Travel Stories, Teaching Stories, Stories for the sake of telling Stories!
I hopped off the Megabus in downtown Houston early Saturday morning…much earlier than I had seen the world in quite a while. The sun had not yet risen and the expansive downtown was quiet and dark. I chose to take a later bus to Austin because I thought I should get some breakfast before another 4 hour trip. I found a number of restaurants and coffee shops in the area ahead of time, so it was merely a matter of huffing it to the nearest one. Immediately after turning the corner from the bus stop, I cringed as my only pair of boots trudged down the two blocks of speckled bird-crap sidewalks. Go figure! Houston, you have a bird problem! I walked on wide sidewalks watching the sunrise. The illuminated light installations danced for me, swirling me in a weary confusion in the dull morning. Was I up all night and was this a walk of shame? How was I up earlier than everyone else in the world? I wandered through silent blocks of modern-deco buildings, following the Urbanspoon map towards breakfast. Closed on Saturday and Sunday the sign on the window read. Damn! I huffed to the next breakfast listing, ten blocks away, only to discover that is was no longer in business (thanks Urbanspoon!). I sat down, for the third time in my twenty block walk, to rest my back and begin a new search. A man of medium complexion and slightly fuzzed dredlocks asked me if I was new in town, eying my backpack. “I’m just stopping in for a few hours, then off to Austin.” Speaking quickly, and lowly, while wiping milky tears from his eyes, he offered me advice and help if I needed a shelter or to find food. I smiled and thanked him. He nodded and bowed a little before he walked off just as dizzily as he came. As the sun rises, and the downtown of Houston grows brighter, and more people appear. Everyone greets me with a “Good Morning” and a smile. Sometimes I respond with “How you doin’?” and a nod, the urban equivalent to “I too am a part of the brotherhood and I understand our plight,” whatever brotherhood or plight that could be applied. But the use of “Good” and “Morning” caused me to wince as it was not good without coffee and breakfast, and I was still unsure that it was morning until I had officially had the two. Where’s the Southern Hospitality beyond the formal greetings? I found a listing for a café at the Hilton. I cringed at the thought, and yes a resort would be my last resort, but certainly a restaurant at a bustling hotel would be open. I decided to make my way another ten blocks. As I approached the hotel, a crowd of slender, brightly dressed and energized people stood, danced, shuffled and jumped in the streets and on the sidewalk. I was walking straight into a marathon, and hopefully I wouldn’t have to wait to pass. Luckily it had not yet started, and most of the action was the restlessness of the contestants, running around the block, and up and down the sidewalk, in effort to stay warm. If they would have been walking for thirty blocks with two...read more
On Belafonte’s “Jack Ass Song” My first experience with Harry Belafonte was hearing “Day-O” in Beetlejuice some fifteen or twenty years ago. Calypso captured my heart and I began singing island songs from the 1950s to my classmates. We all have our idea of cool music, and Harry Belafonte was mine. A few years ago, I found myself watching, “How Stella Got Her Grove Back”. And while I’m ashamed to admit I watched that movie, I was intrigued with the thought of going to Jamaica. This magical beautiful island where my soulful Calypso was born. Two months later, I was on a chartered short flight to Montego Bay. Montego is all about the beaches, easily attainable marijuana and partying. I abstained from the latter, as the beach was my reason for being there. For being. The sea opened up to swallow the sugary beaches. The last drip of sun waned on the horizon, and I was enamored. This was my first vacation in my adult life, and I burrowed my legs into the sand and let the lingering heat of the day soak into my skin. I traveled with my boyfriend, Sean. He was always working, networking, planning and scheming. As an entrepreneur, everything he consumed, including the beaches, were write-offs, and despite my desire to let go of work, he brought it along with us everywhere, like an annoying younger sibling. Sean was also a world traveler, and had seen much more than I. And although we were both from the same small city, he grew up in the boondocks, which colored his worldly view. In my mind, world traveler connotes and intrinsic compassion for other cultures, but not in his case. Through his travels, Sean had developed generalized judgments. “Chinese people are oblivious”, “The French are pretentious” and “Brazilians are irresponsible” were some of the statements I’ve heard him use. Yes, what a jerk, and despite Sean’s many foibles, I wanted to be with him to smooth out his rough edges. And being with him in Jamaica was no different and his rough edges had a way of cutting straight through my smoothing and soothing nature. Every morning we headed to the beach. In the early afternoons, when the sun peaked at its hottest, we would retreat to some café for Blue Mountain coffee and Kalaloo, a