Escalators! (AAG 2018 Recap, Part III)

IMG_5155

What would any self-respecting AAG recap be without an entry inspired by a conversation I had with a Finnish-German (or, German-Finnish, not sure which direction that goes) friend over breakfast in the Louis Armstrong Airport on the way home Saturday morning? Why, it would be stuck on the first floor, literally and figuratively.

Lauri Turpeinin and I happened to be on the same flight from New Orleans to Atlanta, so we met at the airport and grabbed breakfast: beignets for him (his first of the trip) and an andouille egg sandwich for me (my favorite sausage, challenging to procure the further you move away from the Gulf). Mixed within a disconcerting yet fascinating conversation about the ongoing, wasp-like presence of Neo-Nazis in the Eastern European hardcore/punk/metal world, Lauri mentioned that his line of research often incorporates scholarship prone to thick description. This includes, for example, three-volume tomes about the social and cultural “meaning” of escalators. At first, we both laughed it off as the type of academic psychobabble somewhat stereotypical of academe. Within a few seconds, though, I realized that escalators carry a ton of baggage culturally and geographically. I’m sure Andrea Mihm (author of, loosely translated, The escalator – cultural studies about a mechanically developed in-between-space) would have a lot more to say about it, but let’s go to the (mental) tape:

  • When I was a kid, it made me happy to see an escalator; a vast majority of opportunities to ride them happened in the context of some leisure activity like mall-shopping or pavilion-carousing, far from home. To this day, whenever I see some kid (or someone with the maturity level of a kid) running the wrong way down or up an escalator, I try to reserve judgment because I spent most of ages 6-15 wanting to do it but never conjuring the courage.
  • With the rise of the 24-hour news cycle in the United States, escalators became a surprisingly common object of demonization, an evil mechanized foot-shredder, preying on absent-minded shoppers in thong sandals and (in some rare, extra horrifying scenarios) barefoot pedestrians whenever outlets needed a fresh, hot fear injection on slow news days.
  • Likely influenced by the sensationalizing of escalators as bringers of humanity’s downfall, The Simpsons tackled the machines via an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon on “The Front” (9F16) in 1993. Though it wasn’t my favorite gag from that episode, it was definitely memorable, and it provided a lynch pin for the plot about Bart and Lisa submitting I&S scripts under Grandpa Simpson’s name. That episode, to my knowledge, was also where America found out that Grandpa’s name was Abraham.
  • Escalators played a pivotal role in my mobility when I lived in DC. I interacted with one of the DC Metro’s notoriously long and temperamental escalators almost every day, including the legendary ones at Bethesda and Woodley Park. I never had the pleasure of riding their record-holding counterpart at Forest Glen Metro, but I heard legends of it throughout the DMV. On a few unfortunate occasions, I had to hike all the way up the broken escalator at Dupont Circle. On others, one of the two platform escalators was broken, closing whichever one went down and forcing me and hordes of other yuppies to wait in line for the elevator, missing our train and delaying our ride home by a solid half hour at least. It sounds sensationalized, but like anyone who’s experienced the DC Metro anytime in the twenty-first century can attest, I WAS THERE, MAN. Of course, next year’s AAG meeting will take place around the Woodley Park Metro station… any geographers not satiated by the zoo (a walking distance from the conference hotels, in Cleveland Park) will have the pleasure of taking that escalator down into the bowels of the Earth, wondering if it will ever reach its destination.
  • Mitch Hedberg, one of the truly great stand-up comedians of the modern era, had a classic joke about escalators that I can’t imagine anyone else surpassing. Sorry for the convenience.
  • In August 2015, I lugged the heaviest suitcase imaginable from Paris to Brussels to meet up with my friends Ruth and Casey. I navigated the Brussels Metro to the station closest to our AirBnB. I believe it was Sainte-Catherine. Anyway, my insurmountably heavy suitcase had a bum wheel; I had purchased it for 30 Euro at the Porte de Montreuil flea market, and I got what I paid for. I righted the caster just enough to slow-roll it up to a street escalator. Something was wrong with this escalator, though…it was sitting still. I looked around to see if anyone in a uniform could help me, but that area of the station was desolate. This was strange for such a busy Metro station in the middle of the day. I lugged the broken suitcase over to the escalator on the opposite end of the station… which was also not running. I was on the verge of tears. It was the middle of summer, and I was sweaty and exhausted. I began to wonder if it was even a good idea for me to be in Brussels when a young man walked by me, onto the entrance of the escalator… and [CHKVROOOOOOM] it started moving. I felt like an idiot. Paris, DC, Madrid, and anywhere else applicable had not thought of installing sensors that activated their escalators whenever a rider stepped on, thereby saving unimaginable amounts of electricity. I was mostly frustrated because it hadn’t even occurred to me to try stepping onto the escalator. If I had, I would have spent about seven fewer minutes underground and enjoying the cobblestone street over which I had to drag my gigantic (what may as well have been a) back-of-bricks. Those smart escalators in the Brussels Metro probably made me look, to any potential observers for a brief moment, stupid. I still imagine a group of Belgian security guards watching me through CCTV and wondering what’s wrong with me.
  • Another note on the escalators in the DC Metro (or, for that matter, in any city not known for its warmth and compassion): People who stood on the left side of escalators going either direction placed themselves directly in the cross-hairs of raging commuters. Sometimes, these interactions grew ugly. I’ll never forget being stuck on the right (standing=acceptable) side of the escalator up to the 7th and F exit of Metro Center when the left (standing=unacceptable) side came to a halt. A woman yelled quite authoritatively “please move to the right if you’re going to stand!” Someone about 6 or 7 people up yelled back “there’s a blind person up here!” I can’t describe how quickly and diametrically the women’s countenance shifted from angry to embarrassed as she yelled back, “oh, I’m so sorry!”
  • Perhaps we will never come to an effective agreement on whether it is ever appropriate for somebody to stand still or to aggressively climb on an escalator. Just ask Krist Novoselic.
  • Finally, and perhaps most pertinent to this conversation, I must discuss the busted escalators at the Sheraton Hotel during this year’s AAG conference. Though three hotels had been outlined for the sessions, the Marriott and Sheraton were doing the heavy lifting across Canal Street from one another. Understandably, the Sheraton did not widely publicize a particularly gruesome accident that happened to a contractor less than two weeks before AAG registration opened. I wonder if this slowed progress on fixing the escalators between floors two and four. I’m also still highly skeptical that the floor-by-request button-less elevator system that many conference hotels have adopted is at all effective. Either way, having to run up poorly marked stairwells in order to make sessions on time was not ideal. I also doubt that the handful of geographers understood my reference when I yelled “rock n’ roll!” in a British accent while searching for the proper door to the 4th floor, but that one’s on me. Thankfully, the downward escalators were working, so it was possible to ride down and decompress for a couple flights before inevitably getting AAG’d in the lobby. [EDIT: I managed to forget this segment when I wrote the original entry, despite Lauri and I having talked about it at length that morning in the airport. I just added it in; thanks to Sarah Gelbard for calling out my omission].

And that is just what I thought up in the span of two minutes of conversation. To be fair, I did embellish this list slightly while compiling it, but I stand behind what a crucial role escalators play in the urban (and even suburban) landscape. The next time your knee-jerk reaction is to scoff at a case study or topic, think twice and realize how Clifford Geertz was onto something when it called it “thick description.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start compiling data for a research project on the apocryphal Florida Man (based on another conversation I had at AAG). Here’s a music video featuring both escalators and Gary Numan. And they said it couldn’t be done!

 

Advertisements

Repeat Photography in New Orleans (AAG 2018 Recap, Part II)

0413181821_HDR_Film3

Dr. Yolonda Youngs presenting in “A Second Look: Exploring Repeat Photography Across the American Landscape” on Friday 4/13/18. Photo by the author.

Last week, I found may way to an excellent session on Repeat Photography-as-Geographic Method organized by Dr. Bill Wyckoff from Montana State University. It inspired me to adopt the term “repeat photography” over “re-photography,” mostly because the former has seen an increase of use in academic texts, but also because it simply sounds better. Hyphenated words create all sorts of awkward syntax situations. Hopefully nobody minds if I keep the “Re-Photography” category for now (I don’t know how easy it would be to go back through and change all of my prior entries).

One post here from 2014 described talking my way up onto a balcony at the corner of Royal St. and St. Ann in the French Quarter to recreate one of my favorite postcards from the Ben Irving collection (if you don’t know who that is, stop, read this, then come back here. I’ll wait). I revisited the site several times on this trip, only once on purpose (a dinner with the Music Geography group on Tuesday night). The Pere Antoine restaurant had not changed at all, but the intersection had a giant divot. One of the structures diagonally across Royal Street had been torn out, apparently. I snapped a photo of the lot, and we moved on.

