Central Ala- 'BamaPosted on November 4th, 2007 after 11958 miles by Dean Croshere.
Alabama is an incredibly interesting state. I was surprised by it's vast array of challenges and stimulations. That, and I feared for my life, as this episode shows.
Alabama is an incredibly interesting state. I was surprised by it's vast array of challenges and stimulations. That, and I feared for my life, as this episode shows.
In the spirit of rebellion and Guy Fawkes day, I will print an article I wrote for the Index, Pacific's newspaper. I also printed the two responses it generated. If the politics of a school and it's mascot bore you, this is the post to skip.
The Recent History of Our Mascot
Boxer is my passion. For the past two years I have extensively studied and researched the history of our illustrious mascot. He has had many twists and turns, and many ups and downs. Students have fought for him and traveled with him. They have stolen him and hidden him. They have buried him and drowned him. They have hung him from helicopters and frozen him in ice. They have overturned cars and stared down loaded firearms. They have broken themselves for him and broken off pieces of him just to be able to claim, “I touched Boxer.”
No other mascot on this planet has such a history. In the words of Phil Creighton, “He certainly is unique.”
I have traveled great distances and spoken with many alumni. I have seen the look in their eyes as they regale me with stories of Boxer flashes and Boxer tosses. I have heard a now-deceased man in his 90s tell a story from his youth. In this well remembered story, he fell two full floors from the fire escape of the now-demolished Herrick hall, landing on his back with Boxer on his chest. He then ran, bleeding, to his car while the ladies that lived in the hall chased after him. You can see his name printed on the Heart of the Oak donor plaque in the new library. Look for “Milton Johnston” under the $1,000,000 or more section.
When I say that I have a passion for Boxer, I know that this passion is nothing. I have not broken myself and I have not broken Boxer. I have not hung Boxer from a helicopter and I certainly have not fallen two stories with a 50-pound (he is almost exactly 50 pounds by the way) pointy brass dog. These brave alumni truly have passion for Boxer.
Our era is different. We have no opportunity to have this same passion. We cannot break ourselves for Boxer. The school will not let us. Indeed, they cannot let us. How could they respond to the media, investors, or law-suit happy parents, should any of these groups ask how they let students break bones in a traditional mascot “toss?”
No, we cannot blame the school for our inability to fight savagely over our idol. We cannot blame them for taking hold of Boxer and creating the series of events that they hoped would create the same passion within the students that the old tosses and flashes did.
We also cannot blame them for failing.
Indeed, they did fail. Boxer fervor had died to such a degree that Boxer was walked through the UC shortly after noon to a reception of little other than disinterested glances and a couple of questions. Disinterested glances and an otherwise lack of interest are not passion: they are apathy.
The school had the right idea when they organized the competitions. They created a group of students that would oversee the group with the blessings of the administration.
There were some mistakes that were made in the Boxer Spirit events that lead to the demise of the passion. One mistake was the timing. They were held during Greek pledging and at the same time as the seasons of several sports teams, effectively eliminating these historical contenders from the competition.
Worse than the timing was the nature of the competitions. They were tightly regulated, authorized by the administration, and beset by rules.
This is the primary point. This is why people stopped caring. The school took control of Boxer. They created rules.
Boxer, by his very nature, belongs to the students. Since the first time he was removed from his pedestal in the school chapel in 1906, the students have controlled his fate. Until recently, there have never been hard and fast rules. Instead, there have been guidelines governed by tradition and limited only by the imagination of those lucky passionate souls that possessed him.
Some brothers of the Gamma Sigma Fraternity, an organization of which I am proud to call myself a brother, were frustrated with recent events and student apathy. They responded to pressure from alumni and managed to obtain Boxer contrary to the wishes of the possessor and the school. I guess you could say we stole him, but that is to miss the point.
We slowly began to admit that we did, indeed, have possession of Boxer. First we brought him to the Gamma reunion dinner. Then we flashed him to the entire Pacific alumni crowd at the reunion weekend. Finally, we flashed him to the freshmen at sign shake and ring.
