Saturday, July 19, 2008


I'm a little sunburned. I've been a vampire for two years, and now the skin on my forearms and at the base of my neck is medium pinkish. Vitamin D: it does a body good.

This Netroots Nation post will be observations and personal bits'n'bobs, not scintillating political analysis. Except, of course, the personal is political and I can't help myself.

Getting to the hotel where Jesse and Lower Manhattanite (from here on out known as LM) was a story in itself, and will likely be my first Group News Blog post. Yes, kids, I am now a part of the GNB family, with my name on the masthead over there any minute now. We here at the Hundred Acre Wood are still drinking in this status change.

Jesse and LM went to their room to pack for a transfer to the Hilton, directly across from the Netroots Nation site. I sat at Jo's Coffeehouse for the first time in years, eating a Mango Mania muffin (they had run out of breakfast tacos), a big glass of milk, Coke in a glass bottle, and feeding birds with crumbs. It was indescribably glorious to be Outside, under a tree (even if it was a hackberry), feeling light and air on my skin, communing with boidies. Grackles swaggered around, interlopers whose iridescent blue-black feathers are definitely outshone by their electronic screeches and buzzes. Small sparrows, clever but not humble, darted around grabbing the best morsels for themselves while I cheered them on and did my best to subvert the dominant grackle paradigm. There was one father sparrow being shadowed by a fledgeling who looked every millimeter as large as the adult, sometimes even bigger when junior fluffed her feathers. Junior kept her mouth open, a red maw that Dad tried non-stop to satisfy. A red-eyed albino boxer on a tight leash nearby watched avidly, longing to create birdie mayhew, it was obvious.

I was having some difficulty finessing the single joystick control of the power chair, not at all helped by the crappy condition of the paved surfaces. LM volunteered to escort me to the Convention Center conference headquarters, some 10-12 blocks away, and I gratefully accepted. LM had on a stunning royal blue silk shirt which was wicking moisture away from his Lower Manhattanine frame having to deal with Austin blastfurnace (it hit 101 yesterday). On his head was a navy baseball cap embroidered with bright white "Writer" in typewriter script -- extremely cool hat. His pants were dungarees whose back right pocket had been studded with a silver peace symbol. He was a symphony of blue and style; I knew right away Ginny would have wanted to paint him.

We hit major difficulty at the end of the very first block, where the "cut-out" was at an uneven pitch, blistered with the brick-colored bubbles created to tell blinds folks "You are now at a curb" (but a mobility problem for many others, pitting crips against crips, sigh), and the final ease into the street was cracked crazily. I decided to back down it. We had already discovered the power chair had a disturbing tendency to pitch forward if it was moving at a good clip and let off acceleration suddenly. The possibility of tipping over frontward was physically nagging at every downward incline. Hence, reverse into it.

But the combination of pavement bubbles, my lack of skill, and the port-ward list of the incline turned one of my rear wheels perpendicular and locked it. I was unable to move in any direction. I got out of my chair and leaned on a nearby metal adult newspaper kiosk while LM set down the second hat he was carrying and had a go at coaxing the chair into safe motion.

About this second hat: It was a beauty, the kind of hat men wore during the summer months in cities back when men wore hats as a matter of course. It was a dark straw wave, with a green-print grosgrain ribbon and an abbreviated, jaunty rim -- a hat that bespoke of style and sport at once. It had belonged to LM's father, whom LM lost far too young. It was too hot to be wearing at the moment, as sweat would have soaked it. Every time LM had to stop to assist me, which was every minute or so, he would need to find a safe place to stash the hat, away from the feet of a giantess who walks like a chimpanista and also the wheels of a several-hundred-pound apparatus under inadequate control. There were three of us making our way to the Convention Center -- me, LM, and his father's hat.

LM did not actually get in the chair to remove it from its precarious position because that would have been foolhardy. Instead, he leaned in from the side to maneuver the joystick, trying to stay out of its epileptic way. We drew a few entertained bystanders at that point. Finally he got it down the incline and into the street, and helped me down the incline as well, where I resumed the Captain's Chair. (Declaiming "Make it so!" did not help a bit, but it was infinitely amusing to me and LM.) LM reunited with The Hat and we progressed onward.

After that, it was necessary for LM and I both to "read terrain" with accumulating expertise and confer on how to deal with the constant challenges. LM is the oldest of many siblings, and for him, being a big brother is second nature -- but a GOOD big brother, nothing like the Orwellian version or my own childhood nemesis. He was encouraging, gentle, hilarious, and powerful when called upon, literally holding down the back of my chair. I still clenched up -- my brain would not listen to my body's reaction to the sensation of gravity gone awry, and I am deeply sore in certain muscles today that is the result of this clenching. But my brain did come to trust and count on LM's intelligent patience, profoundly. At one point I called him "The Chair Whisperer", which is more apt than funny.

In particular, at times his wide kind hand rested reassuringly on the back of my neck. I feel tears welling in my eyes as I write this. Above and beyond, this man is...

All the while, in between "There's a lip, go to the right" and "See the dip there, I'm zigging here, LM", we were talking a blue streak. Turns out, we have People In Common. Sharon Bridgforth, Shia Shabazz, Deisi Perez-Perez -- he was for a time a reader at Nuyorican poetry events. One of his elementary school teachers was Sonia Sanchez, and I bet some of you out there are screaming just as loudly as I did when I found that out.

We passed the massive grounds of the Texas State School for the Deaf on our left, and had an extended conversation about the need for such brutal institutions in the past, the experience of my Uncle Joseph who went to that very school. Past the main campus was a long stretch of overgrown greenery, blocks of it, tree-chocked undeveloped land within view of the State Capitol dome. Between us on the sidewalk and this jungle was a sturdy metal fence, but still we could see when the landscape became a verdant ravine, plunging down 20 or 30 feet into what looked like a trickle of creek at the bottom. I can't say the vegetation gave an impression of coolness -- nothing is cool outside in Texas July -- but the oxygen content shifted.

Because we were so focused on the vagaries of pavement before us, we saw in the same instant a small message painted on the curb edge of the sidewalk, painted in something like fingernail polish, as LM put it, recreated crudely by me in the image below:

The arrow pointed to an 18 inch gap in the fence, where you could, if you wish, launch yourself into the ravine. We completely lost it. It was unbelievably funny, that small message written in what may well have been utter seriousness: Nature, that way. A couple of feet ahead, on the bushy side of the pavement, was a second comment in the same red script: Satellite Feed Unavailable. Which set us off again.

We continued on, crossing the Colorado River, smelling the urine and guano of one million Mexican free-tailed bats sleeping in concrete niches below us on the Ann Richards Memorial Bridge. We discovered that in downtown Austin, there is sometimes a cut-out on one side of the street which has no matching cut-out on the other side, leaving you in traffic for half a block or more: Think fast, gimps! We kept talking and laughing, our sounds echoing between tall buildings now, until we reached The Promised Land: The vast acreage of the Convention Center, with overzealous air conditioning (no complaint from us) and smooth, smooth open floors. And lots of safe places to set a hat.

More later, I have to leave now and go hear Lawrence Lessig speak. Tonight the bunch of us eat at Threadgill's (which means another trek for me through the streets of Austin with LM as my Don Quixote) followed by a concern of the Austin Lounge Lizards. Yee-haw.

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