Monday, April 28, 2008

Cannot believe...

that this is the start of week four. This month has gone by sooooooo quickly like when the train is cruising through the middle of the night...

It's Monday, therefore I am in St. Louis (was it wrong of me to enter the town in my Red Sox cap and sweatshirt?...just thought of how in Denver I totally forgot to get a picture of Coors Field as the cab went by it.) My very pleasant (remarkable as he is going through finals right now) host Josh dropped me at a coffee shop in The Loop, a great quirky neighborhood with mostly local businesses lining it's main drag. Meshuggah's coffee shop apparently has the best bagel in town, and I would have tested that out, but they were actually out of bagels this morning! Still, it was a great place to camp out today. Like the St. Mark's Coffeehouse in Denver, it is a place where many folks may hang for the day doing their work or merely watching the day go by. It was the perfect place to watch the weather change as it went from sunny, to rainy to hail and back to sunny within an hour. I almost felt like I was in MA again.
In the meantime, I also got to kill a couple of hours talking to Asif, who, when I asked him if he had ever been asked "What are you?" he replied "No, but I have asked it a lot" Turns out he is studying cultural identity in America, particularly through the lense of religion. At one point, when in areas that were particularly white and conservative Christian, he asked folks if they thought themselves white, Christian or American...and they could only choose one. The majority of them chose American first. While he believes that a potential cultural clash in inevitable in the future, he does think that we have a unique society here where our identity is automatically pluralized. Save for the Native Americans, we are either a mish mash of our ancestors or (country of origin)-American. He himself was born in Pakistan, grew up in the states, and has been back and forth and back and back so, perhaps a bit like travel writer Bill Bryson, he has had the chance to have a distinctly different view of both his home countries.

Another gentleman, Daniel, with whom I spoke in the Central West End neighborhood, generally gets "Where are you from?" to which he responds "Missouri" as, while his parents are from the Phillipines, he grew up here (and lived in New York for 13 years...yes we talked apartments). He noticed that in smaller towns he might get "oh you're accent is so good! where are you from?" but in larger cities he does not get asked that.

And I had it confirmed: the main question you get asked in St. Louis is "what high school did you go to?" as the surrounding neighborhoods are small and distinctive enough to be able to define who ya are.

Lastly, before I forget, before I even got the fair ciy of St. Louis, I had a fabulous time talking to Amtrak cafe girl Dorcea and fellow passenger Krista.

As I started making my back east, I started making a tradition of getting a chocolate chip cookie and milk as a snack on the train (my husband and I like cookies and milk, what can I say?) and after I ordered my treat from the cafe girl, she whipped back around and asked "Excuse me, but what is your nationality? I mean, you got me all confused here!" I laughed and told her about my show. And SHE laughed out loud ("for REAL?") and then told me her own story. An older woman came up to her and started really staring at her...and then asked "Miss, are you all black?" Dorcea was rather surprised by such a question and was like "Um, are you all white?" and then replied that yes, she was black. The woman persisted: "Are you sure, because you look like you might be a little Hispanic?" Dorcea said "Um, I think I would know-" and again assured the woman that she was not Hispanic. The woman then explained how she was "taking a remedial Spanish class" and was looking for folks to practice with. Well, not seconds after she said that, a Latino gentleman went by them. The woman caught him at the stairs and asked him about his back ground, if he had a family, if they spoke Spanish and whether or not she could practice with them. The gentleman agreed and if anyone knows who he is, and sees him, give him a medal as this woman proceeded to follow him around and plunked down at each meal with him and his family to practice for TWO DAYS. You all also have to meet Dorcea and have her tell you the story herself as it is truly hysterical when she tells it.
While we were talking, fellow passenger Krista came up to order a cocktail. She asked about the show and said that she herself is Italian and Irish "like 1/18th Irish, but look at me! Look at me!" and she gestured to her very fair and freckled Irish looking skin. AND she had reddish hair and hazel eyes. She does indeed look Irish. "I am like allergic to the sun. I went to Florida and could only go to the beach when it was overcast..."
Further proof that when this topic comes up, there's always a conversation.

Peace --Alex

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More than BBQ in Kansas City...

Kansas City, like Buffalo, is pretty much a layover for me and I was not really expecting to interview anyone here. (my real plan was to find WiFi and then a place to nap...and, of course, some BBQ as I have a feeling the jazz musicians are not up this early). But, it turns out Virgil, an Amtrak employee who helped store my bags for the day, turned out to be a character...and he had time to kill to chat.
After I told him about my reasons for traveling, he talked to me about when he applied for a job with Amtrak...and for jobs period. When he gets to that part of the form that asks you to check race, he's always checked "other" and then written in "Human". He believes this may have actually cost him a few jobs, but when he interviewed with Amtrak, he was asked about it. "Well, I only know two races: the human race and the rat race..." This "cracked them up" and next thing you know, he was hired and he's been with Amtrak ever since.

In the words of Michael Franti, "Every soul has a right to be bloomin', stay human"

Peace --Alex

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I do like it when I am proven wrong...

at least about a town that I think may be a complete wash for me.

When I came into Trinidad, CO, looked at the construction box that is the "rail passenger" office (it is an unmanned station) and looked across the street at the overpass that is under construction (Trinidad is having its own Big Dig!), and remembered that there is no taxi service here, I wondered about whether or not I would really see much here, despite the history offered up on the website.

I was at least met at the train station by Kenny, a staff member at the Trinidad Motor Inn where I was staying and he got me to the hotel.

The closest food that was open is a Sonic down the street, therefore I gave into my first fast food of the trip (save for a sandwich I got on the train...once). I happened to get there just after an entire unit of traveling young Airmen stopped there and gave the staff there more business than they probably see in a week in one fell swoop. What little I saw of the rest of the town appeared to be dead already, hence I took my fried fat back to the motel and prepared to mope.

Then, after check-out this morning, I decided to take a walk down main street...and soon I saw shops, cafes, jewelry I have to avoid buying no matter how pretty it is: let's just face it, the southwest with its unique design and generally wholesale prices is a dangerous place for an accessory addict like me...but I have remained good. (therefore I will not talk about the sleeping beauty turquoise necklace with silver and turquoise heart pendant and matching earrings or the white buffalo turquoise necklace I saw many pretty things..."my preeeeeeciousssss") While I can't say that I have met major interview material here, I did have a lovely conversation at New Heritage Antiques with the owner, Merle. She has lived all over the west despite starting in rural Pennsylvania. As we spoke, I brought up the topic of my show and she talked about how she herself is a "kind of mongrel...anyone who could swim, walk, crawl here from Europe is in my family...somewhere". Most folks in her family are fair and blue or green eyed (she herself has rather brilliant green eyes), "but there have been some brown eyes that have popped up here and there". While she may not out right ask "What are you?", she does indeed ask "Where are you from?" as it's a "conversation starter and the only way you learn...". She loves talking to people and should you ever find yourself here, I highly recommend you drop in on her shop and have a chat. And ask her how during some time in NYC, she ended up riding the elevator with Sting - arm over her shoulder - every morning. And if you were at all involved with the 2001 production of Bat Boy the Musical, send her a note as she saw it and just looooooooved it.

