THE UNDERGROUND
1.28.2005

Tripping On the Stares...

The hull had all the ambience of a public library, replete with the same lights and dazed denizens. Half the crowd's minds intent on what awaited them at work, the other half maybe thinking of weekend plans or overdue bills or hell, maybe even library cards. The point is, as it always seems to be on the New York City subway system: it was just one of those days.

Except it wasn't. Today, there she was. Sitting there. Perfectly imperfect. On her way to her day. Holding her thoughts close and her bag even closer. For all accounts and purposes, a native New Yorker. She caught my eye, not so much for her sexuality, but for her simplicity. She is who the director may have had in mind when he penned Just Another Girl on the IRT. Maybe.

She sat there, unassuming and unaware that I was sizing her up, caught up in her aura. She had no clue I was invading her space; no clue that her presence during an otherwise blah trip had me tripping. I kept trying to put my finger on what had me staring. What could it be?

Her blue jeans clung to her body like a scared toddler to a parents' neck. Boots by Timberland had enough traces of the past week's snow to ensure that if she'd committed a crime, Gary Sinise could end that particular CSI episode early. Her jacket, a fire engine red, halfway hid her pink sweat shirt, the combination reflecting awkwardly off of the fluorescents and causing many a passenger to do a bleary-eyed double take as if the ensemble was an assault on their senses.

Her skin? A winter pale, yet still with a glow that harkened brighter days--brighter than the wintry ones the northeast has suffered through for the past month. She was a sista, no doubt. Maybe mixed. Her complexion was light, with high cheek bones and thin lips rounding out her facial structure. No makeup. A scar on her right cheek made all who looked try to mentally deconstruct its origin, empathetically retrace her steps to the scene of the crime. Her hair, a dark brown with honey streaks, was organized confusion, yet somehow complemented her hue.

Her eyes? Closed. Tightly. Her head nodded furiously with each turn of the train, each jerk and pull, with her at the mercy of the frazzled conductor, resembling a Latina marionnette in performance mode. As her head danced the jig of slumber, the shopping bag she clutched began to slide off of her lap, moving toward the ground with all the skill and determination of a stripper sliding down a pole.

Why was I mesmerized by this woman? What was it about her? Honestly, to this day I just don't know. Her stop came. She arose suddenly, frantically exiting the train, only to come back for her bag.

And then she was gone. Unlike my memory of her, which still remains. Maybe I'll see her again, maybe not. Maybe one day I'll figure out what it was about her that "made me look" like a Nas song. Personally, I'm blaming it on the fluorescent lighting. And the lack of a newspaper. LOL

That way, I can stop thinking about it, get on with my day...and stop tripping on the stares.

posted by Will at 4:03 AM
link | 21 comments

1.10.2005

MIAMI ON THE MIND...

Last June, the National Urban League's Black Executive Exchange Program headed south to beautiful Miami Beach for our annual conference. Below is a daily blog I kept while down there, detailing my trip. This is before I officially joined the blog world, so don't hold it against me. LOL It's long. Oh, and you have to read from the bottom to the top. You've been forewarned. Enjoy.

...BLOGGING IN FROM MIAMI...

[DAY EIGHT--FREESTYLE WRAP]

SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 2004

Needless to say, the last three days have been hectic. So much so that
I literally had no chance to put finger to keyboard and fill you in on the
daily occurrences. For those who have been hanging with me all week, you
know that I absolutely detest the idea of having to work while in Miami
Beach. That hasn t changed. At all. However, I have warmed to the fact
that what we re doing here is important. The networking, the career
development sessions, the focus on black professionals, both present and
future all of it paid off in a big way. I don t pretend to know the
bottom line as far as financials, but from my vantage point inside the
program, the 2004 Black Executive Exchange Program in Miami Beach was a
smashing success.

I ve learned some random things during this week-long sojourn, and I
thought I d share them before I blogged off for good. Here goes:

I ve learned that it IS possible to be bitter about working in
Miami for an entire week without any type of wavering. Sad but true.

