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Category Archives: Travel

No Ma’am, I am not Gus Grissom

2:31 am: My head is on the pillow, all is still. Blessed exhaustion and quiet but for the hum of the fan. The house is quiet and, finally, so am I.

2:28 am: Stargate is on…again. The same episodes as earlier today. Yesterday. I’m halfway through the show and I’ve had enough. I’m going to try again. Off to bed.

1:13 am: At this hour I should be sleeping in my bed but every time I close my eyes my room spins instead.

I’m hungry. I have waited two hours since last I ate and can barely believe I’m still wanting food. But I go to the refrigerator and find a container of brown rice, fill it with chicken broth and put it, along with a baked chicken leg, in the microwave. I put it on low so the circuits will not blow as the air conditioner is on in the conservatory and, in our Lisa Douglas fusebox, the air conditioner and the microwave equal more than ten.

I feel funny eating so late. I’ll regret this. I know, but I must assume physical stress causes hunger. Extreme physical stress seems to have caused extreme hunger. I want protein and protein and more protein. I tell myself tomorrow I’ll be careful, eat better, eat lightly but for now, I want meat and bulk. I want something that will hold me down.

12:10 am: I don’t know why I am waiting to go to sleep. Normally I’d be up late on a Friday night, but with my stomach upset, with my head hurting from side to side, perhaps I should have been in bed sooner. I’m stuffed, fatigued, in pain, still hungry (how can that be?) and every time I close my eyes I see a screen, black on either side and my head swims. Enough. I’m going to bed.

9:39 pm: Home. I’m headed to the fridge. I want more meat. I can barely believe it but I do. Chicken. White meat. Diet Pepsi I brought back with me. On to the couch. Lee is watching Stargate, as I would expect and I can’t really think of anything I’d like more right now than to lie on the couch, a near mirror opposite of Lee, and watch bad sci-fi with her. I’m queasy. My head hurts. My shoulders hurt. My neck hurts. Everything just plain hurts. Sore muscles. Physical stress? Emotional stress? Fatigue? But it feels great to be lying here, picking at the chicken, watching my sweetie watch Stargate.

9:18 pm: Our plans did not quite work out. Jack is quiet, watching TV. I could spread myself on the couch, splay myself on the carpet. I could but I will not. I feel welcome but tonight I feel a bit extra. Since I do not normally feel this way at their home, I figure something is up and, perhaps, feeling uneasy, queasy and unsteady I figure it is the right choice to go home. I say my good-byes and take my leave, driving home in the extra-sub-urban darkness. I later found Jack’s grandfather had taken ill.

7:43 pm: I arrive at Evanne’s, Jack’s and Beth’s home. Jack is not home. How is my day? I tell the truth as I have been asked but do not wish to sound whiney. I leave out a bit but tell how I feel. My stomach has calmed a bit. It still is not right, but it is no longer playing twist and shout and I am grateful for the improvement. Jack comes in some minutes later, seems tired. This is understandable. He sits on the couch, is asked by Evanne if he wants to play Changeling, he states he is not quite in the mood, is tired. This is why I had come here tonight. No that I ned a reason to visit with these fine people, but, tonight, I’d rather be sitting at home, quiet, watching television, still. So very still.

7:13 pm: I am leaving for Evanne’s. It is Jackanalia, Jack’s birthday week and I have been asked to come over and play Changeling as a surprise for him. I said I would go and on any other day I’d have no doubt about going, but I feel so terribly unwell, I do not know how I will drive there, sit there, play there. But this is his birthday and what he wants so off I go. On the way I stop for a bottle of diet coke. They are on well water and I am not use to drinking water that tastes of sulpher.

6:42 pm: Thumping wakes me. Not my heart but a larger drum from outside. My son’s bass drum. He must be practicing with friends. It is ok as I need to wake up anyway. I rise, dizzily. I am supposed to be at Evanne’s at 7:30. I am going to be late.

Lee says she saved some dinner for me. Dinner? Yes, I could eat more. A small piece of flank steak, about four ounces, the size I would normally eat. An ear of corn from the co-op. It is a rarity Lee cooks and this is wonderful. The corn is barely done. It is wonderful anyway. The steak is barely warmed and it is wonderful especially. It is covered with garlic salt which means Lee had this on her plate. Especially incredibly wonderful.

4:12 pm: I arrive home. Woozy. Nauseas but the aching in my head is beginning to subside in some remote locations. As I make my way to the door I hear the high commands of Invader Zim so I know my son is home, on the couch, and, as I enter, approach, I ask him to please, oh God please in all that is holy and right and proper in the world, if you have any compassion and decency and humanity, turn it down. It sounds like this. “Volume, please,” except that it is muffled and slurred. He looks at me and asks if I’m ok, that I don’t look ok. I answer “Bus, seventy kids. F-14 simulator. Headache. Nauseas and… Hungry?”

Yes, I am hungry and no-one is more surprised than I am. I want protein. I want something dead that use to get around on its own and decide its own fate. I want meat. I eat the contents of a can of salmon. I eat some turkey. Beef jerky. I see a piece of chicken from the other night and it is gone. If it walked , flew or swam, I want to eat it. This isn’t right. I think of the volume of food, of the calories, the effect. I wonder if physical stress does this, if this isn’t the right thing to do, give in to this as need and not gluttony. I am still nauseas but no more so and still hungry and not less so.

