Thursday, March 14, 2013

... from north to south (north)

my last day in chicago was taken up with revisiting north milwaukee ave, following up where i'd briefly visited on friday night. i caught the blue line north but ended up gong slightly too far, stopping at damen instead of division. by the time the blue line reaches damen, it's elevated, and walking down milwaukee gave me a great opportunity to see the shops that were all closed and dark when i visited on friday night for the reading at the boring store.

i wanted to find out more about the boring store and 826-chi and was lucky enough to get a good spiel from the staff member behind the counter. the boring store exists, effectively, to support 826-chi and its work in chicago: 826-chi is part of a nationwide reading and writing programme called 826 co-founded in san francisco by author dave eggers and educator nínive calegari. the website has a great video that's too good to make you go to the link, so i've included it below:

the 826 programme is one of the most exciting things i've found on my trip here. i'd never heard of it before and while i think it has a particularly american flavour - if for no other reason than that so many american schools languish terribly under a lack of resources - i can't help but think that the model would be awesome to somehow bring to australia. there are so many learning centres and kumon-style places, so many parents who want to see their children do more than they feel their schools can get them to, than they feel they themselves can get them to - i really think that a volunteer-backed, grassroots movement like 826 would work wonders in australia.

the boring store has a dazzling array of entertaining stuff and i would easily have spent far more time and money there than i had of either. i left and headed to the next stop: oberweis ice cream and dairy store at wicker park in chicago.

the staff at oberweis were very friendly and helpful and i really couldn't recommend them enough (except in one small regard that really is more of a personal taste thing... but more on that later). again, i was almost licking the windows wishing that i were staying long enough to be able to justify buying the 1/2-gallon bottle of chocolate milk but, alas, it was not to be. i ordered the biggest glass of chocolate milk i could and sat down to enjoy it. if you're familiar with yogo dairy dessert back in oz, i can say it tasted very similar to that, just runny enough to be milk but with a good strong body to it.

unfortunately i couldn't make the drink last forever. i had a hankering for mac-and-cheese and asked the young man at the counter if he knew anywhere local i could get some. not local, no. try whole foods at north kingsbury. you can walk there from here. (i didn't really want to.) he even ran off a google map for me.

that was enough to get me going, even though internally i was a bit leery of mac-and-cheese at a big supermarket-y ind of place being worth trekking for. he was very excited about it and i was hardly one to point the finger, given how much mac-and-cheese i've been eating since i arrived in the us. i was definitely not walking, however, and i caught the blue line back downtown and changed for the red back up to north and clybourn. i lost my bearings a little bit but, aside from the slight distraction of the container store, i found my way there. the staff were friendly and helpful - particularly one hispanic lady in the hot foods section who indicated to me what the best containers would be to use, gave me a taster sample of the sweet potato fries - and there was a great mezzanine to sit at and watch the hoi polloi shopping downstairs.

the mac-and-cheese was all right. it wasn't fantastic, although it definitely hit the spot, and that would be the only thing i could fault the staff at oberweis on: he talked it up just a little bit too much. it wasn't really mac-and-cheese that i felt keen enough to cross a city for. as it was, i did, but i wouldn't do it again for that particular mac-and-cheese.

i browsed the container store for a while, noting a few things that would be awesome to have, and left without buying anything. like visiting ikea, i could see how easy it would be to rationalise almost any purchase there, so i felt a tiny bit chuffed that i didn't buy anything.

it was beginning to get dim when i arrived back at the hostel. i was tired, though not overly so, but i stayed up for a bit, read some zines, had a peanut butter twix (my snack-machine achilles' heel) and got myself organised for the morning. my flight to wilmington left at 2pm and while it wouldn't be onerous to get to the airport from the hostel (the blue line terminates at o'hare), i didn't want to leave any more timing to chance than was natural. i tried to get a somewhat early night.

i woke with my alarm on tuesday morning and hustled into the shower. the showers at the hi-chicago really weren't as good as the ones at hi-boston, if for no other reason than that people seemed entirely okay in chicago with leaving their wet towels on the floor of the cubicles... after drying themselves off on the dry floor. what the - ??? i'm pretty forgiving about accommodations when i'm travelling and i understand that people behave a little differently when they're away than they do at home but this is one thing that really gets my goat: why, in a shared environment anywhere, would you step onto a dry area to dry yourself off??? i don't get why people don't dry off while they're still standing in the shower cubicle or bathtub and only step onto the dry floor when they themselves are now dry?! it baffles me. like standing in a queue for five minutes at a coffee shop and ignoring the menu clearly displayed above and behind the service counter... until they have to make a choice about what they'll order. argh.

