Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer zine tour dispatch #3: Baltimore

When I first began organizing this tour I got a message from Kate at Red Emma’s in Baltimore inviting me to do an event there. I had already been hoping to visit the worker-owned, collectively-managed bookstore & coffee shop so I was excited. The only issue was one of scheduling. I had originally planned on going to Baltimore earlier in the month, right after Philly, but Kate explained that they would be closed from July 3rd to the 14th. I decided to go for it and shift things around. This ended up working out really well because I was able to ease into the tour with a little extra time to prepare before hitting the road.

I took the Marc train up from DC on the 15th—the day Red Emma’s reopened with its freshly re-painted walls and a some tasty new dishes added to their food menu. I hadn’t realized how close it was from the train station until right before I arrived. After a ten minute walk up Charles Street, I reached their block on North Avenue. I was inspired to see a reclaimed billboard across the street with a huge #BlackLivesMatter poster wheat-pasted across it. I’ve found that the street art and public murals in Baltimore are unrivaled—even compared to Philly.

It was great to be back at Red Emma’s. A few minutes after I sat down, my fabulous host—and former collective member—Corey joined me for iced coffee. We had a nice time catching up before the monthly social justice happy hour began. This one was partnered with three different local trans organizations, “in honor of the trans folks whose resistance sparked the Stonewall Riots.”  The happy hour aimed “to connect with trans organizers and projects providing services for trans people in Baltimore.” It featured cocktail specials named after historical figures in the trans justice movement and a selection of relevant book titles on display.
My event was the following evening and I felt pretty good about spending almost the entire day in this bountiful space filled with delicious vegetarian food, radical literature, and great people. In the morning, I met up with fellow Goddard College alumnus Mark Gunnery. We ordered our coffee to go and then he drove me up to the Center for Emerging Media’s (CEM) new office where he produces the Marc Steiner Show for public radio. I sent Mark a copy of the zine the week before and he agreed to interview me for a future episode of the show. He asked me questions about the project and invited me read a few of the stories from the zine. It was fun to hear Mark’s reactions to the work. And I was just honored to given the opportunity, especially by a media activist and musician who I respect a lot. He’ll be editing the interview and including some of the music that appears in my stories which will be cool to hear.

Tour Magic (part one)

“Tour magic. It’s more than a feeling…It would be tragic if this magic doesn’t happen again.” –Best Friends Forever

Mark drove me back to Red Emma’s where he was meeting a colleague from the CEM. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing, eating lunch, writing some more, and drinking more coffee. Eventually it became evening as I waited for an old college friend to drive in from outside the city to share dinner before my event started. Corey showed up first and we compared our respective days. As we were chatting by the window, someone walked towards our table waving hello to me. I didn’t recognize Amy O. at first since it had been a while, but we knew each other back in Northampton when I worked with one of her best friends at the vegan café. Now she lives in Bloomington, IN and her new band Brenda’s Friend was also on tour. They were playing later that night, basically on the same block, around the corner from Red Emma’s at The Crown. It felt so serendipitous to cross paths like this and I mentioned that fantastic Best Friends Forever song ‘Tour Magic.’ Their music is always the perfect summer soundtrack for me. “Oh, if you’re into them,” Amy responded, “then you’ll probably like our band too.” She had to leave to do sound-check right before my event began, but I promised to stop by their show later.

Some of the events at Red Emma’s are hosted in between the bookstore area and massive café space. Rows of chairs are set up and the speaker will use a microphone to communicate with the crowd. Smaller events, like mine, are held in the Baltimore Free School classroom off the hallway from the bookstore. On Thursdays, there is a CSA farm share pick up in the Free School space until 7:00 pm so as we began arranging chairs for the event, there was also cleaning up of the remains of produce and flower pedals.

As 7:30 approached, a tiny group of familiar faces sat in the chairs around me so Kate asked someone to make an announcement in the main space. It was clear that the event would be starting late (“anarchist time”) which was fine with me. Two older women who had battled gridlock traffic due to the city’s upcoming Artscape festival arrived with glasses of wine from the café. Kate made another announcement which brought in a couple more people. It was time to begin.

Photo by Corey Reidy

After I was introduced, I gave a little background on the project and, once again, invited everyone sitting around the circle to write down the title of a song, an artist, album, etc. that they deeply associated with a particular job experience. I read my stories and answered a couple questions before opening it up. The range of music and types of work everyone shared was really interesting. From the labor classic “Bread and Roses” back in the day to “Mathematics” by Mos Def at the auto-shop as the soundtrack to refusing the boss’ orders. Working at the Baltimore Book Festival and “Love is Love” by Lungfish offsetting the terrible music there. Sweet memories of Neutral Milk Hotel playing at the original Red Emma’s location (“Emma’s 1.0”). Shania Twain and other easy listening hits from 106.5 FM which played constantly at the flower shop. Waiting tables at an all-night diner and improvising a song about parsley to sing to customers while serving their parsley-garnished meals. The awful and soul-less songs that would play at the old department store, particularly “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.” And “You’re Fired” by Strike Anywhere after listening to the radio all day at a health food store and negotiating a new managerial position there as an anarchist.
One Red Emma’s café worker shared some experiences. Often the music playing in the front of the house mashes up with what’s playing in the back if you’re working at the counter taking orders. Being in between both makes it difficult to enjoy either. I asked if music has been a contentious issue during collective meetings and apparently it has come up quite a bit. Music matters.

I felt really good about the discussion. Afterwards I got to catch up with Christa from Red Emma’s at Liam’s pub next door and then after we parted ways I walked over to The Crown where the show was just beginning. The opening band Nudie Suits were amazing—replete with an interpretive dancer. I said hi to Amy and she was happy that I showed up. Brenda’s Friend played next and they were great too, but it was getting late so I had to head out right after their set. As we said goodbye, Amy told me they were playing in Philly the following night and then Pittsburgh on Saturday.

“Oh yeah?” I replied. “I’ll still be in Pittsburgh then! Maybe I can go to that show too before my train leaves…”
Brenda's Friend at The Crown


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