Birthdays, Phish, Traveling

I’ve been taking advantage of my recent forced unemployment by traveling a lot — something I love to do but never seem to have time for. It’s lovely not to have an excuse to stay home now. Traveling is one of the things I love most about life, even if it’s not very far away. Lately I’ve been reminded that I haven’t been doing nearly enough of it in a while.

So last week I had a birthday…the 3rd anniversary of my 29th birthday to be exact. Ha! My friend Jeff took me out for a kick-ass Japanese dinner and gave me a beautiful silver initial necklace that I love (it looks like a wax seal), and we watched the new Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe — one of my favorite stories and kind of Jeff since he had already seen it.

I went back to my hometown for a few days to visit with my family and friends. I got to see my goddaughter for the first time since she came home from the hospital, and she is already looking more like her dad and acting more like her mom. My mom makes me a birthday cake every year, and usually I choose coconut, because she makes the world’s best coconut cakes. This is also my dad’s birthday cake of choice. But this year things were a little rushed so I opted for something easier for my poor mama — a heath bar chocolate sheet cake. It was fabulous. My cousins, grandmother, and aunt came over for pizza and cake, and it was so nice to hang out with them since we only see each other two or three times a year.

This is the first year in history I’ve felt completely ambivalent about my birthday and didn’t even really care about celebrating it at all. I feel so old. I know that’s silly to say. In the grand scheme of things I’m not old, and age is just a number anyway. I suppose I feel a bit down because now that I am “in my thirties” my life is not at all where I imagined it would or should be by now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But at times I do feel like quite a failure. I have been reminding myself for years that everyone has their own time line, but I still have trouble believing that to the fullest extent rather than feeling like it’s a cop out, or an excuse I’m making for why my life sucks.

But when it comes to maturity, I don’t feel old AT ALL. I have friends who are 10 years younger than me that I completely relate to, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing, but it is what it is. I feel like there are two distinct sides to me — one that is very mature and wise beyond her years, who is fairly responsible and shit, and another side that is still a kid and just wants to have fun, party, break all the rules and be rebellious and live it up while I am still unencumbered by attachments and responsibilities. Maybe that’s why my mom says people don’t really become adults until they have children. Maybe that’s part of why I don’t want children. LOL. But seriously? When I’m not at least aware of current pop music, I feel like a geezer, and my younger friends keep me in the loop. Pop music is like my crack — I’m so ashamed that I like it but I can’t quit. (Luckily, I listen to lots of “good” music also.) And when I hang out with them, I still have to say, “Wait, who is this?” every five seconds. Anyway, enough about being old.

I’m really excited about this coming weekend because I get to do some more traveling to Charleston with my friend Swampman for Phish! We are only going to one of the two shows because he (fortunately) still has a job to go to on Friday, but Saturday will be amazing with communing with fellow Phans and camping and hiking in Congaree National Park. Swamp and I don’t go anywhere we can’t incorporate a camping/hiking excursion. Also promise a post on that after the fact. With pictures.

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Gift Suggestions Appreciated

Okay, y’all. Who ages this well, for real? I’m hoping I inherit the skin tone and lack of wrinkles except in all the right, distinguished places. It’s all about the smile/laugh lines.

I only go home to visit a few times a year, and it has to be an important occasion for that to happen. This weekend I’ll be visiting my hometown for my dad’s birthday. He will be 57 on March 8. I can’t believe that he’s getting close to 60. My parents both still seem totally young and cool to me. The way I know they’re cool people is that  if we were the same age, I totally would want to hang out with them and be in their circle. They are my BEST friends. I’m not sure many people can say that about their parents. If I heard someone say that, I would probably assume that they were uncool. Usually parents are not quite up to speed. Like, my parents don’t know who Jay-Z is, but they know a lot of other things about life that are way more important than popular culture.

Anyway, like most dads, my dad is one of the most difficult people on the planet to buy gifts for, or to surprise in any way. So, I desperately need your help in sussing out gift ideas. I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t read my blog, nor does he probably read any blog. So I don’t feel too bad talking about him publicly here, even though my mom gets really upset when I write about anything that could be connected back to them.

Let me tell you a little about him. For starters, he is kick ass. He is, in a lot of ways, the male version of me. I’ll probably spend my life trying to find someone who measures up to him. It’s a tall order. I’m not saying he’s perfect. He has some flaws. Like everyone. But overall, he is one amazing dude.

He is talented, creative, and artistic. He is an amazingly talented musician — he plays guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, piano, Appalachian dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, AND sings. I could be forgetting something.

