Moments from a Summer Voyage (Leg 1)

I’m trying to find a new and better way to write up my trip. I wrote a blog post detailing the first leg of the journey — from Seoul to San Francisco, through Denver, Wyoming, Portland, and Seattle, until my departure to New York City. But I don’t think it’s very interesting, and I’m against posting boring crap online. There’s so much of it already, even on this blog.

So it’s going to be a slower catchup, I think, as I work out how to say in an interesting way what these places and the people I saw in them meant to me. The experiences, the foods, the conversations, the hours in this bus or that plane.

Here’s an attempt. (And I’ll try post about Launch Pad after, in a more coherent way. I’ll also link to my pics from this trip once I have them up on Flickr.) But for some impressions from this trip, moments caught in the amber of my memory, this post is it:

San Francisco

I know now what Kurt Vonnegut meant.

Here I am, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, and in the distant hills, I imagine that brown, strange shape that Fritz Leiber wrote about, that weird and shimmering thing so strange and faraway. The scattered pile of books that somehow has taken  a woman’s shape on the bed beside him.

I am sitting in a hostel living room, chatting with someone about the best SF ever. We disagree. It’s great to meet a member of my tribe, disagreements and all.

And then there is Ben. Ben and the City Lights bookstore, and the bar where Kerouac drank. The bars Ben and his brother take me to. And the cinema where the movie was too much, and I thought I might have a stroke, and how I sat out back talking to the vegan dude working at the cinema, and petting the cinema’s cat. A lovely cat it was. The director of the film is somewhere in that dark room, watching his manic piece of junk mosaic, and resembling, stunningly so, the Doc Brown from the Back to the Future film series.

At another moment, I am sitting in a restaurant with people I only knew online, Doug and Scott, guys I know from a mailing list.There are other people I know mostly or only from mailing lists, whom I will see on this trip.

And Becca, at the Mexican restaurant on the one day I got lost, with a pulp YA novel about some kind of supernatural detective. The first page reads like a riot. And she has a long drive home, and goes.

And I have to make a phone call, if I can only find a good international card. Which I can’t. Thank heaven for Skype, as unreliable as it often is — it’s better than nothing.

Thank you, ajummas of San Francisco. For the discount on the dinner, when you saw me studying Korean. For the 10% off on my already-discounted black leather jacket. I’m not even Korean, but you treat me as if I were.

Too bad the Church of St. John Coltrane was closed, but what graffiti! And like I said, I think I maybe know what Kurt Vonnegut meant, when he said that thing that he said about San Francisco.

Denver, Colorado

I’m not joking. There’s a bus that cuts across downtown, called the “Free Mall Ride.” This triggers inexplicable, post-Lovecraftian horror in the bowels of my dreadfullest imagination. I’m not joking.

In my hostel — the cheapest I’ve ever seen, at $12 a night — there is a sailor. Pretty far inland for a sailor. He says that’s an indicator of how screwed up the American economy is. No point in staying on the coast — ships are setting out with only skeleton crews, because there’s nothing to ship. Empty vessels floating like ghost ships, just beyond the horizon. Can you imagine. Some guy sells me a book of hastily-edited self-published poetry. He calls it poetry, anyway. Spelling error on the first page. I feel badly for him, but then again, he has my money. I wonder where I should give the book away.

In Denver, I find that I am comparatively slim. And I still can’t find a decent international calling card.

And then I’m sitting awkwardly at a table with a bunch of other SF writers. Some very famous. Some not so famous. Some like me. Then it’s not so awkward. Then we’re driving in the dark, and Andy Duncan and Marc Laidlaw and I reminisce about that Fritz Leiber novel I thought of last week. I tell Jeremy Tolbert, who’s driving, that he needs to read it. Marc tells us about visiting Leiber’s home, when he was a kid. And we talk about a million things, and Marc reminds us not to look at the stars till we’re qualified.

But there are so many of them, so lovely, those stars I mean, that I just can’t resist.

Laramie, Wyoming

Dorm sign-in is screwed up. No surprise. No big deal. Others seem to think it is, but I’ve worked a summer English camp in Korea.

