Space cowboy

“Night has fallen on the desert.” That’s Ken Layne, beginning each episode of “Desert Oracle Radio.”

Daylight has fallen on the desert — and in celebration, I just dropped a few coppers into Desert Oracle Radio’s tin cup over to Patreon.

It felt overdue. I’ve been eavesdropping for free, the way you do when you can. But suddenly, while listening to this week’s episode, I thought: “If I’m gonna keep riding this old greydog through the Mojave, I should really buy a ticket.” So I did.

There’s a lot of talk lately about what new “technology platforms” are doing to “traditional media companies.” Yeah, I suppose. You get to write, or talk, or whatever, with a minimum of interference from “gatekeepers.” And if you’re lucky, maybe the audience will forget that information wants to be free, become subscribers, and kick a few Dead President Trading Cards your way.

Most of what I read about the newsletter boom centers on its threat to old-school newsgathering operations. But Will Oremus at Slate seems to hit the nail on the head when he notes that the Substackers are mostly about commentary and analysis, not straight, original reportage of the kind we used to get from our daily blats before Gannett snatched ’em up.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the commentariat has snuck off the reservation. Even in my little backwater, cycling journalism, management realized early on that “analysis” was a whole lot cheaper than sending staffers to the scene because it could be done on the cheap, at the office, where they could keep both eyes and at least one thumb on the indolent tippling slackers. No airline travel or rental cars, no hotel rooms or restaurant meals, no credentials, no worries. Plus the office has reliable internet. Crank up those MacBooks and pound out the thumbsuckers, bitches.

Now the commentariat has realized they don’t need management skimming the cream from their milking of the audience, assuming they’ve built one and can monetize maybe 10-15 percent of it. Good for them, and good for us, especially if it drives management at “traditional media companies” to think about actually suiting up for the game, which is to say covering the news.

As a bush-league blatherer myself I try to keep semi-informed, so I help nurture a variety of operations, from large to small, outfits and individuals I’d like to see thrive. The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Atlantic. Charles P. Pierce at Esquire. Adventure Journal. Padraig and the gang over at The Cycling Independent. And now Ken Layne at Desert Oracle.

Sometimes it’s about the news. Sometimes it’s about the commentary. I’m a sucker for a nice bit of writing, like I heard in last night’s Desert Oracle Radio episode. It put me in mind of some of the grumbling I’ve heard from Hal Walter lately as Weirdcliffe starts to seem a little too big for its Wranglers.

What if, some day … what if we stopped working hard and stopped doing what we’re told? What if we moved to little specks of towns all over the country? Not the places that already have an organic bakery and four coffee shops with more almond milk than coffee beans, but the places built for things that no longer happen and where nobody ever came up with another workable idea. Old mining towns, old cattle-ranch crossroads, the mostly abandoned towns on Nevada’s U.S. 50 or U.S. 6. The real Las Vegas, an hour east of the wealthy island of Santa Fe. Far-eastern Oregon and Washington state. Places where you could maybe afford a house for your family, your friends, whatever arrangement makes sense. Clean air; hopefully, enough water. Clean streams for fishing. Walk your dog out the back door and into the wild. Keep a garden to attract the bees and the hummingbirds. Why not? What are you waiting for?

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22 Responses to “Space cowboy”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Some of that proliferation of substack land seems to be driven by quests for ideological purity, as was the folks who said goodbye and good luck to the NY Times. I’ve signed on to a couple substacks but generally am ambivalent about them. Maybe if there was a company that bundled a bunch it would be worth it.

    CI is getting a little too predictable. I wish all these independent journalists would learn to play in one big sandbox again.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The bundling is apparently a running gag, according to Oremus:

      Already there’s a running Twitter joke that someone should get together a bunch of Substack writers, give them editors, and bundle their newsletters together for one price. (“Congratulations, you’ve invented a newspaper!”)

      I make my little donations to The Cycling Independent just ’cause. I don’t spend a lot of time over there. Is anyone cranking out a really interesting cycling publication? Of course, in the past year it would have been tough to keep such a mag alive, much less interesting.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Hee hee and haw haw. Yep, a newspaper!

        Same here on the little donations. Its gotta be tough to write about cycling when you are in the middle of a pandemic. I’ll keep pitching my filthy, WMD-tainted lucre into the kibble dish over at CI, the Dispatch, the Bulwark (my spouse has that one), NY Times, Abq Journal, Fanta Se People’s Liberation Post (i.e., the New Mexican), New Yorker, Adventure Cyclist, and whoever I forgot to mention. As long as there is money left at the end of the day for a cold beer, such as the Second Street Brewery IPA, which I am enjoying right now after a windy bike ride where I stupidly left my aero wheels on the bike to knock me sideways at every gust.

  2. Pat O’Brien Says:

    I used to think I could take my retirement money and put it to good use, as in spending it locally, in some little town going through tough times. But the places get gentrified fast, and I’m not moving again unless we run out of water.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Heh. The three of us might want to start thinking about the Great Lakes. I think sooner or later there will be sand coming out of our water faucets down here.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’d be more inclined to head back to the Pacific Northwest. Water was not a problem when I lived in Corvallis back in 1980-83. The gloomy weather might drive me back to the sidewalk-softener of me fathers, though.

