On the Road: Mekong Postcard

by Bill Murray


We’re off to meet a small live-aboard motorboat about three hours drive south of Ho Chi Minh City to cruise the Mekong Delta for a few days. The older gentleman driving has a deep, rich voice we don’t understand, speaks no English and we no Vietnamese besides pleasantries, the names of some food and a particular local beer, 333, not very challengingly pronounced baa baa baa, like the black sheep.

He’s a pro driver, no doubt about that, all turned out in a nice golf shirt and slacks, and he works our little sedan to the Saigon River then south out of town, and holds a steady course until the city falls away. He appropriates the left lane and proceeds with zealous caution, a campaign strategy he follows every bloody deliberate inch of the way.

Steady ahead. If he hurtles inadvertently to 60 kph, even on long, empty stretches, his face flushes and he brakes abruptly. Could he be working by the hour? If they say this trip should take three and a half hours, no way will he make it three hours and a quarter.

We first came to Saigon twenty-five years ago. Since then women have largely dispensed with the demure way they rode the back of cycles, both legs to one side. Back then many more women wore the traditional Ao Dai, the thin, body length robe. Perhaps that made it hard to sit any other way.

The river yields to a web of canals. Smart electronic overhead signs show the way through less kempt industrial outskirts. Now we roll along a divided six-lane highway, with extra outside lanes for every variety of two-wheeler, and this goes on for miles and undifferentiated miles. Read more »

Burning My Confederate Flag

by Akim Reinhardt

1967 Summer of Love WardrobeTo be born in America in 1967 is, to some degree, to fall through the cracks.

The Baby Boom was most certainly over by then, its most senior elements old enough to vote and drink. But the Millennials, now the focus of every drooling advertising executive and marketing guru, were naught but twinkles in the eyes of their Boomer sires and dames.

Bookmarked between bigger generations, being born in the late 1960s and early 1970s meant you were conceived and suckled amid the tumult of the Civil Rights and Vietnam protests; in (cloth) diapers when the moon landing occurred; discovering kindergarten as President Richard Nixon’s Plumbers were bumbling the Watergate break-in; and learning to read when the final U.S. helicopters evacuated Saigon.

To be born in 1967 means that when the late 1960s and early 1970s were becoming iconic, you were there, but you weren't. You didn't get to partake in the Summer of Love. You're what it spit out.

Thus, when coming of age, many important things were very familiar to you, but their meanings were muddled. Cultural symbols like bell bottom jeans and rubber Richard Nixon masks were still common enough to be lodged in your consciousness, but deeper insights were lacking. By the time you were waking up in the late 1970s, they seemed to be little more than goofs, unmoored from the bloody anti-war protests that divided a nation, or the collapse of a presidency that shook Americans' faith in their government.

Sure, we understood our own moment well enough. Late Cold War and early computers. AIDS and acid rain. Crack cocaine and homelessness. But the gravitas that had conceived us was by then little more than parody and catharsis. Black Power surrendered to Blacksploitation. Protest songs gave way to disco and synth pop. Vietnam was reduced to Rambo.

And if the late 1970s began glossing over so much of what had immediately preceded it, then the 1980s buffed it into a smooth, porcelain sheen. In pop culture representations of the 1960s and early 19790s, substance had been overtaken by style. Symbols, absent their meaning, were rendered fashion accessories and punch lines. A case in point was the Confederate flag.

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