All right, time to prepare for Kansas City and St. Louis...

Peace --Alex

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Some of the best stuff never recorded...

Once because I forgot, once because I was not allowed and once because we were just talking in the car and the idea of having the tape recorder ready was far away from my mind.

This is what Albuquerque has done to me.

Albuquerque, New Mexico seems, to me at least, to be the epitome of the southwest (yes, I am sure folks will beg to differ). The Native American culture here pretty much overwhelms everything else, even the Mexican and surely the Caucasian and it is one of the reasons I wanted to come here as it is so rare to really meet or discuss this facet of America on the east coast. Yes, there are tribes in my area, but the culture is not so prominent as it is here.

I started at the Frontier Restaurant, a college (the University of New Mexico is across the street) as well as general greasy spoon has a well ridden feel and has the foot traffic my ever gracious hostess Kahleetah promised. I managed to talk to a couple of girls there- Julia and Maria - both of whom have mixed heritage and get asked the question a lot, when it is not just assumed that they are Mexican (an assumption that bothers both of them after awhile). Julia though finds the question a compliment as it means "that they find you exotic looking or something". Both do not really celebrate their roots here, but have said that when they go to various family gatherings, it's all about the Latin traditions. Maria talked about how, growing up a military brat, roots were not so much an issue, but when she and her family go to Florida, where the rest of her Ecuadorian father lives "it's like a typical Spanish family". They do not see it so much as a regional question, but do find one's response to it rather particular here as, with the Native American and Mexican culture so strong here, it is a different situation than in the rest of the country.
After having a good stroll up Center street, full of quirky shops and cafes, I stopped in at The Flying Stars cafe. I wasn't sure I was going to get anywhere here, but I ended up sitting next to two sisters who let me interrupt their meal (I didn't know they had ordered food! I swear!) to chat with them. They asked not to be recorded but man did they give me insight to the area and I scribbled down as much info as I could.
They are black and Pueblo and have been mistaken for everything from Mexican to Ghanian: "claimed by many and subscribed to none" they say. They don't mind the curiousity, but do not like to be claimed by a group who then may turn on them if they claim their own heritage. I remember a woman at a neighborhood store who looked at me, positively shocked when I did not respond to her in Spanish, looking at me as if she were saying "what do you MEAN your parents did not teach you Spanish?", so I know this feeling. They also worry about not having enough role models for women like them as many may see their being black, Native American AND women as three strikes against them, but the sisters themselves see this as something to take pride in and feel other women in the same situation should do the same. "It may be the southwest but it's still the south" one of them remarked as they discussed the racism they still encounter here. One, a college professor, was recently stopped at a mall and accused of being a gang member because of how she looked. They also have to worry about the racism encountered amidst their own cultures as one side will degrade the other or think that one is more important than the other. It made me think of a conversation I overheard on the A train once where a girl very loudly protested to her friend after he had asked her not only "what are you?" but "What are you most?": "What do you mean, what I am most? What the hell is that supposed to mean? I'm an American and yeah I'm mixed but what the hell has that got to do with anything?" etc. These ladies and I sat talking about race and gender issues for nearly an hour and when I thanked them for taking the time to talk with me, they said "Well, you know, even if you hadn't shown up, we'd have probably had this conversation anyway. We talk about this all the time..."
Lastly, my fabulous hostess Kahleetah has her own "what are you?" with her name. She works in commercial real estate and tends to deal with people on the phone first. She can develop a whole relationship over the phone and then, when they meet her, the general reaction is surprise. "I'm 100% Swedish on my mom's side and kinda white trash Oklahoman on the other, but because my Dad's from Oklahoma, he wanted to give me a traditional (Native American) name from there's this 'Wait! You're Kahleetah? I thought you were black!' or 'I pictured you as..,' etc etc" Kahleetah also brought up the trying time her stepson had with a school project. He and his classmates were asked to bring in a dish traditional with their heritage. Well, this turned out to be an agonizing assignment as 1) he didn't know what to choose - mom's side? Dad's side? (and this can be complicated within blended families) and 2) there are so many things to choose from as neither side has just one heritage (as so few families do these days). He ended up choosing his stepmom's favorite New Year's dish of cheese fondue. It's good, it's simple and as Kahleetah remarked, does have the "social aspect" of bringing people together around a shared pot. I have a new respect for fondue.
I sadly am missing the Gathering of Nations here in Albuquerque as the events start today not long before my train leaves town, but I do believe that I got a good taste of the Southwest here and this fab city.

More ramblings from the road later and may I thank you for your patience with all typos, spelling errors and left out words.

Peace all --Alex

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Standin' on the corner...

Yes, I stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona first thing this morning. (for those who do not know the signifigance, listen to the Eagles's song "Take it Easy".) I got off the train and in my search for breakfast, I found "the corner" and took pictures. And then I camped out at coffee shop The Seattle Grind, enjoying a fantastically rich cinnamon roll, hot chocolate and conversation with the girl behind the counter. Brianna has never been asked "what are you?" nor has she asked the question. She's never really thought about it and is used to the diversity in her small town.
As I prepared to call a cab to the Super 8 where I am staying, I found myself chatting with Peggy, the Hopi representative of Winslow. She says she's still figuring out what she is. For her the question goes beyond just background; it is more about a constant struggle for Native Americans: finding the balance between traditions (such as how she would not let me record her or take a picture as it is against tribal tradition) and retaining culture, and finding ways to move some of her more tradition-oriented people into "urbanization" and dealing better with other cultures. She studied at UC Berkeley a while back and it was her first time seeing so many different people in the same place and working together...and she liked it. Promoting and encouraging Hopi culture comes first - her brother is a museum director and helped with the new Smithsonian Native American Museum - but there is also promoting education. Though she believes it's harder now with this particular administration as there is even less trust in the government now than there previously was. She can't wait for the election stuff to be over and, like everyone else, for change.
Anna, another coffee shop employee, does get asked "what are you?" all the time, when folks do not just assume she is Mexican. She is Navajo and German and is stupidly pretty. "It's a pretty diverse area here..." so it's more curiosity and not so much an issue. And then there's the woman who runs the "Take It Easy" gift shop opposite "the corner" who said to me "'What are you?' I don't even know what you mean! I mean, I guess I'd just say that I was American. I mean, that's what I am. Or maybe Scottish as that is what I am descended from...".