I ve learned that I should never try to arm wrestle my new agent
Alvaro after being awake for 20 hours straight. Go on&try it. I dare
you. You can t win.

I ve learned that after 8 days in a hotel, your stomach never,
ever, ever gets used to the food. EVERYTHING tastes like cardboard.

I ve learned that being around the BEEP students, talking to
them, and seeing them appreciate what BEEP does, makes it so much
easier to want to do more for them throughout the year.

I ve learned that eating before you board a Delta Song flight is
always a good idea. Trust me.

I ve learned that the Mona Lisa ballroom at the Eden Roc is my
absolute favorite of all time. And I ve seen a lot.

I ve learned that Ambrosia, the lead singer in the Live At
Instant Coffee band, could sing the alphabet and I d be throwing my
boxers on stage.

I ve learned that if Lean On Me is on the hotel room TV while you
re getting dressed for the next event, it s kinda hard to leave until
Robert Guillaume tells Morgan Freeman that he s the H.N.I.C. Just classic.

I ve learned that a handshake and head nod does NOT count as a
tip to the bell men. But really, can you blame a brother for trying?

I ve learned that it still hurts to watch video of the Florida
Marlins beating the Yankees in the 2003 World Series&and hurts even
more when the Marlins assistant general manager shows off his gaudy
championship ring. (However, on a brighter note, I now have exorcised on
of my sporting demons, facing South Florida head on after the Yankees
loss. Now wish me luck as I head to Detroit fresh off the Lakers
debacle. I m gonna need it.)

I ve learned that entering raffles are not for me. My whole
life, the most substantial gift I ve won were those autographed George
and Jane Jetson throw pillows at that fundraiser in preschool. (OK, I made
that up, but still, I suck at raffling.)

I ve learned that Florida s part of the Atlantic Ocean looks much
better than New York s. We should get a time share or something. Just
a thought.

I ve learned that there is nothing cooler than hearing Dinah
Washington and Ella Fitzgerald do their thing as you walk through the
Eden Roc, which officially makes this hotel the coolest in Miami Beach. Hands down.

I ve learned that there is never a good time to wear a suit
jacket outside of the hotel. You ll disintegrate on the spot.

I ve learned that taking a morning run on the beach is a great
idea in theory only.

And most importantly, I ve learned that I m absolutely hooked on
blogging now! Thanks for indulging me for the last week. I ve come back to New York with my sanity in tact and a conference under my belt.

And now, I m officially blogging off&

Respect!



[DAY FOUR LIFT-OFF]

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16, 2004

If you go to the National Urban League web site and click on the BEEP
logo, you will be taken to the ad for our 2004 conference, which is
accompanied by music by a group called Groove Collective. The song
they're playing is called Lift Off. And Wednesday, after months and
months of preparation, days and days of seemingly endless meetings and
conference calls, hours and hours spent at the graphics office...the
conference finally begins.

This is the Urban League's oldest and longest-running program, and for
a while I started to think they called it that because you start to feel old
and run-down by the time the conference begins. Maybe not. But again, if
you've never had to run a conference before, there is one thing I want you
to know and always remember--expect any and everything.

It could be the students who double-dip, "forgetting" that they
received a stipend from the company that sponsored their trip and "innocently"
accepting the stipend the Urban League prepared for them. It could be
having only three LCD projectors on hand and there are four sessions
needing them at the same time. It could be not having enough program
books to stuff the bags because they got lost while en route to the
hotel. Or it could be something as simple as miscalculating how many
meals you will receive for "free" during the week and spending your
advance money on some sand-proof sandals, or "als" as I like to call them,
because you saw them in a Miami Beach store window and thought they would
come in handy. I'm just saying, it could be anything.

Just be prepared for it...all of it. Because all of those things
happened during this first day of the conference. And believe me, that was just a
generous sample. There are PLENTY more experiences I could share, but
this is a blog, not a deposition.

