Friday, August 4, 2017

Day 16: Arts and Culture

After our day of chill we were determined to get some work done, and I knew exactly were to go.

Earlier, during the school year, I had learned about Spiral Jetty, an earthwork sculpture created by Robert Smithson. It was about 100 miles from our hotel to the location, but that two hour drive was short compared to the absurd distances we had been driving back to back to back just a few days before.

 It's easier to show you what it is like that explain, so here is a flurry of pictures.

There is not any particular order to these photos, but I'll break it down for y'all. So the jetty is meant to jut out into the water of the Great Salt Lake, but as you can see the water in the lake currently is not enough to create the desired effect, or submerge the jetty (as it has been known to do from time to time).
-It was not very well pointed out. There was hardly any signal so our GPS was failing but there was only a single trail heading in this particular direction so we were able to assume that if we continued long enough we would get there. There wasn't even a parking lot per se, just a little clearing from the shrubbery where we saw a few other cars parked.
-It was super dusty, and our car could have certainly used a wash afterwards.
-I took pictures from various angles, at level with the jetty, from the jetty, and from an elevated position after a little hike up the small mountain behind it.
-Hiking down the mountain my father slipped and cut his hand a bit (he's ok).
-We left our own temporary mark on the spot.

While we were there we ran into some dude from Arizona that apparently was really down for some small talk. He asked us about who we are, where we came from, what we were doing there, etc. He stressed that my father had an accent and emphasized that he should have brought up that he was from Congo when the guy initially asked where we were from, and saying that I should be the only one claiming I come from Los Angeles. Something about this stuck with me, it was weird. I understand that it was said in jest but it came across as anti-assimilation into American culture, like we need to maintain our cultural boundaries and there's no chance from an immigrated person to truly be "American."

Anyways, we did not stay very long--including the hike we probably only spent 45 minutes there--, and were back on the road back to SLC around 3pm.

On the way back we stopped by the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the last spike in the Transcontinental Railroad was placed. I really just wanted to go there to use the restroom but I ended up reading through the exhibits--it was not that large-- and even getting an interview!

I really enjoyed this interview because the guy seemed almost excited to be interviewed by me, some random kid, and that really touched me, it reinforced the fact that I am someone with something to say and people are actually willing to listen. He spoke a lot about nature and just being outdoors, how it can help with confidence and really put things into perspective--certain social situations pale in comparison to living in the wild for an extended period of time--, and how he is trying to teach similar lessons and values of nature to his children in a similar way. He also made me think about what the young woman I interviewed in Denver had said about getting those from underprivileged communities involved more in the outdoors, so that they great powers they harness aren't exclusively allocated to the white or affluent. He also spoke about his community, a small, conservative area. He stressed that they mean well, and are really welcoming once they get to know you as a neighbor, but it is so homogeneous and religious that they are consistently reinforcing their own potentially dangerous ideas, which really affect the young people. This is where nature could be of help, for it keeps young people occupied and out of trouble along with giving them essential skills for survival and respecting the environment.

They also had a display train that departed (just to go over the mountain to another station where it spent the nights) that we go to see. It was an interesting, cute place with so many friendly park rangers. Undeniably one of the hidden, unexpected gems of Utah and this trip.

Then we were off again.
We had skipped breakfast so we were pretty hungry at this point, but the dude form earlier in the day had mentioned that we should go to the Mormon temple in downtown to get food as well as for sightseeing, so we figured we might as well.
It was actually between the Cheesecake Factory and a restaurant in the temple, but we could get Cheesecake Factory back home.

The views and meal made for a wonderful experience, and the people there were very welcoming, letting the general public just walk in and through most of the building, along with being willing to talk to us about their some of their practices and history. The people were informative but not pushy about their beliefs, which really worked in their favor because I would really enjoy going back and learning more about Mormonism, maybe it is a strategy of theirs.

After a long day of taking in the culture, my father and I were ready for rest (and we still needed to get that dust off of us!) so we headed back to the hotel, packed for our flight the following morning, and called it a day.

Day 14 and 15: En Route to Utah and a Day of Chill

So, funny story, apparently the quickest way to get from Denver, CO, to Salt Lake City, UT, is to go north from Denver into Wyoming, go west through Wyoming, then come down south through Utah.


But far easier said than done.

Roughly an eight hour drive, my father and I had just enough time to be able to get to the comedy show on time, even after our gun show detour.

I decided I would cover our the first 300 miles of the trip, roughly a tank of gas, and then fill up for gas and let my father take over.