breakfast was not particularly noteworthy, although i did snaffle a couple of bananas to eat later on in the morning and while i waited to change planes in charlotte. i checked out without any fuss, got my bags unhurriedly to the blue line station on jackson (around the corner from the hostel) and then couldn't get change from the ticketing machine. argh! oh well. it didn't cost any extra to get off the platform at the end of the line and into o'hare airport (take note, sydney airport!!!) so in the end i didn't begrudge (reporting it aside) the 5-dollar rail ticket.

not being in a rush, i had a fairly easy time of checking in and getting on the plane to charlotte. i've made a habit of booking seats near the back of the plane - not many people like to ride back there so i've had one or two free seats next to me during my travels - and it also means that sometimes i can check an extra bag for free. us airways, on domestic flights, charge you to check in luggage - $25 dollars for the first bag, $35 for the second - but it you have a carry-on bag they have no room for on your flight, they'll check it through to your final destination for free. nice. my satchel is chiefly for carrying around my laptop, so my cabin-bag - bought specifically with this trip in mind - has chiefly been used to store each day's additional dirty-washing quota. checking it for free is just icing on the cake.

the flight was pleasant enough and charlotte is just a beautiful airport! i've waxed lyrical in the past about how much i love san francisco airport as a place to transit between flights but charlotte is just delightful. while i can say that none of the food outlets really did much for me, there was a chocolate shop i bought peanut butter fingers from that were great. besides which, i had my bananas with me.

the connecting flight to wilmington, north carolina, was likewise relaxed and it was great to see the friendly face of my australian host at the airport. my plans, after arriving in wilmington, changed somewhat from what i had originally envisioned, and my blogging is lagging a bit, so i'll be doing a bit of summarising over the next few entries, which will bring me up to date in portland, or.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

... sunday goose chase

my friend whitney put me on to a church in the north of chicago called ravenswood covenant church. it's a bit of a hike from the hostel and for some time they've been doing upgrading work on the various train lines that form a large part of chicago's public transit system. going to and fro on the blue line (thus far, at least), i'd been hearing about changes and buses ferrying people between the points on the brown line that weren't being served on the "l" for the time being. (the wells st bridge was being upgraded.) so getting to ravenswood was a bit of an adventure.

i caught the red line from around the corner from the hostel to chicago ave, where i alighted and walked the several blocks to the brown line. it was a bit drizzly but only very lightly, and i kept myself bundled up fairly tightly in my coat. the train stop on the brown line is elevated and quite open; there are places where you can stand that have heat lamps - between november and march, you can press a button that gets them warming up; all in all, there were maybe a dozen or a score of us waiting for the train, and i was waiting for a good ten or fifteen minutes. i think i might have just missed one.

so i found myself to be running late. i thought i'd allowed myself enough time but clearly not. the church has a "sunday school" - for everyone, with various classes for different folk - that runs from 9.30am, with a church service following at 10.45am. i stopped off at a cafe i passed on the way and enjoyed a very delicious hazelnut latte(?) and used the internet for a while until it was much closer to time to go to church. i finished up and headed off.

ravenswood is a nice church, the sermon was good (and when it's about the prodigal son it's always interesting to see what tack a preacher will take, given its familiarity), and they were taking the opportunity this week to send off one of their own to begin pastoring a congregation on the other side of the country. after church was good too, with nice coffee and munchies downstairs, and i was able to have quite the long and involved discussion with one of the team involved in youth ministry.

it's always tricky talking youth stuff. some youth ministry types tend to latch on to the question while others try to avoid it - "how many kids in your youth group?" - and after (effectively) twenty-two years in youth ministry it's something i try not to ask right away... but i have come to accept it's the elephant in the room. there aren't too many ways for you to obviously measure growth in a youth group, especially since the goal most youth groups seem to aspire to - spiritual maturity in their youth that works itself out in personal evangelism and holy living - is hard enough to see growth in in the lives of everyday parishioners! an economist would ask the question, "well, what's the incentive?", and the truth of the matter is, i think, that our incentive (to honour God and to grow the church in holiness and maturity) is one where the reward is so far off that our incentive structure can easily get out of whack.