He (like me) is happiest when he’s creating something and working with his hands.  He works way too much and doesn’t leave enough time for down time or relaxation. He doesn’t know the meaning of those words. He could work twenty-five hours a day and still feel like he didn’t accomplish enough. He is completely dedicated to the things in life he believes to be important, like historical preservation, good friends, craftsmanship, music, cultural heritage, education in whatever form, and supporting me. He is a writer whose vocabulary astounds me, even in regular emails.

His “hobby” (the quotation marks are because it’s more like a second job) is building musical instruments in the garage. Who am I kidding? It’s never been the garage. Since 1986, it’s been his workshop and nothing else. No one has ever even thought about trying to park a car in there.

He is a teacher, and even though he could teach a college level history class on pretty much any time period imaginable, or Celtic culture, or how to be an awesome person, he chooses to teach high school kids without a ton of potential how to make furniture and other things so they can actually get a job when they graduate instead of dropping out. He addresses a segment of society that really needs help, and they love him. They call him randomly at home. They stop by to visit him working in his workshop at home. How many of your high school teachers did you like enough to go visit them at home? He provides kids with something that’s hard to come by in the technological age, and that is pride in their ability to create something concrete. As an artist, I know how important that can be. I think he fantasizes about things like moving to Ireland and playing music in a pub professionally where he’d get free Guinness and make a living selling his awesome instruments to authentic musicians. But he sticks it out in small town USA, being a great husband and dad and member of the community.

I think this all speaks to his natural acceptance of people. You’d have to be a pretty shitty person for my dad to not like you or not think you were worthy of his attention in some way, shape, or form. He is so open-minded. He will think you’re awesome until (unless) you give him a reason to think otherwise. He ALWAYS gives everyone the benefit of the doubt and assumes that you have the best of intentions unless you prove otherwise. BUT he’s a smart dude. Whenever you ask his opinion of anything, it’s always very objective and very well thought out. He’s the oldest of three children, and whenever my Nana flies off to her latest destination, he is the one who waits in the airport until he’s sure her plane has safely departed. And I can ask him questions like, “Did you get a weird vibe from that person?” And he doesn’t think that’s a weird question at all and will tell me completely honestly what he thinks. As far as I know, he’s never been anything but honest with me. And that is a really important thing in a friend. You don’t really expect that from parents, but you do from friends, and I guess what I”m saying is that my parents are more like friends to me than parents. But in a good way. Not in a stupid, we don’t care what you do kind of way. They are real people.

My dad has a hard time saying no. He wants to make everyone happy. I totally get that. It’s only been recently (within the last year or so) that I’ve reached the point of shutting needy people out. And it is still a struggle. I come by it honestly, and I try on a daily basis to be true to myself. Something I learned from my parents.

So, what exactly do you get this guy for his birthday? Whenever he wants something specific, he just buys it. Because he doesn’t have a lot of wants for material things. And that’s usually totally random things like a particular hat or a shop vac. I need something cool and meaningful. Usually he seems to like most the presents I make myself, whether it’s a mix CD or a poignant song verse in a frame.

Any suggestions? I’m open to creativity and also to making something myself. I want to give him something cool and meaningful, but like with most of the cool guys in my life, I’m once again at a loss.

Hmm.

World Travel Wednesday: Hanging Lake, Colorado

One of the coolest hikes I’ve ever been on was Hanging Lake/ Spouting Rock in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado. The lake is hidden a thousand feet up in the canyon at about 7,000 ft elevation. Gaining over a thousand feet in such a short distance (2.4 miles round trip) is pretty fun but takes a lot longer than you expect for a short hike.

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The 1.5 acre lake was formed by a geologic fault which caused the lake bed to drop away from the valley floor above. Water flows into the lake over Bridal Veil Falls. The lake edge has built up from dissolved carbonates which are deposited on the shore as the water flows over. The water is super clear and you can see schools of trout swimming 20 feet down.

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World Travel Wednesday: Miami, I’m Coming Home

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I’m sure Miami is a lovely place, and I would love to go there one day and enjoy it so I can replace my current memory of it.

