The latest epiphanies

I couldn’t sleep after the conversation with my cab driver. It was 1a.m. by the time I made it back to my hotel room. I knew I only had 11 hours left in this city that I had grown so fond of so quickly. I drifted in and out of sleep and by sunrise I had made my way to the cafe to write out my internal dialogue.

I will share two works that I composed as I sat in front of the large window and watched Portland for the last time, while I sipped my cup of Stumptown brew.

ONE

So far my favorite people on my journey have all been older people: Beth, Freddie, Uncle Edgar, and David.

I guess when it comes to meeting random people, I have enjoyed the wisdom of my elders. Maybe because they can see me.

But here is what I realized this morning. Traveling brings out the best of me because it’s a perfect balance of trying and not trying. I just chill out and do my own thing. However, I present the best version of myself physically.

Don’t ask me why I’m really writing all of this down. I think I can do this in Lafayette, I just don’t. I guess it’s because writing feels like home to me. So when I’m not at home, I have nothing left to do but let it out. However, I’ve never been gone long enough to know if I can handle it for an extended period of time.

I’ve always had the notion in the back of my mind that I go back to reality in a few days. But at the same time, it’s easier to get work done when no one calls you from home or from a job. I’m a drifter at the moment. Free as a bird.

Who knows how long it will be before I get this opportunity again. I think that’s why I like Portland so much. It’s a comfortable city. But I don’t really know anyone, so I don’t have any obligations.

But I feel the universe wanting to use me. Or me wanting to use myself.

TWO

I don’t want to leave this behind. I don’t want to leave my creativity.

Here no one expects anything from me. No one knows my potential. I can just sit back quietly and read and write and no one thinks anything of it.

It’s not Lafayette’s fault. I talked too much. I let everyone know what I wanted to do. So when I go anywhere, we talk.

And I all I end up doing is talking.

Who knows, I can move somewhere where no one knows my name and I can get caught in the same cycle. All I end up doing is talking and then inspiring other people to cause their own action.

Or, I can finally do everything I have always wanted to do, which is to buckle down and act. ACTivist. LIVEr.

Being away from home gives me the motivation to work faster. Because I want to end up there to start the settled part of my life.

So the sooner I get away, the sooner I put things into action and the sooner I settle.

I needed to see this. I needed to feel this. I needed to understand this.

I know.

I know.

It’s time. I am prepared.

Through the Redwoods to Eureka!

The Redwoods are big. It’s almost a redundant statement because anyone who has been there knows it’s an understatement…just like the Grand Canyon.

My friend Sarah had written on my Facebook page that driving through the Redwoods Forest is a humbling experience. She was right on several levels.

To witness vast, living nature makes you feel like a single spec of existence. You realize how tiny you are in an infinite universe. Plus, it feels so still and all-knowing. It made me realize how often I run in unnecessary circles and waste potential energy by replacing productivity with worry.

We drove through scenic California mountains and ventured through one of the tackiest, yet must-see, tourist spots: a Redwood tree you can drive through. It’s $5 to go through the park, which is located in a 700 population village.

I bought some Redwood incense from the gift shop, along with a Viewfinder for my godchild Ellah. It had pictures from major American signature spots, most of which I saw on this trip. Plus, I had one of those small, blue, optical gadgets as a child and I used to look at Disney stories on it. Who needs modern HD, when an imagination and still frames can get you that simply excited?

Nick had the idea to set up Louis with the doors open and us jam out Remy’s song. After a short debate, we decided to film it as well. He grabbed his djembe and I played guitar and sang. Random cars drove by and waved as if we were rock stars. Or maybe they just admired that we were living life.

We drove through more terrain for hours until we reached Eureka. It was one of the last cities in California. We ate at Hana’s sushi restaurant. I cannot even describe how fresh the fish was. I know I live on the Gulf Coast, but I feel like I’ve been lied to. The Rainbow Roll had the most delicious salmon and tuna. I washed it down with Happy Hour saki and then we hit the road again.

