Hillsboro Pollen Ride


I’d been scheduled to attend an activity at Nashville yesterday that would’ve brought me into contact with a number of state legislators, but I called-up early yesterday to cancel my participation.  My hotel stay, parking, and two meals would’ve been paid for and my mileage reimbursed, but those staying overnight had to have roommates.  Mine would have suffocated me to put an end to the noise of my labored respiration, snorting, hawking, coughing, spitting.  Furthermore, I reckoned the elected officials didn’t deserve to have to shake hands with a guy who’s been wiping allergy snot on his suit-sleeve.  Since I already had the leave approved, I stayed home to take my car in for service.

My wife got to work on time, and I got our son ready for his day, then we walked over to the sitter’s house.  We jogged part of the way because it was pretty cool this morning and the movement helped warm him up.  Then, I went back to the house and called my independent Volvo garage to see if they could work Thursday in for service.

The tech gave me a time, and I decided I’d ride around Hillsboro instead of waiting around the yard while they worked on the car, which is what I normally do.  Let me explain my decision –

  1. It was a foregone conclusion that whatever I did yesterday, I was going to feel as if I had poison ivy inside my head and on my eyes
  2. Riding a bicycle in public is as close to invisibility as anyone gets because nobody really looks at a cyclist – they just notice the odd clothes he’s wearing, maybe whether he’s got a helmet on, and whether he’s slowing them down
  3. Or maybe they rate his appearance by thinking a) the guy’s wearing technical garb and riding a bike with curly handlebars – he’s probably a bicycle racer or something, or b) the guy’s dressed a little like a hobo – maybe he’s a dumb peckerwood who got his license revoked for DUI and has to ride a bike to his two-hour a day job picking up nails at a construction site
  4. Nobody will look at your face because nobody wants to make eye-contact with a drunk hobo who’s probably got a bag of nails he can huck at your car if he’s really not right in the head
  5. Thus, my eyes could leak streams of water in their attempt to flush out pollen, and likewise my nose snot, and nobody would be the wiser
  6. And, that was going to happen at home yesterday, anyway
  7. Or it would happen at the garage where I’d wind up sickening the guys who, like the politicians at Nashville, deserve a better quality of interaction and, unlike (a number of) the pols, have useful skills and do meaningful work that helps people
  8. So why not lean into the pollen-storm a bit and dare it to cusswording smite me

I made a snack, got a couple of water bottles and filled one with a five or six years old Gatorade powder mixed with water, the other with water, ate a banana, ate a sandwich, put snack and an Epi-Pen (in case the pollen-storm were to strike me down) in a small rack bag, put the bag, my helmet and gloves in the car, mounted my bike on a trunk-rack, and drove to the garage.    Jim Long Imports has an impressive collection of wrecked Volvo parts cars, and usually when I wait for the car, I’ll spend the time wandering around the property looking at stuff.

Today, after exchanging speech and reminiscences with another customer who is from the same city where I was born, I walked my bike out to the street and turned right on Howell Rd.  That took me to Winchester Hwy., where I turned left and proceeded to Calls Rd., where I turned right.  Calls Road must run parallel to a slough on Woods Reservoir, because I observed a house to my left that had to have been a house I have seen from the water two or three times before.  The wind was in my face on Calls Road.  At the four-way stop where it intersects with Wimble Road, I turned right, thinking that would get me back to Winchester Hwy.  On Wimbles Road, what is obviously a former schoolhouse now painted grey with green trim sits near the crossroads.  The well-kept building has double doors on either end and double doors in front; it is obviously somebody’s residence, now.  Further down the road, at a slight uphill curve, and aged beagle ran out barking and chased me, faster than I expected.


At Winchester Hwy. (where a sign seemed to indicate I’d been on Dean Shop Rd., as opposed to Wimble Rd.) I turned right and road past Howell Rd., past Calls Rd., on to Miller’s Crossing, where I turned right intending to pedal as far as Prairie Plains Rd., then turn back around.  Not too far down Miller’s Crossing, I was chased by an earnest mastiff-German-shepherd mix that I almost didn’t outrun.  When I finally did outrun him, I gave a whoop and complimented him on his speed.  It occurred to me that I’d have to come back past him on my way to get the car.

When I came to a bridge over an unknown stream that doubtless flows into the Elk and thence into Woods Reservoir, I stopped and took some pictures from both sides of the bridge and of the United States Geological Survey’s stream gauging station mounted on the bridge’s parapet, if parapet is the word I want.  I took a picture of my bike and when I looked at later, thought the bike appeared to’ve been lollygagging.  I misspelled “lollygagging” when I titled the image.  Here are those pictures – click on them to view larger versions:

Unknown-Stream Lolligagging Waterweeds USGS-Gauging-Station-1 USGS-Gauging-Station-2
Miller’s Crossing runs through scenic farmland.  If you turn right at the end, Prairie Plains Rd. will take you to a bridge over the Elk River under which is a rutted dirt parking area and dirt-ramp put-in I’ve used many times.


