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Category: Travel

Return to Five Rivers

Earlier this year, we camped at Five Rivers nature center near Albany. In late September, we went back there for a hike:

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Viva Las … oh, never mind


It’s not that I hate Las Vegas, it’s more that … um … OK, it’s that I hate Las Vegas.

I’m writing this from the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Vegas, where I’ve come for a meeting of hotel union folks. Las Vegas is one of the power bases of my union, UNITE HERE, given that we represent hotel and gaming workers. Nearly every casino on The Strip is union, and this city is home to more than 50,000 of our members. Hotel and gaming jobs here are becoming middle-class jobs as a result.

For me, though, Vegas is everything I dislike about American culture — lit up. Commercialism, overindulgence, self-centeredness, neon. It’s all here in quantities that could make even the most calm and collected person lose their marbles. And as you’ve learned by now, I’m not the most calm and collected person.

I think I would have liked Vegas 50 years ago, when the Sahara was built. Back when the entertainers had last names like Sinatra, Martin, and Davis. Back when Count Basie backed Nat Cole and swing was the popular music of the day. These days, though, most of that history is buried under an enormous pyramid, a fake Eiffel Tower, and a make-believe New York City.

The popular wisdom about this town is that everything’s cheap because they want you to gamble. That may have been the case back in the day, but now Vegas is a tourist destination for the whole family, and even the most obscure magician or comedian charges $50 a ticket.

At least I’m staying in one of the last surviving hotels from the golden era of Vegas. The Sahara was built in 1952, and it looks it. It’s far down on The Strip — actually off the main part of The Strip, as far as I can tell. The only other hotels and casinos near here are the Las Vegas Hilton and the Stratosphere. Except for the color TV and the wireless Internet access, it’s easy to believe that this room was occupied by John and Mary from Wisconsin on their first big trip back in the late 50s.

To summarize: It’s fantastic that so many workers are able to build a life here with a good wage and decent healthcare. That’s a good thing, and I hope for their sake that this place keeps going strong. But for my sake, I hope the next one of these meetings is somewhere else.

For information on UNITE HERE Local 226 in Las Vegas, visit their Web site. For more about the Sahara, check out this interactive timeline.

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A change of plan (New Jersey, Part 1)

As of Friday at 2 p.m., this was my plan for the weekend:

  • Have dinner with my family on Friday evening
  • Take Bernie to the Rhinos playoff game
  • Spend a lazy Saturday with Jen and the boys
  • Announce a game for the vintage base ball playoffs at Genesee Country Village on Sunday

And then, at a few minutes after 2 p.m., I got a call from the HQ of my union in New York City, asking me to hop on a plane and fly to New Jersey to lead a campaign for five days. So here I am, ensconced in a hotel room, glued to my cell phone and my e-mail account as I work to coordinate a team of seven people for an event early next week.

I cannot tell a lie: It’s kinda fun. I work for a union local, rather than the HQ, so I don’t have to travel too far, with the exception of the occasional trip to one of the cities upstate. That’s a nice arrangement, because I’m home with my family a fair amount. But it’s fun to get out of town and help some workers fight for what they deserve. It’s exciting to hit the ground running and to try to pull off a big event with a short amount of time. And it’s gratifying to know that the reason I do all this is so some folks are better able to defend themselves against a ravenous corporation which is trying to steal their benefits.

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Amtrak – still around, still worth it

I’m writing this post from my cousin Lynne’s house in Albany, NY. Jen and the boys and I came here yesterday on the Maple Leaf — an Amtrak train that runs from Toronto to NYC. Round-trip tickets for all four of us (John was free), cost about $130. And let me tell you, it was worth every penny.

Jason and Bernie on a train

The trip from Rochester to Albany took about 4 1/2 hours, just a bit longer than it takes in a car if you don’t stop. The big difference, though, was in the whole vibe of the trip. It was really family friendly — a roomy train with lots of space that allowed all of us to move around, cuddle, and talk to one another. If you’re traveling with a baby, you can’t beat it. John fell asleep at about 1 p.m. (an hour before we got on the train), and didn’t wake up until my cousin picked us up at the Albany station. Not bad at all.

Bernie was so excited he could hardly stand it. He loves his cousins Jack and Grace, so the whole concept of the trip was thrilling. Add the train on top of that, and you’ve got one very happy boy!

Train travel in the U.S. is certainly way behind train travel in Japan, unless you live in the NYC-Boston corridor. But it’s out there, and worth a little investigation if you’re thinking of taking a trip. Leave the driving to someone else, and stretch out with a book as you glide down the tracks. It’s a heck of a way to travel.

