Potsdam (NY) to Portland (ME) in 20 Hours

What was supposed to be a six hour trip down to Boston & up to Portland for the SLSA conference turned into a 20 hour marathon yesterday when my Delta commuter plane from Ogdensberg had to go back to the hanger for repairs. I didn't get out of Ogdensberg until late in the afternoon and arrived in Boston around 7:30, where I talked the Delta gate agent into putting me up at the Hyatt because I just did not want to drive strange interstate highways tired & at night. The Hyatt was pleasant & the drive up to Portland fairly pleasant once I got out of Boston's Friday morning traffic. Portland is a nice, touristy little city & I've just had crab cakes & a beer at the Dogfish Cafe. In 45 minutes I'm going to give a talk that takes off from Richard Powers' novel Galatea 2.2 & meanders around the problems involved in teaching literary texts to students who have not developed literary habits. I'll say more about this & the rest of the conference later. For the moment, I'm going to sit quietly & collect my thoughts. Saturday: I always walk around a little stunned at conferences & this one has been particularly stunning, in a good way. But the combination of travel & intellectual overload makes it impossible for me to give even a serious sketch of my experience of this year's SLSA until I get home. Tonight, Portland is getting a lot of rain & wind from an Atlantic storm, but it's supposed to clear by late tomorrow morning, which is a relief since I have to drive to Boston. I'm going to go to a presentation in the morning at which the poet Bin Ramke will be giving a talk. Bin was the editor of the University of Georgia Press poetry series when they published my first book & I was delighted this morning when he turned up at my poetry reading. Sunday: Somewhat less stunned this morning, enough to realize that my poetry reading yesterday went really well. That I made a kind of contact with my work that I haven't made in a long time. As noted, I'm going to an early session in which Bin Ramke is going to talk about the language of paranoia as a kind of locked-down code. Then I'm getting on the road. Sunday later: The travel ridiculousness continued. (I'm writing this in retrospect on Monday evening.) The poetics panel was worth getting up early for, though odd. (I'll say more in a separate post.) I had thought I might walk up to the conference venue & wait to check out of my hotel until I came back, but with the time change I was up so early I just packed up, got my car & drove up the few blocks to the Holiday Inn. After the rainy night from the leftovers of the hurricane, the day was clear, cold & bright. I stopped for coffee at a place that roasts their own beans, read the local paper, then headed up to the panel, caffeinated but mellow. [Insert account of panel here.] While I was packing up to go, Jonathan Skinner, a member of the next panel, was setting up his computer. I was saying goodbye to Bin Ramke & Jonathan, who I don't know, said, "Oh, come on, stay for just one more." I made the excuse that I had to drive to Boston & get on a plane. Actually, I could have stayed, I had time, but I was burned out. I didn't think I could listen to any more poetry talk. Jonathan said, "Oh, you're on the Logan Airport run. Be sure to get off on route 1 & the go to 1A." This advice saved me immeasurable hassle. Thanks, Jonathan. I promise to attend your next presentation. After getting some directions from a sweet, stringy-haired guy at a gas station, I got on the turnpike going south. I asked him how to "get to 95 South," which he heard as "295 South," which was actually the road I needed. So, thanks to the guy working at the gas station who gave me the directions I needed even though I hadn't asked the right question. It was a perfectly clear day, my little Kia (you call that a "midsize"?) humming along at 70mph. Nothing but crap on the radio, unfortunately. I don't much like driving, but this was a breeze. Caught the right exits, but once I got off on the Boston streets I wasn't sure I was headed in the right direction, so I stopped for coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts. As I was getting out of my car, I noticed a guy standing in the parking lot & asked him about the route. English wasn't his native language, but he gave me precise directions, confirming that I was on the right track & preparing me for a couple of weird turns. (Boston has "rotaries," or traffic circles, that require mind-bending powers of concentration.) Got some coffee. I usually drink my coffee black, but purely by accident, I told the young woman at the counter I wanted a "small coffee, regular," realizing as I took my first sip that in Boston, apparently, "regular" means with milk & sugar. Which was exactly what I had wanted, though I hadn't known it. So, thanks to the Arab (I think) guy for confirming my route & easing my mind & thanks to the girl behind the counter who gave me the coffee I needed & actually wanted if only I had known it! Then, the ridiculousness: Big Sky Airlines (a Delta commuter service) should not be allowed to run a rural bus company, let alone an airline. I could go into details, but it would be too tedious. It was a good thing, I told the desk agent, that there was a bar near the gate, because otherwise she would have had a full-scale revolt on her hands. I had a number of beers & some expensive though decent fish & chips. The flight was a couple of hours late & I staggered into Ogdensburg around midnight, sober, my brain stuffed with witty insults that none of the subnormals running the airline would understand. I drove home pie-eyed. I'd called Carole from Logan & she had waited up for me, knowing that the dogs would go nuts when I got home anyway. I collapsed into bed surrounded by terriers -- Penny on the pillow by my head, Jett at the foot of the bed, Candy curled behind my knees. Carole was over on the other side of the bed somewhere & that was nice too of course, but all those synchronized terrier breathing patterns -- think Philip Glass patterns of low & lovely breathing -- put me right to sleep. Now I'm catching up with work, reading student portfolios, grading essays, dealing with the cracked firebricks in the wood stove . . . grateful for my good fortune.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

7 thoughts on “Potsdam (NY) to Portland (ME) in 20 Hours”

  1. So sorry about the problem at the Buddy Holly Memorial Airstrip in Ogdensburg. Hope you had a very successful panel after all the travail. Get home safely.

  2. I’d love to hear more about the “literary habits” you mentioned. I think I’m only a so-so reader, even of important literature, because I lack some suitable point of view or preparation or fundamentals.

  3. Ed, I’d love to come to SF. As an academic, though, I am allergic to paying my own way, but I’ll look for a conference out your way.

    Pablo, I’m going to post a lot about this. Stay tuned.

  4. Joe,

    I enjoyed your account of your travails, er, travels, and of the conference itself. But what I’d really like to know is what you had to say about _Galatea_, one of my favorite novels.


    P.S. Did you post something about the poetics panel elsewhere? (I’m still finding my way around here….)

  5. Candice, I hope to post something about the panels in the next day or two. As soon as I got back I had to teach & grade & all that. Coming soon, as they say.

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