31.8.04

Must see: Lunatique Fantastique at the Marsh, coming up soon. It's cheaper than a movie!

30.8.04

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This is a test. It's also a good-lookin salt lick I was admiring recently when I was in Wyoming.

27.8.04

Just in case you were a little too cocky about the Bay Area... we have Chinese buffets here too. (Oh, & I sent this wirelessly from a cafe! Hee hee!)

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26.8.04

Gather round, children, & let granny tell you about the old days when email was new. Or new to me, anyway. Back in 1992 I got a part-time job working for a radio series, aptly named the Communications Revolution, which was all about demystifying & investigating the new technology that was just starting to explode on the scene. All of our project advisors were the hard-core geeks who had email before anybody else ever did, which meant that we had to have email too so we could talk to them. I still remember vividly when one of my coworkers wrote out a page-long set of instructions on how to upload a document (what we now call sending an attachment); I anxiously but gamely worked my way down the page, following each instruction, until I saw the lines of text scrolling up the monitor. It was a revelation -- this stuff actually worked!

When the web came along, I nursed a phobia of it, too, for several months until I finally jumped in with both feet, never to look back. I'm like this about every new thing that comes along on the net; I'm a late adopter but once I get over my anxieties I'm all over it. Anyway, one of our project geek angels back then was Tim Pozar. Tim set us up with all kinds of tech stuff, none of which I remember at all anymore, but the main thing about Tim was that he was a real mensch, whipsmart, & just so totally enthusiastic about the internet & its potential for good that you couldn't help but catch a bit of his enthusiasm yourself.

Meanwhile, back in the present, just now I was nervously surfing around for info about the wireless universe that I'm about to join, all for the sake of Better Chinese Restaurant Blogging From The Road. The concept of wireless has given me a whole new set of worries about security & encryption & so forth (thanks to that old job, I've always been aware of those issues too), & whether or not it's gonna end up costing me a lot of money, & so on & so forth. I didn't realize how anxious I actually was until I happened upon Tim's name at the top of a list of free wireless nodes in San Francisco, & suddenly felt much better. Like traveling to somewhere new & kind of scary, & then running into someone you know who's actually an expert on the place.

Reminds me yet again of this traditional Turkish folktale formula, which has been very much in my mind recently: "They went a great way but still went only a little way; they went over rivers and mountains and yet went straight; they went for six months and a summer, but when they looked back, they found that they had gone only the length of a grain of barley." (See Ahmet E. Uysal's Tales Alive in Turkey for this & many other variations on the formula.)

24.8.04

Oh, the mysteries: I have no idea what this album sounds like. I have never heard of Asian Man Records until just now. I can't tell from the picture whether there's an Asian person in this band (it appears not), & I have not the first clue why they would name an album Crab Rangoon. But there it is, & I'm blogging about it. If you are more adventurous with your $8 than I am, maybe you could buy this & listen to it & tell me what it's all about.

Some days really bring a lotta love in the mailbox. From Holga buddy Doria comes a thematic Chinese restaurant T-shirt perfect for my next photo op. From city planning whiz Rolf, a CD of Mississippi & Alabama census maps. At the moment I am gazing fondly upon a map showing racial/ethnic diversity by census tract, for Birmingham. They do this by an Index of Qualitative Variation, "a measure ranging from 0.0 to 1.0 in which a higher score indicates greater diversity. A tract with a score of 1.0 would have even numbers of people across all racial/ethnic categories. A score of 0.0 indicates 'monoracial.'" Fascinating stuff.

Also a few days ago the mail brought a stack of menus from Washington DC. I didn't have any from there before that. Keep it coming, please Mr. Postman!

These things almost balance out the utter despair I feel over the fact that the bathroom is still leaking.

19.8.04

So, as promised, here is a Chinese restaurant story from the road, a cautionary tale about Why You Shouldnít Work When Youíre Tired:

I was fried; Iíd gotten about 4 hours of sleep to my usual 8, gotten up early to catch a plane & then drove all day after that. Just before sunset, I arrived in a Wyoming town (which shall remain nameless), checked into the Travelodge, & went out determined to get my much-desired shot of a particular Chinese restaurant (which shall also remain nameless). This was a restaurant I had tried shooting two years before. Of all the photos that didnít turn out from that trip, this was the only one I couldnít let go of; I really thought this lonely-looking restaurant had great photogenic potential. So here I was, supposedly on vacation, giving my workaholic self a dispensation to go to work on this restaurant. I drove the short distance across town, got there & realized that I was just a few minutes too late; the sun had set & the light was no good. The perfect picture had eluded me again. This was not so terrible, because I knew I would be coming through town again on my way back home at the end of my vacation. Since I was there, though, I figured I should go in & try to get a release signed, because who knew if anyone would be there to do the signing on my return trip.

I took a breath & went in. There was only one table of customers, a tired-looking white family who all looked up at me as I entered. The dad had big bags under his eyes. A young Chinese woman greeted me & I asked for permission to shoot. She said, You should talk to the boss. A short man approximately in his 30s came out of the kitchen. I started to tell him what I wanted, & he beckoned me into a little side room, where there were only 3 or 4 tables. He swept a pile of Chinese newspapers off one & invited me to sit down. He asked if I wanted anything to drink & I politely asked for water. It was obvious the language barrier was significant; I could feel my tiredness as I tried unsuccessfully to explain what an artist was, or at least, what I would be doing with the photos. He mostly cared about getting a photo for himself, so that he could bring it back to China on his next visit. I promised to send him a small print. Then I started the standard questions like, How did you end up here? I got out my microphone & leaned across the table to hold it to his mouth. His story was the usual one: started in San Francisco, couldnít afford to buy a house there, moved to Wyoming because he had a friend here. Out of his very fragmented English, one phrase emerged loud & clear: "no choice".

