Friday, August 22, 2014

Texas: The Woodlands, Austin

I'm flying home today. I just got dropped of at DFW by an Uber driver named Million (as in dollars) and I'm waiting to board. I'm sort of glad to be headed home, but definitely sad too. I contracted a pretty mean stomach bug right before Austin, so I'm excited about my own space and my own bed. School starts Monday (what!?) and I've got some things to do between now and then. Returns to reality. Yadda yadda ya. 


Yeah, I don't know. 

We stayed in a hotel by a Walmart and a gas station. Once we exhausted all our spot had to offer, which was pretty quickly, we took an Uber to a mall with a movie theater and saw The Hundred Foot Journey. It was a really beautiful movie (set in France and filled with food porn) but it was kind of silly too. We did have fun with the film afterwards, though. I don't think I'm giving anything away here by telling you that several times during the movie actors take LIFE-CHANGING BITES of sauces and omelettes and other foods that forever alter their perspective on the entire world. We talked a lot about how hard it would be to pack all of that meaning into one bite and practiced at pretty much every meal afterwards. Hilarious movie star bites = probably the greatest gift Helen Mirren's ever given me. 

But, what I really want to talk about is this painting. 

A fan talked security into bringing this beautiful painting of a whale back to the green room for the band to sign and return to her, along with an equally beautiful painting of a fox for the boys to keep. I am so impressed and inspired by the artwork WALK THE MOON's fans create on the regular. The drawings and paintings and knit goods and video art and just...all of it. I think it's so neat that people are inspired to make stuff when they listed to E's music, and I love reading fans' letters and getting a sense of how they understand WTM's work and what it's meant to them. Hats off to you, makers. I think you guys are so great. 


I was most excited to visit Austin. Years ago, when Eli and I were still in the friend zone, he sent me a text about how much I would love Austin. He must have been at SXSW with some band or another, and I remember thinking: Yes. I will go there someday. 

So, right before we got to Austin, my stomach started freaking out. I'm not sure if I ate something funky or if I caught a plain old bug, but either way, my experience of Austin was unfortunately and heavily influenced by how crappy I felt for the majority of the visit. Feeling stomach sick on a tour bus is the absolute worst-- you can trust me on that. 

Even still, when I felt like eating things, I was rewarded. We had some dope barbecue at Lamberts and some fresh, blackened seafood at Turf N' Surf Po-Boy. I could definitely eat my way through Austin, and I hope I get the chance to someday. 

Yesterday was a day off, so we explored a bit. One of our Uber drivers recommended, completely unprompted, that we visit a free, BYOPaint graffiti park. I mean, we were getting dropped off downtown seeking coffee and shopping, but something about us made him suspect we were packing spray paint and looking for a creative outlet. The park made me think of my little brother and it sounded really cool so we decided to check it out. It did not disappoint. Here's E's panorama of Hope Outdoor Gallery

We made it all the way to the top because we're super young and not at all scared of precarious, dusty climbing situations.

The above picture is important because of the three kids on the wall (also, timely and interesting commentary on our world: APD #DONTSHOOT). I noticed the kids at the graffiti park, supervised by a mom, and an hour or so later I noticed them again at Barton Springs Pool

That's right-- Eli and I had the same day as three 9-12 year old boys and their mom. 

Barton Springs Pool is fed from underground springs with an average temperature of 68-70 degrees. It was much colder for us because we went Nightswimming (a definite REM reference), but it was wonderful anyway. The air was much warmer than the water which was backwards to my brain, but definitely refreshing. 

Also, an Uber driver (a different one from the graffiti park guy) told us we should plan to watch the bats fly out from underneath some bridge that night ("8:45pm, like clockwork!"). Although we didn't make it to the suggested bridge, we saw a lot of bats flying above as we were swimming in the pool. Apparently, Austin has a lot of bats. 

Here's a panorama of the pool taken by E: 

It's about that time-- boarding soon. I'm excited to see my cats. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Florida: Jacksonville, Boca Raton, Jacksonville, St. Augustine

I hopped on the tour bus in Cincinnati after a hometown show and....individual days have felt long but the week has flown by. I've been waking up wondering where I am. You'd think, looking out the window in the morning, that there would be a courtesy "Welcome to Charlotte!" sign or something, but I'm here to tell you that most amphitheaters look the same, and most cities so far have felt the same in terms of heat and humidity. Just trust that my hair looks really, really good. 

Staying up / waking up really late is a fun throwback luxury for me, and I've been taking advantage. Right now we're toward the end of a 12-hour drive from Atlanta to The Woodlands, TX and I'm bouncing along, blogging in the front lounge with Parks & Rec, Rihanna, and conversations about synthesizers in the background. We spent some time in the great state of Florida over the past few days and we'll spend the next few days in the great BIG state of Texas. In an effort to organize my thoughts, I thought I'd group my tour posts by state. So, Texas to follow, hopefully. 


