The Last Notch in the Bible Belt

We hopped off our Greyhound bus in Oklahoma City with hardly time to reminisce on our trip through Texas because Lauren Zuniga was there with her daughter, Kavi to pick us up!

We were starving and fed up with Greyhound, so Lauren took us to dinner at McNellie’s, a popular Irish pub in town. The food was good, but the conversation was better. It was nice getting to know Lauren off the slam stage! Later that evening, she took us to Partners, and its sister bar, P Too, two back-to-back lesbian bars in Oklahoma City. We were kind of astonished because nearly everywhere else we visited had no lesbian bars, or the bars had gone out of business. Not only were Partners and P Too thriving, they were smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt!

In the morning, Lauren took us to see the Oklahoma City Memorial, in honor of those who were killed in the OKC bombing in 1995.

OKCmemorial

OKCmemorial2

Traveling across the US, we’re learning that every city is completely different, but in a lot of ways are exactly the same. New Orleanians are still reeling from Katrina, New Yorkers from 9/11, and the citizens of Oklahoma City from the ’95 bombing.

After this, we spent a lot of time lounging at the house with Lauren’s pets and awesome housemates, Aulbry and Nigel, another rad queer couple! We spent a lot of this time daydreaming about future adventures and destinations.

OKCashley

Marine: These are tips that Ashley and I used to get the ball rolling for our US trip, please use and adapt them for your own trip. If you have tips to share please contact us or leave a comment!

Before:

1. Plan Long in Advance: Daydream and write places you want to go to. Plan the dream trip before you even think you’ll start the adventure. It’ll give you time to surf the web and find the perfect money-saving techniques for you. Maybe you’ll even make a living off it one day. The idea for this trip was planned before Ashley and I were dating and definitely before we had any savings.

2. Estimate Cost Reasonably: To start planning a backpacking tour, you must be reasonable about your expenditure so that you don’t remain stranded somewhere without money for a flight home. You’ll spend a lot more money traveling Europe than South America or the states. If you have no preference, find a region where food, transport and lodging is the cheapest.

On the road:

3. Lower your biggest expenses: Your biggest expenses on the road will be lodging, transportation and food. If you like food, like we do, you will probably not want to lower this expenditure by much. However, you can still eat well and spend less by eating out at lunch and cooking your own dinner. Lower your cost of lodging by staying with friends Hello straddlers!! Take the cheaper method of travel to lower your cost of transportation. When you have a limited amount of time, use some simple steps to find the cheapest flight. If you’re taking the bus, use budget lines. Who can beat megabuses $1 dollar fares.

4. Avoid unnecessary expenses: I told Ashley to cut down on Starbucks and get the $1 coffee at 7/11 instead or better yet, brew it. Bring reusable water bottles because buying water can add up. Have your own drinks before hitting the night scene or limit your drinks at the bar/club.

Before leaving Oklahoma, we stopped in the arts district to explore and share some poetry. We got a private tour of a gallery that used to be a bank, found a unique gift shop and had pho for dinner.

gallery

OKC

After saying goodbye, it was time to hop on a plane headed to Denver, CO. We were greeted byJovan Mays, a champion slam poet from Slam Nuba. We hopped in his truck and he drove us to Word 4 Word Slam. The slam was unique, but really strange. The hosts didn’t know to have a bout draw, and instead of judges, each audience member got to vote for their favorite poet.

To kick off the weekend, we went to South High School’s Slam Off, which is put together by teacher and slam champion, Jen Rinaldi. The kids perform in their own open mic and slam, and Jen brings in featured guests like Ashley and Amy Everheart.

We hurried out of the youth slam and managed to catch More Than Metaphors, a social justice themed open mic benefitting Syrian refugees at the Damascus Grill. Amal Kassir was the featured poet of the night, and shared alongside other national champions like Dominique Ashaeed and Ken Arkind.

The next day, fall was in full bloom in Denver. We walked around and explored the neighborhood a bit before meeting up with more straddlers!

Denver1

denver2

The International Autostraddle Meet-Up was at Vine Street pub and grill, where we socialized, played Cards Against Humanity and sampled a few of Denver’s craft beers, which were absolutely delicious!!

