When Cultures Kaleid


Dear Internet, it has been a while.

Nevertheless, this night is apparently The Night; the one that gives me pause as to why I have not returned to this embarrassingly simple process of type, edit, post. The Night of: no reallyget on up and do it. Writing, like musicmaking, like artmaking, like theatermaking, like any action requiring risk (i.e. anything worth doing) does not wait for the ideal circumstance. It does not wait for the money to come in, it does not wait for the perfect space to be available, it does not wait for the free time you always say you will have next weekend. It waits for you to do it. So I will do it.

Briefly, the Passover question. Why this night? Tonight, I had a much-needed night of spending time with a good friend, and we journeyed to a gallery’s “Two Dollar Tuesday”, in which each artist has small, sometimes tiny pieces of art available for $2 (Affordable art? Amazing!).

Kaleid Gallery is the first and thus far only gallery I have visited in San Jose in particular, and probably the main site of  my gallery-going experience in general. I am ashamed to say this, because of the position I hope to hold one day, because of the way in which I perceive myself (i.e. as very serious), and because of the many things I enjoy which are “high brow”/highfalutin/sillily pretentious, but: I have never learned to look at art. Friends and colleagues well-versed in visual art (bless them) will say, “‘Learn’? What is there to ‘learn’? You like it, or you don’t. Easy!” But somehow for me it is not that simple. I did not grow up going to art museums, or taking drawing classes, or even thinking about visual things much. I avowed early on that I “did not care about my appearance” in the conventional sense (which, of course, only meant I cared about it in a less conventional one), and so I disavowed, I think, looking at things entirely. Can you imagine that for a moment? I thought I could literally block out my visual sense of the world; that I could figuratively blind myself–while still, crucially, maintaining the ability to read. For this was my caveat: with reading, I didn’t need to see. The words on the page described it for me. You should be able to guess by now that I loved, love, and probably will forever love reading. It was my first love, and perhaps it will be my last. But the problem with this, is that I began to think that there was nothing unreadable; that is to say, nothing existed that was unwritable. No part of human experience was beyond language. And, in a way, this is true: without the form of human language, our thoughts are undifferentiated and therefore meaningless (according to my friend/connoissuer of all things linguistical  Ferdinand De Saussure). But this is not to say, then, that one can supplant experience with writing about experience and have the same, well, experience. And the more I came to realize that things like theater are much more than the scripts of plays, and that a study of performance could never be fully couched in the documentations of past events alone, the more I realized that my way of not seeing was, in short, a problem.

But to that I will return in a moment. I had been to Kaleid only once before (pronounced like “collide”, as in “kaleidoscope”) for a live music performance by the band Dream House, also the band of the aforementioned dear friend. And similar to the last time I visited, I was so struck by the diversity and beauty of art I saw, by the sometime real-live artist of the works standing right in front of me, some of which drawing or painting in that moment. And I find this phenomenon so magical, because the processes of drawing and painting is so impenetrable to me. The juxtaposition of the artist’s physical presence with the obfuscated trajectory of Idea in her brain to Painting on the canvas (or what-have-you) is simply awe-inspiring to me. This is similar to how I feel seeing Dream House perform: though I do know a bit more about music than painting, I still cannot fathom that this familiar person, this friend that I know and have a familiarity with, makes something so complex and beautiful–I almost cannot believe it. My friend and I discussed the term “spirituality” during the evening, and I think this feeling is one of the closest approximations to feeling “spiritual” that I have.

And as my friend and I strolled through the gallery and geeked out over what we liked, pausing to either lean in for a closer look or rear back and squeal in delighted shock, I thought about visual art compared to the theater. And not in the sense of the false dichotomy placed between them (though that is another issue), but in the sense of how each of them are taught. Both this friend and I studied theater in college, and we reflected how no matter how “progressive” or “liberal artsy” our schools were (or weren’t), “theater classes” still mostly meant “acting”, and “acting” still mostly meant “Americanized Stanislavsky”. Only in graduate school, or at institutions with developed graduate programs, does one see (it seems to me) undergraduates asked to think about theater outside the Western canon, outside the straightforward adaptation of script to stage, outside a narrow and individualized paradigm of “objective, obstacle, tactic”. And while I witness myself exaggerate this point for the sake of emphasis, I know also there is a systematic difference between the way painting students are asked to consider their “art”, and the way theater students are asked to consider their “craft”. Are the latter asked to consider themselves as artists? Are they asked to think of projects to “create” instead of plays to “do”? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions are resounding “No!”s, but I am pointing to something that concerns me. The broader fields of theater and performance studies have certainly moved beyond such questions of “Is teaching ‘Method’ acting the ‘right’ way to go?” and “Should we do Our Town or Streetcar next fall?” But it seems to me many exclusively undergrad theater departments have not, necessarily. Is this a reflection of what those students want? Should efforts be made to take another tack? I think so, but I am just one opinion, and I am not sure.

