Archive for September, 2007

Punk Rock

My friend Jaycatt posted an entry about his tendency to collect things based on their emotional value more than their financial value. I replied about this little guy.

In the year between college and moving to Florida, my friends Jimmy, Michael, and I hung out at a punk/alternative club called Paris/NY. There was a large group of regulars there, and you could go anytime and know there was someone to hang out with. Eventually, we made several other friends with whom we hung out with in general. Not just a “nightclub crowd”.

One night, Michael and I were hanging out in the patio area, and he picked up a rock from this small rock-garden. He pitched it against the back of the garden, which was railroad ties. I joined in. After about four rocks apiece, a man we’d never seen before popped out of a door we’d never seen open. Angrily, and with an accent I can only describe as “B-movie Russian”, he yelled, “What are you doooing?!?” We apologized, and he popped back in. We burst out laughing. It was like he was waiting there for MONTHS just for this moment. From then on, we’d relay that angry quote, and it spread within our crowd.

Eventually I moved to Florida with my job.

After a while, however, I came back to visit, only to find out Paris/NY was closing. It was different. Much less populated. I could see why it wasn’t going to last. Out on the patio, I spotted the little rock garden and said, “What are you doooing!?!” My friends and I each grabbed a rock to keep as a souvenir. It wasn’t long before I realized mine had an angry face, and I nicknamed it “Punk Rock”. Everyone rolled their eyes. But then, that’s the sign of a successful “Eric-like” joke, isn’t it?

To this day, I can’t see the rock without laughing. And remembering the old crowd. Sometimes, something of no financial value at all does carry great emotional value.

Every place has it’s own lingo. Little colloquialisms that separate the locals from the newcomers. It’s entertaining to learn to speak “Californian.” The words are mostly the same, but the phrases stand out.

As the roads are a big thing here, I’ll start with them. In New York, we called the roads by their names… “The Van Wyck Expressway”, or “Long Island Expressway”. If they only had a number they were “Route 684″ or “Route 9″ despite being interstates. In Florida, they just got numbers if they were roads. Sand Lake Road was just called “482″. Interstates got “I” attached… “I-4″ or “I-75″. In California, they get “the”. I drive to work on “The 101″ or “The 5″.

When you ask how far something is, you’re answered with a question. “When are you going?”. When you answer that, you get the answer in time, not distance. “At 3pm, that’s about 35 minutes away.” I think that’s because if you found out that those 35 minutes would be spent travelling 3 miles, you might get a little down.

So… Los Angeles and Hollywood are considered SoCal. Kind of obvious. Makes total sense. But I got all sorts of laughs when I called San Francisco “NoCal“. It’s NorCal. Here in SoCal, we pronounce the street names in a way I didn’t expect (pardon my makeshift phonetics)…
Tujunga – “ta HUN ga
La Cienega – “la see EN iga” (I’d have said, “lah SEE in AY ga“)
Sepulveda – “sip UL vidda” (not “SEP ul VEE da“)
Cahuenga – “ca HUN ga” (you sure it’s not “cah HWAYN ga“?)
Oh, and on a totally unrelated note, Historic Route 66 comes right through town and ends on Santa Monica Boulevard at the shore.

License plates are called license plates here. Not “tags” like in Florida. To me, a tag implies something flexible… paper or fabric. Pressed steel is a plate to me.

The train here is the “metro” (how Parisian!). In New York we had the subway and the railroad (i.e. Long Island Rail Road). Two distinct lines with two very distinct pricing structures. In Florida, we called commuter rails “wishful thinking”.

In New York, you had “Kennedy”, “LaGuardia“, and “Newark” to choose from for airports. Long Islanders are lucky enough to have “Islip“. In Florida, I’m pretty sure you have “the airport”, as it’s rare two are close enough for consideration. Recently, though, Orlando got the Sanford/Orlando airport. Here, it’s not “Los Angeles”, it’s “LAX”. And “Bob Hope” is simply called “Burbank.” So, the airport names don’t vary quite as much.

Northern Hollywood is undergoing “gentrification” at the moment. I always though of that word as “aging”. But, if you take the root of the word, “gentry”, and relate that back to the knights and chivalry and class, it makes sense that they use the word here to mean bringing culture and class back to the neighborhood.

I have yet to determine whether I live near mountains or hills. The best I’ve gotten from anyone was to say they are either huge hills or tiny mountains. I call them mountains. It’s more impressive, and my ears pop going over them on the 405. Hills wouldn’t cause ear-popping.

