Vacation/photos wrap-up pt. 3 — New York, games and a Brooklyn wedding

Okay, this isn’t a link to something else but my long overdue take on my New York — and to be strictly accurate, New Jersey! — visit that concluded my vacation. The photo sets I’m drawing on can be found here and here.

'Barf means snow'

So I didn’t expect to see Barf shortly after arriving in Jersey City, where my friends Eve and Efrem live not too far from a handy PATH stop. I certainly didn’t expect to see powdered Barf at that. Allegedly ‘barf’ means snow in Uzbekistan, but I can’t help but wonder if someone’s pulling the wool over someone else’s eyes somewhere in the direction of Tashkent or the like. (“No, really, Yuri, this’ll go over brilliantly.”)

Relaxing in the morning

Back to New York — it’s been a few years since I’ve had a chance to visit, so going there was long overdue on my part, really. It had also been almost exactly five years since I visited during one of their typically humid summers there — not that any of the other stops had been any less humid — but compared to, say, Charleston, NYC and the surrounding environs are relatively more relaxed.

Note the doll

Much of the weekend, compared to the long stretches of contemplation which both Charleston and to a degree DC afforded me, were full with get-togethers as I did my best to catch up with a huge, HUGE amount of friends who live in the city. Mostly successful but not uniformly — a number of folks were already booked for other events or had last minute situations crop up (Django V. had a friend come down with appendicitis! That’ll do ya.). Meantime, the Sunday get-together I had planned as a slight follow-up for the big Saturday bash ended up being a crazy mess, simply because, well, planning something at a German-themed bar on the day when the German team was playing the Spanish one in Euro 2008′s final match required more coordination than anyone thought we would actually need. Thus my apologetic posts on here and on Facebook earlier in the week! But friend Kit was able to make it — and a sweetheart she is — while her friends were a great bunch, though all rather crushed at the match’s outcome!

When there was still hope for them

But the Saturday get-together at Radegast Hall in Brooklyn — along with a quick visit to Academy Annex nearby beforehand, where friend Ian has worked for some years (he suggested an early Hall of Fame CD as well as the now sold out third issue of Bixobal, thanks again sir!) — was a great treat all around. Organized by friend Theresa the day before she headed out to Maui for a family vacation, a slew of folks were able to make it — Dan B., Nick M., Ally and Alex, Jimmy the Mod, Jon Williams and more besides — and while it was all a bit random, it was still a good random. Meantime, as a sequel of sorts to the questions Grady asked me back in Hawaii in October, a new batch of ‘ASK NED RAGGETT’ responses were recorded, and you can find them here. I can only imagine they are all at least vaguely ridiculous and likely a bit rude in some respects (since I was kinda half out of it when they were recorded — you know, drink and all).

Chilling down in the 6th Ave. stop

Meantime, after the mess on Sunday afternoon, Captain JayVee from ILX was able to catch up with me for a bit in Jersey City itself, as he lives there, and along with Eve and Efrem we had a very nice evening — since all three of them are Jersey born and raised and he’s lived in the city for some years, not to mention being as much of a culture junkie (music, movies, books, etc.) as the rest of us, it was a fine way to relax a bit. Eve had to snort a bit at how well he and Efrem immediately bonded over comic books, but there you go.

The Union Square farmers market

Monday was a day for all sorts of sporadic things — a visit to the Union Square farmers market as noted just above (not the full market, that’s on the weekend apparently), later meeting up with Metal Edge editor Phil Freeman for a quick chat — and as Phil was the guy kind enough to invite me to contribute to Marooned, finally meeting him face to face to thank him was the least I could do! — and to wrap things up before I went back to Jersey City, a great dinner with the legendary fire-honourer Alex in NYC, as hilarious and friendly a guy as you could want to swap stories and have a meal with — highly recommend his recent ‘City Bound’ blog piece — and the friendly-but-drowned-out-by-the-two-of-us Dan Weiss, who runs the enjoyable What Was It Anyway? blog to which I’ve contributed briefly and might well again if I get my act together!

