Friday, December 24, 2010

California Livin'

The morning started with a coffee and a blueberry muffin on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Total bill, $4.20; that’s California living.

Life experiences — mostly career and women — have carried me from my native Marlyand to the great state of Ohio, a drive across the country and brief stop in southern California. A few years in Indiana, several more in Washington state and then back in Ohio for a quarter of a year and then once again I land in SoCal. Through my travels and intimate observations of regional cultures, I conclude; there is nothing quite like California living.

Especially, southern California Living. Cold is redefined. As is fine.

In SoCal, the ability to adapt to the bilingual and bicultural lifestyle is key. Lemon and chili powder or Tap on everything. You make chips/ papitas instead of just snacking on them. Knowing that there is a right side to the tortilla is not essential, but a keen since to the obscure idiosyncrasies of a people can go a long way. (One side of the tortilla has a slightly different texture to better hold the meat, cilantro and onions).

Seemingly, only in California can a mediocre east coast hustle, mixed with an element of midwest swag be part of the formula to thrive in a “down economy.” It’s here that I’ve been able to network my way into a state job as a field representative for a smart, savvy, progressive and cool ass Assemblymember.

California living is about learning to trust the roots of the towering palm trees as they sway in the wind. “Tay ina win.”

This one has been on my mind for a while, but taken me a while to push out. Why you ask … California Living.

— James Joyce III

Two quotes that feel good to me:

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
--Ben Franklin

Experience is an author's most valuable asset; experience is the thing that puts the muscle and the breath and the warm blood into the book he writes.
-Mark Twain

Friday, May 21, 2010

On the Campain Trail — Now about that fear and loathing

More than seven years ago, a young newspaper reporter green and a fresh graduate of a reputable J-school penned a column that ran in the Chronicle Tribune, Marion, Ind. with the headline, "We should all fullfill our civic duty to keep politicians in line."

After the column had published I recall a conversation with my bulldog of an executive editor, lambasting me for what I had wrote. She warned that I hadn't earned the authority to make such aggressive statements about my disdain for politics and politicians, especially coming from someone relatively new to the community. (Good luck to anyone who can find that column, it ran a little more than a month ahead of a primary election).

Fast forward seven years and I find myself on the other side of the politics game — and that-it-is; a game! There is a strange juxtaposition when you jump from in front of, to behind the printed political story. But the words I shared with the community of Grant County, Ind. comes full circle to my current work as a field organizer for Das Williams' campaign for California State Assembly, District 35, which spans slightly north of Santa Barbara, down to include most of Oxnard.

I feel different than most of these politicos. Much of the time I feel like the lone strait, right handed cat in the room wearing his watch on the right wrist. Or maybe I'm just the only cat in the room who would pay attention to such detail.

But now, I have become a part of the very political machine from which I have previously felt disenfranchised, have scrutinized and bemoaned. I went from being that unemployed guy, to working on my first campaign, like I hopped into the cockpit of Bugatti Veyron. Although, much less glamorous. Twelve hour days are a welcome delight. It doesn't exactly feel like work always, but I've got plenty of work to do.

In my past, I have covered plenty of elections, from small town politics and school board races to pieces of the historic 2008 Presidential election. The latter, from THE battle ground state of Ohio. Then, I was working as the education reporter at the Toledo Blade. One day, on that campaign trail, my assignment was to follow and cover the rallies of Sarah Palin as she traveled the state, from Canton to Columbus. I contributed on the scene add-ins to the overall coverage. Sidebar: Those Secret Service guys are alright, but they are on their job. I guess game recognize game though.

Let it be known, covering an election and working for a campaign are like comparing a one night stand to a summer fling that has the potential to turn into something longer term.

I was ignited in part by that need-to-know associated with being a newspaper man. The rest of the fire came out of the annoyance of having to quietly sit in the stands and simply report what I saw leading up to and through the announcement that Barack Obama was going to be our 44th President. So I jumped at the chance to put my skills to use for a progressive, smart and upcoming young man with a background as a community organizer and university instructor. Additionally, Das has a strong endorsement from a highly respected friend. Then, when my skeptical gauge realized the genuineness of Das, I know his intentions and actions are in the right place and he isn't going to be one of the "many or multiple" "small blood-sucking insects" I wrote of in March 2003.

"Political influence is a chance to utilize the power that citizens create for you to change not only yourself, but also the community you represent."