My wife arrives home, looks at me and puts me to bed.

3:50 pm: The bus pulls up in front of Stone Middle School. I get off last as I am in the back, walk wavering, slowly across the parking-lot to my truck. People wave, say goodbye, ignored. School isn’t out for ten minutes. Teachers cannot leave until 4:15. I should get the CD from Susan. I looked forward to that all day. I don’t care. I can’t. Not about that. Not about the time. I drive slowly home. No radio, windows open in the ninety degree day.

2:38 pm: The bus is loading and I am asked to get on first and do what I did this morning; sit at the back and not let the kids do the same. I do so, nearly lying down. It is noisy as the kids load. I am out of discipline. Maria takes care of what needs taking care of while sitting next to me. We talk a bit on the way from NASA to South Melbourne as the kids get louder and louder.

Sean is poking girls, complaining they are talking about him afterwards. A kid next to him keeps shouting how he is a crazy white nigger. Crazy and white, I have no doubt. Stephanie keeps trying to sit upside-down. She is wearing a skirt and this seems to be just a bad idea all around.

Sara sits in front of me. She seems protective. She has come to me in the past wanting help with poetry, writing, wants to see my books.

It is a huge bus. It waves and sways around curves, on entrance and exit ramps, corners. As it rolls down Palm Bay Road, it rocks and I feel once more and I will lose anything in my stomach. Everything.

Maria is still talking, Sean is still poking, I fight sleep. Chaparones are not supposed to sleep. My eyes close and I am woken at the school.

2:30 pm: We exit The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp and head to the bus. The heat feels wonderful. I have never been so happy to be so hot. It is delightful, comfortable, embracing and life-giving. I want to vomit. I want my head off but at least I am warm.

I am walking, not too steady, to the bus. Beside me a mother of one of the students. She looks at me, asks if I want Tylenol. I say bless you and accept two Extra Strength Tylenol. Who needs water? We mill at the bus waiting for the signal to board.

2:24 pm: Last stop. The conference room. I am shivering. It is the same sixty-two degrees in there it has been throughout the rest of the complex. There are rows of chairs facing the front table. On it, shuttle tiles, torches, vices. I walk to the back of the room and sit on the blue carpeted floor thinking it more stable than the chairs. Under me the floor twists and heaves. I ride it.

The students are told of all the wonderful jobs available in space and science. What they can do for NASA. How they will be the next astronauts. What amazing opportunities they have living as close to the world’s spaceport and how, with education, they can take advantage of those opportunities.

Tiles are heated on the front, glow red and furious bright. Students tough the back of the two inch thick blocks. They are amazed it is cool to the touch. The front becomes cool enough to touch within seconds of removing the flame. The students line up to touch. One calls me and I go, holding on to whatever is available as I wait in line.

When the line is done, we file outside. Outside.

2:04 pm: The door swings open and light, bright and painful, enters. I turn away and my head swims. My body seems to move the opposite way as my head feels as though it is continuing to turn. The old man walks to the opening, looks at me and says, “You need to sit a bit. The next person can wait.” He is right. I do. But soon, not more than a minute, I get up, grab the doorway, pull myself out. Walking into the bright light, toward the glass door, steadying myself. I do not want the students to see me ill. I’m not sure I have a choice.

Mr. Science Teacher looks at me closely, “O Man, you don’t look so good. Are you ok? If I had any idea it’d do that to ya.” He would have what? Stopped me? I should have stopped myself. I lean on the railing. Ms. Ramirez is heard in the distance and she tells us it is time to round up the kids and head to the conference room.

1:57 pm: I have waited an hour. Perhaps a bit more. The glass door opens and I am ushered in and to one of the small booths. Inside, it is no more larger than the space needed for a small chair and the person sitting in it. The chair faces front and toward a small screen. Next to the screen, one on either side, are two handles facing up. I sit within and fasten the seabelt. Below is a floor and an up-slanted foot rest joining the floor to front wall. It is made of dimpled metal and my feet rest comfortably there. A moment or two passes, I look ahead and see a sign above the screen: Keep eyes open at all times. I look ahead and below the screen and next to it, a large red button. “In case of distress or ailment, press this button and the simulator will slowly come to a halt.” Next to this was the same list of ailments I read outside. I have none of these? Why should I not ride? The door closes and it is a solid darkness.

The screen lights up and voices are heard. I had not noticed the speakers. It is a radio-voice from a virtual f-14 pilot and I hear we are about to take off and, jerking, not smoothly, I move. I spin, I know, but spinning this did not feel like. I reach forward and grab the handles and they do not give, do not move.

I feel consumed by the screen as the voice tells the tower he is ready for liftoff and the ground, which does not look remotely real in the monitor, falls away as the sky becomes wider and takes more of the screen. I feel as though my stomach has left me, choosing to attempt a stay on the round whilst I rise into the air. Unfortunately, my stomach did not make it out and I am more than astoundingly aware of it.

I do not listen carefully to the voice. For a moment I tried to loosen my grip on the handles. I could but felt them move toward me and decided I might not be able to get them back on and so left them, tightening my grip. It says something about a mountain and it comes into view, about not being able to avoid it and it comes closer and then lurches down and to the side. I am stamping the floor against the four G’s, plastered against the wall , beating it with my shoulder, elbow, voice as I discover I am making noises quite unbecoming, quite undignified.

