Monday, June 30, 2008

Why didn't he look?

On Saturday night, I went out to Paychecks Lounge in Hamtramck to hear Cowboy Messiah. They were sloppy (bad), goofy (good, 'cuz it was a clever goofy), obsessed with getting laid (pretty much every song had at least one reference), and thoroughly screwed by a sound guy who looked to be about 15 and didn't think it was rock and roll if there wasn't a wall of guitars coming from the stage.

Anyway, on the drive back -- round about 1:ooam -- and very near the Rawsonville Exit, a man walked straight out onto the highway. I was driving in the middle of the three lanes. I hit brakes and horn, but was reluctant to swerve unless it became absolutely necessary because there was traffic coming up behind me (but not too close) and because there was nothing in this man's demeanor that indicated he had any clue that 3,000 lb boxes of steel were barreling down on him at 70mph. I had no idea what he was going to do. If he had even looked at me, I would have felt better about swerving right (in the direction from which he had come), but that he showed no recognition of his peril -- he did not look, he did not hurry -- left me fearful that he might stop walking or that he might even turn right around.

I did not hit him (thank you brakes) and he seemed to make it across the third lane into the median okay, but I have no clue what fate awaited him on the other side. Eyes forward, relaxed pace, completely unaware... I'm having trouble shaking the image of him.

A Well-Traveled Banana

Knowing it would be a long ride, I put an extra cliff bar in my bag and tucked a banana in my jersey pocket for Saturday's ride. That banana traveled 63+ miles... out to Belleville, through the metroparks, on to Trenton (Natalie's ancestral homeland) and back. It got wet in rainy rain on the way out, but still got to enjoy a fast ride with my good friends and some sunshine on the way back. No bonking happened so the banana got to ride the whole ride. I did eat it, but later... after the return, the de-gritting shower, the nap, and that first beautiful post-ride beer.

Sixty-three miles. My longest ride yet. Yay!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Big Corner Office

While I was in Minneapolis, some things were changing back on my home campus. The politics of the situation created an opportunity (or is a duty?) for me to serve as interim department chair for the fall term. The transition from a year+ of sabbatical to being in the office everyday is going to be abrupt, but the staff is good and I won't have to do some of the more onerous budget tasks that only come up in the winter term. The extra compensation will be nice too.

I do find it rather amusing that I will officially take over this responsibility-laden job on the day I turn 40!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I opted to skip the receptions last night after 10 hours of conferencing and head downtown on my bike. It just so happens that at the same time that Minneapolis is hosting the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, it was also hosting part of a week long series of pro bike races. Who knew this town was big enough for all of us?

The women raced first: 40 laps on a 1.2 kilometer course through city streets. I parked myself at an outside corner and could see them take two corners and the straightaway to the finish line. I was surprised to see how different the women were in size, shape, and age (okay, that part I could only see after the race) -- lots of rippling muscles, but muscles on very different types of bodies from stocky to long and lean. There were a few teams, but all were small. Compared to the men who came out later, it looked like the women were doing a lot more individual work. Four strong riders up front traded off the lead -- all from different teams. There were a few stragglers, but the women stayed fairly well clumped. I know nothing of the riders or the teams, but it was fun to watch the race and to chitchcat with the fairly diverse crowd that came out. These were bikey folk, but all different kinds of bikey folk. Our little corner had riding companions of racers, fixie hipsters, dad with trailer and toddler, lycra dude, and me (historian chick on a rented commuter bike that does not express my personality).

For the men's race, I made my way around the whole course. Once the pack passed my spot, I'd move along. I did happen to be on the backside when some sort of crash happened in the thick of the pack. About a quarter of the field (123 riders) went down or got hung up 20 yards down from my perch. The barricades got knocked over, but no one seemed hurt. A couple of bikes were out of the race as a result, but everyone walked or rode out of the heap under their own power.

The men had big teams (6-8 riders, maybe?)and the Bissel boys were up front for 32 laps. Then the olive oil guys took over for a while, but none of them won. Who won? The guy in the Wheaties jersey (meaning he had won the bike race the day before) who had been buried in the pack the whole race while other people pushed the wind out of the way for him. Then he took it in the sprint. This kind of racing is a team sport... but individuals win. Bike racing is a weird sport.

After all the hoopla, I -- like many people on bikes -- rode part of the course before they took down the barricades. No worries, I rode about 14 mph... not 43mph (the speed for the final sprint!).

The evening was nice so I explored the northwestern part of town a bit -- lots of condos butting up against the warehouse district -- found some Thai food for dinner and made my way back to the dorm to rewrite my presentation for the umpteenth time.

History is a Cucumber

I've been to 8 sessions now and had my brain poked and prodded from all different directions. I've heard "homonormative" bantered around in multiple talks, learned about the class implications of oral versus digital sex among lesbians in the 1940s and 1950s and pondered the "publicness" of bathrooms in Chinese-American homes in LA at the end of the 19th century. I did my own song and dance calling for seeing cities as gendered spaces and seeing gender as an urban process. At this point, the only thing I can take away from it all is that the essence of what we (historians) all do, is find a new way to prepare the cucumber: we slice, we dice, thick, thin, strips, chunks... it is still a cucumber, but we do this in the hopes of seeing something new, seeing old things in new ways.

