The Makings of a Book. . .

Escaping Austin, TX. 2012

The Makings of a Book. . .

I was dropped off on 1-35, mid morning, south of Austin. The roads out of the city are strange: a highway, or “feeder road”, is parallel to the interstate, and the only connection between the two is a short ramp where you gotta gun it to survive. I was standing by a long stretch of fast cars and a narrow shoulder. Horrible hitchhiking terrain. So I walked up to the next exit, where the shoulder was gaping, but where cars went just as fast. I passed by a small cornfield, thinking that if I didn’t get picked up, at least I’d have a place to sleep that night.

I held out my sign: S. Antonio. I stood between two entrances to restaurants. A quarter hour in, while I was looking at the ground and eating some peanuts, I heard a honk. A girl in a white car waved at me. I grabbed my things and walked over.

“Where you off to?” I asked.

“San Marcos.”

“That’s about 40 minutes from here. Right?”

“About.”

She popped the trunk for my luggage. I jumped in the empty seat beside her. We were off.

She was a pretty woman with a strong face and healthy thighs. She wore a short-sleeved women’s blazer and her hair was loosely twisted into a French braid. She was going to court in San Marcos to finalize the divorce of her husband.

“Hopefully it will all be done today.”

She had a carseat in the back.

“You got a baby?”

“Two children: two and six.”

“Do you pick hitchhikers up when they’re riding with you?”

“Oh yeah, sure. All the time.”

In San Marcos, she let me out at a filling station in a similar situation to the previous one, only this one was curved with five roads merging into one. One of them lead back to a neighborhood. I stood on the side of that road. There was enough room for a ride to pull over at the old Dairy Queen.

Several cars turned into the Dairy Queen or the neighborhood, but none of them recognized me. A couple cops rode by and I waved. Suddenly, a blue car abruptly stopped as he turned into the neighborhood. He wiggled his hand excitedly. I ran over.

“Where you go?” He was a Mexican man with big, brown eyes.

“San Antonio.”

“Oh no. I just leev here,” he said pointing down the street, sounding suddenly sad. Then immediately he perked up and pulled out a wad of bills, saying, “You need? You need? Here, here.” He fingered out a few dollars and pushed it at me reverting back to a smile. He was eager to help the homeless.

I thanked him graciously as he sped off as quickly as he came. I walked back over to my stuff, carrying my sign. Right in his place, coming the other way, another Mexican in a blue car looked at me curiously, searching for the language of my sign. I turned it to him. He shrugged and nodded.

I jumped in. The car smelled of strong cologne. We rounded the Dairy Queen corner and cut on down the highway. He was a mighty big fellow, driving back home to Corpus Christi, passing through San Antonio. Most of the drive he was on his phone with various people from his work and some woman who was telling him a story while she was working at a pharmacy. She put him on hold every time a customer came to the counter. “And it wasn’t even an interesting story,” he said.

When he wasn’t on the phone, I squeezed what I could out of him. He is a wifeless man with no children who “loves it that way,” and thoroughly enjoys his job as a superintendent at a local high school. He could retire in 11 years if he wanted to, at age 49.

“I also get to travel a lot,” he said, “but not quite like you. I like the hotels.”

He let me out at a stoplight on Commerce St downtown, across the street from the hotel he often stays in when he visits San Antonio.

I gathered my bearings under the bus stop shade. The famous Alamo was down Commerce and to the right. I took a swig from my jug of water and stepped out into the sun. I tied a bandana around my neck to block it and periodically wipe my unshaven face of sweat. The jug, I nestled behind my head against the brain of my backpack. It fit snuggly.

The buildings were shiny and pale orange. Regular city buildings. Colorful cars zoomed up and down the streets. Pedestrians strolled by in pairs on the sidewalks. I tried to blend in, but my hair was a mad mess and I hadn’t washed my clothes in days.

The feeling of being left alone in a new city is a rare one. It’s sort of an unvisited alien world made by humans like any other human you’ve ever met. A world unknowing of you, but in which you can easily navigate because you’re aware the parameters of the intelligence of the race you’ve just invaded.

I walked to a regular park, shaded under big, curling trees and wind-beaten palms. I rested and waited for nothing. A lady nearby was selling snow cones from a cart. I bought a purple-flavored cone with a dash of red for $2. It was worth the stains.

The Alamo. San Antonio, TX. 2012

I’d never been inside the Alamo until that afternoon. Admission was free and I could walk through wearing my pack without hassle from the sheriffs. They walked around in brown uniforms under white cowboy hats. Some wore shades like meaty Texas Rangers, with hands on their hips.

In a dark room, where someone was probably slaughtered, I watched the short film about the history and battles of Mission San Antonio de Valero, or “The Alamo.” It told all about its being built as a Catholic compound for the Spanish in the late 18th century, the post-occupation by Mexican soldiers, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Davy Crockett, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and of course the battles for property and Texan liberty. I learned that a fellow South Carolinian had something to do with the win of the state.

