Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#3: Take a weekend trip by myself

The last memorable trip that I took by myself was right after I got laid off from my first job. I was unceremoniously told that I could keep writing for the magazine “if I wanted” but that I could no longer rely on a monthly salary because it was too expensive for our publisher. This isn’t that story, so I’ll just say that I ended up driving out to Bastrop State Park and spent hours in the woods there, sitting on benches, writing in my diary and generally communing with nature (devastatingly, a few months later that same park was engulfed in flames. I felt really lucky I got to see it prior to the fires there.)

I am a firm believer in “me time.” It’s crucial for my own well-being that I get some time to myself to do whatever — read, write, watch Netflix, explore the world. Maybe it was studying in Germany in college, traveling around the country by myself, that showed me how important those kinds of trips could be, and how much growth I could enjoy from them. Maybe it was my summer in New York City, riding the subway on my own while blasting the Kings of Leon from my iPod (it was a simpler time). Whatever the reason, I’ve always loved taking a little adventure by myself, and so I took the opportunity to stalk Beyonce around Texas to also get some solo travel time and be my own boss.

The first stop on my Beyonce tour was in H-Town (coming, coming down). I took the 3 hour drive into my second favorite Texas city on Friday night, straight from my place of employment. I’d packed up all my necessities the night before, and given my husband and my dog tight hugs that morning. The drive was far prettier than my normal I-35 trek to Dallas, which is flat and fairly uneventful — there were cows, horses and goats galore, beautiful tree-lined throughways and some fun corner stores where I stopped for snacks and the bathroom. When I finally pulled up to my hotel, I could see the NRG Stadium where my Queen would perform the next night. It was literally right across the street, caddy-corner to the room I ended up in.

View from my hotel room

I was staying in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and I pulled around the circle drive and gathered up all of my suitcases to take to the check-in desk. Sadly, I was re-directed to the building furthest from where I stood, so I dragged my bags back out to my car and drove over to the “Rio Grande” building. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into a ghost town before, but that’s exactly how it felt as I entered the empty lobby of the building. Oldies played eerily from the lobby speakers, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Given this, I should have known better than to get on the elevator, but I had so many bags and the second floor just seemed too far away to drag everything up to my room. I climbed onto the creaky elevator, and as the doors closed behind me, I noticed that there wasn’t any certificate of authentication/safety posted in the claustrophobic space. Thus, my 60 second ride up to the second floor was filled with terror, as I prayed to the universe that the doors would open and I wouldn’t drop to my death (is that even possible when you’re one floor up?) That was my last ride on THAT elevator.

My room was quite nice, with a HUGE king bed, a lovely TV and a view out the window pointed directly at the NRG. I hung up my dresses, laid out my PJs, and hopped back in my car to grab a sandwich and ice cream for dinner. This is what you do when you’re staying in a hotel by yourself, you know. When I brought my dinner back to my room, I turned on HGTV and did not change the channel once during the rest of my stay in my hotel room. Even when shows I HATED, like Flip or Flop, were on, I left my Home and Garden friends playing in the background as comforting voices to accompany me on my stay.

My friends

When I woke up on Saturday, I ordered room service breakfast so I could speed up my getting-ready process. And what, you might ask, does a princess like me order from my fine room service providers? Why, frosted mini wheats, milk and orange juice, of course. (In all honesty, it was a pretty disappointing breakfast — they put about 5 wheat squares in my bowl, the milk tasted questionably room temp and the OJ was just fine.) This allowed me to head out for my first adventure of the weekend, a stop at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Zack and I had popped into this museum before and were quickly smitten with it, so I was excited to return and take it at my own pace. Sadly, what I discovered was that this museum (unlike some of the other fantastic ones in the city) really doesn’t change up its displays much, so I pretty much walked through the same stuff I’d seen the last time all over again. To make matters worse, this time I discovered that the many impressive dinosaur skeletons towering above me were almost all replicas, rather than the real deal. This stole some of the magic from me at first, but then I made it my mission to look close at the bones that were real and really try to soak in the pre-history.

I think this one was real, but I honestly don't recall now.

"Evolution is predictable. Usually herbivores evolve from carnivores..." THAT'S RIGHT FOLKS, I'm more evolved.

