Every now and then I skim through Eventbrite to see if there are any events that I would be interested in attending. I check out events in Philadelphia and in other cities that I would not mind traveling to alone. I look at events in New York, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Atlanta. Besides Atlanta, these cities are a Megabus trip away. Eventbrite is how I came across the Black Comic Book Festival scheduled for January 16, 2016 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. It was a free event. Free is awesome so I registered via Eventbrite. I found Megabus tickets for $15.50 for round trip to New York from Philly. Not bad.
I was excited… for a couple of reasons. I had not been to the Schomburg in almost 20 years, not since my Black Women Writers course at Temple University with Professor Sonia Sanchez. We took a class trip to the Schomburg and I was in nerd heaven. I would spend hours in the library. We have a pretty awesome main library here in Philadelphia but the Schomburg was legendary and specific. So, I was excited to visit the library itself. (I’m a writer. Why wouldn’t I be excited about spending hours in a library?) I was excited to take part in the Black Comic Book Festival. And, I was excited to travel to New York, alone.
I still had more preparation to do for the trip. I had to make sure I had proper winter attire. I had to map out my route to and from the event. I had to make sure that I had money to travel and had to check out places in walking distance where I could eat. I bought a coat from Eddie Bauer, wore layers, and packed extra socks with in my travel toiletry bag. I decided I would catch public transportation from Manhattan to Harlem and back.
On that Saturday morning, I woke up about 5:45am, took a leisurely shower, dressed and packed my backpack. My bus was due to leave at 7:30am. I had more than enough time to get there before 7:30am so why was I running to the bus at 7:28am? I made it though.And my adventure began…
The bus ride seemed quicker than driving. It was awesome. I just sat back with my earbuds in and looked out of the window.. and wrote in my travel journal.. and slept. Awesome! I drive all of the time so this was a welcomed break.
“I’m on the Megabus on my way to NYC to the Schomburg Center to attend the Black Comics Festival. I almost missed the bus. I was one of the last ppl on the bus. This morning when I was in the shower I was thinking about the day ahead and realized that I didn’t want to tell ppl what I was going to NY to do for fear of judgement. And to avoid the conversations and name-calling. “You’re weird.” “Why are you going ‘all the way’ to NY by yourself?” “Books?!” “Comic books?” It shouldn’t be this difficult to be me. It’s not really difficult but rather annoying and disappointing. I don’t want to be caged. Period. I don’t want to be boxed. I’m trying to break free to my level of comfort…
I just had a thought. Maybe the people that shoot condensing questions and side eyes at me are actually envious. I have to remind myself to consider my source. People are living lives that they think they are “supposed to” be living as opposed to living how they want to. I used to do that. But I’m moving away from “supposed to” and toward living happy for me as determined by me…”
I followed my Google Maps directions to the 2 train and stood impatiently in line to buy a Metro Card. I noticed that MTA trains are more narrow than SEPTA trains. The train ride was uneventful and I arrived at the Schomburg about quarter after ten. There were vendors set up and some just beginning to set up. There was a registration line that was wrapped around the tiny area. I don’t remember the library being as small as it was. Maybe there have been renovations in the last 20 years? Maybe? There was an exhibit, Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination, on display. It was due to end on December 31, 2015 but was extended specifically for this event. I walked into the exhibit area before checking in.
I met the creator and writer of the Hafrocentric comic, Jewels Smith (@hafrocentric)
And a fellow Philadelphian, Guy Sims, writer of the Brotherman comics (@bigcitycorp)
I tried to view the rest of the library because I had planned to do some writing and research but was stopped by security guards. Apparently, I could not access the full library today. The panel discussion I wanted to attend, Images in Action, was not due to begin until noon and I was really hot in my awesome new coat so I took a short walk around the block and took in Harlem a bit. I think I was gone for about fifteen minutes. When I returned it seemed that the number of people doubled in fifteen minutes. We had to wait in line to get into the auditorium for the panel discussion.
Finally got a chance to sit. The Images in Action panel will begin shortly. I am hungry. And I think I’m a little overwhelmed by all of the people in such a small space. There are so many different types of people here. It seems to be too different for me.
The panel discussions was interesting. And the audience was interesting as well. While the artists spoke of using their art to advance social justice issues, the audience went for attention seeking behaviors. Their costumes. Their questions. Their long-winded rants. After the panel discussion, I headed over to the Afrofuturism 2.0 presentation. It was located in a tiny room on the lower level. There were only a few chairs set out so it quickly became standing room only. I took a spot in the far right corner. By the time the presentation started, I was tired and hungry and very overwhelmed by the amount of people in a small space. Fifteen minutes into it, I left. My hunger invaded my ears and I was unable to process the words of the presenter. When I finally made it through the crowd to the outside, there was a line of people wrapped around the front of the building waiting to get into the festival. Once I saw the amount of people trying to get into the already crowded building, I’d made my decision to go home.
I texted my friend, told him I was coming home early. The day did not go as planned and the festival just wasn’t for me. I would take it as a learning experience.
I walked down Malcolm X Boulevard in attempt to find a place to eat. I stopped in Sylvia’s, sat at the counter for ten minutes before someone stopped to say, “I’ll be right with you.” I left. I was becoming grumpy and probably should have packed a Snickers. I checked the train schedule and the Megabus schedule. I could make the 3:20p Megabus and hope that it was not crowded so that I could change my ticket from 8:20p to the earlier bus.
I got off the train in Manhattan and walked down 34th Street toward the Megabus stop. There was a Wendy’s on the way. I stopped in and ordered fries. There was a man there attempting to order but the way his heroin nod was set up… security had to escort him out. My fries were ready and I left just as security approached the man. I didn’t see the actual escort.
I was able to change my ticket. I even sat in my preferred seat, the upstairs window seat on the left in the back row. I was back inside of my house by 6pm.
I always try to find the lesson in every experience, especially the uncomfortable ones. In this, I learned that crowds in small spaces isn’t for me. I have to prepare myself for it. What I prepared for was the freedom of a library. (Did I mention the awesome main branch of the Philadelphia library?) I should have just packed a lunch or made reservations at a restaurant that I’d picked prior to that day. I had snacks but I needed a meal. I learned that I’m only marginally interested in comics. I am not as engulfed as people who attend festivals and Comicons are in the medium. I can appreciate the art and the entertainment but it is not my life.
Tired. Hungry. Hot (my coat is the truth!). Foiled plans. Home is where I needed to be to reboot and try something else.
This trip was about overcoming my fear and getting to know myself as a free woman. I have been responsible to and for someone else for most of my life. This is the first time period in which I am responsible to and for only myself. It’s new. It’s different. It’s scary. And, so, I take baby steps. This trip was a baby step.
The next solo adventure will be better.