Friday, March 7, 2008

Canton Trade Days: Life After the Apocalypse

I've long been fascinated by visionary works that glimpse into a dark and distant future. Orwell's 1984, Huxley's A Brave New World, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and of course, the best trilogy of movies ever made, Mad MaxMad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (it is basically inevitable that Tina Turner will play a critical role in some sort of future world after society collapses).
While these highly creative works of fiction give a taste of life after some sort of apocalyptic event or major societal readjustment, Megan and I were able to visit our post-apocalyptic future by attending the Canton First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas.
Megan and I drove out to the event not quite knowing what to expect. I guess we mainly expected to finds lots of stuff and various assortments of things, and we assumed this stuff would be cheaper than the stuff available for purchase here in Dallas. We also expected funnel cake.
We pulled up on a warm Sunday with a hard wind blowing from the northwest. The sky was grey with fast-moving clouds overhead. We wore shorts, but it would snow the next afternoon . . . the weather itself seemed to reflect a world turned on its head. 
We parked in a pasture and walked up to what appeared to be a refugee village. The area was covered with a scattering of tables and random pieces of furniture. The vendors stood outside ramshackle RVs and worn-out vans. Many sat back from the merchandise, just staring into space while petting mangy dogs. The tables were covered with dusty objects from the past--old pieces of furniture, rusted hammers, random bits of china, odd-looking art, mismatched wooden boxes, spooky dolls that might have slithered off a horror movie set, faded paperbacks, the occasional firearm, gas lamps, vintage soda machines, and really just about anything else that might come to mind.
The place was fascinating.  I've never seen such a wide variety of objects in one location. At the same time, it gave us a spooky feeling. When society ends, I imagine that this will be how it reinvents itself. The survivors will salvage the useful remnants from the bygone era and peddle that detritus in a proto-economy marked chiefly by its mobility (this market would not exist in just a couple more days before reappearing a month later). Cash was the only currency here, but I imagine that barter would have worked just fine if Megan and I had brought something more useful than our windbreakers and ballcaps.
Eventually we walked out of this eerie glimpse into a bleak future and into the covered pavilions, which took us to the next stage of life after the apocalypse. This area felt more permanent with such pleasant features as a concrete floor and metal roof. The vendors peddled recently manufactured wares and clever inventions (like footlong, folding fishing poles that apparently work as well as a regular length pole). Here society regained a sense of permanence despite its portability (the RVs were just better hidden over here). The next step in development would be the shopping mall, and, when shopping malls return, I suppose human life will have come full circle and recovered.
Eventually the wind began to carry bits of rain that mixed with the blowing dust, and we decided to depart. One could not leave this place empty-handed, so we carried back to the car an assemblage of objects as random as the day itself: a wooden bench for our porch, a cowboy hat, a few pounds of corn meal, and a religious triptych. We'll be back there again next month . . . this time with a bigger vehicle and perhaps something to barter.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Caucus

Well, we survived. There was plenty of chaos, lots of angry shouting, and a few shetchy moments. All in all, the event made me wonder if we are the best example of democracy. At the same time, I could not have asked for better entertainment this evening.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Obama Rally: Obamania In Texas

It's the eve of the primary to potentially (but probably not) end all primaries, and Dallas is experiencing serious election fervor. My drive to work carried me past a crowd of Hillary supporters waving signs in a cold rain, and our local news is now updating polls on a daily basis. In honor of all of this, the time has come to blog about the excitement and give the official Knapp Adventure Blog endorsement (which I assume will eventually be featured on one of the campaign ads being shown with regularity rivaling the pharmaceutical industry).

Our best taste of the intensity of the election came two weeks ago when Megan and I decided we'd head down to Reunion Arena to attend a rally by Barack Obama, the candidate now Officially Endorsed by the Knapp Adventure Blog. The event was scheduled to start around noon, so we planned to arrive when doors opened at 10:30. This was just naive.

Obama has reached rock star status, and the crowd was something one would expect for the Rolling Stones. I took the DART train from the office and quickly realized that the packed train was already full of folks attending the rally. I found Megan somewhere near the stadium, and we noted the hordes before attempting to find the end of the line.

So we walked and walked. The line wrapped around the arena and then a block away to a parking garage entrance. Then the line snaked through the first level of the parking garage and up four more levels. After 20 minutes of walking we reached the end of the line.

