location, travel, writing

the enterprise is docked in the lobby

Writing in a hotel lobby makes me feel like a character in a noir novel. There’s a canned version of “Summertime” on piano coming in through the speakers, fake and inappropriate and poignant in the rapidly cooling fall weather, and an unused massage chair behind me. Upstairs is my employer and her baby, and her assistant, all now asleep. Behind me, Minneapolis executives (the only people chilling at this hotel mid-week) drink and talk.

A: No, that’s not the story!
B: The story is, the story –
A: The story is –

I sat outside talking to my friend on the phone awhile, and someone pulled up in an SUV to ask if I needed a ride somewhere.

“No,” I said, “I’m staying at the hotel. Just talking on the phone.”

“Okay,” he said, and drove off.

It’s only in the Midwest that anyone has ever offered me a ride from the side of the road, or expected me to take it, without feeling like someone was going to get brutally murdered. I still don’t hitch, but it’s amazing that here, people even offer. It’s surprising that there’s a place in this country, a city, even, where that exchange is more about friendship – “guest-friendship” – than fear.

So I’m inside, and I write, things I’m supposed to be, things I’m not supposed to be, things I’ve never heard of before, the only way I ever get writing done – between 11 pm and the morning.

location, travel

What’re you going to catch?

Walking the cold, green circuit around Mt. Normandale Lake today, in Bloomington, Minnesota, I met a fisherman. The shores were so landscaped and office-parkized that I couldn’t believe there were fish, but there he was, wearing a plaid shirt, standing in the grass, throwing a line out into the reeds.

D: Are you really fishing here?
S: Yup.
D: What’re you going to catch?
S: Bass, hopefully.

This trip is just a side trip for my day job, and I have no explicit theatrical agenda. I guess that must mean I like travel for its own sake, now – meeting new people, and imagining theater projects in the future. Seeing new places, like pancake-flat Minnesota, with lakes like the holes in the dough. I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying this. It’s very nice to be back on the road again, but with a home to return to.

location, music, travel


Last night I went to the Montrose Saloon, which has been a Chicago venue for beer and music for over 100 years, to hear my roommate Angela’s old-time string band WABOLABR play. (I know what the name means, but then I’d have to kill you.)

I joined Janna, who’s just relocated to Chicago from SF, an actress and improvisor. We met through friends of friends at a reading at the Goodman. We ate chicken, rice, and beans from next door, drank Old Style (regrettable, but a necessary experiment) and talked about the unlikely, fortuitous journeys that have brought us here.

I am another version of her, or she is of me. She got into town a week before I did. We both have 415 area codes, professional links to TJT and the 16th Street Theater, and took extended Amtrak train trips along the way. And we both agreed that this city has all the resources, artistic generosity, and open spirit you could possibly ask for. Listening to ourselves and asking what would make us most happy and fulfilled, as artists and as people, is what has brought us to Illinois.

I knew it was a trend, coming here, but I didn’t realize how much of one it was. Janna’s profile as a person is very similar to mine, and we’ve taken many paths next to each other, and now we’re both here. This is exciting. It means the collaborators I’ve been looking for are looking for me, too. There have been times in my artistic career where I’ve been afraid of finding my doppelganger, thinking that she, whoever she is, is going to take “the spot” designated for me. That comes from a more competitive point of view. My doppelganger, today, would want to work with me, because that’s all I want to do. And if she’s out there, I hope she contacts me soon. The idea is really appealing. The pie of artistic collaboration is not limited to a certain number of slices. The more you eat, the more there is.

It was the first time I’ve really gone out just to enjoy myself in Chicago, and it was wonderful. The band’s voices echoed like Superballs. I walked Janna to the train station and we felt the windy chatter of the trees and air around us. The air moves so much here that you can’t walk down a street in silence, even when there are no people around – the trees are always, always talking.

I think what they might be saying now is, “Autumn is coming.”

location, travel

proverb of place

Welcome to Chicago (and to my weblog, if you’re new here.)
I will try to keep it interesting.

I didn’t know I was coming here till just a few weeks ago, but I’m glad to be here. The place feels like Ithaca, with thunderstorms rippling through the trees. The air breathes with you.

In honor of the move, which now feels official since we signed a lease on Tuesday, here’s William Blake on the unbelievable:

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.


leaving los angeles: today

Closing up the house. It’s done: once again, all my life is in a suitcase.

Taking the Metro to MacArthur to meet X (the architect for the untitled national theater, and my traveling companion to SF.) We eat sandwiches at Langer’s, with old men and drag queens, and do last-minute work from the twelfth floor of his concrete-girdered loft. We prepare for Vegas, and the desert beyond.

We go to More For Less by the park to acquire ribbon for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, for our ground-breaking of the desert site for the untitled national theater, but they don’t have any ribbon. An omen of things to come, perhaps.

a propos of nothing, travel

leaving los angeles: t minus 2

Last day. Shipping boxes. Visiting the Valley. Driving over the 134 and the mountains. I’m glad X and I are going through the mountains on our way back to SF – I need to say goodbye to the California ranges.

My father reminds me how happy I was to be back on the West Coast earlier in June, how I called them from Seattle ravenously happy about the light and the ocean. He’s right, of course, I do feel more at home here. But this is a new adventure, and adventures aren’t about feeling at home. They’re about taking risks.

