When I was 10 years old people flew airplanes, full of passengers, into two skyscrapers and a field; killing thousands.

When I was 21 a man went into an elementary school and killed young children and teachers.

When I was 4 years old a man blew up the entire front of a building in Oklahoma City with a car bomb killing over 150+ people, including children.

When I was 23 two men killed people at the running of the Boston Marathon with a pressure cooker bomb.

Nearly 50 years before I was born a man led an entire movement that systematically targeted and killed over 6 million Jews and cost the lives of millions more in war.

Every day people are kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking.

Every day innocent people are killed in the name of war/religion/money/power

 

How anyone can ever utter the words, “what kind of person could ever do this?”, “I can’t believe the world can be so cruel,” or any other type of statement that completely disregards the tragedies of the past and present; is beyond me. I think by now we can stop being surprised that humans are capable of being terrible and come to terms that there is NO limit to which a human will go to cause harm.

Showing sympathy, empathy, and sadness for the lives lost does not require a disbelief in the act itself. I would argue it is in a way disrespectful to all those who have died of terrorist activities. It tells me that a person has forgotten about the lives lost. The most popular phrase post-9/11 was, “Never Forget,” and here we are almost every tragedy since, “I can’t believe ‘x’,” “who could ever do that?”. You know exactly who could and would do that because you have seen that kind of monster before and you know about the lives that they took from us. Don’t forget them. Live in reality.

Doing What You Can

A vegan on a social media account once posted a quote that said something along the lines of:

“I would become a vegan but I just can’t give up hamburgers.”

-“That’s fine. Then go vegan except for hamburgers.”

Now, I am a staunch meat eater and I do not ever plan to go vegan. Ever. However, that quote has stuck with me for years since reading it and one day I realized it is really another way of saying, “do what you can.”

If you care about the environment (me) but drive a large gas guzzling truck (also me) and don’t have the money to buy a more efficient vehicle or perhaps you just want to keep it for sentimental reasons (me again); that’s fine. Drive your high carbon-emitting truck and find other ways to be environmentally conscious until you can afford a more efficient vehicle.

Every time someone comes to me with a dilemma that they have that revolves around a change that they cannot 100% jump into the vegan quote always comes to my mind and I rehash it to those people with their issue filled into the blanks. Want to learn a language but don’t have hours a day to practice? Fine. Then practice for the time you do have.

I will leave with my favorite quote about “doing what you can” from a man I admire exponentially, Theodore Roosevelt.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Alan

I was in 7th grade when I started skateboarding. The skateboarding community in the town I grew up in was small but growing. This was around the time movies like Grind, games like Tony Hawk Underground, and shows like Viva La Bam; were coming out. I had a few friends get into skating with me around the same time. We would head downtown and hope to skate with the older and better skaters in town. Over time you ended up getting to know everyone who skated and even though they seemed to shut you out at first they ended up knowing your name. That’s how I came to know the skateboard community. You earned friendship by showing up enough. It wasn’t a code or anything; that’s just how it was. It’s only now, thinking in retrospect, that I even thought to realize it.

So after a few months this kid, my age, named Alan started showing up. I grew up in a relatively small University town of 16,000 people (we are still not sure if that was with students or without students). It’s grown a lot since then but the “welcome” sign as a kid read in the 16,000’s. So we knew who Alan was. He was a trouble maker. He was always causing scenes in school, always getting into small fights, and was always in the disciplinary room. He wasn’t a scary troublemaker, though. He was more like a stupid troublemaker. He wasn’t randomly getting in fights with people for enjoyment. It was more with the people he surrounded himself with. He would react dramatically and often without clear-reason. As an outsider it looked like he often did bad things because it gave him attention. You could tell he came from a rough home. You could tell his clothes were likely goodwill (they were) but you could tell he wanted to maintain an image. He wore polo’s, baggy-ish pants, and some form of basketball shoes. Even when started skating he wore basketball shoes a lot. Everyone knew Alan’s sister. She was pretty well known in school as “Alan’s” crazy sister, Jasmine. She did have a mental disorder of some sort but we were kid’s after-all and that was our diagnosis of her.

