Category Archives: Travel

Tennessee, and Me

This is my last week in Paris, Tennessee, and I haven’t done a single blog post on my time spent here.

This is partially because I’ve been prioritizing other writing projects, and partially because I realized, once I started trying to write about this place, that I don’t quite know the tone to strike when documenting this sort of month-by-month travel.

My travel writing is usually very event-based. I’m going out, breaking away from the everyday, doing fun things, and seeing cool stuff. But this new type of travel is such an odd mixture of eventful things and ordinary things. Like yes, I’m in a new location, around new people. But I still have to work, and they still have to work. It’s not quite as exciting.

So what has it really been like to relocate to Tennessee?

Let me see if I can sum it up for you.

The first person I met upon arrival that rainy Saturday night was Jenni Yoder, my new roommate and friend. She gave me a tour of her little house, showing me my room, and where I could make hot water for tea. There was a welcome basket on my dresser with insect repellent and water and snacks and maps of things to see in Paris TN.

Jenni explained to me that her parents were gone on a trip, and so she’d periodically go across the street to her parents’ house and cook for her three younger brothers. Her whole family went to a small church in a log cabin, and I was welcome to come along, she said.

So that’s what I did the next morning. I ate breakfast, met her brothers, and went to her cozy little church.

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Her church was tiny. Maybe 20 adults, total. And lots of small children. The service was cozy, informal, and discussion based. People were kind and welcoming.

But there was something about it that made me feel completely out of place.

The discussion seemed to be in some sort of coded language. At first I just thought people were just being vague, and I was about to ask for clarification, when I realized that I was the only one in the room who didn’t understand.

Eventually I pieced together what was going on. Let me see if I can concisely explain it to you. There’s another church in the area, a much more conservative church, that Jenni and her family used to go to. There was a lot of pain and dysfunction in that church, and eventually, a group of people split off and formed their own church. The log cabin church.

That means that every single member of the log cabin church has the same pain memories. They were hurt by the same people and the same institutions. So when they talk with each other about it, they don’t have to go into long explanations. All it takes is a few vague words about pain, and everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Actually, one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed about the Mennonite culture in Tennessee is that it’s very much a church split culture. I should ask Jenni about the exact details, but the way she talks about it, it makes it sound like every Mennonite church in the area was formed by a split with a different church, with the original church not even around anymore.

I know that Mennonites in general are way too split-happy. But I realized, after comparing Oregon with Tennessee, that in Oregon we’re much more of a migration culture than a split culture.

I mean, before my time I think there were a few splits. And maybe Riverside was technically a split from Brownsville? I’m not sure. But for the most part, when Harrisburg had issues people migrated to Halsey in droves. And when Brownsville had issues, people migrated to Fairview. And people leaving Harrisburg and Halsey used to migrate to Brownsville, but now Riverside is a much more popular destination.

Anyone know the science about what causes splits vs. migration?

Anyway, I’m not going to claim that either is a particularly healthy option. But being in Tennessee makes me think that a split creates an even more insular environment, because not only did this group grow up in the exact same community, but they have all the same pain reference points now too.

I went to the log cabin church again the next Sunday, because Jenni’s brother was speaking. The next weekend I was in Nashville with my cousin Jason, and I went to an Anglican church. That was really cool. I’d never been in a liturgical service before. It felt extremely reverent. And then this week I caught a little virus and stayed home and drank tea.

So from the church community standpoint, I didn’t really get very far in Tennessee. A month sounds like a long time until you realize that it means only four Sundays.

Most of my connection actually has been with Jenni’s family. They live across the road, and I eat meals with them several times a week. They’ve all been incredibly kind and thoughtful and generous. And Jenni also introduced me to some of her friends from her previous church, who are coming over for tea this afternoon. So I’ve made friends, but not really community, if that makes sense.

I’ve also spent time on my own exploring the town. The coffee shop, the library, the park. And I’ve noticed a few fascinating things about Tennessee culture in general. But I think I’ll save that for the next blog post.

Fun Times in Texas

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Sarah Beth and I in the coffee cart

It was late when we got to Texas. Somewhere between 11 pm and midnight. Sarah Beth met us at the door, wearing PJ’s and a smile.

“I just moved in today, so things might be a bit chaotic,” she said.

Amy and I laughed. I guess it’s our lot in life to pop in on friends when they’re in the middle of moving.

The last time we’d seen Sarah Beth was at her wedding this summer, but that being, you know, her wedding, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to hang out with her. We made up for it now. Who cares if it was the middle of the night? We sat on the couches and started gabbing.

Eventually we made our way to bed. By the time I got up in the morning, Sarah Beth was already gone. She had an early morning babysitting job. Andy, her husband, had also gone to work. I rustled around in the cupboards looking for tea, and then sat on her couch and sipped it in the quiet morning. It felt just like old times.

That’s how we used to hang out. I’d go over to her apartment and we’d stay up late, figuring out the personality types of all our acquaintances or whatever. Then when I’d get up in the morning they’d all be gone to work. She and her roommates. And I’d find myself some breakfast and tea, and just chill alone at their place as thought it were my place, before finally driving off to my 11 am class.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Sarah Beth has about 10X the energy I do.

Eventually she returned, and the three of us got ready to go to her main job at Atrium Coffee Co. 

