Road Trip, Day 9 – Casper to Rock Springs

Day 9 - Casper to Rock Springs

November 8, 2012 – Thursday

Day 9 of our cross-country road trip took us across Wyoming, from Casper to Rock Springs.

First thing after our now-normal routine of getting free hotel breakfast and checking out was getting gas at the Common Cents market:

Common Cents - Casper, WY

Common Cents – Casper, WY. Both JC and I got a kick out of the store name.

For the next half-hour or so we drove out of Casper on Wyoming 220, passing through the outskirts of town. We drove over the North Platte River. We passed by a drive-in which is something we personally don’t see every day. As I often do when I pass by these residential areas, I try to imagine what life is like for the inhabitants. I wonder economically what it is out here that supports all these people. What is the daily routine? Do you see the same people around town all the time? Checking the population information in the Wikipedia link above, it looks like it would be possible to squeeze the entire town into a football stadium. Wow.

Shifters (E.B.T.) Drive In

Shifters (E.B.T.) – looks like it might be a cool place to go to

Red Buttes Near Bessemer Bend, Wyoming

Further out from Casper, we reached Bessemer Bend and the Red Buttes

Not long afterwards, we reached a turnout area with a sign that read Lake Ridge Estates and another sign that read Alcova Reservoir. Apparently there is land for sale here, with great views of the reservoir and surrounding geological features. Two houses had already been built, but otherwise it was completely empty for miles around. If you look at the satellite view on Google Maps, you’ll see a tiny patch of green around one of the houses. It reminds me of that Star Trek episode where an entire colony is obliterated, save for one house. Once again, I imagined what it might be like living here in relative isolation. I’d need electricity, water, internet, and storage for food, and each morning I’d wake up with the view of the reservoir. When I needed supplies, I’d drive back to Casper and stock up. I might try growing some of my own food. I’d probably need a firearm to protect myself and JC.

Alcova Reservoir with Lone House

Isolated living at Lake Ridge Estates

Continuing on, the next point of interest and highlight of this day was the rest area at Independence Rock, another geological feature.

Independence Rock State Historic Site

Welcome to Independence Rock

The history behind Independence Rock fascinates me to no end. For the early American settlers moving westward, it was a marker in two senses of the word. First, it let them know whether they were on schedule: if it was by Independence Day on July 4th, then most likely they would make it to the west coast before snowfall (which in those days of covered wagons was probably pretty dangerous). Second, it served (and still serves) as a historical record of the people who passed through because people would carve their names on it. As we walked around, we made out some carvings dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. There was one abbreviated date written as “’87”. We wondered whether it was 1887 or 1987.

Independence Rock Carved Name

J. F. Crawford ’87

Wyoming Plains

Imagine no roads, traveling in this environment in a covered wagon – sadly, if you were seeing this scene in November 150 years ago, it would probably soon be game over for you

I am always excited when I get a chance to experience something from the past, to walk the same path as someone who did so decades or centuries ago, to touch something that he had also touched (like these). The person is now long dead, and yet there is something of his that has survived. How did he live? How did he view the world? What was going through his mind as he carved his name into the rock?

Independence Rock Ramp

I can climb up here…

As we circled around the rock, we approached an area that looked climbable. I knew I had to climb up to the top despite JC’s concerns. As I stepped up each increasingly higher stone, I realized that it looked easier to climb from afar, when the distances between stones looked smaller. Up close, some of them were quite far apart, and the crevices between them looked nontrivial. With JC’s objections in my mind at the same time, I started feeling a little nervous and my heart started beating faster. I wasn’t in the best of shape, and with the camera strap around my neck and my clothes and shoes not exactly suitable for what I was doing, I realized I was in a clumsy position. I tried to keep going and pushed those thoughts to the side.

View from Independence Rock

It’s amazing how much more you can see from a higher vantage point

Once I made it up, it was a mix of relief and exhilaration. Wow! I made it! I could see the beauty of Wyoming in 360 degrees, being able to see for miles around. I could see our upcoming route (in photo above). I saw something white and reflective (photo below) and thought it was a salt field (looking at a map now, I’m guessing it was probably the Sweetwater River). After snapping a few more photos, I headed back, making sure to step on the rocks I used earlier to minimize the chance of accidentally stepping on a loose one. It was probably more difficult going down than it was going up, since I was mostly squatting in order to reach the next lower rock, and trying to balance myself with my hands. I met up with JC, who gave me an earful. It really could have been bad if something had happened. 😕

Independence Rock Panorama

A panorama from the top looking towards the east

We continued on our way, hitting 287 South, the city of Rawlins, and then, lo and behold, our old friend Interstate 80. As I am prone to do, I couldn’t resist cracking a joke and asking where the Bay Bridge was. We stopped at one more rest area (Bitter Creek) before arriving in Rock Springs less than three hours after leaving Independence Rock.