0410181459a_Film3

After getting back to Knoxville, I did some light research. Apparently, the building in question wasn’t torn out; it collapsed from years of neglect a few months after I took that picture. Though the French Quarter is one of the most photographed neighborhoods in North America, this building came off as fairly unremarkable. I doubt I would have thought much about it had it not been for its position within that postcard’s frame. I’m sure some photographs of it exist that were taken after mine (July 2014), but there’s no way to know for sure, outside of scoping Google Street View:

Oh, what’s that? Google sent their gaudy Streetview mobile through the Quarter in January 2014 (when the yellow house was still up) and then again in January 2017 (after it had collapsed)?

Looks like I have the last photo taken of that house EVER. If you see this and have a more recent photo, please comment or email it to me. I will be too ecstatic that people are actually reading this blog to feel bad about being proven wrong.

I didn’t speak with the Pere Antoine management and ask whether anyone was still there from 2014, but turnover in the restaurant industry being what it is, I would have been surprised. By the way, this mini-paragraph is foreshadowing.

Let’s roll the tape. Today’s entry will be divided into two distinct subsets of repeat photography: image recreation (the Ben Irving postcards) and personal photo recreation (re-staging my own photos from my first trip to New Orleans in April 1998). On this trip, my personal photo recreation were much more successful, for a variety of reasons that mostly narrow down to timing, luck, and people not wanting a stranger to go onto their (Federally owned) roof.


THE POSTCARDS

The Roosevelt Hotel (1937 / 2018)

This one was hardly a success story. The artistic interpretations on the postcards take some liberties in “inventing” impossible perspectives on these buildings. Baronne Street, no longer the home to the wide-berth streetcar lines from 1937, is almost uncomfortably narrow, at least for my purposes. I took my picture (right) of the Roosevelt, standing in front of Cajun Mike’s Pub n’ Grub, which sits next door to the incredible Crescent City Books, which opened in 1992.

The following message appears on the postcard (February 1937):

This picture shows the Roosevelt Hotel, the largest and finest hotel in the South. It has been designed to meet the demand for the highest type of hotel service and accommodations. The Roosevelt, and the Bienville Hotel — facing Lee Circle, (under Roosevelt management) — together provide more than 1200 strictly first class rooms, each with a bath. The First Hotel in the South with more than a hundred Air Conditioned Guest Rooms. Come to the Roosevelt.

As with previous hotel postcards I’ve shared, air conditioning was a major selling luxurious selling point at that time. Being a Waldorf Astoria hotel, restored to its former glory in 2009, didn’t remove it from the luxury conversation either. I felt out of place breathing the air in that concourse. I paused to check out the Sazerac Lounge on my walk through to the other side, where I took these pictures:

 

Lafayette Square (1941 / 2018)

The souvenir packet contained a handful of beautiful vistas of City Park and Metairie Cemetery, neither of which I found a window of time to explore on this trip. I would have loved to, in either case. I’ve never been to City Park, and I haven’t been to Metairie Cemetery since 2008. OH DRAG ANOTHER EXCUSE TO GO BACK TO NEW ORLEANS I WAS HOPING I WOULDN’T WIND UP WITH ANY OF THOSE.

Time to complete this section with my only real success of the week:

CANAL STREET AND RAMPART AT NIGHT, 1937/2018

If I had to make a list of my ten favorite cards in the Ben Irving collection, this one would most certainly be on it. The message on the back runs provides a 5-cent history of Canal Street, and makes you dig for the rest:

Canal Street, so named because in the olden days a big drainage Canal ran down its center, recently rebuilt at a cost of $3,500,000 [$51,078,304 in 2018 by USDL inflation metrics], is 170 feet wide, one of the widest central business thoroughfares in the world, has sidewalks of terrazzo marble and neutral grounds. It marks the upper limits of the old city.

This street scene fascinates me for a few reasons. First, the city apparently altered or tore out that traffic island in the center of the postcard (or just played a trick of perspective and that “island” is where those light poles are standing to the right of my photo). Second, it seems presumptuous of the postcard artist to include those puffy clouds in the background, considering how much light pollution emanates from Canal Street anytime that the sky is as dark as it appears there. That being said, the buildings were much shorter back then. Third, while the Saenger Theater (on the respective left sides) is still operating in its full glory the Loew’s theater, shown on the right side of the 1937 postcard in its full glory, currently sits in state, having closed due to fire code violations(?) in 2007. Learning from that Cinema Treasures page that the owners are planning to tear it down and build a hotel on the site (can never have too many of those) makes me want to get on a plane back and break into it while I still can. The whole building is boarded up, even the street-level businesses. I guess the property is still generating some revenue with those two billboards:

0410182238_Film3

The State Palace Theater, April 2018. Photo by the author.


RECREATING MY 1998 PHOTOS

As I’ve mentioned, my first trip to New Orleans took place over the French Quarter Festival almost exactly two decades ago. My incredibly talented sister played in the Connecticut Youth Jazz Workshop, whose director managed to book various combos on stages throughout the French Quarter over that week. I was a Freshman in high school and taking a crack at amateur filmmaking and photography. I have no idea if I’ll ever digitize the videos I filmed of the shows, but the band(s) performed on the Natchez Steamboat, the Marriott Hotel, and once the Festival kicked off, the Bourbon Street Stage (with a looming storm overhead). I also filmed the Second Line parade that opened the Festival that Thursday*. It’s remarkable that the Youth Jazz workshop got booked, considering how fast the FQF was growing and the height it’s grown to, based on what I saw the other week.

This year, I was chairing a paper session during the opening day parade (Thursday at 10 AM), so I couldn’t retrace my 20-year-old steps and film it. It would have been fun to find my 1998 vantage point and compose some video that juxtaposed the two, especially if I had landed any footage of Mitch Landrieu (I have a few seconds of Marc Morial walking through the frame in 1998). The last time I was in the same room with Landrieu (at the US Convention of Mayors in 2010; more on that soon), he shook all of our hands and introduced himself as Mitch. Class. Act. Also, he delivered one of the greatest speeches of the twenty-first century last year.

Coincidentally, the NOLA Virgin Megastore opened that week in a style best described as “Richard Branson.” My father and I went down to 620 Decatur, where a large crowd had gathered that included Branson, some city authorities, and a performance by Aaron Neville. At the time, his only song that I knew was “Everybody Plays the Fool.” Either way, I loved the spectacle, and I bought my first Pavement CD that day (Brighten the Corners), along with Beck’s Odelay and the Richard D. James Album by Aphex Twin. I still listen to all three regularly, and I’ve written extensively about the former’s influence on my love of music and approaches to teaching musical geography. I still have a poster of a young B.B. King they gave out as souvenirs that day. I wonder why they put King on there rather than an artist properly from New Orleans, but it looked cool and still does. The poster and the CDs have both outlived the store itself^, which shuttered around the time of Katrina and became one of the first casualties in a wave that claimed all of Branson’s stores in 2007.

I enjoyed revisiting some of the pictures I took on that trip, considering how many tangential elements of the French Quarter’s landscape had changed since then. I took photos of my pictures for reference (scanned in here for consistency) and stopped by a few locations before AAG kicked into high gear. Here are some of the results.

The LaBranche House (700 Royal St.)

In my 1998 photo album, I labeled this building as “highly photographed building in the French Quarter,” forgetting what it was called. The LaBranche House has gone through a few iterations, including the Royal Cafe (the possible setting of one of my favorite American Music Club songs) and all within the vice grip of the tourist gaze. Today, the street level contains the Forever New Orleans gift shop, home to the dumbest catalog of tacky souvenirs I’ve ever laid eyes on and probably the most profitable business to ever occupy that space.

The 400 Block of Royal Street, Looking East

As much as Google Streetview has revolutionized the way we think about cartography, place, and space, I resent it for making this whole process a bit too easy. In this situation, I stopped myself dead in my tracks and just saw this row of buildings, proud of myself for not prowling through Street View images to line this up ahead of time. I guess the NOPD was into queuing up their squad cars on the sidewalk by the station. I’m assuming that’s what the large building out of the frame(s) to the right was, since it’s unmarked on Google Maps and I can’t find a sign anywhere.

Court of the Two Sisters Restaurant, Exterior (613 Royal St.)

From what I remember, my family and a few others made reservations for one nice dinner while we were in New Orleans that week. I may have been turned away for wearing shorts and had to run back to the Sheraton to change before being allowed to sit down. I also think that at one point during our meal, my mom asked our server to bring her meal back to the kitchen, and he reacted as if he had been shot. We never were too comfortable in higher-class dining. At any rate, I took this first photo (above, left) before we walked into the restaurant. Portions of two heads are visible in the frame, and I can’t remember who they were. The only obvious difference here is that the building next door has been repainted yellow from red. The restaurant’s facade, even the positions of its green shutters (coincidence, I’m sure), have not changed in twenty years.

Court of the Two Sisters Restaurant, Interior (613 Royal St.)

I regret not taking more time to snap this one (on the right), but I didn’t feel completely welcome back there. The restaurant had just reopened for dinner service (around 4:30) and I was the first customer in there, clearly not intent on buying anything. I walked back, saw the fountain, pulled out my phone and snapped the picture. In the 1998 photo (left), I appear to have been standing right behind the fountain. I could probably also blame this discrepancy on that table right in front of me (right).

