Can I be the first one to have coined this term?
- My trip to Budapest and Vienna.
- My trip to Ann Arbor. And Ypsilanti.
- All the churches in Brooklyn Heights: visit each, learn about it, attend a service, blog it.
- My life as a Korean dancer.
- My theory of Tom Tom Club vs. David Byrne.
- My trip to Ghana.
- Being sick abroad.
- Toilets of the world (this one’s more of a photo essay).
- My trip to Mexico. (Noting a theme?)
- My trip to Paris.
- An open letter to the mayor demanding seasonal weather changes. (This will be funnier when actually written, I hope.)
I don’t know, but it’s on every hip hop record, and apparently it’s New York City Mayor Fiorello Laguardia explaining the moral of a Dick Tracy comic strip over the radio during a newspaper strike (the famous sample kicks in at about 1:27).
The more you know … Star!
This winter is the coldest and snowiest I remember in a long time — maybe since my first winter in New York. I was a California boy then, new to the rigors of winter, so I’ve sometimes wondered whether my recollections were overblown — whether perhaps the winter of ’94 had grown harsher in my imagination that it actually was.
Here’s a fun little sampling of articles on just how rough that season was:
- Bitter Cold Stings East Coast, Shattering Record Temperatures
- New York, Stuck in Winter’s Headlock, Is Pummeled Once Again
- A Reprieve Promised From Weeks of Freezing Temperatures
- THE ENDLESS WINTER: Season’s Harshest Snow Yet Paralyzes New York Area; Hope for Relief Is Buried Again in Region
- Winter’s 13th Storm Puts Ice Back in Spring Tonic
- A Winter of Disaster Leaves the Bills to Prove It
There were ice floes on the Hudson. I could see them from my dorm room’s sliver of a river view.
I was totally unprepared for a winter like this. I didn’t know to get long underwear. My boots were designed for jungle combat and had air vents down by the soles. When at last the snow began to melt, deep slush puddles formed at all the corners, and you could only cross at the corners, where cuts had been made in the towering snow banks. Going to the store directly across the street meant walking to the corner, crossing, and walking back.
I recall a long, wandering, intellectually confused discussion with my Logic and Rhetoric professor, an angry feminist grad student in the English department. I wanted to know what differentiated my B+ essays from my B- essays, and she came around to the position that her methods were holistic and could only be understood once the course was complete. Along the way, she suggested that maybe I needed to experience bad grades because I had already had so much white male privilege, “locker-room camaraderie” and the like. I countered that seeing as how I hadn’t actually been on any sports teams, my friend Monica, who played rugby at Wesleyan, had undoubtedly experienced far more locker-room camaraderie than I ever had. This enlightened symposium took place outside in bitter cold. We were both too stubborn or too stupid to suggest going inside somewhere and continuing like civilized human beings.
My work-study job that year was at the reserve desk in the library, another institution dedicated to purging white male privilege. I was the only white person on the staff, and I’m fairly certain that was what my boss disliked about me, though I have no real proof. In any case, whenever I was on duty, it was invariably my job to go outside in the early morning and bring in the books from the drop-bin, which involved unlocking the Master Lock, which in turn required that I hold it in my bare hand until it thawed. Then I had to scrape the ice away from the bin door so that I could open it and retrieve the books. When I suggested that we perhaps wait a bit to open the bin on days when the temperature was in the single digits, it was pointed out to me that this would unfairly enable students to get away with returning their books late by several hours. I didn’t think this was such a bad thing, but I wasn’t in charge.
When at last the forecast was for 60 degrees, I went alone to Central Park — I was often alone in those days — and sat on a rock, thrilling that I was outside and it didn’t hurt.
That was a very hard winter. The hardest I’ve known. This winter has seen a fair amount of cold and snow, but it’s nothing like the winter of ’94.
For a while now, I’ve been talking about moving to Manhattan. At this point, it’s more a question of when than whether. Bay Ridge is pleasant enough, but it’s far away, and I like to have a home that people actually visit. Plus, I’m tired of the long commute, and of feeling like once I’ve gone out for the day, popping back home is simply too far to go if I want to go out again. And then there’s school: if I go back to school, living as far away as I do now will make things all the harder.
This morning I went to Representative Michael McMahon’s Brooklyn office to present my support for health care reform in person. I met a young, friendly staffer who’s on the same side as me, but made it clear to me that McMahon sees himself in a tough spot on this issue.
