We Read Books So You Don't Have To: Progressive Nation


When it comes to travel, we will admit to being a total geek. Forget about a beach in Cabo or a schmancy resort: We want to see where important stuff happened! We've been to Paul Revere's house. We've stood in the room where Winston Churchill was born. We even made treks to the Abbey where the Sound of Music's Maria almost became a nun and the farmhouse where Bogie married Bacall. (Admittedly, our definition of "important" is pretty expansive.)

That's one reason why we were happy to choose "Progressive Nation: a Travel Guide with 400+ Inspiring Landmarks and Left Turns" for our second Valley Fever book of the week. This isn't just a travel guide for geeks -- it's one specifically written for lefty geeks. And it's got a really good chapter on Arizona.

Author Jerome Pohlen -- who's lefty enough to have run for Congress on the Green Party ticket -- highlights five local spots. And, we have to admit, we were only aware of one of them before reading this book: the gorgeous Old City Hall in Phoenix, which is part of the county courthouse and is the spot where the Miranda case was twice tried in the '60s. Thanks to Ernesto Miranda, rapist and kidnapper, every crook in the country has the right to remain silent. Yay for progressive values!   

This book shouldn't be taken literally as a travel guide; it's not clear that Pohlen has visited all the places he's written about, and he doesn't give quite enough detail to make a pilgrimage possible without a little sleuthing. (Which courtroom, for example, hosted the first Miranda trial? Pohlen doesn't say.) But for a state-by-state guide to progressive highlights, this book was surprisingly zippy.

Pohlen chronicles a trio of Tucson locations (yawn!) But he also gives some ink to a spot well off the beaten track. Literally. Pohlen writes of Harry Hay, a gay activist who in the late '70s became convinced that gay men were "losing sight of their unique sexual identities in an attempt to mimic heterosexual roles," as Pohlen writes. "And, at the very least, gay men were becoming boring."

So Hay convened the first-ever Faerie Gathering, hoping to establish a "flamboyant, anti-assimiliationist fringe of gay liberation." He chose to host the festival in the Sonoran Desert, forty miles outside Benson -- and still manged to draw more than 200 men.

As Pohlen writes, "One of the weekend's highlights, according to participants, was a 'spontaneous mud ritual' along an old creek bed. Sometime after dusk a horned black bull came upon the nake, mud-covered throng and stayed nearby until frightened off by a fireworks display. The faeries took the bull's spontaneous appearance as a positive omen." But of course.

Of course the idea of flamboyant, anti-assimilitationist gays seems charmingly quaint in this age of gay marriage, adoption, and Portia-and-Ellen domesticity. But we think that only makes the Faerie Gathering movement seem even more worthy of a road trip. 

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske