fray day 5 grand rapids

n the aftermath of Tuesday's unspeakable atrocities — with my beloved City, my spiritual home, wounded and grieving — all I wanted to do today was put up my Fray Day 5 photos, and remember the lovely people I met last weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I'm convinced that as often as we can physically come together from now on, we must.

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ome 50 miles before I reached the edge of town, my panel fan busted, as I slogged through the mini-hurricane that drenched I-96 and forced me to pull onto the shoulder twice. When I reached Exit 43 some forty minutes later, I ran headlong into a parking lot of cars. A semi had rolled over. We were at a crawl.

If I didn't cancel my motel reservation by 6 pm they were gonna charge me, and I knew I wasn't gonna make it. Quickly got off the freeway to search for a less sluggish route in. Lucky I happened to glance at my temperature gauge, which had begun to inch toward red. Red for "danger your fan is busted under the hood as well - get it looked at or your car is toast."

At 6:30 I couldn't get through to the event location. Had to call three numbers for Michigan AAA. The nice manager at O'Neill's Body Shop said I could leave my little car there overnight (he and the boys fussed and fiddled with her and determined that yep, there was something wrong with the fan all right) and that he'd know in the morning.

Didn't have to call a cab, a nice young mechanic who plays the bass in a band drove me in — it wasn't so far out of his way. See what happens when you're nice to people?

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hmuel (Hebrew spelling, pronounced "Samuel", as I found out from our phone call the night before the event), has done a most spectacular job. Found an enviable location at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, a gallery in which we were surrounded by paintings and installations.

He's enlisted his whole amazing (no exaggeration) family. Wine and punch (Shmuel's mom Cindy gleefully spikes her glass) and food from local restaurants (they know some owners). Interactive art stations strategically placed around the room. A smiling man with a guitar strums in the corner. He introduces himself as Oscar.

The attendees drift in and partake and imbibe and gab and write their answers to "Where is home?" and "What keeps you from getting where you want to be?" Shmuel's dad Ralston, a sort of collector of unusual people (as we would soon discover), offers me a cookie from a tray.

Meet a wild-haired young man from Amsterdam. A street painter, who has set up a canvas in a corner by the storytelling dais. Tells me he's going to paint the events of the evening as they unfold. Later I discover that Ralston saw him painting outdoors some days before, and invited him to join the fun.

The stories are enormous fun — inventive and varied — Oscar tells his story-songs, Greg slams some truly thumpin' poetry, Davezilla relates a tale of mutilation. My story utilizes my little Casio keyboard on a couple of tall stools. It's about all those shmaltzy love songs I wrote as a teenager. The crowd laughs. I am gratified, if a bit dry-mouthed. One day, I will record the story — with its accompanying musical snippets — and post them. They're better heard than read.

Then there is the superlative open mic, during which, among other gems, Benjo busts himself and his gal in an adventure in an old castle, 82-year old Leo (one of Ralston's collection) blows us out of the water on his harmonica, and Ralston himself wails a hefty tune on his (over a century old) mandolin. I surmise that Shmuel (who didn't have a story prepared this time — what could he possibly have been busy doing instead?) must be equally musical. I betcha.

After the stories, most everyone stays to exchange cards and congratulations and email addresses and more stories. We open our wallets to help defray costs, buy Fray Day 5 tee shirts. Help clean up the gallery. The mood is upbeat — everyone eager for next year's event.

Shmuel's lovely fiancee Robyn graciously offers me her couch to crash on. Shmuel insists that someone will give me a ride to O'Neill's body shop in the morning. I gratefully accept and pack my Casio and stool into Robyn's car.

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t Robyn's house we poke through the photos in my digital camera. I realize I have no photos of the audience. But in the morning I make sure I have a photo of Robyn at the Body Shop before I hug her goodbye.

The manager assures me he's kept my car safe behind the fence all night. Suggests I drive her home to my mechanic in Ohio rather than having her fixed here. She'll be fine as long as we're moving and don't get stuck in traffic again. He could have made me spend a fortune there, but he didn't. I can tell that it never crossed his mind.

Being stranded in Michigan, and having a great time nonetheless, among all these kind people, reminds me of the inherent goodness of human beings. Community, in its finest sense, is everything — can overcome any evil or difficulty. A thought to hold onto in these history-making times.

~ mirla

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falling into place || hub of portals