Perhaps this relates: as our evening together came to a close, I was reminded how suggestible I am–how much my (dare I say “one’s”?) environment determines my behavior. During the week these days, I spend time with my cohort of graduate students, and all I want is to understand Lacan as well as Jessi, Schechner as well as Vivek, postcolonial theory as well as Gigi, Foucault as well as… okay, to just understand Foucault at all. Tonight, I am around my friend Molly, and I exclusively desire to play music, record songs, learn more chords so I can improve at putting them to words and with a melody (she is in the midst of making a lot of solo music right now, in addition to projects with her band). And indeed, I thank Athena and the Muses I had that one quirky grad student do a devised, non-psychological-realism, movement-oriented piece at my college, otherwise I might still be auditioning for roles I don’t quite fit, rehearsing monologues that never seem to do anything but stay within the imposed time limit, and wondering if my headshot is really “me, on a good day”, or if I should spend another $500 on some new ones. Not to say that there is anything wrong with wanting a career in straightforward acting, but it has become so clear that that life is not for me.

I think tonight was a very positive collision of the visual art culture in San Jose–with which I would like to gain further acquaintance–and my own feelings of “lacking culture” when it comes to things like going to galleries, viewing visual art, and in general feeling more comfortable with my own, familiar interests. And the more I behold objects of beauty (as the etymology of “kaleidoscope” points to), the easier it becomes to distinguish what I like, and what I don’t.

Blue Moon Dueling Piano Bar


In case one is curious w/r/t what I am getting myself into these days, it is not a whole lot.

But we have an apartment! So that’s progress. And I think we’re rather traveled out and are thus laying low.

Until last night.

Dun dun dun!

We… hit up… the piano bar.

When we were in St. Louis a couple weeks ago, looking for somewhere to eat dinner, I spotted a dueling piano bar. Very excited, I was.

“Pshh,” Jay dismissed it. “We’ve got one of those in Des Moines.” So we didn’t go, but I made Jay promise he’d take me to the one in Iowa.

Two weeks pass, we see a lot of family and friends and farmer’s markets and fairs (the four F’s of the Midwest, clearly…) and somewhat forget about the piano bar. Also, it’s moved from downtown to (shudder if you’re a Des Moines-ian) West Des Moines. I.e. where all the wannabe Des Moines-ers live. I.e. where Shawn Johnson actually lives even though all the Olympic advertising said otherwise (I’m sure that was a real letdown for Gabby Douglas when she found out).

In any case, we finally make it there last night, bringing along a friend of Jay’s he hadn’t yet seen (even though he was planning on being at work at six the next morning! here’s hoping he’s not in too rough shape today…). We had dinner in the East Village–of Des Moines, I know, confusing–at “Quinton’s Bar and Deli”, and though I have to say that while it was excellent, it definitely was not a deli. It was still a bit early when we finished, so to kill time we went to “The Underground” and caught the tail end of happy hour ($2.50 gin and tonics!) and shot some pool. Much to my surprise, I won both games (the first was ’cause Jay’s friend Tyler knocked one of my balls in by accident, but still.) A very nice contrast to my staggering loss in “Ticket to Ride” at a party of another friend of Jay’s, in which I was, ahem, quite the sore loser afterward (and also a bit dismayed that the game had absolutely nothing to do with the Beatles. I mean, really?!). You know, I say I’m not competitive…

But so finally we trekked out to West Des Moines. The bar is in the middle of this large, new-ish Big Box Goes Classy development. “West Glen Shopping Center”, or something. Most storefronts are either Opening Soon or Going Out of Business, and the hum of trying to be hip is deafening. That said, the place itself was really pretty great. More spacious than I’d ever have imagined (again, New York City bias talking), big loft area to accommodate large crowds, and two bars–one on either side of the stage, with mirrors on the back wall so you can see the hands of the two pianists sitting at two grand pianos. “Dueling”, it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer, because they tend to complement each other’s playing more than compete. Though, maybe if we had picked a more crowded day to visit (Wednesday, shockingly, is not a big night in Des Moines, not even to piano bars), there would have been more competition for tips, &c. They have three piano players per night, switching out for one another regularly. Our trio was comprised of a woman and two men, one of which was married to the woman! I thought that was pretty cute.

We got there around eight, and checked out the menu–and they had a group “fishbowl” drink. Jay and I had talked about doing one since the Heffen House of a few nights prior, where we shared a giant glass beer boot with a group of people. So of course we ordered it (and I have to say it put the boot to shame). It was called, of course, “The Blue Moon”, and it was (to quote the menu): a “gallon size fishbowl, Burnett’s cherry vodka, blue curacao, lemon lime soda, and lemonade.” And it was (to quote Tyler) “way too delicious.”