VIne1

Vine2

The group then took us to Charlie’s, the fabulous local gay bar, where our quick two-step tutorial by a straddler was not enough to match the dancing talents of the locals. When the night ended,Chealsea, a local Denver musician and straddler, gave us a ride back.

charlies1

charlies2

Sunday morning was greeted with coffee, scrambled eggs and potatoes with the Mays family. It was great to be treated as family when we’ve been away from ours for so long. That night, we went to the Mercury Café, a completely organic and locally sourced restaurant, which ended our week with some great poetry, free food and new friends.

mercury

Up Next: more Denver, CO and Seattle, WA

What Greyhound Taught Me About Priviledge

Greyhound says you’re not important

The ticket clerk rolls her eyes

Tells you to deal with it.

Bus driver scoffs

Tells the last 15 people in line,

who are paying customers,

to wait for the next bus,

this one’s already full.

I sit in the back.

The lavatory door doesn’t shut,

It swings open whenever the bus turns.

The driver calls everyone to prayer

in a church I do not feel welcome in.

Everyone speaks my second language.

My tongue is broken

it is a record scratch.

The bus is full of men.

The hour-long layover turns into no more

than five minutes.

Our driver mocks his own passengers,

says, “this ain’t no Disneyland ride.”

Customer service hotline is disconnected

No one to tell you that you’re right.

A woman stumbles into the broken stall,

mumbles to herself

and comes out smelling of gin and pinesol.

You are a pretty white girl

on a Greyhound bus.

Your boarding pass says

someone will come looking for you.

It says you got a little too used to taking airplanes.

The driver told you not to sit up front,

you look a little too used to that type of treatment.

I stop holding my girlfriend’s hand

in the station.

Somewhere between Waco and Tulsa

I lean in to kiss her and she stops me.

We arrive in Dallas

and I am reminded that here,

they shot JFK in broad daylight

so I don’t stand up for myself.

I take a seat,

learn something the rest of the world

already knows about.

I am told the first row of seats

Is not allowed to be occupied

because too many drivers got stabbed.

Hours of empty field roll by outside the window.

We have 3 more stops and no one gets off.

Everyone has 6 pairs of eyes

and I am suddenly self-conscious

of my buzzed hair,

the half naked mermaid tattooed to my arm.

There are only 10 hours to Oklahoma City

where I can go back to the real world again.

The one where I am not a rolling field,

that everyone stares at

but just passes by.

 

 

Deep In My Heart, In Texas

We spent a night chatting and sharing pizza with other weary travelers in our Houston hostel, and the next day we were off to Austin! After our little trip to the big easy, we were ready to relax, get back on budget and try some real Texas barbeque!

When we arrived, we were greeted by our host, Jackie, a student and aspiring writer whose sister reads Autostraddle while living overseas in Israel! Jackie lives close to some hiking trails and a lake, so we spent some free time walking around and getting to know the area.

lake

lake2

We went a little over budget eating beignets and seafood in New Orleans, so we knew we had to tighten our wallets in Austin. With a kitchen at our disposal, it was the perfect opportunity to grab more groceries and get creative.

After a dinner in, we went to the Austin Poetry Slam to check out the local poetry scene.

Ashley: I was happily surprised to run into an old friend and lovely human Sam Sax. He’s a fantastic poet who helped me get a spot on the microphone, and gave us some tips on things to check out in town!

Sam let us know that the Write Bloody store was located in Austin, and happened to be walking distance from our temporary home! If you ever need a recommendation of new poetry to check out, this is the place to be.

writebloody

writebloody2

After spending too much on books, Jackie picked us up and took us to meet her friend, Jenn Hassin, who is an amazing artist that shared some of her work with us. Jenn works on projects that highlight important issues like drinking while driving, and sexual assault.

Jenn1

Jenn2

We didn’t realize just how artistic Austin was until we wandered down 6th street. There’s a bar on every corner with live music every night of the week.

6plaque

We stopped for happy hour at Wahoo’s fish tacos. Once we saw a Wahoo’s, we knew we were getting closer to the best coast!

wahoos

wahoos2

The University of Texas was our next stop, as we were planning on listening to Sarah Ruhl read from a new collection of essays. The work was engaging, and we ran into Sam again!

