I’m Still Alive And The House Is Going Strong

Hangin with my homie from HS

Hello everyone. I know it’s been a while since my last update and I’m sorry to leave yall hanging. I’ve been really busy spending time with new friends, making tracks, and working on the house, coupled with the fact that my laptop has been out of commission for a couple months now. But, I’m doing well, I’m still having adventures, and I have a lot of catching up to do.
I’m currently back in New Orleans and will be staying for the winter. For now, I just wanted to check in and let everyone know I’m still moving along and I’m doing great. In the meantime, you can look forward to upcoming articles about my travels through New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. I had a great time in each state, except for Nevada because it was just too damn hot. Anyway, there’s lots to tell, and many pictures to share, stories of great people along the way, and more. 

The latest news is that one of my friends that I haven’t seen since high school came into town with the guys from the Corsa America Rally, which is a group that tours around in fancy high performance cars- Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and such. We went to school together back in Maine, and after graduating he started living in Florida where he is original from. It was definitely a trip to connect with an old friend in this surreal city. Who would have thought? So anyway, as always, thanks for tuning in and being a part of my journey. 

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Marfa: Intrigue And Art In The Desert Of Southwest Texas

Marfa was a place suggested to me by several people I met along my trip. After reading a little about it and seeing a few pictures, I found there was a certain intrigue and mystery about it, so I made it my next destination after Austin on the way to El Paso. Simply put, it’s a small city in the middle of the desert in southwest Texas, and has been growing as a tourist destination since the late 70s.

1 PANO_20160615_202928One of the things everyone goes to see is the Marfa Lights, which are mysterious light orbs sometimes scene in the distance (looking south toward the Chinati Mtns.) that move & behave strangely- similar to Brown Mtn. lights in NC; they also go for the art scene featuring mostly minimalist styles, the scenery, and, of course the food.

If you like to eat, there’s a great offering. A grilled cheese parlor, a few fine dining spots, a lady that cooks burritos from her house, and a handful of other places in between. The only chains I recall are Dairy Queen and a dollar store. No Starbucks. No Walmart.

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I spent my first night here (although when I arrived, I parked away from the bridge; it wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I moved into the shade under the bridge.)

When I first arrived it was about midnight so I found a spot by a train bridge to sleep. The very next day I started my scouting. The first local, eclectic attraction I found was El Cosmico, which is a creative modern alternative to a hotel offering teepees, yurts, and vintage campers painted in all kinds of colors for lodging. They also have a gift shop with books, wardrobe, art, and such. You can even buy beer or wine. On top of that is a handful of different communal activities, like cooking or art. I obviously didn’t need to patronize the establishment for a place to stay this time around, but I did have a couple beers while I browsed through the shop. I went outside to kick back and enjoy my last drink and I happened to meet one of the employees and we chatted for a little while. He said it would be cool if I wanted to sleep in the parking lot, which is what I ended up doing for my whole stay.

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Parked by the El Cosmico “sign”

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Some functional art featured in the gift shop

I eventually went to the viewing post hoping to see the lights, but they never showed up. However there was a big thunderstorm over the mountains so I had the chance to see a very impressive lightning display instead, and it lasted several hours. What made it especially cool was that it was so far away you couldn’t hear any thunder, and being in the flat of the desert you could see the whole storm system from end to end, top to bottom. There was actually a good thunderstorm every day during my 5 day visit and one night there was two. After the viewing post I stopped at the Lost Horse Saloon for a drink before heading back to the parking lot at Cosmico. I met a pretty cool local there who I had a good conversation with for a while, and he even bought me a beer.

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The Chinati mountains are out of the photo to the far left. The Viewing post is at the bottom right where all the cars are parked.

One of the other main attractions is the Chinati Foundation which is basically a permanent museum/gallery with various art installations, mostly from Donald Judd. He basically bought up all the buildings in the old military base as well as half of all the property in Marfa (if not most of it). I think his art is genuine and has aesthetic and conceptual value, but it in my opinion it’s overrated; it’s literally a bunch of sculptures of boxes. You can make up your own mind.

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A view of the Chinati Foundation from the road. The concrete boxes in the foreground are one of the installations, while the hanger in the back has many more installations inside.