    • Pat O’Brien Says:

      I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. Plenty of water there; don’t be surprised if a hedge fund doesn’t build a pipeline from there to the Southwest. Maybe when water is $1 a gallon, people won’t use it to hose down their driveways.

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        Thanks for the edit mi amigo!

      • B Lester Says:

        I’m originally a Milwaukee, Wi kid. The Great Lakes has a very longstanding compact among all shoreline entities that no water can leave the GL Basin. Interestingly, there is a glacial esker about thirty miles west of the Milwaukee lakefront that is a boundary of that basin. The white republican stronghold of Waukesha, on the wrong side of that esker, has been jonesing for lake water for a very long time, but, until now, it’s been a no-go.

        They’ve recently gotten permission to get lake water, but have to return it when they’re done. Their workaround is very expensive pipeline to send their treated wastewater over the esker and into a local river that empties into the lake.

        Hopefully the Great Lakes Compact never dies.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Maybe we can get Scott Walker and Foxconn involved in this pipeline project. They seem to be solid bidnessmen and problem-solvers.

      • B Lester Says:

        Yup yup yup. Great visionaries they is. The latest lie from Foxconn is that they will be greatly downsizing their Wisconsin factory that was supposed to make big screens. Now they’re gonna make, um, electric cars. Yeah, that’s the ticket, electric cars. Woo whee,

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Chazbo Pierce was snarking on Scotty the other day. Sez Chaz: “If you look around the conference room and you can’t tell who the mark is, it’s you/”

  3. SAO' Says:

    // What if, some day … what if we stopped working hard and stopped doing what we’re told? What if we moved to little specks of towns all over the country? //

    Perspective is a pretty cool thing. It’s too crowded here, in the least crowded country on Earth.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thing is, people like to cluster where the Starbuckses is. Or at least within easy motoring range.

      I wonder what it would be like to set up shop in what William Least Heat Moon called a “My God! What if you lived here?” kind of place. Like Austin, Nevada. I’ve burned a lot of gasoline in Nevada over the years, and been through Austin a time or two. Man, you can see company coming a long way off from Austin.

      I guess you’d get your groceries up to Battle Mountain, maybe once a month splurge on a trip to Reno with a shitload of Igloos in the truck bed.

      But before you know it you and your pals would have disco’d the place all to hell and gone, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a vacationing Texan, if that’s your idea of a good time. It’s already happening in Patagonia, Jim Harrison’s old hangout, which has been discovered by the Gravel Gang.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        Patagonia is an abomination now. I couldn’t afford a single wide mobile home there. Sonoita followed soon after. Bisbee? I could have done it in 1981, but not now. I’m waiting for Sierra Vista to get discovered. The house market here is crazy right now, just like in the early 2000s. The difference is now the speculators will destroy your 401K instead of your home equity.

      • SAO' Says:

        I got a cousin live in somewhere out in 29 Palms, I think he bought four single wides, Cut the ends off them and welded them together into a big box so he can run around naked in the interior courtyard.

        When his dad died, his share was around 2 million, the only thing he wanted to do was get off the grid. Last time I heard from him, he had spent $1.9 of that $2.0.

        I’ve met maybe a dozen people who tried to divest themselves of their worldly possessions and then head out to parts unknown. I think everyone of them ended up coming back.

        Not that it’s not a noble idea… It’s just that the people with the means to do it usually don’t have the smarts to pull it off.

        “Freedom comes at a cost. The open road looks good if you’re not lost. “

        • SAO' Says:

          Sometimes I think that evolution has run its course. The skills that helped us rise up from the savanah are no longer of any use, and in fact our steering us in the wrong direction. But the evolutionary bar has been lowered so far that not possessing survival skills is in no way a hindrance to reproduction.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          Crusty County, Colo., was as close as we’ve gotten to “out there.” Ten miles from a town with no stoplights in a county with more cows than people. Well water, septic, propane/wood heat, electricity, satellite TV/internet. Private road that required a bit of maintenance from time to time. Hot and cold running critters.

          We lasted seven years, and the last two or three we got pretty twitchy. We never really fit in. So, boom, off we went, back to Bibleburg, where we stayed for 13 years. We’ve been in ’Burque going on seven now.

          Crusty County/Weirdcliffe was an interesting experiment in sanity management, but it’s not one I’d care to repeat. Having a getaway up there would be one thing; full-timing there was another.

          • Pat O’Brien Says:

            Seven years????? Damn, where did they go? I still remember the posts you did riding around Duke City before going there. And, the move posts were memorable too.

        • khal spencer Says:

          My better half said that Los Alamos was as close as she would ever get to living in the sticks. When she retired, the announcement was made that enough was enough and it was time for city life again, so here we are.

          Fanta Se is Ok because it is a small city. Fortunately, we snagged this house before the prices went through the roof and fortunately, the Bombtowne Estate sold easily.

          Yeah, she and I have preferences a little like this old song. I don’t know how Eddie Albert pulled it off but here we are back in the city life.

  4. carl duellman Says:

    that was a pleasant. i listened to the story while changing brake cables and wrapping new bar tape on my fargo. bar tape is not something i do often enough to be good at it but i never let perfect get in the way of the good enough.

    i looked up property in antelope, oregon. not much for sale worth having.

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