Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cruelty, irony and the dew of little things

Peacock roosting • Fountain of Youth

The poet T.S. Eliot called April the cruellest month, and last week was one of the cruellest weeks. As The Onion put it, with heartfelt irony,

“‘Seriously, can we wrap this up already?’ Maryland resident James Alderman told reporters, echoing the thoughts of all 311 million Americans, who have just about reached their weekly goddamned quota for carnage, misery, confusion, heartbreak, and rage. ‘Because, you know, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had our hearts ripped out of our chests and stomped on enough times for one seven-day period, thank you very much.’”

Sometimes it hurts so much, irony is the only balm. None took it harder last week than our friends and former neighbors in New England, and no one knows irony like a Boston Red Sox fan. They reacted with the stoic, get-it-done attitude the region is known for, but Boston and the marathon will never be quite the same.

Dennis & Deanne with Pearl, their 1950s Traveleze, newly wired
Because the cruelty is just too much to comprehend, you find yourself turning to the little things for comfort: the runners who stopped mid-stride to help; the young man who described the suspects from his bed in intensive care; the 78-year-old, blown over by the bomb’s impact, who climbed to his feet, finished the race and walked back to his hotel.

One of my mother’s favorite quotations came from Kahlil Gibran. My friend Mary wrote it on my card on my 18th birthday and I typed it on my mom’s funeral program when I was 52:

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Trekker Trailers first tiny house, built by Andrew Bennett
Yes, it is the little things that get you through. Last week, small reminders kept popping up: a dinner of perfectly spiced Indian food with friends followed by a compelling play at my daughter’s high school; more great reviews for my friend Laura Smith’s new book; our friends flying up to New York to surprise their daughter at her high school concert in Lincoln Center; jamming into our friends’ vintage trailer when they stopped by our house in the rain to show off the new wiring that brought new life to the old lights.

Tour train ticket booth “train station”
All week long, little visual vignettes made me smile too: a Facebook post of the tiny house my friend just completed; the cutest home of all time that I spotted driving through North City in St. Augustine; a peacock with feathers draped over the wall at the Fountain of Youth; the fake miniature train station uptown that looks more real than an actual train station; a raccoon brazenly strolling past the engines in the firehouse parking lot in St. Augustine Shores at mid-day.

There is a reason we like tiny things, revel in irony and watch kittens frolic on YouTube. The little things remind us of our riches, distract us from our demons and let us live and laugh in the moment.

After all, Eliot gave us The Waste Land, but he also gave us Cats
The cutest house ever • North City

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Vintage VWs: Tiny Living and Travel with America

Shane Socash’s restored VW camper at Bulli Brigade 2012. Photo courtesy Aaron Joslin
There’s nothing like an America concert and a vintage VW bus gathering to bring back your high school dreams.

I used to lie in my room blaring Ventura Highway on my cassette player and picturing myself in a VW camper cruising the California coast with my hair blowing in the wind.

America at the Florida Theater in March
The band America sang that song of nostalgia and dozens more a few weeks ago at the charming Florida Theater in Jacksonville. If the audience was any indication, baby boomers don’t need much prompting to pretend they’re back in the day. But you could tell we’d aged 40 years…the line for the men’s room was even longer than the line for the women’s. The good news is that America’s Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell have aged well. Despite the tragic loss of Dan Peek in 2011, they put on a great concert with a tight band that’s been with them for decades.

I had been humming Ventura Highway since the concert, and pretending my Kia Rondo was a 1965 VW bus as I cruised up I-95 driving my daughter’s carpool. Then, it happened. Vintage VW buses started to pull into town last Friday night. I saw one go by, and that was cool. Then I saw another a few minutes later, and that was synchronicity. Then two more went by, and it was getting weird. Turns out, they were headed for Francis Field in the middle of downtown St. Augustine.

Vintage VW buses take over Francis Field in St. Augustine, Florida, last Saturday at the Bulli Brigade show. Photo courtesy Robert Kennedy, as seen on Bulli Brigade 
It was the 1st Annual Bulli Brigade Spring Meet, stopping by before heading in a “carabus” down to Daytona Beach the next day for the larger No Dough Bus Show.  The Bulli Brigade is “the USAs oldest and East Coasts largest 1967 and earlier VW bus meet and parts swap,” according to its Facebook page. They usually meet in St. Petersburg, so this was a first for them and the ancient city.

I had no idea they were coming, but this being St. Augustine, home of the grapevine that grows like kudzu, the texts and calls started to pour in. The first came from my friend Amy, who texted, “Field by my house full of double slug buggies...check it out!” My last alert of the day was a call from my friend Laura about 6 pm. “I’m driving on Shore Dr. and there are about 10 old VW vans in a front lawn having a party!” In between these much-appreciated news flashes, over 75 “splittys” took over Francis Field, where I usually walk my dog. (VW busses from 1967 and before get that name from the distinctive split-screen windshield.)

The sad part is that I was out of town and didn’t get to see the Bulli Brigade before it rolled south. But I love that the group exists and I know the show and caravan made people smile all day long. My search for pictures of the event led me to Aaron Joslin, a creative and talented photographer who happens to love old VWs. His shots make them into pieces of art.

Aaron was kind enough to let me use one of his photographs at the top of this post. Its an amazing vintage camper at the 2012 Bulli Brigade show that belongs to Shane Socash of St. Petersburg. The VW is original right down to the accessories. 

If you want tiny living and classic travel, you can’t do much better than a vintage VW camper. So now when I drive carpool, I picture that my Kia is Shane’s turquoise gem, I’m on the Ventura Highway, America is in the back of the van singing and alligator lizards are in the air…
Yes, I still have the album

“Ventura highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger than moonshine
Youre gonna go I know

Cause the free wind is blowin through your hair
And the days surround your daylight there
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air, in the air”
                                                          – America, 1972