The Hot and Cold Land

I left North Platte in a dark mood. I didn’t have friends to leave. But it was still a lonely move. I drove down first for the interview. And I met my new boss.
In Lubbock I stayed in the hotel. During the visit I met my editor. And the editor-in-chief. They were friendly. And it felt like it was a good move for me. Like it was the right move for me. Before coming back I called about a place to live. And met a nice woman about an apartment. It was a two bedroom in duplex. The unit was old and run down. But it was cheap.

Driving back to Nebraska I went through Colorado. It was out of the way. But my main goal was my storage unit in Wyoming. And I love Colorado. In Wyoming I had to wait for the storage office to open. I’d had the unit so long I’d lost the key. But there was a key in the office. Because past me knew the way future me would keep track of keys.

All my things were stuffed in my car. My poor cat could barely move for hours. It wasn’t a long drive. But much longer than I would have liked to have been trapped without a bathroom. But my poor kitty was good. Getting into Lubbock it was late. I went into the empty apartment and slept on the cold hard floor with my kitty.

But soon I found a place to get a mattress. And the next day I was moved into our new home. It was big, too big for me alone. But for the time being it worked for me. The job started soon after I got to town. My job was going to be working the night shift. The hours were never really the problem.

It had been a while since I did real reporting. And I had some doubts of myself. But within a few days I was running again. A couple of the first stories were a fire and an traffic accident. They were not major stories, but I had the night cop and fire beat. In some ways it was a boring job. I spent hours waiting and listening for something on the radio. And then it would happen and I would have to figure out what and where.

I also had a blog hosted on the newspaper site. I remember early on having a hard period. Depression was deep and dark for me as winter started. I was alone in a town which I didn’t know. And no one got me. It was the same as Nebraska. But I felt even more alone. Because I didn’t have Sage. The relationship with my editor started good. But went wrong at some point. I didn’t have a friend at work.

There were two main problems with the job itself over time. One was the stories were not important. And I know news value is so fluid. But I went to so many stories with so little value. A traffic accident with no injuries. The news editor wanted anything the TV news station covered. One time they had a story about a pedestrian getting hit by a car. I hadn’t been on when it happened. When I did follow-up it turned out the pedestrian wasn’t badly hurt. Though an ambulance was called, it wasn’t needed.

There were a few bad accidents. And a few times I joined other news crews covering events. One night I got to an accident scene before most the police. And before the rest of the media. I got there soon enough to be on the inside of the yellow tape. It was a bad accident: someone died. Just one of a couple accidents on a bad night. Another time I was listening to the radio about a shooting. I went to the area and waited in my car. But then I realized I was sitting across the street from the house. I moved.

But I have never cared about fender-benders. These are stories for the radio and maybe TV news. Because those are the instant mediums. Yes, we could and did post online. But few people stuck in traffic will think to read the newspaper website. Even after they’ve gotten home, the instinct is to turn on the TV. And the next day in the paper, few people even care.

The other problem was no one would talk to me. It was hard to obtain the basic information for a story. On the scene the officers who could give me information avoided me at times. One night I spent a long time waiting for someone to give me information. The person came and left and it was only when I asked much later did they tell me. I felt like I was wasting my time, talents and energy. I wasn’t happy with the job and my bosses weren’t happy with my performance. I was later told I was almost fired.

But I was moved to a different spot in the paper. I lost some pay because of the move. But I kept my job. The best part of this job was it was covering small towns. As a journalist I have always loved the idea of covering small town news. The hard part was the driving. Though the paper covered my mileage. This money came with my paycheck. One week I had to tell my news editor I could only cover one event in person. She wasn’t happy. She pointed out I would get paid for the mileage. But I told her it wouldn’t help my current shortage. But I did some great stories.

One was about a company laying off workers. It was a large employer in a small town. Another was about the Lesser Prairie Chicken. And one about a judge who had died. I still love local news. It is what I miss the most. The small businesses. The firehouses and schools. Another story was about a sign. One school district had put up a huge sign. In the middle of the neighboring district.