Bailey the wonder beagle

Add to that the fun of hanging out with Eve and Efrem and catching up on many things — they were wonderful hosts (thanks again!) and it was a treat to finally meet the legendary Bailey the beagle, Eve’s beloved dog who is pictured above sitting in her chair, with cushions that let her step up to it — and the whole experience in general, and it was a wonderful way to wrap up my trip. But there’s one other thing that happened which deserves separate attention on its own, which happened in the middle of the day on Monday.

Borough Hall Station from the reverse

It all began some time back. Terrastock, actually — not Terrastock 7, Terrastock 6, two years back. All hyped up for the whole thing I made sure I was there at the start to catch the first band — as with all the festivals there’s always a slew of groups performing that I’ve heard nothing about and have no concept of. Such was the case with Tanakh, led by a passionate feller by the name of Jesse Poe — you can see a few photos I took here. We ended up chatting on and off throughout the festival and for the final set by Ghost, he and I and Joe Turner were the three guys crammed up front and center at the stage. And good thing too because that was a hell of a set. (My photos from it here.)

Jesse and I stayed in irregular touch over the next couple of years — there are a few Tanakh reviews on the All Music Guide I’ve written — and when I heard he was going to be at Terrastock 7 I was delighted. My Friday report tells more about what happened (scroll down to the Tanakh entry) — I won’t pretend I was the prime mover in getting everything to come together, really, but I had my own small part to play and I was very glad to play it — and after that he and I and various folks got together for breakfast the following day, and we ran into each other plenty of times thereafter. It’s a small festival, after all!

We all parted after Terrastock 7 wrapped up, with Jesse unable to attend the afterparty because he was catching a ride back to Brooklyn. A few days later, probably somewhere in Charleston, I realized, “Hey, wait, *I’m* going to be near NYC here in a couple of days” and texted him to see if he was available. We made some initial plans, and then on the Saturday I arrived in Jersey City I called him or something of the sort and later that afternoon I got a call back, but I was outside and there was some background noise when I first heard from him:

“Hey Ned! I’m *muffle muffle* on Monday!”

Me to self, thinking he was saying he’d be out of town until Monday: “Oh okay! Well I’ve been having fun here…” (I ramble on in my usual fashion for a few minutes.) “Now, you said you’d be back on Monday?”

“No, I’m getting MARRIED on Monday!”

Whoops. Then again, this is very me to miss things like this.

In brief, as Jesse tells the story — he’d lived in Italy for some time, as I’d known, working in education at a private school. While he was there, he rightly decided, “Well, I need to know the language!” and starting learning from a young lady named Daniela. Well, one thing led to another and there ya go! All was going swimmingly until due to a bizarre series of circumstances beyond his control — it’s quite a tale! — he had to return to the US. But love had fully bloomed, unsurprisingly, and Daniela joined him in the States. However, immigration rules, green cards, etc. — well, they decided that the best approach would be to do what had already been on the cards anyway and get married.

The original plan as I understand it was to get married on that Saturday, so folks could join them at the civil ceremony necessary. But this past Monday was about the only time it could happen, and that meant that by default a lot of people were at work. I happily said I’d be able to join them on Monday for the ceremony — I mean, come on, that’s what friends do! — but it wasn’t until Sunday and an e-mail message I received that I realized I wasn’t merely a guest — I was going to be one of the two official witnesses!

Off to get married!

Well. I had no problem with this at all, but I was VERY thankful I had one buttoned shirt left as well as pants instead of shorts to wear. I mean, come on, I am one to dress down in hot weather but this is a marriage! I’m not going to be slack about this kind of stuff. The day rolled around, the directions were clear, and after saying farewell to Eve at Union Square I hopped on the subway, got to the Borough Hall stop, and the Brooklyn Municipal Building was right there. Crossed the street, placed a phone call, waited and soon Jesse, Daniela, their friend Alicia — a sweetheart of a person, she and her husband Leonardo had emigrated to NYC from Italy some time back — and Bill (I think? maybe Will?) from Viva Radio, the official photographer and a guy I recognized from his work at Terrastock came down the street. Through the weapons screening we went — hey, it’s New York, I guess — upstairs and into the marriage licenses and records section.