The hall was decorated with all sorts of daggers, guns, rifles and ancient, rusty skeleton keys that hung behind glass. Facts were written about each relic. A beat up silver chain was strung through the dusty hoop of an unwound pocket watch. Across from a diorama of the compound were replicas of uniforms used by both Texan and Mexican soldiers. It’s hard to grasp the idea that the structure we walk through – with our fanny packs and cameras, snapping photos of old weapons and purchasing plastic snow globes at the gift shop –  is the same place that natives and immigrants were massacred in order to allow the winners of the battle to sell these snow globes.

I came out of the fortress with some new knowledge. For a couple hours I roamed the city on foot, speaking to several people and to no one. I passed by liquor stores, bars, shops, statues, and the market square. After sitting on a church step in the shade, I walked down a sidewalk and gave one of the dollars from the Mexican in San Marcos to a crusty, crying bum in the corner. One homeless to another, I suppose. I cruised down a set of wide steps to walk beside the river along the shops and trees and cafe tables along the water. Tour boats drifted by. Ducks swam with orange feet and bobbing pigeons cooed. I ordered a plate of Mexican food for $6 and wrote in my notebook beside the afternoon water

I left a tip and walked back up the stairs to the street. I’d arranged for a friend of mine to pick me up on the corner of Commerce and Losoya, so I made a seat out of my backpack next to a trash can and a cop. He rode away on his bike after a few minutes.

I was watching the people that walked around. Some with tattoos, some on bicycles, others with children or briefcases.

San Antonio Riverside. 2012

One kid with dreadlocks and a skateboard was crossing the street my way. He looked like a guy I might get along with, so I nodded to him. But I guess I was just a bum to him because he hacked back a loogie and spat it at my water jug, splashing my arms and face with spittle. I looked at him with disgust as he walked on. I did nothing to the ignorant punk.

Eventually I was picked up on the corner by my friend, Sarah. I’d met her in Mexico several years back while she was traveling abroad for school. It was a trip seeing her after so many years. She looked just the same. Only her hair was longer and pulled back from her face. She was a thin but mighty girl who works in a warehouse and recently broke the nose of a guy who was trying to jump her behind a gas station.

She lived alone across from a middle school in a suburb. Apartment B in a single story quadroplex where the races of people were shuffled like cards– colorful and intimate. Her place was small with just enough room for her and her dog, Pearl. There was food stacked everywhere in the kitchenette.

“I’m sorry for the mess here. All of my food spoiled last night because my fridge went caput.  But I got the piece and fixed it this morning. I’m going to run to the store here in a little bit.” And from then on, she insisted on showering me with homegrown southern hospitality. First things first:

“We’ve got to get you a bed,” she said. She didn’t have an extra since it was such a small place.

“I’ve got a sleeping bag, I’ll be perfectly fine,” I insisted.

“Oh Lord, no, I wouldn’t even think of allowing you to sleep on my floor.” So we got in her car and she drove us down the busy interstate to her friend’s house to get a twin bed. Her sedan was small but the back seats folded down to add sufficient depth to the trunk. Out of the three of us, Sarah was the only one who believed it would fit. With some elbow grease, we shoved it in, sheets and all. We thanked her friend and drove off back onto the highway, sheets flapping in the wind, hanging halfass out the trunk and half in my ear. It was a brilliant sight, and only the first stop on her voyage of hospitality.

We dropped the bed off at her apartment and zoomed back out to the grocery store. She insisted I grab anything I wanted. She gathered her own things, while I grabbed some fruit and cheese and avocados. We met in the middle. I countered her attack by buying my own food, but back at her place she cooked us a fine filet mignon with green beans and cornbread.

She’d also bought two Mexican Cokes in glass bottles to remember our weeks in Oaxaca. After dinner we popped the tops off both the bottles and clinked our glasses. “Salud!”

We reminisced about Mexico.

On of the first memories that came to mind was the afternoon we got mugged on a trail leading to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban. We’d met another guy, Jeremy, traveling through Mexico on route to Venezuela who wanted to join us to the ruins. We took a bus up the mountain, got off midway, and walked a trail up the remainder of the mountain. We stopped to take some pictures on a piles of rocks, looking out onto the valley and surrounding mountains. We walked on through the shady forest of shrubs and trees. Another group from the bus ahead of us galloped on and out of sight.

I was leading the pack when I came across two native men.

“Monte Alban es alla?” I asked them, curious about directions. They said nothing. And before the thought could be thunk, they had us cornered against the trees with knives and violent frowns. One had a gun jammed into the back of his pants. They stabbed at us, demanding our cameras and money from our wallets. They were grouchy men with fierce eyes, getting precisely what they wanted.

Mexico. 2008

Eventually, Sarah led the men in a massive chase by cutting across us and sprinting back down the trail to the road. The bandits were stunned and confused and ran after her. Jeremy followed her. I split off and ran to get help up at the ruins. I sprinted with worried laughter in my breath at my first encounter with foreign violence, hoping more weren’t lurking around the next tree. I ran and ran and soon began hearing cars on the road below the trees. I cut right and climbed down through the brush and hopped down the wall to the road. I flagged down the next car that sputtered by. It was a local girl who understood exactly what I said and quickly gave me a ride straight up the mountain to the ruins.

