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I'm in full travelling gear (sic) these days and I've learned the value of pockets -- the more the better. I wrote about multi-pocket shirts recently (see latest Gimme Shelter newsletter at www.shelterpub.com). Also invaluable are cargo pants, with their roomy side pockets. The very best ones I've found are army surplus battle fatigues: deepest of side pockets, integrated adjustable waist tighteners, buttons at the fly and not velcro. I'd like to find a pair that are not camo-patterned. I also find it valuable to travel with pen and 3×6" spiral notebook in pocket so I can write stuff down (addresses of places to return to, etc.) on the go, without needing to take off my backpack to get to my normal notebook.

Manhattan Snippets

Friday night I took the subway out to Hoboken to see Graham Parker. Washington Avenue in Hoboken has a 12-blocks long section of beautiful old fixed-up buildings and shops and restaurants. Graham was good, an old rocker with integrity, backed by the Figgs, a cool band whose members are half his age… There are a bunch of old beatnik cafes in the Bleeker/McDougal area south of Washington Square that have been there forever. Cafe Figaro has turned phony and touristy, Cafe Dante looks OK, but best vibes for my sensibilities is Cafe Reggio, in a unique room looking like it's out of the 1800s, a place for cappuccino and sitting and reading or writing…Billboard showing big SUV splashing up out of a creek, kayak on roof: "The New Nissan Exterra 265 hp!" America fiddles while planet warms…People sitting on wide steps of big midtown post office at midnight, which has carved in stone at its portals: "Neither now nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their appointed rounds."…Monday, my last day in town, I take my scooter out and cruise uptown. It's hot and humid and I sightsee, then sit a while on a park bench in the shade, then back to hotel and get gypsy cab to JFK. It's been a good trip.

Burgers at Dawn

I stayed up all night on Saturday. After a Publishers Group West party featuring The Blues Explosion, a powerful uncompromising big city band, I walked the streets, then wrote and web-surfed and watched TV at my hotel until about 4:30 when I took a cab to the meat-packing district to Florenz, an all-night eatery. It's a dark neighborhood, with occasional streetlights casting halos of lights in the darkness. Prowling around are transsexual hookers, casting shadows on the streets, looking like a surreal movie, or maybe more like a dramatically-lit stage set. Food at Florenz is good, burgers with fries, omelletes, the place was packed and noisy. It's surprising how many people are up at this hour in NYC. All over the city, here and there, the all-nighters.

More On Gospel Show

After the Book Expo closed, the timing was perfect to get to Madison Square Garden at 4:30. It was actually called the McDonald's Gospel show, sponsored by you-know-who. And yes it was more than a bit weird, this wonderful music sponsored by producers of unhealthy hi-fat shit food served on planet-polluting throw-away dishes. The place was packed and tickets were $50-110. First up were gospel groups, each of whom did about a 3-minute song and then the next one came right on. Pretty snappy. The groups were from Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, the Bronx, etc. and they ranged from OK to spectacular. Most were great and better. When a soloist would get her gospel chops going, people would stand and cheer. Some of the groups knew they had it, you just looked at them and knew they were hot. There was some electrifying music, some exquisite renderings. There were 3 and 4 part harmonies, the art and craft of vocal harmonies at a high level.

Next were a bunch of dancing groups, doing steps to recorded gospel music. One group of guys aged about 40 down to 5 years old did a martial arts gospel routine that kicked ass. Then 6 kids came up on the stage to do solos. And, weirdness of weirdness, here was the Ronald McDonald clown on stage as well. I don't know if it was more surreal or disgusting. Corporations greasing their way into the arts. Aside from that, the kids were excellent. Gospel singing is in healthy shape, it's being passed along down from elders to the kids in the black community. A pony-tailed 5-year old girl brought the audience to its feet. You couldn't believe a tiny kid could sing and dance like this. A 10 year old boy in a white suit sang in a beautiful unique strong voice. An 11 year old girl (who has just released her first CD) was electrifying, doing vocal gymnastics like adult gospel divas.

Cissy Houston walked out on stage. Probably in her 60s, tall and graceful, wearing a long cream-colored dress. (Whitney Huston's mom.) Backing her was the McDonald's Gospel Band, about 40 singers wearing McDonalds red polo shirts. More weirdness, but they were good! Cissy was fabulous, a great combo. Next out came the Queen, and believe me she still is. I've never seen Aretha in person and didn't know what to expect. Sometimes artists don't maintain quality in later years. Aretha has had her troubles. Not to worry. She came with a razorsharp band from Detroit and about 20 backup singers. She walked out on stage, a full-bodied woman, wearing a flowing white silk dress with a purple choir-type over-garment. Aretha hasn't lost any of her power, oh no. It's like she never left the church. Her voice, the band, the backups, were a smash. As she got more into it, Madison Square Garden got smaller. It was like an intimate club, her voice filling all space.