we want to see the church grow. good! so let's get some warm bodies in there. ahhh, there's the rub. how do you ask your friends along if (a) you don't have any Christian friends at school who aren't already at a different youth group, (b) your friends at school don't know you're a Christian, (c) you're home-schooled and everyone in your family already comes to church, or (d) you're scared that asking them along will mean you have no more friends. for a school student (for anyone, but especially when you're at school) that's a big ask. working through 1 peter only goes so far and sooner or later you either settle on spiritual growth and a "beads on a string" approach to slow-growth youth ministry, or you go for the "scooper" approach and run a programme high on games and light on spoken scripture. they both have their benefits and costs. i heard one friend put it that you can go for an inch-deep and a mile wide or aim for depth and go as wide as you go.

the young man i spoke to was very earnest, clearly loves the Lord, and is keen to see youth grow in his church, in maturity and numbers. i felt (as much as i ever have in this way) that God is working in him and i have little doubt that the church will be blessed. chicago has a lot of people coming and going and a church that loves its parishioners sees those people come back; i pray that ravenswood continues to grow as such a place.

i had planned, afterwards, to go to a place called the read/write library to a letter-writing even they were hosting. the inclement weather drove me into a coffee shop called eva's cafe near sedgwick, where i was planning to alight to get the bus to north california ave and the read/write library. eva's was great and i enjoyed one of the nicest mocha's i've had. they even called it a "moh-kuh" and not a "mow-kuh". refreshing. i spent a good hour or two dwelling on coffees, checking email, getting a handle on my travel plans, reading zines from the day before. delightful.

the rain didn't really stop and eventually i decided to cut my losses and head back into the city. there was trackwork going on on the wells st bridge, so it was a bit of a magical mystery tour heading back to the hostel. whereas in the morning i'd taken the train along a parallel and walked from one train line to the next to avoid the bridge, on the way back i got off the train and took the shuttle bus as advised by the chicago transit authority. the bus connected us to the station at washington and wells, where i caught an orange line train to the jackson stop, conveniently-enough located not far from the hostel.

in the classic tradition, i gave travel information advice to a group of teenagers trying to navigate the weekend's trackwork (me, who'd been in chicago for all of a few days). the evening passed quietly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

... chicago zine fest's big day in

i was up fairly early on saturday morning. it was pretty clear, a tad drizzly, but otherwise quite a pleasant morning as far as my standards go. of course i like things cold and grim, which is fine. (sunday and monday were just miserable and wet, which is different enough to the more exotic snowy and miserable (also known to the uninitiated as snowy and magical) to be disappointing.) i breakfasted and hoofed it down quickly to columbia college, keeping my peeled for any open paper- or art-supply-stores that i could duck into to buy covers for my zines. i found nothing, even after traipsing around for an extra dozen blocks or so.

i turned this blog entry into a zine. i managed to format it so that one us letter-size sheet of paper, copied both sides, could be cut into three, matched with a cover and one staple, and that would be the zine. i called it "squid".

(wow - it only took half an hour to find this link...) so i ended up stopping into artist & craftsman supply, who were kind enough to let me use their counter to cut the paper i used for my zine covers. the paper actually looked much like a big, thick sheet of that seaweed you use for making sushi rolls. After much calculation and close attention and figure-cooking, i still screwed up how i was cutting the paper and ended up making two covers less than i expected to be able to get out of the sheet of paper. the staff were nothing but friendly and helpful and i would heartily recommend the store for any specialty paper requirements you might need on a small scale or need urgently.

covers in hand, i headed down to the next stop, indigo digital printing, on the corner of s. wabash and e. 9th street. again, nothing but helpful, and the fellow behind the counter even used to enormous computer-controlled cutting machine to cut my paper for me. i was a little disappointed that i had estimate for him one-third of 11 inches, in addition to the fact he didn't know the measurements in millimetres. i think if you work in printing for any length of time, you should know or be trained in knowing a certain number of measurements by heart (or have on a handy ready-reckoner at all times). i know that an a4 sheet of paper is 297x210mm; that 100 sheets of 80gsm bond a4 copy paper is about 1cm thick; that you can cut an a4 sheet into three equal-sized sheets 99x210mm and that one such sheet will fit flat and unfolded into a dl-sized envelope. using us letter-sized paper is a bit fraught - it's 8.5x11 inches, which doesn't evenly third, and even though it's 279mm high, it's actually not (it's 279.4mm). i suppose i'm being finicky but printing is an exact profession and if you're manning the store solo on a saturday - on any day - i'd expect you to know this stuff.

nevertheless, the service was great, and my zine was prepared by about 11.25am - five minutes before i had to be on deck at the zine fest info desk. i made it with maybe a minute to spare.

