Archive | May, 2014

East Coast Trippin’ Day 4: “Banned in DC”/ “Streets of Baltimore”

29 May

I blasted Bad Brains on my headphones and gave an internal middle finger to every monument we passed on the way to the train station in Washington D.C. Something told me not to dilly dally in the nation’s capital (where its professional football team’s mascot is a racial slur), and I’m glad I listened to that voice. It started raining immediately upon me catching the light rail to Baltimore.

I was exhausted just looking at all the people and buildings, all cogs of a bigger machine. I couldn’t believe people actually wanted to live in this town. It seemed cold and sterile. I was a little creeped out passing by the Pentagon, thinking of Obama, the NSA, Cheney and Bush, 9-11, Free Masons, and the Illuminati.

I finally got to Baltimore around 8:00 pm. A glimpse of west Baltimore hit me with a dose of reality, and I realized that this was no time to act like a tourist. My couchsurfing host was at work, and I almost immediately got lost, carrying all my luggage, without any idea what part of town I was in (If you’re at the poker table and you can’t tell who the mark is, then its you right?). I was just about to get worried when I saw white people jogging a couple of blocks down from me. Okay. I knew I was safe then.
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My host “Doug” rolled out the red carpet for me. His apartment was down the street from his job, so after I had enough to eat and drink, I just went up to his place and crashed. The next morning found me on his roof, testing out the local product, and getting a view of the city. My vertigo kicked in shortly after, and the trip down the fire escape was a little sobering. I kept imagining a loose bolt on the railing coming off, sending me back backwards onto the asphalt below (cringe).

oh boy!

oh boy!

I like Baltimore. Any sort of pretense is magnified in a place that is so blue collar and gritty. I imagine its what Oakland would be like if Oakland had humidity in the summer, and shitty weather during the winter months. there is a certain Baltimore swag that people have here that seems ingrained into people’s identity. It aint’ New York, it ain’t Philly, and it certainly ain’t Boston.
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It has been easy to get around town, the city feels pretty small, and it seems like whatever scene you run in, you’ll see the same faces again and again. I ended up at an open mic last night and the people there behaved as if they knew each other well. I enjoyed watching everyone perform and had I not gotten so drunk I would have taken pictures.

My boy “Doug” (who like me wants to one day work at Vice Media) took me around town, showed me where to get crab cakes and gave me a run down on where and where not to go. He took me to Baltimore’s version of the Tenderloin district, “Hey man! I got these socks! You know you need some socks dawg!” and gave me an inside look at the spectrum of females that live in the city (t feels like the marginally cute girls in NYC moved down here because they weren’t getting enough attention in the highly competitive Big Apple). It definitely jumps out at you when you see a hot chick here. The dime pieces here in Baltimore would be 8’s back home in Texas. Its funny to see these gals strut about town, as if they were Miss Maryland. It’s like being the best player on a last place team in the minor leagues. It’s all relative.

Speaking of relatives. Its time for me to bounce. I’m taking a bus up to New York in less than 2 hours, and finally get to meet my best friend’s new son. I’m excited. I eased up on my expenditures solely for my 10 day stay up in the NY. Although its not entirely out of the question to come back down to Baltimore for a day or two next week (I didn’t get to go to the aquarium or visit the Waterfront Hotel–the bar from that old cop show Homicide). I got mad love for this city.

just a little creepy

just a little creepy

East Coast Trippin’ Day 3: “The Southern Part of Heaven”

29 May

College towns all have their little wrinkles and unique quirks. I’ve enjoyed visiting university campuses for quite some time now, and its always been fun to compare and contrast different school’s architecture and landscape with each other. The Durham-Chapel Hill juxtaposition is one that parallels USC-UCLA.

UCLA is a public university plopped down in the middle of one America’s richest demographics, Beverly Hills, California, while USC is a private institution located in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.

Chapel Hill is a highly affluent community that reeks of old tobacco money, but UNC is a state school. The town itself is very spread out, but all the commerce and infrastructure is centrally located. If you walk 2 miles off campus, you’ll find yourself surrounded in solitude. I could not imagine living there without a car. I did some busking on the main strip, Franklin Street, and by nightfall, it was too dark to attempt walking back to my host’s home.

