Before I show you my new place – that’s next week, when I’m done decorating — I thought I’d show you somebody else’s.
We came upon it last week, on the trip to move my furniture down south.
There’s an exit on I-95 in Virginia that Ace and I always stop at — one where I can get low-price, by Maryland standards, cigarettes; fill my gas tank; and grab a bite at the Burger King, whose guide to which sodas go best with which entrees always makes by beverage decision easier.
Then we drive a few hundred feet to the end of a big parking lot, where there’s a large grassy area, next to a copse of trees. I park at the edge of the grass, open the back of the Jeep and sit there to enjoy my picnic lunch while Ace sniffs around the empty patch of grass, takes care of business, then sits and waits for french fries to be flung his way. Or better yet, in his view, a hunk of burger, whose variations at Burger King include a Triple Whopper, and Quad Stacker. As you know, you can “Have it your way.”
The exit — Willis Road, I think it’s called, on the southern edge of Richmond – has become a tradition for us. Ace likes traditions, especially those involving meat.
Last week, with Ace in the back of the Jeep, and my friend Will following me in the rented moving truck, I had tired of music and decided to find a talker on the radio, either flaming liberal or die-hard conservative — for those are the only options — it didn’t matter.
I can’t remember his name, but I ended up with the die-hard conservative — a Rush Limbaugh wannabe, only angrier, who was jumping all over President Obama’s recent remarks about increasing taxes on the richest to assist the poorest.
Obama, it seemed, wanted to help the “less fortunate,” and you would have guessed, from the way the talk show host was saying “less fortunate” that he was smirking and putting finger quotes around it — as if he thought there was no such thing, or, if there were, that they were all sissies.
Though I had spent nearly a year without my material possessions as Ace and I traveled across America on a shoestring; though I’m not employed by anyone other than myself, though I have neither health insurance nor nest egg, I’ve never considered myself among the less fortunate (which I say without finger quotes, because only sissies make finger quotes).
Similarly, I’ve never considered myself too far removed from that group. One overnight hospital visit would probably put me in their ranks.
In our time on the road, Ace and I were homeless by choice, but frugal out of necessity, which explains why we ran into plenty of down on their luck souls – some of whom had made bad decisions, more of whom were victims of matters beyond their control, like layoffs, or foreclosures, or crime, or natural disasters, or unnatural disasters, or health issues or disabilities.
In the America of 2011, with the gap between the rich and the poor having become as extreme as our talk show hosts, I’m thankful to be in the middle, even the lower section of the middle. I plan to try and stay there until the middle disappears. Having reunited with my possessions, called in my pension (it actually came when I called) and begun setting up a new home — albeit without stainless steel appliances – I’m feeling more secure. But I’m aware of how tenuous that can be.
After stopping at our traditional Virginia picnic spot last week, I finished off my fish sandwich, accompanied by a Diet Coke – though maybe Sprite would have been a better choice — and Ace I walked around the corner, where there was a wooden fence with a small opening in it. We stepped through.
That’s where we saw this homeless encampment.
I’m not sure if it served as home for multiple people, or just one, but nobody was at the camp amid the trees, just off I-95, where a half dozen mattresses and tarps were scattered, clothes hung on tree limbs and — speaking of accessories that pop — empty sardine cans, their tops peeled back, served as ash trays.
I was wandering around taking pictures, when a medium-sized, copper-colored dog came running out from behind a mattress that was leaning against the fence. Barking furiously, he headed straight at me, then stopped and stared, as if daring me to take another step in his direction.
I tried to fling him some french fries, but every time I threw one, he retreated — only slightly though, never leaving his position amid the modest little camp. That seemed to be his mission — to protect the few meager belongings that were there, to guard over them until his human came back from collecting aluminum cans, or panhandling at the exit ramp, or maybe even working a real job.
The dog acted like it was Fort Knox, and he was a German shepherd.
They are able to show respect, loyalty and compassion to the poorest of souls — in a way Republicans, at least the loudest ones, are rarely able to master. Some Democrats aren’t that great at it, either. I’m not always too good at it myself. How much have I contributed to Japanese tsunami victims? Zero. I need to save up and buy a clothes dryer.