Rock Springs Sunset

Another day ends – looks like rain might be coming…

Rock Springs Chinese Food

Chinese delivery from Wonderful House

The day ended with laundry, Chinese delivery, and TVB dramas. Not sure whether it’s funny or sad how I still enjoyed TVB dramas back then, before we moved to HK. Also, the Chinese food was pretty good, so have to give a shout out to my fellow Chinese diaspora at Wonderful House. Another great day!

Next: Road Trip, Day 10 – Rock Springs to Richfield

Two Dollars

I woke up feeling depressed on Monday, one of those days when I have zero motivation to do anything, when I futilely click around the same websites over and over, looking for something new to show up. There’s a feeling of fatigue, sadness, and frustration all rolled into one, and the word “depression” describes it exactly. To try and get out of my rut, I forced myself to get out of the house with a single goal in mind: to replenish my supply of Old Town White Milk Tea.

I was in a daze the whole time walking to BART, to riding it, to walking to Chinatown. On the train I allowed myself to space out, staring into any direction without a person in it. At times, I’d read a few lines on my phone. But the feeling never subsided. I felt self-conscious. I felt ashamed to be seen, afraid to be judged, worried that people might somehow know my current emotional state. I was still able to put up my front, standing up straight and walking like I was sure of myself. When I read the e-book on my phone, the words clicked even if the feeling remained unchanged. It’s a strange experience, like I’m outside of my body, which continues to do what it normally does even though I’m tearing up inside. Sometimes, I make eye contact with people and wonder whether the bad vibe can be seen emanating from the top of my head like a smoky black cloud. I do get an occasional smile so perhaps I’ve gotten good at keeping up my appearance.

My goal complete, I go to my neighborhood McDonald’s to get lunch. I have to say, McDonald’s is a comforting place to me. It’s a place where anyone can go, where people will leave you alone. You don’t have to dress a certain way. You don’t have to have a lot of money. This is true in San Francisco, and it is true in Hong Kong. It is truly a people’s place. It’s the perfect place for someone like me on this day, a place where I can go to blend in.

I’m sitting at one of the high tables with bar stools near the entrance. I watch people come in and out. Halfway through my fries, I notice a scruffy, skinny, street man come in. He’s probably homeless; there’s no way to know, but I’m willing to bet he spends a lot of time on the street. His clothes are dirty, his face is dirty, and he looks run down.

He first approaches two women sitting near the front registers. One of the women is on her cellphone. He sits down across and says something to them. The woman not on the phone looks scared, while the woman on the phone shakes her head. He lingers for a few moments before making his way to the next table, this time a tattooed man with long hair with his headphones on. The man removes his headphones. He shakes his head and mouths something which I can’t make out. The street man tries again and the tattooed man repeats his previous action. The street man turns away and continues to the other tables.

Earlier, when I exited the Embarcadero BART station on my way to Chinatown, a self-proclaimed veteran sitting in a wheelchair next to the top of the escalator asked me if I could spare any change. We made eye contact and I pursed my lips, throwing up my hands to indicate that I had none. I didn’t think much of it as I continued on. On my way back, however, I saw that the man was still there. Because I was walking towards him this time, I could see the tattoos on his left leg, suggesting that he might really be a veteran. I could also see person after person walk by him without even the slightest acknowledgement, as if he wasn’t even there. When I tried to make eye contact with him again, he just kept his gaze downwards. It must be exhausting to be rejected and ignored so consistently.

I actually had two quarters on me this time, the change from getting the milk tea. I reached into my pocket to get them, but then I hesitated. I was expecting him to ask for change again, and when he didn’t I froze and continued walking down the stairs like everybody else. I didn’t want to be caught out, to be the only person who deviated. As I entered the BART station, it bothered me that I didn’t just do it.

Seeing the street man in McDonald’s getting rejected over and over, I was reminded of the veteran and tried to put myself in their places. I thought about the idea of rejection, of being ignored. It reminded me of trying to find a job, except with a job it doesn’t happen every ten seconds and it’s not right in your face. Would I be able to do what they do? On this day I couldn’t even walk around without fear of being judged or doing what I really wanted to do.