She felt a bit bad that she had to work the afternoon shift both days that we were in town. Beyond a few jaunts to thrift stores and the local Mexican restaurant, most of our time in Texas was spent sitting in a coffee cart.

But, see, it was great. Business was slow, so we could sip our coffees and Texas Fogs (Like London fogs, only re-branded to appeal to proud Texans) and chat and catch up and try to figure out why people do the things they do.

And then in the evenings we got to know her husband Andy better. It’s kinda scary, when your friends get married to people you’ve never really gotten to know. But it turns out that I can trust Sarah Beth’s taste. He’s a cool guy.

Saturday morning it was time to leave. Amy and I left Rosebud and drove north and west. When we got to Little Rock, Arkansas, we took a tiny detour from the highway and stopped at the airport.

“Goodbye, Amy! Thanks so much for driving with me!” We hugged and she disappeared into the airport to fly home. It was just me, now.

I crossed the sprawling Mississippi River, zooming into Memphis, trying to stay on I-40 as it merged and un-merged with other highways. There were too many lanes for me to count without losing concentration and swerving out of my own lane. But it was great. There wasn’t a single traffic jam.

Through Memphis, into the wilderness again, I stopped at a little rural gas station. Where the inevitable happened: I couldn’t figure out the gas pump.

I went inside. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m at pump 4, and I put my credit card into the machine but nothing happened.”

“Oh, it asked for a PIN? Yeah, that sometimes happens. Just pump your gas and come in here to pay.”

Well, my issue had nothing to do with a PIN. But whatever. I pumped my gas and then went inside to pay. In the polite chit-chat with the cashier, I wanted to explain why a grown woman like me would have trouble with a simple task like pumping gas. “See, I’m from Oregon,” I said. “We don’t pump our own gas there, so I’m not used to doing it.”

“Oregon!” he said in his thick southern accent. “What are you doing way out here?”

“Oh, I’m just doing some traveling. I’d like to try living in different places.”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. “Well why did you choose Tennessee? Go to Florida or something!”

Ha. Well maybe I’ll take his advice once winter rolls around, but so far I’ve found Tennessee beautiful. Lush and green, with rolling hills and forests and bizarre blankets of kudzu.

That night I pulled up to the little brick house that was to be my home. It was the end of my trek across the country. Now, it was time to live for a month in Paris, Tennessee.

More about that in my next blog post, coming sometime this week.

 

 

Adventures in Hutchinson Kansas

The first stop on our road trip was Hutchinson Kansas, to see our friend Heidi Mast.

We go way back, Heidi Mast and I. She and her siblings were some of the first friends I ever made through the internet, in the mid-to-late aughts. Then Amy went to Bible School with her, and they became friends, and subsequently Amy and I have told each other, “you know, sometime we should go visit Heidi Mast again.”

So we did.

Around 5 pm on Monday, September 17, we parked in front of Heidi Mast’s apartment complex and walked up to the front door.

“Is this where we go in?” I asked. “I thought I saw on Instagram that her apartment opens to the outside, but not to this porch. Maybe if we walk around the building we can find it.”

So we walked around the building, and yes, there was her porch, with its plants and orange chairs.

But through her half-open door I saw, not Heidi, but a man I didn’t recognize.

We knocked, and he opened it fully, sending out a blast of air conditioning. “Is this Heidi Mast’s apartment?” we asked.

“I don’t know, I just rented it off of Airbnb…”

“Oh, okay.” We hurried away, embarrassed.

Heidi wasn’t answering our calls or texts, so we just hung out on her front lawn, in the shade of the big tree. And then suddenly there was Heidi, rushing out of the front doors of the apartment complex. “I’m so sorry!” she said. “I was hanging mini blinds, and I could see you through the window but I couldn’t get to my phone!”

There were hugs and greetings. “There’s a strange man in your apartment,” we informed her.

She laughed.

“So, I didn’t tell you about this, but I figured you’d be chill. I decided to move upstairs. There’s better light for my plants. I’m only partially moved, but I’m renting out my other apartment on Airbnb this weekend, so we’ll have to sleep upstairs.”

We were chill.

. . .

I am convinced that most of the truly amazing people, the ones who are making the biggest impact on the world, are the ones you’ve never heard about. They are the ones actively listening to the needs of their own communities, and diving outside of their own comfort bubbles in order to provide it.

I look up to them. I want to be like them. Someday I’d like to write a whole book, celebrating the accomplishments of these people.

But for now, I’ll just talk about one of them: Heidi Mast.

See, okay. Walking through Hutchinson Kansas, you get the feeling that it used to be a prosperous little city with prospering little people, but those days are gone. There are rows and rows of lovely old buildings, rotting away.

But to Heidi, it’s all beauty and potential.

And that’s how she sees people, too.

Heidi told me that there’s a pretty big drug problem in her town, and when she started working with women, trying to help them get sober, hold down a job, get their children back, housing was a huge issue. Not being able to pay the rent, and getting evicted, just seemed to set off a negative spiral of events. So she decided that, when she moved out of her parent’s house, she was going to get a place with an extra bedroom in case someone needed a place to crash for a while.

Instead, she bought an apartment complex.

Yes, I am not joking around. An entire apartment complex. She rents out most of the apartments in the regular fashion, making just enough to pay her mortgage, and keeps one or two available to shelter struggling women, free of charge.

