Category Archives: Thinking

VIA Bus: Carless in San Antonio

My father did not approve of very much of anything I did while he was alive, and while I recognize a few accomplishments, in retrospect I agree with many of his objections. But now, he would be entirely disgusted.
Dad was attached to his cars. During his last few stays in the hospital, he made sure his car was in the parking lot, preferably someplace he could see it from his room. For my dad, car ownership and the liberty provided therein was part of being a man. My dad also knew I was very tough on cars. Still, when Rocinante died last summer, I sold her for parts. I drove Cat’s car until we split up in January. I have been busing since Jan. 1.
I like many things about busing. I can read, make calls, text and ride (more abut bus wifi below) just to watch the city go by (did you know we have a Snowden street? I wonder if it’s named after hero Edward.) Two excellent advantages: my transportation costs are $17.50 a month plus the occasional taxi for client meetings and staying out late; and second, I have lost a lot of weight.
There are two W words involved in the busing lifestyle. When you ride the bus, you will walk, and you will wait.
The bus is not door to door, and the stop might be a considerable distance between you and your destination. If it’s rainy, there’s a third W – you will get wet. An umbrella helps, but it’s still wet.
Waiting is inevitable. There are tools – Google maps, Via’s real time bus text system – that help you time your departure, managing at least one wait during your trip. When you transfer, the text system will tell you how long you are going to wait.

Some transfers have a distance between your stop and the transfer point. That’s when you discover the dreaded once-an-hour buses. I often land about seven minutes after the bus has passed; a couple of times I would be on the trek to a connection, and two blocks from the stop, the connecting bus sails past. Those just-missed buses are ALWAYS one per hour routes.
All of the Transit Centers have wifi, the UTSA Park and Ride at 10 and 1604 has a healthy signal. The Express buses (best in the fleet) and Primo have wifi. It’s cellular wifi, so I don’t use it for Netflix, but I can check mail and play Words with Friends, Facebook, Twitter, the usual suspects.
A special delight are bus routes that go precisely where I need to go. One of the two buses that pass the apartment goes through the Medical Center Transit Center (connects to Primo, which goes directly to Brady Green, my doctor’s office) then drives past the pharmacy then to MARC, the cardiologist’s office. The other bus goes to Crossroads, where I can catch an Express downtown or UTSA. To get to Al Rendon’s, I take either bus and connect to the Woodlawn, which passes through downtown to stop 1 block from his studio.
Other destinations can be more challenging, but one can reach anyplace in the city, with Google maps outlining the route for you. Out of town, particularly nearby locations, such as Boerne or San Marcos, are out of the question.
When you don’t drive, you don’t drive through, and it is much less convenient to drop in to the convenience store, and my junk food quotient dropped precipitously. Combine the fast food deprivation with walks to the bus, and I have lost nearly 50 pounds.
Dating is impossible. Even the most liberated woman wants a dancer and a driver. I can almost dance – I need some more practice to chance holding a woman in my arms for two-step or a waltz, but until then, I am very insecure about trying. While I am a nice man, not addicted, with manners and respect (somewhat uncommon among my demographic), car-lessness is not good. And anytime I feel the urge to invite someone for dinner or an adventure, Daddy’s standing over my shoulder asking me what kind of man calls a woman expecting her to drive.
I turn around and lay out for my dad the attributes described above – I am a gentleman – and proclaim my uniqueness, my ability to focus on the person I am with, the words I write that they never forget. That guy might take 2 hours to get somewhere, but he’s not a bad sort, and he sends interesting mail.

Training Part 1

The first time I rode the train was 41 years ago, traveling from le ave in San Antonio through Kansas City to Indianapolis, where I was attending DINFOS. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to find the train stopped. I went back to sleep. The train was late enough that I finished my journey on bus. I don’t buy a train ticket to ride the bus.
I should not have been surprised, then, to experience a series of unfortunate delays on the Texas Eagle between San Antonio and Chicago.
First, we stopped south of Fort Worth while crews moved a broken freighter off the tracks ahead of us.
In Fort Worth, an injured worker on our train necessitated a visit from an ambulance and EMTs. We were told there would be no lounge car service for the remainder of the trip.
Once a train is off schedule, it needs to accommodate other traffic to keep them on time. So we would frequently stop until we found our rescheduled place in queue.
The travel itself was quite pleasant. The legroom in coach is expansive, with a tray table that pulls out. I was transcribing interviews and – since there was no one sharing my space) able to use both tables and work productively. I slept ok, including naps, though I lost my sleep mask early in the trip. I woke at 4 a.m. Thursday morning and went to the observation car to try shooting video of the sunrise.

