Movin’ On

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on the Amtrak train and we are rolling away from Boston.  The Boston leg of my trip didn’t go as well as I had hoped.  I simply didn’t plan it out very well.  I haven’t traveled much in the past 3 years, since I quit my corporate job.  So I made key mistakes that were costly and took up time.  I’m at peace with it now, even though money is a serious concern for this traveler.  I decided to look at this part of the trip as a learning experience.  I’ll be creating a check list for myself, and you, to use in the future when planning a trip.  The first thing I should have done was learned the public transit system in and out in relation to where I was staying before setting it all up.  I didn’t realize how long my commute in was going to be everyday or how much it was going to cost me.  $10.50 a day to commute from Swampscott to North Station where I could then take the “T,” for $15 a week.

It worked out okay though.  I think I needed down time more than anything.  I was hosted by a friend’s mom who graciously put me up and fed me unbelievably well.  We took walks on the beach (too cold to swim!) and downtown in Salem.  We enjoyed red wine and dark chocolates after dinners.  I watched a tennis game on television and learned more about the sport from my host and went to an amazing jazz concert that really deserves its own review and will get one in the near future on the page “Playin’ In A Travelin’ Band.”

This next leg of the trip has me in Baltimore.  The person I’m staying with has warned me that the public transit there isn’t great..  However she did mention Zip Cars.  Zip cars is a service where you can rent a car by the hour.  It looks really interesting, but it requires an annual fee and sign-up fee that I simply don’t have right now.  However, I’m going to check out places I may travel to by train or plane and see if they have zip car and whether it might be worth it for me to join.

View from the commuter train into Boston

My train ride tonight is an overnight trip.  I hope I can sleep and be ready to meet my friends tomorrow at BWI and head out for a weekend retreat together.  We can file that leg of the journey under “automobile” in my plane, train, and automobile adventure.


Taking the Stage

We’re crowded into a tiny room in the downstairs of a bar on Mass. Ave. called The Cantab Lounge.  The floor is cement and the chairs pulled to the center of the room are those simple café chairs you see in old diners.  A bartender stands at a small bar in the back, but no one is drinking so he has a pitcher of the water on the counter and his eyes, and ears, on the poets.  It’s 11 o’clock in the morning and we’re about to start the Point of Origin open mic.

Poets take the stage –no platform, simply an open space in the front and center of the room-and share a bit about where they’re from and who they are.  A Japanese-American man, a co-host of this event, spits a piece that sends tears down my face and chills up my spine.  It’s a poem about his grandfathers.  He opens telling us that in 1945 his Japanese grandfather had his house burned to the ground in Tokyo and his American grandfather was overseas burning down Japanese houses in Tokyo.  His piece jumps through different points in time using the year to anchor us in this winding history, but beyond simply naming the years his imagery captures the time and place so precisely.  By the end my face is wet and I feel like I’ve been watching baseball with his “grampy.”

Pieces about race, skin color, heritage, the hood, hard times, layoffs, and mistaken identities bounce off the walls of the room land in my chest.  It’s powerful to hear someone’s story, it’s even more powerful delivered with skill and art.  A good slam piece is like an invisible tattoo – you are left marked and changed, but only you know it.

I would have liked to have heard more from a woman who began an incredible piece, but then forgot the rest of it and started over with a different one.  Her first piece was about being a brown-skinned woman.  She did it in the form of questions asked to her with bigotry woven in.  “What kind of brown,” she asked, following it with stereotypes and painful slurs wrongly associated with those of brown skin, “like terrorist brown?”  Her piece was moving as she used fear and hatred to spin these questions asked to her about her own skin.

Another poet, a beautiful English Muslim woman, read a piece by her favorite author.  I wish I had made a note of the name.  This piece talked about the beauty of women and outlined the oppression in American culture of American women through products and being treated like a commodity to be bought, maintained, or sold.  I’m not doing it any justice, but it was great to see the view of oppression turned away from the American way of thinking about women and the hijab and instead look at the early sexualization of young girls and women and the push to remain youthful and beautiful in America.

Finally, I took the stage and did my piece, Blue Eyes. I think it was an interesting piece to do after hearing so many people share about their parents and grandparents.  It might have made more sense to do These Are My People, but Blue Eyes says a lot about where I come from.  I tell people it’s about my daughter, but really it’s about me and being between my past and where I’m from and my future and the daughter I’m raising.  I’m happy to say it was well received and now I can say I’ve slammed in Cambridge.


Slam It!

I love poets.  I walked into the venue on Mt. Auburn street past the guy on the front porch shouting out to those walking past that a poetry slam was happening inside, to be greeted like an old friend.  After picking up my festival pass and settling into a great seat I made fast friends with the girl next to me.  I shared a box of tuna and crackers with her and she shared a bottle of water with me.  It reminded me of kindergarten-simpler times.