To quote the great thinker, Eric Cartman, "Lines, lines--I hate lines!" But something was different here. First, the weather was cool, so terrible memories of sweating in line at various theme parks did not arise. Second, everyone was happy to be there. I expected grumpy faces, impatient huffing, sarcastic commentary, and a general state of agitation. The crowd seemed thrilled to be standing in a parking garage. Most of us opined that the line stretched far too long for us to possibly make it into the arena and actually hear the speech, but that didn't matter. We waited, and we waited happily. Then the third observation, this had to be the most diverse crowd I had ever joined. It was like a quintessentially American version of It's A Small World (another time I stood in lines, lines, lines!). I saw all races, ages, shapes and sizes, hipsters and punks and goths, corporate types and retired folk, hetero homo trans and metrosexuals. I could not conceive of a demographic that was not represented in that line. And that's when I knew that Obama was really onto something.

And so, one big happy family of Texans, we waited and waited. After a half hour or so the line began creeping forward ever so slowly. A few steps at time, we walked over a mile through that garage, snaking down toward the rally. But time kept passing, and, as noon arrived, we were nowhere near the entrance to the arena. The motorcade flew by the garage, and we wondered whether that would be our closest encounter with the candidate.

Megan looked up to me, "Should we go get some barbeque and go back to work?"

"No, Megan, we have to have the audacity to hope."

Eyes were rolled, eavesdroppers chuckled, and we kept on waiting. And soon enough, we were moving quickly and then more quickly. Eventually campaign volunteers were encouraging us to hurry "but not run," so we picked up the pace, passing people who had spent most of their energy just standing. We rushed toward the prize, which, in this case, turned out to be two seats in the lower earth orbit but still barely within Reunion Arena. We had made it, and the rally could continue.

We watched former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk give a rousing introduction followed by Emmit Smith, who gave a more exciting introduction. Finally, Barack himself arrived on stage, and we were all quite impressed despite his headcold. Alas, the wait was worthwhile.

Now a number of folks have asked me why I support Obama--whether it is the result of whether I love hoping for hope to change the lack of hope and then receive more hope. I have few skeptics offer anything more tangible than these superficial criticisms, but occasionally folks come up with something more substantial.

More recently I was given an exact dollar total of what Obama's policies would cost me in immediately higher taxes. The purveyor of this information then asked me how, oh how!, could I possibly support this fellow knowing an exact and gargantuan amount of cash that would be ripped from my pockets.

Here is the way we think about it at the Knapp Adventure Blog. I think we look at the world with a drastically different notion of time and self-interest. The policies of the past decades, from both sides of the aisle, focus pretty carefully on the short term. It is short-term thinking that gave us a plan to pay everyone in the country roughly $300, an unnecessary fit of deficit spending with likely no net economic benefit. It is short-term thinking that prompted us to invade Iraq with no real prospect for stabilizing the country. It is short-term thinking that has caused widespread environmental devastation with untold future harms.

And we do pay for this type of thinking. Of course, my taxes may be lower, but I pay more in health insurance to compensate for uninsured people who are forced to eek out some semblance of health care through emergency room visits. Someday I will pay a huge sum to educate my children. I will pay throughout the years, stashing away money to care for my health and my living when I can no longer work. I will pay in unimaginable ways for our misguided environmental policies (global warming aside, I'm concerned about our water resources, especially if ethanol becomes our future).

Obama cannot solve all of these problems. Actually, he supports ethanol production (but at least he addresses CAFOs in his policy, something Hillary ignores). He does not have a plan for universal college education, and his health care plan will not create some sort of Scandinavian utopia in this country.

But his policies take us closer, even if just a little. Unlike Hillary, a divisive figure and continuation of this absurd American Aristocracy (two families ruling for 24 to 28 years?), I believe he can accomplish his goals, and, in exchange for a surrender of tax dollars, he offers to end the war, to make sure my money is headed toward the greater societal good instead of some great global futility. The mindset of the short-term assumes individuals can better manage resources than the government. For many individuals, this is certainly true, but everybody pays somehow for the rest of society's failings in various, less obvious ways. It's time we come up with a better fix that leaves us all a bit better off. Obama won't accomplish much of this, but he's the best start in that direction.

So there is the endorsement. If he loses the nomination, our backup option is Ron Paul (anti-war and delightfully anti-ethanol . . . after that it gets a bit strange). If he can't get the nomination, then we'll find ourselves facing yet another November walking toward the ballot box wondering why we're choosing between two jokers. Let's hope we'll be getting to vote for Obama. That'd definitely be worth waiting in line.
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