Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Hoofing It.

I used to walk a lot on my way to catch the bus. Since I never knew when the bus was coming I’d walk along the route–sometimes toward home, but most of the time toward downtown. I figured it was getting me closer to the oncoming bus, although there were days I’d walk more than a mile and a half and still end up waiting for the bus. Now that I think about it a mile and a half doesn’t sound like that much. I’ve hiked many miles through the woods, although usually not in search of a bus. Somehow, though, a city mile seems so much longer than a mile in the woods, especially when cars are rushing by. Somehow other people moving at such high speeds really puts things in perspective.

When other people are waiting at the bus stop it also makes me wonder what they think of me just passing by, and sometimes I want to stop and explain that it’s nothing to do with them; it’s just that rather than sit silently with them at a bus stop I’d rather continue walking silently down the street, and hopefully there’ll still be a seat for them when they get on the bus.

Lately though I’ve managed to time my arrival at the bus stop so that I spend only a few minutes waiting. This is mainly thanks to the MTA app. I’ve sung its praises before but it’s kind of a mixed blessing, especially now that the weather is getting cooler. All that walking was good exercise and on cold days it helped warm me up.  And then the other day, after waiting an unusually long time, I checked it.

Since there were no alerts I had no idea why the bus was running almost half an hour late, but the one thing I did know was that it was time to start walking.

Forgive Them Their Trespasses.

Source: Google Maps

“Or does it explode?”

Langston Hughes, Harlem

There’s a stretch of Nashville’s Charlotte Avenue, near Richland Park, that’s undergone tremendous transformation in the past few years. It’s gone from empty buildings and slightly seedy businesses to more upscale restaurants and apartments. Fortunately some of the older and friendly places—like Bobby’s Dairy Dip and Headquarters Coffee Shop—have stayed around, for now at least, but that’s another story.

At the center of it, though, is the old Madison Mill industrial complex. Officially vacant since 2015 I think it was stripped bare more than a decade ago. Plans to turn it into apartments and businesses have been made then scrapped, and it’s been popular with graffiti artists. I’ve collected quite a bit there, and I wish I’d collected more.

All the graffiti, at least what’s visible from the street, and probably all that’s inside too, has been painted over. The windows have been taken out and in the last week there have been signs of activity. Madison Mill, it seems, is about to be demolished.

The graffiti that was there is gone, but what will happen to the artists that used it? Often when I look at graffiti I imagine the person who created it. I imagine someone so desperate to express something they were willing to take the risk of being arrested, or worse. For some art is a hobby. For some it’s a compulsion.

What happens to them when they have no place to go?

Before it explodes here’s some of the graffiti I collected at the Madison Mill. Some of it shows real skill.

 

 

Alternative Thanksgiving.

It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Wikipedia

November 25th, 1864

It was even worse than last year. I know every time my family gets together we fall into certain patterns, but that never makes it easier. This time it was even worse because just getting to my parents’ house was such a pain. I thought I’d carriagepool with my younger brother and his wife, but they went up early so that fell through. Then I thought I’d beat the traffic by setting out at dawn, which was such a great idea everybody else in Richmond had it at the same time and the horses were nose to tail, stop and trot, for miles. Finally I got there a little after ten in the morning and my older sister came out already holding a glass of blackberry wine and when she hugged me I could tell it wasn’t her first one. She asked me how things were going and then didn’t wait for an answer and ran back into the house to tell everyone I was there.

I should have known I’d be walking into an argument in the foyer, the way my family is. It’s just what it was about that threw me. My kid brother had this crazy idea for a new way to cook a turkey, leaving the feathers still on and roasting it in the coals of a fire. Well, it sounded pretty stupid to me, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the neighbors tried the same thing last year and burned down their stable. But I didn’t want to side with my father either. So I said it had been a long trip and I needed to visit the outhouse and slipped out. Well, there was a line at the outhouse: two of my nieces, three cousins, all four of my brothers, and my sister was already in there getting rid of some of that blackberry wine. So I went back inside to see what was going on.

In the parlor my mother was putting together some kind of monstrosity with dead leaves and dried berries that she said she was going to put in the middle of the table.

“Where’s the food going to go?” I asked.

“Well, we’ll move it before we eat.”