We didn’t realize we still had another six or so hours to Portland.

We were slightly discouraged until we saw the Pacific Ocean. Nick was driving at the moment and pulled off the exit. My nerves started to intensify as we parked. At first I walked slowly onto the sand to take in the open view. The sun was starting to set, there were people tossing frisbees to their dogs, and a few couples were snuggling on the sand.

I inhaled the salty, fresh air and was about to sigh a refreshing exhale when Nick took off running and said “Beat ya to the ocean.”

We were a half mile away from water and I took off in a sprint. The young chap didn’t stand a chance.

The water was colder than a snow-cone on a hot summer’s day. I’ve heard the Pacific was cold, but compared to the Gulf it’s Arctic.

I waded in the water, reveling in my small victory, searching for stones to take back to my other godchild Malorie. I triumphed in my search and even discovered a crab claw to bring back for my fellow Cancer, Aaron.

For a split second, we thought about camping out on the beach, but my buddy Ben had scored us a room at the Ace Hotel in Portland and I didn’t want his ambition to be a waste.

So on we drove through windy roads. I have to admit, I did get queesy quite often. I had to lay back in the passenger seat and close my eyes in order to deter the puking sensation.

We finally crossed the Oregon border after darkness prevailed throughout the sky. We pulled up to a gas station in order to fill the tank and were astonished to find a guy walk up to our car and ask how much we wanted to purchase. Nick told him not to worry about it, but then we were told it was illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon.

What?

I thought we had left the weird laws in Oklahoma.

Evidently, it’s supposed to create more jobs and it stops drive-0ffs.

We snacked on popcorn as we made the trek to downtown Portland. We didn’t arrive until 3 a.m. I thought the streets seemed pretty bare considering the size of the city.

We walked into this freshly renovated, rather trendy building. It was classically chic and very purposefully put together. We were handed a real, old-school skeleton key and told our room was on the second floor.

I had so much adrenaline rushing through me as I creaked up the stairs. Ben, one of my dearest friends, works at the Ace in NYC. He was originally supposed to take part of this roadtrip with me. As I peaked around the lounge and hallways, I felt his presence.

It had been months since I had seen my pal, but as I opened the door to my room, I felt like he had set the stage for me. Everything was clean, precise and unique. The detail to how the magazines, brochures, and products were placed made you feel how the staff cared about the experience of this hotel. It had Ben written all over it.

I felt so connected to him at that moment, that while Nick passed out, I stayed up and wrote an email to him. I then began to type uncontrollably. I had only been in Portland for a few hours, but there was an energy here that awakened a part of my soul.

By the time I closed my Mac, the sun was coming up. I nestled myself into a ball and hugged my pillow as I fell asleep with a smile across my face. This wasn’t a sweet dream. This was a sweet reality.

Still alive(r)

The last few weeks have been beyond hectic. Once we hit Portland, my internal journey twisted and the pace reached new heights. I intend to include some details about my favorite spots in Portland, Eugene (OR),  and Fort Collins, Colorado.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m writing this from home. I returned to a scorching hot Louisiana two weeks ago in order to prepare for my sister’s wedding. Needless to say, among trying to relax, catching up on sleep, preparing for a wedding, and figuring out what to do next, writing has been a challenge.

The Internet at my roommate’s (parents) house is not what I am used to. There is no Wi-Fi in Rayne, LA. I may have to go pose as a traveler at the Best Western.

I will post some interesting pieces soon. As for now, I’m preparing for Canada. I have already traveled almost 7,000 miles this summer and that number will double after this next trip.

I’m just trying to muster up some creative flow in this vortex of home. It almost seems like I never left. I swear this state does that to you. I guess it’s like that for everyone.

My Ben Harper Experience

I couldn’t stop thinking of that djembe. I have wanted a drum for a while. Not because I’m even half decent at keeping a rhythm, but sometimes you just need something productive to bang on.

I found the perfect little companion at the Folk Music store in Claremont. It was only $100, and at that size normally they run for at least $150.

