Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reasonable Travel

At the Oakland airport, the Express Deli serves Niman Ranch meat (vegetarian feed, family farms, sustainable practices across the board) and the fiftysomething Slavic lady working there calls me “mama” when she hands me my coffee. It’s things like this that remind me why I don’t leave town very often. There are actually quite a few reasons for this: I don’t make a lot of money; I don’t have any planets in the house that rules travel (it also rules education, which I like to think explains an unwillingness to take responsibility for my student loans); and, for the last eight or nine years, I’ve had a stomach so fragile that I get nauseous on swing sets. And the big reason – the philosophical reason, which, by nature of being philosophical, and therefore an intellectual and spiritual exercise that I hope can not be sullied by cries of “justification of chickenshittedness” – is that I like it here. I moved to Oakland in the summer of 2001, sight unseen, because I was ready to leave where I was, who I was, and because three friends beckoned me with some classic California promises: psychedelic music, ever-changing vistas, and a whole mess of boys I’d never met. And I like it here.

I like it a whole lot better than Central Florida, the last place that I moved to, sight unseen. Given that I stayed there for twelve years, is it any wonder that I rarely leave the Bay Area now? It’s become apparent to me that I like moving to random towns and just digging the hell in. With mountainous hikes and beachside roller coasters (which, somehow, do not make me nauseous) within driving distance, decent thrifting in the suburbs and fly shoes in the city, and great bands on every corner, why would I stretch my credit card and pollute the air just to get drunk in new bars and eat out at restaurants far inferior to the ones I can patronize here?

And yet, here I am, at Oakland International at 8 a.m. buzzing on four hours of sleep. Only one thing could get me here – OK, two things, if you count a free ticket. The main thing is music.

And sex.

OK, so, three things. But sex isn’t any more guaranteed where I’m going than it is at home. So we’re back down to two. Fuck, I hate math. Maybe that’s why music has always been a spiritual thing for me, something I obsess over and write about, but only marginally create myself – because math makes me crazy, makes me feel like a stone fool. But math and music are two sides of the same coin – staffs are truth tables, xs and ys are quarter-notes and half-notes in their way, and symbology is everything. And since I cannot easily understand how either is put together, there is a big fat veil of god between math and music and me. But math you can’t really enjoy from afar, except in terms of money (and maybe that’s a small, subconscious part why it holds such allure for the poor, or at least those of us who can’t wrap our minds around numbers). Music, well – not only is it enjoyable on a three-dimensional level, for anyone who wishes, but it’s also inescapable. It hollers at you from open car windows, fills in the spaces between jackhammer hits downtown, heralds your birthday at the theme café. In Hebrew school, they taught us that adonai, G-d, was everywhere and saw everything. But can you dance to it? If so, I’d probably have had far less trouble packing for this trip to South by Southwest than I did last night, since all my skirts would be ankle-length and a wig or two would replace my flat iron and too-bulky hair dryer. Because ever since I was a teenager, I’ve believed in something else that I can’t touch, can’t really explain, and yet can be found wherever I go.

And that’s why I’m leaving town, heading to Austin. Because Mr. Pockets, my longtime patron and someone who knew me when I was a professional music fan – a paid weekly columnist – is going, and saw fit to buy me a plane ticket and score me a wristband via the community radio station in Tampa, where he still lives. The last time I went to SXSW, in 2000, I still did, too, and all those bands and artists – most of who would never be able or bother to visit that foreleg state of the union – made me feel like a fat kid in a cake store. That time, I had my music calendar circled and booked by the time I got on the plane to Texas, and my fellow Tampanian music tourists and I got drunk and tossed tips at one another. This time I’m flying solo, largely ignorant of what my choices will be, and just hoping for one or two transcendent surprises of the musical kind.

Or sex.


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