Keep in mind we were seated in the center of the place, directly in the line of sight of the two pianos. I think the piano players got as much entertainment from the sight of us as we did from their playing. “You guys in the back–what are you celebrating? (We shrug) Nothing? Just… Wednesday? All right!” What made the evening so fun was that these guys weren’t just pianists, they really knew how to work a(n albeit small) crowd.

They weren’t the best piano players I’ve heard, and it turned out that they sang a lot more than I would have thought (I should have guessed instrumental music only entertains bar goers for so long). But they really interacted with the audience. And even when they hardly knew a song, they unabashedly tried anyway, sounding pretty decent all the while. One high point for me was when they took my request to do the theme song of Frasier (I’ve been watching that a lot recently), which I thoroughly enjoyed despite it being completely improvised. I guess most of their work is improvised within a certain framework they know pretty well… I am so impressed with that sort of skill.

The height of their improvising came when they brought up a woman in the audience onstage. She was sitting near the front with another woman–they were there eating dinner when we arrived. It wasn’t clear why, but at one point the pianists had the woman (Cheryl) sit on the piano and they sang a song about her. It was goofy, light-hearted, and about them seducing her into bed and giving her a back massage (because this was the married pianist), and okay it was silly but fun. The song dwindles off and all of a sudden a man from out of nowhere is coming onstage and I was like “What? Why’s he there? He’s not Cheryl!” But she seems to know who he is and then they’re slow dancing a bit and then suddenly he’s down on one knee and he’s saying something we can’t hear but then she squeals “Yes!” and they hug.

I was grinning ear to ear from the whole evening and witnessing this pure moment of joy for these two people. I’m grabbing Jay’s knee to contain my excitement, and I look over at him smiling as well, and he’s all “You have to blog about this!” and so here I am. What a night to remember.

The Fair!


What if this post was empty, due to the aforementioned “writer’s wall” post? That would be some meta-irony or -humor, or something.


Oh well. Guess I’m too in love with the sight of my own type (as opposed to “the sound of my own voice”, which I feel like comes out all gravelly sometimes. Thus causing some self-consciousness and wishing that people would stop asking me questions. Though actually I think this anxiety is the result of having met about 25 distinct persons (plus more who are less distinct, as in the we-met-at-a-party-and-have-two-degrees-of-separation-between-us kind of way) in the last week. More or less. Jay has a lot of friends and family here!).

Red velvet funnel cake. Blue sapphire funnel cake too! (Missed that one, sadly). Chocolate covered cookie dough on a stick. Corn dog. Pulled pork sandwich. Raspberry slush. Watermelon “slushee” (Very different, I’m sure). Hard boiled egg on a stick! Maple jerky snack stick. Lots of sticks. Free Diet Sun Drop on the way out…

Fair Snacks Are The Weirdest (alternate title to this post).

At least I resisted the deep fried candy bars, though I suspect I will regret that in a week or so. Because, come on–aren’t you a bit curious? I am. Deep fried butter on a stick, though, I’ll leave well alone.

It’s a weird thing: feeling challenged by the “How much of too much can you handle?”, which many of the vendor’s booths seem to be implying. The huge block letters, flashing lightbulbs, and garish overload of photos help–I have a feeling they know the portions and combination of ingredients are insane. That’s their angle! Playing into the “Well, it’s only once a year and so why not?” rationalization we easily fall prey to (think turkey on Thanksgiving, candy on Halloween, &c), they don’t pretend to be healthy, or even reasonable! They don’t skimp on the sugar and icing (even though you complain it’s too much) because they know that’s still what you want to see. You don’t want to hear “deep fried in trans-fat free oil” even if it is! That’s not why you’re buying these products. You’re here to indulge, and if you were reminded that you weren’t indulging “as much” because the fat is free of trans (whatever that means, says the customer in a hurry who doesn’t want to bother to think about that), you’d maybe be reminded that, “Oh yeah, things like vegetables and complete proteins do exist!” and “Shoot, maybe I’d be better off having some of those instead.” And then you bypass the deep fried Snickers entirely. Nope. That’s definitely not what these guys want.

So those are my thoughts about that. For the record, the chocolate-covered cookie dough on a stick was pretty awesome. Though I’m really glad Jay and I split it.

And besides, food selling is only a small part of what happens at the fair. All the contests for biggest and most impressive plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers, pigs, steers, &c ad infinitum. Some of that we saw, and some of it I enjoyed looking at (a bit to my surprise). Corn art was surprisingly neat, as was the photography in the Culture Building. Something called the Animal Learning Center had many, many adorable baby pigs and ducks and chicks and goats and calves (and elicited many, many ridiculous squeals of delight, thanks to your embarrassed correspondent). Honey bee hives were cool to watch, and to hear their keepers explain.

