Idiotarod 2017: Make America Fun Again by a zugunruhe

On Saturday January 28th, Idiots descended upon Brooklyn. 

Armed with wit, booze, and decent pairs of socks, the competitors in the 13th annual Idiotarod ran from Brooklyn Bridge Park to Gowanus in hopes of glory and/or a one night stand.

The competitors are divided into teams which design and race their own themed shopping carts. This year, I helped out the "The Price Is Wrong, Bitch" a Price Is Right themed cart with working dollar wheel. Notable themes were Occupy Sesame Street, ACA (Affordable Candy Act), and a cart of a bull which pissed beer and excreted doughnuts with the aid of a hand.

Throughout the race there are various check points at bars. The trick of the race is to get to the checkpoints quickly and bribe the judges as you see fit in order to gain competitive advantage. This advantage can come in the form of getting the next checkpoint address early, special treatment during the awards ceremony, or beer. 

After three check points, we are lead to a "secret" warehouse to party and ultimately destroy our carts. As always, there is a fun way of destroying everyone's hard work and, sticking to the theme of "Make America Fun again," this year was no exception.

Having the honor of eating the carts was a giant Donald Trump head with a compactor mouth.

As the night went on, we could momentarily forget about the new presidential term and the demonstrations at JFK by blasting music and demolishing a toilet on fire.

What happened after the awards were given out and the carts were flattened, was a celebration of like-minded weirdos. One of the many groups that could be marginalized in the coming years by an administration and support base that aims to keep a status quo bent on fragile masculinity. We did what we could in that moment, which was to tear apart any effigy of Trump in our sight and know that our creative voices can only be strengthened. 

In that last hour of the celebration, I saw what I had only read and heard about during the Reagan years, a strong unifying force against the powers that be. Something not seen to the same degree under Democrat rule and only obscured through out the W Bush reign by nü-metal. It was a bright light to be a part of and gives me a positive outlook for the immediate future.

More Photos in the slideshow below:

Indian Demonetization of November 8th by a zugunruhe

The line outside of a bank in Jodhpur

The move and its effects

The evening of Nov. 8, as the American presidential election was beginning half a world away, President Narendra Modi announced that all current 500 and 1,000 rupee notes would be taken out of circulation beginning at midnight that night.

The move
made the notes immediately void, save a limited exchange at banks until the end of the year, and inspired hours-long line lines outside of banks across the country for the weeks to come.

Sign behind the counter of a small convenience store (Udaipur)

Every newspaper in India became filled with the stories of people affected. From the housewife who couldn't wait in line for the hours it took to reach the counter because she had to take care of her children and mother in law, to a homeless girl who was asked to break large bills with the smaller notes she had begged for.

Some of the more fortunate were able to act quickly to rid themselves of large amount of the soon to be void notes. A man in Delhi allegedly purchased 1,200 Rolex watches in cash and the Delhi Gucci location stayed open until midnight the night of the announcement and brought in $5 million USD in sales rather than the usual $500k it sees on a Tuesday. On the non-luxury side of things, many people rushed to buy airline tickets to later return them for cash. The government put an end to this practice the next day by making all airline tickets non-refundable.

Males and females line up in separate queues outside of a bank in the Old City (Jodhpur)

The move eliminated 86 percent of the hard currency in India and there was no shortage of people affected. Those who had the time to exchange at banks were met with strict paperwork to fill out and a 4,000 rupee exchange limit. Lines stretched out of banks and down streets. People waited the majority of the day to reach the counter, with entrance and transaction not guaranteed.

A man fills out exchange paperwork on the hood of a car (Jaipur)

Due to poor interbank infrastructure, competing banks had not linked their systems to track who had already met the limit. Many exploited this to exchange as much as possible at multiple locations.

Some banks began inking the index fingers of those who waited in line. This was in effort to make sure those who had waited were protected against anyone who attempt to skip the line and keep people from heading directly to another bank. 

A man has his index finger marked in ink by an employee (Jaipur)

ATMs helped ease the burden of the individual banks for the individuals who just needed cash rather than to exchange, but even those lines stretched down the sides of buildings and constantly ran out of money.

A guard watching over an ATM to inform people when it would be operational again (Delhi)


Government reasoning

This demonetization move came, as announced, as a way to combat a rash of counterfeit notes and to gain a grasp on the black money circulating throughout the economy.

The counterfeiting finger was pointed at Pakistan. It is suspected that smaller bills are bleached in order to print larger denominations on top of the blank notes. 

The other reason, to combat shadow economy activity, is a double edge sword. Shadow economies, or transactions that happen without record or taxes paid, exist under every society with taxes. The size of which is dictated by the efficiency of the economic and monetary policies being implemented. 