I worried about whether we would make our connection in Chicago, where I would change to the Cardinal and travel to Indianapolis. My previous schedule said there would be a 3-4 hour layover in Chicago, enough time to walk down and see the Willis (Sears) Tower. We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare.
I should not have been surprised. Amtrak data shows that the Eagle averages 136 minutes late, so our 202 minutes was not unusual.
The schedule says I have a longer layover on the July 9 trip from Indy to New York Penn. If that turns out to be true, I will subway to the Art Institute and back. In New York, I have an overnighter both directions. I will blog that journey as well, but before I disembark, let me offer some tips:
Do not check your bags. You do not want to spend time waiting for them, and it’s nice to have all of your stuff available on demand.
Balance your load. I had one bag with clothes, and my backpack with electronics. The backpack was too heavy. On the next leg, I am going to put the laptop in the clothes bag.
Buy the comfort kit. Amtrak offers a kit with a blanket, an inflatable pillow, eye mask and ear plugs. You will like having these things.
Pack a lunch and a readily-accessible toiletries kit. Food on the train is not gourmet, but it is edible (avoid the snack bar in the lounge). Breakfast and dinner are a little more expensive in the dining car, but the food is hot and alcohol is available. I will carry cookies, a sandwich or two, fruit and bottled water on my subsequent trips. You will also want a toiletries bag – tooth care, brush, and personal moistened towels for armpits and other odor-producing areas.
Do not try to span two seats when sleeping. It will seem tempting to stretch out, but the ridge between the seats is painful. Your seat reclines without disturbing the person behind you, and your pillows (I carry an extra standard size pillow from home) will enable you to stretch out in your own seat.
The roomettes and family rooms are probably worth the extra money. If I was traveling with a comely companion, I would probably get a room. The larger ones have showers, there’s coffeemakers in your room, and meals are included.

Speaking of Heaven

I have not heard from the theologian who cast doubt on the possibility that those who commit serial sin (he was referring to homosexuals, I was thinking war mongers, money changers and churches that cast judgment) will see heaven. I think I know the answer to the question: yes, they will know heaven. They will also know hell. We all do.

My understanding of existential reality tells me that time is extremely fluid and relative to the immediate experience. A minute can be a moment or a millennium, depending on whether you have a limited time to be with someone you love or you’re sitting at the traffic light at the junction of IH-10, Fredericksburg and Woodlawn.

Feels like Heaven, Feels like Hell
There will be moments that pass immediately, only to be remembered forever – the first time ever you saw her face. Moments like that are pure heaven – complete focus on a blissful experience. Then comes the moment you last see her face – grown cold, hard, vengeful. May you never know such hell, but you are likely to come upon your own.

The virtues and cautions embedded in our holy writings and the best of our secular canons can indeed, carry you to heaven. No human experience contradicts the wisdom to know God, honor parentage and love your neighbor as yourself. Do as the good scriptures instruct, and you will know more bliss than blisters. You will have love in your soul and nothing to trouble your heart.

“Or Else”
Indeed, fail to live up to this standard, you know – be human, and you will experience negative consequences. “Treat the Earth and all that dwells thereon with respect,” the Native American 10 Commandments. To the Commandments of all faiths, I would add “or else.” Because if you steal, or kill, or use sacred language profanely, you will experience excruciating consequences. If the system discovers your crime and prosecutes with jail and other penalties, that hurts. But even in the event that no one else knows of your crime, it does not go unpunished. Your consciousness is damaged and no matter how desensitized your heart may be, the Shadow pays you back with Hell.

We do little heavens and hells all day long. The big ones mark us. We may be taught, and live to redeem whatever big sin, but we remember it. And we are certain to know the weight of a grandbaby in our arms, quiet evenings with close friends, spectacular sunrises and other spiritual oases that remain with us for the rest of our days.

The Flashback Dance
Before I died in May 2010, I would talk about “The Flashback Dance.” Knowing that time is relative, I imagined that a person’s last moment of consciousness must seem to be an eternity. If, as reported, one’s “life passes before my eyes,” that last moment will be filled with heavenly memories or hellish recall.

My experience in 2010 did not match the myth. Despite the “Real Story” I have no memory of the moment of death. But then, I am not dead – despite the indications that may have appeared on the instruments of the EMTs or emergency rooms that attended to me (again, I have no memory of this), I came back to life, the incredible medical team at North Central Baptist stabilized me and brought me back all the way to full capacity. So, my lack of a Flashback Dance is no proof that it doesn’t happen.