But wait! I have to backtrack. Maybe the best part was before we even got there. I feel like it’s poor storytelling to say that, but it was so beautiful. We drove to the Fair Grounds, a permanent structure on the south-east-ish side of Des Moines…

And of course the first thing we see is the enormous parking lot. The fair this year’s been seeing around 90,000 folks per day, so they gotta have a lot of parking. But $10? No thank you. We did what (apparently) the smart ones do, and drove around nearby side streets looking for inviting lawns. Sure enough: “Need a parking spot? Five dollars, we’re here all day, come back any time you want!” A woman on a folding chair, peddling squares of her front lawn to fair-goers. And she was one of dozens! There was something lovely about doing business with a friendly neighbor and walking in the back way, seeing all the fair laid out before us as we (cautiously) trod down the hill and planned out day at the fair.

Some of the things inside: a giant slide, a Ferris wheel, and many other rides besides; very persuasive game booth vendors–I half-wanted Jay to win a stuffed animal for me until we both felt way too dumb for how easy targets we were to these guys; a Varied Industries building selling As Seen on TV things and registering you for community college if you wanted.

A craft beer tent that we sampled a few things at–Jay wanted the sour ale but it ran out mid-pour, spraying everywhere. Suddenly a siren was ringing, Jay was getting a free “Beer” t-shirt (complete with “I tapped it at the Iowa State Fair!” on the back) and his picture on the Fair’s Facebook page. And all Jay could say at the end of it all was that he had really wanted to try that sour ale (Killjoy ;)).

It was all quite a sight to behold. I feel like I blinked my eyes and 10:30am had become 5pm, and here I was, eating dough off a stick and watching young children in one-pieces and Crocs frolic in the water fountains (I was jealous, it was hot!). I didn’t get to wear the short overalls like I had wanted to (after reading about the “fad” fifteen-odd years ago in Illinois, according to DFW), but I had my cut-offs, and I had my cowgirl boots. We got to meet Jay’s elementary school GT (Gifted and Talented) teacher who had long abandoned teaching to open a tie-dyed clothing store, and who was doing demonstrations. Oh! Demonstrations! I loved watching one woman make lampworked glass beads with a torch, and another a bowl on her pottery wheel. It made me think of my relative lack of enthusiasm for museums–I don’t want to look at stuff, I want to watch people doing stuff! Especially when it’s their craft–so beautiful when they clearly love doing it, too…

And that was my impression of the fair. If this was a rather jumbled read, well I suppose it’s a pretty accurate reflection of my experience. Fun, in a whirwindy kind of way. (I’m a broken record, but) Guess I’ll have to make it back to Des Moines!


The Wall


How is it that a blank page can stare back at me so menacingly that I’m picking every pimple on my face and blister on my toes before I even know I’m intimidated by it?

In case that wasn’t enough information. So often before I start writing, I feel less of a writer’s block and more of a wall of my own undoing. It’s not that I don’t know how to write or where to start, or (fortunately) have a lack of things to write about. It’s more like I think of a million immaculate beginnings, middles, and endings, all whirling above my head in potential perfection. They immediately take off like flying bricks, falling into place* in the shape of a giant wall before me; a crack-less edifice I’ve created. But it’s both beautiful and terrible, because the united front of them prevent me from ever picking just one idea and getting started. I’m paralyzed because I know that as soon as I do commit to that one beginning or middle or end, the innumerable possibilities must fall away, and the one I picked suddenly seems much less perfect and much more constricting. The brick starts to crumble and won’t interlock with any of the other bricks (now also crumbly), and the whole lot of them definitely refuse to make anything remotely cohesive, let alone pretty or (heaven forbid) functional.


To sum up: I’m having trouble writing about the Iowa State Fair.


*I’m realizing now I’m borrowing this image from the Pink Floyd album cover, which I now recall was brought into my awareness rather arbitrarily in seventh grade. My language arts teacher, Mr. Romano, was clearly either trying to kill time when a lesson plan ran short or because the art teacher called in sick, because he had us all draw a brick wall crumbling in the middle. For like, two hours. Maybe we were meant to learn something about geometry, the z-axis in the Cartesian plane, something. But I kind of doubt it. In any case, his appeal to coolness–“You know, ‘The Wall’? You guys know Pink Floyd?”–was not effective. I’m a bit startled to realize he probably wasn’t much older than I am now, and as judgmental as I am of his naivete, I’m also recalling my similarly naive attempt in high school to teach an e. e. cummings poem to a bunch of “inner city” middle schoolers on their first day of a voluntary poetry-writing workshop. Uh, come on, Audrey.

The Hawkeye State and a Probable Hiatus


So Iowa is the Hawkeye State? I still can’t quite figure out what that means, but I’ve gathered it has something to do with Native Americans, maybe Chief Black Hawk, but I think the important part (when I ask Jay, anyway) is that a “hawkeye” is supposed to invoke fierceness, like the predatory hawk has such a keen eye that it’s… impressive. I don’t know, you’ll have to ask an Iowan.

