Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Birmingham, AL: " Best Little Dangerous City in the South"

Arrested Development, 2015 Baton Rouge Blues Fest. Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Another nod of appreciation to Birmingham: The Magic Sub-Reddit for introducing me to one of Birmingham's nicknames: Best Little Dangerous City in the South.

I don't find any other references to this nickname, so it's likely the creator of this sub-Reddit coined the name. I like it!

If Neighborhood Scout is to be believed, why, Birmingham is actually safer than ........ one percent of US cities.

Heheheheh. I like how the site frames this stat. Reminds me of a lecture by Randy Pausch, who shared how Disney World employees are trained to focus on positive frames instead of negative ones. For example, instead of saying the park closes at 10:00, they say, "we're open until 10!"

Do I think crime is funny? Of course not.

What I find witty about this nickname is that it acknowledges that Birmingham has a problem and has good things to offer, so come on down and have fun with us!

I thought to dig on crime stats some, where we get 'em, how they get interpreted, etc., but instead I'll riff off the word "arrested" and go with Arrested Development, a band I saw perform at a Baton Rouge Blues Fest five years back. My photo is blurry, but mein gott, the performer in front has awesome muscular power!

Their video, Tennessee, which is a work of art in multiple layers:

Monday, July 27, 2020

Birmingham, AL: A Judgmental Map

I forget how I got here, but so glad I did: Birmingham: The Magic Sub-Reddit.

Among other whimsical, witty, and actually useful items, the forum introduced me to the Judgmental Map of Birmingham

Birmingham, ALby AnonymousCopr. 2014 Judgmental Maps. All Rights Reserved.
Judgmental map of Birmingham, Alabama. Credit: Judgmental Maps.

Of course, I immediately sought out my neighborhood on the map.

Of course, I'm not going to tell you where that is at this point, but I will say that I:
  1. Felt relieved that I hadn't moved to the "undiscovered bodies" neighborhood; and
  2. Raised an eyebrow and said to myself, "huh," when I saw the characterization of the one I did move to, with said "huh" signifying a long, "hmmmmm," about which even I'm not sure what I mean. 

My favorite designation is "angry retired engineers."

There's also a wicked judgmental map of Alabama, with sidebars on its neighbors:

Alabamaby AnonymousCopr. 2018 Judgmental Maps. All Rights Reserved.
Judgmental map of Alabama. Credit: Judgmental Maps.

My favorite Alabama designation: "Life's lost luggage."

And Huntsville:

Huntsville, ALby Jacob and John R.Copr. 2016 Jacob and John R. All Rights Reserved.
Judgmental map of Huntsville, Alabama. Credit: Judgmental Maps.

The Huntsville map has a Republicants neighborhood, a designation I had to look up.

In 2013, I shared some maps that purport to show how Americans view the world.

St. Louis has a judgmental map, but it is only sad. Kansas City has one, and it is only mean. Missouri, I'm glad I divorced ye.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Birmingham, AL: Streets, Avenues, Courts, Terraces, and ....

10th Court sidewalk marker. Birmingham, Alabama. July 2020.

What the bloody hell.

Naming conventions

I have lived in a place or two or ten, and Birmingham's street-naming conventions are the most confounding thus far.

For every one road name, there are often up to five, six, maybe seven? cousins of same. To wit:
  • 10th Street
  • 10th Avenue
  • 10th Court
  • 10th Place
  • 10th Alley
  • 10th Way

Left for a rainy day, perhaps: 10th Terrace, 10th Lane, and 10th Circle.

And the above does not even get into the South and North angles.

A Lifehacker article by Patrick Allan explains The Difference Between Streets, Boulevards, Avenues, and Other Roads.

This Vox video does the same, and I love that it gives a special shout-out to Tucson's street naming conventions at the very end:

The disappearing roads

Like some rivers that are visible for long stretches, but then go underground for a stretch, then re-surface somewhere else, so it is in Birmingham.

