Far cry from adobe

I've settled on a new place to live in Emmaus, PA--a second floor apartment in a 'Queen Anne'-style house on the edge of the downtown business district. The house's towers, gables, and dormer windows are a world away from the angular adobe walls and jutting vigas that dominate architecture in Santa Fe. Plus, there's a lawn (with real grass) in the back just right for a tomato garden. My office is a 1/2 mile walk or ride away, and along the way I pass stores where I can buy Indian spices, fresh-made crab cakes, .22 ammo, and even get a tattoo.


Hitting the culture nail on the head

Sometimes, and perhaps with greater frequency now, reporters at the New York Times catch a cultural phenomena at its birth. These are the articles you read not because you already know about the topic--but because they are utterly fresh and enticing. And I am not referring to those articles that attempt to cast a survey of your close friends as a massive cultural shift, like the September 20, 2005 article "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," which, quite appropriately, got shredded.
But in an article dated April 27th, Styles reporter Warren St. John wrote about how MySpace.com profiles are becoming virtual shrines to people who have died tragically young. Okay, so most New York Times readers are probably vaguely aware of the Internet social community fad, and sites like MySpace.com-- even if it's from what their children tell them. And reporters have been trying too--the Times has run 86 articles in the last six months that mention Myspace.
But St. John's article, "Web Sites Set Up to Celebrate Life Recall Lives Lost," takes that extra step. He zooms in to examine 150 profiles of deceased people among the 70+ million that MySpace claims to have online. He highlights one website in particular that tracks these dynamic obituaries--http://www.mydeathspace.com/. A quick purview of that site enables you not only to anonymously visit the Internet "bedroom" of the deceased, but also see their friends and understand how they are reacting to their loss. It is microscopic, macabre, and universally fascinating. And I think it's good journalism.


Harvard - it's in the name

A few weeks ago Gene Plotkin, a 27-year-old Wall Street trader and 2000 graduate of Harvard College was arrested by the FBI for allegedly running a global insider trader scheme based on tips from the printer proofs from Business Week magazine. And over the weekend, the Harvard Crimson reported that Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore whose new novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life netted her a $500,000 advance while she was still in high school, plagiarized several passages from previous teen angst books by Megan McCafferty, a former editor at Cosmopolitan and YM.
Duke University has received worse press coverage in recent weeks, but Harvard students and graduates aren't belting out the school's fight song in public, especially if these allegations turn out to be accurate. I don't believe there is anything particularly noxious about going to school in Cambridge, Mass. that encourages breaking the rules. Harvard is a college like any other. Students work hard or slack off, or alternate between a combination of the two. Students cheat, and they also get caught. Cheaters might be exposed at higher rates than other schools because Harvard professors use high-tech computer programs to catch plagiarized words and computer code. Most students cut corners to keep from falling behind. Those that cheat and succeed don't talk about it.
But more than having your roommate write your essay, or getting an early look at an exam, Harvard's main problem is the slow seep of entitlement that all students there absorb. Dining hall conversations are conducted through a warped prism that focuses all attention on this school and its importance in the world. Students learn that they are to be the best, first, and smartest in everything they do. At first most of this self-importance is imagined. But as the Harvard name and diploma works its magic, the bestowed authority becomes more real. It can also influence behavior. 'You are already the best,' the internal rationalizing goes. 'What you do to stay the best is not cheating, but your own cleverness.' Some people take this entitlement too far and blur the distinction between right and wrong or legal and illegal. It's easy to cheat when you consider yourself on a different level from everyone else.
But not all of this ego is cultivated inside Harvard Yard. Many people are quite willing to give Harvard extra attention, for both its triumphs and follies, which nourishes an already strong self-absorption. And as long as the rest of the world continues looking, Harvard students will continue to be seen--for both good and bad reasons.


