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Monthly Archives: July 2006

Forth of July in a Foreign Land

It is the forth of July. My wife and I have gone to the local Brevard Community College campus for Freedom Fest and Fireworks. I expected booths with local organizations, political parties, speeches, a parade.

A stage and music was advertised. Jimmy Buffet music, specifically. Appropriate, largely, considering our location and the large Parrothead community here.

We parked in the Home Depot parking lot and followed the masses past the Grocery store and plaza, into the street and waited for the police and crossing guards to stop the cars and wave the throng forward. As a populus, we carried coolers, chairs, babies, packpacks, blankets and totes full of fireworks. Strollers were pushed with their on-board babes by Mamas and Papas and siblings and all together we moved toward the fairground.

The sidewalk disappeared. Once on the college campus, the sidewalk went away. Thee was grumbling, dismayed disbelief and surprise. Strollers and no sidewalks in an area where people are expected to walk from class to class. We walked in the grass skipping over red-ant hills. We walk in the street, pressed to the curb by line of cars searching endlessly for a place to be.

The fairground had a bouncehouse, six food stands with lines into the forties. I know because I counted the people. A booth advertised “Freedom Crafts for Free” and, well… that was it, sav the stage.

On stage was a band playing tropic tinged music which sounded slightly Buffetesque but wrong in some minor way. The singer had a faint Florida accent and we listened to what we thought was “Cheeseburger in Paradise” but somehow was just not right. We stopped in front of the stage..

March to the left/March to the right/We’re marching forward for Jesus Christ

Marching for Jesus Christ/We’ll all go the Heaven won’t that be nice./Give your life to Jesus now don’t think twice/We’re marching forward to Jesus Christ.

I will not take this space quoting the founding fathers and their thoughts on religion. I will state Jesus lives in most of the county and city government here and, the more I hear it, the less I feel I belong. Even our county commissioner has taken a stand with one of them telling non-Christians, in official documents, she feels sorry for them and their unfortunate children.

The remainder of the evening, as the fireworks flare overhead and concussion waves thump our hearts and bolt our bodies to our chairs, we discuss where we could go. Where in the US? What part of the world? And, in this crowd, we feel alone.

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Posted by on July 5, 2006 in Culture, Religion, Social

 

Me and the Kids

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

Austin CIty’s Limits Day Five: The Final Day

I have mixed feelings about today. I have enjoyed myself here, walked myself silly, had wonderful food, seen things I’ve not seen before and could not see anywhere else. Yet, I miss home. I am a homebody. I think of this as I rise. It is 5:15.

I spend a half hour exercising, as I have each morning, and then get ready for my day. I have some time left. I’m packed. I travel lightly. So I go out for a walk.

At seven I meet the gang at the lobby. Judy has asked we go back to the Driskill for breakfast. It’s a great place, I’m sure. But it is more expensive than Las Manitas Cafe. I’m not sure about finding food there either. But she was a trooper about the bats, went where I wanted for bar-b-que, walked and walked and walked and… so off to the Driskill we went.

It shined in the new morning. It glowed bronze through the expansive windows, showing it to be mostly empty and we entered and found seats to the left of the extensive dessert display; the centerpiece of the café. It is 7:15.

I found nothing healthy that appealed to me and nothing inexpensive I liked. In the end, I simply decided it was my last day and I would get what I wanted. Ten dollars for eggs and cheese, jalapeño biscuit with chorizo gravy and grits. It’s my last day, this place makes Judy happy, it’s only four more dollars and I’ll fore-go the coffee.

The food came late and we ate faster than I’d have liked. Still, we didn’t rush too much. We thought, and correctly so, most people would be late for conference this morning, checking out, settling bills, getting to breakfast late at the last chance to go to the Driskill.

The grits were ok. Nothing special. Instant, perhaps. Loose, the consistency of quicksand, mucilage. I find food is rarely worth what I pay for it or the cost later. This bodes no different.

The eggs were ok as well. Just ok.

The biscuit was, however, stupendous in taste, tremendous in texture though not size and, at this point, I was thankful for the diminutive quality. The gravy was heavy, dark, flavorful, savory, smokey, incredible.

We ate to the scent of coffee and croissants, chocolate and baking cakes. We settled our bills and we were out the door to the softly voiced, and it is a rarity Judy speaks softly, “Thank you.”

We walked fast, not quickly. Nearly skipping. We arrived fifteen minutes late. We arrived to only half-full classes and people trickling in.

It was expected we would leave early and little was happening. It was 8:15. We were to meet at 10:00 in the convention center lobby.

I decided to leave at 9:30 and go back to Sixth Street for a belt I saw two days prior. A two inch belt instead of a one and a quarter. A stretch for me. I’d need a buckle. They were large and I think of myself, especially now, as small. It was a chance I felt I was taking with my self-image. It felt dangerous. Like it would bring attention to me and such is always unwelcomed but, why not? Maybe I deserve some attention now?

