I Love to Travel, Don’t You?

One of the fun things that comes with having a full-time job is time off. Instead of staying at home, reading, curling up with my cat and crying while listening to indie folk records, I decided to actually travel.

I finally had the means to do so and after years of being the person who went home for break in college or stayed home in junior high and high school–which really isn’t fair because my family did visit Chicago and New York when I was in ninth and tenth grade, respectively. (Also, I went to New York with my family instead of going on the orchestra’s cruise. More on my feelings on cruises later.) Compared to a lot of people, it felt like I did significantly less traveling.

I decided to use my first grouping of vacation days to just pick somewhere and visit. I decided on a place that struck a lot of people as odd: St. Louis.

Hear me out on St. Louis, because I did live there: It has a lot of gorgeous historical buildings, features a brewery tour, has the freaking Gateway Arch and has what I’ve heard is a world class zoo that has free admission. I was also going to visit in June, which would also mean The Muny would begin its season. Plus, traveling to St. Louis would be relatively inexpensive between Amtrak fares and hotel rates.

I requested a tourism guide and began marking all of the places I wanted to visit. The City Museum, the Budweiser brewery, a farmer’s market, the St. Louis Zoo, a museum of religious iconography. I was becoming incredibly excited as I kept hearing from people, “St. Louis? Why? Do you know anyone there? What’s there to do in St. Louis?” as well as various racist and off-color comments about Ferguson.

Then, while I was still hard at work on a Friday, I found out Amtrak cancelled my train, so I had the option of taking a train to Urbana, Illinois and then taking a bus to St. Louis. I would arrive much later than I initially would and having taken Amtrak loads of times, I know the arrival time posted is when you should arrive, but rarely is when you do. I made the decision to call off the trip and find somewhere else to go.

I made this decision two weeks before I was supposed to travel.

After searching every travel website I could, I decided on New York City because plane fares to New York from Milwaukee are at least less than I would have expected. I booked my plane, found a hotel in the Flatiron District, bought a ticket for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and then embarked on a whirlwind adventure to New York.

This was of course met with some questions from people. “New York City? By yourself? Aren’t you scared?” “Do you know people there?” “Isn’t that expensive?” The answers to these questions were yes, yes, no, yes, and depends on what you do.

I loved being in New York and after years of hating flying, I felt relaxed while thousands of feet in the air. The only problem with being in New York for about 36 hours is you can pack a lot in during that time, but leave not feeling fulfilled. Still, I felt happy to get away and just explore somewhere.

I returned to New York City in September and decided to do my previous idea of just doing as few things set in stone and the rest I was going to just do by wandering around. Again, I was asked the same questions and managed to do New York City fairly cheaply, even if I was prone to popping into Pret a Manger to grab a fruit cup to keep me going through the day. I found a bagel shop in Brooklyn with cheap bagels not far from where I was staying, wandered into as many parks as I could manage and still squeezed in meeting with friends.

This brings in the part about the joy of traveling alone: I can do whatever I want. If I want to wander into a shop in Greenwich Village, I can do just that. There’s no itinerary, no limits, other than my bank account. I can spend as much time in a place as I want. If I feel like getting off a subway station and walking around Williamsburg, I just have to follow my feet.

Traveling, especially alone, is liberating in its own ways. Sure, I was frequently texting my parents and even called my dad a couple of times while on vacation, but that’s different from being with a group or with another person. Want to take the subway back to where you’re staying instead of paying for a cab fare? Go right ahead. (Also, take the express bus from Harlem instead of cabbing it to LaGuardia. You’ll thank me later.)

I’ve been revisiting my thoughts on traveling alone as I’m planning a road trip. I keep thinking I may want someone with me as I’m driving all the way to Michigan. But ultimately I’m going there for hockey and to catch up with friends from college. I don’t want to make someone feel like a third wheel or be dragged to a hockey game. I also realized driving alone means I can sing showtunes at the top of my lungs and not be asked, “We’re going to listen to “Hamilton” again?”

Besides, I have made the drive from Michigan to Milwaukee possibly a dozen times and have the routine down pat. Make sure you start off with “Dennehy” by Serengeti because you can’t be sad while listening to that song. Stop at the Portage McDonald’s, because it’s a really nice McDonald’s. If you have the extra money and want to save time, feel free to take the Chicago Skyway.

And above all, enjoy the trip.

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Milwaukee Film Festival: “Call Me Lucky” and “Nina Forever”

Call Me Lucky

Barry Crimmins made a name for himself as a humorist in Boston in the 1980s, influencing many young humorists, including Bobcat Goldthwait, the director of this film. Crimmins revealed he had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child and went on to take on AOL’s role in the distribution of child pornography in the 1990s.

