Saturday, November 02, 2013

West-by-Midwest

I was just subject to a fortuitous fuck-up on my part.  But as always, it is better to be lucky than good.  And as the saying goes, luck loves the fearless.  A lil recap of the week that's been...

I started my trek west-by-midwest with a stop in St. Louis.  I was flying out for my friend and former American Voices co-worker Jeremy's wedding to his bride-to-be Jessica.  They met at a Cardinals playoff game two years prior, and had a baseball-themed wedding that happened to correspond with the Cardinals in the World Series.  I had planned to stay in St. Louis with a friend Leslie, but she had to go out of town at the last minute.  Not wanting to trouble Jeremy, and not wanting to stay in an expensive hotel, I booked a place at the Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel in Soulard. 

I arrived in Soulard but the hostel's office hours were later in the day so I headed out to grab some lunch at a ghetto chinese spot nearby to have St. Louis Chinese special, a St. Paul Sandwich.  A St. Paul Sandwich is an amazing East meets Mid-West combination of a fried egg foo young patty, served in between two pieces of white bread with pickles, lettuce and mayo.  Yum.

I spent the afternoon walking from Soulard down to downtown St. Louis.  I stopped in the old St. Louis Courthouse, which today serves as a memorial museum to Dred Scott and his famous case that helped push the country to civil war.  For those who don't remember the Dred Scott Case from U.S. History class, Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his freedom, and the freedom of his family on the basis that he had been brought to a free state.  The Taney Supreme Court ruled otherwise, and went beyond all previous congressional compromises to indicate that an African-American, free or slave, had no standing in U.S. courts.  While Dred Scott would eventually attain his freedom, the judicial overreach would spur the cleaving states further apart and on to greater schism.  The museum and poignant film did an excellent job of bringing this pivotal case to light, and explaining the context of the case and decision in the times it took place.

We had a lovely rehearsal dinner at a place called Planter's Inn, which had not quite opened yet.  Then a long night of celebratory cheer at the hotel bar that ended in the wee hours of the morn.  I never made it back to the hostel, but rather slept on Jeremy's couch.  He had a few other out-of-town guests who were staying at his place, and had I simply mentioned the situation I could have just crashed there.  So it goes.

The next day I stopped back at the hostel to shower and change, and doffed my suit and walked downtown ahead of the wedding festivities.  Jeremy and Jessica had rented a party bus to take guests from the hotel to the Missouri Botanical Garden for their wedding; I was left in charge of rounding up guests for the bus shuttling trips.  Thankfully, I did not lose any guests and we made our way over to the lovely Missouri Botanical Gardens for a lovely wedding.  The weather held up perfectly for a sunny Autumn afternoon service.  The evening party was a lot of fun, including the big surprise guest Fredbird- the Cardinals mascot.  Apparently Jeremy had booked the bird months prior, but as the World Series date fell on the wedding, the Cardinals tried to balk.  Jeremy pointed out that he had a signed contract, and Fredbird would be shaking his tailfeathers at the party, or there would be issues.  Well, the mascot was there.  The party was a lot of fun, and we watched the Cards beat the Red Sox on the crazy obstruction call.

The next day I flew out to Los Angeles.  As I was getting to the gate, I heard another flight mention that they needed someone to be bumped so I offered my services at my gate.  The woman at the counter said she might take me up on the offer.  I waited, then boarded the flight.  As I was sitting down, the flight attendant asked for a volunteer to be bumped.  I quickly hit the call button and volunteered.  I grabbed my stuff and bounded off the flight to collect a $500 flight voucher and a later flight.  There was even some talk at the counter that I could get bumped a second time; I was hoping to double down on the vouchers.  In the end, they didn't need me to get bumped a second time, so I took a night flight to Lalaland.  My flight to Lalaland reminded me that the city never disappoints with its share of self-centered loons.

I spent the next few days wandering in-and-out of my old USC world.  I haunted Annenberg, stopping in to see old friends and familiar faces.  Such a nice place to return to.

On Friday, Keola and Moana flew in to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, and I picked them up at the airport.  It had been a little tricky, as I had not realized that getting to John Wayne was an expensive affair from Hermosa Beach.  But I had managed to make friends with an Afghan cab driver who gave me a good deal on the ride to airport at a price cheaper than a shuttle.

