(Photo by: Han Vance)

The day I moved from Marietta proper to the more distant suburbs, a punk rocker juvenile delinquent named Chris Damico was building a small wooden skateboard ramp in the street that led to my new culdesac. Though I had never ridden a skate ramp before, I’d picked up street skating about a year earlier as the sport hit a second wave of major national popularity in the mid 1980s.

It was the heat of a Southern summer, and most of my like-aged friends were living closer to the Marietta Square. I was living way out in the vast stretching sprawl of what had been previously rural, then exurban, and finally suburban Cobb County, in what was then known to be the fastest-growing civilization in the history of mankind: greater metropolitan Atlanta.

My siblings were a good bit younger than I, and I found myself with no one cool to regularly hang out with when I was not at work as a fine-dining busboy at The Planter’s restaurant. By mid-summer, my friend Doug got a Chevy Nova and was the first to get a license. He started picking me up, and I was back hanging with my old crew of friends. Before that, I skated with Damico everyday.

We grew apart, Damico and I, but we talked from time to time. Then when I was a senior, his mom moved out of the school district, and he talked my brothers and folks into letting him ride out the school year living with us. I thought it was a terrible idea, but the decision was made before I had any input. He bunked with my brothers.

For the first time, we became truly close friends. My epic high school career was winding down, so we decided to have a huge graduation party as a last hurrah. We set a date and gathered friends from neighboring schools, like Dave Weiss, at my house for a meeting and told them to tell their friends and friends of friends from many of the schools across the county.

A week before the party my parents went out of town for one night, so we threw an impromptu gathering. Hundreds of kids from my school showed up and lined my entire street with cars and trash. I paid my brothers to clean up the mess after, but I was immensely worried. We didn’t have access to enough space for the coming big graduation party, and my folks’ plans to go out of town again were suddenly cancelled. We were screwed.

My mom and stepdad’s yard at the time led to a stretch of woods that eventually led to fields behind a huge western store called Horsetown. Damico came up with the idea to rent these fields, and in a meeting in which the outcome still baffles me to this day they agreed to lease us the property for a night. We paid them a small amount of money and assured them it would be a calm affair.

As the day approached, I distributed flyers amongst the upperclassmen at my school listing my address as the location for an “Adult Graduation Party.” A teacher found one and said I could not go on with the plan, but I scoffingly told him I was eighteen and the party was the day after school ended. It was out of his jurisdiction.

My friend Todd Smalley’s band the Wild Onions agreed to play the event, and I made him promise not to reveal the real location of the party to anyone at our school. He kept my secret at Lassiter; meanwhile we called our party planning colleagues and told them to tell everyone to be at my house by 5:00 p.m.

We hung a sign on my basketball goal on the day of the fest that said: “Go To HORSETOWN.” We were there well off the street and obscured from visibility with the rock band playing as the thousands and thousands of kids began to show up. As the sun set, the traffic continued to stream into the fields. We positioned paid parking attendants in the drive to charge admission for vehicles and made hundreds of dollars over the field rental. Interestingly, Damico and I both later worked for years in the management of the parking industry.

Of course, the cops came that night. We heard it told that for a few hours they could not find the exact party location. When they did attempt to bust the party, it still went on for over an hour as they simply directed traffic out while making very few arrests for underage drinking. When the crowd finally started to thin, we grabbed as many cute girls as would follow us and led them back through the woods to the relative safety of my house.

For weeks after, we were the reigning stars of the county. I began to commonly hear the term “Hanfest” and wondered who’d coined it. About a month later, I was hanging out with my artist friend Mike Tom. He told me he’d hand-painted a sign at the entrance of the Horsetown fields that said: “HANFESTIVAL.”

Timi Conley’s Fuzzy Kite to Many Moons

Why is the sky so blue? He doesn’t like words anymore, he says, but Timi Conley is clearly in love with sound. And what a wall. Berlin fell, and they are playing punk rock music on mars. Give him your money, kids. He is no more for sale than “Frank Zappa (for President”) ever was. Things ’bout to get weird.

I’m dreaming up our big pARTy now over veggie enchiladas, Reverend TC (“Timi”) Pane and me together again. See, Timi’s birthday is 8-28, mine 8-29. I was born on the same day as Michael Jackson and the dude who thought up Democracy, but that’s a different blog post. “Virgos in the Cities” it could be called, a two-day, two-city affair – check it his bday in ATL, mine in Athens…maybe…

On the cusp of Athens Slingshot Festival, March 19th-22nd in the Classic City, http://www.slingshotathens.com/, I was all set to finally review the new Kite to the Moon record, but I relapsed and back tracked into his Nerd Sexy album first, which I found for free on Spotify. Before I switch hit again, let me briefly plug that festival, because it will be amazing: TINARIWEN and KISHI BASHI are playing (look them up if you are not already in the know), there’s tech biz, electronic art, even a night of comedy. Slingshot was just a successful “demonstration” last year, and in full year one the festival has already bloomed into a four-day, full-city spectacle. Join in.

