We Had A Wonderful Field Trip To The Independence Tap Last Month, But We Are Back Home At The Roots Room To Spread Some Holiday Cheer!!!

FRIDAY, December 9 at 7:30 PM (Doors Open)

Roots Room 5203 N Kimball

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The Holidays Always Bring The Whole Family Closer Together!

Great Poets, Storytellers, Musicians, Comics, And All & Sundry Forms Of Performer Shall Be In Evidence.

Come And Enjoy Them — Or Better Yet Sign Up To Be One Of Them!

As Always: Merla’s Kitchen Will Be Offering Fantastic Filipino Food.

A Ho-Ho-Ho-Licious Time For Performer & Spectator Alike!!!

 

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Come Rock Out!!!

 

The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.

When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]

My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem…

The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.

And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!

The Roots Room is BYOB & All Ages. (Must Be 21 To Drink Alcohol)
$5 Suggested Donation

COME DANCE OFF THAT TURKEY!!!

We Had A Blast At The Independence Tap, But Now We’re Back On “Home Court” For A Post-Thanksgiving Party!

 

 

 

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Stop By Early And Enjoy A Delicious Filipino/Pan-Asian Dinner At Merla’s Kitchen Before We Blow The Roof Off The Roots Room!!!

Click Here For More Info About The Propaganda Machine

 

 

The Roots Room Shall Be Doing A Takeover Night At The Independence Tap!!!

Mark Your Calendars For November 11, This Is Going To Be Epic!!!

 

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We’ve Been Having So Much Fun At The Roots Room That We Decided To Take It On The Road!!!

The night will start with a Solo Music Set by Chicago Music Award Lifetime Achievement Honoree Stann Champion.

Then I (in my Comedy Persona) will host a Variety Open Mic. All Genres of Performer Welcome.

And then the night will close with a SMOKING HOT set by Stann’s newest band, The Propaganda Machine, featuring Yours Truly (in Musician Persona) on Harmonica.

This shall be a Wing Ding of Epic Proportions!!!

Come on down and check it out!

OR BETTER YET

Come On Down And Do Some Performing Yourself!!!

The Propaganda Machine at their first official gig at The Roots Room on 5/20/2016.

The Propaganda Machine Rockin’ The Roots Room!!! Stann Champion- Guitar, Vocals, Michael Hollywood- Harmonica, Vocals, David Bernstein- Bass, Dave Smith- Drums.

ATTENTION CHICAGO MUSICIANS, POETS, STORYTELLERS, STAND-UP COMICS, MAGICIANS, AND PERFORMERS OF ALL KINDS!!!

I’m Hosting The Next Open Mic/Variety Night At The Roots Room!!!

FRIDAY, September 9 at 7:30 PM (Doors Open)

singin

The Roots Room is a great space and this night is perfect for working out new material and expanding horizons as an Artist/Performer.

When I host Open Stages I create an atmosphere of respect for all genres of performance where Artists can feel safe and secure. [No stylistic cliquishness OR DISRESPECT allowed!]

My greatest joy comes from seeing someone perform for the first time or watching an Artist try out a new genre: a Musician doing Storytelling, a Storyteller doing Stand-Up, a Poet playing Music, a Stand-Up reading a poem…

The Place Where The Boundaries Meet & Overlap Is Where True Magic Happens.

And there is nothing like the feeling of opening a door into a new room in the mansion of your soul— SO COME ON DOWN & GO ON UP!!!

The Roots Room is BYOB & All Ages. (Must Be 21 To Drink Alcohol)
$5 Suggested Donation

Hello Earth:

 

Been letting this site lie fallow for a while, but it is time to pick up the thread again. To recap:

Got back into Chicago in mid-September of last year after the European Adventure ran its course (just ran out of money before I could find a way to make any) with nary a cent to my name.

Immediately picked up two “regular” jobs and worked like a dog all winter to get flush again.

Am now back in the swing of things creatively. I’m still hosting my monthly Hootenannies, but am also in two bands and looking to get some other schemes off the ground.

More to come…

 

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Luscious Sunset Sky Over The Port Of Aarhus.

A couple days at S’s place put me back on track emotionally. I met her in Shanghai in 2010 with E and several other folks from a unique and fabulous school in Aarhus called KaosPilot (kind of an alternative MBA program with an emphasis on social change). They all wandered en masse one night into my Cousin J’s club just as I was hitting my stride with my Musical Epiphany and we all became very close over the next several weeks.

She is quite unique and fabulous herself; a beautiful Afro-Cuban woman who has lived in Denmark for many years, speaks 5 languages, and holds several advanced degrees. She just returned from a long sojourn in Brazil (her dream country she’s always wanted to visit) and was adjusting to life back in Denmark while trying to get yet another PHD.

Her brilliant mind, sunny disposition, indomitable spirit (she came to Denmark from Cuba with nothing and managed to make her way there), and wonderful cooking (I didn’t realize how much I had been jonesing for spices) provided me with just the impetus I needed to get over my funk.

Now it was time to make a final push to discern what my Life Path shall be.

The Oracle shall not be back in Madrid until the middle of the month, so it seemed that the best thing to do was to continue my original “Route Plan” which brings me closer to Spain anyway.

Therefore, on early Thursday morning I bid farewell to S with a heartfelt thanks for her generosity and kindness, grabbed a 7AM Aarhus City Bus to the Train Station, and began a very long day of travel to Prague (actually a city outside of Prague called Kladno).

My route required me to switch trains in Hamburg and in Berlin on the way to Prague. There was a layover of a couple hours between trains in Hamburg, but I had only 4 Minutes to switch trains in Berlin. I was assured that the next train was directly across the platform and that Deutsche Bahn ran like clockwork etc. etc. but I was still a bit concerned.

My concern grew when the train out of Hamburg was delayed by 15 minutes- the math just didn’t seem to add up. The conductor told me that the train would be able to make up some time and that it “probably” would be able to connect with the Prague-bound train. “We will know about 10 minutes before we arrive,” she said with an almost wry grin. Fanfreakingtastic.