This continues. The fake sky spirals as the ground circles coming closer and I can feel my head spin, hear myself whimper, still beating the right wall, the floor, the surface behind my head.

Six minutes, I think of hitting the red button but do not, cannot, will not. Six minutes long and I decide I will stand it, must stand it but will pay or this and the sky opens wide again as the ground fully falls away and I hit the back wall with my head again and again and again.

I have no idea what the voice says. I do not remember a thing of what happens on the screen and do not pay attention with my mind but my body accepts every fiction and reacts despite my knowledge of slow rotation and slight temporary tilt. I do not know what happens but I am panicked and ill and sorry and sore and want out, an end, stillness and quiet and light and all I have is noise and twisting and nausea and brightness in the solid claustrophobic dark and then I see the ground come close and level and coming fast and then slowing and then the screen image is still and something is different though I am not sure but I believe we have stopped.

12:43 pm: These kids keep cutting in line, but they are my kids, kids I’m in charge of and, of course, it is they who should ride so I let them in. They are not sneaky; some even ask. The sign says the ride is six minutes long and it takes two people at a time. I count the people in front of me. Eighteen. Nine times six and I can see I might not get my chance. I wait patiently and talk with my partner in chaperonedom, the science teacher, he of the mid-thirties and sixth career, ninth professional job, ex-cop and E.P.A. inspector. We move forward the distance of two middle-schoolers at a time. Our speed: twelve middle-schoolers and hour.

12:40 pm: I have spent a half hour or more in the museum. It is not that large and I have been here before. It is a static exhibit and nothing has changed. What is different is the time I have and it seems there is plenty. I walk toward the one exhibit I know, in my heart, in my gut, I should be walking away from. I tell myself it is jus because most of my young charges are there, in line, waiting patiently, well behaved and calm. It is a glass enclosed room about fifteen by fifteen. Within is a whirler of industrial proportions with a computer in the center, a pivot above that allowing for spinning and at either end a small fully opaque chamber big enough or a person in a chair. The chambers are on servos that allow them to rock out and in as they spin around the center as dictated by the program. The device spins slowly. It is the F-14 Simulator.

The sign says it produces four Gs. How much can that be other than four times the pull of Earth’s gravity. It’s spinning so slowly. It is nearly mesmerising. It looks calming. People go in and six minutes later they come out and no-one looks worn or upset or any worse than upon entering. People say it was fun, enjoyable, cool, neat, and I’ve nothing to do and find myself in line.

12:30 pm: Lunch is over. The students are given time to investigate the museum on their own terms and I, with my twelve kiddies and my teacher-partner enter the dim from the bright through corridors and doors and find ourselves in a hall of spacesuits, faces in monitors, touch-screens and hands-on science. Two small halls of exhibits. I read what there is to read. Make a spaceman balance in the center of a small tank of water, play a virtual game, learn of the Apollo One mission, read about Gus Grissom and how he was scapegoated by NASA, then died, burned alive inside the Apollo 1 capsule, along with two others as a result of a failsafe device to prevent the very mistake he was supposed to have made in his earlier flight. In short, they made he door so it would not open from the inside. Later his ‘mistake’ was found to be a design flaw which had nothing to do with him.

Grissom was an engineer who, even after that event in the mercury capsule, went on to create designs that were used and are still used in spaceflight. He is the reason NASA stopped naming individual capsules and named only overall missions and gave flights numbers. He called his 1961 capsule Liberty Bell Seven not because of his love for liberty but because he said the design would cause it to sink like a giant iron bell. NASA took a dim view.

His Mercury space suit is on display in the hall while a battle rages over who gets to own it. His family wants it to tour the country. The Smithsonian and NASA want it to stay just where it is where it can be seen only by those who can afford the pretty pennies. Forty years and Grissom is still making waves.

You go Gus!

12:00 pm: Lunch. Out of various coolers come lunches, all packed in their clear bags. Each with a name. The children sit on the bleachers in the room we have been in all morning. I don’t see the need for the coolers. Sixty-two degrees.

These kiddies are eating monstrous things. One has brought nothing but a bag of Cheetoes and another a bag of Fritos. These both had to be, of course, in large plastic bags. A bag in a bag. Cokes, Gatorade and cookies. A few have sandwiches and fruit.

I have my bag. I eat my apple, my carrot. I drink my bottle of water and then have my Cliff Bar. I walk my empty bag with it’s empty bottle, empty wrapper, apple core and carrot end to one of the two fifty-five gallon trash barrels which are the only reason, both I and the children have been told, a student may move from the bleacher and the shame of their terrible lunches is even greater as the barrels fill further and higher with huge quantities of food untouched now become trash.

11:30 am: The children have been lined up in front of a harness attached to a chain attached to four rows of three long springs each – twelve springs: three in line attached to three in line attached to…- and then a series of chains, pullies and then a winch attached to a track which runs forty feet and all this a four foot wide, six inch thick mat running under the track. Me and my twelve and Mr. Science Teacher. Our guide, Diane, shows us this will allow us to feel one-sixth gravity. She puts on the harness, much like the kind stuntmen use to fly, much like a wire-harness. She puts it on and tells us all the girls will have no trouble with this but warns the boys may find this more than slightly uncomfortable, and, as she says this she pulls a strap tight and we all see exactly what she is talking about.