Wyoming, by the way, is lovely.

So we pull over in Rock Springs to use the restroom/fill up on gas/get some snacks. I know my time is short so I decide to conduct a really quick interview with someone working at the gas station. Not a good idea. I was not able to explain to her what I was doing and her answers were pretty vague. All that I really got from it was that Rock Springs was pretty suburban and small, not very diverse, and there is an issue with upward social mobility and job prospects.

But Wyoming is still a breathtaking, albeit long, drive. At this point in time my father and I start to venture into that obscure territory that many call "bonding", and the number of revelations we had in that car made us closer than we had ever been in my entire life. It was great to talk to my father straight up as a human being, not having to go to the social formalities that come with speaking to your parent. I was so pleased with the breakthroughs we made in our relationship that day, in fact, that I was not even upset when I missed our comedy show for that day.

Wait, what? But I thought the only reason you went to three states in three days was because you wanted to go to be able to make it to the show in Utah?

Correct. But the issue that arose was that I bought tickets for the Wiseguys Comedy Club in Ogden, Utah, instead of Salt Lake City, where I was, and the two are a 40 minute drive apart. This was a larger issue because we had arrived just in time for the show in Salt Lake City, which was the same time as the show in Ogden, but also the SLC location had a full bar, so their club was 21 and over and I would not be allowed inside. The drive to Ogden was too long for us to be able to cover it and make it in time to catch enough of the show, so we decided to just check into our hotel.

And I was not even mad. What transpired in the car between my father and I emotionally was more meaningful and useful than anything that could have happened in that comedy club, and if I had the choice I would not have it any other way.

We checked into the hotel and were so tired we just decided to eat at a nearby spot, but nearly everything was closed at 10pm so we just ordered a pizza.

The small, yellow box was the pizza and the large, red box was the garlic bread, it was upsetting to say the least.

That night the conversations continued, and we stayed up into the wee hours of the morn just learning more and more about each other, like we were becoming friends. It was wonderful.

So the following day we did not get up and at them until the afternoon, and even then we had to shake the rust off of our boots (metaphorically) before we could be ready to take on the world that is Utah, but by then it was already evening time on a Sunday.

So we just decided to go out into the downtown area and have dinner there.
We found a really nice restaurant that had amazing food and even better ambiance. The place is Caffe Molise, if you're ever in the area.

After our lovely meals we were about ready to head back to the hotel, but not before a bit more sightseeing.

We were there, and it was one of the coziest spots we had hit up yet.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Day 14: A Gun Show??? :o

After a very long night in Colorado (I think we got back to the hotel at around 1am, but this was after about 8 hours of driving earlier in the day) we woke up to a family friend of my father's knocking on our hotel room door.

We treated him to breakfast at the hotel-- I was honestly so shocked when I found out that the breakfast was not complimentary and saw that $45 dollar bill-- before heading on our merry way.

There was a slightly rambunctious couple at the hotel that took some chagrin to the disposition of a server, and decided to make life more difficult for her by spilling juice on the table before leaving.
Why am I including this bit of information? Well, it shows a spectrum. People have different ways of dealing with their emotions. And neither person involved in this passive aggressive conflict can ever know what the other was dealing with at that particular moment in time, but I am certain that all had their feelings hurt. Try to be more considerate, whoever you may be in this interaction, be careful with what you say and how you react, especially with people you are not familiar with.

Anywho, the night before I was up kind of late--we got to the hotel late and thusly I showered and got dressed for bed late. When I got out the shower I saw a commercial on the tv for a gun showcase in Denver that would be open the following morning. Usually, a gun show would be something that I would steer clear of, for a number of reasons, but this trip is all about learning about people unlike myself so I knew that my father and I had to go. So I purchased a couple of tickets and let my father know about the little detour we would be taking before heading out to Utah.

The tickets were only $10 per person so I was cool with this set up already. The location was somewhat difficult to find, it was behind a hotel in their convention center. And walking towards the entrance I was just observing people. I saw that a father had bought katana-like swords and was showing them to his young son, others looked like they were preparing for guerilla warfare, and, by and large, they were mostly White. That last part did not surprise me, though, because according to , Denver is 70% White.

So I walk into the center and immediately I see "NO CAMERAS ALLOWED" in all red. Damn. I was already trying to get it off my hands and see where I could put it when this elderly man that was running admission into the center tried to give me a hard time about it but I already knew that I had to put it somewhere. I'm just going to start of by saying that I did not like this guy, he gave off vibes that came across like he did not like me, like I was only there for nefarious purposes, to criminalize the idea of guns with my journalistic practices. But the other guy helping with admissions was cool. I showed him a receipt of my tickets on my phone and he asked me for permission to touch my phone and scroll to verify. He was respectful and did not come across as having any preconceptions.

