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Southern Fumblerumble: November 1999

Good evening, FumbleFamily. It's been almost 2 weeks since our southern "git together" and I just finished the report. There wasn’t a concert. In fact, this Rumble was solely for the purpose of gathering to greet one of our peeps from Australia. So, without further ado, I present to you this bedtime story:

Four Fumblers and a Lark: The Southern FumblerRumble, November 1999

An Epic Tale Told In 10 Acts

[Dramatis Personae:
Mr. Zebra, played by Matthew Desmoreaux
Beasty, an Australian, performed by Andrew Blanda
Jennifer Estes as Jen-E
fumbler.joe played by Joseph Parrie


an assortment of city-dwellers, security guards, mall personnel, angry towing victims, indifferent impound workers and one beautiful girlfriend

Scene: Shreveport, Natchitoches, Houston, and the spaces in between]

Prologue: "When I Look Down I Miss All The Good Stuff..."

I had missed an opportunity to hook up with some fellow Southern Fumblers who were going to the Renaissance Festival in Texas, so I wasn't about to miss the FumbleRumble in Houston. After a month of vague non-committals and a hellish week at work, I decided that a road-trip was in order. I gassed up the car, tossed a few maps and clothes into my backpack and left from Shreveport. This was one get-together I wasn't going to miss.

Act I: Dharma Bumming

I love driving. I was raised on the road: born in Virginia, moved to Sri Lanka, then to New Jersey, later to California and on to Louisiana. I've lived my life in transit, with no other place to truly consider home except the ground beneath me and the stars overhead.

I had driven from Shreveport into Texas on I-20 West and was planning to hit 259 South at Kilgore. The speed limit in Texas is 70 mph in the daytime and 65 mph at night, so I was making pretty good time doing 85--until I reached Kilgore, that is. All of the Interstate traffic headed south was being diverted to a single two-lane Detour road. It was like pumping copious amounts of blood from a thick artery into a swizzle straw; the traffic went from a wide fast flow to a bumper-to-bumper standstill. It took 30 minutes to leave Kilgore, and as I was headed out of town I looked to my left out of the haze of gray sky and drizzle.

A rig had jack-knifed on an overpass. It looked like the driver attempted an overcorrection and simply tumbled across the bridge, scraping up whatever cars had the misfortune of being in front of him and pushing them forward into a copse of trees. The trailer still lay on the overpass, while the cab hung like a mangled head above four empty lanes of I-20. Signal flares and the pulsing cherry lights of cop cars, fire trucks and an ambulance marked the scene.

I slowed down to 80.

Act II: Welcome, My Son, To The Machine

All Goth cyberpunk genre literature aside, Houston is an official sprawl. The towering glass and steel spires specked with light comprise the central hub, while the flat wide conduits of freeway unfold in all directions like crooked spokes on a tin wheel. The freeway stretches rigidly for a good 30 miles in each direction. Houston has swallowed the closest of its satellite cities, like a sun gone supernova.

The city. Jesus, the city. I had almost forgotten the immense conspiracy of sight, sound and smell that is metropolis. Ten years of living in a small town, 60 miles from any sizeable city, has clouded my mind of the chaos of mercantile progression. It's been so long, I'm practically a yokel here.

The din comes dangerously close to eliciting a sensory overload. I can see how a receptive person could become quickly calloused by a year in this place; dehumanization becomes highly probable when you're surrounded by a constant crush of people, 24 hours a day.

I shrugged off my initial shock and followed the map to The Galleria. I made it intact at 8:45.

The Galleria is a mall in the same way that the Titanic is a boat. It is a muddle of incongruent and colossal architecture, an indication to the wide immensity of space which must be filled in. Surely it was in defiance of this space that these buildings were made--as if to lull its inhabitants into forgetting that somewhere out there, beyond the clutter of headlights and strip malls, was an indifferent oblivion of dust and stars waiting to devour them. Again, I shook off my existential shock and I stumbled into the mall proper.

I remembered the email Matt had sent to us. We were supposed to meet at a skating rink or something in the mall; I asked a clerk where it was and she directed me to the lobby. There's a fucking ice skating rink down there. In the mall. In Houston. It's the size of a pond, and there were about 50 people cutting circles in the pit. I blinked just to make sure I wasn't having another flashback. It was real. We find the most creative ways to thumb our nose at Mother Nature, don't we?

Act III: Fumbling Towards Discovery

So, there I was. It dawned on me that I didn't know what anyone looked like. There were hundreds of people visible on all three floors. There were no signs posted. I entertained the thought of standing on a table and waving wildly until I attracted attention, but my innate sense of discretion got the better of me. I called Matt's place: no answer. Ugh. I paced and stared at my watch, thinking of possible attention-getting measures; just then I heard a someone call:


I turned to face three people standing idly against the railing of the rink. I pointed to myself and looked over to them, at which they all smiled and looked at each other.

