Sunday, July 27, 2008

Can you really forget?

In a little more than a week, the Beijing Olympics will start. I won't be watching. The Chinese have done little to honor the commitment they made, in receiving the hosting of the games, to improve their human rights record.

In 1989, as many as 3000 people [Chinese Red Cross number] may have been killed when the government suppressed the Tiananmen Square Protests. Ten years later, the Chinese cracked down on the Falun Gong movement. This peaceful movement grew rapidly and threatened the government by peaceful protest of thousands of people throughout China. Their movement was banned and suppressed.

The Chinese Communist Government is virtually the only country doing business with the Military Junta of Burma. Chinese silence during the slaughter of Burmese Monks allowed it to continue. China could have shut the Burmese response down, but, apparently aware of the contradiction, they did nothing. The Chinese have their own problems with Buddhist Monks in Tibet. They couldn't very well admonish Burma for doing something they have been doing in territory they claim as their own for years. The recent violence from both sides in Tibet is unfortunate and unhelpful.

Against this backdrop, it was amazing to me China was allowed to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee claims it is nonpolitical. By giving the Chinese Communists this venue for whitewashing, they have gone beyond mere politics. In turning a blind eye, they have given the Chinese an undeserved platform for propaganda; let alone the international recognition.

Further, the construction of Olympic Venues has resulted in the destruction of historic neighborhoods in Beijing and the forced evictions of many people. I've heard a report that I can't confirm of a Human Rights Activist whose release from jail has been delayed. Who knows what else is happening behind the Silk Curtain?!

This is easy for me, I am not a sports person. Moreover, I am not asking for you to do anything but remember who you are dealing with.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quiet Graceful Power

I find the most unusual books to read. The latest book outlet find, "The Cruelest Journey" by Kira Salak, I recommend for would-be vagabonds like me and for anyone seeking reassurance either that one person can do great things or that we can rely on each other even in the most barren environments.

Not only did Kira paddle 600 miles down the Niger River to reach Timbuktu, she often relied on locals for shelter and food. She writes of many historical and current issues in the Sub Sahara with a comfortable style and an accessible readability. And! then buys the freedom of two slave girls at the end of her journey. Ms. Salak carried two gold coins the whole length of her trip to give the two girls a start on their new life.

Her trip recreated the planned journey of a little known English explorer named Mungo Park. His journey began but did not finish for the inhospitable terrain and the ferocious local people. He died on the Niger. Some rumors have him killed after reaching Timbuktu, but history just doesn't know. Kira met some of the same ferocious people almost unaffected in the 300 or so years since Park's disasterous trip. She met many people with a third world kindness and generosity that far exceeds what most of us in the first world will ever do.

Kira is an adventurer who holds a PhD in literature. She writes with a depth and ease that anyone wishing to write would do well to imitate. I was greatly inspired by Kira and her adventure. Not only for her fearless grace but for her quiet Buddhism as well.

I think some people misunderstood my epiphany last Christmas. I really haven't changed much at all. There were no signs squinted at from Milvian Bridge. I merely shifted (overtly) one fundamental leg that my personal philosophy stood on. To me it was as casual as shifting a foot I had stood on too long.

I spent 15 plus years calling myself an Objectivist; atheist by default. I was inspired at my cousin's house to look at the leg I had been leaning on. It wasn't where I thought it was.

Objectivism advocates the raw power of the individual. I don't disagree with all of this but, in many ways, I haven't been living my life that way. I have been helped by so many people; in large and small ways. I've managed to help a few, I think.

In my rediscovery of Buddhism [it creeps up at the weirdest places, see above], I found a "faithless faith" that honors a man, not a deity. While many strains of Buddhism are polluted by the gods and godheads of other faiths, at its core, Buddhism is a way of life that accepts cause and effect, and the efficacy of the human mind and senses. It is simply a path, a method, to discover the true nature of our existence. But it does it in a way that includes all of us. Rather than emphasizing a lone pursuit, it is the power in each of us because each of us is all of us. Buddhism is monistic. We are all one. If you're on Myspace, I highly recommend my friend Emily's latest blog. It reminds me of an intriguing comment by Brad Warner, the punk Zen Master, he described 'getting it' post enlightenment, when looking at a stranger, and feeling a recognition "like looking at himself in a mirror."

Imagine how our politics, and our world, would be different if more people had the realization that we are all one; the same. Imagine spending a billion dollars a day helping each other, ourselves, rather than to tear another country down. The Buddha said "If you want to get rid of your foe, you have only to realize that that foe is delusion."

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Locked and Loaded

I pulled behind the building with a delivery. All the docks were full, but a trailer was one of ours. I'd have to drop mine, hook to that one, pull it out and drop it, then grab mine again and back it into the hole I created. As I walked into the Recieving Department, I noticed a sloppy gang sign scrawled on the nose of one of the other trailers. It looked for all the world like it said "Crochet Furies;" like a gang started by Martha Stewart while she was in the slammer.

