Sunday, September 20, 2009

the end, the beginning

grids of corn, twilit escape, i couldnt keep my eyes open long enough to drive across the iowa/illinois border as planned. another nowhere night to a long day of driving the next day and not reaching our prefered destination. we arrived, instead in some border town nightmare of ohio and pennsylvania. continental breakfast (holding it in. hoooolding it in), fallish morning breeze through the open windows of the ryder, western pennsylvania greeted us with its lovely rolling hills and the beginnings of the stunning foliage turned all shades of red and yellow. descending upon pittsburgh with no plan or guidance, we found it charming and beautiful beyond expectation. eventually we found our way to the strip district just in time to catch all the businesses and street vendors as they were closing up shop. i needed pierogi and nobody was willing to sell me any (one such instance, me: "so, do you guys serve peirogis hot, or just frozen and by the dozen?" proprietor of the business: "serve! nono! no serve!") after looking about some more at the various ethnic eating establishments, my appetite for polish treats was not diminished. we came upon a church just getting let out of service, and i noticed a sign about a polish festival of food, right in the courtyard of said church. no entrance fee and pierogis, big ones, for a dollar?! i had six and some stuffed cabbage on the steps of said church, while melissa waited patiently for a culture not so insistent on meat and cheese. which we found and she enjoyed, to bursting just about. after missed friend opportunities in pittsburgh, we just decided to make our way to stroudsburg (where the company we sling posters for is located). arriving at the hotel we started all this at were a few other teams just driving up, looking as, if not more, haggard then we. the next morning we spent checking all our stuff (and truck!*) in and then an offer from friend anthony to drive us to philly (as opposed to riding there in the large bus, filled with said haggards and more) for hang outs and then to the airport, back to california. our plans of philly hanging out were dashed soon when the list of errands increased and our time before flight dwindled. happy, though, to be in the company of just finished poster tourers, we shared in stories and insights before the time became too little to stay in stroudsburg any longer. the drive to philly was uneventful, save for the final hour or so (if youve read melissa's post on facebook, you already know this. skip ahead!)the car got real jerky, the accelerator wouldnt accelerate for periods of time, but our friend tells us that the friend that let him borrow this car informed him of this happening. so, we reach a hill, the other side of which is the airport. we coast to 40 mph, then 30 then 20. finally it wont accelerate any longer. we stopped up traffic on this bridge hill for quite some distance, which gave us a sense of power. various gestures and words from the motorists passing us were quite entertaining, although not useful. finally, a man offered to push us up and over the hill and we accepted his offer. pushing us in a car that has power steering/braking when running (quite the opposite when not) at about seventy through turns and twists was, like our driver anthony said (and melissa on th' book post), quite akin to riding a roller coaster. a roller coaster where the chance of dying is a lot higher. all the while, this man that pushed our car with his car was eating a burger with one hand, steering with the other. incredible. we thought, after reaching our gate with more than enough time, how fortunate we'd been. thought this until we deboarded our plane and had to stay the night in philly. we're both now at our respective homes in california for a week. its quite weird typing about the present. our catching now finished, this (blogging) may prove a bit easier. we have about a week ahead of us until the next leg of the adventure: europe. tickets purchased, luggage and contents thereof scattered about my room, theres a lot to organize and reflect on before taking in all the newness and adventure and learning that awaits us on the other side of the pond.

*Here are a couple photos of said truck, and the bugs that gave their lives so that we might sell sell sell:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Next stop: Grinnell, Iowa, etc.

At poster training, a friend of ours looked over our list of schools with envy when she saw that we'd be visiting her alma mater in Grinnell. She insisted that we would love it, and that they would love us there.