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Free man in Auckland

My friend Richard Freeman has been traveling around the world this year. He’s been to Argentina, Shanghai, and now Auckland, New Zealand. And here’s his latest e-mail update:

(AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND) 9 Dec 2005 — Ahhh, it is nice to be back in an English speaking country again. Even if they don’t really speak English! (Kidding). (Kind of). Auckland is a pleasant enough, if not boring, city. Many Kiwis (who do not live here), say it is the worse part of NZ. I can see their point. I was even in Wellington for 4 days (the capital), and it was smaller (300,00 v. 1.2 million), yet it felt like there was much more culture and other amenities…

NZ has this reputation of being a “green” country. Maybe I should hire their P.R. company to help get me a job. They produce more waste per individual then any industrial nation. They have more cars per capita then we do in the US!!!! Also, their streets are full of cheap Japanese used car imports. These cars could not pass the smog controls in Japan, so they sell them here, where their laws are less stringent! They also drive like idiots, (as well as on the “other” side of the road). NO ONE crosses the street without having a walk sign! It’s bloody ridiculous! I waited too. Especially because i had no idea from where i would be hit if i tried to cross. I played a game the first week; if i was to cross now, when it appears clear, from where would I get plastered? After a week or so, when it seemed the worse that would happen was a little nick, I started taking matters into my own hands (or feet), and began crossing without the light! Always a rebel! The culture of NZ is a total car culture, borrowed directly from L.A. There is the ugliest huge highway that cuts the city and fills an entire little valley with the juncture of several routes and overpasses and ramps. It cuts one side from the other to any pedestrian contact! (I will add a photo today or tomorrow). It is also VERY ugly! The bus system is not real helpful, although we have used it. Also, there is one kind of regional train (and cross-country). We have used the regional often enough, and it is not bad (although it is always late). One interesting thing, however, is that for much of its line, there is only one track. Yes one. That means two trains going in opposite directions (i.e. to the city, away from the city), cannot be running at the same time… There are some places for passing… Who in their right mind did this???? (I forgot to ask!).

Now, the population of the “floating” population of Shanghai is 4 million (to refresh your memories, it is not allowed in China to just move from one place to another, you must have a resident’s card to get all the benefits of citizenship (what few remain). Yet, most of the construction workers are “illegals” from the rural areas, uncounted in census numbers). The entire population of NZ is 4.3 million. The same as just the unknown quantity in Shanghai! This is a small and intimate place. People know each other. People know their Politicians, personally. We met with two mayors! Including the mayor of Auckland, Dick Hubbard, who is a cereal magnate. He started an “ethical” business, and has some great ideas for the city. Mayor Bob, of Waitekere (one of the 5 cities that makes up the Auckland region) invited us to his home in the woods (since we mentioned we will be near there our last week at a retreat for 5 days). (All this is only 30 minutes from the city). He is a very charismatic man, from the labor party, and is trying to get some interesting things done for the city as well, to make it really more green (as is Hubbard).

One of the great things about the city is the beaches nearby and the countryside, which starts right at the city limits. I have done some hikes, but will do more when the students leave and I take a 15 day trekking trip to the south island (Auckland is on the north island).

Now what is fascinating about this country is its cultural make-up: Mostly European, 15% Maori (Kia ora, all!), abut 8% Pacific Islanders (more Samoans here then in Samoa!), and a new influx of Asians. Things are not all harmonious, but they are trying. There was a treaty with the maori in 1839, giving them equality. But, it was a little different in both languages. The Europeans (re: the “whites”), or Pakeha, did not really keep the spirit of the treaty very well. Today there is a national debate about redress issues, they redid their parliamentary system to see to it that minorities (re: Maori) have representation (gee, let’s work our system so the Blacks are represented in numbers to their populations, and the Latinos too!). As I said, it is not all rosy, but there is a determination to construct a harmonious bi-cultural society. A discussion sorely missing in the US. Yes, racism exists, etc. But still, they are addressing it publicly! Now, a problem is that a bi-cultural society does not do much for the Pacific Islanders (who were invited to come in the 60s-70s because of a labor shortage, and whose kids have largely never been to the islands (we have met with many of them)), nor the Asians. This is also somewhat being addressed. The P.I. will be a higher % of the population then the Maori in 30 years or so. A fascinating experiment in multi-culturalism… (bi-lingual education, etc.).

Some numbers, back in the 70e when the Pis came, unemployment was 1%!!!! Today it is a whopping 3.8%.

Much discussion is that the land to the Maori is not just physical, but it is their ancestors, and is very sacred. So, there are discussions in urban planning when land sacred to the maoris is threatened. Etc. (Interesting, the Maori’s arrived about 1,000 years ago from around the Pacific. Islands. Their were some 50 tribes. And they fought with each other constantly, until the Europeans arrived which united them (see, we always define our community in opposition to who is not one of us, the “other”). They were all from the same basic language family. They were only called the Maori after the arrival of the Europeans).

