P.M.-Dawn: The Flex Crew - Late Show

Erica Thompson

I never expected to be discussing the concept of identity in America on the back patio of Skully's Music-Diner at 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday night. But that's what happened recently when I attended the club's weekly reggae night, featuring the Flex Crew live band.

I arrived promptly at 10 p.m., secretly hoping that the band would start right away so I could enjoy the music for a little while and be out by midnight. However, I soon discovered that I would have to keep myself occupied for quite some time. I tried to check my makeup in the bathroom, but the bright red light drastically altered my perception of my reflection.

I ordered my very first PBR and sat alone in a booth. I didn't see any chances to strike up a conversation; there were only a few people scattered here and there, and they didn't look like they wanted to be bothered. Instead, I surveyed the area and immediately had some questions. What is the significance, if any, of the refrigerator painted with flames and the pink and yellow decorative shark, both hanging above the bar? Can I go into the other room? How do I get upstairs?

I discovered the answers to the latter two questions 30 minutes later when we were welcomed into the stage area. However, I decided to remain downstairs near the dance floor where one lone man was dancing - quite well - to the DJ's preshow set. I later learned that his name is Mapack. He explained that his confidence comes from accessing his inner child, who doesn't care if people are watching.

My confidence came from accessing another PBR, and I was soon dancing unapologetically. The Flex Crew, which finally began its set at 11 p.m., was amazing! I'm not a reggae expert, but the band seemed pretty authentic to me. By 12:30 a.m., the dance floor was full of young people from a variety of cultures. I danced with an Ethiopian statistician, a man from Trinidad and Mapack, who is from Nigeria.

Mapack introduced me to his friend DP, also from Africa, who is working to create the "Nigerian version of NPR." They invited me outside to tell them more about my writing career, but the conversation took a really interesting turn. We talked about what it means to be "African," "African-American" and "American" in the United States. Mapack also touched on the difficulty that he has tracing his family history pre-colonialism.

Before long, it was 2 a.m., and everyone began filing out of the venue. Going to work at 9 a.m. was challenging, but being surprised with opportunities to meet intriguing people is always worth the hassle - and it's becoming a pleasant pattern here in Columbus.