Memphis Part 2: A Tromps Around, from Sun up to Sundown

We woke up spry the next morning, cooked up some bacon and eggs we’d grabbed at the dollar store for breakfast, and readied ourselves for a day around town.  We walked a few blocks north to the University of Memphis campus and wandered through it. We found an adult sized playground among the botanic gardens and took the opportunity to play a bit and take pictures of each other.  I attempted to build a structure out of flat, but life-size lincoln log-esque wood. I played sailor atop a wooden ship. The lush greenery around us framed every photo. Somewhere in there we’d gotten hungry so we stopped in Brother Juniper’s for a meal.  The hours passed by without our knowing.

We weren’t quite hungry, but Sal and I had decided that it would be a travesty to miss out on Memphis BBQ, so we headed to Central and each ordered a full tray of food.  Collards, coleslaw, mac and cheese, brisket, pork, chicken, beans and a little banana pudding for me. It’s nearly impossible for me to turn down banana pudding.

We ate our hearts out, to the point of uncomfortable bloat.  I was thankful for the little extra room in my jean shorts, all kudos to the union of elastic and cotton.

 

Now there was no turning back.  We were stuffed full of food and ready to be out for the night.  I really wanted to hang out around the blue clubs. We started at the open air bar on the corner where a middle aged man with dreadlocks sang raspy blues and old pop hits.  The night before he’d been playing “Down By The River” as we’d walked up to the place. I couldn’t get over it. It made me remember the Neil Young concert I’d attended at Carnegie Hall a few years ago.  He was killing it. He killed the guitar line. He sang with his heart. It was beautiful.

The night before we’d found a great chocolate stout from a Tennessee brewery called Wiseacre, so we ordered a couple talls.  We sat at a high table outside the bar, watching people walk by, listening to the music. During our first drink, we tried to figure out our game plan for the night.  After Rum Boogie, we didn’t have much else to do, but I wanted to walk by a couple other spots. There was a patio with an outdoor stage that Elena and I had hung out at a couple summers ago when we came through Memphis.  

After the first drink, we walked down to the patio, and recognized that the drink prices were twice as high as those at our comfortable corner spot so we walked back down and got one to go.

Back at the patio spot, they wouldn’t let us in towards the stage with outside drinks, so we stood on the sidewalk talking about life and living, a little bit of quantum theory, a little bit of fate and religion and energy, or lack thereof, if you will.  The band wasn’t as good on the patio as the last time I’d been there. It had been the first place I’d head ‘Mississippi Boy’. I’ll never forgot it either. An old black man had sang it, dancing a little bit in his hips, his big belly hopping along with him. ‘I’m just a Mississippi boy/Mississippi mud in my boots/I’m just a Mississippi boy/Gotta get back to my roots.’

Sal and I had heard it the night before by a band on the outdoor stage at the park underneath archways where spray paint artists sold landscape images.  There was a whole lot of talent around, and quite a bit of drunkenness too.

We walked back down to the corner bar after trying to check out Rum Boogie, but there was a high cover just to get in.  Fifteen dollars. Neither of us thought it was worth it. Don’t get me wrong, the place was great, but fifteen dollars just to stop in there for a minute, maybe ten, maybe twenty minutes, it just wasn’t worth it to either of us.  

From the outside, we could see the guitars hanging from the ceiling and hear the music too, but they weren’t having a blues jam.  There was a country band playing inside, which was exactly why I didn’t want to go to Nashville. I didn’t want country. I wanted the blues.

So we walked back down to our corner bar again.  This time there were a couple spots open at the bar so we grabbed them.  We each ordered another tall stout. And they were tall, let me tell you.  They must’ve been 60 ounce cups. Those things were huge. We sat there bullshitting a little bit.  

We’d decided earlier that after we were done fooling around on Beale St that we’d find a gay club and go try to pick up women, to whom I was affectionately calling ‘lil bitties.’  Earlier I’d said to Sal, “yeah, yeah, let’s go pick up some lil’ bitties,” and she laughed at my dated slang.

We googled up a couple spots.  We had an idea about where to go.  There was a place right around the block.  We were about ready, just waiting for the right time to go.  You never wanna show up at a club too early. Eleven o’clock was early enough, but now it was just getting past nine.

So we’re sitting at the bar, drinking our drinks, listening to this old man sing his heart out.  He has to be the resident musician at the bar. Somehow I’d felt that he’d been there the last time I was in Memphis too, but I don’t really know.  I could’ve been mixing him up with someone else, anybody else really.

As we’re chatting, a tall, blonde, handsome boy comes up to the bar.  He’s cute, really cute. We catch eyes, and I smile at him, but I don’t say anything.  He gets the bartender’s attention and orders as I get up to pee. I’m overfull of beer.  I’m a little drunk too, but a good drunk, ready to go, ready to have a fun night. When I get back from the bathroom, he and Sal are chatting, and I slide into the conversation.

He asks us with a little Southern drawl, “Ya’ll ladies want shots?” smiling a big grin at us.

“Hell yeah,” I say as Sal nods.

“Alright, well here’s the deal,” he says, making eye contact with both of us, “I’ll rock-paper-scissors you for them.”  I giggle at him and look over at Sal.

She says, “You gotta do it,” and looks back at me.

I agree, “Alright,” nodding along and readying myself, “alright.”

“Best two out of three,” he says.  I nod again and have my left hand out, ready to pump.

“Alright let’s go.”

‘Rock-paper-scissors-shoot’. We pump adjacent fists on our palms in rhythm together and throw our best.  

I win.

The second round now.  “Rock-paper-scissors-shoot.”  We throw.

I lose.  

Now the pressure’s on.

We smile at each other and pause for a second.

“Alright, alright, let’s go,” I say.

“Rock-paper-scissors-shoot,” one last time in unison.

And I win!

“Damn! Yes!”  I laugh and throw my hands up in the air.  “Yes!”

He hangs his head briefly, but perks back up quickly, and asks, “What do you want?”

