Sunday, September 19, 2010

International City

I exited the subway at Grand Central station and nearly steamrolled a 5-foot-tall lady selling Mexican flags. 'Of course,' I realized. 'Mexican Independence Day.' People like this woman were all over midtown chanting 'Bandera, bandera!' and waving flags for sale. Men, women and children were sporting green national soccer jerseys and waving flags.

Two blocks later, I'd walked into a Turkish street fair. Baklava, cured meats, and photos of Cappadocia, Istanbul, and Ephesus everywhere. Turkish music on the loudspeakers.

Five minutes after that, I was buying computer parts from a man in a yarmulke, in a long line of men wearing yarmulkes, comparing notes on the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Israeli Shekel. After making my purchase, the attendant noticed I'd given a Seattle billing zip code.

"What brings you to New York?"

"I just moved here, actually."

"Really? Welcome to New York! This city will chew you up and spit you out again."

I grinned. We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

I came to this city because, among other reasons, it seems like the most natural place for a world traveler to settle for a bit. Everyone from everywhere comes to New York if they can, and they always they bring a little of their home with them. So you can walk three blocks and cross a Mexican parade, a Turkish Street fair, and then emerge on the other end right onto Broadway. The one all the other "Broadway"s are named after. I can see echoes of the world everywhere in this town. It's like noticing an author hiding Easter Egg references to past books in a later story. A bonus for those who know the other parts.

But while I'm enjoying the throwbacks to everywhere else, I'm still having fun with the classic New York moments. Walking back from my free* yoga class, my first ever, I came up Broadway and saw that I was behind two very very drunk guys, straight out of a frat party. They staggered across a street against a red light. One was slightly ahead of the other, and a taxi coming up at speed honked at him.

The first guy kept going, but the second guy stepped in front of the cab, turned unsteadily to face it, and stopped. The taxi skidded to a halt about half a foot from his legs. The man looked the driver in the eye, then very slowly and deliberately bent over and kissed the hood. Then he walked his way.

Maybe you can find that somewhere else, but I've only ever seen it here.
*and by free we mean $2 mat rental. Plus donation. (Plus, in my case, $2 extra because the route between the studio and my subway stop is intersected by The Strand bookstore's $1 book racks outside). Check it out: Yoga to the People. I wanted something cheap to correct my posture and make me more flexible. I think I might just become a regular.

This post cross-posted to Joel's new blog about life as an aspiring actor and writer, Constant Audition.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A New Chapter, A New Blog

Apologies for the delay. I'm going to be doing something a bit different from here on out. What you see to the left is my new home town: New York City.

I had the opportunity to take a month-long pass with JetBlue airlines to travel around the country. I was sorely tempted. I've missed my travels, and this little trip around has only made me miss them more. But I've turned it down.

I'm here in NYC to do something different. I'm going to act. And yes, you're still going to get to read about it. But not here.

JTrek is, always has been, and always will be a travel blog. If I hit the road again, I might have new stories to share here, and I do have some periodic travel tips to share about travel safety, budgeting, and more to share here. But the juicy stuff about acting, writing, and living in New York, is not going here.

It's going to my new blog: Constant Audition.

Constant Audition will be a place for me to share stories about what it's really like out here, doing what something lot of people dream about doing but never actually try. I don't know what to expect, whatever it is, I'll do my best to make it interesting. If you've read this blog much, you can judge for yourself how good I am at that.

So, I hope you've enjoyed what I've written here, and will enjoy what I will write there. All the best!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The American Capital

This was the last stop for this trip before moving into my new home. It was the only one where I wasn't visiting relatives.

I've been to Washington DC twice before, once when I was ten, sightseeing with my parents, and once when I was seventeen, looking at colleges.

The place feels like a stage. I spent most of my time exploring the National Mall. The whole thing is open to the skies. It's a combination of the height limit on the buildings (nothing can be taller than the Capitol), the wide, right angled streets, and the low-flying airplanes following the Potomac River to National Airport, as per security regulations.

After having seen a lot of other national capitals around the world, it's a strange feeling seeing and comparing your own to everyone else's. I'd have these funny moments from other places. Flags flying that I remember flying in their own countries. A tour guide saying vaguely that the capitol's dome was designed after one on a cathedral in Russia, he didn't know which. Then me realizing that I did know which, and that I had taken several pictures of it in St. Petersburg. Flashbacks like these.

Above all, DC feels American. That's weirdly not something I could have said before, the last couple times I was here. Having been away for a long time and looking back through a lot of lenses, I now have a much clearer idea of what we Americans have in common and what makes us different from other people.

Politicians throw a lot of rhetoric around about "freedom" and "democracy," but those aren't unique to us, and anyway, they're pretty nebulous concepts when you think about them, especially how they're used today. But there's one thing you take for granted growing up here, and that is a fierce sense of individualism. An American believes that s/he is in control of his/her destiny. If an American succeeds, it's due almost solely to their hard work. If an American fails, it's their fault. And encroaching on any American's ability to do something they want to do is a serious offense, usually accompanied with heated statements about "rights."

We're cheerful. Sometimes a bit absurdly so. "Good" is the default answer for "how are you?" I don't just mean that to say we've got good lives, I mean that even when we're not so happy, we tell people we are, almost out of habit. We smile when we meet new people. And by the way, our customer service is legendary (though people are appalled at the tips we expect).

We have some pretty strange ideas about guns. We eat huge portions of food. None of us admits to liking small talk, but we're a lot more comfortable being chatty than silent. And more than most nations, we, as a country, like to put on a show. Love or hate us, nobody ignores us. Contrary to popular belief, we're not dumber on average than any other nationality. It's just that dumb Americans know how to attract a lot more attention than dumb people just about anywhere else. We make TV shows so the rest of us can laugh at the stupidest among us, and then export the shows to other countries, where they watch it and say "gosh, so that's what Americans are like." It's not true, it's just our flair for the dramatic-- if we're gonna be dumb, you can bet we'll be entertaining while being dumb.

All this is reflected in the green center of this city, our capital. The place we send representatives from every corner of our country to argue over what we should be doing, just so that we can deride them for how little they're doing and how much of what they do annoys us. But they do it dramatically on big stages of marble, broadcast to the world. For most everyone here, it's all business in this town.

Except when it isn't. Like when a couple of my friends from college led me to an unmarked apartment building, nodded to a guy standing outside, and were led into hidden bar serving some amazing cocktails. Or when we all competed in a pub trivia contest under the team name "The Last Time I Pulled Out Of Iraq, I Hit Herzegovina." Then again, that might tell you more about my friends here than the city.

So, another fast visit down. I write while this sitting on a bus to New York City. By the time you read this I will have arrived, and I'll have something of an announcement to make. Stay tuned.