 

On my way out of Marfa, I stopped to see the last popular sight which is Prada Marfa (however it was a surprise since I didn’t realize I would pass it on my way to El Paso. Prior to, I assumed it was somewhere else and didn’t bother to seek it out). It’s another permanent art installation about 20 or 30 miles going west. Prada Marfa is a fake Prada store. It’s a real building with real Prada merchandise inside, but it’s only an exhibit for viewing. A very “out of place” spectacle but with a subtle, surreal charm.

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“Prada Marfa” A permanent art installation

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I found this on the opposite side of the road near Prada Marfa…

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… and I decided to add to it.

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As you can see, my pictures tell a story and give some insight into the look & feel of the place, but they don’t give everything away either. I think it’s good to spark the curiosity and yet leave a lot for your own discovery should you ever visit. Overall, I liked Marfa quite a lot. I’ll definitely be visiting again on my way back to Maine and will continue to do so long after this road trip is over.

 

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Goodbye for now, Marfa

El Paso And The Family

 

El Paso; the city in the far corner of west Texas, and, my last stop in the lone star state. It sits directly on the border with Juarez, Mexico. My dad was born there along with 11 (could be 12) other siblings. Most of them and their families still live there, so it definitely was a major destination for the road trip. Did I mention it’s really, really hot?

So I arrived in the evening at my Grandma’s old house where everyone grew up and I was prepared with a couple six packs I picked up just before getting into the neighborhood. Just two of my cousins live there now, David and Isaac. Needless to say, I was really happy to finally be able to hang out with family members that I hadn’t seen in about 15 years. And out of all my relatives there, I’ve been closest to Dave and Isaac since we’re all about the same age.

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Parked at the old house

The next day I went with a few family members, including Dave and Isaac, to a place called Hideaway Lake which is basically a couple man made U shaped ponds that get stocked with cat fish. West Texas is very short on natural bodies of water, and Hideaway Lake is basically one of the closest places to go. We had a fire, did a bit of fishing ( I was only a spectator), had some food, and camped out for the night. I brought my house of course, which really fit the scene.

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For most of the visit, I tried to stay cool and kicked back during the day while my cousins were at work, and once they were home we’d hang out and have a couple beers. Sometimes other friends, family, or neighbors would join us for a while.

 

 

 

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I went downtown one afternoon to set up and do poetry and it went fairly well. I had a small wave of about 4 poems. I had to pack up early though due to really heavy gusts that started suddenly. Sand, dust, and trash was blowing hard everywhere, grit getting in your eyes and mouth… There was no sense in staying.

 

At one point, one of my cousins hosted a big cookout at his house and invited all the family living in the area. There were a lot who didn’t make it, but about a third showed up, which was still quite a few, and we all had a good time just hanging out with tunes and drinks and good food, laughing and sharing stories.

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Just the cousins, aunts, and uncles

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Everyone

I pretty much did what I planned to do, which was mostly just chill out and spend time with family. My cousins and I also went on a few small adventures during my stay, sometimes with a couple other friends or family members. We managed to find a pretty good hookah bar, had some food and beer at a place called the Hoppy Monk, checked out the DJ and the scene at Monarch (a popular and swanky bar for the younger generations), checked out a graffiti park, and made it over to the scenic drive that overlooks all of El Paso and part of Juarez.

 

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On a couple occasions, we cooked up a nice breakfast, and for one of those days, I fixed up mimosas, which Dave and Isaac never had before. The other time it was bloody Marys. There was another cookout on father’s day, and there was a birthday at a pizza place, so all together I had a good fill of family time mixed with good food, like my Tia Bertha’s bacon wrapped jalepeno poppers. And with the exception of the pizza place, there was always oldies playing at the cookouts, just like when I was little.

I stayed for a total of two weeks and it would have been really easy to stay longer, but it was time to make tracks for New Mexico and see my sister and her kids. Every moment of my trip has been filled with anticipation, and leaving Texas was no different; it was just another step closer to the Pacific, another step into the unknown, into something new, a step further from home yet at the same time, a step bringing me closer to where I started.

A Week In Austin Texas

I landed in Austin on a Sunday (5 June) at about 3am. It was a great feeling; to be somewhere new, to be closer to El Paso, and to be done with driving- at least for a little while. I parked downtown and figured it was a perfect chance to take my dog Luke for a run on the bike and explore the layout without any distractions or traffic.

