Louisville Water Company

I haven’t hooked up my own water or electricity for nearly six years. I kept moving in with people who had already taken care of that sort of thing; once, notably, my parents. Moving into the new place, we defaulted to Ben setting up the utilities because he’s used these companies before, which doesn’t necessarily make sense but can be explained, like most things, with the law of inertia. But it worked out that I had a day off and Ben had to work, so I made the two shockingly easy calls to get set up. When I called the water company, the answering service asked me to say “Main Menu” if I preferred English, or it would allow me to Press 1 if I wanted to use my “touch-tone phone.” There was also an optional faxing service.

I am glad that I did this. I feel I now have a much deeper understanding of the median age and technological knowledge of the average citizen of Louisville or, at least, the median age and technological knowledge of the average water company customer.

Nothing Happens, and then Everything Happens All At Once.

When I moved out here, B and I moved into a condo his friend owned, off a Route-1 type two-lane highway filled with Starbucks and chain restaurants. For a first-time relocation to a new state, it was a good spot: a mile from a Target, across the street from a liquor store, and, accidentally and gloriously, 7 minutes from the mall where I had been hired to work part-time, sight unseen. But I’ve been a city dweller for eight years, and before that I was a campus pedestrian, so not being able to walk anywhere drove me quickly insane. You expect apartment living in New York, but out here it’s nice to meet people, and our complex wasn’t great for that. A lot of our neighbors were a tight-knit group of Indian families who all know one another; they were friendly but not inviting. There was a nice family downstairs with a baby that I would have loved to get to know, but I once called the cops on the husband when I heard him abusing his wife. It was our first time living together, and both of our first time living with a partner, which made it special, and it had advantages – modern amenities, a pool, washer and dryer!, and the sweetest landlord on earth – but wasn’t ideal living, all around.

We started looking for a new place months ago, trying to pull that one foot I’ve had out the door all the way in, trying to commit to this new city, new state, entirely new life, and we had no luck. None. Nothing was right, nothing was in the neighborhood we wanted, nothing was the right price. If it was a house it didn’t allow dogs. If it allowed dogs it was carpeted, or so expensive I might as well move back to Manhattan. We talked about staying in the condo, re-arranging it totally to make it truly our home. We talked about looking other places. Mostly, as with so many other things out here, I stood still, or shifted incrementally. I’ve had a series of lateral-move, temporary jobs, an apartment that feels like a place to stay, not a home, a Massachusetts license still tucked into my wallet. I’ve been standing still.

Last week, a few days after our October 1 moving deadline had already passed, we went to see a house. It was perfect for me: wood floors, a little fireplace, a magic garden in the backyard, and it allowed dogs. B got on board and said we could move. Over breakfast, I told him how much that meant to me, but that we should do what was right for both of us. He just started a new job with a huge increase in responsibility, and this house wasn’t as perfect for him as it was for me by a long shot. We could take our time. We could stay in the condo, as we had discussed on occasion. We could figure out a way to move forward together, as partners.

We stopped by to see one last house, one that I knew three people were already interested in that we had no real chance of renting. I fell in love immediately. Shiny wood floors, high ceilings, a walk-in kitchen with a pantry. A living room and a library. Carpet in the master bedroom. A backyard and a front porch just begging for a swing, in a better location and for a better price than the first place. After all that talk about “taking our time” and “doing what was right for both of us” less than hour before, I walked out and told B, “if we’re going to take it, we have to take it now.” And we did. We had the place in our name in 24 hours.

After almost a year of nothing moving, swaying stagnantly from side to side, B started a new job, I got some opportunities to write and a few interviews, we’re moving, and we’re closing in on my one-year anniversary and my 30th birthday. I know people love the phrase “when it rains it pours,” but I’ve always found that to be a little subtle for my particular circadian rhythm, which moves along a lot more like this: Nothing Happens, or Everything Happens All At Once.

