Monday, August 25, 2008

Lost in History vol. 72: Exit Poll Cocktail Toll

What goes best with politics? Blue-in-the-face arguing? Solipsistic grandstanding? Memorabilia collecting? Sure, those are always a hoot, but what truly makes political discussions oh so fun is booze! The addition of liquor to our political conversations allows us hard-working, hard-drinking Americans to surge forward, secure in the knowledge that our treasured opinions on personal, cultural, communal and national matters make so much more sense when they’re powered by liquor. That’s the beauty of America: when the BAC level coursing through our bloodstreams makes red and blue states meet in the middle, liberal arms around redneck necks, and we sing the national anthem (not really, but we all have a dream).
Dean Baldwin also has a dream: one that involves free booze and the documenting of ever-shifting social dynamics. Not an American but a bona fide Canadian, Mr. Baldwin was in Chelsea last Thursday for the opening of his interactive vodka-fueled exhibit, titled Exit Poll Cocktail Toll, which runs through today at the White Box Gallery. For Exit Poll Cocktail Toll, one of six weeklong exhibits shown as part of White Box’s Six Feet Under series, Mr. Baldwin brought a bunch of vodka, shelves, and curious questions to the American fashion-forward, art-going, booze-drinking public. Picture, if you will, a fancy Chelsea gallery with a bar at the center. Free vodka drinks handily dispensed by cheerless galleristas — vodka and cranberryl vodka, pineapple and blue curacao; vodka and nothing else — to happy-go-lucky hipsters and the standard gallery-hopping crowd. Surrounding the bar, mounted to the walls, are a bunch of shelves with empty plastic cocktail glasses stacked on either side of a demarcated line. Sharpied on each shelf is a question, and under each shelf is a option of two answers.
“If the election were to take place today who would you vote for?” has an overwhelming stack of empty cups — 30 or more — on the Obama side, and a half dozen for McCain. “Does Capitalism control democracy?” (pictured) also has a stack of empty cups on the YES side, and a handful (but not many) on the NO side. Another query has a shelf perched high above the heads and reachable arms of all boozers in the gallery and a ladder placed squarely underneath leading to the inquiry “Are poor people lazy?”
Chen Tamir, a NY resident and guest curator who invited Mr. Baldwin and his spirited installation of spirits, describes his art as “creating social scenarios and sparking conversation through the argument of art and the lubrication of booze.” White Box’s theme of Six Feet Under was developed to take a humorous yet interactive approach towards the election season. Chen and Dean interviewed friends as well as strangers on the street to come up with 30 questions, which were then whittled down to 13 and displayed prominently on the walls. It seemed as if patrons had a good time boozing it up and making their decisions known. If the answers to the questions surprised n -one, well, neither did the crowd of young urbanites on hand for the opening. Neither did the stack of empties on the positive side of the shelf labeled “Did you come for the free booze?”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lost in History vol. 73 - Hip-Hop Gospel in Maria Hernandez Park - One Afternoon Only!

On Wednesday I had the second half of the afternoon off, and it was gossip catch-up time with the BFU (that’s Best Friend in the Universe, to those of you who didn’t know.) So I boogied by bike from East Bushwick to Williamsburg, caught-up with the lovely girl for an hour or so, shared a raspberry iced tea, marveled and planned a future fedora purchase at a South Williamsburg Hatter Tomatoes you've never had (but should! - email me for exact location!) I heard some on lower Broadway across from the WBridge Bus Depot, and made my way back home. After stopping to pickup some of the most amazing homemade Sundriedslammin' live music from Maria Hernandez Park across the street. So I hoisted our groceries, and biked up the slight hill to the open plaza in the heart of the park. I practically biked right into a serious urban gospel concert happening in the middle of the park, middle of the afternoon, middle of the week.
The chorus is comprised of 30 some-odd teenagers, mostly of the Latina & Afro variety, but with an assorted Asian up on the stage, all of them bouncing back and forth behind a 4 member band supporting a few different solo performers. Electric Guitar, Bass, keyboards and drums; all amplified and booming across the park, to the senior citizens on the benches, to the squadron of tykes on tiny bikes, to the dozen or so attentive listeners on the folding chairs, to the sarcastic older boys in the back row making snide comments, to the occasional hipster strolling past with a quizzical look on their face. The solo performers are alternating tracks between hip-hop, rap, soul, r&b, the odd & impressive hard rock track with a bitchin' guitar solo. But between all the nice beats, the grinning kids, the tshirts that say DIE HARD, LIVE FREE, the grooving rhythms is a message - that life is tough, drugs and violence can tempt one down the wrong road, but friends, family and Jesus Christ can help those in need.
I had stumbled upon a one-time only live performance from the YE Ministries. YE stands for Youth Explosion, and the backs of a few DIE HARD, LIVE FREE tees were emblazoned with a YE graffiti logo. Youth Explosion Ministries is a religious & spiritual group originating out of a Ministry on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale - aimed mostly at Junior High and High School students, but allowing the word to reach all. And all it did reach - the music was awesome. The positive presence was tight. The message, if one were to listen closely enough were indeed religious proselytizing, but proselytizing about the one and only God and living a life more attuned to pure expression and experience. And who can find anything wrong with that?! I left Maria Hernandez with a rhythm in my heart and an uplift in my spirit. And a badass mix cd, which I will gladly share with any who write and ask. (Along with the location of those delish homemade sun-drieds.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lost in History vol. 71: Party for Your Right to Ride!

