Juneteenth 2020

On Friday, I went to a Black Lives Matter action in center city Philadelphia.  I found it on sixnineteen.orgMaurice Mitchell spoke at a staff meeting and suggested to check out that site.  That guy is brilliant and has an analysis of our current moment that is incredibly compelling.  Follow him and read what he has to say.

I’ve been hesitant about attending any demonstrations, because of COVID-19.   I was relieved to find out that almost everyone was masked, and people were really trying to social distance. I’ve been to a lot of actions over the years, but I have to give use props to the organizers of this one.

We stopped traffic at 15th, and JFK Boulevard and the organizers asked us to lay on our stomachs with our arms behind our back.  They told us we would be there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and if we thought it would be uncomfortable, they said it would “but not as uncomfortable as having someone kneel on your neck during it.” Photo #14 of this gallery shows you what we were doing.

Everyone (including myself) laid on the ground in silence.   At the corresponding times, the organizers would quote George Floyd in a bullhorn.   It was incredibly powerful. Lying on hot filthy pavement with nothing but my own mind, hearing “Momma!” and “Momma! I’m through,” brought tears to my eyes.

We stood up and marched on to the art museum.  While one of the organizers was speaking, he said, “Remember, this movement is about love. Let’s take a minute and turn to the person next to you and tell them you love them.  Now turn to the person on your other side and tell them you love them.” It was sweet, earnest, and genuine. I’ve not been to many labor actions where we told our neighbors that we loved them.

I didn’t learn about Juneteenth until I was in my 20s, and the first time I celebrated it was 2013, I happen to be in DC for work, and my office was hosting a Juneteenth chili cook-off.  I remember thinking, “is this a DC thing?” I didn’t know anyone in Philadelphia that celebrated it.  I am so happy this holiday is becoming something that more people know about. Hopefully, white people use that day to carry some burden in the fight for racial justice so others can take a moment to celebrate emancipation.

My Birthday Weekend

Last weekend we decided to leave the city and head to a cabin in northeastern PA on Paupackan Lake. It was my birthday, I had been locked away at home since March, and Philly’s protests were leading to a lot of stress. Recently I’ve been worried about the interplay between the movement for Black Lives and the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t want the uprising to stop and I am worried about everyone in the streets becoming infected with the virus.

A Victoria sponge.

Samer made a very classic Victoria sponge cake with homemade strawberry jam from Lebanon. We ate some for breakfast and then made our way out of the city. I wanted to try some road food on the way, so I remembered hearing about a famous hot dog place in Allentown. My friend Dennis told me to skip it and make our way over to Easton and try Jimmy’s Hot Dogs. It’s a cash-only place in a strip small, and I thought it was great. It’s pretty simple, you get a good hot dog on a bun with mustard and a full pickle spear. I skipped the onions. That’s the entire thing. If you like a good hot dog and are in Easton, PA, you should check it out. I had 2! The (very) big dude behind us in line ordered 9. Sam is sure that he ordered for a family. I’m skeptical.

On our way to the cabin at 111 West Shore Drive, I typed in the wrong address. I typed in something like 11 North Shore Drive. We pulled in to a driveway that did not look like the picturesque cabin that we saw on Airbnb. It was more of a bayou setting. Trailers very close to the water, lots of trucks, and at least 2 dudes with rat tails and or mullets. Pulling up, I was a little nervous about how a gay couple in a Mini Cooper was going to be received. We couldn’t get reception, and I was a bit of a nervous wreck. A toned-down, Joe Exotic stopped to ask us if we needed anything, but we said we were figuring it out. Moments later, a cop pulled up behind us. I was convinced these dudes had called the police on us. Samer assured me that the police in this area were not that efficient, but I wanted to bounce as soon as possible. All I kept thinking was that we stumbled onto a meth operation, and this small-town police is running a protection racket. Admittedly, my imagination probably got away from me.