No Need to Wait – Heaven and Hell are at Hand
As I went through old journals yesterday looking for material for a new edition of SavajCards, I lived through some heavens and hells all over again. I recognize the value of Hell, how it does what it can to indicate how off-track we can get. I don’t want to live through another one, not as big as some of those, so I’ll watch my path and heed the lessons, whether inscribed in a bible or taken from experience.

Mindin’ My Own Morals
One thing I’m sure I won’t do – I won’t tell you where you’re headed, heaven or hell. It’s none of my business, and I am in no position to judge. I’ll warn you if I see you approaching a cliff – I’ll support you in acknowledging yourself and seeking your true bliss, but I’m not tellin’ you what to do or what it may bring. And I suggest that Dr. Gagnon and his students follow a similar policy – mind your own morals (just a suggestion).

An Open Letter to a Fundamentalist Theologian

Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon
Associate Professor of New Testament
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Dear Dr. Gagnon:

Today on All Things Considered, you said that your fellow Christians in the Exodus program that sustained a relationship with the Lord after discovering that they could not be “cured” of their homosexuality should not expect to be redeemed in the eyes of God as long as they continued in homosexual relationships.

“The problem is, you can’t assure people that are engaged in serial, unrepentant sin of an egregious sort that they’re going to be in heaven,” you said.

I have a question.

My government engages in serial, unrepentant war. Today, commenting on a story about a family decimated by an American air assault, one of our officials said they conduct targeted, “legal” assaults against persons – with grudging regard and regret for collateral damage to neighboring families – deemed terrorist threats by some sort of undisclosed due process. I am not sure which of the people involved: the pilots or the commanders or the defense department or congressmen, whomever, but they seem to persist in this sin. If they seek forgiveness, will they find a welcome at the Pearly Gates?

And then there are these bankers – they might even be members of your church – that obscure credit terms and manipulate other people’s investments such that usury is committed and theft occurs. They do this with serial consistency and I do not know whether they have repented or not, but they sure resist any regulation to limit their inequities. What are their chances of a reward in heaven?

And, Dr. Gagnon, there is in my country an institution, a church proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, Teacher of Grace. This church, in many denominations regarding themselves as carriers of fundamental truth, spends great energy condemning. They condemn not the war mongers, not the cheating money changers – they condemn people who, by nature or nurture, lifestyle or genetic formation, have a different orientation. This institution, this church, commits the sin of judgment with serial, unrepentant venality.

Could you please explain this to me, for the God I grew up to worship created all things, loves without limit and sent his only begotten Son to liberate us from envy, spite, hate and bigotry.

I look forward to your clarification, for my heart is somewhat troubled by your testimony this afternoon.

The Truth about Legal Marriage: None of Your Business

We simply must divorce marriage from religion, and religion from the law. Religion is private, the law is public.

You are free to worship as you choose, and practice whatever moral code you wish as long as you do not harm or deny property to someone else. Your sexuality is none of my business, and the sex lives of our fellow citizens are none of our business.

The law is a public commodity, available to all citizens and residents of this nation. If two people are allowed to join in a shared partnership with intentions of remaining so for the remainder of their lives, it makes no difference what gender either person is.

Religion is held by individuals, often in relationship to a religious order – a church, temple, parish, denomination, sect, ashram, faith, circle, whatever. If two people are to exchange vows in front of an assembly gathered in a church, learning of and agreeing to the covenant of marriage with the blessing of that community and their deity – that’s none of our business. It’s a private ceremony. The couple asks the congregation for their blessing and support, and that blessing and support may come with a mutually-held moral code.

The law does not make a marriage last, and neither does religious ceremony. The relationship between two individuals evolves. The community can influence the interactions and decisions the couple make about the relationship, but it does not keep them together nor tear them asunder. So family integrity may be supported by religious belief and fiscal consequence, but it is most certainly not assured.

Thus make no law you cannot enforce. Do not deny couples the right to be together when one is sick. Do not deny couples the right to make a long-term financial commitment, such as a mortgage, together. Do not discriminate against another solely because their morality and views do not agree with yours.

It’s a simple matter of respect. You would not tolerate a ban on heterosexual marriage no matter how many hearts have been broken, people swindled, children traumatized or infidelities committed in the name of marriage.

Now, let’s stop arguing about the stupid stuff and fix the nation.

Fame & Misfortune at the McNay

The McNay Art Museum is exhibiting a special collection of Andy Warhol’s most iconic reflections. Cat and I met poets Don Mathis, Lia Fagin and Rod Stryker. The following is my “review” of the exhibit.

