Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We Sure Missed Our Porch Last Night

O'bumpkin. Located in Kansas City, Missouri. Oh, ya, America!

And here is Rob anticipating the results of the election, at a bar in downtown Boulder. I think his look captured the excitement we all felt. I must say that I've never missed Durham more than the moment when Obama was declared our next President. I wanted to be celebrating with my Durham peoples. We met a nice couple of folks in Boulder, though, who sat at our table. There is something about a shared moment that brings folks together, for a little bit. People begin talking with one another. I was also very excited that Proposition 2 passed. My brother, Laki, called to tell me the result. He also brought the unfortunate news about Proposition 8, to ban same-sex marriage. This result makes me feel ill.

Before election day. Blender Theory was reviewed in the Duluth Budgeteer. I don't mind being goofy, if I'm not only goofy. You'll understand this assertion if you read the review.

Prior to heading to Vermillion, South Dakota, I stocked up with plenty of food thinking that we would not have access to our favorites for days (no soy ice cream, vegan cake, or soy creamer = cranky Binge). Even so, to our surprise, there was a small natural foods section in a Vermillion supermarket (½ an aisle) with some good options, but not enough to write about or photograph.

Traveling through our heartland has been a great reminder of the primary reason Rob and I are on the road. The drive from Minnesota to Vermillion, South Dakota was filled with trucks transporting cows either to slaughter or feedlots. The stench was unbearable. How anyone can work at these factory farms, and how animals, with heightened senses of smell, can tolerate it each day, is unfathomable.

I learned that Nebraska is #1 in the country for cattle-related pollution from a handly little map that shows each state with statistical views by the number of factory farms or animals: It's colorful and interesting, take a look. (NC is #3 in hog production related pollution.) In any case, it is an odd juxtoposition, the idea that the people working out here in the stink, with songs blaring such as “I was borrrrn, a 3rd generation far-mer, married to Jenkins farmers daugh-ter...” produce the food eaten by those in the convenience and class of cities. The comfort of a candlelit restaurant, the cultured diner, and the nostalgic songs for farms of our ancestors is only part of what masks the process of animal to food to table. Honestly, it breaks my heart.

In Vermillion, we screened my film at the University of South Dakota. In the town there was still a faint smell, something you notice less over time. The Philosophy group students and professor were very fun to talk with and engaged with life (as opposed to married to it or having a fling: the balance between taking life too seriously and not seriously enough – um, goofy). Truly I enjoy people who struggle with the world, wrestling and poking it to see what makes a dent.

Prior to the screening Weston's right foot stopped working, brake-wise. He was in bad shape. We spent the night at our usual safe parking lot and took him in immediately the next morning. The bad news was the part he needed would not arrive for another few days, and I had two screenings to get to in Omaha Nebraska the next day.

I decided to take the Greyhound 2.5 hours away to Omaha. Good thing I checked the times, because the bus only leaves at 5:30 PM once per day. We rushed to the station, which was hidden behind some buildings and a parking lot, and were told they accept cash only. We walked down the busy arterial (it was raining and cold too, just to set the mood) and Rob found an ATM while I retrieved things I'd need for the next couple of days without Weston. We rushed back to the hidden station, where they issued the $36 ticket. I remarked that the bus was not there yet, to which the lady replied, casually, as if I should know, “Oh, you know that you catch the bus up the road at McDonald's?” We rushed to Mickey D's (still raining) and there I went. It was odd to leave Rob and Syba behind. We only have the one cell phone, because we're always close by.

Meanwhile I was hooking up a place to stay as well as a ride from the station. Lucky for me I was screening with one of the nicest folks, Jack, who runs Progressive Omaha. He and his wife picked me up at the station, carrying a cardboard sign with “Vlachos” written in black ink. They took me to the most vegan-friendly place in town, McFoster's, where I'd be screening the next day. They had vegan cakes and desserts, and some nice savory options as well: I ate the enchilada with a side of falafel. Also sharing Jack & Patty's home are Sadie & Bonkers:

The next day I screened first at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, for the Philosophy Club. I met the president of the local veg society, as well, who was kind enough to drive me to the next screening at McFoster's. We ate and I had the reuban I believe.