“Oh, I dunno,”  I say and look at Sal.

“Well, I’m a wimp,” he starts, “I’ve been doing Fireball.”

To which I reply, “I can do Fireball, that’s fine with me, if you’re paying,” smiling and laughing.  Sal’s expression when I won still lingers in her smile.

He buys us a round of shots and begins to introduce himself, but first he asks, “What’s your middle name?”

“Leigh,” I say, spelling it out, “l-e-i-g-h, what’s your middle name?”

And he replies, “Keith.”

Sal chimes in, “Wait, I don’t know your first name!”  And we all laugh.

“Tyler, my name’s Tyler,” he says.

“Georgie.”

“Sal.. I’m Clarissa Luc..,” she starts but I cut her off.

“Sal, just call her Sal,” I say.

Then he asks, “where ya’ll from?”

“Ah, we’re from Denver.  Just here visiting for a few days. How bout you?”

“I live here.  This is a bit of a local spot, really,” he tells us.

“I didn’t know that, but it’s cool.  It’s nice here.”

“So how long ya’ll here?” he continues.

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” I say.

“Well, so you want me to show you around Memphis a little bit?” he asks, “The local way?  The good way?”

We both agree, enthusiastically nodding our heads.

He names off a slew of places that we’ll go.  The list seems quite impressive, honestly. We resolve to leave once Sal and I finish our huge stouts, of which we’ve only drank about half, so we chat some more and make rounds to the bathroom while getting to know our new friend and tour guide.

On our way back up Beale St towards the club, 152, I nickname our new friend affectionately as ‘Tyler the Creator’.  I’m both shocked and impressed when he gets reference, playfully arguing with me, “Nah nah, you gotta call me Cool Keith, I don’t wanna be Tyler the Creator,” but all night I’m playfully calling him Tyler the Creator and he’s playfully correctly me to call him Cool Keith.

We head upstairs into 152, after a high class entrance through two bodyguards and an empty queue defined with gold banisters and red velvet ropes.  

Our tour around the place reaffirms my opinion that you can’t show up to the club too early.  The place is classy, but dead. Tinted neon lighting highlights features around the clean white walls of the room, pulling a little bit of brightness out of the windowless club.  It is adorned with lounge chairs in places, more than one booth for VIP, and a few private rooms, but it’s totally dead. There’s almost no one in the whole joint so Tyler says, “We gotta go, we’ll come back here.  This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”

I buy us a round of shots before we leave, and we ask what he does for a living.  He tells us he works in marketing, as a designer. He really likes it, too. His face lights up when he talks about it.

The next stop is a moonshine bar off South Main St, which reminds both me and Sal a little of the 16th Street Mall in Denver.  It’s a street that isn’t really a street. It’s a street that’s really a mall. It’s a street just for tourists.

South Main embodies the charm of the South.  Cobblestones line the street and the sidewalks in a medium brown hue.  The sidewalks boast planters of gorgeous deciduous trees, mossy oak and willow, whose branches hang above us seemingly luminescent against the glow of the setting sun.  Trolley tracks run down the center of the street breaking up the cobblestones.

Across the street, we enter the moonshine bar and up a few stairs, where a baby grand piano backs up to the foyer banister.  No one is playing the piano, but it shines gloriously against the exposed brick wall of the rowhouse. Tyler tells us that sometimes they have a performer to play the piano, but that we aren’t lucky with it tonight.  Then he takes us to the bar and orders us a round of cocktails. The moonshine mixes into such bold flavors that they are forced to melt together. It feels like Tennessee tradition, smooth and sweet and hiding a strong punch.  

Then Tyler says to us, “We’re only staying here for one drink cause I wanna take you to BarDog.”  He’s really excited about this bar, continuing, “We gotta go there. We gotta have breakfast shots,” and he asks me,  “You ever had a breakfast shot before?”

“Nah,” I answer shaking my head, “I don’t know what that is.”

“Well, we gotta have breakfast shots,” he nearly cuts me off and he keeps on talking about these shots.

All the while going on, he is interrupted when he sees some people that he knows.  Their names and faces disappear in my memory, but they are awfully nice and cordial towards us.  Then we meet Neil. He’s older, a skinny, little, gay man; some of my favorite people. He is so friendly and kind, and we tell him about how we’re gay, and we just talk about random things and Denver and Pride and it is great and really fills me up with joy.  We found a little piece of community there. Neil is wild, and we leave him too quickly for my liking, but we’ve got to get a move on.

We suck down our moonshine really quick since Tyler wouldn’t stop going on about the breakfast shots.  And it’s moonshine, so shit, it just slides right down. You don’t even know how easy your glass is emptying.  You don’t know a damn thing about moonshine until it catches up to you. Thirty minutes later it hits you like a fucking brick in the head, and all of a sudden, you’re drunk.  You’re wasted. And you say to yourself, “holy shit, how did this happen to me?” So anyway, we finish our moonshine and float out the front door.

Before BarDog, he takes us by his office.  It’s just around the corner in an office building on the fourth floor overlooking the city.  Panoramic glass windows line the walls in one of those new age style offices where they have a ping pong table and open space and lounge areas, because it’s a design and marketing office.  They want to stimulate your creativity with things like games and cushy lounge chairs and views of the city. There’s cork boards and message boards everywhere with random ideas and notes written on them.  

Tyler shows us his office.  He shows us his work, things he’s drawn for the company.  It’s all very impressive, and he’s humble about it. He says, “yeah, it’s cool.  I just gotta work my way up.” We go in his boss’s office. It’s twice as big as any bedroom that I’ve lived in.  Sick. Ridiculous. We grab a soda out of the cooler, and head back downstairs.

I ask, “So when does this place close?”

“Never,” he answers quickly, “It never closes.”

And I stop and I look at him because I don’t believe him, “Are you serious???” and I pause and then, “Tyler the Creator, don’t lie to me.  Tyler the Creator!”

And he replies, “Maaaaan, I’m Cool Keith, I’m Cool Keith!”