We are filling out observations, reflections, evaluations. Around the room we discuss strategies, methods and, at 9:15, we are set for a Socratic seminar. I tell the leader I must leave. She knows this. I tell her I want to leave before the seminar as, once a part of it, I could not extricate without causing difficulty to the group. She agrees and I leave at 9:17 heading, with backpack, for Sixth Street.

Before leaving, several teachers want to talk with me. Move, stay, we need teachers. In Florida we are told there is a shortage of teachers as well. Yet, pay is low enough teachers leave for other jobs, schools actually ‘record’ the shortage and then combine classes to save money. The schools in Florida churn out the teachers but I know many who are not finding work yet Tallahassee has stated they may have to import teachers from Puerto Rico. I thought the teachers I spoke to from Austin, Dallas, Colleen, El Paso and San Antonio were splendid. They spoke of the state test the way we do of it here and of the shortage the same way. Burnout was rampant. Many told me they no longer had curriculum but all taught the same thing, the same day, (within subject area, of course) and it was directly related to the end test. Their plans were handed to them. Many are looking to leave. This has happened to me in some Florida schools as well. I’ve heard enough. Off I go.

In the shop I ask for a black belt in size 32. I ask if I can take mine off and try theirs on with some buckles. Sure, why not?

It is the smallest belt they have and I put it on. I look at the only buckles there I like, not bothering to pay more than a cursory glance, as the night before at the array of biker, suggestive, rockband, etc…

Two dragons in a circle, each feeding into the other. It is the design on my next book, except it is two dragons instead of one being a phoenix. Still, close, very close.

I try it on. It fits. Even with the size 32, I have only one hole left on the belt. The buckle fits; it touches no overflowing stomach, no paunch. How things have changed. Perhaps neither I nor the buckle are as large as I think?

I try to look at it with a hand mirror, aware of how self-conscious I feel holding a hand mirror toward my belt-line, staring. But, it is 9:30 and the shop is empty save the Asian shopkeep: a young lady of mid twenties of thirties. She is use to this.

I decide to take a chance and keep it on. It is inexpensive at $14 for the belt and $11 for a pewter buckle. I put the belt I came in with in my pack and, as I pay, the shopkeep asks, “Are you Buddhist?”

She asks me questions and I try to answer them, she’s telling me her professor at U of T told her explaining Buddhism is too difficult. She wants to know of her heritage and she is asking me, my white, nearly transparent, European self.

We talk for fifteen minutes, discussing Buddhism’s forth wave, engaged Buddhism, the development of the differing types, the core common to it all and the central experience which needs no explanation. I tell her where the temples are in town.

I am aware I have an appointment to keep and stay later than I should. I apologize and leave, nearly running back to the center, through the doors, up the two sets of escalators (the stairs are for emergencies only, silly as that is) to find two ladies approaching the designates spot. I am arriving just in time.

Back to the hotel. Up to the room, toss the few extra things in I need to, and grabbing bags, head back downstairs. Everyone meets and the van soon arrives.

The ride back is a different route it seems and I see things I’d have visited had I a vehicle. It is a faster route and I mention this. I am met with disagreement. The difference, I’m told, is, on the way in, I was quiet, I knew no-one, was watching each second pass. Now, I’m chattering, listening. I was with a crowd then and now I’m with friends and time moves differently in that more fluid medium.

At the airport, in the terminal, tickets verified and, with everyone else in Austin being as friendly as they were, I am not surprised by the jovial manner, the jocularity of the security, x-rayers, friskers and checkers. Thanks for playing, I’m told.

Lunch. I still am regretting breakfast. It is a small airport and there is nothing but meat I can find. A hamburger joint has been suggested and I rationalize this as it is the last day, I can undo anything done, I can start anew, I can eat better, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

I reiterate – food is rarely worth it. Can you make the french fries extra well done? They usually are. Usually? Yes. Well, can we make sure they are THIS time as well? Yes sir.

The hamburger is ok, not great. I go back for the missing vegetation I was sure to ask was included when I ordered. The fries are barely cooked. At this point, I don’t care. I should have eaten a food bar, a box of raisins, some of the seaweed packets, my own nails.

To the gate and they are boarding. One of us asks if she has a window seat. Yes. But it is a C. Yes. But C is an isle seat. Yes, it’s both. Both!?

Boarding, we walk out the door to a short ramp to a set of stairs. Where is the plane? OH! Down the stairs, to the tarmac, over to the plane, up the stairs. Everyone ducks to get in but me. I love being short.

EMB-145 is the plane type. Two seats on one side and one on the other.

As we taxi, Shammeeza is asking me questions about hypnotherapy. I think she is keeping me busy and I appreciate the kindness. It helps. I talk until the wheels leave the Earth and I can no longer speak. We lift off and the plane lurches up and up and up steeply.

It is a two hour flight. We talk the entire time about the trip, our disappointment in our country, where we might go, how teaching is not valued and then we are told we are about to run into turbulence. The plane bumps and I can see what is coming as I look out the window and all there is to the sky is an undifferentiated whiteness.

I am now regretting lunch as well.

I apologize in advance. I am nervous. If the plane drops or lurches, I say, I’ll probably grab you. I’ll find your hand, your leg. I tell her it is nothing personal and, out of reflex, I’d probably grab whoever was next to me regardless of gender, size or species.

