Saturday, July 31, 2004

My one complaint about Davis Square...

...was that it lacked a Subway [sandwich shop]. On a bike ride yesterday, I discovered that the former home of the first Bertucci's was to become one. Hell yeah.


And now I'm off for 'business' for two weeks in Manhattan and a night in Scranton, PA. Somewhere along the way I'll find time to tell you about Chicago. It'll be worth it.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Your Opinion Matters to Us

This blog now accepts anonymous comments, as well as signed comments from registered Blogger users. Simply click the "comments" link at the end of each post to add questions, comments, opinions...


You now have no reason to remain silent.

On New Yorkers on New York

Ever since Colson Whitehead's "dazzlingly original" The Colossus of New York was released, I've wondered if I should own a copy. I wouldn't necessarily pay for one, since I'm not a huge Bertelsmann fan, generally don't purchase new titles in hardcover, and have the means to find myself a free copy. But the real point of contention has been this: what could I possibly gain from Whitehead's thirteen-part essay about the City? For that matter, what could anyone get out of it?


According to published reports, White begins his work thusly: "I'm here because I was born here and thus ruined for anywhere else." If that were true about all New York natives, I'd hate every chocolate "frappe" and buffalo chicken sandwich I ate in Boston. We know New Yorkers are arrogant; why start off a book with pure arrogance?


Tim Marchman, writing for the Weekly Standard (and linked above), provides an impressively believable vivisection of Colossus, eventually characterizing Whitehead as "a man who's lived in one place his whole life and is too overwhelmed to say anything about it."


Are all natives inherently overwhelmed? Or do we just get lazy? Could one of those Wisconsin-born Williamsburg kids really evoke New York better than Whitehead's "pointless abstraction" or the "Pages of Subway" I wrote and edited in high school?


When New Yorkers write about New York, what are we saying? A whole lot of nothing, if we allow our inborn geographical familiarity and cultural narcissism to control our pens and keyboards. All New Yorkers--lifelong residents, artistic transplants, immigrants, suburbanites who work in the city and pretend they live in it--are terrified to admit something: New York is just another Anywhere with an Empire State Building in the middle. Sure, it's a terrific and magical place (to use the two hollowest adjectives I could find), but so is any other city or town. For that matter, I'd rather read a literary love song to Lake Okeechobee or Klamath Falls than one to a place we all know so well.

Monday, July 26, 2004

'Journal' excerpt

12/6/03, 5:37 pm


sarah t called from dc this morning and said she was going to go to maryland and pick out a christmas tree and decorate it as a frida kahlo tree, presumably with replicas of kahlo's work (mainly self-portraits). i said it would be awesome if she left the tree without water for a couple weeks or days after new years to the point where it was a real brown fire hazard. the lights would have to stay lit in order for it to be a real fire hazard. once the tree was a true celebration of frida['s death] i would go to dc and take a picture of it and leave.

Penn

Who out there is from the University of Pennsylvania? Every week, this site has hundreds and hundreds of hits from there. Now I'm curious.


I hope to have some new photos up soon. Because apart from the blog, the photos I put up in November remain the most popular pages in the site. Maybe I'll finish writing about the road trip, too.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Is Boston, is not Boston.

To a resident of any logically laid-out American city—or even to a resident of any city that dares share New York’s level of geographical illogicalness—Boston just makes no sense. There’s a meaty midsection, with its own downtown, and several annexed ‘islands’ (some of which are surrounded almost entirely by ‘suburbs,’ one of which contains an airport). But the city itself flows effervescently out of Boston’s rather limiting boundaries, across the Charles River and up Mass Ave, into the microscopic cities of Cambridge and Somerville. Homes to MIT, Harvard, and Tufts, second homes to a large percentage of Boston’s immigrant community, and two neighboring loci of the local arts community, these municipalities almost rival New York in cultural richness. And without the filth, constant fishgut/urine smell, and summertime smog.


I’m proud to call Somerville home, again. The trouble is that no one outside of Boston, the unique, conglomerate city of little cities (including Boston proper, Quincy, Brookline, Chelsea, Everett, Revere, and, of course, Somerville and Cambridge), knows where that is. Occasional purists argue that only the city of Boston is Boston; all else is other. That undeservedly relegates such places as my beloved Somerville to roles as suburbs, effectively casting them as Westchester when they’re actually playing the part of Brooklyn to Downtown Boston’s Manhattan. Indeed, Boston has suburbs like Needham and Natick and Norwood, and they’re all way far out. You have to take big purple and silver commuter trains to get to them, which brings me to my—and the most widely accepted—definition of Boston. If it’s on the T, it’s city. If not, suburb.