I found three Mexican cops (probably more corrupt than the bandits) and they hightailed it to the crime scene with me in the back of the truck. I just wanted my camera back. But as it turns out with foolish tourist attempts at being locals, we lost everything that we didn’t need.

“And you know, it’s events like that where you know you can survive those kind of moments. And if you don’t, at least you died fighting,” said Sarah.

I then brought up a bus ride to the coast that absolutely tortured my tummy.

The three of us decided to go to the coast to catch some surf in Puerto Escondido a few days after the mugging. But instead of taking the 12-hour bus around the mountains, we decided to take go the six hours through the mountain in a ramshackle bus with four others. It was a terrible maze through the Mexican jungle. Nothing but winding dirt roads. The worst thing about it was that this other guy and I bought fruit in a cup from a street cart on the first dusty mile of the trip. Sarah gave us some Dramamine as she lied down and went to sleep. But it was the most fowl six hours of my young life. It was erratically bumpy and winding, sloshing around the rotten fruit I’d eaten and shaking up the spices of Mexico to the point of utter illness. I’d burp up the vile gas that the watermelon made in hopes it’d clear the way, but that only made it worse, lingering in my nostrils. I ended up barfing out the window at 50 miles an hour, curving around a mountain bend with no railings on the side. Jeremy ended up retching on the side of the road after I insisted the driver take a break. Sarah just slept. She made it out barf-free once we got to the golden sunset on the beach of Puerto Escondido that evening.

“And you know the funny thing about that trip?” She asked.

“Um. . . nothing?”

“I didn’t give y’all Dramamine. I gave y’all sugar pills. Placebos!”

“No shit!” I slapped my head. “No question it didn’t help!”

“Yeah, but Jeremy,” she laughed, “he said halfway through the ride that he was starting to feel better because of them!” We laughed.

We remembered our favorite foods like chilaquiles and tamales, a street circus in a park in Oaxaca City, and an hour long spiritual steam in a clay sweat lodge in the jungle where afterwards we drank the most refreshing gulps of mint cucumber water to replenish our lost minerals.

The night before I left San Antonio, she took me out for a fine fish taco dinner at her favorite Texas restaurant. More southern hospitality.

 

Written in San Antonio, TX 2012

 

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Cowboy Slumber

Cowboy Slumber
 
The chill desert wind couldn’t penetrate the warmth of my bag. I was alone,
curled against the sand with dirt beneath my nails, my belly full of rabbit meat.
Ghosts howled from the shadows of the mountains. The sky was a crystal blanket
hugging the moon chandelier. It all sparkled and shimmered and fell in upon itself,
swallowing me softly in holy darkness. The only earthly glow was the orange glimmer
from the coals at my feet. I fell asleep with my head in the sand,
strings of meat still tucked in my teeth.

 

Written in Los Alamitos, CA. 2012

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The Makings of a Book. . .

The Makings of a Book. . .

 

When you spend a week or more in a quiet house, alone in New Orleans, the city can depress you. To escape such emotions of lonliness, I left the sleepy streets of Algiers to seek excitement in the city.

Farewell to Algiers. New Orleans. 2012

I met a crooked girl with cigarette burns on her arms and bruises on her knees who taught me how to score free drinks at the casinos. All you have to do is slip in a dollar in the slots, order off the screens of the machines, and generous bar-keeps deliver free rounds of drinks of your choice. I ordered a red wine. She ordered bourbon. We sat at the slots and spoke, making our dollar back without effort.

When I gave her my pad and pen to compose her number, she opened it to a page where some writing was already sketched. She read a poem I’d written about sadness and New Orleans.

“Aw. . . you’re sad?”

“This city just gets to me”

Immediately, she dug through her purse for “something that’ll help.” She shoved a Valium into my palm. “They say don’t mix this with alcohol. . . but you know. . .”  She smiled at me with squinty eyes, having already swallowed two.

That same night I was invited to a potluck in the ghetto of the Bywater across Saint Claude Ave. The 9th Ward. We sat on the stoop in the darkness and grazed on chicken and pineapple off the grill. I listened to everyone speak of tapeworms, blobfish, and little parasites that sweetly spoon as a couplets in your blood stream. A big dog fight went down as I left.

I saw, at The Spotted Cat one evening, a film crew setting up to record some scenes for Treme, an HBO show about New Orleans.

I met a fellow for coffee who made an award-winning documentary about train-hopping and its subculture of hobo’s, gutter punks, and trust fund gypsies. We spoke about travel for an hour or so before he took me back to his place to give me a copy of the Crew Change – a hard-to-come-by railroad map for hoppers. I snuck to Kinkos to make copies.

Sunday and Monday nights are when the swing kids emerge and take over the bars. On Sunday, my final night in New Orleans, I made it to Frenchman St again. At DBA, The Palmetto Bug Stompers stomped the brick hall with great New Orleans-style jazz– tubas, trumpets, trombones, guitars, and washboards. The floor was a wild rumpus. And when they’d go on a break, everyone would dart across the street to The Spotted Cat to take over the floor as Ben Polcer and The Grinders pumped out swing from their own tubas and trumpets. Club to club, we’d scoot to keep up the energies of the dance. I got to talking to some really fine dancers (11-16 years of experience) and made some friends. One girl lives in San Francisco, and will be there while I’m passing through sometime next month. She offered to show me around the dance scenes of Frisco.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band. New Orleans. 2012

I usually don’t spend much time on Bourbon Street, but since it was my last night, I crept on through the crowded mayhem of it in search of Preservation Hall to see the jazz band play one last time. It was a comfortable change of pace from the strip clubs, daiquiri joints, and repulsive cover band bars along the rest of the stretch.