Before our last night in Texas, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to the capital, and a window shopping excursion down South Congress street, otherwise known by locals as SoCo.

capital

SoCo was filled with creative shops. Anything from fancy cowboy boots, odd antiques and treasures, candy, and vintage clothing can be found wandering down this street. Tons of local artists and vendors convene here to share their wares and knick knacks to tourists and locals alike.

iloveyou

After wandering the streets and trying our damnedest not to tap out our budgets, we were closing in on our last night in the lone star state. Our hostess planned a fun night in with some close friends for board games, poems, and baked snacks!

gamenight

gamenight2

gamenight3

We played Apples to Apples, Risk, and Quelf. We laughed, we cried, we made complete fools of ourselves and it was a lovely way to end this leg of our trip.

In the morning, we could barely peel our eyes open, but somehow managed to make it to the Greyhound station for a 10-hour bus ride to Oklahoma City. Though our love for megabus is unmatched, it doesn’t provide service throughout many of the remaining cities on our trip. Our bus ran late, and despite being in front of the line, we had to sit separately. After horrifying ourselves over some dastardly yelp reviews, we were both glad and shocked to know that we weren’t alone. If any of you have had any Greyhound horror stories, please share them with us!

Despite the conditions of the unkempt bus and the driver’s constant insistence on joining the whole bus in prayer, we managed to make it into Oklahoma City unscathed. When one of Autostraddle’s hottest ladies was at the station to pick us up, we couldn’t have been happier. The week ahead with Lauren Zuniga and her family is going to be a blast.

EMERGENCY: We need housing in Denver, CO October 24th-30th. Email Ashley [at] thatstarvingartist [dot] com if you can help us.

Up next: Oklahoma City, OK and Denver, CO

Prayers to Marie Laveux

I wrap 23 cents in a bag

of paper wishes 

and send it into a mardi-gras bead covered

tree stump,

kiss the head of the Voodoo doll,

knock on the stump nine times

send you a message.

Ask for a bag of gris-gris 

filled with beauty shop hair chatter

and love potion.

Clutch a severed chicken foot 

in my pocket

and tell myself I’ll make it 

through this night

because this here high priestess

gone where no Catholic church 

told her she could go.

You be patron saint of everything.

You be fistful of alligator teeth 

and snakeskin,

You be an altar of burning incense 

and human skulls.

They kneel to altars,

burn incense, pray to crosses

and call you crazy.

Paint you she-devil

Dark skinned creole woman 

who always knows too much.

Seduces white men

and peddles his babies.

They don’t know what to do with you.

But you be black cat enchantress,

beautiful historian

who made a few extra dollars

by not letting your own culture

die on a slave ship.

They mad because Voodoo 

is just Catholism 

without all the gold.

Marie, you be forest of bones

and mystery,

Juju filled vixen woman,

Virgin Mary with a simmering cauldron

and 15 children.

Daughters of God,

You’d say.

They say voodoo dolls and hexes

are Satan’s game.

Say you know demons,

say maybe you are one.

They say that about all women.

They think we all cast spells

Diminish high priestess

to witch 

because you can’t be woman

and powerful

without all that magic.

You be everything religion

taught me you not.

You be woman,

Black woman, 

mother and goddess,

beautiful and dangerous,

the fleur de lis unfurled

and blooming,

a jazz alley saxophone

and a haunted cast iron porch.

I’m wishing on 23 cents

for some magic

like that.

From One End of the Mississippi to the Other

Tonight we’re relaxing in a hostel in Houston, reminiscing on the week behind us and getting nostalgic about how awesome and beautiful A-Camp was. Luckily, we were able to drown out our A-Camp sorrows over some retail therapy at the Mall of America and a few drinks onBourbon Street.

After dancing around in our jammies in Minneapolis, we awoke the next day sans hangovers and to a bright clear sunny morning. We set off for Minnehaha Falls, to take in some nature and pretend we could be on a mountain top with 300 queermos.

minnehaha

minnehaha2

minnehaha3

We saw the falls, and followed the creek to the Mississippi river, which was quite peaceful. After the falls, we spent the rest of the beautiful day in the next most logical place, the Mall of America! There is a roller coaster in the middle of the mall! There are tons of stores! There is a Betty Paige store and multiple Godiva stores! After playing dress up, and probably spending too much money, we left and went to Soapboxing Poetry Slam.