Like drinking from a firehose. Stars. Galaxies. Light. Imaging. The astronomer’s life: I feel a mounting envy.

Envy for the microbrews in this town, too. Jalapeno Pepper Ale. Belgian Sour Beer. Wheat Beers the like of which I’ve never seen before. So much good beer. Too bad you’re drunk after two pints. Two pints. Because of high altitude. And I have to pee every hour or so. For a week. Marc orders the best beer. Twinges of envy. Jer doesn’t have any. But I envy him the huge, dark sky.

Riffing with so many people. Making friends. Some for life, I think, I hope. I’m speaking with a Southern accent again. Just a little. Not making fun. It’s the sincerest form of flattery, believe me.

Owl is picking sage and now we’re all picking it, sniffing it. Julie and Nora and me. It’s wonderful. This hike, the sunlight and the fresh air, and the sky is bluer than any blue I’ve ever seen. Now I know what azure means.

Early morning Skype. Late night Skype. Strange foreign words woven into emails at random times. A rhythm to it that trasncends any kind of trackability.

I’m asking the grad student all these questions, and he’s answering them all, and then suddenly we’re out in the room with the big ‘scope, riffing with Pat about serial killer astronomers and Gogol Bordello and Andy’s taking pictures again and then so is Jeremy and wow. But the sky is dark.

But oh, seeing the Moons of Jupiter. And seeing Andromeda. What is this shame? This shame that Joe Haldeman dispels, smiling, and saying, “No, no, you knew what you were looking for, all those times before. You just didn’t know the names.”

Ahem. Wow. And most of us, especially the white males in the room, are quiet, deer-in-headlights.

And there’s a party at Mike’s place, one night, and it’s the first time someone I don’t know asks me for my autograph. She’s a fan of Scott Sigler’s. Mike is somewhere, don’t know where till he busts out the army night vision goggles. They rock. But before that, I’m sitting with Gay Haldeman, talking shop. TEFL and teaching and all that stuff. Lovely woman.

Andromeda is a blur in the optical distance. A photon that has traveled two and a half million years uninterruptedly strikes my retina. Maybe not for the first time, but now I know what I am looking at. Averted gaze. Now I know what I am sort-of seeing. I see Jupiter’s moons, too. Robert Sawyer tells me which is which.

Then the cop pulls Mike over, as he’s speeding to try to get me to the right gate. I should have just run across the airport. I would have made my flight. My last day in Denver, sitting in an airport. Tara and Brian going through security with me, and Owl saves Tara’s laptop from abandonment. I finally fly when night falls…

Austin, Texas

… and when I stop flying, one of my heroes is waiting for me. In the dark of night, at the airport, smiling.

Morning: iced tea, conversations. One’s hero can be one’s friend as well. Maureen, thank you.

Friends all around me, in many different places in their lives. Here this begins: friends hurting, friends with their eyes bright and gleaming with optimism, friends who are just over a bad spell, friends going well mostly as usual. Tragedy, comedy — more and more as it goes along. Talking and talking and talking.Marvin and Keisha and Adam and Caroline and Tinatsu and Shawn even drives down.

The food. My Lord, the food. A deep fried avocado. I’m not making this up.

And also, the food, my word, the food. The trip to the Whole Foods superstore is only the beginning. There is a table laid out that would be fit for royalty. They never ate like this back in whatever dynasty you might care to name. And I could never change my eating habits the way Shawn has. Never.

I now sort of understand what ARGs are about.

Surfrock spy music. Ha! And later, and I am not making this up, Roller Derby. I can’t believe my eyes when the one thing I cracked a joke about on the way over, while we were navigating using the 3G capability on Shawn’s iPhone because we got lost on the way, came true: pillow-fight! Random, goofy penalties makes the game. I enjoy my time at Roller Derby.

And the last day comes bright, early, strange, and Maureen takes me away just as I came… groggy and thankful.

Portland, Oregon

… is full of good beer and sunlight. By the way, this really is a heat wave following me, Heat wave, why me? Why do you follow me across the country?

Eric is talking about computer programming stuff. Tina and I are confused. But there is something there, something neat that I think  I almost understand. Can’t remember any of the terminology, though.