The plane spends a half hour bumping up and down. I was on a rollercoaster once – just once – and this was very much like that ride. It jutted up, dropped how far down I can’t know, shoved abruptly from side to side and all the while, we’re fighting feeling ill. The plane suddenly shifts and I can’t tell if it is up or down but it is a shock and I grab her leg, or her hand or… how many times I don’t remember.

Later on I’m told she had done the same. We were both nervous enough, who can tell.

Another of our group says, smiling, she’s telling my wife. “Not before I do,” is my response. “This is all part of the story.”

We land still in turbulence. I’d kiss the ground but, who knows what has been on it. Just as long as I’m on it too.

Driving back home, we listen to Busman’s Holiday from Orlando to Melbourne, singing, feeling a bit as we did the night prior on the busy street, feeling alive with music. In Melbourne, we exit the car, grab our bags, no one leaves.

Everyone goes inside to use the bathroom, wait for a ride, keep the connection. Nearly everyone. I stay without. It is raining, unusually cool for the last day of June, the grass has just been cut, shoes would have to come off, I’m tired, reason, reason, reason. In fact I am keeping distance. In fact, I wish to go home.

Shammeeza exits and we leave. We listen to The Indigo Girls and discuss where we might find dinner. Lee is working and so there is no one home to feed. Rocky’s? Closed early. No matter. I thank her, as I drop her off at home, for making this trip the opposite of everything I had feared it would be. As I lift her luggage out, I know I have an ally this year at school.

I think of Austin as I drive toward the ocean. Had I visited before, I’d have thought about it as a place to live. How comfortable it was.

When one belongs no-place, visiting is hard. When one feels comfortable, one feels doubts. I make my home by where my family is. We have settled where it was best. We have work, friends, family. But my internal landscape is bare. I smell lilacs in the summer where there are none growing, feel hills where none are seen. My feet always feel a stranger. My landscape consists of time but not space, is temporal, temporary.

I am now to get re-acquainted with Palm Bay. I will compare. Ultimately, who can tell?

And so I do what is comfortable. My sweetie will soon be home. What would she like for dinner? I remove a knife from the block, the cutting board from the wall. An onion from the refrigerator. I begin to cook.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Travel

 

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Austin City’s Limits Day Four

I made a discovery today. South Congress and 4th Street. In a small Mexican café, Las Manitas, at seven am, I discovered tacos actually are eaten for breakfast and are not a creation of the frozen/fast food industry. Go figure! It was great, filling, healthy and inexpensive. Egg, cheese, lettuce, and a patio.

It looks to be a small place and I stepped in on my way to the convention center the day before. I had consumed nothing more than a can of V8. Others say they could have had a V8 but there are times I fairly live on them. I walked by at 7:15 and it was half full. I stepped in to find quick, small, dark-haired waitresses, a scent that told me I could have done better than V8 and, upon picking up a menu from a yet-to-be-bussed table, prices that told me my vegetable juice was not the bargain I had thought. One does not buy from a hotel gift-shop expecting a bargain. I told the ladies about this during lunch. They had breakfasted on overpriced Starbucks coffee and muffins and we decided Las Manitas would be tomorrow’s first stop.

There is a before-bed discussion about the time to meet. Bus-ladies say it is a five minute walk. Someone other than me responds that it would not take that long even on hands and knees and when the ladies trade barbs I back up. Bus-ladies win because it is easier and we agree to meet at five minutes to seven to be there as they open.

The day started at six as I went out to stand over the Congress Ave Bridge crossing the Colorado to watch the bats and the sun return.

Every day the sun rises and part of me thinks it’s a new sun each day. Each day a new day, a new sun and a new chance to start over. It also seems, despite the sun’s slow arc across the sky, the sun in Florida may not be the sun here and, so, I rose to watch a new sun start a new day.

And the bats slowly flitted home to sleep, nestle and hang under the bridge and await a new dusk.

It is five to seven the next morning when I arrive in the lobby to see Shammeeza and Judy waiting for me. No bus-ladies. They called and said they’d be late. They’d meet us. We walk to Las Manitas and arrive just as the doors have been opened. Entering, we are ushered though the room to the kitchen. We stop and the waitress motions for us to keep walking. Perhaps this is a do-it-yourself café?

We walk through the narrow kitchen into a lush courtyard with leaf and flower everywhere, benches, tables and laughter.

Coffee is brought, tacos chosen food comes and the bu-ladies follow. Their food arrives as we are ready to leave and I walk out full, happy, with coffee renewed in a to-go cup and I have spent five dollars including a healthy tip.

My cup of coffee in hand, a bottle of sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack (from the hotel store) and I was ready for the second half of my walk to the conference.

For lunch we headed North to the Red River District. We want pizza. No such luck and find pizza places closed that open only at night. But, we found a coffeehouse and sandwiches where I could have espresso and a vegetable sub. No complaints. Time spent in the Red River District is worth the walk. A new sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack and I headed off again to the conference, me and my buddies but, wait… what is that?