Take 16th Street Avenue South, for example. You turn off of Greensprings Highway (also known as Highway 149 until it does a 180; also known as Columbiana at a different point) onto 16th Avenue South, and you continue straight. You're still on 16th Avenue, yes?


Unbeknownst to you, only about 500 feet from your turn on to 16th Avenue South, you are on 10th COURT, for fuck's sake. Where did 16th Avenue South go?

Ohhhh, look. No. Don't look. Because there is no "look."  Because you can't see it from where you are. Because the only way to know where 16th Avenue South re-appears (assuming you know it does re-appear) is to search for and find it on a map.

Ah, there it is! To get there, you'll need to continue on 10th Court South to 10th Avenue South, turn right, and then you'll hit 16th Avenue South. If you actually want to get somewhere from there, then you'd better take a left because if you turn right, you will end up LITERALLY on a circle tour. Idlewood Circle. Which, if the roulette gods are with you, could roll you onto a nameless road in George Ward Park, through a real traffic circle, and then to 4th Street, and then to your 16th Avenue starting point.

Surprise! signs

Birmingham is the Forest City (in addition to the Magic City). Gorgeous. Crepe myrtles draped in semi-precious jewel blossoms that can make you weep at their beauty. Tall trees that bestow bounteous shade and oxygen and Edenish vibes upon all who pass by. And, and, and ... .they hide Very Important Signs, that tell you TURN HERE! at sudden, out-from-nowhere on-ramps to, for example, Highways 149 or 31.

How many Birmingham newbies shout "damn it!" as they zip past that hidden fast curve off to the right, going too fast to make the surprise turn, especially with another car riding up close and personal on their hind end, knowing they'll now have to turn around and try another pass. Well, this newbie has done that several times in the short span of time she's been here.

No signs

And how about important intersections without any signs? Not on any of the corners. Not above the traffic light.

Noncommittal signs

Or there are signs at an intersection. Two, even, to show both street names. Only, they are at an angle that makes you wonder: Which is the sign for the street I'm on?

I'll get things sorted eventually, as I did in:

For Tucson's numbered roads, I had to create a mnemonic hack for myself: Vowels are north/south (like odd-numbered highways) and consonants are east/west (like even-numbered highways). Therefore: numbered avenues (A = vowel) are north/south and numbered streets (S = consonant) are east/west.

At least now I know about Birmingham's little game of roads. That's something.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Birmingham, AL: My Home Sounds

Church bells

Endearingly, never on the hour, but close. Not this Birmingham bell tower, although the Hilltop bells are nice, too. As is the birdsong before the bells.

Emergency vehicle siren

I'm just around the corner from a fire station with an EMT crew. They get called several times a day.

Ambulance, Mescalero 4th of July Parade. Mescalero, New Mexico. July 2013.

Train horn

If I walk to the corner of the apartment complex campus, I can see the tracks.

The Birmingham train that goes by my place doesn't sound like this, but it's an excuse to replay my mix from Juarez Museum of the Revolution below:

And an El Paso train:

Sometimes the siren startles me, but most times these three sounds give my new surroundings an audio texture that pleases me.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Birmingham, AL: My New Place

A move-in party. Birmingham, Alabama. July 2020.

I moved into my new place.

I threw a modest party of one. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding #888: House Hunters 2: The Scam

For rent. Carrizozo, New Mexico. November 2012.

In perusing rental listings for my new place, I encountered a tantalizing offer in a central neighborhood. The posted rent - $550 - seemed too good to be true .......... yeah, a flag (see House Hunters 1).

You can see links here (I'm including several in case one or more goes bad):

  • Apartments dot com here.
  • Apartmentfinder dot com here.

Nevertheless, I shot out an inquiry to see if the inevitable "....but" was something I could live with.