Once the train got outside Hamburg it really began to cruise, and the little LED info readout over the door of the train car said “Speed 231 KPH” (140ish MPH) at certain points.The scenery was whizzing by at a pretty good clip, so it seemed that they were doing everything they could to get back on schedule. Since there was nothing to do about it anyway, I took nap in my seat.

I woke up about 15 minutes before the scheduled arrival and we were still in farm territory, but I knew from my previous bus trip that farms started pretty soon outside of Berlin. Time to gather up the cargo and go stand by the door to prepare for a mad dash. The scenery started to “urban up” but we were only 5 minutes away from scheduled arrival. Just as I was beginning to lose hope the conductor came on the loudspeaker and said that passengers making changes would be able to get their trains. WHEW!

Of course, I was in the very last car of this long commuter train and my connecting train was quite short, so I had about 30 seconds to sprint through several meters of empty platform and managed to get in the last door of the Prague train just as the “Get Deine Ass On Der Bahn!” alarm was sounding. I dragged my stuff through several cars to reach my seat and was headed to Prague!!!

My seat was in an actual train compartment (very filmic) that seated 6 but there were only two other guys in there, so it wasn’t too snug (good for them because I was already a bit ripe from my exertions so far). As we headed south the scenery changed from farm to hill/forest/river country. Eventually we rolled into Dresden (I was having major Slaughterhouse-5 flashbacks) and things began to get medieval. My two cabin mates got off the train and I had the compartment to myself as the train snaked along a river with ruins of castles and really picturesque old villages and various structures along the cliffs of the opposite bank. It reminded me of a trip along the Rhine from my High School Days but it was the Elbe River. Since it didn’t seem like anybody else was going to get on anytime soon, I spread out and plugged in my laptop & phone and made the compartment my own.

I started listening to Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso album on headphones. It’s a live recording from the 5-Spot nightclub with Johnny Griffin on tenor sax, and it’s quite a trip to listen to on headphones because you can hear conversations and trays of glasses being dropped in the background- plus every single “I got it, I got it, I got it!” and hoarse orgasmic rasping groan (to quote a favorite poet) from Johnny Griffin. It was a marvelous accompaniment to the picturesque scenery as night fell and the darkness set in.

More people began getting on as we got closer to Prague, so I packed up camp in case somebody entered my compartment and prepared myself to get off the train.

Because the train was running late and I was tired from the long day (and just freaking stupid) I mistakenly ended up getting off one stop too early. AAAARGGG!!! After finding that this hinterland-ass station had no cabs at all to get me to the main station (and the “totally not giving a shit” train station people wouldn’t call me one), I grabbed a Metro train to the Main Station and hoped I could find my friend C who was waiting for me.

When I arrived much time had passed and he was nowhere to be found, not that I would really know where to look for him anyway. He may have very well headed to the station I had just left thinking that I had made the boo-boo which I did. He had no mobile phone so even if mine was working in Prague there was no way to contact him. “Here we go again!” I thought to myself. But knowing that he would do everything to find me I just stood in a very visible place and waited for him to show up. Not long after that he did.

Turns out he did go to that station and found out from the people there that a whiny English speaker with a bunch of luggage who had gotten off one stop too early had recently been there and had taken the Metro to the Main Station. He brushed off my apologies and we headed to Kladno, which took two more Metro trains and a regional bus.

We caught up during that time (we hadn’t seen each other in 5 years) and 90 minutes later we reached his place, where his wife H had a late dinner waiting. That and a shower (sometimes a shower feels so good/needed that it almost makes you weep with joy) made me feel halfway human and we all bid each other good night. I laid down in the couch bed they had prepared for me and reflected on the day as I drifted off to sleep. Approximately 17 hours in transit (a bus to a train to a train to a train to a train to a train to train to a bus) and 730k/450m traveled as the crow flies. Quite the long day.

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The next day C led me to and checked me into an extremely homey and nice Czech Pension (kind of a European Bed & Breakfast) where I was to remain for the next several days, and left to let me get situated.

A few hours later he showed up again and took me around Downtown Kladno. Aside from being the birthplace of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak; Kladno’s claims to fame are coal mining & steel production (both pretty much moribund) and being the location of an immense LEGO factory (C always has the hookup for his nephews & nieces). The older downtown area was very cute and picturesque.

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The Kladno Lego Factory From The Window Of A Moving Train.

We had a late lunch and then wandered around a bit more before hanging out waiting for a Blues Concert to begin that evening. A friend of C’s organized a Jazz/Blues Series that happened in various venues in the city. Tonight it was a concert in an adorable old courtyard that was to feature American Blues Chanteuse Marilyn Oliver (who is the great-niece of Muddy Waters) and a Czech band that was hired just for a tour that was going around the Czech Republic for the next month or so.

C and I first met in Hangzhou, China at the Hostel where I was staying every weekend while playing/singing with a Chinese Jazz Trio at a Jazz Club a few doors down (a story for another time). He was from Chicago but had been living abroad for several decades teaching English; first in Japan (where he and H met) and then in the Czech Republic. He and I struck up a conversation in the Hostel Cafe and then he and H came to see me play at the club later that week.

He was quite impressed with my playing back then and wanted to see me blow some harp again, so he asked his organizer friend P if I could sit in with Marilyn and the band. Of course P said it would be her call. I knew how delicate those matters are, so I really wasn’t expecting to be able to sit in, although it would have been awesome.

We sat and chatted and enjoyed the day as the band set up and went through sound check. They were a trio with drums, guitar, and a Hammond B-3 Organ player. They sounded pretty hot as they went through their paces. Usually Kladno hosts touring bands on the last night of the tour (final gig right by the airport), but this time it was reversed and Marilyn had just landed the day before and she and the Czech cats had just one rehearsal together. I didn’t think that boded well for a new person to sit in for a tune.

The courtyard began to fill up with folks, the star arrived, and the show began. Marilyn was a great singer and even though they had only one rehearsal things were going pretty well, although you could tell they were still a little tentative with each other.