My favorite element of this photo, as beautiful as that courtyard has always been, was that cook walking through with the dolly. After I snapped the photo on the right last week, I walked out and introduced myself to the hostess. She didn’t seem terribly interested in what I was doing, but she asked a couple of older employees if anyone who worked at the restaurant in 1998 was still there. After a couple of servers and kitchen staff relayed the message, “Mr. Thomas” emerged from the courtyard. According to the hostess, Mr. Thomas had been there for 35 years, though he wouldn’t corroborate that exact number when he arrived. I showed him the original photo and asked him if he remembered who that man with the dolly was.

“Yeah, I remember him. He was a cook who used to work for us.”
“He’s not still here, is he?”
“Nope”
“Um, do you remember what his name was?”
“Nope,” said Mr. Thomas as he drifted back toward the kitchen.

And that was that. Moving on…

The Napoleon House (500 Chartres St.)

All I know about this house was that it was built for Napoleon following his (first? second?) exile, but he never lived there. Still, it has that mystique about it. The sign hanging above my vantage point in 1998 was no longer there, so I had trouble framing this. I recognize that this is a strange area in which to be a perfectionist.

 Jackson Square (Facing Chartres St.)

I remember taking this picture during a stop on a walking tour that brought us through Jackson Square and at Cafe du Monde, on the Square’s Southeast corner. I also took a good photo of the Andrew Jackson statue nearby that my friend Blake ruined/enhanced by running into the frame. The other week, while my friends and I were passing through, I noticed the same rounded balcony (the French Quarter makes this really easy) and snapped the photo on the right. It wasn’t intentional, but I did capture a gentleman who we lovingly called “Steampunk Santa” walking through and eating frozen yogurt. Though the resident band wasn’t set up in that exact spot (as amazing as that would have been), there was still plenty of action less than 10 meters away:

0410181505_Film3

Old man party time with a brass band in Jackson Square, April 2018. Photo by the author.

That’s all I’ve got. I love New Orleans so much. I wish I had more in the tank to write about, but it’s late, it’s the last week of classes, and I’ve already put you all through enough. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about these photos or the stories that accompany them, or you have your own photo blog/dump from AAG this year. Have any of you caught yourself doing some repeat photography of your own? I think this is proof enough of how addictive it is. Since the AAG is now dedicating paper sessions to it, I have some hope that I’ll roll all of this insanity into something bigger.

Part III (yes, really) of my AAG 2018 retrospective coming on Friday. Don’t worry, though; I promise that it’s nothing like these first two parts.

neworleans 044

A lagniappe: me waiting for a streetcar up Canal in December 2007. Hopefully I’ll recreate this one some day (this may have been somewhere in Mid-City). Photo by Ted Hornick.

*Whether the term “Second Line” was thrown around so much by tourists before Katrina is questionable. I also remember hearing a constant churn of Zydeco music emanating from gift shops along Decatur Street, which I cannot say is still the case twenty years on.

^ I can only assume. I still have the CD of Brighten the Corners, but the other two fell to one of a handful of downsizing rampages over the years.

Geography Days and New Orleans Nights (AAG 2018 Recap, Part One)

img018New Orleans is the coolest city in North America. I’m not saying that as a geographer (I haven’t been to every city in North America); I’m saying it as someone who appreciates incredibly cool cities. Maybe it’s because New Orleans occupies (putting the geographer hat back on here) an invaluable space in the last 500 years of circulation of people and culture. As I’ve outlined in innumerable musical geography lectures, jazz could not have emerged from anywhere other than New Orleans. The same could be said for Mardi Gras Indians, second lines, and countless other Crescent City institutions.

One valuable perspective that my friend David shared with me was that the city is not necessarily the Southernmost US city, but the Northernmost Caribbean city. I’ve been thinking about that for most of the past two weeks. No city should belong exclusively to the United States, especially not this one.

What I’ve always appreciated about New Orleans has been how, more than any other city in North America, it has been beaten down AGAIN and AGAIN, and despite every excuse to throw in the towel, it has risen AGAIN and AGAIN. These “hits” on New Orleans throughout history have been rarely so definable as the post-Katrina flooding and disaster in 2005, the kick-them-while-they’re-down timing of Hurricane Rita a few years after, and the adjacent atrocity that BP committed in the Gulf on which they are still working to influence the narrative^.

AAG paid greater due respect to their host city than I’ve witnessed in my six years as a member. Two of the three special focuses, as clearly laid out in their GeoGram, were black geographies and natural hazards/disasters. To avoid inclusive discussion of either of those in New Orleans (in 2018) would have been irresponsible and tone-deaf. I’m grateful for all the work Derek Alderman has done during his tenure as AAG President, but helping direct attention to those topics was particularly conscientious of him.

0410181916_Film3

Dr. Derek Alderman introduces the AAG Plenary Panel, 4/12/18. Laura Pulido and Craig Colten sit on the panel to his left. Photo by the author.

All of the Black Geographies sessions that I attended were crowded and included a pointed diversity of speakers. One session on Friday morning featured a paper on black girlhood followed with papers on cruising culture in Los Angeles and the legacy of the Mardi Gras Indians, featuring details on Chief Monk Boudreaux. I was disappointed to discover I would be leaving town before he and his loyal band performed at the French Quarter Festival. That being said, the storms that passed through on Saturday the 14th made it impossible for the thousands of festival goers to see him, too, since they cancelled that day’s events due to an encroaching hell-storm.

neworleans 043

As far as conference cities go, New Orleans was simultaneously great and terrible. It was great because New Orleans is great. AAG did not need to fight to lure their membership there from around the world, and more attendance equals more revenue, more funding, and more material. It was terrible, because… New Orleans is great. The ability to walk to anything in the French Quarter (Café du Monde being one weakness of mine) or fire up a Jazzy Pass and hop on a streetcar to Camellia Café, Metairie Cemetery, City Park, Hi-Ho Lounge, Sidney’s Saloon, Jacques-Imo’s, Live Oak Café, Domino Sound Record Shack, or several dozen other places I’m forgetting often makes it hard to “conference” effectively.

Another bizarre, immensely entertaining facet to AAG’s anchoring itself on Canal Street was the confluence of humanity that surrounded us. Wrestlemania (an increasingly ‘New Orleans’ institution, apparently) took place at the Superdome on April 8th, and many WWE fans stuck around to take in the city over the following week, creating a mix of stuffy academics and folks in Macho Man t-shirts that was a sight to behold. I make no assumption that geographers and wrestling fans don’t have a righteous overlap (I love Macho Man, may he rest in peace), but I appreciated the juxtaposition and the ability to take photos with the words “Welcome Wrestling Fans!” projected in the concourse after registering and picking up my badge. My Lyft driver on Saturday told me how she drove wrestling legend Justin Credible from the airport a few days prior.

We didn’t really experience such a mixture of humanity in Boston, but the conference center/shopping mall that housed AAG 2017 was fairly guarded and privatized. Quantum-leaping between three different hotels on Canal St. reminded me more of San Francisco in 2016. The AAG put us in at least two hotels in the Tenderloin. From what I understood, the Tenderloin was still a “place you didn’t go” less than a decade ago (Rancid even had a song about it). In 2016, however, Diane Feinstein’s scheme was showing visible dividends. It felt accessible and safe enough, despite the pimps and prostitutes who dotted the conference hotel’s block as soon as the sun went down (some didn’t even wait until then). Canal Street, as the artery on the fringe of NOLA’s booming tourism epicenter (only, on speed… and without an ‘off’ switch), made it difficult to find reprieve. Our hotel, the Astor Crowne Plaza, sat on the corner of Bourbon Street, and it’s telling when your hotel provides you with earplugs rather than a Gideon bible.

0407181904_Film3

Roscoe, one of the coolest creatures I know in NOLA.

All that being said, I had a great time both out in the city and at the conference. I arrived on a soggy Saturday to give myself a couple of days to see some friends before the conference kicked into high gear on Tuesday. A large population of my colleagues had the same idea, though I had the advantage of staying near the horse track not far from Mid-City and avoiding the French Quarter until I checked in on Monday.

On Sunday, I headed to Uptown to grab lunch, find some old haunts, and buy some records. I wandered through Oak Street to catch up with the Live Oak Café, where my friend Ted and I once befriended the in-house pianist, Charles Farmer, and tipped him into playing “Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits*. My friend Sean in Knoxville had also given me instructions to find an old friend of his named Rosie at the Avenue Café on St. Charles. Only if he had delivered that directive to me in a Tom Waits voice under a streetlamp could it have been more quintessentially New Orleans. I needed to finish and refine my presentation before conference madness set in, so I ordered some tea and set up shop there for the afternoon. When Rosie came back from her break, I introduced myself and we had a great conversation about New Orleans, our buddy Sean, and life in general. Another thing I’ve always appreciated about the city has been its supernatural ability to bring people together from walks of life you wouldn’t even expect.

