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06.29.06, 4:30 p.m. :: how i spent my summer vacation: russians, pride, and floods

that was quite possibly the most interesting vacation i have ever had.

start at the beginning? probably the best place, although by far the most interesting story is the last one.

ugh this is going to take a long time. buckle your seat belts and get comfy, kids.

things start off on an annoying note: the air conditioning (which we don't often use, but had planned to leave on for our animals while we were gone) would not turn on. instead of being a simple, easy to fix problem (thrown switches, or maybe some bad wiring or something), the whole generator died and had to be replaced. not the worst thing in the world, but it did slow us up a bit in our preparations, since the maintenance men were coming in and out. they couldn't fix it then, and as far as we can tell, it's still not working.

but we deal with that and devise a plan to rotate window opening responsibilties between our team of pet sitters, and we're on our way. make good time until buffalo, then we missed the exit we were supposed to take to get up to canada by following dad's directions instead of just doing the same thing we'd done the previous year. no biggie, we got turned the right way, but not after a little bickering.

again, not a huge deal. once in canada we once again wound up heading the wrong direction, and instead of heading east-ish towards toronto, we were heading west to london and woodstock. learned that there is a "wayne gretzkey parkway," however, which struck me as very humourous. we finally figured out we'd fucked up and got turned back around. only had to back track for half an hour or so, so it also wasn't a huge problem, but it did make us a little cranky, as we were sick to death of being in the car at that point.

things were fairly uneventful up until sondra and i went into toronto on friday to hang out with my friend brenda. this is when we learned to navigate the many public transportation services offered by the city, from commuter buses and trains that took us from brampton to toronto, to the subways and streetcars that got us everywhere else. this also wasn't a big thing, just a different thing, as public transportation in delaware is a joke, and neither of us were particularly familiar with the layout of the city. it's actually really easy, but it does take some acclimating.

at any rate, brenda, sondra and i went and hung out at this park on the harbour inside a giant hollow concrete ball. seriously. i'm not sure what purpose this thing fulfilled, but it was built over some shallow water and had two slits in the sides; one looked out over the bay, the other looked back into the park. there was a little cat walk type deal up there where we hung out and smoked a bit. apparently a normal thing to do, but somewhat bewildering to me, having lived in the land of jail for a joint. a little paranoid, but also super tired (as i hadn't been sleeping at night), so i didn't partake more than i felt necessary.

at some point a very drunk russian boy ran up to us and joined us, closely followed by three of his friends. viktor, the exceptionally drunk one, reminded all three of us of a little gay boy (especially since he kept calling himself "fabulous" and was very interested in jonny depp and his home in paris), but he doesn't seem to think of himself that way. oh well. he was incredibly eager to engage us all in conversation, but his friends kept taking him away, like they thought he was bothering us. for a while we each hung out in two separate groups; russians drinking wine and whiskey, and three girls with their pot. eventually viktor's other friends warmed up to us, and we got to talk to them all, in what turned out to be some very interesting conversation.

they were quick to point out the tendancy of westerners to be unaware of events unfolding in other countries, and even in their own. they were also fairly annoyed with the way many don't seem to be aware of other countries that exist in their own right, but never make front page news. sondra and i were particularly drawn into some very detailed political/societal conversations with igor and eugene (actually a ukranian). i never got the name of the fourth guy, but we also didn't talk much. topics such as the transformation of america into a police state, america's economic crimes committed in the name of globalization, english's uselessness except as a business language, and the selective education of people in traditional public schools were discussed. i quite enjoyed it.

we wound up inviting our new found eastern european friends back to brenda's friend charlie's house to drink (what else?). i actually was not in the mood to drink (as i am often not), but i enjoy hanging around a good group of people who just want to have a good time.

of course, the boys kept insisting that service was the most important thing, and that money shouldn't matter, and insisted on taking a cab to charlie's as opposed to a streetcar, as brenda, sondra, and i had been planning. so we got into a suicidial cab driver's car and held our breath as he executed full circles through red lights into incoming traffic and told us that he'd hit six bicyclists thus far. he also related that cab drivers as a whole never get into accidents when other people are in their cabs; only when they're alone. nice guy overall though. i'm just not a fan of people who drive like they're in video games. it's called reality for a reason, after all.