So Alan started coming around while we skated and as per the culture he became welcome in the community. He got the nickname “Agro” because when he couldn’t land a trick he would often yell incredibly loud and obnoxious phrases. And when we got kicked out of a spot he would often yell at the people kicking us out. It didn’t take long before my friends and I befriended him from exposure alone. At first it was a friendship at a distance. We would tolerate him at spots and sort of make fun of his antics but he was a skater and he was our age after-all; so we grew to all become as close as skater friends become.

Alan lived near town in skating distance to the skate shop and to our favorite local skate spots. I never knew if his home was government housing but if it wasn’t it was as close as it could get. It was a house that was split into two apartments. They had a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two rooms. One room was Alan’s and the other was his Mom and Sister’s. It had a small front porch that we used to skate and do tricks off of into the dirt for practice. We would open his front door and jump from inside the house onto our boards for our speed and then have to quickly set up for our trick. On all sides of Alan’s house were older homes. It wasn’t exactly the “poor” side of town but those homes weren’t worth much and Alan’s being the least worth of all of them.

Alan’s room was a constantly evolving project of items that came into their possession. At first it was a mattress on the floor with a small entertainment center with a TV, PlayStation 2, and a budget stereo system. In its final form that I remember it was a bed on bed rails with a love seat and the same entertainment center and devices. His walls had random posters, basketball jerseys, and a few hats hanging on nails. He had golf clubs which he would grab when he thought someone was trying to break-in. A blanket hung over his window. His living room was a few couches, covered in sheets, a coffee table, and an old television that they played mostly VHS tapes on until they got a cheap DVD player.

Any given day that you came to Alan’s home you would find his Mom, his mom’s boyfriend at the time, and Jasmine. Alan’s mom was into drugs. It didn’t take a genius in 8th grade to see it. She was thin and she often spoke rapidly. Her hair was often short, messy, and looked like it was freshly dyed or dyed several months earlier. Depending on the day you may have gotten a different version of his mother. They weren’t too different from one another. Just sometimes she made sense, sometimes she would yell randomly, sometimes she fidgeted around a lot, could have been because of stress or some sort of reaction to either being on or off a drug, I didn’t know; and sometimes she would shut herself in her room. I didn’t care much either way which way she was though because, regardless, Alan’s mom was kind to me. She loved Alan and she loved Jasmine. I could tell that. There were times when she would be telling Alan something, even yelling at him, and as she was about to leave, or times when Alan and I would leave, she would end by calmly saying, “Love you boys.”

They were clearly a family on food stamps but you wouldn’t know by how generous she was to me and Alan’s friend. It was a help-yourself home. She may come out in the morning and I would be making pancakes in the tiny, linearly-laid-out, and kitchen. As long as I knew Alan I don’t think she ever had a job but taking care of Jasmine had to have been enough of a job as there ever was.

Jasmine was a year, maybe two years, younger than Alan. Just like Alan’s mom, but on a much more extreme continuum; you never knew which version of Jasmine you were going to get on any given day. She truly had, likely several, mental disorders that I am not sure were ever diagnosed. She would be violent (wasn’t uncommon to hear stories of her grabbing a knife and threatening Alan), she would say inappropriate things, and worst of all, she somehow knew how to make Alan mad. No one was harder on Jasmine in public than Alan but then no one defended her more than Alan. Sometimes I would stay at his house on school nights (whether I snuck out or had permission from my mother. Obviously it didn’t matter to Alan’s mom when I stayed the night) and I remember on the bus to school she would be sitting up front saying stuff about Alan and him yelling at her from the back of the bus in front of everyone. But if you ever said anything about her he would get defensive to the point of fighting if need be. She spent her days at school in the special education classrooms and her days at home shut in the house or on the porch. She didn’t go anywhere without her mother.