By this logic—and for the New Yorkers who are reading—Revere is Coney Island, and Chelsea is Hunts Point (both have produce markets). Somerville can be a post-hipster Williamsburg, with functional neighborhood businesses and actual parkland. Cambridge can be Park Slope with some really good universities. Everything else can be Queens, except for Brookline, which is the Boston Riverdale.


Granted, thse cities are a bit smaller: Boston has abut 600,000 residents, Cambridge has 100,000, and Somerville about 80,000. Though it undoubtedly costs more to run every five square miles as its own municipality, with separate courts, paid fire departments, and police departments, the local benefits are obvious. Public parks and squares are well-maintained, the streets are clean-swept, and graffiti is a rarity. Urban microgovernment must be really inviting to local entrepreneurs, because the variety and quality of small businesses is truly amazing. From killer ribs to candlepin bowling to used books, you can find anything around here. More on that later. I’m going to bed.

Yes, there is life outside New York, and this is it.

Points to anyone who got the Soul Coughing reference.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I live in Somerville now,

and I want to thank all the people who helped make that possible. From the roommates who kept me up until 3am the night before moving (and then watched "Family Guy" episodes while my brother and I loaded the truck at 9am) to the wonderful parents who refused to see me before I left New York. Without you, this recent ordeal would not have fallen under the "woe is me" flavor that I am now known to bring to everyday life.


Even more sincere thanks are due to those who came along for the ride, celebrated my departure at Manhattan bars, and even threw a dinner party in the Village! Truth be told, I'll miss the people I like.


I will eventually write the final blog of my roadtrip, and then I will introduce you to my new home...


over and out

Friday, July 16, 2004

eternal flux

is a great way to get nothing done. While not writing the final blog of my roadtrip, I moved the entire contents of my old hard drive onto my new Mac (with the help of a Norton IT guru). Have you ever done such a thing? I sifted through thousands of files--high school essays, Tub O' Joy mp3s, digitized photos of exes galore, frontpages of Imaginary Sanitation from 1998. It was an unexpected shock to discover how much junk I'd accumulated and/or created in the past 7 years. Take a look through your own HDD, and you'll probably be amazed...unless you're as uninspiring as the people I dated this winter.


I also finished Roth's Sabbath's Theater today. I'd been purposefully losing my copy of this brilliant work for the past two months because I didn't want it to come to an end. It's majestically perverse, filthily brilliant, and Roth writes with such fervent passion that it's hard not to notice. Even if you can't relate to the golden showers or graveside masturbation, the movement (stasis?) of the entire work will put your life into tragically pathetic, shockingly truthful focus. Are you interested?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

mission from gahd

I'm back in New York, for now, then moving to Boston Sunday. I'll tell y'all about the conflict-oriented remainder of the roadtrip soon.

Friday, July 09, 2004

midweek middle americana

The porn-star-cowgirl-looking attendant in a National Park Service uniform collected our $20 VEHICILE USE PERMIT FEE, and we were off into Yellowstone, wondering why our tax dollars alone could not support the nation’s first and foremost natural park. We’d only planned a visit to Old Faithful and a drive around the northern loop, but we were pleasantly and unexpectedly surprised (is a surprise ever expected?) by what the park offered us.


Yellowstone is known for its hotsprings, and their impressiveness varies by huge degree. There are those that create the circular, fluorescent reflecting pools shown on the postcards that are sold from South Dakota to Iowa. There are also the less appealing kind that spew steam from under the decaying roots of trees destroyed by the great fire of ’88. The springs we visited were somewhere in between on the scale of impressiveness: a shiny, pinkish, gemstone-like wall over which steaming groundwater babblingly flowed. Busloads on Indian and Chinese tourists clamored about the walkways. We took our photos and headed on to a more important task.


After days of preparing to confront a legend that had been force-fed to us by every grade school social studies text, we followed the map to Old Faithful. O.F., these days, is more a city than a geyser. It has its own 10-acre parking lot, a hotel, a post office, a mall-like gift shop, and a cafeteria, not to mention the stadium-like wooden platform constructed around the geyser itself. All this for folks to watch a little over a dozen steaming eruptions a day: Protestant sexual frustration at its worst and most profitable.


O.F. erupts every 90-200 minutes, so we expected the need to kill some time, but the thing went off as soon as we arrived so we checked out the gift shop. They must import aura from Orlando, because not since Disney’s Frontierland have I smelled such a pungent combination of rotting wood, bad cafeteria food, and old people. Perhaps Yellowstone, being a frontier land, nailed it first.