"Are you supposed to be meeting someone?" One of them asked.

I stammered something in the affirmative. Memory doesn't serve me well anymore. Maybe I nodded, maybe I gushed. My road weariness tends to affect my behavior and my memory.

There's an odd familiarity between us, among we Fumblers. This phenomenon, meeting people you've only written to, is remarkable and strange all at once. It's like being reunited with distant cousins or childhood friends. We introduced ourselves: Andrew, Matt, Jen-E (who flew in from Austin that afternoon).

"I feel like we're in some immense Dionysian Temple; like there should be a sacrificial altar over there," I point to a landing on the second floor gallery. They laughed. Matt suggested food, and I was overcome by an intense desire for a McDonald's cheeseburger--I had eaten only Corn Flakes that morning. The McDonald's at the Galleria was the earliest to close, and they did not listen to me even when I begged for a burger, so we decided to brave the Houston evening in search of sustenance.

Jen called shotgun, and we explained the "Vehicular Rules of 'Shotgun'" to Andrew on the way out.

Act IV: The McDonald's Perception Factor

After several minutes of cruising around the city, we all realized a peculiar phenomenon: if you are actively seeking a McDonald's, each of them will mysteriously disappear from sight. Where you could have sworn there seemed to be 18 McDonald's restaurants the inner city, there will be none. Even the billboards that advertised their existence will vanish. In light of this abnormality, we decided to look elsewhere.

"How about there?" Matt asked, pointing at a Whataburger.

"Close enough," I answered. To poison a phrase by Freud: sometimes a cheeseburger is just a cheeseburger. We ordered and ate and talked about concerts, McDonald's in Germany and Fancy Ketchup. Jen forwarded her own idea about a possible road-trip northeast, possibly to Vancouver--my interest was piqued and has still remained so; I might be game for a venture up north some time in the future. During our conversations, Andrew brought out his digital camera and we oo'd and ah'd at it--it was a nice piece of machinery. It was here that the picture-taking began.

Since the Starbucks across the street was closed (at 10:30! What the hell kind of coffee shop worth its creamer closes at 10:30?), Jenn settled for Whataburger Coffee. You can check out the specs for a cup of Whataburger brand coffee here: ;-)

Act V: Aussies Drive Like Texans

Andrew moved like a shark all along the Interstate and Highways. He recognized the flow of the chaos -- it was as if he had an uncanny awareness of metropolitan ley lines and he was just switching tracks. He'd narrowly avoid a truck here, slide into a pocket between two cars and then cut across lanes with fluid precision. Remember the Millennium Falcon "asteroid belt scene" in The Empire Strikes Back? Just replace all of those whirling asteroids with other cars and it would be sort of like that, with Andrew and Matt in the front seat; except Matt is far less threatening and much cuter than a Wookie.

Jenn and Matt were well on their way towards converting Andrew to Dido-hood. They had cajoled him into purchasing her album and now we were listening to it.

"We made him buy it," she grinned triumphantly. I can tell Dido was mesmerizing Andrew, whose driving had become deliberate and had settled to a comfortable coast. Matt suggested we trek down to Galveston, which was only 30 minutes away. Andrew nodded and piloted us to our destination.

Act VI: Galveston Beach at 1:00 a.m.

Galveston seemed deserted. The streets and stores were empty, and the stone walk was clear for miles. There was only the constant rush of the ocean and the soft amber glow of streetlights. Matt came prepared. With a tug of two concealed zippers, his pants converted into a pair of shorts. He led us to a craggy stone ridge which jutted out into the ocean and we followed him out into the sea. The ledge continued for about 50 yards and then ended abruptly at a pole. The view was powerful; if you stood at the point and looked around you, you could easily imagine yourself standing on the water and watching the waves roll in towards you and part just as they reached your feet.

Scant moments later the waves began to rise, crashing against the makeshift stone pier and pouring across our feet. I was wearing sandals and socks, and a rush of cool water soaked me to the ankles--I turned and began moving back to the beach and the others did likewise. The ocean roiled and pursued us as we fled.

"The waves are coming at Joe," laughed Jen, and in a stunning display of Instant Karma, a wave rolled over the granite walkway and crashed against her ankles, soaking her socks, shoes and jeans. I immediately broke out into a victory dance.