And she was right, sort of. Grinnell is a school of educated hippies. Their soy lattes come in cups made out of corn. Their bottled waters can be tossed into recycling bins around every corner. And (more often than not, and certainly more than most of the schools we went to) they actually knew what I meant when I yelled out that "All of our tapestries are Fair Trade!" They even had a menu item in their cafe called, "The Unusual Vegan". But, outside of the campus, there wasn't much going on. No record stores, no used book shops, no health food stores and no movie theatre. It turns out that Grinnell is a rather insular college, and what it hasn't swallowed up within its campus (Even touring bands, with the likes of Bon Iver and Jandek, have played on campus. kool keith and peter brotzmann are coming in like a month), have gone out of business. Except Phoenix Cafe. On the advice of a mustard cardigan wearing, nose pierced, female student of Grinnell, we went to check out the Phoenix Cafe after our first sale. It was closed, so we peered through the windows, and sat in the grass in front of it for a while. After Ted rolled down the hill of said grass a couple of times, a man peeked his head out and asked us if we needed anything. We explained our situation and ended up talking with him, the owner of the Phoenix, for quite some time. He had also lived in and loved Pilsen (Chicago, as opposed to the Czech Republic) back in the day, and he shared his thoughts on living in Grinnell. We returned the following evening and feasted ourselves his delicious middle eastern delicacies.

Then we headed to a school an hour away for an outdoor, one day sale.
Outdoor, one day sales rule.
We made tons of money and were off for a three (which turned out to be a five) day weekend.

So we took a trek (and what a trek it was. . . Iowa has long stretches of nothingness between small towns, and the towns are so small that if you blink you miss them and the stretches seem even longer) out to the Grotto of the Redemption.

The following are closeups I took of some of my favorite stones. This first one reminded me of a spacey desert landscape.

After leaving the grotto, we drove by this wall and Ted insisted on parking, photographing it, and then having me photograph him doing cartwheels in front of it:

Then we prepared for our dreaded sale at an "extremely conservative" school in Orange City, Iowa. But, it turned out that they were not so conservative after all, and hardly screened our books. They provided us with helpers to set up and break down the sale. Their students bought tons and tons of posters without us having to say "You know, that comes in a larger (id est: more expensive) size. . . " So the sale, all things considered, was one of our best.

Because of our unexpectedly lengthy weekend (We found out that one of our sales was canceled when we received a call back from our sponsor at the school saying that the sale previously scheduled for Monday was already taking place. Whoops! Looks like someone forgot to tell us. . .and so it goes.), we got to really explore Orange City. Which is a little Dutch haven, with windmills and a giant klompen in their town center. We went to a deli where Ted sampled various meats and cheeses and I purchased vegan, albeit hydrogenated, almond cookies. We spent a lot of time, but only a little money in an amazing volunteer run fair trade store. We had a picnic in said giant klompen and even had the chance to see a movie. (Inglourious Basterds, which we enjoyed for all of its Tarantinoness)

But the highlight of our lengthy weekend was a campfire cookout with Erin and Danny. They are our couchsurfing/real life friends from Omaha, and we met half way (well, it was more like 75/25 in Ted and my favor) at a campsite in Hinton, Iowa. We roasted asparagus with lemon and olive oil and red potatoes and garlic. And we had bocas with roasted peppers, red onions and slices of heirloom tomatoes, fresh from Erin and Danny's garden. It was the best meal we'd had in a long time, and even better to see Erin and Danny. Just the respite we needed to make it through the last leg of the poster tour.

From Orange City, we made way to Forest City, Iowa for our very last sale. We stopped along the way in Britt, after seeing a sign advertising for the Hobo Museum there. Alas, the museum was closed so we talked to the city clerk about getting in. She made a couple calls, but could not make any promises and told us to check in again before we leave. So, we killed time walking around a small farmers' market where I bought a bowl of raspberries, and Ted a small loaf of banana bread (which he consumed in its entirety on his own in one sitting). We went back to the city clerk, but she was still unable to get us access to the museum, so we left. before leaving, though, we looked in the windows and read exactly what a hobo is: "a transient worker." a little close to home. we should probably come up with some names like "farts trager" or "no meat sakal" or something else with a little more thought put into it. i guess i was gearing up for hobo-dom when i peed on the boxcar that they hold the yearly hobo fest in and around. continuing on....