In an effort to stamp out untaxed business activity, officials have actually harmed those who keep money out of the banking system, which slowed the economy, in the midst of the booming wedding season no less.

Whether or not the quick rip of the bandage that this announcement was could be considered necessary, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have recently reported that tax collections are up 258 percent compared to a year ago. 

Guard over looking the bank line (Jaipur)

Everyone had a theory as to why the current administration did what it did. Whether it was accepting the stated reasons by the ruling BJP or slight conspiracy stories. Theory were put forth that Modi was attempting to cut the funding of black money to his political rivals in upcoming elections and concealing the announcement behind the election news coming from the United States.


Personal experience

On the morning Nov. 10, two days into the abrupt demonetization of the largest bills in India, six 1,000 rupee bills were slammed on the counter of our hotel as we walked away, not realizing the extent of what was happening in the country.

A couple I was with needed to pay their bill of 5,900 rupees but the hotel could not accept cards of any type. Only cash. And now, only 100 rupee notes. The staff was stalling on whether or not they could take our large bills, instructing us to exchange them for smaller bills. As this was 9 a.m. on the second day of the bank closures, in the small town of McLeodganj, there was no chance of finding enough people to exchange with before our ride to the airport needed to leave.

This is a direct outcome of running a small business in a cash-based economy, where there are no back up plans for a policy change of this magnitude.


I exchanged hundreds of USD for INR mere hours before the announcement. My combined company and I were stuck with more than 40,000 rupees in the recently abandoned notes when we were made aware. For two days after the announcement, the banks and ATMs across the country were closed by government mandate prepping for the coming days and stocking to the brim with 100 rupee notes.

Back in Delhi, our driver took us from the airport to a very nice hotel in order to exchange money. This was our first encounter with, what would later be referred to as, “White/Western hospitality” as we were escorted to a separate counter down the hall to exchange. There were only two people in line, and the exchange still took nearly an hour. 

A few days later, a connected friend of a friend allowed us to unload 20,000 rupees in large bills for two bricks of stapled 100 rupee notes. In what felt like the shadiest transaction of recent memory, there was a meeting table, an exchange of envelops, and a hasty handshake before walking away and never looking at each other again. 

Removing the staple from our stacks of 100 rupee notes (Udaipur)

Punit, the interesting young man who ran the hotel I stayed at in Jodhpur, stated at check in that he could take a few 500 notes but had changed his mind by the next day. His partner had taken 40,000 rupees ($586 USD) to Delhi the weekend before and was denied outright the opportunity to deposit or exchange them. This killed their income for the last month.

A man on a train from Jodhpur to Jaipur exchanged one of my 500 notes just out of kindness. I bought a new bag solely because the dealer would take the older bills. Hostels and hotels managed to bring themselves to accept one or two of the larger denominations. Slowly, I was ridding myself of the cash that otherwise would have been easy to spend.

In my fifteen days in India after the announcement, it took thirteen to get rid of every large bill that I had received hours before their demise. This was accomplished by a combination of legit transactions, kindness, and luck.

What my experience doesn’t show is that of someone without the privilege of being able to skip a day-long line or of someone who runs a business and is now unable to realize any profit for their services. I’m not someone who earns 1,000 rupees a week who kept their savings in cash and is now finding the time to spend all day in line so that saving wasn’t in vain. 

It's hard for me argue against a move that actually will benefit the country in the long term, but the potential short term effects on a sizable part of the country's population could prove disastrous. The move needed to be a surprise in order to accomplish a large part of what it was intended to do, it's just the unfortunate circumstance that India has remained a largely cash based economy for so long which compounded the negatives.

 

 

 

 

El Paso by a zugunruhe

I spent a wonderful two years in El Paso. Almost exactly a year ago, I upgraded to a more capable camera and began shooting a lot of the bands that either came through town or were apart of the local scene. Within a few months, UTEP Prospector graciously allowed me to cover both Neon Desert and Street Fest for online publication.

El Paso lays near perfectly between Austin and Los Angeles on I-10. Because of this, the city is a perfect stopping point for bands on tour.  

Local festivals hosted downtown like Neon Desert and Street Fest are beginning to draw larger bands and crowds. In 2015, Street Fest booked Rob Zombie and Weezer, arguably the biggest gets in its history, and Neon Desert expanded to a full fledged weekend festival. 

Newer mid-sized venues like Tricky Falls are starting to attract the bands that would draw a crowd too big for a bar but to small for a stadium, but the real magic of this scene is in the smaller venues. 

