In A Year’s Time

A week ago marked one full year for us here in Lil’ Rhody! It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by. We made it! I usually look at a one year milestone as a kind of confirmation of success for what the endeavor I’ve undertaken. I think this is especially true when it comes to a major life change like moving across country from everything you’ve known for 15 years. The first six months here were probably the roughest. Very few new friends, very little work, and then the onset of winter when we were confined to the one heated room of the house. That was probably the hardest part and the biggest source of doubt that we’d made the right decision in moving out here. In my mind anyway. To combat the doubt we only had to remind ourselves of that cramped little apartment on Del Monte.

Of course, it was the right decision.

In The Beginning

The year began with a cross-country road trip. Driving across the States is one of the coolest experiences we’ve ever had. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In January or February of ’07 we decided that we just had to get off the Monterey Peninsula. We had the East coast in mind and were originally leaning toward a move to Baltimore since I grew up close by and knew the state well. Our main criteria was that wherever we went we had to be close to a city and a train line that could take us places. We were selling the volvo to help finance the move so public transportation was a must. In the end, Rhode Island became the clear choice. We had found an apartment through craigslist that would be available on the first of July and the wheels were in motion. After a couple months of packing and partying with our friends Keri and Chuck and I left the peninsula at the end of June and drove out to Exeter, California to visit Jesse and Lara for a couple days before making the long drive eastward. The drive began on July 2nd.

From Exeter we drove South and East through the Central Valley and the deserts of Southern California and made our first real stop in Seligmann, AZ where I had been before way back in 2001. Seligmann is a town lost in time and looks much as it did during the heydays of Route 66. After a short drive through town we drove to Williams where we booked our first motel room of the trip. I’ll be forever grateful for the air conditioning those motels provide. The heat of the Southwest is dry and brutal. I remember that the next day we drove North from Williams to go see the Grand Canyon before heading up over the border into the Utah Badlands. Chuck was not happy with the heat. I had to carry him around with a bowl of water to drink from at a moment’s notice.

That was early in the beginning of day two (July 3rd) and the sun was not yet high noon. After seeing the sites and several of the Native American ruins we were again on the road northward this time through the vast painted desert of Arizona. Navajo country. You can drive for what seems like forever before you come across anything resembling a town. Sometimes we would pass people walking out there along the highway in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a plastic jug of water to keep them going. Where were they going we wondered. Our destination for the day was Kittredge, Colorado. A really really long drive North through the Badlands until I-70 which would take us up and over the Rockies where on the Eastern side of the mountains is the little town of Kittredge where Keri’s sister Tracy lives. It sounds like a long drive and it is. Thank the Buddha for Starbucks doubleshot espressos! This was probably the most uncomfortable day of driving but only once we started up into the mountain range. Driving a Uhaul truck is not fun when you’re forced to drive 35 mph or slower with your foot constantly on the brake while going down the steep twists and turns. There is the constant feeling that you’ll tip over at the slightest wind or bump in the road. When we finally made it to Tracy’s it was just after 1 in the morning and 19 hours give or take of driving. Whew! Tracy was our savior for the night with pizza and beer and a soft comfy guest bed to crash in.

We woke up late that same day (July 4th) which cut a serious chunk out of our driving time for the day. We had planned to drive straight to Iowa that day where Keri has a couple friends who were willing to let us crash for a night. We only made it to the middle of Nebraska tho. It wasn’t a total loss. Once we were out of the mountains we were on the Plains. Long flat stretches of highway through miles of corn fields. Fast and easy driving and through some of the most beautiful countryside. By the time the sun had set we were in Nebraska and surrounded by 4th of July fireworks and fireflies on both sides of the highway as we passed town after town. Unbelievably cool. We decided not to drive too late and got a motel room in York, NE for the night.

The next morning (July 5th) we were up bright and early. The longest drive lay ahead of us. Our goal: Ohio. Almost from the moment we got up until about 4 a.m. the next day we were on the road driving. By this point we were weary of the road and anxious to get to our new home. It took the first half of the day just to get through Nebraska and Iowa. In Illinois, I took over again at the wheel and drove us straight past Chicago and through northern Indiana. Gary, Indiana was the second rough spot of the trip. I will never drive through there again. Imagine this… a superhighway, you in a midsized Uhaul truck, and multitudes of enormous big rig trucks. Now imagine you’re in one lane with a giant truck in the lane to your right and another to your left and they are both signaling and crossing over into your lane at the same time. You can’t slow down and since you’re already going top speed you can’t speed up. Yikes. Never again, Gary. Ohio was much better. Once you get to this side of the country the larger highways become toll roads. Fast and easy once again and with plenty of rest stops along the route. We were aiming for Cleveland or somewhere just outside the city but it took much longer before we found a suitable place to stay for the night. My eyes were rolling. The wheels were rolling. We kept on rolling until 4 a.m and over 800 miles of road.