forest city, even more isolated than orange before it, provided the last sale of the season. even in this small and out of the way of a town there were lovely people and interesting stories to be heard. the excitement of being done soon as well as the free food provided to us made the sale fly by. soon enough, we were loading our stuff up for the last time and driving into the night. dark night in the corn and unlit streets. as always, we didnt make it to the projected stop for the night, ending up somewhere on the iowa/illinois border.
after leaving the cape (the birth place of rush limbaugh, i couldnt help but notice reading from the many proud flyers, plaques, etc. on display about town) we crossed the mississippi for the second (and not the last) time into illinois, heading east to greencastle indiana. directly on the other side of the big muddy, we found a flea market cloister, manned by the most gnarled inhabitants we've found on that or any side of the mississippi. the atmosphere was nothing less than lynch like (albeit not separated from the atmosphere by the camera, like all lynch-lands/mindscapes). as cliche as it may be to label anything creepy or disqueting as such, this was it. after almost running out of gas in southern illinois (not much down there), we found greencastle. not as lush or regal as you would think, this town did boast a skatepark and some gas stations, a kfc and even a walmart. we conversed with some students about their town and the best advice they could give us was to leave it. and so, we eased on down the road to bloomington.

we met up with one jenn jameson (at a lovely restaurant, the bathroom of which is pictured above)

we story swapped, sauntered about her amazing town, ran into some poster slingers from a competing company that were selling at IU, made up new slang and co-op'd our foods for the next week (trying new nut butters to cut down on the farts).

the next three days we held a much more encouraging sale at depauw university. weirdly enough, this school seemed to be a repository for all of the chicago suburbanites that went to the school i worked at for the past year and a half. they probably think less of me now...

pictured above are the whispy, ghostlike, goldsworthy-ish sculptures that reside in the center of campus. birds were making their nests in it. walking the path through them, sipping warmth from thermoses at six thirty in the morning sustained us most of the days of selling...

a few more mornings and we woke up in chicago. this magnetic north drew the ryder in for a whirlwind tour of things and friends missed and loved. mr. forester-dehaan whisked us away to the many culinary and otherwise necessary destinations.

pilsen! friends!


josh showing us his back "deck."

my heart ached(s) to have to leave behind chicago for the second time. alas, slaves to the road, we made our way west. cornfields and cornfields and the impossibility of having the windows down too long because of the smells: IOWA.

So, it turns out that one whole week in the same place is not as fantastic as we thought it would be. . .

Cape Girardeau, Missouri. We planned ahead and booked a room in a nicer hotel, an "Inn", no less, to call our home away from home for the longest stretch of time since we moved away from Chicago. The Inn had a jacuzzi and an indoor pool, a complimentary breakfast boasting of 25 selections (I'm pretty sure they counted each flavor of "jam" as an option.), and free milk and fresh baked cookies every evening.

We thought we had it made, and we thought wrong.

Little did we know, students aren't as eager to buy posters from you on the spot when they realize you're going to be around for an entire week. Our sales kept dropping, and dropping, and dropping, until I dropped all sense of self worth, and made a sandwich board sign. On the front, it read: THESE ARE THE LAST DAYS! Poster sale ends tomorrow! And on the back it said: "Don't leave your walls NAKED! Get your posters while you can!" and then I wore said sign, and walked from one end of the very large campus to the other. (Un/)Fortunately, classes were in session when I chose to walk around with the sign, so a total of five people saw me (and each of them gave me a sympathetic smile.)

Later that evening, one of our bosses emailed us saying she noticed our sales weren't doing so hot and asked if she could help. We told her how low we had stooped in efforts to get our sales up, and she gave us the go ahead to run a special discount sale for our last day. We did and we came within a hundred dollars of making our sales goal for the entire week.

The highlight of the sale was when one of the students had me frame seven posters for him (only three of which he had bought from us), and he, his friend, and I partook in a lovely conversation about this that and everything over the hour it took me to frame them all.

