Sunday, January 31, 2010

Barnes and Noble

My last Urban Survival Tip was eerily timely. Last night's episode of Saturday Night Live had an excellent suggestion, one that I have used in the past but didn't think to include.

The origins of Barnes and Noble:

There's a Borders by Penn Station that I used just the other night!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hair today, gone tomorrow. (Forgive me.)

I never went all-out and did dreadlocks or anything, but my hair has typically been a dead giveaway of my crunchiness. For the last few years, it's fallen somewhere on the spectrum between "Just-Got-Out-Of-Bed Waves" to "Homeless." 

For the majority of my time as a field guide, it leaned more toward the latter. I am convinced this is why - even in Durango, the Mecca of Crunch, for crying out loud - I used to attract a lot of suspicious glares at the public library. The librarians loved to bust me for eating granola bars at the computer stations.

The last time I got a professional haircut was in October '08, and that was because I was ambushed for a makeover during Durango's Fashion Week. Yes, believe it or not, The Worst-Dressed City in America has a Fashion Week. I was a classic "Before" picture, too - I went to Trimble Hot Springs the night before, slept on wet hair, and threw a hat on before going to the farmer's market in the morning. I looked glorious.

In the past, as many as three years have been known to pass between visits to the salon. I am simply reluctant to cough up money for something I can (sort of) do myself. I have scissors. I have a mirror. What's the big deal?

But today - well, today I took the plunge. Fresh semester, fresh start. (I also don't want to frighten anyone out of an interview.)

Ladies and gentlemen -


(At my absolute grodiest in the field. Estimated time since last shower: seven days.)


(In my fancy-pants Brooklyn apartment. Estimated time since last shower: three hours. What is HAPPENING to me?)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Urban Survival Tip #2

It’s one of those perfect, sparkling Sundays in New York City. You rouse yourself and meet some friends for brunch. You drink some water to cure your Saturday evening indulgences, then a cup of coffee that your well-intentioned server is kind enough to top off a few times. Since it’s so nice out, you decide to go people-watching in the park, after which you’ll walk the river trail, grab a hot dog from a street vendor, and window shop on St. Mark’s Place.

That’s the plan, anyway.

By the time you reach the park, your bladder has started to nudge you and say, “Hey, genius, maybe that last refill wasn't such a hot idea.”

By the time you hit the river trail, a small child appears to be tap dancing on your kidneys with every step.

Finally, you reach St. Mark's place. You waddle past a store window, spy a small water feature in the display, and keel over dead in a puddle of urine.

Which brings me to my second Urban Survival Tip: KNOW YOUR PUBLIC BATHROOMS.

In retrospect, hitting Dunkin' Donuts was a poor choice.

If you're used to popping a squat behind any old tree, this may seem odd at first. Be patient. It took a little adjusting for me, but I'm starting to figure it out. Here are a few nuggets of my hard-won wisdom.

1. Have a game plan. Plan your route through the park to pass by one of the restroom buildings, have a sit-down lunch or hit a museum.

2. Keep a mental (or actual) Rolodex of restrooms in places you frequent. I spend a great deal of time way out in Canarsie, Brooklyn, because it's the neighborhood I report on for school. There's a McDonald's a block from the L train station on Rockaway Parkway that is my go-to place to pee. If I venture too far from there, there's always the beach.

3. Know your standbys. In addition to fast food joints, there's always Starbucks. A good percentage of city Starbucks still have public restrooms that are ostensibly for customers but do not require you to borrow a key from behind the counter. I've bolted for the restroom, done my business, and then made a show of browsing the shelves before leaving more times than I care to admit.

You're wondering if all of my urban survival tips will have to do with bathrooms. It's anyone's guess at this point.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pixie dust

(Written on Jan. 7th)

I’m sitting at Gate 1 of the bus station-sized Durango - La Plata County airport, waiting for my flight back east. It’s been a perfect Colorado visit. 

An old picture of Durango with Smelter Mountain in the background.

I hit all my favorite hotspots – Steamworks Brewing Company, Home Slice Pizza, Animas Trading Co., Magpie’s Newsstand, Durango Coffee Company - to name just a few. I walked the river trail and went snowshoeing and ate good food and drank a few Conductor Imperial IPA’s on nitrogen. I’ve seen more of my favorite people than I had any right to expect. I’ve gotten lots of hugs. People in New York don’t really do hugs so much, I’ve noticed. Here, they’re like handshakes.

When I first got into town and walked down Main, I found myself looking around at the storefronts and the snowy hulk of Smelter, absolutely giddy. I can’t believe I’m actually here, I kept thinking. And I realized how much of a mythical place Durango has come to occupy in my mind. I lived here for the better part of two years, but somehow, in New York, none of it felt quite real.

The little hippie mountain town that I used to call home sits in the Four Corners – where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet. But someone told me once that it was known as Four Corners before those state lines were even drawn. The Mountain Utes and the Southern Utes believed it was a place where four different energies collided. Fire from the desert to the south and water from the ocean to the west and earth and air from the mountains to the north and the east.

The river that cuts through the middle of Durango is the Animas – full name, El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas. The River of Lost Souls. A fitting name, I always thought, for a river that lures so many people to Durango; people, like me, who wash ashore looking for something, stay for awhile, and then leave having found whatever it was where the desert meets the mountains.

Last night, I was talking to my friend Vanessa, one of the several saintly yet badass girls who let me crash on her couch (for an absurd length of time) last summer.  She told me that she’ll be leaving Durango at the end of this coming summer. Many of the field guides I worked with were talking about moving on, too, even some of the ones who arrived long after I did – to schools in Oregon or jobs in Washington. I won’t have any more visits like this one. Every time, there will be fewer people who will shriek and hug me. Fewer bartenders who will hail me across the room and give me a drink on the house. 

Reunited with Vanessa (on the infamous couch).

This, we realized, is because Durango is Neverland.

If you ever want to grow up, you can’t stay. Unless you want to be a field guide or a rafting guide for the rest of your life, there’s not much to keep you. And that’s what makes it such a perfectly beautiful, tragic place. It's fleeting.

I’m in the air now, looking down at a vast expanse of mountains, their white peaks just catching the rays of the sinking sun. The San Juans. How many hours did I spend gazing at them from campsites or shady, lazy lunch spots on the Southern Ute reservation? How many times did I orient myself in the Utah desert by picking out the La Platas in Colorado, Shiprock in New Mexico, The Abajos in Utah, and Monument Valley in Arizona? And now they’re all vanishing behind me again as I head back to New York.

Summer '07. My old office on the res.

New York – the London to my Neverland. And that’s okay. It’s where I need to be. After all, if Wendy hadn’t gone back, she never would have… hmm. What did she do after she returned? Got married and had babies, I think. Allowing for the fact that a hundred years have passed, I guess this metaphor that I am beating to death still works.

(And may I remind you that I was a guide and mother figure to a group of impish, very literally lost boys in the wilderness? WENDY. Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Still alive

The end of the semester was a blur of working hard and playing hard, with no time for much in the way of playing outside - save for a broadcast project that took me out to Paerdegat Basin in Brooklyn and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. (After which I stirred the wrath of the equipment guy at school because there was sand in the tripod I had borrowed. Whoops. )

Anyway, here's the final product. (Try to ignore my evil glare at the end.)

Against the Current from Emily Johnson on Vimeo.

More on my holiday travels and a new urban survival tip later.