And it’s not just an apartment complex, it’s a beautiful apartment complex. A downtrodden place with hardwood floors and old windows and kitchens that open off of the bedroom. Charming. She does wonders with plants and pretty rugs and thrifted paintings, and your heart feels at rest.

Here is, for example, a snapshot I took of her upstairs apartment, half-moved into, containing no furniture except a table and a bed, and still looking lovely.

For more pictures, and far better ones, take a look at her Instagram.

So anyway, Amy and I spent a fantastic few days in Kansas. We hung out with Heidi and her friends and family, and walked around town checking out the thrift stores and coffee shops. Including one that had light fixtures made out of tea cups.

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It was a very charming, enjoyable stay, though just a couple days long. Wednesday morning a few of Heidi’s siblings returned from a trip they’d taken to Iceland. So we squeezed in a last lunch at Heidi’s parents’ restored Victorian mansion, eating rice, curry, and yogurt salad, and listening to Iceland stories. Good times. But we had to move along to Texas before it got too late.

They gave us coffee, tea, and popcorn for the road.

Goodbye, goodbye!

We pulled away from the Victorian mansion, and out of the city of Hutchinson, and on down south, to Rosebud, Texas.

Reflections from The Road

Oof. September was a difficult and dizzying month.

I have so many THOUGHTS about LIFE: Some that are blog-worthy, many that are not.

Let me try to catch you up on the blog-worthy parts.

On September 16, a Sunday morning, Amy and I headed east. The first rains of Fall were splattering our windshield, smearing the dust and bugs, and then we crossed the mountains and, ka-bang! Sunshine.

Photo Credit: Amy Smucker

It took us over 8 hours to even get out of Oregon, and then we continued to drive on and on through the barren wilds of the West. Amy had downloaded an audio book version of Pride and Prejudice, so we listened in as Lizzie Bennet went to dances and house parties, met men of various sorts, and talked them over with her sisters.

Around 11 pm I decided to see if I could sleep. So Amy started driving and I managed to snooze a bit, but fitfully and badly. And then about 1:30 a.m., or probably 2:30 because surely we’d switched time zones by that point, Amy pulled into a rest area so that she could sleep too.

Rest areas, it turns out, are brilliantly lit. And now I didn’t even have the rumble of the engine to help me sleep. I tried, for a while, but finally I sat up and looked into Amy’s coffee cup. She had a good two inches of coffee left.

“I’ll drive if you’ll give me this coffee,” I said.

So we switched places and I drove, listening to music through one earbud. Driving through Wyoming in the middle of the night, you begin to feel as though the world goes on and on forever.

Well I mean, I guess it does, sort-of. Although there’s no road that reaches all the way around.

I was still a bit on the sleepy side, and though I was in no danger of falling asleep, I felt like my reaction times were slowing. The speed limit was 75 mph, but my car, laden down with my worldly belongings, had a lot of trouble making it up the mountains and hills at that speed. So I set my cruise at 60 mph and enjoyed a fantastic, relaxing drive. Hello thoughts, and ideas, and introvert time.

Amy woke up just as dawn was breaking in front of us, deeply purple and veined with thin clouds. Rejuvenated. Ready to drive again.

That was convenient timing.

We ate breakfast and now I slept. Oh, so soundly, with dreams and everything. Till noon-ish, though I forget which time zone. It was hot, here, and I changed clothes and brushed my teeth in a rest area bathroom.

I thought the hills would stop once we got to Kansas, but they didn’t. Isn’t Kansas supposed to be flat? Mr. Darcy proposed to Lizzy, and she rejected him. He wrote her a letter, and she read it in the woods, and started to notice her own biases. I love that turning point in the story.

There was no sign of Autumn in Kansas. It was hot, muggy, and oh so green. It looked like an Oregon spring and felt like a hot shower.

My 60 mph meanderings had cost us a good 3 to 4 hours. But finally we drove into Hutchinson, and pulled up in front of Heidi Mast’s apartment complex, at about 5 pm.

Stay tuned for Reflections from Kansas, coming soon to a blog near you. (And by that I mean this blog. And by soon I mean maybe tomorrow if I try really hard.)

Seattle, Part 2: Kindred Spirits

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After exploring the city of Seattle alone for a while (read about that here), it was time to head to my friend Micaela’s house for dinner. Which meant taking the bus.

As a country girl, public transportation always makes me a little nervous. This is where google maps saved me. I figured out that if I plug a destination into google maps and click the “transit” icon, it will tell me exactly where to walk and exactly what bus to take. And the price. $2.75.

So I tried it, and it worked quite well. Once my phone didn’t update fast enough, but I could see from the street sign that I was at the right stop, so I hopped off. Whew! I made it to Micaela’s apartment just fine.

She opened the door. Smiled. Her curly hair spilled down over her shoulders. “Hi,” I said, nervously, because I was suddenly nervous. Why was I intruding into this stranger’s home? I’d meant to keep in touch after we’d met, two and a half years ago, but I hadn’t. Not really.

She led me upstairs to her cute little (blessedly air-conditioned) apartment. Her husband, Hai, was chopping veggies. Rice noodles bubbled on the stove. Were they cooking me Vietnamese food? Okay, maybe this was a good plan, after all.

We began making small talk. Hai went outside to grill.

