Europe Trip

I was in my mid-30s feeling sort of restless, non-adventurous and boring.  I reacted by going on a 10-day, 10,000-mile journey from Denver to London to Paris to Brussels to Amsterdam to London and back to Denver.  I was accompanied by my girlfriend after initially being okay with going alone.  We departed Denver with only round-trip plane tickets and a place to stay on our first night in London.  The remaining trip was to be a nomadic, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants journey.  To call it an adventure would be an understatement. I felt like I lived a lifetime in those 10 days.


We landed at Heathrow Airport midday after an overnight flight from Denver.  As a lifetime lover of airplanes and airports, flying on a Boeing 747-400—The Queen of the Skies—shortly before its retirement was an absolute blessing.  Additionally, Heathrow is one of the Seven Wonders of the World for aviation enthusiasts, as it’s one of the most internationally connected airports in the world.   I already had a fondness for Heathrow and London from novels and movies.  They’re often the setting for big international crime stories and are highpoint locations for movers and shakers.  

After getting off the train near Tower Bridge and making our way south towards our Airbnb, I experienced the first major observation: wayfinding is difficult!  This theme rang true in London, Paris, and Brussels.  It was a little easier in Amsterdam.  Streets are not grids; they wind all over the place.  What looked easy enough on a map found us lost, heading the wrong direction, and ending up on streets we didn’t even see on the map.  The walking routes on our phones told us to turn left in 200 feet, turn right in 50 feet, turn left in 175 feet, all without street names.  The routes cut through alleys, parks, and little walkways between buildings.  We ended up ditching specific walking routes and just weaved towards the general direction of places, asking locals for directions when we got close.

After not really sleeping from the fast-forwarding flight east, the Conor McGregor vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov fight card was to begin at 3:00 AM (seven hours ahead of Denver), with the main event on somewhere between 5:30 AM and 6:00 AM.  I would have skipped this fight but it was the Super Bowl of MMA. I wasn’t missing it. We found a bar called Number 1 London showing it near Tower Bridge that was open until 6:00 AM.  What’s crazy is this bar’s regular hours were till 6 AM on Saturday nights.  None of these European cities slept.  The crowd was raucous and it was packed until the end.  The Brits we met were fun, loud and animated.  Out on the street attempting to get home, there were still people everywhere.  We hailed a cab and headed towards our place under the morning sunrise.

The Airbnb we stayed at was in an apartment building in a student housing area.  Jose was the guest.  He was a flamboyant young man from Brazil who spoke with a heavy Portuguese accent.  We stayed in the room for two nights but were only there to lay our heads for a few hours.  Since it was within walking distance of the River Thames and had Wi-Fi, it checked our boxes.

We did the site seeing thing next.  It wasn’t a priority on this trip, but always necessary.  We saw Tower Bridge, Tower of London castle, the central business district, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Eye, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus (which felt like a combination of the Las Vegas Strip and Rodeo Drive), and ate an uber-authentic Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.  This place, seriously, 100% Chinese people inside, Chinese-only menu, and the host encouraged us to go somewhere else, saying in barely recognizable English that we don’t have teriyaki chicken or beef and broccoli.  Fuck you, give us a table!

All in all, I loved London.  I was inspired to tweet the following: “London is the livest city I’ve ever been to.  The history, architecture, diversity and culture are an overload on the senses.  It feels like the capital of the world.” A common theme throughout this trip, and with traveling to big cities in general, is that you could spend months in them and not see everything.  That holds true here, but it was on to Paris.


Another first, we rode on a high-speed train!  The Eurostar train from London to Paris glides under the English Channel and achieves top speeds of 186 miles per hour.  It’s almost impossible to focus your eyes on nearby scenery whizzing by that swiftly.  The ride was quiet and smooth and we arrived at Gare de Nord station in the center of Paris.  You walk out from this station and immediately into a bustling street scene surrounded by Paris’s signature mid-rise, block-sized beige buildings.

Second major observation: there are a lot of black people in these European cities.  I obviously knew black people lived in London and Paris, but I was surprised by how many I saw.  It felt like a New York or Los Angeles or Atlanta in this regard.  And the larger international theme is present as well, with many different groups of Indians, Africans, Arabs, and Asians mixed in.  I did confirm via Wikipedia that only 60% of London’s population is white.  I would assume similar numbers exist for Paris and Brussels.  Amsterdam felt whiter.

First thing we had to do was locate a place to stay for the night.  Tensions were always running a little high until we booked places.   We posted up at, ironically, an American-themed restaurant (only because it had readily available Wi-Fi) and began looking for Airbnb’s on the map.  We had to leave the city center somewhat to find reasonable prices because they are astronomical in the heart of the action.  We located a cute place a few miles south in the 13th arrondissement and booked it for two nights. 

Third major observation: transit in Europe is amazing!  There are trains, subways, light rail, and buses everywhere that run often and around the clock.  Any location only requires a three-block walk to some stairs that go down into a subway system, and then upon arrival, you walk up some stairs and are within a few blocks of your destination.  It’s so easy to get around without a car.

We reached the Airbnb and met a lady named Nathaly who owned a beautiful flat with big French windows that opened to up to a lush green park with the sound of kids playing.  Nathaly had one of those envy-inducing lives: spoke four or five languages, owned a beautiful flat in Paris, and traveled extensively due to her occupation as a travel writer.  Get out of here!  Anyways, she was sweet and personable and gave us some valuable site seeing tips.   

We kept it local that night and went down to the local café to grab a drink.  We began a conversation with a similar-aged local girl named Marine who was entertaining as hell.  Dusting off her English, she told us about life in Paris and her travels around the world, always with an ill-placed “shit” or “fuck” laced in for effect.  She was like a Parisian version of Gina and she joked about seeing the drunky girl in her, as she was one herself.  During this conversation, Gina was told to go back to her country by a women walking by, after Gina mistakenly thought she was asking us for money in French – but I digress.  Marine suggested we walk a few blocks up the way to an area with a lot of bars and cafes.  This little area was known as Butte-Aux-Cailles and was one of the highlights of our trip.  We strolled up there on Monday night at 9 or 10 PM and it was an absolute gem: completely local, no tourists, and it was vibrant with the hum of patio conversations, everybody drinking and smoking.  Bartenders barely knew English.  One had to have “ten” translated to English for us. 

Hanging out on the dim-lit cobblestone streets seemingly secluded from the world, Gina struck up a conversation with a memorable duo.  Lauren, the pediatrician, and JB, some sort of real estate professional, were so cool to us.  The opposite of snooty Parisians, these two embraced meeting us and were happy to practice their rudimentary English with heavy French accents.  They made us feel warm and welcome and I felt like I saw the light in terms of why people like to travel and meet locals.  We laughed and drank for a couple of hours and I’ll always remember them when I reminisce about this trip.              

The next day it was time for the touristy thing again.  We rode the tube into the central area and saw Notre Dame, the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Coeur, and ate dinner in touristy Montmartre, which was an old-world, postcard-picturesque area with steep, narrow cobblestone streets. Random aside: the new electric scooters that have infiltrated all the major US cities are prevalent in Paris.  They were a perfect mobility option for site seeing, and riding two-on-one blended in with the chaotic, anything-goes feeling of getting around in Paris.

