The TOO HIGH TO FAIL Pax Cannabis Tour Bus
ReasonTV’s TOO HIGH TO FAIL Interview, as Shouted Out By the Angels at bOING bOING
“Let it rain. Let it rain. Let your love rain down on me.” –Eric Clapton
“Sometimes literally.” –Me
I’m stuffing a brand-new homemade hemp shirt into an ancient North Face duffel bag on the Funky Butte Ranch driveway, ducking from hummingbird dive bombers while a just-fledged falcon chick, not yet an expert hunter, is darting madly — like a hockey player on a breakaway but unsure of which goal is the opposing one — at the ground squirrels who have eaten most of the Funky Butte Ranch tomatoes and chile peppers. His frustrated attack squawk is like a Loony Tunes metronome.
I’m smiling, in other words. Which is huge. According to my worldview, being able to have even a moderately good time while packing for a big trip (AKA snapping out of your comfort zone three times before breakfast) is a strong indication of a solid mental attitude. Add two kids in the awkward zone where corporate transport firms charge them for a full ticket but they’re still too small to pack for themselves (except their chimp-shaped backpack full of sock walruses and animal-centric stories and crayons and water bottles) and, well, if you’re still smiling, I say keep doing what you’re doing. These are my mental health markers. My Extreme Triathalons. If equilibrium in the Now feels OK, don’t force a risky change. At most put some Shpongle on the music player.
The reason for this nearly-always-healthy jostling out of routine (never mind that recent routine has been intensely sweet) is that it’s time for the dozen-date TOO HIGH TO FAIL Pax Cannabis Book Tour. My goals upon return (if I ever leave: RV travel departure time with multiple human offspring needs to be scheduled by season rather than date), are for the book to be on the New York Times bestseller list and for my unlisted cell phone to have been called by President Obama for appointment as Drug Czar, or at least for advice on what to say to America’s 100 million pissed-off Drug Peace advocates and cannabis patients by way of second term promises. I have reason to hope that my expectations aren’t certifiably delusional, in that Bill Maher has already penned the TOO HIGH TO FAIL review in the Times. And Pat Robertson is pleading for a Drug Peace alongside George Shultz. We’ve got Reaganites and evangelicals teaming with American cannabis farmers for a policy that will be great for America and the planet.
Both the personal and professional indicators feel like auspicious pre-departure occurrences. And so I’m less worried about my tour coveyance. Earlier concerns about the Reagan-era rig you see pictured at the top of this Dispatch included, for one thing, the fact that a 1987 Class B V8 Recreational Vehicle is no vegetable oil-powered R.O.A.T, my normal conveyance since bidding farewell to the Subaru. Ugh, I kept thinking, at the very least I’m facing a return, if only for a few weeks, to gas pumps. When, oh when, will I be able to fill ‘er up with hemp?
Another aging vehicle concern (one bought via Karma off a remote Craigslist posting from Georgia O’Keefe’s old home town) is that “aging” is too polite a word: my career rests on a dang 25-year-old, duct-taped-together, very-questionable-up-hills-let-alone-the-Funky-Butte-Ranch’s-Black-Diamond-Driveway behemoth I’m loading. Perhaps I can sum up my superstructural concerns about even making it alive and same-day to the fourteen or so events and countless media appearances I have scheduled nearly every day for three weeks this way: I’ve already had to re-attach the exhaust pipe. Zip-ties were involved. Hooray for the diligent Land of Enchantment mechanics, who in my RV’s case must also be automotive archaeologists and skilled welders.
Still, in addition to the spiritual indicators and chorus of what feels like broad-spectrum cosmic support radiating around me, I likewise feel prepared for a rare foray out of extreme rural living from what you might call the geek/groove angle: I’ve got the digital Music system rigged before I ascend the into the fabric captain’s chair: I often find a deliriously-upbeat soundtrack is called for when leaving the Funky Butte Ranch – useful for fooling the goats into thinking I’m a happy-go-lucky adventurer instead of a slightly scared, sniffling homesteader. So I’m starting with World Party’s “Delirious” and suspect I’ll quickly get into some serious mid-career B. Marley as my kids drift into road-massage nap. Even during their gestation they handled these canyons and they still seem to prefer ruts to pavement.