About a week later, I received this:

Thank you for your interest in my apartment and sorry for my late response (I hope you are still looking for a home).
First of all I must tell you that I own the place and it's not a sublease. I imagine you searched several apartments so let me refresh your memory, mine it's located on 2717 Highland Ave S in Birmingham, it is a 1 bed, 1 bath, 855 sq. ft. apartment, parking and utilities included - $550.00 monthly rent for the entire place, available as we speak (a full description and all the photos can be seen on the website of the listing company, you can find it bellow in his original email).
My full name is Jenifer Erenner, you can call me Jen. I own several properties in the US and abroad. I'm a retired stockbroker by the way so money is not the issue here, I'm just looking for a serious tenant that will take care of the place so can you please tell me a few things about you and your way of life.
Anyway, check the attached photos and if you're good to go, just send me a reply and I will explain the rental process.

Thank you for your time,

I walked over to Google to see what might come up for Jenifer Erenner ("you can call me Jen").

Mmm hmmm.

Given the ubiquity of Erenner's name on long- and short-term rental sites, along with her (if there is a "her") accomplices, you'd think big data websites like apartments dot com, apartmentfinder dot com, and airbnb ("we take your security very seriously") would flex a little of their mighty muscles and rout the obvious scammers out.

I sincerely hope there is not a true Jenifer Erenner out there whose identity has been stolen.

There's likely at least one person reading this who is saying they'd never fall for such an obvious scheme. Don't you ever watch Survivor?

Smart people and "highly educated" people get taken in all the time. Especially in fraught times such as COVID.

Me, too.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Oxford, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 888: Motel 6: Peas, Outlets, Masks

Pea garden at Motel 6, Oxford (Anniston), Alabama. July 2020.

NOTE: My COVID-19 posts are all over the chronological map for now; I'll number them down the road. 

With a major mission accomplished - fingers crossed! - in Birmingham on Friday afternoon, I celebrated with one of these options:
  1. Alcoholic beverage
  2. A motel in Birmingham instead of my original plan, which was to boondock at a lovely Alabama rest area
  3. Venture to another Alabama town and stay in a motel there

Yes! Option #3! Go to Oxford, Alabama, for a change of scenery, pace, and focus.

The Oxford-Anniston Motel 6 offered a reasonable rate, so that's where I went.

Given that I departed Birmingham (Vestavia Hills) on a Friday evening at almost 5:00 p.m., it was easy and even pleasant to enter the highway system and zoom on my way northeast.

Outlet situation, Motel 6. Oxford (Anniston), Alabama. July 2020.

The Motel 6

Someone has a little sweet pea garden on the back side of the motel! Unexpected and charming.

Ohhhhhh, the outlet situation in my room! Where does one plug in one's phone charger? On the right side of the bed? Nooooo. On the left side of the bed? Nooo. On the wall adjacent to the bed? Nooooo. Well, jeez.

Ah, there is an outlet on the bed opposite the bed, far, far, far away.

Thank you, baby deity, for:
  • My long travel experience, hence the possession of a longish power strip with a longish cord; and
  • The happy coincidence that I'd bought a six-foot long device charger just a few weeks ago. 
As I write this post on a table top next to my bed, I am also grateful that my laptop cord is long.

Because I have what I need to make the situation work, I can only laugh. I mean, really. Who doesn't have outlets by a motel bed AFTER you've remodeled the room?!


I could see the tall, blue Walmart sign from my motel, and knew it was just the place for me to rassle up a dinner.

Whereas I've found the Motel 6s along my June and July travels to practice safe protocols for office interactions, the same can't be said for the communities they are in.

Sure, I saw folks wearing masks in the Oxford Walmart, but so many without! And of those with masks, so many who wear them as theater rather than for actual safety. Masks below nostrils, masks that cover only the chin, masks that are so loose they are like curtains billowing in a breeze, masks made of the flimsiest of transparent, lingerie-like material.

I observe this and I .... well, I just observe and receive it as reality.

To say anything to any random stranger, in any kind of best, kind, gentle tone of voice, is like trying to point out that someone said something wrong on the internet.

The only leverage I have is to wear my mask, to wear it properly, to maintain physical distances, and therefore provide some protection for myself and also offer visual peer support for others who wear  masks.