Then I met this guy.  Only at a poetry slam can you walk up and say to someone, “Hey, can I take a picture of your ass?”  Only to get the response, “Sure!  My mom made these for me!”

Everyone was excited to be in the room and it quickly filled beyond capacity to standing room only.  It was difficult to see from my chair in the VERY back of the room, but I had the big overstuffed comfy chair while everyone else had folding chairs –or no chairs at all.  The people to my left turned out to be from Atlanta, where I will be in about a week.  They gave me a lot of good information about poetry events happening there while I’m visiting.  Poetry.  Poets.  People.

A room of poets is an instant community.  Even among the competing teams there is support and love for one another.  From where I was sitting I observed one team nod vigorously while another team performed, sighing to each other “he’s good” while nodding and applauding for this opponent.

The event tonight was at the Democracy Center building on Mt. Auburn street in Cambridge.  The building itself is interesting.  It’s an old house downtown that serves as a meeting place for several non-profits.  Four teams competed in this preliminary round: 6

Da Poetry Lounge (Hollywood, CA), Intangible Slam (New York City, NY), Nuyorican Poets Café (New York City, NY), and  Puro Slam (San Antonio, TX).  My favorite slammers were on the teams from New York.  Those poets were polished.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the semi-finals.

The walk from the venue to the subway carried the same vibe as people who couldn’t stay for the second bout left and headed to the subway.  I made even more friends as we walked long swapping opinions on specific pieces we’d heard.  I wonder if everyone else comes back from a slam needing to write the way I do?  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll ask around.

The Comedy Creeper

The flight to Boston was not without stress.  My flight from Little Rock, AR was delayed just over two hours.  The stress this caused as I feared I would somehow miss my connection (having only a 30 minute window) was astounding.  I cannot recall the last time I felt so much stress.  There were other minor incidents leading up to that and I honestly just wanted to turn back and go home.  Finally on the plane and safely in the air the next hurdle was at first a welcome; my connection flight was also delayed slightly. While not delayed quite 45 minutes it put me getting into Boston even later than I anticipated.  My prearranged cab ride had notified me that if my flight was delayed more than 20 minutes they would not wait.  I likely would have spent the entire flight stressing about this if I had not met the Zone Creeper.

The Zone Creeper, ZC as we will call him moving forward, was in the window seat and I in the aisle.  He outed himself as a “zone creeper” to me right away and with pride.  Explaining that when he is seated in zones 3 or 4 he creeps into zone 2 when they are boarding and gets on the plane early.  This particular agent had busted him and told him sternly that he was in the wrong zone.  He later also identified himself as a lover of zombies and professed having once dressed up, complete with zombie baby, for some event.  In minutes ZC had me laughing so hard tears were pouring down my face.

Keep in mind we are on a flight at midnight.  I am sure our fellow passengers would have liked us to be quieter, though no one said anything to us.  Perhaps we were entertaining for them?

ZC was returning home, just north of Boston and had a great accent.  He could also speak hillbilly.  When I told him I was from Arkansas he exclaimed in a lively voice his love for Arkansas, his friend Brooks who lives there, and Bill Clinton.  I shook his hand and professed my undying love for Clinton and we made fast friends.  He told me stories of his times in Arkansas going into a Southern twang that was dead on and not the least insulting.  He seemed to fully understand that hillbilly twang did not make one an idiot.

The highlight of comedy was actual a moment of phrase confusion rather than a joke.  ZC says to me, “Did you see the guy with the cat on the plane?” I had seen the cat earlier before boarding.  I didn’t realize he would be permitted to take the cat onto the plane with him, I just assumed they stowed the cat in a different compartment.  “There’s a cat on the plane?” I said.  “Oh yeah,” he says, “that guy up there has him in a little doggie bag.”

I busted out laughing.  I immediately had an image of a small cat in a take out bag with a side of rice.  I laughed so hard and the entire time ZC looks at me like I’m nuts until I choke out, “you mean dog carrier?”  “Yeah,” he says, “what did I say?”  I am laughing hysterically now, “you said doggie bag, like a take out bag.”  He cracked up and when I told him my image of the cat with a side of rice he howled.  Yes, we were either lovely entertainment or a pain in someone’s ass that entire flight to Boston.  Possibly both.

I wish I had taken the time to get this guy’s Facebook information.  I caught his name, but it’s a common one and so far I haven’t located him.  He absolutely cheered up my entire day.  I arrived in Boston an hour later than anticipated, exhausted but happy.