Embracing Life with Cherrie Moraga

On the road again. (Oh how that song gets stuck in my head!) Our motley crew of five drives away from the beach. Julia’s driving folks to the bus in Oakland and swinging by Tampa to drop off Dave, who’s going who knows where. It’s our last chance to catch a ride. Obviously (or not)… my mind is whirling because I just can’t stop thinking, I can’t leave yet! We hang out at “Café Hey!” in Tampa before the car leaves, enjoying some last minute chats and a bit of coffee. The time of choice arrives. I grab my stuff out of the car. I hold Benjamin, Julia and Evangelina tightly before they zip off down the road.

Dave and I are left standing and mulling over our situation. We have nowhere to sleep and don’t know how we’ll be leaving. I am not afraid of surviving; there is money in my wallet, snack in my pack, phone on hand, and a friend close by. So why does this feel so liberating, to stay?

Eventually, I wander back into “Café Hey!” to charge my electronics. “Are you a traveler?” a voice asks. I smile with the recognition of my new identity. Broad grinned I return to Dave holding the number of Matt and Erica with a possible date at a nearby hostel.

We have another cigarette and head out to the river that weaves through the city. Upon reaching the cement-enclosed water, I notice the numerous bridges. Some are a gleaming metallic, “developed” beauty. Others are a rusty brown, and mechanical green. Grafitti covers all their walls and I am very curious how folks reach the awkward spots?

Only a few trees and bushes glitter the walk, and those that do all seem to have been chosen very purposefully. The pelicans are diving into the water with a SPLASH, the water flies.

We find our way to the public library to use a computer. This place is huge! There is a large circular staircase, a few stories of concrete, and a colorful sign giving it a child friendly flare. Unfortunately, the only bags allowed must fit into a carefully placed white bin behind us (It’s smaller than at the airport). Since there is nowhere to check or put down bags, we must leave. We remember someone mentioning strict laws being put in place in Florida limiting the movement of homeless people.

We come across a building with large glass windows and a café in the far corner. We peak in as we pass by to find a friendly face looking at us, waving, with a smile.

My eyes widen
Teeth appearing
Fingers glide through
The fluid air
Saying hey.

“We must go in,” I demand. So Dave and I curve around the corner, moving through the obstacle of elastic fences. The woman – Alex – with short, straight brown hair held back with a simple headband, stands behind a colorful display of sweet gelato. After expressing that we would not be buying, Alex offers us a few tastings. I lick up some hazelnut, mango, mixed berry, and a dazzling cinnamon vanilla flavor; each one lingers for a moment on my taste buds. After Dave buys a drink and I fill up my water bottle, we head out.

Under a tree I read to Dave. I am so enthralled and excited by the words I can’t help but share.

“ ‘C’mon, man, does it hafta take so long? Jus’ answer me.’
The blue and the brown eye were working at this one, working hard. I try to isolate each eye, see if I come up with different conclusions depending on which eye and which color I’m working with. Figure one is the European view, the other the Indian.
Tiny goes for her pants, ‘Fuck you.’
And then I smell here, just as she reaches over me.
Her breast falling onto my shoulder, something softening.
A warm bruised stone.
I inhale. Grab her arm.
‘No, wait. Let me look at you.’
She pulls back against the dresser, holds the pants against her belly, then lets them drop. She’s absolutely beautiful. Not magazine beautiful, but thirty-three years old and Mexican beautiful.”
– Cherríe Moraga, “La Ofrenda”

We gather ourselves and turn north along the river after making plans with Erica to meet at Graham’s Place for some good music. The directions: N on Tampa, L on Columbus, R on Ola until you hit it. The busy street turns into a packed residential neighborhood. We pass two guys riding go-carts on the street, one with red and yellow flames emblazoned on the baseboard, the other a white color with high seat. We say hello to folks along the way. Most of the people we pass are young black men chilling on porches, chatting, and listening to music. A young woman passes by with two kids. A boy and girl, possibly siblings, are in a driveway playing in a purple toy car covered with pink flowers. A white looking guy asks if we want a smoke.

Our bags start to nag, pulling tight on our shoulders, most likely rubbing our skin a bit raw. It has been an hour and a half. “Look! It’s the end of the road up there. Do you think we’ve passed it?” Dave proclaims.

We must reach the end now, how could we not!? Plop. Plop Click. “Can you see the sign yet?” I ask Dave since I am without glasses. “No, don’t tell me. Maybe it’s Graham… Shit! That’s not it either.”

We’re at the end of the road, so we sit down on a bench until we figure out what next? We find out we are 2 miles away from Graham’s Place and pretty close to the airport. We are hungry and tired, but neither of us is very angry about our unfortunate predicament (except having to cancel music plans).

Dave surprises me with his refusal to give up hope. “There must be a purpose. A reason why we are…” Just then we are interrupted. A white man with a graying 12-inch beard, and head hair at least twice that length, rides up on a bicycle, plastic bags dangling from the handlebars.

He looks down at us inquisitively as we tell him our story. He peaks into one of his bags, pulling out two platters of hamburger, carrots, and rice. Frizby Jim lives in the area, plans music performances, and knows all about where to get free meals. He continues to give us a jug of grape juice, a loaf of bread, and peanut better, even after we tell him it’s unnecessary. “Peace be with you.” He holds out his closed fist, both of us responding with a pound. “Pass it on!” Then he left us where we sat, bellies full and fuzzy feelings.

After bussing back downtown we meander to the river. We read, write, and talk to our heart’s delight before heading off to bed in the reeds up on the hill. It’s nice to sleep under the stars. Dave leaves the next day on a bus – body covered in red spots from new friends who shared our room – leaving me alone. I just can’t leave yet.

Being alone has a special feeling to it. Depending on your perspective, one could argue it is more or less exciting. I finish reading Cherríe; she’s kept me company the last few days and I’ve found myself completely engrossed. Her writing inspires me, and after I close the back cover, I write. Boy do I write! I have never written so creatively, so much, in my life. It’s exhilarating to break new ground.

As the sun rises on another day, I roll up my sleeping bag and head down to the benches where I share a friendly conversation with a young man on his way to work. It’s a whole day’s ride back to NY. My time in Tampa and with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Cherríe opened me up. For the first time since graduating college, I feel at peace with my life rather than stressed to impress.