Highway Companion

I worked at a coffee shop situated just off I-264, Louisville’s “inner loop,” for a few months. Life outside New York, DC or LA doesn’t have to be small, but I made the conscious choice when moving here to let life get smaller in the hope of creating bigger things in that space. Working at the coffee shop was small: small job, small shop, small circle of co-workers and regulars to see each day. I liked it, but sometimes I felt lost in it. Every night at dusk I would take a small coffee and sit outside on the patio and watch the cars and trucks drive by and remind myself that road would take me anywhere I wanted to go, eventually, if I just hopped on it. If I just turned right and headed west instead of east, I wouldn’t even go by my exit; I could keep driving until I hit Boston. I could drive to Manhattan and take a flight to China and no one would figure it out for days. I had the option, but I didn’t take it. I just finished my coffee and nodded to the road not traveled by and went back inside, grateful for the choices available.

If you took 264 to 64 W, you could be on 70 W in five to ten minutes, depending on traffic. From there it’s a straight shot to Ferguson, MO, about 280 miles and four hours away.

Louisville, like every major city, small town, and square inch of this country, has it’s own blighted history of riots, “racial tensions,” and the killing of unarmed black men by police officers. While the worst and most violently institutionalized racism I have yet encountered was certainly in New York City, the South as a whole, its history as written, its shared trauma and memory, its structure and systems, are fundamentally different from the east coast where I grew up, and many of those fundamental differences come back, at the root, to the slavery and racism that are at our country’s foundation. Where I grew up, we talk about the Revolutionary War. It was fought on our shores and in our cities, and some of the major battlegrounds are in and around Boston. But here, when I pass an old cannon or a fort, the story of its making is the story of the Civil War. Even the consuming college basketball rivalries, which take up every moment of fall and spring here and which were meaningless to me growing up, have something – sometimes quite a bit – to do with the city and its institutions histories of racism.

I’ve heard it said that racism in Boston is worse than racism in various southern cities, name-dropped by visitors, but my friends in Boston, of African-American and Jamaican and Haitian descent, usually disagreed, saying that they had encountered worse below the Mason-Dixon line. I’m convinced now that there’s just the devil you know and the devil you’re getting uncomfortably familiar with. Cops shot unarmed black men in New York City and cops shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson. Louisville had riots in 1968 over the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Boston had them some years later over school busing practices. Boston is one of the most segregated cities in the world for housing. Louisville residents know exactly when colleges integrated their basketball programs, and they have a lot of feelings about the naming of Rupp Arena. It carries over. This is where I live now and it’s different, but where we need to get to is the same.

The Weather Aboveground

Weather predictions are an old New Hampshire joke. Start talking about weather predictions, and everyone has a story. The time when we were kids that the weather channel, for weeks, ran a picture of a sun with a raincloud over it and snow falling (this was in August). The time the weather station accidentally predicted tornadoes for a week of what turned out to be sunshine (no one was even the slightest bit alarmed and the locals generally went about their daily business undisturbed). My dad says that when they were kids, every other state finally got its own weather channel, while New Hampshire got an old grumpy man on the television who kept insisting that, “if you want to know the weather, look outside.” And – my father adds – he was right.

If the weather channel is stubborn and obstinate in the face of New Hampshire, it is hopeless in the face of Kentucky in a way that verges on tragic. It wants so badly to help here, you see. It is so sure that it can help, and it is here, every day, clipboards and utterly useless advice at the ready. It insists it will rain for a week straight, whereupon it is ceaselessly, relentlessly sunny, and there I am carrying around a bright yellow umbrella. It predicts sun, and my day by the pool is ruined by intermittent rain. The best course of action on any given day is to plan to stay inside, while being simultaneously prepared at any moment to dash into the great outdoors and enjoy the good weather while it lasts, in increments ranging from 30 seconds to 4 days at a time, generally, before the next unpredictable shift.

I thought of this last night particularly because the predictions called for thunderstorms. I love sleeping to the sound of rain, and have always loved night storms. As a kid, they downed trees and sometimes took out the power, but they were gentle giants, scary in the same delicious way as reading a ghost story with friends in the tent you made in the living room out of blankets and pillows. Here, less so. That storm a few weeks ago that shook the entire building is a good metric for the experiential shift along the coast. Storms rage here. They threaten. They shake their fists violently not at the sky, but from it; not with human fragility and futility, but with a scope and scale that successfully reminds us how small we are. At home in New England, when a big storm was coming, we stocked up on candles. Here, I simply make sure to be home long before it may start, and wait by the phone in case Ben should still be driving.