THE CONFERENCE

Monday, which happened to be my birthday, was when the aforementioned conference madness really began to spark. I knew that anytime I wandered to the anchor hotel (the Marriott, in this case) I ran the risk of getting “AAG’d” which was a verb I (doubt that I) invented to characterize the possibility of getting roped into interaction after activity after interaction that dislodges any best laid plans. The registration desk opened at 4pm, so those of us who were in town converged on our hotels and got our bearings. My best friend in Atlanta happened to be there for a few days for a separate conference, so he came by and took me out to lunch, which was wonderful. We had a whirlwind catch-up session over po’boys, beignets, and coffee, which was fortunate because our respective schedules prevented us from meeting up again before he returned to Atlanta. As much as I laud the city for bringing people together, it can also easily do that to you, too.

My friends Laura and Dave had pinned “starter dollars” on my shirt, as is the local tradition. I did not make a ton of money by the end of the night, though I did get a torrent of pleasant birthday wishes from strangers. Walking down Bourbon Street with the dollars on me a target, though, so some colleagues/friends and I quickly slipped off the block and wound up getting drinks at Brennan’s. Hearkening back to a fantastic photo that Erik Johanson took in Tampa on my birthday in 2014, I snapped this:

0409181920_Film3

Matt Boehm, Matt Kerr (armed with Sazerac), Mimi Thomas, and your author representing UTK Geography in the Brennan’s courtyard.

Another thing I appreciate about the AAG, now having been to my sixth meeting, is the ease of starting ‘traditions.’ They don’t always need to include the same people; they just have to go through the same (or similar) motions. In San Francisco, my Berlin-based friend Lucas Elsner and I took a sojourn to the Haight to shop at Amoeba. This year, we gathered some others (four people from four different countries) for an afternoon in the Bywater neighborhood. The six of us treated ourselves to lunch at Elizabeth’s and then spent more time than most normal people would at Euclid Records, nearby. I wish I had taken more pictures. I can see this tradition continuing and growing. Geographers on vinyl.

[As a cheap plug to those of you in Knoxville, Nathan McKinney and I will be playing some cuts from some of the records pictured at our next DJ night, May 3rd at Last Days of Autumn Brewing. There is no real academic outreach element here; it’s just going to be a fun night of music, craft beer, and maybe some dancing if the crowd is into that.]

THE ACTUAL CONFERENCE

I meant it when I said New Orleans was simultaneously a great and terrible setting for AAG. The fact that I’ve been working on my retrospective post(s) for hours and I’ve written so little about the actual academic, business, and networking contents of the week. Much of the time I did spend conferencing tended to blur together, composed of well-organized paper sessions, fascinating plenary talks, and poster sessions that I tried my best to swing through in between. Of course, I found myself “AAG’d” at least 3 or 4 times per day, so I missed a bunch of sessions I had saved on the AAG app.

0412181522_HDR_Film3

Bill Wyckoff (Montana State) gets an overview from Fuhito Kadama (Nagoya University) on using cartographic analysis to map early modern castle towns in Japan. Photo by the author.

Speaking of the AAG app, kudos to the organization and whatever contractor they hired to build it. I’m assuming ESRI had a hand, considering how they posted at least 2 seconds of an ad every time the app opened, but these programs don’t grow on trees. This was the first AAG that I, an obnoxious analog loyalist, did not leave with (1) a printed program or (2) a water bottle. I did not get the program because I may have just forgotten whether I had ordered one, and I didn’t get a water bottle because nobody did! The AAG forewent those party favors this year. I never heard why, but the rumblings of geographers who had too many water bottles probably became loud enough on twitter or in the conference hallways. I had enough to pack when preparing to head home, so I didn’t miss having the veritable phone book and bottle clinking around this year.

I spent much of Day One, similarly to my first day in Boston last year, wandering around the city doing some independent research and repeat photography, which I will detail extensively in Part II of my retrospective (coming later this week).

3c7986ff5c2ead14b169e121786a7547Day Two (Wednesday) I caught the cultural geographies Plenary Talk by Paul Kingsbury, which was just as solid as any other cultural geographies keynote I’ve seen, but may be the most entertaining one yet. Kingsbury’s work, already gaining a lot of steam through the preeminence of science fiction-themed reality television and paranormal preoccupations, focuses on the people and community built around these investigations. Although I went in expecting something different, the result was strangely comforting, particularly in an era when UFO enthusiasts and paranormal investigators are more often painted as wackos or transformed into memes before being understood as humans. I look forward to seeing whatever else he produces from this line of work, especially if he does somehow inadvertently prove we’re not alone.

After Kingsbury’s talk ended, I picked up a rental car and left for Lafayette. A friend invited me out there for the evening, and since I had never been to the city and was eminently curious about it, I took him up on his offer. At the advice of various Cajun friends, I wound up outside the Best Stop Supermarket in suburban Scott, sharing delicious boudin with a stray kitten. I also tasted my first pork cracklin, and quickly looked up where (if anywhere) I could get Cajun food in Eastern Tennessee.

Somewhat inspired by a 1984 Marjorie Esman article on the rediscovery and leveraging of Cajun identity in Lafayette, I walked around downtown with a critical eye, noticing the “Shop Leauxcal” signs in many storefront windows, spotting street signs that had been modified to say “Rue….” rather than the English name, and of course patronizing Lagniappe Records. Not that I didn’t support the leauxcal economy plenty at Lagniappe, but I’m grateful that my ignorance of various obscure Zydeco legends prevented me from shelling out big bucks on their rare 7-inch records that sat in a box behind the register. In a way, it felt reassuring seeing such an intensely local form of music retaining its geographic allure despite an international community of music collectors willing to drive Cajun music prices to those extremes.

neworleans 072

The Circle Bar, New Orleans, 2007. Photo by the author.

I got back to New Orleans around 1 AM, where I raced to the Circle Bar to find a few international friends in an effort to continue another AAG tradition: seeking out a punk show in a dive bar. The French Oi! band Rixe happened to be playing a late show, so I told my good friends Sarah Gelbard and Lucas Elsner (both of whom went on the Friday vinyl excursion) that I would meet them there. Unfortunately, Rixe were thundering through their final song as I parked and ran in, but the group of us had a great time catching up outside. We actually outlasted everyone else who had congregated on the sidewalk. The opening band drove back to Hattiesburg, and even Rixe had taken all of their merch and gone by the time we realized we had outlasted everyone short of the bar staff who were trying to clean up and close inside. Although I didn’t get to experience the show with my friends, I got the rewarding conversation and exhaustion afterwards. So, in other words, I felt at home again. Extra respect to Sarah for her impressive ability to talking her friends and colleagues, many of whom were not even into punk and had never been to a show, into what must have been a marginally terrifying experience for them. Although the building looks fairly large from across the circle (as seen in that photo I took of it in 2007, above), inside it was as intimate and divey as any bar where you would see a French Oi! band play on a Wednesday night. I remember how curious the place made me when I wandered by it in December 2007, so I loved being able to see inside it. It wasn’t quite the dream-come-true that I experienced outside of Segovia in 2015, but I appreciated the stop nonetheless.

THE ACTUAL ACTUAL CONFERENCE

Thursday was my first day completely full of conference activity, beginning with a session I chaired on the Geographies of Music. It featured talks from Max Buckholz on the Bay Area punk explosion of the 1990s (a project after my own heart), soundmapping the music of Donny Hathaway by Ranier LeLoup (Laval), gentrification in Brixton by Australian transplant Kate Carr, Erasmus Institute research on gig economies and spaces by Arno van der Hoeven (Rotterdam), and a discussion by Ola Johannson (Pittsburgh-Johnstown), who has appeared numerous times on this blog.

0412181007_HDR_Film3

Max Buckholz presents on the Bay Area Punk Explosion, Thursday morning. Photo by the author.

0412181108_HDR_Film3

Arno van der Hoeven (Erasmus Institute, Rotterdam) presents on Thursday morning. Photo by the author.

 

That afternoon, Helen Morgan-Parmett’s (UVM) Plenary Talk for the Media and Communication Geography specialty group became perhaps my favorite session of the entire meeting. My friend (and AAG social media guru) Emily Fekete introduced her, and the first thing that Helen commented was that she wasn’t a geographer. Ironically, whenever extra-disciplinary presenters mentioned this throughout the conference, I noticed that their audiences perked up a bit. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, I was disappointed that Helen didn’t have a bigger crowd for a discussion of generations of representation of New Orleans in film and television, one of the most gift-that-keeps-on-giving of locally focused topics covered at AAG.