At the core of the issue was school choice. Parents could take their kids to any school. But where the kids went, so did funding. The sign was put up by a small district. The district the sign was placed it felt it was an ad. An attempt to pull money from their schools. In Nebraska this was also an issue. One school would send buses to the boundary of the other. Where the kids go, so does the money.

Towards the end I got a roommate. I had hoped it would help me. She was an artist. And she was a good person. But also a bit crazy. One day she broke into the apartment. She was next door when I came and went. I had locked her out by mistake. And didn’t understand I was coming to open the door. But it was a lot of issues. At one point she accused me of working for the police.

At the end I couldn’t think of a good reason to stay. My job sucked. There had been a meeting with my boss not long before. The office environment was loud. It was a space hard to heat and cool. This meant in the summer they would place large fans in the office. It created a noise which drove me insane.

During the winter it was too cold. There was a no hat policy in the office. But, it also applied to scarfs. I’ve never been a person to call in to work. I would rather be at work and making money. Even if I have sick time, which I did at this job. But it got to the point where I would wake up in the morning. I would look at my phone. If it was too cold I would just call in to work: I’m not coming in.

One of the last stories I did was meeting the secretary of agriculture. He was visiting a small farmer and I was invited to go along. I was the only reporter invited. But I couldn’t drive myself. If I went, I would have to ride with staffers of the secretary. I thought I had made this clear. But my editor called me and tried to get me to return to the office. I explained I couldn’t. She wasn’t happy. But I think I was giving up at this time. And I didn’t care.

The office itself was in turmoil. The News Editor which hired me left, with one of the executive editors. Several of the reporters had left thier jobs. The new News Editor was leaving soon before I gave my notice. It was a dramatic change in the office. One like I have never known. The fill-in News Editor was a person with whom I didn’t get along.

And then I went to Roswell. I guess the trip was more than just taking a break from town. More than getting away. I knew my time in Texas was getting short. And I wanted to visit the famous UFO town since it was so close. It was an amazing trip. I met a strange girl who had been living at Walmart. She was young.

One morning I met her at the store. She was with a guy. We walked across to the mall. And then the two of them went to his place. Later I saw her downtown, she came and sat next to me. “Can you get pregnant by swallowing,” she asked me. I was shocked, but yes, she was asking me about oral sex.

Aside from the UFO museum, which was neat. There was a small free zoo in town. I went during my visit, because it was free. And it made me never want to visit a zoo again. I’m sorry to those who enjoys zoos. But I don’t enjoy seeing animals in cages: no matter the size. A cage is a cage. There was also some great natural areas just outside the town. While in Roswell I talked to my friend Michelle.

Come to live with us in Washington, she said. I could live with her for free. I love her deeply as a friend. I love the Northwest. And I was unhappy where I was living and working. It wasn’t a hard choice.

It isn’t “Fly-Over Country”

I’ve lived in Wyoming. And Colorado. But also Nebraska. So I take issue with a common term for the middle of our country. It is not “fly-over country.” People live there. And their lives have just as much meaning as yours.

It may not feel like an insult. You see where you live as important. And you are flying to New York. The big cities are important. Calling a huge part of our nation “fly-over country” is rude.

It paints the landscape as having no value. But the small places have value. As do the people who live in those towns. Their lives may seem small to you. But this is because you don’t know these people. Their lives are just like yours.

I spent a lot of time in Colorado working. But also getting to know people. I met teachers in schools doing their best for kids. And I met the moms and dads. They cared about kids, about the future. They worked hard to earn a living. But also took time for youth sports. These people didn’t dream of a life someplace else. In one of the big important cities. They invested in their home.

I don’t know how many artists I met in Colorado. The man who started his own cafe. So many friends helping each other. They faced the same fears as you. There were friends with cancer. Some had died. Leaders had plans to make life better. And the work of daily life was done. All of these lives have value.

I remember the woman at the pet store. Where I got Baby Girl her food. The health food store with its staff. The markets like all markets in the country.