Monday morning I left Algiers after grabbing some fruit and canned oysters at the small grocery on the corner. I crossed the Mississippi one last time with full breaths of gratitude to the ferry, and took the 47 street car to The Cemeteries near Midtown. Haunted graves and stained tombs consumed my sight. I walked up City Park Ave and cut left down Canal Blvd where a loop of buses stood idling, waiting for me. I took the E-1 public bus to Veterans Blvd. It was 15-minute ride. On it, I was tapped on the shoulder by a fellow wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He had a backpack on the seat next to him.

“You hitchhiking out of here?”

“Yeah. You?”

“I am.”

We talked across the aisle, and ended up finding a generous on ramp to I-10 West. He was escaping New Orleans to Arkansas to spend a couple weeks sleeping in the Ozarks alone. He’d found work cooking and turned me on the possibility of finding work as an extra on movie sets around the country.

“They pay about a $100 a day,” he said. “And they hire just about everyone because they need as many extras as they can find. I was in a Will Ferrel movie, once.”

We ripped up some cardboard to make a sign and stood with our thumbs out. Dozens of cars and trucks roared by, shaking our shirts with wind. It was refreshing to be out of New Orleans and back on the freedom of the American road again.

“Once, in California,” I said, “I was picked up by a guy in that same kind of truck right there. He looked just like George W.” Right as I said this, the red Ford truck pulled off onto the shoulder and flagged us over. The driver was a Brazilian fellow who’d lived in Boston for 7 years before making his way down to New Orleans to rebuild houses after the hurricane.

Baby Got Back played on the radio as we sped across Lake Pontchartrain and the steamy swamps of Louisiana. The windows were wind-screaming. We dropped off the hitcher at the intersection of I-10 and I-55 so he could thumb north to Mississippi and over into Arkansas to roam the forest alone. He smiled big at me as he left.

An hour later, the driver dropped me at a busy intersection near Baton-Rouge. I grabbed some cheap tacos, then walked to the on-ramp leading straight to the bulge of Texas. The roads were so busy, I predicted waiting no more than 20 minutes for a ride out of Baton-Rouge.

But it was another case of being sun beaten and tired and questioning humanity on the highway again. I’d been standing for close to two hours on the same road when a decrepit old Buick curved off the ramp and into the dust of the shoulder. A very tall young man, surprisingly only 19 (just graduated high school), stepped out to open his trunk for me. He’d never picked up a hitchhiker, and if his mother knew, she’d flip out.

“Where you heading?” I asked, throwing my bag in. I was sure I was going to sleep on the side of the road somewhere in Texas that night.

A fellow hitchhiker. New Orleans. 2012

“I’m going to Austin.” His voice was cheerful, and fluttered with excitement. “I saw your sign, and thought, ‘I’m dreading driving 7 hours back home from New Orleans, and I’d really love the company.’”

If my sign hadn’t read Austin, he wouldn’t have stopped.

His trunk was full of fine gator skin shoes and suits. Pressed, pleated pants hung in the back seat with polos and hats. He wore a blue polo shirt tucked into brown shorts and leather loafers over white tennis socks. He didn’t quite match the crud of his car. We spoke madly and breathlessly of all affairs through the final miles of Louisiana and on into the gigantic, graceless land of Texas.

Driving through Houston, I realized how massive the city actually was. It spread out over miles and miles, seeming endless. In the heart of it, during the rich sunset, it began raining hard. The cars up front were splashing dusty gusts of glittery rain from the road. The wipers were sprinting across the windshield in shaky fury. But instead of a gloomy grey sight ahead of us, the evening sun was glowing deep orange through the heavy clouds, shimmering golden against the glass with each drop containing secret messages of the storm. It struck us, and our talk ceased. Strangely, out of the passenger window, a brilliant hue of blue fogged the glass and cooled the contradicting redness of the rain ahead. As we escaped the dread of Houston, the rain stopped and we sped on with no worry and kept talking.

His loafers were heavy on the metal pedal– we rushed through Texas on 1-10, then cut up TX-71 as night fell. The speed needle was pulsing with the rumble of the engine, flirting with 100. He’d crash through small towns, busting through the intersections at 70 mph, yelping with excitement to get back home to his girl, then kick it back up to 90. We made to Austin in under 6 hours.

By the following day, a dramatic influx of work came up. I only intended to stay in Austin until the weekend, but as it turns out, I may be here until next week.

My second night here, I found myself crashing a swing dance at a huge plantation-style mansion off Lamar St. Three stories high, this brick castle stood in the face of the American flag flapping on its sunset lawn. Inside was elegant. Dramatic curtains draped down overwhelming windows, crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and intricate white molding framed the walls and plush rugs of the wood floors. It was unreal.