copious amounts of drinking ensued at charlies, and ultimately viktor (russian) and eugene (ukranian) wound up getting into a very verbal argument that we later discovered was political. hard to tell at the moment, as they were speaking (yelling) in straight russian. off came their stylish sunglasses and ipods as they squared off, thrusting their faces within mere inches of the others, yelling away in russian all the while. sondra eventually thrust herself between the two of them and litterally threw each of them across the room, like a super dyke, or something. brenda and friends were amazed; i was less surprised. that's my sondra. she doesn't stand for people doing stupid shit, particularly in others' homes. after she single handedly broke their fight up, things began to slowly wind down, and people either started to head out, or prepare to go out to one of the gay clubs. we had to catch a bus home by 12:30, and had to be across the city to do so, so we headed out of there.

ran into a very drunk canadian guy on the way home. he came stumbling up behind us and asked for a cigarette (seriously, he could barely stand straight), and when i told him we didn't have any, his shock and awe was immediately obvious. you see, he'd thought i was a boy. common mistake, but being drunk he had to keep going, exclaiming about us being lesbians and deciding that since i had the spikes (my mohawk) i must be the dude, and that sondra was "like, the bitch." sondra doesn't take that kind of generalization well and told him that she would push him into traffic if he kept calling her that, and kept trying to convince him that she actually wore the pants. of course he wouldn't believe her, but as he nearly walked himself into traffic a few times i didn't take it too badly. i was more amused than anything. when he finally ran off into an intersection to cross the street, he shouted "by lesbian lovers!" and disappeared from our lives. then a random girl behind us apologized profusely for his behaviour, but we reassured her that we had worse in the states. she was surprised. nice people up there. haha.

sunday was the day of the pride parade, and what a fucking positive experience that was. how else to explain how i felt surrounded by literally a million people and not have one of them look at me funny, either for my hair, my androgynous appearance, or the fact that i'm gay. in fact, they were there to celebrate that. i mean, how bizarre? of course, no one in toronto at all seemed to care on any given day, though sondra and i got a million stares at a mall in brampton. suburbs.

at any rate, there was an incredible diverse spectrum of people marching in the parade, from "traditional" pride based groupds, like AIDs support groups or organizations like P-FLAG, but also sections of islamic gays, south asians, latin americans, native americans, police, mounties (by far the cutest was the gay couple dressed in full mountie uniform holding the sign "just married" - on the back "mounties always get their man!")... there was representation for everyone. there were even anglican, unitarian, and (gasp!) pagan groups there. political parties, like the NDP and the green party had marches (Jack Layton, the head of the NDP party, marched himself), and of course a plethora of coroporate pride supporters. trojan condoms, various alcoholic drink makers, television stations, car companies, and so on. at the beginning of the parade a group marched with signs detailing crimes, murders, and mistreatment against homosexuals in other countries, urging people to march for those who could not, and also a small contingent of very punk looking kids with a cardboard sign that read "fuck corporate pride." excellent point made (stop selling out just so that you can advertise to us) but at the same time if we truly want equality, we have to accept the market value that comes with it. sometimes market equality is actually a sign of overall acceptance, as much as i may hate that to be true. of course there were also drag queens left and right, but what's a gay parade without the queens?

also: lots of naked people, male and female, old and young. even one older guy in the crownd who was standing in front of us wearing only a pair of whitey tighties. his skin was all pasty pale, and he had the biggest, bushiest gray-white beard, and he was dancing away, doing little jigs and bouncing around. quite possibly the best thing i have ever seen.

sondra and i got pictures of all of it, and when we get some time we'll upload them somewhere to share. at the end of the parade everyone just sort of broke into the barriers and marched along behind it. sondra and i joined in, and i was amazed to see how long the route was, and how many people were still crowded in down along it. people even jammed themsevles on top of roofs and hung out of windows. some were going for the vantage point, others were trouble makers with buckets of water and super soakers. water everywhere, between the people on the floats on those people on the roofs. no one was really dry by the end of it. but it was super hot, so it didn't really bother many people. i saw one tshirt on a girl as i marched down the line that i really enjoyed: "pride's not just a party, it's also a protest." a nice reminder, i thought.

instead of joining everyone for the giant street party, sondra and i wandered off into the city in search of food, and then headed over to my aunt marie's, where we spent the night. it was nice to see her, to be able to sit down and just talk with her, even if it wasn't for long. the three of us had a wonderful socio-political conversation that spread over so many avenues of thought. i don't get to have many conversations with my family members like that.

spent the last day in the city. sondra had her nose pierced, like she's always been wanting to do. i bought my mom a copy of confessions of an economic hitman (also made her watch loose change, haha!), and two other books, a noam chomsky book (chomsky on miseducation) and a book on global warming (the weather makers). both excited me immensely. spent entirely too much.