During the break P motioned that I should go talk to Marilyn, so I went and introduced myself and asked if I might sit in for a tune so my friends could see me play again. She was very kind and gracious and said “Sure, why not?” and we all set to figuring out what tune I might be able to fit in on. They had messed around with a straight-up jam (my forte) the day before, where the Hammond player got on drums, the drummer picked up the guitar, and Marilyn got on the Hammond; but the Hammond player said “No, this show is too serious” (I knew what he meant, it kind of had a mini-Ravinia vibe) so we ended up deciding on the classic “Stormy Monday.”

I went to go warm up my C Harp (literally, it had gotten cold as hell and I was regretting that I hadn’t brought my jacket) and move from spectator to performer mode. These shows were obviously a big deal for the little town of Kladno, and I didn’t want to embarrass C by screwing the pooch in front of the village big-wigs; therefore I was a bit nervous aside from the jitters that come from playing with someone new.

But nonetheless I acquitted myself fairly well (my solo got some nice applause) and Marilyn and the band really seemed to dig it. Afterwards, we all had a nice chat and bid each other farewell. It was time to go back to the Pension (after Craig showed me a couple local watering holes). I can now say that I sat in with Muddy Waters’ great-niece, and in a small Czech town even.

QueenOBlues

Marilyn Feeling It.

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The next day C and I did a Day Trip into Prague, where he showed me around the old (UNESCO Heritage Site)  especially historic part of the city. Many years before he had learned a great deal about Prague and took & passed the Guide Certification Exam (since he had done so much research anyway), and he really gave me a nice well-informed tour of some fascinating things.

PragueVista

Prague Is Gorgeous And Filled With Vistas Like This.

The only problem was it being a Saturday (and a wildly popular place in general) the whole area was absolutely jammed with hordes of tourists (like a Navy Pier/Mag Mile on Steroids meets the Art Institute) to the point where I was getting claustrophobic at times. Still we had a wonderful afternoon and it was cool as hell.

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Hi Mrs. Kafka, Can Franz Come Out And Play?

 

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As Befits A Kafka Monument, It Is Rife With Symbolism.

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Kafka Monument In Profile.

I especially enjoyed Kafka’s House and nearby Monument (this whole quest has sometimes made me feel like The Land Surveyor in The Castle), the old Jewish areas, and even the crazy packed main historic square was nice. Although I really felt for the guides who I saw giving walking tours to groups of 50 in that absolute Zoo, it’s hard enough giving a walking tour for groups that size in the least crowded of places.

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The Old Jewish Town Hall. Note The Clock In Hebrew Which Reads From Right To Left.

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This Moment Outside The Prague Synagogue Was So Poignant & Touching I Broke My Rule About Avoiding People In My Photos.

We eventually transported back to Kladno and said goodbye until the next evening, when we would be going to have dinner with a fascinating friend of he and H’s.

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The next evening C stopped by and led me to B’s house, where we had dinner with he and his family and a few friends. H had brought some homemade sushi and there was a nice array of other foods and much fine red wine.

B is Swiss & Czech and has worked many decades as a musician, arranger, and composer. He’s now quite in demand as all three and actually has his own Orchestra [one of NINE FULL ORCHESTRAS that exist in Prague. Dig that, Chicago Musicians!] which tours and records on a regular basis all around Europe. He held forth on some of his current projects (even played some rough recordings of one he was in the midst of with a famous French Pop Diva), told a bunch of great stories, and was an all-around wonderfully fascinating and sophisticated fellow.

I was SO honored and privileged to be able to meet and spend time with him, and I thanked C profusely afterwards as we made our way through the streets of Kladno.

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It is now Monday and I am spending the day at the Pension preparing to take a bus to Vienna the next day to spend some time with A, who’s another friend I met in China.

Really looking forward to Vienna and to seeing A again. Hopefully I can manage the trip without some major or minor screwup on my part!

Lighthouse

Friday Started Out At This Lovely Lighthouse On The North Sea Coast

 

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The Air Off Of The North Sea Is Intoxicatingly Fresh

Perhaps I was too optimistic a couple of postings ago when I said no matter what I would be OK. The flip side of the coin of the Seat Of The Pants Travel Adventure recently reared up and bit me in the ass.

L’s need to suddenly return to Copenhagen early really caught me with my proverbial pants down because I hadn’t yet contacted my other great friend in Aarhus (S) about when I could stay with her on my way back south. The fact that I was only able to get internet at L’s museum further complicated things.

Since S and I were in sporadic contact, L offered to give me a ride to Copenhagen, where I could find a hostel or hotel to stay in and then either make my way over to Aarhus to stay with S or head south for Berlin or Prague depending on what was up (the problem with having creative nomadic friends is that they aren’t always at home and/or able to receive visitors).

I decided to take L up on her offer, and Friday morning and afternoon we closed up Country Town, the Museum, and then the summer home- and left for Copenhagen with the trailer in tow. The ride to Copenhagen was spectacular. I thought maybe I was overly impressed with Denmark because I hadn’t been out in the country in so long, but the place is just amazingly and relentlessly beautiful.

Once we arrived in Copenhagen things went completely sideways. It was now almost 10PM on a Friday night and the hostel I was hoping to stay at was booked up. L couldn’t be driving around with the trailer in downtown Copenhagen, so she let me off on hotel/hostel row, where I thought there must be something available.

But as I wheeled my big suitcase and bags around the jam-packed city center (big weekend beginning), it quickly became apparent that there was no room in the inn(s). So I grabbed a sandwich and drink at a convenience store and sat down on a bench to replenish myself and ponder my options.

My on again/off again phone wasn’t behaving so I wasn’t able to contact L, and her place was too small and she didn’t even have floor space for me to crash on anyway. That part of Copenhagen is a bit sketchy and unfriendly, defiinitely not the place you would want to rely on the kindness of strangers or even fall asleep in public, and I could feel myself drawing the attention of predatory looking people (at least they seemed that way to me- my street radar is set for Chicago). I decided to head to the train station and see if I could grab a train ticket to Prague, which would give me a place to sleep and end me up somewhere with cheap hotels and hostels, where I could lay over until I could contact my friend C, who lives outside of Prague and I had been talking to about visiting later that week.