the zine fest tabling area was amazing. there were 99 tables in all (i looked at all of them after my shift finished) and the variety in quality, quantity, and subject matter was kaleidoscopic! it was spread over two levels, with 45 tables on the 8th floor (where i was stationed) and 44 on the 1st floor (that's the 7th and ground floors for us aussies!). some titles were sold out long before i got to the tables, especially those titles that had been read by exhibitors at 826-chi the night before, but i still managed to grab quite the selection of stuff. i traded as often as i could and left the tables with maybe four copies of my zine remaining.

trading is always a tricky proposition. how do you put a value on your zine? do you only price it according to the material you used, or the time taken to assemble it, or a qualitative estimation of the value of the contents, or (more frequently) some ad hoc blend of the three? i generally consider the cost of assembly (materials and a rough measure of time), since i very rarely write new material especially for a zine. i don't recall what the cost of the cover paper was, but even if the sheet had cost $10 (which it most certainly didn't) and i'd actually got the 20 covers out of it i'd planned for (i only got 18) that would have made the covers 50c apiece and copying sides were 6c each and i got the cutting thrown in for free. (total 50+6+6=62c per zine cost - an overestimation!) i valued mine at one dollar. in terms of trade, i was open to offering mine for a zine up to $2 cover price but felt iffy about trading it for anything more expensive, so i ended up buying quite a few zines as well. some i did a bit of both trading and paying.

i haven't finished reading all the zines i have, so i won't review any here (i plan to, though). i was pretty wrecked by the end of the day's trading and i headed back to the hostel for a bit of a nanna nap. there was an after-party but i just couldn't make it. i stopped into dq chill and grill, which is next-door to hi-chicago, ate dinner and read some zines, then went back to the hostel and hit the sack. i was zonked and wanted to be sure i could be up in good time to go to church in the morning.

it was great to see so many familiar faces from portland. dave roche and alex wrekk were both tabling and alex remembered me from portland. i do still get a bit star-struck talking to her but she's inspiring and approachable in equal measure and has always been incredibly friendly. i was disappointed at missing the panel discussion on friday afternoon but a transcript was posted on the czf website here, so at some point i'll get into that too.

i'm running out of battery here but that's pretty much it. more to follow.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

... two days in one

so i arrived in chicago on thursday morning and, to be honest, friday was a bit of a bust. this is why.

on the last day or two in boston, my phone - the sony xperia tipo dual that i had bought specifically for my trip in the united states, so that i could keep my vodafone sim card and buy a cheap connection and sim card while i am here - started to play up. the keyboard was wonky, i had to keep turning it at rights angles to be able to type some keys on the onscreen keypad; some aspects, like automatic insertion of smileys, didn't work at all.

i was pretty... flummoxed by this, would be a generous way of putting it. i chatted online with sony tech support, who didn't seem to be overly accepting of my predicament, despite (as i discovered later on) this being a known issue with the phone. (as it turns out, another known issue - but similarly "unknown" to sony - was a very bad echo problem when using a compatible headphones-and-mic connection. i also experienced this, though it's not such an issue for me, since i rarely make phone calls, preferring to txt or use data.)

after much scrabbling around i found an app i could install to reset the calibration of my phone. this has fixed the keypad issues, even though my sausage-fat fingers still have trouble making the right words sometimes. i know, i know, autocorrect would help with that. and i know, i know, that "sliding" keypads can works very well too. i miss the old keypads with actual buttons to press. i could txt without even looking at the screen with that. not so much any more.

nevertheless, by 1.30 a.m. on thursday night, i had sorted out the phone problem. ahhh... blissful sleep.

so i woke up late on friday morning but just early enough to catch the tail-end of breakfast in the dining area. the combination of healthy and less-unhealthy food at hi-chicago was slightly different to hi-boston: no cocoa bombs, instead cornflakes and what i thought was sultana bran (eeek!) but seemed (after reasonable digestive analysis) to be something more like "special k" with sultanas or currants; they had muffins of some kind; bagels; orange juice; lots of sugar and non-dairy creamer in those cardboard tubes with twisty lids on that i associate more with horrible kraft powdered parmesan cheese than anything else... there were red delicious apples, which i'm not that keen on and discovered, after discussion with some fellow zinesters also staying at the hostel, many others feel equally unkeen on them also.