Well, I think that says most of the basic things i have discovered here. I also hiked in a park within Wellington where they shot the scene from Lord of the Rings when the hobbits were hiding under a huge tree root from the dark riders. And let’s not get started with King kong…

Today was the last day of classes. Monday we are heading into the hills for a 5 day “retreat” at a Yoga retreat. A beautiful space in the woods, with hiking trails, a river to swim in, cabins, food will be served to us, and we will get to the ocean a couple of times. While there we will close the semester with reflections and shit like that. The faculty stopped by last week on drive. It is lovely! As for the students…. Well, they are the same bunch of very ego-centric individuals who just can’t see beyond their own worlds and their own comforts. The faculty? Well, my tongue is very bloody from holding it all semester… But overall we do get along (at least we talk and laugh with each other, unlike last year). And our program fellow, “jefe” is just great. She helps my sanity, and she gets along with the students, so she is a good balance for us (I get along with the students too, just to be clear) (The other two faculty… well….).

I really do think the students have gotten a lot out of this program. They really will not see it until they are back home, for the most part. Their assignments for my class showed that when they put their minds to it, they do “see” things. My assignments are all fieldwork based, so it forced them to go out and look and talk to ….. locals. For the most part, i was pleased. One young lady, a Texas raised Bush-ite born again Christian, is, apparently, having an existential meltdown. She had lunch with our fellow, and is worried about going home. She sees things now that she did not before, because she was raised to think in this way, and not to look (she is also an engineering student at MIT). Her grandmother is a racist, and her parents do not treat others different from them very, well, Christian (heh, heh). She sees that there are many other views out there, all valid, some more so then hers. And she has seen people struggling in ways and communities she had never new existed. WOW, no? My work is done. Time to move on.

Soooo, I will. Everyone flies home next Friday (the 16th). As I mentioned, i will stay here for 2 days then fly down to the south Island to do some trekking. Landof glaciers and lakes and adventure! Then visit a friend in Adalaide, Australia (She and her friends are renting a house on the ocean in a national park while I am there). Then off to Sydney for 5 days… And home to the cold winter days of western New york (on the 18th, for those who care)! Well, it is nice weather to edit my video, get the revisions done for my chapter (due early Feb) (to be published in an edited volume on teaching visual anthropology by University of Texas Press), and some other business (which, unfortunately, does not pay). Although, this program (IHP), is going to pay me for a month to do some curriculum development work to try and get this program better integrated. Also, i will be teaching a 4-week intensive seminar at the University of Rochester this May-June. I am going to try and put together a mini version of this program, looking at Rochester, talking to local politicians, activists, touring neighborhoods, etc. And, next August it looks like I will be off again!!!!!

So, my friends, our journey together is coming to an end. I really appreciate the time you gave me, allowing me to bend your ears. I hope you liked my “yarns.” I will leave you with three images of Auckland. Nothing shattering, but a glimpse of the city, and the beach, only 40 minutes away, near where we will be next week. I will lose this laptop and regular internet access, but will hit-up the internet cafes every couple of days. So, please feel free to say hey.

Love to you all, have a great holiday and a very happy new year!!!!!!

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Among the soccer people

As a soccer fan in the U.S., you spend a lot of your time (a) trying to convince your friends that the game is worth watching; (b) watching SportsCenter highlights to see if 15 seconds of soccer coverage made it in; (c) sitting in bars and restaurants with strangers watching TV broadcasts of the US National Team in some faraway land; or (d) all of the above.

Once in a while, though, you find yourself surrounded by soccer people, and you realize that you’re not alone.

Today was a day like that.

For the second consecutive year, I went to the National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Oneonta, NY. (Yes, the Hall of Fame is in Oneonta. Don’t ask.) This year was the first all-MLS class to be inducted, and it featured one of the all-time great players in American soccer, Tab Ramos of my beloved MetroStars. Also inducted were Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, Fernando Clavijo, and Hank Steinbrecher.

Just like last year, the Hall was filled to overflowing with soccer fans who had traveled from around the U.S. (and from Europe) to witness the induction of five men who helped shape the modern game here in the U.S. Everywhere you looked, you saw soccer royalty, from the heads of U.S. Soccer and MLS to folks like MetroStars GM Alexi Lalas and veteran broadcaster JP Dellacamara.

The Hall itself is wonderful, filled to the brim with soccer history and memorabilia from the game’s earliest days to its modern era. But perhaps the coolest thing is to see all the young kids roaming wide-eyed through the exhibits. They already know many of the names, and they remember the best goals and games.

If you’re a soccer fan, you really can’t do any better than Induction Weekend. From now on, many of the great MLS players and Men’s and Women’s National Team players will make up the inductee ranks, and each year promises to bring in a larger crowd. A crowd of soccer people. As Hall of Famer Hank Steinbrecher said today: “Our time has come.”

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