You’ve heard all of the COVID-19 conspiracy stories. I don’t need to relate them here. But there is a conspiracy you may not have heard of. The conspiracy to get rid of money.
Once we traded things, deciding their relative values. Then we traded precious metals for goods. We melted metals and formed them into coins. The metals became more valuable than the coins so we switched to cheaper metals. Quarters, instead of silver, are made of copper and nickel. Nickels are mostly copper, not nickel. Pennies are now mostly zinc, not copper. We developed paper money, symbolic of those metals – cheaper yet. US dollars used to be “silver certificates” and promised that the US held silver equal to its value to guarantee it. Then we made the dollar wholly symbolic, with the US government’s trustworthiness the only guarantee of its value.
Banks started making it harder to go inside. Cash came only from ATMs – once you could get $5 bills from them, then only twenties. Bills became harder to find. I rarely see a ten any more. The banks wanted you to use plastic cards instead of money. It cost them more to handle actual cash than virtual transactions. Then the virtual transactions became more virtual, with phone apps. And if they could charge you a service fee for doing it the way that was cheaper for them, so much the better.
Gas stations put card readers outside and didn’t want you to come in and use money any more. Just swipe a plastic card. The pandemic came and my neighborhood grocery store no longer accepted money. Soon the only place I could still use cash was the hospital cafeteria. Then they wanted me to use exact change, saying there was a coin shortage. And now, the one cashier who still took real money quietly told me that, starting tomorrow, I would no longer be able to use cash. I could use a phone app, a payroll deduction, or a credit/debit card. Is the money in my pocket about to become obsolete?
Time was, when someone opened a store, they would frame their first dollar. How soon will it be that storekeepers frame their last dollar? As U. Utah Phillips (The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest) wondered aloud 50 years ago about a child wondering what a train is after they disappeared, I now wonder if my son’s child will one day ask, “Daddy, what’s money?”
Two years ago today (Sunday) was our first rest day, in Missoula, Montana. I needed another patch kit and more inner tubes. We had ridden 612 miles in 7 days. Today the hardest thing I did was pit two pounds of cherries and bake a cherry pie. I didn’t even have to pick the cherries – my son and daughter in law did that, from the tree in their backyard. (Thanks!)
Day 7 had been a 103 mile slog through nonstop rain, the last 50 miles into a headwind. My new bike was now broken in. Sunday was the day to clean the gunk of 103 rainy miles off the bike, relube, and get ready for another week (and another, and another…). We had crossed the continental divide for the first time by then. I wrote my two essential lessons about mountain riding: 1. Don’t worry about the top, it will be there when you get there; 2. Keep your feet moving in circles and all will be well.
I don’t have to look back at that blog entry to remember the day. It is one of those days that is burned deeply into my memory. It was cold and wet but it ended with a hot shower, a warm sweatshirt, pizza and red wine. We slept in a dorm for the second night in a week – the only time we would do that all summer. It was a day marked by camaraderie, as four of us stuck together to gain strength from each other, so we could take whatever nature dished out. Five miles from the end, we picked up a fifth. He was at the roadside fixing a flat in the pouring rain and told us to go on. We didn’t. We rode in together. It was exactly as Greg had said on the phone sometime in the spring: The days you remember won’t be the 70 degree and sunny days. Those will all run together. The days you remember will be the ones in which you faced adversity and overcame it.
We had already had our first night sleeping indoors on the solstice, in dorms at Gonzaga University. We covered the quad with drying tents and sleeping bags. Gonzaga is in Spokane, home of U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest. While he is best known for his recordings of the IWW Songbook, I have a warm spot for “The Goodnight-Loving Trail”, about life on a cattle trail in Texas in the 1800s. My friend Cripps introduced me to the song.
Cripps worked at the Whole Earth Co-op at the same time that I worked at the Willy Street Co-op. Whole Earth was one of the last of its kind. In lieu of a cash register, they had a cigar box and a spiral notebook. When you finished shopping, you toted up your goods, wrote the total in the notebook, and put your money in the box, making change yourself. We, on the other hand, had gotten our first cash register at St Vincent de Paul, and replaced it with a fancy one that ran on electricity (instead of a hand crank) when that one died. We were the first in town to have an electronic scale. The city weights and measures inspector told us he wouldn’t decertify our old scales, but he advised us to replace them. While they were inaccurate, they consistently cheated the store and not the customer. That wasn’t illegal but wasn’t a good way to stay in business. The new one had a calculator in it, so you could type the price per pound into the keypad and it would calculate the total price. (I know, all scales do that now; but back then it was a big deal. Scales had a chart with a range of prices and you found the price per pound and read along a red line to get the total. Since the ones we had were pretty old, the prices were low enough that you often had to multiply to get the real price.)
Cripps (remember Cripps? This is a story about Cripps) and I sometimes spent the night in the same house. One night I heard bass laughter coming up through the floor below me. I looked at my partner and she noted my surprise – “That’s Cripps”, she said. Cripps had a tenor voice but a bass laugh. Cripps’ partner was a woman from West Virginia. She taught me a line that I use to this day. You know how there are people you’ve seen around, maybe even know by name or have talked to, but you’ve never been introduced? Someone might ask, “Do you know Cripps?” And your reply might be, “I know who he is, but we’ve never been formally introduced.” Her reply was, “We’s howdied, but we ain’t shook.”
Another night Cripps and I were the last two awake in the house. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his autoharp and U. Utah Phillips songbook. I made myself a cup of tea and joined him. We sang our way through the book, but the first song we sang together was “The Goodnight-Loving Trail”.