When: 2003
Where: Miami International Airport

Coming home from Brazil in 2003, my flight plan took me from Manaus to Sao Paolo to Miami to Charlotte. I was pleased that on my return trip, I would have a shorter layover in Miami than I had on the way down. The airport there has some excellent people watching due to its status as an international gateway. I heard countless other languages being spoken and entertained myself by trying to figure out who might be the best, most unlikely drug smuggler. I like to be outside and feel fresh air whenever I can, and over the years I’ve gotten more temperature resistant. I am always sitting on my porch at home, baking or freezing, and I always have a car window rolled down unless I’m going over 70 mph. While waiting for my flight to Brazil, I spent a lot of time hanging around outside the sliding doors, smoking cigarettes to relieve my relative anxiety about traveling alone to a place where I had a less than rudimentary grasp of the language and visiting the boy who has always made the butterflies in my stomach do some disco dancing. At least I was escaping the refrigerated air. But it was miserably humid, like cotton wool smothering your face.

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On the return trip, I would not be there long enough to have to hang around outside, and it put me in a good mood to know I was close to getting home from a long couple days of traveling. I had been feeling impressed with the improvement in my Portuguese skills when flying from Brazil to Miami. First, I had asked for a Guarana (a Brazilian soft drink) on the plane in Portuguese, not to show off, but because I really wanted one. It was easily the most thirst-quenching beverage I had in Brazil, with the Caipirinha and a pineapple yogurt drink as close runners-up. The taste is something like a cross between ginger ale and Fresca, with hints of apple and an aftertaste of the guarana berry, whose plantations we canoed by in the Amazon. And it is sublime. The guarana berry has two to three times more caffeine than a coffee bean. It’s good stuff.

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Since I had made that request in Portuguese and conversed a little with the flight attendant, she must have assumed I was Brazilian (awesome!) because she gave me a customs declaration form in Portuguese. I could read most of it, and what I couldn’t was pretty easy to deduce contextually. Rather than ask for an English one, I just filled it out and returned it. After this episode, the  businessman sitting beside me asked me in glaringly English-accented Portuguese, “Where in Brazil are you from?” I said, “Actually, I’m from North Carolina. I’m on my way home.” He turned out to be from Rochester Hills, Michigan, where my long-time college roommate grew up. Small world! He said, “Do you have dual citizenship? They gave you a Portuguese form.” I said, “No, I think she must have just thought I was Brazilian also because I spoke a little Portuguese.” I really wanted to ask these people, WHAT about me looks Brazilian to you? The flat ass or the blond hair? The flight attendant continued to address me in Portuguese for the remainder of the flight, and the suburbanite beside me continued to look awed.

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Upon arriving in Miami, we were herded towards customs and instructed to divide up into two single file lines, one for American passports, one for non-American passports. Most of the non-American people on the plane didn’t speak English, and therefore didn’t understand those directions. They looked around at each other, like, “What did he say? What are we supposed to do?” And none of the customs people were helping anyone understand — they were just being assholes and barking at people who had no way to understand them. This was my first experience entering U.S. customs post-9/11, and I felt very shameful at the way “we” were acting towards “those” people. And that was nothing compared to some of the horror stories you hear about people being detained.

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I stepped away from the “American Passports Only” queue and touched the arm of the nearest Brazilian passenger, who was beginning to look very worried. What must they have thought the customs official was telling them to do? I showed him my passport and indicated behind me towards the line I just emerged from. Then I pointed to the green Brazilian passport in his hand, and demonstrated the opposite wall, a variation on Vanna White. Then I smiled. And slowly, he smiled. He began to spread the word amongst the non-English speaking passengers. See? Everything is okay. We’re just meant to line up here, and you there. Looking back, if I found myself in the same situation today, five-plus years post-9/11, I would never do anything like that.

Their line had to wait while the American line moved forward. When I reached the front, I handed my passport to the first of many officials who would need to examine it. “Welcome home,” he said, handing it back. He sounded very sincere. I’ve never been particularly patriotic, and I’m not quite sure how to explain that. Maybe I will examine that in another post one day. But that was the one time in my entire life that I have felt proud to be an American, except for when Obama was elected. Welcome home.

I passed through my easy peasy breeze through customs — except for when they ask you what you were doing in the country you just left, your occupation, and how much currency you’re carrying. That always makes me feel uncomfortable. I proceeded on to baggage claim, where I was waiting for my suitcase full of unbreakables to appear on the belt. The only bag I had traveled with for most of the trip was my one backpack, to minimize the risk of lost luggage, and to move around more easily. When one is traveling by small boats and passing through multiple airports, it’s best to have all you need on your back. In the end, I had broken down and bought a small suitcase in Manaus so I could pack some of the more fragile souvenirs I’d purchased in my backpack. Unfortunately that plan was foiled.