Upstairs, the screening was packed with folks from Progressive Omaha. The Q&A went well, with a few critiques. One man wanted to know why I was preaching to the choir (screening with a progressive group). I then asked how many vegetarians were in the room, to which about 8 hands out of the 35+ people went up. “There you see,” I said, “You're not the choir!”

The audience was very thoughtful and the discussion could have continued longer. It seems the same questions about protein/health and soy come up at each screening, so somehow, many folks are not getting the message that it is pretty darned healthy to be vegan, and we're not eating soy all of the time (85% of soy grown is used to feed farm animals, not soy-dog eaters).
Seems a good idea to have a diversified diet, in general. For instance, use different types of flour (spelt, whole wheat, oat, garbanzo, etc), drink different types of milk (soy, rice, almond) and eat a variety of protein sources (seitan, soy, other beans, broccoli, um, 100 other things). Oh, and don't forget to switch up the ice creams (soy, rice) and cake (cake).

Meanwhile, Rob debuted his solo career (the same which Acoustic Binge quit after dramatically thowing down her tamborine) in this fine town. He walked into a cool looking bar, told the manager his Situation, and she invited him to play for food, drinks, and some small cashola. He played for over two hours with some breaks, and, according to sources, performed some Binge originals (in addition to covers of the Doors and Iggy Pop). My ears were ringing in Omaha.

Finally Rob and Syba joined me in Omaha where we stayed another night with the kind Jack & Patty, who also gave us contacts in Lawrence as well as Missoula. We set off in new improved Weston for Kansas.

Even if, with all the hours and days of driving, Rob gets road rage (which for him is slightly frowning) no matter what maneuvers he makes with Weston (like cutting in front of someone while merging) I don't think anyone could be mad long. Weston just looks too cheerful and innocent to be angry with him. It's like driving a smile.

If you're going to go to a Walmart to have a nice, serene camping experience, do not go to Walmart Topeka. In fact, skip out on the Walmarts altogether. Actually, thus far the parking lots of your friendly not ma-pops have been fairly workable solutions to free in-city camping. Complete with bathrooms and security, it's practically a luxury hotel. They even clean the parking lot for you. But this very obsession with cleanliness led to quite a disruptive sleep in Topeka. It wasn't the clean that kept us awake initially, it was the dirty. You see, when we approach a WM parking lot for camping, we try to scope out the best possible location to do so. Top priorities are isolation, a green grass spot for Syba, and minimal freeway-age nearby. So in Topeka, we found such a spot, which even seemed to provide safe haven from overnight deliveries, a loud practice involving transfering more stuff people will buy cheaply and throw away responsibly.

We had just finished up a game of gin rummy, and I might have been protesting my loss (which I believe is due to some sort of Curse, naturally) when we were startled by an explosion. Then another. We deduced it was gunfire, and pretty darned close. Any concerns over The Curse were now secondary and we began to plan our relocation. As Rob moved to the front seat, the security guard (does the Hyatt have security guards?) rolled up in his truck, presumably to let us know they were on the trail of the shooter, but actually to ask us, “Do you know which direction the gun shots came from?”

Feeling confident of neither cleanliness nor safety, we relocated Weston to a spot less misonthropic but unfortunately along a main parking lot drag. Drivers zoomed by well into the night, some priding themselves in lack of mufflers and loud booming stereos.
Parties were replaced with gusts of wind, rippling our pop-top such that made me wake up Rob asking about tornadoes and Kansas, with the Wizard of Oz as my reference point.
Once the winds quieted, we woke up to excessive cleaning with one of those large cleaning machines. To supplement this noise, a man with a leaf-blower came through, seemingly spending most of his time right next to our van. It wasn't a good night.

It was this night in mind that caused a bit of loose spending. We splurged ($15) and camped at Lake Shawnee the next night. Sunday is our day to rest and read the NY Times, so after finding a copy we headed over to the lake.