In Wyoming I met a rancher. He cared about the land. Talking to him he shared the best way to raise cattle. It was about helping the cows to graze the land wisely. He didn’t want to destroy natures resources. His plan created a balance, and he earned a profit. At the school was a counselor. A caring and thoughtful woman. Like the rancher, she cared. But her concern was kids. And her warmth was touching.

This was in the small town of Douglas. It had a small health food store. The woman who ran it was active in the community. She was a part of a small group which monitored the school board. Because they cared about kids. Where they lived was home. And it was important.

I wasn’t in Wyoming long. But one snowy day a friend I didn’t know gave me a ride. It had snowed so deep I couldn’t move my car. It wasn’t a far walk home. But someone saw me walking and stopped. How many places do people stop for strangers in the snow.

While in Wyoming I went to a meeting of the local Republican party. It was a small group. There was a mix of people, mostly older. They shared real concern for values. The men and women weren’t a rich crowd. They were workers. People who cared enough to be a part of the process. These people are the rock on which our country sits. It is easy to believe the other is evil. But this isn’t true. Liberals are not evil. And conservatives are not evil. They just disagree.

In Nebraska I got to know more people. I had a crush on the cute wife of the mayor. She was friendly. When we met she wanted to talk about me. There was the newspaper man. He started his own paper after leaving the big paper. It wasn’t perfect. But he did his best to run the paper and website. The news was a lot of crime stories. But he also covered the schools. And he did it mostly alone.

Like Wyoming there was a local group. Every place has its activists. People who care about the community enough to raise their voice. They aren’t loved by all. But they make America the land we love. The one in Nebraska focused on taxes. They went to meetings and wrote to the newspaper. They had an agenda. It was to make their homes better. And while you may disagree with their views. I think you should respect their passion.

North Platte had an annual event, which was a big deal. The Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event was big. It happens in many places around the country. It is about ending rape and violence against women. In North Platte you would find many men walking in women’s shoes. The list included the mayor, the chief of police and sheriff. These are men who care.

I got to know some beauty queens. The often mocked women are smart women. And it isn’t all about beauty. It is about dreams and values. I got to talk with Miss Nebraska. And her charm won me over. She cared about teaching science to kids. The education of girls was a deep value for her. And one fun story I did was about beauty queens trying to bowl.

It is easy to look out the window of the plane at look down at these people. Next time drive across the county. When you look across at them you see them as real people. Because they are real people. The middle of America is an amazing place full of amazing people. If you haven’t taken the time to visit. It is your loss.

North Platte

It was a cold, dark drive to Nebraska. I arrived in a snow covered parking lot. My first plan was to sleep in the car until the morning. But staff saw me and invited in the office. I met Job and Sage the first night. Sage was welcoming. “We’re glad you’re here,” she told me. And I believe she meant it. Job paid for a hotel for the night.

Before leaving Colorado I had talked to a few people about renting. At least one place felt good already. The next day I made a couple stops and moved into the house I had expected would work. The long term plan was for me to rent out a basement apartment. But it wasn’t ready. So for the short term I was in the larger part of the house. It was a big house, and just Baby Girl and I.

The landlord was a friendly couple. The man worked for the railroad. Like half the people in North Platte. But they were both involved in buying houses, fixing them up. Then selling them at a profit. At least this was their business model before the bust. After the bust prices were low. So they began renting out houses. I lived in the same place the whole time I was in Nebraska. I remember the lease was very detailed. It had Baby Girl in it, not as a cat, but by name. I couldn’t get another, and couldn’t replace her.

The apartment when I moved in was great. I stayed cool in the summer. And it wasn’t too cold in the winter. Soon people lived in the house above me. But it was never a problem. While I had my own washer and dryer. The electrical system often burned out when they were used. The space was a small kitchen, a bathroom, a small living room and a bedroom. It was just the right size. Most of all since I still didn’t have my stuff from storage.

The town of North Platte is flat. One of the nicknames of the town is Flatrock. If you’ve lived in San Francisco and Portland, it is a small town. Highway 83 ran through town. It ran from north to south. About half the route was two one-way streets. I walked on these streets with Sean. While our ride was in the hospital.