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Standing in baggage claim, I was approached by two uniformed officials with a drug dog. It was not a scary looking drug dog, and I love dogs, and I swear I was sodding Bridget Jones, being friendly to the crime dog when she had coke in her bag. Of all the dumb things. But I didn’t have any drugs. What’s the problem?

The problem was that the dog was way too interested in my backpack. He was politely sniffing the side zipper until the officials asked me to step away from it. They said, “Do you have anything in your bag you want to tell us about before he finds it?” I said, “Um, no?” I couldn’t even remember at that point what was in my backpack, due to packing and repacking so many times to make everything fit in both cases.

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At that point, the dog started going totally crazy. Growling, shaking the bag in his mouth, pawing at it, tossing it in the air like a cat toying with a half-dead chipmunk. One of the guys said, “I need permission to open your bag,” as the other one inched towards me — I suppose in case I tried to make a run for it. I never even considered that someone might have planted drugs on me, because my bag had barely left my side in weeks. Other disembarquing passengers were moving to the opposite side of the baggage belt.

The guy commanded the dog to stop, and the dog sat down beside me, tongue wagging, mouth gaping, smilingly expectant. I looked at the guy on the other side of me and down at the dog. “What is your deal?” I said to the dog. “Stop drawing attention.” He unzipped the main compartment and stuck his arm in up to the elbow, fishing around. He drew back and looked in a couple times, holding it open a little wider. Then stuck his arm in again and pulled out a plastic baggie, waving it in the air with accomplishment, and strangely, a huge smile.

Fried plantain chips. I had bought them on the street in Manaus that morning to have as a snack, and they must have smelled too good for a hungry drug dog to resist. Oh yes, we all had a good laugh over that. As soon as I got done sweating and cursing under my breath. Unfortunately, in the dog’s excitement about finding a potential treat, my breakable souvenirs so carefully packed separately were broken. But I didn’t find that out until I got home and unpacked everything.

When the guy handed me the bag, I said, “These are kinda cold and greasy now anyway if you want to give them to your dog. He was way more excited about them than I was anyway.” He said, “I can’t give them to him now because it would reward him for finding something that wasn’t contraband. But I’ll take them and give him a treat later. He’ll love it.”

I was thinking, “Um, how about a very sorry, ma’am? Can I get a what what?” But nothing. I still had to wait on my bag full of clothes to come gliding by. They just laughed and left me there. Welcome home, my ass. Yay, Miami! &#@$ers.

World Travel Wednesday: Kanawha State Forest

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Our drive home from Indiana was really long, so as usual we decided to stop for a hike on the way to break it up and stretch. We chose Kanawha State Forest in Charleston, West Virginia, because it was about halfway and was supposed to be close to the interstate. It is only seven miles from I-64, but they are seven of the most twisty-turny, convoluted miles you’ve ever seen, and it probably took at least 20-30 minutes to get all the way there. The route involves several turns on very narrow roads through a residential area, but it is well marked with signage.

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Swamp was leery of the place from the start because he read somewhere that it was very crowded in the summer (people = bad). And as we drove into the park, we passed a lot of what looked like families gathered for picnics or family reunions or something, eating potluck under the long shelters, fishing in a seemingly stagnant pond. We just kept driving until we didn’t see people anymore.

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The trails were not very well marked, and of course it was a Sunday and we didn’t have a park map. As Swamp would say, “Eh, who needs a map?” AHEM. This, from the person who was airlifted out of the wilderness twice. So, we just picked one randomly not knowing if it was long or short, hard or easy. It was not terribly long, but it was also not very easy. It was basically a series of switchbacks straight up the mountain. I couldn’t make it the whole way up. I probably went about three quarters of the way, and then I told Swamp to run to the top and see if there was some awesome overlook or something that I shouldn’t miss. I stood and caught my breath while he ran to the top and ran back to me. “Nah,” he said, bouncing towards me, hopping from rock to rock. “Nothing spectacular. Just the top. No view or anything.”

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So we went back down. As the world’s least athletic person, I was pretty happy with making it even that far on that trail. I love hiking and being out in nature, but I normally prefer hikes of easy-to-moderate difficulty, where I can enjoy the scenery and take some pictures, instead of fighting for breath, unable to focus on the beauty around me. I was able to take some pictures on the lower part of the trail both ways, but not on that ridiculous switchback part, so what you see below doesn’t reflect that. I promise — it was hard!

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If there is a creek/stream/drop of water anywhere around, I will take a picture of it.