On Tuesday night we had the pleasure of converging at a midtown bar, in a room full of people who like to drink and ride bikes (hopefully not, but probably sometimes, at the same time). However, instead of drinking and riding (hard to accomplish, let alone in a cramped Chelsea bar), we were standing around on our own two legs schmoozing, boozing, talking shop about cycling in the city and crossing fingers for the bike stuff raffle. Welcome to the first ever social mixer/benefit for the positive, progressive bike advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives.

Trans Alt (or TA) was founded in 1973, during the cresting wave of environmental action and organizations that also birthed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Although Trans Alt is hardly as powerful as sweeping legislation or a major government branch, they are still effecting small and large changes on the streets of New York. TA’s predominant focus is on bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, in five different fields: Bicycling, Walking and Traffic Calming, Car-Free Parks, Safe Streets and Sensible Transportation. TA stresses that it is not focused only on cyclists – their goal is the best possible utilization of our multifarious mixed-use avenues. In their very helpful green transportation hierarchy, TA demonstrates how different a city block could be if it were occupied by 50 New Yorkers in cars vs. 50 New Yorkers on bikes vs. 50 New Yorkers on a city bus. Clearly, the mass transportation mode beats private autos, and the happy cyclists trump all.

A phenomenal 110,000 cyclists travel the city every day, whether commuting to and from work, riding for work (say, delivering food, packages and documents), or for leisure. All these people deserve safer bike lanes and off-street greenway paths to get to work and home (and the bar) safely; daily commuters need more indoor and outdoor bike racks to lock up their trusty rides — all of these are causes for which Trans Alt lobbies, in City Hall and Albany, for the sake of safer roads for everyone— cars included. Along with bike advocacy, TA works towards traffic-calming atmospheres, where local community groups join the Department of Transportation to achieve pedestrian-primary spaces (parks, streets. routes) throughout the city.

Back to the booze and the blab about bikes. TA’s first mixer/benefit (because when you think about it, cyclists only get together on their bike, which is hardly time to talk shop) was a rousing success. 150 happy people (out of TA’s 6000-strong membership) crammed into The Black Door’s back room, swilling free drinks and snacking on veggies and dip. The atmosphere felt more like an after-hours office party than a collection of strangers who prefer the cycle to the subway.

Nuckel, TA’s Membership Director shared some facts about Transportation Alternatives. First off, they’re growing rapidly: a few years ago they just had 7 paid staffers, and now they’re up to 20 full-timers and practically bursting out of their office (a few flights above The Black Door). Also, TA sees itself as the wonky, legislative side to the cycling community. (As opposed to Critical Mass, the take-it-to-the-streets direct action side — with which TA has no official affiliation, although members of TA ride CM all the time.) Wonky political pushers are important when dealing with mega-bureaucracies like NYC and the DOT — to get the Man on your side, you have to know how to talk to him. To that end, TA is involved heavily with small-time players with moderate agendas — like City Council members, a dozen of whom have signed an open letter to Police Commish Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg asking that the charges against Christopher Long (the Critical Mass rider who was knocked to the ground by a rookie cop) be dropped, and that a fuller investigation into the NYPD’s anti-bike tactics are opened. It’s a start . . .

On the whole, it was a lovely evening, filled with booze, bikes, and beautiful people, excited about all of the above. Unfortunately we
didn’t win anything from the Trans Alt merch table raffle, so after two free whiskeys and some veggies and dips, we mounted our freewheel singlespeed Fuji, snapped on our helmet, and headed east, along a lovely bike path that was planned specifically for us.