Good beer and pizza. And that park downtown is lovely, the kiond of place urban fantasy novels might open.

Thai food. Hot weather. Almost Asia, really.

Tina and I get into the car one day, hit the post office on our way out of town.

Seattle, Washington

There is no wifi (and thus no Skype) on the seashore, but there is seaglass. Meghan is explaining how to hunt for it. There are pretty rocks. I fill my pockets, and we hunt for a good hour or two. Seaglass shines differently, once you learn enough to know what you’re looking for.

Wherever we’re meeting Mark, I’m lost. It’s near Eileen Gunn’s place. She and her husband are this party’s hosts. We have pizzas and beer and catch up.

Eileen’s office is a riot. Scary doll heads and boxes with labels like  “Maps of Fucking Everywhere.” She holds up a doll’s head, a scary one with a weird mouth, and says, “This one looks like it was forced to performed a sex act until its mouth rotted.” She holds the scary doll head up gleefully. There is a photograph of that moment. Maybe a few.

Marc’s at the party, and it’s weird, because it’s not Laramie. Hi Leslie! Hi Neile! Hi Sue! Hi Rudy Rucker. Oh my God, Rudy Rucker! Note to self: write something Flurb-worthy soon. Hey, is that Jay Lake? Yeah, I think it was. The Clarion West grads are just as we were: more interested in one another than in outsiders. Ted Chiang isn’t around — wanted to ask him how he liked Bucheon.

Wake up to the sound of one of Mark’s sons: “I wanna PLAY!” I am sleeping in the playroom.This life with three kids stuff scares me. But only a little. Mylan (spelling?) and Mark are great with ’em. The dog is insane. In a good way.

The SF Museum with Tina and Meghan and Mark. We each have a story project. Tina’s s double-headed spanking man. Some Heinlein pulp cover. Mine is a Forrest J. Ackerman story. They don’t write fan letters to the editor like that anymore! Fandom is a different beast.And so was Jim Henson. There’s a whole Henson retrospective thing. Fraggle Rock comes back to me like a pile-driver. Wow. Did you know bp nichol was a writer on that show? He was… I like his stuff for FR much more than the stuff I imagine he was proudest of. All that avant-garde poetry and whatever.

Dinner: my god. Lovely. Wow. And the beer. And the hanging out and talking. Catching up. Being scared with tales of the slush pile. Falling asleep with my laptop open, as I can get online but not with my iPod.

Sunday morning. Why are all my friends insisting on taking me to airports? Must book late flights on future trips. Next stop… the Big Apple. Or, well, it should have been. Thank goodness for happy accidents… but I’ll save that for the next leg of the trip, in the next post.

9 thoughts on “Moments from a Summer Voyage (Leg 1)

  1. I’m trying to decide whether I should feel vaguely uncomfortable about the fact that every mention of me in this entry is bar-related. Like, “Oh, then I visited my alcoholic friend Ben in San Francisco….” ;)

  2. Ben,

    Hey, I only mentioned your twice, and you did take me to City Lights (and that SF bookstore, what was it called?) before the bar. But a significant amount of time did pass in bars, right?


    It was great fun. I hope you don’t mind my posting that priceless moment. Tho if you do, I could, er, edit it out. But it truly is a priceless moment. One of the standouts of the trip. That, and the scary fish-god the frogs are worshipping in your washroom. I love that little tableau!

  3. Heh, I thought you might be amused by that. Then again, we were drinking water all day long. And it was mostly when we were sitting around. Somehow drinking beer, I didn’t have that problem. :)

    Though don’t get me started on the prostatitis that comes from too much sitting and not enough exercise. Long trips are NOT good for one’ health!

    (But ah well, it was worth it.)

  4. Sorry for crashing the party on this post, but I haven’t received a reply from the e-mail. I’ll leave the beer bottle at English department office either tomorrow (Wednesday) or the day after (Thursday) unless you have another better place in mind. Again, thanks for the great beer.

  5. Eileen,

    Cool. :)


    Sorry, man, I’m a bit behind on email at the moment. The department office is fine! Thanks for the bottle back. I’ll make sure you get something from the next batch when it comes! (And maybe we can share it together?)

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