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Swamp is checking out some massive hemlocks and commenting on how they are bigger than any he has on his property.

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This is right about where it started to get bad. Although you can’t tell from this picture.

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What is it about trees that is so comforting?

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This is a good example of what Swamp does in the woods. Zoom! Swish! Blur! Incidentally, this is his favorite picture of himself from the entire trip.

Musical Monday: Phish Reunion Trip

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A few months ago I was talking about not being able to get tickets to the Asheville show on the Phish summer reunion tour. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because my friend Swamp ended up getting tickets to TWO other shows, which allowed us to take a sweet road trip, visit some old friends, and see the band outdoors, which is preferable to us. Even though I’m still kicking myself for not taking the day off just to hang out in Asheville that day, because they closed off the streets downtown and created this huge hippie convergence. It was like a city-wide Shakedown Street. How fun!

First stop: Washington, Pennsylvania, about 6 hours north of here. The drive up there is some of my favorite interstate scenery around. Whoever came up with that whole “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia” slogan was spot on! Beautiful mountains. Actually, I think they’re called hills there.

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We stayed with some old friends, Cheryl and Shawn, in Washpa (as the natives call it). They are renovating a beautiful old farm house that sits on 100 acres or so. We got to spend a little time getting acquainted with their new baby, Paul. At almost 9 months, he’s growing like a weed and is very smiley and happy. I should say that I spent some time with him, since Swamp does not touch babies and is hard to catch even looking at one, unless it is apprehensively. However, Swamp and Paul do share the same birthday: Halloween. People born on Halloween were thought by the ancient Celts to possess supernatural powers, including the power to read dreams. I don’t know about the reading dreams part, but I do think Swamp is particularly gifted with intuition. So maybe Paul understands intuitively that Swamp is afraid of babies and doesn’t take it personally. Let’s hope so!

We arrived (late, naturally) in the middle of a severe thunderstorm with tornado warnings. Cheryl and Shawn had been trying frantically to call us to make sure we were safe, but I was too busy being nervous about tornadoes, and Swamp was too busy exclaiming about how beautiful the lightning was to hear the phone ring. We all sat up late drinking Straubs at the kitchen table with the lights out, watching lightning illuminate the fields through enormous windows. I presented a box full of Mellow Mushroom pretzels as a host gift — their one request from the great state of North Carolina — which turned out to be full of ants from Swamp’s car full of dirty camping gear. Shawn popped them in the oven anyway, which killed the ants, and then just brushed off their crispy dead bodies. Now that is my kind of fortitude! Upon inspecting the car later, we could not find a single ant anywhere.

We went with Cheryl and Shawn to the show in Burgettstown, PA. Shawn brought along the leftover pretzels, which everyone was pretty excited about, even though next-day Mellow Mushroom crust is so hard it’s almost impossible to chew. Still tasted good! On the way into the concert grounds, Shawn was bragging to passersby about them. We stopped to listen to sound check, did some people-watching, and made a few laps around Shakedown, where Swamp was trying to sell or trade his extra tickets. It turned out that there were a lot of extras floating around, so he ended up trading one for a cool autographed photograph of Trey playing guitar alone on a stage, and he sold the other one for less than face. We also ran into tons of other people we’ve known from various encounters and life situations. I had not seen most of them for about five years.

I’d like to give a shout-out to Warren, the group’s unofficial social ringleader, who said, “Hey, we met at the camp out party at Gibb’s, right? When Gruvbak performed?” I said, “I was at that party, but we met up in Maine at IT, I think!” Warren, slapping his forehead: “Oh, yeah! I remember! My kid brother’s first acid trip —  all that mud! — that insanely huge glowstick war! — and you and Gibb pissed off about getting bad shrooms! Man, so awesome to see you again!” The whole evening contained many similar encounters. It was like a big family reunion, and I don’t think I stopped smiling all night. Except maybe when my parents, who were dog-sitting, called me to say Birdy had gone to the vet due to not eating and throwing up, and she had hookworm. I was not smiling then.

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The amphitheater is now “owned” by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but everyone up there still calls it by its old name: Star Lake. That was the second Phish show I had seen at that particular venue. It’s a cool place. Good show…pretty substantial glowstick war. Vacuum-solo from Fishman, which I probably could have done without. He’s such a terrible singer. But I do love his polka-dot dress. Hearing the boys live again after so long a hiatus was amazing and thrilling, and now that Trey’s off the blow, the performance had a whole new dimension of upbeat positive fun.