Aretha thankfully wasn't just there to pick up a McDonald's paycheck. She settled in, was gracious, she talked to people, she interacted with the backup ladies, the band, and with a male singer who joined her onstage. She did a lot of songs. She rocked. At one point she said I feel like dancing and shuffle-danced across the stage to the roar of her fans.

I have a hard time sitting for very long, so I walked around in the hall a bit. There were little kids everywhere, 100s of them in the performing gospel groups and many more with their parents. To tell the truth I've always thought that black gospel music was the best thing that ever came out of Christianity -- these guys got it right. This music is full of the joy and wonder and rhythm of the universe.

Three-dot Journalism

As I walked into the Book Expo at Jacob Javits Center here was Ed Rosenthal, Mr. Marijuana, wearing a marijuana-leaf shirt engaged in an animated conversation with Barbara Boxer. Ed had both hands on her arm and was thanking her for her stand on the Iraq war. Boxer looked receptive and amused…a big billboard promoting trans-coast flights (for New Yorkers: "People in LA smile a lot. Don't worry. You can practice on the plane."…more cabbies: Mohammed Rasheed, Mohammed Farajee, Khalid Javed, the latter of whom ran down the cab scene. He works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He pays $120 a day for the cab, + gas. When he finishes his shift another cabbie takes a 12 hour shift. Each cab, which costs $28,000 new -- mostly Fords now -- put in 85,000 miles a year. He ends up making $60-100 a day. A cab medallion (license) is worth about $380,000 these days…in the rain enterprising Chinese guy pushing around cart on sidewalk selling umbrellas…Sat nite I have lamb chops with two glasses of sparkling apple wine (Eve's Cidery), watching people walking by open windows of restaurant, looking at the street, the buildings, the atmosphere of the neighborhood, NYC is ancient compared to the west coast. It's complex, dense, multi-layered, rich in history and multi-century vibes. When the weather is right and the planets are right, the city is humming…on Sunday after the last day of the book expo I go to Madison Square Garden for a 3-hour gospel show. There are kid and adult gospel choirs, dancers and at the end, Cissy Houston singing with the McDomnald's Gospel Band and as a finale Aretha Franklin with her own group from Detroit, both older women with still-powerful voices. By Aretha's 3rd number, it felt as if this huge hall was a small room, her music filling all the space and pulling everyone there together, Praise the lord.

Doo Wah Ditty

I had a wonderful 5 days in Vermont. What a change from California! I hooked up with some unique architects and builders in the Green Mountains and ended up shooting 350 photos of a great variety of buildings that ranged from traditional 200+-year-old houses and barns to wildly imaginative, artistic and witty structures in the woods and hills. I'm now in NYC (for the Book Expo) and it has cast its usual stimulating spell over me so I'll write about the NYC part before the Vermont part of this 10-day trip.

Got a cab from La Guardia to my hotel in the Soho district. Cabbie's name: Kwaku Kyekyere. It was the most perfect of NYC days. Balmy, a light breeze, shirt-sleeve weather. I brought my fold up K-2 high tech scooter with me and debated on taking it out, decided Hell, yeah, and so set off from Lafayette near Houston up to Washington Square. When the pavement is OK and pedestrians minimal, I can go 3 times faster than walking. It took a while, but I got into it. Before I knew it I was up at Union Square. I cruised, checking shop windows, having fun, rolling down the sidewalks, got back to Washington Square and discovered it's been gentrified. No more crack dealers or piss-smelling men's bathroom from hell, it all looks upscale and clean. But wait, here's a little ragtag group of musicians, wearing dirty tattered clothes with patches and holes playing delightful bluegrass and country music. Big crowd semi-circled around them, lots of dollars in the opened-up violin case on ground. They turned out to be the Dead Man Street Orchestra, 5 people from 18-25 years of age, who'd been touring the country riding the rails. They were about to leave New York and hitchhike to Vermont.

Left park, ran across guy selling signs that said "Mean People Suck." Right on. Hip-hop artist selling self-produced tapes on sidewalk, the day so beautiful everyone feeling good. The tempo of the city, the brilliance of window displays, the uniqueness of the shops, the close proximity to other people in cafes and restaurants all stimulate senses and brain waves.