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Mi Primera Post en Puerto Rico

Greetings from Puerto Rico, where it’s day 3 (I think?) of my trip to Puerto Rico for the week. I think that this is so far the most surreal leg of the trip, but I’ll quickly give a rundown on the funzies in Arizona first.

Getting to Arizona, I was immediately greeted by ATHE, in a way; my friend and fellow dramaturg Walter ended up having a ticket on the same shuttle as I did (his flight from Newark came in slightly after mine). Also in the van was a woman who was going to ATHE who hadn’t been in years, but was glad that grad students were there.

At the Fairmont Princess, I check in to the conference first and the room second (priorities!) and see the first of my three roommates, Kathleen, on the way, walking with Carrie and Sarah. At our room, C1122, which is actually in a pretty good central location, I see Bryan, the second of the three roommates, and find out that the fourth in our group, LaRonika, hasn’t arrived yet due to storms delaying her plane in Baltimore. The first night of the conference is usually blah, waiting for something exciting to happen, but the most excitement I had was spending $40 on a margarita and a tiny bowl of grilled vegetables, and going to the Transit Performance, which wasn’t spectacular but did lead me to meet Eleanor, Matt, and Dorine, the latter two of whom I kept running into throughout the weekend. LaRonika finally arrived at some late hour and we prepared for an early wakeup call for Pre-Con.

Thursday: Pre-Con! The first dramaturgy Pre-Con ever! Hooray! Bryan rented a van and packed twelve of us ‘turgs inside (Walter, Carrie, Sarah, Kathleen, LaRonika, Shannon, Kristin, Ben, Jean, Maria, Lindsey, and myself) for a day at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s southwestern home. It normally costs $32 to get in, but with grants and a deal, it ended up costing us only $5 each! Char, our tour guide, was fascinating and the home itself was brilliant, with light and beauty around every corner. We all had a great time. Afterwards, I bought a tiny journal in the bookstore, and asked everyone to offer some thoughts or reflections in it over lunch. Being dramaturgs, everyone wrote something meaningful, and I spent most of my lunchtime catching up with Maria, who was sitting next to me.

Opening night! The keynote and official opener were great as always, and Luis Alfaro was pretty funny. The reception at the exhibit hall was great; I wasn’t as boozed up as last year so I think I probably made less of a fool of myself. I met Cissie, a wonderful new friend all the way from the Netherlands, spent awhile talking with Jane, and then found Iris for our traditional wine-glass-selfie, this time in front of the ATHE banner. We spent awhile hugging and catching up with each other and it’s just so great that she’s lucky enough to come in from Taiwan every year. I picked up the usual stack of catalogs, and then hit the pool for awhile with Bryan and Kathleen.

Friday: Panel time! In the morning, I saw Bryan/Kathleen/Aoise/Sarah’s panel, and then went to a panel on playing games where I saw Annalisa. My panel was, unfortunately, poorly attended (3 panelists and 2 audience members) but it was in the death spot, where everyone is doing stuff at the SAME TIME, including ANOTHER dramaturgy panel with Walter, Talya, and Joan. The plenary was that day, I think, and I sat with Karen Jean the Dramaturgy Queen.

Friday night was one of my favorite conference times, DNO or Dramaturg’s Night Out. It was more of a Dramaturg’s Night In as we congregated at the Plaza Bar. I met newbie and recent grad Jacob, and immediately liked him for his name. At least he is Jacob D. and not H. I got to say hi to Joan, and had a nice catch-up chat with Cindy. By the end of the evening, I’d talked to so many people that I can’t remember them all, probably I’ve already mentioned everyone but D.J., Julie R., and Shelley, who made a surprise appearance, driving in all the way from San Diego. And then it was pool time, where I met Rosa and her friends who drove in from Los Angeles for their Saturday night performance.

Saturday: Panels, panels, panels. Also attended a workshop. Also, it was Dramaturgy Focus Group membership day, where I gladly handed over my title as Grad Student Rep. Honestly, I think Walter and LaRonika probably did way more than I this past year, but all three of us got some very nice praise. I had a quick chat with Talya, which turned into a several hour chat over Starbucks. (I think that happened Saturday but I might be wrong). Dinner was at La Hacienda with Bryan, Kathleen, LaRonika, Sarah, Carrie, Walter, and Jacob D., and even though it was, again, expensive, it didn’t really matter because we were all together, our little family, and we had so much fun and booze. After, we went to see the Banned Plays performance. We missed the first piece, but came in midway through the second, which was Rosa and her group – who were amazing – and stayed for the third, which was also awesome. I ducked out for the final performance though.

I get back to the room, and a lightning storm hits, and of course, LaRonika was planning for this night to be her pool night, so she was feeling blah. But we cheered up when she did a dramatic reading of the spa menu; I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. That spa menu though. It dried up outside, and while Bryan took a phone call, LaRonika, Kathleen, and I shared a swing – we fit perfectly, just like roomies! – and when Bryan came out, we moved to a ledge, where we sat, drank, and laughed for awhile, mostly about equipment and Kwame Kwei-Armah/Quvenzhane Wallis. So many other ATHE people walked by but we were too drunk to care.

Sunday: The worst day of the conference, every year; time to say goodbye. Bryan and Kathleen left rather early, and LaRonika got some pool time in before leaving as well. My flight was not until 1:15 AM, so I caught up with Claire, found a geocache, and took a swim before heading to the airport.

Fast-forward to Monday.

8:00 AM EDT: I arrive in Charlotte, dazed and confused because I got on a plane four hours prior in Phoenix where it was 1 AM. My breakfast was something from Starbucks, and I jumped on my San Juan flight, totally in disbelief that this was actually happening. I watched Saving Mr. Banks on the way, which was delightful, even though I was super tired. We touched down early in beautiful San Juan and I managed to get to Thrifty pretty quickly and use my Spanish to pick up the car, and then…I was on my way! Driving in San Juan! Crazy!