Stick a fork in me, I'm done... at least until tomorrow when I shift out of conference mode and back into research mode. I have three oral histories scheduled, which is ambitious.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A City in June...

A city in June is usually a lovely thing. It is such a good time to meet a city. People are so happy to be out in the sunshine, flowers are blooming, summer heat hasn't beaten anyone down yet... I often hit new cities in June (takes me a month after school ends to get a trip planned, it seems) and over the years I've had lovely affairs with Atlanta, DC, Portland and Ithaca.

My current crush is Minneapolis. And tomorrow, when I head to St Paul, it'll probably become a polyamorous thing.

I was in Minneapolis/St Paul exactly a year ago for my first visit. Now I'm back for research and a conference. I know just enough of the geography and offerings that everything is pretty easy. Just to extend the crush/fling analogy, it is like having sex with someone for the second time.

Despite my bike having been stolen last year during my visit, I've opted to bike the cities again. I rented a snazzy red Trek commuter -- fully outfitted with rack, trunk bag, lights, lock, spd pedals, etc. -- so I am feeling very free. Right now I'm having a lovely beer at the Town Hall Brewery, but soon I will roll on down to the bike path and say hi to the Mississippi river.

Today's adventures included checking into a dorm room. The conference I am attending is held on college campuses and they open the dorms early so that people can come research before the proceedings begin. The twin bed looks disturbingly small and oddly high, but the room is fine and I like being on campus. I like the lounge three rooms down that has a view of the Mississippi. I like that there are towels, since I neglected to pack any.

Next up was renting my bike and taking a very roundabout (and pleasant!) route to the downtown public library -- a stunning building. Many of the mechanicals have been left (intentionally) exposed, so you can see the guts of the escalators and elevators, for example. There is lots of glass, including between the rungs of the stairs that float out into the atrium. I'm sure all the blonde wood will soon look dated and worn, but I love huge, ambitious public buildings -- especially ones that are libraries.

The Special Collections in the library are chock full of interesting things -- including clipping files on "pornography" and "Chicago Ave" (both related to my current research). Some dedicated staff people read the papers every morning/week and dutifully clipped out articles on protests at dirty bookstores and neighborhood organization meetings over the last 40 years. Yay! They were so happy to have someone there loving on their stuff, the archivist offered to stay a half hour beyond official closing (4:30pm!) so that I could finish the folder I was working on. (I know, it should be "the folder on which I was working" but that just sounds dumb.)

Interestingly (okay, perhaps only to me), the library is around the corner from the warehouse district where all the "adult businesses" landed after the zoning ordinances of the late 1980s drove them out of neighborhood commercial districts. I'm amused by researching the history of the built environment that just out the door and down the block. I rolled around the block once just to take in the "girls, girls, girls, all nude, all the time" signage...

But then the ride from here to there (library to brewery): Minneapolis is bike friendly. There be bikes EVERYWHERE and the drivers of cars are almost scarily polite to bikers. But the city has these FREAKY bike lanes that run down the middle of downtown streets. On some, the bikes lanes are double wide -- with lanes for bikes going in both directions. It is wild (somewhere in between insane and cool) to have a bus pass you on the right... in rush hour traffic. All is good, except on Hennepin Ave where the middle-of-the-road bike lane gets to an intersection and just ends. No hints. No explanation. Nothing.... except 2 full lanes of traffic between you and that right turn. Hmmm.... I tried to catch a guy in full bike dork regalia to get the skinny, but the light changed and he got away. I muddled through, but this is a mystery that must be solved this week.

More reports to follow, I hope.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dead People

Can I go back to researching dead people now, please? Pretty please? I am just a ball of adrenalin after making a bunch of cold calls to potential oral history subjects for my upcoming research trip to Minneapolis. I'll take the adrenalin over the anxiety I had before the calls, but, geez, this is not a part of my work that I enjoy.

It seems so simple... "You were involved in this thing. I want to know more about that thing. Will you talk to me?" But it's not. I hate to impose, I worry they'll say no, I worry I haven't prepared well enough, scheduling is a nightmare, finding a location is an even bigger nightmare...

I've only done a dozen or so interviews, so the whole process is still daunting. Though, honestly, I think I will still be twitching on my 100th interview.

Some of the stress I invent. I always expect to have to work harder to prove myself but now that I think about it, no one has ever asked for my cv and no one has really interrogated me about what my motives/politics are or what kind of argument I intend to make with this research. I guess that is the advantage of interviewing activists. Obviously they thought the cause was good enough to devote some significant part of their lives to, so I guess they just assume that my interest is the same as theirs!

Two interesting bits from today's calls: one guy did ask was my interest was in the topic, but then he was a business owner in the neighborhood and not an activist, and he was easily satisfied by my two sentence reference to community organizing around quality of life issues in neighborhoods and surrounding commercial districts. Another woman turned out to be an activist from a later period than I have been working on (see one of those surprises I dread!) -- but her story is great and she is wonderfully thoughtful about her participation, local politics, tactics/strategies of community orgs, etc. that I am going to interview her anyway. All I could think while I listened to her on the phone today was, "I should get her in front of my class" -- they would be amazed.

So... it all turned out fine. I have 5 interviews lined up or coming together. All is good. Now I just need to calm down.