Day 4 UBC, 20171004 On the Way Over

I am not Little Suzy Homemaker.

 Check out one of my more disastrous kitchen escapades here.

 Or my leap into needle arts here.

I wasn’t even very good at stocking a lemonade stand. The only good thing to come out of that was a poem I turned into a children’s book, “Sal and the Entrepreneurial Spirits.” (Yes! They’re for sale!)

 So anybody who knew me knew I was out of my mind the day I said, “Oh, maybe I should run a coffee house / art center!”

I don’t drink coffee, and as for art, I can barely draw my name.

So there I was in 1989, single and wanting to meet people.

I don’t drink much in the way of liquor, beer, or wine (maybe oNew Year’s Eve, every ten years or so), and I don’t smoke. Oh, and did I mention that I’m awkward in social situations? So the bar scene was OUT.

What was a gal to do?

Using my philosophy, best described as, “Step off the cliff and grow your wings on the way down,” I decided that if I provided musicians and poets with a weekly open mic, I’d soon be surrounded by the kinds of peeps I was most drawn to — creative folks who needed a place to mingle and share their art.

What was I thinking?

At the time, I was president of my local art society, and I cajoled the membership into allowing me to use our building to embrace the performing arts. They didn’t like it much, but I was their president, so …

My first night, I dragged out the banquet tables, used every table cover I could lay my hands on, topped them with little votive candles in little glass … glasses, and put down a small throw rug to define the performance area. I set a four-legged stool on the rug and turned out the overhead lights. Voila! Instant coffeehouse.

My friend Elaine and her husband Drew, and my former fella Jack and his new wife Georgia were the only comers. Fortunately, both guys were exceedingly talented musicians, and Elaine was an English teacher who had a great store of poetry, and I write poetry, so we made a decent night of it.

The five of us talked up the CAMS Acoustic Coffeehouse, and within a month, we had wannabee musicians, tentative poets, and a couple of real hitters joining us to swap our talents.

Some nights it was SRO. Others we nudged each other to stay awake. But word spread, and soon we needed a larger venue and a sound system. It was working!

At the height of CAMS’s popularity, we even had a spontaneous “mosh pit.” People actually surged the stage (my Dad built it) and passed performers overhead, hand over hand, to the back of the room. We were happenin’, man.

And then there were the poets … who could clear the room in five seconds flat. Not the good ones, mind you — we had a good number of talented wordsmiths — but the chronic ones who thought “poetry” was another way of saying “personal journal,” and turned up to share the worst of their pain in front of total strangers.

Many of them started their sets by informing us, “I wrote this on the way over,” and, as if on cue, every seat in the house emptied in a flash. I was left to brazen it out, watching nervous not-really-poets hold their newly penned works in their shaking hands.

All these years later, I feel like I know what they were going through, trying to find a compassionate ear in the audiences of local open mics.

As I sit here at the keyboard, typing away at what’s running through my mind, I realize that when I post this blog, I’m confessing that I, too, “wrote this on the way over.”

Good morning!

 

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About Billie Noakes

The writer you want for crisp, clean copy.
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14 Responses to Day 4 UBC, 20171004 On the Way Over

  1. Wonderful. I’m afraid you’re getting me hooked as a regular reader.

    I have seen plenty of wannabe poets who believe they’ve already arrived when what they write is atrocious. I also write verse and some blank verse. Some is poetry and some isn’t. The more I emotional pain I caused myself with my mistakes in relationships, the better the poetry turned out. But after my son died suddenly in an accident at 14 I couldn’t write a line of poetry. Shock doesn’t inspire me the way personal drama does. Real pain seems to have cured me of writing anything but an occasional verse.

  2. Oh, Barbara, I am so sorry you lost your boy so tragically. I never had children, but I have friends who have suffered their loss, and seeing the emptiness in their eyes is heart-wrenching.

    And, oh, yeah. Those wannabe poets can make you crazy. One old gent who fancied himself a mentor took great pride in showcasing some of the worst writers I’ve ever met. “To promote poetry as a whole,” he would say. “Go ahead,” I’d answer. “Promote it as a hole. I’ll promote it as a summit.” He really got on my nerves!

    Thank you for stopping by so early in the day. I was glad to see your post this morning, too. You may be the push that finally gets me to explore California!

  3. Lauren McLaughlin says:

    I’m sorry I missed this coffeehouse in its day – I was right here in Pinellas County – just too busy with my own life I guess. Thanks for sharing the memories.

  4. Preeti says:

    I’ve taken to searching for your post everyday in the UBC group. Great read! 😊

  5. You would have liked it, Lauren. A few months after moving to our 2nd location, I received a message on the answering machine (which did NOT include my own name in the outgoing message). The guy was surprised and asked if this was Billie Noakes–he’d appeared on my art show, Avenues in Art, back when I worked for Vision Cable, when he was just 16 years old. A very talented kid Ken Keller and he was now supporting himself as a musician! He became a regular at CAMS. I met BFF Bob there. I just loved it. Many good memories.

  6. Thank you so much! I’m enjoying it, and happy to see so many diverse writers in the UBC!

  7. Alana says:

    I very much wish you had more time to blog, Billie. You are quite the storyteller. I would never, ever have that kind of chutzpah, that’s for sure. Like that day when I visited the apartment I first lived in as a newlywed. And you made it all possible because you are so not-shy. Maybe I should republish those posts one day.

  8. Jill says:

    Good words and great story of growth. I need to learn to step out like this. I get irritated sometimes with the “wrote this on the way over crowd” because I’m such a learned planner. Maybe it’s time to do something spontaneous!

  9. Glenda Cates says:

    Lovely and like you I have those mornings where I wrote this on the way over. I wish I could have been there not, to share but just to listen as I love Music and have always wanted to go to a Poetry Reading.

  10. Bill Horton says:

    CAMS, what great memories. I wonder how many other wallflowers were inspired by having that venue to bloom into.

    Bill
    Mixer of metaphors

  11. Jeanine says:

    Do you know, I have kinda-sorta wanted to have a coffeehouse but with tea? With couches or chairs to get comfy on, a fireplace, maybe some books & board games. I doubt it will ever happen, but I am charmed by the story of your coffeehouse! Thanks for sharing it & congratulations on your success. 🙂

  12. Jeanine, if you can manage the coffeehouse, DO IT! Coffee, tea, milk shakes–doesn’t matter. CAMS had couches and upholstered chairs, floor lamps and tablelamps, a collection of board games, several bookcases with paperbacks and hardbacks, even a display case for the CDs and poetry books that the performers had for sale. Maybe you can find an art center looking to imcrease traffic, or a coffee shop that’s only open in the morning and would like to bring in new revenues at night. You can host an open mic at an indy book store. Get outside that box, gal! I’ll help with moral support and suggestions, if you want. But if it’s a true dream of yours, you’ve got to do it.

  13. Love it! I wish there was a place where I live that is like that.

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