I feel like Das Williams really gets that and it's something he has been doing through his grassroots campaign for State Assembly. House to house, neighbor to neighbor, the past few months have flown by. The countdown is now fewer than 20 days until the June 8th Primary. The day 69 count seemed like it was just last week — but that's also when my written words got the 7-year itch.

To date, this campaign trail is riddled with good times, inspiring young minds, plenty of talking, occasionally some gawking; takes lots of cojones and can be cold and lonely, much time spent on the phone, many "I'll vote for, but volunteer ... no." Networking and meeting all new people, the campaign trail pushed me back through the churches steeple.

"Decisions should reflect Kingdom values and not abandon the basic tenants of our faith," Das said to the congregation.

My man. It was the most in-his-element I had seen the candidate. Though my bet is that he'd be even more comfortable once he's elected and can directly effect change. But the road to that aim is paved with slung mud and lined with tactics and distortions. Just more of what had previously kept me out of the process.

"Politics is a blood sport, people need not forget it," the Derby Jedi reminded me early on the campaign trail.

"Axel grease wards off the theft of yard signs. Wipe it on a towel and smear it around the edges," the wise sibling suggested.

I'm just going to stay on the grind and stick to the winning plan. Have got to get on my game. Must I fall at the feet of my sugar mama again, this time in my three-decade-old birthday suit? The campaign trail made me do it!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Horses are Only Half the Hype; The Party Pretty Much Sums Up the Rest of the Kentucky Derby Experience

Dubbed "the greatest two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., is a spectacle, a great American cultural event and my happy place for the past three years. (Past eight years now — seven appearances. I missed Derby 135 in 2009. That year the Derby glasses were black and gold and it wasn't one the better years in my near 30).

For me, it all started when a colleague from my previous job was always talking Derby this and Derby that. He grew up in the Louisville area and said it's a holiday for his family. I had no idea why. Horse racing was of little interest to me. Little did I know. After repeatedly declining, I finally accepted the offer to be his guest at my first Derby, the 129th running. I've been back every year since, thanks to the Derby Jedi. (Shout out to BCoo)

Sure, the horses are the catalyst for the excitement, but when local churches cancel 5:30 p.m. Mass on the First Saturday In May, it's got to be about more than the horses.

During the weeks leading up to the event, the city is aflutter.

The Kentucky Derby Festival shoves aside daily routines in the city of more than 256,000 with galas, festivals, marathons and fireworks. (Now 713,870 according to 2008 U.S. Census Bureau statistics)

The festive mood kicks up a notch the week of the big event. A few beers at lunch — normally a no-no — is somehow explainable. And in the spirit of a birthday wish, "Happy Derby," becomes a common greeting.

And as the week winds down, families start sending children and dogs to sitters. (Also known as "Derby Camp").

Finally it's Friday, the day before the Derby — Kentucky Oaks Day.

Horses run then, too, but the event is more of a shirt-and-tie affair. The fresh suits and the Southern belles' flowing sundresses generally don't show until Derby Day. (Although that has shifted in recent years as it has become a day of pink, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness).

Oaks Night fills the area with parties and final preparations for the most anticipated day of the year for the city.

As the sun rises on Derby Day, preparations for the flood of people at Churchill Downs is already under way: the food, the drinks, the souvenirs, the horses. When the crowd starts to flow in, some enjoy the thrill that has become an annual tradition: trying to sneak in alcohol. However, with the tight security restrictions few succeed.

For that brief moment of entry, the infield-bound people — clad in flip-flops and shorts — brush elbows with those headed to the elevated suites that hang next to the historic twin spires, a signature of Churchill Downs.

A Jay Z line comes to mind: "from Marcy to Madison Square." The thoughts of the hip-hop icon may have been more reflective of his social advance from New York's Marcy Projects to his "retirement extravaganza" at Madison Square Garden. Mine had less of an impact.

In the span of an hour I went from wishing luck to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in Louisville to root on his early Derby favorite, Bellamy Road, to slapping a high five and toasting the hedonistic ambiance of the come-as-you-are infield.

The air that surrounds the track on that First Saturday In May filled with the booze-sellers pitches: "Ice-cold-beah-heah," and "Mint Ju-lep" — two coveted traditional Derby beverages.

