Holidays of Doom

My Christmas Vacation in the Era of the Quarantine

When the first stimulus checks were cut, I decided to buy a car. There were, not by coincidence, lots of cars listing for exactly the amount of the check: $1,200. Many of them were fake listings. Some were just overpriced.

I figured I would find something high mileage but good running in that price range, so I treaded lightly into the market.

Ended up finding a 16-year old Volkswagen Passat in non-starting condition. The owner, I could tell, was a stand up gentleman. He was only getting low balls for $350. I offered $400 and he countered with $350. I sent a tow truck and had it delivered for $100. Didn’t even look at the car, I trusted the guy.

I like to point out that the Volkswagen Passat has always been the Audi base model, mechanically speaking, since 1974. This model would be the A4 but with downgraded interior and body styles.

I’m a dirt bag. It’s the nicest car I have ever owned. I had to fix it, that was the whole gamble.

I put in a lot of time fixing it, and money, but it’s also a hobby, and even though I go nuts when repairs get complex, there is intrinsic and compounding value to the experience and education from it.

This car drove me from Philadelphia to Tucson in the most direct route possible, through Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico. I made this leg of the trip in three nights.

Since moving to Philly, I missed every Christmas dinner in Arizona. I didn’t want to miss another one. I checked in advance to see if they were following gathering limit guidelines. They said no, and dinner was on as usual for whoever would show up. If you’re horrified by this, then I am sorry, but none of us got sick afterward.

I made it at the last minute, in the middle of the meal. I would have made it to say grace but I stopped because I wanted to bring something — wine, pie, anything — but all I could actually shop for in the end was beer at a gas station.

Hauling Through Texas

My whole time in Arizona lasted just more than a week. I spent that week working on my car, hanging out with my parents, and visiting Ajo, where I spent New Year’s Day tripping on San Pedro juice.

When I left, I tried to hug the southern coast through central Florida and up the East coast back to Philly.

I wanted to do this road trip long before covid. I love road trips, but I also don’t want to fly right now.

I hate wearing masks. I hate seeing people in masks. I think it is scientifically illiterate to enforce masks on people who are not sick. So when airlines say I’ll be put on a no fly list for life if the mask falls below my nose, I just can’t risk that.

Two major differences between my hoped for road trip and the reality: I did not drive into Mexico and I did not want to visit California.

California is only good for the friends I get to connect with, the live music and comedy scenes. With all that closed, then I would still see friends, but the atmosphere would suck.

Lot’s of people that I contacted seemed paranoid about visiting with me in person, either because I was traveling or because they were enforcing a bubble for themselves. My counter cultural friends obey the government. My conservative relatives don’t. 

It’s square to be hip, I guess.

My 2020 new years resolution is carrying over to 2021. It was to obtain my first passport and at minimum drive through Canada along my way to Detroit, and into Mexico from Tucson. I applied for the passport in February, as flight restrictions were already underway. I had seen SARS and Ebola — even the anthrax scare — never did I predict something like this could happen.

Canada extended their border restrictions when I was in Michigan this fall, so that screwed that. I was getting mixed messages about Mexico.

Visiting a friend in Ajo, less than an hour from the Mexican border, I was told it was essential travel only, like Canada, but also that Puerto Peñasco, just another hour from there, was operating like normal, accepting tourists. I decided not to risk it, so I stayed in Ajo at a friend’s house and we took a trip with mescaline via the San Pedro cactus on New Year’s Day.

The fact that we have fifty states where I can cross all of those borders freely from coast to coast is something that I cherish about being American. The privilege of an American passport for world travel might never be what it once was, but it is something we should care about as Americans.

Even so, traveling our great country offers historic value and natural beauty. The laws and cultures between those fifty states can change pretty radically even as we share a national identity and powerful federal government.

How each population responds to top down authority is revealing of the culture. Driving across 16 states over the holidays in the height of quarantine round two, it became perplexing to me. It changed all the time. The illusion of a scientific approach by economic restrictions is easier to see when you cross three state borders in a single day.

If there is a scientific approach, it is in the very discontinuity of policy. I mean, eventually we can take all of the data and find correlations between outbreaks and public policy, and cultural attitudes. There remains a great deal of uncertainty about the efficacy of Florida’s strategy toward herd immunity versus the California lock down mentality.