I walked around the station looking for an open ticket booth where I could consult on travel options, but they were all closed and there were nothing but automated ticket machines available that only seemed to be for local trains. This was getting really messed up and all the magic seemed to have been sucked out of the air since I hit Copenhagen.

I sat on a bench in the station and wondered what the hell I was going to do, trying to stave off a total panic moment. I looked up and noticed a sign pointing to a platform downstairs that indicated a train for Aarhus was leaving in 15 minutes.

That seemed to be the straw I needed to grab at. I would take this late train to Aarhus that would either take the rest of the night to get there, and then I could get ahold of S (or maybe E & P) the next morning, or I could grab a room somewhere there if the train was quicker. I scrambled to find the right machine to get me a ticket for that train, purchased it (way pricey but I felt I had little choice at that time), and managed to get on the train with seconds to spare.

Turns out it was a relatively fast train that put me in downtown Aarhus at about 1:45 AM. The place was an absolute zoo; partly because it was bar time (ish) on a Friday night but mainly because (unbeknownst to me until arrival) it was the start of the huge Aarhus Fest, which drew revelers from all over Denmark & vicinity to attend the slew of awesome musical entertainment to be had at multiple venues for the next week.

I pushed my cargo ensemble through the throngs and didn’t even try to find a room, I knew I’d be wasting my time. I rolled on down to E & P’s building, hoping against hope to see a light on at that extremely late hour. No such luck. Feeling much too embarrassesd to wake everybody up past 2AM and not knowing what else to do, I headed over to a secluded bench in the park across the street from them, set my things around me and decided to tough it out until morning.

Aarhus was a much safer place to do this than Copenhagen, but I still was keeping both ears open as I nodded off and dozed fitfully for an hour or two. Lots of drunken rowdy folks were streaming down the street nearby but nobody took notice of me (or at least decided to mess with me). I almost hoped the cops would bust me so at least I’d have a place to stay, but they were apparently too busy keeping tabs on the throngs and busting drunk drivers to mess with a dumbass sitting in a park (cops keep a pretty low profile here anyway). I tried to keep my Zen going and laughed at my misfortune instead of freaking, and was doing pretty well for a while.

After a couple hours the wind changed and it got really really cold, to the point where I moved camp over to a bus shelter that was in the lee of the breeze, but it was right on the street that was still seeing a steady throng of rowdy drunks stumbling by (man, do people party here!).

Feeling too exposed and still cold as hell, I began to just roll the cargo around the neighborhood, which was still seeing many parties in full swing. Eventually, I found a relatively remote bus shelter and dozed and shivered for another period of time until the sun came up. Then finally the buses started running, and I took one out to the quiet outskirts and got a nice nap 40 minute nap in as I waited for one heading back into town.

I waited in another little mini-park for the grocery store to open, and when it did I got some fruit, cheese, and bread and headed back to the park by E & Ps to have some breakfast and await a sign that folks there might be awake, just to get warm and use their internet to contact S. It got to the point where I knew that everyone would be up and I went to ring what I thought was their bell (turned out it wasn’t) but got no response.

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As Bad As I Felt At Sunrise, I Still Had To Take These Pics Of The Clouds In The Morning Sky

 

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Lovely Clouds

Lovely Sky over ArtM

Flummoxed by this, I decided to head just across the narrow street and see if I could at least snag their wifi signal (my computer was attuned to their signal and I thought I might as well give it a try). I was actually able to and I sent an email to E (she’d recently gotten off that certain social media site) that explained my predicament and location- and got on that certain social media site to see if I could IM S to see if she was able to put me up that night.

As luck would have it, S responded, and as luck wouldn’t have it, was out of town. She tried to contact some friends of hers who might help but couldn’t get ahold of them, then gave me the address of a hostel that she thought might have a room even though the city was filled with folks.

All this time I was standing on a sidewalk with my bags all around me pecking away at an open laptop perched on top of a wall and looking like the King Of The Sketchy Unsavory Dudes. My first thought if I saw myself would have been that I was a homeless guy stealing someone’s wifi, which in a way I was, and I was getting all kinds of extremely quizzical looks from folks passing by and half expected some sort of internet police to ride up and begin questioning me.

As S was giving me the address and we were furiously IMing back and forth, suddenly P walks up to me with a huge grin on his face. I greeted him and told him of my plight and he asked if I wanted to come inside and have some coffee. An offer that almost made me weep with relief, as my Zen had totally disappeared about 3 hours before and I was in awful shape.

We went upstairs and P made me coffee and I explained my stupid predicament to everyone. They were full up with folks as well, so my staying there would be a huge inconvenience, since the only space for me to crash would be in P’s work space and he was painting like a demon these days and couldn’t afford the distraction of a person in his “office.”

I couldn’t get in touch with the Hostel in question, so I spent a couple hours searching Air B&B to no avail (put in one request on the one available place in my price range but never heard back). Finally I just went down to the hostel. They had no room that night but they did have one for the next night only, so I booked it and went back to E & P’s to see if I could impose on them for one night. They accepted only because they didn’t want me to have to sleep rough again, but I felt like a total a-hole for even having to ask such a huge favor (especially after all the hospitality they had previously shown me).

But nonetheless, I was able to sleep indoors that night. I even managed to walk around earlier and take in some of the Fest (it was amazing stuff) but the previous night of little sleep, constant cold, and a taste of what it’s like to be homeless (absolutely horrifying and soul-destroying) had really put me off my feed.

The next day I wasn’t able to check into the Hostel until 4PM, but at least they were able to let me put my huge rolling bag in their luggage room the day before. I went to check my other large-ish bag and my smaller computer bag in there as well early in the afternoon, but the reception desk was closed from 11AM until the 4PM check in time.

Since I couldn’t lug that heavy bag around anymore (it had extra stuff in it because I had taken some things I needed from the rolling bag the day before when I stored it) it was another session of lurking around a park with luggage. Even though I had gotten some good sleep in at E & P’s, I was still way out of sorts; and another few hours of getting the fish eye from wealthy Danish people (it’s a really gentrified area) was not what I needed emotionally. I felt like everyone in downtown Aarhus now thought I was “that weird homelss guy.” Then I started to ruminate on the fine line between open ended traveling like I was doing and just being homeless and felt like maybe I was on my way there and that worst-case scenario was right around the corner. By the time the Hostel opened up I was about as low as I could get.

