Thursday, January 7, 2016

Houston, We Have a Showcase

Hey folks, Eric here with another road trip adventure!

Before the Christmas break, my attendant Nolan and I hit the road again, this time to Houston for the conclusion of a six-week OMOD class at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center (MMSC). Throughout the preceding several weeks, seven self-advocates in Houston had been hard at work, each writing and preparing a personal story to present at the final class showcase on December 19th. This showcase would also be the first time I would meet any of them in person since up to that point I had only seen or spoken to them via Skype.

When Nolan and I arrived in Houston, we ate a lunch of monstrous sandwiches at Cafe Express, and then began setting up the mic equipment for the showcase at the MMSC. Participants slowly filtered in with scripts and heightened nerves. Once everyone arrived, Alex, the Houston class facilitator, led the participants in some silly and relaxing warm-up activities. Afterward, we did a quick technical rehearsal of the showcase, filled out evaluations, and then the group spread out to practice their speeches or meditate, as needed. By 2:45pm, we had all taken our places, and family members and friends formed our small yet formidable audience. As emcee, I kicked off the showcase a few minutes before 3pm.

Adam spoke first about his unique abilities. Alisha spoke second about her recent trip to Camp Summit in Dallas. Russell spoke about the numerous jobs he's had, passing out coupons in a chicken suit and delivering room service at the Sheraton among the more notable ones. John told a story about when he played the Grinch in "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" at Theater Under the Stars. Tony's story was "Everything You Need to Know About Me," a charming glimpse into his life with an emphasis on his family, friends, girlfriend, and love of football. Joseph spoke about his journey to the church and his dream of becoming a minister. Alec concluded the showcase with a story about what's important in his life.

The Houston Seven posing with their writing facilitator
Each story ended in great applause, and we received positive feedback from everybody after the showcase. As usual, there were a few unexpected issues, like a cell phone ringing in the middle of one participant's speech, another participant grabbing the wrong copy of his script, and a third participant getting emotional when reading his speech. I believe though that every mishap only strengthened the participant speaking because public speeches rarely go exactly the way we expect, and it's important to realize that and get used to it sooner rather than later.

Once we said our goodbyes to the participants, staff, and audience members, we left the MMSC and went to visit Nolan's grandmother Marian at her retirement home, which felt much more like an upbeat, stationary cruise ship than a retirement home – in every direction were snazzily-dressed seniors lounging, playing cards, and guzzling glasses of wine. Marian treated us to a dinner of grilled salmon and wild rice in the cafeteria, and I quietly ate while Nolan and Marian caught up.

After dinner, we drove back into the heart of downtown Houston for an art installation/music festival called "Day for Night." Nolan's half-brother had gotten extra tickets that he invited us to use, so we decided to check it out. As we entered the festival, Janelle Monae was on stage singing a soulful cover of James Brown's "I Feel Good." (Please note: videos from "Day for Night" below may take a few minutes to load.)

Artsy lights and images were projected on the outsides of the art installation buildings around the festival grounds. The first installation we saw was like the warehouse set from some apocalyptic movie  bright lights suddenly flashed on and off at the far end of a grid of steel beams while a soundtrack of metallic clicks and thunderous booms played in the background.

In the next installation, streams of light projected on a translucent screen shot up and down like massive ocean waves, seeming to morph briefly into vaguely human figures before falling back into abstract streams.

By far the most adventurous moment of the festival was my trip to the bathroom, which in this case was a couple dozen porta potties set on a three-inch raised wooden platform and surrounded by five feet of rough, muddy terrain. I paused there briefly, contemplating the difficult path to the porta potties and thinking that there must be an accessible path somewhere, until several inebriated dudes in black jackets emerged out of nowhere, started lifting up my chair, and attempted to carry it across the mud. I didn't really know what to do, so I just held on and hoped for the best. Luckily, within minutes, I landed victoriously on the platform unscathed, but as I suspected, there was, in fact, an accessible path just around the corner.

We then wandered into a third and final building, which had a number of smaller light projections by various artists and another stage.

We ordered a round of hot toddies and slowly explored the building. Then Battles walked out on stage, and we stayed to watch their set of layered electronic loops, angular guitar rhythms, and extended jams.

After such a long day, we were tired and made our way to the exit. The big outside stage was counting down the minutes until New Order was scheduled to play, and I heard some random woman yell, "Bye forever!" Well, I hope that's not the case with Houston.

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