On my way back, I was prepared for the mastiff-shepherd mix – prayed up, geared down and pedaling fast up the hill where I’d encountered the dog earlier, but he didn’t appear.  On Miller’s Crossing past the intersection with Winchester Hwy., I noticed at my left the ruin of what must have been an imposing house set up on a gentle, grassy hill.


The property wasn’t posted, so I rode up the hill a ways and then got off and pushed the bike until I reached the porch.  I spent a few minutes walking around the exterior walls and through the exposed basement of the house.

Front-Porch Machu-Pichu
Back-Porch Side-of-House
Full-Basement Shed

Survivor Guilt

I didn’t write about it here – https://christov10.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/do-you-think-were-all-crazy/ , but the kind of guilt we were talking about was survivor guilt.  The man with whom I spoke that day on steps of Nashville’s War Memorial talked about the guilt he experienced having survived as a soldier in the Viet Nam War, as well as attempts to destroy himself as a means of testing the reality of his perceived unbreakability.  While I have never experienced anything like organized, legally sanctioned armed conflict, I have survived a constellation of circumstances that others have not.  I also spent years testing the reality of my perceived unbreakability, gathering data I will probably never publish or otherwise make fully known.

On the other side of survival and reality-testing is, I think, the possibility of awakening to an experience of humanness that may be better than one thinks one deserves or ever thought to hope for.

“Do you think we’re all crazy?”


Last Thursday (not yesterday, but last week, February 2) I spent some time at Nashville, a place I seem to be visiting more often.  The drive and parking are kind of an expense and a hassle, but I’ve grown to like downtown Nashville and wish there was some convenient commuter rail option for day trips to the city. 


Looking out the window to my left, I observed “Occupy Nashville” camped out on the pavement in front of the War Memorial.  I obtained permission to snap the photograph shown above from a nearby room not in use on the day of my visit.  After I had concluded my business, I started on my several blocks hike to the parking garage where I’d left Thursday, the coincidentally named 850, and at the corner of the street pictured above at bottom left, thought, “I’ll just walk up to the War Memorial and eat my snack (which I’d small bag of trail mix and another small bag with four generic fig newton cookies) on those steps by the colonnade.”  Suiting action to thought, that’s what I did.


Snack eaten, I took my camera from a pocket and took some more pictures.  A lawyer sitting on the steps in front of me to my left spent a long time with his smart-phone held about a foot away from his face, punching buttons.  Another lawyer walked up to him from a doorway near the foot of the steps to my right and said, “Up here doing some research?”  The first lawyer said something in response I didn’t completely overhear, about a break.  The second lawyer, looking around at the squatters’ campground said, “You know, I represent the hotels around here.”  Gesturing to my right, toward the Hermitage Hotel, he said, “At $400.00 a night, this is bad for their business, but it’s obviously a boon for blue tarp sales.”  The first lawyer chuckled politely, and the two parted company, the second lawyer walking back off to my right across the pavement in the direction of the Hermitage Hotel.


As I took a parting shot at the second lawyer, pictured above at right, a man, casually and appropriately dressed for midday walkabout on a sunny, warmer winter day walked straight up to me, sat down on a step above and to my right, about three feet away.  His facial features and manner of speech resembled those of actor Tommy Lee Jones.  I’d guess he was in height anywhere from 5’8” to 5’10”.  “Well, do you think we’re all crazy?” he said.

“I think most of us have traits that at times may rise to the level of clinical significance, but we’re organic beings and the manifestations of our personalities and other characteristics tend to be fluid and changing, so the superimposition of a rigid diagnostic structure doesn’t always account for all of or capture all of the pertinent information,” I said, or something that at least contained all those elements.

“What are you, a doctor or something?” the man asked.  I gave him a truthful, as opposed to a self-aggrandizing, answer. 

“What statement are you all trying to make with this?” I said, gesturing to the blue-tarp covered tents on the pavement.

“I’m not one of these ‘Occupy’ people,” he said. 

“Then which people comprise the ‘we’ to which you referred?”

“Everybody – humankind,” he said.  As to the ‘Occupy’ group visible from the steps upon which we sat, “I don’t think they are making any coherent statement. Most of these (he gestured to the tents and the people in and milling about them) are just homeless. I wouldn’t stay here. I do agree that the rich aren’t paying their fair share, but this ‘Occupy’ movement won’t accomplish anything. And legislators, although they could accomplish something, won’t. They have a purpose, and that purpose doesn’t usually coincide with things like social justice.”

Then he told me about himself.  65 years-old, a Viet-Nam veteran, a man who had had “every advantage” growing up, who went to university “to become somebody, I have a math degree.  I worked twenty years as a statistician and was well on my way to becoming somebody when I disintegrated.”  Queried, he said that what he meant by disintegration was walking away from his work, his family, his home.  “I am homeless,” he said, “but I’m not crazy.”  He said he could return to the world of work any time he wanted to.  He said that after having been homeless for several years, “I straightened myself out and went to school, became a registered nurse, but I washed out of that” after about three and a half years, he said.

“I am in perfect health.  I could do anything to try to harm myself, and have tried to in the past, but have remained unscathed.  The thing I can’t get past is the guilt,” the man said.

“The fact that you feel guilt, that is, something painful, is evidence that something has, indeed, scathed you,” I said.