Alan’s mom had a few “boyfriends” but the one that stuck around the most was a man named, Bobby. He was a kind man but obviously into whatever she was into chemically. I always assumed their relationship, which was from my view on-and-off again, was based around that common denominator. He smoked black and mild’s. I remember that.

Our daily routine was to go to school and then meet up afterwards to skate. If we weren’t doing that we were at his house watching skate videos, playing video games, or watching some random movie. If we weren’t there we would be at my house doing the same except I had a concrete back patio that we could skate flat-ground on. We went on skate trips together. We would stay up at our friend, Jake, mom’s house and skate around Overland Park together. As we got older and into high school things began to change and not just with Alan.

Something I noticed about Alan, and you can see that it is a common trait his family shares, is that there was more than one side to him. There was the side that knew what was right and wrong. The side that realized where he came from and wanted to do better. The side that felt the desire to do right. He had this movie-style sense of justice. The kind that if someone disrespected his family or friends or they did something legally heinous he would be outspoken about it and even threaten violence on them. But then there was the side that would seem to succumb to this belief that he would always become what he was born into. And it started with drugs. You see in high school smoking weed became this big draw with everyone I hung out with. It was popular in the skateboarding community and as freshman we all got caught up in the allure of hanging out with the older people in the community who smoked. Every day after school we would load up in one guy’s car and go to one of friend’s house where they would smoke and play video games. The kick was that I didn’t smoke and didn’t want to. Whether it was a fear of how I would react to smoking or just being around it my whole life with my step-dad and brother; I just didn’t want to do it. But I was still accepted nonetheless. In fact I even became super close friends with the guy whose house we would go to all the time and he would stick up for me to his older friends who came over and would try to get me to smoke. Anyway, that lifestyle took over many of my friend’s lives. Alan was one of those friends but it was gradual downfall rather than a falling off like many of my friends who smoked and eventually gave up skateboarding for it.

I distinctly remember Alan on several occasions telling me he was going to stop smoking. See unlike many of my friends, many of whom were white-middle class kids who had never seen weed before, he had smoked before. He would tell me he was done with it and that it only hindered him. This was the side of Alan that I knew to do right. But then there were days where he would come up to me and tell me he was smoking again and he would talk in this defeated way that basically said there is nothing he can do about it. “This is who I am.” Keep in mind that this was before the, “smoking revolution.” To us it still carried the “troublemaking” stigma. Sometimes when he was being an, “Agro,” or doing something irrational I would ask him why he was acting that way and he, in the same loud or agitated voice, would acknowledge that what he was doing was stupid but would continue to do it. Remember how he would yell at people for kicking us out of skate spots? There were times when other skaters would yell at people and Alan would yell at them for yelling at the custodian or shop owner. Looking back Alan’s moral compass was more like a moral magic 8-ball.

About junior year of high school he began to on-and-off again quit skating. Skating was really the one thing that I shared in common with Alan. I was going to continue skating and spending my days skating but he wasn’t so when was I going to hang out with him? The skateboarding community got new faces and I began hanging out with new crowds of people. We slowly drifted apart. I didn’t want to be associated with what he was into anymore.

Over the years he began getting into trouble more and more. When we got out of high school (to this day I still don’t even know if he graduated high school or not) he was arrested a few times. Mostly, from my recollection for drug-related reasons. One time he showed up to the skate park with no skateboard in sight and a gun in his waistband. And I was oddly comfortable. I even asked him what the hell he was doing with no hesitation. I know a lot of people were weirded out or scared by Alan especially around that time. But I wasn’t. I knew he would never hurt me. He would come to the waterpark where I worked and greet me with a cheeky, guilt-inducing, line like, “How come you never come say, ‘Hi,’ anymore?” and before I could muster up any sort of answer he would quickly follow up with an, “It’s all good man I understand.” Because he did understand. I know deep down that Alan was aware of his situation but he just could not mentally break the social stigma that he felt he carried. He’d tell me about his kids and what he went to jail for recently and I’d ask what he was doing and he would say, with a shrugging smile, that he didn’t know and that it’s just how he is. To this day I have never met someone so aware of their own downfall in my life.

