When Bright Hill Press invited me to read in Treadwell, NY, the invitation sent me reeling to days of slippery uphill walks to class, fuzzy wool socks, wearing coats upon coats, frozen snot (it’s a real thing), and gray skies for days. SUNY Oneonta, fifteen minutes from Treadwell, was my home for a few years during my undergrad days. I knew the drive there would come as second nature, as much as second nature could be for a gal who gets lost in parking lots. Not even a slight hesitation. I said yes yes yes, packed up some books and some outfits, and off I went towards the mountains of upstate New York.
Upstate New Yorkers, would probably frown upon my description of the Oswego area as upstate. For me, a life-long Long Islander, anything above the Bronx is upstate. However, those on the Canadian-US border are kind of more upstate than where I was headed. I was really going to Central New York. Unless this territory-debate has changed over the years. You can see it’s kind of ingrained in me.
Anyway, at three and a half to four hours depending on traffic, I set out for a day or two of hilly mountain driving. I stopped in Sloatsberg for a quick bite. I stopped in Roscoe because you have to stop in Roscoe. The Roscoe Diner is there. It’s like a law or something. I didn’t eat at the diner. I visited the parking lot and moved on.
Then came the part of the trip where I veered away from the Oneonta route and headed to Treadwell instead. There were huge trucks that sometimes drove behind me on one-lane roads. My car was doing really well on the vertical roads, but I still panicked every time one appeared because I didn’t want them to think I was going too slow. I didn’t feel like I was going slow until cars passed me. I kept telling myself that slow and steady wins the race. Then I would counter my own self with we’re not in a race.
Then I passed a milkery and knew that I was very much in the country. What’s a milkery? It’s a very large factory where milk is made that appears out of nowhere on the side of a mountain. Many of the large trucks were coming and going from here. I figured this is where a lot of the cows I saw were sending their milk. That’s how it works, right? Right.
Rounding a bend after hours of clutching the wheel, I came upon a sign at the end of a major road that had four arrows at the top. This was not a street sign. Instead, the arrows indicated: Franklin, Oneonta, Delhi, and Walton (I think these were the four). Ahh, I was in the area. Then I followed my GPS turn by turn and then the last turn came and I missed it.
No big deal. This is the reason I have a GPS. It’s not so much for directions to get to places. It’s for directions for when I screw up. So I waited for the recalculation, and it didn’t come. I took a quick glance. There was a wide blank space on the map and a blue dot hovering in the center. I’d lost GPS. I’d lost all phone signal. There would be no phone calls. There would be no artificial intelligence. There would be only me and my brains.
No big deal. I’d pull over and turn around. Ummmm, nope. When you’re on a mountain, there’s nowhere to do that. If you miss a turn and have no GPS, you really have no idea how long you have to keep driving until you can turn around. It could be a few minutes. It could be an hour.
And that’s when I did what any self-respecting adult would do. I started drive-crying. Crying at the GPS. Crying that I was lost. Crying that I just wanted to get out of the friggin car. This is me and my brains working it out.
I found a road, finally, and turned around. I found the turn on the way back. Then I found that I was too early. What’s a gal to do? No cell service to call or message. No nothing. No one around. No place to ask anyone in person. So I headed back over to that four-arrow sign and decided to drive in the direction of Oneonta.
The road. To Oneonta. Was closed. I shit you not.
So I did some more drive-crying, only this time, it was more of sit-in-the-motionless-car-crying. Then I chose the next best arrow. Delhi. I had no idea how long it would take me to get there. I just drove and drove, passing cows, passing farms. Drove and drove until I heard a bunch of dinging, which mean I had emails arriving, which meant my service was back on. I kept driving until I saw the sign for Delhi and then cried because I’d found Delhi. I parked on the main street in Delhi and walked around a bit. Then I saw the time and decided I needed to eat and change and get ready for my reading. From Delhi, the road to Oneonta was open, so I headed towards the Southside Mall.
Up and down and twisting around, the GPS stayed on the whole way. I rounded a mountain bend and saw a sign and started drive-crying again, this time because I was all nostalgic because this was the turn to Oneonta. Oneonta has a Panera. Oneonta has wi-fi. Oneonta is technologically advanced, at least more than Treadwell.
I ate. I changed. I messaged. I called. I charted out my way back. I realized that the way back from Oneonta was the street where I’d turned around when I missed my turn, which means that only one road to Oneonta was closed.
The reading was fabulous. I read with Tom Clausen, a poet who writes what he calls “little poems.” They are haiku and haiku-adjacent. The poems are very lovely; a lot of them read like tiny meditations. I read about space and sci-fi and vacations. I gave away astronaut ice cream and stickers because that’s my schtick. I crashed at Bright Hill because they have a room for crashing. Tom drove back home which would take about an hour, which is not long when you live up there. I perused their library. I wrote and read. I hooked up to their wi-fi. Life was good.
For breakfast, they left for me a bagel and a banana and some other breakfasty stuff, which was such a nice gesture. I wasn’t a bagel snob. I ate the bagel, and it was good. I headed out shortly after breakfast. The morning was sunny but chilly–probably not chilly for up there but it was for me.
I. Did not. Get lost. In the mountains!
Instead, I got lost in the Bronx.
But then I found my way home. Which is always my favorite part of traveling.
After a long night of nothing followed by a morning of nothing, it was time to climb out of the bathtub, open the curtains, and start packing for home. The morning was sunny but chilly. Not that it mattered. My morning was to be spent answering emails and then heading to Shreveport. When I’d landed, I picked up a map of close-by things to see, so I figured I’d see some things before checking in.