 

As we approach, there’s a dishwasher standing out in the alley beside BarDog and Tyler knows him.  They start talking and he introduces us. We walk into the bar through this back door, through the kitchen, and out onto the floor.  Sal strikes us a conversation with the dishwasher. I decide the moonshine must’ve hit her a little harder than me. I keep looking over to check on her, but she is engulfed in conversation.  

Then I’m sitting down with other people after I get a beer in a corner booth that backs up to a stairwell.  I am chatting with people about who knows what, sipping very slowly on my beer. Occasionally still, I check on Sal behind me, but she and the dishwasher are just going on and on in Spanish.  She is smiling and laughing and I wonder if the dishwasher will ever go back to work, but I’m not mad about it. I don’t even know what they were talking about. She doesn’t even remember talking to him, so I know she doesn’t know what they were talking about.  I was having fun and she was obviously enjoying talking to him, smiling each time I caught a glimpse.

Tyler gets my attention because he has finally gotten to the bartender and has ordered us breakfast shots.  On the bar in front of me I see six plastic shot cups lined up in pairs. Three full of orange juice and the three others with a liquor that looks like syrup.  He tells me it’s maple flavored vodka and he hands me a lemon.

I get Sal’s attention.  She’s reluctant, but I have to break her away from the dishwasher.   I pull her over and I realize the moonshine’s really got me now. I am happy, but I am really drunk.  I am the easiest, happiest drunk, talking to anybody about anything and a whole lot of nothing.

Tyler tells us, “Lemon, then orange juice, then shot,” or maybe a little different.  I can’t quite remember. Alcohol will do that to you. We take our shots, and they’re good.  It tastes like a bite of pancakes with a swig of orange juice to wash it down. Breakfast shot, the perfect name.  So, so very tasty. But after that, my memory gets brown. Nothing bad happens, but I just have spots, blank spots in my brain of my memory that I’ve lost.  

Like I’ve been transported into a film, the next scene opens and I’m sitting at two-top table upstairs at a bar that I think is still BarDog which is also in a rowhome, just like the moonshine bar.  It’s not just one bar though. It’s an entire rowhouse of bars, three floors of bars. Or maybe just two, but I know now we are upstairs. Tyler and I are sitting to the front of the building, and in this room there is a saxophonist playing his heart out, jazz melodies with a backup track behind him playing on a little stereo boombox resting on a bar stool.

He’s playing Misty.  ‘Look at meeeeeee, I’m as helpless as a kitten in a tree,’ I’m singing along a little bit, and Tyler’s talking to me about something but I’m not really sure what.  I ask him, “Where’s Sal?”

And he reassures me, “Ah, I don’t know, but she’s here, she’s here.  She’s in the other room, but I’m sure she’s fine, but I’m not sure where she is.”  He goes on talking about something else, but all I hear is “Mistyyyyyy, I go misty just holding your hand,” and I’m not sure if I’m singing aloud or just in my head.

We’re talking and talking and finally I stammer.  “I gotta go find, I gotta go find Sal.”

He concedes, “ok, ok,” he says, “ok that’s fine.”

“But, Tyler the Creator, maaaaan you’re it, man.  You’re the best.” I tell him.

He chuckles at me and shows a half smile, correcting me one last time, “I’m Cool Keith, I told you.”

And then I laugh too.

In a split second, I flashback to us following him down the street, down South Main, with the mossy oaks hanging over our heads and the street, where the red brick rows of building contrast nature’s beauty surrounding the trolley line, and it’s all symmetrical, the setting sun hiding red brick stones where our feet trample.  

But now, I’ve gotten up from our two top and I’m finding Sal, not sure of where Tyler is, but I find her in a bar that runs the length of the second floor.  I walk in there, and she’s just chatting her heart away, talking to a couple people, standing with her arm draped on the bar. Once I’ve found her, he leaves, but not before asking us if we’re ok, making sure we’ll be safe, and I reassure him.  “Yeah, yeah, we’re good.”

At this point, I decide we need to get some weed, cause I am just drunker than a skunk and we’d run out, and I knew she was really drunk too.  I know as long as we stick together, we’ll be fine. She’s talking to this guy Brendan that we make friends with, and he tells us, “yeah, I’ll help you get some weed.  How much you want?”

“Just a twen-,” I start, “like a dub. Dub sac. Twenty bag.”  I am drunk but still awkward.

“Ok,” he nods.  I’m browning out even harder now, because I’ve constantly put alcohol into my system and my liver couldn’t possibly keep up with it even if I had the liver of a 300 pound man.  There is so much alcohol in me. We leave the bar with Brendan but I don’t remember it, and then my memory is back. We’re in the backseat of Brendan’s car, taking us to get weed.  I remember that getting into his car was awkward when we both got into the backseat. He says, “Really? You two really just in the backseat though?” And I laughed and respond,

“Yeaaaaa, man, we’ve been riding ubers around.  We gotta stick together.”

So we are riding along, each leaned against the passenger down but I’m not quite awake until I realize Sal is puking in the backseat of his car.  Brendan is so kind with us as he pulls into a gas station and gets paper towels to clean up a bit and I try to help him clean but mostly I am consoling Sal because she is upset about puking and I am attempting to clean her off a bit.  I keep apologizing to Brendan but he isn’t even mad with us, and he drops us off at our little cottage and we awkwardly say goodbye.

I know that in different circumstances we would’ve smoked with him, but things have turned so sour that I am just trying to get us in the house in one piece.  We already added each other on social media and I tell him to hit us up if he ends up in Denver and that we’ll have to get together sometime when we’re back in town.  I thank him some more for being so great and it feels like an awful way to end our little friendship but I don’t know any other way to do it. We get in the house and pass out, on top of the covers and fully clothed, sprawled like toddlers deprived of their afternoon naps.