And now to fun facts about Winslow:
*The last of the Harvey houses, the La Posada hotel is located here.
*80% of the Native American population lives in this area. There are reservations on each side of the town, primarily Hopi and Navajo.
*We all know about "the corner" and there is a even a park being built in honor of it.
*The Turquoise Room at the La Posada has some of the best food I have ever had. The combination of Native American and Mexican flavors is truly nothing I've had before and boy howdy does the chef know how to work with them. Sweet corn and black bean soup with a chipotle cream drizzle, Pika bread (the flakiness of filo dough without the butter and made with blue corn, flower, seeds and baked flat on a hot rock with ashes) and Hopi hummous (made primarily with sunflower and other seeds), their Killer Vegetable Platter that includes sweet corn pudding, a Goblano pepper stuffed with three cheeses (sorry vegan friends), polenta, black beans, grilled corn on the cob with spices, mixed veggies, tofu and tomatillo sauce...and then there was the quince pie with mesquite scone and vanilla bean gelato that threw me over the edge and my stomach committed the absolute felony of not allowing me to finish it. Go to Winslow, stand on the corner, then go to the Turquoise Room, ask for Ali to be your server and eat ridiculously well.

Tomorrow, it's Albuquerque and something close to the end of week 3...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Madhatters and mystery aunts...

Yesterday was a trip. That's really the best way to describe it.

After arriving in LA the other morning, I was greeted by the parking angels who allowed me a space right across the street from my host Dave's (brother and in-law of our friends Steve and Lil), building. Steve and Lil came by later for lunch and we hit the last original Bob's Big Boy in the city. The Beatles apparently used to head over there during west coast recording sessions. I can also say that I have seen the Brady Bunch house (sadly...tacky...but for sale!). After more walk around I got to have dinner with one of my first New York friends, Christina where we caught up and should you be in Chicago at the end of May, GO SEE HER in the show "A Kid From Brooklyn: the Danny Kaye story". She plays Eve Arden as well as many other women in Kaye's life and will definitely be worth seeing. She also happened to alert me to the LA habit of looking up at people because you never know if you are going to see somebody famous. We saw no famous faces during dinner, but it was kind of funny to see folks just sort of automatically looking around at anything that moved juuuuust in case.

Then, there was yesterday.

It started out at the Magnolia Blvd Starbucks where apparently all the actors in North Hollywood (aka NoHo) hang out. I was able to talk to people nearly straight away starting with stagehand and writer Lewon (sp?) who regularly gets asked "What are you?" and thinks it is definitely an LA thing as, like New York, it's just part of the landscape: so many different types of people how can one NOT be curious. Barista Wendy says that she mainly gets asked the question when she speaks Spanish as folks don't see her as Latina despite her Mexican heritage. Alexandra gets asked "What are you?" all the time, and gets people guessing as well: "everything but the real thing." She and Wendy also believe that it is something unique and cool about America. "There's no distinctive face of America," Wendy said. We just are.

Also at this Starbucks is writer and king of Magnolia Blvd.: K. Elliot. This man is just a character. According to the locals, he knows "everybody" and keeps track of the up and comers in the area. He thinks race in America is "a stupid ass thing..." as people have been getting together for too long for anyone to be pure anything. His lawyer friend Charles, who is in discrimination law, believes he will be out of business by for sexual discrimination..."that will always be around...".

After two green tea lattes and hours of talking, mostly with Elliot I must admit, I headed out to La Verne to try to meet the woman I call my "mystery aunt". I call her this as, when I was growing up, we'd get Christmas cards from her every year with a small check and we'd have to write thank you notes, every year, and no matter how many times my sister and I asked for a photo or a letter, we never got one. My father had no photos of her that I know of and did not talk much about his family (he was older and really had no one left by the time my sister and I came around). Since my father passed away, I've been trying to meet her and we have kept missing each other, so rather than call ahead, I wrote a letter before I left for the trip and then decided to just drop in on her and see if she was there. I got to her house...and I rang the bell...and...nothing. I rang it again...and a third time...nothing. I was preparing to write a note for her to leave at the door and then turn around and head back to LA, when I heard a shuffling from the back of the house. An older gentleman helping an older woman with some groceries...the gentleman saw me and motioned for the lady to turn and see that she had a visitor. The tiny, hunched lady turned as best she could with her cane, and when I saw her face, there was no doubt that this was my aunt. "Oh look at you! I know who you are." She said gleefully. "You are the spitting image of your daddy. Come on in!"

Next thing I know, I am in her living room and we are talking and hours go by. I am hearing her life story about how she was with the Coast Guard Auxiliary for over 30 years (it all started with a bad fishing trip). I also learn about how her 52 years with Lockheed started by working for Douglas as a "Rosie the Riveter" during WWII (when those jobs dried up after the war, she did factory sewing, but as soon as she could get back to building airplanes, she was on it). She invites me to stay overnight as she has the guest room and even a pair of new flanel pajamas. She makes me a TV dinner and despite the worry of my contacts drying and sticking to my retinas, I stay and we end up talking til midnight. I thought I got the gift of gab just from my is obviously a family trait.
In the midst of the conversation, we did get to family photos. I have never seen pictures of my father as a child, nor of my grandparents on his side. It was amazing to see these people for the first time. There are only two pictures of my grandfather, and one group photo that I believe has some cousins from the de Suze side, but once again I was left thinking, these de Suze's are hard to find :p
Nell, my aunt, gets up at 5am every morning as that was her shift when she worked, hence I found myself up at the same time...but able to fall back asleep til 7am. I had a last chat with her over coffee cake and tea and then helped her get ready for her excursion to San Bernardino (she gets her nails done there). The gentleman I saw her with yesterday, a quiet man named Clyde, dropped over by a little after 8 to drive her. He lives next door and drives her around and keeps an eye on her. (thank you Clyde). While she went off to her nail appointment, I went to the local Office Depot and started making copies of of these people who were, sorry to be cliche, but it's best now, missing pieces of my puzzle. They are of different shades but the same..spunk. As I looked at these photos and listened to Nell, I realized something. I come from spunk. I've got determined and strong women and determined and charismatic men on both sides of my family. As Nell talked about how her mother was determined to make her a nurse, yet she wanted to work on airplanes, I thought of my mother who, rather than go to secretarial school, was determined to work in communications. Both sets of grandparents set out to leave their lives in Denmark and Grenada respectively and came to the US, the only children in their families to so do, in order to try something new...try out the American Dream, or rather, continue it.
I may not have seen the Hollywood sign or the Chinese Theatre; or danced at the Brown Derby or bought flip flops at Venice Beach, but I met my mystery aunt and she is mystery no more...just my aunt...a piece of my puzzle that I finally found and could fit into place.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Patriots weekend musings...

I have to say I am almost annoyed by the insane beauty outside my window here on the train as it is highly distracting. How is a person supposed to get any work done when if I merely turn my head, I am made thoroughly agog by the wonder of nature? As the scenery changed from the desert plains, rolling hills and scrub brush of Nevada into the towering pines and deep green valleys of the America River Gorge passing into California, I could not help but be left hunting for my camera rather than my laptop. It's either that or I end up just gazing out the window dumbstruck (and surely drooling). It's bad enough that I am the type to be distracted by bright and shiny objects; well this is well beyond something pretty in a shop window, on a person (or a person), or on the street.

