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. 

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

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.

 

Journey into Dixieland: A Musician’s Pilgrimage

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I arrived in New Orleans on new years eve. This is my first visit and it’s literally a dream come true. I’ve always considered this place to be my own personal Mecca because music is one of my greatest passions and obsessions. So to visit or, make a “pilgrimage” to the birthplace of American music is a really big deal for me, not to mention, I especially love jazz and blues.

I’ve been here four days now and as expected, I’ve already had some “religious” experiences. The first real moment I had was when I went out Friday, (1 Jan). It was my first night really experiencing the city… The night that I arrived I pretty much just found a place to park and rested, however I did play my horn on Canal St. for about a half hour. Anyway, I was at the Balcony Music Club and the Big Easy Brawlers were playing when I walked in. They played a cover of “Stay With Me” and it really hit me. They were really feeling it, and so was I. The rest of the night was no different. They played until 1am or so. After that I found another spot called the 3090 which had a band similar to the Brawlers- funky, with a touch of R&B. Every song was great, too great for words really, especially their cover of “Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley. They played until 5am and I stayed for the whole thing. Again, the experience was spiritual, complete with goosebumps and a few tears of joy.

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Part of the band at 3090

On my third night in town I didn’t do much, but, walking back to my truck from Starbucks in the evening, I ran into Tanya and Dorise on Royal St. They’re local celebrities and extremely talented. I had actually read about them just a couple days before. So, in the usual fashion, (it seems to be turning into a pattern) I was floored by their performance when I first walked up to them. They’re a perfect marriage of chemistry and passion. I requested “Sleepwalk” by Johnny & Santo, and like with the other bands the night before, they brought a couple tears to my eyes.

 

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Tanya & Dorise

I’m planning on staying until Mardi Gras, and I know the days are just going to fly by. There’s so much to see and do and my experience has simply been amazing so far, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. Aside from the music, I still have tons of art to check out, and a lot of food to try. According to my cousin Steve in Mississippi who’s been all around the world; New Orleans has the best food anywhere. I can see how it’s going to be hard to leave…

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Art on Royal St.

 

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Another from Royal St.

 

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And another

 

 

 

WHY PEOPLE, NOT PLACES, ARE THE BEST THING ABOUT TRAVELING (PART 2)

From  Maine, I stopped in Boston to sleep, and then New York City (4th Nov. ’15, 7:30PM) was one of my first “real” stops.  I was only there for a few hours- enough time to walk my dog, get a slice of pie, and get a feel for the city. I didn’t meet anyone special in the short amount of time, but the few people I talked to were quite nice and we had a good conversation about my house truck.

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Megan, her nephews, and I, just before departure.

After New York I stopped in Oaklyn, New Jersey (5th Nov. ’15, 1:30AM).  I had friends to visit; Megan, who I met while she lived in Maine, and her brother Andy’s family, but, before I met with them, I ran into a couple driving a conversion van who also liked to travel.  I was parked at a Wal-Mart and they were drawn in by my house truck.  We talked, got along, and they invited me to their place for a bon fire the next night. I took the offer, and just like we would back home, we hung out, including their two kids & some of their friends, had some drinks, ordered pizza, and stayed up late listening to music and talking. The next day they all took me out for breakfast.  Later we played street soccer with the kids and some of the neighbor’s youngsters. When I got together with Megan and her family, we had a good time over some drinks and tunes, and I had my first “tomato pie” with them, which I loved. I’m forever thankful to all the people I spent time with in New Jersey.

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My friends in Maryland.

 

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Victoria, my 1st CS host, and Kwan, her Workaway guest from S. Korea.

From there I made it to Severn, Maryland (9th Nov. ’15, 8:00PM) where I had my first experience with couchsurfing.com.  All I can say is that if I have any other CS experiences that are even half as good as my first, I’ll consider myself lucky.  Victoria was everything a good host should be;  warm, welcoming, and fun to hang out with.  She had other guests from S. Korea that I had the pleasure to meet and get to know as well.  She also brought us all on an excursion to DC, which was a first for me.  We checked out the Art Gallery, Botanical Garden, and a handful of monuments including Lincoln.  We even got into a game of Cattan after getting home.  At first I thought I’d be staying a couple days, but I enjoyed the company so much that I ended up staying for a week.

 

IMG_20151117_162945 My next stop was Washington, DC (17th Nov. ’15, 4:00PM). When I arrived, the very first person I talked to was a military man named JB.  He was very talkative, and very friendly.  As usual, he was initially attracted to the truck. A few days earlier, I connected with a girl named Shatha, via couchsurfing.  Even though she wasn’t able to host, she offered to spend time with me while I was in DC.  Initially she saw my trip on CS and loved the whole idea. She ended up buying concert tickets for us, so the next night we went to see The Wood Brothers at the 9:30 Club.  Shatha is a wonderful, lovely woman, and we were immediately very comfortable together.  I went to shake her hand when we first met, but she insisted on a hug. After that, we had lunch, went for a walk by a lake, and spent the rest of the day together, ending off with some live music at a cafe. Long story short, we quickly became close and even had the chance to enjoy a brief but potent romance.

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At the Botanical Garden before the concert.