i had already decided to do my laundry but procrastinator that i am stopped into the hostel library and perused some books. yes, i admit it, i even did some shelf-tidying (i know i work in a bookshop and i'm on holidays but i've been in retail now for over twenty years and some habits are hard to break so - i hate to be typing this, i feel like a fourteen year old girl but - please don't judge!) but managed to escape maybe a half-hour later. i showered and got my gear into the washing machine, then hit the internet to blog. altogether, the washing took about two hours or so, and i pottered about tidying and organising my bags and clean washing. in the evening there was a zine reading planned as part of chicago zine fest, and i had to catch the blue line "l"-train to get there. exciting!

in between my doing my laundry and going to the reading in the evening, there was another zine fest event that i missed out on because, well, i got my timing screwy. i had originally in my head, "zine panel at zine fest site, 1-3pm", but by the time i'd done my washing and finished blogging, that had devolved in my head to, "zine panel 3pm". so of course i hoofed it down from the hostel (a mere five or six blocks north of the zine fest site at columbia college), passing a procession of very zinesteresque folk until i arrived and was told i'd just missed out. alas.

the walk back to the hostel took me on a different route and i stopped in for quesadillas at a great little place called [alas, the name escapes me and google was no help - if i remember, i'll replace this] for what was a really yummy quesadilla with beans and rice and (a little taste o' home) a mandarin jarritos. just what i needed to give me a gee-up after a somewhat disappointing afternoon. one other thing i did manage was to finish the silver linings playbook, by matthew quick. what a great read! an interesting narrative and engaging story, and something i was keen to read before i saw the film. unfortunately, it was still very hard to get bradley cooper and jennifer lawrence out of my head as i tried to imagine their characters on my own terms. while in his afterwords matthew reilly has said he imagined brad pitt as will race in temple and tom cruise as shane schofield in ice station and his scarecrow novels, i never did, and i think i enjoy them more for not having done so. not to mention that tom cruise is just too short. (c.f. jack reacher...)

i hopped onto the blue line, got off at division, and walked up to the boring store. (more about that later.) the boring store is a front for an amazing enterprise called 826-chi and they were hosting youth- and exhibitor-readings associated with the zine fest. it was standing room only most of the time and the calibre of writing was phenomenal. i was able to grab a few zines that had been read from but by the time i'd left my volunteer post at the zine fest, many titles were sold out. dave roche (of on subbing, among others) read from his zine, if nothing else the sky, excerpting a story about visiting the penguin parade at phillip island in victoria. classic.

there was more fun and games set for after the readings around the corner at quimby's books but i was already feeling pretty tired and needed to get back to the hostel to prepare my copies of the zine i'd decided to use as a trade at the zine fest. i did stop into a great little ice creamery called oberweis (1293 n milwaukee avenue, chicago, il 60622), grabbed a cup of coffee and tasted the yummiest chocolate milk, i think, of my life. (more on that later, too!)

long story short: i got back to the hostel around 11pm; i prepared the text of the zine; i spent three hours wrestling the text into a format i'd worked out using scribus, an open-source dtp program. i was very happy by the time i'd finished, it printed from .pdf exactly the way i wanted it to, which was a huge blessing the next day when, en route to the zine fest, i stopped off at an art supply store (for cover paper) and a print shop (to run off and assemble my zine). ahhh, sleep...

... for five hours, at least.

Friday, March 08, 2013

... well, here we are (again)

checked into hi-chicago... eventually. i tried about five times, every time i was told, "sorry, the room's not ready for you yet..." i don't know how long it takes to strip a bed in a hostel down for the next person but i suspect it's not very long. the bottom sheet is fitted, pillows have covers and the flat sheet and comforter are left folded on your bed. there's a towel. i'm quietly confident i could do the whole thing in under five minutes if i was hustling... maybe ten if i was dawdling. i know there are many floors but with the number of people i saw wandering around with staff and custodial badges, i'm surprised it took so long. a simple, "sorry but the person who was there before you is running late checking out, which is why we haven't made up your bunk, so perhaps you could try much later?" i'd have been maybe a little happier with that.

chicago suffers by comparison with boston when visiting so soon one after the other. i don't know if i'd have felt less warm to boston after seeing chicago first but chicago seems to me to be a bit more... menacing. it doesn't help that people tell you all kinds of terrible mugging stories two minutes into meeting you and finding out you're a tourist. i did help another aussie explain drop-bears to someone who remained convinced (although slightly less-so) that he was being made fun of. drop-bears are a serious problem in australia and i don't understand why tourists are so blase about them! i'm not in chicago to pitch a tent in cabrini green for goodness' sake! take drop-bears seriously, people.