I see stairs heading down and hear the quiet murmur of water. I run down the stairs, backpack on and to the sound of Shammeeza exclaiming “That’s why I love him. He’s ten again.”

Down the steps, there are, in the river, platforms to skip across and I do, of course, and, in the river, a bed.

A creek, really; Waller Creek. It is a creek winding its way under arches, between steps, though alleys – all the way looking at first glance to be filled with brilliant billowing foam.

On a second look, it is white stone, seemingly bubbled and convoluted. I imagine, in times of rain, this is underwater but Austin has over 300 sunny days a year and today is no exception. Today, it seems solid stone foam is suddenly formed; petrified suds. In it, set central, a bed.

Seems like a place for a walk and how far can I walk, in the creek, strolling upon the foam? The answer is quite a ways. But first, a lie down in bed, in the creek, in Austin in the early afternoon.

Then to head back to the conference, stopping at stores along the way – music stores, hat shops, Mexican art galleries – and purchasing what I have been all week; not a blessed thing.

The afternoon comes and we explore. The sour member of our troop is left at the hotel and we are off. Art Galleries, shops, over the First Ave. Bridge to enjoy the creative stenciled graffiti. Dinner of Moroccan food and mint tea, vegetables and couscous.

Our waiter is tall, thin, slow and altogether reminding me far too much of a Looney Toons character. He is nice enough but seems to be lacking an essential ingredient and I suggest he must be a son of the owner. He brings the ladies their appetizers. Mine he forgets. We renew our singing of “Mr. Cellophane.”

He forgets one thing after another. He faces away watching TV. It isn’t been the World Cup, which I could understand. It is prime time TV and he cannot see us.

Couscous, lamb, pita, vegetables. Do I want desert? He asks me specifically. Is the Halva fresh? No, it comes from a small plastic-wrapped package like from he grocery store. I answer no and he walks away to bring us the bill ten minutes later.

I follow, explaining a lady did desire desert and I did not suggest I spoke for her. Is the baklava made here? No. Is it store-bought? No, it comes from a bakery a block away. One baklava please. Four cups of mint tea.

We pay our bill. My tip is a note stating “Slow and steady wins the race.”

And, now, back to our walk.

The Driskill Hotel is a glorious edifice of an era which is fast going away to be replaced with the expedient. But then money can buy patience if it pays well enough. People staying at The Driskill can afford it.


Elegant, appointed, dense with art, alight with the recollection of how things once were, one can go from Edwardian comfort on a setee on the veranda to cowskin, soft and furred, in the Piano bar.

We found some unlocked doors, as I am want to do, and discovered some private club rooms, banquet rooms filled with lemon towers awaiting tomorrow’s well-heeled guests, libraries and ornate landings.

I played, by request, Rhett Butler at the bottom of a carpeted, wide staircase to the wafting decent of Scarlet O’Hara, played by Judy, now transformed into a Nubian Queen. An audience gathered and suddenly, every lady was Scarlet.

We wandered the guest floors singing “Money” by Pink Floyd, “Money” by The Beatles and “Money” from Cabaret in four-part harmony. From the Piano bar we heard “Hey Big Spender” as the patrons played stump the pianist.

We wandered up the road further after exiting The Driskill and relieving their cafe of a bit of chocolate cake; small triangular pieces arranged on a plate by the café door. Up the road, we found The Iron Cactus and a band in front playing an array of strange instruments and a few not so strange. Busman’s Holiday was the name the four lads went by, ages sixteen through twenty-one, from Bloomington, on tour and a night off, and we stayed and sang with them for nearly an hour.
I purchased a CD for three dollars, turned around a few minutes later and tossed in another seven, exchanging the five song CD with the full collection. Pass it on, they tell us. Copy it, put it on the Internet. Anything so people hear us. I agree.

Music was everywhere, the streets were crowded with people, musicians, peddlers. It was 10:30.

I purchased another CD from them, the one I had just given back and, as the second set ended, we moved on full of song again.


Up the stairs to Maggy Mae’s for a rooftop view of Sixth Street. Down again, hearing all the bands from on high blend into one sound of the late night street with the cars, bikes, radios, laughter.

We were told to go the Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar and we did, as it was next door. “Bring your out-of-town guests to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar to embarrass them” the ads said. Inside was a crowd which made movement, once we settled near the stage, impossible.

“Joy to the World” was being sung, pianos high on the stage beside us, and the crowd was being taught rather off-coulor hand gestures for the words. This is new territory for me.

It was a bridal shower crowding the bar and, as the bride was brought on stage to sing and be gestured over, the massed ladies became restless for the few males in the crowd. My male butt was save by the presence of The Nubian Queen and the Indian Princess, Judith and Shemeeza. One cannot say I don’t travel in style and good company.

Once out, I told them I had not intended on letting my co-workers get to know me quite this well.

On to the hotel. It is late and there is packing to do. We sang “On the Street where you live.” “I have often walked/on this street before.” Several times a day this week, as a matter of fact.

