September 7, 2007
Finding America on a Map
Strange but true: After years of looking at road maps, with their bright lines and different hues for every state, I cannot help but feel mild disappointment when I cross a state line and the new state does not have an entirely different color scheme. It's like I'm hoping the trees will switch from green to blue at the border. And you know what? It should be that way. Otherwise North Carolina and South Carolina might as well merge. Somebody look into this.
Stranger: I've traveled pretty extensively in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They aren't all that different. Blindfold me, drop me on a mountaintop in one of those states and I probably couldn't tell you which state I was in. Or why you abducted me. What's your problem, anyway? But when I know I'm in Pennsylvania or Virginia, I actually feel better. Just driving over the state line actually picks up my mood. Maryland, on the other hand, feels weird. It always has, ever since I was a kid. I think I may be a mutant with the special ability to detect Commonwealths. I choose to use this power for good -- for now.
Stranger still: I'm currently in Atlanta, where every street has the same name. Say there's a street named Roswell Avenue. In a 5-mile stretch, you'll find that Roswell Avenue intersects with Roswell Street, Roswell Court, Roswell Boulevard, Roswell Parkway, Roswell Lane, Roswell Drive and Roswell Terrace. Not only that, at least three of those streets will wrap around in curves that intersect Roswell Avenue TWICE, and the 35 shopping centers and housing developments on that stretch all will have "Roswell" as part of their name, plus every side street of the developments will be called something like Old Roswell Avenue Lane, Finally, when Roswell Avenue dead-ends, you will have the choice of going right on Roswell-Peachtree Road or left on Roswell-Dunwoody Boulevard, even though they are the same perfectly straight street. It's like someone got a great deal on pre-named street signs and the city planners just went with it, or they're hoping to confuse General Sherman if he ever comes back. I'm not imagining this. The horrible traffic in Atlanta is caused mostly by people getting lost in their own neighborhoods. ("Honey, it's me. I'm in the car. I just took the left onto Kirkwood Terrace Drive into Kirkwood-Dunwoody Estates, but do we live on Kirkwood Court Terrace Road or Kirkwood Place Lane? What's that? We live on the Kirkwood Place Lane that's 10 miles to the south in another suburb with the exact same street names? Well then you better hold dinner.")
Sad: When you drive into Georgia, the signs say "Home of the 1996 Olympic Games." Now, they DO update the signs -- the governor's name has definitely been changed since 1996. But the Olympics message lives on 11 years later. This is the state-level equivalent of a sad phenomenon I most recently witnessed in Upper Peninsula Michigan. Up there, you'd drive into a town with 10 buildings, and the sign would read: "Parksburg: Home of the 1977 Michigan Class 3-IAA State Champion Women's Track and Field Team, Hammer Sports Division." Sure, we all remember the magical spring of 1977, when hammers cut through the balmy afterschool air like so many sparrows, and hairy-lipped girls became hairy-lipped young women. But nothing better has happened in THIRTY YEARS? You're walking this line, Georgia. Shape up.
Sadder: "Welcome to Delaware, the home of tax-free shopping."
What a Neat Job
There are no street lights in Clemson, South Carolina. The main drag has some ambient light from the Waffle House, but that's it. If there's a sign indicating a street name, after sundown you're screwed if you want to read it. I found this out on Wednesday trying to get from my hotel (on the main drag) to a show at the nearby marina. The marina is about 5 miles away, and also in the 18th century, for as I mentioned there is no electric light anywhere near it.
I got lost, turned around and went back to hotel, where they gave me a handy star chart to steer with. After 15 more minutes of driving through inky blackness, I turned into the marina entrance. More specifically, I drove past the unlit marina entrance, slammed on the brakes, put my car in reverse, and THEN turned into the marina.
I was truly upset to be running late. My itinerary said showtime was 9; I got there at 8:45. As it turns out, I was 45 minutes early; showtime was ACTUALLY 9:30. The headliner wasn't there yet. 45 minutes later, he still wasn't there, nor had anyone else checked into the hotel. The crowd was small (15-20 people), but they were expecting a show. At this point they started testing the sound system. Apparently the old system got fried the week before. The temporary replacement gave off horrible feedback about twice a minute, plus it had the miraculous effect of making someone 10 feet away on a stage sound like they were actually standing 150 feet away in a cavern filled with styrofoam packing peanuts.
And there was still no word from the headliner (he had made an honest mistake, misreading his schedule and thinking the show was Thursday).
So a little before 10, I got on stage with no microphone, no headliner and a crowd of 15 people ranging from college kids to a biker dad and his teenage sons to three really drunk guys at the bar who all promised me before the show that they were going to yell stuff out. Plus I was starting to drag from driving 8 hours earlier in the day just to get to Clemson, and a little bit anxious from thinking I was running late. The deck was stacked for an AWFUL night.
The show lasted an hour. No one heckled, no one walked out, no one asked me to speak up. People laughed through the whole thing; they bought me drinks and said thank you after the show. It wasn't some personal triumph or amazing performance by me -- it was just a bunch of people sitting by a dark lake wanting to have a good time.
This is why comedy is neat. There are shows where everything should be great -- you're in the right kind of town, in an established comedy club packed to the rafters with what you think is your demographic. But then the crowd is flat, the bottom falls out and you have no idea what happened. Then there are shows that make you cringe on paper -- a small crowd, no sound system, no headliner, tucked away in a bar on a lake that you couldn't even find. And everything seems to turn out great.
As always, I can't say it hasn't been interesting.