The data will tell us the truth around 2022. Only the analysis will probably differ wildly and further divide us socially.

At the time of leaving Philadelphia, and in places like Baltimore, you still could not sit at a counter to have a drink or eat a meal. You must be in a booth or at a table.

Thankfully, in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I landed after my first long driving day, I was able to belly up and talk to a stranger at the bar. When you go to a bar and you have to stay at a table, you cannot meet strangers. That is what they are trying to prevent, random contact with strangers.

At a bar in Knoxville, TN.

The stranger turned out to be a pilot. I probed him on the economic fallout of his industry and the pilot lifestyle broadly. He told me that the hours are difficult because the layovers are so brief. I joked that it encourages cocaine use, to which he confirmed that to be true.

He had been furloughed. Work was picking back up, but he admitted that many pilots were taking shifts outside of the major airlines to get by.

In Texas, the mask is largely optional, although urban centers always differ from country towns. In most big cities, even when the science says outdoor transmission is statistically zero, I find a majority of people wearing them outdoors, or while driving, alone.

There is also a low-income correlation that follows the rural urban divide. In my neighborhood in North Philly, masked people are the minority, but as you approach the wealthier liberal neighborhoods, masks become ubiquitous. Almost everyone wears designer masks there, not disposables, like in the hood. When the CDC said double mask, they did that too.

Crossing the imaginary line we call a legal border between New Mexico and Texas, it is like stepping from one world into another, like you would in The Twilight Zone. 

In Roswell, New Mexico, a denser town than I had believed it to be, all restaurants were delivery and no-contact pick up only. Closures were rampant, things like, “Thanks for the 25 years in business,” were on marquees everywhere. It was the only state in which filling my own water and coffee container was banned. The sense of quarantining in a motel and getting the F out was real to me. I moved as swiftly as I could.

There was no motel that I stayed anywhere that served any kind of continental breakfast, even though they advertised it every time. It is something that could easily be converted into pre-packaged foods, like small cereal boxes, wrapped muffins, fruits, and so on. I can give up the waffle maker, even though I love that. Nope, they are just too cheap to do it. 

The motels are not competing anymore. Most of the discount brands you know are consolidated under Wyndham. Motel 6 has survived as an independent entity since 1962. Respect. But the idea of competition has largely fallen away in favor of consolidation, so nobody is incentivized to work out a solution to their breakfast. They just charge the same rate anyway.

New Mexico strangled its economy while Texas let it breath. Arizona took the exact middle between those two extremes and yet there were restaurant closures all over Tucson. I always go dancing at Club Congress, but I could not this year. I haven’t been dancing in more than a year. Most businesses cannot survive, even with a stimulus, throughout all this.

I went to Bourbon Street in New Orleans hoping for a party. It was pretty chill. Bars were ordered to close before midnight. There was live music though — something that has become a rarity. I found myself talking with these dudes from Austin. I was wearing an Austin t-shirt at the time because I had driven in from Texas that day, and it freaked them out. I am sure they were stoned. So was I, but my paranoia wasn’t in effect.

I slept in my car in New Orleans. I had breakfast at sunrise at a diner, then walked around the French Quarter waiting for Congo Square to open up. This was a life goal, to visit the place where jazz was born. My second coming of age to music was jazz. It was rock and roll high school to jazz college. This site is a pilgrimage for many musicians.

Myself in Congo Square, New Orleans

I was also doing a bit of a conspiracy pilgrimage. I had already visited the grassy knoll and examined the angles from which Oswald allegedly fired the two shots that killed President Kennedy. The place is called Dealey Plaza, the “gateway to Dallas,” an historic site long preceding this unfortunate coup.

While I was driving through Texas to New Orleans, on January 6, I was not glued to social media or television like most people. The capital was under so-called insurrection, but I was driving. I got some headlines but I didn’t need to stay up to the minute on it. That again goes to show how you can just live your life and all the hype in the news is sub-background noise. However, the response from the government could have far-reaching impacts, as they keep ramping up fears of biosecurity and domestic terrorism.

Remember, governments do not exist to protect you. Free governments only exist to protect your rights.