i spent a fair amount of time wandering nearby the hostel, exploring my immediate surroundings and hunting down some mac and cheese. i know! the eternal quest for mac and cheese. what can i say? anyway, i found some at a place called panera bread, a chain i'd seen in boston and thought seemed pretty good. from the wiki article i guess they're not squeaky clean but they're in business and still around after a while, which i suspect makes them like plenty of other businesses out there.

the hostel is set up pretty well but you do need to use your room key a lot to move around the hostel once you're in the checked-in area. the kitchen is spacious and spartan and definitely lacks the warmth of the hostel communal areas in boston. the computer lab and library are well-appointed, although i found it hard to use the computers in the lab because of problems with putting money in the timing boxes. for some reason, the laundry powder vending machine is on the second floor with in the communal area, even though the laundry is on the fourth floor. all of these reflections will be included in my post-checkout survey.

by the time i did check in, i was just about ready to hit the sack. the bunk is okay; again, not quite so well-appointed as the bunks in boston but i was told the boston hostel is miles ahead of where it was a while ago. perhaps, if chicago undergoes a floor-by-floor refit (clearly the only way to really do it properly), it will come out more new-bostonian than the old-bostonian it is now. i slept all right, even caught breakfast in the dining room, read a little in the library, did my laundry. more on friday next time.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

... boston to chicago

i'm on the lake shore limited and it's coming up to 11pm. the train has been pretty empty up until the last couple of stops. i think we had quite the influx at the stop in utica, ny, but at albany-rensselaer, ny, we had another train from elsewhere (dc?) joined up to our own from massachusetts. (or "mass", as everyone from mass that i've met seems to refer to it...)

the train is an overnight express. the lights have been dimmed and there are no stop announcements made until 7am. conductors walk up and down the train constantly with their walkie-talkies and stiff round leather caps. i was assisted at boston south station before boarding by actual red caps, something i'd read about but i don't know that i'd noticed in seattle or portland when i've been haunting amtrak. "red caps" are not the fairies that live at the bottom of english gardens, or soldiers that serve in the british army, but rather a particular group who have been looking after luggage and front-line customer service on american trains long before there was an amtrak. to the best of my recollection, red caps were often african-american in background and their jobs were kept in the family, some caps literally passing from father to son. there was much pride taken in being a red cap, so clearly set apart from other service and custodial staff at train stations.

there's no wifi connection on the train, so i'm typing this in notepad and later on i'll upload it and backdate it so it fits. i have an entry for the 4th that i'll so the same thing with, since i have a sneaking suspicion that i've neglected to upload a blog entry for then. i may also do one for the 5th. i'll have to think a little harder about that one.

when i checked out this morning, i asked when i could stay again at the hostel in boston. they have a 14-nights-in-a-calendar-year policy, which means that if i wanted to i could head back up to boston after visiting wilmington and spend a little more time there... i really liked boston and feel like it's a place that would a great deal for the diligent explorer. i'm not talking about revolutionary war history - it's lousy with that, you can barely turn around without seeing some old building that was part of the early rebellion against george iii - but rather a cultural history of baseball and basketball and hockey, of food, of the turning of seasons, of being a commonwealth rather than a state (a status shared with viriginia only, i gather), of being much smaller than it seems despite the cultural, historical and industrial gravity it exerts.

we're coming up to rochester, ny. all around me people with "chi" in the cardholder are settled in to sleep or, like me, beavering away quietly on their computers. there's no wifi but there are power outlets beside each seat. i could literally do this all night, if i wanted to. while i type, i have creedence clearwater revival playing. suzie q right now but it's a great collection of their best songs in my itunes...

so i don't know... i had planned on spending quite a bit of time in portland, and given that baseball season starts soon i could even catch the train up to seattle and see the mariners play again. i really did enjoy that, last trip, despite the rest of the meh-ness of visiting seattle. but i could comfortably spend some more time in boston.

i have a bit of a headache. i don't know if it's a slightly stuffy nose or too much mac-and-cheese. i'm leaning towards the stuffy nose: how could i have too much mac-and-cheese?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

... birds of a feather

people who have engaged in youth ministry for any length of time often seem (to me, at least) to have a slightly crazed look in their eye and an openness to what they see as "ministry". whitney is a bit like that, i think, and only in a good way. i've been in contact with her off and on for a couple of years now, part of my casting my net for people to catch up with while i'm travelling and who might be inclined to show me around different parts of the country.

on my visit to boston i have been blessed to find in whitney a local bwana who could show me a bunch of boston that i doubt i'd have found for myself. she pointed me to a holocaust memorial down behind the boston city hall, then showed me the quincy markets. that would have been great by itself but when i shared about my desire to see gloucester, she said it was a place she was familiar with from family trips and offered to take me. extra-great.