The expensive hostel rate on top of the expensive train ticket further heightened my panic, and when I reached my room I was an emotional wreck. I sat and for a bit and tried to get my equilibrium back, to no avail. I thought perhaps checking out some fest would improve my mood, but it was Sunday night and there wasn’t as much stuff going on. It was time to call it a night and go back to the hostel and lick my wounds.

_____________________________________

I ended up being able to stay one more night at The Hostel and now I am at S’s place getting my equilibrium back and preparing to leave for Prague on Thursday. S’s wonderfully warm and friendly ways and delicious homemade Cuban food are doing wonders for my disposition and outlook. And writing about it all has also helped me quell the panic/depression and get some perspective.

As unpleasant as it was, my little traumatic weekend was a picnic compared to the experiences of those who are actually homeless; and I can’t stop thinking about what it must be like to be someone from Syria or North Africa who is trying to make their way through Europe without a place to stay or any resources. My white skin and American Accent affords me many privileges that aren’t available to them, and a little bit of attitude and fish-eye is the least of the problems of those real refugees.

I think of all the people I tutored at the Albany Park Community Center (and who I’ve met over the years) who have spent time in refugee camps, and the over 50 million people worldwide who currently are refugees and/or displaced, and my mind boggles. What I went through was like stubbing a toe compared those millions of peoples’ metaphorical broken or amputated legs. So please forgive me for whining about my petty traumas.

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My plans have changed because of the experiences of the weekend and the fact that my meager finances took a huge hit from the unexpected expenses. My original thought was to visit a few more friends in Northern Europe over the next month then as a final stop visit someone who I met during my childhood and who lives in Spain.

They are quite famous and important and can most help me figure out just what it is I am supposed to do with myself to be of the most use to the world at this point in my life. I thought my meanderings would provide me some sort of idea of what that might be and I could consult him about those ideas, but I now realize it’s time to see the Oracle immediately after I visit my friends C & H in Prague.

Finally: I understand that I have brought this on myself and that this was a strange and irresponsible endeavor from the beginning (I was well aware of that fact all along, but had to follow this compulsion), but if anyone has some funds they can spare and wishes to help me continue this quest they can please go to this web page and click on the “Tip Jar” icon to drop some philanthropy into my PayPal account.

I’m not trying to live a life of luxury here, just trying to find my path. If you enjoy reading about my wanderings and want to help continue this quest- any little bit would help.

Lemvig N Clouds

Lemvig Looking Adorable

 

Before we continue, I feel I need to expound on L a little bit.

L is an eccentric artist/activist extraordinaire; kind of a Danish Auntie Mame, Georgia O’Keefe/Louise Bourgeois, and Angela Davis all rolled together.

Lisbeth N Sea

L & The Sea

She lives/works in Copenhagen but grew up around here. Almost as a lark she put in a very low-ball auction bid on a dilapidated old restaurant/bar complex near the North Sea coast about four years ago, and as fate would have it, won the auction.

It’s part of a little grouping of about six houses/buildings (like one of those tiny unincorporated towns you see in rural Wisconsin or Minnesota). Two years ago also she bought a run-down little house a few doors down from the restaurant. Now she’s the Mayor/Sheriff of “Country Town” (as she calls it). She’s trying to turn it into an Artist Colony, but constantly struggles with the billion things that need to get done (and the fact that she’s just one person).

She and I hit it off really well from our first meeting, so now I am her Deputy/Hired Hand/Assistant helping out with the billion things in Country Town and whatever else I can do to be of help. We cruise through the Danish countryside (it’s a lot like where I grew up except not as hilly & wooded) in her little car with a cargo trailer attached; me riding shotgun and gaping out the window at the bucolic scenery and both of us amusing each other with stories and crazy banter. As different as our paths have been, we have had several similar life experiences/adventures/tragedies and an extremely similarly twisted sense of humor, so there is much to talk and laugh about as we go about our chores.

Farm n Clouds 5

West Jutland Scenery

Clearing brush is one of the major things that I’ve helped her with, but hauling trash from Country Town to the Refuse Station is the thing that takes up most of our time. She and her helpers over the years have hauled tons of stuff out of the two buildings, but they were filled to the gunnels with various and sundry trash and weird-ass items, many of which remain. Dead appliances, funky nasty old furniture, random stacks of useless wood & moldy particle board, etc. etc etc.- plus all the refuse that comes from the gut rehabbing that’s being done little by little as her handyman-of-all-trades gets the water and electricity working in all the various rooms and L gets some of the bedrooms in a livable condition so people can begin to stay out there in a somewhat civilized fashion.

FieldOfDream

West Jutland At Dusk

She’s fast friends with the guys down at the Refuse Station and we usually roll in a couple times a day with the trailer jam-packed with a bouillabaisse of trash. Actually, she’s fast friends with half the area; being the Wild Local Girl Who Made It As An Artist In The Big City and who spends her summers back home making trouble and fun (simultaneously Famous & Infamous) and we are constantly running into folks she knows either from her wild childhood or artistic/activist adulthood.

She introduces me to people as her “Gangster Friend from Chicago,” which always gets an interesting reaction. Even when she goes on to explain that I used to organize people against gang members (she did some similar work in Copenhagen several years ago) a few still seem a little leery. I try to give a sweet smile, but that doesn’t do much good, seeing as most of the time I’m drenched in sweat and/or covered in dirt from my labors and with my hair all askew in cubist configurations.

GangsterMike

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Nice Man!

Many of the people obviously wonder if L & I are lovers (FYI- We Aren’t) and even though I don’t speak Danish, I can tell a couple of them have actually asked her point blank about it. Despite L’s assurances to the contrary, I’m sure that tongues are ‘a waggin’ about that and several other issues concerning this weird American who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I grew up in a small town and know how they work, but having also been a Wild Child from the sticks, I also know enough not to worry and to just let ’em all talk.