mixture of vinegary greens and fava beans. Each day we spent in Montego, we would stroll further from the beach and closer to the downtown center. On our third day, we found the market area, covered in families and children running from fruit vendor to fruit vendor. The stately women smiled as they talked, their thick accents chirped and washed into one cacophonous soliloquy of bargaining prices and bartering goods. My eyes were full of beautiful, dark thin-framed Jamaicans, the ones who gave birth to my beloved Calypso and whose hips were shakers and footsteps, Congo slaps. Sean, however, was less impressed with the market scene and more interested in purchasing gourds for musical instruments. He darted back and forth between vendors, “The guy across the alley said he would sell for $5, can you give me a better deal?” Some vendors shook their heads negatively at Sean, while others played into his game and fueled his dealing scheme. I,...read more
On Pole Dancing I flew into London on an over-cast Tuesday. It would be my first trip across the ‘pond’ and I could hardly contain my excitement on the plane. I didn’t sleep, and at what would have been 2:00am, our plane scuffed its heels at Gatwick. The conference I was attending was in Bristol, some 200 km west from London. And I, the perpetual adventurer, decided that rather than rely on public transport, I would rent a car and make the drive across England myself. At 3.00am, Central Standard Time, I procured a small Mr. Bean car-let, and jumped into the driver’s side. Of course, being that I was without sleep, I found myself sitting on the English passengers side. I laughed embarrassingly as I climbed back out of the car, and blushed at the oddly handsome Rental Car dealer. I felt like I had failed a test, and that at any moment, this man would figure out that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing in a British car and would reverse his decision to rent it to me. But, he smiled back, probably thinking about the stupidity of Americans. I jumped into the correct side of the car and pulled out. My first challenge was the roundabout, pronounced, round-a-boot. Look left, whoops, look right and pull out to the center. A full 720 degrees later I recalled my exit and merged over. “Yes, I’m a silly American! I’ve never driven in the U.K. before! That’s right, honk on!” I answered the car horns and grumpy faces battling airport rush hour. I found myself driving the longest route around London, on my way west toward Bristol. I stayed in the farthest left lane, even drifted into the shoulder a few times not knowing how to account for rest of the car that was on my left. London is foggy, dreary and overcast in November, well, most of the rest of the year as well. But, my plan for viewing the beautiful countryside of Britain was foiled by the eight-lane highway and thick fog. One hour, and who knows how many kilometers later, I pulled off of the highway in search of breakfast. It was now nearing 5.00am CST and I was as foggy as the sky. A small café for hotel guests was open. “One regular breakfast and a cup of coffee please.” I requested, sitting my weary limbs into a heavy chair. “Sure thing love!” the waitress replied. They really do say, “love” here! And I love that, although the smile I attempted to flash was heavy and forced. I collapse my torso over the map that lay pressed on the table glass. The coffee arrived, thank you! And with a few brown drips over the English Channel, I could clearly tell that I was almost half-way to my destination. Bristol was a college town, and my conference was at the University. A few colleagues knew that I was on my way, but did not know exactly when I would arrive. And the way it was going, I didn’t know when I would arrive either, if at all. Breakfast was questionable. The term ‘bacon’ is a loose interpretation of “pig ear”, as the folded browned meat lay across a large helping of baked beans....read more
On Astral Travel Upon my first trip to Brazil, I was hardly prepared for the language and culture shock. My knowledge of Portuguese was comparable to a third grader and if I could not rattle a response from my head, I reverted back to speaking Spanish – which to Brazilians is very insulting. “Nao fallo espanol, eu sou Brasiliero! Falla portugues!” I was hurried through customs, stared at resentfully by other Brazilian women who, looked like me, but weren’t standing in the Extranjeros line. Immediately I felt that because I looked Brazilian, that I was judged for being considered American, which is quite a prize in this Third World Country. My first night in Rio de Janeiro placed me in a traveler’s hostel in the industrial side of town. I walked briskly from the bus depot across the river of sewage and down the broken road to A Casa da Capoeira. Here, I was greeted by a large smile, much like my own, of Bethena, the owner. She showed me the humble bed in a small closet room across the hall from her store. I quietly unpacked my towel and soap and proceeded to the bathroom for a shower. The plastic toilet seat provided a sitting shower, as the showerhead was positions directly over the toilet. A small switch on the showerhead heated the cold water through electric coils, and while standing in a