“Okay Micaela,” I said. “The last time we were together you pointed out this guy named Hai, and you told me he was your ex-boyfriend…that you’d dated for a week but then you broke up with him and you didn’t know why you ever gave him a chance…that he was just too ‘cool’ and flirty and stuff…but now you’re married to him and pregnant with his baby. I’m so curious to know what happened.”

I was sure it was going to be a good story, and it was. Micaela told me about how she’d had an “ideal” man in her mind, a “serious” man that Hai didn’t live up to. But the journey of discovering who Hai really was, (and who she really was) and what God actually had in mind for her, was this beautiful journey. I just LOVE Anne-and-Gilbert stories like this.

The meal prepared, we sat down to eat. Hai prayed. “Thank you that Emily can be here in Seattle to…well, um, actually I’m not quite sure why she’s here…”

Right. Maybe I should explain that.

I gave them the whole “Elon Musk used to randomly call interesting people and invite them to lunch” and “I went to see Howl’s Moving Castle last December” and “I want to know how to be a playwright” backstory. And then I talked about they guy on the street who said that Mennonites are “basically Amish, except, you’re cool?” And Hai wanted to know what exactly a Mennonite was (Micaela was more familiar with Mennonites because she’d done Rod and Staff homeschooling curriculum) so I launched into that backstory.

“So what do you do, Hai?” I asked, then. As he told me about his crazy adventures as a security guard, I was finally able to eat my food. It was fantastic. So top-notch. I stuffed myself.

We’d agreed, near the beginning of the meal, to go to a lake after dinner and float on inner tubes for awhile. I was too tired after my long day to do anything fancy. But now that we’d uncorked the flow of conversation we couldn’t seem to stop it. Suddenly we were talking about how to learn another language, and how to talk to homeless people, and what enneagram we all are. (“You’re a 5, right?” Micaela said to me, and I was super impressed.) Then we looked at the clock and were like, “meh, we’re no longer young. Let’s just go to bed.”

So we did.

And I slept like a baby.

I slept in the next morning, and then ate banana muffins, drank lavender-infused tea, and had more great conversation. The strangers of yesterday felt like old friends, again. There were so many interesting things left to say, but suddenly it was 10:00 and I wanted to make sure I got to my 11:00 meeting on time.

And so, backpack freshly packed and pinned, I set out on the town again.

I correctly navigated all my stops and transfers until, at the edge of downtown, I got off at the wrong stop. Oh great. And I was already going to be a bit late. I tried to get google maps to re-route me. Surely that wouldn’t be so difficult? But something was glitching, and google maps was telling me that it would be over an hour until I reached my destination. Huh? That literally makes no sense, Google. I’m already downtown.

Looking up, I decided to go the old fashioned route. I was on 8’th street. All I had to do was walk down to 1’st street, and then up to Clay.

So I booked it.

I mean, as much as I could while still having to wait on “walk” signals and such.

I was ten minutes late. Could be worse. I walked into the coffee shop and there was Justin Huertas in the flesh, sitting at a little copper-topped table.

“Hi, Justin?” I said.

He looked up. Grinned widely. “Hi!” Gave me a hug.

Justin, it turns out, is one of those people who can instantly make you feel like an old friend. I apologized for my lateness, explained the bus mistake, and went to order some tea. Then I sat back down, and asked him to tell me all about how he came to be a playwright.

His path to writing plays was very interesting and non-linear, with lots of random setbacks and challenges. He didn’t set out to be a playwright, and actually ended up changing his career path several times. But what emerged from his story were several fascinating insights into the career of play writing.

First, according to Justin you can submit a play proposal to a theater company in much the same way you can submit a book proposal to a publisher. I was not aware of this.

“But it sounds like you have a better chance of getting a commission to write a play if you’re already in the system somewhat,” I said.

“Unfortunately, that’s true,” said Justin. “A lot of it is who you know.”

Secondly, play writing is a more collaborative process than book writing is. Justin talked about something called “workshopping,” where the playwright brings in a scene, the actors read it, and then everyone discusses what works and what doesn’t. He suggested that I could mimic this process by getting together with friends and having them read drafts of my plays out loud. Scary! But helpful, I’m sure.

The last insight was one which extends beyond the realm of play writing and into any sort of artistic endeavor. It was this:

People achieve artistic success because other people believe in them.

This was one of the strongest threads binding Justin’s story together. Someone higher-up in the theater business believed that he had a story to tell, and invested in him. That’s how he became a playwright.

I was really struck by this. It reminded me of the people who have believed in me over the years. Like when I took Creative Drama for Teachers at community college, and the teacher, Tinamarie, who was an honest-to-goodness actor and director of real plays, believed that I had what it took to act. Little Mennonite me!

Or last year, when I wrote a play of the life story of the Apostle Paul for our Vacation Bible School. Shannon Krabill told me that she wanted to affirm me in my play writing because she saw that God had given me a gift. That meant so much to me.

I think that any artistic Mennonite feels, first, that their gifting may not be a practical pursuit, and second, that they could never “make it” artistically in the non-Mennonite world. We’re farmers and homemakers. What do we know of art?

But beauty was created by God. Art, and music, and storytelling are these beautiful and powerful things, and when we see these talents in others, we need to affirm them. These things matter.

I talked with Justin about these things for a good bit of time. I told him about some of my ideas for plays, and he seemed to like them. “I want to be a resource for you,” he said.

