Saturday, September 10, 2011


If you were to read any bio I have written about myself for say, the last ten to twelve years, you will see over and over again these words - “Julie has performed in 48 of the 50 states.” Thanks to a myriad of musical theatre and children theatre tours, I spent years crisscrossing the continental United States. I played Puck in Nevada, a flying monkey in Texas, and second chorus girl from the right up and down the eastern seaboard, and back and forth between coasts in vans, buses, and – oh luxuries of luxuries - an airplane or two. Many of the states are just a blur – the hotel, the dressing room, and whatever mode of transportation carried me there. Sometimes now, when I’m on a trip as a tourist somewhere, I’ll get an odd sense of déjà vu, and know I’ve stood right where I was standing before, but this time, I’m actually seeing it.
And here’s the thing about this country of ours – it is BIG, and while it is varied, there are parts of it that are very much the same. Malls – check, everywhere from the Dakotas to Connecticut. All you can eat salad bars – oh yeah, the Southern states always have that “banana surprise” pudding, but I’ve saddled up to fill my plate at ones in Milwaukee and Iowa, too. And hotels, there is something so comforting that a Days Inn in Florida, looks EXACTLY like a Days Inn in Illinois when you stay in a different city every night. For one thing, I could always find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without turning on the lights because it’s always in the same place!!! Yeah, I LOVE travel, and getting paid to do it, AND perform is GOLDEN!!
When I started to do more storytelling and clowning, I wanted to stay home a bit more, and not always have a suitcase packed, so my work got a bit more centered on NY, NJ, CT, PA – trips where I actually see the place I’m in, and get a chance to soak in the uniqueness of it. My clown work has taken me international, to ports as varied as Paris, China, and Haiti. And, when my husband introduced me to this concept of vacation travel, I was able to revisit places like New England, San Francisco, parts of Canada, and Chicago, that I sort of sped by on my way backstage – as well as London, Amsterdam, and Rome, which were AWESOME to spend time in, and not worry about what time I had to perform something for someone somewhere!!
But still, there was something bugging me, as I got my passport stamped - I had been stuck on ALMOST having not only seen, but performed in all 50 states for years. I mean, I had been to CHINA, and not those last two states – Alaska and Hawaii. So this year, I’m not even sure why, a need in me grew to begin to polish off this great big country of ours.
As we walked through the NY Times Travel Show this year (if you love to travel it is a MUST for you, it just makes you drool – and this year I was – can you believe, paid to perform there!!) my eyes kept landing on the brochures picturing Alaska’s majestic beauty, “Julie,” it seemed to shout. “It’s time!!!” And so, even though my hubby and I are always the PLAN OUR VACATION AT THE LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT people, a plan began to form in our minds. Of course, the Travel Show was in February, and we normally don’t take vacation until the end of August/beginning of September, so there was plenty of time for us to forget this whole call to the great wilderness and all that, and to realize that when certain people say, “Oh, the prices have REALLY gone down!” they don’t necessarily mean so low that we two independent contractor people in the arts can afford it easily. But – and have I said this enough in this blog of mine – I have a MARVELOUS husband, and while I can barely sit down long enough to type this out, he loves to look at a computer screen and do research.
Through websites, and chat rooms he scoured, looking for ways to get us – without having to sell our kidneys - to Alaska. Cruises were out – we aren’t “cruisey” people anyway, we are far too independent – and after starting the summer in Haiti, I think the sight of all those buffets would have made me physically ill – so flying became our goal. Anchorage seemed to offer itself up to us, with flights that were reasonable (if you had three changes of planes – more stops means more states technically, so Jimmy can keep catching up to me – to look on the bright side of things!!) and left from Newark Airport, just 20 minutes or so from our apartment. We managed to get a flight/hotel package, where we’d be staying in one of my old tour favorites The Days Inn, in downtown Anchorage, and after we booked a car (note – the most expensive part of this whole thing, if this leaves you thinking of it), we plotted a trip that would take us to gorgeous Mt. McKinley, the State Fair, a glacier boat ride, and hours of doing what the two of us LOVE to do: amble, explore, and see where the road leads us.
With the trip booked, there was still one last detail for me – would I be satisfied in just seeing my 49th state, or did I HAVE to also perform there?? PLEASE – that’s a no brainer, from the minute we bought those plane tickets all I could think was, “I wonder how cold I’ll be?” and “Where am I going to either dance, clown, or tell a story for ANYONE, so I can say I’d performed in 49 states??”
In our travel “bible” “Alaska for Dummies” (that series has gotten us all through Europe – they are a prize I tell you, especially Paris for Dummies!!) I spied a town called Homer. It appeared to be the artsy town of that region, and when a friend that had lived in Juneau for eight years told me of the arts scene there, I knew that would be the place where I would find someplace to perform.