Lessons were held in various rooms about the house. My first was a collection of variations for tandem Charleston held  in a gigantic ballroom. It was so big that the instructors, Sally and Johnny, had to use hands-free microphones to be heard in the echo. The second lesson was a smaller crowd in a smaller room– my very first (real) Balboa lesson. The steps, I already knew; but within the hour I learned the Come Around, Lollies, and a simple, yet stylish, turn coming out of Lollies. The instructor of the whole deal usually doesn’t let strays join the classes so far into a series, but he was so fascinated by my story that he let me in. City #3 on my lindy hop list.

Hauling several tons of limestone. Austin, TX. 2012

I left the dance early because my hunger was growing rapidly. The only place to eat nearby was a Mexican restaurant, which is a fantastic thing, but this one was severely overpriced and infested with frat boys and their girlfriends watching big screen basketball. So I ditched it. I only walked about one block when I came across a tupperware container with its lid off, fallen across the sidewalk. And on the grass, pristine and ant-free, were six chocolate chip cookies scattered around. I picked up three and went on my way to the bus stop, satiated for the night. The driver let me take a ride for free.

My first days of work were with a landscaping crew in a neighborhood of nothing but over-manicured lawns, and houses that belonged on cookie sheets. (Keep Austin Weird is Austin’s slogan, but having just lived in New Orleans, Austin is tame.) The landscaping company specializes in conversing water by planting only drought resistant native plants. Last summer was the worst drought in Austin history.

I worked with two fellows– an intelligent Israeli who has a tremendous book collection, and a big, burly, mute fellow who is excellent at playing the wind-chimes. For ten to twelve hours in the Texas sun, we hauled thousands of pounds of autumn-blend limestone, lugged 9 tons of soil and compost granite, and I learned how to build retaining wall terraces. I worked with various tools: pick axes, rakes, levelers, and a wheelbarrow named Betty Badass, but most often shovels. I shoveled dirt like a coal man and pushed wheelbarrows like a mule. I sweated and smiled.

Having seen the spectacular vision of Machu Picchu, where the Incas built hundreds of vast terraces along the sides of some of the steepest mountains in South America with rocks they supposedly retrieved and carried up the mountain from the Urubamba River, I’m boggled by their tremendous strength and intellect so many centuries ago.

Machu Picchu, Peru. 2011

We ended the rough day back at the house with a feast of bloody marys and talk in dirty jeans and beat hands.

I also worked on a small homestead for an unschooling family in east Austin, sorting piles of wood, crafting tomato cages, repairing fences, and catching chickens.

Being a migrant worker, and doing heavy, real work with my hands in the warmth of the traveling sun is a reward.

 
 
 

Written in Austin, TX 2012

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The Beginnings of the Makings of a Book. . .

Beckham’s Bookshop. New Orleans. 2012

 
This blog is in a constant change.
 
What I’ve been posting about my travels is factual material. One Wandering Updates are exactly that– updates about what’s going on. But I’ve decided to make changes:
 
I’ll be posting more of a novel-style narrative of a fellow’s travels. It will be inspired by experiences on the road, but not completely factual anymore.
 
They will be in “open-ended, rough story form”. The makings of a book, if you will. Fictionalized travel stories. Some of the events might have literally happened, while others may have not. Events, people, places, names, and actions may be different to give it more edge, embellish it, or tell a good story.
 
Don’t always expect the truth.
 
 
(Also, less photos in said posts– so check the Photographs page for current travel photos.)

 

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Rebuild the Ruined

Rebuild the Ruined.

nostalgia comforts pains of growth, it’s soft
of birth, she rendered tender turmoil, cleaned
when hurts to fall, heal kissed, the trick and go
off homegrown jam, hot plates, linens we’re weaned

alone amidst men’s cruel creation, sad
throughout the search of warmth of womb, we’re doin’
i’ve found myself a girl to wed, she cute
it’s moms who rebuild what kings have ruined.


Written in New Orleans, LA 2012

 

Author’s Thought: Poetry is harder than it seems. Free form poetry is quick, easy, and. . . free. (That’s what I find myself doing the most of.) Formed poems take much more time and thought and energy than free form poetry. This is my first poem (except for simple haiku) written with a specific form in mind– iambic pentameter with the rhyming scheme ABCB. It’s not quite perfect in form, especially the last line, but it’s that important line that manifested this poem.

It’s for my own perfect mother, and all mother’s on this lovely Sunday. I love you, momma. 

Categories: Love Poetry, Nostalgic Poetry | 1 Comment

One Wandering Update. . .

OWP Update: May 9, 2012

 

Madness in a Steamy Box

Frenchman St. New Orleans. 2012

Once, sometimes twice, a month, if you sit on the New Orleans riverfront at night, you can witness the full moon change from whiskey red to powder pale over the Mississippi River.

New Orleans is America’s best third world city.
 
