Experience Counts for Little With a Writing Sample: The Inquisitr

Screenshot of The Inquisitr recruitment page
It is interesting to note that The Inquisitr, which appears at first glance to be a content mill which requires 100 plus articles per month from its “staff,” require applicants to provide three examples of work published and then ask for a written sample. When submitting your three urls of past work they then state that to save time you may want to write a sample article based on topics provided by them.

After submitting prior work they then inform you that the sample must be written anyway. Fair enough. It is, after all, their company and if they prefer to not mention up front that the sample article is a requirement, so be it.

At no time are any guidelines offered for this sample. After punching out a fluff piece on Heidi Swedberg, a former Seinfeld cast member, I waited over the weekend with no response from my contact at The Inquistr. No email stating that they had received the sample and no feedback. After following up my submission with two emails, the first was a one-word query, “Feedback?” The second asked if they had even gotten the sample.

After getting a response saying that they had and it was being evaluated, the very next day I learn that they do not like the sample and it has not “passed the quality” evaluation required. Could I please write another one.

Uh…That would be a no.

Since 2011 I have written 2478 blog posts for my personal site, I wrote just under 2000 articles for the Guardian Liberty Voice, where I worked as Deputy Managing Editor for Entertainment, 40 articles for Viral Global News, since December 2014, around 7 for Rogue Cinema, I left to work at GLV, and around 3 or 4 for another company called WhatCulture! the last two sites paid nothing to their writers. These stories include interviews, film reviews, television recaps and reviews as well as other types of articles.

I did mention that I’d worked at the Guardian Liberty Voice for 18 months, my position and even provided a link to the site, where I wrote my little heart out, for pay. Their response was that they still required the sample. Again, fair enough. Except for the lack of guidelines, apart from it had to be around 400 words, I had no real issue with the requirement.

Such a short bit of work was a “walk in the park” and took little time to put together. Ensuring that nothing was plagiarized (to the best of my knowledge) and that it contained the “trending” information relevant to Ms. Swedberg was not a problem. This was to be, after all, a sample article, not to be published but used, I thought, to show what I could do. A little something that they would use to provide proper feedback on what they were looking for.

This was not the case. Their response? Write another one which may show your skills a bit better. There was no explanation of what I did “wrong” or what they were expecting. Entertainment pieces are not “real” journalism per se, I should know I’ve been writing these pieces for the last two years, so the bit I submitted should have been fine, on the off chance it was not, I expected a reason more forthcoming than “sorry, it’s not good enough.”

This “writing in the dark” process of applying for what appears to be a content mill site may work fine for them, and for other writers, but I am not playing this game. For one thing, it tells me that this is some sort of power play thing where they can tell then me I cannot write, ergo justifying a lower wage for my product. Either that or they surprised me and read my other blog post where I voiced my suspicions that they were either a sweat shop or content mill publication. I sincerely doubt the latter as they seem to have a system in place that does not recognize other work.

It seems that the requirement to submit three url’s of published work is nothing more than a chance to prove you have been published. The real part of the application is the sample article which does not include any guidelines.

Perhaps I am being picky here. They may be assuming that the basic journo rules that have been in effect for ever and ever, amen, are enough in the way of guidance. Fair enough, if that is the case, but when writing fluff, aka gossip, aka entertainment, the rules bend…a lot.

I already write for a site, which may or may not ever pay me anything. I do not contribute on a daily basis for a number of reasons which includes divvying up my time between memoirs, their site and my own personal blog all while trying to get my site monetized. On top of these time consuming things, I have no Internet, apart from my slow iPhone hotspot so I must ride to either the library or Burger King for Wi-Fi on my bike. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the trip takes a minimum of 45 minutes one way.

Living on a pittance, and believe me it is a pittance, and trying to come up with money for Internet and still be able to eat is a challenge and one that I will not attempt until I can get a few more paying jobs under my belt.

I will end this long winded rant with one thought.

I worked for almost two years on a site that recruited new writers constantly. Hundreds applied on a regular basis and out of the stream of applicants who thought they could write, very few actually could string a sentence together and many of them knew English only as a second, or third, language. So thanks, but no thanks chaps at The Inquisitr. I’ll not play your game. Many will, I have no doubt, but I refuse to believe that my work failed a “quality” check and will not submit again (as I stated in my short email back).

Your loss.