She demonstrates the methods astronauts use to move in lower than Earth gravity as she sidles, hops and skips. She shows us how to pick up and object and bend in low gravity.

A boy goes first and confirms the discomfort, then a girl, then I lose track until the tallest of our group goes and there is little room left near the winch as the gears pull the chains and there is little left between the springs and the winch by the time it is high enough, taut enough for him. It dawn on me: this does not work. Most of the kids have their feet barely on the ground, touching it with their toes as they hang there. Even under low gravity, they would actually be in full contact with the surface. With a computer, they could enter the weight of the child, the compensate with the pullies for an accurate one sixth of the weight. But she just ups the child into the air until their toes dangle dragging the mat. For a half hour they flip and flop and hip and hop and bounce. The girls giggle. The boys seem to wince.

11:00 am: We sit in the bleachers in front an eight foot diameter gyroscope with a seat. We are given a lecture about the Multi Axis Trainer. We are told why it exists. How NASA was afraid a capsule could spin and twist in different axis and the astronaut within would need to withstand it and bring it under control. Thus, a Multi Axis Trainer.

The sign says if I have a heart condition, back problems, vertigo, pregnancy and some other such difficulties I should not ride. This is a ride? And I was not aware pregnancy was a ‘difficulty’ but who am I to argue with NASA?

The first child is strapped in, shoulder straps, leg straps, feet on the foot plate which is a new addition and the reason for such is without it the feet tend to fly around a bit. I’m glad Diane mentioned that. I’d hate to see the kid’s feet flying around.

We are told the way the device spins the center of gravity remains the center of the body so the abdominal area does not actually move very much. We’re told because the movement does not stay stable, because it does not continuously move in the same direction, the ears do not cause the rider to become dizzy as they would simply spinning. It appears true as the lever is pulled, the seat sways back and forward a bit, Diane walks out of the small cage surrounding the MAT, closes the gate, walks to the side and turns a throttle. The outside ring turns, the seat begins to move, the center ring begins to move as well, the seat begins to flip this way then that and spins, the inner ring turns in response to the other two and the seat moves no way more than one revolution. Hair, long and unbound, flies here and there, red flames blown by a fickle wind, the child screams. The child is smiling.

She comes off and appears no worse than when she got in. A thirty second ride. One minutes with strap-in and strap-out. The next goes, then the next all through the twelve of us and then, “Come on Mr. Teacher. Do you want to give it a try?’

I walk up, empty my pockets and a student, one I initially did not trust, takes my digital camera and tells me he’ll get my picture. All my belongings are on the bleacher but Diane is right there and I worry a bit anyway.

I enter the cage, am strapped in, I ask about epilepsy, am told it is not a problem, I ask about any number of things and am told I have only thirty second and if I want to try it now is the time and I say go ahead. Diane pulls the lever and the seat sways back, feeling like a swing that has gone too high, come back down and I say, quickly, “That’s good.”

“So you are ready?”

“No, I mean that’s good. That’s enough. It was fun. No ride. Out please.” And I realize I am about to become very much a spectacle and I also realize I don’t care and as I think this, I am being unstrapped.

I pick up my things, all still there after less than half a minute, my camera is handed back. There was no time for a picture.

10:00 am: I have six of the kids. Mr. Science Teacher has six and he is to be in another section of the Shuttle simulator. The kids have tags around their necks and have been given flight designation which tell them what their jobs are. Before coming here they have been given materials to read which helped them understand what those designations mean and what they entail.

We enter a hatch to a small room with a bank of screens. Behind us are ladders attached to the opposite walls which lead to hatches in the ceiling. Each leads the same place: the flight command center above us. Four of the kids go up there. I look up the ladder and decide to stay down here in the science center.

The other six students are in mission control in another room in this hanger.

Our guide shows the kids how to do the experiment when the script calls for it, to take the blood pressures of the flight crew, change the carbon dioxide filtration unit. The entire simulation experience is scripted and the kids each have a script to follow. Each has a microphone and an earpiece and can communicate with the others through these devices even though the space is small enough they could hear each other at a hush. I suppose, in space, no-one can hear you whisper.

I watched them follow the script right through the landing, as seen through a screen. They were proud of themselves, doing the experiment, changing the canisters, guiding the shuttle in.

While I watched them talk, crawl through hatches, ascend and descend, I had nothing to do but stand there in the six by six my eight space. I looked at the controls. I looked at the intercom. I looked at the thermostat and saw it was at sixty-two degrees. In the small box of a room, all metal and moving air, it was sixty-two. No wonder I was chilled, stiff. We were told to wear long pants but I would have worn long sleeves as well.

Later they got to see that the simulation was programmed to work smoothly but to record, as well, what the results of their flight would have been. The alternate results showed a rather large mess on the runway.

9:30 am: We pull up to The Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp. As we exit the bus, we are escorted into a large hangerish room off of which all the other smaller rooms are connected, in which is the shuttle simulator, the multi-axis trainer, moon walker, space walker and other devices are.