A few hours ago I remembered some final solar adjustments to inverters and drip lines, which permits me to feel (however delusionally) that I have “shut off the oven” or whatever in satisfies the “we must turn back and check!” part of the brain. This, in turn, allows me to joyously put my fate into the hands of the universe. I don’t feel like I’m asking much: to keep my family safe and happy, and to meet my professional obligations on this tour. These are the sum total of my hopes for the vehicle I’m calling “The RV.” I admit that the interplay of cosmic variables that would allow these goals to be met seem to argue for longshot odds. They range from the transportational (I mean, even getting across the Rockies in summertime, in any vehicle, is an accomplishment), to the inspirational (“will folks get and like the book, from a literary standpoint?” The politics of it, I realize without surprise, are secondary to me. I just wanted to write a strong book. To improve with each project. No matter the topic.).
Even the inevitable last second delays in embarking on the tour have been full of loving energy. The fence hackers known as the Funky Butte Ranch goats, for instance, sensing abandonment of our meditation for a period of time that feels unusual, have just followed me up the hill to the gate that for the moment separates them from the RV – and make no mistake: they’d hop right in if they could. And make themselves comfortable.
The moment has come. We’re pulling out. All eight cylinders are rumbling. The bright, swirly window marker forest my kids are muraling is already screaming, if not “Freaks!”, then “Not Romney Snowbirds!” (My own choice for the Tour RV bumper sticker was and is, “Not a Tourist – Really a Traveler.” The final thing the universe apparently wants me to do before kissing non-human ranch animals goodbye is this (starting with some necessary background): while waiting what I thought was patiently as final child seat straps were tightened and ten gallons of home well water loaded, my four-year-old rescued an organic orange marmalade label from the recycling bin. He observed that it still has some stick to it. So we are now proceeding to leave an Orange Jam Sticker Dog Food Lid Time Capsule. Recording life before I embarked as a Drug Peace ambassador.
Just before rounding the curve that leads to the creekbed (will the three-ton RV make it across, loaded with gear and humans and water?), I heard our goat sitter exclaim “five eggs!” This reached me, miraculously, above the sound of a very outdated and apparently already-over-revving American van engine. This neighbor’d earlier told me he was “happy to be swimming in the Funky Butte vibe for a while.” I was glad to hear this of the person guarding my life for me when I’m away (even though I’m already missing those same eggs and goat cheese). I love it when a situation, particularly a complex one, double particularly a complex one involving goats works for all involved, from micro-organism to planetary arc. Although why should I be surprised? We are all the same material, created by the Big Bang. You wish yourself well when you wish others well. Seems obvious enough to be a more universal realization.
I started wishing the Funky Butte non-humans well in a what I hoped was my own V8-transcending voice. “ ‘Bye goats! ‘Bye owls and ducks, dog, cats, chickens and even undocumented squirrel under the barn with your summer house in the woodpile!” But well-wishes and air kisses from the RV cockpit soon turned into actual hugs and some more hours later I am now beginning the climb through the high ponderosa desert toward the Drug Peace.
* * * * *
OK, back after, ya know, three-week, life-changing break. So if on the work side I wanted to return to New York Times list and Obama calling, I got Denver Post list (#2!) and Willie Nelson’s people calling. Feels to me like not a bad start 21 days after publication, or any amount of days after publication, when I think about it from posterity’s perspective. It passes the epitaph test: One of his books got compared to Douglas Adams, and another elicited the notice of Willie.
For these and many other reasons, I’m delighted to report that I feel at equal psychic mood and physical and spiritual strength to tour departure (or better). Which is saying a lot. But it’s been a personal and professional time away from goat yogurt of just the right duration. Throughout the 4,000 miles and two dozen Thai restaurants I’ve traversed already on this tour (I’ve thus far practiced a sort of Super Size Me, only with Southwest Asian curries), my phone’s supposedly random V. 1.0 default music shuffler kept coming back to the Ex-Centric Sound System song called “Wildest Dreams.” That’s how I feel. Every day I wake up adding extra-appreciation to my coffee (along with the goat milk and agave syrup) because, my goodness, my dreams are coming true.