There are two different types of events with Boxer. The first is the flash and the second is the toss. A Boxer flash is necessarily unannounced. The purpose is for the group that has him to say, “we have him and you don’t.” After the flash, the group then runs off, escaping with Boxer. I recorded Bernie Cooper telling a story of when his Phi Beta Tau Fraternity flashed Boxer at the Mac Hall Christmas Dance in the 1940’s. It ruined the dance because everyone would chase after Boxer and “all the women were standing there saying, ‘well it used to be a good dance, where are all the guys?’” Flashes of the past have included helicopters, hot air balloons, and community pools. If the people flashing Boxer were caught, the flash would be a failure and an impromptu toss would begin.
A toss is announced. Historically, the tosses would happen after a year or so, following a few good flashes. The group would plan the event and place posters around the school so everyone interested could show up. Boxer would be released to the crowd at the time and place specified on the posters. He would usually be introduced in a creative manner such as the time he was in a 3’ x 3’ block of ice, or when he was chained high up in a tree on campus. Once the crowd got a hold of him, multi-hour fights began. Students would often take breaks to go to class while others stepped in to take their place.
This freshman flash occurred just a few days before I left on my trip. It was only while I had Boxer stored in my room that it occurred to me that I should bring him around the country. I cleared it with the rest of the Fraternity and off I went, Boxer stowed safely in my trunk.
I really enjoy taking pictures of Boxer. He adds interest to a picture. We have all seen pictures of each of the national monuments and of all the points in between. Those pictures are taken by better photographers with better equipment. Having Boxer gives me both a common thread and strength to my pictures.
He also adds a challenge. Boxer is heavy. He is not easy to haul from point to point in order to take the pictures I want to take. He is also very short. Since he is slightly over a foot tall, I end up spending a lot of time lying in the dirt to try to get pictures of the terrain towering above him. Finally, Boxer looks strange. Everywhere I go, people ask the same questions about Boxer.
First people just stare awkwardly. Usually there is a period of about a minute where no one will say anything. After that time, people’s curiosity overrides their fear of asking a stranger a question. The same question, worded differently, begins the conversation.
“[what’s the story with/what is/why are you carrying] your [dragon/dog/lizard/lion/…/thing/it]”
“It’s my school’s mascot.” The follow up is obvious enough.
“Pacific University in Oregon” I’ve had two people recognize the school; one grew up in West Linn. Usually people nod blankly and move on. Sometimes they ask where in Oregon, that’s easy enough to explain.
“What is it?”
“A Chinese Dragon Dog.” This is usually good enough. If people started off the conversation with a guess of what it was, I’ll just tell them they were right. I have no idea what he actually is.
“So why are you carrying it?”
“I’m going on a road trip around the country, taking pictures with him.” If they’re still interested at this point, I’ll give them a card with my website. This usually involves an awkward shifting of Boxer’s weight as I reach for my wallet with the cards.
“Yeah, that’s a good description.”
“So is this a greek rush thing/do you have to carry him/did you lose a bet?” This one is tough to answer. I’ve got about a sentence, maybe two, to explain the entire history of Boxer and why it is an honor to have him. I think I’ve found the answer that both gains their interest and explains a lot.
“No, we stole him, actually.” Yep, interest gained.
“Does the University know you have him?”
“They didn’t at first, but they do now.” Sometimes they want an explanation of this. I’ll briefly help them out.
“Can I hold him?”
What are they going do, run off with him? I’ve run with Boxer, they won’t get far. Plus, they don’t actually want him.
“Ooof. He’s heavy.”
“Yeah, that he is.”
Sometimes the conversation is over here, other times we will go over various minutia, his history, or perhaps something entirely different.
While Boxer provides much for me on this trip (especially a great way to get alumni to let me crash at their places), I can only hope that this trip will inspire conversation and debate on campus. The students themselves have the power to decide the future of the mascot, and it is best that such a conversation is held as widely as possible.