At night, the termites come out in fantastic clusters and flutter against the lamp posts like confused bats. Thick, round rats with rubbery tails and subtle charm scuttle across the sidewalks, chewing on gum wrappers and cupcake paper. The neons of Bourbon St. mask the night in a terrible sea of mayhemic tourism. Strippers stand outside clubs waving fannies and fingers. In the Marigny, the artists flock and flaunt their wares, musicians jam at every street corner, and the poets write in the shadows. (A short story about this is currently being written.)

 

A valid description by John Kennedy Toole. An excerpt from A Confederacy of Dunces. 2012

The wails of dirty brass trumpets seem to linger in the streets even after all the musicians have gone to bed. The city is dirty, bruised, and the streets are cracked. But steaming up from the mud of New Orleans is an authentic masterpiece of robust culture, delicate grace, and the finest appetites that dominate all the six senses.

I stayed alone in a shotgun house in Algiers, a mile in from the free ferry that crossed the Mississippi River into downtown. Every afternoon, when the sun was more orange than hot, I would walk a mile to the ferry landing, cross the river, and walk another mile to bookstores, jazz clubs, taquerias, bars, and parks.

William S. Burroughs’ House in Algiers. New Orleans. 2012


 

I lived about 4 streets down from where William Burroughs resided from 1948-1949. It was a lonely, eerie sight, even in the day. But only because I’d read about it in Road. In the novel, Sal and Dean visit the house. But, seeing it as a tangible thing, it was nothing like how Kerouac described it:

It ran clear around the house: by moonlight with the willows it looked like an old southern mansion that had seen better days.

I guess the description that got me was, “a southern mansion.” I pictured a big, white, decrepit farmhouse with a wide porch and nothing around but some trees and a road.

I’ve never seen a mullet so perfect. Jazz Festival. New Orleans. 2012

   

A typical day was this:

  • writing in the morning

  • ferry and roaming in the afternoon

  • jazz, swing dancing, and meeting people in the night

  • and ferry home to write past midnight about the people I met



At Mimi’s in the Marigny, late one night, a whole crowd of swing kids invaded the upstairs bar room where Mecshyia Lake & The Little Big Horns belted out swing tune originals. The bar was loud and crowded, though not all were dancers. The lights went down really low, a deep red glow highlighting the white brick walls. The place was completely full and shaking with at least 10 couples dancing in the face of the band.

Indeed. New Orleans. 2012

As a couple, you’d pick a small space and stay put. There was not enough room to perform an extended swing out. Only modest Charleston, compressed Lindy Hop, and Balboa. It was like the bar rooms in Southern California where, in the 1920’s, Balboa (a close embrace dance that takes up very little space due to crowded dance floors) got popular.

But even in that tight space, dancing was as pleasurable as ever; even more so, maybe, with the whole building breathing with the raw, untamed energy of the jazz. New Orleans jazz, sweat, tattoos, and booze. Everyone was loose and shaking their shit. Madness in a steamy box.

 

New Orleans Musicians I Witnessed and Danced To. . .

  • Storyville Stompers Brass Band
  • Royal St. Gum Scrapers
  • Miss Sophie Lee
  • Zena Moses & Rue Fiya Allstars
  • Tanya & Dorise (in the middle of the street, this quartet played the most elegant, velvet version of ‘Hey Jude’)
  • Doreen’s Jazz
  • Mecshiya Lake & The Little Big Horns


The Spotted Cat Club. New Orleans. 2012

One of my first nights there, I met with a local swing dancer who lives in The Marigny, and we warmed up to Miss Sophie Lee with some Balboa and slow Lindy Hop at The Spotted Cat. After the night fell deeper, we crossed the street to The Maison, and ran up the stairs to the penthouse where, several times a week, dance lessons are held. It was soul night, and the lesson taught was a local dance that started in New Orleans in 1959 called the Jamaica. It had nothing to do with the country of Jamaica, but the bar where it originated– The Jamaican Lounge.

The lesson was taught by Ms. Hazel Addison (The Frankie Manning of the Jamaica, I dare say).

I also took a drag blues lesson and a solo Charleston lesson with Chance Bushman and Giselle Anguizola.

The entrance. New Orleans. 2012

 
On the bus down to New Orleans, I met a couple (who scored a pair of round-trip bus tickets from Montgomery, AL for only $10) on their way to The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I knew about it, but didn’t realize I’d be there for half its duration. “$65 at the gate for one day,” they said. That was a lot for one day, but a grand collection of timeless music. I decided not to pay for it and miss it. There was plenty of music in the city anyway.

Strangely, a day later, I was handed a free ticket to the day of my choice (thank you, Coleen) and went to the Festival on Saturday. I met four kind folks from Alabama on the 58 street car ($1.25 fare), and walked amidst the festival with them, eventually splitting off to wander, meet more people, and witness these bands:


     

  • The Pin Stripe Brass Band
  • Steve Earle (for my dad)
  • The Eagles (for my mom)
  • Black Feathers Mardis Gras Indians
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band (with an incredible swing dance performance by Giselle and Chance)
  • First Emanuel Baptist Church Mass Choir (one reason I’d attend a Southern Baptist church)
  • Warren Haynes
  • Herbie Hancock (he said, about a time signature of a song–and I’m paraphrasing, “sometimes we do 17 beats in a 16 beat phrase. 4, 4, 4, 4, that’s 16. But Sometimes we do 17.”)