Wednesday was the kick off of the three day event packed with plenary
sessions, workshops, seminars and a banquet on Friday evening. The dress
code was business casual (we ARE in Miami Beach, for god sakes) and the
mood surrounding the hotel was as bright and cheerful as the 90 degree
weather. All day the lobby was crowded with black professionals from all
over the country, coming to network and learn and share and, well, let's
face it...to party. Ask anybody who was in the lobby checking in, and
almost all of them--from the executive who's been with his company for
30-years to the rising sophomore from South Carolina--all of them have
their Miami stories or Miami dreams. And this week, while taking in some
knowledge, they all plan on taking in some sights as well.

And who could blame them? The sun, the sand, the shopping, the
nightlife...all of this is more enticing than a bright light is to a
moth. And all of this proves my point that coming to Miami to work is one
of the worst ideas since Fame decided adding Janet Jackson to the cast was
a great move. It just makes no sense. It's like a former player trying
to own a team a year after he retires. He may try to stay focused, but
the more he sees the team playing and having fun, he's gonna go crazy.

But I digress, while saying that this week has been a challenge.

What makes this conference worthwhile isn't the plenary sessions or the
luncheons or the "Who Moved My Cheese?" workshops. Not for
me. Nope. For me, it's the students. These young people, while most of
them are sponsored by corporate donations, still have to find their way to
the conference and back. And they do. And they are so grateful for the
experience. Seeing the gleam in their eye from being around big shot
corporate suits (or it could be the gleam from just being in Miami Beach,
whatever the case) shows that they are just happy to be here. For them
it's like going being called up to the big leagues even though they know
they're not ready. But just to get that taste of what it will be like
when they are...they absorb every minute.

This year we had three young men from Savannah State University email
and call the BEEP office looking for sponsorship. Their determination, their
eagerness, their taking the initiative and not waiting for a call from
their faculty office...that impressed me. What impressed me more was,
after hearing that they would be sponsored, they drove through the night
to get here in time for the first day's activities. They didn't have any
money to fly, but they found a way. Those are the type of people that
make it in the world. Ones who won't take no for an answer, ones that
make their own way.

That type of, pardon the pun, "drive" is what BEEP means to me, and
what makes me proud to work so hard throughout the year to ensure that these
students are properly served. There are undoubtedly going to be many more
stories like this as the conference lifts off, and time allowing, I will
share some of them with you.

Right now, though, I gotta go. Tonight, there's a BBQ by the beach and
I still haven't found any sand-proof sandals. Miami Beach has GOT to have
some. I'm betting my advance money on it...

# # # # #


[DAY THREE--DAYS LIKE THESE...]

TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2004

Today's blog, and the remaining ones for the trip, will be dedicated to
someone I never met, but knew very well. Ralph Wiley, writer and
columnist for ESPN.com, died on Sunday evening while watching the
Lakers-Pistons Game Four. When I heard of his death, I was stunned,
hearing that it was a heart attack that took the life of one of the best
writers this world will ever know.

Week after week I would read his column on Page 2, reading his thoughts
on the NBA, NFL and whatever the main topic of the day was. He was the go-to
guy of the page, the point guard that directed the offense. His words and
thoughts made sense, whether you agreed with them or not. He knew his
craft. And made me better appreciate mine.

Yesterday, while scanning the pages of ESPN.com, with all the tributes
and stirring words of grief and celebration that were poured out for a man--a
black man--that spoke the truth as he knew it; whose columns made you
laugh, made you angry, made you think; whose style of writing was both
poetic and scholarly; all of that made me think back to last Thursday, his
last column. He wrote a piece on the NBA Finals that anointed Larry Brown
as the greatest basketball coach ever, ahead of Red Auerbach, ahead of
Phil Jackson. I immediately thought it absurd, especially since my Lakers
were in the midst of being torched by Brown's Pistons, but after reading
his stated case...I reluctantly agreed with his coronation because Brown's
body of work spoke for itself.