The next night we drank with our local counterparts in the Latin Quarter area and talked about life in our respective countries.  Fourth major observation: people are people.  Not that I didn’t know this, but traveling only reaffirms it.  We have different languages and customs but we have the same common goals of being happy or getting by.  Many of the people I meant could easily be good friends if I lived there.

Later that night (ok, early morning) we were wandering towards some form of transportation to get home when we heard the sound of people hanging out down a random street.  As we veered around the corner we saw a typical looking café that was still bustling with people.  We went inside at 2:30ish AM and asked the bartender if they were still open.  He gave us almost a confused look and said yeah, open till 5 AM.  This was a Tuesday night! And in the middle of a neighborhood, not some party district.  We ended up sitting at a table with a guy from Canada, who lives in Paris, and two Parisians.  As it approached 5 AM the place was still decently crowded.  Fifth major observation:  Europeans don’t sleep!  I’ve heard of 4 AM closing times in New York, but 5, 6 AM seems pretty routine in London and Paris. 

I loved Paris.  All of the clichés about the romantic atmosphere, beautiful boulevards and architecture, art, food and culture exist for a reason.  You can still see the ghost of Ernest Hemingway having cocktails in the 1920s.  The place just has an energy to it.   


I experienced my traveling-can-be-difficult moment on the journey from Paris to Brussels.  I had received warnings that Parisians can be snooty towards Americans, but we hadn’t experienced anything like that (outside of Gina being told to go back to her country, as previously mentioned).  But at the Gare du Nord train station we got a little taste.  It wasn’t blatant, but more just an indifference to our plight.  As we tried to get train tickets at a kiosk with my credit card, the machine notified me of an error, but it wasn’t in English.  The train was departing in 15 minutes, this machine would not take my card, and we couldn’t interpret what the problem was.  It eventually displayed a longer message across the screen and froze up.  Attempts at asking people around us failed, as they just shrugged and reiterated the obvious, that my card didn’t work.  Time was running out and staff at the help desks just kept passing the buck. “Go up the stairs to the left.”  Staff up there said “go around the corner and go back downstairs.”  It was frustrating! This fucking train leaves in 7 minutes, just help!  As Gina waited in line at a larger, more official customer service office, I tried my debit card at another kiosk and it worked.  Sweet! But of course the tickets print out in French only, so we couldn’t tell what the hell the pertinent details were.  And it printed out 2 tickets each, meaning we had to connect in another city.  But the first thing we had to do was find which platform our train departed from.  We were running through the train station at this point asking random people.  We finally made it to the train and were able to get on after being presented with disapproving looks by security.

Unlike London to Paris, or Brussels to Amsterdam, the train from Paris to Brussels was not concerned with English.  Of course people were in our seats and didn’t know a word of English.  We just sat in different seats.  None of the train announcements were in English.  We had to connect trains in Arras, but we didn’t know what was being said or which stops were what.  That was that feeling, like damn, this is real!  We are traveling through foreign countries!  After seeing numerous security personnel with automatic rifles, and being warned in broken English by a local to watch for pick pockets, we arrived in Brussels at the Midi train station.  After the beautiful Gare du Nord in the heart of Paris, we thought you could just walk out of any of these train stations and right into the action.  Wrong!  We walked out of Midi and just chose a direction to walk.  We pretty quickly realized this wasn’t the best idea.  First of all, we were unknowingly walking away from the central area.  The street we were on looked kind of like a Colfax Avenue and there were a bunch of Arabs that were giving us peculiar stares as we walked around with our giant packs on.  We decided to look at a map and come up with an actual plan.  For a while we wondered where the hell we were.  It wasn’t very inviting.  We even joked about just getting back on a train and going somewhere else.  But as we kept walking towards the central area it started to shift, cafes and bars began to appear. Ok, maybe this isn’t so bad.  We stopped at a bar to get some Wi-Fi and what Belgium is known for became apparent.  So many yummy dark beers with names I couldn’t pronounce, some as high as 12% alcohol, all relatively inexpensive.  We made it! But we didn’t yet have a place to stay and it was getting late—Gina freaked out. 

After listening to us have a public whisper-yelling fight, the guy next to us chimed in with some pointers and advice.  He was cool, way laid back.  But dammit, he led us on by telling us that we could possibly stay at his girlfriend’s apartment—he’d ask her when she arrived after work.  Well, she showed up and was not a fan of that idea.  We were still on our own.  But we continued with some good conversation about life in different areas and he gave us bar recommendations.  A common European thing, he spoke five languages.

We get to the central area, which is awesome.  I like Brussels.  A lot of graffiti and artsy grittiness contrasted with ritzy shopping districts and immaculate buildings. The languages are all over the place because Belgium doesn’t have a unifying culture.  It’s uber international.  You’ll hear mostly French and Dutch, but Finnish and German are also common.  And there are many Arabs and Africans who speak in their native tongues.  At this point in the trip it was difficult to even distinguish what languages were being spoken.  The savior was that nearly everybody spoke a little English, which seems true in most of Western Europe.  That’s the sixth major observation: everybody speaks a little English.  A funny aside, most people attempted to speak to us first in Spanish, saying “hola!” We sort of wore that as a badge of honor: it meant we weren’t walking around with “I’m American” billboards on our foreheads.

So, time for the low part of the trip.  We start to look for places to stay.  There are barely any Airbnb’s, hotels are outrageously priced.  The few hotels we went into had no vacancy at all.  Hostels had no vacancies. This is a joke, right? The only hotel rooms available were $300 and up.  Dammit!  A lady at one of the front desks notified us that a big convention was in town.  Yep, it was European Week of Regions and Cities, a week-long conference with over 6,000 participants.  Again, here’s where not planning or doing any research goes wrong.  This was so crazy it kind of just became a joke.  It was dark, 10:00 PM, and we were really looking up potential parks to sleep in.  I joked that I was going to say I’ve experienced homelessness before.  But it was a surreal experience: nobody you know to help you, nobody around cared.  We looked homeless with our giant packs and disheveled clothes, sitting on a stoop.  It almost felt natural to ask people for money at this juncture.  The good news, after more research and with help from my sister back in the states, we did find a hotel about a mile away that was fairly reasonably priced.  Homelessness averted!

The next night we got an Airbnb out of the central area in more of a neighborhood. Not touristy at all, we got to observe how the locals lived.  There was still a strong café culture, which I love.  I wish we had more of that in the U.S.  For dinner we ate at an authentic African restaurant that was unique and quite good.  We both got chicken, mine was with a peanut sauce and Gina’s was with an onion concoction.  The recognizable touristy thing we did was visit Grand Place, which is easily the most popular image on postcards from Brussels.  That night we hung out in a little bar district and met a funny ass bartender that kept landing jokes on us.  When Gina went to the restroom I remember him saying that Spain was the place, his dream—women and parties every night!  A thunderstorm randomly swept through at 1:00 AM and lit up the sky. Apparently their weather is similar to Colorado’s with rapid seasonal changes.   