Bars like Monarch host incredible local musicians as well as touring bands of the Burger records ilk for low to no cover. A few outlying venues such as Las Cruces' Trainyard (RIP) and EP's Sandbox and LoveSprout have kept small, fun punk shows rolling.

Here are a few shots that I've always dug.
They mostly span from 12/14 to 06/15:

Trainyard

Trainyard

Holy Wave at Monarch

Guantanamo Baywatch at Monarch

Dream Chasers Club

Nalgadas at Mother Of Pearl Vinyl

Peach Kelli Pop at Monarch

Peach Kelli Pop at Monarch

Cypress Hill at Neon Desert (full set here)

The Drums at Neon Desert (full set here)

Earl Sweatshirt at Neon Desert (full set here)

Rob Zombie at Street Fest (full set here)

Weezer at Street Fest (full set here)

Pookie & The Poodlez at Monarch 10/15

The Dalton by a zugunruhe

The James Dalton highway was originally a private road to the Prudhoe Bay and the North Slope oilfields. In 1981 the state start allowing access to mile post 211 and in 1994 opened the entire length for those who felt like making the drive over a partially paved, mostly gravel road to the Arctic Ocean.  

Between the 500 miles between Fairbanks and Deadhorse (including 84 miles on the Elliot highway), there are now multiple stops for tourists on the road that run between various wildlife refuges and the Gates of the Arctic national park. 

The first night, I made it to the 21 mile marker around dusk and camped out for the night at the scenic view area there. I woke around 2am to the most vivid viewings of the Northern lights I had at this point on this trip.  


Hess Creek Overlook, Mile 21

As the Dalton was originally intended as a industrial road to service and supply those working on the Alaskan pipeline and oil fields of the North Slope, the pipeline runs alongside for the entire length of the road. 

At the Yukon Crossing, there is a Bureau of Land Management office for people to check in and learn the road conditions. The cutest older couple ran this joint.  While I was talking to Linda, the husband (whose name escapes me) asked if she had told me about the bad neighborhood they lived in. Armed private security patrol the length of the pipeline and one tends to drop of the newspapers to them in the morning. This prompted him to say "This place is so bad, our paperboy carries a semi-automatic."


Yukon River crossing, Mile 56


Hotspot Cafe, Mile 60

At one point, just before reaching Coldfoot, I pulled onto a dirt road off of the highway to take a fews shot of a mountain in the distance. I walked fairly far away from my car to grab the shot. After getting back into my car, I spotted a grizzly less than a tenth of a mile from where I was standing. I didn’t wander too far from my car after that.


COLDFOOT, MILE 170 (POP 10)

There are three gas stations along the route. Yukon River Crossing (mile 56), Coldfoot (mile 175), and Deadhorse (mile 414). The price reflects the effort it takes to bring the gas out here, ironically on a road which exists to bring oil to refineries. I topped of my tank at $5.49 a gallon at Yukon Crossing on the way up and bought an entire tank at $4.99 a gallon in Coldfoot for the trip back.

The town of Wiseman has had permanent residents since 1908 but its population has dropped from 44 at its peak to 14 in the most recent census. The town pulls a lot of overnight guests taking bus tours up to Deadhorse but its residents are largely self-sufficient the majority of the year.

Wiseman, Mile 189 (pop 14)


Sukakpak Mountian, Mile 203

While approaching Atigun Pass at mile marker 244, the temperature became much cooler and I noticed very heavy snow in the distance. As I was in a Hyundai Elantra with Wal-Mart tires, I knew I couldn't pass and decided to turn around. This marked the furthest north I would drive.


Atigun Pass, Mile 244


Chandalar Shelf, Mile 237

I parked my car on a pull out north of Coldfoot and had to sleep in two shirts, two hoodies, a denim jacket, and my gortek boots in order to keep somewhat warm. Given that I was in the Arctic Circle, I feel like I was getting off easy. The aim was to wake up to catch the northern lights again but the cloud cover was to much by the time I woke up.

I came at the right time for the changing of colors. Apparently mid-late August is this region's transition into fall. According to Lori in Wiseman, this part of the year is "peak color." 

The next day I drove through light snow until I was just south of the Yukon Crossing. This is when the snow really started to come down. I had been lucky up until this point to be able to keep my speed high enough to hang with the trucks on the road. But now I slowed to a crawl for a solid thirty miles.

I feel fortunate that nothing happened to either my car or I. With all of the warnings I received and dangers I was told about the road, I had a very non-eventful drive. The road was incredibly rough in places but it was nothing after driving the road out to McCarthy. That was sixty miles of hell. This was two hundred and forty four miles of beauty.