Wrong Location -> Correct Location

We drove until we got cellular reception and then realized we were 20 minutes away from Paupackan Lake. We made our way over and were so happy when we arrived. I was not working that day, but my lead for the last few years retired that day, and I was one of the emcees for his Zoom retirement party. The cabin had terrible reception, so we drove up to the volunteer fire department parking lot where we could find LTE with 3 bars. We celebrated Dave and I made a few jokes. It was a tough week to do any joke writing, so I think it was my B-game. Certainly not my A-game. Also, being funny on Zoom is brutal. There is absolutely no feedback. I really feel for every comedian trying to make it work right now. That being said, all reports said he enjoyed it.

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Sunset on Paupackan Lake

Ok, back to my birthday weekend. On Friday night, we split a bottle of wine and watched the sunset from the dock. It was very peaceful and felt a million miles away from the chaos of the quarantine or the intensity of the anti-racist uprising happenings. We made cod, garlic scapes, and a tomato and mozzarella salad for dinner. It was so delicious. Falling asleep was delightfully comfortable and quiet. There were no explosions from fireworks, psy-ops, or ATMs blowing up. There were no lights from all of the city’s light pollution and my phone was on airplane mode in my bag.

On Saturday, Sam continued the birthday celebration by making me biscuits & gravy. This is my favorite dish from Ohio that does not exist in the east. I could pass on most Midwestern recipes, but this south to the midwest breakfast is so goddamn good. I love sausage gravy. How could you not, but the truth is, this best biscuits & gravy I’ve ever had was at the Portland, OR farmers market in 2009, and it was made with brown mushroom gravy. It was delicious. Sam decided to make a mushroom gravy. It was terrific and as good as  sausage gravy. While he cooked, I meditated on the dock and was lucky enough to see a bald eagle skimming the lake’s surface.

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The dock of our cabin.

We kayaked around the lake for about 2 hours after breakfast. There is a lot of marshland that you can skirt and see birds on Paupackan. On our way home, the wind picked up, and the paddle back was much more tiring than when we started. We spent the rest of the afternoon, napping and reading. Samer escaped to the hammock, and I really got into my book. I’m reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I am not a fantasy genre lover, but I am enjoying it.

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A little dragonfly

For dinner, Samer made the best pork chop I’ve ever had. He made a sauce from red wine, apple butter, and apple cider vinegar. We paired it with a Cabernet Sauvignon and finished the birthday cake. It was a fantastic meal.

Waking up on Sunday meant that the weekend had already passed. Ugh, I loved the cabin. It’s difficult to describe how loved nature, the lack of connectivity, and the simplicity of everything. We decided to check out Lake Wallenpaupack before we left. That’s a vast and famous lake in the area.

We stopped by one marina and decided to check out the Lacawac Sanctuary on our way home, but on the drive, our tire went flat. We have drive-flat tires, so we limped to a gas station about 5 miles away only to discover our entire tire had completely blown out and was destroyed. We don’t know what happened. Maybe it was a little low, and the road’s curve hit it just right, but there was no saving it. I walked to the Advanced Auto Parts, where they told me the only tire guy open on a Sunday was M&J Tires. We drove another 8 miles on a flat and started getting nervous as we left the main road to see more Trump-Pence signs. If this guy didn’t have a tire, where in the hell were we stranded?

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We pulled up to the tire shop and were met by 2 monster trucks flanking the entrance. No one came to meet us. I surmised the one person not fidgeting with a tire may be the customer in front of me. I asked her who was in charge and she pointed me to a guy named Mike in the back of the shop. He was not much for chatting and told me he’d be with me in 5 minutes. To an outsider, this scene may be overwhelming, but my life in rural Ohio prepared me for this. A big shop, lots of tires inside, outside, outback, on their sides, in racks, etc. and a dude who is not good with small talk or business formalities. I’ve got this.

At this point, we realized our cell phones were not getting any signal. Our Mini Cooper has a weird tire size, and my guess was that neither foreign cars nor gay couples with at least one foreign-born member frequented the shop. When Mike asked me about the car, I was frank, “I don’t know, man. I just drive it.” I knew I was setting myself up to get ripped off, but I was 130 miles from home.

Mike is a totally nice guy. He replaced my tire in a few minutes and then only charged me $45 for a new tire. I tipped well, and we made our way home.

I had a wonderful birthday, and it was so great to take the weekend to leave town. We maintained social distancing, enjoyed some nature, and utterly unplugged. I loved it, I appreciated it, and want to go back very soon.