9 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

America: The Land of the Big

Two overweight people on a benchSince I have been coming to Burger King to make use of their free Wi-Fi it has become apparent that America is the land of the big. Big Gulps being swallowed by big girthed people. The same huge folks who always go extra large for the small extra charge. These gargantuan folk are all ages and all seem to share the same appetites.

Watching these rotund and elephantine people from behind, they look like carbon copies of each other. The arm swinging waddle with bulging areas of fat beneath each armpit, the roll of fat round the waist and lumped on each hip. It is exhausting to see these huge examples of humanity move. The amount of effort required to move that much mass is amazing and tires me out just watching them move awkwardly toward their SUVs.

When I was a lad, being hefty was considered healthy. Skinny boys and girls were looked down upon. Those were the days when parents urged children to “eat that fat it’s good for you.” Put some meat on those bones boy. A time when those who did not have “love handles” would drink banana shakes with an egg or two in it to gain weight.

Times changed and people learned that eating fat was not good for you. Carrying around all that excess poundage was bad for your heart and meant that more than likely, those who had those “love handles” would meet their maker that little bit sooner.

Living in England for 32 years, I used to hear about “fat America” from mates and colleagues. While there, I observed quite a number of folks with weight problems and felt they were exaggerating. Surely the US was no worse than the UK. Since moving back though I noticed that the average size of the average American is “big.”

You can see them with those Big Gulp drinks, or their equivalent, eating the double whopper with extra cheese and the super-large fries, followed up with a large desert. Afterward, their hearts pound while moving all that fat through their veins and arteries. Heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen and when they fall, the floor will tremble.

It is depressing to witness so many trying so hard to kill themselves slowly with big appetites, big servings and little exercise apart from struggling to hit the next fast food outlet. Seeing fat parents, fat children and fat babies, is enough to put one off eating.

America land of the big you are burying yourself under the weight of food and drink. Learn moderation and exercise, before the entire country becomes a welter of bulging XXXL people who lose the use of their legs when these appendages refuse to carry the excess poundage.

For your own sake stop.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: And Death

Death of a deer
Riding home last night after having spent hours in the Burger King making use of their wonderful Wi-Fi, I noticed a lot of buzzards in the darkening sky. Oddly, on my way to town much earlier in the day, a lone bird stood in the road just outside the estate. Standing motionless, it was seemed to be staring off into the desert at God knows what. The buzzard only moved when I stopped my bike to take a picture. Very camera shy these carrion eaters.

The first thing that sprang to mind was the scene from Wild Hogs where Woody, Doug, Bobby and Dudley (played with hilarious precision by William H. Macy) are walking their motorcycles along the desert road and a buzzard is patiently following the small group of men. I was not too perturbed as the featured creature was not paying any attention to me at all.

As I rounded a corner of the road, just before a deep wash that reeks of either dog or coyote, off to the right about 25 feet from the pavement lay a deer. Face pointed to the road, long eyelashes still as death and not a mark on him or her, at least not that I could see. It was quickly getting dark and despite the light being strong enough for my old eyes to see everything in stark detail, the iPhone 5 could not compensate for the dwindling sunlight.

I took a few pictures and then had to “tweak” them at home in order to make out the details. After remounting my bike, I started again for home. The buzzards who had been circling the deer flew down to the fresh carcass to join the one bold chappy who did not mind me taking his photo. There were roughly 10 of the birds scattered around the deer.

After a couple of strong pumps on the pedal, I was on my way. I looked the the left and broke out into gooseflesh. On two trees, mesquite I believe, there were another 30 buzzards all waiting for their turn. I know it was 30 as I stopped and counted. I was so shaken by this sight that I quite forgot to attempt a photo. It was, by now, a lot darker and most likely would not have come out.

Today on my way into town I watched for the body. I could not remember how far away the poor deceased creature lay from my house. Much further than I thought as it turned out. The huge amount of buzzards had disappeared and only around 5 to 10 were feasting on the creature’s body.

As I approached, using the video on my iPhone, the birds all took off. This enabled me to get a bit closer to inspect the “damage” done.

WARNING: This next bit is not for the squeamish.

Last evening, the deer was pretty much whole. It could have been sleeping as, from what I could see, there was no apparent cause of death. I remember wondering if it had been bitten by a rattlesnake as no wounds were visible. Today, the animal’s remains were dramatically reduced from their full state the day before. Apparently after I left the area a feeding frenzy ensued with not only buzzards eating their fill but coyotes as well?