I’m sure there’s loads more of these. There’s probably a whole collection of things I don’t even realize I’m saying that sound out of place here. In time, though, I’m sure I’ll start to hear from my New York and Florida friends that I’m talking like a Californian. Oh well… when in Rome…!

“I don’t know when that road
turned into the one I’m on.”
Jackson Browne – Running on Empty

Well, that’s not entirely true. As a matter of fact, I have a pretty definite point. I can narrow it down to roughly a two-month time period. June or July of 1982. I know this because I remember I was 15 and had not had my birthday yet. And because it happened at Silver Point Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, NY.

Yes, there was a girl involved, and no, it doesn’t involve romance (despite that being the initiative). The moment I gathered up all my teenage bravado and talked to Lynn in the beach club swimming pool is the point in my life when New York became a temporary home for me. Not the turning point you were expecting, eh?

Mom and Dad did their best and were wonderful parents, but I never did like my home in Far Rockaway. Cold winters and a town that was on a downslide were things I hated. Across the train tracks were the Redfern Welfare Projects. Our garage was broken into more times than I can count. I had five bicycles stolen in as many years — three from that locked garage, one from my back yard while I went inside to use the bathroom, and one directly from me by three kids, one with a wrench poised over my head. But Far Rockaway was all I knew.

Our neighborhood, itself, was really great. Like a giant extended family. Standard New York City stereotypes like moms yelling out the front door for the kids to come home for dinner. If they called too many times, another mom would relay the call. We played tag or hide and seek on a grand scale. Three city blocks — back yards, trees, and garage roofs (and a nursing home roof at times) were all part of the playing field. Large numbers of kids would swarm the ice cream truck whenever it came by (I don’t know how old I was before I read the truck and realized it was the “Good Humor Man” and not the “Gujooma Man”).

But there was the rest of the town. My younger sister needed our German Shepherd to go trick-or-treating on Halloween to avoid her bag being snatched. Friends’ parents considered it “character building” when their kids were jumped between school and home. I don’t know whether it was me or my parents who were more afraid of me going to public high school. I wasn’t big, nor was I in anyway athletically inclined or a fighter. So I commuted about an hour each way to/from school.

But then I met this girl. We never dated. She lived in upstate New York and was just in town visiting a cousin (a friend of our family). So we started writing to each other (pre-internet, stamps, envelopes, and paper!). We had a great time writing back and forth, and for Christmas, she “gave me” to a friend of hers, Holly. So, I had two pen-pals in upstate New York.

Holly and Lynn were both in band at school. There was a big banquet coming up, and a friend of thiers wasn’t dating anyone at the time, so Holly invited me to visit and be her date. I had such a great time. They had interesting preconceptions about city life (i.e. “The Warriors”) which were quite exaggerated. And I had never met people as outwardly friendly and “unchallenging” as their crowd. Holly’s dad took me into work, where I experienced CompuServe CB (chat) for the first time. Keep in mind, this wasn’t rural. Just more suburban than I’d experienced. I came home with two more addresses and two more pen-pals.

But I had been outside the “fish bowl”. I went into a really deep slump, knowing what else was out there. I wonder if my parents second-guessed their choice to permit me to go on that trip. Or if I ever expressed to them why that trip left me so unhappy. But I knew I was leaving the city when the means presented themselves.

Seven years later, I had stopped writing to all four girls except Lynn. I had graduated college, and had restricted my job search to companies in the San Diego area. I ended up working in Newark, NJ at a really great company in a very good job (that’s another story). I was very happy at work. I was getting ready to find an apartment near home, and hopefully near the Long Island Railroad. But I was worried I was falling into a track that would delay my “escape” indefinitely.

Then the news came. Our department was moving to either Atlanta or Orlando. To show you how great our department was, they put it up to a majority vote as to which. Orlando it was. I was offered two choices… find another job (in or out of the company) or take a nice relocation package and move to Florida.

Since the turning point is the subject of all this, I’ll simply relay the chain of events since then… I was in Florida 8 months before I met Michelle. We got married. My company split up and my job moved out of state. I chose to take a severance package and went to Disney. I had a wonderful time working for Disney, but started spotting TV ads for The DAVE School. Michelle and I tried to work out some plan for me to learn 3D animation but couldn’t. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know the rest. My Dad, in passing, provided the means for me to follow that dream. That path took me to where I am today.

What strikes me about this is how impressed people are that I left. People still in my hometown have commented, and I quote, “We always knew you’d be the one to get out!” What was it, prison? Just about all of my family has since left that town for “The Island”. Long Island does offer a lifestyle similar to what I experienced at age 15. But it also has winter. That was the other side of the equation for me.