It was on these same streets we lost our ride. I lived a block from the gas station. If you recall I was going to the gathering. We stopped for gas. I went for a sandwich. After coming back the police arrested the driver. Leaving six of us without a ride to where we were going. Not a smart move.

But this time there wasn’t any of this kind of trouble. I was a reporter now. A person of some respect.

This was really only my second newspaper job. When I started I worked on the education beat. I covered a range of school issues. One of the big stories was the hiring of a new superintendent. And I met a lot of good people. I didn’t just write the news, I also took some great photos for the paper. In one case I set up a shot for the TV news. It was a story about a book drive. I took some books out of a box to use in a photo. But it didn’t work out for me. But the TV station made it work as a prop for their coverage. And didn’t even help put the books back.

Education was a great beat. And while struggling through the fog of depression made everything hard. I really liked my job. Another story was about Bobs. Some kids in a class had started making pets out of rocks. But they weren’t rocks. They were Bobs. The Bobs had names like Justin Bobier, or Selena Bobmez. But the amazing thing for me about the story was the response from the teachers. Instead of telling them, don’t play with those rocks. Or leave those dirty things outside. They embraced their play and integrated it into the classroom.

But due to my own problems the paper took me off the beat. One issue was my clothes. And this had been talked about before. There was fair ground for the criticism. And I had taken steps to improve. I even got an ironing board and used it a couple times. It really was a lack of caring on my part. Not about the job, but about life. A lack of caring about myself. But fair or not Job moved me from being a reporter to being a copy-editor. At first I would do some news coverage. But I made a few mistakes early on, and I guess he didn’t trust me.

Most of my time in North Platte was lonely. I never made any friends. Most of my time was spent alone in my apartment. Or at the library. There were times when I think back, and I don’t recall any light in my life at all. I worked to late at night a couple nights a week. I’d shop at Walmart in the middle of the night. I was just alone. I was just depressed. And I didn’t have much to live for, since all I had was my job. And for much of my time there I felt like a failure at work. It is in North Platte I started therapy on a regular basis. I have so many problems. Being in North Platte triggered most of them.

I moved and worked closer with Sage. It is hard to explain how I felt about Sage. She is such an amazing person. One of those people who seem to have their own cloud around them. She was a great designer, an amazing editor, a photographer, reporter and friend. She could do it all. And it was all amazing. At some level I was in love with her. But she was also like a rock star, because I was in such awe of her. I learned to both fear and trust her. There were times she made me want to cry. Times she made me want to fly. I’ve known very few people in my life with such raw power. She’s not perfect by a long shot. But there was a magic in her being I have always wanted for myself. I’ve met so many people in my life who try hard. But Sage never seemed to have to try at all. She was also stunningly beautiful. All these things were just a part of who she was a person. Like a thunder storm on the plains. You love the feeling of the rain. But fear the spark of the lightning. I miss Sage still in ways I have never missed anyone else. Now she is on her own path, not with the newspaper. She had the bold courage to start her own business.

Working as a copy editor wasn’t easy. When I started there was two of us, plus Sage. But later the second person quit and I had a lot more work. Laying out pages and pages of text, copy editing and working images. There was another meeting in the winter. It was a dark period in my life. And maybe I should have talked to someone at work. But while I wasn’t comfortable. So, they told me I had to shape up or get fired. And I did. I got the job done, not on time. But they didn’t know how many hours I spent working off the clock. Over time I was making fewer and fewer mistakes. I even started to feel good about the job I was doing. But I knew it wasn’t the right job for me. I had plans to look for something else.

Then I got fired. Job blamed it on my using my phone at work. But, I think it is more complex. Working with Job himself was never easy. He had the annoying habit of sending an email from the next room. Emails I would often ignore because it felt rude to me. He would also push a lot of his work off on Sage. He was at heart a lazy man. And he got away with it. In the end their was no notice. They didn’t tell Sage what was planned. They just fired me one day. I was shocked, upset and lost. I was also very along because the only people I knew were at the job. Once I left, it felt like none of them cared about me at all. With the exception of one person: not Sage. Now, of course this is just my perception. I know it is hard when you work with someone and they leave. You may miss them, but at the same time you are very busy. I’m sure Sage had even more work pushed onto her shoulders.