One afternoon, too soon after that, Cripps got off the bus downtown, stepped out from behind the bus, and into the path of a bus coming the other way. He died that night. The song, and this post, are dedicated to his memory.
Wednesday Night’s Greatest Hits
Since we don’t have group rides this year, every Wednesday night I pick a ride and go. This week held scattered showers. I checked the radar and there seemed to be a hole in the storms. It corresponded with a favorite ride that isn’t on this year’s calendar. I checked the archives and found a cue sheet and headed out. It looked dark in the distance but that didn’t seem like a reason not to ride. I remembered this week two years ago and hit the road. If I can go 100 miles in the rain, what’s 20 or 30? The darkness seemed to stay in the distance and the roads were dry. About ten miles in it started to sprinkle. The sun was shining so I kept riding. The sun disappeared and the rain came harder. It was cooling off. A dense cedar tree appeared at the roadside and I took cover until the rain let up. There was thunder in the distance (in the direction I was pointed) so I took a shortcut back to my starting point. In the car on the way home it rained hard enough that I considered pulling over to wait for it to let up. The wipers on high were barely keeping up.
When Richard Nixon declared, “I am not a crook”, we needed look no further than the vehemence of his denial to find the truth.
Likewise, when Amy Cooper said “I am not a racist”, we knew at once she is a racist. (Amy Cooper, for those who don’t recognize the name, is the woman who called police to tell them “An African American man is threatening my life”, knowing full well that a predictable outcome would be that man’s death at the hands of the police; and knowing full well that her claim was a lie and is documented on video.) We know that Lisa Alexander is a racist. She called the police because a Filipino man was stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in sidewalk chalk on the retaining wall of his house. Since this is a wealthy area, he clearly didn’t belong there. Only white people can be rich enough to live in Pacific Heights.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal (6/15/2020), a recent graduate of Monona Grove High School was in the school as a member of the football coaching staff. He was stopped in the hall by a police officer and a hall pass demanded. The coach responded that everyone in the school knew him. The officer is quoted as asking “what someone new would think about seeing ‘a big black guy’ walking around the building”. I suspect the officer doesn’t think he was being racist, merely acknowledging the possibility of racism in others. But if you care more about a white person possibly being made uncomfortable by the presence of a black person than you do about that black person, that’s racist. If it is the black person who needs to adjust/accommodate, that’s racism.
About 45-50 years ago I saw and heard U. Utah Phillips ,”the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest”, for the first time. He lived in Spokane, Washington, which has since become a stronghold of racists of the blatant variety. To paraphrase, Phillips admitted to racism and told us that anyone who denies being a racist is clearly a racist. To be a white person in the US (or anywhere on earth) and deny racism is like being a fish and denying water. It is the world in which we live. That both makes it hard to see and impossible to be separate from. But we are not fish. We can look for it within and without; and we can fight it within and without. We can live as anti-racists, not mere deniers of racism. When we say or do something racist, we can call it that; not a “mistake”, not “the wrong words”; and not claim that we can’t be racist because we have a black friend or co-worker.
While I can’t find video of Phillips talking about racism, here’s the next best thing:
Bicycling magazine ran an essay about racism in bicycling. That was the prompt for this entry. Responding to one of the racist comments wasn’t enough. The writer, the former Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, is identified as an attorney and a gender non-conforming queer Black woman. She says “Bicycling cannot solve systemic racism in the United States. But systemic racism can’t be fixed without tackling it within bicycling.” Almost as interesting as the essay is the comments section, including “‘Systemic racism’ in America is a complete myth – as false as the claim that ‘people of color’ are being oppressed.” (As of this writing, 29 people have “liked” that comment.) Other commenters think discussing racism has no place in the world of bicycling. We should just talk about spending money on new stuff. Luckily, those comments are not going unanswered.
Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, to whom I often turn as a voice of reason, put it this way when talking about what to say and not say when you commit a racist act:
“I won’t insult your intelligence by saying ‘I am not a racist’ because I know I am. As a white person in a society where every institution is geared to advantage people like me, it is literally impossible for me to be anything else. In that, I am like a man in a male-dominated society. He cannot help being sexist, his good intentions notwithstanding. Saying he’s not sexist is like a fish saying he’s not wet.
“Many of us as white people struggle with that. That’s because we process racism as a loathsome character defect, when really, it’s the water in which we swim.
“No, the question is not whether we are racist, but what kind of racist we will be. Will we be the overt kind, whose behavior marks her from a mile away? In many ways, her very obviousness makes her the least dangerous.
“Will we be the racist in denial, who thinks that because he doesn’t use racial slurs and eats lunch with a black guy at work, he’s all good? He’s ultimately the most dangerous, because his racism is reflected in implicit bias but otherwise hidden, even from himself.
“Or will we be the racist in remission who knows good intentions are not enough, that he must consciously commit not simply to being non-racist, but actively anti-racist?“
Can someone help me out here? It seems that, by definition, to take up arms against one’s government is treason. I guess that the confederacy wasn’t trying to overthrow the US, just secede from it. But still, why would we name our military bases for the generals that took up arms against us? And why, years later, would our own president be opposed to changing those names? He has already said that he doesn’t like losers and he like veterans who weren’t captured. You’d think he wouldn’t want to name a bunch of military bases for a bunch of losers, but by my count, 10 US military installations are named for confederate generals. Of those, 6 surrendered, 2 were killed in battle, and 2 were captured – they all sound like losers to me by the president’s definition.
As for the title, I owe a debt to Lou and Peter Berryman for “(Your state’s name here)”.