This kind of moving around is probably just an average couple weeks for many traveling poets, educators, and performers, but it’s new to me. The trip to Philly was lovely and easy, in part because I had a traveling companion for the many hours of driving, and also because I managed to rally some friends to come out for dinner after the piercing and exploring in Philly was over. The beers were affordable and flowing freely, the food was impressive and delicious. Of course, anything would have tasted amazing to Kristen who, having just had both her nipples pierced by a legendary piercer, was floating on a serious body high. And me, well, I’m a sucker for a good veggie burger, so I was happy.
The trips by myself were harder. To Boston I drove alone. I loaded up my iPhone with good road music but was unable to get the iPod radio adapter to work, a job usually reserved for my co-pilot and navigatrix. I listened to it through the earbuds instead, after I exhausted the already worn out CD collection kept in the car. Had I known, I would have made more CDs. Had I known, I would have perhaps even priced having a new stereo installed, one with an AUX input.
The right music can make a big difference.
Each city has its own vibe, its own energy. Visiting so many places in such a short period is still a novelty for me, unusual, and leaves me with whiplash, much like flying or fucking a new lover. A little piece of me gets left behind, at each rest stop, at each roadside diner, each bookstore, each coffee shop with WiFi, each sex toy shop, each dyke bar, each organic local sandwich shop. Those seem to be the places I frequent, the places I go to find out the tone of the city, the resonance, the habits, the feeling.
I have a hard time navigating around Boston. The streets are twisty and named, not numerical, and do not follow a grid. Though I’ve visited before, and know enough to know where I wanted to return to (The Garment District, because thrift stores outside of New York City always have such better finds, and the Hi-Rise Bread Company, because I love sandwiches, Brookline Booksmith and Good Vibrations in Brookline because, duh, there’s nothing like an indie bookstore and smart sex shop), I couldn’t have navigated without the GPS on my phone. Perhaps it’s also because Boston doesn’t have many major visible landmarks, no mountain nearby to anchor one’s sense of direction, no giant buildings you can see from everywhere, so I find it hard to navigate by feel like I can sometimes in other cities. I am starting to get a sense of where the river is and where the freeways go, but I still get turned around easily and not quite sure where I’m going.
Pawtucket is sweet and quiet. I’m not used to being somewhere so small, and when I came into town after midnight, I felt like I was driving through a ghost town. I almost drove right through a red light because it was so desolate. When I was at an easy roadside diner in the morning for a quick eggs-and-toast breakfast, Maria’s, I noticed that all the other restaurants nearby also sported people’s names—Barrett’s, Dave’s, LJ’s. It makes the place feel like a cozy small town where everyone knows each other and invites the general passers-by over to their houses for brunch or drinks.
The trip to upstate New York was different than the other two; I took the bus instead of driving so I had time to read and write during the travels. The bus is hit or miss, as probably any Northeast traveler can attest to; sometimes you end up with a set of two seats to yourself, other times you will end up packed in with the person next to you eating a huge bucket of fried chicken that stinks up the whole coach long after they have devoured the last of it and licked the grease from their fingers. This bus ride was relatively easy, especially since I was deeply engaged in my reading materials and workshop preparation. I watched the rain turn to slush and then to snow as I got farther upstate and farther from New York City.
It’s always a bit of a shock to settle somewhere outside of this concrete jungle, it takes some adjustment. But after a few hours or an evening I forget to be hard and protected like I must be in this constantly attacking city, and I loosen up and relax, I start putting some roots down and feeling the real soil underneath my feet, I actually interact with the gal who made my morning bagel sandwich and the waiter at the restaurant and the person at the gas station who helped me with directions.
That started happening in Ithaca and Syracuse. I laughed easier, was more willing to make eye contact, albeit brief, with strangers, and more likely to say hello or interact. Unlike New York, where we keep our hands, arms, legs, and eye contact to ourselves, virtually ignoring anyone around us unless it’s someone we have to intentionally interact with, I can actually comment to strangers and they’ll have some verbal response, and I can make random observations from the window of the bus and actually start a conversation with those around me.
I’ve only been to each of those places once, so I can’t say I got a very good feel for what it’s like. Ithaca was covered in snow, muted, quiet, white, and sparkly, and I had a great time at the ice cream parlor, the famous vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant, and the local Ithaca Bakery.
When I returned to New York City, that was when the change was tangibly noticeable. I had to immediately harden up, put all those defenses back on, all that city armor that I was luxuriously allowed to remove without dire consequence while traveling to cities and towns that are smaller, closer to the ground. Even just getting off of the bus and navigating my way a few blocks to the subway I had to consciously remind myself to button up and gather my own energies to me again in order to block out the huge swirl of activity ever-present on Manhattan streets.
It’s exhausting, the constant changes of going from city to city, but it’s good to have some time on the open road to think. It allows me to get outside of this swirl of New York energy in ways that can be recharging and releasing. And when I reenter this crazy world, it reminds me of how much happens outside of it, and I don’t get quite as caught up in the elaborate goings-on here that make themselves seem so important.