I will set forth my current records with the expectation that they will be shattered by some students more enterprising than I. During my time with Boxer, I have hiked three and a half miles as the sole person carrying Boxer while climbing 900 feet in elevation. I have also driven nearly 8000 miles with Boxer in my car. I expect to double this latter number by the time I make it home to return Boxer to the students.
How, exactly, Boxer is going to be returned to the student body is still up in the air. I have my opinions, but as Boxer is still in the possession of the entire fraternity, the group as a whole will make that decision. The decision is a difficult one.
I would encourage students to write the Index and have their voice heard. What is the best way to maintain or increase interest in Boxer while simultaneously protecting the school’s interests? Is it better to have Boxer be a highly coveted private creature, a thing which only the lucky few can say they have touched or been photographed with, as it has been in the distant past, or is better to have Boxer be a commonly seen public creature, an object which every student sees, touches, and is even photographed with frequently, as it has in the more recent past? Is Boxer better left in the hands of the student body, regulated by tradition, or to be protected by the administration, governed by the well planned, rules of this establishment?
There must be a solution that will balance the school’s need for civility with the student desire for passion. These are the years in which the future of Boxer will be decided. You are the students that will make the decisions.
Jennie, My host in DC, snapped this picture of me snapping a picture of Boxer. It is nice to get a third person view of what I'm doing here.
There was one direct reply to this essay printed in the paper.
Boxer, by his very nature, belongs to the students. On this point Dean Croshere and I agree. If, however, Boxer belongs to students, why is he with an alumnus halfway across the country? I have heard the phrase "Boxer Awareness" tossed about several times in justification of Dean's actions, but as his road trip progresses, I have to ask myself: with whom is Boxer Awareness being raised? Just who is Dean trying to reach through this cross country road trip?
Certainly, Dean must not be trying to reach this year's freshman class. If he is, I fear he is working counter-productively toward his goals. As Dean mentioned in his article, he and a couple others from the Gamma Sigma fraternity flashed Boxer at "Sign, Shake, and Ring" this year, in a departure from the traditional presentation of Boxer at this event. When I was a freshman, Boxer was on a table next to Dr. Phil and each new student was given the opportunity to pause, examine the mascot as thoroughly as necessary, and even have a picture taken. Most consider meeting Boxer the best part of the event.
A Boxer flash was absolutely a memorable interruption of the ceremony, and I'm sure it was a powerful experience for the 70 or so incoming students who were lined up when Dean and his friends came through. But what was the experience like for the other three-hundred entering students? The ones who went that whole day, and then all of orientation, and now all of September, without ever seeing our great mascot up close? About a week after school started, I heard about an incident in which a couple freshmen attempted to steal the plaster replica of Boxer from the PUCC office, thinking it was the real thing. This is a bittersweet anecdote. Sweet, because it demonstrates the eagerness of this newest class to be included in our proud traditions. Bitter, because they clearly had no idea what it was they were trying to steal.
Dean ended his article asking that Pacific students write the Index and sound off about what should be done to protect the Boxer tradition. The first step in answering that question is to demand Boxer's immediate return to campus. "Boxer Awareness" in Detroit, New Hampshire, or at Wrigley Field doesn't matter in the slightest if there are students here, at home, who have no idea what they're missing.
Vice President, Pi Kappa Rho fraternity
Tyler makes many good points here, but he avoids the one issue that really matters. If I were to mail Boxer back to campus, was is to be done with him? I would happily do it if there were some kind of (good) plan.
There was also a reference to it in another letter, this one written by Micael Russo, that was generally lambasting the Index.
"How could I live with myself if not for yet another picture of the Boxer Dragon in front of Mount Rushmore?"
I'm not sure what he means by this. There has only ever been one picture of Boxer in front of Mount Rushmore (well, ok, I took 10, but I only published 1).
Back in the early 1600s, Ponce de Leon supposedly searched Florida for the fountain of youth.