NERD SEXY by Timi Conley: Experimental. Catchy. Modern-cum-postmodern love sounds intertwined against grippingly trippy snippets. Conley displays a virtuoso knowledge of the rules and still breaks them regularly. It’s as if all the good Beck music was poured into a blender with a splash of that famous Athens, GA candied liquor, which propelled early pioneers Pylon and the B-52’s to (accidentally) break the town wide open. Big national acts like REM and Widespread Panic, and later Of Montreal of the Elephant Six Collective, sprang forth from that ruptured earth, and I was there. But that, too, is another blog post of historical reporting. Timi is the now and the future. Exciting solo debut from the frontman of Kite to the Moon and seminal Athens party band Fuzzy Sprouts is way too sexy to miss.

Timi Conley and Kite to the Moon play the Green Room in Athens, GA on Friday March 21st as part of SLINGSHOT. See y’all there. I will be the guy in the purple pants up front.

Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

A day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned bright with tequila and salt, I comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco in Distrito Federal of Mexico.

Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People where we bought beautiful soaps and bath salts and a brightly-colored magnet of the Lady of Guadalupe, radiant against a red background. That’s Mexico for you these days: radiant and resiliently shining, yet against a red background of worsening drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but always felt fairly safe.

Mexico City boasts more density than New York City while it is vaster than North American land giant Los Angeles, with a total population roughly equal to both of those biggest of United States cities combined. Thirty million people hived around us seeing about their day, while the affluence of Zona Polanco was perhaps most striking. The pedigreed pooches in sweaters and bows, with well-coiffed and attired owners in tow, themselves with expensive sweaters tied around their necks, so Euro. The rolling tree-canopied park and the finest shopping, the restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.

Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, the public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats, the museums and street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my lady, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.

We stopped in for a margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the big city night still awaiting us.

Fitting that I’d just bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican Cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought later, as we explored the nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev back up at what could have been an inopportune moment, and the tequila eventually hit me too hard.

Before all this was the mansion once owned by the lovely Hollywood actress Brigitte Bardot in Cuernavaca, Land of Eternal Spring, where we stayed in the guest quarters. Cuernavaca is a city of around one million, an escape from Mexico City, a city behind gated walls which opened to reveal large homes with majestic gardens and outdoor spaces.

The place we stayed was cobalt and white and flowing and as majestic in taste and decoration as any I’ve seen below the border, a shrine to all that is good about Mexico, and there really is so much.

The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for breakfast. The memory of Texas relatives whom loved the culture. The feel of being seated outside under a temperate sky and consuming cold Mexican beer with limes sliced sideways, with the woman I truly love. The thronging Zocalo and the reverence and spectacle of Mexico’s churches. The taste of piquant salsa verde and wholesome handmade tortillas. The art and color – yellow, cobalt blue, galaxy blue, Aztec blue, pink, hot pink, red, orange, all popping against the expected browns and tans. My single favorite art piece I saw was the Diego Rivera mural depicting the history of the state of Morelos, which filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s downtown.

To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in D.F., where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (sandwich). The city is mammoth from the air and feels enormous while navigated by auto. Housing packed on top of shallow stores and restaurants selling food and goods to the multitudinous masses. Soccer facilities and parks along the graffitied Metro train line, as we bounced in the bus through the crush of traffic.

Followed by the rurality of mountains and fields of hay that is most of the land in the nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with the same Mexican fire that we felt of the biggest city in the world, 100 years after the revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of D.F. are known) retreat the short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and relative calm. Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play. And a raucous mid-day celebration once swept us up, a tipsy local painted as an Indian for the festivities putting his arm around me and introducing himself and his less than pleased date, as we charged down the street with them. He told me I should have been out there at 10 a.m.

The silver town of Taxco that we visited on a day trip was brimming with humanity – flooding narrow city streets, full of pedestrians and vehicles and thousands of shops, every structure white with only black-lettered signage. There, I prayed in the most ornate church I’ve ever seen and then had a drink at the rooftop bar across the plaza. Next, dinner included chicken enchiladas and a hilltop view of the entire village from a large restaurant/hotel.

Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the air from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open air restaurant. The Mexican night felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of D.F., which was again on our agenda.

Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in to fall asleep and then were at one point suddenly awakened to noises on the tiled ceiling. We moved to the kitchen, and two curious Coatis glanced at us through a window from atop the property’s wall, before one bounded over the other as they exited our view. The magic of Mexico evident to us.