But goddamn. I feel for the cashiers who are exposed to mask-less customers all day.

Protection supplies

As always when I'm in a store, I look for:
  • Hand sanitizer (that doesn't cost an extortionate rate)
  • Surface disinfectant wipes
  • And, more recently: Disinfectant spray
The Oxford Walmart had no wipes and no spray. It did have a supply of Suave hand sanitizer that was overpriced at $3 for 8 ounces, but which I was willing to pay.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding #888: House Hunters 1: Flag Waving

Sharing of the salt in the communal kitchen, Casa de los Amigos, Mexico City. November 2018.

Over my lifetime, I've had a few communal-living experiences. Each had its ups and downs. For the most part, the "downs" have made for amusing stories.

Like that time, as a college freshman, when I walked into the unlocked communal bathroom at the quasi-university-related house, much to the surprise of the peeing-in-progress university professor (the house 'advisor'), who, upon being so startled, swiveled to the right, whilst still holding his spraying penis, intending to recover his modesty, at which he succeeded, but at the expense of watering the wall next to the toilet.

In Tucson, I spent six weeks in a communal house, which had its ups and downs, leading to a not-amusing-at-all theatrical climax on my moving-out day.

Since my Tucson departure, thanks in large part to COVID, I found myself relying far more on motel stays than on ChezP sleeps. Each week that passed in a Motel 6, glottal moans and vibrating bones from my frugal Swiss ancestors pleaded with me to stop this spending madness.

To escape the motel-go-round, I sought a one-month rental somewhere in Birmingham. Ooh, not many options. A couple of extended stay hotel operations were at capacity.

I even considered reconciling (begrudgingly) with Airbnb, but the pickings were few and the rates were well beyond my means, probably due to COVID.

I did, however, find one possible candidate. The rent was more than I could sustain for more than a month, but with a month's breathing space, I could find just the right place for my time in Birmingham. 

I contacted the house owner - who rented out several of her bedrooms - and we made an appointment for me to visit her house.

I said on the call: "I'll be wearing a mask when I come." I assumed she'd be reassured by that, right? Before she allowed a complete stranger inside her air space - and which her current renters also shared? Yeah, well.

The owner - let's call her Melinda - gave me a heads-up about her steep driveway and how her neighbors got cranky when the house residents parked in front of their houses, so would I be sure to use that steep driveway? And that she knew when she saw my masked presence at her threshold it would remind her to put on her own mask.

You know that bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when God appears in the sky and intones something to the knights below? This one:

After that first contact with Melinda, the skies above opened a bit to reveal a pale gold light with a circle of shimmering flags. They waved ever so gently.

I drove waaaaaaaaay out to a subdivision that I guess is still kind of Birminghamish.

There may be 20 streets in Melinda's subdivision, all with the same name, but with different suffixes: Street, Lane, Drive, Way, Terrace, Court, Avenue, Circle, Point, Overlook, Peak, Summit, Valley, Jump-off, Abyss, etc.

The subdivision boasts many, many cul de sacs, which were all the shit 20 years ago.

Finally, I arrived at Melinda's cul de sac and saw the driveway.

And this is where those soft-focus flags above crisped up and I heard the first snap of cloth.

I had assumed that the driveway climbed up steeply, thus was unprepared to discover a driveway that is flat for a bit, but then you see only the empty air in front of you because the concrete plummets so precipitously that you are pushing out on faith - like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy must step out onto nothingness in that act of faith.

Unlike Indy, evidently, I'm agnostic, and I said to myself, "No, no, no, no, Mzuri. You will not do this." I backed out and found the one spot in the cul de sac that wasn't in front of a driveway or mailbox.

While I walked up to Melinda's front door, I wondered if I could live with that driveway for a month.

I rang the doorbell, masked, and Melinda opened up, unmasked. She saw me, and said, "Oh! Right, I'll go get my mask!" Throughout my visit, she messed with her mask, up and down, stretching it out, letting it return to her face, saying that it was hard for her to wear a mask for health reasons.