Another notable stop was a strange animatronic world of “Texas wildlife,” replete with a woodpecker that actually banged its beak against a tree and a skunk that moved threateningly when you passed it by. I liked the fact that you could experience this exhibit in a daytime AND nighttime setting, with different sounds accompanying each.

A panorama of the dinosaurs. I forgot to take many pictures elsewhere, obviously.

Around the corner from this spectacle was the Cabinets of Curiosity. In theory, this exhibit is great. It encourages interaction with the museum — you get to open up a vast number of drawers and see all kinds of different things, like arrowheads and jewelry and fossils and shells. Sometimes the drawers’ smells were overpowering and I closed them quickly, but in general I liked the mood of the place. That is, until I approached a series of drawers in the back corner of the exhibit. I started at the bottom, as Drake taught me to do, and to my horror, discovered a bird carcass. Just a dead bird, hanging out in the drawer. Yeesh, I thought, that’s kind of a miss. Then I opened the next drawer — bird carcass number two. NO FREAKING WAY, I thought as I shut the drawer. There’s no way these could ALL be dead birds…right?! I opened up each drawer in the series of 4, and EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. had a dead bird in there, sometimes two. I get that taxidermy is a thing, but c’mon guys!!!!! Such a cruel trick to play on a sad vegetarian.

Don't mind us, just some DEAD FREAKING BIRDS.

I tried to take a selfie with a horrified face by the entrance to the exhibit, knowing that I’d share my dismay on this blog, but I was caught by a security guard who wanted to be helpful and offered to take a photo of me. Not realizing that I was trying to make a funny face, after he snapped the first shot he looked at the photo, consternated, and said, “…let me try again.” He was trying to capture a more delicate-looking facial expression from me, I think, bless his heart. So, what I ended up with was something in between what I wanted and what he wanted.

A funny-turned-awkward photo op.

My favorite room, and last stop on my museum tour, was the room full of gems and minerals. I love looking at all the different textures, hues and consistencies. I find it very peaceful to just enjoy the items, and since I was by myself I could take as much or as little time as I wanted with each exhibit. Despite being alone, in fact, I found myself briefly concerned with how my fellow museum-goers would think of me if I moved on from a display too quickly, and then I snapped back to reality and realized, this is my time, nobody cares what I do, I’m the boss. So I was able to go straight to my favorites, which were mostly the displays of opal. If I could wear an outfit made of opal, I’d probably do it. It’s delicate and glittering, seemingly unreal — like something that would live alongside mermaids and unicorns.

Opal is tangible magic.

After I was exhausted at the Science museum, I touched base with one of my oldest friends, Merritt, who now lives in Houston and works at the Museum of Fine Arts. He swung by the Science museum so I could leave my car in the garage, and we headed to a really cute little cafe in his neighborhood that would easily fit in in Austin — the waiters had piercings, tattoos and all the hair colors of the hair rainbow, the patrons looked young and hip, for the most part, and there was delicious food to gobble up. I opted for a salad as I caught up on Merritt’s life and vice versa, and I was so pleased to see my dear friend find such passion for his work. He seemed to radiate happiness, which is such a fulfilling thing to experience alongside your friend. And despite having worked shifts the previous 6 days at the museum, Merritt was not only willing, but exited to show me around the MFAH after lunch.

It pays to have a friend at the museum. With his credentials, Merritt was able to grant us both access to the two special MFAH exhibits — Sculpted in Steel, and High Society. For the former, we walked through rooms of vehicles-as-art:  art deco automobiles that were sleek and gorgeous, if perhaps a bit impractical (looking at you, van with MOVABLE 4-LEGGED CHAIRS INSIDE). The colors were vibrant, the materials inside luxurious, and the instrument panels mimicked that of an airplane. Plus, I finally got to see a Bugatti up close and understand what Britney Spears has been singing about all this time!

Merritt was most excited to share the works of portrait artist Franz X. Winterhalter, and when he walked me through and gave me the background story on him and his brother Hermann, I could totally understand why. Before we even got to the exhibit, back at lunch, Merritt was explaining to me how Franz was enlisted to paint the portraits of royalty, which got me thinking — did royalty want to look exactly true-to-life, or similar to today, would they want to appear a bit…enhanced? Merritt was pleased with my train of thought and explained that this was why Winterhalter was so popular among royalty — his subjects looked like themselves, but definitely more refined and beautiful. He was one of the original photoshoppers, people!!! He also helped to create the desire for a haute couture culture, because his subjects wanted great focus on the clothes they were wearing. There were so many subtleties about his work — the fact that he had Queen Victoria looking directly at her subjects, where Prince Albert was looking at the Queen; how to recognize when he was in love with his subject (which happened at least twice in the exhibit we saw). It was just marvelous stuff, and reminded me how much I enjoy art when someone who is knowledgable about it can explain the background to me.

