The Angry Buddhist road trip: Notes from the West
By Carl Rosenstein
With mind and body both in need of light and air after our long, dark New York winter, I recently jetted off to ever-inspiring San Francisco. Starting from the Golden Gate, in a rented silver Mustang convertible, paying homage on the way to several artists and writers, I drove very fast with the top down to Denver. With ’60s rock-and-roll howling into the vast, arid expanses of the Southwest there were moments of liberation, one with the road beneath Kerouac’s immense “blue sky of perfect lost purity in great America.”
Cruising at high speed it’s difficult to have more than a cursory read of a place, but some of the current social and political trends of the Western states were as obvious as a blonde hitchhiker in faded jeans. How is it that in California there will be a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, and even in red-meat Colorado, medicinal cannabis is available, while in “liberal” New York, beginning with Giuliani and accelerating under Bloomberg, the N.Y.P.D. arrests and puts through the system 40,000 people a year for an offense that is not even a misdemeanor? California stands to reap more than a billion dollars in tax revenue by regulating pot while simultaneously putting violent Mexican drug cartels out of business. The cost to New York’s criminal justice system alone is millions of dollars, and at least 100,000 law enforcement man-hours are lost on the street, wasted in booking and arraigning these dangerous potheads.
Speaker Quinn should show some political courage, call for a hearing and confront the mayor on this draconian policy. His Honor too was a pot smoker in his callow youth. With service cuts, hospital closings and schools bursting, how can we afford not to? Lame duck, or merely lame, recreational drug user and playboy Governor Paterson ought to do likewise.
Death Valley is legendary for its otherworldly landscapes and below sea level elevation. If you thought you couldn’t descend any closer in this lifetime to Hades, just keep heading south-southeast to Vegas, a monument rising out of the searing desert to everything rotten in this country. It’s a town of gambling, greed, G-strings, guns and grills —these G-forces all well camouflaged by ersatz architecture as tasteful as wedding cake decorations.
After a pit stop on Frank Sinatra Drive, I thought it best to bypass what Hunter Thompson described as “The Savage Heart of the American Dream.” I removed the sombrero and tossed the tequila to avoid state immigration authorities, and sliced through Arizona into the impossibly beautiful canyon lands of southern Utah. There I made several breathtaking hikes in Bryce and Zion national parks, comforted by the thought that I could now legally shoot anyone who tried to sell me real estate or subprime mortgage derivatives.
A late-spring snow blanketed the Rockies and the Woody Creek Tavern where Dr. Hunter Thompson held court. He would be appalled by legislation that is about to be passed, with the support of Colorado’s Democratic governor, that will allow teachers to be fired for the failings of their students. As the nationwide witch hunt against public schools and labor unions intensifies, Obama has again acted as a Republican driving this so-called “reform.” The greatest losers in this battle will be black and Hispanic students in underfunded schools. How long can the black community remain acquiescent?
My trip ended smoothly, cavity search, flight delay, turbulence, middle seat, Ebola virus in the lavatory. I actually got an exit row but economics have precluded passenger safety and an additional 13 seats now occupy the exit row. The car service driver then hijacked me and another passenger, taking us Downtown from Newark via the Lincoln Tunnel, with an explanation that it was rush hour at 10 past midnight. Back at home, upon opening my bag I realized that the T.S.A. had rifled through it, opening caps of supplement bottles, searching for God knows what. Headline coming soon, “Vitamin Bomber Seized.”