I probably only spent a half hour or so there, but this is what I took in:
-It's really a family affair, adult fathers and sons but also parents that bring their young children too
-It's a community, there were a number of people that were gleeful seeing familiar faces
-It's not just guns, there were other objects that fell within the category of self defense like tasers, pepper spray, knives, survival kits, gun attachments, etc.
-Seemed to be mostly old White men that were selling, a demographic fairly different from the demographics I saw walking through the space (there were a number of Latinx-appearing individuals, but very few Black individuals and I do not recall seeing any Asian individuals). Many of these sellers were also either wearing or displaying their military decoration.
-It's normal, the demeanor these people had was the same that I see in grocery stores, this is such a heavily ingrained part of their culture.

And I made a purchase.
It was a film camera, but still. I'm upset because the camera ended up not working-- which explains why the guy sold it to me along with a camera bag for only $20-- but it led to something better, albeit more costly, down the line.
Ansco Autoset

Pretty, yes, but as I soon learned, the solar right above the "Ansco" on the camera is only meant to last 10-15 years, and this camera was from the 60s.

Before long I had walked through most of the show and was not interested in seeing much else there so I decided to leave. I chose not to interview anyone inside the center because security would probably get suspicious or the people I'm interviewing would get defensive, risks that I was not willing to run.

So to leave I had to meet up with the old dude at the front gate again, and he snarkly said "Leaving already?" or "Couldn't handle it?", I am not sure but that cemented my disdain for him. I got my camera and I was happy to leave. But I still had not interviewed anyone. I saw some people sitting around outside, and knew that that would be my only opportunity to get an interview here. I just sat next to this older gentleman smoking a cigarette and waited. He seemed comfortable with me and even made a joking comment about the weather or something fleeting. Then I began to ask him a few questions. I did not ask for his permission to interview him so I will not disclose any personal information, but he was visiting from another state and went to the gun show just to see what was there. His gun usage was mostly for hunting, but decades ago he had been injured by a gun when a friend was playing around with it. This would make me think that he would stay as far away from guns as possible from the rest of his life, but not even, for here he was at a gun show. He was very much of the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" mindset, which I can understand, but I likened his disposition to what would happen if I was hit by a car. Living in LA, I have to drive, and I have to drive often, and it would be impossible for me to avoid cars even if I did not drive, so, in a community like this man's where guns are everywhere, being afraid of them would not do him any good. All one can do is just be careful.

Guns and gun culture intrigue me because it is so different from what I have grown up around, but people will always hold home near and dear to their hearts.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Day 13: En Route to Colorado/Colorado Comedy

I will not bore you with details about the drive to Denver, because really there was not much after the historic site visit in Topeka, KS.

It rained a little bit on our way into the state, which was actually a bit welcome because it took a lot of bugs off of the windshield lol.

I like photos of the sky, sue me. And as you can see, it cleared up by the time we arrived the city itself
(I like to say that I bring the sunshine with my bubbly personality but I try to remain humble).

I wanted to get to the venue for the night by 6pm so as to be able to participate in improv exercises open to the general public but time was not on my side.

But that is okay! You just gotta roll with the punches sometimes, as I've grown up that staying upset and pouting is not as productive as my childhood led me to believe. Look! I'm adulting.

So we arrived at our hotel in Denver, and it was pretty nice, to be honest.
--okay maybe my perception of the hotel was influenced by the fact that I found the young woman at the front desk attractive, but I am only human--
We unpacked, and soon afterwards it was showtime! (not for me, of course, but for the show itself)

My boss, Diversity and Inclusion Board Chair at Claremont McKenna College, the incomparable Maya Love '20, is a native of Denver, so I invited her and her friends to the show as well, also giving me an opportunity to conduct some interviews.

From left to right (on the photo on the right): Maya, Nizhooni, Genesis, Damaria.

Back to the show. It was an interesting form of comedy that night. It was a troupe called Hit and Run: Musical Improv, which is pretty self explanatory. They take suggestions from the audience similarly to a usual improv group, but for a title of the musical, and I am unsure but I think also a genre and a beginning location.