I love visiting New York. I miss the city and the beaches — I haven’t found anything to compare with the Long Island beaches. My sisters’ homes (and aunts’ and uncles’ homes) and their neighborhoods are wonderful, and they’re not at all like the town surrounding our old home. While I kind of pulled at them to follow me when I left, I am sometimes glad they didn’t because I wouldn’t have such close family to draw me back.

Still, I’m glad that I had that glimpse outside my life and that it prompted me to act. It really opened up the door to changes that have put my life on a good track. If I’d chickened out that day (at least a 50/50 chance at that age), where would I be now?

This is an optimistic story. It has a happy ending, but it really had to work to get there… read on. The pictures are in this Flickr Set

The Good

I recently had the good fortune to take a trip to Chicago for the Second Life Community Convention. I’ve been a member of Second Life for a little over a year now, and have many friends whom I’ve wanted so badly to meet in person. Several of them, I can now say, I have met. The convention ran from Friday, August 24 through Sunday, August 26. For those unfamiliar, Second Life and “SL” are interchangeable terms.

I chose to arrive the evening of the 23rd so I wouldn’t be in transit when the event began. This was highly unnecessary, I later found out, as registration began at 4pm on Friday. It was really great, though, as most of the people I’d sought to meet arrived at the same time and also had no event-related obligations. We just hung out at the hotel bar. It was precisely the kind of time I’d hoped to be spending. Beer, food, and great conversation. And a whole lot of “Oh my God!!! You’re [insert avatar name here] in SL????” But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

I left Los Angeles at 6:15am on Thursday. By coincidence, my plane flew through Denver airport and my connecting flight was the same as my friends Jaycatt and Frogg. These guys are musical geniuses, and Jaycatt is one of my best friends online and in real life. Having met Frogg, I think he could easily be as well, time permitting. In any case, our strongest common ground is a slight(?) obsession with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Given that, what were the chances we’d all end up on flight 42 into Chicago?

In Chicago, we met up with Sumar at the airport. The four of us shared a shuttle to the hotel. We had a great time chatting away as the weather outside slowly went downhill. By the time we were downtown, parts of the city were blacked out. This is where the trouble begins.

The Bad

The bad started before the trip even began. Sporked was supposed to be my roommate. He’s another dear friend I’d so wanted to cross over from online to real life. Much of our crowd was very disappointed when, after four months, his passport failed to arrive, and he could not cross into the U.S. from Canada.

Next in line was the weather. Four of us made it in, but Onionpencil’s connecting flight was cancelled, as the Chicago control tower had to be evacuated and the airport shut down. The resulting delay trapped the poor woman midway between home and the event for a whopping 31 hours!

Finally, the first night there, someone stole Sumar’s purse, charging up inordinate amounts of money on her credit cards.

The Ugly

The real challenge is a hard one to describe. I will leave it at this. I wound up spending a lot of time with a friend of a friend for whom circumstances took a negative turn. I didn’t feel I could leave this person alone as in her state, and I gave up much of the little time I had left to making sure she was alright.

The Optimism

For all the challenges, I still got to spend quality time with some really great friends. I’m so afraid of leaving someone important out, I’m reluctant to list them, but I will anyway (in the order we met)… first were Jaycatt and Frogg, then Sumar on the way to Chicago. In the bar, I met Cylindrian (another musician whom I now consider a friend), Peter, and Adri. Rosa and Patrick appeared soon after. The following night I met Travis and, finally, Onionpencil. I made new friends with Yummie, FlipperPA, Ecocandle and Lofty (he’s got a really long name I don’t dare try to spell). I got to hear all the musicians play multiple times, and Jaycatt treated me to a semi-private (close friends only) performance of “Journey of the Sorcerer” (HHGG themesong).

We hung out in the lobby of the hotel, the musicians in our crowd using its grand piano in addition to their own instruments to practice. Travis, Sumar, Oni, and I chatted over pizza and beer until 3am on the night of Travis and Oni’s arrival.

I had dinner with Sumar and Onionpencil on Saturday night. There was a masquerade ball, and while we didn’t dress in costume, Sumar, Oni, and I went and threw “peas” at each other (throwing peas is a sign of affection started by Oni in Second Life). Oni threw one at a stranger at our table, and Sumar brought a second table into the mix.
Peas (of a sort)

We had a lot of issues on this trip. For all I know, I’m probably leaving some out (a lost memory card for one person’s camera, and a failing flash in mine for example). Still, if I could choose to start the trip over or skip it knowing what I know now, I would stick solidly to my plans as is. I wouldn’t give up these memories for anything.