I was going to ask why she’d bother to put it in the middle of the table if she was just going to move it again but decided against having that discussion, so instead I sat down and leafed through a broadsheet that was handy.

“The other men are organizing a game,” she said. “It’s some new sport called foot-ball. You should go and join them.”

Well, she knows I’ve never been athletic, but when I protested she got put out with me and said, “It’s your Uncle Wilkes’s idea. You know you’ve always been his favorite. You really should go and do it just to please him.”

FINE.

Well, when I came back in my sister just cackled and toasted me with another glass of blackberry wine. All my mother could say was “Don’t get any blood on the carpet,” and my older brother kept telling me to stop being a sissy and just put some salve on it. Then Aunt Gerda said pinch the back of my neck and tilt my head forward and Uncle Wilkes said no, put pressure between the eyes and lean back, and then my cousins got into it so there had to be a family brawl about that. A day later and I’m still bleeding. So much for the salve.

Then I tried to head off another argument about who’d have to chaperone the kids’ table by volunteering, but my father cut that off.

“No, no, I want John seated here on my left. After I sent him to that fancy and very expensive school so he could waste his time studying the dramatic arts and oratory he should be well-equipped to deliver the traditional Booth family prayer of thanks.”

Traditional since last year, he means. Then my kid brother kicked me in the shins which I know was his way of saying “Don’t start anything”. I kicked him twice as hard in the shins which was my way of saying, “I wasn’t going to,” and then kicked him again to say, “Hurts, don’t it?”

All this might have been a little more bearable if my sister had let me have some of the blackberry wine.

I swear I’m going to get that Lincoln for making us do this.

Barking Up The Wrong Phone.

The other day when I came home my dogs were barking, but taking my shoes off would have to wait because our real dogs were barking and needed to go out. They usually bark when I come home; I like to think this is because they’re excited and happy I’m home. Several years ago my wife and I went to see a stage production of 101 Dalmatians that featured some real Dalmatians, and also some actors in Dalmatian costumes. Instead of barking the actors would yell “HEY! HEY! HEY!” and this is what I often think our dogs are saying when they’re barking, although they’re also quite capable of intelligent conversation, but that’s another story.

Anyway I had a dog on a leash in one hand and my phone in the other and decided to send my wife a text to let her know I was home safe and sound. And because I’m a little goofy, especially after a day at work, I asked my phone to send her the message, “I’m home with the barking bow wows.” And this is the preview message that popped up:

Obviously this was my fault. I’ve given my phone a British accent and occasionally this causes some confusion. For instance when I’m dictating a message I can’t end a sentence with “period” or it will spell out the word “period”. I have to say “full stop”. So I tried again.

Again, obviously my fault. I think I stumbled as I was talking. Third time’s a charm.

Powerhouse was a short-lived television show produced by PBS in 1982 about a plucky little community center and the diverse young people who frequent it. It also ran on Nickelodeon back in the network’s early days, and the cast included a very young pre-SNL Ana Gasteyer. ” I was not yet ready to give up.

No clue where this came from, although “Powerhouse” is also the name of an instrumental composition used in many Warner Brothers cartoons. None of this has anything to do with the message I was trying to send, but, hey, that was a nice little diversion. I was determined, though, that persistence would pay off.

It would have to do.

Riding The Route: #3.

As part of my plan to ride every Nashville MTA route I recently hopped on the #3 bus, which is easy because it passes near my office. The #3 bus goes down West End, one of the city’s major thoroughfares, and it shares most of the route with the #5 bus, so you’d think buses are frequent. And you’d be absolutely wrong. My dentist’s office is also near West End and there have been several times that I’ve set out for an appointment thinking I’ll catch the bus and ride the dozen or so blocks and arrive early, only to end up walking the whole distance without ever seeing a single bus and also five minutes late.

West End passes by Centennial Park, home of the Parthenon and lots of events. It was where the summer Australia Festival used to happen before its organizers moved away. A few blocks and across the bridge over I-440 is Elmington Park where the summer Australia Festival used to happen before it moved to Centennial Park. Elmington Park was described by the Nashville Scene as “basically a huge field that dips into a ditch, with good parking”, but it’s a nice, big, open space that’s popular with food trucks.