The room I'd have: Unremarkable. A ceiling fan, which is always nice. No lock for the door. Unfortunate. I'd tested the internet speed down in the living room before I even looked at the room, because that was a deal-breaker. I tested it again in the bedroom. Super fast internet.

I would share a Jack and Jill bath with one of the housemates. Ew. Not the sharing (though at the price Melinda was asking despite the house's location and ridiculous driveway, I should have had my own bath). It was the dirtiness of the toilet that made me say ew. I envisioned a future when I'd have to choose between two roles: Nagging Mom or Martyr Mom, who is the one who cleans the toilet so she can have a clean one.

Melinda's dog tends to poop in the house - "because he's a rescue" - and so housemates need to be careful to close doors. Because sweetie likes to visit all the rooms.

One refrigerator for, I don't know, five or six adults. I've been there before; the Tucson house had food hoarders. Back in the day at the communal house for university students, a housemate ATE MY TUNA! when I was so poor that I could only afford saltines and tuna for lunch every day.

A really nice screened-in porch, but that's "kind of for the woman who rents the room with a door that opens directly onto that porch" (even though there's a door that also opens onto that porch from the community porch), but "she's gone so often that I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you  ...."

"Let me show you something in the newest housemate's room - he hasn't even moved in yet, he's so new." I said I didn't feel comfortable entering someone else's room - "Oh, I'm sure he won't mind." Yeah, no. I am not going to enter a housemate's room without their express permission even if they haven't quite moved in yet. Because, for one: It's not my room. Because, for two: I sure as heck don't want you to come into my room because you're "sure I won't mind."

The requested rent is $675 per month plus shared utilities. I asked Melinda about the usual cost of the shared utilities - oh, she said blithely, "about $100 per person." Say what????

And the cost to move in? $40 or so for a background check and one month's deposit (because she's got some very nice things in her house; expensive things). Cash or money order. Today. (But she's got 30 days after you leave to return the security deposit. Even though she can see readily if there's any reason to keep some of it, as she lives right there.)

By this point, those flags in the sky were whipping so sharply that they would cut flesh.


Sidebar notes:
  • Prospective landlords are always surprised when I ask what kind of documentation about their backgrounds are they willing to give me? May I see your driver's license? May I do a background check on you? Because trust works both ways when one is living in the same house. Right?
  • Prospective landlords such as Melinda (and the ones in Tucson and El Paso) have a right rosy view of what their house is worth to prospective renters, not to mention their design aesthetics. 
  • However, I have learned that renters are presumed untrustworthy, as evidenced not only by some of the absurdities that prospective renters experience, but how companies charge renters more for their services than homeowners.

If you think this post comes across as a little rant-y, I'd agree with you.

Generally, if I go look at a place, it's with detachment. Will the place work for me at a price I can afford? Yes, no, maybe?

But in this case, I felt flummoxed by Melinda's normalization of a dog that poops anywhere it pleases (including space I'm paying for), of carelessness about her housemates' (and visitors') health with her mask antics, and the disrespect for her renters' personal spaces.

And she seemed so oblivious about her behaviors.

Apparently she Pushed a Button. Or maybe my experience with her was simply the last straw of an accumulation of such absurdities by the Tucson and El Paso landlords.

To tell you the truth, though, my experience wasn't so much disturbing as it was sitcom-worthy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Stuff: Goodbye Khakis


Goodbye khaki pants that I never loved but wore so many times.
Goodbye khaki pants that I never loved but wore so many times.

Is there one word that describes this: something you dislike but you keep using again and again and again and again because you don't have something to replace it with yet and you can't justify releasing it because it is still in good condition? 

If there is such a word, then I could write this post in one sentence:

I finally pitched my [insert special word] pants somewhere between Jackson, Mississippi, and Birmingham, Alabama, because their deterioration had finally allowed me to do so without unsettling the bones of my Swiss Mennonite forebears.