We humans are far more selfish than dogs. Then again dogs aren’t raised on TV ads and shiny magazines that bombard them with images of things that manipulative marketing types persuade them they must have.
I thought about calling the conservative radio talk show host, even though he sounded like a very nasty fellow who would interrupt me. ”Why is it we make a greater investment in accumulating stuff than in our fellow humans?” I wanted to ask. “When did war become patriotic and helping people become unpatriotic?”
And which soda really does pair best with the fish sandwich?
Posted by John Woestendiek April 20th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, burger king, compassion, conservatives, democrats, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, encampment, greed, helping, homeless, hosts, less fortunate, liberals, mattresses, obama, pairings, patriotic, people, pets, poor, possessions, poverty, radio, republicans, rich, richmond, road trip, sardine can, selfishness, soda, stacker, stuff, talk shows, taxes, travels with ace, virginia, whopper, willis road
I wrote down this song for my own self, and sing it now to my own soul
But if you’ll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold
– From the Song “Heaven,” by Woody Guthrie, 1947
Here’s something we’ve all but confirmed on our road trip: The bigger the void, or gap, between towns, the more rural one gets, the tinier the towns, the more likely one is to pick up religious music — sometimes only religious music — on the radio.
Such has been the case in the most recent leg of my road trip – through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas again: God, it’s said, is everywhere, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to the radio in rural America.
This isn’t a groundbreaking observation. Religion and right wing views have long been more firmly embedded in rural areas — more likely to be voiced, worn on one’s sleeve, or posted on signage.
After a few days in Dallas, where God still has a lot of work to do — it seems at least half the billboards are for strip clubs — I rolled into more rural surroundings, and saw this collection of home-made signs outside Palmer, Texas, on I-45.
The Chapel at what’s called “The Church of Texas” is located on a wide swath of land abutting the interstate’s service road, much of which has been devoted to signage, the rest to a small church, gazebos, outdoor seating areas and a pond with (and this somehow doesn’t seem right) a “No Fishing” sign. According to its website, the church has “gone underground,” but it’s not real clear exactly what that means.
I chatted briefly with a man who lives on the grounds in a trailer — not the pastor, but a member of the non-denominational church — who was a bit standoffish until he got going about all the corruption of organized religion.
His dog, a dachshund, peed on my tire (a baptism?) and after chatting a bit, I pulled out, turning on the radio again — for it and Ace and radio God and my bobblehead Jesus (more on him later) are my only company these days.
Sure enough, searching for a signal, I found more God music. I’ve nothing against God music, and love good gospel, but I found myself getting slightly bugged by all the God rock – music that you don’t really know is God music until the chorus comes up and mentions “salvation” or “the Saviour.”
You’ll be tapping your fingers along with the beat, and then suddenly realize you’ve been something close to duped. I find it somewhat deceptive. If you insist on giving me a message, be upfront about it.
God comedy seems to be catching on as well, though I haven’t heard too much of it that is actually funny, or for that matter Godly. It’s generally family-based comedy, funny stories about what the kids did.
Rural Oklahoma was particularly heavy on God music. Not having many musical alternatives on the radio, and noticing I was driving on the Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway — he was born down the road in Okemah – I grabbed a Woody Guthrie CD and slipped it in. Woody is an integral part of my road music collection.
I sang along to songs about dust and migrants and labor unrest and the search for a better life. Woody’s music, it seems – not that it ever wasn’t relevant — is relevant again in 2010, when once again economic conditions and natural and unnatural disasters are shattering dreams and testing the amazing resilience of Americans. Though I probably worship Woody more than any religion, I’d have to admit that faith in God is where a lot of that resilience probably comes from.
Given that, I can handle the God music, the God comedy and God as a roadside attraction — taking his or her place among concrete dinosaurs, Indian trading posts, half-buried cars, reptile museums and the like. Each fills a need, even if that need isn’t always immediately clear.
This concludes today’s sermon.
(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, america, animals, church, comedy, dog's country, dogscountry, economy, god, music, pets, radio, religion, road trip, roadside attractions, rock, rural, woody guthrie
A Canadian immigrant, Linkletter was an orphan, adopted by ”a one-legged preacher.” He left home at 17 and bummed around America as a hobo —”a great way to see this great country,” he noted.