small pool of water, I shocked myself into the certainty that I was in Brazil and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After a quick shower and the residue of the eight-hour flight had flowed down the drain, I flip-flopped my way back to my small room to change. In the room next to me I heard laughter, hearty boy laughter. Gently knocking on the door, a scruffy German whisked open the door. “Bom dia!” “Bom dia o senor. Falla ingles?” “Yes, a bit. I am Artur, and this is Stefan,” he said, swinging the door wider to reveal the other traveler sitting up in bed. Both Artur and Stefan were tall, gangly boys, scruffy from traveling the South American gambit for the past six months. They had found themselves in the Rio hostel a few days before my arrival. They reminded me of the armied green gypsies of America, dred-locked, backpacked, combat booted and accompanied by some type of mutt. The anarchy children, of which I had made a few friends with during my travels. Stefan was sitting on the edge of the bed, nursing a swollen foot. Pinked and greasy, his big toe was purpled and resisting attachment. “What happened?” I asked, pointing to his foot. “Um, we were valking on the beech, and Stefan like to walk on the, uh, sand…” Artur explained. “Yes, sand is mooch nicer to walk!” Stefan interjected with a smile. “And ve think that he stepped on some, uh, dog” Artur began again. “Shiit!” Stefan added, excited to use his curse word properly. “I now have a vorm.” “A vorm?” I couldn’t get my head around what a “vorm” was, “Oh, a worm!” I exclaimed, “Oh, a worm?” I repeated, my upper lip cringing distastefully. The thought of sharing the shower/bathroom with the worm-footed Stefan turned my hungered stomach. “Gente, agora vamos a...read more
On Plucking Stories Generally speaking, the Chinese are small people. During the rainy season the streets were packed. We were all shuffling cattle, and the locals carried black umbrellas that spun and threatened to poke me (a tall American girl) in the eye. I became very adept at batting them away as they spun towards my face, and most of the time, the people never noticed that I had sent it into a tailspin. On one such rainy afternoon, I decided that rather than battling the hoards, I would jump in a cab. I uttered the address and we were off, flying down Argyle Street, until we were caught at one of the famous six-street intersections. Stuck for ten minutes amidst the umbrella brigade. The remnants of England’s rule trickled across Queen Elizabeth and Queen Anne Avenues in the fashion district, but a fierce and prideful return to the tradition of Mainland China was on the rise. Thus, while most everyone in the center of Hong Kong was bilingual, there were many areas of the city that refused to translate or speak a word of English. Sometimes I would find myself stepping into bitter territory. I had grown to hold reverence for the culture, the history and the oddities of which I was still acclimating myself. Staring out of the cab window, I noticed a tall figure floating over the passing umbrellas in the street. The man was bald, wearing long flowing garments that were reminiscent of the Kung Fu master in my father’s favorite television show. He was austere, careful, and powerful. His eyes pierced through the crowd, creating a wake of umbrellas before him. He was Moses perhaps, or Buddha incarnate. I imagined him meditating, eyes penetrating the temple and beyond the hundreds of followers who sat before him. He knew the secrets of life through his intense connection with the spiritual realm. He walked down the street with this intrinsic knowing. I never met his eyes; I felt too lowly to connect with such an obvious grand master. The stoplight turned green and the taxi turned right, so I was able to grasp one last glimpse of the holy man. I crooked my head to the right to view his profile walking away from me. I noticed his hand near his face. As if some granule of prophecy was lodged between his cranial and nasal cavities, the holy man’s entire right index finger, to the knuckle, was completely swallowed within his nostril. The holiest of holies parting the Black Sea, a mass of umbrellas amongst the Buddhist people of Hong Kong. “The secret of life,” I heard reverberate in my mind, “lies within the nose.” Boogers hold the simple truth: that which does not belong, is highly evident and although consecrated, must be plucked. And with that, I plucked this man, who did not belong amongst the back masses on Argyle Street, for a...read more