The lecture taught me a ton about the history of film in New Orleans, including correcting many false assumptions that I’d had. One of which was that much of the city’s burgeoning role as a filming site was a post-Katrina phenomenon; in fact, the Film New Orleans tax credit initiatives went back to 2002. She also included a discussion of the quintessential “brilliant, but canceled” 1988 series Frank’s Place, which actually had to be rescued from complete eradication by forward-thinking pages at CBS, snatching the master tapes out of the garbage. Helen shared the beautiful, nostalgic credit sequence that made more money for Louis Armstrong’s estate per episode than any of the actors did. Still, it nearly brought a tear to my eye, as I’d watched scenes from the show before in undergrad, but had never seen this:

One of my favorite professors in undergrad, Richard Dubin, was one of the principal producers on the show, and this talk gave me a wonderful excuse to get back in touch with him. He told me he was still proud of that show, thirty years later, and I was glad to mention this connection to Helen while I was commending her for her talk.  It got several gears turning in my head regarding writing I’ve been doing on symbolic gentrification in popular culture and reading I’ve been doing on Debord’s society of the spectacle (“places becoming filmed places”). It also bears mentioning that while searching for postcard image sites on Tuesday (again, more on that soon), my friends and I walked past a crowd that had accumulated by Lafayette Square where NCIS was filming a scene. The city as a compilation of inescapable representations, indeed.

FRIDAY (AGAIN)

On Friday, I woke up early to present my new paper on the uses of Punk and Underground Music in Teaching Geography, which seemed to go over well. Erik Hitters kicked off our session with a continuation of the research that he and van der Hoeven had been doing on Rotterdam, Adam Zendel (Toronto) talked about qualitative research on people on the fringes of the music industry (union workers, roadies, DIY musicians) and the toll that the lifestyle takes on them, Anne Smith (Montpellier) talked about music’s role in surf communities in Florida, I presented, and then my buddy Séverin Guillard brought it home with a discussion.

And just like that, our session ended, we congregated and chatted in the hallway for a few minutes, and then we all scattered. I got back together with Séverin, Sarah, and Lucas that afternoon for food and record shopping in the Bywater, but for the most part the conference pulled us in multiple directions later that day. Lauri Turnpeinin, another European geographer with deep interest in music who came on the vinyl excursion, and I caught up in the airport early the next morning (more on that in my very left-field Part III entry, later this week).

 

Later on Friday, I was incredibly fortunate to find a session on Repeat Photography happening in the Sheraton in an unenviable time slot (imagine what was happening down on the street, one block away from the casino and portals to the French Quarter Festival). I’ll write more about that very soon. I’m going to cut this off here for reasons of length and sanity. Come back for Part Two in a few days, where I’ll share some of the repeat photography mentioned here and alluded to throughout this entry. Thanks for reading this far.

0412181818_HDR_Film3

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the French Quarter Festival, Thursday afternoon. Photo by the author.

^ I will withhold judgment in this area until I see this movie, but it never hurts to be cautious there.
* I also bought Charles’ album Dead Men Tell Tales, which was a CD-R and didn’t play very well. Anyway, you can check out his music here.

Do You Know What It Means to Hold AAG in New Orleans?

AAG in New Orleans, Louisiana – April 10th through April 14th. My mind is already cycling through some dixieland band’s raucous rendition of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.” To be fair, though, that song is like a mental screensaver for me most of the year whether or not I’m preparing for a trip to NOLA. Like most people who enjoy the coolest cities in their respective country (and perhaps continent), I fell in love with the Crescent City the first time I visited it in 1998.

Coincidentally, AAG falls on the same week as the French Quarter Festival, which was the event my family and I were down there for twenty years ago. My very talented sister was in a youth jazz band that played on Bourbon Street as part of the 1998 event, quickly being forced into a bar when a storm passed overhead. I should really digitize some of that footage.  From what I can tell, the Second Line kickoff parade is happening around the time I’ll be around the corner, chairing a panel.


Speaking of which, here is where you can find me presenting:

Friday, April 13th
9:00 AM – 9:20 AM
Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
“Geographies of Media VIII: Sounds, scenes and urban policies – Contemporary issues and new horizons for the geographies of music 4”

My paper this year is entitled “Punk and Pedagogy in Geography.” I’ll be talking about some of my teaching experiences so far where I’ve been able to apply lessons learned from using underground music as a mechanism for teaching cultural, urban, and other aspects of human geography. I’ll be using examples of lecture material from Gainesville, Jakarta, and of course DC and Paris. This is largely a work-in-progress, but I’m looking forward to the form it takes.

You can also find me chairing this Thursday session:

Thursday, April 12th
10:00 AM  – 11:40 AM
Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
“Geographies of Media VIII: Sounds, scenes and urban policies – Contemporary issues and new horizons for the geographies of music 4”

This one’s composed of a handful of great-sounding papers and is the organizational handiwork of my musical geography brothers-in-arms Ola Johansen (University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown), Severin Guillard (Université Paris Est – Lab’Urba), and Joseph Palis (University of the Phillippines – Diliman).

I’m also currently piecing together my schedule of panels and paper sessions I’m hoping to catch, of which a solid 75% will be happening concurrently with at least 3 other sessions I would like to see. Such is the big conference life.


This trip will be my fifth time in New Orleans. I’ve returned three times since then – in 2007, 2008, and 2014 – and thoroughly enjoyed myself on all three occasions. My last trip, which happened on one sweltering July day, included this Repeat Photography (as it appears in the AAG program; I still call it “Re-Photography” on this site) mission that worked out surprisingly well. You can re-read my account of it here.

I can’t believe it’s already been four years. I guess there’s nothing to really do there next week but re-photograph some other memories (TBD) while trying to make some half-decent new ones. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

#AAG2017 Recap Part II: Boston, 1935-1952

I have a bad habit of over-planning, making grand plans that would be inconceivable to complete in whatever short time span I’m presented. Of course, this results in me spreading myself too thin on occasion when on the road. I mentioned in the first Part that my AAG Boston experience was somewhat truncated, so if I was going to pursue a couple of re-photography sites, I would need to act strategically.

This meant that I needed to sacrifice at least one morning of the conference, which is never an easy decision to make. I also needed to take weather into consideration, since pouring rain and 50-degree weather (which would encapsulate the entire day and night Thursday) would not lend themselves to a hypothermia-free walkabout. Because it appeared that the rain would hold off for most of Wednesday and I had not committed to any sessions until that afternoon, I decided to start off my conference in side-project territory.

After visiting registration early, buying an AAG hoodie on the way for a fantastic deal (I forgot, somehow, to pack something suitably insulated or warm for early April in Boston), I set out eastbound on Boylston Street toward the Common. Though I would normally take a detour through the park, the lagoons were drained and half of the paths were covered in mud. Some would still probably be interested in this “anti-tourist-gaze” dynamic, but because my time was somewhat limited and I needed to make it to Cambridge by lunch time, I kept walking. My first site, conveniently, sat right at the far corner of the Common at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets.

The Hotel Touraine / 62 Boylston

My great-grandfather Ben Irving sent this Hotel Touraine postcard home from Boston on December 1, 1943. The information on the back of the card indicates this building was “erected on the site where John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, lived, and his son Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War, was born. Opposite Boston Common.” It does not provide any dates, but according to the National Register of Historic Places, it went up in 1897 and operated as a hotel until 1966, when it closed down to become an apartment building. Its early-20th century charms included an impressive little hotel library.

The farthest I got into the building was the security desk, as you’d expect with any private residence. I spoke for a few minutes with the desk clerk Mike, who took my card and told me he would pass it along to anybody in the leasing office with a historical interest in the building (nobody was there at the time). He also told me about one elderly resident named Elaine who he understood had been a resident of 62 Boylston (as it is currently known) since 1967, the building’s first full year zoned residential.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building on the SE corner of Boylston and Tremont is now a Starbucks.

J.W. McCormick Post Office & Courthouse Building

Here was where my day got interesting. This postcard, which has been damaged since I inherited it a few years ago, was mailed home from Boston on September 24, 1935. The caption on the back reads “NEW FEDERAL BUILDING AND POST-OFFICE. Boston Postal district is the fourth largest in the United States. Postal receipts of this district aggregate more than $13,000,000 a year.” According to the US Inflation Calculator, that amount inflates to $231,344,014 in today’s currency (cumulative inflation 1,679.6%), which is impressive either way, given how much more communication was done via the Post back then (and how much more efficient the system was).

At the end of my PechaKucha talk about the Ben Irving postcard collection, I implored my audience to “always, always, always” ask (I think I used “always” three times for Marge Simpson-style/’part of us all’ repetition/emphasis). After snapping that surprisingly challenging photo of the building from the far corner of the intersection, I wandered into the main entrance, which is probably impossible to discern with the construction scaffolding wrapped around the first level of the building, but it’s there in the center. The security guards were hardly warm and cuddly, but the first couple of whom I spoke to near the metal checkpoints offered suggestions for who to seek out upstairs.

Immediately after the checkpoint, a set of steps leads you up to the second floor, where I took that photo of the sign that they never bothered to junk when the news stand shut down (date unknown). Today, the EPA’s Boston offices sit in that space, and a couple EPA employees with connections throughout the (somewhat vacant) building were happy to show me around.