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You can hear in his playing and in his voice, and especially in his off-the-cuff stage banter that he’s in a good place now, and it definitely projects onto the crowd in a new way that was very pleasant. I also have to say I am quite impressed with the new songs that will be on the next studio album, Joy. I love almost all of them. It’s a little bit of a different approach for their sound, but I like where it’s going so far. Swamp would tell you, with a conflicted expression, “It’s so poppy.” But it’s good, and he thinks so, too.  At Star Lake, they played a lot of my favorites, but I was especially happy to hear Chalk Dust Torture, Bouncing Around the Room, Harry Hood, Free. There were also some screw-ups and hilarity ensued — from Phish.net:

About halfway through Grind, they were singing in the wrong key and some (Fishman) couldn’t hit the correct notes. They stopped, laughing, and huddled, trying to decide whether to re-start Grind again in the correct key or start something else. The crowd knew this because the band was too close to the mics and the crowd could hear the conversation. Trey realizes this and says,”Can you guys hear what we’re saying when we are talking?” Crowd goes nuts and Trey says, “It was supposed to be a secret but Page blew the wrong note.” They try to restart Grind, but it never happens and they huddle again, with Trey saying,”Hold on, don’t go away.” Crowd goes nuts again. After almost a minute, they step up to the mic with Trey saying,”If this doesn’t work, Fish will sing Bike for you.” They start Hello My Baby, but it is scrapped after 30 seconds because the band is laughing hysterically, and Trey proclaims, “And Fish will now sing Bike for you,” and runs to the drum kit to start HYHU. Fish gets vacuum, goes center stage and says,”Welcome to the train wreck portion of the show. I hope everyone is enjoying it as much as we are. Maybe I’ll remember some of the words to this song.” Before going into Bike (forgetting a number of the lyrics) w/ vacuum solo at the end, then Jon did an intro of the band (introducing himself last as Henrietta). Then Trey came back out, and they did Loving Cup.

Here’s  a pic of Swamp and me on the lawn waiting for the show to start:

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The next morning, we got up super-early and stumbled out half-asleep to hit the road again. It was crappy not to be able to spend more time with our friends in Washington. But another show was waiting! We drove another 5 1/2 hours up to Noblesville, Indiana — home of the famous Deer Creek Amphitheater! Actually, I think it’s now called Verizon Wireless something-or-other, but just like with Star Lake, everyone still calls it by the much cooler former name. We were a little bit late getting in due to getting a little bit lost on the way. (If any of you know Swamp, you know he never gets lost or anything. Ahem.) To be fair, the Mapquest directions were sort of wrong. One of Swamp’s work friends, Bo, drove up from NC as well. We met up with him at a campground just a few miles from the venue. It was a cool place. I would recommend it if you ever go see a show at Deer Creek. It was pretty large, and on the way in, I was a little anxious about the number of nitrous tanks I saw…didn’t want to be trapped in that kind of crowd with no walls around me. But it turned out to be fine.

The show at Deer Creek was pretty amazing. Hanging out with Bo in the lot beforehand, we were trying to figure up how many shows we’d seen. Deer Creek was my 12th or 13th Phish show, depending on how you want to count up IT (3 days of Phish in Maine, 2003) — a number which is totally unimpressive to most hardcore Phans. I think it was Swamp’s 20th or 21st Phish show. And what an adventure. Towards the end of the first set, we started seeing all kinds of beautiful lightning in the sky –horizontal branches reflecting wide curtains of light off dense cloud backdrops. They appeared in a very precise order, forming a circle around the amphitheater. The crowd roared at every lightning flash, which came often.

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At around 10:00 pm, Page came onstage and said he had been asked to read a weather service report, which was basically a severe thunderstorm warning. He said everyone on the lawn was to go back to their cars, and everyone under the covered part of the pavilion should stay in their seats. I was getting a little bit worried at that point, because I have a terrible tornado phobia, and since we were in flat-as-a-pancake Indiana…but Swamp, as always, calmed me down.

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Our tickets were for actual seats, but we had been sitting on the lawn for the entire first set because, well, blending into the crowd is easier that way and necessary for some activities. Most people, like any good (and in this case, foolish) hippie rebels were staying put on the lawn. But when the rain started, we moved to the pavilion seats, which just happened to be on the very last row and not covered by the roof. The second set was delayed by over an hour, and we were overjoyed to find that the wind was blowing so fiercely it was shooting the rain right off the roof onto the lawn behind us, instead of down onto our uncovered heads.