I’d been looking for a job. And found one working for a newspaper in Texas. I drove down to meet the staff and interview. It went well, the job was a better fit in many ways. And I was making more money. It really was a win for me. Even if the new job wasn’t perfect. And not long after I was fired, Sage quit. I don’t ever imagine being able to work with her again. I’m not sure I have the skills. But I would do it in a heartbeat.

A short vision exercise

This is set a few years down the road. I included some of my friends too.

======================

The sun slips through the rain clouds. Spring smells drift through the downtown air. Dante rolls over to hit the snooze button. Sure, he might be late. But people are used to him being late on his day off. Baby Girl stirred as he rose and went to sleep in the window.

In the other room She is reading her novel. A cup of warm tea waiting for him on the table. She had an hour before leaving for work. When Dante’s sleepy brain remembers this fact he rolls out of bed and into some clothes.

“Good morning,” he greets Her.

“How was work last night,” She asks him as he picks up the green tea.

“Thank you for the tea,” he tries to wake up. But gratitude is always the most important thing. As he sips he explains the previous day at the store. Being an assistant manager isn’t as easy as some made it appear. There are a lot of problems people could solve themselves. People who try to do too much, and people who try to do too little. But last night was a good night. The store was busy, but he had a good team.

With a kiss She popped out of her chair. Well time for work. Dante motioned to the fridge. “You see your lunch?”

“Aww, lunch, thank you,” She gushed. Clearly also understanding the value of appreciation. “What are your plans for today?”

“Well it is my hiking day,” Dante said. “Me and Rhonda are going to hike Mount Hamilton. It has been a couple weeks since I’ve been to the summit. One of the best views in the area.”

“And how is Rhonda doing at her new store,” She asked.

The move for Rhonda was a good one, it got her closer to her home. And it put her into a department manager position. Dante explained how she was enjoying her new store and co-workers. But the move was also triggered by his own promotion, to avoid any appearance of favoritism.

“Are we still on for the art show later this week,” She asked getting dressed. He couldn’t help but sneak a peek. She was amazing, a breath taking image he hardly believed to be real on some days.

“Yes, and she’ll bring the kids too. I think Michelle will also be going: it is going to be a fun night,” Dante told Her.

“I’m glad your friends are going to be there to support your art,” She said. “I know it means a lot to you, and so do they.”

“Kara said she would try and make it along, but since I got the night off she might have to close,” Dante explained. Kara still worked in the same store with him. She was also an assistant manager now. It has been fun he would think to himself to grow at Walmart with his friends. Even if for some of them the growth took them to other stores.

On the table his phone buzzed. It was Rhonda messaging him to see how late he would be today. They had planned to meet at Fisher’s Landing. It was an easy drive for her from Ridgefield. Her new house was just down the street from where Bobby used to live. Of course Bobby was now a department manager in Longview.

Quickly he finished his tea. Then gave Her a hug on her way out the door. Getting dressed, he sent a reply saying he was almost ready. Since he was driving against traffic he imagined it would be a smooth ride. Of course driving was easier in his new car. The Hyundai Tucson was a good car.

The car had been his first purchase with the money from his book deal. Some days he still didn’t know how he ever found the time to write the novel of his life. But he wondered more about the courage. Where did he find enough to have it published. Was it really such an interesting life. A publisher picked it up, and sales have been good. Not A Million Little Pieces good. But he also wouldn’t have to go on Oprah and explain why he lied.

His next novel was due out next year. Still in the writing process, it would be tales of travel. Something like On The Road, but not as boring. There had been many tales left out of his first book. The girls in Burlington and the pizza too. There were so many friends on his path. When he did a reading at Powell’s for his first book people asked about the next book. It felt good to be read. For so long he felt like his words were just there. And now his words had a new life. And his life has new meaning. His publisher suggested a third book based on his short life as a journalist.