In addition to the Country Town properties and a little summer house near Lemvig (where we stay while we get C-Town into shape), L also has a wonderful little Art Museum in the nearby countryside that we spend a few hours a day manning (it’s where I’m getting internet right now).

Hard work, fresh air, sunshine, and good company are doing me a world of good. Since I don’t have any pressing business anywhere else, I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and the feeling that I am being of use to someone doing who is something worthwhile.

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Country Town

 

CountryTownBigHouse

The Big House

Country Town has incredible potential if L could just get over the hump with enough money/help. I’ve taken photos of the interiors but they can’t really do it justice. If it was all spiffed up it could house about 10-12 artist of various sorts who would have access to a painting studio, a ceramic kiln (someone wants to donate one) and a nice little performance space. The performance space has this crazy mural of various & sundry country/rock greats (along with L as the Sheriff) done by a local character named H (he’s continually stopping by to goof with L & to touch up his mural). There’s also a neat little grove with some apple trees on some land behind the little house and luscious scenery all around. It could really be something.

SunsetRedStripe5

Sunset From The Back Deck Of The Big House

L has been working steadily on it over the years as she spends her summers tending to the museum and visiting with friends and family in her hometown. She’s very careful not to get overextended financially in rehabbing the properties and also not to get too burned out with all the work, but she’s only one person and the help she gets is often spotty at best.

LittleHouse

The Little House

One problem is that many interested parties (especially in the Copenhagen/Aarhus Art Crowds) are enamored of the idea of having a place to make art, party, & cavort- but not so much interested in putting in the hard physical labor it takes to make something like this happen. It’s the old problem with the idea that city people have of country life; they think it’s all lemonade on the porch and fun in the sun and then they blanch at all the hard work it takes to maintain rural properties and rehab old dilapidated buildings. It’s pretty much what killed the hippie commune movement back in the 60’s/70’s IMHO; all the bourgeois suburban kids bailed as soon as they discovered that farm/country living wasn’t all skinny dipping and laying about getting stoned, but instead was an Imperial Fuckton of hard unending work.

Another problem is that there is just SOOO much stuff to be done (a serious Imperial Fuckton), and that the little bit that L and her peeps can do is often negated by the beating the place takes from the elements, especially over the winter. It sometimes seems like bailing out an old boat which has a big leak in it, and on occasion I wonder if I’m participating in a quixotic quest.

On the other hand, much has gotten done over the years (especially when I hear about the condition the places were in when she bought them) and continues to get done (a great carpenter just did some major spiffing on the exterior). And what the hell, Quixotic Quest is my middle freaking name. I’m on a HUGE one of my own, for gosh sake! Not my first and probably not my last. Actually, it’s kind of my Magnum Opus of Quixotic Quests.

There were also three delightful artists from further North in Denmark who just visited and really “get” what L is doing here, and seem like the type of folks who aren’t averse to some hard work. They want to come and stay in Country Town later in September, even though it’s out of season and L will be mostly back in Copenhagen. They could be the vanguard of a new wave.

So the Bottom Line is that I don’t care if my hard work was for naught because I have had a blast during my time here and it was just what I needed at this point in my life and my journey.

And who knows, stranger things have happened and L is as tough and dogged as they come.

_________________________________

The end of the season has come and L is closing up the Art Museum and heading back to Copenhagen. Circumstances back in Copenhagen are forcing her to do it a little earlier than she was planning to, so now I am scrambling to get back into my own quest and find the next place I’m going to visit (and the next friends who are ready to put me up for a bit).

We shall see where the path leads…

Aarhus view

I Bid Farewell To This View & Headed West.

The more E & P told me about their Artist friend up/over in the Wild West of Denmark the more I wanted to get up there as soon as I could, so E introduced us online and we began talking about when I might come up and visit. It seemed that Monday would be the best time for her so I began making arrangements.

I booked a ride to the nearby city of Holstebro through this really cool site/app called Go More, which paired up people who needed rides with people who wanted to give rides for a little extra cash. From there I would take a bus to Lemvig where their friend (L) would pick me up after she was finished with a meeting she had early that evening. I wasn’t sure whether my funky phone would actually work up there (it was barely working in Aarhus), so I would just chill at the harborside until she came to get me.

My excitement spiked over the rest of the weekend as I prepared for the trip and I learned more about the West Coast of Denmark & heard more stories about L. When this crazy world excursion/quest began I suspected that, as awesome as all the dear friends I was visiting were, the extreme magic would happen with the people I was going to meet along the journey.

On Monday I said my goodbyes to E & P, their roommates & others and grabbed an Aarhus city bus out to the near suburban office park where I would rendezvous with my GoMore ride. I was way early so I parked my big rolling suitcase and other bags in a shady spot at the corner of this corporate parking lot and waited for my ride.

I got a few quizzical looks from folks going to and from the lot (it was a major global corporation that shall remain nameless) but considering my ass would have likely been tasered by security in the US, I considered myself fortunate.

At the appointed time H rolled up in his car and we were off to Holstebro. He worked for the un-aforementioned company and commuted to Aarhus from Holstebro every weekday, saving some gas money and getting some company by doing the GoMore thang. We had a nice conversation about various topics as the scenery rolled by for the next 90 minutes.

Things kept getting more and more rural as we traveled and I kept getting more and more pleased by this, which amused H quite a bit. I had told him that I grew up in rural Wisconsin so we chatted about fishing, farming, and other country pursuits.

One of the coolest things about Denmark’s rural freeways is that they have these Green Overpasses (for want of a better term) every couple kilometers or so; where animals could cross over the roadway. They’re kind of like overgrown pedestrian overpasses. I coincidentally noticed the first one right after I was struck (no pun intended) by the lack of roadkill, and then remembered reading about them online a few weeks before. H confirmed that was what they were and was quite gratified by my excitement and interest.

He also (likely for his own amusement after finding out I was a standup comic) asked me who I thought was going to replace Obama, and relished the rant I went into about the Republican Clown Car and other American Political kvetches of mine. That led into the “What is up with America and guns and violence?” conversation I’ve had with so many Danes (and Germans & others as well)- but I already covered that ground in my last dispatch. Anyway, the time just flew by and we bid each other farewell at the Holstebro bus station. He was a fine fellow, I may grab a ride from him back south if I need to.