Farther down, past where West End turns into Harding Pike, because sprawl has welded several of Nashville’s streets together without changing their names, the #3 takes a sharp right turn onto White Bridge Road, and that’s where it diverges from the #5. Back when I first started riding the buses regularly, before they got fancy digital displays, this was a source of confusion even among drivers. Once I got on a bus on West End, asked the driver if he was going down White Bridge Road, he said yes, then, three blocks later–I’m not kidding–stopped the bus and said, “Oh, wait, I’m not.” Fortunately I was still able to get out and catch the right bus.

And that got me thinking on this trip. Because West End is one of the main thoroughfares there’s a lot of stuff. You can stop almost anywhere and there are restaurants, hotels, parks. And that’s true of White Bridge Road too. Well, there aren’t any parks along there, or hotels, but there are plenty of restaurants, businesses, and homes and apartments. There are the adjacent campuses of Nashville State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and Nashville Technical School. There’s a funky little place that was an aquarium and fish store for several years, then a porn shop, and now it’s a psychic. The route ends near Fat Mo’s Burgers.

There’s been a lot of debate and discussion about how to improve Nashville’s public transportation and how to encourage more people to use it. Here’s an idea: add a few more buses on the #3 route to speed up service. There’s a lot of stuff along the route, so make it easier for people to get there. And make sure the drivers know where they’re going.

 

When Art Gives You Lemons…

How do you separate the art from the artist? Should you separate the art from the artist? Should we throw away good art because the artist is or was a terrible person? Those are questions that have been going around in my head long before recent events. Heck, they’re questions that have been with me at least since I read a biography of Picasso in my early teens, and they’re questions people might have been wrestling with at least as long as there have been artists. Even though the celebrity has been magnified by technology there’s a long history of artists behaving badly. Caravaggio literally got away with murder, and if you want to go back even farther Sophocles was accused of immoral behavior. So was Socrates, leading to his famous last words, “I drank what?” but that’s another story, and anyway, he’s a philosopher, not an artist.

In spite of years of discussion, reading, thinking, cogitating, ruminating, and occasional fermenting I don’t feel any closer now to answering those questions than I did when I was a teen. I am absolutely certain that being an artist, even an exceptional one, doesn’t excuse anyone from the same ethics and morals that apply to the rest of us. Beyond that, though, things get murky.

Anonymity in art is double-edged. It spares us any judgments about what kind of person the artist was but it also removes a lot of the context that we use to think about and understand art. The little piece above, which I realize isn’t graffiti but rather a work stuck in a bookshelf at JJ’s coffee shop, is interesting to me for a lot of reasons. The explanation “I am an artist because of my natural exile from normal people,” is part of the work itself, and it raises a lot of questions. Who is this artist? How are they exiled? And is it ethical or moral to turn a public figure into a lemon?

Sophie’s Stuff.

Source: Wikipedia

Comedy is often a way of crossing social boundaries which is why it fascinates me when comedians leave their home countries to do comedy in a completely different environment—and sometimes in a completely different language, which can require facing a steep learning curve. Sophie Hagen, whose birthday is today, left Denmark to do comedy in Britain and in English, and has succeeded brilliantly, challenging social conventions about body image. She co-created the funny and thought provoking podcast The Guilty Feminist and was a co-host for a long time. Before that she created the also funny—and sometimes thought-provoking Comedians Telling Stuff podcast. It’s interesting because the comedians she talks to sometimes share funny stories and sometimes they share personal stories which may be funny or may be a little sad, or a little of both. Hagen herself also did funny introductions to each podcast in which she sometimes talked about recording in her room under a blanket, and also shared some of her own funny, sometimes even embarrassing, stories. For instance there was the time she was making out with a fellow comedian and confessed to him that she was dating another comedian at the time. He asked, “Is he bigger than me?” She reached into his pants and said, “No,” then realized that’s not what he meant.

There’s also a steep learning curve for understanding the culture of comedians.

Netiquette Lesson.