It was July 6th and our last day of driving. We were going to get there that day. That was the plan. Chuck was ready to get out. We left our motel after about 4 hours of sleep. Ohio, Pennsylvani, and New York. For this part of the trip we were finally off I-70 and heading north and east toward Buffalo. Not too far south from there we cut almost straight East through the New York countryside and farmlands. A summer rain greeted us out there. Beautiful! When most people think of New York they think of the city. New York is much much more than that. We were close to New England by then. Once we crossed into Massachusetts, over the Appalachians and into the home stretch the excitement was palpable. We had arranged to meet our landlord Luis at the apartment that evening to get our keys and get acquainted with him. So close yet so far. We ended up way behind schedule so he left the back door of the house open and the keys for us on top of the water heater for when we arrived. It was getting late. Road work on one of the highways sent us on a detour where we got lost in Attleboro for about an hour. So close yet so far! Attleboro is only 5 miles away. When at last we reached Pawtucket it was after one in the morning of July 7th. We made it. Whew. Over 3200 miles in five days. Whew. I felt I could sleep for days but first we had to get inside the house. So, we head around to the back basement door. Locked. What?! Locked. Jiggled the handle. Locked. Oh crap. Panicky thoughts crossed our minds. Did we get ripped off? I went back to the truck and dug out a flash light and ran back to the back door. Shining the light inside I could clearly see the keys on top of the water heater. Crap. Door is locked. Crap. At this point we had two choices. One: find a motel and spend money we didn’t have. Two: wake the neighbors. Crap. Chuck voted for option two so we woke the neighbors. Not the ideal first impression you want to make on your new neighbors is it? Thankfully, Jess and Judah are cool people and they took it in stride.

Those first couple days here we spent unloading the truck and driving around the area in search of a new bed, furniture, and other household needs. This apartment was not going to be like the one in Snug Harbor. Here we had permission to paint the walls any color we wanted. Here was a ton of room to move about in. Compared to the old digs this is a castle. We spent a good solid month turning it into our home.

With this new life beginning came the end of the old in more ways than one. On August 14th, 2007 our sweet cat Chuck passed away in my arms on the way to the vet. Keri and I had just gotten back from NYC the day before. We had gone to the city for an awards dinner where Keri picked up the gold for the Homescapes website. When we left Chuck was fine but when we got back he had taken a turn for the worse. We never expected him to make it through the trip out but he did. On our return we could see he wasn’t doing well at all. Staggering around the apartment and unable to stand on four legs. We decided it was time to have him put to sleep and planned to take him in the next day. Our last night with him was spent pampering the poor guy with a bath and whatever food he could hold down. The next morning we called a cab to take him to the vet but he didn’t make it. He died about a block away. He was 18.

I’m grateful to have had him in my life even with the great sadness we had to endure with his death. I’m glad he was able to live out the rest of his life here in this place with plenty of room for him to move around in and a porch so he could experience the outdoors again.

Autumn of the Patriot

Autumn is a time of change. The leaves turn from green to oranges and yellows to brown and finally fall away to pavement. The season is much different here compared to Monterey. The air becomes crisp and cool. The light grays. A sigh of relief is breathed for the respite from the summer heat and humidity. By September, Keri and I were well settled in here on Pine Street. We’d made friends with the neighbors below and with a couple other people in the neighborhood like Victor (or as he says Vitor because apparently c’s have been outlawed from his home country) and around town like Joanna who had a gallery in one of the old buildings in downtown Pawtucket. With the apartment work finished we had more time to check out our new community.

Pawtucket is a classic New England town on the Northern outskirts of Providence. This is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and so has many old mills all over town. Like Monterey, everything is within walking distance. Unlike Monterey, this is a much more diverse community we live in. On our block alone, there live West Africans, Cape Verdeans, Filipino, and Portuguese families. I recall a day when we could hear music coming from the downtown about a mile away. We set out to explore and found a Colombian festival in the park by the old Slater Mill. Hundreds of people were out celebrating their heritage without it becoming some big commercial affair where everyone’s out to make a buck. It was so real and so unlike events like Feast of Lanterns in PG where you get the exact same experience every time. Don’t get me wrong tho because I did enjoy those events back on the peninsula as predictable and routine as they are. These new experiences are refreshing.

