Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “United States of America”

The Stars and Stripes Freeway

Yesterday was a landmark moment in my life. I stood before Old Glory and took the Oath of Allegiance. I am now an American citizenship.  This is a culmination of an arduous process full of bureaucracy more than anything spectacular. But what began as essentially a pragmatic step transformed into a meaningful process.

There is a lot wrong with the United States of America. The team here at Left Coast Voices has highlighted so much that needs to change if we are to truly reflect the vision and values of this country. But there is something incredibly inspiring about this country. Maybe you need to be an outsider to see it.  

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Leaving the citizenship ceremony, I was overwhelmed with the desire to do something…American. We settled for hamburger and fries – the burger, of course, wild salmon or Zen-practicing fowl (I am still from Berkeley), and the fries would be chips and eaten with a fork (the rumors that the Queen defriended me on Facebook are false). 

What I wanted to do was jump on my Harley, blast Bob Seeger or Bruce Springsteen and hit the open road. Now, notwithstanding that I do not own a motorbike, wouldn’t know how to listen to music while on one, and that my family and gecko would be distinctly uncomfortable hanging on as I negotiate the curves of the beautiful Highway 1, I was totally ready.

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I guess a Mustang would do the job too provided it had a sun roof to throw back.

But there is something about the Open Road. I was born on an island where in a few hours in any direction and you would reach the ocean. I spent half my life in an even smaller country whose borders were never open for me to safely cross.

I have read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, each several times. I feel a surge of adrenaline whenever we leave the Bay Area heading north for a vacation or south to my good lady’s family. I used to spend hours planning the right music and where to stop. I once went three hours out of my way, detouring as an adventure (this was before gas reached $4 a gallon), hoping to see…what?

I fantasize that when retired, Mrs. Blogs and I will RV across this beautiful country. I have a friend doing just that and I love reading his stories.

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I have included many scenes from these road trips in Unwanted Heroes and its unpublished sequel. As I made the transition into fantasy, the landscape, trees and even stone hamlets found their way into my world building. I wrote earlier that you can find fantasy everywhere and the open road is such rich fodder for authors.

But for now I want to avoid Odessiya and other mythical realms. I am in America and the magic of the open road is a connection to share with my fellow Americans. If you don’t believe me, check out Lana Del Rey’s amazing video: Ride. 

And for those of you who are worried, I have not abandoned my roots in a purge of patriotism. Come June 12, my half century celebration, I will still don my England soccer shirt and cheer the Three Lions. Some habits run too deep.

 But after they crash out of the World Cup, I can console myself and hit the open road with my friends and fellow countrymen and women:  Bob, Bruce and Lana.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out withAlon on Google+

Berkeley Bashing

Once again, the world is frustrated with Berkeley. I love the city, often agreeing with the political vibe that runs through certain parts of our population. I also reserve the right to take issue when I disagree. However, the difference between me and say those who publicly went on record with the following quotes, is that I am content to live in an arena where public debate and civil discourse can be debated at any of our fine coffee establishments or in any one of many creative ways.

“I have had it with Berkeley, California, that anti-American bastion of disloyalty to the values and existence of the United States of America,” Dr. Laura, the syndicated pop psychologist wrote on her website. “I am calling for Berkeley to secede from California and the United States and go form their own pathetic country.”

Fox Nation was blunter: “Berkeley Gives America the Middle Finger,” read the headline of one article.

And David Gewirtz, the executive director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute who not only went to Cal, but who teaches at UC Berkeley Extension, wrote that

“The Berkeley City Council, as a body, is nuts. Always has been. Probably always will be. I can say this both because I used to go to grad school and work in Berkeley, and because their actions support the label.

“The City of Berkeley thinks it’s a sovereign nation. It’s not, of course, but that’s never stopped Berkeley.”

So what is it that makes people so upset with Berkeley? Admittedly some of us are snobs, bigots, and/or hopeless dreamers, but they exist in the rest of the US as well. I often hear the phrase: “Well this is Berkeley, not America.” We even celebrate this with a How Berkeley Can You Be street festival.

I recently met two elder gentlemen and discovered how one of them was apparently the guy in the 60’s who had made and sold a passport for People’s Republic of Berkeley. I’m not convinced to this day whether they had been serious, given their rueful thoughts on the matter forty years later.

However, while I will man (or person) the barricades of free speech on Telegraph Avenue, I do understand one comment made by someone critical of the latest council motions.

Berkeley suffers from pockets of poverty, areas of high crime including homicide, and West Berkeley is an environmental mess. Perhaps we might serve the world better by being an example of solving these not exactly unique problems with sustainable, caring solutions.

However, just to show that I have no pretense at cultural equality, Jon Stewart is allowed to have his fun at our expense.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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