Like a baby.
I spent the night with Amy and my cousin Melissa. Soon to be working together at a hospital in Broward, they are both nurses and share an apartment in Ft Lauderdale. Amy also has a pet Chihuahua, Rosie, who was forced to share her space with a Daschund named Oscar for a few days. They would fight each other on top of me while I slept. I developed a deep antipathy toward Oscar.
The next day was the family reunion that my big sis Anais had been planning for about a year. Melissa, Amy, and I awoke a bit late and headed down to John Lloyd park in Dania Beach, where the rest of the fam was already waiting for us. I gave the obligatory hugs and kisses to my family, even those I had never met before. This is normal in Miami. I hung out with my niece and nephews (the newest, Christovan [“Van”], for the first time), and met a bunch of other familial folks. Most awkward was finally meeting a cousin of my mom’s whom I had absent-mindedly stood up in New Jersey shortly after my move to NYC. I’ll never live it down.
I left the beach with my parents, riding toward my childhood home in Kendall. I had some time to shower, dress, and catch up on my e-mail before heading out again for phase two of the family reunion: dinner at La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant in Miami. As might be expected, there was little on the menu that catered to my vegetarian needs, so I ate a whole lot of rice, beans, and maduros (sweet plantains). Seeing that I was not eating the meat plates, the servers asked what was up. They brought me a plate full of steamed veggies and a hot bowl of malanga soup. Amy gawked at my insatiable appetite.
The time I had planned to be in Miami was admittedly short. I first saw my parents on Saturday morning and was scheduled to play in Tampa the following Wednesday. Sufficed to say, my mom was displeased. Still, to make matters worse, my parents had to make an emergency trip out of town on Sunday and would not be back until Monday evening!
Sunday was spent at Anais’ apartment with the three kids. Noemie and Dominic, my niece and nephew, are adorable and a blast to hang with. Van will undoubtedly fit this description as well, but from my experience it typically takes six months to a year before I perceive them as adorable. I suppose his grace period ends in November. We all went to Anais’ church for an evening service. Amy and I had not been able to go in the morning since Amy left her keys in Melissa’s car. I had a killer nap on one of the pews beforehand, so I was able to listen attentively to the message. The devil was not to take my lunch anytime soon! After the service, they had a huge potluck at the church. I ate two or three platefuls of non-meat selections – all the energy I needed for a night of Scrabble against Anais and Danny (her husband), each a regional champion in their own right.
I spent all of Monday with Amy. I had been begging her to drive me to Tampa and Orlando, knowing that it would be nearly impossible to hitch a ride out of Miami. She agreed reluctantly but also knew that repairs would have to be made on her car if she were to make the nearly 600 mile trek. So on Monday afternoon we drove her car down to a mechanic on US441. We knew it would take a few hours and we were on foot. We doubted there was much around there that could keep us entertained. Boy were we wrong!
We began walking, looking for a decent place to stop for lunch. There was hardly anything to choose from that wasn’t fast food. So after walking at least half a mile, we went with the least of such evils: an old favorite, Pollo Tropical. We shared a large veggie Tropichop with fried yuca and maduros on the side, playing MASH over lunch (I’ll be a Peace Studies professor, living in a Chicago mansion with my beautiful wife and fifteen children). From there we walked another block or two and decided to stop at Payless Shoes. I needed to replace my sneakers and sandals. They were all falling apart and I had left one of the sandals at Firestorm Books in Asheville, NC (long story). I bought myself three new sets of footwear: running shoes and hippie sandals for my tour, and a pair of plain black skate shoes for work and/or winter to be delivered in the near future. I asked the Payless employee where I might find a Bank of America, as it was the due date for my credit card payment. Across the street! Who knew we’d get so many errands done out there?!
Now that several hours had passed, we hoped to pick up Amy’s car back at the mechanic. As we made our way, she received a call indicating that her car would need more work and would not be ready for pickup until the following morning. Tired from walking in the Miami heat and lacking available friends or family to pick us up, we considered alternatives for our return home. Amy was set to call a taxi, but I was confident we could catch a couple buses for a buck fifty a pop to get back. Sure enough, we were soon back at Amy’s apartment – to her astonishment, for only $6!
As promised, my parents returned Monday night and treated Amy, Melissa, and me to dinner at a Thai restaurant. Yum! Afterwards, I loaded myself and my gear into the back seat of my dad’s pickup truck and rode with my ‘rents back to my home in Miami to spend the night.
I spent the following morning working on some tour business. My mother came to pick me up and take me out for lunch and some other errands. We had some more Cuban food (not having eaten yet, I ordered breakfast) and shopped for a new backpack, guitar strings, and a new E harmonica.