Shreveport was pretty deserted on an early weekend morning. I wonder if it’s ever not deserted because it seemed more like a ghost town than a sleepy town. What made it more alive was the public art, which was really what I was there to see. I also became mesmerized by the passing trains. Once again, it was as if I’ve never seen a train before, never been on a train, and don’t have a train so close to my house that I can hear it sometimes pass by.
The art didn’t take all that long to see, so I headed to the airport. You know how they tell you to get to the airport two hours early? Yeah, that’s helpful if you go to an airport that has more than like 5 gates. Shreveport’s airport has like a one-lane road in and out that is wide open. I practically had a personal TSA agent going through security because I was the only person going through security. There were three gates where I was waiting, but really, it was only one gate. Only one door to the airplane with three different waiting areas for the one door.
Across the waiting area sat a group of men clearly going somewhere for a round of golf that day and most likely heading home later that day by plane. I waited a pretty long time since I was there so early, but that meant more reading time. Then I landed in ATL and read some more while avoiding all the people in the waiting area who thought putting bare feet on seats was an okay thing to do.
— Christina M Rau (@ChristinaMRau) April
— Jackie Weisman (@jmw3883) April
There was a second culprit with only one foot up. Still nasty.
— Christina M Rau (@ChristinaMRau) April
Who DOES that?! Garbage people. That’s who.
— Jackie Weisman (@jmw3883) April
(Singing sweetly but audibly) “it’s the end of the world as we know it”
— Scott Ash (@Scott66Ash) April
Then I flew home on a rather large plane where I realized I’d prefer an aisle seat rather than a window seat next time. You know, like next time I go to Texarkana and there’s no tornado and I actually get to read and talk to people about poetry. Some day, Texarkana, some day.
Every day is poetry day for a poet, but April is National Poetry Month for everyone, so I’ve been going out into the world for poetic reasons. The Oceanside Public Library asked me to be on a panel for How To Put Your Poetry Collection Together. It morphed into a discussion about publishing poetry collections rather than organizing poems, but we hit upon a lot of different important points.
A really neat thing was that one of my former students was there, asking questions, being intrigued. He came up to me afterwards while someone else was talking to me (and asking to buy my book! and I hadn’t even been hocking them!), so I was like, Don’t go anywhere I know you, and he was like, Oh you remember. I remembered him but not his name, and that’s okay because he was my student more than a few years ago, so many names have passed my desk (and failed, ha!. okay, not funny, but true) since then. We chatted about poetry and then he told the guy who bought my book that he liked my class because I made them do different things that they wouldn’t normally do. Aww, sweet!
The next night, I was off to Long Island City for a reading at The Local for Boundless Tales. Yeah, that’s right. This old lady went out two nights in a row. Eddie and I drove in early, got a parking space right across the street from the venue — that never happens ever– and then walked in larger concentric circles until finding an Italian restaurant and agreeing to split a personal pizza which was one of the best personal pizzas we’d ever had. A server came to clear our plates, and then he took the remaining slices of our pizza, and we never saw them again. We didn’t say we wanted them, but he also didn’t ask if we wanted them. He simply asked if we were finished, and since we were, we said yes. Lesson Learned.
We walked back more directly to The Local which we found easily. The inside is kind of funky. Silhouettes on the walls. Pennies on the floor. There weren’t chairs. Rather, there were these large rolling cushion things to sit on. It was a great place for poetry.
The host kindly asked if I would like to change the order of readers since I was set to read first and my brother hadn’t arrived yet. We changed it up since it was just a handful of us there anyway and very informal. These are my favorite kinds of readings. No pressure. A few folks. There were also people coming in and out, standing to listen for a while and then leaving and then coming back. There was a bar, and the place is a hostel, so lots of people were around.
My brother arrived in time for my reading. He’d taken the 7 train and then walked. I swear, he can get anywhere via any subway. Meanwhile, Eddie and I walk in circles to find things that are two blocks away. Anyway, the reading ran the gamut of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry about all sorts of things. When it was my turn
I did my usual dog and pony show with astronaut ice cream and space stickers. At the end, the host was like, The giveaway is a fun idea. I was like, yeah, I’ve learned that at any age, people love stickers. It’s a fact, y’all.
The next week, I read as part of the faculty sabbatical reading at work for our Lit, Live! series. My poetry workshop class was there, a captive audience, but I think they enjoyed it. The next day, I discussed my sabbatical of writing poetry for the Women’s Faculty Association, sandwiched between a talk about chemistry that flew over my head and a talk about total well-being given by a chiropractor. In my experience, chiropractors are the most intense motivated people alive, and this presentation proved it. When I went to Faculty Development Day the next day, someone who had attended the WFA presentations told me she enjoyed my talk. Aw, shucks. I thought my talk went not so great because I’d forgotten to click on stuff during the presentation. Apparently, my bubbly personality makes for a strong presentation no matter what’s happening as proven by the guy at the presentation who told me I was not only informative but entertaining. I refrained from handing out stickers and astro ice cream at that presentation (though I did hand them out at the sabbatical reading, and one of my colleagues said that the prizes are unexpected, which makes for an interesting twist at a reading).
I do have to be careful. I feel like I’m walking a fine line between kitschy and sideshow. Like, if I ever show up to a reading in an actual space suit, do not let me read until I change. Then again, with these two on my team, we could take a show on the road.