Grassy Knol, Book Depository, Locations of Shots Fired

When I was in New Orleans, I neglected to recall the Garrison investigation into the JFK assassination. Oswald worked in that old voodoo town just preceding his time in Dallas. In fact, I had a book in my trunk that my Dad, who is not prone to conspiracy, gave me to read called Dr. Mary’s Monkey. If I had started reading that on the trip, I’d have checked out the other places that Oswald worked, in New Orleans, like the coffee plant. He also worked on a covert bioweapon lab in a small French Quarter apartment.

In New Orleans, the monkey viruses that contaminated the polio vaccine leading to uncountable untimely deaths and disease were tied to covert cancer research projects that reveal just how sloppy and insane things are in the deep layers of government, and how its actions do everything but protect us.

Following the death of Kennedy, there was a national effort by the Johnson Administration to develop a vaccine for the “cancer virus,” which turned out to be nonsensical. There is no cancer virus. I believe it was a smoke screen to vaccinate against these monkey viruses.

In fact, there is no single cause, or remedy, for cancer. The trillion dollar research industry has generated extraordinary other results, including the DNA sequence, but no cure. I recommend watching Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh by Adam Curtis.

I stayed on a coastal route as much as I could, seeing Biloxi and Mobile.

Pascagoula, Mississippi

Beaches are different everywhere you go. For swimming, most of the West coast is bitterly cold. Oregon, for example, is gorgeous pristine and natural, it’s wonderful to spend time there, but not to swim. It was the start of winter so I wasn’t about to swim or lay out a towel. The wind was piercing and chilly. It was cloudy. Much warmer however than the high deserts that I had just travelled through. The overnight temperatures in New Mexico in the winter can be brutal.

Throughout Florida, masking up was not required. I did not visit any big cities there. People were relaxed and there wasn’t this air of impending doom. While many states were closing public rest areas, or shut off basics like water fountains, Florida rest areas are marvelous facilities. The first stop in the state has information kiosks showing just how far and wide Florida is and how much there is to do. I have an uncle that lives in the center of the state and I had my first visit with him in decades.

Growing up in California with parents raised in the Northeast, I am trying to discover these people for the first time, even though many of them knew me as a boy.

Despite the maskless, despite the gatherings, I didn’t see paramedics all over, I didn’t see people coughing and wheezing like the plague is nigh. I saw a thriving society.

It’s like being in the South when there was a supposed insurrection at the capital. I was finding no connection to it with the people around me, yet some folks would depict Florida as some derelict infectious place. Similarly, the depiction in media of the insurrection is that we now have a domestic terrorism threat across the land. 

The reality is that wherever economies locked down, homelessness is going up, retail is shuttering, murders are up, trash is littering the streets, and it is truly dystopian. 

Florida has quarantined itself culturally and won’t allow the kind of behavior taking place in Canada, California, and Philadelphia to take root in their state. It’s clean, happening, and happy.

If you’re in a place where they lock you down, the fear is born from the act. You participate in the idea that you should lock down, so you have embraced the fear. As soon as masks are normalized, you’ll begin to fear the anomaly, the breathing mouth with a face.

Even the speakeasy hipster punk dance club in the hood that I used to go to locked down. They were already illegal. They started doing DJ sets on Instagram, the most corporate imaginable solution to this problem. There are no anarchists, just fashion gurus, on the left.

I have been aligned with Noam Chomsky ever since I started smoking pot. That has not changed, neither the pot nor my core principles. What changed was everything around me. Pro-war, pro-debt, pro-discrimination, pro-censorship, pro-pharma, pro-GMO, these are all positions that are becoming normal among the Democrats. Chomsky is now a Tucson professor, in his nineties, and still the left hasn’t caught up with him.

The left is going right and the right is becoming left. The infamous classical anarchist rainbow coalition former democratic party presidential nominee, Vermin Supreme, ran for President under the Libertarian ticket this time around. Although he lost the primary, his campaign manager, Spike Cohen, ended up the Vice Presidential nominee, running as a self-described anarchist.

My views are aligning now with the supposed right wing, the Libertarian contingent that I observe turning liberal. In Chomsky’s youth, it was normal to hyphenate Libertarian-Anarchist. The union is making a comeback and it won’t surprise me if the Democratic Party becomes the right wing party, again, while proper left third parties rise up and challenge two party rule. It is a hopeful sentiment.