Swamp and I had totally different takes on the set that followed. I was all jazzed up and energized by the storm and the shared crowd excitement, and I wanted to hear some really energized music to complement that vibe. But what we got was a mellowed-out, deep groove that Swamp found to be the absolute perfect response to the storm’s fury and the crowd’s frenzy: A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing > Drowned > Twist, Let Me Lie, Tweezer > 2001 > Suzy Greenberg > Possum > E: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise.

The music brought us all back down to a chill place. Swamp says it’s still his favorite set of the two shows. I haven’t listened to it much since we got back, mainly because I’ve been too obsessed with the first set of that show that contained several of my favorites: Backwards Down the Number Line, AC/DC Bag, Limb By Limb, The Moma Dance, Water In The Sky, Split Open and Melt, Lawn Boy, The Wedge, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Connection, Ocelot, Fluffhead. But also because I’d like to wait for another good hard thunderstorm to put it on and relive it.

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When the show ended, it was still pouring rain. I mean, pouring. We had to hoof it back to the car, which was probably a mile away. We were all drenched to the bone. I had a poncho, but I didn’t even put it on, because it was raining so hard I couldn’t see anything anyway. Not to mention the venue’s band curfew is 11:00 pm, and the second set started at 11:00, so when we came out, all the lights were off, and it was a mad scene of people trying to hold onto their friends and not lose each other  — I don’t know if I couldn’t have found the way back to the car by myself, personally. All this in utter darkness made darker by driving rain slamming against your eyelids. I mean, soaked doesn’t even begin to describe it. But it felt SO GOOD! What an adventure! It was like a complimentary shower from nature for tons of dirty hippies, and falling asleep in the tent that night I almost felt like I’d just had a bath.

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Bo had not planned on staying overnight at the campground, as he had family living in the vicinity. Unfortunately, none of the roads in the campground were paved, and all that torrential rain turned the whole place into a big mudpit. Bo’s car (along with countless others) got stuck, and no one had any luck getting him out. He had to camp and wait for a local guy with a tractor to pull him out the next morning. We had parked our car and tent on relatively high ground, so we didn’t get stuck, and we slept nice and dry. Despite people setting off firecrackers beside our tent and sleeping next to an actual stage with an actual band playing all night (I guess hired by the campground for entertainment?), I actually slept really well.

The next morning we drove right out, blaring early-morning Michael Franti, on the very same road that had been like quicksand the night before. I brushed my teeth in a gas station bathroom while wearing my pajamas, while getting strange looks from people, and wondering why people were so bothered by it. Then it was back on the road, 10  hours back to NC, with a hiking stop in West Virginia on the way.

And that is what I did on my summer vacation. It was awesome.

World Travel Wednesday: Where Are All the Hammocks?

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My trip to Brazil in 2003 required taking a 24+ hour boat trip down the Amazon from the big city of Manaus to the small hamlet of Maues. My friend Swamp was already there and picked me up with another smaller boat that we took to the place where we were staying in the jungle, about three hours further down river. But before any of this could occur, I had to buy a hammock.

I knew that I would have to buy a hammock once I got to Manaus so that I could sleep on the boat, but I wasn’t really sure where to find one. Swamp had told me there were sidewalk vendors all over the city and that it would be no problem. I saw plenty of sidewalk vendors, but no hammocks. Whenever I travel abroad, I try to learn as much of the native language as possible in terms of what I might need to say or to understand. I sort of give myself a crash course. So I knew enough Portuguese to be able to ask directions to a hammock vendor. I went in the direction I was told and still didn’t see any.

After wandering for a while, I was stopped by some man selling watches, and I started interrogating him about hammocks. He motioned for me to follow him, and took me on this maze-like journey up and down back streets, going in the front door of a business or restaurant, and coming out the back onto the alleyway behind it. One of those alleyways finally presented a hammock vendor, and I was able to buy one (in my favorite color, no less) and give the watch guy a tip for his kindness, for which he seemed very appreciative. It was probably a pretty good tip, because I had not yet become practiced at figuring the exchange rate in my head (not to mention I’m terrible at math anyway) and just handed him a bill I thought might be a good amount.

Once I had my hammock, I made my way back to the port to look for my boat. I climbed aboard over a very narrow gangplank and strung up my hammock with all the others in steerage. Far from a cruise ship, this boat had maybe four actual rooms with doors (which I was not willing to spring for), one bathroom, storage on the lower level, hammock steerage on the middle level, a bar, and an open top deck.