Stand before me, American Reality,
Strike a pose
I will paint you as I perceive you
I will construct and deconstruct
I will screen your pixelbits

Say I portray your worst
Say I merely copy
Say it’s unAmerican
Say myths of my parties
Say I can’t be understood
Say I am contrived
Say it a lot
I like that

I come obsessed with your obsessions
Beimaging your guilty deaths
Portraying the denizens of your pantry
Massaging fame images you proliferated
Here, partake of this, our communion,
European masterwork iconography you learned to cherish
Visages of Jesus I bounced off the walls of the American living room

Question my motivations
Question my madness
Question my quiet revelry
Question my orientation
Question a lot
I like that

For all the answers are the same:
“nothing behind it”

I Marched with Dr. King on Monday

I marched with Dr. King on Monday.
He was Pregnant and pushing a Stroller,
Committed to raising all Children,
Red and Yellow, Black and White,
Rich and Poor, raising All Children
to Fulfill the Dream.

I marched with Dr. King on Monday.
He was wearing a Corporate Volunteer tshirt,
Committed to making Opportunities for all Workers,
Management and Laborer, Hourly and Salaried,
Investor and Freelancer, opportunities for All Workers
to Pursue Happiness.

I marched past Dr. King’s House on Monday.
He had Signs out front, not fancy mass produced signs,
He had Hand-Lettered Signs, Old Signs, Signs inked that very Morning,
Signs of Free Speech, Signs of Faithful Belief,
Calling, “Use well your Voting Rights
We fought too hard to win them for you to let them pass unused.”

I heard Dr. King speak on Monday,
Not on the Big Stage with its megascreen displays,
But on the Martin Luther King Freedom Bridge,
All the way down Martin Luther King Boulevard
Across the Pittman Sullivan fields,
100,000 Strong he was, People making use of the Banker’s Holiday,
Making their Stand One Step at a Time, Singing:
“Do what you must to us, take all the advantage you must, but
Freedom will Last, Freedom will Last,
Thank God All Mighty, Freedom will Last.”

– gary s. whitford

Every tune, perfect to the moment

The mathematic construct of music offers a mathematic perfection, seemingly able to precisely recreate a performance, right down to the inhale and true to the exact expression. Be not so foolish as to believe this.

Disregard recorded music for the moment, reserve it for an advanced discussion.

Live performance cannot be duplicated. Play it once, now play it again. Not only did the first iteration inform the reprise, but now is a different moment – each playing exists in a unique moment.

Consider, then, the judgement of a “bad” performance. Some critics can dis a rendition based on one flat note. Occasionally, a performance will completely fall apart, with one or more players losing their way, playing the wrong changes and the tune falls apart. Allow me, please to defend the worst and redeem the rest.

We are playing the song, in this moment, at this time, for this audience – sometimes only the players are present. We are using our minds to navigate, but we are playing with our fingers and feet, our lungs and throats, our mouths and shakin’ booties. This is the performance of this moment, coming from the understanding and emotion we hold for this song, this band and our own souls. It can be no less than perfect, just the way it is.

It is quite possible we could play it “better” – more mathematically accurate, more natural, more dynamic, whatever. It is equally possible that this performance is the apex, we may never play it better. But you know what?

It’s perfect, just like that. Every tune, every time, right on moment, oh yes.

On September 11, Forgive Us Our Fear

Our Creator, mysterious force behind the differentiating gene that gives our species an ability to shape the environment to our own comfort, to create things both marvelous and horrible, to make things both large and small, we come today to seek forgiveness for our sins.

This is a day when our tribe will gather throughout our lands to remember a day of great shock and shame. Zealous criminals seized control of instruments we use to transport freely around the planet we are given to live upon, and intentionally crashed them into the towers where we peacefully – if perhaps not always honestly or fairly – transacted trade amongst our tribes. We were rightly proud of these buildings, and they held thousands of innocent merchants and servants. Our tribe has never been struck with such an arrogant and cruel blow.

We reacted with shock, pain and fear. We are a tribe of great resources. We pooled everything we had available to seek our revenge, and borrowed more from neighboring tribes to mount a great crusade against the small congregation of insane devotees of a religion we do not recognize as anything valid or true. They were harbored by other tribes, and we took our mighty planes against the lot of them, followed by our soldiers and soldiers of our neighbors. We began wreaking such havoc against our enemies as to clearly demonstrate our intolerance of any such future acts upon us. We bombed, we shot, we killed and maimed in exponential numbers beyond our losses of that day. We imprisoned and terrified members of many tribes, including our own. Finally, 10 years later, at great expense to ourselves and our values, we killed the man we identified as the chief architect of that seminal act of terror.

