Jefe's House

On the Road

Never Forget

by on Jan.20, 2017, under On the Road, Politics, Shaheb Cafe

shahebcafe

A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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I realize there are numerous examples of horrific cruelty in our history — the Middle Passage and Concentration Camps always come to mind first and foremost — but here’s one more. We might want to call such crimes unspeakable but they need to be spoken.

Look up Reginald Edward Harry Dyer for the full scoop. The thousands of citizens, including entire families, who gathered were attempting a Gandhian peaceful protest and also during a religious festival when the city of Amritsar was packed. This is just down the hill from the Sikhs’ Golden Temple.

20161223_09294920161223_092937The protest was on rented private property in a back alley courtyard. Dyer had stupidly issued a Jim Crow-like order barring Indians from congregating in groups of 6 or more (in their own country) and decided to make an example of this particular group that included children.  British sources gave a figure of 379 killed with 1,100 wounded. The Indian National Congress counted more than 1000 dead and 1500 injured. 

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“People were fired at from here.”

Churchill later called it a “monstrous” and UnBritish act. Dyer was also all about half-naked public floggings of private citizens and his soldiers fond of stopping pedestrians and making them slither down the street like worms at gunpoint. The British parliament viewed Dyer as a hero. By the way, it’s reenacted in the movie Gandhi as one of the watershed moments leading up to the widespread popularity of the independence movement.

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Martyrs Well.

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“To escape the deadly firing, many people fell into this well. About 120 dead bodies were recovered from it.”

 

 

 

 

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These Guys

by on Jan.10, 2017, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

shahebcafe

A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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The Sharma Handicrafts Guys.

Great story here about how I finally scored a hookah with my name on it after multiple letdowns in Kolkata, Varanasi and Lucknow. The short version – these guys in Delhi at Sharma Handicrafts were the bomb and we made a good deal on my last day thanks largely to shrewdness and translation help from my cousin.

I’ll have to post a photo of this 42″ stunning work of art, black with polished brass inlays in the Moradabad (ancient Muslim city) style. The owner stuck by his product, bargained fairly and gave me his card and said if there were any problems to come back and see him.

As soon as I left with hookah in hand and turned to take a pic of the shop he came out and posed without waiting to be asked. Then his two assistants trailed out one by one and struck poses on either side of him (they must have been a rock band in a previous career given how they naturally fell in line as though posing for an album cover).

I promised them I’d give the shop a plug online so here it is. If you’re ever in Delhi and looking for a brass shop, head to Sharma Handicrafts, Janpath Market, Stall 6. Tell them the saheb who bought the big black hookah sent you.

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Mr. Sharma’s business card.

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Strange But True: I am now a certified open water scuba diver

by on Aug.25, 2016, under On the Road

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1070.

My first dive: coral reef about 10 meters down. Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, La Altagracia province, Dominican Republic, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Photo via Claudia at Visual Reef.

My second dive, the final training dive after the written PADI international certification courses and two sessions of pool training offered by the Scuba Quatic watersports shop, occurred 12 meters down and was near the wreck of the Astron but it was just the trainer and myself with no photographer (sadly no pix). I am now continuing to dive with PADI-certified groups in the States. I’m not gonna lie to you, I am psyched to have discovered this exciting new hobby.

 

 

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Prepare to be Judged, Judges

by on Jul.16, 2016, under Film/TV, On the Road, Politics, The Press, Theatre

A fair question and an honest article and my honest, if not entirely fair, response…

dailydot

Why are 22 of the 24 new Amtrak writing residents white?

This year, a majority of those selected members are white, and many creatives aren’t happy about it.

Amtrak writes that “the residents offer a diverse representation of the writing community and hail from across the country.” There certainly is some representation of different backgrounds—lots of women, some LGBT writers, and some disabled writers, too. However, 22 of the 24 selected are white, and there is not a single black writer…

Residency judge Jeffrey Stanley provided the Daily Dot with a little more insight into the process.  CONT’D at Daily Dot>>

PS – Here’s the full text of my response:

Hi Jaya, I can only speak for myself as an individual judge. Indeed when I saw the photos of the winners yesterday for the first time when they were announced my heart sank. As you’ve said it’s diverse in so many other ways but there are no black faces. Obviously this wasn’t done intentionally. As a judge I had no clue of an applicant’s ethnicity, appearance, or with which affinity group they identify, unless they state it in their bio, artistic statement, or any autobiographical pieces they may have included with their writing samples. Judges aren’t given specific guidelines. Speaking for myself, I was looking first and foremost at the artistic merit of the sample, then their publication history that might qualify them as a professional writer pursing a writing career in earnest and not just as a hobby, and their statement on why this residency would be beneficial to them.  Should the application be modified for future applicants and judges instructed more specifically to weigh race in the application process?  Maybe so. These are issues faced by every theatre organization with which I’ve been involved as a board member, every screenwriting contest I’ve ever judged, any college admission portfolio I’ve been asked to evaluate.  I can’t speak for Amtrak but I would suspect they’d be wide open to suggestions for best practices for how to improve the diversity of the judges as well as the applicant pool.  Feel free to shoot me any followups. Happy to talk more.

Jeff

 

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Train Roll On

by on Jul.15, 2016, under Film/TV, On the Road, Theatre

 

Photo via Yahoo! News. The Empire Builder travels daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest along major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail, and takes customers on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness, following the footsteps of early pioneers.