Me and Merritt. I'm making a goober face because I accidentally turned the camera to face the other way while I was trying to take our photo before.

After we completed our journey into the past, Merritt dropped me back at the garage and I drove back to the hotel. I relaxed for a little while, watching more HGTV, and then started to get myself ready for the main event, my own queen, Queen Bey. I donned my Ivy Park sports bra and jersey, and then waited for my dear Katie to appear so we could drink champagne and get to it. When Katie arrived, Mrs. New Mom had to do some pumpin’ before we left, so she sat in the big chair by the window and simultaneously drank her champagne LIKE A BOSS. I ended up drinking the lion’s share, e.g. I was in high spirits by the time we arrived inside the NRG, and also I was craving pizza RULL bad.

Giving Bey my MONEYYYY.

We grabbed our pizza and made our way down to THE FLOOR. What’s that? You can’t believe we got floor seats for Beyonce? Well, quite frankly, neither could we, but thanks to our local barbershop, Birds, we had a chance to enter-and-win two floor passes so we could breathe in as much of Bey as was possible. Birds awarded each of us a ticket, me for dressing head-to-toe in Bey gear, Katie for appealing to their hearts with her baby dressed in an “I Woke Up Like This” onesie. We kinda killed it.

The winning entries, replete with Bey song title usage.

What happened next was kind of a blur. We missed most of DJ Khaled because we wanted to hit the restrooms one last time before the show. We made friends with a woman sitting next to Katie who was also a mom, so they talked mom shop and then loud music blared from the speakers and video came up on the giant screens. Everybody freaked out, but then it turned out to be an ad for Ivy Park. Cool, cool, I’m wearing IP, all good. Then another video played, we freaked out again, and THAT turned out to be an ad for Lemonade (as if we all hadn’t already downloaded it, c’mon.) Another video — another Ivy Park ad. Despite cries from a gentleman in the row behind us who declared, “NO NOT THE FUCKING FLOWER AGAIN, C’MON!!” I think we all respected the self-advertising at the Bey show. When you’re Bey, you can use your time as you please.

When the lights finally dimmed, I screamed like a woman possessed. No exaggeration: I found a red welt-like thing on my throat the next day from screaming as hard as I did. In retrospect I feel a LITTLE bad for the people around me, but from what I can remember in the haze of everything, they were shrieking, too. How could you not? One of the most powerful women in America flashed on the giant box screen in front of us, declaring her presence.

Beyonce is a superstar, so the aesthetics — the spectacle — of her live performance are top notch. The costumes are jaw-droopingly gorgeous — black bodysuits with wide-brimmed hats, gold-encrusted bodysuits that pay homage to Michael Jackson’s Super Bowl look, stunningly sparkly white jumpsuits with lace, a fur coat and a cowboy hat (for “Daddy Issues,” naturally). The giant, rotating box of a video screen that allows Bey to project herself, either as she is or with effects and filters. Aerial dancers swinging on ropes and metal boxes. A lipped stage that allows for water to be brought in at the end of the show, so Bey and her dancers can kick it up and out to her fans, baptizing them, helping them be reborn.

The Queen

But with all of the gorgeous spectacle, the root of what Bey has done is what makes her live show so compelling. It is the strength and beauty of her powerful voice, the specific images she chooses to represent on the screen behind her, the community she has built around her. As a white woman, there were words, phrases and imagery in the show that did not belong to me, so I left them to their rightful community. But what I did draw from was the power in womanhood, the strength to move through pain. The desire to lift each other up and let everyone thrive.

The happiest ladies

“Freedom” is one of my favorite songs from Lemonade. It is a song that has a specific and separate meaning outside of my white womanhood that I respect and stand behind, though I do not experience it. For me, it also helps me with my eating disorder, with my internal prison of anxiety that has locked me up for so many years of my life. When Beyonce sings, “I’ma keep running, ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” I am set free of my internal restraints, of the physical restrictions the Western world tries to place on me and on everyone. I draw power from it, and it moves me for what it is to me, and what it is so far beyond that.