“When I fall in Love,” “Mona Lisa” and the Nubian Queen and I in “Unforgettable” which we sang in harmony as we entered the hotel grounds in a way, I imagined, that paid tribute to Cole. The doorman held his ears, then the door, closed, laughing. We pointed out the sign that said, “Radisson: Express Yourself” and he opened the door. We were just following the directions, after all.

He asked where we’d been drinking and I told him about the mint tea and he looked unbelieving.

“Were you singing earlier with the cashier in the giftshop?”

“Yes, I was.”

And I’m still singing now, even as I type these last lines.

Tomorrow, breakfast, out by seven, conference and out by ten (leaving early) and heading back to the airport.

And back home. Posted by Picasa

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2006 in Travel

 

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Austin City’s Limits Day Three

Gotta love a city whose motto, emblazoned on shirts, signs, cups, posters and walls is “Keep Austin Weird.” And it seems they do their best to accomplish just exactly that. Busses run 50 cents a ride or a dollar for all day. Downtown and the University areas have ‘Dillos: four constantly running, set route, quaint bits of busses that are absolutely free.

I notice the city busses say “Ozone Bay” and remark, during one of our afternoon walks, on what in interesting name that is for an area. I receive a strange look. I also remark how it seems so many busses go there. It must be quite a place.

It is known I don’t see well and my traveling companions do their best to accommodate and cover for me. Of course, how to know when a mistake is a mistake, a joke, a misread or just plain “can’t see that, huh?” is a mystery. Just tell us when you see something wrong is like asking a person to check their perception with the other, spare set of eyes. The busses say “Ozone Day.”

I discovered this later that evening when we ask how late the busses run, as we were about three miles away near the University of Texas and two members of our group were carping of being tired, of not wanting to eat at any of the places we discover because the food has spices, or is yellow, or cooked in clay. We were told they were running until eleven and were free because it was Ozone Day and everyone is encouraged to walk, bike or bus. Ozone Day.

I find folks don’t mind taking up the visual slack for me. A good thing, this. Not that I can’t handle it on my own, as I have for so many, many years and still do, of course, as I usually do not have others to do reading for me. But, sometimes, it is a trial. In airports with security, too far away for me to see, waving dramatically at me to walk in their direction for check-in. Or, sometimes, when a Précis, quiet in the city traffic, is about to run me down because I’m counting on hearing a car before I see it.

Before The afternoon was, of course, the dreaded banquet. We got out at different times and I found no-one waiting for me. I glided/stepped down the two flights of escalators and out the door to walk across 4th Street to the Hilton to move immediately back onto three sets of escalators which, according to the sign, would take me to the sixth floor and the AVID Banquet. I was one of over two thousand people to enter the room.

I could see neither wall through the throng and the army of penguins carrying trays, pitchers, urns. I walk in, I walk out, grab my cell phone and it rings. Judy. They are inside and have a place for me and know I won’t be able to find them. She guides me in by description, telling me what to head for until I see her waving her arms in the air.

Salad is already being set out. A small salad and dressing is on it already. Creamy, white and I don’t know what’s in it. Then tea, weak and translucent poured over ice. I see the sets of utensils arrayed to three sides of the plate and remember, Left to right, outside to in. Or was that right to left? And what of the utensils at the top of my plate? I resign to using my fingers, or surreptitiously dropping my utensils onto the carpet so it appears I’m using only what is available. Where did they go? Where did what go? I have only this.

The main course comes: chicken crusted in what might have been almonds, might have been cheese. Two spears of asparagus and a roasted tomato.

“Hot sauce?” I hear Judy ask if anyone has seen any. The chicken is rather bland. We have both opened up the top of the pepper and tapped it onto our food.

“Hot Sauce?” I see none and say I’ll take care of this. I consider she might have me trained at this point. I ask penguin after penguin but no hot sauce. After a few minutes, someone has told someone and the head waiter comes to our table. He apologizes for the chicken and agrees it is bland, telling us how difficult it is to cook for three thousand people. He is sincere. He has no hot sauce.

He had eight bottles and has searched for them but they have disappeared, he tells us, into purses, pockets, backpacks. He is telling he has no hot sauce in Texas. Finished, coffee comes and it is lukewarm. Speeches come and they are lukewarm. A few are heart-tugging and people get to their feet to applaud.

Desert is being served: a pastry cup filled with heavy cream, six raspberries on top and one half a strawberry beside. Breakfast was a V8. I eat it all. We go back to our afternoon session and heads nod knocking on tabletops.

Keep Austin Weird. Street musicians, street vendors, and a University area that actually looks and feels like one. A sign hung, proudly and boldly from an Episcopal Church announcing “Torture Is Wrong.” Right in the middle of it, visible from all directions, is the capitol. Architecturally, there is much to be admired. Much of it is impressive and creative. Some of it makes all the sense we have come to expect from government programs but set in stone. And stone it is, pink granite within and without. It is the White House improved with the offices underground so the effect of the grand edifice is not marred with the actual daily business of government.

It looks as though it should be run with red carpets throughout, but I was told that would be considered ostentatious. Did I spell that right? Perhaps it should be Austintatious? So, no red carpets, nothing ostentatious – just the biggest capitol building outside of D.C. Some of the doors were not locked.