overall, some very good experiences in toronto, nice relaxation in brampton, and some other odd occurences.

and then we came home. made excellent time all the way down until we were a mile away from the new york state line, crossing into pa. only had about four hours left, which was pretty good time, considering that we left around 3pm. somewhere between ten and eleven o'clock at night. it had been raining almost non stop when we got far enough east into new york. not hard all the time, but steady. we've noticed that they've closed off some of the exits off of interstate 81, but no signs that the interstate itself wasn't safe. it's been raining steadily in the east coast, particularly around the southern part of new york and into the tip of northern pa, for about a week or so, according to most people.

we'd almost gotten through the worst parts of it - if we had gone maybe ten more miles we would have been out of all the "state of emergency" territory. except we didn't go that ten more miles because our car was caught in a flash flood and died during a small wave crest. we literally hit the flood almost just after it had started coming across the interstate. everyone in front of us was making it through, so we went for it, but the water definitely rose up to around our headlights just as we plowed into the thick of it, and the car said "chug, chug, chug" and gave up.

so we're surrounded by water, people are still driving around us, and sondra is having a panic attack while i'm trying to dial 911. someone else's car stalled out almost right next to us, so it wasn't like we were the only ones, but still. we bailed out of the car and ran through water that was well up past my knees, around thigh level, until we got out of it and made it onto the side of the interstate. and there we remained for about 45 minutes standing in the pouring rain. we're all wearing shorts and tshirts, except for sondra, who had on nothing more than a silk dress, so we're all freezing cold, and of course, we have absolutely no idea where we are. the water was flooding down from the top of the hill, from one river, down over the north bound side of 81, down the hill and into the small depression separating north bound from south bound, and had apparently decided that wasn't good enough, and kept flowing down into the river just beside us, so for a while we were worried that the water in the middle was going to extend it's flood path, and that the river on the other side of us would swell up dangerously.

a couple of people who made it through the stalled car/flood water obstacle course stopped to ask if we needed a lift, but at that point we weren't willing to leave. we'd been told that someone was on their way, but when someone turned out to be a lone fire department pick up truck who did nothing for us but tell us "stay here and wait", we decided we needed to get out of there. the other two guys who had stalled out next to us left - they decided they'd try walking home, even though the fire deparment had told them that where they needed to go was underwater. eventually a guy our age in a pickup truck pulled over and we decided we'd hop in. all we got out of the car were our computers, our passports and greencards, and the cooler (we needed some nourishment). sondra had her bag, but everything else we left.

all of our clothes (and of course we all took the things we wear all the time/our favourite things), all of our cds, kevin's brand new xbox 360 (he had just bought it while we were in ontario because they're a little cheaper), all of sondra's sketches and charcoal drawings, my books, and... my novel. we left our food, our cell phone chargers, gifts from my mother... pretty much everything. not the same as having your entire home wiped out and losing everything that way, but if you think about the stuff you usually take with you on vacation, it's usually the stuff that you're going to miss the most. toothbrushes, deoderant, medicines... when we got in the back of this pick up truck we had no idea where we'd end up, or if we'd ever be able to find it again.

perhaps we should have stayed out there, but i was worried that if we'd been out there any longer one of us would have caught pneumonia or something else. kevin and sondra have particularly week immune systems, so i was not interested in having a serious health condition to deal with on top of it all. we were soaked from head to toe (my shoes are still wet) and freezing, plus the water looked like it was still rising, so we just wanted out of there.

kevin and i hopped into the bed of the truck, while sondra got up front, and we went off speeding down the interstate. let me tell you how unnerving it is to drive 60mph down an interstate in pouring rain while sitting in the bed of a pick up. i was glad to be moving, but the rushing wind and the rain that had turned into stinging missles weren't helping me calm down any. all i could thing was "i hope this guy doesn't get into an accident." our original plan was to go the nearest rest area, which turned out to be the pa state welcome center (we died just on the border of new york). on our way there we passed two guys in their 40s (greg and barry), drenched from head to toe, walking down the interstate thumbing a ride, so our ride stopped and picked them up too. they hopped in the bed with kevin and i, and we found out that they'd been driving along in greg's brand new pick up truck, checking on the properties they owned in a nearby town just off the interstate, when a wall of water about 15 feet high swept down on them and just engulfed the truck. they wound up swimming out through the windows because the door locks jammed up, and had made it up to the interstate where they were walking home.