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Wood Brothers Concert

The next night I landed in Fairfax, Virginia (18th Nov. ’15, after midnight). The people I met there left the biggest impression on me so far.  Like my previous stop, I thought I’d stay for a few days, but it turned out to be just over a month.  I split my time between Fairfax and trips to DC to play trumpet and explore the attractions.  Once again, I met so many great people and became very close with many of them in a short time.  I got attached and felt right at home, but not home as in Maine, but as in, where I belong. The second week there I realized I could easily stay forever.  I already made a lot of friends, 3 of which I consider best friends, I fell in love, and there’s an artsy little café called Epicure that I even managed to become a regular at. It’s actually a spot Shatha took me to on the first day we got together.  I didn’t want to leave, and all my new friends felt the same.  The feeling and experience of connection was very strong for all of us.

 

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Playing on the mall in Charlottesville

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I made a jaunt to Charlottesvile, Virginia (20th Nov. ’15, 6:30PM) for the weekend to visit some friends with the intention of returning to Fairfax.  Naturally, I made friends everywhere.  When I was unpacking my truck the first night, I heard drums coming from a nearby house, so I investigated and ran into a group of guys warming up for an online show at concertwindow.com.  The next night I busked on the walking mall downtown, then went to a place called The Whiskey Jar where a nice jazz quartet was playing.  I met a handful of really cool people there.  One of them was the father of the sax player who was performing.  He even bought me a couple drinks.

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Sax player’s dad (Terry) 2nd from left.

 

IMG_20151205_011726IMG_20151204_215224I returned to Fairfax, but had quite an urge to stay in Charlottesville. For the rest of my time in “NOVA” as they call it (Northern Virginia), I met a really good guy named Franco at the Epicure open mic, who originally came from Ecuador because of dangerous things happening back home.  He initially came over to compliment me after I played “Pure Imagination” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on trumpet.  He thought and liked that I put a lot of passion into how I played.  We had strong chemistry as musicians and as people. I was also fortunate to meet one of his best friends named Erfan (pronounced like: “air-fawn”), who was an equally genuine guy.  When we all first met, we hung out on the rooftop of Erfan’s place with another mutual friend from Epicure named John (very musically gifted), drinking beer, playing guitar, singing, sharing stories, and talking about life.  IMG_20151209_234516During my stay, Franco, Erfan, and I, had a couple other good nights at Ishtar Café, a local hookah bar.  On my last night in town, Franco and I performed a song at Epicure (only practiced the same day).  Most of the people I met and resonated with, I met at the café, or, through people I met there.

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Franco (left) Erfan (right)

I would have stayed longer if I didn’t have plans to get to my Gramma’s house in Florida in time for Christmas; it’s not something I would postpone, so Dec. 17th. I headed south after dropping Franco off from the open mic. Drove until about 4AM, stopped to sleep, and was back on the road by 10am the next day. I made it to Vero Beach, FL Saturday, Dec. 19th by 3AM. I’ll be here with my Gramma and her “boyfriend” Geno.  My Uncle and two cousins will be joining us for Christmas as well.

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Looking back on the past month, and my trip so far, there’s no regrets. I’m grateful things have gone the way they have.  It would have been nice to spend time in the Carolinas & Georgia, but I can go back.  I’d do things the same way if I had the option to do it over.  I’m happy I spent more time with less people, versus less time with more people.  I got to know everyone, we formed bonds, and made good memories. It wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t take my time.  On top of that, they’ve all helped me grow and learn about myself, and I believe the same is true for them. Money can’t buy that, and it’s not something you find every day.  So for me, when it comes to traveling, it’s not the places, it’s the people. Friendship is one of the best things we can ever be blessed with.

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Sandhill Cranes in the backyard

Why People, Not Places, Are The Best Thing About Traveling (Part 1)

Before my trip began, I never gave much thought as to the types of experiences I might have, what kind of people I’d meet, and what sorts of places I would see.  I left Maine hoping for the best in all of those areas, yet I had no particular ideas, expectations, or presumptions.  My mind was completely open and optimistic.  I’m now 48 days into my journey and I’m not even close to the halfway point (California), and, I realized a few weeks ago, that the best part of traveling has been the people, not the places.

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Seeing sights and scenery is great. I really love it more than many other things… Meeting people abroad, getting to know one another, and creating memories together is something totally different.  Regarding scenery and people, one is not better than the other, as I’ve mentioned, they’re simply different. You can’t compare them.  However, between the two, I personally enjoy people more, and I know throughout my entire trip that the people will always be my favorite part.  I can say it with plenty of confidence even though I still have yet to see what will likely be the most amazing sights on my whole trip, and probably my whole life up to this point, such as New Orleans, The Grand Canyon, or Yosemite.

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I just know that this trip has connected me with such outstanding people who have shown their best, and it’s been one right after the other.  For me, there’s nothing that can top that.  I suppose if you think about it, it’s easy to see how the same is probably true for anyone, whether traveling or not, and whether they think about it or not, that on our path in life, from beginning to end, there’s truly nothing better to encounter than good people.

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Neighborhood kids checking out the little house.

When you meet people that are genuine, kind, and resonate with who you are… let’s just call it what it is; it’s a spiritual moment, because two souls are coming together in a harmonious way.  There’s a rhythm that gets synchronized and a metaphysical spark.  Soon the exchanges extend beyond conversation and move to actions, and the rest is history.  Once a relationship begins, every minute from that point on will enrich each of your lives.  Even when the time comes for it to end, you still have the bond, feelings, and memories.  Ultimately they’re always with you wherever you go.  I just look at it as one of the many invisible things that adds to our individual and collective luster.

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Busker in Charlottesville