Ashley: I entered the slam, and experimented with something new in round two. It was a fun night, and I was super excited to lose to Danez Smith, an incredible queer spoken word artist whose work you should probably youtube right now.

We were starving after the slam, so we went to Pizza Luce for a late night bite and some happy hour drinks! We think Swindle made a friend outside before we left.

swindledinosaur

We got in late and still had to finish packing before heading to the airport to catch our 6:00am flight. We are so very grateful that Swindle drove us after our short nap, so we could wave goodbye until next time.

Ashley: My very first job at 16 years old was at the Ragin Cajun in Hermosa Beach. I was one of the only employees working who wasn’t from Louisiana, let alone the only one who’d never even been! I was nostalgic for a place I’d never visited and I couldn’t wait to get there!

We arrived in New Orleans in the afternoon after a four hour layover in Atlanta, and an hour-long bus commute to our host’s apartment. We were greeted by David and Jessica, two anthropology/archeology majors and straddlers who had bought us Abita beer and Zapp’s Potato Chips as a welcome gift! We stayed and chatted and Jessica invited us to a party that evening. We figured we’d take a power nap and awake refreshed for the party. Unfortunately, we laid our heads down at 5:30pm for a nap and didn’t stir until around 2:00am.

When we did make it up in the morning, it was time to go exploring! We took a bus in to the French quarter and went window shopping until we stumbled across the Voodoo Museum. We learned about the origin of Voodoo, and how Marie Laveux was not only a high priestess of voodoo, but a rather impressive entrepreneur.

voodoo1

voodoo2

After the museum, we stopped at Café du Monde for some beignets and café au lait. The whole place was a little disorganized and covered in powdered sugar, but it was also extremely delicious! After, we walked over to the Mississippi river, and checked out more of the quarter.

mississippi

Walking through the French Quarter is entertainment in and of itself. On every corner there’s a jazz band or a tap dancer. Each sidewalk houses an artist at work selling paintings or jewelry. Each store-front and apartment looks like a beautifully haunted building straight out of a vampire romance. The place is crawling with history and drunk revelers who can take an alcoholic beverage to-go from any local bar or restaurant.

FQband

Frenchquarter

Marine: We even stumbled across a French pharmacy museum, which is essentially me or soon to be me. I’m currently applying for pharmacy schools and was born in France.

frenchpharmacy

As the sun set over the French quarter we walked along the river and found a delicious Cajun meal via groupon at Poppy’s Crazy Lobster.

rivernight

Next up was the Esoterotica reading at the Allways theatre and lounge.

Ashley: I was lucky enough to get a featured spot in the show, but I truly loved how the show was run. Sometimes the term erotic can be misinterpreted by writers, and become overly triggering, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. This event seeks not only to avoid it, but to alert writers to what may be problematic.

After the show, we went for a drink with our host and new friend, Jessica, who informed us that Allways often hosts a naked karaoke night, which she has previously won. This trip is never short on interesting people!

The next day was spent cooking and walking through the neighborhood, followed by Word Connections, hosted by John Lacarbiere at the Ju Ju Bag Café. Free food was served, drinks were poured and poetry was shared.

jujubag

johnashley

With only two days left in New Orleans, we decided to experience Mardi Gras off-season atMardi Gras World. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but they give you the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a slice of king cake, dress up time, and a look through their amazing float factory.

mardigrasworld

mardigrasworld2

mardigrasworld3

The next day we went to the Louisiana seafood festival, after which we ended with another amazing night of poetry, potluck style, with Desiree Dallagiacomo and friends.

It was now Saturday night, and we headed out to Bourbon Street. Drunken frat boys, refined foodies, LSU fans, hipsters, and older vacationers alike convened for drinks, dinner and dancing. We reveled in the debauchery and found a place to eat dinner on a second floor balcony while listening to the musical stylings of Tanya and Dorise on the street below!

tanyandorise

balcony

Despite the fun of Bourbon Street, it can get even more over the top here than Vegas. If you plan on joining the crazy crowd, be safe. Use the buddy system, don’t drink and drive, you know, use common sense!

The next morning we hopped on a 6am street car to get to our megabus for Houston, TX. Our taste for adventure may be just as big as the lone star state.

Up next: Houston and Austin, TX