 

 

One day, about four years after high school and a year after the last time I spoke with him, I heard from a friend that Alan had been arrested again. He, along with an accomplice, held up a woman and her seven-year-old son with a gun at the local Walmart, kidnapped them in her van, robbed her, and dropped her and her child off in a cornfield, before returning to Walmart in her vehicle where they ended up getting arrested.

 

My brother called me and asked if I that was the kid who would come over when I was younger and I said, “yeah, that’s him,” before he, just like everyone else, went on about his crime. “I always knew he was crazy,” some said. Others were surprised he didn’t shoot them. Everyone saw a monster but I saw Alan. I knew he would never have shot her or her son. I know he knew what he was doing was wrong. The “right” side of Alan would have kicked his own ass for endangering a child like that. But he got caught up in the game that he played and for whatever reason he felt pushed to do something drastic. Something stupid.

At one point in my life Alan was my closest friend. He would have given me the shirt off his back if I needed it.

Celebrity Culture

The way we treat celebrities makes no sense. Because they entertain us we believe we deserve full access to their lives. There is an entire industry devoted to breaking the rule we’ve been taught our entire lives; mind your own business. Which allows this to happen.grace

We value their opinion more on political issues. Why? How does an actor transcend politically to us more than our neighbor?

And then we tell them not to have a political opinion at all because they make more money than us and are privileged. Meaning, if you make good money and are a public figure you apparently are not a citizen of your own country. (See: Kaepernick)

They are people. They owe us nothing more than what they want to give us. Their obligation to us ends at the movie, song, or event that we paid to see them in. The same way a plumbers obligation to us is to make sure our shit properly gets carried away; we don’t get to follow them home and see what they are wearing tomorrow. They are people. Which means they are entitled to a political opinion but, depending on the issue, that does not mean their opinion is worth more than that of our neighbor just because we like the movies they acted in or the songs they sing.

Autonomous Driving: The Shining Savior of the Daily Driver

For the past year I have been doing contracting work that sees me at a new job site roughly every week. On average I spend an hour driving to work and an hour driving from work. Many weeks it is an hour and a half. So, on a given day I spend 2-3 hours just driving. Driving, that wonderful privilege we all could not wait for during our teenage years pre-sixteen. We swore we would never take it for granted and volunteered at the idea of having to go to the grocery store for our parents. But here I am, nine years later and dreading each and every morning that I know that I will have to sit in my vehicle for three hours often times not even moving. – A quick note to younger self; you do grow up and complain about sitting in traffic, sorry man. – After many talks and years of browsing the internet I have come to learn that these hour-plus long driving ventures are an issue thousands of American’s face every day.

In recent years I have become increasingly fascinated with people such as Elon Musk and his futuristic endeavors; Tesla and Space X. Ideas that radically disrupt and push the boundaries of efficiency and human achievement. However I have not always been so keen on all of these futuristic pursuits. You see I used to scoff and declare vehemently that I would never in my life allow myself to be stripped of my basic human right of, “free will.” I would not get into a motor vehicle, one of man’s greatest technological achievements and the greatest liberating force known to teenagers, and put my life into the hands, er, should I say components, of a computer. I swore I would never be for autonomous driving. Well, today I write this letter as a changed man.

Tesla recently set the mark of demonstrating a self-driven cross-country trip in 2017. In addition they have announced that as of October 20, 2016 all models of Tesla will come with full self-driving hardware demonstrated amazingly in this video.

When many people hear or see the words, “autonomous driving,” they imagine a future-world resembling that of, The Terminator, where robots become aware and attempt to wipe the entire human race out of the universe; or they, like younger me, envision a world where their right to drive and have their lives in their own hands is taken from them. To that first point, well we’ll have to see – I’m currently enjoying the wonderful new HBO series, Westworld, so robotic awareness is a relevant anxiety going around. In fact, Stephen Hawking has warned that robots will be the end of humanity – but to the second point I share the sympathies. I do not, for the time being and before I inevitably write a future post saying, “Uh, I was wrong again,” believe in owning a solely self-driving vehicle. I still want the option to drive as I image you do and what Tesla, at this moment, is offering to the market.