There will be a liberal Republican who appeals to anti-war and free speech sentiments that will beat a conservative Democrat. Both will run on legalizing cannabis and limiting police. The Republican will celebrate the social equity we have achieved in the last thirty years. You’ll see.

Anti-war, free speech, anti-discrimination, anti-GMO, anti-pharma, these are positions that are taking root in the new Republican mindset, a kind of people’s conservative. A majority of them already have homosexuals and people of color in their families. It is normal now.

If I’m against taking an experimental vaccine by Pfizer, who is buying ads on the news networks from which I’m getting the coronavirus narrative, then I’m considered anti-science, when in fact, I am waiting for the science to come out.

During the presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders pointed out that big pharma would be running ads on the news network carrying the debate, and that explained why the topics that affect them are not going to be considered by the moderators.

Now Bernie Sanders supporters are begging for their freedom at the behest of Pfizer.

So really, for me, it has always been about core principles and my political positions have to honor those.

Maybe the solution is a free market health system, but the people are subsidized, not the industries. The Obamacare approach is typically oligarchic and while it helped me get free health care in Oregon, it doesn’t help the average person. Health costs went up while health outcomes went down. Life expectancy decreased following the enactment of The Affordable Care Act.

Driving across the country could not have made it more clear to me how easily you can bend the will of the people with government policy and social pressure. It is because of these fifty states that our federal government cannot bend the whole population from coast to coast into a unified behavior. Someone accustomed to lockdowns and distancing in New Mexico might be appalled by the normalcy that is Florida. Many have fled the two big lock down cities, Los Angeles and New York, for Florida and Texas, to be free again.

I genuinely used to believe that most people were good people, that people were doing their best. There is some evidence for it. I like to point to traffic. That we are all driving kinetic weapons in an orderly fashion and that most of us are following the rules demonstrates that we can work together to be safe.

I don’t believe that anymore.

The problem is what is in our hearts. Most of us are only behaving out of self-interest, and that is why you see all kinds of idiotic drivers, self-absorbed and hazardous. They demand that you put your trust in them, not the rules, to prevent accidents. Philly is straight up lawless.

Martin Luther King Jr. Monument in Washington D.C.

What history bears out and what is more easily observed every day is that people are mostly looking out for themselves, and they are inherently corruptible. That is the truth. 

It takes special people to snap out of ego and join consciousness. It takes a real rebel to evaluate every narrative according to their own instincts and research.

It takes strength to accept uncertainty. Our corruptibility is a mirror of our insecurity. It is easy to corrupt someone by appealing to their fears. You can manipulate someone’s behavior just that easily.

This is why the old argument that a widespread conspiracy like faking the moon landing would be impossible. Too many people would have to maintain the secret.

I don’t think so. All you have to do is work with the corruptible, then dupe the honest people. Then there are those who know but have no proof, they play along, to protect themselves. That is also corrupt, but in that self-protective way, they aren’t in on it.

I’m not saying the moon landing was faked. I have waffled on that theory. Even if it was faked, that doesn’t determine whether or not we landed on the moon. Both can happen for their own reasons. Behind smoke screens there are mirrors, behind those there are doors. It gets nuts. But for me, it could not be more obvious that covid is exactly that. A maze of uncertainty whereupon the honest can corrupt themselves by playing along, because they can’t see the illusion. They believe it. This appeals to the idea that we are once again mostly good people, trying to do the right thing.

It was a chance I had to take, driving across the country with my Volkswagen, in the middle of a supposed pandemic. The reality I learned was that there are no laws absolutely prohibiting free movement. I think some people believe that if you check into a motel in a state with a quarantine order then you’re obligated to stay there or something. No, this is all nonsense. The borders are open and people can move. This was always the case.

Spring Equinox passed this Saturday, and we’re all looking forward to the post-covid world. Things are reopening and the vaccines are being jabbed into people.

If all continues as it is, jobs will be created at record pace. The event industry employs millions of people. This alone will prop up the economy for a minute. However, there are bubbles and problems that cannot be ignored.

That is for another day.

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