“Body like swan: above the water, everything slow. Down below the water, fast.” “Like cha-cha-cha! Cha-cha-cha!” “Everybody, Fast! In a circle! She is thief, I am police!” With these and other curious exhortations, I was initiated tonight into the world of traditional Korean dance.
So where were you last Tuesday night?
Seven years after the definitive where-were-you-when moment for Americans under sixty, it is with great relief that there is now a new moment to talk about. For the past week, conversations have turned to the election, which has unleashed a giddy elation in myself and countless others.
As for me, I was at a house party in a high-rise on West 42nd Street, where I stayed to watch first McCain’s and then Obama’s speech. At around 12:30, I headed out, planning to walk back to Times Square and take the subway home, but soon it was clear that something extraordinary was happening. Packs of people streamed by, chanting and waving Obama signs. Strangers were smiling and talking to each other, even embracing. A black woman threw her arms out and howled, “I’m goin’ ta work naked tomorrow!”
Times Square was still packed when I got there. The big screens around the square were all showing the results still coming in, and Obama’s picture kept drifting by on the giant LEDs. I called my sister, then my parents, then some friends, to let them hear what was going on. “YES! WE CAN! YES! WE CAN!” “O! BA! MA! O! BA! MA!” “YES! WE! DID! YES! WE! DID!” Fire trucks drove by and honked in rhythm. I talked to a man from Guinea who was texting his friends back home. They were still celebrating, though it was nearly morning there.
I bought a T-shirt that said President Barack Obama. I cheered and I chanted with strangers. I stared at the monitors and talked shop with strangers about Senate races. At last I headed home, by cab, sharing my joy with my Senegalese driver. It was a beautiful night.
The next day, I bought my ticket for Thailand. I’ll be going on December 20, returning on January 4. At first I agonized over how I would book internal flights for when I arrived, but yesterday I decided to let that go. I’ll just show up in Bangkok and figure it out. There’s always a bus to somewhere.
Bus travel, of course, is unpredictable. I have been battered and bruised on buses, ridden on the roof over mountain roads, crossed the United States with Euro-hippies, been awakened by snapping fingers in my face and a man barking, “Tea, toilet!” But what comes to mind most viscerally for me are two experiences. In one, I am riding through Bridgeport, Connecticut, gazing out the window at a bombed-out husk of a city, and listening to “Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997,” by Beck:
I was born in this hotel, washing dishes in the sink
Magazines and free soda, trying hard not to think
The other memory is of India, staring out the window of a night bus — god knows where — listening to Dig Your Own Hole by the Chemical Brothers and watching these islands of fluorescent light drift by, illuminated roadside bhatis with walls of turquoise and pink, hand-painted Pepsi logos, and skinny, mustachioed men with bushy hair, bushy mustaches and dhotis.
In each case, the memory mixes music, bus travel and alienation. Buses, it seems to me, are an ideal environment for feeling alienated, with none of the romance of trains or the sense of occasion that still clings to air travel even in the age of the flying cattle car. Buses rattle and bump, stop unpredictably, go off course, get stuck in traffic. And music is ideal for creating a contrast, or an emotional frame, for absorbing images that are somehow surreal and out of context.
And so I’m sorting through my music, trying to figure out what goes on my iPod for my trip to Thailand, and contemplating a bus trip up the country, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, with stops in Ayuthaya and Sukhothai and who knows where else. What will settle into my memory this time?
My first little taste of adventure travel was on a Green Tortoise bus down from Oregon, and it sold me on the notion. I soon spent ten days crossing the Northern US with the Green Tortoise, and then another fourteen days heading back across the South. After college, when I leaped blind into India, I experienced bus travel in whole new ways: riding the roof with a couple of cackling old men on the road that winds over the mountains back into Pokhara; wrapped in a shawl, trying to sleep as the cold desert wind whips through the empty window frame of a night bus to Jaisalmer; pressed up against a man smelling of sandalwood and sweat, trying to tune out the high-pitched warble of distorted Hindipop. I have been bounced and battered in a sleeping compartment with no seats. I have been awakened early in the morning by snapping fingers in my face and a man barking, “Tea, toilet!” I have
Bus travel is unpredictable. Some of the best and worst travel experiences of my life have involved buses. My first trip, down from Eugene, Oregon to San Francisco, was a revelation: my first time jumping into a travel experience with no clear idea what it would entail. I sat on the back, on the mattress platform, while an impromptu bluegrass band struck up, and then sat by a river at the Oregon campsite stopover and shared stories with probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.
Over the next couple of years, I twice crossed the United States in Green Tortoise buses. Then, after college, I made a grand, blind leap into India, where