Here is the uncut video:

I wondered, ever so briefly, whether or not this was the same deer who almost crossed in front of me back in February as I walked back to the estate after dark. It certainly had the same “lack of horn” as that one did, but it is highly unlikely. Just another reminder that the desert is not just full of life but death as well and that both rely upon the other to exist.

27 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Life in the Real Desert: Hummingbirds

Hummingbird wikipedia I love hummingbirds. A lifelong fascination with these constantly moving tiny collectors of nectar has been around since the first one spied on my Grandmother’s honeysuckle bush. Since my new life in the real desert began this year, I’ve noticed a plethora of these nimble creatures.

These beautiful miniature birds, with their long needle-like beak, are as adept at avoiding the camera as the many lizards that populate this area of the world. Although the lizards are getting used to my presence. One who scampered by me two days ago stopped and turned around to look at this odd creature that it had zipped past.

Moving back toward my still form, the little chap slowly walked right between my legs. Demonstrating complete nonchalance about this huge thing that had initially startled it. My imagination had the scaly fellow thinking, “Ha! I’ll show you I’m not afraid of any giants or strange creatures.” In reality, since I was not moving and the day was incredibly still, the lizard with the long black tail just could not sense me. Still, it was…entertaining.

Equally entertaining has been watching the hummingbirds getting used to the feeder I put up two days ago. After finding the thing at the house, empty, I asked my mum about filling it. She was unsure about the recipe for homemade nectar. I looked it up on the Internet. (4 to 1, if you are interested; i.e. 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups of water, add to a pot and boil, but not too long as it weakens the sugar content. Let the mixture cool. Do not add food coloring to make the stuff look like the red store-bought stuff, trust me, the birds do not need it.)

On the first day, after I’d cleaned the thing thoroughly, I prepared the nectar and let it cool as per instructions. Later I filled the feeder and placed it in the shade of the porch. These was a larger hummingbird who was flitting about the front garden (yard) all week. I retired to the RV and watched his flight pattern throughout the day and he seemed bound and determined to ignore the nectar recently placed for his pleasure.

Speaking to a neighbor later the same day, I explained that I was worried about the recipe used. Perhaps the sugar to water ratio was off? I told him that if after another day the birds had not stopped by to have a drink, I’d take it down and find another formula to make the nectar.

The next morning, Mr. Large Hummingbird continued to flit about the small courtyard, but now he seemed to be looking for something. Flying up about the same height as the feeder but a good 20 to 30 feet away he hovered and floated this way and that, searching. A bit later he made a maneuver that can only be described as the hummingbird version of “sidling.”

He (or she) edged up to the feeder slowly and cautiously. Any noise, like my television or a car moving past frightened it off.  The creature was large for a hummingbird, but the constantly moving wings and tiny talons put him in that class of feathered friend.

Eventually, the thing approached the feeder and sat on the edge. Looking all around, it finally dipped its beak into one of the slots and after the first time, did so repeatedly. Funnily enough, this was like a signal to all the smaller hummingbirds in the garden. Presumably if the big chappy liked it, the stuff was considered okay and lots of the wee little, and colorful, birds stopped by for a drink. Before the sun went down around 9 came by for a leisurely drink.

As I sat on the porch, reading yet another Louis L’Amour book (this one about a female Sackett named Echo) several came up to drink. The sounds of their wings up close has the same effect of a wasp’s wings in one’s ear. Unlike a wasp, the tingly feeling was not one of alarm but just the start of gooseflesh which dissipated rapidly. The texture of the flappy wings was more leathery and not insectile and the sensation was odd, to say the least. It was, however, enjoyable.

More so because the little frantic creatures accepted me sitting there with my cup of green tea and western novel. It was very nice and calm, despite the leathery flapping.

There are a huge amount birds in the real desert. One, who obviously is not a friend to the hummingbird, attacked the large chap who first took a drink at my refilled feeder. The other creature was gorgeous. Yellow, with darker tones mixed in and much lager than the tinier bird. I have not looked up what sort of bird the yellow, and disagreeable, bird was, but will do so.

This morning, I laughed till tears rolled at a sparrow who was bound and determined to catch, and eat, a moth on the inside of the window where I sat working.  I had paused, taking my hands off the keyboard for moment and was surprised to see this small bird about a foot away from my face, pecking at the glass.