Just like Ralph's body of work speaks for itself. I only knew him in
print, and from his best selling book, "Why Black People Tend to
Shout." Pick that up if you want some good reading. However, from what I
knew of him, through his words, I'm glad I got the chance to "know" him
like I did.

Rest in peace, Mr. Wiley. At 52, you were taken too soon.

It's 7:57am in Miami Beach. Must be raining.

Every day I've been here, it has rained precisely at that time, with
torrential rains falling for exactly 12 minutes. And then the sun
returns, the water evaporates, and all is well with the world. It's
amazing, really. And it happens like that everyday. I keep waiting for
the clock radio to come on Sonny & Cher to start singing. Just weird.

Tuesday was all about stuffing bags and making sure that conferees
arrived safely. And if you've never been to a conference before, and don't know
what's in the bags, I'm here today to tell you--junk. These are things
that companies didn't want anymore and had to get rid of to make space for
the new, exciting, USABLE inventory. And its obvious that most of the
things they send are the scrapple from past publicity stunts gone
bad. For instance, who's bright idea was it at a certain car company to
produce en masse mini-beach balls? About the only way these things come
in handy is if your cat is in his sand box and needs something to throw
around. Just horrible.

Or the company who thought it would be in their best interests to
manufacture portable lint brushes. What, am I brushing lint off of my
pant CUFF? This thing is smaller than Bush's approval ratings. And
really, since when has the portable market gone global? It boggles the
mind. Just like the Post-its that don't stick, and thus don't post,
leaving us with -its; the miniature mints that taste like bad breath (oh
wait, maybe that's the mints trying to tell me something...never
mind. hehehe); the portable clocks whose hands go backwards; the stress
balls that are overly sticky, making your hands feel violated, thus adding
even MORE stress to your day.

I could go on and on with the mess these people send. It's basically
like dealing with rejects from company assembly lines all day.

And why do hotels give you the rooms with the worst possible
circulation as the bag stuffing room? And is there a rule that says the room has to
be as far away from the registration area as possible? Seriously. We
need to get Bill Marriott on the phone to answer these questions. Oh, and
if you want to be entertained, remind me to tell you the story about my
new friend Kermit that I met while stuffing.

Gotta go for now...might be more later.

Somebody shoot me now...


MONDAY, JUNE 14, 2004

My first night at the Eden Roc went pretty smooth. It was surprisingly
easy to sleep after another Laker loss (one might say I've grown
accustomed to it) and the cool breeze outside my open window which faces
the bay made for a pleasant rest. Most of my colleagues were pouring it
on after another L.A. abysmal performance, but somehow, somewhere, these
guys must've brainwashed me. Maybe it was through the three championship
years; maybe it was Kobe's shot to end the regular season or Fisher's shot
to knock out the Spurs...whatever it was, after Sunday night, I still
believed.

And got dogged for it. Constantly. In the words of the great Frank
Costanza: SERENITY NOW!!!

Throw on top of the Laker shambles a marathon breakfast meeting that
lasted way past noon, and you can see why a headache was in my future.

I had to take a walk. And I did, around the Eden Roc Resort and Spa,
which is a great piece of property. FOR VACATION!!! It sits on the left
of the Fountainbleu Hilton, which is taller than the Roc, but probably not
as pristine. Let's run down the list of what the hotel's got that is a
great draw for newlyweds, spring breakers and couples who want to be near
the strip, but still a little distance away. Shall we?

The hotel is a bit of a throwback of sorts. Art deco furniture and
palm trees surround the large marble front desk. At least three bellmen greet
you as your arrive, my personal favorite being Alvaro, a balding man with
a young face that belies his 50 plus years, and although he speaks broken
English, he's got a sales pitch that would make Crazy Eddie
jealous. He'll go on and on about how great the hotel is, who's stayed
there and in which room...it was like talking to someone who really knew
hoops or was a lifer in baseball, a real pro. I've been here twice, and
guess what? He remembered my name from back in February. I asked him if
he made waffles because I was seriously about to ask him to be my
agent. Could you even see a publishing company turning down a great guy
like that? Not me. And that's my plan.