One EPA employee (whose name I forgot to write down) brought me up to the third floor and introduced me to Jim Sheehan of the GSA. We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me that, contrary to what I had assumed, the McCormick building actually pre-dated the WPA era. I had only assumed it was a WPA building since a 1935 postcard was showing the building off, but he told me it was an easy mistake to make. I would later find the GSA’s broadsheet about the building, which had more information that I should have probably looked up before going there.

The EPA employee brought me by the old post office window bay, which had long fallen out of use, but were virtually untouched for decades. He also brought me upstairs to a beautiful old courtroom that had also fallen out of use since the era of the Anderson vs. Cryovac, Inc. battle in 1986 (which would inspire the Jonathan Harr book A Civil Action, which inspired the 1998 John Travolta movie of the same name, which was filmed on site in said courtroom). Most of the legal texts had been removed from the shelves, but enough remained to lend the room a slightly creepy semi-used aura. The Depression-era brass/steel doors that led to the original judges’ chambers were also among the coolest I had ever seen; nobody really knew the last time half of them had been opened. In retrospect, it’s probably better that I forgot the EPA employee’s name since me saying any of this may get him into trouble.

So, yeah, if you’re curious about a place, always ask. The next destination was a bit more confusing to find and a bit less security-heavy.

Boston’s Old City Hall

Because I care about my readers, I’m not going to subject you to any images of the brutalist atrocity that the city government moved into post-redevelopment. Nope. None at all. Let’s focus our gaze instead on this 19th century building, tucked away around the corner from the Old South Meeting house. The Meeting House, by the way, was the first building the the U.S. designated for historical preservation, and remains today a key reference point. I actually bumped into my colleague Jordan Brasher across the street from it, as he was headed to meet an old friend for coffee nearby. I wasn’t expecting to run into any geographers that far away from Hynes that early in the conference week, but I clearly wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the window to wander.

Anyway, the postcard there on the left is one of the later items in the Ben Irving collection; he sent it home from Boston on January 21, 1952. The front caption is visible above, and the rear caption reads “Boston City Hall located on School Street dates back to 1865. A Latin School stood here in colonial times, later the County Court House. Statues of Benjamin Franklin and Josiah Quincy stand at the entrance. At the rear is the City Hall Annex.” The statues are still prominent, but I’m not entirely sure what part of the building constituted the Annex.

As I was taking the photograph(s) recreating the postcard shot from the corner of Province Street, the scrums of tourists wandering around the sidewalk in front of the Hall diverted a bike messenger, who crashed into a pillar and flipped over his handlebars onto School Street. I was looking away when I happened, but I heard it as it happened, and walked over to check on him as he slowly got up and got back on his bike.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building next door is now a Starbucks. The restaurant with the red awning that used to occupy that space was called Purcell’s (difficult to make out on the postcard, perhaps intentional, though Thompson’s Spa is prominently labeled in the background). Sean McCullough, who worked in the Old City Hall’s management office downstairs, told me that the Starbucks kept the original Purcell’s tiles at its corner entrance, but I couldn’t find them. Also, there was not much room to wander into the coffee shop and inspect the floor without having to order something out of guilt.

Seriously, I could probably compile an entire photo collection dedicated to Starbucks that currently occupy spaces in historic city scenery, but I’m not doing that without serious kickbacks from the Starbucks Corporation. They already have enough free advertising from the customers on Instagram (and I suppose writers who complain about them).

Hopping on the Red Line and moving into Cambridge…

Harvard Square with Lehman Hall in Background

Ben sent this one home down to Brooklyn late in the afternoon of November 15, 1943 (two weeks before the one of the Hotel Touraine). Due to the historic status of Harvard’s buildings and the clearly demarcated and still existent (unlike some squares in Boston) landmark, the site was very easy to identify. I tried to recreate this angle; I really did. But timing and fate prevented it from happening. The best I could do was that shot from the opposite side of the T station entrance from the Harvard gates. I deduced almost immediately that the postcard image was taken from atop the Abbot building, a flatiron-type structure located at 5 JFK Street. Given my longstanding inability to let sleeping dogs lie, I wandered into the Curious George shop to ask the employee if she knew who had access to the roof. Of course they didn’t. I found the entrance on the side nearby and wandered up the stairs (the lift was broken, which was fine since it did not look like anybody used it anyway). The window with the “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe” (get it?) decal on the third floor would have been a great spot to recreate the superior angle on the Square, but of course Car Talk staff office had nobody home when I knocked on the door.

I wandered up to the fourth floor, where I found a very intimate Dentist’s office (the office was intimate, not the dentist… I never met them so the jury is out on the latter). I spoke with the two receptionists, including one girl with a thick Boston accent who told me I could, in spite of hand-written signs that said otherwise, could go out on the lower level of the roof. Every moment I spent outside, though, I felt like someone on a different floor or in a neighboring building would see me and call the cops. The level they had access to was a flight below the main roof and on the opposite side of the building from Harvard Square. I walked over to the ledge, leaned around, and snapped this photo (right) around the side aiming toward Lehman Hall. It wasn’t great, but it was the best I could do in the circumstances. The entrance to the top roof was padlocked.

Completely Insane Post-Script

As I mentioned in Part I, my parents came up to meet me, my cousin, and her husband on Saturday. I told my father, who worked for FEMA through the early 1980s, about my visit to the McCormick building. He told me he used to work there. I didn’t believe him, since the GSA and EPA guys told me that FEMA had been located at 99 High Street since the 1980s. ‘No,’ he said, ‘FEMA’s offices were in the McCormick Building when I worked there. They moved to 99 High Street after I left.’ What made this seem crazy was that I have clear memories of going downtown with my mom to visit my dad in his office when I was 2 or 3 years old. This means that I had been in the building before, about thirty years earlier. The only part I can still remember was the cluttered FEMA office (FEMA? Disorganized? Unbelievable, I know), but apparently the building had not changed a whole lot since then. Discovering this all, post-facto, from a short conversation with my father blew my mind.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this! Tune in on Friday for the third part of this AAG/April recap with a bonus re-Photography excursion in the Sunshine State.

#AAG2017 Recap Part I: Boston, 2017

If post-internet culture has taught us anything (and as I’ve joked about on here before), the best way to gain interested readers is to wait until the subject at hand is far enough in their rear-view mirror so that their fatigue over it has dissipated. That is the complete fabrication I’m going to lean on as to why I’m posting about the 2017 American Association of Geographers Meeting more than six weeks after it ended. But, like AAG meetings prior, I had a great time, learned a lot, and met many great people whose contributions I’d like to share here.

The simple truth (which many of you who know me may have already guessed) was that I came back to Knoxville and had my hands full with some very time-sensitive academic proceedings. After a brief sojourn in Florida (which will have its own entry in Part III… yes there will be three parts to this) to attend the wedding of friends whom I introduced to one another back in the halcyon days of 2014, I flew back to Knoxville despite the best efforts of Allegiant Airlines to keep us in the St. Petersburg airport indefinitely. As soon as I was physically and mentally able, I launched straight into preparation for my dissertation defense, slated to happen the following Monday morning. I’m grateful to say that I passed, and with great assistance and motivation from my committee, completed my revisions in time to complete my formatting work with the UTK Thesis Office by the drop-deadline of that Wednesday. So, I write here for the first time as Dr. Tyler Sonnichsen, and I couldn’t be more honored.

committee

Dr. Van Riemsdijk, Dr. Bell, Dr. Alderman, sleep-deprived almost-Dr. Sonnichsen, and Dr. Gay.  Those of you who know Dr. Alderman would not be surprised to know he made fun of me for wanting to take this group photo.

Of course, once I met the graduation deadline with my manuscript approval and form submission, I had a plethora of piñatas other items to cover which I had relegated to the back-burner after getting back from AAG, and that bled into end-of-semester duties, finals week, [insert excuse here], [insert excuse here], and commencement.

But, I’m currently in the zone of the job market, completing my teaching portfolio, and helping my own students as they round out their spring semesters and begin their summers. That’s all to say I am finally here and writing about the amazing, somewhat truncated, and extremely soggy conference week in my native city…

Boston

boston_ma_3

This gorgeous photo above is from The Fiscal Times. It vaguely resembles the amazing panoramic view we had from the second level of the Hynes Convention Center, which I regret not photographing while walking by. Given the nature of this conference, I was either late for a session nearby or interrupted for a chat with someone I had not seen in some time. I love this picture, but there’s something not right about  it… something a bit… off…

dadinstewarts

THAT’S more like it! Here’s a better visual representation of Boston in 2017. Luxury condos practically sprouting from the ground like beanstalks in the South End, the construction towers blocking once-nice views of the city. The silhouette you see there is my father, who came up for the day on Saturday to meet me and see an old friend, whose living room we see pictured here. For as long as I can remember, Boston has been maligned as one of the country’s most expensive cities, and for a complex list of predictable reasons.