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The hospital parking lot

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Another shot at the hospital

I then found a hospital to park at and get some rest. I spent Monday kicking back and organizing the cabin and Tuesday I did some recon for more parking, places to do poetry, and more mental programming of the area so I know how to get around without thinking. In doing so, I saw a ton of people gathered over the entire bridge on Congress St. and even more on the ground below. I thought maybe it was for a band or boat race or something, so I asked somone and learned that during the summer huge swarms of bats come out from underneath the bridge to feed just after sunset, and a crowd gathers to watch. The swarm gets bigger and bigger later into the season as the babys mature and join in. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to seeing the bats, but I definitely will on my way back home.

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Luke on the truck

 

Wednesday night was my first night doing street poetry. I set up on the corner of 6th and Trinity and wrote my first poem in Austin, and Texas for that matter, for a group of WiFi gurus in town for a conference. It wasn’t long before a cop came up and hassled me about having a table and chair set up because it breaks a “no blocking the sidewalk” law, despite the obvious fact that it wasn’t. City ordinance crap…

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This is where I had to move after the cop talked to me

Anyway, he said I could sit on a tree planter that was near by which is what I did for the rest of the night. I’ve since tried a couple other spots, the best so far being South Congress directly in front of Guero’s Oak Garden (a live music venue with a bar and taco stand). It’s like a very wide, toned down version of Royal St. in New Orleans, which is to say, a pretty cool spot to stroll and hang out.

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This is the 3rd spot I tried out

After getting my bearings, my routine was to park at the Zilker Park parking lot by Barton Springs for the night, and most of the day too, which offorded the opportunity for me and Luke to walk down to the creek and cool off. Then when the sun was going down is when I would head into town. The parking lot is completely empty all night and the location is away from the bustle, so crickets are all you hear, which made falling asleep easy. The lot itself is butted up to a huge field with trees lining the edges, and since I stayed over night, I always secured the best spot under the biggest tree, so I had the most shade all day. And of course Luke had plenty of space to run.

 

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At the Zilker Park parking lot

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My ”backyard” at Zilker Park

 

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Barton Springs Creek at Zilker Park

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Another shot of the creek

There was one poet I met the first night I setup on S. Congress and he goes by “Slum Pickens.” Never said his real name… So I didn’t ask. But I always wonder about people who don’t say their real names- am I supposed to call him “Slum?” Anyway, he had a typewriter, and, I can’t say any more about him since he was packing up just as I was arriving. And since he left town for a few days that night (which I later learned from a girl that works near the spot) I never saw him again. Over the next few days that I was doing poetry, I was the only one. In that time, I quickly learned that Austinites have a lot of poetry love.

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My spot on South Congress

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The tall building in the center is the taco stand

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I cruised down Rainey St. a couple times, which fits it’s reputation as being pretty hip and plentiful when it comes to drinks and food and music. A local told me, and as anyone will eventually notice, it’s an old residential zone, so all the bars and restauraunts are just converted houses. It gives the scene a very comfortable atmosphere. However, I didn’t stop at any places since most of my funds are reserved for gas. Plus I know I’ll be back at some point, and hope to have a companion next time, so, it didn’t bother me to decide to save the dining experiences for another visit. At least I know all the places I want to hit up and where they are now. I did manage to sample at least some of the eats around town. The very first night I arrived, I picked up a pretty tastey gyro from Hero’s food truck (there’s a lot by Trinity and 7th- even more by Red River), and, while doing poetry, I tried a serving of tacos al pastor from Guero’s, which was about 10 feet from where I sat. The al pastor was superb. Probably the best tasting, and best portion of food I’ve ever had for less than (literally) three dollars- no exaggeration. I think the closest thing would be the three dollar bahn mi (3.84 incl. tax) at Moon Wok in NOLA.

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While doing poetry, I noticed this chalk car across the street

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I did the treble clef and then I wrote a poem above the rear wheel… it reads: “A dark car, with hidden blessings, on a journey, as it sits, stoic and beautiful”

Ultimately, I really liked Austin.  Ample culture abound, food, art, nature, music obviously, and I met a lot of nice people; some on 6th, some on Congress, some at the park, basically everywhere I went. One guy invited me to the Brews Cruise, (a group bike ride with free beer at the end) which, sadly, I didn’t go to; I would have had to stay an extra day so I added it to my list of things to do next time around. There was another guy- Jimmy Way- who does street performing inside an illuminated drum contraption.