Goodbye khaki pants that I never loved but wore so many times.
Goodbye khaki pants that I never loved but wore so many times.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Birmingham, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 888: Landing and Time Travel

Lunch at Red Sea Restaurant. Birmingham, Alabama. July 2020.

NOTE: My COVID-19 posts are all over the chronological map for now; I'll number them down the road. 

I landed in Birmingham on Sunday, just before lunch time. I had no idea where I'd be sleeping that night, other than it'd be a place with good internet so I could resume work the next day.

When I research new cities, I look for certain little things that perk me up in a place, and which also serve as markers for a city's demographic and cultural life. One of these markers is the existence of an Ethiopian restaurant. (Tucson has four Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants.) If a city has an Ethiopian restaurant, I infer two desirable characteristics:
  1. There is at least a small habesha community in the city, which suggests the presence of a larger international community (from additional countries); and
  2. There is a large-enough community of non-Ethiopian diners who know about, appreciate, and keep afloat the Ethiopian restaurant, which suggests at least a fair number of residents with broad tastes in life's offerings.

I'd learned there was an Ethiopian restaurant in Birmingham, and that seemed as good a place as any to serve as my google map destination, rather than just "Birmingham."

The universe is a whimsical place. How else can one explain that the Red Sea Restaurant has two menus: Ethiopian and ... Cajun(Creole)!

Dining in

It was actually possible to dine in on my landing day, and I did so. This was risk-taking behavior, and I ain't gonna try to sugarcoat that. I did take measures to mitigate some risk by wearing a mask before and after my meal and washing my hands carefully before and after my meal. The staff also wore masks. At any given moment, there were fewer than five people in the dining and counter space.

Still. I acknowledge the risk.

The chefs

The Ethiopian chef is Gini, and her hometown, it excited me to learn, is Harar. Oh, wild and crazy Harar, how I loved thee.

OK, now get this: The Cajun (and I always add the name Creole when I say it to myself or others because to only recognize one cuisine's parent and not the other, that is playing a role in disappearing a cultural heritage) chef is from .......... Ghana.

I love this.

Because the birthplace of gumbo is West Africa, a Ghanaian Cajun/Creole chef is poetic. Does it matter that the chef has never been to South Louisiana (and to New Orleans only once, if I recall correctly)? No. At least he thinks not. He has the confidence of a chemist (in one of his previous lives) and a cook in the skills he learned from a Cajun/Creole chef.

Time and place travel

The juxtaposition of an Ethiopian and Cajun/Creole menu enchanted me! To be in Birmingham - my present - and eat at a place that references two of my past lives - a bright omen! 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Eutaw, AL: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 888: My First Love, No Fireworks

The view from Chez P, Love's Truck Stop. Eutaw, Alabama. July 2020.

NOTE: My COVID-19 posts are all over the chronological map for now; I'll number them down the road. 

I slept at a truck stop for the first time.
It was Love's.
It was the 4th of July (aka Independence Day, All Countries Matter Day, and All July Matters Day.) There was a full moon.
The earth did not move under my feet.
I neither saw nor felt fireworks.

But I slept well, comfortably, and safely.

I did buy almost a tank of gas for a higher price than I could have found elsewhere, and I did spend about $7 for chunked cantaloupe, several peeled tangerines, and hard-boiled eggs.

Love's staff were friendly and masked. There was a plastic shield between staff and customers at the registers.

The restroom was very clean.

If I'd wanted to shower, I could have, for $12. This doesn't seem all that unreasonable, as apparently, once I'm in there showering, I can take as long as I want, and apparently, have plenty of room, and very clean surroundings.

There was a massive parking lot for trucks behind Love's. This lot allegedly included an area designated for RVs, but I couldn't find it. I was glad I could overnight in a space that I'd describe as in the store's front campus, but on the side border of the front.

The view from Chez P, Love's Truck Stop. Eutaw, Alabama. July 2020.