The 15-story structure is opportune for daydreaming, with great views
of the ocean on one side and a gorgeous, sprawling bay on the other. There
are always boats sitting in the bay, rollicking at night with parties and
wafting calmly over waves during the day. Again, this is the perfect
vacation spot. Seriously.

This hotel is where, back in the 60s, the Rat Pack used to hang
out. Where Nat King Cole first unveiled his song Mona Lisa and
appropriately had a ballroom named after his song. Where Joey Bishop's
brother served as maitre'd in the grand ballroom; where Sammy and Dean and
Jerry and Uncle Miltie used to come to kick it. The place has got
class. Clashing with the throwback theme, however, is the customized
Starbucks that sits dead smack in the middle of the yesterday
theme. Kinda makes you think, what could be their slogan, "Hey, come
drink some coffee where Sammy COULDA if we had been there then?" Or
maybe, "Come reminisce on the STARS while spending major BUCKS at our
counter?" It just reeks of commercialism and misses the substance of the
theme. But hey, everybody's gotta make a living, right?

The rooms are nice and spacious. Seems every time I come I get the
same room...king size bed, a view of the bay, walk-in closet that my sister
would without a doubt move into just to be with her shoes (seriously, it's
THAT big), a nice-sized bathroom and some art deco furniture. The rooms
are painted a pale orange, obviously to make it look brighter in the Miami
sun.

Wow, I've written alot and still haven't even mentioned the two
different pools, the Garden of Eden spa, the indoor, air conditioned basketball
court or the restaurant right by the ocean. Didn't even mention the lower
level that smells like an old suitcase, bugs the size of small children or
the overpriced Harry's Grille with the black chef whose omelettes always
taste like styrafoam.

I could go on for days, but that's probably not wise. I just figured
I'd get all the great stuff about Miami out of the way before the real work
begins tomorrow. Let's see...Tuesday consists of stuffing 300 conference
bags, preparing for the first students to arrive and inevitably the stray
student who didn't register, didn't book a hotel room and will be looking
for a place to crash for the week. That happening is a safer bet than the
Pistons in 5.

By the way, speaking of that, if anyone reading this would like to help
a brother out, I'm pretty much gonna owe Tee my entire live savings by the
time Wednesday hits. Please send donations to me, Will Dawson, in care of
my agent, Alvaro here at the Eden Roc. I better write a book
quick. Somehow, I don't think Tee is gonna accept Alvaro as an I.O.U.

Gotta run and see if I can shine some shoes during registration...be
back tomorrow.


to be continued...

# # # # #

[All:

This is going to be the way I keep my sanity during what promises to be
one of the most challenging weeks of my professional career. The BEEP
conference. Let's face it, being in Miami is great if you're on vacation,
but who wants to come to the beach to work? It's like that old commercial
for the Lite beer...don't let the good taste fool ya. *sigh* Right now,
it's work work work and this blog will fill you in on the details...and
other stuff that's going on in Miami Beach along with my conference. I
will try to give updates every day as time allows...and not so much at a
set time, so look out for it, because it's coming atcha In Living Color
and in real time.

Indulge me...]

SUNDAY, JUNE 13, 2004

I got in today around 4pm. Flew in to Ft. Lauderdale on Delta Song.
It was great--Your own satellite TV, free headphones...and the freedom to
veto the meal. I've waited years to board an airplane and have say over
what I ate and didn't eat. Sure, the absurdity of me paying 8 bucks for a
vegetable wrap weighed heavily into my decision-making process, but
nonetheless, telling the perky flight attendant to beat it was the
highlight of the ride.