Each child is asked his or her designation and are given a name tag and with that designation on it. Mission Control, flight crew manager one, flight crew junior, science crew, other designation I am not close enough to hear.

We are divided up and I am given my group of six and my companion, MR. Science Teacher, who has six as well. We are walked to the Shuttle Simulator and are met by our guide, Diane.

8:30 am: Our bus pulls out of Stone Middle School. I have not been in a bus this large. It rocks and sways. As we pull out the driver tells the students not to scream. Particulary the girls. Then he tells the boys not to give them anything to scream about. I sit in the back with Maria and watch them, many still tired, squirm and talk, sleep and poke.

Each turn we come to feels as though we are about to fall over. I figure this must be stable or Space Camp would not be transporting kids again and again and again. Still, it certainly does not feel that way.

Maria is talking. Curriculum, skin cancer, reading, skin cancer. She shows me her leg where the lymph glands were removed this last Summer. That’s what she did on her Summer vacation. Maria gets sick more now, it seems.

Maria is a native of Brevard County but looks like she would come from Upper Michigan or Wisconsin. It looks like the sun is not her friend. In the end, it wasn’t.
As we pull in, Maria is still talking. I have no idea about what.

8:15 am: The Science Department Chair meets me and thanks me for taking this on in such short notice but that there is no time for talking and, taking my hand, pulls me from Susan and toward the bus. I was asked only yesterday. I’m not een clear on where we are going. It’s called BLAST which stands for Brevard Something And Science Something.

None of these kids are my students, she knows. Mine are with a substitute. But the chapparones all failed to show and to go on a field trip one must be fingerprinted now, thanks to the Patriot Act. The schools board will not pay for the fingerprinting and few people want to pay the sixty dollar fee.

So here I am. I put my lunch, packed as directed, in a clear bag, in the large red cooler marked TEACHERS and mill. Ms. Pebbles runs up. She has been recruited just this morning to attend.

The bus driver is old. Rather incredibly old. Or at least he looks that way. The bus is huge and looks new and shiny white and is not a school bus but belongs to Space Camp. For some reason, they use their own buses and the cost is included in the camp or, in this case, the field trip. As we are a science school, each child gets to go. I am told this is through a grant of some kind and some other schools are involved.

Some students who are suspended had to be brought back to attend this and will be out again after the trip. Why, I ask. It has something to do with the grant and the superintendent himself said it had to be that way. Chalmers, I think his name it.

“Mr. Tritt, would you board first?”

Sure. I get in and see the back is a long bench seat from one side to the next. Prime real estate for kids to fight over, fall under, do things in behind the other seats where they cannot be seen. I walk all the way back and stand in the center directly in front of the bench. As kids come in they ask if they can sit there. Each on asks and I point to their seat. I don’t want to sit in that one, I’m told, and I point anyway. Most sit. A few I have removed until they comply. Not sitting with friends? Well then, board with them next time. Saving a seat? Nope, not this time.

Maria enters and walks to the back and I am now not alone.

There are about seventy students. The door closes and the bus starts.

8:11 am: I arrive as school, sign in and make my way toward the bus. On the way there, Susan finds me and hands me a yellow padded envelope and tells me it’s a present. In it is the first Big White Undies CD. I have been looking for this. Back in Gainesville, I use to see them play all over. I MCed a fundraiser or two with them, saw them play with Phish. I never had to pay but also never had the money to buy a CD.

I am overwhelmed as I look at it and Susan tells me she like the other one so much when she found this one she got two so I could have it.

Last week, I gave her Matter by Big White Undies to borrow. I never do that, let people borrow CDs or books, but I did for her. She loved it, telling me what I knew already, that there was not one bad cut on it, that it was formidable, concerted and tight. The songs were thoughtful and literary while the music was light and joyous. That is is an amazing recording.

Do I have something to listen to it with? No Susan, I don’t have a portable CD player and, if I did, I’d not be toting it with me on the field trip. She tells me she’ll hold it for me and I can get it from her when I get back this afternoon.

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2006 in Culture, Education, History, Social, Travel

 

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Then and Now in Cocoa, Florida

I had been led to expect a storyteller, in the grand cracker tradition of tall-tales about the land of scrub and swamp. What I got wasn’t a storyteller, but a reminiscer. What I got, was Speedy.

Speedy has a bullet in his leg he got when he was five and his brother, on crutches, shooting mullet to fish for shark, shot a concrete dock instead and a bullet bounced and lodged near his femur. It’s still there. He was five and, for Speedy, that was a long time ago.

Long ago, when the bluebills were so think on the Indian River the ripples of the water were waves of a feathered carpet, so long ago, mullet jumping was not remarked upon by amazed youth and needlefish swarmed. So long ago, the pelicans needed only dip a bill and not dive into the muddy dredged depths. So long ago the Banana River could not be seen through the yellow hands of fruit. All there is now is the water, the name and the memory of Speedy.

Hurricanes did not come but the September Storms did. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected. Mosquito Beaters were hung by doors and used to beat away the buzzers before opening and used to beat away the mosquitoes that got in and plenty always did and a palm placed against a screen would create a living handprint of bloodthirst. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected.

Was it hot? Sure it was but we didn’t know any better, Speedy tells us. All that could be done was to breathe it in and breathe it out and Speedy never noticed. It was Florida and who knew any different?