Overall, I’m glad we included Brussels as a destination.  It doesn’t have the glamor of a London or Paris or Amsterdam, but I enjoyed the contrast.  Our Airbnb host in Amsterdam later said he didn’t like Brussels and said it was a working city.  But that’s exactly why I’m glad we visited.  Many people before our trip suggested Bruges, about an hour away by train, which is beautiful from pictures I’ve seen, but we heard from our buddy earlier that Bruges was just a postcard with no real culture or nightlife.  I’d much prefer a gritty, real city, especially with our limited time abroad. Brussels succeeded in giving me that completely-out-of-comfort-zone travel experience that’s supposed to make you grow as a person, as they say.  Thank you, Brussels.


Have you ever heard anybody say they don’t like Amsterdam?  I’m not sure if that’s ever been muttered.  Amsterdam is one of those places that you know you’ll like before you get there.  It’s Amsterdam! You’ve got legal everything, Red Light District, bikes everywhere; it’s beautiful.  We experienced in Amsterdam a reversion to the nice central train station thing.  You walk out to a beautiful open plaza surrounded by the quirky Dutch row buildings and picturesque waterfront canals.  It’s easy to hop on a light rail or bus or water taxi and get where you need to go.  We arrived on Saturday evening so there were people everywhere. Once again, we needed to locate a place to stay and it would be somewhat tense until we did.  Amsterdam is expensive.  We were lucky to find a reasonably-priced Airbnb that was only available due to a last minute cancellation.  After entering the main hall, I learned something about Amsterdam: the stairs are so steep they look like ladders.  You almost feel like you have to get on all fours to climb them.

Our host was a happy-go-lucky Dutchman named Diogo.  It also worked out because he prided himself on being an unofficial travel guide and was in the process of creating a website on the topic.  So we had plenty of recommendations.  We walked out of his apartment and almost got run over by a bike.  One thing you learn really quickly in Amsterdam is that bicycles are king.  There are uninterrupted bike highways on every street and the residents cruise them as though it’s their God-given right not to be impeded.  You’ll be made to feel as though you kicked a puppy if you wade out into the bike lane without paying attention; it’s blasphemy in Amsterdam.  Ding! Ding! Ding! They’ll ring you and make a comment or audibly sigh so loud it can be heard for miles. 

So, we didn’t waste any time the first night: to the Red Light District we go!  Wow, what a sight: loosely clad Playboy Bunny-looking women posturing in windows, waiting for the curious adventure seeker to knock.  The weed cafes aren’t a big deal to us Coloradoans, as it’s been legal here for years, but the open and legal prostitution, actually paraded in storefronts, is a shock.  The whole area had a crowded, touristy feel, similar to the Vegas Strip or Bourbon Street.  People come here to party.  A lot of Brits, as it’s only a 45-minute flight away. 

We settled on a bar to grab a drink and a complete showstopper occurred.  Gina causally mentions to me that a person outside may be a celebrity or something, due to the crowds.  Oh cool, I think, and turn to look out the window.  It’s Floyd freakin’ Mayweather Jr. just walking down the street! Holy shit! He’s one of the most famous people in the world.  Boxing is global.  The guy earned $275 million for one fight with Conor McGregor. So, that was kind of neat. 

The next day we did the touristy daytime stuff: walked the canals, saw a Banksy exhibit, and took pictures at the Iamsterdam sign, which is cross-off item number one on the touristy list.  Café life in Amsterdam is also something serious and you will be sitting next to someone who is smoking.  Major and obvious observation 7: Europeans drink and smoke a lot!  It seems like they just chain smoke all day and night.  This was true in all four countries we visited.  It’s engrained into how they socialize.    

As light turned to dark, coffee turns to booze and spliffs burn more rapidly—being out and about is a requirement, especially during the unseasonably warm weather they were experiencing.  We stopped to observe a dancing drunk in the street and struck up a conversation with some locals.  On an aside, Amsterdam, of all the cities we visited, felt closest to being pretentious.  I didn’t experience anything negative, but the groups of people felt less approachable.  I think Amsterdam is diverse on a larger scale, but the central area is so expensive—think Manhattan or San Francisco—that the diversity gets washed out.  Most people we encountered at the bars and cafes looked like they were from an Ivy League frat or sorority, tall and blonde and dressed in business-like clothes.  Amsterdam was the only city in which I felt self-conscious about my appearance.  Nonetheless, the people we spoke to while watching the dancing drunk were a little more of the roughneck local variety, and were very entertaining.  We got on the topic of blasting Donald Trump.  And major observation 8: outside of one guy in Paris who was wishy washy, everybody we encountered in Europe hated Trump with a passion.  He is not a popular figure over there, which also isn’t surprising.  We finished the night at a hip dance bar with a bunch of young people.  As I waited for the inevitable Drake or Migos song to play (as would occur in America), it never came.  Instead, people danced their hearts out to 70s Earth, Wind & Fire and 90s Blackstreet like it was the latest and hottest stuff out.  Good times.

Getting home

The biggest pain in the ass from doing the no-plan, nomadic travel itinerary was getting back to Heathrow Airport for our flight back home to Denver.  All I’ve ever heard was how easy and cheap it is to fly in Europe.  Not! This does not apply for waiting till the last second to buy plane tickets from Amsterdam to London on a Sunday night/Monday morning.  Heathrow was basically sold out or $400 and up, which again, was for a 45-minute flight.  The only real option was overpriced tickets to Gatwick Airport, which is 35 miles from Heathrow.  This turned into logistical planning fun!  Do we fly into Gatwick and head straight to Heathrow to find a hotel, or do we stay at a hotel near Gatwick and head to Heathrow in the morning—bus, train, uber, fly?  

After some deliberation we decided to stay near Gatwick for the night and head to Heathrow by bus in the morning.  A fun little unforeseen curveball was the difficulty in getting a hotel room right outside of the airport.  This was a random Sunday night in October, dark and rainy and not many people anywhere.  The first hotel we walked to, Premier Inn, notified us that they didn’t have any vacancy after the front desk lady told us she had to talk to her manager.  Huh? Zero vacancy?  The place was like ten stories tall.  Sure.  We then walked next door to the Sofitel hotel, which was a little nicer.  Again, the front desk lady checks her computer, goes in the back to talk to her manager, and comes back to tell us they also have no vacancy.  Such bullshit.  It occurred to me what was going on.  We were being discriminated against as dirty backpack travelers, no doubt.  We looked slightly disheveled, wearing sweats, and had huge backpacks on.  The few guests sprinkled around the hotel bars were nicely dressed, sipping on martinis.  These hotels had empty rooms. What they were saying was that “we don’t want your kind here.”  I could be wrong but I doubt it.  There were for sure 500+ hotel rooms between those two places.  And again, this was a dead Sunday night in October.  It was a surreal experience.

The good news is that this snafu led us to a budget place about a mile away that was an experience in its own right.  The Gatwick Belmont Hotel had a rural, homely hospitality and the attendant spoke with such a deep British accent that we almost needed an interpreter to understand her.  It felt like we were in the English countryside.  After a night of grocery store beer, sushi, and a Michael Jackson documentary, we awoke the next morning to eat an English breakfast and hop on the bus to Heathrow airport.  Everything on this leg of the journey went smoothly for a change and we were back on the Queen of the Skies in route to Denver.  A memorable trip for sure!