I appreciated that a lot.

Eventually though, after a fantastic conversation, our tea cups were empty and we parted ways.

I began meandering my way back to the train station. In doing so I ran right into Pike Place Market again. A different end of it, with crowded vendors spilling into the streets. I was so confused by that market. I’m used to markets that are in empty lots, with booths/tents set up in straight rows. This was such a conglomeration of indoor, outdoor, permanent, and temporary shops, that seemed squeezed into the middle of town. I’d like to explore it further sometime when I’m actually at leisure to buy things.

I wanted some food for my lunch and supper, but had no time to sit in a cute restaurant to eat it. Also, I didn’t want to spend a lot of $$$. But there was a random 7-11 tucked into a street corner, so I bought two slices of pizza for $2.20.

Yes, I was proud of myself for spending a weekend in Seattle and only spending $2.20 on food (if you don’t count my cups of tea). I’m sure all you foodies out there are shaking your heads (I’m looking at you, Rachel). But I did get a home-cooked Vietnamese meal, so don’t be too hard on me, ‘k?

Back at the train station I was given a seat assignment, for some reason, but my outlet didn’t work. So I asked the conductor if I could move, and he was like, “sure, take any seat in this car.” Train people are so chill.

Across from me were two ladies in their 50s who got sillier and sillier as their beer bottles emptied. The one began to talk about dating a 26-year-old guy, and how her daughter, who’s also 26, was super weirded out. Ha. Yeah, I’d imagine so.

Ah, the adventures of riding the train. Nothing this interesting ever happens when you drive.

I got off at the Albany station and drove home, feeling full. The asking had paid off, 100%. Not only had I had some fun adventures alone, but I’d had some extremely fulfilling conversations. Micaela, Hai, Justin…they all were such kindred spirits, after all.

“Look me up if you ever come back!” they’d all said.

And I think I will.

 

 

 

Seattle, Part 1: Just Ask

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My new life philosophy is “just ask.”

When Elon Musk was a young man, he and his brother used to read the newspaper, looking for interesting people they wanted to meet. Then they’d call these people up and invite them to lunch. Surprisingly often, these people would agree. So Elon and his brother would ride the train to the city and have lunch with these interesting, successful people.

That impressed me, when I read about it. Who knows what people will agree to if you just ask them? As school secretary, I was amazed at the number of librarians, achievement test developers, zoo officials, etc who’d completely bend their rules and deadlines for me if I just gave them a phone call.

So I decided to try and meet the playwright Justin Huertas.

You see, last December the ladies in my family went to Seattle to see a musical adaptation of one of my favorite books, Howl’s Moving Castle. Afterwords I rooted around the internet looking for the soundtrack, but all I could find was the Facebook page of Justin Huertas, the composer. He’d posted a few songs from the musical, so I followed his page.

Now that I was following his page, I began to see updates about other plays he’d written. I was intrigued. I really love writing plays, but I’d never thought much about the fact that some people have a career of writing plays, and I could too. How does one become a playwright?

Justin would know, I thought. I set him a message asking if I could meet up with him and pick his brain. And he agreed!

So now I had to plan a trip to Seattle. Who else do I know in Seattle?

Well, two and a half years ago I met this girl named Micaela who was from Seattle. We only hung out for one weekend, but she seemed like a kindred spirit, and we followed each other on Instagram and such.

Again, I decided to just ask. “Can I crash on your couch for a night?”

She, too, agreed. Wonderful! I bought my Amtrak tickets.

This was my plan: I’d leave early in the morning on Friday, July 27, and get to Seattle around noon. I’d spend the whole afternoon exploring downtown Seattle on my own. Around dinner time, I’d take the bus to Micaela’s house. I’d hang out with her all evening, and spend the night there. The next day I’d take the bus back into downtown where I’d meet Justin at 11:00 am, and then maybe explore a wee bit more before catching the train home at 2:20 pm.

The rest of today’s blog post will be about exploring the city alone. Tomorrow, I will cover my time with Micaela and my meeting with Justin.

So. I got up early and caught the train in Albany. I settled into my seat, the conductor scanned my ticket, and then I trotted down to the cafe car, ordered some tea, and had a nice conversation with the guy behind the counter. Settling back into my comfy seat, I pulled out my laptop and got hours of writing done. The truly wealthy people take the train, I decided. The people who have both money and time.

Based on Google Maps, it seemed that if I headed north from the train station I’d hit downtown, the major tourist attractions, and the waterfront. I was so excited. Confession time: I love exploring alone. I get to go exactly where I want to go, nose into whatever corners I want to nose into, without any of this “what do you want to do next/are you done yet/no, you decide” frustrating time-wasting nonsense.

And oh! Here was a little bookstore, with stacks of books and sagging chairs and a rickety staircase.

And oh! Here was a little triangular park with a drinking fountain and tables. I was tremendously hungry, so I sat down and ate my chicken salad in the dappled sunlight under the trees, while a street musician sang like Frank Sinatra.

I went to the drinking fountain to fill my water bottle, and a couple men started talking to me. “That’s a nice smile!” said one. “You’re not just looking at your phone, like most people.”

“Maybe those people are just trying to figure out where they’re going,” I said. I mean, I’d been using google maps. No shame.