We landed in Jacksonville last Thursday on a day off. We got some lunch and took a very short walk to the Treaty Oak, which E knew about because the band did an acoustic performance underneath it some time ago. (Crazy aside: I just googled "Treaty Oak" to link you all and discovered there's another Treaty Oak in Austin, where we'll be in a few days.) Anyway, this tree is over 200 years old, and it's beautiful. I think it's my second favorite tree-- my favorite tree is on a dirt road to Lime Lake in Michigan where my grandmother owns a cottage. I've loved it since I was a kid. 

After our visit with the mighty tree, we decided to see Guardians of the Galaxy which was, in my opinion, less interesting than the theatre that we saw it in. Sun-Ray Cinema in the historic 5 Points district is special for its retro vibes, food, and beer offerings. We enjoyed a pitcher of local cream ale while watching Chris Pratt be Peter Quill be Andy Dwyer. Then we had some dinner, I took a much-needed hotel shower (better than venue showers by far), and that was pretty much it. It was relaxing and it felt good. 


We hadn't attempted a beach visit in Jacksonville because we thought we'd have easier access in Boca Raton. The next day, we took an Uber to the ocean, had a nice leisurely lunch, and then hit the beach just in time for the heavens to open up. We didn't even get to put our toes in the water before the lifeguard went apeshit on his whistle. I thought we could wait it out-- you know, a short Florida afternoon rain-- but instead we spent about two hours under a bridge watching the sky change from blue to gray to green. The storm was actually really beautiful, and now I have tons of questions about what happens when lightening strikes the surface of the sea. At first, there were several other beach-goers with us underneath the bridge, but by the end, only five of us remained. We became friends with two drifters, and eventually our fun window closed and we had to catch an Uber back to the venue in the rain. I later learned said rain was the heaviest Boca's experienced in 30 years. 


Two things happened between our Boca Raton beach disaster and our drive to St. Augustine overnight. Important backstory: my dad was born in Jacksonville and hasn't been back since he was two. 

1. I learned my dad's address in Jacksonville, where he lived from birth to 2 years.
2. I learned that the band boys had to go back to Jacksonville from St. Augustine for a radio session the next day. 

So, I decided to go on a pilgrimage, with my Turkish Uber driver, to my dad's first home and take photographs for him. It was quite the adventure as my driver and I struggled to understand each other and also where we were going. Although I thought I had successfully explained my purpose, he was confused when I didn't go inside the house on Shirley Ave to visit my parents. He parked across the street in a neighbor's driveway and smoked a cigarette while he waited for me to trespass on a stranger's property and take photographs of the house and street signs. Then he drove me back to the radio station. 

I liked Mehmet. He was really cool, and ours was a fun adventure, even if he thought I was nuts. 

Most importantly, my dad appreciated the photographs. 


After the show in St. Augustine on Saturday night, Eli and I went to the beach for some seafood and a nighttime beach stroll. I had my first oyster shooter (which was delicious!) and then we walked across the street to the beach and straight into the pitch black ocean. It was terrifying and shadowy and beautiful and awesome. I went calf-deep immediately, assuming I was wearing my indestructible Saltwater sandals. It took me twenty minutes of frolicking to realize that instead I was wearing red Italian leather. I have no regrets. 

After Florida we were north of Atlanta for a period of time that barely counts, but I did have time to take this picture of Eli with a well-deserved calzone after a most terrifying Uber ride. I want someone to compile Uber adventures; I'd definitely buy that book. 

We just stopped at a gas station in Louisiana (no welcome sign, had to Google map which state I was in). Two and a half more hours to go. 

Now, I have to go because I'm experiencing some motion sickness, and Blake just said, "I'm a professional vomiter."

Cheers. Until Texas. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Three things I valued about my work environment at Cincinnati Children's

Last week, I left my job at Cincinnati Children's. I started working in Shari Wade's lab in September 2011, reduced my effort to go back to school in August 2013, and in a lot of ways I've pretty naturally outgrown the position since then. Other areas in my life are picking up and my Children's work was getting squeezed out. I've been brainstorming freelance pitches and working on new writing assignments (like my first feature!), school is starting again soon, and right now I'm on tour with Eli, writing from a green room in Charlotte. I'm busy and getting busier, and most days I think that's a really good thing. 

It was emotional for me to leave for many reasons. Beyond professional skills, I learned a lot about myself and my work style during my time in the Wade lab. Also, I worked with a group of truly excellent human beings whom I will inevitably see less, which is the most upsetting reality. Admittedly, the prospect of having fewer regular paychecks is a bit scary too, but I hope the change will motivate me to put even more time and effort into my writing. When I told Harper that I was thinking of moving on, she described the decision as a "growth move." I've become fond of viewing it that way, and I think it's the truth. 

I have so much love for my lab mates and hope to get the chance to tell each of them about it in person. Here, I'd like to talk about the unique culture we created together with our boss, and what I learned about my work style and preferences as a result. I really feel like the Wade lab is special in many tangible and many more nuanced ways, but this short list serves as a summary, for me and for you, of why it's a rad place to work and why I'll miss it. 