OOPS.

So, I know exactly how messy the senators are. I spent a few minutes in the senatorial lounge. Oh, and they leave the gavel on the bench. I wasn’t dressed the part but I think I might make a good senator, albeit, perhaps, the shortest senator ever seen from the second largest state. (They hate to be reminded Alaska is bigger.)

Stars are everywhere. Even the insides of the hinges of the capitol doors have stars on them. Door knobs are starred. Nothing ostentations, mind you. A quiz. I was asked this. What does the capitol have more of than anything else. I answered, “Republicans.”

I expected Ann Richards to be guarding her portrait with a shotgun. She was not there. Alas.

After the capitol we headed toward Stubbs. I wanted to go there; I love the bar-b-que sauce and made the connection between the name and the product, and a correct connection it was, too. Judy wanted pork ribs while in Austin and when we heard Stubbs had live music and was in a 160 year old building, an old Mormon settlement, that clinched it. So we both got what we wanted. Well, nearly what we wanted. We wanted to walk but two of the four gals I’m with whined, cried, moaned groaned and complained about the distance. So a silver ‘DillaÂ’ it was.

We take the bus from U.T. to Tenth Street and Congress. We walk he eight short blocks to our destination. The Redriver district. A hotspot for live music, it is reclaimed from a crack area as business moved in and cooperated with the local constabulary, the patrons squeezed out the dealers and now, it is moving, vibrant, alive, full. Cooperation and lack of fear, an economic incentive and in a few years an area is revitalized and renewed. We’ve stayed away from Sixth Street where most of the bars are. Boring, to say the least.

We planned this yesterday. I was called by Judy and asked if I wanted to come up to the room so we could plan the next few days. I enter, feeling a bit strange. I work with these people and there is only so much of their lives I want to see. Dirty laundry is not part of that.

Two beds, one on each bed. Two chairs, one in each chair. I stand. I’m asked to sit and the bed is patted at the foot. Judy gets up from one of the chairs and says, “Come on Baby. You can sit here.”

One of the gals on the bed says, “What? He can sit in the bed of he wants? What do you think is going to happen? We work with him.”

I reply that I hope it is my sense of right and wrong, my personality, their knowledge of what and who I am that tells them I am safe and trusted, not the fact I work with them.

“Of course. I mean, we work with you so we know you.”

This is said as Judy waves me to the chair and I take it gratefully. I have he feeling she knows I was uncomfortable and did this not for the comfort of the gals in gals in the room, who are not in any way uncomfortable, but for me. I am grateful for this.

We look over the map, through the visitor books, make calls. What kind of food do you have? A cover charge? What time? Most of the places we all have recordings and refer us to webpages. A few answer.

We call the coffeehouse about the poetry reading. No, none or June. A shame.

We make our plans and, while discussion ensues, Shammeeza says we could be out walking and talking. We have sat too long and our calls are being made on cell phones anyway. She gets up and I, quickly, gratefully, follow. Our afternoon began.

Stubbs was great. I went for an experience and had one; the best ribs I have ever had while we overlooked the stage/bandpit. There is an outside stage as well. Two of them. We ate and enjoyed and then Human Television started to play. Amazingly good.

It is dark within. We were sat near the center of the small balcony above the inside stage with the waiter, a young fellow, welcoming the ladies.

“I understand you are blinded by the brilliance and beauty of so many young ladies,” I exhort, understanding, “but there is one gentleman here as well.” He apologizes, hands us menus and bring us four waters. There are five of us. Guess who does not get water?

Above me is a ceiling fan. Above it, a dull light. It casts a quick on-off of light and dark on the menu and I can read none of it. One of the ladies asks if she can help read for me. The Shammeeza offers to trade places with me. After I make sure she does not mind, we switch and I can read again.

We order drinks. I ask if the tea is strong and I told it is. Drinks come. It is water. I don’t mean it is weak. I mean it is water. Judy tastes it and it is water. I call over the waiter and ask him if a mistake has been made and he tells me that is the tea. I think about a beer, but the local beers seem pale and wanting. I’ve heard nothing good about them. I ask for diet coke.

He takes orders. Each lady in turn and, as he writes down the last gals order, he leaves. I toss, “Excuse me” into the air after him but he moves away into the next room.

The girls are surprised. I am surprised. I’m invisible. I sing, loudly, “Mr. Cellophane.” The chorus teacher tells me she will gladly accept my help with chorus class and boys harmony. She has been told by students, as I tend to sing in class, I should be in chorus. She ells me she sees they were right. I continue to sing.

He returns to bring another table food and I move my chair back into the aisle. I ask him the question of the day. “I know you are blinded by their feminine glory but, do you think, perhaps, maybe, you might notice I’m here and, I don’t know, maybe, take my order?

He blushes and apologizes. He can’t imagine why he did that. He is sorry and takes my order, rushing off for it to join the others.

The food comes rather quickly. I ask for a fried green tomato. Just one. We don’t want a whole order, just one. I tell him it doesn’t matter of it came of another plate or followed the five second rule. He laughs, they nearly always do, and within a minute or two we have one which I cut into five pieces.