And the WPA came in and brought jobs, and bridges and dredges. Pineapple plantations came and went along with Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy and Jim Crow and The Folkways Project, Folklife Project, Florida Music Project, American Memories Project and Florida Writers Project and public works projects and change upon change.

And then came the war, WWII, and the subs sunk off the coast, torpedoes, blackouts, shipwrecks and who knew the war came so near?

Speedy tells us what you grow up with is what you think is right until someone shows you different. “Maybe cat isn’t spelled c-a-t but who knew” is what Speedy tells us about the civil rights movement and says desegregation was not a big deal and went pretty smoothly but then, says Speedy, he was one side – what it from the other he didn’t know. “Might have been rougher,” he ads, looking at the only black lady in the room.

He was a reminiscer.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2006 in Culture, History, Travel

 

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A Day at the Beach

I headed out of the house at 9:30 to pick up my friend for a day at the beach. I am light and burn. Evanne is transparent and will, if given the opportunity and circumstances, frizz away faster than a vampire in special-effects sunlight. So, of course, we headed to the beach where no suit’s needed.

I picked her up about ten. Evanne is not her real name, of course. I changed it to protect her identity. Her real name is Evan. Her father had expected a boy, it seemed, or had the name picked out already and why let a little thing like the gender of a child change an already well laid plan?

My son had a name before he was born. Benjamin. When he arrived, I caught him. I looked at him, handed him to my wife as my daughter, age five, readied to cut the cord. He lifted himself up on my wife’s chest and looked her straight in the eye. She then voiced what I had thought: This is not Benjamin.

We named him Alek. Four years later he was playing with a friend neither I nor my wife could see. We asked him, “Who are you playing with?”

“Benjamin.”

“Who is Benjamin?” We knew the answer. We didn’t expect the answer.

“My brother. We switched,” he stated with a broad, wry smile.

Well laid plans.

Evanne wanted to go to this beach for a while now but had no-one who wanted to go with her. For me this was an easy decision. A day with Evanne is not exactly a kick in the head. For those of you with no sense of sarcasm, remember sarcasm is the statement, as foil (a sharp contrast to point out clear differences), of the opposite of what is well understood as truth. So, I restate: a day with Evanne is definitely an event to look forward to. And looking forward to this I had been; listening, talking, walking with my friend.

Her husband is delighted. He doesn’t want her to go alone, has not been there, has no intention of going there. And, happily, he trusts me. I’m safe. At least, that’s how my wife explains it.

I’m good with that. Being safe has gotten me into some rather interesting situations.

“Help me try this on.” “Does too much of me show in this?” “Is this too see-through?” “How does this thong fit?” Can you help me put this chain-mail bikini on?” “Would you watch my nubile young daughter for me?”

All which, of course, have nothing to do with this. But it was great or making the guys I worked with, went to school with, shake their heads in disbelief.

We were headed to the nude beach.

I love being safe.

“Whoowhoo!! Nude Beach!” That’s Evanne. That’s quite a bit of sound from my four-ten friend.

She is nervous. Has brought clothes just in case. Has looked forward to this and brought clothes just in case. It is deeply ingrained, this feeling that taking clothes off is wrong. I know. I feel it each and every time I go there. I tell her not to worry but, if she wants to leave at any point, just to let me know.

On the way we talk of writing and she asks if I’ll be writing about this. Of course.

In truth, no. I will write in a cursory fashion. I’ll write of the generality, the universality. Most of what we say will never make it here. I won’t let it. It is no value to those who read it but it is priceless to me. And why should my friend think everything we say and do will be for the world? I’m too selfish for that.

Do you want me to change your name?

I would. If she wanted I’d change her name. She tells me no. No need to change her name but, if I want, I can give her a nickname instead. She’d love to see what kind of nickname I’d come up with for her.

I tell her it would take me longer to come up with a good nickname than it would to write the entire piece. Nicknaming is not a direction my brain goes in. I can’t think of a better name for her.

For some people, their names are just wrong. I take a moment to think of their names. Hesitate before calling them. Wondering if I have the name right. Not so with Evanne.

So we headed to the end of Playalinda Beach, the end of road at Canaveral National Seashore. Past lot 13. Perhaps they thought having a lot 13 would scare folk away. It was the busiest of the lots, had the most people. Of course they were happy: No wet suits.

We parked. Took the bags, the two folding cloth chairs, the water and lemonade and walked from the lot to the dune-crossover. Above our heads, the American flag and, directly under it, waving from the same pole, a yellow flag with a bright orange sun sporting dark sunglasses. The sun protected from itself.

She had been covered with Coppertone sunscreen before we left. It was the kind that has the large pink bottle and the small blue bottles that attaches to it. I must assume one solution is the girl sunscreen and the blue is the boy sunscreen. I imagine they are mixed together like epoxy, bind and make an impenetrable shield of reflection. I imagined looking at her and being fried, instantly, by the exponentially magnified ultraviolet.

I told her mine was SPF 2,316.

“Really?’

“No.” What can I say? To nearly anyone else I’d have let that go. To Evanne I tell the truth. “But it is waterproof and I won’t slide off the seat.”