My directions took me not to Isabel’s place but a lovely nearby church where she came and found me. We hung out, caught up, and then Axel came back and we went out for dinner. Four meals (us three + an extra for me should I get hungry at night) was $50, only slightly more than 1 meal at the Fairmont Princess. I wasn’t tired, but by the time we got home around 8 PM, I was getting there, and officially turned in at 11:30 after being half asleep for two hours.

Yesterday: Early wake-up to go exercise with Isabel and Axel, something I haven’t done for ages (more like two weeks). It was fun and we went to a panaderia (bakery) afterwards for food. Eventually, after resting at home, I went to find Riley, which was really tough because iPhone Maps and Puerto Rico are not friends. It took me way too long, over an hour, but we went back to Isabel’s place, walked to Condado Beach, and had four glorious hours of swimming and laying on the beach. We had Pizzeria Uno for dinner – surprisingly cheap! – and then I took him home.

Today (finally): Was supposed to go with Isabel/Riley to Ponce, but it didn’t happen for various reasons 😦 maybe tomorrow. Instead, we went for a lovely breakfast, and I just rested until about 3, when I went out to Old San Juan for 4 or so hours of exploring. I found 6/7 geocaches I looked for in pretty good time, and just about sweated my face off. My phone died, but I’m clever enough to get back here on my own, and that’s where I’ve been for the past two hours.

Going to get some dinner now, probably on my own, and then see what tomorrow’s plan will look like.

Vamonos!

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Flying Solo

Tonight, I watched two hours about survivors. No, it did not involve immunity challenges, tribal councils, or Jeff Probst’s “the tribe has spoken.” It was the premiere of a documentary I found out about last week. Entitled Sole Survivor, it documents plane crash sole survivor George Lamson Jr.’s quest to find and connect with other sole survivors of plane crashes – according to the documentary, there are fourteen people currently living who share this unusual experience.

Here’s a rundown of who he found:

  • Jim Polehinke of Kentucky, a pilot who survived a plane crash in his home state
  • Bahia Bakari of Paris, France, a teenager who survived a plane crash in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Comoros
  • Cecelia Cichan of New York City, a woman who survived a plane crash in Michigan as a young girl

Each of them recounted different experiences. George Lamson, Jr., who is reaching out to seek contact and help others. His daughter Hannah plays a large role in the film, and gets more screen time than the other survivors. Jim Polehinke lost both of his legs in the crash, in addition to passengers. As a pilot, he feels guilty for causing their deaths even though there were not enough traffic controllers on duty to help guide the plane. Seeing the trial which basically gave him all the blame and only a minor amount of compensation was shocking. There’s obviously no system in place on how to address reparations in court, simply because there have been so few cases. Bahia Bakari, whose accident was in the recent past (five years ago), lost her mother, but also spoke publicly and published a book about herself. This self-promotion was unique to her. In the beginning of the movie, she appears with a French diplomat who flew her back to France after the crash, and things are very awkward. I don’t know if it’s race, age, or gender, but she looks completely uninterested when on the screen with him, unlike with George, for whom she comes out of her shell despite the obvious language barrier. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Cecelia Cichan has been completely silent about her experience. This film was the first time she spoke publicly, now a twenty-something who lives in New York. For someone talking about this moment that has defined her life, she’s remarkably unassuming about it, even opening with comments that she feels inferior to people like Bakari, who floated on airplane wreckage for hours without a life vest, or Juliane Koepke, another sole survivor who kept herself alive in the jungle for several days before finding civilization, whereas she – as a four-year-old – did nothing and was just found and sent to a hospital. That made me cringe a little; part of me wants to say, “give yourself some credit,” but the other part of me realizes that she was shielded from this by her family for most of her life (smart move) and that formulating something to say so publicly when she is still discovering her own identity is probably one of the most uncomfortable sensations; knowing that millions of people are going to see this and you’ve kept it private for all these years brings even more pressure to the event.

My favorite part of the film was George and Hannah’s journey from Reno to meet Bahia and her father Kassim in Paris. Even though George most likely has flown since the plane crash, back in the 1970s when he was a teenager, just watching him do the mundane acts of walking down the aisle and sitting in the seat are eerie, imagining all the nightmares he must have had. From the moment George and Bahia meet, they have a connection that’s really striking. The father-daughter connections seemed a little producer-forced at times, but even so, they are very touching scenes to watch. According to the film’s closing moments, George has invited Bahia and Kassim to come visit them in Reno.

What bugged me but intrigued me at the same time was how several of the secondary characters came off as ignorant or clueless. Obviously, the French diplomat who Bahia Bakari constantly refutes seems to be on his high horse, as well as the chairman of the Jim Polehinke trial, who comes off as a complete jerk. Yes, the NTSB’s job is to establish a cause in order to move on, don’t say asinine and mildly insulting things to the survivor’s face and the face of the wife of the deceased pilot. The translator in the scenes where George is in France seems out of place as well. The relatives of the survivors of the Michigan crash are respectful, but it’s clear that they largely do not have a connection with Cecelia Cichan and speak of her without having any more information than the rest of the world.

Overall, this was definitely worth every minute, despite a lot of filler. Thinking critically, it makes perfect sense that no two stories would be alike. But they all seem to be willing, on level, to share their stories communally in a way that they wouldn’t do alone. Even Cecelia Cichan, who did not appear alongside the others, cooperated with this project when it would have been just as easy to say no; probably something about the auspices of the framing of her story among others, creating a synthesis where the focus would be on her just as much as it would not be on her – thereby accomplishing, in effect, George Lamson’s goal of establishing community.