With about an hour and a half before we roll into Sacramento, I have managed to pull out the laptop and am doing my best to ignore the deep cut and jagged red clay on either side of the tracks, as well as the numerous trees. Spring has surely sprung here as trees are in full leaf reminding me that by the time I get back to NYC, trees should be in full bloom in Ft. Tryon park and across the street from my building at Inwood Hill Park. I can also hear my husband (who I miss desperately by the way...countin' the days, baby) telling me about Santa Barbara, CA. Basically, on any good spring day in New York, he will suddenly say "It's like this every day in Santa Barbara, honey, every day..." And of course, I am left to remind him how I would miss the seasons...but I'll tell you, I am so ready for Spring, particularly after seeing snow in Omaha and Salt Lake, and while looking down the snow covered mountain above Donner Lake (yes, named after the doomed Donner Party). Good thing I am a New England girl and know how to work with the layers.

It is Patriot's Day weekend in Massachusetts and again, I will be missing the festivities...what? you don't know about Patriot's Day? When I was a kid, and we got April 19th off from school (before they started doing the three day weekend thing), I thought it was a national holiday. "What do you mean the rest of the country does not celebrate the start of the American Revolutionary War leading to our independence as a nation?" I would find myself asking. Growing up in Concord, where they still reennact the battle at the Old North Bridge (after the dawn reennactment of the battle on Lexington Green), as well as have a parade I marched in as a Girl Scout and later as a member of the 4-H Fife and Drum corps, the idea that this was relegated only to our town and state boggled my mind. This was the Shot Heard Round The World! The start of the War for Independence! This was how our country began! AND it was a day off from school, I mean, come on! Who are these philistines who won't celebrate the start of America? People not from Concord who are not completely surrounded by the history. I still think it should be a national holiday, but until then, should you come into Boston anytime for the marathon, take the commuter rail out to Concord and see the parade and the reenactments and get some history along with the exercise.

In the meantime, it is amazing at all that I can think of that as I sit on the train from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. I now know that my husband was not kidding. SB, for the brief time I spent there primarily waiting for the train after overnight service from Sacramento, looks more like Greece or Monaco with it's houses in the hills and palm trees, than some place in our own country. Since leaving there, we've been cruising along the coast: the ocean to my right and the lush green hills and farms to my left. The Surfliner is more of a commuter train to me and it's tighter than the California Zephyr, but I'll tell you, the view is worth it as we pass through Carpenteria et al...I feel a bit like I am not allowed to think about living in such an area as not only is it most likely far out of our price range but...I am a New Englander. I do not understand this west coast thing. This...sunny and warm all the time thing. The west coast lush greeness...and a DRY HEAT. There are patches we pass by that look more like footage from Vietnam than the state of California. It makes me think of this piece I heard on NPR. There were two women who were headed to LA to pitch their screenplay. Initially, they hate it. They hate the people, the waiting in Hollywood, it's too darn cheery. Then, they get to pitch their script, it goes well, and they head back to New York...where it is raining...and chilly...and suddenly they "so miss LA! Oh my God it was so nice out there!" I fear this may happen to me. ..but then again, I will be spending time on the freeway, where after a few minutes in traffic I may end up crying for the subway.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

It's Patriot's Day back east...

But here in Sacramento, it's just beautiful. Spring has truly sprung with all the trees out in full leaf and palm. It is in the 70's and breezy and I am reminded that one does not rush around here. You sit, you stroll, you linger, hang back. It's niiiiiiice.

My hostess, Sheila, lives just outside the city in a lovely neighborhood called Fair Oaks. She took me 'round the neighborhood which is literally in full flower (who DOESN'T have a garden here?) and then dropped me off by the main coffee shop this morning so I could take care of my interviewing...and eat a GIGANTIC cinnamon bun.

Here I am, trying to not eat horrible and/or fattening things on this trip and well, I gave that up last night. I have in-laws in the area who were kind enough to have us over for dinner last night. We feasted on baked potatoes and serious meatloaf (stuffed with cheese!!). I knew then that I was going to eat this weekend.

Hence the bagel this morning, the cinnamon bun, the positively lovely hand-done falafel made at the the Sunflower Drive-In restaurant (all vegetarian and FRESH) and the soon to be grilled New York steaks....

In between all this, I did actually talk to people.

At the cafe, as the sugar kicked in from the cinnamon bun, I enjoyed a conversation with three generations of women (well, two really as the young granddaughter did not join in the discussion at the time :p). The daughter gets asked "what are you" fairly frequently "and nobody ever guesses right either," she said. I admit it...I wanted to know, and did everything in my power not to go there, but her mother suddenly said, "You want to guess?", chuckling. I did give it a shot saying possibly Latina, due to her olive-toned skin and dark eyes, but I was wrong. She is French and Chinese. She does not get annoyed when asked, and has not been one to celebrate her heritage. It's more that she knows her roots, but it's not all that important. Her daughter, a fair-skinned, blue-eyed, brown-haired little girl (so adorable!) has not hint of her mother's Asian heritage. The grandmother remarked "Do you think people are going to look at her and know that she is a quarter Chinese?" I can honestly say "no". The ladies had a friend with them who, as coming from a military family, believes she has "a drop of a little bit of everything" in her. She does not know all her roots, but finds that uniquely American. She had been approached by a gentleman at a bar who asked her the question. He apparently was quite taken aback by the fact that she did not seem to know her roots. He was of 100% Portuguese descent, was very proud of that fact and was passing on the traditions to his family that had been passed on to him. "Aren't you proud of your roots?" he had asked, and she just replied that she was proud to be American and otherwise, did not really know her roots...and what's so wrong with that? She also said that, after living all over the country growing up, she was never asked "What are you?" until she came to California, hence she does believe that it may be a regional issue.
At the Sunflower restaurant, I ran into some students (okay, student age...I could be wrong on the student thing...I am old enough now to look at certain people and just automatically think 'Oh my God! they're so YOUNG!') and asked them about their experiences with the questions and one of them, Max, told me how when he was in 8th grade, just after 2001 (!!!), he was living in Kentucky. A little girl came up to him and asked him "Are you a terrorist?" "Well, I figured I was the darkest person in the neighborhood at the time and she just thought I looked [Arabic]". Since then, he's been asked a few times but doesn't see it as a big deal and wonders why everybody else seems to make such a big deal about it.

A common ponderance for sure.

All right, gotta get ready for Los Angeles. But I gotta say, Fair Oaks is a mighty fair place and I definitely would not mind coming back.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Got Picon?

It is a dangerous thing. A Basque beverage served in the Basque restaurants here and is no doubt an acquired taste.

Winnemucca, NV not only is the only town in Nevada (remember it is Nevada not Nevahda), named after a Native American (Chief Winnemucca) but also is a major Basque community. Apparently, back in the 1800's the Basque and their sheep made it out here and decided this was the place to raise and herd sheep. A good number of the folk here have Basque ancestry. And they are proud of it. This is a tight community. But, as for having actually been asked "What are you?" the folks I spoke to, never have been.
One gentleman said that he looked too Scottish (and he did) so no one ever asked him about it, but when he told folks that he was half Basque and came from a family of sheepherders, it usually was a surprise: "You're what?".
A shopowner I spoke to had also never been asked but she was of Basque decent and would gladly tell you if asked. She does not speak the language as her ancestors were so proud and intent to be Americans that they learned English and never went back. There appear to only be a handful of folks who still speak the language, but there are a number of Basque restaurants here and a festival in June.

In the end, I can now honestly say that I have had sweetbreads (one of my dad's favorite entrees)...I actually liked them(!) And should you come to Winnemucca, you cannot leave without trying the lamb...and you must have a Picon!

Tomorrow we move on to Sacramento...and the adventure continues!

Peace --Alex

My Favorite Mormon

Ahhhh...Salt Lake City. I arrived two hours late into town but my hostess, Pat (a childhood friend of my mother-in-law) was up when Wes, the ever personable Haitian/Mormon cab driver pulled up in her driveway. I was sent straight away to bed and within minutes I was out cold.

Speaking of gracious people, my friend Doug (surely you know Doug Shapiro!), made a last minute call to a friend of his with whom he worked many moons ago, in order to procure me an interview. As genealogy and heritage are so important in the Mormon faith, I felt I had to interview a Mormon, and what better place than Salt Lake City!

And I could not have had a better Mormon with whom to speak than John. He is thoughtful and witty and explained how heritage is important so that they know who they are through their families and their history, therefore, through sharing and joining this information and history they are more like one big family. Like with folks on the east coast who like to claim Mayflower roots, Mormons like to be able to claim pioneer roots, but, of course, it's hard for all to claim as such as not all are descended from such beginnings. John has never been asked "What are you?" (more likely he's been asked "What ward are you?"), but if someone did, he could tell you his and his wife's history for some generations back and be proud of it.

Of course, with all this talk of genealogy, and being so close to the Family History Library, how could I not stroll on over there and do some searching myself?

An Elder talked me through the process and then various other Elders (all SO helpful...there is no denying just how nice they all are) helped me get to the International microfilm and I started looking through a very long reel of records from 1860's Grenada. Thanks to a new cousin in New Jersey, I have seen a family tree of my paternal grandmother's side, and found a few records on the Neckles side of the family in the microfilm, but as for the de Suze side, these folks are hard to find. I spent about two hours looking through a reel of tiny, tight script and not one de Suze to be found. My husband says that on his Dad's side, he is descended from a group of Irish horse thieves who changed their name, so Bratcher isn't even really the family name...I had a moment where I wondered the same about the de Suze's but I do know, thanks to another potential cousin, the names of my great-grandparents, and that they are indeed named de Suze, so, I figure they got to be in the record somewhere. If I'd had more time, I may have actually found them. As I sat in front of my microfilm machine, surrounded by others with papers, notes, pencils and hopes of doing the same thing, I can understand the addiction of the search and after even seeing the name of a Neckles relative, understand the elation of finding someone; some connection. While I had to leave without seeing my name amidst the squished yet elegantly written handwritten records, I did, at least, leave with a better idea of how to search and may eventually find that history yet :)

Fun facts about Salt Lake City:
*Like the majority of streets in Boston lead to the Boston Common, the streets in SLC lead out from the Temple.

*There is a very wide street designed by Brigham Young. It was made so wide so that a wagon with a team of oxen could turn with ease.

*Utah is named after the Ute tribe.

*The mountains are EVERYWHERE! It really is just amazing to turn out of a driveway and there before you, purple mountains majesty for sure. And they are the mountains where the SLC Olympics were held as well as the Sundance Film Festival over in Park City.

All right, time to finish this and get going to Winnemucca!

P.S. Pat and her husband Clete's son is name Brian. Brian is on his second tour in Iraq. He has 89 days to go. Please send your prayers, thoughts, get-home-safe vibes, etc to Brian and his family.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On the way to Salt Lake...

After a lovely stop in Denver (Thank you again Rosie and Doc and family for having me and to the owner of St. Mark's coffe shop for letting me pretty much camp out there), I am now on the train to Salt Lake City. This train ride began around 8:30am and will continue til about 11pm, but a) I am not driving b) I am not flying and c) I am not on the bus. The train really is the best way to do this kind of long run as one can spread out, sleep if you need to, eat (thank you Starbucks in Denver for providing healthy and inexpensive food for the day) and one can also camp out in the Lounge car. The lounge car of the California Zephyr is really an ideal spot to watch the passing scenery, particularly that of the vast west we east coasters forget exists unless watching a movie until just seeing it for ourselves. Seeing the natural beauty of the Rockies and the carved canyons of red rock that jut and flow down to the Colorado river's edge is truly awe inspiring. It is a reminder that a) we still have these natural wonders in our midst and b) we need to make sure they remain. There is a song by India Arie called "Now I know that God is real" talking about seeing various beautiful things in nature I am left to think about that song as I pass through these hills. I am also left to think about how every New Yorker needs to see this. Not just Westchester, not just upstate, not just New England. They need to see real wide open spaces (if I may steal the chorus of the eponymous Dixie Chick song). I am talking serious vastness here and barely a road in the midst of it all. Like when driving back to Reno from Burning Man, I was amazed by similar scenery and I had to remind myself to keep my eye on the road, even though I was the only one on it for the majority of the drive. Being in New York as long as I have, I get nervous when a place is too unpopulated. A subway platform and a street is always better to me if there a lot of people there. But I also like space. Supermarkets and apartment buildings and restaurants can be cramped and tight and we get used to doing as much as we can with as little space as possible. But out here, it is reminder that there is space and that every once in awhile, should we come out here, we can open our eyes, our lungs, and our minds to open skies and air. You can feel muscles relax, shoulders loosen after months or years of holding them in so you can all fit on the subway. And one can do this even while on the train, without getting off, just by looking out at the view and rather than sitting at your desk, or in a car dealing with traffic, or looking through a tiny window over somebody in a big metal tube with recirculated air, you can sit in the open room of the lounge car, sit back, talk to your fellow passengers, share the moment and go ahhhhhh, this is nice.

...until you are stuck in the middle of this lovely vast open nowhere, and there is a signal issue. I suddenly was flashed back to moments on the MTA when the train stops and after what feels like just a bit too long, you hear the announcement that there is a faulty signal up ahead and that it is being investigated at this time and "we will be moving shortly, so please be patient". Well, we just had that here. A faulty signal had to be switched by hand...and when that did not work, I am not quite sure what was worked out, (particularly as once the signal thing was dealt with we then had to deal with which train went first - I figure someone won a match of rock, paper scissors) but we are moving again. And then, of course, everybody started talking and complaining about it. Ahhh, a little bit of home.

Peace --Alex

Monday, April 14, 2008

From corn to horses and hipsters...

I am in Bronco country but I have been surrounded by hipsters most of the afternoon as I sit in a rather fabulous coffee shop called St. Marks on 17th street. As I look around the cafe and see nearly EVERYONE with a laptop of some sort out in front of them with their coffee, I realize that I, too, am one of them. I have become one of the laptop people. St. Mark's is excellent though as decent music is played over the sound system and while loud, somehow does not drown out conversation. The Brazilian manager working the counter is smart, flip and makes a mean iced chai. I gotta say, the sandwiches and baked goods are also fierce.

It also definitely has a city feel. While still a bit more laid back than New York, there is an edgier feel here and when I went up to a couple of people for a potential interview, it was the first time I was met with a true sense of suspicion. They agreed to talk but as they had other places to go, it was not for very long, but I still got a tale about while being and looking black, the woman has been stopped at the airport for looking Arabic...and even had someone shout at her from their car "Go back to your own country!" She does get asked "What are you?" frequently yet only is annoyed by it when it happens at the airport...for obvious reasons.

I also spoke briefly to a waitress at Pete's kitchen who gets the question frequently, mainly due to her name - Sinai. It is Japanese and she is Japanese, Spanish, Irish and German (will have to check the tape about the German). She doesn't mind it, and doesn't think it defines her as she doesn't "celebrate" her culture. She's just Sinai.

The Brazilian owner/manager here says they do not ask "what are you?" in Brazil, as it is just assumed, you are Brazilian. He has been and is regularly asked "What are you?" due to his accent and his hats from Canada (he has friends there). I asked him if he minded it, and he said, "No...sometimes I mess around with them and I say that I am from Brazil, Kansas. And they look at me like, 'Oh I thought you were from Brazil!'" Gotta love it.

In the meantime, I am going to try to get a visit to the Denver art museum which is apparently near by and then hopefully get a disco nap as it is hitting me now that I got here just before 7am this morning (we left Omaha late and got here EARLY!)

I also have to say "Hello!" to the Red Hat ladies I met at the train station last night who are on their way out to a convention in Los Angeles. They were a trip chatting and laughing and all wearing their various red hats - happily over fifty (I believe the majority in this group were over 60) and enjoying life. Rock on, ladies, rock on.

Peace --Alex

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cornhusker country...

Omaha-ans..that's the official name for residents of Omaha, so say my host Ryan and his roommate Tony, both of whom are natives of this fine city and who've been charming hosts. I also have to say that they are prime examples of healthy corn-fed boys as they are both strapping and over six feet tall.
I interviewed them today as we took a break from walking nearly the entire expanse of the Omaha Zoo which is apparently the number two zoo in the country. I asked them if they had been asked the question and while Ryan has gotten it as an American in Europe, Tony gets it all the time as he happens to be Italian, Mexican and black. "People are curious, and it's no big deal..." he said. The two of them also deal with the stereotypes of being from Nebraska "You live on a farm? You have a John Deere?" Ryan has actually told folks that sure, he goes cow tipping and rides around in his truck with a twelve pack of beer, "gun next to me...we shoot clay pigeons..." Ryan is actually far from the stereotype as an amateur aviator and business owner. Tony is also working on being a professional pilot and both, with their laid back manner and speech could seem more like surfers than farmers; but you do get the feel from these guys that they are hard working, decent people: another yet different part of the Midwestern stereotype. (Okay, okay...Ryan may actually have a John Deere as his business is landscaping.) Overall, the "what are you?" here appears to be more regional than ethnic, and at least with these guys, they'd rather not label things anyway...though they do take issue with Ohio being considered Midwest.

Onward to Denver!

Musings on the way to Omaha...

Just remember...

"Who cares if the glass is half full or half empty as long as there is still a bottle in the cabinet." Bill in Ottumwa

I am not sure how much of the material I got today can be used in my show but boy howdy did I enjoy talking to Bill, owner of O'town Books, Kim, weekend worker at the adjacent antique store, and Brandy, bartender, waitress and cook at Nick and Joie's. Just funny, earthy warm people with whom I chatted and laughed the afternoon away.

The general consensus from the folks that I spoke to in Ottumwa is that they can't wait to leave it. It's apparently full of rednecks (got that feel at the Tom Tom Tap last night), and a number of Mexicans who came to work at the Exel (Cargill) meatpacking plant. There were a couple of Mexicans at the Tom Tom last night but they sat on their own, hence you get the feel that they are not fully integrated into the society really and I did not see any of them while walking around...but then again, I hardly saw anyone while walking around today.
Part of the problem may have been that, while it was a gorgeous spring day out east, today in Ottumwa it was in the 30's and there was a threat of snow. The sky merely remained grey the brief time I was out with the exception of some passing flakes that began to flit around as I made my way back to the train station. At the same time, it may have just been the town. Kim at the at Antiques store told me that it's usually slow enough for her to read a book between customers. I think two people wandered around during the time I was there visiting which had to be for over an hour. Kim is a teacher a couple of towns over and going to grad school while working in Ottumwa a couple of Saturdays a month. She is smart and funny and we had a great time talking about the town.
Bill, when not selling books and toys, whittles figures of Santa, Iowa Bulldogs, frogs and gnomes which are for sale as well. He was whittling the entire time were talking and is a total character. He claims to be a "Missouri half-breed" as that is where his mother is from and Missouri is close enough to Ottumwa for it to matter there. Bill also claims that the Missouri connection is the redneck connection (have to see how the Missourans feel about that :p).
He worked for Amtrak for years and enjoyed the diverse population of employees and does feel that Ottumwans do not see enough of that, but he does love the place and would "rather be raped in prison" than move to Des Moines.
Brandy is a bartender, cook and waitress at Nick and Joie's Irish Pub and Italian restaurant. It is a beautiful pub with antique 1880's oak and walnut woodwork that was actually shipped from a closed down bar in New York and reconstructed on site. Brandy agrees that there are rednecks there and not many folks travel (her own sister, she says, lives in a tiny town further north and when traveling to North Dakota with Brandy thought bags would be checked at the border...of the state), but she's been there her whole life and plans on staying.
The "what are you?" factor is not really an issue in Ottumwa, so while I can't say that I got that much material there, I still enjoyed my visit and hope to chat with these folks again :)

Friday, April 11, 2008


(to the tune of "Tradition" from Fiddler on The Roof)

OttumWA! Ottumwa! Ottumwa! OttumWAAAA! Ottumwa! Ottumwa!

And yet it is not quite that thrilling.

All right, first I have to acknowledge my snobby New Englander moment right when I got off the train. When one gets off the train in Ottumwa, Iowa, you not only enter the train station, but also the Wapello County Historical Museum. There is large glass case holding a collection of black and white photos depiciting items and more photos that are in the museum. There is also a sign that reads "See what it was like to live 50 to 150 years ago!" I read that and think "You youngins..."
Hotel Ottumwa is walking distance from the train (as is everything else by the look of it), and is a lovely old fashioned hotel, save for the Tom Tom bar which has large screen TV's and serves cocktails such as Papoos Juice, Kochese Cocoa, Tomahawk Tea and don't forget the Bloody Pocahontas (made with Clamato!). I'm not sure Chief Wapello (who, according to the menu, started giving away parcels of land to the government in the 1840's) would approve.
The bar is definitely a neighborhood place and I definitely got the feeling that they could tell right away that I was not from there. The bartender eventually warmed up to me and I figured others might as the night wore on, but well, looks like getting an interview here might be more of a challenge.
I did speak to Scott though who, after confirming that it was obvious that I was not from here ("you have all your teeth...and their WHITE."), while talking about his days in North Dakota and St. Louis, mentioned that in St. Louis, the way folks ask "What are you?" is by asking "What high school did you go to?". Apparently the high school defines neighborhood, class, race and ethnicity all at once. I will be in St. Louis closer to the end of this run so I will look into confirming this.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I swear! Just been having some issues with uploading but they will be coming soon :) Also, I am not always good about taking them, but I got a good bunch in Chi-town yesterday and in Galesburg so I will post them when I can figure out how to soothe my cranky camera...

IN THE MEANTIME... I could not have had a better hostess than Sommer Austin during my all too brief stay in Chicago. When not temping and doing promotion work, she is a serious improver, working with the Playground Theatre and having recently graduated from the Improv Olympics program. She is charming, funny, and active coming up with numerous suggestions, helping me print up a sign and accompanying blurb in order to help attract interviewees in coffee shops et al and also just being a great guide of her neighborhood.
She and her boyfriend Andrew (also a lovely and smart person) also have an apartment that would make most New Yorkers cry...HUGE (7 rooms I believe?), spacious, great neighborhood and costs half of what a similar place would cost in NYC; it was a little painful and hard to leave. They live uptown in Chitown. kinda like Jeff and I live uptown in New York and do have to deal with folks who claim they "need a passport" to go that far north, but I'll tell you, Sommer and Andrew have it good in Andersonville as it is a very diverse neighborhood featuring a heavy Swedish contingent as well as Middle Eastern (Taste of Lebabnon rocks, by the way), Vietnemese, and Thai primarily. It was amusing to see looming over the Middle Eastern bakery, the water tower painted with the Swedish flag.
Andersonville also boasts one of the longest drags of local businesses in the country. There was ONE Starbucks, but no other chain stores or coffee shops for blocks, which for this New York resident, was something close to shocking after dealing with the ever growing proliferation of Duane Reades, Starbucks and other such chains. (Though admittedly, Inwood does have a handful of new local businesses; a trend I hope will continue :))
The day started as soon as I got off the train with heading uptown to dump my bags, clean up, finally check internet and make the plan to hit various coffee shops in the neighborhood.
We made our way to two coffee shops where my little sign reading "What Are You?" did not spark much attention...or rather, got a few odd looks at one coffee shop and the none at the other really. I did get a great interview out of Sommer, though, who talked to me about how she never had to deal with the question herself...until she dyed her hair red. Since then, she's been asked about her background weekly(!) We later met Rafael. He had walked into Coffee Chicago to kill time before going to the Blockbuster across the street and luckily agreed to kill some of that time talking to us. He grew up in Jamaica, Queens and then lived in Florida and was never asked "What are you?" until he came to Chicago. He claims it's due to the fact that in his old neighborhood, you were either Puerto Rican or Dominican so it wasn't a big deal. Later when he was in Miami, Florida the general feeling was "'well, you're not Cuban...'". But in Chicago, "they need to be sure. They need to put you in a category...and they like to guess here "Oh I thought you were 'this' or 'this'" He happens to be Dominican. Lastly, we met Big Al, bouncer at the Green Mill. The Green Mill is a FAB jazz club from the Capone days and Big Al is a stocky, cue-ball bald, handlebar moustachioed gentleman with a bear claw ("pinky of a brown ever seen a brown bear?")hanging around his neck. I asked him if he'd ever been asked the question and his first response was "Well, I'm Polak." Second generation American apparently, and he says he has been asked a few times, but it's no big deal to him.
After the gypsy jazz we saw, we headed over to the Improv Olympics building where you can see photos of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey among others as well as some pretty darn fierce improv. Andrew had told us that he had heard that playwright Tracy Letts might join improv icons TJ and Dave on stage tonight as he has been known to drop in, so reservations were quickly made. Even if Mr. Letts did not show, I was told that seeing TJ and Dave is generally a spiritual experience hence I was excited to go. And for $5, I did get to see them do some INSANE long form improv. Just amazing. They basically performed characters from a party that went awry. It was a great story told in an hour with full characters and a great random moment; it was funny, touching, real...and amazing to see these guys work so well together...amazing flow.

And then...I came to Galesburg.
Katie Rich, a funny and quirky improv pal of Sommer's who went to Knox College here said of Galesburg "there are more pigs than people". I haven't seen the pigs yet, but I haven't seen that many people either. When out last night, I went to Cherry St. as I had been told that's where the college students hang out - there are THREE colleges in this town. Three of the four bars I looked in on had two to eight people in them. McGillicuddy's, the last, was PACKED. Apparently, Thursday night is jazz night and all the young folk head there for it. There, I met Emily - a professor at Knox, and Lyndon, a local who gave me some great lines that I could not write down fast enough. He is black, but doesn't check that on forms as 1) he fears it may still keep him from a job in some places, and 2) he knows what he is. "I'm all black".

Besides being the home of Carl Sandburg, "The Old Main"-the last remaining site of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and Ronald Reagan trail (apparently he was born here, too), Galesburg also happens to be home to one of the largest train depots in the country. I can tell you, when at the motel, despite being assured the quiet around here, one can hear the trains going by regularly. And that happens all day long. Wherever you for the Gizmo - a Knox College cafe where the sounds of excited college chatter drowns out the train whistles. (I feel like such an old woman typing that).
Last night, as previously mentioned, I ended up at McGillicutty's, one of a handful of bars on Cherry Street. Compared to the other bars along this short drag, McGillicutty's looks like..well, the hip place that it is. It has an art deco feel with 1920's liqueur advertising, a large oak bar and a large open room full of high oak tables where folks can sit, sip their cocktails and watch the band play in a carved wood ensconced corner at the front of the place. Thursday night is jazz night and it's mainly students who play, but the occasional older pro may join them as did one phat trumpeter last night. While listening to the jazz, I enjoyed a $3.75 Guiness (!) and the conversation of Lyndon and later Emily and Greg as we discussed everything from my show to jazz, Jane Austen to feminism. Emily teaches at Knox college and recommended talking to her fellow English professor Gina Franco, a Chicana writer and poet who, as one of possibly two faculty of color, was made chair of the diversity committee mainly because she was, as Emily described her, "the resident brown person".
Of course, today turned out to be a busy day for Ms. Franco as she was running around to newly-accepted student events, but she managed to squeeze in some time to talk to me. She had some great insights about racial identity in academia, particularly at a small midwestern college that is TRYING to diversify their student body and faculty. And she also brought up that while being Latina, it is assumed that her literary focus would be on Latina issues, but she loves "the dead white poets" and would rather focus on her passion for their writing rather than be stuck in one genre.
Before speaking with Gina, I also happened to see three girls chatting at a table. I felt moved to talk to them as I figured at least two of them had been asked "What are you?" at some point. I was right. One student was Peruvian, the other Mexican German and French (though identifies as Mexican), and one adopted who does not know her roots yet. When I asked them if they had been asked "What are you?" Carmen and [ ] both nodded straight away. "Yes, all the time." Carmen, who grew up in a primarily white suburb of Chicago started getting the question early on, and like Rafael had mentioned, most people guess first and then finally ask her what she is. Then, when she says "Peruvian" she gets the "Peru? Where is that?" ahhhh...the sad state of geography in America.

