Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bullets and snow do NOT mix

So as you may have noticed, I haven't been talking about family for a while. Well, the beginning of my trip was saturated with family visits and I had planned this trip to take advantage of my close proximity to many amazing cities.

Many things have happened and it is really difficult to write down every single event and thought that has occurred in the last month.

I did find out that I have a cousin in Atlanta, but he was in Kentucky at the time.

There are four family members left on my schedule who are in Pennsylvania, My Aunt and her three daughters.

My next stop after Atlanta was Washington DC. A place where I was lucky to have someone show me around. This person happens to live in Columbia Heights which is right next to a historical black neighborhood in the dc area. When I first arrived, he knew exactly where to take me - Ben's Chilly Bowl.

I don't even like chilly all that much, but I guess the thing to order is the half smoke. A smokie on a bun with chili, my friend and I shared that and cheese fries. Mmm mmm good. Ben's chili bowl has a big colourful bear in front of it which gave me horrible flash backs to Vancouver street art they are using for the Olympics...shudder...anyways, happy thoughts. Ben's chili bowl is on U Street which was once known as 'black broadway' U Street is basically the epicentre of black struggle, freedom and prosperity through the arts and is booming with black businesses.

So we ate chili smokie dogs with 50 other people and listened to Micheal Jackson on the juke box.

I was able to listen to live jazz, go to a house party and my most favourite place was this amazing cafe called Busboys and Poets. My dream cafe really. Spoken word, a restaurant, coffee, beer, shrimp and grits on the menu, a radical bookstore and just a cool place to chill on comfy couches. It became our hang out, in fact, we were there that night it started to snow and it didn't stop for two days.
When I was in New Orleans, they said it would snow, when I was in Atlanta, they said it would snow and so when I heard the same thing in DC I was skeptical, but it did snow.

It was perfect timing too because my friend had the weekend off and all we did was stay in, eat good food, talk, listen to music and had a snow ball fight that got a little viscous. No kidding, it seemed everyone that day was out on U street throwing snow balls at each other, they were flying every where and some hit a man's wind shield to his car and well, he must have been having a bad day because he lifted his shirt to expose his gun.

What lesson do we learn from this folks?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Miss Ann's Snack Shack

My friend told me about this burger place when I was in Atlanta last summer, I didn't get a chance to check it out then, but made it my second visit.

Was able to bike around, met up with a friend and we biked down Memorial Drive to Miss Ann's Snack Shack which has been running for 35 years and is run by this woman, named Ann. Apparently she runs the whole thing herself and what makes it most apparent is the wait. I think sometimes she gets help from her brother, but he does things like cutting onions, etc.

I have been warned about waits for numerous places, but never did I imagine the wait that was about to happen.

We arrived, locked our bikes up to a flimsy fence which served as a border between us and a running/gasping/barking rottweiler who casually lifted it's leg to pee once it realised we were not going in to his lot, but still a casual reminder of whose territory it was.

Miss Ann's place looks fairly big from the outside until you realise that there is a whole patio blocked in with screen windows for the stifling hot summers.

But today is cold.

There were 8 people ahead of us and there are only 8 seats as the place is set up like a bar, like a counter. As we walked up, we thought we had to give our names like you would normally do at a restaurant, so we walked in and Ann yelled at us to get out and 'what were we thinking' there were people ahead of us, we turned around and walked out meeting the folks standing outside waiting with smiles.

So we took a seat on the plastic chairs and waited, then we came to the conclusion that maybe she might not take debit or credit, our inclination was right. My friend went to get money while I stayed and guarded our spot.

He came back half hour later, by then we had been waiting for an hour and a half.

The people who were in front of us mostly got in and the two people who made it in first still hadn't eaten yet.

There was a sprinkling of folks who were obviously regulars waiting in their cars or in the patio with us. A few people mentioned that they usually don't wait this long, one person tried to get in front of everyone until Ann told him where to go so he left. Some of us tried to figure out what the difference between the ghetto burger and the hood burger - no conclusion yet...

Finally, we got in two hours after arrival and that uncomfortable feeling crept up on me that I had to use the bathroom, They said there wasn't one there, so I walked to three different gas stations looking for a toilet and no one would let me use them.

I came back and she still hadn't taken orders yet.