Even though it’s become deeply entrenched in our lives the internet is still a relatively new thing and not all the rules of netiquette are completely worked out yet. And, like regular etiquette, they’re not even necessarily universal. For instance my spell-checker used to automatically capitalize Internet, because I guess it was a proper noun and now it’s not anymore, although in German the rule is that all nouns are capitalized because even when they’re not shouting Germans like the emphasize their nouns. Or maybe they consider all nouns proper, which is nice for the nouns, but I think I hear the verbs grumbling. It’s not even necessarily a universal rule that if you’re typing in all caps, or even several fedoras, and using only uppercase letters you’re shouting. There are lots of reasons why someone might be typing in all uppercase letters. Maybe the Caps Lock key on their keyboard is stuck, or maybe e.e. cummings used up all the lowercase letters. Maybe they’re speaking  Kashubian, which is the only remaining Pomeranian language, and if you’ve ever been around Pomeranians you know they can only bark in all caps. Netiquette is also always evolving. For instance, do you know what the netiquette used to be regarding those business networking sites that send you an email at least three times a month telling you someone you met briefly at a conference would like you to join their network? If you said, “Um, were they once considered polite?” you’re absolutely wrong. They’ve always been even more obnoxious than going into a Star Trek discussion and talking about Zachary Quinto as the guy who directed Three Men & A Baby.

There’s really a point around here somewhere that I will get to eventually, and it’s this: rules of grammar and etiquette and even netiquette are naturally flexible and vary depending on the situation and the person. Having said that here’s something I think should be an inviolable rule: if you reply to someone’s email you should include their original email in your reply. This is especially true if you’re replying to them from an account that’s different from the one they used to contact you initially and that they’ve never used before. And it’s even more true if your entire email consists of this:

Yes I can do that.

Although I now realize I’m being unfair in saying that rule should be inviolable. After all we all make mistakes, to err is human and to forgive is something that rhymes with “human”, I guess, so let me clarify: if you make the mistake of sending a terse reply with no context or identifying information from a different email account so the person you’re replying to can’t find any record of ever having contacted you don’t get upset when that person asks if you can provide a little more information. Don’t imply, or outright state, that the person is stupid for asking you to remind them what the conversation was about. Don’t suggest, or just say, that it’s only been a month since they contacted you and they should remember the details.

It’s a pretty simple thing to ask and really stems from what should be the underlying rule of all interactions: think about the other person’s feelings, and remember that there’s a person on the other side of the computer screen. And also you probably shouldn’t share petty grievances, even in a vague way, with total strangers, although there’s gotta be some flexibility on that rule because to air is human.

 

Break Time.

Before I even got on the bus I knew he was a new driver because he was early. If you ride the bus long enough and regularly enough you start to recognize the signs of someone who’s not just new to the route but new to driving a bus professionally. New drivers are always a couple of minutes early because they’re so focused on sticking to the schedule, and the buses they drive are almost completely empty. I don’t know whether this is because the regular riders aren’t expecting the bus to be quite so early and get to the stop after it’s gone by or whether the driver’s focus on sticking to the schedule means there are a lot of people along the line who got passed by. And when I got on there was only me, the driver, and a woman with a baby in a stroller and her son, who was probably about four.

So we zipped along. I sat back and listened to a podcast and counted the number of shocked people standing at bus stops we passed. Then the bus lurched and he pulled over in front of a bus stop. He got out, looked at something, then came back in and pulled out his phone and called someone.

I know this was a violation. Bus drivers aren’t supposed to use their phones, even when they’re not driving. In fact there’s a little metal box that blocks cell signals at the front of the bus. They’re supposed to kep their phones in that, rather than in their pockets. Still we were early, and I even thought that might be why he’d stopped. Bus drivers, especially new ones who are conscientious about the schedule, will often pull over and stop for a few minutes so they don’t get too far ahead. The minutes ticked away. Then another bus on the same route passed us. He’d finished with his phone call so I went up to the front and asked when we’d be underway.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “Got a busted mirror.”

He even showed it to me. While driving too close to the curb he’d hit it against a pole.

Source: imgflip.com

The woman with her young son and the baby in a stroller got out. Lucky for her she only had a little over a block to walk, although that’s still a pretty good jaunt with two kids. And lucky for me another bus came along in a few minutes and stopped.

As for the driver, well, I could have reported him for pulling out his phone instead of calling the dispatcher so we could catch the next bus to go by, but I figured he was new and probably pretty rattled by the experience. I know I would be. Whatever punishment he was going to face for breaking the mirror was going to be bad enough. We’ve all been new in a job and screwed up something. I figured he’d had one bad break that day and deserved a good one.

 

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