Warned quietly but sternly by a guard that no photos were allowed in the main processing room itself, I took it easy and looked around me — a typical enough civil service office, been in plenty and will yet be in more — and as directed filled out and signed the part noting that I was one of the two witnesses, along with Alicia. All formal enough — they had to check my state ID and all — and otherwise about what one might expect. Still, this was all a little new to me by default — the few weddings I’ve attended are all the big splashy ceremonial affairs with a slew of folks, and here I was one of five people in the party, and one of many couples married that day (there was a striking looking couple following us who I believe were from Africa, based on their accents, but I can’t say for sure — but one of the guests for them, a small toddler, was THE fashion template of the day, decked out in a sharp white suit and great dreads). After the basic forms were filled out, we entered an antechamber and waited, which is where I took this somewhat blurry photo:

Almost there!

We then entered the chapel itself — and were duly delighted and amazed! As you can see in the photos, it was a generic enough place, a setting in the round but with an incredible stained glass section that, along with the general feeling of the place, had to have been designed in the seventies and never changed since. Well, why not? It lent just enough ceremony to it all, somehow, a way to reduce the whole fairy-tale get-married-in-a-cathedral feeling into something sweetly understated. It was just us for a bit, getting our bearings and chatting and joking — a nice little pause. The sheer fun and gentle silliness of it all settled in a bit at this point — there was something funny about it all, all of us almost playing dress up, but also something, well, right. Right and nice. Sure, I wasn’t aware that this was going to happen at all until two days beforehand, and I’d only just met Daniela a few minutes beforehand, but I couldn’t’ve been more pleased at it all, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right then.

Soon the clerk entered — professional but friendly, someone who clearly knows the drill but who gave it a gentle sense of occasion (as I tell my student workers at the library: you might be doing something for the millionth time, but for the person you’re helping, it’s their first and maybe their only time there) — and it all kicked in. To put up a few photos:

The moment approaches

Smooch!

Flying the flag!

Two rings to bind them both

Last time I was in NYC for a wedding was my cousin George and Pilar back in 2001, and a beautiful, big, splashy ceremony it was. And this was no less special, and no less fun, and no less great to be at. An honor, and a privilege.

We all let the experience linger — many congratulations exchanged, and of course I had to applaud the actual moment itself — and after some chat and more photos we headed out, and on the way down found another spot that we realized would be great for some more photos. And while the profiles aren’t classically ‘perfect,’ this is still my favorite photo from the day:

In profile

From there we headed out, getting a couple of last shots along the way:

Outside the Municipal Building

And after that it was off to the initial reception, where Alicia’s husband Leonardo would be joining us. We had a slightly fraught ride over — the taxicab driver, whoever he is, needed an attitude adjustment (and we’re not talking crusty lovable NYC attitudes or whatever — he just plain sucked!) — but we ended up at Five Front, a restaurant located practically under the Brooklyn Bridge with a very nice outdoor patio area:

In the back of Five Front

All of us settled in and for the next hour there was plenty of chat, talk, relaxation and some champagne and beer to kill time nicely on a lovely Monday afternoon. The humidity was perfectly bearable under all the shade and, hey, we’d just celebrated a wedding! Why not have a good and relaxed time?

Chatting with the others about this and that

It was one of those perfect hours, for lack of a better term — I ended up talking with Alicia and Leonardo quite a bit, they’re lovely folks and I regretted having to depart when I did. But I’d already made appointments to catch up with Phil as mentioned above plus other plans, and regrettably turning down the offer to meet up later at an Irish bar I made my farewells and headed back to Manhattan.

