Actually Talking by Sophie Johnson

Hannah is one of the best friends I have ever had, which is amazing considering how we met. It was the first day of Teach for America institute (I’m not proud, but those are the facts). I was in the airport getting ready to go to Tempe, Arizona. Hannah was in the airport getting ready to go to Tempe, Arizona. I am not sure who approached whom, but I remember Hannah was wearing something kind of orange, and she looked way out of my friend-league. She looked like the sort-of-hippie-ish-but-clean girls who’d rejected me in college. In the airport, Hannah was warm and kind. She asked where I was from; she asked what I was going to be teaching; she asked how I felt about Tempe, Arizona. It was a nice conversation. I knew, of course, that this was too good to last. Hannah would notice that I was wearing a tank top from Forever 21 and reject me immediately because Forever 21 is all slave labor and synthetic fabrics. Best not to get your hopes up around a girl like Hannah. The Hannahs of the world only bring heartache and loneliness.

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Bicycle by Sophie Johnson

The purple Raleigh is the fifth bicycle I've owned in New Orleans. It almost feels unfair to say that I own it, actually: my sister bought it when she moved here two years ago (it was the second bicycle she owned in New Orleans -- the first got stolen off her front porch in the middle of the day because she didn't lock it up). The purple Raleigh once belonged to a "wild hippie chick" named Mary, according to the owner of City Cycle Works, where my sister bought the bike. The owner's name is Neil. Neil is not a far cry from a "wild hippie chick" himself. He's got the "wild" and the "hippie" parts down, at least. 

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Lies I Still Tell by Sophie Johnson

My first BFF (not to be mistaken with my first best friend -- a BFF is a very particular kind of friend; it requires the vocal or written acknowledgement of the Forever-ness of a friendship, usually in the form of the exchange of plastic broken heart friendship rings from Claire's Accessories) was a pretty upstanding person. She never ate too many slices of pizza, because her mom told her that too much pizza could make her sick, and without ANY SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE she just BELIEVED that. She always took turns while playing "Photograph The Dinosaurs at The Science Museum" (that wasn't the actual name of the game, but that was what you were supposed to do in the game), and never put up a fuss when she had to let someone else on the computer. Also, she didn't lie. I know this, because she told me over and over again that she didn't lie. She reiterated to me again and again that lying was wrong, and she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she told a lie.

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One Thing That Scares You by Sophie Johnson

Powell's Books in Portland has something for everyone. There are two totally separate multi-bookshelf-wide spaces that are just for Star Wars paraphernalia. (One is for kids who are into Star Wars -- baby stuff, like that Star Wars origami book that came out recently, and all the needless collaborative projects between Star Wars and Lego; the other is for grown-ups who intrinsically value the fanfic world of Star Wars. The latter section is for people who have tattoos of R2D2, and no one else.) There's a room of maps for every occasion: road trip, mountain trip, bike adventure, long walk, flying in a low plane, you name it. It can be fascinating to stand around in one of the niche spaces in Powell's and build a stereotype about the type of person who lingers there. Travelers, for example, love waterproof pants. Star Wars readers, alternately, invariably have stuff ON their pants (like mustard, or model monster paint).

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TOUR Day 20 - New York and People Who Love Other People by Sophie Johnson

In high school, I liked to take the MAX Train to the airport when I had an open afternoon. My favorite thing to do was to sit in the arrivals area, watching people see other people they haven’t seen in a very long time. I love watching people hug. Social norms are largely ignored in the airport arrivals section. People just make out with each other like they’re in an R-rated movie. I liked the awkwardness of that; I appreciated the inherent absurdity of all these strangers making out near other strangers making out. But I guess more than that I liked that people were willing to be affectionate in public. Let’s ignore that watching people make out for my own private enjoyment in a public airport is super-creepy. If I had been wearing a trench coat, I could have been logically arrested.

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TOUR Day 19 - Washington, DC and Race Stuff by Sophie Johnson

This is really the first time that we have woken up in the same city that we are performing in. I sat in a van for a total of 20 minutes today, on the way from our hotel to the venue. We’re at a Residence Inn in Alexandria, Virginia, which is probably my favorite kind of hotel to stay in, because they decorate it like it’s a real house, with a full-size fridge and EVERYTHING. They put the garbage can under the “kitchen” “sink.” It feels like staying at a very clean, malnourished friend’s apartment.

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TOUR Day 18 - Pittsburgh and Nothing by Sophie Johnson

I’m in the back of the van again, a little sick to my stomach, feeling totally shocked that there are only four shows left on the tour. It’s been a bit of a blur. There hasn’t been a great deal of stopping to wander around foreign cities this time around. Lots of late nights in the car, wondering what murky-black body of water is just in the distance.

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TOUR Day 17 - Ohio and Close by Sophie Johnson

Driving through Ohio was achingly beautiful: sky-scraping barns and fields upon fields of sun-yellow corn. We passed by a few Amish vehicles (respectable, low-frills, horse-drawn buggies). I couldn’t get over how much I enjoyed saying “ominous Amishness” out loud. No one said anything about “Amishness” not being a real word. Roadside shacks sold hard cheddar cheese and seasonal jams. The clouds were bombastic.
 