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Jimmy’s ”human drum machine”

He was one of only a few street performers I observed in the whole city the whole time I was there. Austin may be the live music capital of the world, but the street music scene is almost non existent. I can recall one guy playing trumpet on SoCo, a guitar player at each of the far ends of 6th, and Jimmy, who was on 6th & Congress. That was it. The French Quarter has at least five times that on any given day, save for maybe the summer months. Heck, Portland Maine even has more street performers.

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Suzy, doing some exploring

My only criticisn would be that there’s way too many cops standing around in groups doing absolutely nothing (besides harassing poets and street performers) on 6th street (which is basically like Bourbon St. in NOLA- mostly smoke, neon, pizza, puke, and beligerant plastic people).

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Look at ’em all

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Another group of five (the other group of seven was only a few hundred feet from the group pictured here)

I guess it isn’t that big of a deal though in retrospect, since 6th is best to avoid- not completely mind you, but for the most part. It has some decent attractions, but it’s not where you want to go every night of the week, unless maybe you’ve just turned 21 and you’re into the loud crowd of meatheads and bimbos and a cacophonous din of music from all directions. It’s an interesting scene for sure, otherwise, S. Congress, Rainey, and Red River are the best streets for wandering. There is of course a ton of other establshments surrounding the downtown area, not to mention, all of the natural springs, state parks, scenic drives, and such. But, as LeVar Burton would say, don’t take my word for it.

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A Stop In Mamou To See Fred’s and Tante Sue

I left New Orleans around 2am after eating one last big, fat, juicy sandwich at Verti Marte (a super delicious deli on Royal St. and a must for anyone that likes good food). I drove until I felt like I needed a nap which was around 5:30am. I got up by 9:30am and I made it to Mamou a little after 10am Saturday morning.

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I found Fred’s and before I walked through the door, I could hear music going as I walked up. Once inside, I could see the action was in full swing. The appearance is a lot like most any small bar, dimly lit with photos and local nostalgia on the walls and a casual but hoppin’ atmosphere. Ordering a bloody there is like a right of passage, so, I had one and it was quite good, pricey of course, but it was good enough to get a second one before I switched to MGD. There was a band playing and plenty of people and couples dancing; mostly folks a few generations older than I. There was also an old lady walking around with slices of boudin for people (a tradition originally held by Sue before she was let go). A conga line even broke out for a while. At one point a woman invited me to dance with her so I obliged.

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The Bar

It’s hands down the most lively bar scene I’ve ever experienced so early in the morning, and they’ve been doing it for 70 years. The whole thing is aired on a radio show as well, which has been done almost since the place opened.

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The Band

The whole time I was looking for Tante Sue. I didn’t know exactly what she looked like but that she had white hair and is a fairly old woman. Eventually I went outside to check on my dog and I met a guy who told me it was Sue’s birthday, and there was supposed to be a party. After I walked back to the entrance to Fred’s I ended up talking to another man who was sitting outside on the bench. We talked about my trip and where I’m from and he told me about some of the really good local Cajun musicians, and how the band that was playing was more like rock and not true Cajun. I mentioned that I was hoping to see Sue and he informed me she worked next door and wasn’t at Fred’s anymore, and, at that very moment he pointed her out since she was literally just about to walk into the bar next to Fred’s. I excused myself and hastily walked up just in time to open the door for her and walk in with her. We talked about how I discovered Mamou, how I heard of her, and that I was glad to meet and talk to her. I wished her a happy birthday and then we got a picture taken, but only after she strapped on her leather holster custom made for a bottle of hot damn. It was her 85th birthday.

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Tante Sue and I

(The photo below was not taken by me, but it shows her holster)

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This is not one of my photos, but it shows her drink holster

Since I heard she wasn’t at Fred’s anymore, I had to ask about it. Apparently she was fired after being there 69 years. Kind of a bitter end. The place came under new ownership quite a while ago, and Sue was part of the deal, but at the beginning of 2016 they decided they didn’t want her there any longer. Anyway, the experience was different, interesting, and a lot of fun; I met some good people, heard some good music, and I’d recommend it to anyone passing through the area.

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A poem I found on the wall about Sue

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One of the many pictures on the walls

Goodbye New Orleans, Hello Texas

So today is my last day in New Orleans. I’ve been here exactly five months, starting from New Years Eve. I had no idea I’d be here for this long. Initially I thought I’d be back in Maine by now, and at this point my arrival back there is estimated for November. We’ll see what happens… I still have to get to California.