But not before something else had come up — while this had all been done to establish the legal basics of it all, the idea is that next year at around this time there’ll be a full on splashy wedding for them back in Italy, the big event to complement the smaller one. I’ve been kindly invited to join them all if I can, and I’m already making my initial plans, which will dovetail nicely with a planned European trip next summer in any event. Seeing one wedding is always fun, seeing two of the same couple? Why not indeed! The setting sounds like it’ll be marvelous and while I’ll need to brush up on at least a few Italian phrases again, I can’t wait.

And there was something else too, unrelated to the events of the day, but still important:

The previous day, I’d gone into Manhattan and back past the Christopher Street PATH station, near the location of the massive Pride march/gathering that day. Both on the way in and on the way back my subway train car was full of attendees, and it was impossible to miss the — quite frankly — almost ridiculously hot couples on the ride back out to Jersey, predominantly Latina and/or African-American women, plus some male couples, chatting, talking, hugging, kissing and doing all the things one does when in love, after all.

It felt right. It felt GREAT. Beyond the simple human reaction to what was going on (hey, like I’ll deny that!) it felt like another step forward in the promise of the American experiment, that there is space for everyone under the umbrella, that the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is again claimed for all. It was all content, comfortable, a claiming of public space for ones’ own individuality and belief, one’s love and romance. After my experience in DC at the Holocaust Memorial Museum — reflecting on the passing of all those who had been condemned only for who they were — seeing this was an embrace of life in many levels. A 21st century America, but one rooted in the beliefs of Tom Paine, of Walt Whitman, of Zora Neale Hurston, of bell hooks, of Cherie Moraga, of many others. Still a contextual way forward — on a designated ‘day’ rather than just an everyday occurrence, in a more tolerant location than others might be — but no less important for that, not at all.

To write this concluding story of my vacation up on Independence Day seems even more right, in a way. An American experience and an American promise, something that means more and is more relevant — more hopeful — than thinking on the passing of the sour, bitter disgrace to the Senate from North Carolina today, for whom America was only something that belonged to people just like him and no more. No need to dwell on him, no need even to mention him by name here. I’d rather think on love and happiness — for all.

And with that and the other events of Monday, I went back to Jersey City, taking this one last photograph as I went back to Eve and Efrem’s place and prepared to head back home the following morning. Off into the sunset, once more. And here’s to the next trip, and the next new experiences, and new reflections:

A Jersey City sunset

High gas? Go mass (transit)

The number one question I still get — quite understandably — about living without a car in Southern California is “How?” There’s no reason not to ask, really; LA and the surrounding areas all seem to demand a car just for basic existence. This isn’t a post about my response in full to that — there are a variety of reasons why I go without, not least of which is the minor but important fact that I never got around to getting a license — but I will say that I’ve often found that a lot of people’s surprise over how I get about results from an ignorance of the resources available.

That sounds very harsh but it’s not meant to be — rather, again, it’s quite understandable. If you assume cars as the baseline, and everything around you is geared towards that, then the idea of going without one seems shocking if that’s all you’ve been used to. This is a car culture, there you go. Whereas from my perspective, I can rattle off bus connections, train times and so forth like that, as well as being able to quickly search for best possible connections between places with what’s available. Combined with the fact that my bus travel is free — UCI employment means I can use my staff ID as a pass — and that the Metrolink system provides a reasonable and cheaper way to get to LA than Amtrak does, I’m usually sitting pretty. Is it perfect? Of course not, but what is? On Friday workers broke into a gas line between the Irvine and Tustin Metrolink stops and it gummed up the route for some hours — a reminder that things aren’t always guaranteed, but it’s a risk I see as no different from thinking that there won’t be some horrible accident on the freeway you’re on, say.

One of the upshots of living this way is that the cost of cars and everything associated with it — security, insurance and so forth — doesn’t trouble me at all. Gas prices less so though of course there’s fuel to factor into the cost of many things, so it’s not like I’m isolated from it (not to mention the environmental problems and much more besides). Even so, I look at gas prices with a gimlet eye because there’s no real impact on my day to day living as yet, it’s just something to observe. What intrigues me more instead is how other people are dealing with them.