Many of the Baby Boomers who moved out to the suburbs in the 1980s during the so-called ‘Massachusetts Miracle’ are taking advantage of the downsizing and accessibility that comes with moving back into the core of a very small city. My parents, though they are not in the class of urban returners, have completely engaged with Uber and Lyft whenever visiting friends in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or wherever they go. It’s pretty gratifying, actually. I cannot even attempt to quantify how much suffering we prevented and money we saved by taking a Lyft into the North End for lunch. It also did not help that we chose to do so on (1) a Saturday, and (2) a game day for the Boston Bruins nearby at TD Banknorth Garden (in which of course they were soundly defeated by my beloved Washington Capitals). We did discuss going to see the game, but again, we were in Boston, and even the nosebleed seats were out of our price range.

In all of my visits to the city, I had never been to the South End, which considering how it was mainly an industrial neighborhood centered around the old Boston Herald office, is not surprising. More recently, though, the city has overseen the neighborhood’s redevelopment into a block of luxury condos and all the predictable accouterments: Whole Foods, yoga studios, and high-security parking garages. The neighborhood’s title (Ink Block) and building names (e.g. Sepia) recall the area’s pre-gentrification history.

As harrowing and impressive as this new development is, nothing about this trip changed my longstanding general opinion of Boston: it’s cold, rainy, indifferent, expensive, an absolute nightmare to get around, and one of my favorite places on the planet. I’ve said it before: no matter how long its been since I’ve lived there, I just can’t scrub it from my veins. Folks who lob indiscriminate hatred towards the city, both questionable (usually regarding sports or weather) and understandable (usually race-related) simply lack this “insight.” Or, maybe they just sincerely hate it. But, every person’s experience of urban place is different. Speaking of experiencing urban places, on to…

The Conference

As I alluded above, this year’s AAG was somewhat abbreviated for me. I arrived on Tuesday night, having traveled with a new friend from the UTK Anthropology department on her way up to present a poster.  Somehow, I had not anticipated how bleak the weather would be; even in the transit station (mostly indoors) it was freezing, and after my friend and I parted ways after emerging in the Back Bay, I walked through hypothermia-inducing drizzle and wind for what felt like a mile (it was three blocks) to locate the Copley Marriott.

The core of this year’s conference was held in and around the Hynes Convention Center, the Copley Marriott, and the Sheraton Boston, all of which were connected through a tunnel-and-mall system. Considering how miserable the weather was for approximately half of the conference week, it was convenient not to need to go outside to attend any official part of AAG. Here is a visual of the 3-block span.

321_map_march2017

Though made somewhat necessary by the nasty weather, this was a quintessential case study of the postmodernist urban design that Angelenos like Michael Dear wrote about as they started seeing it crystallize around Los Angeles thirty years ago. It took deceptively long to get from a session in the Marriott to a session in Hynes or the Sheraton, as I had to do several times. Also, there was an island of walled-off construction in the Prudential Center mall at the receiving end of the Huntington Avenue footbridge, which did not ruin anything but was slightly cumbersome. The mall included one of everything, notably, consistently-slammed Dunkin’ Donuts and Sweetgreen franchises, both of which would play prominently into my conference week. The Cultural Geography Specialty Group decided to hold their annual breakfast at the Dunkin on Thursday Morning, despite a rapidly accumulating hell-crowd of Geographers and mall employees trying to get their wake-up wraps and Dunkaccinos. That being said, Dunkin’ Donuts is a New England institution and this one was particularly overcrowded – both dynamics as Bostonian as anything. Ironically, we could not have been a more authentic cultural experience in the most inauthentic of settings.

As for Sweetgreen, I finally found an excuse to get lunch there on Friday with a good friend and former colleague. I had not eaten at Sweetgreen since going to one of the original locations in DC. The burgeoning chain had actually been founded by a group of Georgetown kids shortly after I moved there, and every time I’ve seen one of these locally sprouted chains show up in a (somewhat) far-flung city I tend to get excited for the founders. I had the same reaction seeing a Jeni’s Ice Cream stand in Atlanta. Entrepreneurship is worth the pain and struggle when you’ve got something fantastic you’re selling.

Wednesday

Wednesday morning presented me with my only free stretch in which I could go looking for a few specific landmarks (to be detailed in Part II), so I said hello to some colleagues in the morning and quickly slipped out in the general direction of Downtown Crossing and Cambridge. I made it back in time to catch a paper presentation by Sarah Gelbard, who had reached out to me a couple months prior because our abstracts were the only two out of the (virtually) millions at AAG to feature the term “punk.” Sarah’s paper on ownership of punk venues in Ottawa was part of one of Simon Springer’s anarchist geography sessions. That session turned out to be a prototypical AAG moment where I met numerous people in person finally with whom I’d been corresponding for some time. Sarah’s paper opened with a controversy that erupted last year around a performance by The Queers in Ottawa (which I caught wind of through social media channels)  and expanded into a discussion of scene identity and spatial dynamics in Canada’s capital city. Stay tuned for more appearances from her in this recap.

Wednesday evening gave me the opportunity to spend quality time with some old CSULB friends. Because Long Beach State is a two-year program, nobody with whom I studied there (2011-2013) is still actively enrolled, so every year at AAG I get to meet a handful of excited new grad students. Many of the faculty, some of whom I’ve been fortunate to keep in contact, have remained, obviously, and I couldn’t imagine a more fun and eclectic mix of people to get reintroduced to every couple of years.

photo 2

Crashing the UCLA party with the Long Beach cohort. Boyston Street.

This year, my friend Anna, whose final semester of undergrad overlapped with my first semester of grad school, began her Master’s there. She introduced me to several new members of their department; I was proud to see such expansive involvement from the CSU grad students, considering how few of us even made it to AAG in 2013 (when it was in Los Angeles). Seeing the level of dedication the new group had, considering how far they traveled in order to get there, spoke loudly of the growth of that program since I left. In fact, several of them were not even presenting papers or posters and were there primarily on their own dime. I had already been impressed with the handful of Long Beach geographers I had met by Thursday morning, but I ran into Anna, Dr. Paul Laris (longtime department head), and a new congregation of them on Boylston Street on my way back from Cambridge on Friday Night. We wound up talking about music, eating tator tots, and closing out the Bukowski Tavern (perhaps the most appropriately named bar I’ve ever visited).

Thursday(s) with Noam

aag17_chomsky0451

via The AAG.

Predictably, the biggest-ticket event of AAG 2017 was the conversation with and presentation of the Atlas Award to Noam Chomsky. The crowd was unlike anything I had seen at an AAG meeting previously, even if other Atlas Award winners like Julian Bond (Tampa 2014) deserved just as big of a crowd (and had a ballroom equipped for as many attendees). AAG Executive Director Doug Richardson, who first interviewed Chomsky for an anarchist newspaper in 1976, hosted. A few key moments within the interview stood out.

My friend got to the ballroom fairly early and saved me a seat near the front. From there, we got to watch at least a dozen attendees stand and take photos of Richardson as he prepared his notes. He would, toward the end of the talk, address his resemblance to Chomsky, but he did nothing to stop these adoring fans from taking his photograph, clearly thinking he was Chomsky. Anyone could Google Chomsky and find his age (he is 88 this year), which would mean Richardson would have been an incredibly well-preserved 88. Also, it seemed strange that the guest of honor would have just been sitting on the stage by himself before the main event.

Second, throughout the interview, Chomsky and Richardson discussed the neoliberal model, which came to irrevocably harm cities like Detroit, which was near and dear to Richardson, a Michigan native. Richardson mentioned offhandedly that he supported the idea of the AAG holding an annual meeting in Detroit, which I happily applauded, which trickled out into a smattering of other applause from isolated points within the crowd. I was happy to see someone on the AAG Executive board voicing support for holding the meeting in a city that (1) has deeply suffered for the past few decades and (2) is relatively cheap. I know it is a topic of contention; I got into heated conversations about how AAG Tampa may have been my favorite so far with people who hated it that year.

The third noteworthy moment actually occurred after I had to leave, but I heard about it via twitter from a pair of reliable sources. They set up mics on stands in the rows next to the stage for audience Q & A. Despite how many men rushed to line up, the hosts gave special privilege to one of the few women in line and told her to move to the front. A nice gesture that proved both self-awareness from Chomsky and Richardson, as well as a general acknowledgment of gray-haired white men in the Academy. And I say that as a graying white male: no panel discussion or paper session ever lost out from a multiplicity of perspectives and voices.

Friday, I’m In Too Many Sessions at Once

ruthaag

Ruth Trumble, a good friend and former colleague, opens up the slow violence paper session on Friday Morning, April 7.

One remarkable dynamic within academia is the forging of great friendships with people whose research you never get to see on display. Ruth Trumble (Wisconsin), who is doing great work on “slow violence” over the past two decades in the Balkans, is one example. From what I recall, the last time I saw Ruth actually present was at the 2014 UTK Geography Research Symposium (before it was even called GeoSym) while completing her MA at Tennessee. I was glad to finally change that this year.

