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The Adventures of Steve

Episode 29: Damn you, Chaos Butterfly!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

You've all heard about the chaos butterfly: the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can change weather patterns in China. The comic strip "Tom the Dancing Bug" takes the story a bit further by showing in one panel the Chaos Butterfly flapping its wing and in the next panel, some unlucky dude gets splashed by mud six weeks later and yells, "Damn you, Chaos Butterfly!"

Perhaps you recall from earlier episodes how difficult it was to get information out of 21st Century Democrats as to whether I was hired or not. The situation has decayed.

The guy I pestered into hiring me has quit. His boss who took his place has quit. The lady who took his place has quit. And now nobody knows anything.

I left D.C. last Wednesday after being frustrated by the hideous traffic and inexplicable shutdowns of public services emanating from the corpse of Ronald Reagan. I did manage to visit the 21st Century Democrats in their ramshackle office in Washington to learn there was no new information. The weather was starting to boil as well, so I decided to get away for a couple of days so I purchased a tent at REI in Fairfax and drove out to the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I hiked in about three miles on the Seneca Creek Trail near Spruce Knob (the highest point in the state) and set up camp near a burbling a creek. Mosquitoes kept me in the tent most of those two days, but I had a book that my boss John had given me as a going away gift from the BPA. A most relaxing and refreshing time.

But by Friday I was getting antsy and decided to start heading North. That day I drove all around West Virginia, one of the most beautiful places in the world, no kidding, and then Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. I stayed one night in a hotel in Millford, across the borders of New York and New Jersey. On Saturday, I jammed through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. I stayed that night in a perfect campground (only $5!) in the Green Mountains National Forest. Sunday I did New Hampshire and landed in Maine that night.

I would start each of these days with a cell phone call to the voice mail of my field director at the 21st Century Democrats office--completely unaware that he had already split.

Let me tell you about the East Coast--or rather the reality as it contrasts from my preconception of the East Coast. Outside of the big cities (and after D.C. I avoided them all) there is a huge amount of wilderness, forests, woods, green rolling hills and natural areas. I had thought that the entire eastern seaboard was just desolate industrial brownfields, endless Wal-Mart parking lots and crowded freeways as far as the eye could see. In the best-case scenario, I pictured cultivated farms taking up all the available land. To my great surprise, most of this part of the country is un-chopped woodlands. And it is really beautiful! You don't have to be in Oregon to see great forests. (Tall forests, yes, but no greater than here.)

Living cheap on the road while still being technically inclined requires some balancing. I've taken to a possibly bad habit of scoping out posh neighborhoods, pulling up to the sidewalk, and scanning for unprotected wireless Internet access for my computer, just so I can check my e-mail. I've also been known to go into a coffeehouse with my computer, camera and cell phone chargers just to recharge all my batteries.

The car ("Bantha I") has been working well and together we've done over 2,000 miles since Columbus. It is certainly time for an oil change and some maintenance (the muffler seems to be coming off), but I am glad to report that our travels have been without misfortune.

On Monday, June 14, one day before my job was to start, I received a call from someone at 21st Century Democrats. Please follow this closely: the caller wanted to know what my phone number was, because they had apparently lost it again.

At this point, a little red flag went up.

Several phone calls later, I started to get a picture. Nobody in D.C. knew what was happening in Maine or what our involvement was going to be. The work in Maine would not start until July 1. They had supposedly contacted all the Maine people to let them know about the switch... except me, of course, since they didn't have my number. It was decided that I had misunderstood the former deputy field director and the former field director when they said that us Maine people didn't need to be in Maine until July 1 but we could start on June 15 if we wanted to (I had understood this to mean that we could start on June 15 if we wanted to). There would be no housing or money until July 1. Damn you, Chaos Butterfly!

Feeling a bit bereft, and watching my savings drop precariously after each hotel night, I decided that it was time to get pro-active. I looked up the Maine Democrats on Tuesday and set off a number of alarms that connected me to Ben Grant, Portland resident, state Senate caucus director and super nice guy who, with his fiancé Cate, took me out to dinner and gave me a place to stay for two nights.