I started filling my water bottle. “Is that some sort of religious thing on your head?” the other man asked.

So I started doing the Mennonite explanation thing.

“So you’re basically Amish, except, you’re cool? I mean, you’re not so uptight?” he clarified.

“Um, sure.”

“I see you have a missing tooth. Now, I can’t remember how I lost my tooth. Do you remember how you lost your tooth?”

“Yes,” I said, and told the story. Both of them had missing teeth. We talked about teeth for a surprisingly long time.

“Well, I should get going!” I said. “It was nice to meet you!”

I walked north again. Growing tired in the sun, I sat down to rest on a giant staircase, with fountains, that suddenly appeared to my right. I thought it led to a museum or something, but it really just led to the next street.

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And in the middle of the staircase was an alley with some cool street art along the top of the wall.

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And then the alley became a covered alley, called “Post Alley”…

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AKA the “gum wall.”

I don’t know why it’s called the “gum wall” instead of the “gum alley” or the “gum tunnel.” In any case, it was way awesomer than I’d expected. Who’d have guessed that a bunch of gum stuck to some walls could look so cool and artsy? People wrote words in gum. Gum dripped off of arched doorways and windows. People took Polaroids in front of the gum wall, and then stuck them to the gum wall with gum. The whole place smelled vaguely of Juicy Fruit, and a bunch of friendly bees, apparently attracted by the odor, buzzed about happily.

There was a lot of cool street art in Seattle. But this was the best.

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At the end of the gum wall was a sign that said “restrooms.” I needed a restroom. So I went round the corner and realized that I was more indoors than outdoors, now. Odd.

I was wearing leggings under my skirt, because it was chilly on the train, and now that I was alone in a bathroom stall I took the opportunity to peel them off and shove them in my backpack. I guess I shoved too hard.

Riiiiiiiiiiiip.

My faithful denim backpack that I take with me everywhere! Nooooooooooooo!

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I gathered everything up in my arms, exited the stall, washed my hands, and then tried to mend my backpack. Thankfully I had some safety pins along, and a kind lady waiting in line gave me another. Tip for other minimalists: there are some things that are so tiny and so useful that they are worth carrying with you at all times. One of these things is safety pins.

Exiting the bathroom, I realized that I was in Pike Place Market. I thought the market was outdoors, but apparently part of it was in this odd indoor space that you could wander into thinking it was still outdoors. I browsed this creepy second hand store and eavesdropped on the owner, who apparently had just become some bigwig in the governance of the whole Pike Place Market. And wandered through another bookstore.

But when you’re carrying your home on your back, you’re not exactly looking to buy more stuff.

I followed signs down to the water, and oh! It was a fun pier, with a Ferris Wheel and a Carosol and goofy expensive looking restaurants. But the smell! And the breeze blowing off the water! Glory be, it was beautiful. I sat down and soaked it all in for a while.

Presently, though, I wanted to keep exploring. My plan all along was to find a waterfront and jump in. As I couldn’t exactly leap off the pier, I headed even further north, where there seemed to be a proper park along the water.

Along the way I stopped by the sculpture garden, which is actually a really creative pedestrian walkway above the railroad tracks and highway.

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By this time, the temperature was reaching mid 80’s, and there wasn’t much shade in the garden. So I didn’t explore all that much, and instead went down to the water. And yes! There was a nice pebbly beach!

Of course, duh! This was the Puget Sound, not a calm lake. Which meant it was freezing. But I dipped my toes in anyway.

And then, my energy finally deserting me, I fell asleep under the trees, while a cool breeze blew off the Sound, and a man on a park bench softly sang Jamaican music.

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When I woke up, I had just enough time to do the last thing I wanted to do: find a coffee shop and get some more writing done. The shop I found was a little disappointing, to be honest. Ratty couches, and just not as sunny and arty as I’d like. but they made delicious peach blossom iced tea, which was very refreshing.

I wrote steady for half an hour, and then it was time to take the bus to Micaela’s house for dinner.

That, my friends, is the end of Part 1. Come back tomorrow for Part 2, when I reconnect with Micaela and her husband Hai, and meet Justin Huertas, the playwright.

Amanda and Bryce’s Wedding

I went to Amanda and Bryce’s wedding last weekend. It was wonderful until it turned terrible. This is my story

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Part 1: Alone

I came to the wedding alone. I knew the bride. That was it. Our short list of mutual friends, for several semi-complicated reasons, were not going to make it to the wedding. However, when I had communicated with Amanda about possible rides from the airport and places to stay, she had mentioned several wedding attendees whom I happened to know from my SMBI days nearly nine years ago.

So at least I had that.

Part 2: Traveling

My plan was to take a red eye flight Thursday night, arrive in Indianapolis Friday morning, and then get shuttled to Illinois by a load of wedding attendees driving in from back east. Luckily I got a decent about of sleep on the plane, and as my ride wasn’t scheduled to pick me up for several hours yet, I got another good nap in the Indianapolis airport before freshening up and grabbing some breakfast and tea.

Thus fortified, I stood on the curb in the muggy Indiana heat until a brown minivan pulled up. This was it. I climbed inside.

There were three others in the van, presenting a healthy mix of strangers and semi-strangers. We drove off. Introductions were made all around.

Part 3: New Friends

Rachel was next to me, in one of the middle seats. We tried to remember when we’d seen each other last. Was it nine years ago? Or just five? A long time, in any case. Nice to see you again.