We were headed that direction anyway, so it only made sense to stop and see if it was still at the shop. To my delight, it was.

I call this a serendiptous purchase. It happened once at an Artwalk at home. I saw this turquoise ring that fit perfectly on my ring finger. I wanted it badly, but thought patience was the route to take. So I walked around for hours and went back at the end of the night. It was there waiting for me. I have worn it almost everyday since.

This same feeling arrived to me when I saw the djembe still there. It has this deep soulful sound when you beat the middle of it, yet the “ping” when you hit the side of the rim keeps you yearning for the next strike.

I grabbed a $9 tambourine before I went to the counter and I couldn’t wait to start my Partridge family.

Nick had found a smaller drum and a small Ben Harper pin and as we were both checking out we started small talk with the cashier. The reason the drums were so cheap did have to do with the recession, so I felt better about stimulating the economy.

However, the most interesting point is when the conversation turned to Ben Harper. There was a lot of memorabilia and albums available, even on vinyl. But there really wasn’t any other artists featured there.

Turns out, the store was opened by his grandparents. He grew up in the store. His grandparents passed away (God bless their souls) a few years ago and now he and his family run it.

So I saw my Ben Harper in New Mexico and the first drum I ever buy is from Ben Harper’s store.

It still gets a little weird.

Nick and I left on cloud nine and as we were driving on I-5 North, I asked him to plug in my iphone. Somehow, he managed to accidentally call my friend Val.

I was ecstatic to hear her voice and learn that she was with our friend Beth (or as I like to call her Viv–I’m Liv…come to think of it Val and I are Sly and Slick…I have too many nicknames). We all know one another through weird coincidences, which we don’t believe are coincidences at all. But alas, I digress.

I told them the story and they laughed because they had literally just bought the new Ben Harper c.d. and were listening to it for the first time at that very moment.

Somehow we are all connected through Ben Harper. It’s like 6 degrees of separation. Is Kevin Bacon going to show up?

If I end up meeting Ben on this trip, I would not at all be surprised. I just like how I have followed signs through this whole trip and I’m starting to notice when I am in the right place at the right time. I kind of ignore the rest…so my theory is always right.

I’ll end with a few quotes from some of Ben Harper’s songs. I find them appropriate for what I’ve learned thus far:

“I knew a girl. Her name was truth. She was a horrible liar.” -Diamonds on the Inside

“So before you knock it, try it first. For you’ll see it’s a blessing and it’s not a curse.” – Burn one down

“And it’s so hard to do and so easy to say. But sometimes, sometimes, you just have to walk away.” -Walk Away

Vegas. Day 2

SO I woke up and tried to remove the stick from my derriere and thought to myself, “I’m in Vegas, let’s have some fun.”

Fun turned into us eating breakfast at McDonald’s because that was the cheapest place in our hotel. For $3 I got coffee, a parfait and apples. Not too bad.

We didn’t wake until after noon, so we showered and decided to go meet Nick’s uncle Edgar at the Gold Coast. Casinos really do crack me up. These people just sit there and pull handles or poke at buttons while these multi-colored bright lights shine on their faces and all you hear are clanks and bells and bad karaoke. You smell stale cigarettes, desperation and bulky buffets.

Oh yeah, didn’t I say I was supposed to remove the stick?

Well, we walked through the casino to one of the little bars where this jazz band was playing. They were actually pretty good. Of course there were Sinatra covers followed by salsa music. Uncle Edgar stuck out from the crowd, his white hair and regal demeanor commanding attention.

Nick and I watched him guide his dance partner–we assumed it to be Clara–around the wood-grain floor. He looked so happy. They all did.

It made me wonder about retirement. So many of the couples here seemed to be celebrating the end of their life in style. Edgar had told us about how the majority of them meet once a week for dancing and most of them frequent the shows and casinos around town. I’m used to elderly people in South Louisiana who retire with their grandkids. It was refreshing to see older people push it until the end.