The TV's are great. Fourteen channels. They even had BET, which, when
flying on a Sunday, isn't the same as when you fly during the week and
have an older white woman staring in shock at your screen as Petey Pablo's
Freak-A-Leek video beams transmission. That...is priceless. But alas, it
wasn't the same thrill with The Bobby Jones Gospel Hour on the screen. So
I turned. And decided to stop at the Food Network channel, which to my
great pleasure, was showing a "How to Make Cuban Hamburgers"
marathon. All I have to say after dozing in and out of that show is,
don't forget the pickles. They seem to be an important part of the
experience. Yawn.

Next up was the Game Show Network. Does anybody out there remember the
70's show Match Game? Well, neither did I. But let me just say that being
on TV back then must've been great! I swear, all the people on that show
are visibly drunk or hung over. It's like they had a house party and at
about 3am decided, "Hey, we have all these cameras here and you know how
Gene is great with asking questions...let's tape a TV show." Charles
Nelson Reilly (trust me, you'd know him if you saw him) was being openly
mocked for having a toupee; no, your ears didn't deceive you: that was the
show's host shamelessly gawking at a young Marilu Henner's breasts. I
mean, it was crazy, shocking, tasteless...and great at the same
time. Forget that junk on FOX...THIS was the real 70s show.

And now a word or two about Delta Song's menu. It consisted of choices
like the aforementioned and vetoed vegetable wrap, a deli sandwich, some
sort of fish plate and a fruit and cheese plate. And EVERYWHERE on the
menu, these people were trying to sell some liquor. The entree selections
were peppered with the hard (liquor) sell..."Try our wonderful fish plate,
garnished with anchovies and parsley...and if you want the fish to taste
like anything, you might wanna wash it down with our $12 chardonnay." Or
this one: "Deli-smelli. Get as high as our altitude while putting some
ham and cheese on your stomach and our $28 vodka surprise on your credit
card." It was creepy. My neighbors don't push HERBALIFE on me as
blatantly as these people are pushing their liquor. The food must really
suck. Glad I stayed away.

Finally got to the hotel, the Eden Roc Resort and Spa, which I will
tell you all about tomorrow. When I came out in February, I watched the Super
Bowl out by the beach and couldn't clearly see the breast part of the game
(hehehe). I learned my lesson this time, deciding to ditch the beach and
all its noisy surroundings (would it kill the staff to set up a big screen
TV so we could see more than a bunch of colors running after an orange orb
on the screen? I mean, really...would it?) and decided to watch the
Lakers-Pistons game in my room. Hey, if there was anything scandalous
going on during the game, I was gonna see it up close and personal.

Turns out all I saw was another Laker loss. Which should make all my
Laker-hater colleagues happy. All I know is that if and when the Pistons
win, and I have to step foot in Detroit next month and see all the fanfare
and celebrating...I will absolutely, positively throw up in my
mouth. THAT would be bad enough. Watching the way this L.A. team is
playing is even worse. I can't even comment on it. Seriously, I've taken
ill during every game of this series.

I better go to bed now. Have an 8:30 meeting and old God and Eladia
Bing know what time I'll get to bed.

It's conference week in Miami Beach. There should be a law about
bringing work down here. Can I get a what-what?


to be continued...

posted by Will at 1:49 PM
link | 2 comments

The ournal

Here is where I will blog my daily travails on the New York City subway system...Something I'm dubbing The Homeboy Journals.


bout Me

Will.Writer.Live from Harlem.Lefty.Thoughtful.Determined to figure out life.One day.Rambling into reality in the meantime...


Previously on THE UNDERGROUND
rchives

November 2004
December 2004
January 2005


logs I Read

Random Things About Me
Linga
The Black New Yorker
Sid
Leon/Hustleman
Mia
CocoaButterflyy
Wildly Sophisticated
Keisha
Donyell
Suezette
Cee
Ranada
Yolie
Jazz
The Brutha Code
Elle
Ms.Thing
Xquizzyt1
Rhapsodi
Buttercup
Singing Chick
Brown Shuga
The Kajuana Show






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