But now he had gotten lost in thought and was going to be even later. Lets get moving he snapped to himself and picked up his keys. The Planet Fitness membership card struck the door as he locked up.

Work and Life

I’ve been working long hours and I have just not had the time or mental energy to do much writing. Sorry, but these times will pass.

New Friends and Old Friends

Back in Arcata there were new friends. But also old ones.

Karen was someone I had met before I left. But it wasn’t until I came back we spent time together. When I left she was dating another friend. But now she was single. She’s a smart and attractive woman. There was an attraction from the first time we met. I recall meeting her at a party. But she was drunk. The music was loud. We didn’t talk much. While I was away I stayed in touch online.

Before I moved back I wondered if anything was possible. However back in town the relationship with Simone grew. Karen and I grew to be close friends. We chatted about life. And shared poetry. When I tried to start my own blog. She was the other person on the team. There was a good connection.

If I look back to my accounts online I could pin-point when I met Milk. I know where I met her. Sleeping in my car of course meant no internet. So I would use the wifi at the Co-op. I wasn’t the only person using the internet. One night a strangely attractive younger woman was at a table. On the table was a half gallon of milk. I posted online about her. Did she plan on drinking the whole thing. Milk is gross to me. I will eat cheese and ice cream. But I will not drink milk.

Later we were walking out together. I started talking to her. Like me she was living in her car. We spent more time together. Got to know each other more and became friends. Things weren’t going well with Simone when we met. And there was a spark of hope for a new person in my life. But the winds changed with Simone again. And as a result the spark died.

For a while Milk was sleeping in my car. I offered her the space since I worked at night. And it was bigger than her car. On most days I would get off work, and get my car. I’d drive and park and we’d sleep for a while. Later I would take her back to her car. But one morning Simone wanted me to come over after work. I felt a bit like a jerk, but I had to wake Milk up. I didn’t want to drive back from Simone’s and it was too far for her to walk. Besides I wasn’t keen on the idea of Simone knowing Milk was sleeping in my car. We weren’t having sex. But it just felt odd.

There was no spark but we were friends the rest of her stay. We lived together in a small house in Manilla for a while. It was the house of a friend of her’s. We were house-sitting. It was a neat little place, and close to the beach. But the bathroom didn’t work and I drove into town for my business. One day we tried to have a party, but no one showed up. Simone came and a friend of Milk’s came: that was all. But I miss this time period. Again things weren’t going well with Simone and Milk was a good friend to me.

And she was a good adventure pal. She tried to help me learn French. She tried to get me motivated to jog. We would go on road trips to the coast and visit small towns. On one trip we went on an impromptu run. I’m not sure how long the run was, but it felt like miles. We also visited the redwoods, and once I took her to run in a race. I didn’t run, I took a nap while she ran. Then we went to Gaberville and had lunch.

It wasn’t just women. An important male friend was Dave. He was in his 50s. A homeless man who didn’t look homeless. I’m not sure what was his exact arrangement. He didn’t go to the service center in town. Though he told me at one point he had gone. He walked every where and just spent his days about town. There were a number of times we talked. He told me about his medications one day. And we talked about women and loss, depression and aging. It made me feel better. There were some times during my stay in Arcata I had strong doubts about my future. I felt like a loser. I felt like I would always be a loser. Alone and broke with no prospects.

Writing for the local news paper I covered the homeless service center. Something I shouldn’t have done since I was a client. But no one knew I was sleeping in my car. No one, except staff at the service center, knew I had gotten a camping ticket. And they had helped me get it removed. I had to serve community service, which I did at the service center. In Arcata this place was a point of a lot of debate. Like many other communities which want to help people. But also feel like the same people are dirty and cause problems.

The director wasn’t always a friendly person. While I covered the center and was a client he told people he thought I was a spy. One time I was talking to him about a flier for a public meeting. The wording seemed vague to me and I was trying to understand. This upset him, and he hung up on me. A move which I later heard upset a few people on the board of directors. One of the workers at the center was John, also the director’s name, but this was a different John. He helped me in a couple ways. At one point he talked about buying a local paper and hiring me to work. But it never came to be.