“Guilt is just the common experience that befalls all humans,” he said.

“Guilt is pretty common,” I said, “What do you do about it?”

Unfortunately, I don’t remember his answer.  I do remember he said that he consciously tries to avoid conflict with other people, stays out of trouble, avoids contact with the police, and “I try not to harm anybody.”

“Have you kept in contact with family, children?” I asked.

“I haven’t kept contact with anyone,” he said, “I don’t have a family, now.  Remember, I said I don’t want to do anybody any harm?”

“And you think it contact with you at this time would be harmful to them?”


I talked a bit about my wife and son and about why I think it’s necessary and I want to make the choices that keep me in contact with them, to keep my family intact.  He expressed agreement that I should, indeed, maintain the integrity of my family to the extent it is possible for me to do so.

I think in the context of guilt we got talking about soul.  We both agreed that the idea of a soul is better expressed by the likelihood that whatever it is the individual reckons as self is probably a byproduct of neurobiological functioning, as opposed to some unseen “organ” that functions superior to observable physicality, and that, to use my words, the human task is to remain aware and aloft above mere autonomic functioning. 

I didn’t think of it while we were talking, at least not clearly enough or knowingly enough to mention, but the man with whom I spoke has information that may be helpful to his offspring who share his neurobiological makeup.  He may be doing more harm than good by avoiding contact with them from an amoralistic functional perspective. 

“Do you know why I do it?” he said, referring to living in a tent in a Nashville wilderness area.

“You tell me”

“Because it’s easy – I am a soldier, I’m used to living outside.  I am a Southerner and my father was a woodsman – it is my heritage,” he said and described his way of life as something like camping.  He said that as a veteran he is entitled to government services through the Veterans Administration that allow him to remain clean.  He said he receives a check once a month, buys one bottle of vodka, drinks it mixed with Gatorade (“I’m drinking now", he said as we talked) gets quietly drunk and remains sober for the rest of the month.  During the time we talked, I observed his face redden perceptibly due to the chemical’s effect, and something about the eyes that appeared to indicate something about the alcohol creating a distance between the meeting of our minds.

It was past time for me to go.  He told me his name and I told him mine.  We shook hands and said goodbye.  I left with the strong feeling that I’d met a sort of kindred spirit, and a man I liked who did not want or seem to need my help.

Utopia Hotel


Utopia Hotel

During my recent stay at Nashville I several times walked past a six or seven storey stone-faced narrow building that appeared vacant above the ground floor.  At sidewalk level, the front of the building appeared to be occupied by a business called Downtown Cleaners.  One evening while walking back to my hotel, I stopped in at the cleaners and asked about the building speaking to the two guys who appeared to be in charge.  By in-charge I mean one of the guys stood behind the counter at left in front as you enter the former lobby, and the other guy sat across from him on some kind of seat I thought was at one time probably for the convenience of customers waiting for garments to be brought up from in back.  Prominently featured against the wall at right upon entering and closer to the door than the one man’s seat was a colorful Lottery display with a little counter and stacks of cards to be filled out with gamblers’ picks. 


Also on the wall at right and closer to the door than the Lottery altar was a framed newspaper article sans byline (at least I recall looking for the writer’s name and don’t think I saw one) clipped from the pages of a paper the name of which I forgot to jot down; the feature was about the Utopia Hotel.  It was not recent and its text was wrapped around a not very sharp black and white image of the building’s façade.  I jotted down on an index card one of the Cleaner’s guys gave me some information from the story:  Built in 1890 – 91 the hotel was constructed as an investment to capitalize on Nashville’s centennial celebration and built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.  The hotel is located in what was then referred to as the Men’s Quarter, “an area where no respectable woman” would allow herself to be found.  Again, according to the feature, the hotel had an elevator, at one time boasted “the Best Room for $1 in Nashville,” at one time kept a sea-turtle tied up in a tub outside to advertise the in-house restaurant’s specialty soup. 


According to the guys running the dry-cleaning business in the former lobby, at the street the building is 25’ wide and extends back 174.’  They apparently jokingly said that in the basement there’s nightclub, although this may be true as the back of the building is in Printer’s Alley and a number of bar or club-like businesses appear to be located there.  One of the guys said that a female country music vocalist, Carrie Underwood, filmed two music-videos using the building.  The first of these was “before she got popular” and was “the one where she was singing and blew all the windows out of the building – that was filmed here.”  The second video “was the one where she comes in and is applying for a job.”  The cleaners joked that they would like to get royalties whenever the videos are played or aired.

The most interesting thing the cleaners told me was that the building was constructed before steel girders were commonly used for structural support, so each storey above the ground floor is successively narrower than the one below it; the top storey, according to my informant, is five feet narrower than the ground floor.  The building’s owner, the guys said, was in negotiations to sell it or make lofts out of it, but in the era of stagnant economy and stimulus spending, the plan has been put on hold.  I asked to see the floors above, but the cleaners said the owner uses them for storage and that they haven’t got the key.  The building adjacent, on your right as you face the Utopia, is the Noel Building, once a famous downtown landmark that didn’t really attract my attention and is currently in services as I-don’t-know-what.