Memphis, Part 1: Getting there and getting lit

I waited around an old, small airport, laying on the carpeted concrete floor next to a outlet where my phone was plugged in for about an hour, waiting for Sal’s flight to land.  She’d told me that I could go on to the AirBnB without her, but I thought it was silly for us both to spend the money for a ride. It wasn’t like either of us had anywhere to be at any specific time.  

I stared up at the white foam panels of the drop ceiling studying how the spectrum of beige concrete columns grew out of them and extended down to me.  The airport had the feeling of an school house built in the ’70s, but they’d added some upgrades here and there. Staggered between the rows of plastic chairs were electronics charging towers, fitted with standard electric plugs and USB plugs too.  

I filled up my water bottle at a large ceramic fountain, the water basin an oval carved into a long rectangular base.  It reminded me of the ones in black and white photos from the south in the past, where above one a sign hung reading ‘colored’ next another to another with no sign.  Here now there was only one, and to my surprise the water pressure was great. I was able to get the bottle filled completely without having to tilt it, directing the high arching stream into my container.

I laid back down and put headphones in, humming to myself in an empty room, just waiting, until airport staff began to show up at the gate.  They slowly rolled in wheelchairs and took seats, reminding me that time was passing. None of them sat beside one another. I noticed that among them, there was not a single young person working, and that they were all people of color.  I resumed stared at the ceiling, contemplating the next 48 hours.

 

A couple weeks before, Sal and I were sharing dinner, talking about women, when she mentioned that she had an airline voucher that was about to expire.  She told me she’d mentioned it to a couple of friends over the past few weeks, but hadn’t gotten any solid takers for a weekend trip.

“Shit, I’ll go,” I told her.  Here face lit up. “Where?”

“Really?” she questioned me, answering, “I don’t know.”

“Hell yeah, man.  You shoulda known.  I’m always down for an adventure.”

She nodded, smiling, but not speaking.

“Where do you wanna go?” I asked again.

“I don’t really know.  Where do you wanna go? Where have you been?”

“Maaaan, I’ve been everywhere…” I started, dragging out my reply, “I mean pretty much…”  I left it open ended, “But I’ll go anywhere really. Let’s find somewhere cheap for me to fly to.”
“Ok,” she agreed, then added, “I was thinking about Nashville.”

I bounced off her idea, “Nashville? Wait, wait how ‘bout Memphis?” I asked.  “I was only there for a couple hours last summer… Well, I guess it’s two summer ago now… Anyway, yeah, how bout Memphis?”

“Ok,” she agreed, “I don’t know anything about Memphis, but yeah sure.”

“I just love the blues, man.  We can go down Beale St…” I started to reminisce, “There’s this bar that has a blue jam every night, man.  Oh, it’s so great.”

Settled on a place, we picked a date, and I looked up ticket prices.  They were stupid cheap and the next day, I bought mine.

 

The airport workers had started to move around a bit, and I noticed the gate door had opened behind me, so I packed up my stuff and stood up.  I swear every other person got off that plane before Sal did, but eventually, she came out of the tunnel.

 

After a cab ride to our house and some fumbling around in figuring out how to get inside, we stood in a small living room, attached to an even smaller kitchen in a cottage she’d booked us.  It wasn’t much bigger inside than my one bedroom apartment back in Denver, but it was cozy and despite there being two other rooms for guests, we were the only ones there.

We wanted to explore the backyard, but only found an exit door through one of the other bedrooms, which seemed to be permanently locked.  I fiddled around with the handle and the deadbolt for far longer than seemed reasonable, but Sal found another way out, through the front door and around a wooden gate to the side of the house.  She met me on the other side of the door and we fiddled a little more before abandoning our efforts.

I hopped out the front door to join her in the backyard where a huge beautiful oak tree had grown, towering over the suburban cottages, whose leaves had fallen mostly and speckled the yard.  They seemed to take up all the extra space left between sparse grassy patches. We sat down on the small patio next to the door that doesn’t open and schemed on the next few days. We didn’t have any solid plans, but we’d come up with some wandering to do, and we decided to make our first adventure to get a six pack and a lighter.

“Did you see a gas station on the way in?”  Sal asked me.

“No,” I responded, “but I wasn’t really paying attention.” I told her.

“That’s surprising.”

I nodded and agreed.  She knew as well as I did that directions and location were heavily ingrained in me.  Part of my identity was keeping track of where I was, and where other things were too.  The map in my head was steadily growing. I resolved with myself, deciding I was ready to be lost for a little while, unabashedly willing to let go of the daily controls of my life.

I let google lead the way.  As we approached the cross street of our quiet neighborhood, a stretch of commercial buildings reminded me of the east coast city where I’d grown up.  Just across the street, a neon sign glowed against dark tinted glass of a hookah bar. Sal and I both noticed it, wondering if it was actually open, but continued on our mission.  A new dollar store stood alone between two dated strip malls. In the next strip, a tobacco shop was open despite the darkness of the night, between a nail salon and a restaurant who’d already closed up.  Train tracks ran diagonally through the street ahead of us, leaving jagged edges in the asphalt.

On our left across the street, an unbranded gas station was marked with a dingy yellow canopy and header around the building.  The tall glass windows and the front door were barred by dark steel. Cigarette and beer price posters tempted behind them. Catty corner across the tracks, on our side of the street, the green lime lights of a BP station shone brightly.

“Which one do you want to go to?”  I asked Sal.

She shrugged, looking over at me, “I don’t know.”

I took another look.  

An old Pontiac had just pulled up to the gas pump at the unbranded station and parked.  Next to him, two young black man exited the store, gesturing playfully at one another as they conversed.  The BP station looked dead.

“Let’s go here,” I nodded towards the unbranded station, “It looks a little more real.  I like that.”

I paused for a second, because we had been wondering if we could buy beer at the convenience store.  I pointed out the advertisements in the window which had spurred another question as to whether or not it was full alcohol content.  I told Sal that I had never heard about the reduced content beers in grocery stores until I’d moved to Colorado and that frankly I thought it was pretty uncommon and weird.