While we regret the destruction, waste and tragedy of our response, the consequences of our revenge is not the sin we ask forgiven. We believe we have made our point, and hope against reason that our actions will prevent any such future act of hatred toward us. Some sense of logic you bestowed upon our composition, Creator, tells us that our hope is in vain, and we stand in vigilant fear against the next attack upon us.

What we must ask forgiven, divine force, is a miscarriage in our primal understanding and our failure to correct it. Our cognitive power is so great, we are able to plant and harvest, build and shelter, devise and produce scintillating beauty and understand abstract principles of justice, yet we cannot seem to bring ourselves to peace.

At some early stage of our development, we learned to fear. Our fear was so terrible, it taught us to intimidate those who were slightly different than ourselves. We formed an erroneous opinion that some of us had a right to a greater share of resources and power than others. Hard work to gather what we desired was in itself inadequate. We needed to protect ourselves and, when necessary, conquer and enslave others to get everything we need to be comfortable and happy. Nothing scares us more than the thought we might not get what we need this day, and we have never been able to escape the violent cycles that flow from our fright.

Please grant us credit, Creator, for forging mighty philosophical, theological, psychological and commercial institutions to resolve our fear and seek peace. From the first night of our consciousness, we realized that we are tiny beings in an incomprehensible universe. From the first death of a loved one, we understood the fragility and sacred preciousness of life. We have defined great understandings of love, compassion and peace.

But we’ve never quite managed to trust the higher understanding. As soon as we think we have found The Way, someone disagrees with someone else, a fist is thrown or a gun is fired or a bomb is dropped and we’re into another fight.

Creator, we ask forgiveness for our lack of courage. We are brave enough to face death, brave enough to send some of our own into foreign battles, brave enough to apprehend and question anyone who might possibly be a surreptitious actor of harm against us or our families in the cities we call home. But we have not been brave enough to effectively stand against our own violence.

We ask forgiveness for our lack of discipline. We are structured enough to create complicated societies that make sure there is food on the table, shelter for most of the families and individuals, and fuel for our mobility. But we haven’t quite figured out how to share equitably amongst ourselves or extend our level of comfort to less sophisticated tribes across the globe. And it seems that the means of our dominion may possibly be damaging the biosphere that created us.

We have been talking about the tragedy since it happened, and on this day many of us will gather – in concentric circles around those most directly affected – to keen our grief and bellow our determination that we will never be attacked again. Deep inside our souls, the overwhelming dread that such an attack is inevitable, that we are vulnerable to pernicious evil, our fear suppresses any alternative course to resolving our unbalanced way of life.

Great Creator of Life and Consciousness, we beg forgiveness for just not being smart enough.

the only real solution

ok, here’s how we fix this: the government will do everything it can do, which looks like this

  • sustain tax cuts, maybe permanently for classes that use their income to build the economy
  • keep interest rates near zero
  • cut unnecessary spending
  • end the wars and stop putting boots in unfunded, unfocused wars
  • repair the infrastructure
  • secure the harbors
  • support healthy democracies and refuse to do business with despots

living in a secure nation with low taxes and low interest rates, incentives for positive behavior and a good attitude, American business needs to do its part

  • borrow the cheap money, invest it in things that generate jobs and produce high quality products
  • stop sniveling about regulations and develop profitable ways to exceed employment and ecological standards
  • look at the problems in our cities, our farmland and our families – find a way to make money by solving these problems
  • make a profit by trading fairly, practicing sustainable operations and fulfilling the promise of a capitalist democracy

everyone in the country needs to start thinking about making the country better. if we are who we think we are, we are the most powerful nation in the world. if that’s true, then we should have the ingenuity, the capability and the will to

  • earn sustainable profits through this quarter and the next 200 years
  • educate all of our children
  • provide basic health care
  • support democracy and fair trade around the world
  • conserve and rebuild our natural resources
  • have a real good time

to do this, you gotta do right. every man, woman and child. you gotta

  • go to school
  • work as long as you are healthy
  • buy insurance
  • drive safely
  • respect other people
  • demand good government
  • play fair

if even one person gets greedy, cheats or harms, it gives other people an excuse to do wrong and the nation ends up

  • polarized over meaningless issues
  • locked in mortal combat
  • defaulting on an unpayable debt

let’s not do that.