Now, it was finally my turn. The street man came up to my table and asked if I had any change. I didn’t hesitate this time and gave him the fifty cents. He then turned to the kids sitting next to me and asked if they could help so he could get a burger or something. When I heard him say he wanted to get a burger, it occurred to me that fifty cents wouldn’t be enough. I asked him, “oh, you want to get a burger?” and he eagerly replied in the affirmative. I reached for my wallet and pulled out two dollars. The street man’s face lit up and he seemed to be in disbelief, letting out a chuckle and exclaiming, “two dollars!”. I was a little bit startled myself seeing his reaction to receiving two dollars. He seemed excited and hurriedly left the McDonald’s.

At that moment, I realized that I may have been had. The way to a burger was inside the McDonald’s, not outside. Maybe his face lit up because he couldn’t believe that for once someone was naive enough to believe that he was actually going to get a burger. I realize that I may have acted as an accessory to drug or alcohol addiction, but it doesn’t matter. The look on his face when he received the two dollars was like the boy who received a Nintendo 64 for Christmas, and him leaving hurriedly was like he couldn’t wait to hook it up to the TV. It was real.

In the past, my policy was to never give handouts to panhandlers because I felt it would further encourage begging and not really solve the underlying problem. But now, my mindset is different. If anything, I was probably naive before to think that societal problems like poverty and homelessness could ever be solved in my lifetime. Do you really think that by withholding fifty cents, you’re going to make this guy turn his life around? Yes, it’s true that able-bodied people should try to find jobs and work hard to pull themselves back up and that my giving them money might encourage them to not do that. But in order for that to work, jobs need to be available. Hard work needs to pay off. Increasingly in society, we find that these two things no longer apply. People can toil for 16 hours a day and still remain stuck in their socioeconomic echelon.

I recently re-watched the war movie Saving Private Ryan. In the movie, medics would give dying soldiers morphine to ease their pain. There was no way to save them, yet the medics expended resources on them. Why?

We are all real people with real feelings. Can you imagine how you would feel if you worked 16 hours a day with no end in sight? Can you imagine living in a cage home in Hong Kong during summer with no air conditioning, again with no end in sight? Knowing you were stuck in this situation, would you still want help, knowing it was only temporary relief? People are not just statistics, and poverty is not just some arbitrary number. There is real suffering going on, and if I am to withhold aid that alleviates that suffering even for just a moment, claiming that my aid would prevent someone from helping themselves, then there actually needs to be a way for that person to do it. Otherwise I’m just making excuses when people continue to suffer indefinitely, and I am just trying to make myself feel better for being a hypocrite.

With society facing issues like overpopulation, limitless greed, rising inequality, and political corruption, creating euphemisms like “the working poor” and “extreme poverty” (as opposed to regular poverty, right?), it’s pretty amazing that two measly little dollars could light up someone’s face like that. These are large, complex problems with no solution in sight, and yet all it took was two dollars to grant a momentary easing of pain. Will two bucks pave the way to utopia? Probably not, but now that I’m more experienced in life, I realize that there are no absolutes when it comes to resolving society’s problems. The best you can do is to try and make people in hopeless situations as comfortable as possible, like in Saving Private Ryan.

As a society, we are supposed to take care of one another. It’s why humans first banded together in the first place. And yet, we seem to have forgotten this. It seems like it’s every man for himself now. I recently tweeted about watching an intersection to see why the housing market in SF is fucked up. To expound on this, what I meant is that people can be so selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. Drivers accelerate at yellow or red lights because they are in a hurry. Pedestrians start crossing when the signal starts counting down because they have the right of way. People think only of themselves, and not the people around them. And that includes landlords.

As an alternative, how about try stopping at a red or yellow light so you don’t endanger anyone? How about waiting for the next “walk” signal so that drivers can make their turns? How about charging a rent that’s good enough instead of trying to squeeze out every last penny just because the next landlord is doing it? Again, it’s real people with real feelings. Remembering that society is made up of individuals, if all the individuals are only capable of thinking for themselves, then sooner or later society will break down. We are already seeing signs of this. Why not try remembering that we are part of a community and try to help out your fellow man?

That night, I went to Monday night basketball at Dolores Park. It’s been going on for a few years now, just a bunch of guys from around the neighborhood getting together to exercise and unwind. I ended up on a team with a bunch of selfish players who never passed the ball. We ended up losing badly. I didn’t think it at the time, but as I write this now I realize it was yet another reflection of what’s going on in society now. Told you that basketball is a reflection of life.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up and the depression was gone. It’s happened enough times now for me to expect it. I remembered the look on street man’s face when I gave him the two dollars, and I wanted to write it down so I won’t forget. So now, a few days later, I present to you this blog post. Happy Friday, and happy holidays!

Disassemble, Dismantle

Box of Lego Pieces

Whether you want to call it dismantle or disassemble, I’ve spent the past two nights taking apart my Lego sets. As I did so, I thought about the past fifteen or so years of my life.