Notes on my Chez P amenities: Air conditioning

At an Arkansas rest area several weeks back (en route from Missouri to Texas), I thought, ooh! I'll run my a/c all night for lovely, safe, interior comfort!

But ohhhhh. I couldn't lock the doors with my key fob while I was inside AND the car power was on. And being the only overnight occupant at this rest area, I sure didn't feel comfortable sleeping alone with my doors unlocked.

I did some research on how to lock the doors when the power was on, and I learned:
  1. No, you can't do that. 
  2. Yes, you can, but [mumble, mumble, some technical explanation that sounded hard]. 
So, while at Love's, I gave this situation Much Deep Thought because it was hot and muggy outside, and although I like my two window screen stockings, they are great for keeping out insects, but terrible at letting in a breeze.

The Deep Thought made me wonder if I could reach over to the driver's seat from my back-seat bed and manually push down the lock button. I executed on same. And it worked! Well, to tell you the truth, I don't know 100% that it worked, but I heard the sound of all doors locking. And I found that I could not open my back door.

Do I know for a fact that someone on the outside of my car cannot open any of the doors? No, I do not. Because I was not about to ask a Love's stranger to help me test this.

Nevertheless, because I was in a very public place with lots of light, I decided to take a risk. I let the a/c run ALL NIGHT. And I was comfortable! In fact, it was grand!

I consumed 50 "miles" of gas to run the a/c, which translated to less than $3 in gas for the night.

Notes on my Chez P amenities: Toilet

When I first installed (heh) my toilet in the well behind the driver's seat, I set it up so I faced the window behind the driver's seat.

The night before my Love's tryst, at the Arkansas Rest Area near Greenville, Mississippi, I had changed the toilet orientation so that my rear (heh) faced the window behind the driver's seat. Such a simple change, but it made the approach logistics from my bed so much easier, and I seemed to have more foot space. A second night in this new arrangement confirmed its superiority over the original set-up.

However ......... I need a better solution (get it?) to rinse out the toilet's urinal and funnel to eliminate lingering urine odors after I've disposed of the liquid. Neither vinegar nor bleach alone do the trick. I suspect I need a good water shower via a large-ish spray bottle, then a funnel wipe-down with a disinfectant wipe, and then finish with a vinegar or bleach splash.

Notes on my Chez P amenities: Curtains

The curtains I finally figured out and installed just before the Arizona shutdown (before it re-opened prematurely) - working as designed.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Flashback to 2017: El Paso: The Tumblewords Project: Introduction and Smeltertown

My Saturday habit while I lived in El Paso. The original post here.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

El Paso: The Tumblewords Project: Introduction and Smeltertown

The Tumblewords Project didn't hit my radar until June. A pity.  Because with my very first mid-day Saturday attendance at the weekly writing group, I lamented silently, "Why didn't I discover this before?!"

It only got my attention the first time because of the magic words Smeltertown. Where did I even see the phrase in connection with Tumblewords? The library? Social media? An upcoming-events email? No idea.

I first learned about Smeltertown when I took the guided hike up Mt Cristo Rey. Then I saw an announcement about a photographer with an exhibit of her photos at Smeltertown, but because of a scheduling conflict, I couldn't go. So when I saw the third reference to Smeltertown, I had to check it out.

This article isn't about Smeltertown; it's about the Tumblewords Project. But the leader for this particular Saturday's meeting - Carolyn Rhea Drapes - took us, in our imagination, to the Smeltertown of her youth. Like: 
  • "La Smelta."
  • "Every morning abuela would hang her canary cages on the branches of the cottonwood tree." 
  • Tiny houses as big as an efficiency apartment. 
  • Some people had electric, water and gas. 
  • For a long time, had communal toilets. 
  • "Everything felt caked in sulfur." 
  •  "Those yellow smells had no chance of entering [abuela's] kitchen."