It. Was. Amazing. All of five performers on stage and their offstage pianist are so talented, especially when you take into consideration that all that they were saying was off the top of their heads, including the songs!
Sure they were a bit choppy here and there, but they were able to sing in sync and have an intro/hook/chorus to their songs, and I was thoroughly impressed. It might not have been telling much of the community values, but it was an entertaining outing.

Afterwards, it was out to overpriced pizza (gentrification is a trip) with the young women pictured above and my father.

The pizza was not worth the charge but I was hungry so I was complicit in being finessed by this business establishment.

Then it was interview time.

Admittedly, I'd always thought of Denver as some White, mountainous, Patagonia-wearing, coffee-loving, fairly well off enclave that was detached from the issues of those of marginalized identities, but that could not have been further from the reality of the two Denver residents I had the opportunity to interview.

They spoke of deep, intersectional issues. From poverty and homelessness, to gentrification and a changing of the culture, they expressed the visible shifts in their hometown. I also learned about their more personal ventures, from getting people of color more involved in the generally-seen-as-the-embodiment-of-Whiteness outdoors and nature, to the representation of women (especially women of color) in positions of power at local or more far-reaching scales.

I often find myself conversing with people on the receiving end of gentrification and other cultural erasure methods, and they all meet these community-based changes with reluctance. I totally understand why, and I find that Denver is actually a bit of a different case. I say this because it is not just White people moving in and bringing their small businesses that drive up housing costs and such of the like, but also a development of the city. So as they are trying to attract new businesses to bring in more revenue for the city, they are developing and pushing out populations of people that have resided there for a while already (in particular the homeless population).

So now the question is how do we move forward while ensuring that we don't leave already institutionally disadvantaged populations behind?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Day 13: En Route to Denver

Got off to a late start this day, but we were on the road by 10am and even had breakfast on the road, in Topeka, KS.

And you might think that was all there was to do in Topeka, Kansas, but you would be happily mistaken, like I was.

Google's useful location services let me know that I was near the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, so to the historic site we went!

It was interesting to learn more about this landmark Supreme Court case, especially with this school in particular, which was in pretty good shape. One would assume that such was the case because the country is invested in the wellbeing of this building, but even in the pictures of the school when it had students, it was not in disrepair in the slightest.

But that does not sound historically accurate, right? The storyline we are familiar with is that the respective Black counters to White facilities were, without fail, abhorrently inferior. And for the most part, this was true.
So why then, does the actual school of the namesake Brown in the momentous Brown v. Board ruling appear to be just fine?
Well, it was a class action suit, so there were hundred of cases of Black schools in the same counties as White ones that were of far lower quality-- most of these cases were investigated and collected by the NAACP--, and Brown's name just happened to be at the top of the list of those filing for the suit. If you find the legal documents, you'll see that the appellants, those filing suit, ends in "et al.", which is Latin for "and others." The tour guide here really gave a thorough explanation of the history, which I appreciated.

So why did Brown file suit? Well, he lived far closer to a White school than the Black one, so it made geographical sense for his child to attend the school closer to his home, but these laws got in the way of common sense so he decided to join in on this class suit.

This was not the only issue with segregation in schools, though. Among a plethora of other issues, there was also the internalized racism and other psychological effects on students put in these situations. The historic site also had one of the infamous dolls used in case studies and trials of how segregation effects how Black children view themselves and Whites.
For those unfamiliar with these trials, questions would be posed to young children like, "Which is the pretty/smart/nice doll? Which is the ugly/stupid/mean doll?" and all of the desirable traits were attributed to the White doll.

All of this made for a very fulfilling and informative stop along our way to Denver, with major historical significance in an otherwise unassuming area. Really, the acts of these people are probably to thank for my capability to be on this trip and write this blog.

"Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1)." Oyez, Accessed 25 Jun. 2017.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Day 12 pt. 3/3: Yep Still in KS

At this point we are at Legends in Kansas City.

It is a large outdoor shopping complex that also houses the comedy club we attended that night. 

I was in a bit of a rush to get there by the start of the show because I thought that they were going to be hosting improv exercises that audience members could participate in, but that was actually at the club in Denver the following night. Cut me some slack, there was a lot going on with this three states in three days business lol.

So we showed up an hour early, and decided to get some dinner before the show.

I was excited, seeing that it was an open mic night, because even though I did not sign up to perform, I would get to see how the people out in Kansas City were living their lives and would get a decent amount of information to work with.

And oh dear, did they give me a lot to work with:

They were real people
There was a lawyer, stay at home parents, single parents, people all across the socioeconomic status spectrum, artists, and a number of others, all using comedy as an outlet.