What a sigh of relief to be home, though — to enjoy a familiar, very quiet return to Now. I recognize these final few caffeinated paces. My brain waves probably already record knowledge of (if not gradual and increasing participation in) the deep indoor sleep that is coming amidst thunderstorms for as long as my kids will allow. Here’s why I mention “indoor” as opposed to “RV Loft” sleep: in fact there are only a few, all-completely-related elements that feel significant to relate from my introduction to RV culture. My first check in at a Western North American RV Park office carried the aura of an interplanetary meeting. A first contact for all involved. Friendly, to be sure, but of at least initially differing opinion on the value of line drying clothes.
On the operational side, as I burst through the exact gorgeous, pre-fuel injector-engine-eating mountain passes through which I imagined I would be bursting (as opposed to overheating in same), only slightly modified by the now-perpetual southwest American summer fire, I had already noticed this key reality: when an RV keels (say, because of strong just-off-center-crosswinds, or sharp turns), it keels as a two story home keels in an earthquake, including the flinging of the appliances and silverware in a tactile demonstration of centrifugal force (and one heck of a cutlery show). I came to test the boundaries of this unfortunate gravitational equation twice a day amidst Colorado’s most “do not try this at home” passes for miles at a time, seemingly always uphill in a 24-year-old RV recently in receipt of its first oil change since Dan Quayle emerged from some bizarre compromise. Gravitational pull concerns aside, one has no choice in such an ill-designed rig but to implement a perpetual a pedal-to-the-metal-at-all-times itinerary, at 8 MPG and often 8 MPH. “No worries about speeding” become my variation on Top Gun‘s “I feel the need for speed” mantra (which Hollywood sometimes dismisses as a “catch phrase”).
You want to know why passing RV pilots always wave genuinely to one another? It’s group therapy following shared terror. We’ve learned that only occasionally is momentum on our side. Most of the time we’re working her as hard as she’ll work. The 440 of whatever she is. This in reduced oxygen elevations and under a triple digit atmosphere. For me, the scariest are the rare moments when the gravitational tables are turned, and with much more momentum than has ever before been at my fingertips, I have no choice but to take a curve at whatever speed the laws of terrestrial highway momentum demand, regardless of centrifugal force. One can’t consider every branch of physics at once. Thankfully, I nearly always merely feel the manageable peer pressure that comes from slowing a train of mountain traffic despite my own pedal being glued, as usual, to the aforementioned metal.
So that’s the moving object gravitational report. Why I brought the whole topic of RV physics up was to explain why sleeping inside again will be different than my (don’t get me wrong) delightful eagle’s nest of the past month: inside the parked monolith, the reality of touring in a double decker RV is constant head injury. Daily bonking above and below the loft that houses my king sized mattress directly above the cockpit. I preferred the second story collisions, as the were usually more gentle and came about for very good reasons.
I am, I realize, astonished to have made it back at all. In fact, for the final thousand miles (and this was just one tour leg) I found myself gently and appreciatively patting the RV’s molded beige dash in a sort of “That’ll do, Babe” motion every time a Pacific highway switchback or Rocky Mountain pass pushed the temperature gauge toward the lower edges of “core meltdown”. When a just-in-time downhill would aircool the senior citizen engine and lower the status reading to “Def Con 3,” I’d spontaneously break out in a version of the childhood soda jingle, “Me and My RC,” changing it to “Me and My RV.”
So you see why I welcome the sensation of “homespace” back into my daily alchemy for the first time in what feels like a very long time. Eons. I’ve forgotten the muscle motion of chicken egg gathering. I mean, heck, in one neighborhood I parked in San Francisco last week, the corner store was a sushi joint. The Funky Butte Ranch horizon is stunningly green/purpler than it was before I debated a Drug Warrior on a national business television station and Conan O’Brien invited Andy Richter and me to explore cannabis tourism in Mendocino County with him. The young falcon (now clearly a peregrine from the nest up the canyon), I see and hear, is noticeably stouter and presumably a better hunter (better count those chickens) than he was those 21 long bird days ago. The overall, immensely relieving sensation is that reentry has been very smooth, and without question assisted by the multi-sensory symphony performed at all hours during this most gorgeous high desert season: the tail end of Monsoon. A broad palette of wildflowers and gramma grasses is already up, which is a surprise, as are the clouds, which would not be if it weren’t for climate change’s “shuffle” mode.