so my plan had been to go to the crow's nest, which is the bar featured in the perfect storm. i read a bunch of less than flattering reviews on yelp about it which, in the cold light of twilight, started to outweigh my desire to stand at the bar there. in any case, i visited a couple of statues dedicated to those in the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of the town: one to the wives and children of those who go to sea, the other to the fishermen themselves. around the balustrade of the boardwalk that surrounds the statue of the fisherman, there is a list of the men lost to the sea over several hundred years. it's a starting reminder than even now, with our sonar and safety and giant boats, the sea will still have what the sea wants.

instead of drinks at the crow's nest, we stopped into a diner of the classic style - shiny metal outside, red and white vinyl booths, pretty great - and one of the biggest burgers i've ever eaten. still not the biggest (that honour remains with a burger i ate at a shopping centre food court in canberra almost a decade ago) but the heavy dent i had already made in the accompanying salad, fries, and onion rings, meant it was a tricky proposition. i think whitney managed maybe half of hers, to her deep surprise.

the drive back to boston was broken up with a stop in to the movies to see a good day to die hard. we definitely don't need any more of these.

then tonight the trip was to the prudential tower. this is the place to see boston by night and it is definitely those closest i've been to the boston i've seen i b-unit photography for the tv shows i mentioned the other day. time disappeared quickly and then i was back at the hostel saying goodbye. whitney has been great and i hope we keep in touch.

off to bed - checkout tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

... and the mill pond was almost frozen over!

i'm on the train from boston to lowell. it's a "commuter rail" service, with conductors with the stiff round hats with the tiny visors, clipping tickets and whatnot, even though i've bought my ticket with an app on my smartphone. you show your phone screen to the conductor and there's your ticket: sometimes they'll put some kind of little card on the seat to show you've been okayed, other times they don't. i guess it depends on how confident they are in remembering that you've been checked off.

i've spent the last day and two nights couchsurfing in a small town called maynard. it started out as a mill town, gradually drawing in workers and their families from the surrounding faming towns until maynard outgrew acton and stow, two of the worker-contributing towns nearby. it's still cold enough that there is plenty of snow on the ground and the time i spent yesterday walking around the town was filled with small-town america and light flurries of snow. i didn't feel cold at all but i had my thermal underwear on, along with my big blue coat. no need for gloves or scarf or beanie. i'm glad. as i mentioned to a few people, i didn't want to get acclimated to the new england cold, only to start freezing my butt off when i get to chicago.

even though i've only had four nights' sleep here, i have the palpable sense of my holidays disappearing in a quick-running stream away from me. the sense of time passing is acute, made more so by stopping at a war memorial in a park in maynard. the main memorial facing the most direct route from the road is for soldiers lost in world war i and i was startled by just how many soldiers sharing surnames there were. several names had four or five people, others had six. i looked to the memorial for the fallen in world war ii and was interested to see some of those same names, and none of others. the town gave of its sons several times over the years but those two wars, maneating juggernauts that they became, consumed the most by far and i wondered as i looked around the town and at the names on the other memorials after wwii, just how great a change was rendered by those men being cut down in the prime of their lives.

greater boston seems to me to be an interesting conflation of old and new. i have seen little of the boston of ally mcbeal or the practice, and certainly none of boston legal, but what i have seen smacks rather more of the town, the boondock saints, and good will hunting. even new houses are built in such old styles that they look hardly any different to the hulks they stand beside, the colours of the paint and the styles of the decorative shutters the few clues to which buildings are older than which. the outlying towns that feed boston through its commuter rail system seem very small and self-contained but they show clearly that the money that keeps them alive flows out from boston, not around the grand market circles from town to town.

the towns remind me of places like olinda and woodend, leura and katoomba, bulli and kiama, only more closely and conveniently connected. the ride from south acton (where i was most conveniently dropped off by my couchsurfing hosts) into north station in boston took less than an hour, whereas commuters from the illawarra's south coast sometimes travel from kiama or nowra up to sydney on a daily basis, some three hours' travel each way. here in massachusetts, small town america doesn't start very far from the big city.

i'm heading back out again to lowell, out to the north of boston, where i'll meet up with my friend whitney, who's offered to drive me out to gloucester, a seaside town for deep-sea fishermen and setting of the wolfgang petersen film, the perfect storm. i'm planning on visiting the bar from the film but i've read mixed reviews. we'll see what it's like when we get there. i'm looking forward to seeing the atlantic ocean up a bit closer and a more personally than at the waterfront near quincy market and the north end of boston.