I’ve had a lot of history with my backpack and it was not easy choosing a replacement. Seriously. I’ve had that old pack with me since high school! It’s been with me through my moves to Orlando and New York, my various road trips (including two to Chicago), my circumvention of the world in 2007, and one and a half cross-country tours! It also boasts a notable button collection, reflective of its travels; but most impressively, perhaps, it also bears the blood stains sung about in the GioSafari song, Psychology of a Bike Wreck Survivor: “all I have left is blood stains on my backpack to remind me what happened on that fateful day…”
As for the strings and harmonica, I had been using the same guitar strings for many months and knew they were due for changing; and I had bought an E harmonica in a set of seven that was out of tune from the beginning. Since the start of this tour, I had been singing many of my harmonica solos and/or attempting to play those solos in the cross-harp blues style, which is certainly not my forte and with which I had much difficulty!
The only thing left to do was to visit my grandmother at the old-folks home she was moved to several months ago. She is not doing well and it is very saddening to see her in that condition. Still, it’s best that she’s no longer a burden on my parents, with whom she had been living for so long, even through her increasing debilitations. She was a woman who prayed diligently for those she knew and loved and the world will have a notable void in goodness and faithfulness when she is gone. Visits to Miami typically drag me through these sorts of existential deliberations, as all four of my octogenarian grandparents are yet alive and kickin’, but are hardly ever well.
I went back home with my mom and resumed my work at the computer, trying to book shows, find rides and couches, etc for the remaining part of my tour. I had yet to book Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, South Bend, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Scranton, so I had a ton of work to do!
I shared dinner with my parents and Amy, discussing their hopeful visit to NYC in September. These would be our final moments together until their visit, should it happen.
Amy and I left Miami on Wednesday afternoon, headed toward Tampa where my good friend and old band-mate, Mark, had planned a dinner and show at his house. We arrived in the evening, ready to eat! Mark made some incredible vegetarian dishes, that were very awesome! After eating, we waited a while for people to show up. The attendance turned out to be meager anyway, but everyone there was very supportive and cool. So I can’t complain =) I had a string break toward the end of my set, which made me very happy that I had bought new strings in Miami! Also during my set, Mark took some great pics with my camera, which I have not been able to post for reasons I’ll get to in a future post. As was the case with many other cities on my tour, I wished we could have stayed with Mark longer, but of course I had more places to be!
Next stop was Orlando, where I lived for five years through my studies at UCF and my year of service with AmeriCorps. I had planned to spend several days here so that I could see all my old friends. We left early in the morning so that Amy and I could share breakfast before my first meeting in Orlando. We went to my old favorite, The Breakfast Club on Pine Street, ordered take-out, and ate under a tree by Lake Eola in the morning’s cool, breezy shade.
My first meeting was on Thursday afternoon with the leaders of Status, the Discovery-Church-based ministry of which I was a part during my five years there. Amy met my old friends and left promptly, headed back to South Florida. At first it was just Cole and Tom, but I also saw Jenn and Melyssa before the day’s end. They asked me about my tour, life in NYC, and my involvement with TGC. I asked them in turn about how Status has been going since I left, but especially since the head teaching pastor had stepped down with no one ready or willing to fill the gap. When this happened in January, the former creative director, Cole, felt the call to step up and take a leadership role that he had not anticipated. I, for one, am proud of him and of the rest of the leadership team for their unfailing faith, love, and commitment to the body of Status, the city of Orlando, and the Kingdom of God! It was refreshing to see them all again =)
After the meeting, I stayed behind in the Status offices to catch up on some more tour planning. After several hours of this, it was time to close the offices so Jenn drove me to my friend Andy’s house. I got some more work done there as I waited for Jorge to get off work and pick me up. He came with his girlfriend and co-worker, Valerie, in her Volvo station wagon (Sven). They offered me cheese cracker snacks. This was a good way to start a friendship.
Jorge was the manager (“asshole”) at the Black Box Collective, where my album release show was held last year and for which I volunteered much time and energy. He and Valerie had been planning my show, the Feisty Fiesta, for over a month. It originally had a Mexican fiesta theme because it was to be held at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Orlando called Gringo’s. When he was informed that Gringo’s would not be available after all, he planned to hold the fiesta instead at Valerie’s house. They decided to call themselves the Party Collective, an organization they would use as a good excuse to throw awesome parties for no reason other than to have a whole lot of fun. Reminds me of NYC-based Newmindspace or Improv Everywhere. I approve.