As a reporter I believe I wrote some good stories about the service center. I spoke with a wide range of people. And at one point got a statement from a city official critical of the center. Something my editor told me no one had done before. But I also talked to students, community leaders. And a couple of my new friends on the board of directors. The push while I was there was to serve lunch again. When it had been served before it had caused problems. Part of the issue was the center’s location. One it was in a building owned by the city. Two it was located next to the bus depot. And bus drivers said the clients caused problems.

They were granted the right to serve lunch. But soon after I left the center was closed.

Wendy is the wife of a pastor who served on the board of directors. Her heart was so open and caring. It made her attractive in a way you wouldn’t expect for a married woman at her age. We got to know each other talking about the center. But also a few other issues in the public debate. The begging issue was one of these. A law to limit the activity was up for a vote. While writing about the issue I talked to Wendy. It passed.

Towards the end of my stay I moved in with Simone. She lived outside of town. And I spent less time working for the news paper. When it came time to leave. I didn’t feel like I was leaving many people. But at work I had a good friend. We worked together for over a year. And we talked, and spent many nights working the same shift. Toward the end a new guy was hired. He was a bit of a drunk and a douche. I remember my friend telling me before I even talk seriously about moving: “If you quit, I’m going to have to quit too.” I didn’t think he meant it. But I talked to him later and found out he did quit.

Working at CVS was great for a few reasons. We didn’t get much theft at night. But when we did, against policy, we chased them down. One night my co-worker chased a guy down the street and into an alley. The guy heavy guy running with beer stopped. My friend had the phone in one hand, and his pepper spray in the other. The police later told my friend they guy wasn’t heavy. It was all muscle. Another one of my co-workers packed a gun under his shirt at work.

But it was also crazy. One night a guy was giving my cashier a hard time. I went down and asked him to leave. He resisted. I kept asking him politely to leave. But he was getting more and more upset. Until he finally threw his change at me and left. Another guy I tried to get to leave the store because he was causing a scene. We had to call the police. I don’t think people understand how easy it is to get removed from a public store. As the supervisor though I was the captain of the row boat. On most nights it was me and maybe one other person.

Then I got the job in Colorado.

Being Back

So I was back in Arcata. But it wasn’t going to last. I would walk across the stage and then out of town. Well, plans change.

Simone was someone I knew before. As a fellow student I found her to be interesting, and attractive. But there were a lot of students. Few as interesting and attractive but I was moving. While in school I had focused on school. Then as it wound down I was looking outward.

And then I returned. We met again in the computer lab. She was working on a project. I helped her. We talked. And talked and then more. I was happy for a moment. At first we were friends.

When it came time to walk, she choose to go with me and the journalism students. She had two majors. Neither were journalism. It was her minor. But they let her. And we sat together. At this point I felt myself wanting to stay longer.

I got a temporary job at a local flower company. One of the hardest jobs I have ever worked. The flowers were dumped and fed through a spinning wheel. It tore the bulbs off. From there the flowers dropped onto a long conveyor belt. Higher and just in front of this belt was a second. But this one had a flexible range of perfect mountains. As the flowers traveled down the belt. Our job was to bunch them and place them in the valleys of the other belt. The bunches would go along and through a machine which wrapped a string around the stems. Then they were bagged. The last step was to put them in a bucket. A running count was always rolling above us on a reader. The line boss would be yelling. Faster and faster we would be working.

All of this was in a giant warehouse. On other lines the flowers weren’t the same. Or the bunches were not the same. A couple times we would be moved from line to line. But for the most part we spent all day on the same line. A couple times we even were sent outside to work in the fields. We didn’t do planting. And I don’t recall on what they had us work. The job was temporary to cover orders for Mother’s Day. A bunch had gotten hired. Each day after Mother’s Day was a new rumor. Some would get to stay. Then it would be about some being let go. It wasn’t long before I was let go from the job. And then I was staying.

