Day 74: August 15, 2002
As I cycle across the Mississippi and into the state of Minnesota I imagine what it will be like when I finally get to Minneapolis. The city's name inspires me with it hybrid Indian and Greek words. "Shining Twin Cities of the high plains, astride the grand Mississippi River," becomes my mantra as I cycle through the woods and over the river.
I stay in a hostel basement. I share the basement floor with four college kids from London and at least four spiders lairing not more than an arm's length away in corner cobwebs. The aperture window lets in more rain and mosquitoes than sunlight.
At night I can still hear crickets. It is odd to listen to the nighttime street bustle and still hear country crickets make music.
The Mall of America
Days 75: August 16, 2002
As I write this children scream and the floor trembles. The halls are alive with music. I walk along passages, catching sound bites from every era, clime, and place. As I walk onwards, I am forced to play nostril roulette: scented candles, greasy fries, antiseptic, cinnabuns, perfume. A barely audible hum resonates throughout the corridors, and blends with the halls of music to create its own universal techno-hymn of white noise.
I am in the Mall of America. I originally planned to come in for a bite to eat. I had just cycled the streets of Minneapolis and along the green banks of the Mississippi. Then just past the National Cemetery I found the Mall of America. It is a hyper-real vastness of artificial wonder and disneyfied sublimity. Huh? It is a grand consumerapolis. It is Candyland, Hollywood, night town, 5th Avenue, Disney World, and Las Vegas wrapped into a single super sized extra value meal. It is the ultimate in extreme shopping experiences.
As soon as I walked in, I forgot my hunger and found myself, like many other of the thousand of people who come to this place, just wandering its labyrinthine passages looking for something. There is something here for everyone. So it may seem. As I rambled along, I felt a heavy weight inside me. The screams and cries of children playing in Camp Snoop became but a distant murmur. I found myself inside a clean, well-lit place. Things and signs of things promised me salvation from the daily grind. Was the burden that had been growing inside me, my wallet? I can shop until I drop, and then take a Ferris wheel ride.
A glowing display case of potions and elixirs caught my gaze. I looked up and saw that I was outside GNC, or the General Nutrition Center. A container of pills promised beauty, and another strength. Still another promised to be a cure for consumption.
Something inside me reared up. I felt my Master Card raking my back like the horns of a minotaur. I fled from GNC, past Abercrombie and Fitch and into Barnes and Noble. Having escaped the beast, I take refuge and browse the stacks of wisdom. Anything will do and I wander until a name or word calls to me. I browse through Garland's The Beach, and Saul's Voltaire's Bastards. Some poetry from Seamus Heaney's Electric Light sets my soul at ease, and I decide that it is time to leave, for there is nothing here for me.
Just before I emerge from the bookstore, a medical encyclopedia catches my eye. I pause and open it. It has always been an occasional fantasy of mine (just as it has been to go on a bicycle ride across America) to become a doctor, a healer of people and animals. I randomly open up the pages and I come across a term I am vaguely familiar with, "tuberculosis." It says TB is disease that was once thought cured; symptoms include night sweats, sleeplessness, anorexia, and the lungs getting clogged up with gunk. It also says that TB is one of the fastest growing causes of death by disease in America.
I close the book. I use the yarn of good times and friendship--yarn that keeps spinning with time as I ride across the states--to find my way back, out of the labyrinth, and into the real world.
The National Poetry Slam at the Orpheum
Day 76: August 17, 2002
After meandering through downtown Minneapolis I run across the Orpheum. A sign above the lobby says they are hosting the finals for the National Poetry Slam. I purchase a ticket feeling lucky that I found this place.
I arrive at the Orpheum an hour prior to the competition because it is general admission. A host of artsy-looking people in alternative colored hair, spiked doos, black garb, sparkly rave gear, and various piercings congregates around the lobby. Almost immediately I feel welcome.
As I wait in my chair, tribal dancers stomp and sway to drummers, and a man with thick black beatnik glasses and a clipboard comes up to me. He wears a National Poetry Slam staff card around his neck. The man invites me to be a judge for the individual competition. At first I tell him I can't do it. I can't judge poetry. I am about to talk my way out of this. And then as he says something about everybody being qualified to judge poetry, blah, blah, blah, something inside me rings, and I realize that I am not heeding the call to adventure. I clear my mind and accept. He moves me from my left corner seat to something more befitting of a judge-center stage and middle row.
I am one of five judges randomly picked from the audience to judge the poetry on a scale of 0 to 10 ("Ten being totally orgasmic poetry" and "Zero being totally yuck-never should have been written or performed," they tell me). I am to judge based on their poem's performance and literary merit.
The Slam poets come from all over America. They are the best of the best poets, picked after a week of Slam Poetry competitions hosted at various pubs and coffee shops throughout Minneapolis. They have names like Sekou Tha Misfit, Gina Loring, Shane Koyczan, Xero Skidmore, Kamal Symonette-Dixon, Joel Chmara, Corbet Dean, and Rives.
The night is intense as the poets perform their poetry. Their wit make us laugh, and their words charged with fury, passion, outrage, compassion, and love take us on a high speed chase through Emo city. They bop upon the stage: meeting at the crossroads of convenience stores; singing battle hymns of broken English; rapping the lost hip hop song of T.S. Eliot; raging against the dumbing down of education in our country where freedom now means free and dumb; and lamenting our cybernetic dependence on machines, and when our lives will be measured by how many minutes are left on our cards.