Yesterday I spent the whole day out with Ben and his camera crew, snapping shots of his state senate candidates in a tour of the best Americana locales: the family shot around the rope swing under the big suburban tree; the business shot in the local furniture designer's shop; the farm shot with a flat of organic lettuce; the firehouse shot with the fire chief; and the little league shot with the candidate volunteering at the snack stand. The day concluded with a visit to Portland Head Light, which Ben claims is the most-photographed lighthouse in the world (he's from Portland, not Florence).

Today, Ben led me to his coworkers in Augusta, most of which had heard some word of my misadventures. I spoke at length with Toby, the state house candidate coordinator. I spent the majority of the afternoon doing laundry at a coin-op in Augusta, getting my entire wardrobe spiffed up after two weeks on the road.

With a few more calls to D.C., it became clearer that Toby was in fact my new supervisor and I'd be working for him until November. (This was news for him as well.) It's still unclear as to whether or not my employers will be paying me for anything before July, a rather major irritation. Toby has also taken it upon himself to put me up in his beautiful Brunswick home he shares with his fiancé Molly, at least for now.

And that brings me to the present where I'm sitting on a huge pile of futons and comforters in a room overlooking the Kennebec River. I can get on the Internet here, but my phone is out of range here and I can't even get my messages. Tomorrow I begin working (or volunteering?) in the Augusta office of the Democratic state party. I do hope things start lining up and Chaos Butterfly ceases frustrating me.


All of the Adventures of Steve

   Episode 1: In which Steve leaves Eugene and arrives in Rancho Cordova.
   Episode 2: In which Steve visits the Jelly Belly factory and gets a haircut.
   Episode 3: In which Steve gets a cold, a big box, and a seat on a train.
   Episode 4: In which Steve receives shiny new toys and loyal old friends.
   Episode 5: In which Steve departs for Iowa and rants a bit about why.
   Episode 6: In which Steve takes a trip to Des Moines.
   Episode 7: In which Steve gets really involved.
   Episode 8: In which Steve starts hobnobbing but is haunted by Arne Baker.
   Episode 9: In which Steve becomes a groupie and is informed that we all have love in our hearts.
   Episode 10: In which Steve becomes a media whore.
   Episode 11: In which Steve takes on Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine and Michigan.
   Episode 12: In which Steve is pitted against Fort Dodge, Iowa and seven vans of unruly Texans.
   Episode 13: In which Steve learns that all his hard work wasn't enough to put the candidate back together again.
   Episode 14: In which Steve does nothing.
   Episode 15: In which Steve reaches a decision and attempts to get virtually hired.
   Episode 16: In which we thank the good doctor for all he did.
   Episode 17: In which Steve suits up for a new life in the Cap City!
   Episode 18: In which Steve starts to realize he’s not in Eugene anymore.
   Episode 19: In which Steve switches from job seeking to home seeking.
   Episode 20: In which Steve starts to learn some things via the error side of trial and error.
   Episode 21: In which Steve experiences his first blizzard.
   Episode 22: In which Steve contemplates his next move.
   Episode 23: In which Steve prepares to switch gears... again.
   Episode 24: In which Steve spends a week in a hotel with four thousand teenagers and then gives his 30-day notice.
   Episode 25: In which Steve reminisces about his 10 weeks in Columbus while waiting in the wings.
   Episode 26: In which the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
   Episode 27: In which Steve changes everything.
   Episode 28: In which Steve finds Brood X, gets a teeny crush on a fellow trainee and learns where he's going, approximately.
   Episode 29: In which Steve starts to see how politics really works.
   Episode 30: In which Steve writes a letter to Kelly, executive director of the group that fired me.
   Episode 31: In which Steve spends a tentative week commuting to work in Maine.
   Episode 32: In which Steve learns he's just one piece on the board.
   Episode 33: In which Steve settles in for three months of intense campaigning.
   Episode 34: In which Steve is deep into the final countdown.
   Episode 35: In which Maine wins, the nation loses and Steve heads home.
   Episode 36: In which Steve doesn’t do much more than comb the classifieds and update his Web site.
   Episode 37: In which Steve slips into a normal life.

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