Coming from Lawrence, it was cool to see the basketball culture that Mr. Dean Smith, a Kansas grad, helped to create in Chapel Hill. If Chapel Hill is anywhere near as basketball crazed as Lawrence, then being a UNC player has got to be awesome. I bet the early 80’s team was a fun one, with James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Sam Perkins (I bet they had a ball). I’m sure Rick Fox had zero social problems as a student-athlete. If I ever have the pleasure of having a conversation with Rasheed Wallace, or Kenny Smith, I would love to ask them about their Carolina days.

Despite having one of the country’s most elite private institutions, Durham is a pretty lively place. I’d completely forgotten about the minor league team in town (the Durham Bulls–you know the team they made that movie about) and the downtown consisted of more than shops, and eateries. Durham is a legit city that feels like a small town. If you have ever been to the Greenville area in Dallas, Texas then you can imagine how the Duke campus looks and feels. Coffee shops are filled with smart, nerdy kids in Duke T-shirts, and even the hippies walk as if they sticks up their asses.

I’ve been wanting to visit both Durham and Chapel-Hill since I was a teen when I first started learning about college hoops and the Duke-UNC rivalry. I did not get to play pick up ball like I was hoping to, but it was a good taste. I plan to come back someday and actually throw down a few bills on a ticket to a UNC-Duke clash. I’ll have to fly into Raleigh and rent a car next time. Getting around was tough with no wheels.

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My heart tugged a little when it was time to get on the bus and leave North Carolina. I was surprised to find the locals in every city to be extremely cordial and hospitable. That myth about “southern hospitality’ is not a myth. It does exist. The Carolina leg was the part I was looking least forward to because of pre-conceived notions about the region. North Carolina had always struck me as a bigger, small Texas town that reveled in its ability to hold blacks back. I know Carolina isn’t the deep south, like say Alabama and Mississippi, but let’s just say that I wasn’t surprised to see Confederate flags flying in certain parts of the state.

Maybe my fear of the south was an irrational one borne of textbooks and the history channel, and maybe times have changed quite a bit since 2008, however the fear was still there. How does the saying go, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you?”

I can remember every year in US history squirming every time we got to the slavery chapter of our history books, and that discomfort wasn’t alleviated until we pushed past the civil rights era, “see at first we hated you but we as a country like black people now.” It was tough. I can remember the fear and anger that stemmed from learning about blacks being bombed, lynched, and burned during the post reconstruction era in the Jim Crow south.

I remember the inner rebellion rising inside of me every time I considered the reality of living a life as someone’s property, and then having no rights. It was tough enough being my parent’s child–with little rights to speak of. Every year relearning my people’s history in this country brought forth mixed feelings –of embarrassment and relief– and the thought that I would have died very young under these constricting conditions (I would have fought, spoken up, or died running to a free region).

It was good for me to face this fear of the south head on. I managed to lay low the whole time I was in North Carolina. I didn’t ogle any white women (and didn’t need to–so many beautiful and educated black women in the state) and kept to myself for the majority of the time. Something I did pick up on early into my journey was how helpful blacks were to each other. Every black person I passed on the street, gave a nod or hello, and direct eye contact wasn’t considered an act of aggression like it can be in Dallas at times (difference between the city and country maybe?). I could close my eyes and listen to people down here talk, their accents knock me out–they are so genuinely thick and southern.

Besides meeting my couch-surfing hosts (big shout out to my Chapel Hill host–one of the most marvelous women I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting), driving through the state was my favorite part of the trip. Carolina is quiet and beautiful (so many trees), and has done a great job of preserving its natural wonders.

As pretty as it was, my mind kept wondering to a time when this state was wilder, less modernized. I silently considered the number of runaway slaves who managed to escape their plantations only to die in the wilderness. When people say things like “that was over 200 years ago, when will you people get over it,” they don’t consider the psychological ramifications of splitting up families, denying them their culture and keeping them uneducated. There is a part of me still searching for who I was and where I come from, and I have no idea where to start (New Orleans, Jamaica, Africa?). I wonder how many American blacks feel the same way.

Visiting the Duke and North Carolina campuses brought up another issue for me. Education is more of a privilege than a right. The university system is a scam, and the NCAA itself is one of this country’s biggest rackets. I was lucky enough to finish school (eventually) but how long before my measly bachelor’s degree is the equivalent of a high school diploma? If a person can’t afford to pay for school upfront, the debt incurred from getting an education can be a deterrent. How long before the whole education system (as well as the prison system) becomes completely privatized? Have things really changed that much since 1850? or is it the same old product with new packaging? Maybe the game hasn’t changed, but only the rules.