I waited for a couple cars to pass then led Sal in a jaywalk across the street and through the parking lot.  We walked around the back of the Pontiac, up on the sidewalk, and through the doors of the store as a bell jingled above our head.  The cashier stood in a plexiglass cage that had become opaque, a collage of cardboard cutouts from tobacco products had been taped up, facing outwards, a menu for the patronage.

We moseyed down through an aisle of junk food towards the cooler at the back of the store, but not without first noticing a locked display case of paraphernalia.  

At the beer coolers, I eyeballed the tall boy cans, considering a malt beverage for the night.  I was shocked at my inability to remember the slang term for the extra large cans, and I asked Sal if she knew.  The only help she gave me was the term in Spanish “caguama” which I resolved to adopt into my vocabulary.

They had all the basic six packs- Bud, Coors, PBR, Miller, Busch- all varying degrees of piss water.  I was looking for something made in Tennessee, telling myself “When in Rome…” We had two options, but decided on the pilsner since Sal isn’t a fan of IPAs. At the front counter a brown skinned man checked us out, adding a gray lighter and a black plastic bag to our purchases.  He quickly moved on to the customer behind us before we had evacuated the tiny counter space, but neither of us was mad about it.

 

Back at the cottage, we hung out in the back yard for awhile with our Tennessee beers and a little weed.  We looked up tourist spots to check out. We were right around the corner from University of Memphis so we decided to get up in the morning and romp around campus a little.  We found a botanical garden nearby for another option. We did a little searching to figure out where the best Memphis barbecue joint was, deciding to have lunch at Central BBQ the next day.

By the time we put together a rough game plan, we still had energy to go out, and even though it was a Thursday I convinced Sal to check out Beale St for a couple of hours.  

Really, I was searching for what I’d found there before.  In one way this is an odd thing to do in, but in another it is so natural to a traveler who is revisiting.  The nostalgia I felt remembering Elena and I hanging out for only a few hours on Beale St on our cross country trip is highly romanticized in my head in a way no other place is and no other time is.  We were really free in those hours and we were really enjoying every moment of freedom that we had, trying to hang on to them whilst knowing that our trip was coming to an end.

But Sal and I didn’t stay long on Beale St.  There weren’t many people out and although there’s always music, we decided that we didn’t want to stay out too late.  We wanted to be ready for a full day of exploring, so we checked out a little corner bar, had a few beers, and then we ubered back to our neighborhood.

The idea of the hookah bar resurfaced so we decided to take a walk there.  Both of us really enjoyed smoking hookah though it wasn’t something we did often.  Sal had indulged more in the past, back in college, and she went on lively about the hookah setup she’d had in her college house.

The dingy strip mall hookah bar was cheap and mostly empty.  Two booths of patrons sat in the smoking room. We chose a black leather couch up against the shaded windows where the neon sides had flashed outside.  A waiter brought out the glowing ember and a hookah for us. As we sat down on the couch, we sank through the springs nearly to the floor, the wooden board at the front of the seat couch pressing into our hamstrings.  

Across the room from us was a group of black kids smoking and playing music.  I couldn’t’ help but watch curiously as one girl casually gave another a lap dance.  We chatted a little between hits but were quiet more often. One of the friends across the room was DJing.  He was absolutely killing the set. He’d been playing tracks from the new Chance record, some Kendrick, Cole, and Tribe, really giving an overview of the best hip hop from the year.  

Sal noticed my familiarity with the playlist.  It was undeniable. I’d been shoulder dancing along in my seat and singing along with all the hooks.  I’d even gotten a couple verses in, but rapping is hard for me.

Eventually he came over and sat down on the couch between Sal and I.  We shared hookah with him, trading shotguns of smoke back and forth. When Sal got up to use the bathroom, he tried to kiss me.

I didn’t try to make it awkward when I didn’t let him but it still was.  He apologized, but I explained to him that I wasn’t mad, but that I just wasn’t into it.  Soon thereafter he rejoined his friends.

We finished our shisha and decided to turn in.  We walked back home giggling, a little tingly from the tobacco, but mostly buzzing on each other’s energy and ready for our next day of exploring.

How to Properly Celebrate the Holidays with Friends or,

A Treatment On Leaning into Mars conjunct Neptune under a Sag New Moon

.

.

Get off work late on Friday.  Find your best friend, who is visiting from the East Coast, at a random hole-in-the-wall bar on Colfax that is so new they haven’t yet had a grand opening.  Taste a tangerine cream draft beer out of curiosity. Have a glass because it makes your heart nostalgic for childhood creamsicles even though your go-to winter beers are dark and heavy.  Watch sea creatures do weird shit on the bar TV in between your BF telling you about the museum exhibits where she spent six hours while you were working. Casually strip off your work t-shirt sitting at the bar, after a couple sips of beer.  Notice the hinged murphy-style tables along the opposite wall and consider the creative inspiration for your to-be camper van.

Drink your beer just a little faster than you would in other circumstances, knowing that your friends are waiting for you at taco night at the local dive bar, all the way down Colorado back towards your home.  Tell your BF that you forgot to tell her that we’d had taco night planned out for weeks. Also tell her that you’re supposed to be home for a dinner party, but you forgot to tell her about that too. She’s not mad.  She knows your sense of timing is never great. Strip off your baselayer in the bar bathroom, because you decided that if you go home now you’ll never make it back out again.

Remember that The Dirty Duck is waiting for you.  Remember that your roommates are also waiting for you at home.  Get the fuck out of that little hole in the wall St. Paul’s Tavern where you could’ve easy stayed the night and hope that next time you make it out of your own neighborhood that it’s still open.  Kindly make jokes with the bartender as you are leaving. Again, realize that your sense of timing is awful.

Have silly conversation with your BF on the ride south, where she reminds you (as if you could forget) that the bartender was very attractive.  Respond casually about how you do have a thing for bartenders.  Laugh because you both simultaneously remember how many bartenders you’ve flirted with through the years.  Never miss a fucking beat in conversation on the ride so that the fifteen minute drive feels like a sixty second float, but remember you have a destination just as the neon signs come into focus.  