I made a comment under my breath on how 'i am spending money there, they should at least let me use their toilet'

Ann's brother decided to let me use their toilet after he heard I still hadn't found a bathroom yet. The counter is set up so you can only enter it from one way and so when I got behind it I had to walk past all the eating customers and Ann and her brother cooking, but alas, my bladder got emptied.

When I came back and sat down that is where the fun began...or had it already?

This one man beside me was in serious doubt that I couldn't finish the ghetto burger and kept on insisting that I get the double cheeseburger. No way in hell did I wait in line just to get a cheeseburger, I wanted the ghetto burger, even though you are looked down upon for not being able to finish what you eat and wasting all that good food, I still wanted to risk it.

I ordered a ghetto burger with fries and a lemonade.

I could have just got full on the lemonade alone that was about a gallon sized drink. Your fries are served before your burger.

I ordered the ghetto burger with everything on it, it consisted of:

a bun
2 handcrafted beef patties weighing in about 1lb each topped with cheese
4 pieces of bacon that is deep fried
mayo, mustard, ketchup
and last, but not least - chili (which, by the way, is more beef)

I cut it in half,

Let me remind you that the Wall Street Journal has claimed this place to be one of the best burger joints in the United States.

I made sure I didn't get full on the lemonade or fries and I just started digging in. I finished the whole thing and that is when finally Miss Ann took an interest in me. She said I was the only woman she has seen in her life finish the ghetto burger - maybe one other one.

Well, I did feel proud. I really did.

I also discovered the difference between the ghetto and hood burger, the hood burger has coleslaw on it, that is it...

All in all the meat of course was delicious, but I have to say that it isn't the best burger I have had, and one thing I could say is that its missing is a sauce. I know that some burger connoisseurs may say it is all in the meat, or the toppings, but obviously it is the whole package.

The ghetto burger is big and it is hand formed and cooked fresh in front of you. That is about it, other than that I can name a few places that have tasted better.

Is Miss Ann 'crazy' or 'mean'? No, she is busy and likes things run a particular way and isn't afraid to let you know, that's all.

I heard rumours this place was closing, well, I wish Miss Ann all the best and I hope she has someone to look after her now and can rest and enjoy the next segment of her life, she is a sweet yet strong woman.

I finished my burger around 4:00 that afternoon, which means that I basically waited 3 hours for a burger. I did not have breakfast and I did not have dinner. In fact, I am not sure what I did that day except eat a burger.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Good friends

I went to Atlanta and I have to say that Atlanta is one of my favourite cities...

...I was there earlier this year, met some friends and went back to see them.

It is FUN and fun is what I had and if I wasn't dancing, exploring or eating food I was chillin'.

We got to cooking, I even baked a cake, ate and ate and of course went out to amazing shows. Random shows too.

One night we went out just to see what was happening and after leaving a cheesy bar where you hear 'hip hop' so bad that they are using samples from songs that came out last year. My friend and I stumbled upon a live show, (okay - not exactly stumble, but let's just say he knows whose tweets to follow - the man himself) Maseo from De La Soul doing it up at a club, the show was free, the crowd was between the ages of 35 and 55 and he was playing vinyl mixing set after set of fantastic classics. There was a sign saying 'trucker bangin' and a few people had t-shirts that said the exact same phrase. We were trying to figure out if we ran in to a family reunion, a trucker reunion or perhaps a new band that called themselves 'trucker banging' because at one point a few people decided Maseo wasn't good enough and asked him to play some tracks they could 'rap' to...well, some people have talent and some don't. I don't think I have witnessed so much heckling, people were literally begging for them to stop. They did eventually.

Then a couple days later we went out to see Rich Medina.

It was cold, raining and a Tuesday night, the show didn't start until midnight, but folks still made it out to dance to excellent afro beat, funk, soul and a dash of hip hop.

It helps when you are in company of people who like the same music as you do and enjoy food as much as you do and have the same politics and sense of humour as you do. Life becomes simple, or at least simpler - especially when you don't have to get up in the morning and go to a job.

Thanks to my peeps in Atlanta for a good time! Miss you!

A Microcosm

The infamous French Courter in New Orleans is like stepping in to another city that perhaps could be found around the corner in a small, 'quaint', 'charming' city in France. It was built up higher than the rest of it's surrounding area.

Well, because New Orleans is surrounded by water, there is the Lake, then the river, then the marshland, then the ponds. If you dig but 2 feet you will run in to water.