So I grabbed Keola and Moana, and we headed over to check into our hotel.   While they settled in, I ran over to In-and-Out to grab some lunch for us.  They had never had In-and-Out before, so I grabbed them some double-doubles, wrapped in lettuce for their paleo predilections.  This veggie had a grilled cheese, animal-style.

We then headed north to USC to meet with the MPD students for a lil "talk-story" about our cultural diplomacy adventures in Brazil.  The MPD students have a trip to Brazil this year, so there was a bit of interest in our perceptions.  We had a nice, informal chat with the PD students on conducting cultural diplomacy on the ground, and what it all really means.  It was nice to give the students a perspective beyond the classroom about what the PD game is like on the ground, and how their education helps shape their future in the field.

After a nice discussion, Keola, Moana and I went out to grab some Brazilian food for old-time sake, then headed back down to the OC.

By the way, just to explain what I am doing out here: I am managing a tour for Keola, Moana and R.Carlos Nakai- a Native American flutist.

Yesterday, we made our way over to Soka University, a university founded on Buddhist principles in Alisa Viejo (kinda like a Buddhist Brandeis).  It is a new university, only about a dozen years old.  As I later found out, there are only 450 students, all of whom (just about) live on campus.  The student body has some 30 different nationalities.  The university offers a generous amount of financial aid to its students, and offers free tuition for accepted students whose parents have a household income of less than $60k.

The university campus is stunning.  It sits overlooking a canyon, and is filled with reflecting pools.  The performing arts center is also stunning- a new facility with all the newest accouterments.  After conducting the sound check, the ensemble had an educational music work shop with about 100 home-schooled students and parents about Hawaiian and Native American music.  It was a fun program, and the parents and kids loved the music and learning the hula.

After the program, we went out to find lunch at a mall called the Irvine Spectrum.  We found a kebabery, which had some good fair.  After lunch, we wandered around the open-air mall.  It was designed like something out of Morocco or Moorish Spain, with tiled walls, giant hanging Moorish lamps and rounded archways.  Even a faux al-Hambra pool with lions.  I quickly grew disturbed by this faux Andalucia, and the fact that this period of history and culture was being ripped off for cheap and tawdry materialist pursuits.

After strolling through the Moor's last shopping mall, we headed back to Soka for Keola and co to meet with some of the students.  The ensemble had a very moving discussion with the students about being true to your heritage and culture.  The discussion also helped me put my angst about the faux Andalucian shopping mall in perspective.  I realized that I was so disturbed at the mall because places (Morocco, Moorish Spain) that had such an impact on me, and a period that I hold in such esteem, was being turned into a gauche avenue for materialist shopping endeavors.  The discussion about using your history and culture to make meaningful contributions to humanity helped me move past the angst that the mall had caused in me.

After the discussion, we made our way out of the campus filled in the fading light.  We walked down by the edge of the canyon, where hummingbirds chirped in purple fields of Mexican sage.  I rubbed rosemary in my hands, as I listened to the subtle chirp of the tiny birds as the sun set in the distance.

We returned to meet some friends of Keola's for dinner.  We drove with them down to Laguna Beach, where I had not been since my friend Shane's wedding.  We had a delicious dinner at a fancy restaurant called Watermarc.  While we were chatting, I discovered that Keola's friend Joyce was an architect in Hermosa  Beach.  I mentioned that I had been staying there, and we realized that she had designed my cousins' home, where I had just been staying the days prior.  Such a small world, and there is nothing that happens by chance.

Now back to my note at the top, about a fortuitous fuck-up.  I hadn't read the schedule close enough, and found out that we were supposed to fly tomorrow to Phoenix, not from John Wayne Airport but from LAX. But I had made arrangements to drop the minivan off back at John Wayne.  It looked like I was going to get hit with a $100 stupidity tax to drop the van off at LAX (as well as a prior $50 I spent getting to John Wayne, when I could have simply picked up the van at LAX and driven myself).

But because of the shootings yesterday, and the fact that LAX was all messed up still, we realized we were probably better served by simply driving to Phoenix some 6 hours away. While I couldn't extend the reservation on the car we had to drop it off in Phoenix, I was able to get another minivan at John Wayne to rent, drive to Phoenix and drop off there.  It would have been a much more difficult endeavor if I had made the correct reservations and had the car drop off at LAX.  So we will file this in the "it's better to be lucky than good" files.  Journey on!

And PS: Happy Birthday Mom!

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