In any case, we are arrived at the halfway point! We are half-arrived. Nice to have a chance to sort-of-settle, but emphasis on the “sort of”. There’s lots to be done, to prepare for, to get used to…

Another DFW essay (“Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All”) is all about The Illinois State Fair. Given that Jay is indeed a Midwestern boy and is indeed adamant about taking me to the Iowa State Fair (which I am indeed hell-bent on being miserable at… somewhat kidding), the only lens I can imagine seeing the whole deal through is one of a reporter, as DFW did for the article, originally in Vanity Fair. The funny thing, though, is that DFW was himself from somewhat rural Urbana-Champaign, IL . I am not from Iowa, have never been to Iowa before this trip, and have maybe been to one county fair in my life, at most.

What have I gotten myself into? 😉

The Hiatus refers to the fact that this part of the trip has been distinctly less about people watching and making interesting observations about whatever state I’m in, and more about trying to keep all of Jay’s relatives’ names straight, and not come across as weird to his friends or ungracious to his family. Whee! Strange times. But good ones! It’s been fun to meet his infamous Anime Club friends from high school, and to discover that every member of his mom’s side of the family I’ve met has the exact same way of smiling. To go to the Des Moines farmers’ market in the center of downtown, and to witness the absurdly expansive beer selection on tap at El Bait Shop, also downtown. I may continue to post,  but I also may get submerged in plans for how we’re going to pull this second part of the move off. Wish us luck, please!

Power Play and the Extinct Spivey


On the highway from Kansas City to Des Moines, I am reading a collection of essays, Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. I find DFW touching and thought-provoking for a variety of reasons relating not only to the craft of his writing and its topical matter, but also to the tragic cult of personality surrounding him. Probably one of my more annoying traits is a penchant for artists who have committed suicide–Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, Sylvia Plath, DFW, to name a few–but I would venture to say that Wallace is, to me, in a category all his own. The front of my paperback copy reads:

“There is no writer alive more incisive and hilarious, more ruthlessly tender, when it comes to documenting the perversities of modern American life.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review.

Sad irony of the descriptor “alive” aside, I think this perfectly encapsulates what I love about him: “ruthlessly tender”. He exposes oddities of our existence to reveal them in their barest absurdity, and yet he blames no one for the extremity of such bizarre behavior. He is one of us, too, after all. This is, of course, a bit untrue–his novel Infinite Jest tops many lists of the best novel of the century, and its genius is undeniable (if not inextricable from its “pretension” or “high-brow” level of erudition, insert whichever phrase suits you here). He often praises other geniuses in a variety of areas, and I always think, “Yes, but you are every bit as much of a genius as they are!” almost scorning his self-deprecation in light of his subject’s greatness. I realize, by the way, I am almost always referring to DFW in the present tense, which I suppose speaks to the immortality writing seems to give a person. Suppose when I say “him” I actually mean “his writing”, and am too lazy to write the whole thing out every time. Or maybe I like to imagine he is still alive, because the reality is too sad to remember.

Okay, but so, Audrey, you’re writing a travel blog and what does this have to do with your trip? I’m getting there. See, the funny thing about reading DFW is that it makes you–well, me–start to narrate things in my head the way he writes. And so today, when we embarked upon our Kansas adventure, I kept observing in the way (I felt) he might have.

What was our Kansas adventure? Originally it was going to be an art museum, a tour of Kansas City’s sculpture gardens and park fountains, and/or a tour of the Hallmark Factory. But maybe we were tired. Maybe I was cranky. Maybe it was just that we knew it was the end, and/or that the thought of taking in more history through glossy exhibits with plaques telling me why what happened should be relevant to me now made me just utterly exhausted, but none of these sounded appealing as a “last hurrah” for our exhaustive Southern expedition.

Therefore, our Kansas excursion tried to incorporate three things one or both of us love: barbecue (Jay), used books (me, and to a lesser extent Jay), and play (both of us). The barbecue I’m told was indeed good; I ate a lighter meal so that I might eat a bourbon-infused pecan pie slice… Holy cow Golden Ox you can make a pie. The book store, “Spivey’s Old Maps, Fine Art, Prints&Rare Books” [sic], was sadly way out of business; we should have looked it up more closely. It’s a real shame too–the business storefront still had its sign and I think I would have loved the place. But anyway, the play was had at Power Play Entertainment Center. Yep, Jay and I rubbed shoulders (so to speak) with all the YMCA and Bible Campers in their matching neon knee-length tee shirts, scraggly hairdos, and skinned knees at an even more McDonald’s Play Place/Discovery Zone/arcade/amusement park-type location.

…And it was SO much fun. I noticed things I definitely didn’t the last time I visited such a place: the subliminal messages everywhere to “spend more [of your parents’] money!”: the timer pressuring you to put in another token to play again, the “feed me more!” talking ticket-counter, the seductive dim overhead lighting to augment the bright lights of the games. I went in the prize room to cash in my tickets–it turns out I am an all-right Skee-Ball player!–and realized, I could easily pocket any one of these prizes, or indeed purchase them at a Rite Aid anytime I wanted. Not that I want to steal or buy a cheap trinket from a Rite Aid, but the tickets no longer had the magical power they once did for me; I remember once feeling so attached to the sense of possibility in the tickets themselves that I saved some in a jewelry box for years instead of cashing them in. That said, I still was very pleased to see I could “afford” the three metallic swirly blue, green, and purple bouncy balls with the amount of tickets Jay and I had won.