The next stop for the moment, or visit I should say, will be in Mamou, Louisiana. A friend of mine in Maine who’s familiar with a lot of southern culture, recommended a place called Fred’s Lounge. He said I should see Tante Sue before she dies. After doing a bit of homework I learned that Fred’s is one of those small spots that’s larger than life in character and reputation. It’s like the Cajun music capital of the world, and, it’s only open early in the morning on Saturdays. (I actually postponed my departure from Wednesday to tonight just for that.)

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After Fred’s, my next visit will be Austin, Texas. I don’t plan to stay more than a week since I’ve already spent almost half a year in NOLA, and I’m anxious to get to El Paso to see my family, which is one of the main reasons for this road trip. I’m also starting to miss my friends and family in Maine. I’m in no hurry though, just excited; to see cousins, aunts, and uncles I haven’t seen in 20 years, to see my sister, nephews and nieces that I haven’t even met, and visit my dad and step mother, and revisit new friends I made at the beginning of the trip on the way back home.

Overall, my experience in New Orleans has been transformative and I will take a part of it with me everywhere I go. I will also try to continue visiting every year. I feel very blessed having made so many good memories to look back on, and living every present moment for all it’s worth, and having so much more to look forward to. I only wish I had more free time to write so I could share more of my experience. I hope you’ve been enjoying the journey so far and thank you for being a part of it.

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Life On The Road And Minimalism

Before my trip began, and to this day, these have been my only expectations:

– That I’ll have good and bad experiences
– To learn, grow, and transform from those experiences
– Spend most of my time outside
– Meet new people
– See my country and it’s different culture
– Visit family along the way

That’s it.

Now living in such a small space forces you to spend most of your time outside, and that was a desired and intended effect. One of my reasons for the trip was to dodge the Maine winter. I didn’t want to be couped up all the time because of cold grey weather. I like being outside in the sunshine. The biggest purpose of the house on my truck is really to provide shelter from bad weather, have a comfortable place to sleep, and to carry cargo, even though it’s very cozy to sit and hang out in with up to 3 people, not including myself. Otherwise, I’m pretty much always outside. Why stay in when you can be out, especially when the weather is nice?

Another great thing about living in a severely micro dwelling; everything is at arms reach. If you were to add up all the time you spend walking through your house to get one thing or to do another, you’d find a chunk is eaten up simply going from room to room, and back. I once heard that Einstein only had a couple wardrobes so that he didn’t have to waste any time thinking about or choosing what to wear from day to day. Likewise, I don’t lose any time when it comes to doing things in and around my house. Maybe that’s why everyone wears jumpsuits in the future.

Some more of the benefits are that I have less square footage to keep clean and maintain; no need for a mop and I have an oriental rug that I just shake out as needed so no vacuuming. No bathroom to clean either. I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. My only appliances are a camp stove and a fan. No toaster, microwave, oven, dishwasher, or fridge to clean, or have breakdown. I have no TV either. And on that note, I actually haven’t really watched any at all since I left Maine six months ago, which has been very gratifying. They really do rot the brain (don’t get me wrong though, I love a lot of different shows and am quite a movie buff). The only exceptions are the occasional youtube video on my phone, or watching a funny show once in a great while on HULU with one of my friends here in NOLA. That also means I haven’t played any video games, which for me is a guilty pleasure, but I honestly haven’t missed it. Just stepping outside my door, wherever I happen to be, is more than enough for interactive entertainment.

So, there’s also no yard to maintain, no gutters to get clogged (however, I do have a gutter, it’s just small and it’s design prevents clogging), and here are the big ones; no rent, no landlord, no electric or internet bill, and no neighbors unless I want them. The only downside I can think of at the moment is that I don’t have a garden, and no place for raging bonfires. But I’ll make up for that when I get back to Maine.