Tumblewords describes its process thus:
The format involves preliminary announcements, the presenter speaking for maybe ten minutes, writing on the spot, and then going around the room and each participant reading aloud. We like to have three rounds of writing and reading aloud, but depending on the number of participants who show up any one workshop, there may only be time for two rounds or even one. Presenters are given free range to present however or whatever they want, as long as the primary amount of time is allocated to writing and reading aloud. Some presenters read the works of writers they revere, show slides of their art work or the art of others, bring in visual art, play or perform music, or read their own work. The participants are free to write in whatever form or on whatever topic they choose, notwithstanding the topic of presentation.

Some rules:
  • You write and you share what you write. 
  • No whining about the quality of your work; at most you can say: "This is shit." But then you gotta read it aloud anyway. 
  • No critiques.

The goal is to write. Simple as that. 

Donna Snyder is the founder and matriarch of the group - it's a remarkable feat to have nurtured a writing group since its birth in 1995. A succinct synopsis about Donna: " ... a lawyer by profession, an activist by inclination and a poet by compulsion, has an extensive list of published work to her credit ... "

I always feel welcomed and supported at the workshops.

And holy moly, there is huge talent in that library room every Saturday!


Getting back to this day's work, as led by Carolyn Rhea Drapes: 

From Carolyn's sharing about Smeltertown, the canaries in the cottonwood tree pricked my senses.

In two writing sprints, I created the following (since edited): 

First sprint:

In the time of the killing in the lushness, the richness of Rwanda, did the birds continue to sing? 

Is it true that the foreign tamarisks crowd and kill the native cottonwoods, usurping their space and water like they say they do? 

Of what use is this man-made border over which the giant Christ looks with his arms outstretched, which separates sisters, but which birds and tamarisks and cottonwoods flaunt with impunity?
Mt. Cristo Rey, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

Of what use is this wall that hems El Paso, choked like the Rio Grande, cobbled and parched? 

Does the big Christ not shake his head in bemusement when he looks at the rusty wall that separates the sisters he made? 

US border between El Paso and Juarez. November 2016.

Some of abuela's canaries died and they were not replaced. 


Portal, Arizona. March 2013.

Second sprint: 

Outside the red library in Portal, New Mexico, bird feeders hang from leafy cottonwoods. Books in a cart enjoy the air outside. It is fine to sit in the shade of the cottonwoods and listen to the birds sing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Build 7: Trail Building

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. January 2013.

People who undertake long journeys fascinate and inspire me. I've shared some folks' long journeys here and below:
  1. Long Journeys: Movies, Part 1
  2. Long Journeys: Movies, Part 2
  3. Icy Journeys
  4. Movies: Famous American Trails
  5. Cycling Across America
  6. Rootless: Long Walk: "This Wild Call From Inside Me"
  7. Long Journeys: The River ... And a Sidebar on Journeywomen
  8. Long Journeys: Tracks, About a Woman's Walk Across Western Australia

Why do trails inspire me so? Well, there's the wanderlust, of course, and the curiosity. What lies over there, wherever "over there" is.

But more than that, there is the pushing of boundaries, overcoming fear, solving problems, and surviving hardships. The accomplishment.

In the context of this year's word, my focus today is on building a trail.

An important age-related milestone looms.

Building a sustainable, real-life trail requires the designer and builder to acknowledge the terrain, the surface composition, the climate, and how all of these interact with the trail user's (i.e., my) physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities now and in the future.

As you likely gathered from other Build posts this year, the age thing is on my mind.

I kinda have an idea of what I want my future aged life looks like.

But I'm thinking about, imagining, and designing what my trail will look like between the Rootless Here and the Rooted There.

If I visualize a long trail such as the Appalachian Trail, there are sections, each with different geographic and climate features. I can divvy up my through hike into sections, too:
  1. Money
  2. Health
  3. Relationships
  4. Service and activism
  5. Creative life
  6. Rootless goals I want to achieve

Imagining and designing these trail sections is a worthy endeavor for the rest of this year.

Castlewood State Park, Missouri. April 2018.