Take Away             

I appreciate this trip for a number of reasons.  For one, it feels like a monkey off my back.  Many people I know have traveled extensively, and traveling is a common conversational topic among new acquaintances and at social gatherings.  I finally feel like I have a seat at the table, can contribute something.  I’m cultured, too!  Additionally, I pride myself on being well-read, intrigued by different cultures, and am drawn to the cosmopolitan flair.  All of this is sort of undermined without having traveled overseas (Mexico and Jamaica feel more domestic).  I don’t feel like such a poser anymore.

I’ve heard it said about education that no one can take it away from you.  Traveling is similar.  Twenty years from now it’s still a cool story.  In fact, it only gets cooler and more nostalgic with technological and cultural changes through time.  It becomes a time capsule.  I always think it’s awesome when older people talk about being in Paris in the 70s or Tokyo in the 80s.  It conjures up the backdrop of a classic movie, gives me the old-times-were-more-fun kind of envy.  So, there it is.  My attempt to tackle some mid-30s restlessness was a success.  I always wanted to travel, enjoyed traveling, and I hope this is just the beginning of my adventures.

My Life

Nothing To See Here

I’m in a writing rut. I haven’t written much of anything lately, despite adequate free time. It’s not that I don’t want to write, it’s that I don’t have anything to say. The only thoughts I get are gloomy ones about how shitty everything is. But that doesn’t do anybody any favors. Negativity really isn’t good. It brings people down and ruins morale. Unfortunately, we all engage in negative banter. The easiest way to connect with someone is to identify something that annoys both of you and take turns trashing it. It’s fun and cathartic. So it’s hard. I often tend towards cynicism and I’m still not really sure if life is a blessing or a curse. I find it too easy to view positivity and success as fake and a side effect of privilege and good fortune, while negativity and pain as what’s really beneath the surface when our safeguards are stripped away and we’re forced to face the world in its natural state. We come into this world alone and we leave this world alone, regardless of what we do in between.

Notwithstanding the futility of dwelling on the negative, I have nothing to add to the conversation about the current state of affairs in the world. It’s already so obvious. What do we need? Another hard-hitting article finally exposing to the world how terrible Trump is? There are a billion of those that have had exactly zero effect on the needle. Oh, the outrage! The “how dare you, Trump!” article ticker is at 1,000,000+ and counting. Who fuckin’ cares? Every tweet he posts sends the media into an absolute tailspin of apoplectic shock and sheer dread. It gets old. I’m so desensitized to the whole thing; I don’t give a fuck anymore. Or how about another article blasting mass murderers with hard-hitting language such as “he is a coward.” Oohh! You showed them. The next potential mass murderer will definitely think twice about committing atrocities out of fear of being called a “coward” by politicians. Believe me. Or how about another article about the ever-widening gap between rich and poor? The skyrocketing real estate prices in Denver? It’s just supply and demand, capitalism at work: If you’re not rich, get the fuck out. About the only solution offered from long articles chronicling the indignation of the former middle class—now poor—is “gee, that sucks.”

Or should I write about the new fad: sexual misconduct! OMG! Forgive me for the non-pc language here, but I’m almost desensitized to it by this point. It feels like a witch hunt. Newsflash: powerful men make moves on women! This is new stuff guys, didn’t happen in the olden days. Seriously, at this point, let’s make a list of powerful men who HAVE NOT been accused of sexual misconduct. It’d be a smaller list. The end. Thanks for reading. Oh wait, pro tip: just deny the charges and you’re good to go.


The Tree

A tree matures and extends its roots and provides sturdy branches that welcome visitors. The tree is part of the urban forest and steadfastly sits amid the bustling traffic and constant construction, through rain, snow, and sunny days. A hawk swoops in and spends fifteen minutes on the tree eating a pigeon before casually observing the landscape and departing on its way. Two squirrels frolic in a game of chase and scurry across the tree en route to adjacent power lines. Ants find an inviting crevice and build a home. A crow builds a nest that it inhabits for seven weeks. The tree’s features align with the desires of the passersby and a mutual bond is formed at each particular time and place. Fleeting or enduring, the tree does not know. Fleeting or enduring, the passersby do not know. All they have is the present, real time. Hindsight is a luxury of the future.


Women’s March (Trump Protest)

The Women’s March that occurred this past weekend included somewhere around 3 to 4 million Americans, according to various reports.  People marched for a variety of reasons, but the overarching umbrella was undoubtedly to protest newly anointed President Trump.  As I’ve written about, I flirted with liking the Donald Trump phenomenon, but that was before the serious prospect of him as POTUS.  So, in spirit, I was with the protesters.  I’m 100% against racism and sexism and xenophobia—key ingredients of modern-day Trump.  But something irked me.  And it was pretty easy to get to the bottom of it: Trump won.  I couldn’t help but zoom out and wonder why the protests in the first place—Trump won.  I started connecting dots.  Trump lost the popular vote and now we have millions of people taking to the streets in protest; so wait, how did Trump win?

I composed this tweet: “What’s sad is, based on statistics alone, I bet many of these protesters so appalled by Trump victory didn’t bother to vote.”  To me, it’s the only thing that makes sense.  When you look at the shifting demographics of the country, the unpopularity of Trump, and the swell of anti-Trump protesters, it becomes obvious that not enough people turned out to vote against him.  Though always a pathetic number in U.S. elections, over 40% of eligible voters did not vote, and that number was greater-than-typical in 2016.  Democratic turnout was significantly lower than it was for Obama in 2009 and 2012.  Somewhat laughable to me, a lady responded to my tweet saying “I bet that’s actually NOT true.  These are active citizens who don’t sit on the sidelines.”  While I appreciate her sentiment, with over 40% of the population of eligible voters not voting, there is not a multi-million person sample you could carve out from across the U.S. where everybody voted.  That’s absurd.  Maybe a somewhat higher percentage voted, but still, many people did not vote, which is my point.

Ironically, Trump actually used my same reasoning to diss protesters, basically saying that if people now care so much, why didn’t they vote?  While he’s saying that from a sarcastic/mocking angle, I’m saying it out of frustration and annoyance that we’re even in this position.  The protests and marches are cool and all, but voting is what actually matters, and people dropped the ball.

The elephant in the room is Hillary Clinton. Let’s be honest, she sucked.  She was nearly as unfavorable as Trump.  That’s wherein the problem lies.  Many people on the Left couldn’t bring themselves to vote for her, especially hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters that felt he was cheated by the Clinton Machine in the primaries.  These people hated Trump but weren’t going to vote for Clinton.  They either didn’t vote, or they voted 3rd party.  That’s cute, but guess what that gave us? Donald Trump.  It’s very simple:  the only possible way to prevent a Donald Trump presidency was a vote for Hillary Clinton.  Anything other than a vote for Hillary Clinton aided Donald Trump.  Period.  So here’s my beef:  the people who did not vote for Hillary Clinton but are now up in arms, claiming that the sky is falling, saying that Trump will destroy the fabric of America, you’re implicit, moron!  It’s alarming how well the Right did at smearing Hillary—see emails, Benghazi, etc.  They really created this caricature of her as just as bad as Trump, and neither one became the option for a large swathe of voters.

So here’s what happened: people who were terrified of Trump also didn’t vote for Hillary, or voted 3rd party.  In their minds, as we ALL thought, Hillary was going to win anyway.  This way they could have a clear conscious by not voting for evil Hillary and not worrying about a Trump presidency.  And that’s why the Women’s March irked me.  When the unthinkable happened, people were in shock.  How could this have happened, they said.  Here they are, taking to the streets, absolutely appalled, terrified for the future of our country.  It could have been easily prevented.  To these non-Hillary voters now so terrified of Trump, how significant are the topics of the Clinton smear campaign, now?  Oh my God, her private email server! Benghazi!  Really?!  Well, now we have President Donald Trump.