After Ruth’s paper, I got to walk directly across the hall to see my adviser Derek Alderman receive the Ethnic Geography Specialty Group teaching award. c80yrkiwsaqzn6vEven more rewarding was getting there in time to watch my friend and also-former-colleague Matt Cook delivering a sentimental speech about his work and friendship with Derek. I was grateful to be able to represent his current body of advisees as we all had a chance to say a few words about what Alderman has done for us. I shared my anecdote about how Derek went out of his way to meet with me at AAG 2013 when he had such limited time to do so, and why that (more than anything) was why I chose to get my PhD at Tennessee.  I would need to go back to 2013 on these entries to see whether I mentioned this, but I committed to UT without ever having even visited Knoxville. I have no idea how often grad students make decisions in that order, but I’m pretty pleased I did. My example can also serve as a reminder to answer emails from students quickly, especially prospective ones, and make time for them.

Though I have my issues (as many people do) with the algorithms that churn out the schedule, it worked out very well for me on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, however, was another story.

Paper Session: Qualitative Methods in Human Geography, A

Friday afternoon arrived, and it was time to meet a new group of co-presenters and present my methods chapter. At the same time (3:40 – 5:00 PM), the AAG scheduled both the cultural geographies Annual Lecture, as well as a paper session on music geographies which Severin Guillard and Joseph Palis (both of whom have made cameos on this site before) invited me to be discussant. I had to miss both, regrettably turning down the latter offer. It was all just bad luck from where I sat, but at least my paper session went incredibly well.

Andrew McCartan and Heather Maguire (Brock University) put two qualitative methodologies sessions together, the first of which included two papers on queer methodologies and drew a big crowd of LGBT geographers. Our chair Catherine Nash (Brock) opened the session with a quick announcement that she would be keeping us all well within time and “running a tight ship.” This made me smile; my two biggest pet peeves are (1) paper sessions diverting from the published schedule and (2) presenters going over their time (often because session chairs do not hold them to it). It follows that one usually leads to the other.

The session was tight in more ways that one; the room in the Marriott Hotel to which we were assigned was incredibly small. My event-production impulses kicked in as the first paper began and more people kept quietly entering. Rae Rosenberg and I were pinned behind a conference table next to the projection screen, so I had to (using mainly gestures and lip-reading) ask the fourth presenter, Jeff Rose, to transfer an empty chair next to the projector to the back of the room for the women sitting on the floor against the wall. Fortunately, he knew exactly what I meant. We may have had one or two spectators sitting on the floor, but we managed to get most of the presenters behind the tables and the available spots opened up. It’s always gratifying to watch geographers pull together as a group and suss out a potentially chaotic spatial situation; either way, there was no way this session could have surpassed the crunch of our Back to the Future panel in 2015.

The session opened with a video submission from Beyhan Farhadi, who chose to remain in Toronto, citing an alternative AAG gathering for Canadian/international geographers. Her presentation talked about virtual research methods, e-learners, and included an adorable video of her and her son (playing in the snow) imploring her students to sign up for her study. I was disappointed to not get the chance to meet her in person, but I was grateful for her statement, which echoed many concerns from AAG members who felt unwelcome in the United States given anti-Muslim/Arab/Persian/Levantine/et al. sentiments coming from many in power. One silver lining, I realized, may be a greater motivation for the AAG to finally go to Toronto one of these years (after 2022, at least, through which they announced the next 5 meeting locations). Add that to a list of cities where the AAG should go, but probably won’t.

Rae Rosenberg then presented work on homelessness among LGBT youth in Toronto, which focused mainly on reflexivity. Heather Maguire followed with covert research into anti-LGBT groups, which I found fascinating for multiple reasons. First, it subverted (or, at least professionally sidestepped) the IRB superstructure, and second, it was ruthlessly important to qualitatively understanding the antiquated thought processes of those who are still anti-gay in 2017. Both Rosenberg and Maguire called forth the concept of queerness-as-political position. Rosenberg also reminded me of how inherently politicized geography is. For example, prisoner-correspondence programs (a component of Rosenberg’s work) inherently chip away at the Prison-Industrial complex. Rose’s presentation, focusing on participant observation within a homesteader community in Utah (and its inherent contradictions), was also great and at times hilarious.

You could have probably guessed it was a good session because I did not pause to take any photos. I’m sure that some exist, though, and I’ll re-post them if I do find any.

Alternative AAG Excursions in Boston

Here is the exciting part where we leave the conference grounds and discover the true geography in the city. Mid-day on Thursday, Sarah Gelbard and I headed over to Newbury Street to grab pho, talk about our respective towns, and figure out where we stand in (a term that seems less funny every time I use it) punkademia.  Later that day while I was in a conference whirlwind, Sarah sent me a message with a link to an event for a show that night. I filed it away and I forgot to look at it until later on, when I happened to be at a pub in Allston to meet up with some local friends. I realized, through pure happenstance, that this show happened to be about a 5 minute walk away! I said my goodbyes and headed down to O’Brien’s Pub, where I found Sarah, UK-via-France anarcho-geographer Martin Locret-Collet, and their colleague Filipa Pajevic.

O’Briens felt like the quintessential corner bar filled with good people and modestly priced (for Boston, anyway) drinks. Rather than go to one of the dozen delicious Korean or Middle Eastern spots within walking distance, I made the mistake of scarfing down bar hot dogs. Sometimes, convenience is a bad influence. Still, it was fun getting to know Martin and Filipa, and the show itself was ear-splitting fun (Sarah actually had earplugs, to her responsible credit). Local favorites Rebuilder and Charlotte’s Dollar Signs rounding out a bill headlined by Devon Kay and the Solutions. I say “apparently” because hints were dropping that another band were going to show up and play a surprise set. I did not remember who Devon Kay was, which made it all the more shocking when his main band, Direct Hit!, showed up to close out the show (and the bar).

IMG_5222

SAYYYY WHATEVER YOU WANT TOOOOO….

Sarah and I could barely believe this turn of events. Direct Hit! may not be a household name like NOFX, Rise Against, or Bowling for Soup, but they have toured with all of them (the latter, actually, were why DH! were in Boston that night in the first place), and they’re currently one of the biggest draws among independent pop-punk bands. This was all going through my mind as I sent jealousy-inducing texts to a select few friends that would have loved to have been there in my place.


This amazing turn of events kept a most bizarre streak alive of me catching great punk shows almost by accident during AAG:

  • 2014, Tampa. I discovered, upon picking up the local alternative weekly paper that the Dead Milkmen were playing at a local metal bar that Saturday night. Because it was so close to the event (and this place was tiny) tickets were extremely sold out, and my friends and I had to watch and listen from outside (it still counts, though!).
  • 2015, Chicago. A friend of mine living and working as a lawyer in Chicago invited me to the Beat Kitchen to check out Pile, a mercilessly creative/proggy metal band from Boston. Later in the week, I returned to the Beat Kitchen to see Joie de Vivre, a quintessential emo-revival group. I tried selling it to some colleagues as a “classic Chicago emo excursion,” but unfortunately Alt_AAG hadn’t coalesced by that point. Anyway, Joie de Vivre were great to see, if out of practice. While they were tuning up, I bumped into the drummer from Annabel, one of my favorite newer emo bands, who I hadn’t seen in a while. I had no idea he lived in Chicago. I’m just rambling now.
  • 2016, San Francisco. A British participant at Geo-Slam started chatting with me about the Ergs! after the session, and mentioned that California (a newer band featuring Adam Pfahler of Jawbreaker and Green Day’s touring guitarist Jason White) were playing a small gig around the corner with All Dogs (a Columbus/Philly group I knew in the slightest).  We had no idea, however, that Billie Joe Armstrong would be there, filling in on bass for California. Really. I also got to meet Gaz Coombes within 24 hours of this, but I’d been planning to see him play for months and he’s not a punk band, so I won’t count that here. I’m rambling again.

The Direct Hit! incident made this the second straight year in which I had been invited to such a show by an international colleague which ended with an amazing surprise (keep this in mind when wondering how I’ve developed such severe FOMO). I’m fully aware that by cataloging these here I’ll probably jinx myself out of such an occurrence in New Orleans next year. I suppose that’s just as well, since New Orleans isn’t really much of a party town, is it?

Ah, who am I fooling… there are already plans stirring for at least two different special events with me either at the helm or in a collaborative position. I’m very excited, but I’ll refrain from teasing the specifics here because (1) both just came from speculative conversations with colleagues and (2) I want to allow myself to not think about conferences for a few minutes. For now, I should probably take a break writing to get my presentation together for EmoGeo…. d’oh.

Thanks for being a blast as always, Boston, and thanks to all those who came to see my paper on Friday as well as to those who put this academic and professional mega-event on year after year.

Check back in this Wednesday for Part II of my AAG 2017 Recap, where I venture out into Boston for my latest adventures (if you could call them that) in Re-Photography.

photo 3