Me, Nick, Edgar and his partner, who did in fact turn out to be Clara, went to the Cortez Room for dinner right at 5 p.m. I thought it was going to be one of those buffet lines, but it turned out to be a very hoity-toity spot.

We started with wine and bread. Nick ordered a 22 oz. Prime Rib and I the pistachio-crusted salmon. The food was exquisite but the company was better.

IMG_0064

IMG_0065

Clara and I talked about her time when she was younger and she lived in Germany for two months. She was originally from Tyler, Texas, but had moved to California. She had been all over the world. We talked about hopes and dreams and the future. For some reason, I was spot-on with my jokes and quick wit. We couldn’t stop laughing. She ended up introducing me to her friends and I took her number down so I could call her if I was ever in Vegas again.

IMG_0066

We all hugged at the end of the meal and sadly parted ways. Nick and I headed back to the Excalibur to wait for Derek to get in. I played video poker while Nick watched a soccer game in one of the bars. There were actually very talented singers performing classic karaoke favorites as the background music.

IMG_0079

Finally Derek arrived. We hugged and he looked around with a hint of disdain on his face. I empathized his expression and we laughed about the irony of us both being there. The three of us decided to stroll through the Strip, but not before getting those annoyingly big daquiris from Dick’s.

So for anyone who has never been to a Dick’s Last Resort, it’s a restaurant where the servers get paid to be complete assholes. The guy who checked our id’s made a comment about Louisiana being white trash. We laughed about it, but thought of how many people from home would have probably hit him, which made it even funnier.

We wandered around looking for something to do. Nick’s goal was to see the dealertainers at the Emperial Palace. The blackjack dealers are impersonators and transition from singing to dealing.

We found our way there, paid $11 for a pack of Camel lights and watched Nick lose $40 to Toby Keith. The Tina Turner-a-like was actually damn good. It was pretty dealertaining.

IMG_0068

We then walked to this other Irish casino where more karaoke prevailed. The first girl we hear was from Louisiana and singing my anthem, “Bobby Mcgee”. She turned out to be from Marksville but now lives in Vegas.

We then walked to the Bellagio to wait for the fountain display. This was by far the nicest casino we went to. The colors were soothing and it seemed so classy. I tried to put $10 in a machine that I thought was the one that was going to help me make it rich, but it turned out to be broken and I had to get a clerk to give me my $10 back. We walked through the lobby that had the most amazing glass artwork, and then made it outside for the infamous fountain show.

IMG_0073

IMG_0075

IMG_0078

My stomach started to hurt, probably from the mixture of salmon, Jack Daniels, and 190. Derek wasn’t feeling the Strip either, so we got some water and cheez its from Walgreens and went back to hotel room.

I really can’t capture the essence of the conversation that took place between the three of us, but I will say the discussion was our whole purpose of going to Vegas.

Derek and I have devised a plan to put together a documentary geared towards third graders through middle schoolers that presents both the history of Cajun culture and current day youth who still live it. When kids think of history, they think of really old people who dance at Randoll’s (a local Cajun restaurant in Lafayette). But there is a whole generation of young Cajuns who live out the culture everyday.

We are now working on a proposal to find funds to go to Canada to do some research and also document some of these college students who are participating in pertinent events to Cajun culture, such as the Festival d’été de Val-d’Or in Quebec City and Congres Mondial Acadien in New Brunswick.

We will have to work fast, but I haven’t been so motivated in quite some time. This is the perfect project for both of us and we are both needing something of this caliber in our lives…appropriately devised at the Excalibur.

We finally all feel asleep after 3a.m. and Derek was headed to Yosemite by 7a.m. Nick and I were going to get massages before we left, but opted to head straight to California. Our time was up in Vegas. We didn’t win money to cover the trip like we had hoped, but the information exchanged at this site will bring us the ingenuity to fund our lives. Or so I hope.

Vegas wasn’t what I expected, but it was what I needed. And so it follows the theme of the trip.