For this easy return I again thank the Universe. The moment I bumped with one final near-concussion down the Funky Butte Ranch driveway, a force whose name depends on the explicitness of your spirituality told me gently but with great clarity to pace my move back home after the summer leg of the TOO HIGH TO FAIL Pax Cannabis Tour. As I transition from RV fumes back to Kung Pao fumes. From shaking a hundred hands per day to trimming twelve goat hooves.
How did the universe convey this message (what I came to feel was) smoothly but firmly? Let me count the ways. For one, the Veg oil-powered truck wouldn’t turn over. Drained battery. Sigh. This was a “Surpa-Dura never fail intended for Antarctic use” battery that had failed due to a faulty dome light-to-door connection, necessitating a several hour charge from the RV. So that delay felt important and a little stressful for a few angles of the day’s sun, especially considering that I needed the R.O.A.T. (before the day’s Monsoon storms began) to rescue the RV ballast (AKA most of my non-electronic gear) that I’d stashed on the far side of the creek, in hopes of creating a massive automotive unit nonetheless light enough to make it over the Funky Butte Ranch Creek.
Then there was the fairly significant engineering project required to get even the cargo-emptied RV across the Monsoon-rearranged Funky Butte Ranch creek. Even my cat seemed to get it: she spent a day meowing from the hills before feeling we were sufficiently prepared to dwell in the Now for the hugs and circlings she expected in a family reunion after extended separation.
So. What choice did I have but to listen, for once? It was a wise decision. I did other things. I ran up the canyon. I milked goats. I wrote this Dispatch in spurts. I romped with toddlers in the wildflowers, gathering centerpieces, and then I sauteed Asian eggplant in peanut sauce dinners. Sort of an Ode to Thai. An end to that part of the documentary. I was back on home turf. Enshrouded in a perpetual hummingbird om stadium before the local non-human crowd.
Thus I hope it’s very clear that and why I am so thankful to have had to charge a vegetable oil-powered truck battery today. “May that be,” my grandmother used to say when I’d hobble inside with a scraped knee, “The worst thing that every happens to you.”
It’s better, Nana. It’s actually an unquestionable blessing. My repeated outdoor presence, spent largely swearing at long-ago golden-parachuted Ford executives, allowed my kids to tuck sunflower garlands into my hair before enticing me into a basketball game. They were today for some reason wearing white duck feathers unevenly in theirs. Possibly their hoops uniform. In short, as usual, they were the vibe setters – vast majority good vibe.
And I thought again of balance, my mantra, known as equilibrio here in Aztlan. Sure, maybe in some places a Ranch Sitter would think to start your truck, the keys to which you’ve left in his possession, once a week or so. I’ve met people whose Ranch Minder would’ve not just started the host vehicle but seen it as a time to take it for an oil change and save the receipt. The difference between these two returns seemed at first a vast and fairly important gulf. My thinking being, “If I’m going to be relaxed when off the homestead, I have to have full faith in the human minding it.”
In life, though, as Roseanne Roseannadanna reminds us, it sure seems like it’s always something – and yet I’m starting to think that what really matters is how gentle your current something is. Like a forgotten itch, when the mundane is taken care of you can take care of some other items, preferably on the joyful adventure list. So this morning I had the basic, easy, family-oriented and falcon-proximal job of being outside at the tail end of bursting, ultra violet monsoon season (I particularly love the cornet-shaped 4:00 o’clock blossoms, blindingly signifying the coming of our high desert spring like a white-and-purple party favor). It’s so bright between 10 a.m. and afternoon rain that it’s like living in a black light solar system.