Part of what makes DFW so great (I think) is that he never denies the pleasures of typically conceived “low brow” activities, never implies that he is above such “base” pleasures, or that one should feel shame for enjoying them (see, for example, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”). For my part–and I think why a lot of hipsters also love him–I find him liberating because I am inclined towards a lot of “high brow” tastes. Classical music, the Great Books, Art House films, oh, and I want to go into theater (or worse, “theatre”). Combine that  with my general disdain for popular music, and I feel like I might as well have Pretentious tattooed on my face. But reading Wallace–who undoubtedly has his share of intellectual snobbery–reminds me that everybody has their share of “guilty pleasures”, and that there’s really no need to see them as such, or pretend that I don’t have them. So, I try to emulate his attitude and fully embrace the cheesy things I like. (Some) musicals, sitcoms like Friends and Frasier, Disney movies (despite their blatant anti-feminism, the further you go back in time)… and arcades.

I will Tilt-A-Whirl and play Skee-Ball and Whack-A-Mole and Air Hockey and Ropes Course and eat cotton candy and win tickets and exchange them for bouncy balls all. day. long. [picture neon yellow sunglasses magically sliding down over my eyes] Deal with it!

So that was Kansas. Probably should go back to really see the city, but overall it was a lovely last day on the road. Next up is the three week stretch in Des Moines, Iowa, living with Jay’s family before we move to Pasadena.

Shoshone and Shawnee


Yesterday we went to the top of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Felt more like an amusement park than a national monument… but it was cool. I also couldn’t help but notice from the model of the city they had in the waiting area that the whole thing kind of looks like the female reproduction system, giving birth to St. Louis’ Capitol building, I believe. The ponds on either side are kind of like ovaries, the park in the middle is kinda like a uterus, and the arch itself is like the Fallopian tubes. Or maybe a diaphragm? In any case, I thought it was funny.

The Arch has an entire Museum of Western Expansion in it, too (and some movie theaters playing documentaries about Lewis and Clark), which was designed in such a way that the exhibit actually expanded out from the center. Jay pointed this out; pretty cool. I again found it frustrating how little women of any sort were discussed. I suppose few women were on the expedition, if any, but Shoshone Indian Sacagawea–who played a huge role in L & C’s peaceful relations with the American Indians they encountered–was hardly mentioned. Lewis and Clark’s original diaries (reproduced in the exhibit, with spelling errors abounding) didn’t even use her name in most of the entries. I was, unsurprisingly, disappointed.

Next we went to the City Museum, a really interesting old building converted into half museum, half retro-fitted, iron-work Discovery Zone/McDonald’s Play Place. Or something. It’s difficult to describe. There’s an aquarium there, too, and a Ferris wheel on the rooftop, but we declined on those accounts. It was need, and almost felt like you were exploring an abandoned warehouse (except it was too clean and well-lit and all) but it was ridden with children. We should have guessed–it is the summer, after all–and it seems that the museum does special Friday and Saturday night sessions, which seem to be adult-only. Probably would have felt a little less silly climbing around all the tunnels if there were fewer effortlessly nimble kids flying around. That said, it was a great time. Turns out going down slides is still fun when you’re an adult.

Walked around Left Bank Books–good, standard local independent bookstore–for a while after that, then walked next door to the Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar. 75 beers on tap! I tried port for the first time (very sweet, came in a tiny glass), and had a bourbon barrel aged stout. The Jim Beam tour mentioned that once their aging barrels have been used (bourbons must meet several criteria to count as official bourbon, like having 51% of their mash being made of corn, and not reusing barrels), they’ll often sell them to scotch distilleries or breweries. The stout definitely was bourbon-y, I was delighted to find (though my Cajun shrimp stew was so spicy it was difficult to tell, at first).

Now we’re in KCK (Kansas City, Kansas; as opposed to KCMO, Kansas City, Missouri). Well, sort of. We’re actually in Shawnee Mission, KS, where our Homestead Suites is located. And if anybody needs a last-minute hotel that is only one star on Hotwire.com and is super cheap and you think it’s going to be exceedingly scary to check in after midnight (even though this blogger begrudgingly admits the 65% recommendation rate by previous customers)… then you are a lot like me. Another instance in this trip of my worrying being unnecessary (come to think of it, is worrying ever necessary?). Similar to the other day; I was concerned about showing up an hour and a half late to Ed’s house, feeling rude and worried we’d get a bad reference on CouchSurfing.org (he was kind, didn’t mind our lateness, and gave us a great reference the very next day).