At the wheel of the minivan was Troy, a groomsman. I knew who he was, vaguely, as we’d communicated briefly with texts such as “I’m supposed to pick you up from the airport,” and, “okay, awesome.”

Seth, sitting shotgun, was Bryce’s best friend from High School. He was another groomsman and, like me, was coming pretty much alone, not really knowing anyone besides the groom. He wore a shirt that said “I talk to strangers.” And he’d brought his bike with him, which necessitated the minivan.

“I’m biking to southern Indiana after the wedding,” he said.

It sounded exciting except for the promise of a muggy midwestern heat wave.

The four of us drove through Indiana and into Illinois, discussing random topics such as buried treasure, and whether it’s possible to drive a car through a cornfield. Rachel had to be at the church at 3 pm to practice singing. We made it in the nick of time, only to discover that we’d crossed a time zone line, and it was actually 2 pm.

Oops.

Oh well. We’re all friends now, I guess. We can hang out.

But eventually I got bored of hanging out. “Did you say there was a lake nearby?” I asked Seth.

“Yeah,” he said. “You wanna go?”

“Yes!”

“Let’s see if anyone else wants to come,” he said.

Rachel was practicing her songs at this point, and Troy wasn’t feelin’ it. I saw three girls sitting on one of the back pews. “Do you want to go to the lake?” I asked them.

“Sure!” they said.

“Do you have a car?”

“Yes.”

“How many people does it seat?”

“Five.”

“Perfect.”

I grabbed my backpack, fully intending to slip on my swim trunks and jump in the lake. But on the way there Seth said, “oh, I thought my phone hadn’t adjusted to the time change, but it actually did. So we only have fifteen minutes.”

We stayed a little longer than fifteen minutes, but I didn’t swim. Instead we stuck our feet in the water and chatted.

Part 4: The Great Wedding Calamity

Back at the church for the rehearsal dinner, the person blessing the food made some vague reference to an illness going around. And later, during rehearsal, I noticed that the maid of honor was clutching her head, looking disoriented, while her husband rubbed her back.

I asked Amanda about it, later, when I ran into her in the bathroom.

“Oh, Emily! It’s been awful!” she said. Then she listed the various family and bridal party members who had succumbed to the illness, a miserable affair that involved a great deal of puking.

Poor Amanda. Of all the unexpected wrenches that could be thrown into wedding plans, that has to be about the worst.

Part 5: The Wedding Day

Abby, my SMBI roommate from nine years ago, was staying at the same place I was, along with Rachel and a girl named Jackie that I’d never met. Jackie wasn’t around as much because she had friends in the area, but Rachel, Abby, and I had a fantastic time reconnecting. Friday night and all Saturday morning we just hung out and chatted.

The wedding went off smoothly, despite a few members of the bridal party still looking a little green. The church was decorated with white garden flowers and foraged branches that smelled lovely, and Amanda wore a dress of Dotted Swiss that had been made from a Sears curtain. I didn’t get any photos of the ceremony, but I did snap a few at the reception.

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As I pondered what stories to tell at the open mic, I realized something: Amanda is one of the bravest people I know. To look at her, you wouldn’t necessarily guess it. But there it is.

I told about the time we were in New York City, trying to have fun without spending any money, when Amanda showed up with some pizza.

“Where did you get the pizza?” we wanted to know.

“A stranger on the subway gave it to me.”

But it’s not just strange pizza. She’s unafraid to talk to anybody. She can ask them any question. She’s unafraid to get married and move to the house across the street from the drug dealers. She’s unconcerned by the lack of proper toilets in her new home. What does it matter? We’ll figure something out.

There was no official sendoff, and Bryce and Amanda were still milling around chatting with their guests as tables were cleared and most folks had left.

“Let’s talk, Emily!” she said, multiple times. But how much chatty chatty time is there at a wedding? We all wanted a slice of Amanda, that day, but the whole point was that we don’t get her. Bryce does.

Lucky guy.

Part 6: The Fireworks

Arthur IL, Amanda’s little hometown, is famous for its epic fireworks display on the Saturday before Independence Day. Which was also the day of Amanda’s wedding. So that evening, most of the wedding crowd migrated into Arthur to see what all the hype was about.

Amazing stuff. Not just fireworks, but also these massive explosions that sent waves of heat at us. And some sort of burning wire setup that sent down torrents of ethereal fire rain.

And then it was over, and we walked away through the hot, wet evening air, lit up by the occasional lightening bug or rogue firecracker. “Goodbye, goodbye,” I told my new friends. “Come to Oregon someday.”

Part 7: Leaving

Abby, Rachel, Jackie, and I stayed up well past 1 am. “Why is it so much harder for some people to be single than others?” And “how close of friendships should you have with guys you’re not dating?” We discussed so many things. I don’t often hang out with others in the same life stage as me.

I didn’t get much sleep, since I had to be up at 6 am in order to make it to Indianapolis in time for my flight. It was just Troy and Rachel and I this time, driving through cornfield country. Seth was biking to southern Indiana.

Due to my budget airline, I had a 6+ hour layover. Oh well. By the time I arrived in Denver I was hungry, cold, and had a headache, presumably from my lack of sleep, but I made do. Ate a chicken sandwich. Drank some tea. Took a couple ibuprofen tablets.