My stance is this: if you think Trump is the worst thing that could’ve happened and you didn’t vote for Hillary, you’re an idiot, and take your marching out of my face, you contributed to it.  If you voted 3rd party or didn’t vote, but are indifferent to Trump winning, that’s totally fine by me. It’s the people who didn’t attempt to prevent a Trump victory that are marching after the fact.  Fuck off.  The game is already over.  It’d be interesting to see how many people, now knowing that Trump did win, would get off their asses and vote, or get off their high horses and vote for Hillary.  Hindsight, however, is 20/20.  Yes, I voted for Hillary Clinton, primarily as an anti-Trump vote.  To me, there is no equivalence.  I wasn’t onboard the smear machine that was trying to make Clinton seem just as bad as Trump.  Bullshit.  At worst, Clinton would have been more of the same, business as usual.  People wouldn’t be fearing for the future of our entire nation, or even the world.  Everybody would have already gone back to their normal lives, barely tuning into politics because we’d have a standard-issue politician.  I’m not as freaked out as some people about Trump.  He has bucked the system in some good ways and has proposed some things I like, such as massive investment in our crumbling infrastructure.  We’ll see. Who knows what the future holds.  BUT, to the people freaking out, who didn’t vote for Hillary, please spare me your after-the-fact indignation and maybe learn a lesson for next time.

Politics, Rants

The Reason

Two tweets I saw recently: “I have no doubt in my mind that everything happens for a reason.  Every single thing.  The good and the bad all leads you to where you’re meant to be” – Banksy.  “Everything in your life has been strategically orchestrated.  You may not understand it, but this is what faith is all about” – Joel Osteen.

Before saying anything further, I think both of those statements are absolute bullshit.  I don’t just disagree.  They almost make me mad.  Those statements are lazy and defeatist.

The most common counterargument I see is a response that points out the terrible circumstances people endure.  Everything happens for a reason, huh? Ok, how about the five-year-old kid that dies of cancer? The teenage girl who gets raped and murdered?  The guy who loses his wife and two kids in a car crash?  You get the point.  If you want to try to explain to those families that, don’t worry, everything happens for a reason, have fun.  Or even better, don’t worry, your entire family dying was “meant to be” and “strategically orchestrated.”  That’s kind of sick if you ask me.

Yet, looking at that belief system deeper reveals further troubles.  It runs counter to the concept of free will.  If everything happens for a reason or is orchestrated, are we even really making decisions?  That’s essentially another way of describing Predeterminism, which suggests that all events are already decided or known.  I guess if you believe that then the argument is over.  But I would venture to guess that most people believe in free will and believe that life is not scripted.  Talk of hard work and trying your best is based on the premise of free will and being able to make effectual change.  Tossing up everything to some prewritten script seems like a copout to me and a way to avoid responsibility.  Or maybe it’s just a comfort blanket people need.

Above this entire debate exists the plain truth that nobody knows what the future holds.  Even if it is predetermined, we don’t know what will happen next.  Would we change our behavior if we knew everything was orchestrated but didn’t know how?  I know I’d probably still go to work tomorrow.  If one is looking for comfort by thinking that everything is part of some divine plan, guess what? People die horrendous deaths every day, apparently all orchestrated and for a reason.  The plan for you might be to die in a car crash tomorrow.  The reason for that would be that you’re dead.  RIP I guess.

But in all seriousness, I think the phrase that best sums up what transpires in life is “Shit Happens.”  We’re all physical bodies bouncing around in a physical universe.  Things are going to crash into each other in uncountable ways.  I agree with a comment I saw someone leave: “Everything CAN happen for a reason if you assign it one… other than that… shit just happens.  Like it or not.”  I think that perfectly sums it up.  Of course you can come up with reasons to rationalize what happened, or look on the bright side for lessons that can be learned from adversity, but that comes after it happens, it’s not why it happens.  So please spare me that rhetoric.  Nothing is meant to happen.  Nothing is supposed to happen. What happens is what happens.

Philosophy, Rants

Take America Back

I came across a retro postcard of the Western Motor Inn. The neon sign hovers above the swimming pool where kids are splashing. The parking lot is filled with the giant bomb-proof American cars our grandparents drove. The setting is post-war America, 50s or 60s. The postcard encapsulates the American Dream: the freedom of the open road, ownership of shiny new automobiles, the nuclear family, leisure and resources to vacation and enjoy life.

That same motel today is a rundown, decrepit crack-haven filled with transients. The juxtaposition of this dramatic decay with the image in the postcard is the perfect metaphor for the erosion of American values, as believed by many people. America, once the shining beacon of freedom and virtue, is being desecrated by big government regulations and those with a secular, godless agenda, where hedonism is the authority. On the one hand—despite how historically inaccurate it may be—I can empathize with the sentiment of the lost “good old days.” On the other hand, using that nostalgic measure as a way to view today’s world, is misguided.

There are plentiful examples of the traditional values America, the good old days: John Wayne movies, Leave it to Beaver TV shows, Beach Boys music, etc. When traditional values are mentioned in a nostalgic sense, they most often seem to refer to the Old West or to post World War II America. Themes from America’s early days consist of rugged individualism, Manifest Destiny, survival of the fittest, general manliness. Post-war themes from the 1950s include the happy nuclear family and fairly strict gender roles, morality and God first, innocence, materialism, American supremacy and might. Blending these epochs together paints the picture of the American Dream, pursued by a clean-cut white male who is staunch in his moral/religious beliefs, provides for his stay-at-home wife and two kids, and owns a house with the latest gadgets. Doors on homes do not need to be locked because people are good, neighbors say hi to each other, local police officers, fire fighters, and mailmen are known by name, and life feels secure, predictable, and safe. Common statements used to describe this nostalgic yearning today: Make America Great Again, Take America Back, The Way America Used to Be.

What does today’s society look like to the people who long for Traditional America? Kids with blue hair, out-of-wedlock childbearing, Mexicans hopping the border and taking jobs, feminine men making out on prime-time television, lazy people coasting on welfare, American industry being shipped overseas, rap music corrupting the youth, Muslims trying to destroy America, government stealing people’s hard-earned money, kids killing kids and having kids, pornography displayed as mainstream culture, no religious (Christian) freedom, and being force-fed all of this by the government, media, and popular culture. I said I could empathize. It’s easy to categorize everything as black and white, liberal versus conservative, Right versus Left, if you’re not with me, you’re against me. But honestly, for people who really believe times were better when America was more homogenous (whatever the motivations for that reasoning), I can understand why today’s society feels so vile. The level of what is acceptable in mainstream culture today is shocking compared to even a few decades ago. Economic shifts have eroded traditional manufacturing that provided stable jobs for much of Middle America. Videos of ISIS chopping off Westerner’s heads are clearly displayed on TV. Times have changed. It’s human nature to fear others, change, and uncertainty. To fight this change, however, by attempting to legislate a version of moral righteousness is misguided and not rooted in reality, in my opinion.