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I chatted as much as I could with my neighbors, two older ladies who were on their way to visit family who lived in Maues. They showed me the ropes and helped me get my dinner of bananas and watermelon where it was being handed out below deck. They were eager to see a picture of Swamp, who I explained I was going to visit, and to finger the mysterious English words of the Judy Blume book I toted with me. In the morning, I had been up on the top deck taking some pictures and enjoying floating down the Amazon, and when I climbed back down, they excitedly pointed out to me a rainbow that was hanging in the misty spray of the boat’s wake.

When the boat docked in Maues, everyone seemed to know what to do in terms of exiting, and I tried to stall for time by taking a long time gathering my belongings. It became clear after a little while that I was going to have to climb over the side and go somewhere. I had just thrown one leg over the side of the boat when I heard, “Hey, American girl! You need a ride?” I looked in the direction of the English, afraid I’d see one of those hostel-hawkers waving a brochure and saw Swamp waving at me with a big smile.

We went to grab something to eat because I was famished from only eating fruit for the last 24 hours. And I am really not a big fruit person. We hailed a couple of motorbike taxis. I slipped onto the back of mine and held lightly onto the driver’s shoulders because I was afraid not to hold on in case I fell off, but I felt weird sitting so close and touching this person I didn’t know. At the restaurant, I wandered around and checked out the brightly colored parrots on the property. I ordered the fish, only to find out it’s an endangered species. OOPS! (It was actually delicious. I felt so guilty.)

Later, Swamp and I went back down to the docks to the boat he had brought to pick me up. We maneuvered around to head further down river and passed another boat that contained as passengers my two ladies who had retrieved my supper on the overnight trip. They stood up and pointed us out to their relatives on their boat beside them, smiling and waving.

Our trip into the jungle went into the night, and I spent most of the three-hour trip laying on my back on the open top deck of the boat, admiring how the stars (southern hemisphere stars that I’d never seen before!) hung in a dome over us, in the wide, expansive curvature of the earth’s atmosphere. Some things you can’t really take a picture of.

World Travel Wednesday: Costa Rica

A few nights ago, I dreamed I was running an eco-resort in Costa Rica. I’ve never thought much about Costa Rica before, so I’m not quite sure where that came from. But now the seed has been planted, and I totally want to go. As long as I don’t end up like Toby Flenderson.

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World Travel Wednesday: Red Rocks

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Hands down, the coolest venue at which I’ve ever attended a concert. I saw String Cheese Incident there in July 2002. Highlights included the enormous sandstone formations everywhere, the steepness which provides a good view from every seat, and the view of the Denver skyline behind the stage. Very good memories.

Musical Monday: Ben Harper Live at the Paramount

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Ben Harper is one of the few musicians on my “To See Live” list that I have not seen yet. He doesn’t tour much in our area. He used to come to Asheville once in a while, but it would inevitably sell out in like 2 minutes, and I would be too poor to go anyway. He is one of my all-time favs and one of the few I categorize as “I never get tired of it.” Recently my friend recorded this show for me (random act of kindness) since I am not as technologically advanced as he is in the arena of television and don’t do all that DVR/Tivo stuff. It was about an hour long (which I assume was maybe the first set of the show because I’d be pissed if I went to see him and he only played for an hour). Live at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, from November 2007. I’ve seen/heard several live performances (recordings) of his, but not since the last couple of albums were released. This show featured several of those newer tunes that I had not heard live versions of yet. AWESOME. Just love him.

My next opportunity to see Ben and his new band, the Relentless7, is at the All Good Festival in West Virginia this summer. We’re batting around the idea of heading up there, because it’s the best line-up for a festival within driving distance for us that we’ve seen in a long time. (Update: we’re definitely going! I’m so excited!) One of Swamp’s favorite bands, Sound Tribe Sector 9, is also playing that festival, and as they are a San Francisco band, they’re hard to catch near us more than once a year. They were also in Asheville a couple months ago, but we couldn’t skip work to go. I’m also excited about the possibility of seeing Tea Leaf Green (another San Francisco band I really like), Yonder Mountain, Dark Star, Umphrey’s McGee, Galactic, and a bunch of others. I can do without Keller Williams and moe. If only Jack Johnson was going to be there, I could pretty much die happy. Still waiting for Jack to send me a personal invite to Hawaii…Jack…are you reading this? I am awesome at ping pong and chilling on the beach…

Oh well. If anyone else is up for a road trip in July for some sweet music, let me know! Festivals mean the more the merrier.

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