I was not a fan of most of these comics (I just have different comedic preferences, nothing personal) so I am not going to name names or go into any sort of specifics, but I was really listening to what they were saying.

The lawyer talked about lawyering and made lawyer jokes. A guy that immigrated here from Eastern Europe made jokes about culture shock and the language barrier. You know, stuff within the context of "stick to what you know."

There was one lady that I found particularly interesting though. The host of the show hyped her up a bit, talking about where she had traveled to perform her stand up, this and that, etc. So I was expecting a little bit more from her, at least compared to these other people that were just trying this out, hoping to have a good time.

Her jokes detailed her life being poor (her words, not mine) and being a single parent, and for a lot of it the audience was silent. But it was not even the type of silence that could be attributed to her not being funny, but an awkward silence. They could not relate, and they felt uncomfortable being confronted with these socially unfavorable topics that they had probably, more often than not, pushed to the back of their minds to reconcile their own guilt over not doing something about it. I started looking at the people in the audience. Hearty guffaws had turned into shifting in chairs and throat clearing. A large part of comedy is relatability, but there is a significant barrier being put up when we choose not to relate to someone that one may deem as part of a lower social status, simply due to their lot in life.

This is me seeing comedy as potentially elitist and a cause for separation between people. I'd bet good money that these same people would laugh at jokes that are disparaging towards people of lower socioeconomic status-- I say this because I've seen it happen at another venue along this trip--, but when a member of this group comes in front of them and is speaking to them in a frightfully equal arena, the comparatively higher status that they hold in their own perception is challenged and discredited.

And if we are all equal, we really should be doing more to help others, right?

But that's just me postulating.

Soon thereafter the headliner came on, a Black comedian that rose to fame in the 1970s from a tv show on which he had an iconic catchphrase. There was an older audience tonight so I figured there would be a nostalgia factor into how a lot of them took in his set, and it seemed like it did.

I was really not a fan though.

An issue I had with stand up comedy when I came home for winter break was how it was being used to perpetuate stereotypes, with the helpful politics I was learning in school that recognize historically marginalized peoples being discredited and made fun of, so I just found it laugh at these jokes, because I didn't find them funny.

And people are always saying "oh you're too sensitive, it's just a joke!" but if that's the case then we can never draw the line, anywhere. And the line has to be drawn somewhere. But everybody has a different line, so we can't just go around policing lines for other people. Just let each other live.

Back to the comic. He had a very antiquated way of thinking. Example: he belittled the idea of sexual harassment to whether or not women find their harasser attractive, and a number of other ways of thinking that are best left in the past. This is not meant to be a "holier than thou" narrative, but it's always useful to think about how comedy and what we find funny can reinforce dangerous ideals.

The rest of show was about the same quality as the beginning. There was an inspirational comic who was also a paraplegic but more importantly, was actually funny. (Referring back to my prior statements of relatability, no one in the audience could relate, so how many of those audience members were genuinely laughing and how many were laughing out of pity?)

Maybe I am going too deep, but maybe I am asking the questions that I needed to be asking all along.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Day 12 pt. 2/3: Continued in Kansas City

Before going any further, I must note that this was the beginning of a stint in this trip where my father and I had to travel to three states in just as many days.

Wild right?

It was. Oklahoma to Kansas (day 1), Kansas to Colorado (day 2), Colorado to Utah (day 3).

I bet you're asking why it had to be this way. Well, there were only comedy shows available in Utah on the Saturday of that week and the Wednesday of the following week, none in between. At least none that I could go to.

So my options were to go about my trip as planned and spend an extra day in Utah to attend the Wednesday show, or truncate my trip the way I did so that I could attend the Saturday show.

Why not take the easy route? Well, that Wednesday was the same day that my girlfriend, Sarah, would have her graduation, and I would not miss it for the world, so we chose to shorten our stay in Kansas and Colorado.

Before I receive cries of misused grant funds, my father decided to pay for our flights back home because he had to go back to LA as well to take care of some stuff from his job, so we probably would have had to put our trip on hold for a couple days around this time anyways.

Also, this definitely was NOT an easy way out of doing my intended job of research with this project. Day 1 consisted of four hours of driving, day 2 was nine hours, and day 3 was eight.

I made a point of booking tickets to shows in all of these states beforehand and trying to set up interviews, but sadly I was unable to get an interview in Kansas nor go to a show in Utah, both serious blunders on my end.

People may ask me why go through all of this just to attend a high school graduation, but for me the answer was always self-explanatory.