I would have seen more of the sites in town, but I, of course landed in town during a stormy patch. I somehow, thankfully, was indoors during the downpours last night (eating dinner...speaking of dinner, I have to remember not to forget this rule when traveling across the midwest: do not eat the ethnic food. "Authentic Mexican" my a**...) There is supposed to be snow in Galesburg tomorrow and I fear that as Ottumwa is only two hours a way that I will deal with the same there, but next week is supposed to be lovely...should be lovely for Omaha and Denver...and Salt Lake City...and Winnemucca, NV...and and and...

the adventure continues...

Peace --Alex

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Single What? Female does America in 30 days...

It is amazing that this journey has begun. The first couple of days were a little rough as you will see in the following entries and this is my first day with internet since I left (YEE HA!), but overall, all is good and people have already been talking. Hopefully that shall continue as I make my way to the smaller towns. Below is what happened over the last couple of days and I assure you there will be more later...:) Peace --Alex

And so the journey has begun. The man saw me off at the Penn Station and I was on a train for what seemed like far too many hours, yet thanks to sleeping, texting and pleasant company, it felt shorter than some of the bus rides I've taken between NYC and Boston. I figured I'd keep Canada out of the show, but as I chatted with my seatmate, we eventually got to the topic of my journey and this is what she had to say:
"Well, you know in Toronto, it's multiculturalism and in the US it's "the melting pot" and I always liked that term. This nice mingling and mixing. But then I came to New York and I just felt like...well, it just seems so segregated, no? No, not segregated, that's the wrong word, but it seems like people...these people live here and...well, in Toronto, people just seem to mingle more..." I have felt since I moved to New York that the city has got to be the most mingled place in the world. But then there is the fact that there are indeed specific neighborhoods and people have been moving into these familiar places following or joining family and friends since before Ellis Island. But then, there is the subway...where everybody - class, race, ethnicity, etc - mingles like no other place I have seen.

Last night I somehow fit approximately a month's worth of stuff into two bags. It was not easy and did include a minor breakdown, but it all got done and here I am in Niagara Falls.
Why Niagara Falls? If you had not read previously, part of my cross country journey must be through Canada, so here I am just over the line. I haven't been to the Falls since I was about ten years old. I remember seeing the falls, hearing the rush of the water as it went over the edge, the sudden chill brought on by that rush of water and the positively abnormal amount of wax museums. Tonight, sadly, it was the same thing. The wonder of nature, the roar of the water and the abnormal amount of wax museums, fun houses, tacky shops and even a Hard Rock Niagara Falls (no I did not visit it...though I admit to being tempted). Otherwise, Niagara Falls, to me, had to be one the most depressing places I have ever seen. Beyond the Falls and the surrounding shops and hotels, it is a worn down town. You can practically hear the collective sigh of sagging buildings and peeling paint. It is a sad place and I admittedly will be glad to move on.

Tomorrow, I spend a few hours in Buffalo and then hit my first real stop: Chicago!

By the way, tonight, I type from the fab Hi Niagara Hostel. I am watching an episode of New Amsterdam. It's not that great a show but has a cute Danish actor in the lead and tonight's episode takes place at one of my favorite places in the world: Coney Island. Yes, Coney is kind of run down, too, but doesn't seem quite as sad as Niagara here.

In the meantime, be well and soon there will be more from the road.

It's Tuesday therefore it must be Buffalo...

As I type, I am not there yet. I am sitting at Niagara Falls on the US side where we are sitting for approximately another hour until we leave for Buffalo. There is hardly anyone on this train (I share my present car with three other people- two others were taken off the train for not having the right tickets or something), and yet...we wait.
The ticket guy just came over and told me that we would be departing in 55 minutes...I supposedly have an internet connection, but no signal...I may take this puppy outside and see what happens... IN THE MEANTIME...
As I seem to be able to make a Boston connection nearly anywhere...I went to breakfast this morning to Dad's Diner, a homey place around the corner from the hostel where the transit guys and police hang out and where one can get an English muffin with sausage egg and cheese homemade and a large chocolate milk for under $5. I also happened to notice amidst their slightly kitschy wall decor, a Boston Bruins flag...and then a team photo...and then a line of team photos and logos. I asked the manager who the Boston Bruins fan was and was told that the owner was a fan. One of the transit workers, an older gentleman who made me think of those guys you know have been doing that job for 20 years, told me how the farm team for the Bruins used to be in Niagara Falls and how a lot of locals had played for the team. Being an overall Boston sports fan, I had to admit to the guys that sadly, I did not know enough about hockey: that my sports loyalties started with baseball and hockey was at the bottom. "The little fish" the transit guy said and laughed. New York is where I live and love, but, you know, I love that dirty water and Boston always really will be my home :p.
Buffalo today is going to be a challenge as the train to Chicago leaves from Buffalo-Depew. Buffalo Depew is the airport...hopefully a shuttle will be avaiable to get me in and out of Buffalo central as I would prefer not to kill ten hours at the airport if I do not have to. Call me crazy...

New rule...when killing time in Buffalo, know the pubic transportation schedule better, but also remember that not all cities stay open past 6pm. I learned that the hard way yesterday as Buffalo - or at least the downtown area I was in, happens to roll the streets up by about 6pm or earlier (a gentleman with whom I spoke at the train station who has lived in Buffalo for over 20 years confirmed this for me). Though I have to say Elmwood Avenue seems to be a happening drag and should I ever get back to Buffalo, I hope to pay it more of a visit than being driven by it.

In the meantime, I have survived a night on the train sans sleeper car and am waiting ever so patiently to get into Chicago to really start this thing. AND to have internet. You do not realize how much you miss it, until you don't have it for a couple of days. (Not a hot spot to be found in the part of Buffalo I was in yesterday! there wasn't even a Starbucks. I was actually ready to shout out for the first time ever "My Kingdom for a Starbucks!") But I'll tell you, time off the computer means time to talk to people and I have to thank David Bennet - a staunch liberal former Kansan, Chantelle - the native Californian who I hope gets a luxurious spa day when she gets back there after traveling to North Bay, Canada to see her boyfriend; and still has three days to go before getting home; and she's traveling with her very active 7 year old son, and Kyle - a musical theatre major who was waiting to pick up friends last night and with whom I was drop kicked into small world land as he went to high school and remains close friends with a former co-worker of mine. They all entertained me while waiting for the train.

...we are so close to Chicago...Close enough to nearly have had internet...can't wait!

and now I do! here we are..blogging away. The lovely Sommer Austin is my hostess and has made her neighborhood and apartment open to well as her Mac, WiFi, tea, etc. She is also going to be interviewed this afternoon for the show woo hoo! In the meantime, I hope all is well with you all and in the words of Bartles and James, thank you for your support.