Beak open, he darted forward and smacked the window then, wings flapping, it backed up and tried again. I was puzzled at first and then saw the small beige colored moth on my side of the glass. The insect was moving slowly across the surface, completely unfazed by the predator on the other side who gave a few more hungry pecks at the glass before giving up.

Before coming to town, aka Burger King where I have coffee and Wi-Fi, the hummingbird was back at the feeder. This time he hovered at the side, dipping into the nectar repeatedly before flying off. As he zipped around the corner of the building, I was reminded of a story my mother told me when my cousins and I were playing around Gran’s honeysuckle bush and chasing the hummingbirds when we were little.

Mum said that she had an aunt (or cousin, it was a long time ago so I’m not sure which) who was terrified of these speedy little things. Apparently, at the same house and near the same bush, she was playing chase with someone else. As she rounded the corner one of the hummingbirds flew right into her hand, impaling the girl with that long nectar seeking beak. For the rest of her life she was scared to death of the tiny creatures.

Looking at the large hummingbirds beak, I can see why, that must have hurt like hell and must have been very shocking to boot. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for my lifelong fascination, this tale of a sudden involuntary attack and the phobia it spawned. I’ll ponder it later today while I watch the creatures collect more of my homemade nectar.

17 April 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Bicycle versus Car: 0 – 1

Loves Truck Stop Each time I’ve ridden my, much admired I have to say, red Schwinn to and from town, there have been a considerable amount of drivers who refuse to leave adequate space between their motorized vehicle and my bike. Each time this happens, I fill the air with profanity and either lift one hand to indicate gap and or give the hand gesture for “wanker”

Or both.

At least one time I flipped an ignorant so-an-so a fairly furious bird…

Each time this happens, I vow to write an article about idiots who do not know the rules about leaving enough space between their vehicle and a bicycle. Whilst waiting to store up adequate vitriol to write said article, yesterday, the thing I have been dreading finally happened.

A car forced me off the paved surface. Not, however, off the main road, but off of a parking lot. (Which in my shocked state yesterday I continued to call a car park. This is particularly funny as my colleagues in the Prison Service were always poking fun at me for calling it a parking lot while I was in England!)

The whole thing was my fault. If I had not stopped at the truck stop where I’d left my pocketknife two days ago, it would not have happened. After checking with lost and found, it was not there, I got back on my bike and headed toward the exit to town.

In this portion of the parking lot, there are car spaces on each side for parking and the right hand side was full. As I passed the cars, a station wagon backed out of its space and sat there idling with its reverse lights on. I swerved to the far left to avoid the car and seconds after doing so a blue four-door sedan turned into the parking lot on “my side” of the road driving straight for me.

I was parallel to the station wagon facing the blue car. To my left was a 10 to 12 inch curb, an aggregate shoulder surface and a streetlamp with a large square, and yellow, base. I moved as close to the curb as I could while attempting to break.

The only thing I could tell about the blue vehicle was that a man appeared to be driving. The windows were tinted fairly dark and it was difficult to see with any certainty. The station wagon had still not moved and the sedan headed right towards me.

My bike impacted with the curb at roughly 7 mph as moving away from the car seemed prudent. I tapped the top of the curb with my left foot and the second time I tried this maneuver my foot “hopped” and both the Schwinn and myself went airborne. Approaching the ground I started to “tuck and roll” but my elbow was not quite tucked in enough.

I did roll, however, and stopped when the back of my head came in contact with the base of the streetlight. At the same time, my backpack hit the ground with some force. My first thought was of my MacBook Pro, my only real source of income at the moment.

I sat up slowly and ignored the panicky desire to open my pack to check the laptop and began to check for bruises, broken bones, et al. A group of men were working on a SUV opposite me and they paused to glance over.

“Did that guy hit you?”

“No mate, he forced me off the bloody road!”

They shook their heads and chuckled. No one asked if I was okay, so I must have looked all right. I checked my legs and found that the right leg, on the shin area, had a huge amount of swelling on the front, about as long as your forearm. My left leg had a fist-sized bump near the outside of the calf and my left elbow had an egg-sized lump on it.