Perhaps due to the night before, Rob broke in to the last batch of cookies made by the awesome Chef Shirle – the “Return to Durham” variety. After two months, they were still very delicious dipped in our coffees. Though we did not return to Durham physically, we're still there heart-wise. Kind of fitting for our current location of Kansas.

Speaking of there's no place like home, Rob and I took a detour the other day in search of the land of Oz, intrgued by a sign promising both a Wizard of Oz museum and an Oz winery in the town of Wamego. Upon arrival, it was pretty evident that the whole strip was contrived to take our hard-earned dollars (unless “Toto's Burritos” and the “Wicked“ stores were coincidental).

The museum charged $7 apiece for admission ($6 with AAA! Thanks!) so we skipped that entirely, but not before my asking a few strategic questions to determine if it was worth losing $12. You too can employ these questions, in any situation!

Q: “How long does it take to go through the museum?” A: $7 will buy you about 10 minutes, or 30 at the most. Analysis: That's like $.80 a minute! More than my cellphone!
Q: I also asked about the contents of the collection. A: The original colleciton was not there. Analysis: I don't know what that means, quality-of-experience-wise, but it sounded bad to me, so I proceeded to the next question.
Q: What is the significance of this location (did Dorothy click her heels here or something?) A: The Wizard of Oz was filmed in Hollywood. And, the story takes place in “the flat fields of Kansas...” Analysis: After spending some time in Kansas, that can be almost anywhere, folks.

Next, on to the Oz winery. They offer free samples, which is good since their wine was all priced at $18. I think the high price was due to the pictures of the Wicked Witch and the Tin Man on the bottles. We left without any wine. Perhaps our wine-price bar is too low ($6?). The absense of boxed Oz wine was also noted and regretted. I think the straw man would have loved boxed wine.

The town reminded me of Rosyln, WA, the site where Northern Exposure was filmed. The nice woman at the Oz Museum said that after their museum was built, all the other stores followed. The setting felt like an attempt to grab your wallet rather than your imagination. There is a tiny dotted line between preserving a familiar story and turning it into an enterprise. Sometimes they are inextricably connected, and I realize that. But not without complaint! However, I really did like the feel of this town. I don't mind a little wallet tugging, as long as I can resisit it.

On the way back to Manhattan, Weston decided to stall on route 23 and Rob wheeled him off to the side road. Luckily, he started again after a few minutes. A nice man who was a former aircraft mechanic said it might be our fuel pump. We've stalled a lot recently. But as long as he starts back up, that's not so bad. But a little bad.

We have had the best time in Kansas. One of the things that is very clear to me from two months on the road is one should not make assumptions about areas or people based on their remoteness.

After the above-mentioned camping excursion, we began our trip in Kansas with a show at Edesia's bakery.

Prior to the show, Rob and I filled out our absentee ballots, had them witnessed with two full signatures and addresses, and sent them off. I wanted to take a picture of our voting but forgot.

Edesia's is housed in an old historic building with tall tiled ceilings like BCHQ. The sound of hitting the tom rims produced such a brilliant ring that I wanted to incorprate this hit on everything.

The show was set up by Little Leauge Booking, run in part by the fabulous Kory of the band Dropjaw we shared the bill with. Also on the bill was DJ Spooky Toof, who I could not find online for the life 'o me. This is because Kory made him up. Toof was none other than Kory wearing a mask playing scary halloween music.

As a masquarade ball, attendees were expected to wear masks. Conveniently, a halloween shop lived across the street, and Rob and I were able to acquire intimidating masks. Rob wants to incorporate this look for all shows:

Kory took these pictures. After our set, we were treated to Dropjaw, Kory's rap project complete with freaky beats and much fun.

Here I am dancing like a zombie, per the request of the song that we all do so. It's kind of a step beyond asking the audience to clap their hands. It's a real commitment, but I must say that I totally dig dancing zombie style.

I'm sorry I missed Durham's zombie walk, but I'm hoping to drop these moves next year. In another song, Kory has us all imagining how it would be to ride our motorcycles naked through the desert. So here is what folks do.