Near the town of Ponce de Leon in Florida, is a natural spring called Morrison springs. I have a feeling there may be a connection there. These springs are big, warm, natural pools.
At least, I found them warm. I know I’ve swam in heated pools that were colder than it was.
I really wish I had an underwater camera so I could have taken a picture of what it looks like from under water. It really is perfectly clear. We put Boxer in under about 7 or 8 feet of water. I swam to the far side of the spring and looked back, he was perfectly clear and covered in silt. He looked like a shipwreck treasure.
The depths here are incredibly misleading. There is a dark spot towards the middle of the spring. That is the spring itself. It gets dark because it is hundreds of feet deep; the entrance there is probably 30 or 40 feet down. My attempts at swimming towards it only netted me a minor earache.
“Good morning,” she said. “My name’s Megan.”
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. She smiled sweetly.
I slept in her bed last night.
She was the suitemate of a friend of a friend in a dorm at Tulane University in New Orleans. When she heard that I was stopping by, she offered to let me stay in her bed, since she was going to be at her boyfriend’s place. Oh, and by “last night,” I mean Friday night, four days ago.
She had come back to the room to get ready for class. After what is likely the strangest introduction I’ve ever been party to, I went back to sleep.
A few hours later I went to breakfast with Katie, my host. She was the friend of a friend who’s suitemate’s bed I slept in last night.
If nothing else, this trip is making for some interesting relationships.
Katie had to work on a couple essays so I headed down to the French Quarter. Remember how I posted a few weeks ago about how I had lost my debit card? Well, I’ve since received a new one, but I still haven’t received my PIN. I have access to my money, but I have no method of getting cash. I also have no cash left. I actually gave my last dollar to a guy playing his Sax down by the river.
This leads to problems. Bourbon street runs on cash. There are a lot of ATMs, and nearly every place has a big cash only sign. This is probably a good thing. It kept me from spending much.
I still managed to wander around the area for a while, wandering in and out of the shops. There are four types of stores on Bourbon Street. Places you can get souvenirs, places you can get voodoo’d, and places you can see naked women (and sometimes men), and, finally, places you can get drinks,
In the first, I had no interest in the souvenirs. These fell into two categories. There was the overly gaudy stuff like shot glasses with plaster designs all over them, and there were T-Shirts with unbearable slogans. It is like there is some law that every shirt sold on bourbon street must have the word “Fuck” written somewhere. “New Fucking Orleans, Louisiana” wasn’t my favorite. “Fuck Fema” was also popular, particularly when printed on old shirts that had been stained during Katrina.
In the second, Voodoo shops are lame. I did want some incense, but I didn’t have any cash, and I wasn’t going to buy $20 worth of it, nor any voodoo dolls, nor any palm readings or tarot predictions.
In the third, I didn’t have any cash.
In the fourth, I found a way. I found a place I could get a mint julep with my card. The drink was just bad. I should have gotten a hurricane or something else that comes from the slurpee mixers behind the counter. I sipped this while walking around town looking at the other attractions in repetition. I started to get bored around the same time that I finished my drink.
This was when I hatched my plan. I was pretty close to being done with that film. I had time. I was in a beautiful place. All I needed was a cigar, a beer, and power.
The first two were easy. The beer was a German Dopplebock. The Cigar was an Onyx, rated 97 by cigar enthusiast magazine, the highest rating ever. The third was a bit more difficult, though cheaper. I wandered down the waterfront for a while until I found a power transformer on a little lawn overlooking the Mississippi River.
This is where I did the primary editing for that movie I uploaded Sunday. Sitting on a little lawn in front of the Mississippi River in New Orleans smoking a Cigar, sipping my beer, and listening to a guy playing his Sax for spare change. He's the guy that got my last dollar.
It was a wonderful afternoon.
I had just finished up when Katie gave me a call. She was hungry, so was I.
I headed back uptown to campus. We briefly discussed dinner. I really wanted gumbo. I’d never had it, and New Orleans seemed to be the place to get it.