Once we reached the beach, Matt hopped off the walkway and strolled towards the water. I rolled up my pants and followed suit. Unperturbed by the ocean's earlier assault, Jen pulled off her socks and shoes and joined us on the sand. Andrew opted to stay on the walkway. We played in the wet beach sand and then--after Jen assailed Matt with a handful of sand--we trekked back to the car. Fatigue had settled in, and the trip back was a serene one. Andrew dropped us off and bade us good night and we planned to meet with him at 10:00 the next morning. We wearily climbed into Matt's car and drove to the Dillard's parking lot to pick up my Corolla.

But my car was gone.

Act VII: Dillard's Must Be Destroyed

I looked up at a sign that I did not see when I parked: Vehicles Left After Hours Will Be Towed. It was approximately 3:00 a.m.

"Fuck." I muttered. It had been towed.

What followed was, shall we say, an adventure in and of itself. First we had to find the place, which seemed to defy all laws of physics and existed on a block that was not listed on the map. Nor was the block listed on the street signs, which seemed to skip from 2400 to 3100 in the blink of an eye. Ugh. The scars of this memory are still fresh. But in the long run I got my car back and it temporarily cost Matt $100.

By the time we got to Matt's it was around 4:00 a.m.

Act VIII: Fumbler Hospitality

We crashed at Matt's. With all due respect to Mr. Zebra, had I understood that Beasty had an extra bed in a posh hotel I would've slept there instead. ;-) Regardless, I slept like a stone and woke up refreshed. I even got to meet Matt's friendly dog, Buster, who expresses his love for strangers and communicates his overall concern for the current condition of humanity by rolling around and exposing his belly a lot.

It was cold and raining when we left Matt's, and we were an hour late. The lobby of the Marriott, like everything in Texas, was huge. We tracked Andy down in his room and related to him our "towing misadventures." He was amused.

Act IX: The Taj Mahal of Consumer Culture

McDonald's for lunch. This time I don't think we were actively *looking* for it.

Katy Mills is a mall. And guess what? It's big. Biiiiiig. Not necessarily Great-Wall-of-China-Big, but it's close to Big-Enough-To-Notice-From-A-Plane-Big. Picture a small city whose developers decided, "I know--let's just scrap the plans for building this city and just construct one huge mall instead."

And the interior looks like someone kidnapped either Tim Burton or Dr. Seuss and, after a grueling session of coercive tactics which may have included LSD and Mescaline, forced him to design the inside. We strolled to the doorway, which announced its presence as "Doorway Number One," and slid open to let us in. There were eighteen doorways to the Mall.

Did I mention it was huge?

We piddled around, gaped at things, poked through the bookstore, and ambled about. Matthew led us into a GothPunk franchise store (the name I forget), where inwardly I lamented the commercialism of a once-vibrant movement whilst being completely amazed at the instant accessibility of All Things Punk (which, in my opinion, should be inaugurated as a brand new segment on National Public Radio). There were the LPs of my youth: Dead Kennedys, Lard, Circle Jerks, D.O.A., The Germs, and many others.

And that's when Matthew found The Shirt. It was serendipity, methinks--that discovery of his. You'll have to wait to see the pictures; I think they'll explain his shirt better than I can.

The temperature had dropped a good 5-10 degrees by the time we got outside, and Andrew drove us back to the Marriott. We posed for a few last pictures and hugged and wished each other a fond farewell.

Our Soundtrack in Houston:

Dido, Fiona Apple, Reservoir Dogs Soundtrack, Patty Griffith, Ella Fitzgerald, Muse, Taxiride, Sarah, Nine Inch Nails (until Matt changed his mind 1 minute into the first song)

Act X: The Voyage Home

The longer I stay in the city, the quicker my old California reflexes responded to the discord. I was at ease by the time I left, and I drove like I was back in Stockton or San Diego. I hurled my Corolla past the throngs of other vehicles, jetting across lanes and maneuvering through clusters of slower cars.

There was a lot of wind and rain involved in the first portion of my 5 hour trip, but it cleared up once I reached Lufkin.

My music on the way there and back:

Joni Mitchell, assorted songs
Portishead, "Portishead"
Leonard Cohen, "Greatest Hits"
The Smiths, "The Queen is Dead"
The The, "Mindbomb"
"This American Life" on NPR:
"The Thistle and Shamrock" on NPR:
Rage Against the Machine, "The Battle of Los Angeles"

Epilogue: Back In My Baby's Arms

My sweetheart was still awake when I returned. There is no more comfortable place to sleep than in the arms of someone who loves you. Goodnight, fellow Fumblers. Peace, love and more Ecstasy than you can bear.

<-- No humans were injured during the making of this FumbleRumble. -->

Missing in Action: Dawn, Andy, Lindsay, and Laura and other assorted Southern Fumblers. Maybe next time... ;-)

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