I quickly checked my bike and it appeared to be fine. I walked it to the front of Loves Truck Stop and locked my Schwinn up. I searched for a member of staff and after finding one, explained what had happened and asked if they had a first aid qualified worker on hand. She took me to the first aid section (aspirin, salves, et al). I said, “No, I don’t want the section, where is your first aider?”

She replied that they did not have one, that if anyone is that badly injured they are rushed to the nearest hospital.

I was amazed. In England, each place I worked had insisted that a minimal amount of staff were trained in first aid who could treat others who were injured until the ambulance could arrive. Not, apparently, in this country.

I went back out, hopped on my bike and rode it across the humpback bridge, over the I-10, and went to Burger King. I had a couple of coffees, a snack and called the VA to see what I could do for treatment.Burger King

I also rang the local “Urgent Care Clinic.” The young lady explained how they had worked VA treatment in the past and gave me the number to Quartzsite’s transit service. They came and collected me from BK and dropped me off at the clinic.

As the pain and swelling increased I spoke again with the VA who gave permission for me to use the local clinic, as the nearest facility was miles away. There was some initial confusion when the local folks thought I had actually been struck by the blue sedan and not just forced off the road. Apparently they cannot treat patients struck by a vehicle.

Finally, after what felt like hours, I was seen to. The nurse was concerned about my right leg. She put an Ace bandage on it and gave me instructions to put ice on the swelling every four hours for the next 48 hours. I was to keep the leg elevated and under no circumstances was I to walk on it.

The receptionist rang the local police to report a “hit and run” as the blue sedan never stopped. Although in this case it was a “forced off the road and run.” Her thinking was, even though I had very little information for local law enforcement, they could at least give my bike and me a lift home.

The police opted not to “follow up” the report, unless I really wanted them to. I explained that was fine as all I had noticed, before tumbling off onto the aggregate and dirt, was the color of the car and I was not even sure of the driver’s gender.

They did take me to get my bike from Burger King and helped me to load it into the back of the Range Rover police vehicle. They gave me a lift home and we chatted amiably all the way back. The officer, whose name I never did quite catch as it was a long one, said that they were going to start a campaign to inform drivers to leave enough space between them and a bicycle.

While waiting to be seen at the clinic, I did what I always do when in shock. I paced, ran off at the mouth and joked around a lot. (I was told off for pacing by the nurse.)

Since my return home, I have discovered a few things. Re-wrapping an Ace bandage, for instance, is an enormous pain in the arse. There is no way to put the thing on so that it looks like the original configuration and it feels loose where it did not before.

Frozen mixed vegetables work just as well as frozen peas as a substitute for ice and elevation is highly overrated. (Although it is quite comfortable.) The settee, where I have bivouacked for my period of recovery, may be comfy, but in terms of getting 3G on my hotspot is the worst area I could have chosen.

My T-Mobile signal is so weak and erratic that it is difficult to make a phone call let alone hook up to 3G (that they charge me for but in reality is 2G) so that communication with anyone is nigh on impossible.

I have also learned that the day after banging one’s head into a yellow concrete streetlight base, is when the swelling and tenderness starts.

Thankfully, since my heart attack in 2012, my pain gauge has increased. I am in pain, and it is difficult to walk, but it is nowhere near as agonizing as the day it took hours to “rush” me to hospital for my double heart surgery.

This little town constantly amazes me. Quite a number of the folks here are very friendly and helpful. Taking the “glass half full” road, I am counting myself very lucky that the bugger in the blue car did not hit me with his vehicle. I realize that I need to practice that tuck and roll maneuver just to see if I can get that elbow in quicker.

Finally: The biggest plus is that my laptop made it through virtually unscathed. Oh, the outside is a bit scuffed, but the inside bits still work and that is the most important thing of all. As I finish this article off, I thank the big guy for letting me off “lightly” with my bike versus car challenge. It may by 0 – 1 in the drivers favor, but as the local Sheriff, or deputy, put it, “things have a way of working out he’ll get his just reward one day.”

18 March 2015

Life in the Real Desert: A Day of Rest

Schwinn 700C - my bike

After a busy Saturday spent learning that no one in town really wants to buy anything despite what their signs say and watching the screener of Awaken at Burger King it was decided, by me, to rest on the seventh day of life in the real desert. Although to be quite honest, contrary to what my Facebook post says, I was tired from riding my new bike over 14 miles each and every day for six straight days. The final deciding factor was looking down and seeing bruises on my legs.