East Coast Trippin’ Day 2: Where is my mind?

25 May

It was only this morning when I woke up that I understood how stressed I was last week. I managed to give my kids their finals, pack and mail all my belongings, find a sub-leaser (complete luck), secure all accommodations before Friday’s departure, and say good bye to everyone I wanted to see. Now that I’m on the road, my head is clearer but my heart is a little heavy. The people of Lawrence treated me really good. There will always be a lot of love for that place, even if there is no money to be made there (outside of a university job or starting your own commercial venture).

Nevertheless, the road has been good to me. Even the cab drivers have been hella cool and informative. The Greyhound in Charlotte was filled with some of the most helpful employees I’ve ever encountered at a Greyhound station. I could not believe it. Yesterday’s bus rides gave me plenty of time to think, nap and just look out the windows. Carolina is tremendously natural and pretty, and it was no surprise to find the women in North Carolina to be the same way. OOOOOOOWEEEEEEE!!!!

Asheville itself is an interesting anomaly to the rest of what I saw. The town is nestled in the mountains, and there were times I wasn’t able to tell if I were in Bend, OR, or Boulder, CO, until someone’s jarringly thick accent would give it away. If they ever legalize weed in this state (isn’t North Carolina notorious for its fertile soil and tobacco farming?), you better believe everyone will be flocking to Asheville.

I knew I had come to the right place though when I walked into the Greyhound bus station and heard a couple of the employees (two old ass men) trading ghost stories. My Couchsurfing host greeted me with some beer, sangria and Carolina style ribs. I got nice and drunk and headed into town, drank more beer and of course, got lost on the way back to the house I’m staying. Instead of getting back in half an hour, it took me 2 hours make it back to this dude’s apartment. He was drunk and worried that I got mugged (which is funny because this is a pretty safe town and no one who saw me last night would mistake me for someone with lots of loot), so every 15 minutes he’d text me asking if I was okay (Que Lindo!!!).

It wasn’t an unpleasant detour by any means. Asheville is remote enough that the sky is still visible. The stars looked close enough to touch and the sweet smell of honeysuckle filled my nostrils at every turn. It is a well thought out, well designed city, that possesses a unique charm that hints of so many places I’ve already visited (“Am I in Europe, Oregon, Colorado, Canada, or North Carolina?). Also the water is some of the best city water you’ll drink in your life.

Despite the numerous amount of buskers downtown that I’ve seen and random signs like this one,2014-05-24 23.40.09 I still get the feeling this town isn’t weird enough for me. Or maybe I’m just not straight enough for it here. Either way, it has been an okay time. I’ll be ready to head out to Tobacco Road and lobby for UNC to build a statue to commemorate Danny Green teabagging Greg Paulus. Speaking of Danny Green, tonight I’ll be watching the Spurs take care of business. If you ever want to check out my hoops blog, peep it here.

Go Spurs GO!

East Coast Trippin’ Day 1: “A lost day of travel”

24 May

Completely lost track of the holiday schedule this year and didn’t account for Memorial Day coming a weekend earlier than I am used to. Had I realized this, I would have put my travel plans on hold until Monday. I hate traveling holiday weekends. Ticket lines are busier, buses and planes are guaranteed to be crowded, and cops are always more visible.

After a year of “champagne-ing and campaigning” in Lawrence, KS, I decided to beat the heat this summer and head up to the northeast. Believe it or not, I had a blast in the middle of the United States and am better for the experience. Spent last week saying goodbyes and even managed to leave a present for my incoming sub-leaser

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There was a little shenanigans coming out of the block yesterday for sure. One of my roommates forgot to put the top back on his radiator (he’d been checking his fluids) and the engine started smoking when we got on the highway. He pulled over at the nearest service station and because I had planned ahead for such fiascoes, I had enough time to call another housemate and rescue us, and get me to the airport in time.

I ingested some “special” banana bread to ease my flying anxiety and our plane was up in the air by 1:50-ish (I flew Delta–which is never quite on schedule–they are like the greyhound of commercial flying).

So far there is nothing to report. I spent the night in a hotel in Charlotte (which I kind of like–reminds me of a laid back north Houston suburb). I’m clearly staying out in the hood, but trouble has not found me, and the locals have been very engaging. If I ever have a friend who moves here, that will be excuse enough to visit this city. they say it will be the next Atlanta.