i decided that they were decent people when some of the first things out of their mouths were "man, the earth is pissed off!" and "this is what we get for polluting like we have been." they told us that they'd lived in the area for around 40 years and had never experienced flooding like this before. it flooded a little bit one year, when hurricane ivan came through, but it was no where near as bad as it was now.

the welcome center, as it turned out, was closed, so our next attempt was a hotel in a town just off the ramp, but it looked like it was taking on some serious water in the parking lot, so at that point greg had told us that we could stay over at his house, and it really didn't look like there was anything else we could do just then, so we agreed.

of course, keep in mind horror movie plots are flashing through our minds at this point. we've been driving through some rural hilly/mountain type area, we were in a little tiny town, it was the middle of the night and our car had died, we'd left everything, and now we were going to stay at some strange man's home. kevin and sondra tell me that these things were weighing heavily on their minds, but i think i was too numb to consider any of it. just wanted to be warm and dry at that point.

as it turned out, we picked the nicest people in the world to stay with. although greg's wife, nicole, was a little bewildered when five people (three of whom were soaking wet) tramped into their kitchen. anthony, the guy who picked us up, and cody, a 7th grader he'd been taking home, stayed there overnight as well, since we ran into some firemen shortly after finding the hotel and they told us all that pretty much most roads in and around the town were under water at that point. but she quickly got over it when she realized that we'd brought her husband and his friend home. their power was out when we got there, but it flickered back on a while later, and stayed on for most of the night. it only went out a couple times, briefly, after that, but they had no running water. they gave us dry clothes, put our wet ones in the dryer, and presented us with plates of crackers and cheese and some diced up veggies, gave us towels, and let us love on their cat. they let kevin, sondra, and i sleep upstairs in their daughter's room (she was sleeping in their's because her leg was broken and she couldn't navigate the narrow steps all the way up to the top, and gave anthony and cody the couch and floor in the living room. kevin and i holed ourselves away up there around 1 or 2 and played some chess, while sondra stayed downstairs drinking with the rest of them.

the three of us didn't sleep much that night at all. i think i only had a few hours total, and i know sondra didn't even try to sleep until well after 7am. it was all i could do to not think about the situation. eventually exhaustion took over and i did fall asleep for a little while, but it wasn't sound. i know that everything in the car is ultimately just stuff, but we just took our vacation and spent our extra money. replacing the car would be pricey, replacing our clothes would be pricey, not to mention the stuff we can't replace: sondra's artwork and my novel. sure, we can redo them, but i think the process of doing that might actually hurt more than losing them altogether. i will rewrite it, of course, it's just going to depress me. i finally make progress on a novel, i finally committ myself to it - the one thing i'd always stuggled with - and now it might be gone.

another thing really weighing on me was all that we were going to have to go through to even find the car. 9 counties around us were all in states of emergency, and as it turned out, the police station we needed to call to find out about where it could have been towed, if it was even towed, was underwater and the police were in a makeshift base. they didn't have much more than a phone. we heard the next morning that the national guard had been mobilized, that flood waters were still rising, and that more rain was forecast for the next four days. whole towns around us had been evacuated, and while the one we were in wasn't quite as bad off, large parts of it were still underwater and it was completely cut off from the interstate.

the next morning was spent making phone calls, trying to track down the car. didn't prove very fruitfull, because, as i said, the police themselves were completely disorganized. at one point katie m. called me up and told me that she was coming to get us, no matter what. honestly, if we hadn't gotten out of there that day we probably would have been stuck there all week. these people were wonderful to us, but strange situations are so much easier to handle when you're at least in familiar territory. so, we had a ride. no idea where the car was, but we figured we'd deal with it when we got back. the problem was getting us out of the town. greg and barry, along with their neighbor steve, spent the morning surveying the area, trying to determine what was passable and what wasn't. they eventually determined that they could get us out to southbound 81 near the exit for their town. greg drove us as far as we could in his wife's car (his truck having since floated away), which is when we got to see just how bad the damage was. honestly, it looked like the aftermath of hurricane katrina, except without the structural damage from wind. of course, even though things weren't knocked over, by the time that area dries out they'll have to be because they've sat in water for so long. there was litterally a river running across main street, into a park, and down past a car dealership. i'm pretty sure that it wasn't supposed to be there.