The power of songs like “Freedom,” “Formation,” “Sorry” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” balanced well with the pure joy of singing “Drunk in Love” and “Survivor” in a sea of thousands. With a set list of 31 songs plus multiple musical interludes (including the Prince version of “Purple Rain” blasting over the NRG speakers, with the tour box lit up purple, which almost brought me to tears) it’s hard to “summarize” the show. Honestly, I sort of wouldn’t want to try, because this is something to experience. It’s the community, the physical vibe you experience when you attend the church of Bey, that makes the whole thing transcendent.

Katie and I stumbled out of the venue with the rest of the concert attendees, and chewed on what we’d been through aloud, trying to process the imagery and feelings. Mental photographs flashed through my mind — the dancers smiling widely as they got to two-step for “Daddy Issues;” the fierce, guttural screams that punctuated the end of “Freedom;” Beyonce’s coy smile as she pointed to lucky fans in the front row, saying, “I see some familiar faces;” the confetti that floated like snowflakes to emphasize “Party;” Bey kicking water like a happy child out onto her fans as “End of Time” melted into “Halo.” By the time we got back to my hotel room so Katie could pump before she got on the road, we were dazed, half-zombies. I fell asleep dreaming of rain drops and confetti.

Also we MADE IT ONTO BEYONCE DOT COM!!!! "You" is Katie, "Me" is me.

The next morning, I got up as early as I could muster and drove to Shipley’s for some doughnuts and coffee. I had no idea what I was doing at the drive-through, since I’d never been to Shipley’s before, so I’m sure the car that eventually pulled up behind me was filled with eye-rolling regulars. I hurried along and tried to order 2 doughnuts plus what I thought was 3 doughnut holes, but when the girl at the checkout said, “3 bags of holes?!” I was like “OH NO NO just one thank you.” The coffee was meh, but the doughnuts were delicious and a perfect treat before I hit the road for my four hour journey to Dallas. I only stopped a couple times, and got really lucky with the bathrooms (clean! private! yay!) When I finally pulled up in front of my mom’s house that Mother’s Day afternoon, I was exhausted but relieved. I gave my mom a big Mother’s Day hug, and dragged my stuff inside and was greeted with doggie kisses from her two terriers.

Although Mellow Mushroom has exited Austin (boohoo!) they still exist in Texas, so our Mother’s Day meal was pizza from this most delicious of pizza joints, and then we headed home to relax and chat before bed. I got a chance to walk the terriers with my mom, and it was just such a special treat to be with her, since I don’t get to make the 3-plus hour visit to her as often as I’d want.

The next day, I had to do some work from home, but I still had a chance to watch The Price is Right with my mom and spend as much time as we needed getting dressed. My mom dressed IMPECCABLY, in an on-fashion basketball jersey with a coat, grey skirt and cool sneakers. I threw on my Ivy Park outfit again (with a different colored sports bra) and off we drove to the AT&T stadium in Arlington. We had to make a pit-stop at Target, since the AT&T folks don’t allow purses in the stadium (!!!!! what!!!!!! how and why!!!!!) so we had to get some clutches for our valuables, since we didn’t have pockets in our outfits.

Another day, another Ivy Park situation

We got a little lost on the AT&T grounds (y’all, it’s a goddamn maze. There’s the baseball stadium right there, as well as Six Flags, so it’s just rows on rows of parking lots and bleh.) Luckily we’d pre-paid for parking, and our lot was super close to the stadium so once we dropped the car we were inside the stadium gates in minutes.

Mom was kind enough to let me wait in the merch line so I could get my hands on as much Bey merch as I could afford (the silk tour jacket being the pièce de résistance), and then we headed inside to grab drinks and our seats. We had a really solid vantage point, and I was glad to experience the tour both on and off the floor, because it let me see Bey up close, and then pull back to see the effect of all the dance moves and theatrics.

The tour pins, which now live on my jean jacket.

Mom was smart enough to bring a pair of binoculars (the idea was her husband, Scott’s — good move!) and so she was able to spy on the stage for us, noticing when there was movement by the back stairs. We actually got to see all of DJ Khaled’s performance, including guest spots from Bun B and O.T. Genasis, and he got our hearts pumping before the long wait for Bey to appear. From my new vantage point, I could see that the video screen Formation box actually had SECRET PANELS, so mom and I giggled as we watched various workers sneak in and out with drinks in their hands (I’m thinking for Bey to sip on, but who knows). We watched the Mamas (Bey’s backup singers) take the stage and shake fans’ hands. Finally, after the same ads that did not fool me twice, it was time for take 2.