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TOUR Day 16 - Detroit and Empty Buildings by Sophie Johnson

Detroit won my heart. At the hotel, a woman stopped me by the elevator, took me by the shoulders, and said, "You are beautiful, and you haven't been told that enough today, I can tell." She was wearing a lime green nylon dress and smelled like lavender, and honestly, I needed that so much right then I could've kissed her. The show was upbeat and spirited. And then this morning we drove through the city. It took my breath away.

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TOUR Day 15 - Chicago and Nowness by Sophie Johnson

I am back on the road after a work week in New Orleans. I had no idea the rapid transitions would be so difficult. This all started thusly: I purchased tickets last month to fly from Kansas City to New Orleans on August 16, and to return to the road on August 20, so I could go to the beginning-of-the-year training required by the arts organization I work for. The night before my flight, I curled up to go to sleep in a swank hotel in Oklahoma City, and decided I would check in a little early (better safe than sorry). It took me until then to realize that I was five hours away from the airport I was supposed to fly out of.

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TOUR Day 14 - Omaha and Records by Sophie Johnson

In 2004, I spent a whole afternoon daydreaming about the perfect vacation, and I decided it would be driving to Omaha. At the time, my favorite thing in the world was music (because I was a teenager), and my favorite record label in the world was Saddle Creek (because I was openly depressed). Rilo Kiley had just signed to Saddle Creek, which had them joining the ranks of Cursive, Bright Eyes, and the Good Life. (If you are wondering what those bands sounded like, you can do a YouTube search for Conor Oberst and it all kind of just sounds like that. Maybe best described as sad boys whining about how lonely they feel when they whine.) I would be in a “Travels With Charley”-style van, alongside a “Travels With Charley”-style poodle, and I’d listen to sad music the whole way while watching what I imagined would be fields choked with elegant wild horses. At night, I’d hole up in tiny motels, penning the great American novel. Once in Omaha, I would go to the Saddle Creek headquarters, where I would meet sad boys who would totally “get me,” and we’d hang out at vegan restaurants and discuss Bukowski. I am glad I did not go on that vacation. There’s no way I would have survived it.

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TOUR Day 13 - Denver and More Feminism by Sophie Johnson

I haven’t spent much time in Denver, although my sister went to college in Colorado Springs, and I’ve been in love with two people who are from that area. The driving stretches have been BRUTAL. We got into Denver at 4, and the guys all wanted to do the normal thing and check out some recreational marijuana facilities. I was grateful for a moment alone to get the big cry out I’d been holding in for a few days. It felt like emptying out a bottle. Today I feel a lot better.

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TOUR Day 12 - Salt Lake City and Wyoming by Sophie Johnson

Nothing is good about Wyoming. I think there are some people out there who fantasize about moving here and riding horses or some other such nonsense, but really, it’s the worst. I mean, there ARE horses. Horses and cows and then endless fields of flat, arid NOTHING. This is the second time I have driven the length of this state. There was nothing redeeming about it the first time, and no one has changed anything about it since then. 

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TOUR Day 11 - Boise and Bipolar by Sophie Johnson

We are driving through Idaho towards Salt Lake City. We spent two hours walking around a park in Idaho called Craters of the Moon: one of the best-preserved volcanic flood basalt areas in the continental United States. When I was very young, my family went camping in the Yellowstone National Park, and I remember scenes like Craters of the Moon. I remember thinking that walking on the old volcanic rocks sounded like walking on old popcorn. As an adult, I might adjust that analogy and say that it sounds more like walking on styrofoam packing peanuts, but in some ways those are the same.

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TOUR Day 10 - Seattle and Jamie by Sophie Johnson

I am sitting in the back of the van watching the Washington mountains shrink into acres upon acres of wheat and sheepish little summer trees. I thought the “Sophie Johnson This Is Your Life” portion of the tour ended in Portland, but we’re driving through the part of eastern Washington that made up the majority of my trips to and from Whitman College for four years.

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TOUR Day 9 - Portland and The Past by Sophie Johnson

Portland felt like an emotional hotbed. We set up for the show at the Hawthorne Theatre (which we were sharing with like twelve metal bands on the other side of the building). In high school, I liked to ride the bus to this stretch of Hawthorne and go vintage clothing shopping; I would sit at the Oasis Cafe and eat pizza and watch people who were older and cooler than me pass by. That was heaven. I would look at the shows on the Hawthorne Theatre marquee and imagine what kind of music they played. (Based on what I learned about the Hawthorne last night, they were probably all metal bands. Exclusively metal. But it was fun to imagine that maybe sometimes a little twee band with a ukelele called “Dig My Way To Hell” might be taking the stage.)

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TOUR Day 8 - Oakland and Mild Panic by Sophie Johnson

I started to freak out last night. It’s good to know my limit: it’s seven days of traveling in a van, complicated by eating one grilled cheese sandwich out of hungry desperation at an In-N-Out Burger. When I hit my limit, I might start to have an emotional break-down in the middle of a show after getting a (somewhat) disparaging e-mail from a disapproving family member. That breakdown will look like this: a bride-to-be will come up to have Air Sex, and when the time comes for feedback, I will say something like, “Um… it seems like you give good blow jobs.” Which (in case it’s not clear), is not a very smart or good comment. And then, like a perfect storm, I might get back into the van after the show and just sob in the back seat quietly while everyone else happily listens to old Adam Sandler albums and while laughing uncontrollably.

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