in full swing yet. While international and out of state people are still packing their snow gear, the locals occupy the slopes. These brave men and women in uniform (children too!) ski in the placed dangerous just to look at. They often get to the top on a truck, ski the paths that only they know – ungroomed, unsafe, near-vertical – to be picked up down the hill but the same truck. The  driver stays in for now. But in the future this could easily be a self-driving truck for the driver is likely to be a die-hard skier too. Arapahoe Basin, or A-Basin for short, is one of these places. Crazy!

I skied in Colorado many times and my favorite place is Keystone. It’s civilized, international, expensive, all that, but it has good slopes to my taste and the level of skiing. One of them is called “Mozart”. It’s fairly steep but it’s wide and long. When you ski there it clearly resembles Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music. I don’t know why, it just feels that way.

It’s marked “blue” but in other places, say Northstar in Lake Tahoe, CA, it would clearly be “black”. What’s black here is real, and one should think first before getting there. Once you start your descent, there’s no way back. One should think twice before jumping into Colorado rated double-diamond. I’d certainly recommend you do. Speed and snow. Snow and speed. Pure exhilaration. Just as if you were flying. Legal disclaimer: consult your psychiatrist first.  

The lake is not frozen yet. Late in the season there will be outdoor hockey rink here with miniature Zamboni making the ice and the Christmas Tree with lights right in the middle. Hot chocolate and fire logs. Sauna. Outside swimming pool and jacuzzi. You can jump to the snow right form there, and get back shorty after. Some people may even think you should have consulted the psychiatrist, but you have not ..

Keystone is behind. There are few more resorts – Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Frisco. Then comes Vail. It’s big (huge!) but I still prefer Keystone with its slopes. Then there’s Auspen with its glamour and the airport where rich fly people on their private jets to. Grand Junction is next. This is where one has to decide whether to go North toward I-80 (and end up in San Francisco) or South on I-15 (and end up in Los Angeles). This is the choice I made some years ago, turning my steering wheel to the right. No regrets so far.

DAY30

Utah, nicknamed The Mormon State. Officially thought, it’s The Beehive. I am still puzzled how much honey bees and Mormonism have in common. This is something that requires more research, as the say in scientific circles to politely indicate they don’t know much about the subject. What I can say, people here, most of whom the adherents of LDS look like overinflated air balloons when they smile. And they always smile! 

Don’t you confuse the perfectly legal Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the one now illegal psychedelic substance LSD. Three-letter acronyms can be misleading. however, their effects on people’s mind and smile may have similarities. Easily. Speaking from experience. NO! It’s not what you just thought. Not the LSD, but LDS – I’ve been here before and connected with people on the professional side. Perhaps, this requires more research too. Church and politics are inseparable in this country in spite of many official declarations to the contrary. One controls the minds, and the other controls the pockets. Easy!

Utah is not only the LDS. After all, there’s great lake here, and it’s salty from the very bottom to the very top. Some parts of it don’t have water at all. These are white fields made of salt, salt and salt. 

As the story goes, the founder and creator of Mormonism (other than the Dog Almighty) Joseph Smith ordered his followers to settle down here looking at the large body of water. Only when the city was established they realized the water is salty and undrinkable. But it was too late! Nowadays, however, Morton Salt company finds this divine geographical choice very clever, making tons of salt and tons of money because of it. 

There’s one place along the Highway 80 worth mentioning (and stopping by): it’s Boonville Salt Flats. Imagine yourself in the middle of a huge frozen lake – miles and miles of ice, absolutely white, absolutely flat and endless in all directions. And now (drum roll): it’s not ice at all, it’s the surface made of pure salt. The H2O evaporated ages ago but NaCL left for us to walk on. 

And not just walk. You can drive here any way you want – no rules or road signs, for there’s no roads.  It is one enormous two-dimensional space where you are in control of X and Y coordinates, their first derivative (speed) and even the second derivative (acceleration). I am about 68.42% certain the gentlemen from traffic enforcement (cops) don’t show up here very often. 

I’ve been here before and I decided not to drive on the flats. Besides, H2O from the skies came back. It’s not deep at all and you can walk on it if you like. The water is extremely salty – up the point of saturation but it’s not icy cold. Someone came up with creative idea to providing sitting for those tired of walking ..

DAY31

This could be my last stop on this trip. Well, the one before coming back to my starting point. It’s named Sparks, the town on the banks of “I-80” automotive river, a twin to nearby Reno, NV. As you may know, casinos are the landmark of the Silver State, official nickname for Nevada. The best known casino town is undoubtedly Las Vegas, this dumpster of human decency and rational thought. Sparks and Reno, or any McDonalds or even a gas station in the middle of nowhere, are not more than a cheaper and dirtier versions of it. They may not look at shiny, but they are all the same in kind. 

