Sondra's Visit and a Tour of Rochester Bars

My best friend Sondra stopped in for the weekend (after [and before] highly annoying air travel). She was in town to wrap up things with her old house in Palmyra but we got to go out and hit the town. We started at my house then decided to change the scenery. I started out with Abeline Bar and Lounge (153 Liberty Pole Wy., formerly Tara) just in case it opened early, but it doesn't. So we decided to hit our old haunt, Monty's KrownMySpace link (875 Monroe Ave.) Surprisingly it was closed — now this is … er … was no ordinary bar. I recall seeing people having beers out on the sidewalk as early as noon some days … typically more like 2 or 3 p.m. though. On this day, they were completely closed. As a substitution, we tried Monty's Korner (355 East Ave.) but it was closed too. Same with Mex (295 Alexander St.) We gave up and stopped by Ali's to say hi before heading to The Distillery (1142 Mount Hope Ave.) which — being a restaurant as well — was certainly going to be open, and indeed it was.

We had a couple margaritas and caught up with stuff as we often do (except over the phone usually). Next stop was Solera Wine BarMySpace link (647 South Ave.) where we met up with Ali. The three of us split a couple bottles of wine and two of their delicious cheese boards. It was getting late by then and we tried Betty Meyer's Bullwinkle Café (622 Lake Ave., a.k.a. "Bullwinkle's") but it was closed — as rumors go, I'm pretty sure it's done. [I'll have to stop by Betty's house at some point — which is coincidentally not far from where I live — and find out the deal.] So we headed back to The Flat Iron CaféMySpace link (561 State St.) but it wasn't open yet — and by now it was closing in on 11 p.m. As a consolation, we checked out this ultimate dive of a country music bar called Sandra's Saloon (276 Smith St.) As places like this go, the bartender and owner was a kind woman and the patrons kept to their own. It was actually quite nice, and the band was really good, too.

To wrap things up, we stopped by Abeline Bar and Lounge (153 Liberty Pole Wy., formerly Tara). This time it was open, and by now the band had finished. We chatted with the bartender a bit and tried their absinthe. Alas, it was more like a licorice liquor than absinthe — flavor-wise it was pretty close to what we'd had in the past, but mild-hallucination wise, not so much.

Sondra had to get up early to make her flight: as in, leave the house at 4:30 a.m. So we said our goodbyes before crashing at my house. In a tale for another day, she did eventually make it back to Colorado.

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Taking the train to Schenectady and back for Easter

Ali and I decided to take the train to my parents' house for Easter. We boarded at the Amtrak Station (320 Central Ave.) around 9:45 a.m. and made our way east. It was amusing to see all the familiar places and try to figure out what's next: the Public Market, the train yard, 590, Linden Avenue, East Rochester, the middle of Fairport … and then it got more sparse: Baird Road … Macedon … and the last marker was in Palmyra when we passed my friend Sondra's old house. It was a beautiful sunny day although the scenery was that dreary brown-and-gray post-winter blah.

Around 1:30 we were in Schenectady and got to spend some time with my parents.

The return train was the same run I took to Denver in 2005 — we boarded around 7:30 p.m. and … well … waited. Apparently we were waiting for the tracks to clear ahead for the late-arriving eastbound train. And then it was to allow passengers to transfer from the Saratoga Springs train. So we finally left around 8.

Then in Syracuse, the U.S. Customs agents boarded (they did on the way east as well but it was uneventful) and they had some discussion with some people who happened to be sitting near us. One guy got all his luggage and left with them, and the other — well, I think it was just a language barrier and he got to stay. In any case, the time we made up with extra speed on the way was lost again and we arrived in Rochester around 11:45 — 45 minutes late.

Now the funny thing is that on the train it's kind of unique experience to be delayed. As long as you are on the train and it's on the main tracks, it will start going again. It may take a while but it'll go.

On a plane, ship, or bus, there's a sense that you might get stuck somewhere and have to figure out what to do. But on the train it's missing that element and I find myself having faith in the inertia of the voyage. Like the sheer mass of the train itself while it's moving, it requires very unusual circumstances to cancel a run. It may be slow-going, and there may be delays, but never a cancellation.

And that makes it that much more relaxing.

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Connectedness to the world beyond our five senses

My friend Sondra and I had a lengthy discussion about altered states of consciousness and whether the physical world as it is presently understood is all that there is to be known. We have both had experiences that seem to defy theories that we misinterpreted coincidental events or that we selectively remembered events that confirmed a theory.

She has recently had apparent success using sigils — a method of creating a symbol to influence a specific outcome. However, as both of us are skeptics, the lack of a causal understanding has us frustrated — although not so much frustration as to stop using what seems to work, especially when it does no harm.

She spoke of the theory that the symbols themselves were being "charged" with something (I almost wrote "energy" but that's not what I'm talking about). The concept is that if we can observe a symbol (a word, for instance) and that can cause a thought to form in our minds, there is a transfer of something from the symbol to ourself. If that's true, then can it be possible to charge a symbol with something that can later be received? Can it be used to communicate on some level different from language?

I felt it might be that a sigil is a representation of the start of an action that we forget how we complete. I made an analogy of pounding in a nail: starting with a nail protruding from a board, you would (1) desire for the nail to be pounded in, (2) get a hammer and pound in the nail, and (3) observe the nail pounded in. Now consider the experience if you forgot that you did #2: you would have observed a protruding nail that you wanted pounded in, and then you would note that it was indeed pounded in. What if a sigil is a way to express a desire, and we simply forget how we accomplished it, leading to an outcome that we wanted in the first place?

We also talked about out-of-body experiences, or at least extending our influence and connection to the world beyond the confines of our bodies. A long time ago I had tinkered with out-of-body experiences. One time I felt that I could locate the presence of non-physical beings in space — hundreds of them everywhere; in another, I heard a cacophony of voices. In both cases, though, it scared me — I very much did not want to reach a point where I couldn't avoid "seeing presences" or "hearing voices" so I turned away from those techniques.

So what if that was a valid, real perception? — a sensory device that I had not needed to use and that I psychologically blocked. What if that could help explain facets of our existence that have yet been unexplained? What if we have deliberately blinded ourselves to avoid seeing something that is complex and confusing; powerful and enriching? The cells in my body are connected in complicated ways, so why not a connection to all life to a similar degree? Why not a connection to the universe in its entirety?

It's certainly an exciting prospect … [unless, of course, it's demonstrably an illusion; then it would kind of suck.]

But then I don't want to dive right into the world of pseudoscience. A serendipitous e-mail gave me a hint, though. It was a link to a TED Talk by a neuroanatomist named Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor titled My stroke of insight. In it, she outlined her own experience of having a stroke and how it affected her brain — an expert in brain anatomy who got the chance to experience what she often explains to others.

The lecture is moving and engaging, but what I took away from it was a reminder to rely on science in my own exploration. One of the key parts of validly using reason and logic to come to conclusions is to start from a point that has already been established — "A" then "B" then "C". One of the pitfalls in exploring topics that are "out there" is to claim that it is an entirely new frontier and to start from a point that it is not grounded in established knowledge. Doing so invalidates any conclusions attained, so not only is it a false path, it's genuinely a waste of time.

So it's one thing to explore and play, but to draw conclusions — like mine and Sondra's analytical brains desperately want to do — requires that we start at a point of known, physical reality.  Maybe this left-brain, right-brain stuff is a starting point.  I guess I'd better get reading.

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