I felt even more appreciative after seeing a truck fishtail into a ditch five miles from the highway entrance


Mile 1

One night in Sturgis by a zugunruhe

Intense patriotism, heavy drinking, and loud things.

By shear fortune, I was able to attend the opening Friday of The 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. One of the largest motorcycle rallies in the in the world, this pulls in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

While I’m assuming this is a pretty tame night compared to the rest of the week, It gave me a glimpse into what goes on here during the actual rally.

I spent most of my time downtown jumping from bar to bar and ventured out to the bars on the outside of town for few hours. I didn’t have the ability to visit the camps, which is where I imagine all of the real debauchery happens. I can only assume I just got the ‘old-guy-in-a-Coyote-Ugly-that-doesn’t-get-out-much’ experience of Sturgis.

I love the sense of community I found here. There’s a heavy AA/NA presence as well as strong religious ties that bring a lot of these bikers together. Strong social support nets and a heavy community vibe. It's a chill place.

2015 USBC Open Championship by a zugunruhe

Right now, the United States Bowling Congress is hosting its annual Open Championship in El Paso. The event runs from March 7th until July 11th and is comprised of teams and individual bowlers from all over the nation.

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I dropped into the downtown convention center while walking around aimlessly. I couldn't help but notice the reactions of all of the bowlers. I was feeling what they were feeling and it was marvelous.

Bowling is widely considered a blue collar sport. In my experience with things considered blue collar, there is an understated, humble element to everything done. The reactions of these players during these matches met with a subtle demeanor of expectation. Stoic faces giving high-fives after a strike, quiet contemplation while walking away from a missed spare. I sat in the stands just watching them turn around for half an hour.

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I ran home to grab my camera to try to capture these guys in their element. When I left, The teams were in the first game of a three game series. By the time I returned, the final games were underway and emotions started becoming much more apparent.


Excitement

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Disappointment 

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Grief

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Cautious Optimism

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Going back through what went wrong

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Quiet Celebration

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Doubt

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"Thanks big guy" 

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Shock

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Joy

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EPMA's Modern Masters Series Debut by a zugunruhe

    On the night of October 2nd, the El Paso Museum of Art held a small reception for the opening of a new exhibition that showcases two works by Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. The exhibition, titled The Birth of Cubism, is to be held in the de Wetter Gallery and is the first of six masterwork exchanges between apartnership with EPMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in New York City. The reception featured short talks from the likes of the director of EPMA Michael Tomor, Jack Maxon (on behalf of Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim), Charles de Wetter (Son of Peter and Margeret, the namesake of the gallery), and Teresa Bustamante.   

 

    The Modern Masters series is the product of a few years of negotiations between EPMA and the Guggenheim. It is part of an outreach by the Guggenheim foundation to send a portion of their more important pieces to regions whose residents don’t typically have access to such monumental works. The lending of masterworks such as these is rare in the museum world and El Paso is incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to experience an exchange such as this. 

    The pieces on display are Paul Cézanne’s Still Life: Plate of Peaches (1879-80) and Picasso’s Carafe, Jug, and Fruit Bowl (1909). As the title of the exhibition implies, these pieces showcase the work and expressions of artists around the time that Cubism was popular in France. Cézanne’s piece came decades before Picasso was at the forefront of the movement proper (roughly 1907), but the style, angles, and interpretation of volume do foreshadow the coming movement. The Picasso is a sample of his work just before moving into full on analytical cubism. Here he truly alters perceptions of depth, representing the objects from multiple angles and forming a dynamic view of what is stationary. 

    The opening of The Birth of Cubism comes as the EPMA has opened two other major installations in the past month. Aleksander Titovets’ Past and Present in the Dede Rodgers Gallery on the ground floor showcases the impressionist landscapes from the local Russian transplant, including a handful of El Paso landmarks. While Renoir to Remington: Impressionism to the American West in the main Hunt Gallery upstairs holds many works showing the effects that Impressionism had on the art of the American West and Southwest. This author’s personal favorites were two pieces by the Fremont F. Ellis, Yuccas and A Passing Storm. The former using the Pointillist style of Paul Signac to paint a desert scene using a color palette more fitting to the Southwest.

 

 

 The Birth of Cubism runs from October 3rd - February 1st while the Modern Masters Series: Highlights from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will run through October 4th of 2016. Admission is free and highly encouraged. Here is a link with more info.

    As pointed out during the talks of the evening, having a museum like this is the cornerstone of helping a city rejuvenate a downtown area and any money coming in helps EPMA bring incredible exhibits like this to El Paso. A year membership for students is a meager $20 and can do much for the museum as well as for your own understanding of art. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

The Atari Dig of 2014 by a zugunruhe

This is the full article I wrote for Regional Identity which appeared online in May of 2014:

    I don't always hang out next to a desert landfill while being bombarded by a sandstorm but, when I do, I watch a documentary crew prove a thirty year old urban legend true by unearthing millions of dollars worth (1983 value) of E.T. Atari games.