As for showers, I have a camp shower which is just a black bag of water that heats up in the sun and has a hose with a sprinkler. I don’t always heat it either; a few months before I even thought to go traveling I got into a habit of taking cold showers fairly often for their health benefits, as in, improving circulation, which has a cascade of nice effects for the body and is subsequently good for mind of course. And, the “unpleasantness” of the experience itself each time is also a way to train your mind to better face unpleasant situations by focusing on the fact that great rewards often demand you go through a little discomfort first. Anyway, I take showers outside with a limited supply of water, with minimal pressure, and it’s not always hot, so I spend only as much time as I need to in order to get clean, which is generally between 5 and 10 minutes. I do it with the same approach as brushing my teeth or shaving… Its not something I do for pleasure, and the quicker the better. Bing bang. Time is precious, and half hour showers weren’t uncommon for me when I was living in an apartment. But now, it takes up the least of my time. My “bathroom” consists of a folding toilet seat for you know what, and a glass jar for number one. I try to use public restrooms or shops when I can for both, but if I can’t, I’m prepared.

Life on the road with a minimalist mindset is definitely conducive to living in the moment and reducing stress if done properly. And if you’re like me, one learns to eagerly and enthusiastically let go of and be very content without so many of the things we’re taught growing up are necessary for happiness. You eventually come to embrace the new lifestyle as you shed the majority of your old possessions, habits, requirements, and expectations for everyday living. Thoreau, and all the rest who have said that less is more and simpler is better, are all correct. More things, more space, more obligations, more concerns, more this and that and so on and so on is just more fragmentation of every aspect of your life; more complication. Part of my mantra has always been “no worries,” and “no big deal,” or, “keep it simple.” And if you ever met me, you’d immediately notice that I’m mellow to the extreme. I’m not passive or shy, I just always have a very laid back attitude, relaxed demeanor, and an easygoing presence. Calm, cool, and collected as they say. If you can’t be happy with nothing, then you can’t be happy with everything. In fact, it gets harder to be happy with more, and easier with less. But don’t take my word for it. Go out there and see for yourself.

Rebirth Of A Poet

I’ve been writing poetry off and on for about 15 years, and up until recently, my primary focus has always been on music, visual art, and photography. One of the first people I met and really connected with in NOLA is a poet named Beatrice, coming from Detroit. She was walking down the sidewalk with a cat on her shoulder and I had to take her picture for my other photoblog. We became friends from that moment and a week or so after meeting, we started to hang out fairly often. Eventually she introduced me to some of the other local poets in the French Quarter who basically setup as poets “for hire” on Royal St. during the day. They also typically sit all together in a row.

IMG_20160402_150351“Cubs” was one of the first I met and is a mainstay for the Royal St. scene. Anyway, the process is simple; a person can ask for a poem about any topic or subject, then the poet might ask a few questions or chat with the person for a bit, then write them a personalized poem on the spot using a typewriter. When it’s complete, the pay is based on whatever a person wants to give or tip.

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Poets lined up on Royal St. (I’m farthest left)

I definitely thought it was a pretty cool and interesting concept but never actually thought to try it until over a month later, only after meeting and having a conversation with another visiting poet named Tania, from Spain. While we were talking about street poetry, and to be specific, how she got into it, I said I’d like to try it and she responded by saying that I should, and that it’s like a drug.

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Tania, on Royal Street

What happened was, I picked up a job at a donut shop a couple weeks after I landed in town, and it was alright, just like any other relatively mundane or menial line of work, but for better or worse, it didn’t last. Now I’ve had a lot of different jobs, and they all seem to get derailed sooner or later, regardless of how “good” it seems to go, so because it happened once again, I took it as a sign that time that maybe the cosmos really want me to be doing something else, something I’m truly passionate about and good at, which is anything creative and artistic.

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Having fun with chalk. It was just Cubs, Dante, and I that day.

Now I’ve learned that street performing as a musician can be tough as a solo act in NOLA, and I don’t consider myself to be that special compared to the other musicians here, so I didn’t count that as an option for getting by. I also didn’t have much art on me to be able to sell. But what I did have was this poet for hire thing on the brain, and since I live in a micro house, a heavy, bulky typewriter was out of the question, not to mention what it would cost to get one and maintain it. Luckily I packed my pen and ink set. So, instead of typing poems, I decided I would write long hand in cursive calligraphy. I figured I’ll make one more genuine shot at really following my dream vs. settling with a day job. So I started about a month ago now, and I’ve averaged about 12 hours a day, everyday, except when it’s raining. Basically I’ve been doing it non stop since I started. Royal St. by day, and Frenchmen St. by night. I’ve never had a better job or “worked” with such beautiful souls. I don’t think I’ve had as much success with anything before in my life.

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On Frenchman Street. The girl wearing the glasses is Kaile, proprietor of “The Spontaneous Prose Store.”