Recovery mode in Santa Fe

I passed out for a few hours only to be woken up by a phone call from Zeus at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. Louisiana time). He was walking home and passed through the Quad on campus and was reminded of our moment singing Bohemian Rhapsody on top of the Bill of Rights at a similar hour. We talked for a bit and then I slept for a few more hours.

Nick sounded like death sleeping next to me. He didn’t stop drinking after the espresso, but rather had a few more beers and what we called a “milk-martini” rather than a white Russian.

After a few hours of trying to get moving, we decided a light lunch was the way to go in order to alleviate the pain in both of our stomachs. We strolled through the plaza–sunglasses hiding the blaring sun–when we saw a sign for The Rooftop Cafe. It was fairly breezy outside, so it seemed like a good option.

The place wasn’t full and we landed a great table on the deck outside. The menu was filled with gourmet pizza recipes and organic salads. We chose to split a spinach salad with a sundried tomato basil dressing and an eggplant/vegetarian pizza. The salad was pretty standard as far as spinach salads go, but the pizza was like a deliciously ripe garden in your mouth. The crust was so light and not at all greasy. There was fresh eggplant, squash, artichoke hearts, garlic and sundried tomatoes.

DSC_5628

We decided not to shop, considering we both had spent at least $60 on booze the night before (I won’t say how much he spent). Instead, we walked to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum.

Museums are a great way to pass time in cities and if you have a student i.d., it’s cheaper. It only cost us $4 to get in.

I had seen some of her work earlier this year during my Culture of Man class, but I really liked being able to focus on one artist. I watched two short documentaries on her before I glided through the exhibit. I didn’t realize she had posed in some pretty sensual photographs for her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. By the time her art arrived, many critics assumed there was more symbolism to her flowers, than there really was.

Almost everyone I talked to mentioned the association between the flowers and vaginas. I don’t care what she really meant it to be, those paintings are amazing. My favorite part of the exhibit were quotes from O’Keeffe throughout the years. She was such a feisty woman. She had very bold original work for the time and she was a woman. Maybe that’s why I have such an appreciation for her courage. If I had her talent and her beauty, I would have done the same things she did.

Plus, after her Stieglitz died, she reinvented her work once she discovered the mountains and desert of New Mexico. She lived to be quite old and was still a firecracker to the end. Talk about inspirational. But I can appreciate any artist who can stand by their work.

Nick still felt a little queezy after lunch and went lounge around the Inn. I grabbed my laptop and went write in the Starbucks around the corner. It started to get late and I just walked around the plaza admiring the city.

The plaza is such a great space for people watching. There are so many tourists and natives sharing the same space. Some of the natives dress in traditional attire and dance, while some locals play guitars or violins while sitting around the monument in the center. By no means is there a city feel to this either. There is such an endearing feeling about the Santa Fe plaza.

The sun was starting to set, so I decided to walk back to the Inn. There was this beatnik looking hat at a shop that caught my eye the previous three days and I just couldn’t resist trying it on. $20 later, it was mine.

Nick was hungry and feeling well enough to venture out of the room, so we went to dinner at the Ore House, another authentic restaurant in the plaza. We split prime rib quessedillas and an ahi spinach salad. For dessert, we walked next door to the Plaza Cafe and had a slice of three-milk tres leche cake.

All we could do after that splurge was lay in our beds at the Inn and watch Alvin and the Chipmunks. I know…big party-goers. But hey, I had a long day of driving ahead of me and needed all of the rest I could get.

Bricktown/The Paseo

We spent early Saturday afternoon on the porch after a long-winded run. I can’t get over the dryness of this place. You don’t really sweat while you are working out, but once you stop, Niagra Falls comes out of your pores. The weather here is like the Joker too. In the matter of five minutes, the sky shifted like a menopausal woman’s mood. The sky cried hard for 30 minutes or so and then it was done.