First, these “good old days” were not good for people who, let’s face it, were not white. Much of society was excluded. Old West days saw the suppression, persecution, and omission of Native American, black, and women’s interests. The move west for land and frontier establishment was accomplished by directly trampling on the “others” that stood in the way. Not much had really changed even by America’s glory days in the 1950s. Segregation and a lack of freedoms for minorities, gays, and women continued overtly. Is a return to this era what is meant by the “Take America Back” rhetoric?

Second, the eroding values people talk about with gays, nontraditional families, and peculiar personal expression were present back in the Leave it To Beaver neighborhoods. It was just suppressed. News flash: there were gay people in the 1950s too. Many of these so called perfect little nuclear families were miserable behind closed doors. Drunk fathers still beat their wives and kids, stay-at-home mothers felt imprisoned with zero options for pursuing careers; shit, people’s parents were secretly gay. The difference is what was outwardly acceptable in society and shown on TV and in movies. And that’s exactly the problem: the people today who wax poetic about the good old days and echo sentiments about wanting to Take America Back point to the false representation of a Leave it to Beaver society where everything appears orderly and perfect.

I have no problem with people desiring a safe and predictable society where everybody has a strong moral compass and works hard and supports their families. My beef is with trying to legislate a mythical past that did not really exist. I swear some politicians, with the support of their constituents, believe that being in anything but a hetero-nuclear family, living in anything but a single-family house, and being anything but a Christian, is un-American. People don’t choose the family into which they are born. Divorces happen. People are gay. People have different tastes. Spare me the self-righteousness and accept the diversity that is human life. Change is constant. Change is inevitable. Pretending like America can revert back to a mythical rose-colored past is disingenuous, and frankly, pretty dangerous. The Western Motor Inn may experience great success in the future, but it will not be as a brand new motel occupied by white middle class families. Times have changed. It may first need to be re-purposed or torn down and redeveloped.


The Donald

So, Donald Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric dramatically escalated since I wrote the following piece.  Even his amusing personality isn’t really funny to me anymore.

I have a confession to make: I love Donald Trump.  As a minority who has historically leaned left, this wouldn’t seem to make much sense.  Most people I know hate Trump.  Most liberals I know despise him.  Ironically, despite his reactionary tone that feels more like a throwback to an era of the popular fascist dictator, I think he’s a breath of fresh air.  Now, as a caveat—before I lose all credibility with my friends and family—the thought of an actual Trump presidency does terrify me.  But based on his unfavorability numbers alone—60% among the entire US population—I can’t see him actually being sworn in as the next president of the United States.  This gives me space to enjoy what I’m witnessing.

As with any cultural phenomenon, articles are hot off the press mansplaining why the success of Donald Trump, success contrary to 100% of prognostications eight short months ago, when Donald Trump entered the race.  Explanations center on the cult of personality, people’s anger towards the establishment, and a somewhat ironic theory that American’s have an inclination for authoritarianism.  Maybe I’ve fallen victim to the cult of personality—and that’s probably impossible to remove from what I’m going to say—but there’s more nuance.

Donald Trump is hilarious.  It’s real time, raw, unedited.  In a sense, better than actual comedy due to its sheer unpredictability and misplacement of setting.  This isn’t supposed to be happening on the presidential stage—and it is.  My cynical, long-story-short summary would be: life is boring, this is exciting!  Why not?  Presidential politics is dominated by old stuffy elites with ancient texts.  They flip to the corresponding chapter to enlighten us on why a presidential cycle mimics what happened in 1960, or 1972, or 1980.  Trump? He strong-arms them into feeding that archaic text into a giant paper shredder.  There is zero precedent for The Donald’s domination.  I’ve always joked about having a longing for an alien arrival, mainly for the excitement.  Talk about being snapped out of your daily routine and experiencing something outside the realm of the predictable.  Donald Trump is the closest thing to experiencing an alien invasion.  The experts are looking at each other, dumbfounded, writing the rules as they go.  Nobody knows what will transpire next.  It’s exhilarating. It’s scary.  It’s fun.

Now I know many people do not think this is funny at all.  And my better inclinations should encourage me to feel the same.  This man has openly broadcasted some downright scary, fantastical, and borderline racist overtones.  But honestly, I just don’t take him that seriously. He was basically a liberal very recently and doesn’t have steadfast convictions.  He just doesn’t.  He’s malleable and chooses sides as he goes.  He likes to entertain the crowd and spew whatever he thinks makes sense in that given moment.  It’s just stream of conscience improv with a steady diet of Trump slogans mixed in.   He’s already softened stances on numerous controversial statements.  Whether it’s a calculated shift to a focus on the general election or not (nobody can be sure), the billionaire mogul has been singing the praises of compromise and give-and-take, extolling the virtues of not keeping a hard line.  In the last debate I think he flat-out said he changed his mind on a previous position at least three times.  But listen.  On top of all of this, he couldn’t accomplish 25% of what he’s preaching, anyways!  For one, most of the prescribed action in his tough talk is illegal.   There are things in America called laws and checks and balances, which, I guess ironically, are designed to obstruct absolute rule by a dictator.  The blustering Donald Trump on the campaign trail would be neutered in office.

Maybe I’m wrong about this.  Maybe I’ll look back at this little writing and marvel at my own ignorance and poor analysis when we’re in World War III against China and it looks like Mad Max and the Walking Dead in the streets of Denver.  But I don’t think that’ll happen.  In the meantime, I’m not sensitive and don’t join the fake outrage clan every time a controversial statement is made.  I tend to think racist comments in 2016 are more funny than anything (maybe I’m too desensitized).  And I still don’t think Donald Trump is an actual threat to take the White House.  So, I’ll be eating my popcorn, laughing and enjoying the spectacle.  Let’s make America great again!

Lighthearted, Politics

For Us By Us

A five o’clock shadow on a chiseled jaw is barely perceptible in the dimly lit cabin. As the car confidently glides around a corner, the driver speaks over the classical music softly dancing from the speakers: hey fat ass on the couch, do you want to feel sexy and sophisticated?! Buy this car!

Ok, that’s not what he’d say, but it’s the point of the commercial. All day we’re pummeled with images and ideas about what being successful looks like: how to dress, where to live, what to drive, where to travel. The actors wear big bright smiles with perfectly coifed hair, donned in the trendiest clothing. This is the ideal way to live your life. Anything less is failure. You’re supposed to be the Joneses everybody is trying to keep up with. That’s the pinnacle of human existence—apparently.

Who manufactured this? On the other side of the spectrum, here’s a few of Pope Francis’s recent tweets: “God loves the lowly…” “Ask the Lord for a free heart so as not to be ensnared by the false pleasures of the world.” “A Christian who is attracted to the riches has lost his way.” “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume.” “If we are too attracted to riches, we are not free. We are slaves.” This is quite a contrast from the relentless pressure to buy everything. So which one is it? The American Dream of accumulating some wealth and enjoying the finer things in life appears to be a construct of the devil, according to Pope Francis. But even from a secular angle, without the dramatic good-versus-evil or God-versus-the-devil rhetoric, it’s commonly accepted in general life wisdom that chasing money and basing your personal value on material accumulation is a losing battle. We’re told from an early age that chasing wealth will make us feel empty, that it creates a hole that cannot be filled. The clichés that have this as their central message are boundless. It’s probably the central plot in most Disney movies, with the antidote being to live humbly and appreciate what you have. Yet, what do we constantly see during commercial breaks, in magazine ads, and in full display in trendy neighborhoods?