The Crochet Furies would roam the streets in comfortable shoes and stretch jeans. Their hair short and spiky; equal parts Pixie, Punk and Butch. They all have black leather, but little cropped jackets with just enough ruffle to be more cute than biker. On one sleeve, a quill of knitting needles as throwing knives. They cruise in Minivans with Low Rider Hydraulics to bounce and roll and shuck their way down the avenue.

Back in Columbus, I got unloaded. Just as I was about to pull back out on the road, I decide to run into the store and grab a sandwich. Inside, I found Ham and Havarti and a drink. Almost back out to the truck, I reach for my keys. Yeah, you're way ahead of me. No keys. I know I locked the truck on the way in. Now I'm stuck. I'm supposed to be on the way to another stop and I'm locked out of my tractor.

At first, there's no panic. Often a key is hidden somewhere under the hood. This is not my truck it is a floater/loaner. I snap open the hood and root around. The engine compartment is huge with all kinds of nooks and crannies. There is no key, no key box, not even a crow bar.

The next place to check is the back of the cab. I close the hood and wander back. I'm looking near the wire harness and the air lines; checking by the load lock rack. I look inside the frame and under the sleeper. I open the battery box and poke around. I check near the fuel tank and the steps. Nothing. I switch to the passenger side and check all those spots again. I even started to look in the nose box of the trailer, but how could a key to my tractor be hidden on some random trailer.

I check every place I could think of and then rechecked them again. That's when I realize my phone is locked inside too.

At Orientation last week, the company issued all of us the "Green Book." In it are procedures, directions, ComCheks, trailer inspection forms and all the contact information for anyone I would ever want to talk to in the entire company. The Green Book is not something I carry when I run inside for a sandwich. It too is locked up tight in the tractor.

This is my first week at the company. There is no chance that I've managed to memorize any phone numbers. I don't dial numbers anymore. Nobody dials numbers anymore. In this age of speeddial, anyone in my phone can be called with two clicks; letters not numbers. There must be a phone number on the truck. I wander around again.

On the truck, there are D.O.T. permit numbers, an IFSA sticker, even the 'Last Six' of the VIN number. All the way out back, on the trailer door, there is the ubiquitous recruiting sign. "We're Looking For Quality, Experienced Drivers." These recruiting 800 numbers are always some easy to remember acronym. This is good; I have nothing to write on.

I have a bite of sandwich and a drink. My lunch has been sitting on the step to the cab. Walking back to the store and a payphone, I wonder if anyone will answer at 5:30 AM. Sure enough, the 800 number is into the recruiting department and not the main switchboard. I can leave a message for 'recruiting, press two" or "Safety, press three." Nobody is home. I tried pressing zero and a even couple random extensions but don't get through to a human.

Back out to the truck, what's left of my lunch is still sitting on the step. The truck is parked along the outer edge of the property against a curb. Past the curb is a low cinderblock wall, a chain link fence and some bushes. Some trees are evenly spaced from the road back past me and out to the property line out back. Over the fence and in the back is a nondescript apartment building. No one is stirring. Right over the fence near me is a business that goes out to the road. I can see their loading dock and random skids laying around. Not enough clues to guess what they do over there.

Then a semi pulls up into the lot across the fence. Occasionally, a fellow truck driver can get you back into your cab after you've locked your keys inside. The trucks don't have unique keys like a car. One company, one model year might only have one, or more likely, just a few key patterns. Alas, this guy is driving a Kenworth; mine is a Freightliner.

I'm back to driving a Freightliner at this new company. My first truck last year was a Freightliner, but this year, driving out of Grand Rapids, I've been driving a Kenworth up until I started the new job last week. This seems appropriate as "Freightliner Blues," by Townes Van Zandt is one of the favorite songs I play.

I finish the last bites of sandwich and just as I drain the last of my Berry Boost Bolthouse Juice, a thought seeps into my feeble brain, addled by diesel fumes. I wonder if I can jimmy the little triangle side vent window somehow. Maybe even break it to get in. I stood up from the curb, where I was sitting. My gaze drifted up the side of the truck to the little triangle of glass. In the triangle, is a little black knob. This knob is the outer part of the handle/latch that opens the vent window. The black knob is all chewed up. Someone else had locked themselves out! They must have used pliers to twist the latch from the outside. Brilliant!!

I step up the side of my tractor and grab the chewed up knob. It turns at the slightest grip. I push one corner, then grab the opposite one and twist the window open. There is just enough room to stuff my forearm in and open the door! I'm back in business!

I look at my phone and I've only lost a half hour. I'd have burned through a half hour if I had stopped somewhere else for lunch. I twist the key and the diesel growls to life. On the road again.

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start,...