Ribs, brisket, chipotle cheese spinach, other foodstuffs. I said I’d enjoy myself and probably ate a bit too much. But, once in a while I think, I feel, it’s worth it. I can’t get this at home and if I go up a pound, I’ll go down a pound as well.

Judy and I agree the ribs are the best we have ever had. Not a drop of fat. Peppery. Moist and delectable. This was worth it. Food is food, even if it is good food. Even if it great food. There has to be another reason to go to a place besides the food, to make it worth the trip and the calories. All together, take it from Mr. Cellophane, Stubbs was worth it.

I got pictures of the band. But I also got pictures of me sitting in a tree with the sign poking out between my legs stating “Historic. Do not sit here.” I figure I’m helping to keep Austin weird.

We spend about half an hour listening and then head back to the hotel. The day prior we could have been listening to Sonic Youth. Another day, George Thorogood, Billy Idol, Concrete Blonde, Indigo Girls, Willie Nelson.

It is about two miles. It is pleasant out. We talk, laugh, sing. We hear salsa from a club but we cannot find the way in. Judy stands on the sidewalk dancing. This lasts the rest of the way back.

I have come to realize I cannot go and do everything I want tied to these gals. One of them, who, it seems, has become a bit of a buddy; rather a Pagan sort, likes to walk, does not get people who don’t take care of themselves… getting along beautifully, is getting as tired of the others as I am as they complain about the walking, won’t try any food they haven’t had before or can’t pronounce, are afraid for our souls, know everything. This is Shammeeza.

I am getting along with Judy. Judy defies description. Proper retribution, some might say.

I’d not think of ditching them, these two. But our other two compadres? We are rather tied and I must work with them so a cut and run tonight is not really in the cards, stars or picture. So we won’t get to the museum of art, or out to the Tibetan Temple, or other such places. I have not traveled like this before. This is a new experience for me as I’m either alone or with my wife and, either way, I get to see what I want to see and go where I like. Not so this time. Not so.

So tomorrow we may well play the ditchy game and go for a walk along the 1st street bridge where there is quite a bit of inventive graffiti, in fine detail, of blues singers, Tibetan art, political cartoons and requests to free political prisoners and all this done in the same intricate, detailed stenciling along a walkway attached to the bridge crossing the Colorado near Town Lake.

Tomorrow is my last night here. Last night. Then I get to go home and the joy of coming home is equal to the adventure of being away. It has been fascinating experiencing a new place in depth; a small, small part of a city, like getting to know a tiny but deep pond as opposed to a wide, shallow lake.

And I have experienced a mundane activity – finding one’s way around a few block area – with new eyes and new energy; like I was dropped in from the sky and told to get along here. And getting along I am. But there is no place like home. That is a platitude, true, but accurate.

Getting along netted me 23,147 steps today even with the bus-chicks. We’ll see about tomorrow. Posted by Picasa

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2006 in Travel

 

Austin City’s Limits Day Two

22,206 steps today. Not bad considering eight hours of that was spent in a conference room, under florescent lights, in the cold, stagnant air. I could not wait to get outside!Tomorrow they have a luncheon set for us. That worries me as I’ll be inside with no place to get food and rather captive so I do fervently hope there is food I feel I can eat. I haven’t the will power to go hungry. I might have the ability to eat only small amounts if I have enough breakfast. I so dislike orchestrated mass meals.I could find no place for breakfast other than Fridays Buffet (nope, especially at THAT price) and Starbucks. I opted for one of the Uncle Sam’s bars I brought with me and a box of raisins. The morning session ended and I received an instant phone call from Judy, the Gifted Social Studies Teacher, wanting to make sure I did not get lost and would be able to meet them in an obvious place. Actually, I received several calls from her. We met, though I was planning on finding my own way. I suggested a Mongolian Grill I found during my walk there from the hotel this morning. It is a four block walk I made sure I mapped out for myself the day before so I could find my way without taking the bus provided. A bus? For an able person to walk four blocks? A crowded bus one must wait for and wait in? Yesterday I beat the bus’s time, at a leisurely walk, by five minutes.

The Mongolian Grill, and that was its name, was one block away. It was better than finding a place far a field. It was six dollars and easy to get to. We had an hour and a half to eat. A good lunch time except if you are one of five thousand people in a small area all looking for food.

Everyone thought it was great once I and Shemmeeza explained it was mostly vegetables and one could make it as bland as one liked as two of our party will not eat anything ‘ethnic.’ We hurried over.

It was next door to a place called “The Cock Pit” – the logo, a three-blade propeller with each word printed on a blade. Is it a bar for pilots? A fellow exits as we approach the grill and I gather it is not a place for pilots, specifically, unless one was a member of The Village People, and I won’t be going there for any reason I can see.

We entered quickly to stand in line and it was quite a wait but, finally, we snaked our way to the food bar. Taking here and there, piling food on my plate and, somehow, feeling the eyes of the African Amazon behind me, looking down over my head. I wondered how tall she was. Nearly seen feet?