I Googled a statistic I remembered seeing (a little dated now, 2012) which stated that if you made at least $34,000 per year, you were in the top 1% of income earners in the world, as the global median salary was $1,225 per year. I live in the middle of the United States of America, the richest county in the world. I’m educated (master’s degree) and make over that (not by much, and only recently—I’m a struggling Millennial, what can I say?), but I fully feel the weight of financial inadequacy, even in my relatively good position.

Smack-dab in the middle of the United States is almost literally Denver, Colorado, my place of residence. There’s a lot going on in Denver. It’s constantly ranked among the top cities in the county in topics relating to quality of life and coolness. New construction is rampant in the area and the largest transit expansion project in the county, FasTracks, is ongoing. It’s a microcosm of the American Dream: prosperity, development, increasing property values, higher rates of return on investment, etc. All is good, right? According to most of the literature chronicling the transformation, it is all good. But it’s all good for a certain segment of the population, not for everybody.

When I was in high school the clothing brand FUBU was popular. The name was an acronym for “For Us By Us,” meaning black people. White people could buy the product but you get the idea. Nonetheless, FUBU is a perfect analogy for the development and gentrification of places like Denver. The “For Us By Us” being rich people. All of this development is “for rich people by rich people.” As I mentioned earlier, relatively speaking, I’m in a good position to potentially enjoy the materialistic fruits offered by capitalism and the pursuit of the American Dream, yet even I feel excluded from participating in much of what has transpired in my own city. Look at the development. What does it consist of? Luxury, opulence, swankiness. Downtown by Union Station is now surrounded by shiny glass towers of Class A office space. They tout these gigantic corporations that are setting up shop in these new sparkling buildings. How many people have jobs in Class A office space that commands the highest rent in the region? Not many. I don’t, and probably won’t. Those office towers aren’t built for people like me. Some of these buildings have retail and restaurants located in the ground level. The same theme: swanky, upscale, and expensive. I’m not in a place in my life where I can regularly buy $7.00 beers and eat $12.00 sandwiches for lunch.

The hottest neighborhoods in Denver are places like the Highlands, Five Points, and the Golden Triangle. To own a new place in these neighborhoods, you’ll have to cough up a minimum of $300,000 to $400,000—and that’s the low end of the range. What’s the mortgage payment on that? Probably more than my total income. Renting is even worse. Denver has some of the fastest growing rents in the country. Studios in these new apartment complexes can run over $1,000 per month—for a studio! If you want some actual living space with a bedroom or two you’ll be paying an equivalent mortgage payment in rent.

When I ride my bike through these trendy neighborhoods I feel excluded. This new development is not for me. It’s created by rich developers for people atop the income ladder. Look at the marketing for new development. I’d say roughly 100% of the time it has to speak to luxury. Everything always has to be luxurious, lavish, and lush. You have to be Brad Pitt in a perfectly tailored suit, parking your BMW in the garage of your new gaudy tri-level duplex in the heart of the trendiest neighborhood. Why can’t we get regular shit for regular people? Is the goal of life to live luxuriously?

This circles back to my original question about the manufacturing of this reality. It’s been around since the dawn of civilization. It’s inescapable. I know many people who claim that they don’t care about material things or about how much money they make. While I agree that many people don’t have chasing wealth as a central tenet of their lives, they doubtless feel the pressure to get ahead and sometimes romanticize a bit about what it must be like. If you’re at all social and live in society, you know friends or relatives or acquaintances that drive a brand new Mercedes Benz or live on a golf course or frequently travel internationally or wear a gigantic diamond wedding ring. We’re surrounded by it. Nobody is completely immune to occasional feelings of envy or jealousy or at least doesn’t recognize social stratification along income lines. And I don’t care how cool you think you are, you’re forced to think about your financial condition when your beater for a car keeps breaking down, when someone asks you where you live, when your landlord raises your rent, when you get invited to expensive out-of-state weddings or weekend ski trips. You have to stop and do a little math, and the results usually aren’t promising. And then you turn on the TV and see Mr. Chiseled Jaw telling you to buy this car if you want a girl like this.

In the end it’s just part of being human. It’s easier to be bad than it is to be good. Laziness is easier than working out. It’s easier to eat Doritos than it is to eat lima beans. The societal contradiction of constant pressure to buy everything and be rich when common wisdom tells us that it doesn’t lead to happiness is ever-present and ongoing. The reason for the pressure is greed. People want to line their pockets. But what would the majority of people answer to the question: Would you rather be rich or poor? It’s not tough to take a wild guess at that one. Being poor sucks. Rich people look like they have more fun, and probably do. You just have to find that balance. So, are you going to buy this car or what?

Philosophy, Rants

Thoughts on Race and Policing

What seemed a dormant issue in America is once again an active volcano. The circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray have ushered in a new era of black/white tension. Not long ago certain pundits declared that America had entered a post-racial era, with their evidence being the election of the first black president, Barack Obama. Black people, minorities, and even slightly enlightened white people, however, knew that people regurgitating that phrase were beyond ignorant. The tension has always been there. The election of a light-skinned black man with white sensibilities who can make older white people feel at ease is completely irrelevant to the pulse of race relations at the ground level, especially in places with a history of conflict. Maybe a blessing in disguise, what Michael Brown and Freddie Gray have done is expose the systemic institutional problems of race and class disparities in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. New social media platforms have aided in plastering this reality across our TV screen, phones, and tablets. America has a long way to go. This is evident and undeniable. Declarations of a post-racial America will not make a reappearance for a long time to come, even by the most ardent deniers of reality.

It’s not hard to sympathize with poor people of color in these neighborhoods. Freddie Gray’s Baltimore neighborhood has a 50% unemployment rate among black males. A federal investigation of Ferguson’s police department—the city in which Michael Brown was shot—revealed an institutional bias whereby blacks where disproportionally arrested and fined for minor infractions. These revelations only occurred because of the violent events that grabbed the national spotlight. It doesn’t take a large leap to infer that many other cities in America are likely plagued with the same racial tension between minorities and the police and judicial system. Scares from Jim Crow and the Rodney King beating appear to be more like scabs that can still be ripped off.

With this said, the riots and vile language spewed at cops is sickening. I used the word sympathize earlier because I haven’t shared the same experience of overt police brutality that we’ve heard recounted in these neighborhoods. Maybe I can chalk it up to fortune or luck, but I can’t recount one instance in my life of feeling unjustly targeted by the police or judicial process (although my father can). One geographically relevant fact is that Colorado—my lifelong place of residence—did not experience the same historically deep-seated racial divides of the South. Additionally, Denver and Colorado Springs—the two largest cities in Colorado—have far fewer black people as a proportion of the population than other large metropolitan areas around the U.S. Therefore, black people have probably been seen as less of a threat by the powers that be, and there is less segregation and racial tension, as large enclaves of black neighborhoods are almost nonexistent in Colorado cities. The majority of black people from Colorado Springs would probably claim to have come from a white neighborhood, or at least have many white friends. For these reasons, even though I am half-black, and doubtless seen as a black man in the eyes of white people, I almost look at the events in Baltimore and Ferguson through the lens of a white person. My experience with police and the legal system through adolescence and early adulthood is far closer to an average white person’s than to a black person’s from a rough black neighborhood.