(Me with the first cartridge out of the heap)

   The legend, as it was always told to me, was that the E.T. video game that was released by Atari in the early 80's was so bad, the decision was made to bury all unsold copies in the desert in order to forget it ever existed.

  The E.T. Game for the Atari 2600 is often referred to as being the worst video game ever made. This distinction is due to its lack of continuity with the movie, ambiguity on what to do, and the tedious task of figuring out HOW THE HELL TO STOP FALLING INTO THE HOLES. This title was one of the fastest games ever produced, spending only a few weeks in production before shipping for the Christmas rush. It is also commonly credited with being one of the main factors that eventually sunk the American video game industry in 1983 (when revenues dropped nearly 97% due to consumer backlash over faulty hyped titles and non-backwards compatible new consoles).

  As the story goes, during the industry crash in late 1983 Atari loaded between nine and twenty trucks with loads of games, consoles, accessories, and prototypes from an old Atari plant in El Paso, drove them to a landfill outside of Alamogordo, and buried it all under a slab of cement. The figure usually associated with this story was that the cargo contained 3.5 million copies of the E.T. game.

   On Saturday, a documentary crew from Fuel Entertainment and Microsoft that included Zak Penn (writer: X-Men 2, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers) finally started the dig after numerous attempts of filing for approval to the City of Alamogordo. This was a one shot deal. If the crew missed, they missed and that would be the end of the story. Luckily these guys put in the work necessary to pinpoint where the landfill was operational during the assumed time of the dumping. Also in attendance was Howard Scott Warshaw, the man who created the game in five weeks all of those years ago.

    I arrived around 11:30am as the dig had already been underway a few hours. The crowd had been thinning at this point but there were plenty of things to do. Selfies in a DeLorean that had a life sized E.T. doll in it, playing the E.T. game in the back of someone's car, or the main event: staring at a bunch of trash.

   The crowd in attendance by the time I showed up was a few dozen strong and roughly half bloggers/news media and half fans of the myth/curious locals. This ratio lead to nearly everyone in attendance being interviewed multiple times. This includes yours truly being filmed and asked about the game (for two separate sites) while I played it for the first time. There was a good sign early on when a newspaper from November 1983 was found being blown around.

    Around 12:45pm MST, crew were seen dusting off multiple boxes and what seemed to be cartridges. A few minutes later the announcement was made that they had indeed found multiple copies of the fabled ET game. Warshaw, someone who had never believed the myth of this burial, was called over to check out the find. It's safe to say he's a believer now.

"We didn't come out here for nothing!”

    There was a frantic, yet very polite, rush to the scene where the found objects were displayed. Everyone was overjoyed that the legend was true and numerous high-fives were exchanged. All of the tripods were set up while networks rounded up anyone who seemed to know what they were talking about to be interviewed on camera. All of this while people not from the region where given first-hand knowledge of what sporadic sandstorms feel like. After the initial rush, things died down a bit and people mostly stood around talking shop. 

    The digging continued and eventually various popular titles from the era could be seen in the piles of rubbish being unearthed. Included were Centipede, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Asteroids, and Defender. All could be seen from the viewing area roughly twenty feet from the dig where the public were allowed to stand. After the initial cache of games, crew could be seen lifting handfuls of cords that eventually lead to numerous joysticks and other accessories. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to walk off with anything. 

    This was the only day the crew was permitted to dig on this property as, per request of the city, the pit had to be filled up on Sunday. With this short of a time frame, very little of the treasure found could be excavated. The deal struck between the Fuel crew and the city allowed Fuel to keep 250 cartridges or ten percent of what was found, which ever is greater. A portion of the remainder kept by the city will be sold while some may eventually go towards a small museum covering the legend and its place in Alamogordo.

    It was a fun end to a decades-old urban legend that will solidify Alamogordo and the El Paso region in pop culture history. It was kind of fitting that the end to this story comes when everything is dug out of a pit that was carefully calculated when the objective, and a major complaint, of game was to continuously drop into random pits. No word on NSA agents dressed like Dick Tracy hauling people off to jail and stealing their Reece's Pieces.

 

If you're some sort of sadist, you can play the game online here: http://www.virtualatari.org/soft.php?soft=ET_Fixed

http://www.2600online.com/et.html

Here's a link to a NY Times article from 1983: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/09/28/business/atari-parts-are-dumped.html?