But as I lay in a sunny patch on the floor, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, I realized that something was wrong. I wasn’t feeling better. In fact, I was beginning to feel worse.

Part 8: Everything goes terribly, horribly, absolutely, 100% wrong

If you are triggered by horrifying situations and/or discussions of vomit, the rest of this blog post is not for you. Click the little “x” in the top right-hand corner of this page, make yourself a cup of tea, and spend a few moments contemplating how nice and healthy you are feeling.

For those of you with a morbid curiosity into my pain, keep reading.

Lying on the floor of the Denver airport, I began to feel an overwhelming nausea and disorientation. I needed to throw up.

So, okay. I guess I’ll pack all my stuff back into my backpack and haul myself to a giant crowded restroom where everyone can hear me. This sounds like fun times.

I knelt by the toilet. And then it came. Hello tea. Hello chicken sandwich. Hello hasty breakfast I grabbed as I ran out the door this morning.

Jesus, have mercy.

I have it. I have the bridal party sickness. I have four more hours of layover and two-and-a-half more hours of flying and two hours of driving home and I have the bridal party sickness.

I called my mom. “Sip Sprite,” she said. “You are dehydrated, and a have a low blood sugar. Maybe some of your siblings can come pick you up at the airport.”

I sipped Sprite, and found a more remote bathroom on the upper level. It was coming, again. All the Sprite, all of everything that was inside me, and then the dry heaving that was hard to stop. “Jesus have Mercy,” I moaned, and then started quoting Isaiah 40 to myself. Out loud. My sense of normal and abnormal behavior was all screwed up.

The pattern was thus set: Sip something. Feel absolutely awful, lie on floor, don’t move, even listing to a podcast is too, too much. Then puke. Trying to stop the dry heaving that follows is like trying to stop a runaway car in a dream. But feel better, once I manage it. Momentarily. Sip something again.

No one seemed to notice my illness until once, suddenly, I had to GO. I took off for the nearest bathroom. A janitor passed, wheeling a yellow cart. Should I puke in the cart?

I didn’t. Maybe should have. Instead I puked on the floor. “Good thing there’s a janitor nearby,” I briefly noted before I dissolved into tears of misery and humiliation.

But now, people noticed me and felt sorry for me. They bought me Gatorade and Pepto-Bismol and Rolaids, none of which were particularly helpful, but it did make me feel less alone. Someone nabbed me a garbage bag from the poor janitor, which prevented further floor-vomit humiliations.

After that, things got worse. However, at a certain point I need to pull the curtain of charity over the event, and I think that moment is here. But I will note that my flight got delayed for an hour. And I was freezing cold. I don’t know how high my fever was, but I had all the chills and muscle aches, and the next day, feeling much better, it was 100.3.

The flight attendants were much savvier at picking up on the fact that I was sick than the average flying populace had been. Of course, the fact that I dashed for the bathroom as soon as I set foot on the plane probably gave me away.

“Can we get you anything?” they asked as soon as I emerged.

“Do you have a face mask so I don’t get anyone else sick?” I asked.

They didn’t have that. They did have a better barf bag, which was sturdier and, for the sake of those around me, opaque. They didn’t have blankets, but they turned up the heat for me. They wanted to give me a seat in the very back, near the bathrooms, but as I was only five or so rows up, on an aisle seat, we decided not to bother.

“Are you okay to fly?” they asked.

To be honest, I was a little afraid they wouldn’t let me fly because I was sick. “I just want to go home!” I moaned.

“I know, honey, I know.”

The flight was so, so miserable and awful, but I remember that moment when the flight attendant told me there was just an hour left to go. I made up a song and started singing it. “I can hold on for an hour, I can make it for an hour, I can hold on for an hour, I can make it, for that long.”

I mean, I was already puking girl, might as well be singing girl as well.

And I did. I made it for an hour, because I had no choice. The flight attendants contacted the Portland airport and ordered a wheelchair for me. It was waiting for me when we landed, and the nice wheelchair man took my backpack and wheeled me out to the curb, where Ben and Amy were waiting with the family car. They’d brought a blanket and a memory foam pillow! And a barf bucket!

I gave Ben my keys and my instructions on where to find my car, and he ran off to go drive my car home. I settled into the back of the family car. Pure. Heaven. A real blanket to wrap up in, that keeps me warm all the way. A soft place to lie down.

“Do you mind if I listen to an audio book?” Amy asked.

“Could we…could we listen to classical music?” I asked. I am not usually a classical music person, but for some reason I’d longed for classical music the whole flight.

“Sure,” said Amy. She found a CD of classical music and stuck it in the player.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so loved or content in my life.

That was Sunday, July 1. I heaved my guts out once more on the way home, but that was pretty much the last of the puking portion. However, It’s been a long week. By Wednesday I was eating a few solid foods, like toast.

Thursday evening I was supposed to leave on a road trip to Arizona. My friends Zach and Ally were getting married on Saturday July 7, and a group of my friends were going to drive down together. I was in such a dither all Thursday. I had pretty much kicked the illness, but I was still so weak.

I decided not to go.

So yes. Plans change, but that’s just how the world works when you’re me. I’m feeling fine now, and I had a low-key but nice birthday. But I will say, my trip to Bryce and Amanda’s wedding was one I will never forget.

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