Replenishing the house-sitting staples: coffee, soap, toilet paper. Vacuuming dog hair. Tying up loose ends on the computer and in the brain.

Reading a vintage guidebook with ink drawings of important architectural sites in Chicago, and dreaming of Illinois.

Tomorrow we road-trip to Vegas and plunge into the Nevada desert.

acting, film, location, travel

leaving los angeles: t minus 3

Flashes of Los Angeles, as I shut down Operation Pasadena and prepare to be on the road again.

1) The road.
With no time left to use it, I discover 6th Street. You can have lived here all your life, worked here for years, and still find another (better) way to get from one side of it to the other. It’s particularly good for the Pasadena-to-midtown stretch: the 110 to downtown, and 6th west. Driving here feels like negotiating: I’ll see your sun blinding you off the face of the enormous iridescent office building lurking over the 110 North, and raise you a Cone Zone construction closing off your exit. There’s no one way to get from one place to another, only a series of guesses.

2) The Fairfax corridor.
There’s no more alien pizza, or cosmic pizza, or all the wrong names I ever gave Nova Express. I had two of the three most significant meetings of my time in Los Angeles in that all-night, sci-fi-decorated Fairfax pizza joint. i only remember one of them, but I know the other one happened. And now it doesn’t exist. If anything is a confirmation that I should be leaving town, it’s this sad disappearance. The front is boarded up.
We end up in Canter’s instead. A friend suggests that everything in life that isn’t theater is the green room. I buy sunglasses and a suitcase in the thrift stores, observe the selection of vintage menorahs, walk the walk, and eat the kugel.

3) The Heath Ledger Experience.
Waiting in line at the Grove. Running into the theater, dignity abandoned, scrambling for seats. One of the most wonderful performances I have ever seen, or ever hope to see. We laugh loudly at all the wrong places, at the most violent moments, when his acting is superlative. Which is a lot. I’d watch Christopher Nolan direct the phone book.
I was guilty of some of the cheesy reasoning folks have been throwing around about his death, BSing with a philosophy professor friend of my parents’ that a dark role makes your outlook on life darker, that playing the Joker drove him over “the edge.”
But that’s just not true. I don’t know how anyone can say that the performance actually drove him mad, when any actor would be so proud of that performance that it would drive them to greater sanity. He knew how good he was, and he was enjoying being that good. He was on top of his game, technically perfect, and proud of it.
Makes me believe, even more, that his death was an accident.

(I created a new category with this post, location, for things that are about places but not necessarily just about traveling. All my observations on place have been travel-related, for the last year, but I want to link into them with a more grounded noun.)


leaving los angeles: t minus 5

Yesterday, I finalized a sublet in Chicago, and as if jealous, Los Angeles has become distinctly unpalatable. Traffic has started to turn against me. The weather seems less charming. Cracks appear in the dirt. A plant which I have been diligently watering for six weeks dies one morning, its leaves blackening in the sun. And the city, like a vulture throwing its baby vultures out of the nest, is kicking me out. It’s either that or the Joker. And I label a post “travel” again.

Here are other new ills that have come
just now, of evil doom,
from the blind stranger–
unless Fate is somehow at work.
For I cannot call any decision of God
a vain thing.
Time watches constantly those decisions;
Some fortunes it destroys, and others,
on the day following lifts up again.

-Chorus, OEDIPUS @ COLONUS (Sophocles)

a propos of nothing, quotes, travel

in every port

“It’s always been a battle between a kind of Wild West frontier sex industry and the Puritan church industry. At one point there was a saying that you couldn’t throw a stone in Portland without hitting a brothel. There were more brothels than churches, and there were a lot of churches. It’s hard to find a bar that doesn’t have nude dancers in Portland. People just end up going there by default to have a hamburger and there just happens to be strippers. Strippers are as ubiquitous as pinball machines, or video poker.”

“No, you’re doing it wrong. It’s like sex, if it hurts and it’s painful you’re doing it wrong.”
(On whether writing should be painful. )

Palahniuk on Portland, on writing, and his new book, SNUFF. Reminds me of McMurtry getting the “couple of whores from Portland” to take the guys from the asylum out in the boat, in CUCKOO’S NEST. And it makes me miss the Pearl.

a propos of nothing, travel

on leaving los angeles (t minus 7)

I tell a three-year-old that I’m moving to Chicago, which is why I won’t be coming to play with her again for awhile. I look around for a map to show her where Illinois is, and can’t find one. She understands, and takes me to her window.

“Look,” she says.

I look out, over the city I have to leave again. I squint through the light at the houses, the apartment buildings, the red tile roofs and fire escapes, the palm trees, oak trees, dead trees and living trees, the hills and the sky. The view is faded, like a photograph left in the sun.

She points to the highest of the peaks and shows me a house on its edge. The home of some rich person in the hills, perhaps, or some hippie in the canyons. It’s very far away, and the light catches its roof. I can barely see it.

“That’s your house there. You go live there, up on the mountain,” she says.

“Okay,” I say, and give her a hug. She sounds like she means business.

As I walk out the door, she adds, “If you go there and it’s not your house, then you can come back.”

I thank her and go to buy my plane ticket.