Even though Crimmins left a mark on comedy with his incisive take on the United States government, he still manages to be a somewhat obscure figure, possibly because he’s largely been inactive for several years as he’s been living in a cabin in rural New York. But Goldthwait’s film gives you a reason to care about him even though he’s possibly the prickliest of subjects for a rather uplifting and moving documentary. One of the things the film excels at is showing how Crimmins could be an incredibly caring person while also showing his tendency to some times lash out at his audience members or other comedians. Even though it is made by a friend of the subject, it manages to be very even-handed and fair in the best way possible.

Although a dark film because of what the subject endured, Call Me Lucky manages to be an uplifting and hopeful film. This should come as no surprise for those who have seen Goldthwait’s other films that, although fictional, manage to find the right balance between hope and darkness. It is hopeful that although this film features a formerly volatile subject it brings hope to those who see it and an added familiarity to the subject.

5 out of 5 stars

Nina Forever

Rob (Cian Barry) is starting to move on from the death of his girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), and decides to hook up with his co-worker from the grocery store, Holly (Abigail Hardingham). Unfortunately, Nina has developed a habit of coming back to life in the middle of Rob and Holly’s sex, violently appearing as a bloody figure through the sheets and bed. To complicate this, Nina usually makes some quip after interrupting the sex.

Nina Forever should work and be a great film, in theory. But it struggles to find the right tone as there is something inherently bizarre and humorous about a wise-cracking girlfriend emerging from a bed mid-coitus with glass shards sticking out of her face, which contradicts the rather thoughtful examination of love, loss and being in a relationship aware of the history a significant other has. The tones are at odds with each other, which is unfortunate because had the film picked one tone and ran with it, it could have been a fantastic film.

This does not detract from the fantastic visuals and imagery in the movie, including make-up causing Holly to appear to have sunken in eyes and the repeated motif of Nina’s parents drinking red wine. The three lead actors give fantastic performances, particularly Barry who is torn between wanting to be with Holly and having to put up with Nina occasionally popping up in the middle of sex.

3 out of 5 stars

Milwaukee Film Festival: “Iris” and “30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle”

Iris

Iris Apfel became a fashion icon basically by doing her own thing and not caring what other people wanted. As she states in Albert Maysles’ documentary, “It’s better to be happy than well-dressed.” With her legendary over-sized glasses, chunky necklaces and bracelets and unique pieces of clothing, Apfel has become an artist in her own right.

Maysles’ has a unique knack for portraits of interesting individuals–If you haven’t seen Grey Gardens, which he directed with his brother, you should–as this film shows Apfel interacting with her husband and members of the fashion industry in New York.

The documentary manages to be breezy while giving us a good idea of who Apfel is and her rise to being someone beloved enough to receive a tribute in the form of windows at Bergdorf Goodman. (Really, that’s when you’ve made it.) The documentary doesn’t have any real heft to it compared to other films at the Milwaukee Film Festival about individuals who did their own thing, but this doesn’t require that. It suffers from the lack of a structure or a sense as to the timeline of when events occur for Apfel–even if you read a lot of fashion coverage you may feel lost as we bounce around from one thing to the other–but it manages to be a good portrait of someone who truly is 93 years young.

4 out of 5 stars

30 Seconds Away: Breaking the Cycle

Milwaukee, like many major cities, has a sizable homeless population, many of whom face problems including mental illness and drug addiction. Former federal agent Faith Kohler makes her directing debut with this documentary, filmed over the course of five years.

In an attempt to make a documentary looking at this issue from multiple perspectives–those on the streets, the Milwaukee Police Department, and Milwaukee County judges–Kohler ends up making a film that is scattered-brained. What could have been a good focus point, the attempts of Harold Sloan to stay sober, have a place to live and a steady job, is diluted with other examinations of homeless individuals in Milwaukee whose stories are discussed, but then dropped until the text epilogue. Sloan is someone audiences can empathize with as we see his efforts to improve his life and stay off the streets and as we see him in court, Kohler could have easily woven in the other aspect of the story from the criminal justice system and the struggle to balance trying to enforce laws while trying to truly help the homeless in the city.

Instead we are given a film that goes on for too long and features poor production, such as jerky camera work and muddled audio, making it often difficult to understand what interview subjects are saying. What could have been a moving examination of something Milwaukeeans possibly don’t think much about ends up being a frustrating film, making you wish a better movie had been made about this important issue.

1.5 out of 5 stars