Announce your arrival while hoping aloud that there are tacos left.  Also wonder aloud where to park, nearly find no spot, then nearly back the car down a hidden stairwell at the back of the building.  Catch eyes with your friends through a window of the bar, where they have found a single booth in the back corner. Walk through the entryway below hung mistletoe and holly, nod at the bartender, and survey the scraps of tacos left.  Circle around the table to check the second crock pot for scraps and come up short.

Introduce your BF to your table of friends, one of whom’s name you have forgotten.  Play off the embarrassment of wrongly introducing her by resigning to let people introduce themselves.  Pause as your friends giggle and realize that you are probably slightly manic. Realize that you haven’t stopped moving some part of your body for a number of hours.  Shrug it off for now. Let it carry you on past the 12 hour shift and into the night. Never sit down, either because there is no room at the booth or because you are due home for dinner in ten minutes and you need to stop at the liquor store first.  

Leave the bar just a quickly as you arrived, cordially apologizing again for misnaming a new friend and wishing them a great night.  Buzz into the liquor store two doors down, grabbing a six pack because the logo sports a penguin and fits into your idea of a dark winter beer.  Help your BF find the soda water which is hidden behind seltzer in a run-down Pepsi cooler near the entrance. Think the fluorescent lighting in the store makes it seem dingier than it would have been to begin with.  Wait behind a pair of boys, whom you check out to try and figure if they are gay or just good bros.

Make a grand entrance at home, just as everyone is sitting down to eat.  Be assured that you are not late though, because two of the friends you left at the bar have yet to arrive.  Walk back into your room at least twice for various things, forgetting something at least once.  Help bring the last unoccupied chairs in the house to an additional table for seating.

Cheers to another successful Around the World meal and pass plates around until everyone has a little bit of everything.  Run into the other room for some Lactaid when the main dish is announced to be mostly cheese, as company laughs. Cry a little as the pickled habanero onions melt into your taste buds and enjoy it.  

Talk much and loudly with your end of the two tables that has stayed put, but get lost in everyone else’s stories.  Tell an old story about yourself getting wasted and sleeping on the streets of Baltimore for the entertainment of your BF.  Let yourself be kicked off kitchen clean up duty and find friends to listen to again. Express your gratitude that there are guests kind enough in your house to clean up the kitchen after they were cooked for.  

Drink more beer.  Help move the table out of the living room and back to its home.  Let the minutes fade by, while you jump from conversation to conversation until only a handful of friends are left in the house and one of them gives you a 10% beer.  

Don’t say ‘goodbye’ because you’re determined to stay conscious through the night even with a 10% beer in hand.  Have a conversation about racism and institutions and ancestral trauma while still sipping on a 10% beer.

Wind up in the living room on a couch surrounded by friends for a card game.  Finish your 10% beer during said card game and switch to red wine. Feel totally at home sipping red wine because she is your keeper.  Participate, but also forget all the specific reasons for full belly laughter while playing with your friends. Don’t forget the way it feels in a warm room full of laughter.  Remember honestly complimenting the good looks of one of your guy friends and the gorgeous smile spread across his face upon taking the compliments.

Eagerly enjoy the idea of drunk pilates and find yourself a space of the floor.  Begin to lose memory about half way through, but not before the keywords ‘anterior pelvic tilt’ and ‘3:30 am’ and wake up face down on the leather couch wondering why you hadn’t gone to bed.  Stagger in and curl up next to your BF who you assume must be sleeping soundly by now.

Wake up around 10 with a splitting headache and growling belly.Acknowledge you must’ve drank twice as many calories than you’d eaten the day before.  Roll over and know you’d go back to sleep if it weren’t for a fully awake human also in your bed who is asking what we’ll do today. Mumble ‘breakfast’ and roll over again, away from the door this time.

Wonder aloud what your best travel buddy (BTB) is doing and tell your BF we’re gonna try the new/reopened brunch spot across the street.  Call your BTB, have a playful conversation comparing our friendship to that of Franco-Rogen, where I assign her Franco because she’s hot and she reassigns it back to me saying I’m the hottest.  

Resolve to meet at Morning Story in 10 minutes but don’t arrive for closer to 20.  Invite your also-hungover roommate and chef of the previous night to brunch. Dress yourself most comfortably and walk casually down the middle of your neighborhood street to the adjacent strip mall.  Laugh more while recounting yourself passed out on the couch, where apparently your BF had tried tediously to get you up but you refused.

Order a trifecta of beverages, that is water, coffee, and orange juice, just like you used to every morning back in Baltimore after you’d been out drinking.  Wait a few minutes for your BTB to show up and try to grab her attention awkwardly with your hand in the air as you watch her peer out across the restaurant floor.  Let your smile extend to each ear when she sees you, as hers has done the same. Eat food and make jokes and affectionately lay your head on the shoulder of your booth-mate.  

Awkwardly add a fifth friend to the table about halfway through your meal.  Talk a little about politics and viewpoint diversity and cultural backgrounds.  Hate declining an invitation to a quinceanera in the mountains because you’re feeling so much like you need to be still, like you need to be home.  Forget your bill on the table as you go to pay the cashier and joke with the cashier’s trainer about being lively hungover women. Know that the lovely energy you’re putting out into the world is affecting others in a positive way.  

Stumble back home where you feel so full of food and drink and love that you’ve forgotten about the hangover.  Share a joint in the backyard to assure that the hangover won’t creep back in. Film your cat playing with a tarp, using his claws to bounce shriveled leaves up into the air to watch them fall.

Decide you need to spend time with the Earth today.  Feel the low winter sun on your face and see the long shadows she casts and feel witchy.  Survey the plot of bare ground at the back of the house and the tiller you snagged from your ex and the dead goat heads that invaded the garden space and know that you want to build something there.  Hug your BTB the best goodbye, regretting missing the quinceanera but knowing you want to be here now.

