Friday, February 19, 2010

A Commuter's Journey

By Casey Tolfree

When I found out I had to go see two plays for my African American Women Playwrights class, I was at first a little flustered. Two more days I had to take off of work. Two more weeks that would be thrown completely out of wack. That feeling wore off though and I was excited. It's always great to see performances. On the upside I figured maybe I could use one of them as a cultural event for my practicum class blog.

I wasn't going to blog about the performance of Topdog/Underdog at Adelphi University on Feb. 18. I wasn't going to just take an easy path but as it turns out it was anything but easy.

I arrived on campus around 5:45 p.m., more than a little early but I didn't have to sit in any traffic and I ran into a friend so it worked out well.

The play Topdog/Underdog, written by Suzan-Lori Parks, was a reading experience from the first time I picked it up. The play itself was great. I understood why it received a Pultizer Prize for Drama in 2002. Parks has done an amazing thing in Topdog that allows us to reach out and understand the lives of brothers, Lincoln and Booth.

Seeing Parks words performed on stage though was something completely different. I laughed, a cried (not really but I felt for them), I was mesmorized by the rivalry presented to me on stage. Two of my classmates comprised the cast, Matthew Hancock and Patrick Johnson. Seeing them come to life on stage was an experience I won't soon forget. It's easy to see an actor on stage but to see someone you sit next to in class once a week come to life as another being and to completely embrace that character. It was definitely an experience.

After the play their was a brief talkback. I think it might have been longer but the play ended after 10 p.m. and everyone seemed tired. The actors spoke about the process they went through to even get Adelphi to allow them to put on the performance. We learned about the idea behind the set. It was in the round, with the audience on three sides and a small space in the middle as the stage. The set was a room at a boarding house where the brothers lived. The set designer used a fence and barbed wire to portray the room.

The set designer saw the rivalry between the brothers as a constant dog fight and tried to get the set to look like a dog fight arena of sorts.

Like I said the talkback was brief. But my trip home was anything but brief. I go to Adelphi University's MFA program. I commute from Westchester county. A 35 mile drive, about an hour trip, just to get there. It's a hike but I make it and most days I dont' mind it. It gives me time to think about my writing or work out revisions in my head.

However, walking out of the play last night at 10:40 p.m. I got in my car, pulled out of my spot, only to realize I had the flattest of flat tires. Yeah, great. I went to public safety who kindly informed me that they couldn't help me because of insurance issues, but the gentleman who I found was at least helpful. He made sure he found someone to come out and at least get my donut on my car so I could drive somewhere.

The process however was long. We didn't find someone willing to come out to Adelphi and change a tire for almost an hour. It then took the repair guy almost an hour to get out to Adelphi and about 40 minutes to change the tire. It was a process. I didn't get in my car until after 1 a.m.

I don't know what you know about donuts but let me tell you, you can't drive very fast or very far on them. Luckily, I have relatives in the Bronx who were nice enough to lodge me for the night. So I drove 30 mph up the Cross Island and over the Throgs Neck Bridge to my Uncle's. I didn't get there until after 1:30 a.m.

I had to call out of work too because even with the donut I still can't get all the way home until I get two new tires. Yes, two. Both front tires are shot. Thank God for tax refunds. I'm actually writing this from my Uncle's. He's playing Halo and I'm blogging. We talk every now and again but I guess that's how it is when you're 23. They don't have to entertain you. A place to sleep was more than enough for me though. I just wanted to not be stranded. And though I'm still stranded at least it's somewhere I am safe.

I feel like this was a cultural experience because I saw so many different sides to humanity out there stranded. The public safety officer was really nice to me. He helped me out. The rest of public safety kicked me out of their office and made me wait alone in the lobby of Levermore Hall for the mechanic. Nice, I know.

The mechanic was really nice. He called to check on me as I was driving home to make sure my donut was okay and everything.

My job on the other hand gave me a hard time about not coming in. I tried explaining how I was literally stranded. My car couldn't make it to Westchester and that Starbucks would have to go on without me but they didn't seem to want to hear it. (I found out later it was because my shift supervisor had to go to a funeral but I couldn't predict this was going to happen).

You learn a lot about people when you are stranded late at night. I learned a lot about myself. I don't handle stress well, not when it comes to my car, my job, my property (ie my Macbook). I usually cry and freak out. I remained calm the entire time. I dealt with everything as it came and figured it out.

So maybe I didn't have an indepth conversation with a writer about process or style but Topdog/Underdog isn't a performance I will soon forget and for that reason I'm putting it on here because it was an event for me. I saw a play about how people tear each other down and then I went outside and had to depend on the kindness of others to get me home (or close enough). I see a parallel. Maybe I'm wrong but it was an experience I won't soon forgot and I am absolutely going home and signing up for AAA.


  1. Great post. Very touching. I would love to go to a Suzan-Lori Parks play!! What a great experience to say that you have had!

  2. Fun balanced with Frustration!

    Don't base too much on having AAA. As an undergrad I kept up AAA because I had an old car. I accidentally locked my keys in the car (long story on how easy this was to do on this car!) at work. I called them at the start of my shift and 5 hours later (an hour after my shift) they finally showed up.

    I was then running late. I had a second job to get to. I only had enough time to drive there. Apparently my car was low on gas and in my hurry I thought it would be ok. The car broke down in the middle of nowhere, out of gas. I had to walk a mile back to the place I worked at midnight to call AAA. They said I had to go back to my car. I walked the mile back and waited another hour. They never showed. Walked back to the store I worked in and called my boyfriend at like 2 or 3 in the morning to buy a gas can and come help me.

    Cancelled AAA. Of course I didn't have a cell phone. The only cell phones then were big and for business people.

    Glad the one person in public safety and the mechanic were nice.

    On a side note, check your auto insurance (i worked in auto claims for 9 years) you probably have H coverage or ERS emergency road side coverage that you already pay for.

    Sorry for the long post!


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