While not too concerning, they are the result of taking one of my heart medications, it bothered me enough that I felt Sunday would be best spent writing my review for Awaken, starring Natalie Burn, and possibly writing an article or two as well as posting on my blog.

As with most “best made plans” about the only real thing accomplished was sleeping in and writing the review. Forgetting that the Internet is agonizingly slow out here in the middle of the desert, my plans were waylaid fairly easily. On the plus side, a little RV cleaning was done with the idea that a clean home is a happy home.

This was also a chance to catch up on my Asian cinema DVD collection and watch some old favorites. The Pang Bros’ Recycle, Takeshi Miike’s One Missed Call, and the Korean knock off of Kim Ji-Woon’s Tale of Two Sisters; Epitaph. All of these are films that I can watch over and over. After a triple serving of Asian horror, it was time to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Downey, Kilmer and Monaghan directed by the more than capable Shane Black.

It was interesting to learn that as Quartzsite nears the end of its season, that no one on the main drag wanted to buy a wireless Apple keyboard or magic mouse (hardly used). Of course having to explain to the store owner (“We Buy, Sell, Trade”) what a magic mouse was could have had something to do with it. Although the shop did have laptop carry cases for sale…

The other strike out was a place that buys old coins, gold, antiques etc. Granted, my trip was just to see what sort of offer might be given for an old 1926 silver dollar and a silver 50 cent piece. Turns out, according the the chap who runs the shop, that 1926 was not a “spectacular” year for silver dollars. This meant that the price for the coin was $16. Interesting, but not enough to persuade me to sell this old bit of change.

The guy was not too bothered that I did not want to part with the coin, “After all,” he said, “16 bucks won’t buy a meal at McDonalds these days.” I did not want to argue, but I could have eaten several $1 cheeseburgers over the course of a number of meals. Still, one man’s cheap burger is another man’s super size quarter pounder with cheese.

Apart from checking on whether personal retail really was a possibility in Quartzsite, it was odd to see the town so deserted. In an odd way, the place feels more comfortable, if not safer. The old snowbirds who flock to this town all suffer from diminished driving skills. The fact that they have driven to another area is, overall, a good thing.

Although to be fair, it isn’t just the aged who drive as though they have left their brain at home in the walk-in closet. On one afternoon, while walking to town, I was almost hit by a lorry (a semi in USA speak), an RV who was towing a trailer behind it almost as long as the RV itself, an idiot in a pickup truck who passed another car and came so far toward the other side of the road that I had to leap to safety and some jackass who left so little room between me and the car that a mosquito would have been killed had it tried to fly in the gap.

Other times, there are drivers who refuse to leave a door’s width between their speeding vehicle and my bike. Not too upsetting if they are slowly passing by, but most are hitting around 50 mph. The combination of being way too close and too much speed has, on more than one occasion, almost made my heart leap out of my throat.

The point being that out of all those dangerous drivers mentioned above, none appeared to be over 40.

Still, my day of rest has allowed me to ponder what the summer months will bring and how much I need to set up a routine. Getting up early has never been my thing. I can do so and have but not willingly or well. Still, I now know that I am becoming a “regular” at one fast food place, Burger King, and staff at a lot of shops speak more readily now and will share a little laugh occasionally.

The weird way I speak helps. Having an accent that people mistake for Australian “Throw some shrimp on the barbie and crack open a few tinnies mate,” always helps to make one more memorable. There will obviously come a point where I do not have to explain where the accent comes from and that I was actually born in this country. Until then, it is (pun intended) a talking point which allows me to be that bit more approachable.

My list of things to write about, in the small town of Quartzsite, includes the small empty house on the way to town and the local celebrity (silent film star) who was given a sword by the famous Pancho Villa. There are many other things about life in the real desert which are fascinating and these will also be addressed whilst I write my own stories and continue to seek monetary recompense for articles written.

8 March 2015

Life in the Real Desert: Where Did All the Hippies Go?

Church Sign...After promising to write about all the Navajo-horse-blanket-jacket-wearing hippies who were frequenting Quartzsite in my Life in the Real Desert “series” they all seem to have disappeared. This leaves the question of just where did all these hippies go? There are still a number of Desert Rats hanging around, but that number has dwindled as well.