According to Kayla and Polly (her sister-in-law), this is Tornado Alley. Everyone has to be prepared at any moment for unexpected, destructive weather change. Polly said just the other day she was driving on a highway outside of Stillwater and she thought she saw something out of her peripheral vision. When she got home and turned on the news, she discovered there was a tornado alert and that was the ghostly appearance from the corner of her eye.

Once the drizzling subsided, the adults decided to head to Bricktown to grab a beverage. The name adequately describes the section of town, because every building is made of red bricks. Nick met up with a girl he had met at an architecture conference in New Orleans while Kayla, Parry and I went to Tapwerks, a bar with over one hundred beers on tap. For $5, I had a Left Hand Milk Stout, a 16 oz. dark beer that reads at 5.2%. It was pretty tasty.

While I was standing at the bar, I lamely asked if I had to drink it with my left hand, which made me bring up the Buffalo game. A girl who was seated to my left turned abruptly and asked where I had heard of the game because she had never met anyone who knew about it. Evidently she learned of it from a guy in California.

The Buffalo game is a lifelong pact of members. Once you are in the club, you make a deal to never drink with your dominant hand. If a member catches you drinking with your dominant hand, they call Buffalo and you have to drink your entire beverage. To be honest, I hadn’t played the game in over four years because it was a thing with my ex-boyfriend and his group of friends. It may sound like a silly game, but it keeps you on your toes while you are in a social setting with your friends.

I had this one rival and I loved nothing more than to watch him throughout the night for the single moment when he had just gotten a full drink and hold it in his right hand and I would come out of nowhere and yell “BUFFALO!” The only drawback is that he would do the same to me, but it was all in good fun.

Beer

While at Tapwerks, we saw a local band called Giants of Enon. I can’t find their web page, but these guys were a great trio: guitar, bass and drums. The vocalist sounded quite similar to the lead of Kings of Leon, but their sound was a little more edgy. They had a good stage presence and their originals had promise. We watched a set and then decided to head to the Paseo art district to watch a band from the Ozarks.

I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter.

We went to a little restaurant called Galileo’s to watch this band Elephant Revival. Kayla’s friend Beth had been ranting of their amazingness for a whole day and something about her aura made me trust her instinct. (For future personal reference, I must remember this exact instinctual feeling).

The band was on break when we arrived, so Beth and I started to talk about my traveling plans while I sipped on a Boulevard-a local brew. She asked where we were going next and I replied with Fort Collins. She asked if we were going to go through New Mexico to Santa Fe. I told her we hadn’t really planned that route. She then listed about 20 reasons why I should go through New Mexico. “They don’t call it the land of enchantment for nothing,” she said with light in her eyes.

Before I could reply to her debate, the voice of creation sang to my soul. Literally, all of our heads turned to the right of the stage as this young girl began to sing with the most sultry, pure voice I had heard live…ever.

Elephant Revival is a five-person ensemble from Colorado: two females, three males. One of the females plays violin, the other a djembe (jimbay) and washboard. One of the gents plays a standing bass, while the other two swap between the banjo and guitar. All of them have distinct voices and when they harmonize, it just makes you close your eyes so you can feel the union.

They all share the spotlight cooperatively. They each contribute to the songwriting and respectfully introduce one another’s works. Their song, Currach, will bring a tear to even the most macho of men. My two favorite songs were “Ring around the moon” and “Sing to the mountain”. I’m trying to figure out how to post them on this blog so I can share this with you.

Nick showed up when they were almost through and of course fell in love with the angelic singer…and our punk-rock waitress. However, we soon found out our waitress was interested in me instead of him.

That’s right. I was hit on-openly-for the first time by a girl. She was wearing this small fannypack and I commented on it and without thinking, touched it. Then apologized for not asking and she replied “Oh that’s okay, you can touch my fannypack as much as you want.”

Let’s just say she then explained what fannypacking means in Europe and then said a few more lines to me that I can’t write about because my mother is probably going to read this. When she walked away all we could do was laugh because I was highly embarassed. Maybe it was my hairy legs that turned her on. Either way, it was fanny-tastic and Nick was jealous.