Working with me at the job was a strange girl. She lived in Eureka. And she loved cheese burgers. It wasn’t a long drive to the hospital. So we would drive there on lunch and she would eat cheese burgers. I say we because she didn’t have a car. I drove her for lunch. But I also picked her up in the morning and dropped her off in Eureka. The job started early in the morning, 5 a.m. We got off in the afternoon.

She was a young girl. In her late teens and dealing with the first struggles of real life. I just wanted to help. There was someone I was becoming attached to during this time. It was Simone. On my one day off we would go on walks along the river. I’d never been to Blue Lake before. She showed me an amazing trail. It was the start of summer and a good time to be in love. A good time to be walking in the fresh air.

After the job at the flower farm didn’t work out I got a short-term job. It was something I was so sure would not last I filed “exempt” on my tax paperwork. It was in McKinleyville, and even though we weren’t talking while I worked at the store. Sometimes Simone would come in and say hello. The job itself wasn’t stressful. But I didn’t like the hours and I didn’t like my manager. She was difficult in many ways.

My shift overnight. And for most of it I worked alone. This was one of the biggest problems. Working alone isn’t great for me. But I would man the station. Which meant I sold gas, cigarettes and general store items. One task I hated was counting the cigarettes. A task unique to the job. But one I had to do each morning. Overnight I would try to stock the cooler between customers. Often it was slow after 2 a.m. But until then it was steady. There were no real breaks, or lunches. How can this be legal. There is a loophole for jobs where there isn’t someone to cover. But there was often enough of a break to eat and relax. Each night there was also a lot of cleaning.

There were a few regular customers. One would often bring a dog with him to the store. On the Fourth of July the dog came alone. Many animals are scared by the fireworks. Well he got into the store and I was trying to get him out. He bit me. Not a bad bite, just a nip because he was scared. Another funny story was one of my co-workers finding a counterfeit bill. I believe it was a $20. He insisted on calling the sheriff and turning it over. Which is the “right” thing to do, I guess. But in my experience most people would just return it. I don’t know it was worth the officer’s time to drive out and pick it up.

The area around the gas station reminded me of Silent Hill. While I know it is a video game. I never played the game, but I have watched the movie. There was often a dense fog. My life felt like it was in a dense fog. I was sleeping in my car at the time. Unsure about how long I wanted to stay in town. And unsure how long I would stay in town. If I had only known.

But after working there for a couple weeks I went back to my old job. We talked and they offered me a better job. So I agreed to go back to CVS. The hours were the same, but the pay and the work was better. This is when I started to feel like I would be back for a while. But not long enough to get a place. And I wasn’t making enough money for rent. Even as I moved to a full-time job as a night supervisor at CVS.

Eventually I started a blog to write about town. I had a couple people I could talk to about news. Also a friend of mine was going to help me. This wasn’t Simone, but Karen, also a journalism student. But she had gone to HSU before I started. She had already worked for a couple news papers. While the blog didn’t work out, I did get offered a free-lance gig from the local paper. The Arcata Eye was the local news source people loved to hate. The owner and editor was said to focus too much on pot crimes in the area. When A&E did a documentary named Pot City, they talked to him. And this made people unhappy.

While working at the newspaper a former HSU student I knew tried to mount a boycott. Not being direct friends, but a friend of a friend I found out about it early. I’m not sure I made the right choice looking back. But I alerted the editor about the page the student had made on Facebook. I guess it was about gaining some respect with the editor. But it was also about letting someone I thought of as a friend know someone was attempting them harm. I imagine if it had been the other way around I would have done much the same thing. Even though the student was less of a friend. News of the page spread to the small staff at the paper. Then it spread to local media types. Before long they had flooded the page turning it into a joke. This is why I regret my part in the site being known. I don’t believe it would have lasted or worked. It turns out others had tried a similar move in the past. But it did earn local media attention. Much of which focused on the fact the first people on the page were an editor of the paper itself. And in the end I guess the student was okay.

I knew people from living in town before. But Arcata this time also had a new batch of people. Milk was one of these people. Many were people I talked to as I worked for the paper. One person thought I was a spy. But most became new friends.