As it was getting late, it seemed wise for us to drive north and rejoin I-90 east. But the park, like any horror movie forest, drew us in. We competed with bison for asphalt and frequently stopped to photograph the dramatically morphing, late evening sky. Soon we were lost.


A turn down a one-way trail led us to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a stunning natural crevasse about 600 feet deep. One could see how the river had for centuries carved its way down through the jagged, whitish-yellow rock. Light from the rising moon gently splashed off the canyon walls, giving the entire sight an otherworldly glow. In the still, cool air, the only thing we could hear was the roaring Yellowstone River gnawing its way through the canyon floor. Erich, Padraig, and I paused there for a while. I sat down on a ledge and let the grooves of my brown corduroy pants fill up with the whitish yellowstone dust. I hurled many little chunks into the gap, but never heard any of them hit anything. I thought about things; we all thought about things. After our minds wouldn’t work anymore, we drove north to Montana and I-90, our ticket west.


I guess one could say we’d gotten our $20 worth.


The next time I woke up the car was in some roadside shit-town called like Big Timber, MT. We drove from hotel to hotel, but each charged a little too much for us, and all the restaurants in town were closed. As we were about to re-enter the highway, a deep-throated minor chord pierced the cold night air and, a couple hundred yards from the road, a Montana Rail Link freight train roared quickly by. Now, you can chase coal and grain trains along the highways by daylight and make remarks to your traveling companions about their importance in building the country and keeping it afloat, but no romantic feeling compares to the thrill of chasing a freight train through the night, especially a Montana night. If you don’t believe me, try it.


Having not found a hotel, we ended up a couple more miles down the “freeway,” where the only businesses were a hat and saddle repair shop (closed) and a SALOON (open, but with no one inside at 1 am Wednesday). We rolled to the edge of town to turn around near an abandoned wooden grain elevator, when two glaring headlights on the horizon announced that we’d unknowingly chased the train from town to town. I rather expectedly and enthusiastically suggested we wait it out, for these are things you can’t see in New York. Somewhat reluctantly, tired Erich agreed not to move the car for a few minutes. But when the bells started ringing at the crossing gates, we awoke from our nighttime dazes and waited. The train, a dimly lit steel spectacle, roared through the crossing for a several minutes and we stared, transfixed, as tons of grain, steel, oil, and lumber squeakingly rattled their way east. Impressed with this simple and curious experience, we headed back to the highway.


After another hour, it became clear that we weren’t going to find lodging soon enough to get a full night’s sleep. Padraig and I ate pre-made “deli” sandwiches at a truck stop, and when we were finally exhausted, we pulled out at a rest stop for as much sleep as we could get. By sunrise, the interior of the car was coated in condensate. As the sun climbed higher into the Big Sky Country sky, the temperature in the cabin became unbearable. I now knew what it felt like to be the baby in the microwave in that awful joke (you haven’t heard it?). We awoke, I brushed my teeth in the rest stop bathroom, and the there of us hit the road for the red asphalt and open nothingness of Northern Wyoming.


We mailed postcards in Sheridan (beautiful town) and got gas and checked e-mail in Gilette (strip of gas stations). Somewhere in between, I shot a nice picture of a lone sky-blue Thunderbird chasing a freight train on the highway service road.


By late afternoon we made it to Rapid City, So. Dakota, and headed south to confront another legendary American landmark: Mount Rushmore. After about a mile of winding state road, George Washington’s head announced its presence over the treeline. Excited, we approached, only to discover a parking lot in front of the mountain and an NPS toll plaza charging $8 to get in. Both sides of the road were sealed off with steel guardrail, so it was impossible to stop. Annoyed at the capitalistic ramifications of the mount, we drove on to a vantage point, took a profile shot and turned around, only to have our radar detector explode noisily. Parks service cops were patrolling the road in front of the mountain, waiting to give tickets to anyone over the 45mph limit. We held onto our wallets, did a Rushmore photo drive-by, and got the hell out of there. Confronting another legend proved an experience clouded by the NPS’s magnetic (though unfortunately necessary) thirst for our spare change.


Wednesday night we stopped at the infamous Wall Drug, a sprawling tourist trap of Western kitsch in Wall, SD that claims to entertain 20,000 visitors per day. At dinner (bison burgers) we befriended a charmingly South Dakotan waitress, who recommended we check out the Welsh Motel up the road for lodging. The motel didn’t have any double available, so they literally gave us our own 3-bedroom house for the night. Once settled in, we made our way to the strip outside the “drugstore,” and had a few pints. Courtney the waitress showed up after her volleyball practice—that was unplanned. She told us little jokes about the time zone split in South Dakota (“What time does the farmer bring the sheep to the fence? Montain time!”) and explained that most of the staff of Wall Drug were imported from Croatia for the summer. Then, after an hour of solid conversation, she went home with a big Croatian meathead. We can’t outrun our fates anywhere.