not long to lowell now.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

... it's all about the free wi-fi

i'm in a boston common coffee shop on washington st, whiling away the time as i make my way up to the t-mobile shop (or will it be at&t?) to arrange for my cellphone connection while i'm here in the usa. after i get that settled, i'm meeting one of my boston contacts, a youth ministry boffin who's going to show me around town a little. i've made arrangements for storage of my big suitcase while i'm out of town tonight and tomorrow night - who knew it would be so difficult to find a storage space for a couple of days? clearly, the west coast is truly more laid back than the east coast...

again i'm surprised by how warm the interiors of buildings seem to be kept here. i bought two sets of thermal underwear for while i'm here (the winter has been chilly enough, with nasty cold snaps and blizzards, and i've been tracking the temperatures before and since i arrived), one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved. i've been wearing the short-sleeved top yesterday and today and even without that, i'm confident i'd have found it over-warm inside. the one place i didn't find over-warm was king's chapel, which i came across at the top of washington st near boston city hall. i'll be heading past there again today on my way to meet whitney at the boston holocaust memorial.

after a 20-ounce coffee's worth of trying, the wi-fi connection here is still tanking so i'm going to continue on my way. i'm truly hoping i don't find myself in another starbucks...

[ later ]

i'm now eating lunch in a fast food joint called b.good. it's ok. i had a burger and chips and their "homemade" strawberry lemonade isn't too bad but i have to say that i'm finding the entire affair quite disappointing. the fries are quite... i don't quite know the word. anaemic doesn't quite fit. i was expecting them to be a bit more like the chips at grill'd, to be honest. if they'd been the size they are at grill'd, i'd have been a lot more impressed. from the description impression i had of the fries on the menu, i think they're punching above their weight and failing badly.

the burger was nice enough and the condiments that came with it are clearly where b.good are trying to make their point of difference in terms of how the burger is assembled. b.good's true point of difference is their pride in everything being so fresh and in being connected to the primary points of production for most of the ingredients used. the beef pattie used in the burger gave every indication that it had been prepared by hand - thick, imperfect, falling apart in unexpected places, which is what you get when you hand-make a meat pattie - but otherwise i was underwhelmed.

the free wi-fi is nice though.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

... not quite 24 hours in Boston

well, here i am in boston, massachusetts. i'm in a starbucks (no judgements, please) mooching off of their free wi-fi and making my venti mocha last as long as i possibly can. by chance i found myself sitting next to a woman leading youth group at her church and we've been trading stories about ministry and Christian life for a while.

boston is a very nice city, at first blush. beautiful foregrounds and slightly more ordinary backgrounds. up close, there are amazing photo opportunities to be had and i may take some pictures of things while i'm here. unfortunately, in my view, a lot of the newer and not so newer buildings have meant that the backgrounds jar against these lovely foreground shots. tomorrow i will take a few pictures, just to see how they go.

the youth hostel is nice and comfortable and well-appointed, with awesome bunks and powerpoints near the bedheads. the wi-fi connection in the building, however is appalling. which is why i'm at starbucks. the building - in fact almost all of the buildings i've been in here in boston are very warm. i'm amazed that i'm not seeing people selling vitamin c on every corner, or boxes of tissues, and that everyone in the city isn't suffering from colds. i have my thermal underwear (i'm only wearing my top, since i haven't felt cold enough to wear my bottoms) and my polar-fleece vest and i've been quite comfortable. i'll be heading back to the hostel once i've posted this and i imagine i may feel a bit chilled by then. we'll see.

the flights from melbourne were a little... odd, i guess is the word i'm looking for. there wasn't really enough of a break between any two legs to allow me to sit down and really relax for a while - every connectiong was about two hours apart. that's great in terms of keeping on moving but my previous trips from san francisco to portland have afforded me a four-hour break (or thereabouts) at sfo to enjoy a nice relaxing lunch. this time i barely had two hours and didn't get to finish my lunch before i caught my connection to boston, and landing here at 10.30pm meant dinner was always going to be a wash. if i were to do this leg again (west coast to east coast) i think i would do what i did on the way to new york, which was take an overnight flight leaving the westcoast late at night and arriving early the following morning. if nothing else, at least i'd save on one night's accommodation.

i'm looking around town again tomorrow, hopefully checking into papercut zine archive and it looks like i'll be going to papercut zine archive on monday... we'll see what happens.

i know it's been a long time since my last entry. i'm writing again now, at least.