It took some research, finding the perfect New Orleans Gumbo. We asked a few people around campus, searched the internet, and she made a couple of phone calls. We ended up at a place on frenchmen, right by the French Quarter.
The gumbo was all right. I mean, I’m sure it was great gumbo, but it’s gumbo.
Gumbo. (It’s fun to say, isn’t it?)
After dinner, we got a few drinks and played some good old fashioned drinking games in the dorm rooms, complete with an oh-shit-someone-knocked-on-the-door-quick-hide-the-booze moment.
I had planned to leave the next day, but Katie convinced me to stay and extra day. The nice thing about this trip is how easy that is to do.
The next day I got up early and worked a bit more on that movie. The voiceovers were all terrible, I guess the busy waterfront wasn’t the best background noise. Voiceovers are a pain to do. I have to find a place that is quiet, but I can talk. If there are people anywhere nearby I get incredibly self-conscious and either end up whispering or sounding as self conscious as I am. After all, I am loudly saying things like, “I didn’t want to have my skin fashioned into something unspeakable.”
After I tried a few nearby locations, I broadened my search. Katie went back to work on her papers and I headed to my car. It was in a parking structure.
A parking structure that was 7 floors tall.
I hit the stairs and climbed to the top. It was deserted save for three cars and a really big bee.
I could talk as loud as I wanted here, say whatever I wanted, and get the movie done. While I waited for various things to render, I snapped some pictures of Mr Bee. I like this one where he is in mid step. He looks so determined.
Once I finished, I briefly scouted about for a net connection. I didn’t find one, so I hopped in my car and headed out into town.
I’ll post all of that later. I’m tired.
(Sounds like the name of a movie, doesn't it?)
I was apprehensive about Texas. It was next. I didn’t know what to expect.
I should have known better. I was apprehensive about New York, I was apprehensive about North Carolina, and I was apprehensive about Tennessee. Yet I found, that in each of these states, people are just people. Despite different particular interests, people just want the same basic things: happiness, companionship, and a good time. In fact, I’ve found that if you are able to convince a person that you aren’t going to screw them over, they will give just about anything to be able to obtain those simple things.
I find myself feeling guilty about my Alabama video. I jumped to a pretty harsh conclusion. At the same time that I’m experiencing the incredible generosity of people, I assumed that the person that lives in this house (if anyone actually lives in the house) was the sort of person that would do unspeakable things to me, rather than relax and share a beer.
Yet, I feared that Texas might be different. All that hoopla about “don’t mess with Texas” and “everything’s bigger in Texas” all generated the same worry in my mind:
“Texas might be different.”
It was the same worry I had about the South, the same worry I had about the Northeast, the same worry I had about the Midwest. I had heard so much about these people and how they are real men (or real women), how they have real difficulties. How they won’t stand for this kid with Oregon plates, how I would experience culture shock.
I didn’t experience any in any of those places. I was treated to the best of Southern hospitality while I was in the South. People went out of their way to make sure I was happy. In the South, I only asked for a place to stay for a night, and that’s all I really hoped for. Instead, people bought and/or made me food and drink, provided companionship and acted as guides, and worked hard to make me happy.
The thing is? I was also treated to the best of Northeast hospitality, Midwest hospitality, Idaho hospitality, and Northwest hospitality (No, I don’t consider Idaho to be Northwest).
I did have some trouble with places to stay in Texas. I thought I had several places to stay throughout Texas. I figured I would be spending at least a week between Houston, Austin, and Dallas. It turned out that four offers for hosts fell through due to bad timing and bad communication.
I pushed straight through to Austin. The drive was only 8 hours, my usual sweet spot, but this time it felt like it took forever.
There are several reasons for this. One is that the reader for Robinson Cruso, the book I was planning on listening to next, was terrible. I couldn’t handle listening to him. Another is that I was pretty much out of podcasts (pre-recorded radio shows). Finally, Western Louisiana and Eastern Texas is really, really boring.