Another good alternative to hand clapping. The guy pictured here, by the way, treated us first-rate. He works at Edesia's. If you're in Manhattan, check it out on Poyntz street. Everything is pretty close so there is no excuse to miss it.

A couple from Charlotte, NC were in attendance, discovered when we announced we were from NC, and clapping ensued.

After the show we decided to head back toward Kansas City, Missouri, where we would play a show at the Record Bar the next night. I spent most of the next day in the library working on bookings and promotion, as usual Mon-Sat. In addition to leafleting, Rob is handling the BB booking, mostly, which has been a great relief. Speaking of, do you know that Rob has handed more than 16,000 students “Even If You Like Meat” and “Compassionate Choices” brochures in the past two months? It really does add up. Amazing outreach that is quite easy and effective to implement.

We arrived to our show at the Record Bar thinking maybe we had the wrong night.

A country band was playing, complete with dancing. I actually really enjoyed it as an alternative to music I've been listening to. I also think it was nostalgic since I haven't seen live country music of this sort since the time I went to the Riverside in my early days with my good cousin-bud Tasha. Mostly I'd hear this music when we were cruisin' around in her truck (Junior) driving to concerts at the Gorge or Apple Blossom. Of course we were also listening to the humpty-hump at the time, which I really liked due to his 'my nose is big' and 'no I ain't ashamed' lyrics. The pickle comparison I can take or leave.

I must say that the Record Bar really takes care of you, band-wise. While the country band performs (which is every Tuesday) you're eating well and free. I particularly liked this: “Ask about our vegan options,” right on the front door of their website. In my mind, that's like saying, “I love you.” Rob ordred the Ian McKaye pizza:

while I opted for the Moby:

We also got free drinks. As if this wasn't enough, we met some really nice fellas in the other bands. Edincoat were the first to perform. All three members are law students, somehow fitting in this band plus their studies.

They are a creative bunch, with a little Replacements and REM skipping together with nice little guitar melody hooks. Plus they're really nice, and this was one of their first shows.

After we played, the next band Feverbell took the stage, complete with two photographers documenting the entire thing. Feverbell played a solid set and included extra-drums-in-front action that you see before you above.

We met the photographers (they also documented our set). One suggested that BB go to SXSW and busk since we have never and do not plan on applying for a showcase. From what I have gathered, doing SXSW seems like a waste of time. As the largest industry festival, it seems too obvious. I'm certain this cannot be entirely true – but for a band at our level, it is a step we're not yet set up for, fanbase or label-wise.

This same hesitation I have with attending graduations or other ceremonies. Something about the obligatory makes me want to run the other way. My only commitments can be to Rob and compassion. And vegan cake. But none of these feel like commitments.

Edincoat's drummer kindly offered his home that night, which was good because it was cold outside.

The next day we went to Lawrence, where I would screen my film for the Philosophy Club that night. What a nice bunch'o folks there. It was held in a chemistry lecture hall. Beneathe almost every chair was a school paper. We discussed the question brought up by the film, “what prevents ethical principles from being advanced into action?”

At the screening we also met two of Jack & Patty's contacts, nice folks that book local music venues, design cool stuff, and play music too. We hung out with them after the screening, having dinner then heading over to see Jonathan Richman (they got us in free...which was good because we made it in time for the encore only). Later, we went to another bar without a roof to get by the smoking ban. Had a couple of vegan sandwiches at Jimmy Johns too, then called it a night and slept over at their house. Jeff plays in a touring band called Split Lip Rayfield, and plays this bass he made himself out of an old gas can. Pretty darned cool – check 'em.

My next screening would take place at Kansas State University, an agricultural school, for the Philosophy Club. Animal Science students were invited, and by the Q&A, I was very aware of their presence based on the first question. I was happy that they were present, because, again, I want to start a conversation about our modern food production system and they are planning to play quite a role in this process. The first question/comment was that animal activists were showing the exception, not the rule. I pointed out that the gestation crates and battery cages were standard practice, and that is what I showed in the film. This is widely known and documented by the industry. The students then said that it is for the animal's protection. If this is so, I asked, why is the industry beginning to phase them out? And, take a look-see at the protection in action here and here umm, and here.