Hawaii (hilo hello)

My travel book says a big black sand coastline mostly washed away in an epic storm but a vibrant medium-sized city remains, on the rainy side of the Big Island. The beach basically gone, Hilo, Hawaii, is a locals’ town more than a place for tourists these years, and amongst the full-time resident world transplants are many Thai folks and their fabled flavor-providing restaurants which masses of Americans adore, my true love and I included. So, we are zooming away from the Volcano and off to old Hilo to have some Thai food. Wrapping around Hawaii.

It’s an American Sunday morning, and the farmers’ market is hiving in the central city. Fun to walk in such a sort of almost familiar setting and recognize so little of the fare for sale. We buy nothing but marvel at the fruit and seafood, saving ourselves for a taste of Thailand. It’s suddenly becoming a steamy day.

ART and POETRY a sign boasts on my sightline horizon, small buildings at the edge of the market include a gallery custom made for me. My performance there a half hour later to a few painters, gallerists and the leading in-house poet feels foreign, as I mostly perform urban edge spoken word oh so of the mainland. I buy Belsky’s book and we bid a fond adieu.

Vance and Belsky

A gift shop away we buy a beautiful glass fish in several shades of blue, as the sky suddenly goes gray. Then, it lightens again as we walk in search of the perfect Hawaiian shirt. We enter the fancy Sig Zane store and see many good ones but not that perfect one. Announcing myself to the clerk as a culture writer, we become acquainted with the designer Sig Zane himself, not so busy installing a window display that he won’t break for our company. The shirt I really want is the one he wears, only available in small on the storeroom floor. Upstairs is the storage room for the whole company; he has multiple locations including one in Honolulu. Perfect pink with brown wooden buttons and white rain blowing sideways on Koa trees, it’s a great shirt and they find my size.

A few huge Hawaiians inked up and mean-mugging me in a small public park are to be avoided, scowling as if the whole pig they ate for breakfast isn’t agreeing with them or maybe they just don’t like white boys. I know I don’t either some of the time. Know me for what I am: a man of and for the people. A good white man.

The rain of this side of the island comes and we find the strip of Thai joints. A white Trustafarian eating with a pretty local lady next to us is to me the stereotype Hang Looser. I’m surface profiling him as those giants just prejudged me, but I’m not doing it with ill will.

The food is spicy and coconut milk sweet, the white wine is a nice wash down, and the rain softens enough for us to reach the rental and vacate this very real American city. We felt at its essence, and it was essentially good.

Hawaii (heart like a volcano)

We dine fine in the lodge and life’s good. I’m sipping a Brandy Alexander by the fireplace with my heart melting faster than the cubes. Face flushing, I’m gushing love at this little woman. I’m allowing myself to let go of the mainland of my mind and just dig my life with her. Drifting, a fog lifts and there is no looking back. Be here: Hawaii’s Volcano Village.

Looking back from the center of the volcano to the cloud forest atop and encircling it the next day. Heat hotter than last night’s jacuzzi soak, our skin searing in this vast black pit of lava burnt Earth.  We walked an elevated rain forest in and will walk an elevated rain forest out – but way out here there is barely enough water to hydrate against the bouncing heat, rising in sheets.


Funny moment before was when we checked in at the National Park entrance. They had a painting of the wild-haired Hawaiian Volcano God, Pele. My companion, freer and looking naturally wilder than I’ve ever seen her, was the spitting image. We didn’t even have to say it. We just looked at the picture and each other and laughed. For basically just a white girl, she’s ambiguously exotic. American Indian blood.

We cross over the big volcano. Up-up and away into a cool light, bright green reality which could hardly be more different. The plants are flutes and fiddles, forming a forested music I’ve only ever seen or heard today. No snakes in Hawaii but plenty of other creatures. Songbirds of every imaginable color singing songs mirroring the harmonious flow of local speech pitter-patter patterns. You can’t be here and not feel it. It’s brimming with life. A tingling energy shoots up your spine like black heroin hitting a junkie’s thirsty veins. You feel it in your core.

I briefly think of my friend who lost his mind in Hawaii, reading his journal from that time. It was just too much for him. Sort of an even more unpublishable more palatable location version of the Alexander Supertramp ramblings on Alaska which became the backstory of Into the Wild. My favorite part was when they knew they were losing it, my friend and the protagonist of that good book. A Walt Whitman moment where a man goes into the wilderness and questions what we accept as reality on the other side. Society. Commerciality. Badly distorted perceptions based on greedy career-isms. All the overdeveloped destruction…And then this Earth.

I guess I came closest to that moment way up in the California mountains, living inside my book Golden State Genius, but I was always only a few days away from glitzy LA or gritty San Francisco. So, I couldn’t really let go like they did; they were more far gone.

We come across the path to a lava tube and take it. Reminds me of the time I went spelunking. A cave, of sorts, created by the red hottest essence, not solid, not liquid and pushing through the ground: a drilling snake of hot inner Earth light, leaving nothing alive in its path. I’m being changed by this.