He went on to become one of the most famous voices on radio in the 1930s, successfully making the transition to television in the 1950s. As Stephen Moore noted in this week’s Wall Street Journal, the most enduring of his hit TV shows was ”Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
One of Linkletter’s personal favorites was the comment of a 7-year-old boy whose dog had recently died.
“Don’t be sad because your dog is up in heaven with God,” Linkletter said, attempting to appease the youngster.
“Mr. Linkletter,” the boy responded, “what would God want with a dead dog?”
Posted by John Woestendiek May 29th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, art linkletter, darndest, dead, death, dog, kids, kids say the darndest things, legend, linkletter, news, ohmidog!, pets, radio, things, tv, what would got want with a dead dog
Baltimore city’s leash law – and the new $1,000 fine violators of it face – was alternately blasted and defended on WEAA’s Marc Steiner Show last night as four guests and numerous caller-inners voiced their opinions and offered solutions.
The city increased the leash law fine from $100 to $1,000 in February, then followed up with a crackdown on violators.
William Cole, the city councilman who, though he was among those approving the increased fines, is now seeking to have them lowered, and said last night that the majority of the council feels the same way.
Cole has also introduced an amendment to allow the city Recreation and Parks Department establish off-leash hours in designated areas of city parks.
Cole said he favors fines of $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second, and $1,000 for a third. But he also said, at one point, “I would hope that any animal control officer responding to a complaint is first going to give a warning.”
Cole also displayed some excellent hair-splitting skills when he said that the new law, while it does produce new revenue for the city, “is not a revenue-producing bill.”
And he was slightly off the mark when he assured listeners that a dog park in Latrobe Park in Locust Point – the first the city has chosen to take part in opening – would be ready in “in the next couple weeks … two months?” Mary Porter, design planner for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, then corrected him, saying, “end of the summer.”
Also on the program were Judith Kunst, a single mother and dog owner involved in the petition effort to reduce the fines (1,316 signatures so far), and Robert Joyce, a dog owner and lawyer who has offered to represent, pro bono, anyone fined $1,000 for having their dog off leash.
You can hear the podcast here.
Cole admitted that the city council wasn’t aware it was increasing the off-leash fine when it approved the bill, saying it was included in a category marked “other offenses” that no one seems to have bothered to look into. “Quite frankly, we didn’t pick up on it,” he said.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 5th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: baltimore, city council, dog, dog parks, dogs, Druid Hill Park, exercise, leash, leash free, leash law, leashed, marc steiner, parks, patterson park, radio, recreation, riverside park, show, unleashed, weaa, william cole
Mark Steiner will dedicate an hour of his radio program tomorrow (Tuesday) to the controversy over Baltimore’s leash law, new fines and the lack — at least I hope he sees it as a lack — of dog parks in the city.
The Steiner Show airs from 5 to 7 p.m. on WEAA (88.9 on your radio dial).
Among those on hand to discuss the issue wll be Judith Kunst, a Hampden dog owner; a representative of the city Recreation and Parks Department; and City Councilman Bill Cole, sponsor of an amendment to reduce the newly imposed $1,000 off-leash fine and a proposal to allow parks to establish off leash hours. Also scheduled to appear is Rob Joyce, a local attorney who has offered to represent anyone cited under the new penalty.
To comment on the show, call 410-319-8888, or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A City Council subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on revisions to the leash law May 12 at 9 a.m. in City Hall.
Steiner, a fixture at radio station WYPR for 15 years, started a show on WEAA, Morgan State University’s radio station, last summer.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 4th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, baltimore, city council, dog parks, dogs, fines, leash free, leash law, marc steiner, moregan state university, penalties, pets, radio, steiner show, talk show, unleashed, weaa, wypr
“He was just gone. He just disappeared,” said Krenn, who works for WDVE radio. “I’m just beside myself. As every pet owner knows, this is a worst nightmare.”
Posted by John Woestendiek December 19th, 2008 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animal friends, dog, gizmo, host, jim krenn, lost, missing, morning, pittsburgh, radio, rat terrier, search, talk show host, wdve