Another worry many have, and frankly it is a valid worry, is safety. It is scary to think about letting something transport oneself at high speeds off a predetermined and physical track, like a train. Ben Miller, of Car Magazine recently wrote a review of the new Tesla Model X that features the autonomous driving capability. In the article he expressed the same apprehension before slowly feeling the car was capable of driving itself in a safe manner to the point that he even began eating a barbecue sandwich while the car drove! Another interesting point made by the author was how much backlash the death of Joshua Brown, the only recorded fatality in a Tesla vehicle, seems to have slowed the autonomous vehicle momentum when in Texas that same year 1,545 people died in human-driven automobile related accidents.

In human history our pursuits to travel faster or more efficiently have always lent themselves to some level of considerable danger. Imagine how crazy the idea of sending people 30,000 feet into the air was at one time. But today we know, statistically, that flying is the safest mode of transportation. – A fact that while true still calmed my nerves quite little when it came time for me to take my first flight. – It seems that for now statistics are on the side of Tesla. It will be interesting to see what the statistics will be once the vehicles become more common on our roadways but I imagine that they will see the same injury growth that the airline industry has seen. Which means that even if there is an increase in autonomous driving fatalities it will still be substantially minute to that of human error automobile related accidents.

For me, I see autonomous driving as an option to regain the most important currency this life has to offer; time. It allows me to be a more productive person. Instead of having to focus solely on driving, which is something enough people have a hard time doing alone, it allows me to do. I can make more invested phone calls, I can answer e-mails, fill out resumes, research topics of interest, eat a meal, read a book, if I did I could apply make-up, or, like I most likely will do, it will allow me to browse my social apps and websites like Reddit.

I believe I will always want the ability to drive my own vehicle, to have the instant ability to change my route, or to have the feeling of maneuvering a car around turns and speeding down a long straight-away. But perhaps, by letting our technological advancements take the wheel, we can be more productive people, we can live in a world with significantly less vehicle fatalities, and just maybe, it will help break the drum of everyday tasked-driving to the point that when we do decide to take the wheel back in our hands we may feel that joy of driving a vehicle that we once did when we happily went to the market for our parents.

Voting: The Most American Thing You Can Do

Today we celebrate our Independence Day. A day that we get to celebrate because of the sacrifice millions of people have made in giving their their time, their efforts, and their lives to preserve and push forward this great country. It’s a day that reminds us of the great power we have as a democracy and as choosers of our leaders. But still, there are those who do not participate. They do not answer the call of their civic duty.

To those people I tell you this. You do not deserve this country, it’s freedoms, and it’s privileges. People have given their lives for you to have the ability to choose your leaders and you can’t even muster up the energy to go stand in line and mark a piece of paper? To follow NPR on your drive home or watch a debate now-and-again. It’s like your parents giving you a car, a car you tell everyone you love having, and all you have to do is keep up the maintenance and you can’t even do that.

Except this isn’t some car, it’s not some house, it’s no material item that you may tire of one day. It’s a way of life. Yes, the freedom to vote also means the freedom not to vote. But that’s bullshit. And if you say “I’m not voting because of the candidates we have,” I say this. Voting starts way before we choose between two people for President and it continues long after. The president is but one piece in a carefully crafted democracy that the majority of us have decided to ignore and hope that it all works out. Well, look at our candidates now.

The fireworks, the barbecues, the sacrifice that men and women, likely your family members; have given for this country; all of it means nothing if you sit idly by and let the course of this country be determined by the overly-passionate “left and rights.”

Does our politics feel like a mess right now? Sure. But a mess doesn’t clean itself and if you let others clean it for you they will throw all your stuff away.

Happy Independence Day everyone. Remember the gift that we have and remember to act when you are called upon.