Backpacker Isle

I'm learning that the archipelago of magazines resembles the Galapagos islands and its unique finches. Like those famous finches, magazines and their editors evolve in isolation to accomplish similar goals and overcome similar challenges. Darwin's birds have specially adapted beaks depending on the island they inhabit, while magazine editors develop tools to plan, edit, proof, and design that are specific to the attitude and needs of their home-publication. The balance of emphasis can be slightly different as editors weigh the importance of fact-checking, brainstorming, and even the internal sections within a magazine. In some places the difference is lingo. Printer proofs are all the same, but can be called "Blue Lines," "Proofs" or "Last Looks."
On the Galapagos, a finch who migrated to a new island would find an entirely different species with no connection to him. But in journalism, an editor who leaps to another magazine finds a world that's like a new map laid upon a something familiar. The destination is the same, but the routes and street names are different, and the new grid takes a little while to figure out. This is all becoming apparent to me as I start my new job at Backpacker and learn the environs of this new magazine island.


Day Four: Home stretch

Today Jackie and I will drive from Akron, Ohio to Morristown, New Jersey--the final 450 miles of this road trip, and a journey between two homes for me. I grew up in the town of Hudson, a satellite suburb of Akron, and my parents now live in the Garden State greenburg of Morristown. My Subaru, which sports a "Learned Owl Book Shop" bumper sticker (the independent Hudson bookstore where I worked during high school), will bring its exotic New Mexico license plates to Soprano country. And this 2,000 mile trip out of the desert will end with a Passover seder of matzo ball soup and gefilte fish.


Day Two: Arrived in Saint Louie

After two days, 1100 miles, and countless gallons of nearly $3 gas, I've arrived in Saint Louis. A few moments come to mind from my road trip thus far.
Just after merging onto I-4o East at Clines Corners, NM, I looked back and for a few minutes could see all the peaks in New Mexico that I had climbed or set foot upon, including Hermit's Peak, Santa Fe Baldy, and the snow-capped teeth of the Truchas ridge. I had never seen those mountains arrayed so splendidly, and I am glad that I looked back one last time.
In addition to a dozen CDs, my companion on this trip has been an MP3 version of the "9-11 Comission Report" -- read by a computer-generated female voice. Besides pronouncing the CIA as "seeya" and "NGO" as "ngoo" (not to mention the numerous and colorful Arabic names), this free MP3 version has been a great way to get into that report, which provides a terrific chronology on al Queda's decade-long and increasingly destructive war on the United States. I'm learning a lot of new things.
I am also remembering humidity. Cool mountain air was just a memory last night as I walked through Okalahoma City's "Bricktown," a warehouse district re-done as a trendy food and entertainment venue. A giant outdoor jumbotron showed the Red Sox playing in Fenway, and the moist night breezes felt oddly comforting to me, like an old familiar friend being re-introduced.



Si, se puede

My last 'Santa Fe moment' might be my best one.
On Sunday afternoon I got caught up in a pro-immigration march in Santa Fe --a few thousand people coursing through downtown streets wearing white shirts and singing and chanting.
I originally thought the march was some sort of religious procession--it being Sunday, everyone dressed in white, and Santa Fe being a predominantly Catholic city. But then I saw the signs and banners, mostly in Spanish, with fiery pro-immigration slogans.
I was in the Plaza along with hundreds of bewildered tourists watching the boisterous marchers when an olive-skinned man standing next to me leaned over and asked, "What are they shouting?"
Huh? From a quick glance, I had taken him to be Hispanic, and was surprised by his request for me, an obvious Anglo, to translate the Spanish chants. But then I realized that he was an Indian from one of the pueblos (reservations) that surround Santa Fe. He didn't speak Spanish.
"I think they are saying 'Si, se puede,' " I told him. "It means 'Yes, we can.' "
The man nodded and thanked me, and then walked away with his friends past the famous portal where Indian artisans have been selling turquoise and silver jewelry for over 100 years.
I later did some research and learned that the slogan, "Si, se puede," has been borrowed by the immigrant rights community from Cesar Chavez's United Farm Worker (UFW) campaign from a few decades ago. Ironically, the UFW opposed illegal immigration, as incoming low-wage workers threatened the unionized jobs they were trying to protect.
Only in Santa Fe...


Five boxes

That's what is sitting on the archive shelves in the basement of the Outside magazine offices. In those boxes are enough facts, hopefully accurate, to float a battleship. It's rare to see my two years of my life compartmentalized like that - but sometimes it's possible. Five years from now when those five boxes are carried away and destroyed, I wonder where I will be, and if their fate will ever cross my mind.