Two stories over the weekend caught my interest — they’re fairly general ‘gosh isn’t this interesting’ pieces but are still telling enough. From the first:

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

And from the second, talking specifically about the LA area:

If there has been anything that remains quintessentially unpredictable over the years in the Southland, it’s traffic. One day it’s good, the following it’s let’s-move-to-Portland awful, then it’s back to tolerable.

But a sampling of residents, traffic reporters and technical data indicates that as gasoline prices have climbed and the economy has faltered, weekday congestion has softened in some areas over the last month. There are notable decreases in commuting times on some well-traveled freeways.

Other drivers say their commutes are still bad, but that the roads are more lightly traveled at midday and evenings — the times of day that people make discretionary trips.

It’s important to note that these are both ultimately representative of a particular situation right now rather than a permanent trend, and there are comments to this effect in both stories from people interviewed. Still, it’s obviously very interesting.

There’s a comment in the first story that I think is crucial — one fellow in Texas, a car culture state if there ever was one, described his switch from car to bus in Houston (which is even MORE of a car culture place — a British writer I know who was walking between spots in the city once was stopped by a police car because they couldn’t believe somebody would actually be walking along the street that way) this way: “Finally I was ready to trade my independence for the savings.” This attitude of car-as-independence has always fascinated me because it comes up so often from folks, with them wondering why I don’t take advantage of that aspect. As one friend says, “You can just go wherever you want to.”

I guess I’ve never felt that as a necessary aspect to life, though. Hard to say. But I also think it’s a learned behavior too, advertised, inculcated, sold — the study of the economics and marketing of cars and car culture is a well worn field, with all kinds of strange twists and turns. (One of the funniest things I’ve ever heard was in a pickup truck ad back in 1993 or so where a generic salt-of-the-earth guy says something like “Trucks have always been a spiritual thing to me.” Uh?) Outright lecturing people about the problems this has all caused — ‘this attitude is bad and here’s why’ — is too didactic for my tastes. If people are discovering alternates on their own and appreciating them for that reason, then great — I’d rather that than never considering them at all.

This past Saturday I was swinging around the LA area meeting up with folks and attending two house parties some distance apart from each other, and I got there via a combination of mass transit and carpooling — and I’ll never stint on my thanks for friends in the latter case, as there’s no question that carpooling and shared rides have been key for me when it comes to special or one-off situations not easily reached by train and/or bus. But the majority of the routes were done via OC’s bus system, LA’s, the Red Line subway, Amtrak and Metrolink — and all of this on National Train Day, which I wasn’t even aware of until I first got to Anaheim Station.

One thing I noticed on the Metrolink on the way up was that it was packed — something that is pretty rare on the weekend routes. A lot of people, a buzz of conversation — it was an honest surprise to me, I’d not seen anything like it outside of one or two holidays before. There wasn’t any discount or special thing being done for the Metrolink lines for National Train Day, instead it really just seemed that, indeed, a lot more people were taking these routes where they might have otherwise driven.

It was funny for me to realize that I’d actually enjoyed the quieter train cars in the past — I’d been selfishly looking forward to just sitting and thinking on the ride up as I so often have done. But after that I thought, “Hey, isn’t this what I’d wanted, and what I want to see happening? Enjoy it for what it is, and hope for more.” And so I looked around a bit at everyone, a little people watching here and there, and hoped that this would be a welcome sign for the future — a stronger appreciation of what’s out there, what options exist, and that this would lead to even more options being created.

Call me the eternal optimist, which I am most of the time. It’s a good place to be.

[EDIT -- friend Jody noticed this piece by Carolyn See which appeared on Saturday, about going carless in LA. I met Carolyn very briefly when I was at UCLA -- a good soul, and a good piece she's written here.]

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