I waited until we were out on the beach and made sure she had any extra she needed. I worried about missing some spots. I always worry and always do. They become evident later.

The sun has heated the sand. We’ve gotten there by eleven to avoid the most direct heat of the day. Neither on of us needs that much sun. Yet, the sand is still too hot to for me as we walk toward the surf.

We move to where the sand has been wet and the temperature is lower. The chairs are set out as we remove shoes. Two towels out of the bag. Shirts. Hesitation. Hesitation. Pants. Sunscreen. I miss some spots. I know it.

I am now comfortable. I am amazed. Not long ago, heavier, paunchier, I’d have worried. Who was looking, how did I look? There was some vanity involved, self-consciousness, and if I admit it, which I shall not, self-loathing as well. But now, lighter, thinner, I know no-one is looking, no-one cares. I am comfortable with myself. Comfortable in this chair. Not perfect, but comfortable and I delight in knowing it was my hard work and persistence which is paying off, now, in my comfort and joy, out in the sun, today, with my friend.

I know Evanne does not care. We would have come out anyway, enjoyed the day, the company, conversation. I admit it’s all me and I am out and delighted with myself. A new experience for me. I could get use to this.

We work on fleshing out my RPG character. I’m not quite geeky enough. Not yet. I need to play a Role Playing Game. That will help.

We talk of a video game that I remember as Catman Domine. That’s not the name. It involves funky Japanese music and a sticky ball that picks up cats and batteries so the King’s only begotten son can bring light back to the world. A Japanese electro-analogue of Kabalistic Christianity.

I have never played a video game. Not since Centipede. I don’t think this is the one to start with.

The sun is hot. The dunes behind us real, seagrassed, tall. Before us the waves are high, wide, long.

We talk of Russian history, the Tsars, movements to freedom stopped by well-meaning anarchists unknowlingly putting an end to that for which they fought, assassinated with constitutions in their pockets, on their way to dissolving themselves.

It’s time for a walk. We head North on the waterline. The tide is headed in and the chairs disappear in the distance behind us. People are walking. Adults, children, teens. Some by themselves. Some as groups, couples. Some comfortable with each other, some stand at distances, apart, unsure. Mixed couples. Female couples. Male couples. Laughing, holding hands, trading glances between themselves and the incoming waves. Families, lovers, friends.

“Look at that. It’s so sweet. Everyone gets along. No worries about clothing or gender or who’s who. What if it were like that everywhere?”

“Well, then we’d actually take care of things that mattered, like who had no place to live, who had no medical care, instead of who’s living with who and who says they’re married. Imagine that.”

We turn around. How long has it been? As we walk, we move toward the water. The waves are aggressive, they push and pull as the large-grained sand buries our feet, pulls out with each receding wave, grates our ankles. The water is colder than we expect. There is gasping, squealing.

Once back at the chairs we sit. Not in them but far out in front of them, in the place where the waves reach out to the shore. We sit ourselves down upon the sand, legs out, feet meeting the water, inviting, letting the water wash over us, behind up, taking the sand from beneath us. More squealing. The waves hit hard. The tide comes in. We let it move over us, over time.

We stand, move into the water to wash off the sand.

I have been careful to make sure I notice if Evanne starts to turn red, burn, become flush. I know there is no real need to take care of her, but that doesn’t stop me. We all take care of each other. I see some pink in her face, looking rosy. It’s time to go.

Moving toward the chairs, I pick up her shirt, hand it to her.

Sand off the feet, clothes on, chairs away.

We are approached by a fellow who says hello. Asks where we’re from. Have we been here before?

How far up does this section go?

Miles.

We walk to the truck as it begins to rain.

Later that day, I read he headlines. NY and Georgia both dealt with same sex marriage, anything that passed as marriage, anything that gave the semblance of marriage and some, even, making domestic partner insurance illegal; Georgia’s Supreme Court overturning a lower court ruling that said that state’s 2004 voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the New York Court of Appeals upholding a state law banning same-sex marriages. The court ruled it was up to the legislature to decide, not us. They ducked.

While we walked in the sun at Playalinda.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2006 in Culture, Social, Travel

 

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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

 

Austin City’s Limits, Day One

I got into Austin today after getting up at 2:30 in the morning to make my flight. I have barely been to sleep. I have lost the information of where to go, the address and phone number. I do, however, remember the one other person I know is going. I think there are only three of us, though I find out there are five.

I look her name up on the Internet. I find a address and phone number and call. She lives less than a mile from me. One mile. I call and she is elated I live so close. She is elated and I am surprised, not at the distance but at her elation. She knows where to go and we decide I’ll pick her up and we’ll go on our way, to meet in North Melbourne and carpool to Orlando Airport.

I am on this trip with trepidation. How well do I allow my coworkers to get to know me? What can I say and what can I not. Schools are, an ex-stockbroker, now teacher, told me, far worse than any business for backstabbing and politics. Some with me on this trip, I am told, as strident evangelists and I need be aware. I have no problem there as long as I get to be me along the way and don’t have a difficult time at work when we return. I need be careful what I say, it would seem. Rumors, rumors.

After arriving, going to the hotel and finding lunch, there is a meeting this afternoon. They wanted us to have a meeting? HA! Well, they did. Anyway, it sure wasn’t productive.