I honestly don’t know what brings people to all these places. Maybe it’s the statewide legal gambling and the hopes of easy money (while mostly losing it easily and quickly). They call it “fun”, imagining themselves rich without much effort or brain activity. Slot machines – the most popular form of delivering fun to the masses – are not more than the arcades 5-year-old kids would play. Perhaps, if you drink enough (and fun hunters do it extensively) you can go back to children gaming mentality.

Psychiatry of gambling is fairly straightforward: first, people get attracted to win. They randomly split by slot machines (and other “randomizers” – dice, cards, roulette) into two categories – those who win and those who lose. The players in the former get excited and want to play more. Then, by pure laws of mathematics they start to lose and gradually transition to the second category. The reason is simple: no casino would let you play without a limit, while the house is playing 24x7x365 without one. The high roller lounge goers enjoy better tables and younger waitresses but they have limits too. Trust me on this. 

The more you play against it, the more chance you hit your limit – either upper or lower, while the house will not. I assume all the randomizers and people operating them are 99.98% fair on average. If you are in the second category, you naturally think you have to make it up – at least get back what you have lost. “Good luck!” says the croupier (in cheaper places them call themselves “dealers”). You play more. And more. And more. Until you hit your limits. Then you drink, and drink, and drink, and go home. Those lucky enough to hit their upper limit (then drink and go home) are likely to show up on the next day and try to capitalize on success. Repeat. 

Maybe it’s a way to wake up one’s feelings – the one who has an appetite for money and has some cash in his pockets – no matter how much. Gamblers say they really feel it. I am not to argue against these attitudes the slightest. But there’s so much more in human experience they are missing! The world of thoughts, art, music, science, places on the globe, people and cultures. Creativity, for Dog’s sake!

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in psychiatry, but I do have one in applied mathematics. 

Naturally, these places attract certain people and certain attitudes, no matter how much money they have in their pockets when they walk in. No, I am not here to teach morals, but all these casinos – Las Vegas or Sparks – look rather disgusting. The bad thing is you almost certain to run into it even if you stay here overnight. The good thing is you don’t have to take part of it and just observe “the fun” from the distance. 

Although casinos and the “culture” they bring are all over in Nevada, from one border of it to another – literally! – you’ll immediately notice it when you cross the border either direction, they are not everything. As in Colorado, and pretty much everywhere else on this planet, the Nature is far bigger. Oh, Tahoe!

This beautiful mountain lake with fresh blue water is trying hard to counterbalance the human excrement of Nevada casinos. Look and feel for yourself where would you rather be. Tahoe is on the very edge of Nevada, half of shores in California. But again – nature knows no state boundaries. Clouds, mountains and water care less about human activities around. They have been here much longer, and they will be. 

The water is so clear you can see the bottom very deep. It’s amazing! This reminds me of Switzerland, the lake Zürich to be exact. Crisp air, fresh but not cold, mountain skyline around, snow caps here and there clear water. I must add the Alps look different from the distance. I can’t describe why exactly – maybe sharper peaks, different colors, something else very european – it just feels that way. 

Tahoe is a popular skiing destination. But, if you skied in Colorado (and like skiing in general) you’ll only smile on Tahoe’s Northstar “black” slopes. Exceptions apply, no doubts. There are places in Squaw far beyond my skills. This is where the Winter Olympics in 1960 took place. By the way, the games in the olden days were not as politicized, glamorized and commercialized as they are in our day and age. I wasn’t born yet to see them, but the information available and the place itself today (Squaw Village) strongly support my claim.

It’s not just the lake. Right next to Squaw Valley and in many other places nearby there are beautiful mountain rivers and creeks rushing through the forests. 

Would you rather by in casino?

DAY32

From silver to gold! Welcome to California. When in a matter of few hours you see mountains with snow caps, forests with spruces, pines and giant sequoias, blooming November flowers and palm trees, fresh but not cold air with the very distinct flavor, strangely shaped clouds as if someone poured milk from the skies to the nearby hills and last but not least, the Pacific ocean, when you hear English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, English with Indian accent and countless other languages  – you know are in California, the Golden State. 

When you move from somewhere else and live here long enough, as many people do, your perception of time gets skewed, or better say – it straightens up. To me, a year was thought to be a circle along which the time spins: summer on the bottom, then fall on the right, winter on the top and finally, before the next summer comes, spring on the left. The invisible hand of invisible clock has been always running counterclockwise slowly but steadily. In the coastal California the seasons don’t change that much and you barely see a transition from summer to another summer, then another one with rain, and then one more with no rain, and then the calendar summer comes. The time circle opens up and becomes a straight line, with Happy New Year mark every 365 days. It just feels that way. 

I have to say the image of California outside of California is largely wrong. People from far away countries see it as endless Hollywood and Malibu beaches, where voluptuous female lifeguards from Baywatch run alongside with armed to the teeth Arnold Schwarzenegger. Meantime Clint Eastwood is flying in space on the horse, carrying his pistols and wearing WWW (as in Wild Wild West) outfit. Somewhere not too far Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt exemplify in detail what not to do unless you want to get arrested, in a story directed by Quentin Tarantino.  

