Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How I made $17, fulfilled a dream, and other odds and ends... (part 2)

First, scroll down and read "How I made $17, fulfilled a dream, and other odds and ends... Part 1," below.

Part 2....

After wandering and shooting in the French Quarter, my cousin Eli (left) returned my call from earlier in the day.  He was having diner with Kate, a young opera singer friend of his, and he invited me along, saying he'd already asked her.  Generous host.  He picked me up on his Honda and we rode about 8 blocks to Kate's recently renovated second floor 1 room apartment, which was about large enough for the three of us to find places to sit at the same time.  I was introduced to Absinthe.  Curious drink.  It reminded me of the Italian anise-flavored liqueur, Sambuca.  Kate fills in and around singing gigs with different jobs, including guiding tours at the Absinthe museum, so she was well versed in the details, it's concentrated proof near 150, and how to dilute it in water for serving, upon which it turns from clear to milky.  We had a glass each, and chatted about, I don't really remember :-)  We ate pizza , and later went for crapes, and stopped at the largest head shop/ T shirt store I've ever seen.  I think Eli wanted to just browse the weirdness.

Eli bought us all crapes, and later gave me a lift on his bike back to my bus.

I went over to talk to attendant Ron and said I would like to keep my bus there for the night and that I would like to put my head down for a few hours nap.  Ron said the day man had told him about me and he'd have to charge me for two spots (because the bus hung over the yellow lines a bit), and they don't encourage people sleeping there, but even so, he suggested I set an alarm to wake up at 3:30 when my present ticket would expire, and then buy another 12 hours, so I could stay the next day 'till 3:30, and that would be for $50, total.  I said OK.

With my domicile now secured, I ran across the street to a gas station and bought a beer from the cashier behind a Plexiglas partition.  At the window with me were some pretty tough looking teenage black kids, with chain necklaces, low sloppy jeans, and one with a nylon stocking cap.  Not a really reassuring looking clientele.  I took my purchase wordlessly and returned to the parking lot, glad that it was encircled by an iron fence, attended by a guard, and located across the street from a police station.  And despite some traffic noise, including an occasional boom-car and diesel truck, sleep came easily.

I woke up at 5:30, wriggled out of my sleeping bag, pulled my clothes back on, peed in my water bottle from the day before, and stumbled out into the early brisk morning.  Scanning the now nearly empty lot for a place to move where I would have room to open my bus' lift, I stood there staring for a bit, and Ron yelled out "What do you want to do?"  I went over and explained that I wanted to move and why.  "What's the story with that pad over there?" I asked, gesturing to a 20 x 30 patio next to the back of a building, but on which there were no yellow lines defining parking spots.  "Well if you could get in there, it would be OK with me."  "I'll do it right now" I say, converting his conditional to action.  Re-parked, I returned to the booth and Ron handed me a new stub.  "OK, I'm not charging you for the 2 hours from 3:30 to 5:30, and it'll be $20 'till 5:30", which means he considered the previously never occupied pad one spot, not two, and I felt fine.

I now had five and a half hours before Royal Street, the street performer's Mecca in the French Quarter, would close to traffic at 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast.  I made it over to Bourbon and St. Anne, where Eli had tutored me on my previous visit to find a 24 hour luncheonette.  I was giddy with confidence inspired by this morsel of familiarity.  Two eggs, two sausage patties, wheat toast and some potatoes, and  I went back to the bus.  Four and a half hours to go.

Can I do this?  I paced.  I thought of what my shrink Peter would say.  "What do you imagine will happen?"  Nothing.  I could be bad.  I could make a mistake.  I could be embarrassed.  These are the worst possible outcomes I could imagine, yet the terror of putting myself into that position was as if I were contemplating a parachute jump. At last, and partly out of fearing the humiliation of not having tried, I decided to execute the first step and see how I felt.  I rearranged things in the bus so I could get to the vibraphone cases, and set it up.  Not so bad.  I folded the bed I built in Durham a month ago into it's sofa configuration.  Sofa so good, I mused to myself, enjoying my word play as much as the success of my design for the folding bed.  I pulled out the cases from under the bed now sofa.  Still no catastrophe.  Three hours.

And I continued in this way, removing one obstacle after another, inching my way closer to my goal, yet still not necessarily committing to the final act, retaining a right of refusal by which I could abort at any moment.  I set up the vibe frame near the lift, moving and exchanging the places of things inside the well packed bus in turns as necessary, as one would move the sliding tablets of "the 15 piece puzzle" until the desired final arrangement is attained, and in time I had the vibes set up in front of the lift.  Still no disaster...

Two hours left.  Time to practice a bit; I hadn't played since early December.  I played in my bus, in the parking lot, for almost an hour, and I lost myself in the lovely musical world where everything disappears except what I am doing, thinking, and feeling, and the sound, the wonderful sound of the vibraphone.  Eventually, spent, I came to rest and only then wondered if anyone in the parking lot was listening to the music coming out of the parked bus.

One more hour.  Now came a new threshold; I was about to open the side door and extend the lift.  I was going out into New Orleans air space with my vibraphone.  Again, baby steps, I first tried opening the door; I could always close it.  I rolled the vibraphone out on the cantilevered platform.  Is anybody staring?  Nope.  And from here, it became easy.  Lift down, vibe rolled off, parts checked, doors shut and locked, and I was soon rolling my TriChromatic Keyboard like a hospital gurney, carefully navigating around pot holes and cracks, down Conti Street, toward New Orleans' Royal Street.

Now I was at ease, and soon even became annoyed at traffic.   How dare they, how could they try to get around me?  Couldn't they see I was wheeling this heavy thing?  Didn't they realize I belonged there as much as anyone?  That I was doing something important?  What were they thinking?

At about 10:30, I found a spot on Royal in front of a closed store....


OK, readers, It's 10:30, and I need a break... back soon :-)