You know what else is refreshing? An ice cold Narragansett draft at Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub. This is our neighborhood pub and only a couple blocks away from home. This place has the feel of the old Mucky Duck long before that scene died a douchebag death. This is the place to when you want a couple hundred beers to choose and to watch the Patriots game or the Red Sox win the series. I recommend the Buffalo fries and the Tuna Melt. Make sure you have a ‘Gansett with that.

When Thanksgiving rolled around the weather had turned much colder, the leaves were gone, and Tracy came out for a visit. Tracy rented a car so we were able to really get a sense of what New England is like. We made a trip up to Boston where Tracy froze her ass off but hopefully still enjoyed the city. We took a trip out to Cape Cod which was in its off-season so most of the shops were closed. Provincetown is a lot like Carmel. Touristy. The highlight of Tracy’s visit was Thanksgiving day. We decided to drive up to Plymouth where it all started. Plymouth is, I’d say, about 2 hours give or take Northeast of Pawtucket. We planned to do the touristy thing here and check out the Mayflower replica and Plymouth Rock. The Mayflower is not free so we didn’t bother going aboard and so walked the boardwalk and shore to get what pictures we could before checking out a giftshop nearby. We were only in the giftshop for a few minutes when we starting hearing a rally parading down the hill nearby. It was the Native Americans! Wow cool. It is Thanksgiving after all. The rally marched down the street to Plymouth Rock and they began speaking about their plight, their heritage, about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, about peace and thanksgiving. At the end, the speaker invited everyone listening up to the First Parish Church for Thanksgiving dinner. It really was Thanksgiving. There was no shortage of food and conversation for the hundred plus people there. It doesn’t get any more authentic than that.

Winter Wonderingland

After Tracy left it got even colder. Winter was upon us. We’ve all heard about those New England winters before. Cold, cold, and more cold with a lot of snow on top. We had several snowfalls but only a couple that made getting around town difficult. For the most part it was fun to be able to have a snowball fight again and make little snowpeople. But it is cold. A cold that seeps in and lays in wait for you to get out of your warm bed in the morning. A cold that begs for large pots of hot coffee and steaming cups of cocoa. A cold that demands you turn on the heat even if it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg.

After Tracy left we became better acquainted with our neighbors Alberto and Liz and their little boy, Alejandro, and big huge labrador, Pono. Pono is always on the lookout for something to hump and really likes to do that when people are standing around talking and it’s usually with your hip. He’s a big dog and for about a week he lived here with us.

For Christmas, Mom came to visit. I love how my mom shows up hours overdue at the airport from flight delays wearing a huge black wig in a futile attempt to trick me. I could recognize her a mile away. I love how she likes to take me thriftshopping to buy me a rackful of winter coats so she knows I’ll be warm in the cold. I love Mom for the support she gives and has given me when times are rough. I love her even if she does drive me crazy sometimes in that way that mother’s who name their sons SummerChilde do. I love my Mom and I’m glad we got to see her for the holiday.

There is a lesson to be learned when it comes to longer term guests and cold weather. The two do not mix. First of all, it’s cold. Damn cold. There are good days and even “warm” days but for the most part it’s cold and when it’s cold guests need heat. We had no idea heating costs would be what they were and they are steep! Keri and I live frugally and would only turn the heat on for the coldest of cold days. A single space heater for the office kept that room toasty. Of course, when you have guests you want them to be comfortable so the heat would be on. With the heat on there’s really only one place you want to be and that’s right there with it and not out in an icebox. That basically means you’re stuck inside and it’s not long before cabin fever strikes.

By the New Year, Keri and I were starting to come down with it. The only time out of the house was to hit the Y for exercise three days a week and then a half day every Saturday out in the world of Providence doing our weekly shopping. Otherwise, we passed the time shut up in the office, the only heated room in the house, drinking mugful after mugful of hot coffee in the morning and hot chocolates in the evening. Spring felt a long ways away. The few times really getting out into the more social world was because of craigslist once again. Keri had come across a notice posted looking for participants in a film installation that looked like a good opportunity to meet the kinds of artists and people we’d been missing since Monterey. It was indeed a great opportunity. Megan and Murray, the film artists, have since become good friends and through them we’ve met a few more. One such is little kitty Stella who is sleeping on the floor behind me. Keri and I are looking after her this summer while they’re working on their latest installation over in Finland. We had a this fantastic experience working with them on their film project here. Those days made the cold worth it.