As the 6 p.m. hour approaches and the call to the post sounds, the bathrooms clear and the vendors calls are replaced with the crooning of "My Old Kentucky Home."

Then the last horse is in the post ... and they're off!

For two minutes, the cheers don't breath. Everyone is a potential winner. The noise subsides only when the winning horse crosses the finish line.

This year, spectators grabbed their programs to answer the question at the front of everyone's mind: "Who's Number 10?"

That's Giacomo — the 50-to-1 longshot and official winner of the 131st Kentucky Derby.

Although many of the more than 156,000 in attendance took the chance to win, few were winners.

But the party continued anyway.

At the end of my four-day stint in the Bluegrass State, when I laid down and closed my eyes on the final night, everything in my mind's eye seemed vast.

Anything in the world seemed obtainable and life's worries were not mine.

- A form of this column was originally published in the Yakima (Wash.) Herald Republic on May 15, 2005.

A lil video from Derby 136 (2010)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Unemployment Chronicles: Vol. 4 — The movement is brewing

Sometimes, when opportunity knocks, there is some other preoccupation that keeps us from wanting to answer the door. Be it a trip to Tahoe to reconnect with a group of lads from up north with whom I have had good times past. Or it could have been the pending call for employment that could have stopped me, but I decided to answer the door.

I later learned I missed out on quite the trip from what I gather. Somehow the lads encountered a brush with fame, an establishment t-shirt signed and a possible appearance on an upcoming HBO reality show.

However, presented with the chance to attend the first day of a two day leadership training hosted by a central coast non profit organization — an alliance whose aim is to unite for a sustainable economy — I entered with a cautious optimism. I figured I had done this sort of thing before. My leadership training and experience launched as a preteen as I became a counselor with a beloved 4-H camp back in my native Maryland. That continued each year, through college, until I made it to director of the residential camp and was then responsible for training the next wave of camp leaders. That early experience helped form my character as I, and countless other youth tapped into something special, selflessness. Great bonds were made. This is how I cut my leadership teeth. Intense training in the sharp leadership and servant standards of my dear fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha; and the residents life circuit soon followed. Various campus involvement took me from cocoon to caterpillar.

So would this be lip service, pontification, feel good stuff?

After the first part of the CAUSE training, I was more than glad I attended. I began to meet a band of hand selected change agents within the latest community to have embraced my nomadic spirit. I was charging to get involved, as that has always been a source of personal enjoyment. I had also learned a thing or two about taxes in this great state of California. It was enough to make me want to come back for the second and much longer day. Scheduling and the blessings of the Queen Bea allowed. Next thing I know I'm part of the movement.

A stir of energy and before long, as was the case back in camp, and many times before and after, I found myself responding to the name Spider-Man. These change agents somehow quickly extracted my alter ego and I found myself sharing the principal value; "with great power also comes great responsibility."

I engaged in discovering my self interest, and challenged to have conversations to help others find theirs. That should continue. It's about more than merely passing time on this earth I was reminded.

The play was called, backfield in motion. Sugar mama is slacking. We've talked, but she is not yet taking care.

I found myself espousing the merits of participatory democracy. No longer part of the masses that cast my vote, wiped my hands and thought, "great, now get to work fixing this mess." A marriage of voice and vote. A spark of co-powerment to embark on the collective Herculean task. I began to ask questions again, although I no longer get paid to do it. There is power in those questions and there is power in the corresponding stories. Conocimiento!

The vision: to think Seven generations ahead in decision making as was, and still is, custom in Iroquois culture. How how!! It's strange how it is all connected. Noon-way. Seven is a powerful number. The goals, the objective and the plan laid out. Charged.

The play starts. Pass is made. Catch and touchdown. Sugar mama, I'm done with you, well at least for now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Unemployment Chronicles: Vol. 3 — Knock, knock

I keep seeing the digits on the clock. Most recently it was 11:11.
I had my sister look into the numbers for me, just out of pure curiosity because this keeps happening to me, daily. And to see if it sheds any light on life situations. You know the 1, 11, 4, 44, they keep appearing in my life.

This is what she came up with:
The number one, a few attributes; independence, leadership skills, ambition, strong will, driven, great potential for success, as well as stubborn, impatient, pride, demands respect and attention ...
While the number four, indicates stability, after all it takes four legs on a table to make it stand sturdy, other things were practical, dependable, orderly, and once again, stubborn, bossy, too serious ... there was mention of four seasons in a year and four directions on a compass, but all I could really say to it all is, hmmmm, interesting.

