The Magic that was this Journey

Sunday, February 6, 2011

2– 2.6.11 – Wetwesties and Three Rivers Casino

First stop: Nehalem State Park, a few miles south of Manzanita, Oregon and on Nehalem Bay. This is Oregon, so being surrounded by what seemed like an unusual number of Westfalia camping vans didn’t seem unusual.  Until I looked closer.

Super Bowl weekend is Wetwesties weekend and Westfalia owners, mostly from Oregon, converge on Nehalem State Park for the Anti-Super Bowl weekend of wet fun. They’ve been doing it for 20-some years.  It’s always wet; it is now.  They’ve suffered all manner of weather over the years (gales, snow, ice storms, just rain) and often have to cope with no power, which is important because they meet, nightly and need power in the meeting hall.  These folks are what Michael Perry (Truck: A Love Story) would call “hippies with health care.” Most are a bit grizzled and long in the tooth.  They love to party and to talk.

I met John, (Silent) Bob (in a kilt) and the Wine Geezer.  Unlike the folks I talked with on my first day on the road, none of these men raised an eyebrow when they heard I’m traveling the perimeter of the country by myself, with two unruly dogs (and Maggie Mae is still terrible anxious).  The Wine Geezer told me the group recently had a conversation about guns on their Yahoo group and nary an uncivil word was spoken.  The spectrum of opinion about guns and gun control are represented in this group of hippies with health care; do not presume that just because someone looks like you, they think like you. They disagree about guns and gun control and are adamant in their disagreements (and some here are carrying), but they have respect for each other even if they don’t respect others’ positions. Let’s parse that out: how can you respect someone but not respect their position or opinion?  It makes me think about my friend, Lisa Zanetti’s, research on empathy and how important empathy is to public administration and to being part of a community.  In the soon-to-be-published second edition of Government is Us, Lisa says:

The enduring importance of empathy emerges from its inevitable connection to social organization. Hoffman (2000) writes of empathy: it epitomizes the existential human dilemma of how people come to grips with the inevitable conflicts between their egoistic needs and their social obligations (12)… There is a distinction between cognitive and affective empathy. Cognitive empathy involves perspective taking (I know what the other is feeling) and is more dispassionate; affective empathy (I feel your pain) risks slipping into emotional contagion and personal distress.

Lisa goes on to explain that recent research shows us that “empathy for those we perceive as unlike ourselves must actively be cultivated and sustained. Our brains must be trained to experience empathy for out-group members. Its not an evolutionarily conditioned reflex.”

So, how do we cultivate and sustain empathy for those not like us? Is “respect the person but not the position” only possible with a group of folks that, as the Wine Geezer said, run mostly moderate to liberal?  

What a perfect beginning bookend for this research – aging hippies, disagreeing with each other, with empathy and respect.  This is in Oregon, of course. I expect I’ll run into a very different crowd when I pull into a park or campground in Arizona or New Mexico – snow birds, dancing to a different tune?

The next night: I didn’t have to go far: Three Rivers Casino in Florence, OR.  The three rivers and the three tribes (confederated) are the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw. I’m “parking lot surfing,” staying for free in the casino’s lot. No hookup; just back to basics camping (in my all the comforts of home mobile home).  Like a junkie jones’n for a hit, I’ve come to the casino to use their wireless.

From the looks of it, this couldn’t be a more different crowd than the one up the beach at the state park.  The parking lot is not full of VW vehicles; my little “Toy” is the smallest vehicle in the RV lot (at 21½ feet).

Side note: I am slowly, but surely, destroying my rig. Yesterday, I scraped the driver’s side on a post when pulling into a gas station and cut the fiberglass exterior!  What is wrong with me? The “home” part of my Toy is wider than the cab and I need to change my perspective and accommodate this width.  Kate and I were driving home from swim practice a few weeks ago and a Dolphin (another brand of “Toy”) pulled into the lane next to us. I looked over and remarked to Kate about the excellent condition of the rig and she said to me, “Mom, your rig was in excellent condition when you bought it.”  Touché.  I am not so good at driving this thing.  One hopes I get better.

I’m also bruised and battered and have 10 cuts on my hands!  Keeping a rig in shape (aside from running into things) requires tougher hands, obviously.

I’m thinking about cultivating cognitive empathy (perspective taking) as I observe life in this casino and sympathize with my tender flesh and the apparently tender flesh of the body of my rig.  Thinking about how to cultivate and sustain tougher exteriors--which allow for differences from me, like those I see and experience here--but keep a tender heart.


  1. I think that where we run into an inability to empathize is when we only know the other person by the opinion that we disagree with. I had a funny dream once where I met Glenn Beck at a dinner party and thought, wow, he's actually really nice in person.

    Wetwesties! Jaime and I just bought a Westy last year! If he wasn't always immersed in the leg session this time of year, I'd suggest we head down.

  2. Isn't getting dings on your conveyance (and body) in keeping with Joseph Campbell's schema for the heroic journey?