Lunch we had together. I can see how this will be now, tied, together, a group defined by where we come from, where we teach. I will be sounding the next five days with these gals.

I had two incredible meals of food I’d never had before. Marisco’s for lunch. So I probably went a bit over what I’d normally do. Fish Tacos for lunch and I tell the Spanish speaking waitress, in English, I speak no English and need a German menu. She wonders what to do and tell me, in Spanish, she will see what she can do. She brings me water, lemon and salsa with chips.

For dinner we walk over the Congress Avenue Bridge to Riverside Drive and Threadgills’s in/or is it next to, a concert venue called The Armadillo. Inside there are pictures of Janis Joplin performing there, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, and, everywhere, Zappa. Threadgills has been here in Austin, says the sign, for 78 years. There are pictures of singers, recognized and not, covering most of the establishment. There is a stage inside and one out. A sign says not to forget to make reservations for the Sunday Gospel Sing and breakfast and to make them far in advance.

I ask what and sorts of food I can get there I can’t get anywhere else. The waiter has an accent that is light, fresh and delightful of the sort I have only heard in movies. He tells me the food, most of it, is excellent but nothing is of the sort one can’t get anywhere else. Music and atmosphere is the draw. But, he tells us, remember where we are, geographically and, therefore, keep in mind fish is not a specialty in Austin. I ask about catfish. He tells me it is gulf catfish and it is a long way from the gulf. I take the hint.

I see deep fried pickles on the appetizer menu. No, I will not be ordering these but I am curious. I’ve never seen such a thing. Why? How? Who comes up with these, I ask aloud. One of our group is from Texas and knows these well, though as slices, not spears.

I ask our waiter if we can have one, not an order but one. I say, even if it came off another plate, if it fell to the ground, just figure the five second rule or however long it laid there. I just want to try one. He laughs and says he’ll see what he can do. I believe him.

He comes back with a small plate, not more than a few minutes later, with one breaded, fried, pickle spear on it. I look at it, thank him, and slice it into five small pieces, handing them out by passing the plate. I take my own, apologizing that the only way to slice it was by actually holding it with my fingers, it being too small and delicate for the large forks.

I eat my bit, tasting of two things which seem not to go together. It is hot and delicate and tastes luxurious. A small bit is all I need and I do not dip it in the ranch dressing.

I have a plate of different vegetables for dinner, letting the waiter pick his favorites and he steers me right for all five. Texas yellow squash with habanero peppers and jack cheese, turnip greens, fried okra, green beans and cabbage. But, there was cheese and such so who knows what was hidden deep in the recesses of the small bowls. Honestly, sometime I do not trust what I don’t prepare. Yet, it was different and worth the experience.

So this evening I got some walking in. Seven miles. I spent time in the Colorado River and an hour with the worlds largest concentration of bats living in any man-made structure; the Congress Avenue Bridge Downtown Austin. So many people turn out to see them it was like a festival! Then an hour lost on the greenway system along the river through downtown at eleven at night. Getting lost in a strange city at night is FUN! Perhaps I should be wary, but all I can do is enjoy the air and novelty.

I walk toward Town Lake, a bulge in the Colorado, in the Auditorium Shores Park area. I see a way to walk up to the river and, step down. It is not a step to the river but, instead, a step in the river. It is slightly silty, not too cool. Comfortable. My shoes will dry.

All this was after the ladies I’m traveling with have gone to their rooms. Four ladies, two rooms. I lucked into my own room. If there was another guy going I’d have to share a room. I’d prefer not to. I’d not sleep well, worry, be up, be self-conscious. I mind less the prospect of sharing a room with a girl then a guy. I just don’t trust them.

Our Chorus teacher, Social Studies/Geography teacher, Seventh-Grade Gifted Social Studies teacher and the math teacher from the same team. I’m in the same team with them, but Eighth-Grade, though I have taught their kids as well in seminar and workshop classes of my own design. Next year, those will be my kids and I will include their kiddies again. I work with the last two ladies closely, one from former from Haiti and the later Guyana. That’s as much as I know. The first two ladies are religious. The second two? What can I say, how shall I act other than the norm for me? In most company, the norm for me is all that is required and more so. I tend toward the polite, the proprietous and, so I am told by my wife and others, charming. I disbelieve the last thinking myself a soicial klutz. At what distance do I keep them? How thick and high do I keep the wall?

They get hungry often. Amazing. Four young ladies always hungry. I know how to keep myself safe and I carry some boxes of raisins, some granola bars and, when they say it’s time to eat, I don’t stand in the way. BUT, they insist, anywhere we go, I like and be comfortable with. They told me it’s in thanks for putting up with them, carrying their stuff, and, as one of them put it, being the only straight ‘gentleman’ they know. A high compliment, that!

Wednesday night there is open poetry at one of the clubs/coffeehouses in the Red River district. I brought mine along. I always do. Apparently so did one of them, the Gifted Social Studies teacher. A point in common and I am surprised. How many people travel across the US and carry their poetry just in case? We’re going for sure!

It is one-fifteen in the morning Florida time and twelve-fifteen Austin time and right now I’m going for sleep. Twenty-two hours awake is enough. Twenty-two hours awake on two hours sleep is more than enough. After seven and a half miles, it’s WAY more than more than enough.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2006 in Travel

 

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