Wanna hear a good depiction of New Orleans flavor from your computer? http://www.wwoz.org/

Did you know the jazz musicians created the drum set? Called it a ‘trap set.’ Drum contraption.


A few things I did that scared me (just slightly):

  • asked half a dozen advanced swing dancers to dance on a crowded floor (my first time in such a crowded social dance like that)
  • spoke Spanish to a fellow after months of no practice
  • had developing conversations with over 30 strangers (made a few new friends)
  • accidentally walked through the ghetto at midnight, got snarled at by pit bulls, then went back the next day just to say ‘hey’

New Orleans skyline. 2012


 
 
The thriving roots of the culture of this city are as deep as the roots of the magnolias that break the sidewalks and streets. You don’t just find guitar jazz, you find bebop and Dixieland jug band jazz. You don’t just find Bal and Lindy Hop, you find the Jamaican and the Turkey Trot. And you don’t just find each other, you end up finding yourself.

 
 
 

Written in New Orleans, LA. 2012

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

One Wandering Update. . .

OWP Update: May 3, 2012

 

Inman Park Festival, Atlanta, GA. 2012

This is The Life

 
I’ve been back on the road for about a week now. Only about 200 miles closer to the gold coast.

Last Tuesday, my first day, I was generously offered a ride by a close friend of mine as far as Augusta, GA from Columbia, SC. He’s a professor of sociology and studies religion. We spoke (or I listened and asked the questions, rather) for more than an hour about mythology, existentialism, and postmodernism.

He dropped me off outside of Augusta, just over the border and I walked with my bag, crumbled jug of water, and cardboard sign to the on-ramp off of 1-20.

 

Just over the Georgia border. 2012

 

I stood for nearly two hours with no ride before I walked up a grassy hill for a lunch break. I got comfortable and took a spoon to avocado and cheese while contemplating the layers of trees and clouds leading back home. Sprouts of pale water towers stuck up out of the land like little mushrooms. Fierce wind wiggled the trees.

After my break, I stood for only about half an hour before my first ride; a southern gentleman with a tattoo on his neck of half an angry skull against half a smiley face. He dropped me at a busy truck stop 10 or 12 miles up.

There I met a strange character— a hitchhiker heading West to Mobile, AL to find work in the shipyards. We scored a ride together about 80 miles further. You can read about my affairs with the fellow Here.

The inspiration for my character, Leonard. Georgia, GA. 2012

 

 

I spent the next 4 ½ days working hard on an organic produce farm outside Covington, GA.

I’d wake by 7:00 each day and practice half an hour of yoga outside before work. Gently, I saluted the golden sun breaking through the green leaves of the blue morning. Overwhelming energies of the first breaths of day.

 

Harvesting garlic. Georgia. 2012

 

 

 

Over the four days I was on the farm, I harvested over 1,000 torpedo onions, hundreds of garlic, some strawberries, and a few dozen radicchio. I fertilized potato plants, tomato plants, swiss chard and various lettuces. In the shade, I bunched and boxed arugula, more torpedo onions, and hakurei turnips. In the fields, weeds were destroyed by my ho around carrots, beets, and green onions. I also planted well over 2,000 winter squash seeds in the greenhouse. Plus, I went on an Easter egg hunt for hundreds of pounds of rocks to mend a stone pathway across a creek in the woods.

It’s all good, hard labor. Hours of richness in the sun. And it feels especially rewarding knowing that I’m helping feed local people. I also had the privilege of working alongside very good, strong men and women. A beautiful blend of folks; Hawaiians, Mexicans, Americans, Belgians.

Some afternoons, after long days of work, boss would buy the two of us a couple beers at the filling station and we’d come back to the farm and sit in the shade by the barn. We sipped over conversation while gazing over the fields we’d tended all day. There’s just something  about that at the end of a long day. . .

Art by Kipley Meyer. Inman Park Festival, Atlanta, GA. 2012

 

 

Sunday, I left the farm with a big bag of organic beets, turnips, carrots, rutabagas, and sunchokes for the road. Bossman drove me and his oldest son to Atlanta. We strolled around the crowded Inman Park Festival for a few hours, dancing to music, drinking beer, and witnessing overwhelming spreads of local art. 

That afternoon, I met up with an old friend and we snuck through the alleys and parks of the city until dusk, taking photos and stopping for $2 tacos. 

Hot Jam swing dance. Atlanta, GA. 2012

 

 

 

 

Monday night, I paid $2.50 for bus fare towards Buckhead for a swing dance in a cabin in the woods, (city #1 on my list of places to lindy hop). The whole night was hot and hopping. The thick air was so humid that sweat drained from me like blood. Everyone sweated. But sweating while dancing is just as pleasurable as sweating while yanking green garlic.

I danced with lots of girls of different dance levels and made a new friend fairly quickly. At the end of the night, she ended up offering to drive me back to Old Fourth Ward— the neighborhood where I was staying. She was a fascinating girl who claimed she’s always wanted to hitch hike, but never has. I insisted she go for it. “You’ve got to try it at least once before you die. Find someone to go with. Just do it. It’s a damn thrill.”