Now it can be told. This year I served as an Amtrak Writers Residency judge after being a recipient of a residency the previous year. The winners have just been announced. Last year I believe I was the only one of 24 writers who self-identified as a playwright or screenwriter. You’ll notice that this year there are several in the mix, not that I was the sole impetus for this but I was in there swinging. Some are recognizable heavy hitters and some are early career. Overall a good mix I think. If you’re a writer and haven’t entered this thing yet–why? I urge you to do so next year. It is unique and worthy and I’d love to see it continue to grow in scope and acceptance as an incubator for new work in all media.

 

Amtrak Residency Program Selects Writers

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — During the next year, selected members of the literary community will travel on Amtrak routes that crisscross the country and spend the time working on their writing projects, providing a unique journey and workspace as part of the #AmtrakResidency program.

This is the second group of writers selected for the program, which offers a travel experience with amazing scenery, an environment that fosters engaging connections, and the ability to explore and be inspired by the diversity of landscapes America has to offer.

“We are excited to build on the success of the residency program and offer a second group of writers a creative environment to focus on the work of their choice,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of public relations. “Whether traveling for business or pleasure, passenger rail helps travelers avoid the frustrations and hurdles associated with other modes of transportation – continuously making Amtrak the smarter way to travel, which we are confident the writers will find inspiring.”

A diverse group of writers were selected for the residency program. About two writers per month will travel round trip on pre-selected (based on availability) trains, and cover all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes.  A complete list of selected residents and bios can be found on the Amtrak blog.

Applications were reviewed by a panel representing the literary community including published writers and former Amtrak Residents Lindsay Moran and Jeffrey Stanley, Amtrak Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Corporate Communications Joe McHugh and writer and teacher Jessica Gross.

Gross, a Manhattan-based writer, traveled on the Lake Shore Limited as a trial run of the residency program and her support spurred the launch of the formal program in March 2014. Her piece, “Writing The Lake Shore Limited” was published by the Paris Review.

“My 2014 Amtrak residency from New York to Chicago and back was peaceful, contemplative, and so fruitful for my writing,” Gross said. “I’m delighted to have played a part in sending a new crop of writers on the rails this year.”

For more information on Amtrak and the Amtrak Writer’s Residency experience, visit blog.amtrak.com or follow #AmtrakResidency.

 

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Nelly We Hardly Knew Ye

by on Apr.13, 2015, under On the Road, The Press

He was such a nice, together, humble, sober-seeming guy when I interviewed him briefly at a Monte Carlo poker tournament 6 years ago. I hope he gets past all this.

Cell phone video shot by yours truly.

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The Ghost of August Wilson

by on Mar.25, 2015, under On the Road, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

20150323_220621Amtrak Residency
Day 12
3/24/15

This morning while hurtling across western Pennsylvania I enjoyed my final Amtrak breakfast.  I sat next to a uniformed Amtrak police officer en route to a meeting at our final stop on the Capitol Limited, Washington, DC. From there I’ll take a two-hour ride  to Philadelphia on the Amtrak Acela Express and be home in time for dinner.

Across from us sat two elderly women from Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The officer had spent 26 years on the Chicago police force before retiring into a much less stressful “second career” working for Amtrak.

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Old round house; Martinsburg, WV station

After a few minutes of instinctively probing their names, destinations, life stories, I sprung it on them that I’m a (continue reading…)

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One More Day To Gravy

by on Mar.24, 2015, under On the Road

Amtrak Residency
Day 11
3/23/15

20150323_13090920150323_085531Kali gnashed her teeth
Scraping across the sky
We scattered in her sweat
Leaped across its rivers
Looking for hard cover
Relishing the dance
Wiping out

 

 

 

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Where’s Letter Man when you need him?

A chilly, snowy, slushy day in the Windy City. Awoke to falling snow and a forecast that had increased to 3 to 6 inches.

Another 10-mile run along Lake Michigan was out of the question so I ran 10 miles on a treadmill in my hotel’s fitness room. That might seem like a desperate act but after a 2 and half days of being sedentary on a train I had to sweat out some toxins and burn off the crazy.

20150323_130641I then had a scrumptious lunch at the nearby Berghoff Restaurant, a local landmark that’s been serving German-American cuisine since 1898. (continue reading…)

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Chicago Blues

by on Mar.23, 2015, under On the Road, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

Amtrak Residency
Day 10
3/22/15
20150321_173559Got up with the rooster crow — or in Amtrakspeak the ear-blasting 6am breakfast call — to see off the Warren-Powells who hopped off in Osceola, IA at 7:40am. I then wrote until an early lunchtime (the last meal aboard my beloved California Zephyr before it concluded its run in Chicago) during which I met a pair of retired micro-brewers, Wendy and Don Littlefield. The better half is completing her first novel, a murder mystery that I look forward to reading.  They also hipped me to Philly Inquirer food writer Craig LaBan, whom I should have known about as I’m now a Philadelphian, but I didn’t. Now I do. We also talked about our shared appreciation for August Wilson and the fact that they’ll be seeing Two Trains Running in Chicago soon. This was the second time on this trip that August Wilson came up.

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The train station in Galesburg, IL, historically an important railroad town, boasts and antique Pullman car…

I spent my final few hours aboard the Zephyr (continue reading…)

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Deja Vu

by on Mar.22, 2015, under On the Road

Amtrak Residency
Day 9
3/21/15

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20150321_083007Haven’t I been here before? Woke up this morning shooting across Utah and worked on LITTLE ROCK for a couple of hours before finally succumbing to the call of hot breakfast and coffee wafting from the dining car. There I met a high school senior named Kira who’s interested in pursuing an acting or singing career, and also Jane, returning home from a yoga retreat.
20150321_084611In Glenwood Springs, CO the Warren-Powell family boarded my train on their way back home to Iowa and I spent a good chunk of the afternoon and part of the evening playing trivia with them and talking ghosts. (continue reading…)

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