In this diffused, hyper-trippy spectrum, full of very real darting foxes at the outer edge of my peripheral vision (it’s a family with kits) I pondered what a friend calls the Big Human Nature Dilemma: when does satisfaction kick in? If I came home after 4,000 spine-jostling if joyous miles, instead of to an immobile mission critical truck, rather to an already-bubbling Jacuzzi, some freshly-prepared sushi or elk salad and copy of the Onion on a silver tray along with my mail, would I quickly or eventually invent problems? Or would I be satisfied and exude excess love forever? I dunno. At this moment, despite the strong messages I’m getting that everything is what the Eskimos call “Aarigaa” (all good), I’ll try to travel through the eternal Now with a kernal of aware caution largely because of the poetry of the late Mr. Christopher George Latore Wallace (AKA Notorious B.I.G.), who reminded us, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” Robert Hunter phrased it this way: “When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.” Every heroin abuser starts off thinking he’s the one who can handle it. I’m saying that about success.
What is success, to me? Partly the supportive energy of an all-ages crowd like the one pictured below, the at the TOO HIGH TO FAIL Pax Cannabis Tour stop event at the superlatively excellent Collected Works in Santa Fe (all the tour stops so far in three time zones were an absolute pleasure, and I’ve also included a shot a friend sent me from the Booksmith event in San Francisco).
But mostly for me success (that satisfaction that eluded M. Jagger when he could first afford sushi) is relaxation in the Now and faith in the rest, the bridge posts between the two states being love, humor and poor memory.
* * * * *
Postscript: Monsoon clay puddles here in the Land of Enchantment — the building block of our adobe homes for getting on 8,000 years — remind me of old National Geographic specials wherein 300,000 parched and unpaid wildebeest cross a crocodile-clogged stream. Which in turn reminds me that on the recent tour leg, I reconnected with many of the heroes of TOO HIGH TO FAIL (those who did avoid the crocodiles and those who did not) and got the scuttlebutt on Mendo this year: the good news for Californians is that it’s a great season agriculturally, the best in half a decade, say the farmers.
Lest anyone question whether federal meddling in current state cannabis programs does anything but help criminals, one farmer, a permittee in the landmark Drug Peace program I examined in TOO HIGH TO FAIL, said that, buried under a mortgage and other family expenses, she’s actually “a little grateful that the feds just jacked up prices again, at least until Obama’s second term.” Yikes! Remember this, any time you hear a Drug Warrior screech about “the children” as an excuse for keeping this war going through another trillion tax dollars: on the ground, in the real economy, Prohibition doesn’t work. Not a new realization, of course, merely an accurate one. Here’s Al Einstein in 1921, taking one look at the U.S. early in his first visit:
The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law . . . for nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law . . . than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.
Meanwhile, some Mendonesian farmers are a bit bedraggled politically this year, because, ya know, recent unwanted, unprecedented and outrageously immoral federal actions have smacked their permitting efforts down for the crime of trying to be aboveground taxpaying farmers of America’s far and away number one crop. I was therefore very pleased to report to they on the frontlines of the late Drug War that the homefront has their backs – Americans of all ages and political stripes know the Drug Peace is upon us and want its dividend: $35 billion a year, conservatively, while crippling the cartels.
In one hour long radio show I did for Maryland NPR, the terrific and knowledgeable host, Dan Rodricks, had to beg, unsuccessfully, for a Drug War supportor to call in. Same thing happened in Wisconsin. Left wing, right wing, old young: America knows. I’ve not seen anything like it in my twenty years of journalism. We’re united on this one. In my remote New Mexico valley, the average Octogenerian I meet in the post office is wearing a cowboy hat and believes Barack Obamam was born in Libya, because Rush Limbaugh told her so. And when she asks me, the writer whose truck looks right but smells wrong, what my next book is about, and I reply, “It’s an economic argument for ending the War on Drugs by removing cannabis fom the Controlled Substances Act entirely and letting states regulate it like alcohol,” she without fail or pause comes back with some version of, “’Bout time. Pills-n-booz’re the problem. It’ll hurt the dang cartels, too.”
This lady missed Woodstock, people. And I have to say it’s a relief and empowering to have her and Pat Robertson aboard the Drug Peace train. Maybe that’s because I’m still a little surprised how to close to winning this war we, the majority of Americans, are. Proof of this for me came when I blurted out to Conan, mid-segment, “I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far and that the studio hasn’t exploded.” Reality is in fact a lot better that my fears, it turns out. “We won the war,” is how longtime Santa Cruz, CA Drug Peace activist Valerie Coral put it ten years after her non-profit cannabis collective was unsuccessfully raided. “It’s just what are the terms of surrender going to be?'”