Atlanta, GA. 2012

 

 

Yesterday, I (ironically) caught a cheap bus from downtown Atlanta to the beautiful filth of New Orleans. All the jazz, booze, and swing dancing I could ever want in my favorite American city. The perfect pit stop before the lonesome haul across the great plains.

I would have hitchhiked, except that I had a deadline for a job I’ve set up there. In fact, a dark and depressing thunderstorm consumed the bus as we roared the 8 hours through Alabama and Mississippi into Louisiana. I got lucky.

However, I didn’t stay completely dry– the ceiling dripped periodically on my knees.
 

Another kind of thrill. Newborn, GA. 2012

 
 
 

A few things I did that scared me:
 

  • Joined forces with another hitchhiker (got a ride within ten minutes)
  • Called an ex on her birthday to tell her that I was glad she was born
  • Shot a 20-gauge shotgun

 
 
 

Written in Atlanta, GA and New Orleans, LA. 2012

 
 

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Want to Donate to OWP?

Asheville, NC. 2012


 
Do you genuinely like what you see here on OWP, and want to contribute somehow?
 
 

If you look above, you’ll find a donations page that I’ve created for anyone interested in supporting OWP.
 
 
Please read the whole page before deciding to donate or not.
 
 

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Leonard.

Leonard.    [A Short Story]

 

The sun was hot on the highway. A soft white burn was turning my cheeks rose red. I hadn’t packed a hat with a brim, so I held my cardboard sign over my head to avoid the sting. With marker I’d written on it ATL with a small question mark to specify that I going to Atlanta, Georgia. I wasn’t actually going to the city, but rural town 40 miles East for some farm work. I needed to make a few extra dollars before I crossed the continent to California.
 
It was getting dull standing on the same stretch of highway for two hours. Never got a bite. Not one engaged blinker. Some folks honked in support, one or two people waved, but most ignored me. The best reaction I received, however, was a short elderly woman, about 96, with her granny-afro face stuck up against the passenger window wearing glasses and a big grin with her thumb up in applause. That made me grin back and enjoy the rest of my afternoon.. . .
 
 
Care to continue reading? Join me here . . .

 
 

Categories: Prose Short Story, Travel Writing | 2 Comments

One Wandering Update. . .

OWP Update: April 23, 2012

 

An Uncertain Farewell

For two years now, it’s been an intention of mine to hitchhike west across America.

Generally, the goal is simply to travel slowly across the floor of the country. . . using buses, trains, and anything with wheels, but mostly thumb. (No planes, that’s cheating.) I’ve put it off the past couple of years because of conflicting timing, changes of plans, and broken bones.

But this summer it’s got to happen, because otherwise it won’t.

Meeting different, new people is a main reason I travel. Short bus rides are fun. Interesting folks on buses. Trains too. But hitchhiking is a perfect means for both travel and really meeting people.

Great faces and stories always pick me up. Weird, fantastic people. In fact, I’ve gotten rides who’ve also given me food, water, friendship, and places to sleep.

My very first hitchhike back in May, 2008. Portland, Oregon.

 

Hitchhiking is a beautiful thing.

It’s a community building habit. If done more in this country, it would easily eliminate a fraction of the cars on the road. If more people would rideshare or hitchhike or carpool, there’d be a slightly smaller carbon dent, too, plus more space to drive on highways, and more connected happy people. How many vehicles do you see on the road with only one person in them, anyway?

Clearly the benefits and adventures come from hitchhiking are valid ones.

So that’s why I keep doing it.

 

I’ve been daydreaming about going back to the west coast, but I’ve not planned much. I have a few desires and schemes along the way that will happen when they happen: like sleeping in hidden outsides, lindy hopping in big cities, eating road kill, making relationships, maybe crossing a border or two, and documenting it all in notebooks, photographs, and blogs.

All this I’ve done before, but it is more intentional this time. And instead of only writing about it in a dozens of personal notebooks, I’m including my life of travel here on OWP, as well.

I’ll keep posting various poetry from thoughts and dreams, like I have been; but in the mix of all that I’ll post photographs, stories, and journals from the road.

Adventure documentation, or traveling writing, perhaps?

 

Hitching through Connecticut. 2012

A few aspired achievements across America:

  • Lindy Hop / Blues dance in 6 or more cities
  • Sleep in a dug out
  • Sleep in a Cemetery
  • Skinny dip at Big Sur
  • Jump of some Cliffs
  • Hop a train
  • Find a Ghost in New Orleans or Denver
  • Visit some National Parks
  • Talk to no one for 2 days
  • Dumpster dive food
  • Do something everyday that scares me
  • Skin and eat a small wild game (or Eat Road Kill)
  • (More to Come)

 

I leave South Carolina tomorrow morning, and I barely have $100 (in addition to 50€ that I’ve kept in my wallet since traveling Europe in October). My first stop is a farm in Georgia in order to make some extra loot, then on through into New Orleans and all in between until California.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.


Written in Columbia, SC. 2012

Categories: One Wandering Update, Travel Journal | 9 Comments