But cabin fever is a relentless beast and the only cure is a good healthy dose of Spring and Borba.

We are Spring. Prepare to be Borbanated. Resistance is Futile.

John Borba is the coolest. We love the Borba. How can you not? This is the guy who bought three tickets to our first PawSox game months before he’d arrived and the season had even started. This is the guy who knows how to chill. This is the guy who we’d spent countless nights hanging out with next door in Snug Harbor watching Losts and Rescue Mes. With Borba, it’s all good. And it was all good. We had a blast. Three whole weeks of fun. Staycation time! The first thing we did was introduce him to Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub. It’s only a couple blocks away and I’m going there Monday night. For realz.

Once Spring had fully arrived our new life here really began to blossom. John was lucky enough to be here for it. Many new friends like the Gracer family and the Owen family, an influx of new work, and lots of opportunities for new experiences. During his first week here we met a former tenant of this apartment, David Gracer. We had heard about him from the previous tenant and we’d heard he ate bugs. One day Fortune left a letter addressed to his Sunrise Land Shrimp company in our mailbox. That was our “in” to meeting this interesting guy. Keri invited him over to pick up his mail and he offered to bring over some bugs to eat. He brought over crickets and waxworms and we had them for dinner… with plenty of beer to wash it down. After a couple visits from David we met his wife Kim and daughter Sonia. All lovely people.

The first three weeks of May were a lot of fun especially with John here. We spent his birthday in East Providence at the Wickenden Pub drinking shots of seagrams and pints of beer. We even learned a couple magic tricks out on the back patio. took a trip up to Boston to show him the sites and ended up walking all over the city, stopping it at Cheers for a beer, and chowing down on Chinese food in Chinatown. A highlight of trip was the walk over to see the USS Constitution and then the ferry ride through Boston Harbor. We were finally able to use those Pawsox tickets on the 8th. For a true New England experience I recommend checking out at least one baseball game. People go nuts for their teams here. Even now that John is back home in Monterey he still follows the PawSox games on the radio.

Prior to Borba’s arrival, Keri and I got involved with the Barton Street Community Garden. After John left, Spring was in full swing and THE time for planting and new growth. My main job in the beginning was to design and build the sign for the garden. Keri was placed in charge of the garden itself to make sure we had all the plants and supplies needed. Sometime in the next week or so we’ll have our first official harvest with all the kids. The garden is now overflowing with food. Just this last week, we picked a bunch of cucumbers for pickling. A couple of our new friends, Alison Owen (wife of Peter Owen who was one of the actors in the McMillan video) and her young son Mac, will be picking up a bunch of same cucumbers we have here to go teach the kids how to make their own pickles.

Speaking of food, through David we’ve also met a guy named Felix. Felix is all about foraging for food. A few weeks ago, he and David picked us up and a another friend for a trip out to the woods near Johnston, RI. It was there that Felix would teach us all about the local edible wild plants. Along the path we picked plants like Lamb’s Quarters and Sassafras, chewed Birch for the flavor, and kept a watchful eye for ticks. Back in Providence we stopped at David’s to root up Day Lillies and mint and then came back to the apartment here to steam the Lamb’s Quarters, fry up Hushpuppies made from the Day Lillies, and brew Sassafras tea. Everything was delicious.

Summertime, And the livin’ is easy…

Summer is here at last and a whole year has now gone by.

We spent our first New England 4th of July with The Gracer family at The Blue Elephant restaurant in East Providence. One of David’s new friends, The Baron, was in town and would join us for the meal. Food seems to be a recurring theme these days. The Baron is a food enthusiast and will try anything once. He and David chowed down on cricket kabobs. Later after the meal we all drove to the other side of the river to a scenic vista to view all the many fireworks displays over Providence and nearby Warrick. Afterwards we met up with The Baron and his fiance at their hotel for an hour of swimming in the pool and hot tub. You can’t beat that.

There will be a lot going on here this summer. Coming up on August 8th, Keri and I will be going to a Gogol Bordello concert. Gypsy punk rules! Not too long after that we’ll be celebrating our birthday week with a big party here on Pine Street. In the meantime, we’ll both be hard at work on our various web and art projects as well as a couple harvesting parties for the community garden. We had hoped to make a trip back to Monterey but it isn’t looking likely to happen at least until mid-Autumn. Our fingers are crossed that another cross-country trip will happen and this time by train or bus. We’ll have to see. Until then, keep checking back here or Keri’s blog to see what’s up these days.

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