The next morning, or afternoon, we went to a local chain store for lunch. Somehow our discussion, politically inclined and snobbish as all our discussions are, turned its attention to law school. Our middle-aged waitress approached and asked if we were in law school. I told her that “we were avoiding it at all costs.” Padraig told her he’d “rather die” than go. Then she told us she was taking law classes, and dreamt of practicing family law. Good thing we’d already gotten our food.


***


Nothing describes the Badlands as well as the quotes in the NPS pamphlet, so I won’t even try. They include some of the most foreboding and forbidding terrain on the North American continent. Muddy flats and endless acres of conical, jagged rock formations seem to compete for surface area. Deep canyons cut by the ghosts of rivers past tear through the landscape. Bands of colors too finely defined for a Crayola box stripe the mountains in perplexingly level bands. Ochres, pinks, reds, browns, and grays roam the mountainscape, making the place look like a geological chocolate shop. One stares at close-by outcroppings hoping to visually delineate (and maybe scoop up) multicolored pebbles. But up close, everything looks like sand. Only distance and the sun’s changing angles make the color of the Badlands come alive. (They’re only seven short miles south of the Interstate; go! The $8 charged here seems measly when compared to the exorbitance of Rushmore.)


From the Badlands, it was on to Klassic American Kitsch. The Mitchell Corn Palace (THE WORLD’S ONLY CORN PALACE) serves as a civic and sports arena whose façade is decorated with a different corn mural every year. This year, the mural celebrated the voyage of Lewis and Clark, even though the kids working the info booth revealed that L&C originally thought the Mitchell area would prove useless as farmland. Cobs, husks, and stalks, varying in color from the blackest blacks to the reddest reds make up the “pixels” of the giant corn mural. The Palace has stood for over a hundred years as a testament to the viability of the local corn-farming industry. When the Palace isn’t hosting local college basketball games or the annual high school prom, there’s a retail shop set up on the court.


After a big Chinese dinner—the local paper touted the stereotypically named Twin Dragon as pretty much an innovation in local dining—it was back onto the highways. Somewhere, outside Sioux City, we spotted a Flying J Truck Stop. These places are palaces unto themselves: separate gas stations for trucks and autos, shower and laundry facilities, driver lounges, cafes, retail shops, and now, computer rooms. We hauled out the iBook, paid the $1.95 access fee, and met some other truckers who had come to rely on the internet. One skinny guy clutched his laptop bag under his arm. “I spent twenty-three hundred on this. I got me a 2.8 and a 60-gigabyte hard drive. I’m paranoid I’m gonna leave it somewhere,” he said. Another huge dude—about 300 pounds with a lot of earrings—came in to use the internet kiosk. He advised Erich and I on what type of power inverter to buy for the car while typing away in a Yahoo! chat room. All we saw of his conversation were big words in bold, pink teenybopper font. Every other one was FUCKER or NIGGER. Beware: the heartland is online!


We found lodging somewhere in Montana and watched TV “news” for about two hours. None of us are very used to television (most true for yours truly). On CNBC, we learned that Michael Moore supported Hezbollah (or vice versa; who cares?) and was thus an enemy of America, the Iraqi people, and Jesus. “A voice for the other side,” they called him. Then we learned that terrorists were planning an Attack on America this weekend, for the 150th consecutive weekend in the past three years. I longed for the irony of being killed by terrorists on a 4,000-mile trip. Finally we learned from a Larry King interview that John Kerry is kind of a putz. And then we went to sleep.


We've just now arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, where I'm at the campus bookstore. Wonder what we'll do tonight....

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Flying J

Damn, made it to the next truck stop with nothing written. We're outside Sioux Falls now...

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

monday -> tuesday

On Monday we got undocumented Erich across the border and reached Seattle for lunch, where we picked up Padraig for the trip to New York. Once there, Tacoma girls we met in Vancouver actually called us, and we didn’t know what to do with them, so we drove to Idaho. On the way, we stopped at the most impressive highway SCENIC OVERLOOK I’ve seen yet, at the Columbia River in the central Washington desert. There, we met an old motorcycle dude who swore we should reroute to Oregon in order to see a Korean War veteran buried in a marble case surrounded by Stonehenge-arranged old cars (“It’s what Stonehenge would look like, if it didn’t fall down!”) While he rambled, his fat kid—in camouflage with a long mohawk—walked an opossum on a leash around the parking lot.