People have asked me what the differences were between the shows. While the set lists were almost the same, night 2 allowed me to really be in the present moment. Whereas I was just a living, breathing adrenaline rush night 1, on the second night I felt more awake dancing with my mom, complimenting new friends we made in the crowd.

I knew the Prince tribute was coming, and I didn’t warn my mother. You see, she is the biggest Prince fan I have ever known. Prince was a part of our family for as long as I could remember, to the point where I recall scolding my mom when I was probably seven years old for playing the sexy music while Edward had a friend visiting the house. This annoyed her, and in retrospect it should have because I was being a little seven-year-old prude. But anyway, I knew that the screen lit up purple was going to be a moving moment for my mom, and I didn’t want to spoil that. Little did I know, Bey had a special surprise just for us. For the first time on the Formation tour, Beyonce covered a Prince song herself — the heartbreakingly gorgeous, “The Beautiful Ones.” I stood there, shocked, and rubbed my mom’s shoulders as she sat in her seat and wept. Bey did an impeccable job — there’s video circling the interwebs, but it doesn’t do Bey justice. She KILLED this cover, with tears streaming down her face, and then still transitioned into the interlude of “Purple Rain,” which caused my mom to weep harder. This is a moment of my life I will never, ever forget.

The scene during "Purple Rain," with phones lit up like starlight around the stadium.

“Freedom” hit harder night 2 as well, because my mom knew that this was my “get back in the ring” boxing song, and so she felt the power of it in the same way I did, which connected me to her, too. Whereas in Houston, Bey gave heartfelt thanks to the fans who’d been with her from day one, spreading the love she feels for her hometown, in Dallas she was our cheerleader, our strong big sister telling us that it was all gonna be OK. She was supposed to be singing “Halo” as her closer, and the fireworks and special effects were running as if nothing was different, but Bey insisted, “I’m supposed to be singing but I’m gonna talk.” She went on to talk about seeing Michael Jackson as her first concert, and thinking at the time, “I want to do that.” Then she said, “I wanna say to all of the young ladies, I am you and you are me and you could be on this stage one day. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. All you have to do is dream and you will make it a reality for yourself. Thank y’all for this beautiful night.” I just got shivers reliving this moment, because it was exactly what I needed to hear from a woman who has given me so much inner strength over the past few years.

My mom and I were in total awe leaving the stadium, and we just jammed to Lemonade as we waited out the traffic and headed home again. I had an early wake-up the next morning to drive back to Austin, straight to work (where Zack would adorably meet me, running towards me for a hug). But it was all so very worth it, because I got to celebrate womanhood and femininity with three of the most important women in my life. We all need memories, dreams, hopes and wishes to hold tight to for those days where we feel down, less-than, bummed out by our current lot in life. That is what the Formation tour has done for me — the whole trip around Texas, really. It reaffirmed that life is good and people are good and we’re all in this together.

My mom and me

P.s. This needs it’s own special comment because I’m now in love with this vlogger: prior to seeing Bey’s tour, right after Lemonade dropped, I tried to find as many reviews of the album by black women as possible so I could educate myself on the deeper meanings of the record. One of the favorites I came across was from a woman based right here in Austin, Texas — Evelyn from the Internets. What I didn’t know was that Bey was watching, too, and so Evelyn ended up in the Formation tour!! I mention this because I have since started watching as many of Evelyn’s videos as possible and they are charming and hilarious, and you should watch them, too.


  1. Oh wow Caitlin!! What an excellent weekend, I loved reading about every little bit of your trip. So stoked for you that you got to worship at the church of Bey, I'd love to see her live - I saw her back in 2011 when she was headlining Glastonbury but I can imagine what a tour de force she'd be now. Also, yep, I'm going to check out the vlogs now - thanks for the rec!

  2. Laila you are SO SWEET for reading my blog and for leaving all of your comments, they inspire me to keep going:) Someday when we are having tea together you MUST tell me every. little. thing. about Bey's Glastonbury performance, I have watched the video of it and it seems AMAZING. Hope you love the vlogs, I'm obsessed with Evelyn!!