We left Cape Girardeau feeling empty and low, having taken a long, harsh look into capitalism at its finest. Selling stuff people don't need, and convincing them to buy more of it. The same stuff that's rendered worthless if it gets folded, or a little torn. Fifteen dollars one minute, packing material the next. Selling stuff for the stuff. Frames made of plexiglass and cardboard for twenty three dollars, but we'll pop your fifteen dollar piece of paper in there for you for free! Selling image, selling identity, selling tickets to conversation, acceptance, friendship and meaning, so that we can buy our tickets to Europe. Staying at schools later than we have to, in hopes of selling more stuff. Staying up late to process the paperwork, getting up early to catch the pre-sale passersby. Heavy lifting, bruises, upon bruises, upon bruises all over my calves. Bagels with hydrogenated "peanut butter" breakfast and black, burnt coffee. Those are the lows.


Traveling for free. Discovering little pockets of culture and beauty that we never would have seen otherwise. Feeling in your aching muscles that you've truly earned the money you made. Seeing so many different college campuses, and being a small part of them. Hearing the stories of students, so full of passion, hope, dreams and ideas. Sunsets in different parts of the country. Regularly being pleasantly surprised. Meeting up with friends along the way. Pushing yourself to your limits. Learning what you don't like, how you don't want to live, and what money doesn't buy. Showing your ugliest self to the person you want to impress the most and being forgiven and loved. Seeing, doing, growing, living. It hasn't been all bad, in fact, it's been really good at times.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

poster tourage

pulling hundreds of pounds of posters (big, floppy, heavy piles of wood) and miscellany up a steep ramp, we had our first sale. amazing how excited kids get about it all. too many quotes overheard to notate. kansas city was beautiful and inviting. we explored its culinary offerings, ending up in the basement of a unitarian church, eating chik-un fried tempeh and greens and such.

the sale ended in a few days (nothing too note worthy. although, on the way out of town, we stopped by a place we were hoping to drop off our bi-weekly ups package off at, and we ended up exploring a mine shaft, cave thing turned storage facility owned by the owner of the new england patriots. somewhat nerve racking guiding our ryder truck about in there) and so, we traversed missouri's girth yet again, stopping at the same taco bell and arriving back in st. louis with resolve to explore the city museum.
(ryder truck in said cave thing)

(the city museum's exterior. it used to be a shoe/shoelace factory)

our memories combined of the city museum didnt do it justice. especially now that they have the roof open. theres a bus hanging off of it, and even a ferris wheel (that the dood running it said gets going too fast to stop sometimes, he just has to wait it out. he told us after we got off). i feel like there were areas i didnt get to explore last summer, in the six plus hours i spent there. we both got giddy/glassy eyed, ran aimlessly about, crawled up and over and through everything and its all beyond words so i will revert to pictures.

(i-melissa-couldn't get enough of these dead skin cell sucking fish. if only we had more time, those fish could have restored my hands to baby softness.)

after st. louis we headed a bit south, to cape girardeau, mo. stay tuned.

Monday, September 14, 2009

poster toooring

a few hours of sleep, and we were on the way to kentucky. morehead kentucky to be precise.
(the morehead beercave!)

(melissa wants to know what a beer cave is. . .anyone have a clue?)
we were the helper team for two lovely gentlemen at their sale for a few days before embarking on our own sale. the sale went well, it seems, for two said lovelies. quote of the sale (that i can remember. melissa and i wanted to keep a journal of the insane things people say at the sales, but it is too overwhelming), in response to the kiss (the scummy tatu version, not the kilmt one, but we also do carry the klimt one, in poster, postcard, and shower curtain form)"this is perfect! its small enough that i can take it down easily when my parents come over, cause, you know....they arent into that gay stuff." small town kentucky charm, calzones as big as our heads (i took a photo of them with my phone, im too inept to get them from my phone onto my computer. also taken with my cameraphone during this sale: a guy wearing a yoda backpack. it looked like yoda was riding on his back. i probably scared him a bit by how excited i was about it. also, a pink chevy geo with a unicorn painted on the hood) and late nights getting everything re-organized from our maryland truck swap debacle. the next day we hurried to get to lexington (to see the ever lovely roy harrison, pictured below, twice!)

louisville (to skateboard and try and miraculously run into friends we dont have phone numbers for)and finally to st. louis to go to the city museum, but alas, they arent open till 2am every nite. we spent time walking about downtown, instead. snuggled some bunnies and took in the mighty mississippi.
(snugglin' bunnies)

the next day we traversed the girth of missouri, ate at taco bell for the first time in years and arrived in kansas city, ready for the first sale of our season.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

poster tour (post training) day one.