once greg had taken us as far as he could in the car, we hopped on the four-wheeler that they just conveniently happened to own, and steve took us through part of the aforementioned river, and drove us as far up to the interstate as he could get us. then we had to hop a rusty chain link fence and hike down a steep hill and found ourselves standing on the side of 81. katie picked us up from there and we made our way home. aside from a small moment of panic we had when we thought we were about to run out of gas, the trip home was uneventful. the gas problem came when we decided to not get off on one of the exits off of 476, thus making us pay expensive tolls more than once, and to make it to the service area 15 miles away. we weren't counting on the construction that slowed us down to 10mph/stop and go traffic. if it had been a clear shot through, no worries. but we made it.

katie brought some herbal medication with her, so i was fairly well wrecked by the time we got home, ready for nothing more than some mind numbing video games and sleep, which is exactly what we did. bryan and natalie came by to drop off one of our keys (they'd been pet sitting, along with sondra's mom) and hung out with us for a while. it was just so nice to be surrounded by people you love.

we had no food and nothing to drink in the house. we abandoned the cooler at greg & nicole's house because we couldn't have gotten it out of there, and the bag of food that we had is still in the car... and to our surprise sondra and i discovered that our stove and oven didn't work, because they had been turned off. you see, back before we left, when the maintenance guys were over at our apartment trying to fix the air conditioning, they had flipped the power to it off. last time they did that i remember that they tested the stove and oven to make sure they worked, but i didn't even think about it that day. too many other things to take care of, making sure the car got packed up and all that. so it never got turned on again, and the air conditioner never got fixed, so when we got home... no stove! luckily we have a little grill that we used to cook up what we could scrounge up, so we used that.

today sondra's mom came by, and while kevin and i did some grocery shopping to replace hygenic stuff/refill the fridge a bit, she and sondra tracked down the car. finally got some phone numbers from the police in new york to call (it only took three phone calls, and sondra says they were seemed really reluctant to give up the information), and they managed to track down the car. it's still on the road, apparently. i thought katie might have seen in when she drove through, but i suppose it wound up on the side of the road, with seven other cars (that's how many other cars got stalled there), along with a bunch of other people who had stopped because they couldn't get into the exits they wanted into, so it probably just blended right in. tomorrow sondra and her mom are going up to get it. they had one of the towing companies go out and tow it to their garage. hopefully the stuff inside of it is still okay. when we left it the water hadn't gotten into it, but we have no idea what happened or if it got worse after we left. i'm also a little fearful of people breaking in to steal said stuff... but as i said earlier, it's just stuff. ultimately it's replacable. finding the car was going to be the hardest part, and we've passed that hurdle. we don't know if it works or not - they'll find that out tomorrow - but at least we found it.

so our adventure is mostly over. i couldn't believe that i felt so happy to actually be returning to delaware. before we got stuck we'd all been dreading it, but when we crossed that state line i felt such a surge of relief. of course, up where we were staying their troubles have only started, and as soon as things clear up i plan on sending those folks who took us in a stack of thank you cards, flowers, fruit baskets, and money.

it's really nice to be reminded that people can still be decent when we really need each other. i have a feeling that we're going to be seeing more of that in the coming years. it seems like the east coast is in for a very wet summer - new england and the surrounding areas had been hit by rain storms pretty hard before we left even, and they've been continuously hammered since we left, and now flooding has gone as far south as philadelphia and maryland, even into the carolinas. with another active hurricane season predicted, i can only wonder at how much damage will be done when it's all over.

i don't like leaping to conclusions and pointing the finger at global warming, but it's probably true. according to some meterologists, rain like that only happens once every three hundred years, so it could have even been a naturally occuring thing. unfortunately there's not really any way to tell. i do know this: summer has been unseasonably cool and wet this year, while up north, in toronto, it's been a little cooler as well, but dry, dry, dry, and has gotten a fair amount of heat. enough to make the people i visited complain anyway.

something is happening. that's all i know. things are changing. the climate, and ultimately the geography. i have a feeling that some new lakes and rivers will be born out of all of this. or at least the beginnings of new lakes and rivers. we'll just have to wait and see.

flood pictures and pride pictures coming soon, once we finish sorting everything out.


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a quick recap:
cryptic overview of life :: 10.31.06, 11:21 a.m.
say whaaaat? :: 09.03.06, 9:19 p.m.
how i spent my summer vacation: russians, pride, and floods :: 06.29.06, 4:30 p.m.
here i am... sort of :: 06.20.06, 1:48 a.m.
born again revolutionary :: 05.20.06, 9:37 p.m.

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