Speaking of Atlanta……….their airport is what is up! So many beautiful honeys up in that motherfucker. Wow!!! I even had a cutie throw me a “Rock Chalk” after she saw my Kansas t-shirt. From the excited look in her face, I thought she knew me from somewhere–turns out she was just on that Lawrence tip.

My cab is here to take me to the bus station. Asheville here I come. I have heard so many great things about you. I hope they are all true.

10 years gone: Randy Johnson’s Perfect Game Revisited

20 May

2 days ago marked the 10th anniversary of the Randy Johnson’s perfect game in Atlanta. I happened to be in town the week the Diamondbacks were visiting the Braves. One of my good friends from high school moved there for grad school and having loads of student loan money to blow, I decided to pay him a visit.

Going to a game was always on the plate, but after looking up the schedule and seeing that Randy Johnson was pitching on the 18th. This changed things from being “maybe we’ll go to a Braves game while I’m in town.” to ” We are going to see Randy Johnson pitch tomorrow.” I’d seen randy Johnson pitch once before when Seattle had played Texas (back when Seattle had A-Rod,Griffey, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez) and the Rangers had rocked him for 7 early inning runs. Johnson didn’t make it into the 4th inning I think. I was banking on Johnson having a better performance this time around.

We were able to score some great seats thanks to my buddy’s grandma. We helped her and her friend clean out a storage unit (an unfair that left us stinky, tired and sweaty–for some reason I think it didn’t go as smoothly as it should have) and we parlayed that windfall into seats behind home plate.

As excited as I was about the game, I was just as geeked up about the vast amount of tail at the ballpark. Georgia is renowned (and rightfully so) for the absurd number of hotties the state produces (rivaling only Texas) and the females provided a distraction for the first 3 innings. By the fifth inning, I noticed that the Big Unit hadn’t put anyone on base. I mentioned this to my buddy (who had thrown a no hitter in high school himself) and he shook me off. “Too early to be looking at that kind of stuff” he said.

By the 7th inning, he admitted that we might have something special brewing. By the 8th inning I was texting everyone who would give a damn about a regular season baseball game, and by the ninth inning the remaining spectators (you wouldn’t believe how many people left because the Braves were losing) were cheering every strike that Johnson threw. After the final out, there was a lot of clapping, and after the five minute on-field celebration, we all speechlessly filed out of the stadium–our faces stunned. We were buzzing on the ride home, wide eyed and mostly silent. We just kept saying to each other, “I can’t believe it!”

We went to a bar out in Buckhead and had drinks and listened to the jukebox. We even met a couple of guys who were at the game, which led to another round of “Can you believe it’s?”
That was ten years and two days ago. It may as well have been 20 years ago. My high school buddy is married with a kid now, and I haven’t watched an inning of baseball in almost 3 years. The last time I attended a baseball game was when I lived in Oakland. I fell asleep during the 3rd inning and it took me until the 5th inning to decide to call it a day.

I sometimes wonder if that game didn’t ruin me somehow. My interest in non playoff games wane the minute both teams register hits on the scoreboard. The game is way too slow. I prefer soccer and basketball to baseball and football now. I thought about going to a couple of games this summer, but I know it would be impossible for me to sit still that long. One of the things that stick out the most from that game is when I got back to Texas and told one of my buddies about seeing Randy Johnson pitch. He wasn’t very impressed. “You mean no one on the other team got a hit? Psst. Sounds boring to me.”

I thought about giving him a lecture on why seeing a good pitcher’s duel is way better than a slugfest, and how defense, pitching, and stolen bases got me just as excited as a towering home run. Instead I just laughed and shook my head. He didn’t understand and there was no way for me to make him. I might as well have been talking about some life altering acid trip from my late teens.

That was only 10 years ago, and the relevance of that experience diminishes with each passing year. Baseball’s popularity has only dwindled since then, and with each passing day, the story about “seeing a Randy Johnson perfect game” becomes less cooler to share. Someday there will come a point in my life where the people who know me will be shocked when they find out that I not only liked baseball, but grew up playing it. It’ll be like when someone tells you they study Latin in college. I myself can barely believe how Gung Ho I was about the game when I was a youth (collected baseball cards and everything).

“Why?” They’ll ask. And I’ll just shrug my shoulders. Perhaps I’ll even dredge up this story. And maybe they’ll feign interest for the first couple of sentences before I realize they are just humoring me. Then maybe I’ll just give up and say “you had to be there.”

But seriously, you should have been there.