Express your gratitude that it’s Saturday and that there’s a whole other day of freedom ahead of you.  Ask your roommate if she wants to have a permaculture garden this year and fill up with joy when she agrees. Till the garden plot, little by little.  Imagine the plants that will grow there in spring.

Listen to your BF and your roommate talk about life, about taxes, about old relationships, and chime in when you see fit.  Spread around the ashes from the fire pit that your roommate lays in the garden plot. Switch tilling directions after some time, when you feel the muscles of your shoulder tire.  Make goals for short breaks, where you check on the fire your roommate is building and appease the desire for your BF to be involved in the creative process.

Agree to do a pallet project but choose not to lead it.  Gather craft materials from around the house and the garage with which your BF creates.  Finish tilling the garden plot, both shoulders sore now. Clean out the pots of last years’ plants.  Give the stalks of the plants to your roommate for burning and chant them back to the Earth. Continue light chanting as you pour the leftover soil into the freshly tilled garden patch.  Repeat until all pots are empty and stacked neatly by the grill.

Sit down at the patio table and begin to envision a natal chart painting that is not yet realized.  Fuck it up about halfway through with the wrong paint brush and abandon your work. Admire the recycled art your BF has made while you’ve been tilling and join her beside the fire as she elaborates her sculpture.  

Eat frozen pizza that your roommate has cooked and sit together around the fire.  Watch the Yule log burn into the night that comes so early this time of year entranced by the process of burning, and feel overfull of the wonders of the Earth.  Talk about when to start seeds and what to grow. Talk about the Solstice party you want to have in a couple of weeks. Move around the fire, soaking in its warmth on different sides of your body as the frigid night air sets in around you.  Speak of the difference in temperatures aloud while fully experiencing them.

Let the fire die, or rather endorse your roommate’s question to put it out.  Watch the embers glow faint and bright again for a few minutes, seeing all of the cosmos right there in the small fire pit.  Feel the cold run you back inside the house.

Change clothes and leave the house for an ornament decorating party.  Don’t wear a real bra. Wear your glasses. Grab a beer to go and wait for a Lyft. Chat casually with the driver on the short ride over.

See friends on the awning porch and give big full loving hugs.  Smile like you mean it because you do. Stand outside a little longer than is comfortable but eventually find your way in.  Notice the hostess across the room, slicing cured meats for the food platters that line the kitchen counter. Grab a few snacks, feeling the warmth of her smile when she sees you.  Chatter with old friends around the room about basically anything and introduce your BF only half of the time. Eagerly wait for the ornament decorating table to clear up because you still have creative juices left.  Watch friends interact across the room as you listen to other friends chat beside you.

Pull a chair up to the decorating table and get to work.  Paint five ornaments and make yourself stop because you feel you are being antisocial.  Make a new friend over ornament aesthetics, your host’s coworker, and invite her to your Solstice party.  

Join the group of friends who has begun playing King’s Cup across the room, where your outfit is not suited to sit on the floor so you awkwardly keep changing positions.  Make a mental note that even wearing boyish clothes can be uncomfortable. Chat with a friend about his foot injury and about work and about life. Remember that you are still very attracted to him.  

Tell your BF to take a nap on the couch since she is tired.  Forget that she is sleeping behind you. Recognize that within a fifteen minute window, everyone has cleared out except for a small group of rugby players who have now transitioned to On the Bus from King’s Cup.  Realize that you have an enormous amount of love and affection for every single human that is left in the room with you.

Try to play along with the card game, but continuously get hung up in a side conversation or with passing around bottles of wine.  Pour another glass of a particularly tasty cab sav that you won’t remember the name of. Ditch the game of On the Bus because you’ve have been trying to beat one round for what seems like an eternity and have barely made it past the center point.  Have your attention grabbed by a plea for karaoke requests by your host and the offbeat rapping of your friends. Try to hear the music over drunk gargling but spend half the song partially laughing and partially shaking your head for the lack of rhythm in the room.  Sing along to your favorite Christmas song next.

Come back to reality, your BF directly in line of sight with a look of agony on her face, like she is on the verge of a full mental collapse, pleading to know when you are going home.  Order her a Lyft and take the four minutes it takes for them to arrive to stand next to her and wait.

Resume Christmas caroling when she is gone and for hours on from there.  Swig a bottle out of a friend’s hand, the wonderful cab sav, before another friend hands you your own bottle.  

Kneel by the fireplace beside the hostess and wrap your arm around her as she has hers around you and sway back and forth with your bottles and your songs.  Dance along rapping to an old hip hop hit while she twerks across the room. Notice an encore of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with a beautiful closing statement from the host to “Go the fuck home” cause again you’ve made it to 3:30am and it’s time to call it quits.  

Stumble into bed a second night in the row but not after hanging your two favorite new ornaments on the Christmas tree in the living room, this time cuddling up next to your BF, and hoping that you weren’t too loud while drunkenly trying to navigate your house and your room.  Sleep like a baby whose been so overstimulated by laughter and love that they don’t wake up for 12 hours. Feel the love still when you wake up the next morning, but don’t forget to feel the hunger too. The hunger for food, yes, but also the hunger for sustenance. The hunger to connect with each other.  The hunger to be with the Earth. The hunger to be kind and to have fun and to be free, and the hunger to continuously feel the love that radiates around you, whether it be Christmas season or not.

Can’t life be like this always?

Charley just looked down at me from the top bunk and said,

“Nap or read? I’m just so busy right now,” while rolling her eyes for emphasis.  We both giggled.

“I’m writing a blog post about that right now,” I told her, as I stood up and crossed the room, headed for the open locker where my most valuable items are locked away while we’re gone.  “You inspired me.  That doesn’t happen so often.”  I smiled back over my shoulder at her, resolving to put on a sweatshirt cause it’s cool in our room despite the intense heat outside.  I laid my laptop down on the brown covered couch in our room of six bunkbeds and one queen size that Fati and I are sharing.

“Can it be the title?” she asked me.