Yesterday, the predictions were fantastically wrong, as is their wont. I went grocery shopping early so I could get home, and overhead, the sky was mostly blue, and the clouds were huge and wet and stacked atop one another, creating oblong shapes with no geometric name, and would have been white, but where the sun was setting, and the light shining through, they were pink in some places, peach and orange in others. And those clouds – those big, bizarre, bumbling, oversized structures – those clouds contained lightning.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I froze in the parking lot, gaping. Every few seconds the clouds would light up from within, flashing and burning, and then fade out just as quickly. No lightning ever emerged, none ever touched down, and the clouds moved on and with them, the threat of the storm. As a researcher, I’m tempted to learn all about them – what clouds like that are called, whether it is really possible for the One Cloud to Rule Them All to contain, within itself, an entire storm, and how or why such a thing would work – but between tornadoes and flash floods and other threats that suggest to me, for the first time, that I am out in the middle and very much at the mercy of nature, I am opting for now to just remain, respectfully, in awe.

“The Marriage Dispute”

The front page of the Courier-Journal today had an article, above the fold, on “the marriage dispute” and the well-regarded lawyers on both sides who have taken it upon themselves to argue the case. “The marriage dispute” – cute little title for a fight for marriage equality that will have seismic impacts on people’s lives, health, well-being, families. Pithy. A Noel-Coward-esque way of referencing one of the greatest civil rights movements our nation has ever seen. Cute, Louisville. Cute.

Welcome to Kentucky; Here There Be Dragons.

Saturday night there was a storm so violent the entire building shook and woke us all. The humidity had been terrible, and when we woke to sunshine the next day and stepped out of the air-conditioning people here keep running seven months out of the year, it was no better. It finally broke today for no apparent reason. I was informed it had no correlation to the previous rain.

Too much humidity in New England means a storm is coming; too much humidity in Kentucky means you are here between the months of March and October. A cool day in a New England summer is nature’s way of reminding you that the season is short, and fall is coming, and winter is long and full of terrors. A cool summer day in Kentucky is confusing and unnatural. The poor locals. They seem offended.

There is so much space in the midwest and the south. While there are long and unpopulated stretches of Massachusetts, New York, and the east coast, they are stretches, outliers and aberrations, disruptions in otherwise crowded landscapes, deliberate room to breath. Here, there just is space, as though everyone simply has enough room, and if you don’t, move a few minutes out of town; space, and plenty more where that came from. The grocery stores are enormous, the size of several city blocks in Manhattan, every one of them. For less than what I paid in New York City for a bedroom and shared bath, we have a two bedroom condo with two bathrooms, a living room, an office, and a kitchen big enough to hold a full-size table. The greater complex has a two pools and a tennis court. I can’t make sense of it. I have been here since October and every time I sit on my balcony – balcony! are you kidding me! – I can’t help but think I’m on vacation, travelling from Point A to Point B and staying at one of those nondescript motels between, a Best Western or a Holiday Inn. But no. People really live like this. I – I – I really live like this.

To most people who grew up North of the Mason-Dixon Line – to me, even now, if I’m being honest – everything in the middle of the map, those fly-over states ranging ruggedly and mysteriously from West Virginia to Tennessee to Arkansas to Kansas, might as well be labelled, “Here There Be Dragons.” And even if people are about the same everywhere – rude, if on different topics; loving, if having different socially ingrained ways of expressing it; considerate and difficult and grouchy before their coffee and sometimes after their coffee by turns – even if people really are pretty much the same everywhere, and even if the busy road running by my place here isn’t terribly unlike Route 1 through Dedham, Mass, even if Target and Walmart and Starbucks and McDonald’s have the same menu in every state in the Union, yes, still, it’s true; everything is different and Here There Be Dragons. I will study them at length and send detailed notes. It will not be difficult. In addition to steady internet access and the services of the United States Postal Service, both FedEx and UPS, as well as Amazon and eBay, call Kentucky home for their largest shipping centers. Did you know it is fastest to get anywhere in the US from Kentucky? Now you know. It’s travel by dragon. Fastest way to fly.