That is the disclaimer. Back to the reaction seen through the riots and heard through the interviews with black thought leaders. Basically, I have a hard time with it. The cards are stacked against young black males from poor neighborhoods. There is no doubt. Nonetheless, some of the narratives that have emerged in the wake of these tragedies are disingenuous. One seems to be that cops are out targeting black people for no reason. There is this narrative that black people are just walking down the street and cops are just shooting them dead. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The Trayvon Martin story approaches something similar to that, but George Zimmerman was not a cop. He was acting on his own individual compulsions and judgment, which, given his activity in the news since, have been proven to be severely problematic. The majority of the other stories always seem to have something in common, which is the number one way to ensure run-ins with police—illegal activity! The worst case of this being Michael Brown, who committed a strong-arm robbery and fought a police officer prior to being shot. I mean, what do you expect? The “hands-up, don’t shoot” narrative propagated after that incident was absolutely dismantled by the evidence. That was not what Michael Brown was doing. I don’t care what color you are, if you attack a cop, you’re liable to be shot. But all of these stories seem to contain some criminal element or an attempt to evade police, which escalates a potentially volatile situation.

Another narrative that falls flat is the “innocent victim.” If you listened to certain outlets, you would think that all of these victims are upstanding citizens. Young black males earnestly trying to do the right thing and not bother anybody. Freddie Gray’s rap sheet included 18 transgressions along with a two-year stint in jail. We know Michael Brown robbed a store shortly before he was gunned down. Nobody is saying that possessing a criminal history is justification to be gunned down by police. Of course it’s not. However, is it merely a coincidence that many people who die at the hands of police have criminal histories? Dr. Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who recently joined the 2016 presidential field (and whose politics I generally disagree with), is from a rough black neighborhood in Detroit. In interviews he’s said that he knew many black people growing up who got the crap beat out of them by the police. But he said that they were usually the people who were “doing wrong stuff.” Again, there are anomalies. Countless people have been shot by police while seemingly doing nothing wrong. But that is far from the norm. In the bulk of cases that have sparked national backlash, the victims possessed criminal histories and were engaged in illegal activity, fighting or running from the police prior to meeting their fate.

Lastly, you hear the narrative about the judging or stereotyping of black people, which leads to an escalated tension prior to the police even engaging potential suspects. Undoubtedly this poses real challenges within police departments. It is impossible to know what’s in somebody’s heart. Reality dictates that there are white police officers who despise black people. There are racist people in every profession on earth. Racism on a deep level is extremely difficult to weed out. At the same time, just because a white officer questions group of black people on the street corner does not mean the officer is racist or is stereotyping black people. Just because an officer shoots a black person does not mean the officer is racist. Nonetheless, some outlets would have you believe that that is the only logical conclusion, which does harm in the opposite direction. But admittedly, this one is hard. Where do you draw the line between baseless stereotyping and near full confidence that something illegal is going on? A group of young black males wearing hoodies with sagging pants standing on a street corner in a notoriously drug infested area will raise a red flag for a police officer. And shouldn’t it? To some people that decries racism from the start. But reality is also reality. I’ve lived one block off of Colfax Avenue in Denver for over six years, which is infamously well-known as a seedy street rife with drugs, prostitution, and violence. Though Colfax is heavily occupied by white hipsters and gentrifying young adults seeking city life, I’ve still witnessed shootings, countless fights, daily crack deals, and even a prostitute getting pummeled by her pimp. Living in the area for so long, I recognize many of the drug dealers and shady characters. They’re always out there. When I see them standing on the corner, I’m not stereotyping “threatening” looking black males. I know they’re threatening. I’ve seen them walking up and down the street, selling drugs, whooping people’s asses who don’t have their money. That’s not stereotyping. That’s fact. This is the same situation of many police officers. They’re not randomly targeting certain characters based on appearance and skin color—they know these guys by name. They arrested them last week, and the week before. It’s easy for the black media to paint the picture of officers targeting black people simply because they’re sagging their pants as they walk down the street, but it’s not that simple, and definitely not necessarily the case. The general public (myself included) has no idea what it’s like to be a police officer in a rough neighborhood, where your life is constantly on the line. It’s sure easy to play Monday morning quarterback and start throwing out accusations without knowing the full picture, though. This is done by both sides—and it exacerbates the problem.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle. I have a severe paranoia of employing a holier-than-thou or self-righteous interpretation of these black victims’ lives. I loathe when people prescribe overly-simplistic solutions such as “always do what the cops say” or “stay out of trouble.” My experience is not one of trying to survive in the streets of a rough neighborhood with little hope of escaping. It would be easy for me to sit behind this keyboard and tell black people to obey the law and stay out of trouble. It’s an entirely different mentality and culture that these youth are subjected to at a young age. Hustling is a way of life for many. There are no job opportunities. Father figures are often absent from the scene. The legal system is already stacked against them. People from stable, middle-class households in friendly white areas, however, love to claim to have the simple answers about how to correctly live life. This is wrong and not even possible. Conversely, “fuck the police” is also wrong. Not all cops are out to get black people. Not all black people who are killed by police were wrongly targeted and innocent. Blindly jumping on one side or the other and vehemently defending it regardless of the facts does little to bridge the gap or bring about change—and it’s lazy. There needs to be objective understanding. Young black youth making poor decisions is not isolated to simple real-time decision making. Larger societal, cultural, and institutional structures influence what plays out in the streets. Similarly, bad apples exist in every police department, but larger policing philosophies may need to be reevaluated so that police aren’t placed in unnecessary, potentially explosive situations, especially over petty crime. Much room exists for the improvement of policing in poor black neighborhoods. Dialogue and broader understanding is a way forward; tribalistic “us-versus-them” mentality is not.

Philosophy, Politics

I’m Alive

I look up to the sky, gasping for air
Sweat glistening on my skin, the wind makes my hair rise
I squint and the blue sky comes into focus
Alive I feel, radiant heat emanating from my body
It pulsates out as I exhale
Thoughts and sweet memories float through my mind but begin to stab
It’s beautiful pain
My eyes fill with tears
I am so blessed yet so cursed
A battle rages, my soul is on a roller coaster
My skin feels good to touch, I can see
I’m alive
I touch the soft green leaf of a bush, life
I pluck it and smell it; I look at the soft clouds
My heart beat slows down; I take a deep breath
Tears run down my cheeks
Who is winning?
I walk to the edge of the cliff and peer down
Waves crash onto the rocks; it’s beautiful
I begin to cry
Thoughts play through my mind
I see the people I love; they talk to me in slow motion
And they’re smiling
But I was just a bit short, always right there
I step to the end of the earth, and jump
My body soars through the air
I’m suspended in the sky forever
Gravity pulls me down; the air flows over my skin
Time stops
I smash into the deep blue ocean
It’s quiet down here
I flash back to reality; time restarts
On instinct I seek out air and pull myself to the surface
In the middle of big waves the fragility and preciousness of life whacks me
I distraughtly swim to shore and lay on the soft sand
I close my eyes and exhale
I can feel the warmth of the sun on my eyelids
I’m alive