We needed a table. Is it too late as the place fills up with more patrons? Next thing I know my backpack is taken from me and placed at a long table, well within sight, along with another backpack, a large purse and a tote-bag given to one of the participants in our group. It says, AVID, Two Decades of Collage Dreams. I wonder if AVID includes spelling lessons. Or perhaps the person who made it really does dream of collages. I like collages, myself. But what it has to do with our conference…?

Judy is responsible for wresting of may backpack. It is a green Jansport I rolled up and placed in my satchel. I arrived with my laptop backpack with my poetry and some other electronics hanging from my shoulders and my satchel, nearly fifty years old, thick brown smooth leather and a strap none the worse for having gotten caught in the conveyor at the Austin Airport baggage carousel. It is sturdy and easy to recognize. Both important when one are clumsy and nearsighted.

The Jansport is used now, filled with the booklets, papers and materials given to use as I know my laptop will be of no use in the conference. I have left that in the hotel room where I get a wireless Internet signal, regardless of the supposed inability to receive such on the eleventh floor and the Radisson’s desire to have me hook in via phone line for ten dollars a day. I decided to leave it the day before when I discovered how heavy it was. Actually, I walked all through Milwaukee with the laptop in my pack. I did not want to do that again without reason.

Sunday, when we arrived, as check-in was not for two hours, we needed to carry them around with us as the concierge told us he could hold our luggage, give us tickets for them, but was not allowed to hold laptops.

Judy looked tired and I saw no need in us both dragging heavy packs. So I offered to put hers in my pack as well. Thus was the first time of many Judy professed “I love this man.” Just for a laptop? Has no-one been nice to her before? Today, we traveled much more lightly.

We had our massive piles of vegetables and small frozen thin coins of meat. We stood in front of the massive battery of sauces and looked at the recipe board telling us how to make different curies, marsalas, sauces of many types, by taking one ladle of this, two of that, a half of that from the various recessed stainless steel containers making up the four long rows of pungent liquids. Pour it all on.

It all gets cooked on a flat griddle, round, four feet across, with six meals being stir-fried at a time by two people using long, flat blades to move and separate the hills of food. It was masterful. Vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables with any sauce I wanted. Excellent, especially for six bucks!

We eat together and talk pleasantly. I am getting along with these people despite myself.

Later, I felt ill.

Back to conference. Lunch is still weighing heavily both up and down. I wonder what could have been in it to do this. It must have been something in the sauce. No matter and too late. The conference ends a bit after four pm. We all go to the bus and I decide it’s too long, too crowded and too silly. I walk and arrive well before the gang. I went for a walk and a lie-down on the forty-five degree angled grass behind the hotel looking up at the sky and Congress Ave Bridge. Then dinner. I receive another call.

These gals I’m here with are trying to take care of me. I don’t want to upset them by ditching them and grabbing a bit of fruit somewhere so I went with them. A Columbian place with nothing I wanted. I settled for chicken potato soup and an arepa. I figure I’m under-fed today having had an oatmeal bar, a small box of raisins and vegetables I had given much of back prematurely. But I’m saving some caloric intake.

I am planning on going to Stubbs tomorrow for Bar-B-Que, then a walk to the Capitol (Largest Capitol building outside of Washington DC) and then on to the University of Texas campus and a singer/songwriter club up there called The Hole in the Wall.

None of us drink and I’m delighted with that.

Tonight we were back to see the bats but earlier this time. It seems one pastime is to watch the bats (Largest Urban Bat Colony in existence) and the other is to walk/drive/bike by and make derisive comments about the people watching the bats. Rather amusing.

Undeniably incredible to see them flood out from under the bridge making flowing black streaks in the dusking sky. Then we walked he short trail to he observatory space under the bridge to see them from a new angle. It is hard to get close for all the people. Bataphernalia is being sold: glowing necklaces, bat pendants, people wearing batty clothing. Amazing.

Then on to Sixth Street by a circuitous rout stopping by The Elephant room to listen to some Jazz. Under the stairs is The Elephant Room, dark and narrow and full of sound. It makes two of our party nervous and we leave after barely a few minutes. Back from the subterranean to the urban.

So many places with live music, right next to each other, each louding out the one a door up ’till it’s hard to make one out from the other. But some we got into and the variety of music is staggering. And so crowded. So very busy. So impossibly full, and not one corporate entity around, not one mega-meal chain fast-food monstrosity.

Like Philly and NY, Austin has its areas, districts and each is cool in its own way, has its own things, style, flavour. The amount of culture and art here is incredible.

I could hope, with enough density, Melbourne could do this. The raw art and talent, the culture is there but just not the density needed so that it feeds itself and grows. It does not yet have the critical mass. I want a culture monster!

I am hungry. I was tempted by the dueling pizza parlors we pass on our return, but I was good. I’m rather hungry but being unconscious should take care of that. Soon. We head back into the hotel. It has been a long day. I have writing to do. Then sleep. I say goodnight. I have enjoyed my day. I have enjoyed my company. Posted by Picasa

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2006 in Travel

 

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Bats, but not in the Belfry


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Posted by on July 2, 2006 in Travel

 
 
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