She also suggested that I look at the numbers 3 and 5 for obvious reasons. Do some math!

It's been some time since my last correspondence. Guess I had to let the experience of being unemployed soak in, because something tells me I'm not going to be able to do it for long.
Mama, says a person with my skills and talents can't stay unemployed long, someone will snatch me up.
"Chics dig guys with skills."
But something tells me that's not the kind of snatching up she was referring to.
My partner in the snipers bullet has left. More urgent matters call from her native land. I'm content with the new role as calm-assertive pack leader.

Life spins sometimes.
Where to go when my equilibrium returns?

My conversation with a Just man, a journalism vet, urged me to remain optimistic. There will always be a need for the skills I posses. After all, he had always preached, there is money to be made in this industry.

Optimistic I remained. Knowing I have a longing to craft the written word, and to make a living at doing so again would be cool. But how?

They came a knocking. The same company that thrust me from the journalism industry more than a year prior, called when an opening became available, as I was the next name on the callback list. The position that had become open, happened to be an offer for my old job, the education reporter. About a half hour prior to the call, I had already known the position had come available — gotta love social networking.

Although a year away for the industry gave me much more appreciation for the craft and the lifestyle, what wise man hops back on the sinking Titanic without a plan to patch up the hole?
So I respectfully declined and made a pass similar to that suggested by the young pledges of G Phi G in School Dayz.

After a trip along the Pacific Coast by train for a brief weekend visit to San Diego, I continued to ponder if I had made the right decision. Regardless, I made it. And I pride myself on my ability to be decisive.

Photos also by James Joyce III/ First: Statue by E. Barrias 1893 the Tomb of Anatole de la Forge in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Second: Statue at Père LaChaise Cemetery.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Unemployment Chronicles: Vol. 2

The sky was crying for a week upon my return from the southwest. Maybe a projection, possibly a reflection.

It's hard to tell.

On the first day that I was no longer getting paid, our earth shook. Was that a call and response?

I can't express my need for her in the most convenient way. I have tried to contact my sugar mama several times, to no avail. True to form, I need special handling. So I phone her.
She doesn't answer. Knowing I'll need her, I crawl. I go to her gatekeeper who gives me a basic card to her riches.
I step back through the teary sky.
Cheap movie matinee: $3, the world as we know it just may end in 2012. The signs are there.
Take a step back, send a message to sugar mama through courier.

The ocean pushes the surfers away, yet he continues to tempt her. Keep casting.

In my nest, I rest, but haven't quit. Days pass without spending. Time is money in the bank though. The self-imposed confinement is both good and necessary. The tears had a great deal to do with that.

While my meager job searching efforts have yet to bear fruit, the crying broke as I pursued the allure to go green. The four of us were young, professional and at varying levels of ambition. The gathering at the Staples Center boasted job opportunities in various green industries.

Perhaps a sign of the times, there were fewer than 10 companies in the job expo section. I walked past. Another sign of the times, some of the booths were requesting donations for the swag. The promise of swag was part of the draw.

Now an experience adding to the fuel to allow things to continue to percolate on the back burner. With visions of a burner strapped across my back, the whole world is in attack mode.

The clock keeps hitting triple digits, 1:11 twice, 4:44 the most memorable. Make a wish, use my foundation and grow.
The pen is my discipline and it is indeed mightier than the sword. Or at least works in consort.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Unemployment Chronicles: Vol. 1

In the cross hairs of my sniper's scope, I was a marked man. Knowing my days were numbered I lumbered on.
Treating each day as it could be my last. I endured this pleasure for more than three weeks.

Spotter ready. Shooter ready ... two shots were fired. One of them hit me.
Many would see it as an assassination attempt. I find it rather liberating, no longer espoused to the regimented lifestyle, once again.

This had been my immediate life raft after being thrust from the sinking journalism industry the year prior.
This time, the weight on my shoulders lighter, but not without wounds. Paths abundant and murky. Outlook still cautiously optimistic. Opportunity floats about.
With this newly instilled freedom, I first broke north into the wilderness. Then southwest for a reunion across the desert.

Life is best when lived. Yet my soul remains insatiable.
These are the loose chronicles of an unemployed man.