When we landed in Alaska – and this is what I LOVE about vacations – “performer Julie” fell away, and “just Julie” bloomed. As much as I ADORE storytelling, clowning, and teaching yoga, sometimes I need to just be, and landing in this place of majestic (cheesy word sometimes, but it so fits) so different from my urban lifestyle, allowed my busy little overly active mind to chill. So, suddenly performing in Alaska fell off my “to-do list” for our eight days there. On day number three, as we took a bus tour of Denali Park (big note: DO THIS BEFORE YOU DIE EVERYONE, SERIOUSLY, IT’S AMAZING!!!) I did turn to the people behind us, whom we had been chatting with, and tell them a short tale, explaining my quest, and though it was just one story, because I was in vacation mode, I put a big old mental check next to the state of Alaska, and considered my performance done.
But…and this I suppose is the good news. I love what I do, I love to create and adapt stories, I love to clown, I love to dance, and do yoga, so even when there is breathtaking scenery, and Jimmy and I are having a blast, and getting more sleep than we EVER do, around day six, the need to perform began to grow. It started to yell after a long bike ride, when my body whispered “Movement – we like, and bikes are always where we work on STORIES!!” But, by then, we had plans – we were still going to artsy Homer, but only for a few hours, before taking a day outing to see Glaciers – I wasn’t going to make Jimmy wait around while I tried to find a place to perform when we had such little time to explore this great town that had everything from sea, to mountains, to a yurt village!! I contented myself with the “bus ride” story, and went on.
But, did I mention that Alaskan weather is unpredictable?? And that it had rained part of everyday we were there? And that more storms were predicted?? Well, they were, and one of them was so large all glacier boats were cancelled. What to do? Homer had so much we hadn’t seen, and we had driven past a library – a big, new one – and where there are libraries, there are children who just might listen to a story. As we entered the library, my eyes fell on a flyer that said there would be a 10AM story hour THE NEXT DAY – I knew this was my opportunity. Jimmy walked in with me, but wandered over to look at a computer -this might have been even too weird for him, while I marched up to the information desk, and began. “I know this is going to sound strange, but…” I voiced my request to be allowed to tell just one story at the story hour the next day, and offered my business card with my website on it to the VERY friendly woman sitting there, hoping to convince her I wasn’t a lunatic. She said she had no authority to make those types of decisions, and directed me to another VERY friendly woman who said she didn’t have the authority, either. Finally, I met Anne Dixon, the VERY friendly library director – who, like the other two women, treated me with more respect and seriousness than I really think I deserved – I mean, what I was asking was pretty odd, after all. Anne listened, and said the call would really be up to the woman who was running the story hour, and that I could come back tomorrow at 9:45AM, and ask her. Encouraged, I left.
With success so close, I had time to drive myself crazy with another detail – WHAT WOULD I WEAR?? You see, I had come for vacation, in a place where our beloved Dummies book told me to dress in layers, jeans, and all weather gear. And so I had. My nice stretchy, but dressy looking black “storytelling pants” (look back at the notes from the field entries, and you’ll see my essay on these pants), that allow me to be my full uber physical self, but still look presentable, where in my drawer back in New Jersey, as were any of the nice tops I like to wear when performing. Worse yet, because we had thought we were going back to Anchorage to go on the glacier tour, the better of my two pair of jeans was in that Days Inn, and not the little local hotel in Homer where we were going to spend this extra night. A quick trip to the local boutique proved too expensive for “emergency pants”, and the consignment shop and Salvation Army thrift store had nothing in my size. Oh well, one shabbily dressed storyteller, who can’t lift her legs as high as usual because she might rip her old, tired jeans, I would have to be. Maybe they would think it was a New York City thing!!
That next morning, with hope in my heart, we arrived at the library. They didn’t open until 10AM, but Anne promised she would be on the lookout for me – and she was, as we got out of our car, she smiled, and waved at us, and we entered the building. Standing there, looking like the teacher and librarian EVERYBODY would want was Jolee. “Is this who I have to ask?” I said. And before Anne could respond, Jolee smiled, and said, ‘Come on in. I LOVE storytellers!!”
To say Jolee, Anne, the staff, the children and their families at the Homer Library were gracious, kind, and a wonderful audience would be a GREAT BIG UNDERSTATEMENT!!! They treated this rather ragamuffin looking storyteller like an honored guest, and I had a ball performing three stories for the attentive crowd that appeared. Looking back on it, I can’t think of any place else that I would rather have performed in the entire 49th state. So, to Anne, Jolee, and all you wonderful folks at the Homer Library that day – THANK YOU!! You helped put the cherry on my really wonderful FIRST trip to Alaska.
And, to anybody else who’s reading this – do you know any good libraries in Hawaii? My quest for my 50th state begins today!!!!

1 comment:

Ann Dixon said...

Thanks for the compliments, Julie, but it was our treat. Your stories were fabulous and spot-on for the group. I only wish you could have stayed a few more days for some spectacular weather. You'll just have to come back!