From 2012 to present, my Legos had been sitting on a bookshelf in my room, at my mom’s house. Prior to that, they spent a short time at our apartment before we moved here. From 2008, when I bought my first Lego sets as an adult (and as part of my shopping spree), most of them served as decoration and diversion at work. A Star Wars set that I received around 2000-2001 sat, assembled, in a plastic box under my bed. Lastly, there were some loose pieces from childhood that we had either brought with us when we first moved to the U.S., or had recovered from Granny’s house many years after.

All My Legos

At our old apartment – with the exception of Star Wars, all the Lego sets I acquired from 2008 on

When we moved to my mom’s house in 2012, I had thought about taking them apart, but was reluctant to do so. They had been a part of my life up until that point, and perhaps I was hoping to still be able to hold on to parts of the previous chapters. As I disassembled each set brick by brick, the chapters surfaced. The aforementioned shopping spree, then building the sets at work after hours. JC building the town hall on New Year’s Eve 2011. My cousin NLG and her family visiting my work, her kids playing with my Legos. Going to Hong Kong in both 2000 and 2001, and then the three years after when I stopped working. Even memories from childhood, from recognizing Lego pieces whose designs have remained unchanged in the nearly four decades that I’ve been alive.

Building the Town Hall

December 31, 2011 – JC building the town hall

Now, it is 2015 and we have once again moved to my mom’s house. What’s different this time versus three years ago that’s caused me to become OK with taking apart my Legos that have remained assembled for so many years? It could be that I’ve finally realized (or accepted) that the sets can be rebuilt. Maybe I had a hangup where I thought that the first build with new bricks is the cleanest (well, it is) and the tightest, and that it just wouldn’t be the same after taking it apart and rebuilding. Maybe after sitting on the shelf for two years without anyone touching them they’d gathered so much dust that they were no longer clean, so the hangup no longer applied.

I remember as a child, during one of my first sessions playing with Lego, my mother telling me that “Lego” stands for “Let’s go”, such that if a build doesn’t work out the first time you can take it apart and “Let’s go again!”. I don’t know if that’s what Lego really stands for, but it was something I thought about before starting. I’d forgotten one of the most basic things about Lego, which is that you can always start over. I made sure that I still had all the build plans so that I could “Let’s go again” if I ever wanted to in the future.

It could also be that I’m feeling weighed down. Fully assembled, my sets take up two shelves. As you can see above, they now take up a single filing box. As we near six months of living at our parents’ places, with no sign of anything changing in the near future, I feel like I want to slim down so that when the chance does arise, we can move swiftly.

Maybe I don’t want to have so much stuff, or to be responsible for so much stuff. I look at all the books I’ve never really read, all the games I’ve never really played, all the movies that I’ve never really watched, and I feel tired. As we get further into life, we acquire more and more things, telling ourselves that we will get to them, yet we never do. The basic model stays the same, nothing changes, yet we’re still standing in the store holding the product in hand, telling ourselves that somehow it will be different this time. I remember that near the end of my most recent job, six months ago, it was the same as it was near the end of the job before that: dead tired at the end of the day, having to choose between rest or recreation, sacrificing one for the other. Will things really be different this time?

As I said, I’ve been alive for nearly four decades. I’ve almost reached midlife, and I’m starting to feel the effects of reaching this stage. I imagine this is what everyone in their late 30s goes through, realizing that this is all there is, all the dreams from earlier years giving way to reality. We dream about having a place of our own where we can store all those Legos, all those games, have a fish room, have a garage with a lift so we can work on our Acura TSXs. But in order to achieve and then to sustain that, you’d have to spend the majority of your time working (unless you somehow got rich quickly). Would you have time to do all those things you want to do? I’ve already tried it, and the answer is no. Am I really so interested in those things anymore? Judging from my actions (or rather, inaction), the answer is also no. Maybe it’s time to dismantle and disassemble the dream.

Prying off each piece, I felt some sadness at taking apart things that had been intact for non-trivial amounts of time. The youngest set was four years old, others were at least seven years old, and the Star Wars set at least fourteen years old. At the same time, I felt some relief from being able to reclaim my shelf space, and from knowing that I could always rebuild the sets if I wanted to. I have the original plans, some of the sets have alternate plans, and there is always the option to not use any plans at all. It’s also therapeutic when one is able to overcome a fear and move forward.

And so it goes with the dream. It’s OK to take it apart, the pieces are still there, ready for me to arrange or re-arrange them into a new one.

In the end, I decided to keep the water truck intact. Something to play with on my desk, and maybe just a little something from the past to hang on to. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this extra-commentary museum post. 🙂