Three things I valued about my work environment in the Wade lab at Cincinnati Children's:
  1. Freedom. I'm most productive when I feel my work is valuable, and when others trust me to get it done in my own way and within my own time parameters when the project allows. I feel fortunate that many of my jobs have allowed me to explore different workday designs as well as a variety of different tasks. I think variety, flexibility, and autonomy will always be important to me, and I will continue to pursue opportunities that come with these sort of freedoms. 
  2. Trust and mutual respect. It's so rare and wonderful to be able to count on all of your coworkers to do their jobs well, when they said they would, and to back you up when you need it without a second thought. 
  3. Conscious, caring leadership. Having a boss that A) trusts you, and B) is invested in your happiness and professional development is such a gift. Investing in people, especially employees, is so important for job satisfaction and productivity. Really, I believe that caring about people almost always pays off, and my experiences with my boss and coworkers over the last three years consistently reinforced that. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

On Tour (an excerpt from a longer unfinished thing)

I started writing an essay about my experiences on tour with Eli's band for a Columbus-based anthology a couple months ago. I never submitted the piece because it wasn't ready by the deadline. It's still not ready, and that's partly because it's all really hard to explain. There's so much back story and so much nuance. Anyway, I thought I'd post a few paragraphs here, because I'm not sure when I'll get time to revisit this thing (especially because now it has no deadline and so many other projects do). I was out with the band for a few dates the past two weeks (shows in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Columbus) so I thought it'd be an appropriate time to share.

“Multiple chargers. For all your devices. Definitely one for your bunk.”

That’s what Eli said when I asked him to tell me something important about touring. My partner's utilitarian response corresponds appropriately with what I can only assume is his mental map of the coming weeks in which he will again embark, via chartered, diesel-burning “sleeper coach,” on a cross-country adventure because doing so is perhaps the most important way to advance his career. I was, of course, looking for a more cerebral, reflective response including tips for psychologically surviving such a unique, close-quartered experience. But then, I’m always analyzing the past while Eli is busy considering the now. Both of us avoid discussing the future in concrete terms, but that’s material for an entirely different story. I am also practiced at getting ahead of myself.

Allow me to briefly put this thing in reverse. Eli, my domestic partner of five years, is a professional musician in an internationally-known band. A “sleeper coach” is a fancy name for a tour bus. The particular tour bus in question boasts an impressive front living area with leather couches, a dining table, refrigerator, sink, and a wall-mounted television; between 10 and 12 bunks in a blacked-out sleeping area enclosed by sliding doors; a bathroom (number ones only); and a smaller back lounge with leather couches, a table, storage, and a second wall-mounted television. For several months out of each of the past two years, this sort of bus has been home to four band members, four crew members, a driver, and a rotating cast of tag-along characters including friends, girlfriends, brothers, managers, and other industry folks. I am a somewhat regular supporting actress in this play. Bands have been writing about their tour experiences for years and, very often, more of the story unfolds within the speeding bus than in the brief moments spent in the country outside it.

Although Eli's functional answer about the chargers implies a certain separateness, in my experience, everyone living on the bus is constantly jacking Apple juice from the lone charger of unknown origin located on the table in the front lounge. The rest is like that too, which makes the charging business important. Plugging into something is really the only way to tune everyone out, and that’s necessary when so much is shared. Everyone gets stomach bugs together, kind of like when you're little and have chicken pox and your mom puts you in bed with your brother so you both have chicken pox at the same time. Needless to say, it’s an environment in which you come to know people deeply. It’s impossible not to study habits and preferences when you’re sharing a small, moving house and three (hardly square) meals a day with the same people. Additionally, most days, you wake up in cities where you know no one except the ten humans you’ve arrived there with.

But, it wasn’t always this way. When we met, Eli was a musician, but he was in and around our home, Cincinnati, Ohio, more often than not. A couple years into our relationship, Eli joined his current band and began to travel the country in a white van. The (then) six boys would take turns driving altogether unsafe distances of highway through the night to make it from gig to gig. Once, in July of 2012, the band played a show in Washington DC on a Friday night. We left the venue around 2AM, arrived at the hotel, showered, and were on the road to New York City at 3:30AM. The tour manager drove us through the night so the band could play The Governors Ball on Randall’s Island on Saturday afternoon. Lying on the bench at the very back of the van, I watched a beautiful sunrise that morning. When we arrived, I brushed my teeth and wandered around the festival like a zombie, eventually happening upon the tour manager who was napping outside under a table. All of Sunday we were in the van on our way back to Ohio.

The rotating cast of characters is more or less the same now as it was then. The travel itself was harder, but I saw more of the country. With no leather couch and flat screen television, I looked out the window a lot. I remember being struck by how much of our country looks the same, especially in the middle. Although macro stereotypes about regions’ inhabitants apply, at the micro level, our people are a lot the same. There are nice ones and mean ones in small towns and big cities alike, fat and thin, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, progressive and conservative. 

This comforts me.


I'd like to say: To Be Continued.

I'm going out with the band for a couple of weeks mid-August, and... I hope there will be future installments. I think it's important to record this crazy, strange, beautiful time, and I feel fortunate that I get the chance to try. We'll see.