As for my own Big Picture continuing education program known as “A Semester on the Road in an Old RV,” the main lessons I come home with are:
Lesson One–Always stop for waterfalls and (whether or not you have kids), at park swings. And make time for sniffing flowers. And for picking blackberries. And for playing Frisbee, roasting marshmallows and watching the sunset over the Pacific.
Lesson Two–Except in case of medical emergency or severe Act of God, always make time for Lesson One. Even when late for and two states away from your next event.
Back on the high desert home front, of course, when I followed the universe’s clock and let the truck battery charge without resentment, the hummingbird feeder got filled (returning me to my equilibrium soundtrack and siesta alarm clock), the yogurt got made, and the final boxes and bikes got brought in moments before the first lighting bolt (again with the violet) struck the next canyon. All, as I hope is clear, at what felt like the perfect pace. At the only absolutely perfect moment. And such, I’ve come to believe, has the universe been operating since the moment of the Big Bang. If we just realize it. No need to turn bad into good. It is all only good.
To whit and of course, The R.O.A.T. was charged and spewing Chinese food-exhaust by lunch time. While so thankful even mid-charge to have an easy, fixable, tangible problem with which to fill the problem section of the brain, upon completion of the task, I again wasted some chi feeling a bit off-schedule vis-a-vis what I had preconceived as my my “real” work for the day. Nonetheless, after retrieving my stranded gear from the far side of the creekbed, I paused for sustenance, possessing not so much end-of-tour-fatigue as a genuine hunger, in at least three ways that immediately come to mind.
Even the battery charging itself had proven inspiring — including in the crafting of this Dispatch. While outside fighting with explosive containers of sulfuric acid, I noticed from every not-truck-related spot on which my eyes could rest that so much can grow in a moistened desert in three weeks. It’s not not just falcons. That’s how quick forgiveness and peace can come, too. I’m seeing it in the final moments of the Drug War and I’m seeing it in my heart.
So on this brief Break before more events, I’m grateful that I’ve stopped rustling parking spots and have resumed rustling goats (even though they’ve gotten into the house once already today). To bring y’all completely up to date, I’m playing last second toad hopscotch on the porch and the world has grown suddenly purply-dark, a less ultra shade of violet, as the afternoon’s first raindrops begin to fall. I’m delighted to do a lot of things in a hammock, but watching a lightning storm is not one of them.
Before I head inside, though, to a house already smelling heavily of sizzling crepes, my nostrils for the moment filled with the faint citrus of the season’s first limoncillo blossoms (“Rubbing this blossom makes my fingers smell like lemon!” is a statement that makes people very happy on my social circle), I’ve remembered something a stranger told me somewhere in Colorado or California a couple of weeks ago. No, wait, it was at a gas station in Wyoming. A caravan of law enforcers had noisily come to clog the nearby freeway entrance, it turns out because of an accident ahead. Though I’m sure most people at pumps were, like I am, supporters of law enforcement, the colorful show of force in a moments-earlier bucolic rural setting frightened everyone at first, like we were in the midst of some kind of civic emergency. The advice the fellow gave me was unsolicited. He might have been talking to himself. What he said was, “Don’t fear Babylon.”
I think he is as right as right can be in a very relative universe. By making it to here and now, we’ve already won. We’re in the Promised Land. Seeming to agree, the organic orange jam food label on the Funky Butte Ranch porch waves its corner at me as I head into my hummingbird-proximal office to write all this down. And when it comes to the coming Drug Peace, I feel the same way as the Wyoming gas station prophet and the activist Valerie Coral: we’ve won. The way Matt Cohen, a Mendonesian farmer I followed in TOO HIGH TO FAIL puts it is, “We don’t fear the man. We are the man.” There are cannabis collectives next to ranches in the heartland. Farmers are getting to harvest America’s favorite crop the way they always do, regardless of federally-inspired subsidies. Nothing will ever change that. I’d just like to see the cannabis industry not just come aboveboard, but be appreciated. Like a fine wine (and fuel) that’s in fact more valuable to the economy and well-being of society than cabernet (and unleaded).
Thank you, Daily Beast — who says the media aren’t ready for the the Drug Peace?