Since I always want to know about restauranteurs raising their kids in these places, I asked, Do you have kids? He shook his head no. The logical next question was, Are you married? But as soon as it came out of my mouth I knew I had fucked up. Pouncing eagerly upon this opening, he fired back with a big smile, No, are you? Still caught off guard by my own mistake, I said, No. Do you have a boyfriend? Recovering a little too late I said emphatically, Yes! But I could see we had gone in a bad direction. I steered away to other topics, got him to sign the release. He asked if I wanted something to eat. Exhausted, I accepted so I could avoid the tedious search for dinner in this town of extremely limited options. He got up to make it. Still trying to get something useful out of the situation, I got out my other microphones to capture some ambient noise while I waited.

The woman came in to talk to me. Her English was a lot better than his. She said that she was studying education & had a job teaching little kids. I said, So, you have that job and you work here too? She said, Iím just filling in this week while his wife is out of town. I groggily filed this piece of information away & asked her if she was related to him. With the subtlest possible hint of distaste, she said, No, heís just the boss. Just then he came back with my order packed up in a big brown bag, & she slipped away into the main room. I was relieved that he had packed it to go because Iíd been worrying Iíd have to sit there with him watching me eat. I thanked him & offered to pay, knowing that he would refuse. This has happened before & I didnít think there was anything wrong with it until he trailed me out of the building, asking, Is that your car? Are you staying in a motel? Can I come there?!

Yikes! I said, No, sorry! & fled with my food. I felt completely slimed & a little freaked out, so when I got back to the motel I told the nice Indian dad at the desk, Uh, I donít want any visitors, so if anyone comes looking for me.... He immediately said, Of course maíam, giving me a very proper, dignified nod that conveyed his complete understanding & control of the situation. Considerably reassured, I went up to my room, where I blew the psychic slime off the food before eating what I could of it. Dude had packed an enormous portion of chicken fried rice, plus a quart styrofoam container of cola (which I barely recognized because I never drink it). Enough food for two hungry lovers, I guess, blech!

As I sat there forking broccoli flowerets out of the mountain of rice, it dawned on me that the desperate restauranteur must surely have propositioned his pretty young employee as well. She had obviously been eavesdropping on our conversation & was watching my back for me. Sisterhood is powerful! I wondered if maybe she was doing that unpleasant job purely as a favor to the wife, who might be one of her best friends in a small town like this.

In the morning, after a solid nightís sleep under the protection of the proper Indian innkeepers, I considered that I couldnít really blame the poor guy, running his miserable Chinese restaurant in this godforsaken town; if he felt he had no choice in where to live & how to make a living, might he not also feel that he had not much choice in who he had married? If I were him, Iíd probably be throwing myself at anyone who came near me, too! Nevertheless I was more than happy to get the hell out of dodge, & swore not to do any more work until the end of the trip. When I came back through a week later, Iíd had plenty of rest, all my shots were from a safe distance, & I was glad that nobody came out of the restaurant to see what I was doing. I figured the wife must be back by now anyway.

18.8.04

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The fortunate town of Green River, Wyoming appears to be safe from the crab rangoon, at least for now. Myself, I ate a hot turkey sandwich for lunch here. My old truck stop favorite, since early childhood.

Dang. I spend a week alone in utter peace & quiet, just me & assorted antelope, listening to the wind & memorizing poems (I memorized poems, the antelope didn't -- at least I don't think they did -- unless they did it very quietly), & then I come home to total fucking chaos. Donna got in a car accident just before she was supposed to pick me up at the airport; she's okay but her car ain't. Amy came to the rescue, scooping me up at curbside & then picking up Donna from the intersection where she'd been hanging out for hours, dealing with cops & tow truck & so forth. Thank you Amy!

Then, the leaking bathroom that was fixed before I left turned out not to be fixed, & our house guy showed up this morning to work on it again before I was even dressed. So he's here ripping stuff up & I can't really unpack & I'm not even sure where my hairbrush is. He uncovered yet another fine example of Outrageously Stupid Construction Tricks from the house's wretched past. Let's just say that roofing shingles do not belong inside your shower walls, & leave it at that.

Yikes! Lessons in flexibility. I'm trying not to have a cow or anything. I do have some Chinese restaurant stories from the road, though... will post soon. After I figure out how to brush my teeth.

9.8.04

Well, kids, despite the fact that I'm going to be in a little cabin out in the middle of nowhere, this next week for me is only 5% Chinese restaurants. The rest of it isn't exactly vacation, but close enough to it. So if you're wondering why your emails seem to fall into a vaccuum, that's why.

Hint: the 5% includes a restaurant I have already encountered once before.

7.8.04

Don't forget to check out the meteor showers, y'all. They're supposed to be good this year. I saw a couple of nice bright streaks last weekend, & I wasn't even looking for them!