Over the course of my poeting career so far, I’ve seen some interesting things at poetry corner (our unofficial name for the operation… also known as Writer’s Block); I’ve seen a fellow poet so drunk he peed on the sidewalk as children were walking by, all whilst sitting on a milk crate, I’ve seen myself and the other poets that were with me get sprayed from a balcony with a hose from a miserable woman that spends her summers in New york, and when she comes to New Orleans she hates on the poets. She said she was “watering her plants” but was literally hosing us down, typewriters and all. I’ve seen people cry, I’ve seen people be rude, but most of all, I’ve seen people be very kind, appreciative, and generous for what we (street poets everywhere) are doing and for what we’re putting out into the world.

There’s so much to be said for how we as individuals come to do something in our lives or how we discover a new path. A lot of the time, it’s something outside of us that inspires us, to try doing what we’ve witnessed, but in our own unique way, or, doing something totally new. Before I came to New Orleans, I had written poetry only sporadically, but now, it’s like I’ve had an awakening, or, reawakening of a talent with lots of passion behind it. At the same time, I finally found a way to make a fair living at doing something I enjoy. It’s just one more thing I can be thankful for, and attribute to my New Orleans experience. It’s also how I’ve been able to give back and be a part of the culture.

So when I first started, I was using my dip pen, which is just a basic plain old black inkwell pen. But by my 3rd day I glued an osprey feather to it that I found back in Maine to give it an authentic look. After a couple weeks of saving, I also picked up a beautiful handmade inkwell from Venice, Italy, as well as a wax seal to give the whole process that extra bit of class. My seal is a skeleton key, which I chose for two reasons; one is, my last name, Chavez, comes from the Spanish word for key, and the second is that poetry, like any form of art or literature, is a metaphorical key. Also, I can proudly say I’m the only poet in New Orleans, and perhaps the country, that is hand writing poems in calligraphy. And to be genuinely original in NOLA is not easy.

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Writing poetry on Oak Street by the Maple Leaf Bar, during a block party and crawfish boil

There’s something special going on here. It’s a very sacred place, and I knew it before I ever arrived, but I never could have imagined just how profound the experience really is, especially for anyone who is open minded and eager. It’s not just a place where you can walk around with open liquor, party all day, and find music everywhere. NOLA is alive, and she pulls people in from all over the world; artists, musicians, writers, photographers, singers, and all, and shapes them or reshapes them or fixes their compass, and gives them a key to unlock any door, and sends them on their way.  Treat her right and she’ll do wonders for you.

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What is NOLA?

NOLA stands for New Orleans, Louisiana. So, what is that? I’ve lived here for over three months now and have steadily woven myself into the local fabric, and, I’ve talked to a LOT of people, fresh transplants, travelers, and locals. So I’ll explain it the best I can, but honestly it’s near impossible to put the genuine essence of life here into words. Luckily I’m a poet of sorts, and I think I’ll give you a pretty good impression. With that said, if you’ve ever even thought of visiting this place, don’t wait any longer.

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Poets doing the day shift on Royal St. (I’m furthest to the left)

NOLA is a vibrant, bustling mix of sound, lights, color, smells, and beyond…

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Artist on Dacatur St.

Trains with their bells and horns, bangs, rumbles, low engine hums, and the riverboat and cargo ship horns, dj beats with the sound of people partying as cruise ships go by, music of all types coming from all directions in the streets of the French Quarter, marching bands in a second line (for those who don’t know, a second line is basically a parade through the street, sometimes for weddings, or for special occasions, such as when David Bowie died, and just today, there was one for Prince, may he rest in peace) people cheering, talking, laughing, singing on their bikes, ringing their bells and the rapid ticking of the wheel as they ride by, a vendor yells “Gumbo man! Gumbo man!” to make sure everyone who’s drunk and hungry knows he has the best hot gumbo on the street; you have bells from church, birds singing, sirens, car horns, trucks, helicopters, jets, planes, skateboards, clopping of horse hooves, machines and construction work in the distance, thunderstorms, you get the idea.