People from nearby states often see it as a dumpster of hippies, the place where naughty liberals organize gay parades right on the Golden Gate bridge (and sometimes under it too – weird!) every other day, take away pistols against the will of faithful owners and the semi-sacred Paper #1, practice socialism to undermine the Great Whatever Again, the place where bands of Mexicans take salaries away from Americans who are willing to work in construction and agriculture, ridiculously high cost of living and where everyone is smoking marijuana. And so on and so forth. 

There’s some truth to all of this, but it’s all wrong. It’s not more California than a slot machine lever in the Nevada casino is Lake Tahoe. I am not trying to convince anyone, but rather invite to visit the Golden State and then make up your mind. Once you do, some of your earlier conclusions may (and will!) look rather silly, I promise.

If had to describe it in one word, I’d say it’s fresh. Fresh in a very broad sense – from the air, mountains and the ocean to people’s attitudes. Geometrically perfect lines of the Golden Gate bridge in the background of blue skies, white clouds and the water of the bay. 

Even the standard license plates – white with blue numbers and red cursive California – feel fresh. You start appreciate California even more then you live here for a while, then go somewhere else and come back. You may be surprised to know that the words California and Caliphate share the same root, at least by one linguistic version. 

I was chasing the sun several days and gave up. It’s moving invisibly slow in zenith, but when it gets closer to the horizon, illuminating the skies with colors and gradients impossible to capture on a photo, its pace accelerates. I know Mr. Isaac Newton’s mechanics strongly suggest otherwise, or else there needs to be a mover strong enough to apply mega-billion-billion tons of force. But it just feels that way. 

As much as I would like to keep chasing the sun and continue going West, Pacific ocean is a natural obstacle for my form of transportation – a white Nissan Altima. Besides, the rental company would not appreciate me even trying to do it. To say nothing about common sense.

With no further West to go, Pacific sandy beach near San Francisco is a good place to sit back, watch the waves and reflect. Reflect on your past, the material things that you wanted and had – often silly things, your wishes and desires – often silly wishes, the people you were around – often silly people, the ideas you came to understand – often silly ideas. The ocean waves will listen to your thoughts, understand and reply with their low pitch whisper. If you are lucky the moon will listen and understand too, but she is always silent. 

There’s no such thing as coming back. Indeed, I could turn the steering wheel to the South and repeat my journey, but it would be as silly as trying to repeat the experience. Or as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it – to step into the same river twice. Learning from the wisdom of earlier generations, I don’t want to do this. All at once, including this trip. Otherwise it just doesn’t feel right. 

So, this is it! The end. הסוף. 終わり Finita la comedia. Конец. 

EPILOGUE. DAY33 and on …

7,500 miles (12,000 Km) behind. 32 revolutions of the planet Earth around its axis. 18 states. Countless roads and rivers. Town and cities. Ocean, desert, mountains, gulf, prairies, snow, ice, lakes, forests and ocean again. It’s time to put a stop to my random road thoughts, for there’s no road anymore. Temporarily, of course. Everything is temporary. 

It’s us and only us, humans, at least as far as we know, who created the concept of time – past, future, present. Over the long history, people came up with this concept of time, and even the concept of concept. The more you think of it, the more complex it becomes. Until at one point you realize how simple it is! Bhuddists try to dismantle time in the ordinary sense teaching us to live in the “here and now” moment. Not many can follow their advice and even less so – live by it. I am not a Bhuddist, and I am certain only about 16.43% of the brightest minds of their flock completely erased the notion of time from daily lives. 

To me, a live can be thought of a sort of countdown of short bright moments with large “flat” gaps and dark stripes in between. It’s best when you don’t know for sure what lies ahead, and it’s best not to count the ones passed. Now knowing what’s ahead adds the thrill. 

We anticipate the cup of coffee in the morning, daily routine, nightly entertainment and calm sleep when it gets late. We anticipate work days, weeks, years, achievements and rewards. We anticipate good people to meet and interesting things to learn. We anticipate pleasant moments ahead in what’s left for us between one time infinity and the other. We make a projection – consciously or not. In our daily routine we belong to ourselves to a lesser degree. We have to comply, fit it, do things we don’t necessarily want to do, and even pretend we like all of this. But that’s not everything! Anticipation of unknown is the inseparable part of our life experience. 

In my solitude with no plans beyond the next 300-400 miles, the expectations are reduced to very minimum – a cup of coffee in the morning, full tank of gas on the road, ever changing imagery outside and the new place to spend the night in. Maybe this is what gypsies like. The notion of home and comfort often feels foreign to me too. It’s strange and I hate to say this aloud. But it feels that way from time to time. By the way, I checked my genetics but no – I don’t have any gypsi blood in my ancestral composition. 

Solitude is not a condition, it’s a state of mind. It’s different from loneliness, especially the loneliness around people. Maybe the solitude is a remedy against loneliness. I don’t know this for sure, I am still trying to understand it.

This is what’s left. This, and the dust in the wind. Everything is dust in the wind …

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