(I felt like I was driving through the back country when in vehicles in New Orleans because the roads are literally and forever marked by the water that sits threateningly underneath the ground - yes before Katrina, just a trademark of the landscape. In fact the graveyards are quite beautiful as most of the tombstones are built up and when walking in one you feel as you are walking in a city as some tombstones are two stories high - I wondered though where are the people buried who couldn't afford them?)

So now you see why the people who could afford it, built their homes up, their businesses up, and literally, thier graves up. If you look around, most homes are built a bit up, but it doesn't help if you live in the lower 9th ward, or the 9th ward or Gintilly or Treme or (list goes on) It is a class thing, which most often coincides with a race thing. So even if your home is built up a bit, you most likely will be under water.

Asides from the water one must wonder how much of a complex the 'upper' class really has...

The French Quarter is a tourist attraction, it has character, there are tours speaking of the history, the architecture is amazingly beautiful and there is a street that never sleeps basically called bourbon street where people I think drink 24/7. With all this going on, I unfortunately find it a bit tacky, especially when you are looking at it and observe closely. The sleazy men, the white owned businesses that appropriate black culture and hire black people to represent the food, the tourists running to voodoo shops giggling at the deities and dolls and most disgustingly those who are culture whores and literally live in the buildings that were once slave quarters, but are now upgraded condos.

Oh, what a dream.

But just outside the French Quarter is one of the, if not the oldest black community in North America - Treme. It being right outside the French Quarter says a lot about how the neighborhood was conceived by itself. The French Quarter being a place of bondage and enslavement and Treme signifying the the 'freed slave' who literally bargained, bought and aquired land literally blocks away from their enslavement.

This is significant in consideration to the idea that slavery did not end, (did it ever end?) closer to 1865, especially being in the south and Treme was essentially established as a free area for blacks in the 1700's. I am not a historian and I am in complete acceptance that this is just a blog and I am probably missing many points on many factors pertaining to black history in general. But I am just trying to get to a point of how this community had a head start from most black communities. A free place for black folks, a place of early economic growth, one of the most, as one may say, pioneers of black culture in North America in general, the creation of jazz, of creole food, language and many other art forms in general and by art I do not mean frivolities, but craftsmanship and community and growth in itself.

I am not here to be an expert or to write an essay, but it brings up many questions of how such an early community, no not a community that was thriving in the 60's and was destroyed, but a community that literally set the tone for free blacks in general, a community that was thriving and vibrant in the 18th century, and sure there is tremendous history and culture that is still celebrated to this day and in fact Treme was affected by the flood, but still was able to keep the 2nd liners that run every week TO THIS DAY. But how, the forces of white imperiliasm and colonialism are omnipotent and strong. It is this force of evil that I am still trying to disect. Ha ha, okay, I haven't had much sleep and am obviously overwhelmed at the magnitude of oppression.

And of course one could ask the same thing about natives and how civilisations were literally wiped out.

Why doesn't colonisation in it's different periods and timeframes and gentrification have names like Katrina and why are they not compared to natural disasters themselves?

Man made disasters of America...

A community that was black owned in the 1700s but still has survivors. Treme, is now mostly white owned.

So where is the story in the media or even in the many books that came out after Katrina or even the more progressive graphic novels that came out - where is that story of a man I met who stayed in his home (a home he rents) that is owned by a white man. Who stayed in his home and endured the flood for 3 weeks? The one who was alone and made a light out of three car batteries, the one who didn't get the money that was promised to him because he is not a home owner and the damage was 'not that bad' and as long as FEMA comes around every year to check on the house and it looks okay, the owner can get away with providing atrocious living conditions and get that large pay cheque every month.

Yet still, people go on and they keep telling their stories and they keep living, and it is quite symbolic of how the white man's world really is just the French Quarter and just outside, and a bit lower, where the paint is chipped, what appears to be on the margin really is the culutural force that is forever resilient and has more history and celebration and meaning then the French Quarter ever will. People come from all ove the world to see the French Quarter, but really, they are coming to see Treme.

The French Quarter is in black face and there will always be tickets to the show.

Where are the people?

It is quite a shock to grow up in a small town like I did and even migrate to a larger city and have a large native population and then cross a man made border to find that natives do not exist in some people's minds.

How easy can it be to erase a community all together if you just close your eyes really hard?

If you look at the demographics, you will notice the native population is below 1%.

When Katrina hit, we saw people, there was focus on different communities, but what about the 'invisible' nations?

For example how many people are really talking about Choctaw and their experience with the hurricane?