In any case, we had a great discussion and I hope to have diverse audiences at every screening. At one point, a man came in late toward the end of the Q&A and, according to Rob, Syba began to growl immediately. When he started to ask his question, Syba was in full almost-bark mode, and Rob had to calm her down. She must have sensed tension. I have to hand it to the students for attending, as it must have been intimidating to attend an event that discusses the problems with the industry in which they plan to build their careers in. We've heard from those in the industry, however. As an egg producer said opposed to Prop 2 said, “Do we want chickens to flap their wings? Or do we want to eat?”

Speaking of eating things without wings, on Halloween I made pumpkin pancakes. Do I have a future in framing pictures, or what?

Except maybe how the plate is chipped and the pancakes are a little burnt. I added canned organic pumpkin pie mixture to the flour, which cooks kinda fast. I had picked up the mix in hopes of making Rob a pumpkin pie. We'll have to wait until Seattle for that, but these pancakes, complete with walnuts, apples, and bananas, were yumly. I sprinkled some ground flax seed on top, along with tahini and agave nectar.

We worked all day (until 7pm) at the library, then headed out to downtown Manhattan, masked and ready to check out the holiday scene. It was pretty noisy and a lot of dancy-drunky stuff, but then we happened on Auntie Mae's and immediately saw that it was our place.

Divey, live bands, good crowd 'o folks. Apparently this venue was open during the prohibition as a speakeasy. I can see why...a set of stairs transports you to the underground bar, hidden beneath a floor of pool tables and dart boards. We went downstairs to the bar, and while deciding what to drink, heard someone say, “Beloved Binge!” It was the couple from Charlotte who were at our show.

We were so happy to run into them, and hung out for a drink and to see a couple bands. We discussed the essential elements to a “happy” life (some of you may know that I have a list of 5 that I made a few years ago in Greece, and like to ask others what their list might look like). After he is finished with the milirary, he plans on studying quantom physics with the hope of proving the existance of the soul. I told him about Blender Theory, which is kinda the opposite of that, but about as scientific as alchemy.

After, we ate at Jimmy Johns again, and I was approached by a painted man whom I did not immediately recognize due to his halloweeness. He was the organizer of the previous day's screening, a philosophy student, and Kory had invited him to his halloween party as well. Rob and I headed over to Kory's party.

A debate ensued between a McCain supporter and my philosophical friend, and the night got interesting. Later, we discussed the branch of Philosophy called “Philosophy of Language,” of which I inquired about since I've seen this listed when booking screenings, but had no idea what it encompassed. I still have no idea, but recall something about snow being white and what language we think in. Since my dad left Greece at 18, and lived in the US over 30 years, I asked him today what language he thinks in. Apparently he mostly thinks in Greek, except for when he thinks about his kids, then it switches to English. If I might state the obvious, this is probably because we are associated with English rather than Greek.

Weston continued to stall, but we made it across western Kansas, farm after farm. Rob took him in today and fixed his wires, so maybe he's fine now. Here's Weston at a reststop with his semi buddy.

You who are missed are missed, lots.


Vera said...

Durham Misses YOU!

Have you hit Denver yet? I was just there a couple of weeks ago visiting my best girl. check out a cool little mixed use bar/club/lounge/cafe called the Mercury Lounge.

I gotta say...Denver didnt show me many vegetarian options, let alone Vegan...they love meat YO

be safe, guys!

didier said...

we miss you guys!

Sequoya said...

Those pancakes look yummy!
Thanks for another wonderful installment of your adventure. We look forward to each and every one.

Kory said...

That's a lot of silly pictures of me. I like reading your blog. I've also been thinking about food and animals a lot lately. I think I may be out your way in December.

Anonymous said...

I am catching up on your blogs. I wish I would have know you were in Vermillion. My in-laws live in Yankton (25 miles west) & they would have loved to have ya'll stay with them. I would love for her to see your documentary.