I managed to find the bus to Lemvig with the assistance of this extremely kind and helpful young woman who was also taking that bus. Things got even more rural as we headed north and my silly grin was about to split my head open.

After about 40 minutes we rolled into Lemvig, which is a drop-dead gorgeous little harbor town, and the bus dropped me off right at the aforementioned harbor. It was a lovely day and the bright northern sun shone upon this adorable tableaux as I arranged all my bags and sat on a little bench to await L’s arrival.

The sleepy feeling early evening vibe soaked into my soul as I munched a couple pieces of bread and sipped some water. My text to L went “undeliverable” (but that was expected, it seems I can no longer send, only receive) and the time when she said her meeting would end came and passed with no text from her. Not a problem, since meetings often go on longer than one expects, especially with creative folks.

The minutes continued to tick away and I began to wonder if something might be up. I’ve long had a tendency toward what is known as “catastrophization.” It was especially terrible during my 1999-2002 Post-Rogers Park PTSD Period, and this crazy adventure had brought a relapse of it (What am I going to do? Why the hell did I do this? What shall happen? OMG! OMG! OMG!) in Berlin, although E & P’s Aarhus Therapy had quelled it quite a bit. I began to wonder if something may have happened to her; car accident, health problem, emergency of some sort, etc.etc.etc…

Here’s where I knew The Danish Decompression was really taking hold:

I started to tell myself “OK, you’ve traveled to another part of the globe with no specific plans and very little money just on a strong personal hunch that it was somehow the thing you should do at this point in your life. Now you’ve made your way to a remote corner of a country you’ve never been to before and don’t speak the language; to meet someone you’ve never met before, do not know where they live, and whom you have no way of calling.”

Instead of going down the path of decrying my foolhardiness and obsessing that I was going to die homeless and Euroless/Kronerless on the streets of some foreign land… I just started laughing uproariously to myself. The remaining clouds seemed to lift off of me and I realized that somehow no matter what happened I was going to be OK.

I took out my camera and took a few shots of the pretty yellow building across the street and the bucolic marina behind me— and truly felt like I was finally (after years of trying) living in the moment.

YallerHouse1

Hard To Have A Panic Attack With This View

 

After another 20 minutes or so, L came walking across a nearby parking lot waving to me. We greeted each other and spoke for a minute or two as we walked to her car and figured out a way to cram all my various bags into its already crowded interior. Then we retired across the street (to the very cafe I was planning to get food and seek wifi to contact her if she didn’t show up) for some dinner.

As much as I had assumed/hoped we would hit it off, L and I almost instantly got into the groove that kindred souls tend to do and as we dined we had an extremely comfortable conversation about our lives and other various & sundry things. At a certain point I made a sardonic comment about something (the sort of comment that often puts “normal” people off) and she laughed so hard she almost hyperventilated- and I knew that I had found that first “well-met stranger” who would bring whatever the hell was supposed to happen on this adventure into a higher gear.

Then we left to go visit her Artist Colony In The Making out in the sticks of Denmark…

Aarhus, Denmark- August 15

 

Germanysconsin

Along The Road Through Germanysconsin…

HELP!!! I’ve been abducted by a couple of bohemian artists and am being held captive in an Atelier!

They are forcing me to eat healthy organic food, live in the moment, and lighten the hell up.

My dear friend E and her fantastic partner P have been trying their best to put some vigor and whimsy in my stride, and their treatment is beginning to take effect.

The tension is starting to slowly roll off me now that I’m in Denmark. Aarhus is a sleepy little college town right on the water, just what I need after the last five years of hardly ever leaving Chicago and three weeks in nice but still a bit urban and uptight Berlin.

As much as I enjoyed my time there (and want to return whenever I can) it was a great weight off my shoulders when the bus pulled out of the Berlin bus station. Some of the bad mojo was residual anxiety from my 1981 visit during the height of the Squatter’s Riots and the Reagan Cold War, some from the fact that so much of what I was trying to escape from in Chicago (gentrification, conformity, rampant capitalism, Americans) was fully in evidence there, some from the bad jam, and some just because I’d only been out of America for less than a month and was still very much “tightly wound.”

The vibe of Denmark feels great to me. I could sense it as soon as the bus crossed the border from Germany. The architecture changed and the atmosphere just seemed to lighten up a few shades.

The nine hour bus ride (actually longer than my trans-Atlantic flight over here) also helped provide a feeling of distance and of journeying to a vastly new land. Although I have to say it was a very nice bus (double-decker with a free coffee station downstairs) and the ride was no trial at all.

Northern Germany was uncannily like the part of Wisconsin I grew up in (which is not surprising since there was a huge proportion of Germans there), with mile after mile of neat well-kept farms and small towns. The only difference was the architecture of the homes (slate roofs are such a rarity in the US) and the large amounts of windmills and solar arrays interspersed with the crops & villages. At a certain point I woke up from a nap to a vista of tall corn and hay fields so similar to a stretch of I-90 near Janesville that for one odd disorienting moment I thought I was on the Van Galder bus to Madison.

The all-too-familiar scenery helped contribute to the feeling that I hadn’t really been able to leave anything behind, but the crossing into Denmark brought about a sense of optimism and newness that had been sorely lacking so far in my excursion. And when the bus pulled into the Aarhus Bus Station and I saw E & P sitting waiting to greet me I felt as if I were arriving somewhere I’d truly never been, but which also felt remarkably like home.

They greeted me with much joy and love and we strolled to their large flat on the fourth floor of a building overlooking one of the city’s panoply of adorable little mini-parks and my Danish Decompression Session officially began.

They are a couple of free-spirited artist/musicians and have been making me feel as if I am a long-lost brother. In a way I am; E and I met in Shanghai while each of us was in the throes of a great musical/creative epiphany and bonded like brother and sister from the first night at my cousin’s music club. She met P a couple years after returning to Aarhus and they fell into a deep and sweet romantic soul-mate situation. So it’s like hanging with Sis and Bro to be with them.