At five am we sat in a room with our new fast friends and waited for our team number to be called. We walked up, they handed us our keys, and that was that. We found our truck, one of many, in the parking lot, distinguishable only by the number 57 being taped in the window. We did the pre-trip inspection, and then we were off.

About an hour after leaving, we received a call saying that there had been a mix up and the publicity in our truck needed to be switched with another teams'. We were instructed to pull off the highway and get sandwiches to kill the time while we waited. And so, we did, and quickly found ourselves perusing the shelves of a Mediterranean market. Ted had a falafel sandwich and I feasted on toubouli salad and a spinach pie. We took a can of dolmas to go, and met our friends with the correct publicity soon after. We chatted for a bit, as they, a third year team, explained the ropes in greater detail of how to survive the poster tour. We exchanged gratitude and hugs and were off, again. . .

An hour later, we received yet another call from our employers, this one telling us that they "don't mean to alarm you, but you're driving illegally right now." and that it is imperative that we give them the fax number for our hotel as soon as we check in, because there is some "important paperwork" that we need to have in the truck with us.

And so, we kept on driving, amused, but unalarmed. Around five pm, we stopped for fuel, got back on the highway, the engine light turned on, and the truck refused to accelerate. Fortunately the next exit was on a decline, and Ted smoothly coasted the truck off the highway, and onto a street in the middle of nowhere and parked.
(our truck, melissa and our home for a solid ten or so hours of waiting)

We called Ryder and had a frustrating, and long, conversation with the operator, during which I had to spell "Baltimore". We were told it was going to be a couple of hours before a mechanic would arrive, so we made the most of it with Ted bombing a nearby hill on his skateboard over and over again, and me calling a few friends to catch up.
(calling friends, more waiting)

(the hill)


Our spirits were bolstered by all the kind passersby who stopped to ask if we were OK and/or needed any help (at least seven kind souls). One of whom stopped twice, the second time asking if we needed water. After we said yes, and he saw that he didn't have any to give, he sent his girlfriend over with a cooler full of water, the offer to keep it, and an invitation to the bar she works at just around the corner and up the hill. We thanked her and she headed off to work.

The mechanic arrived around nine and worked on the truck for about an hour, with no effective results. He was kind enough to give us his personal cell phone number and told us to call, no matter how late, if we ran into trouble, and strict instructions to not let the people at Ryder push us around. We spoke with them again and they tried to talk us into exchanging our truck for one twice the size, which we refused, and then they said the nearest truck was about two hours away and that they would send someone to get it and tow it to us, at which point we were going to have to unload our truck and load all of our stuff onto the new one. On a three way call, the tow truck driver grudgingly agreed to help us with the task and we hung up, coming to terms with the fact that we weren't going anywhere for another four hours. So we walked to the bar where the nice girl who's name we forget continued to quench our thirst and gave us a plate of peanuts (the dolmas long since consumed).

After speaking with Ryder, we called our boss to let her know what had happened and that we were going to be driving another truck around. Her response was, "So, you're flipping trucks. That's what happens." (The next day she sent out a mass email to all the teams saying that she's not a mechanic and not to waste our cell phone minutes calling her with our truck woes because there's nothing she can do about it.)

The new truck arrived around two am, and the tow truck driver told us he would wait in his truck and we needed to let him know when we were finished. In the darkness of the middle of nowhere some place outside of Baltimore, Maryland, it took us an hour to move our cargo from one truck to the other, and then we were off, yet again at four in the morning in search of a hotel.

The nearest hotel was out of our budget, so we kept driving and at five in the morning we were finally able to go to sleep and call it a day.