Shawnee Mission is a quiet if not completely business parky-type town. Our hotel–actually a “home stay” type place for business types, I think, no surprise–has a tiny kitchenette, and for all its lack of amenities is actually way more like an actual apartment than a hotel room. I’d take a room like this in lieu of a pool and free breakfast and free HBO anytime. Even though the bed’s only a queen! Seriously. We even have a toaster. Which I’m sure we won’t use before we check out in, like, two hours, but the sight of it is so homey. Note to self: when furnishing a home, buy a toaster almost immediately. It will (apparently, oddly enough) soothe you. Oh! And the hotel’s room is listed as costing $199. We paid far less than that.

But it brings up an interesting question. Jay has continually been surprised by my occasional… mild paranoia about safety. Like our hotel being in a deserted area by the highway (on the outskirts of a sleepy, innocent suburb) making me feel unsafe, or my worry that our Couch Surfing hosts–even when they have countless recommendations from past surfers–might secretly be ax murderers, serial killers, rapists, &c. In reality, this is pretty much impossible. A negative review on the CS website can literally slam you, and they set it up so that you can surf as cautiously as you wish. You can pay a donation to the site to have your address verified, to have people “vouch” for you (I’m not exactly sure how that’s different from a reference, though), to even have your credit and identity checked. These guys aren’t dumb. And yet, my “STRANGER DANGER!” radar, it seems, is so cautious it still balks a little, at times it needn’t do so.

Now there is nothing wrong with keeping in safety in mind when traveling–especially when most of your possessions are easily spottable in the back of your car–but I do feel a bit prone to caution overdrive. Why is this? I feel like it has to do with being raised as a female in our prone-to-overreacting culture. I don’t have much developed through on this, but it is interesting to me; I’ll have to muse on it some more.


Unrelated, but: a shout-out to my former-musical-theater-loving self. Over and over in my head plays a bit of “Woe is Me” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee–

My birth mother lives in Kansas, Mo
In a trailer, in a park–tornadoes!

And then the tune continues whirling dervishly* around my head for several more stanzas, whose words I know less well. Why do I remember this particular lyric? Got me. Anyway, if you don’t know this show and like musicals at all, you should look it up.

All right, time to get going. Here we go, Kansas, MO!

*I just looked up what a “whirling dervish” actually is. So I guess the song doesn’t quite make me dizzy and/or/then prophetic, but the phrase sounded so nice! I apologize if I have offended any Muslim mystics.

The Egg Roll Machine


Jellystone National Park. Dinosaur World. Guntown Mountain Amusement Park. Horse Cave. Mammoth Cave. Diamond Cave. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Four Roses Distillery, Heaven Hill Distillery, Maker’s Mark Distillery, Wild Turkey Distillery, Woodford Reserve Distillery, Jim Beam Distillery! (Aforementioned but) Big Jim’s Boobie Bungalow.

The road into Louisville, Kentucky is ridden with attractions. Who knew in just one state–indeed of just one highway–I could visit three caves, six bourbon distilleries, many, many adult video stores, and a theme park about guns!? Why do people ever leave?

Seriously, though, Louisville was fantastic. Our host, Barry, lived in the again-reminiscent-of-Bk-but-better neighborhood of the Highlands. A little bit of Southern kitsch charm, but mostly it was just genuinely cool. Secondhand stores, record stores, a comic shop, even! (Jay was delighted; but he decided not to stop and take a look inside), dozens of restaurants, frozen yogurt, coffee shops, et cetera ad infinitum. Barry was kind enough to walk us to the main drag–Bardstown Road–and show us where we should eat and drink. This turned out to be Cafe Mimosa and Cumberland Brews. Cafe Mimosa (with the attached “Egg Roll Machine”; I guess they make a bunch of different kinds there) was very good, and the name I think is pretty great. Barry spent a few years teaching English in Japan, so he knew which Asian food was good in the neighborhood. I had a seafood soup with a buncha lobster in it–uh, score. The bar was good, too–I had mead for the first time, which I’m pretty sure is something I’ve wanted to do ever since reading Harry Potter as an eleven-year-old.

Louisville itself is a little less hip, naturally, but no less interesting to explore. We ended up taking a glance at the Actors Theater of Louisville, the beautiful Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the gargantuan Humana building, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Science Center… but we didn’t go inside anywhere except The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. I don’t watch much baseball anymore, but I did love to play softball as a kid. Going through the tour of how they make the wooden bats was interesting, and we got to keep a nub from the bunch of ends they cut off after they finish sanding the bats. Also got one of those tiny souvenir bats complimentary with the tour. Not sure what I’m going to do with mine, but we found it funny that the tour guide specified: “If you’re going on a plane with these, make sure you put them in your checked luggage. The TSA counts this as a weapon.” I’m now picturing several tiny children with tiny bats trying to hurt a plane pilot, or something. Probably possible, but I’m guessing pretty unlikely.