“Maybe,” I answered her, pulling the Redskins hoodie I stole from my mom over my ponytail which hangs loosely to the right side of my head, “but it’s definitely the opening line.”

It’s three in the afternoon in Budapest, our first morning in another new city.  We’ve been gone for three and a half weeks, but we only just made a shared album on Facebook so we can share photos (I’ll post the link at the bottom).  It’s been awhile since we fucked anything major up, like getting caught hopping trains without tickets or missing a connection all together and being stranded at a nowhere train station for the whole night.  I dare say we’ve got a good routine figured out.

This morning we all woke up around 9:30, stirring quietly amongst our three suite mates who came in well into the morning, now snoozing, the backs of their heads and various limbs hanging out from underneath each one’s single flat sheet.

We were out of the house a little after ten and headed to a park on the corner of our block, that we’d noticed on the walk from the train station last night.  It proved unsuitable for exercise.  The only open patches of grass were being watered by a gardener and adorned with signs that I could only assume said “Keep Off Lawn” in Hungarian.  The rest of the small park was just a very well designed playground teeming with kids and parents.

So we headed for the National Museum, which appeared to have a lawn on the map our receptionist gave us last night, across one of the major streets in Budapest’s city center.  The high metal gate around the building, our rumbling stomachs, and the heat of summer sun cooking the sidewalks below us nearly nixed our workout plans, but we’d finally gotten in a groove and I wasn’t willing to let it go.  The girls bucked up and we found a patch of grass and the coolness of shade under a cluster of trees, next to a statue of someone important to Hungarian history.

Doing ankle PT, I wasn’t sure if I’d offend anyone by using his base for calf raises, but I peaked around the ground and decided it was worth the risk.  There didn’t seem to be anyone around to offend.  An hour later, we’d sweated enough, and went on the hunt for food.

Following the receptionist’s advice, with our map, we headed back towards the hostel and towards the river, passing numerous restaurants with mostly outdoor seating.  On the way back, I noticed kebap for 450HUF (about $1.75) and promised to have some later. [Mom, you need to come out here if for nothing less than authentic tsasiki] But now, our hearts were set on breakfast

Approaching the river, our stomachs grumbled the last of our patience out, and Charley resolved to check Google for a market.  I stood next to her, pointing out to Fati the shiny ceramic tiles on the massive building across the street from us that were similar to those on the Viennese cathedral.  Charley’s map loaded.

The building was market! With various meat and produce and textile vendors through three rows, a loft upstairs, and an Aldi downstairs, we spent the equivalent of 10 bucks on fresh food for breakfast and dinner, and headed back to the hostel to cook.  After a plate full of potatoes, peppers, cheese, over easy eggs, and couple pieces of toast, some yogurt and a banana, we were back to ourselves, feeling full and fine.

“This is the life, man,” I said to Charley, as Fati cleaned up our plates.  She nodded in agreement.  “Why can’t I live my life like this always?”

The three of us brainstormed for a little while before retiring to our room for showers and afternoon naps, not coming to any complete answers.

There’s one thing I do know, though.

I won’t stop until I figure it out.

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam ~ Berlin ~ Prague ~ Cesky Krumlov ~ Vienna ~ Budapest

Posted by Sus Kitchen on Tuesday, July 18, 2017

 

 

062417: to Amsterdam

Things we learned today:

1. It’s true that you can sit in a cafe for hours (even in the airport) after ordering and finishing food and be no bother to the wait staff.  They don’t mind you using their internet to try and finagle a place to stay for the night.

2. Book stuff earlier (and don’t rely on an AirBnB host to not unexpectedly cancel on you) or you’ll end up in a half-swanky hotel for the night, determined to get and stay at least a few steps ahead of your wandering feet for the rest of the trip, if for no other reason than your budget.

3. Hostels are cheaper and easier to find online when you’re in the actual city, although hard to get same day (see above lesson).  Most I looked at online in the States were more than twice than what we found for the next couple nights.

4. Public trans is great as long as you’re paying attention to where you’re going and not joyously ecstatic about finally leaving the airport and heading to a place with a shower after six hours.  Otherwise, you may or may not miss your stop twice while figuring out how to indicate to the bus driver that you need to exit.

5. The Amsterdam airport may as well be a suburban center- a mall, train station, and airport packed into one- where you can find good food cheaper than outside the airport in Denver.  Also, the coffee packs a mean punch, in both flavor and caffeine boost, but for you’re only served one creamer pack.  The kick made the bitter 110% worthwhile.

6. The bathrooms in the Iceland airport are glorious- single fully enclosed toilet-sink combos that feel more private and clean than the one in my old apartment, where I lived alone (lol).  Also, the crisp, clean, beautiful modern architecture thematically spread into the food market where we sought out breakfast- fresh salmon subs, chia power boost yogurts, and the vegan breakfast option (baked beans below a fat farmhouse tomato covered in pesto).  It’s hard to feel clean after seven hours on a plane, but that place did it.

7. I should pack before the day we’re leaving.  At least the night before, because inevitably, the Iceland air queue will be unbearably long- stretching to Bridge Security around the corner from the kiosks, giving me enough time to repack the clothes and supplies I’d literally thrown into my backpack forty five minutes before.

And last, but certainly not least,

8. The Dutch are handsome, tall, and well spoken men who work at waterside restaurants inspired by Hemingway (which just make me super happy inside) who will tease us about asking where to find a gay club in Amsterdam and for eating appetizers as dinner.  Our inner meal schedules say dinner and a beer at 10:00PM though it’d been telling us to eat at every airport junction while traveling all day.

BIG SHOUT OUT TO ZORRO FOR DRIVING US TO THE AIRPORT! [you da best fr fr]

Tomorrow, we (hopefully) find our way easily into downtown via train, to our hostel for the next two nights, and then exploring museums and markets.

And from my Danish seed scientist seat neighbor flying out of DIA, the quote of the day-“Ah, yes, because flying is transportation, but the train is travelling.”

More tomorrow.