Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Anna's home in Washington DC.

Snow in my beard.

Tibetan monks working on a sand mandala.

Colored sand.

All-American Snow-Buddha.

Lisa, Ult, Fran, Steve, Sarah, Anna, Gina.

In DC, Anna and I were welcomed by her parents, Steve and Fran, and her sister Sarah. Anna was headed up to New York after a few days, and offered to let me hang out until then. Steve works for a non-profit whose mission is to provide internet access to countries without it, such as the nations of the former Soviet Union. Fran is involved in improving the education system -- I think she's president of the PTA, for example. Sarah seemed a little shy at first, but she's a bright kid and I gathered that she plays basketball, and the walls sport more than a few academic awards.

In their position, I might have been less than thrilled to have a stranger staying in my house during a small family reunion, but they showed no signs of this and were extremely nice and welcoming to me.

With some time on my hands, I took a trip to "The Mall," the area where Washington DC's many monuments are, to be a tourist. Our nation's capitol had received its first snow of the year the night before, and the flakes were still drifting down. The long strip between the Washington Memorial and the Capitol Building was lined with museums and galleries, and in one of them happened to be a group of Tibetan monks from a monastery in South India. The monks were painstakingly creating a sand mandala, a sacred design, to promote healing after September 11th. Thus inspired, I built a snow-Buddha in front of the capitol building.

In the evening, I accompanied Anna to an Ani DiFranco concert, where she was meeting some friends. I didn't fully appreciate the degree to which Anna and her friends followed their favorite groups until I listened to them talk after the show. Names like Ani, Tori, and PJ dropped like the snowflakes outside, along with stories of road trips to shows across the country and endless bits of inside information. The group had reunited for this show from as far away as Boston, Connecticut, and NYC, and tomorrow would return home.

While I wouldn't put myself in a league with these hardcore fans, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the concert. Ani DiFranco is a folk singer, a self-described feminist with a strong liberal axe. I consider myself apolitical and gender-neutral, but her energetic presence and powerful singing style were so passionate and honest that I was carried away with her. Perhaps her dreadlocks appealed to me as well.

Thus, I found myself hanging out with a party of Ani fans, most (but not all) college-aged liberal feminists. They were pretty fun, contrary to the stereotype. (Q: "How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?" A: "That's not funny.")

Sometime after midnight, Gina and Lisa finally showed up. They'd been trying to get to the show from New York, but the snow had made hitching impossible. Finally, after being stuck in the middle of nowhere in the back of a gas station attendant's booth to avoid the blizzard, a very concerned and aggressively helpful policeman put them onto a train bound for DC. They missed the show, but at least they were able to enjoy our fabulous company.

The four of us crashed at Anna's, then woke up to Gina desperately phoning everyone she could think of to cover her shift at the Knitting Factory, the club in New York where she was supposed to work that evening. "If we leave now, I'll only be twenty minutes late," she would say after another unsuccessful call. Finally she found someone and we were able to have a leisurely afternoon breakfast before heading to the Big Apple.

I'd never entered New York City by car before -- to be honest, I didn't think it was possible for mere mortals to drive in the city. It turns out it's not much worse than San Francisco -- we even found a parking spot within walking distance of our destination.

Gina's apartment was quite spacious for a shoebox. The bedroom expressed its nature uncompromisingly; a pair of bunkbeds filled it from floor to ceiling. The kitchen was flanked by two tiny closet-like rooms, one a shower and the other a toilet. The door to the toilet was brazenly embossed, "Women."

Gina teaches me banjo.

Anna, fellow speed-demon.

Can't quite make out Lisa's new dreads.

New York.

The living room was a dense puzzle of bookshelves and musical instruments. Gina was the only one who could actually play any of them, which we managed to demonstrate undeniably with an impromptu concert -- can you imagine a more spontaneous and exhilarating lineup than a saxophone, a violin, and a banjo, all in the hands of novices? We decided to take five before the neighbors called the record company execs in blue suits weilding conductor's batons.

The conversation flowed like a river through the valley of the night, its currents twisting and bubbling from topic to topic. From the World Trade Center to corner store community, from Tori Amos to Noam Chomsky, from college to traveling, and from babysitting to dreadlocks.

Lisa's dreads were in the fetal stage, beginning to form one matted mass in the back of her head. With the intention of showing her how to help them along in their development by using a comb, I surprised all of us when after several hours where was no more left to do -- her head was now covered with newborn dreadlocks. Now I could count two victims in my dread-assisting career. Who's next?

After breakfast the next afternoon -- sleep had rarely taken place at night since leaving the west coast, it seemed -- the girls dropped me off in Chinatown, where I caught the cheap bus to Boston.

I was sad to say goodbye to my new friends, even though I'd only known them for a few days. I feel extremely lucky that Anna's and my traveling style matched up so well, and to have had so much fun in the process. Thanks Anna!

Travel Trivia

Thanks also to Steve, Fran, and Sarah, for their hospitality. And to dready Gina and Lisa from NYC for so much entertainment. And Ani fans Steve & Nancy from Connecticut (for interesting conversation), Michelle from NYC (for ulongtong and mizza), Nicole from DC (for your living room -- I hope you could get back into it after your security card broke), and to Lisa from Boston (for making plans).

In NYC, we had breakfast at Kate's Joint, a diner with some character and some vegan items. 56-58 Ave B.

The Chinatown bus goes direct between Chinatowns of NY and Boston. Depending on the time, it costs $15-$25 one way, or $10 only for the 11:30pm from Boston. There are several companies that provide roughly the same service; the one I used was called Fung Wa, NYC: 212.925.8889, 139 Canal Street & Boston: 617.338.8885, 68 Beach Street. It seems like they overbook and then put you on a bus a half hour later if they don't have room for the bus you ask for. Buses go every hour or two from 6am to 11:30pm. The buses are fairly comfortable but don't have any room for storing luggage. I put my giant backpack in the center aisle without much trouble. Another Chinatown bus company is called Travel Pack, NYC: 212.925.1886, 88 E. Broadway.