The museum itself was okay, a little kid-oriented, but it should be. I found a little alcove where you could watch mini film clips about this or that topic in baseball. One was “Baseball and the Presidency,” another was “Bringing in a New Generation”, or something, about the passing on of the tradition of the sport from father to son… the one thing I remember was Ken Griffey’s face in the stands when Ken Griffey, Jr. made it into the 500 club. Like Sanya Richards-Ross’s parents when she won the gold for the 400m, it was just the best thing ever. In my opinion. I could watch happy parents in the stands all day long (except for Michael Phelps’ mom, for some reason. She bugs me. Why is that?) The video also had an anecdote about some parents of a now-MLB player. The mom was concerned that her sons were ruining her front yard by playing baseball in it all the time. Her dad just said, “We’re raising boys, not lawns.” I thought that was great.

From there we backtracked a little to the Jim Beam Distillery. Didn’t do the whole bourbon trail–guess that’s on the list for next time–but just the one was pretty neat. Got to step through one of the big warehouses where they age their bourbon in barrels, and it smelled amazing in there. Also got to taste a bit of their Knob Creek and Black Label bourbons afterwards. Quite a nice way to spend an afternoon!

Jay has pointed out that 1.8 million is both the number of bats Louisville Slugger makes every year, and the number of barrels Jim Beam has aging at any time. Cool. In any case, from there we got on the road to St. Louis, which we are about to explore today. Away we go!

A Brief Interlude on “Uncategorized”


For some reason, this morning I am bothered. Why does WordPress find the need to label the posts I do not explicitly file into categories as “Uncategorized”? Maybe I’m being dense, maybe it makes sense. But I don’t think that, merely because one hasn’t yet labeled a post as having to do with one thing or another that it has no category. It’s like the Capital-U-“Undecided” major option at liberal arts colleges. Just because one hasn’t specified a path yet does not mean no path exists, that the path instead is the un-path. I know I’m taking a tiny molehill of a thing that annoys me about a blogging site and making it into a mountain, but it’s interesting/frustrating to me how we so need to label, specialize, categorize, separate “this” off from “that” as though there are clear lines between them. Is it so scary to simply be label-less for a second or two? For forever? I know, I’m a product of my education, but running around acting like our world is ordered because we have labeled it so strikes me as naive–ignorant, even. Dwelling in the uncertainty of a lack of label is sometimes necessary to getting closer to figuring out what the thing actually even is. Sometimes it’s only when we let go of the labels that the right one emerges.

But, I’m not a programmer or tech-savvy by any stretch of the imagination, and so do not know how to make my posts have no category. I will therefore try to be very explicit and hopefully whimsically goofy in my category namings from now on. Even if a post doesn’t really have any category, I’ll be damned if it’s still “Uncategorized.”

Meet Me in St. Lou-ee, Lou-ee…


In the city with the (way) enormous(er than I ever would have guessed) Arch: St. Louis, Missouri, having just hooked up with another Couch Surfing host. I really mean no offense to Britta in Charleston, Kat(ie) in Savannah, Dan in Nashville, or Barry in Louisville; they were all very kind, very generous, and interesting people to have met along our trip.

But… Ed in St. Louis is a dream. Or, well, really, his home is. Jay and I have the whole basement (including Murphy bed with Tempur-pedic mattress, full bathroom, full bar and living room, two TVs!) to ourselves, I’ve already swum in his pool, he has an adorable dog named Cooper… seriously, if you’re in St. Louis and in need of a place to stay, look this guy up. But you better book in advance; his several bedrooms are booked through September already!  His home seems a work in progress; wallpaper here and cabinet fixtures there are still incomplete, but overall this place is a gem. Clearly Ed has money to spare, and I can’t help but think, “What a great way to put disposable income to use!” Of course, there are probably good charities out there, and hobbies to cultivate, and things to acquire and collect, but I am starting to see the appeal of being a host. Because Couch Surfing (for many, I know some feel differently about this) often functions literally like a free hostel–Ed’s term for his place, actually–with the amount of “amenities” more variable and up to the host’s prerogative, hosting is at once personal but not too much so: a real-live-human connection, but without the invasion of privacy (provided that your guests aren’t assholes, which, hopefully, we are not). I can see how it really appeals to some people, both as an act of philanthropy and of entertainment/self-interest. Many of our hosts say they love meeting people they never would have otherwise by hosting. Ed told us he hosted a family of six last night. He said he probably wouldn’t do that again, but he can always sleep tonight.

As for me, as a guest, I really have enjoyed getting to know these cities (albeit briefly, too briefly in the case of some) from the inside-out, if you will. Our first introduction to these cities have all been the homes of our hosts, and so have been a little on the outskirts/”suburbs” of the metropolis itself, and our ventures downtown have felt therefore much more genuine–like the way a local would do it.

All this reminds me I have completely glossed over Louisville, which certainly gives the city less credit than it deserves. Up next: a backtrack to Kentucky!