So we made our way to Valerie’s house to grab some grub and get things set up. I helped for a while until passing out on the couch. They woke me up around 2am to go to WPRK, the Rollins College radio station, for Valerie’s very own indie rock radio show! Jorge and I killed the time decorating a home-made piñata. Then, around 4am, Valerie interviewed me for a bit, giving me a chance to talk about my tour and the Feisty Fiesta, scheduled for the next evening. Then around 5am, I played three songs live on air!
Once the show was over, I was taken back to Andy’s to sleep. It would not be for long, though, because I had a noon meeting with my friend Julie. Not having a car (or a bike helmet =/), I made the fifteen minute bike ride with no problem. I was not so lucky after the meeting was over. Riding back to Andy’s, I got myself stuck in a Florida-summer-style downpour. There was no time to waste, though, as I had a two o’clock meeting, which Jorge had agreed to drive me to from Andy’s. I arrived completely soaked, changed my clothes, and got in the car with Jorge. After almost a whole year of watching my hair grow (literally!), it was time to get it locked!
Veronica had beautiful locks herself and I trusted right away that she would do a great job with my hair. So with “The Fifth Element” and her daughter Neveah to entertain us, she got to work locking what had become my Jewfro curls. They came out great, I was very much pleased! She then drove me to Valerie’s place, where Jorge and Valerie needed some more eleventh-hour help setting up for the night’s festivities.
The show was scheduled to begin at 7:30p. The artists all arrived in a timely fashion, but we decided to wait until 9:30 to get started, since very few others had shown up until around then. I was really happy to see two guests who had seen me play in Cocoa earlier in the month and came all the way to Orlando just to see me a second time! And boy, were they in for a fun show!
First to take the stage was Matt Mendel, a street performer himself who, if I’m not mistaken, was playing his music at a show for the very first time! He did a great job! Next up was James Roquemore, a great performer whom I had played with at an acoustic music event in Orlando last summer. He plans to move to Nashville soon and of course I wish him much success there! Finally, the man I had been waiting to see. I hardly believed that this was really going to happen until I saw him walk through the front door: Thomas Wynn.
In the midst of my emotional turmoil and existential frustration in 2008, I found a sympathetic voice in Thomas Wynn. I had been following his music career since his work with the Wynn Brothers band, his Orlando-based family band, which blended a refreshingly authentic country sound with relentless rock and roll. His solo project, Thomas Wynn and the Believers, took on a similar form; but his first EP – a heart-wrenching five song lament – was exactly what I needed to know that I was not alone, to know that someone somewhere could understand the pain that I was going through.
Now here he was, playing my show and opening for me! I’m not worthy!
Finally it was my time to take the stage and do my thing. As I set up, Jorge handed out noisemakers to the crowd. This was going to be fun. I instructed people to make lots of noise during my solos and there were some truly raucous moments! It was a fun set and I had a great time with my friends, fans, and guests!
Once I was done playing, it was time to demolish the piñata, a task that Jorge had assigned to me. The piñata was really thick, though, and did not break on the first hit. Instead, it fell clear off the string. Suspecting that it would be impossible to break the piñata if it were hanging, we just put it on the ground and I swung at it like chopping wood with an axe: mercilessly. I held up what was left of the piñata to let the pennies, Laffy Taffy candies, and mini chocolate bars litter the living room floor. Everyone helped him/herself. All in all, a very good night!
Saturday was largely uneventful until Jorge received a call from Valerie, indicating that Sven had got a flat tire close to her workplace, near UCF. She was a little hysterical. Jorge and I hopped into his car and drove out to help. As we wrenched up the car on its jack, the thing broke and we were left with no option but to call AAA for roadside assistance. We shared some Chipotle as we waited for an inordinate amount of time (three hours) for them to arrive, turning it into a flat tire picnic – what some might consider the Party Collective’s second festive effort!
My good friend Seth came to hang with us, arriving just moments before the AAA guy. Once Sven was all patched up and ready to go, we all went our separate ways. I rode with Seth to my friend Mike’s house, where he was hosting a house party, reminiscent of certain parties that were once held at the Metal House. Seth and I grabbed some beers (Nady Ice, lol) and spent most of the time sitting out front, catching up and pretending to take money at the door. Jorge and Valerie came a bit later, but we didn’t stay too late since we had to be up fairly early on Sunday to make our way to Gainesville.
I found out the next morning that Jorge and Valerie had actually stayed up until 4am doing I-don’t-know-what. No matter. I had places to be! I managed to drag them out of bed and get us on the road by 10am, just as planned!
I had a great time in Miami and Orlando, seeing and spending time with my friends and family; but perhaps I was getting a little too sedentary in my old places of residence. I was now ready to hit the road again – to hitch hike, couch surf, dumpster dive, and street perform. To get back on track with my Vagrants & Vagabonds, Outlaws & Thieves Tour!