The geography of the state continued to surprise us, as the unexpectedly arid center gave way to fertile farmland. Then, Spokane, which we drove straight through. If you could transpose all the postindustrial-use land under the BQE in Brooklyn into one big square lot, you’d have Spokane. Nothing to see there, at least not on this trip.


Hunger set in, and we made it to Kellogg, Idaho, where we befriended the foul-mouthed teenage staff of the local Taco Express. Not everyone was that foul-mouthed, though, such as apologetic cashier Mike, whom Erich and I are going to hire as our drummer when he moves to New York. If he’s as good as he says he is…and he moves to New York.


We slept in a smoky little hotel in Missoula that night and drove to Butte for lunch. As soon as we got into town, I pulled the car over at a little overlook so we could shoot some pictures of the mining towers rusting away above the downtown skyline. Within four seconds of pulling over, Padraig found a handgun in the weeds. So we took some incriminating photos, threw it back in the weeds, and left to find lunch. We ended up at the Acoma, a pretty chic and expansive club-like diner. Being closer to the cows, both the cheddar and beef tasted exquisitely fresh. Erich eavesdropped on a conversation at the next table between local newsfolk, who used words like “edge” and “buzz” and “go-with.” Big news in Butte-e-ful Butte.


Next stop: Gardiner, Montana, near the Wyoming border. This little shithole is the northern gateway to Yellowstone, and it shows: everyone there works for the local tourism industry. This included the female gas station attendant, who had a four-minute conversation with each of us. Each time the conversation ended in “had a chance to go to a great art school and now I’ve been working in a gas station for four years.”


Speaking of gas stations, I’m at a Flying J in Gillette, Wyo., and it’s got free internet, so I’m going to post this now. I’ll fill you in on Yellowstone, train-chasin’, and the true meaning of the phrase “rest stop” next time.

Monday, July 05, 2004

back in the usa

Seattle to Butte, tonight.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

VC,BC

Vancouver, more Sydney than San Diego, rises from the low-lying farmland around it like a distant apparition of a city in a children’s book. Boxy Bostonian architecture competes with chrome, Asian-influenced designs in a city that seems to have come of age overnight. And, like every Pacific Northwest city, it needs its own space needle.


Upon our friend’s recommendation, we found ourselves staying at a $20 CAN/night hostel/bar brawlroom/restaurant/general store, the Cambie Gastown. If you’re ever in Vancouver, and misbehave as well as Erich and I do, this is where you’ll stay. Admittedly exhausted from sleeping on a bare mattress in the “sex room” of a Seattle fratboyhouse, Friday night we unwisely took up residence at the entryway to the bar’s smoking room, figuring we’d have a pitcher and call it a night. But, as Erich pointed out, it quickly became a “Taxicab Confessions” affair, with every patron in the bar stopping by our strategically located table to, well, confess. Among the folks we met:


  • not-yet-18 canada grrrls who’ve learned how to sneak into bars and flirt drinks away from the men who own them
  • quite possibly the most attractive, electric-meter-reading single mom ever
  • an honest couple from Alberta: she stayed home to study English and he moved here to make $$$ in security work this year
  • a sweethearted, leather-jacket wearing, lesbian Meghan Toohey doppelganger, also from Alberta
  • at least one date gone horribly awry
  • and the dated woman’s brother hovering protectively over the entire encounter (while giving us advice on what to do today, Sunday)
  • ponytailed, tattooed white trash brawlers who erupted in a fistfight 3 inches from my face and were literally dragged out of the bar by the waitstaff
  • Megan and Stephanie from Seattle—who were also 19 (Everyone in Canada is so young!) One worked at a restaurant called It’s Greek to Me, and the other one’s dad played bass for Yes. A redfaced, sweating guy came up to sorority-dressed Stephanie during our conversation and said: “Yah sexy… yah beautiful… you should come home with me tonight” Then he left. Oh, to be an American teen north of the border.


I’m writing from a Mr. Quick Lube in North Vancouver, where we’re getting an oil change. Public wireless is really nifty, and I’ll post some pictures as soon as I have a chance to scale some good ones down.

P.S. Happy fourth, if you’re in America and celebrating.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Greetings from Seattle,

where it's 6:24am NY time. After a lovely, exhausting week of wrapping up at Norton's New York office, and a rather nondescript flight across the country, I find myself in a very distant suburb that's 30 degrees cooler than Williamsburg (literally). We've ended up in a house close to UW, and, apparently, none of that school's students are women. Which is why we're making a patriotic voyage to Vancouver for the 4th of July tomorrow.

I once again realized that I haven't slept in 5 days, so I'm going to sleep.