The hippies were pretty easy to spot. Horse blanket jackets, dreadlocks – regardless of skin color or nationality – a lot of body surface dirt, a tendency to avoid sunblock, no shoes, some pretty “crusty” looking clothes  and they moved in clumps. (The hippies, not their clothing.) Like most members of any particular branch of society, some were friendly and others only wanted a hand out.

One bearded young man, with his wife(?) and two small children drove a station wagon, or an estate if you live across the pond, that had a sign painted on its side asking to be funded in order to allow for a vehicle upgrade. Many locals were/are not too enamored with these throwbacks to the 1960s and 70s “love children.”

This attitude is a little ironic considering that a lot of the vendors who sell their wares in the small burg seem to be remnants of the real deal from back in the day. Tie-dye t-shirts, raggedy trousers or long skirts, again dyed, along with any number of ribbons. Of course just as many of these sellers look like escapees from Cool Hand Luke territory complete with reddened neck and southern drawl.

Like any small community, even one made up of nomadic snowbirds who flock in and out, the “regulars” soon spot a new addition who has stumbled into something resembling citizenship of the town. Example: I sound a bit different when I speak. After years of listening every day to the Queen’s English, both at home and at work, I struggled to maintain my American accent, on my old agent’s advice.

Now that I’m not in that market any longer, my accent has changed to reflect my 32 year background. A young lady at the local Burger King, home of excellent free WiFi, asked about my background and another female worker quickly explained that “he comes in most every day.”

Without missing a beat she turned to me and said, “I just love your accent!” To which I replied, “Why thank you, it took me 32 years to learn.” The point is, that even frequenting a local fast food establishment, recognition comes quickly. As this is a small town, one can expect this familiarity to become a regular occurrence as time goes by.

Quartzsite, three camel sign.
Town sign outside of Burger King

 

Now that I’ve noticed that the hippy contingent has disappeared, the time has come to ask the locals if this is normal. Considering the amount of cold weather, for the desert that is, perhaps they all moved to warmer climates like Mexico for example.

For those who were positioned along the intersections near the highway,cardboard signs grasped and thumbs pointed, the numbers have dwindled until only the odd “rat” is hitching a ride. When I first arrived, one “hippy” had a sign with the destination “Anywhere but here” written on it. Another’s said, “Out of Quartzsite.”

I had talked to one young lady who told me point blank that the town was not friendly and that she’d almost gotten in a fight at the local food bank. Not for her, she said, she was sticking up for an elderly lady. As a result, she lost the vittles collected for her and a friend. The twenty-something woman stressed that Quartzsite would not be on their list of places to visit next year.

This information has already been passed along in an earlier article but bears repeating considering the lack of “flower children” in the town. It seems a shame that they’ve disappeared. There was a group who hung out in the shade of a local “hardware” store. They interacted with an old soul, who had a broken leg, that had staked out the shade of a solitary tree on the same lot.

The young people sat in the dirt and sand, eating what they had scrounged and chatted amiably amongst themselves. Speaking, if spoken to and not behaving in a threatening manner at all. Quite unlike the Desert Rats who can be, at first glance, a bit intimidating to the older snowbirds in town.

One Desert Rat dresses like a modern day Robinson Crusoe. On his head is a sort of crumpled tri-corner hat, obviously self-made. He wears a khaki jacket,  what looks like either a skirt or jeans with the legs split open and combat boots. He has black hair and a black beard shaped into a long point, it actually looks like something the devil would sport.

He has some sort of bag, or wrap, around his middle that he keeps covered from the sun. His skin is the color of old teak and mahogany and only the lightness of this legs give clue to his being caucasian in origin. A fascinating chap to look at and one that many people moved away from as he approached. Being on the opposite side the main street, I could not tell if it was appearance or odor which made him an object to be shunned.

Highway running past Quartzsite
On the road again?

 

The Hippies, or travelers as I prefer to think of them, may have disappeared for now and while I have no idea where they have gone, I do miss them. They were all young and seemed to be pretty much carefree. The young wives or girlfriends were pretty and friendly and did not disturb anyone that I could see. Perhaps they will be back.

Until then, once I put together my replacement bike, which could take some time since there is a wheel nut that does not want to loosen, I’ll continue my explorations of the local area and write more about the interesting little burg that is Quartzsite. I have my cousin Kenny and his delightful wife Carla to thank for reminding me that the area here is full of history and deserves to be written about.

Thanks!

25 February 2015