I’ve been spending my days exploring and taking photos (it’s a gorgeous city that also has some large wooded parks and cool beaches), then my evenings in their delightful company. We went out wandering one evening looking for a place to have some dinner, and I remarked how much nicer they were dressed than I— so they topped off my jeans & t-shirt ensemble with a bright burgundy bowler hat. Usually I would have been much too self-conscious to accede to that sartorial accessory, but with them I gave it not a thought- and we dashed into the Danish nightfall to find some sustenance.

They’ve been telling me how they would like to take me to the West Coast of Denmark, an area renowned for its beauty and rural charm. They have a friend who’s an artist (quite well-known) who is trying to create an artist colony in a little hamlet where she bought a couple buildings.

They are too busy to take me there right now so the plan is for me to just travel up there myself and meet her and see what I can do to assist her in her quest. Sounds like just what I need for the next step in the Decompression.

BTW- Aarhus was the traditional spelling for the city but in recent years it is more common for it to be spelled Arhus (the city officially sanctions the single A spelling), although there is still a bit of debate about it. I tend to use the AA Aarhus because I think it is WAY cool looking. Sorry.

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No Bang-Bang Chicago Really Nice!

 One of the many reasons I love Denmark is that there are virtually NO guns and gun violence is almost unheard of. Of course, my experiences in Rogers Park many years ago make me love it a lot more than most Americans, but it’s still quite a cultural revelation.

I’ll tell people here that on a nice weather weekend in Chicago anywhere between 10 and 30 people get shot and they look at me as if I’m telling a tall tale. When they realize I’m not joking they ask me what is up with America and Guns, and I really don’t have a good answer.

I sometimes talk about the NRA’s influence over lawmakers and how there are just so many people who are so afraid of someone taking away their guns that every time there is a horrible mass shooting they go out and buy more guns- or I talk about the REALLY crazy people who think that all the horrible mass shootings are actually faked by the Government so they can come and take away their guns (how they called the mothers of Sandy Hook victims to tell them their children didn’t exist). I tell them that there are many American people who know it’s insane and think that perhaps there will be a mass shooting so horrible that everyone will wake up to how crazy it is and demand something be done but each more horrible mass shooting just brings a stronger backlash from the Gun People.

But lately I’ve grown tired of trying to make excuses or explanations and I just say that America is an insane country with a National Death Wish. They ask me what I think will happen or what can be done— and I REALLY don’t know what to say.

All I know is it’s nice to not have to worry about getting shot on the street or in a restaurant or theater or wherethehellever. It’s a feeling I want to hold on to.

 

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Photography And Me

 

My photo taking has gotten a bit more serious. I have always been experimenting with composition (as those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know) but now I am trying to push myself farther and teach myself more about it. I shoot just as many (if not more) photos than before, but I am being more exacting about what I keep and/or post. If I came across a shot I found interesting I would usually just keep & post every picture that wasn’t completely blurry or askew- but now I’m being more picky about culling all but the sharpest and best composed, and asking myself what makes a certain picture “better” than another.

I suppose you could say I’m trying to find my own aesthetic- but that sounds a bit high-falutin’ for my rudimentary level of ability.

Also just started messing around with some of the features in the low-rent picture management program I have and trying to adjust color/brightness/etc. and have been cropping certain shots- something I should have been doing from the beginning. But it’s not like I’m trying to be Ansel Arbus here.

My Street Photography is always literally of the street. I suppose what I mostly do is Architectural Photography more than anything else, but even when I’m shooting at ground level I try to avoid having people in my shots at all.

There are several reasons, a big one being that it’s already been/being done so much better than I ever could do it by so many people. Another is that as much as I enjoy the Vivian Meier/Henri Cartier-Bresson style of Street Photography, I personally feel that on some level it’s a bit of an arrogant invasion of people’s privacy.

The few times I’ve been snapped on the El or elsewhere by some stranger, my first instinct (always resisted of course) is to go slap them upside the head and shove their camera up their ass. Of course, it always seems like it’s some snotty 20-something twit who’s probably going to post it with a “Look at the weird fat old guy!” caption on their Instagram rather than something that’s going to hang in a gallery somewhere, which contributes to my ire- but REALLY, who the fuck are you to shoot someone without their permission? I suppose in Art the end justifies the means to a certain extent, but it still rankles me on a fundamental level even though I often find the results to be fascinating.

Even if I wanted to do that sort of thing, I just don’t have the look/persona where I could get away with it. Vivian Meier was an unassuming old lady (she also shot with a camera that wasn’t held at eye level) but when I take someone’s photo on the street they wonder what the hell is going on. A women would probably think I was a stalker, and men would wonder if I was a cop or something with my broad build and foreboding brooding ways. And when I smile I just look a bit unhinged, so there’s just no softening it. Plus, to be honest, nobody ever seems to do anything that interesting when I’m walking about with a camera.

But the biggest reason I avoid people in my shots is because of an encounter with an elderly neighbor many years ago in Lincoln Square. He always used to engage my wife and I in conversation on the back porch of our building, and one time he showed us an album of photos he’d just taken on a trip to Disney World.

Picture after picture was almost completely bereft of people, and although I’ve never been there (Disneyland when I was 3 & 6), I know one of the hallmarks of the place is that it’s always jam packed with a sea of humanity. I was absolutely mesmerized, “What’s up? Did you go on some day when the park was partly closed or as a special excursion?”

Turns out that he went with his wife and Grandchildren, and since he didn’t do rides he had much alone time waiting for them all to get through the massive lines take the rides. So what he would do is find a shot/angle that he liked and waited for that brief moment when the tide of people had a break in it. Sort of the photographic equivalent of crossing a busy expressway.

The effect of his painstakingly patient style was unbelievable, like he’d been on some private tour of Disney World, and even those plastic cheesy vistas seemed imbued with a certain profundity without all the legions of tourists lumbering through the image.

Even after 15 years that memory sticks with me, so when I’m on the street or in a park and want to photograph something, I channel old Mr Ramos and (at least try to) patiently wait for that moment when everyone is out of frame.

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