Live from the Acropolis Steakhouse and Strip Club

If there has been a distinctive moment that has defined my travels in recent weeks, it came this evening at a steakhouse-cum-strip-club in Portland, Oregon, called the Acropolis. There, amidst bare-breasted go-go dancers and pitchers of beer, I got a new perspective on what will no doubt prove to be one of the most unusual journeys of my life: a month-long book tour.

Indeed, if there’s irony in traveling to promote a book about travel – there is double irony in traveling at breakneck pace to promote a book that extols the virtues of traveling slowly. Since 2003 began some three weeks ago, I have journeyed from the humid streets of Bangkok to the breezy beaches of Southern California; from the frozen prairies of Kansas, to the drizzly forests of the Pacific Northwest. Then, starting next Monday in Seattle – and lasting an entire month – I will barnstorm down the U.S. West Coast, through the Midwest, and out to New York to promote Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. At a string of bookstores, and on various radio and television shows, I will spend lots of time urging people to travel deliberately – but my tour itinerary is packed so tightly that I doubt I’ll be able to put much of my travel advice into practice. And this very contradiction has made me even more interested in how these travels will go. After all, my near inability to practice what I preach on the road stands to give this journey a distinctively postmodern vibe.

Travel writer Pico Iyer has hinted at this vibe before. “Going on book-tour,” he wrote in an online diary a few years ago, “is a journey into the fracturing of self. You pantomime yourself in many moods at every turn, and try to sell what’s deep by being shallow; you are obliged, in some ways, to project a personality in order to advance what at some level comes from the impersonal. You move, at great speed, between radio stations, hotel rooms and airports, and continuity (even inwardly) is what you lose. Whatever is private in you, spacious and inward—even if it is only a deeper level of the personality—is converted into something public, vocal and worldly.”

Even though my own book tour has yet to officially begin, I’ve already started to look at this new, public version of myself as a kind of dubious stranger. In talking to various interviewers – a USA Today reporter on the phone in Thailand, a North Bay Bohemian writer in Los Angeles, a Wichita Eagle scribe in Kansas, and a KEX-AM radio host in Portland – I have found myself neatly summing up the last ten years of my life into a few sentences. Each interview feels like I’m on a blind date, as I rearrange all the ragged events that have made up my various journeys into a coherent, streamlined kind of Life Story.

In each interview, the question that gives me the most trouble is this: “Where, for you, is home?” On the road, I usually tell people that my home is in Kansas, but I’ve found that I rarely feel much at home when I’m actually in Kansas. So I’ve just been telling interviewers that I’m not sure where home is. I feel culturally American – even more so, in fact, than before I started traveling overseas – but that Americanness is feeling less and less attached to a single place (and, in fact, I have discovered that I feel very much at home and very much American in places like Bangkok, Cairo, or Pusan). In a sense, home is where I feel a part of a family – not only with my biological family in Kansas, but with good friends in places like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York.

I’ll be visiting these cherished communities of friends on my book tour – and this means I’ll be traveling in time as well as space. Last week, for example, when I was hanging with my old Egypt travel friends Paul and Dan in Los Angeles, we spent much of our time reliving a road trip we took together in 2000. A few days later, when I went shopping for farmland my sister and her husband in northern Kansas, we spent a lot of time imagining, say, 2006, when our farm will be fixed up and operational. This morning, after my college friend Steve picked me up at the airport, we spent an afternoon listening to tapes and poking fun at the grunge band we formed back in 1992. Perhaps home for me is a place where I can find a common history (or a common future) with friends or family, regardless of place.

The danger in sharing a common history, however, is that you and your friends can get lazy about the present – and today my Portland friends and I enjoyed our nostalgia so much that we nearly lost the chance to experience January 24th, 2003. Fortunately, the Acropolis Steakhouse and Strip Club saved the day.

I won’t share much of what happened in this quirky southeast Portland go-go bar – mainly because I’d reckon strip clubs (even those that serve steaks) are fairly predictable places. Just like punters in strip bars all over America tonight, I simply drank beers with old friends while lovely young women danced striptease. Insincere flirtation was offered, dollar bills were proffered, and a kind of beauty was celebrated. But the best part of it was that, after years of driving by the Acropolis en route to our habitual diversions (usually rock shows downtown), my friends and I finally decided to stop at the quirky little strip club and go inside. And, in doing so, we saw one more curious corner of the world. It was no life-altering experience, to be sure, but we tried something different – and I’d wager that’s how you make the most of any travel moment, postmodern or not.

A simple enough lesson, but one that even travel writers have to force themselves to remember from time to time.

(And I promise I’ll try and implement that lesson in more than just strip clubs as my book tour progresses.)

Next: The factor

Posted by | Comments (4)  | January 24, 2003
Category: Book Release and Tour Diary

4 Responses to “Live from the Acropolis Steakhouse and Strip Club”

  1. Bill Jenkins Says:

    Struggling with the idea of home and the definintion of home is the flip side of the idea and definition of Travel. To some extent, all of us confront this question sometime during college, when we either find that our room at home is now a den/office or that the room with our high school pictures and childhood memories no longer seems germane to our life. From then on, it is a feeling out process. You ask yourself if you want to take a job/wife/city and make yourself part of something permanent (as permanent as you can get in this life) or to continue living in a hovering pattern in apartments not that much removed from a dorm room. Long term travel, living overseas especially, is an option but somehow you are never really anything but an expatriate who is away from home for a long period of time. After a while, the idea of home just gets confusing. It is time to separate from family to a greater extent but not to stop being part of the family. You part with all but the really essential worldly goods in order to reduce life to its basic nature. You learn to read books and not keep them, use furniture and utensils, but not collect them.

    Perhaps some people are simply possessed of a nesting gene that predisposes them to seek a setting full of familiar goods and people, and others lack that gene. Perhaps the traditional idea of home is more illusion than reality and one is at home when he decides to read the newspaper from where he is staying or stops following the news from other places he has lived.

    Do Americans, by the very nature of their mobility, lack the feeling for home that an Italian on land that has been in his family for 400 years or a Thai whose family shrines and tombs are all in one nearby location. Or does one cling to the idea of home to protect himself from the urge to uproot without looking back. Is it possible to inhabit a middle ground, living far afield from “home” but feeding the concept of home with CDs of favorite music, CNN on satellite television and expatriate bars.

    This is getting far too philosophical and it is far too late at night, but it is good to see that you are continuing to address the problem, too.

  2. Diana Moxon Says:

    The concept of ‘where is home’ is linked to time elapsed by an equation of diminishing marginal elasticity. I’m sure somebody somewhere has worked out the equation E=H+TE. When you first leave ‘home’ to live or work overseas for an extended period, the emotional and psychological link to home is intense. Like the elastic in a new pair of panties. It pings snappily and you feel that you could ‘ping’ home at a moment’s notice. The longer you’re away, the less elastic is the link. After three months when you think of your former home, you register a fainter drag on your piece of elastic. After six months, you can feel the elasticity beginning to fray. After nine months, you find your metaphorical panties round your ankles, elastic gone. Yet where once the thought of going knickerless in public might have seemed unnatural, you find that actually you’re enjoying the breeze. End of underwear analogy.

    Eventually home becomes a fuzzy, untethered concept, not bound in bricks and mortar but in a sense of ‘now’.

    Home becomes, quite simply, wherever your heart feels comfortable.

  3. Jen Says:

    Excellent post Rolf. I am left to wonder one thing…did you see a Snake Woman at the Acropolis?

    See you tomorrow.

  4. Javier Soto Says:

    I just got a lap dance there and f*cked the chick.