After New Orleans, my trip took a geographically illogical turn. While planning this thing, I faced a pretty serious caveat: an old friend was planning to get married on July 30th in South Jersey. So with 60 days to work with, I allowed myself some wonky choices in the sequence of cities I'm visiting. (The reason for timing my departure as I did is a longer story than I'll go into here.)
After a bit of date shuffling, I determined that it made the most sense to take care of the Southeast first, then head back up the Philly suburbs for the wedding. Then, as it turned out, the release party for Tan Lin and Danny Snelson's series of Seven Controlled Vocabularies spinoffs (for one of which I was an editor) fell the day before, in New York. So I rearranged some more and decided to show up. This meant I'd be traveling straight from New Orleans to New York City — in my case, a two-night, 36-hour journey.
So I walked to the Greyhound station from Jeremy's apartment in the French Quarter, and when I got there I knew I'd be riding the bus for the next two nights. I also knew that on a good day my laptop gets a whole 2.5 hours of battery life. But I signed myself up for this, and I don't even have anyone to commiserate with. So I just did it. I'd also slept on the bus on the way down to New Orleans, which means I ended up spending three nights in a row on the Greyhound. I read and listened to podcasts, and the time passed.
When I tried to transfer from bus to bus on Wednesday morning in Atlanta, however, the one I was supposed to catch was overbooked. I wasn't in line early enough, so I had to wait for the next ride — from 8 a.m. until 1:45 p.m. Pretty annoying, but at least the station had lockers I could use to stow my bags. I walked around the immediate neighborhood a bit, and found it to be densely populated with outgoing homeless people. The first one who approached me struck up a little conversation about where I'm from and what I'm doing, etc., and then held up a translucent little rock of crystal meth and asked if I'd buy it. Actually, to be more accurate, he asked if I'd give him some money and then smoke it with him. I excused myself from the conversation and kept walking. On the next block I ran across a guy who started a conversation by speaking French with me. Once he realized I couldn't keep up, he told me a sob story about moving to the U.S. from the Ivory Coast to play football for Pitt and then having visa trouble and ending up on the street, etc. etc. etc. I saw him again half an hour later, and he remembered my name.
I strolled downtown and looked around a little, then sat next to an urban clothing store and wiped my brow. They were playing 95.5 The Beat over a P.A. onto the sidewalk, so I listened for 15 minutes or so. A Ciara song came on in which the pitch-shifted intro reps ATL. It was 88 degrees and very humid, and I was one of the very few white people in sight. I walked into a check-cashing place to use the ATM (lower fees than convenience stores), and I listened to the woman at the counter talk for a little bit. Her accent was almost identical to André 3000's, which made me slightly giddy.
Anyhow — caught my bus, and no big deal. I got to New York at 11:30 a.m. the next day, and had the whole afternoon to kill. As I've done so many times before, I bracketed the spare hours for dumpling chasing with Matt Abess. We met up with Patrick Lovelace and caught the Long Island Railroad to Flushing Chinatown, where we hopped from place to place and ordered small quantities to share. Man oh man, I'm salivating just thinking of it. I believe Matt's favorites were the lamb and carrot dumplings at a place called Fu Run, though I was personally partial to their pork and sour cabbage offering. We also got some hand-drawn noodles at a spot in an underground complex of tiny restaurants, which were unspeakably banging.
At 5:00 we went to Danny's event at Printed Matter, which was fun. Got to see the fruit of some labor, and hung out with the New York gang for a bit: Eddie Hopely, Kareem Estefan, Steve Zultanski, Kristen Gallagher, Chris Alexander, Nada Gordon, et al. Also got to meet James Hoff for the first time, albeit briefly. Kenny and Charles showed up too.
And so it went, and so it went. Played pool with Patrick, Matt, and Phillip in K-Town for a few hours, and then slept. Headed to South Jersey in the morning, thinking of wedding bells. Picked up a new suit and ran errands for a few hours, one of which was getting a bushel of books from the Penn library for trip research. Then I got a haircut and shaved, and drove on over. The ceremony and reception were at a hall near my parents' house. I looked good.
I stayed a second night in New Jersey after the wedding, mainly because my list of future interviews has rather ballooned, and I wanted to spend another full day prepping with materials from the library. Having accomplished this, I watched dumb comedy entertainment in the evening and relaxed my aching back as much as possible.
Before leaving for Boston yesterday afternoon, I re-packed everything. With a couple weeks of experience behind me, I decided to cut down the weight I'm carrying by about half. I'm sure I will thank myself for this. All my gear currently fits into a single backpack and a small canvas satchel from the Army-Navy surplus store. I'm immensely pleased with this setup, as I no longer have to pull or carry anything with my hands. On the other hand, I'm straying deeper into the cliché of the traveling ascetic — just as I set out on the narrow road to the deep north.
Last night I slept on a bed provided Tanya, one of Phillip's BU friends who lives in Brookline. In a couple hours I'm catching the T to Cambridge and interviewing Stephen Burt, a recording I look forward to with a piquant mix of curiosity and trepidation.
Will update soon —!