I really need something intellectually stimulating when I’m driving long distances. If I have something to think about, I am entertained. At the beginning of my trip, I had personal issues to mull over, problems to solve, a forthcoming trip to contemplate. I did a couple of the first few drives with just my music playing on random, letting my mind wander.
It’s wandered, and so have I.
I’ve been mentally going in circles over those problems for long enough. I need someone talking.
I chose to try am radio. I tried one station. It was Sean Hannity, the Republican radio pundit. He had a caller.
“Hi Sean, You’re a great American.”
“So are you. You’re also a great American. What’s your question?”
I don’t actually remember the question, I was too busy trying to figure out why they were congratulating each other on being “great Americans.” What does that even mean? It wasn’t long before he introduced his next caller.
“We have a liberal on the air, it’s [someone from somewhere].”
“Hi Sean, I am curious about why you said-“
“I have a question for you.”
“I have a question”
“I just calle-“
“My question is what is Hilary Clinton’s stance on something simple…. Like, say, oh, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do wi-“
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t underst-“
“If you don’t answer my question, I’ll hang up on you. You have to answer my question.”
“Um, last I heard, she was against t-“
I changed the station. That’s about as much willful ignorance as I can handle in one sitting.
“-AHAHAH. No, you see, she’s since changed her-“
He was on the other station too. I mashed the seek station button.
“And then the Lord-“
It wasn’t Hannity, but I had no interest. I searched again.
“These liberals can’t even get one of the most basic tenets of the leading-”
Hannity again. A third station out of four.
I turned the radio off.
After listening to my music on random into Austin, I managed to find my host’s apartment. Our greeting was awkward, but we moved fairly quickly to the decision that we should hit the downtown Austin scene for a bit of local flavor.
We hit up this big Irish Bar that seemed like it would normally be packed, but tonight was a Monday night. We were just about to finish up our dinner and beer when a waitress came up and asked if we wanted to play some trivia, winner gets a $50 bar tab, plus some other beer at some other points.
That $50 tab would completely cover our food, drinks, and a round for the cutest ladies in the room.
We signed up.
There was going to be 6 rounds of 10 questions each, ranging from general knowledge to Shakespeare. Our team was the two of us and “Mr. Google” who just happened to be hanging out in my phone. That, and anyone I could think of to text message for answers.
I’m shameless when it comes to free beer.
We won the first round, and kept our lead by a point into the second. We were actually coming up with a vast majority of the answers on our own. I think Google may have helped us get 2 of the answers right that we would have missed otherwise.
We did horribly in the third round, completely sacrificing our lead. Being mid twenty-year-old guys, 70’s pop culture questions were just out of our league. Our total scores were tied up at this point.
The fourth round maintained our scores. The fifth round, the Shakespeare round, was where things got interesting. This was a free beer round. The winner of this round gets a free round of beer. Through some intense help from a couple friends, we managed to tie with “super, super team.”
There was a tiebreaker.
One person from each of our teams – I went for ours – were to come up to the MC to answer a do or die question.
We both answered the same. It was another tie.
Now it was double tiebreaker time.
The question was, “What is the job of the character Helen Hunt played in ‘As Good As it Gets.’” I put, “writer’s girlfriend.”
They didn’t take it.
With tensions high, the final round began. There was a three-way tie in overall points and the winner was getting $50 worth of free beer.
We bombed. Our worst score yet.
We paid our bill and left. A shame we didn’t win, but at least we had a good time.
While we played, we spent a while joking around with the other teams, having a generally good time. My host was a wonderful, generous guy.
I can mark another place off my list of states to be apprehensive about.
P.S. I'm sorry I didn't conclude the New Orleans post. I really just a had a bunch of pictures and a few minor things to write about. I set up a flickr page to upload my pictures. I will put everything there and it should be more up to date for where I am. Feel free to check out all of my New Orleans pictures there. It also has my Texas Panhandle pictures up.
The Flickr should not change much about the way this page is updated.
You can find it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadtrip-life/.