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Parade debris

You can’t quite look anywhere without seeing beads, on the ground, in the trees, adorned on fences and stair railings, on bikes, and obviously around people’s necks, there’s girls wearing glitter, there’s old and funky hats, weird and old timey fashion, lots of dirty kids, homeless people, and tourists. If you’re ever on Frenchman Street late enough to see all the people go home, you’ll see a special twilight hour when all the stray cats come out of the woodwork. They basically own the street after everyone’s gone, touching noses in the middle of the street or running up and down the sidewalks. When everything is happening and bumping, you smell pizza, or seafood and crawfish, fried food, and waves of trash and sewage as the winds change, and, naturally, the unmistakable smell of good ganja is somewhere on every street, along with traces of sage, cigars, and the occasional clove. There’s always someone with a dog, and of course, the smoke from the street barbecues lasting late into the night.

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Traveling kids aka dirty kids aka punk kids busking on Frenchman

Beyond all that, there is a sea of art blanketing the whole area. In shops and galleries and all over the street and sidewalk; painters, sketchers, photographers, jewelry makers, and even poets for hire. Driving by, there’s art cars, school buses that have been converted to mobile house parties, and even bikes that tow gigantic trailers with swings and hammocks mounted for people to hang out on. And on and on the sensory smorgasbord goes.

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A ship from my home state going down the Mississippi

The feeling, is hip, hip, hip; free, cool, happening, crazy, wild, fun, loud, and proud. Even daring and edgy, fancy, flashy, sexy, trashy, and classy, all swirling together at once.

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Brass band by the French Market

I should also point out that I’m describing the French Quarter and surroundings areas primarily, which is where the culture is at it’s highest concentration. Honestly, I could write novel upon novel about all the things NOLA is, because it’s ever changing and fluctuating and just plain teeming with life, culture, and style. It’s certainly a very specific brand of living, and I imagine that there’s nowhere else in the world that can truly compare. Needless to say, if you have even the slightest creative bone in your body or even a tiny interest and appreciation of the world of arts and culture, you, like me, will quickly fall in love with the place, and the people, and the lifestyle, that is NOLA. So, I’ll say it one more time: artists, musicians, writers, and admirers alike, do NOT wait to visit the crescent city any longer than you already have.

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I took this picture sitting on the very top of the bike trailer that has a hammock and swings

Making Friends In New Orleans

Folks, I’m sorry I haven’t had any posts for a while… I actually had one ready but never published it since I thought I needed to add more to it, but after rereading, I think it’s best to leave it the way it is, since a short post is usually better anyway. So, thank you for your patience. And, I PROMISE I won’t let more than 10 days go by without a post. All I can say is, there’s just so much going on and I’ve been very caught up in the vortex that is New Orleans. Without further ado, here it is, as it was written on the 12th of February:

I’ve been in New Orleans for about a month and a half now and it’s a very unique experience to say the least. I’ve met quite a variety of very interesting and good people who have all helped me feel at home, travelers and nonresidents alike.

 

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“Doc”

One of the first people I met was a guy named Trevor who does ghost tours and goes by the nickname “Doc.”  I ran into him when I went to Cafe Du Monde on my second night in town.  I was on a mission (per my Gramma’s recommendation) to have a cafe au lait and beignet. So, we sat together, and split the beignets while I drank my cafe au lait – “Doc” had a hot chocolate. He was wearing all black as part of his tour getup and amazingly managed not to spill any of the powdered sugar that they pile on. We talked for a bit and I learned that he’s been married to his high school girlfriend, but, just recently they agreed to try a separation. They had a house together and he literally had just moved into a new place with some roommates the day before we met. It was mostly her idea, but they’re both amicable. I felt for him. I then found out that his biggest passion is designing games, like card games, and he’s even had a successful kickstarter campaign for one of them. We talked about a lot of other things and just enjoyed each other’s company… he even picked up the bill! Pretty lucky for my second day in town. As always, nothing is better than meeting genuinely good people.

After being here a few more days, I ran into another guy who gave me some of my first local insights into the community. He arrived here right after Katrina to help rebuild, which was 10 years ago now. He talked specifically about how the fabric of the area is uIMG_9967ndergoing some changes… Basically I asked how long he’s been here and his response was, “Too long man… It’s time to get out…” Of course I asked why, and he summed it up by saying that since he’s been here he’s seen the area become “posh and retarded.” He went into more detail, and basically what he was saying was that the gentrification process has been steadily picking up momentum. I’ve heard that word quite a few times around here now. I also learned from him that many locals who were scattered from the storm never came back because much of the land was bought by wealthy developers and is now too expensive. I was bummed to hear all that, but also glad that I finally made it here before things change any more than they have.