A Week of Pilobolus Getting myself into situations where I don’t know what or to what degree of extremity I am getting into, is quite common. The Pilobolus workshop, Level II, mind you, was exactly that. I knew of Pilobolus. I had a friend who toured and performed with them. He told me his body was put on a grill and squished to push out all the fat from the meat. Daily. My words, not his. I don’t actually remember how he described it, but that’s how I envisioned it. I had seen some of their work. And as all professionals, they make their work look effortless. I was preparing myself to cry, daily, after each workshop. I prepared myself to feel old, subjugated, dismissed, under-whelming, uncreative, and every other self-criticizing word I could come up with. I arrived in Connecticut after driving two, eleven hour days. I was exhausted and spacey. Luckily my couchsurfing host, Adam, understood my need to sleep and let me crash immediately. The next morning, I found a breakfast spot, had some coffee and a burrito and made my way to Pilobolus Level II, which will now be known as PLII Workshop. One thing I am working on is being more inclusive of others. I have been on the outside of the group more times than I would like to remember. When I arrived at PLII, I introduced myself to all the dancers I saw stretching on the floor. I smiled and asked them their names. We all shook hands. The people who arrived later I found it more difficult to introduce myself to, but I did and we all moved forward with our workshop. Our teachers, the two confident dancers with glorious feet and perfect posture, introduced themselves and we were off. Flocking, frolicking, formulating, creating! PLII was to become the workshop that allowed the group to lead, rather than the teachers. I loved this. This would keep me from crying daily for not being able to keep up with strict choreography. This was my kind of thing! Every night I returned to Adam’s house, exhausted. Every night I couldn’t fall asleep because of all the inspiration swirling in my head. I wanted to do well, so I thought about what I could have done differently the day before, and how I could go with more conceptual ideas the following day. All of my anxious planning would never make it through the night’s sleep, and every morning I would start again. Day Two I was deemed the strong girl when I was able to carry a male partner effortlessly (seemingly) Yes! Then I tried a small man and small woman. Yes! I am strong! I did so much on Tuesday, that I expended my energy for Wednesday’s partnering. Damn! I was exhausted and strained from Tuesday, and Adam had lowered his the climbing rope at the house, so after my strong lifting day, I also proceeded to practice aerial feats. Pure fumes fueled my body up the rope, the muscle memory of my performance art for the last six years. My hip flexors said, “Watch it!” and strained. I came down and limped up the stairs to bed. By Wednesday afternoon, we were all carpooling and heading into the city, you know, THE...read more
Getting Into Canada It is difficult to explain to Canadian Immigration that I am a traveling performance artist. That I have no interest in moving to Canada, or working in Canada. That I have no interest in working at all. “How do you travel then?” “I have a savings.” “And what, you will travel for one year? Five? Ten years until your savings runs out?” “No, my savings won’t run out.” “How do you manage this? You’ll have to teach me.” “I will if you like!” And it was at that moment that I realized that once you get to a place where you feel safe and secure in taking a risk (just as my Pilobolus instruction infused me with) then you have to take the step and trust that you will be taken care of. This all began when my Mother off-handedly mentioned that she had some pepper spray for me to take in the car during my New England road trip. I have never owned or used pepper spray or mace in my entire life, so I promptly threw it in my glove box and forgot about it. The things we do for our Mother’s so they don’t worry! Upon arriving at the Canadian border, the border officer was a friendly female, who was just about to release me to actualize my mission of seeing my comedic crush in Montreal at the Just for Laughs Festival, when she asked, “Do you have any weapons, guns, mace or pepper spray?” “Oh!” I recalled the small .5oz container in my glove box, “I do!” I reached to remove it and hand it over, but apparently it is a BIG NO NO in Canada. She knew this and understood why I had it, but she also quieted her voice because she knew I was just about to be turned over to the declaration line. I pulled forward and turned off the car. “Could you step out of the car?” “Sure.” “What are you doing in Canada?” “Vacation.” “Oh, vacation from where?” “The States.” “What do you do?” “I’m a Performance Artist.” “What kind?” “Aerialist and Dancer.” “Oh, like Cirque du Soleil?” Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Cirque du Soleil is one of the most well known aerial performance companies in the world. They are based in Montreal, which is where I am headed. Being an independent performing aerialist headed to Montreal screams out, “I want to work in Canada.” But truly, I did not. I merely wanted to stay in Montreal for a week, see my comedic crush perform, and relax. Try explaining that to the immigration officers. After they searched my car and phone, they deemed me non-threatening, despite that I DECLARED MY PEPPER SPRAY! (Thank God I didn’t have my performance machetes with me. I don’t know how I would explain those! Luckily my friend Yosh is preparing them to be fire toys back in KC.) I proceeded to another officer to fill out the paperwork. My .5oz of pepper spray probably cost my Mother $5.00US and me, 1 hour of precious Montreal time. I was then handed over to the interrogating officer. He spoke to me through a thick glass window. His bilingual french language had softened his mouth to linger in “O”...read more