Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yucca Valley "Street"

I checked out of that Best Western and drove 6 miles over to Joshua Tree (the town) to get breakfast at the Country Kitchen, a small restaurant where Gosia and I had enjoyed breakfast last year. The same Chinese proprietor lady was there, beaming good will and cheer and serving great homemade food. As I walked out the front entrance to go around back to get the car, a woman passed me, staring straight ahead and talking to herself. Hmmm, crazies here too. I got in the car, ready to turn onto the highway back to Yucca Valley, and considered having a toke to lighten the day ahead, but decided to put it off, no need.

As I started along the highway, I spotted a hitchhiker, female, and pulled over to let her in. Whoah, the same woman who had just passed me by, looking like something of a blend between someone you'd encounter at Burning Man and the Lower East Side (back in the day). Oh well, freak magnet that I am, I let her in for a ride back to Yucca Valley. Right away she started in, "Oh, my mouth is in such pain, I've got this abscess in my gum..." Wow, I recognized that blurb - it's what she was saying as she passed me on the sidewalk. Obviously she had been rehearsing this monologue for the next person she met. And it went on, "got any pain-killers" (no), "well, what would really kill the pain is a little weed, got any?". Bingo, just after I had put it off, here comes an external influence, so I relented, "sure, a little". So I pulled off the road and rolled a little, and we toked up together. Back on the highway, we had a good laugh as "Don't Bogart That Joint" came over the radio. The 60s station was on, and she was singing along with all the tunes - "This is my music, my parents played all these songs when I was little." I'm not great at guessing ages, but she looked about 40, and taking into consideration the probable detrimental effects of the probably harmful lifestyle she'd been living, I figured mid-30s; and she turned out to be 37.

Regarding the weed, instead of enjoying the slight lift we'd gotten, all she could talk about was getting more, and how fantastic the stuff she was planning to get was (compulsive obsessive). I did need to stock up a bit, but wasn't going to risk buying any significant amount of unknown through some crazy chick I'd met, so I figured I'd go in on a dime with her just to sample it. We pulled into the parking lot of a small mall, at the bank so she could get $10 from the cash machine, and I sat in the car as she went out to meet the guy at the curb holding the pizza place poster for passing cars, who would then call his friend to make a drop-off. All this for such a minuscule transaction. And then the wait stretched into 1/2 hour, then an hour. But it was interesting hanging out with Laura, the pizza dude, and his girlfriend, getting some feeling for local life (of one sort). When it finally showed up, she ran over to me and said "let's go", but I was on the phone with my brother back home, so told her to wait - clearly torture for the poor thing. We did some of it, and it was truly strong, so I just had a touch, and didn't take any more from her. She had me turn on a little street, into an alley, and leave her at the back door to an unmarked "social club" where she was gonna get something to eat. I drove away relieved that I wasn't gonna have to figure out how to get rid of her, but it was an interesting encounter, totally unexpected in a place like Yucca Valley. Ya just never know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

L.A. - Yucca Valley

I finally left the motel on Ventura Blvd on Wednesday morning. After having the power steering gearbox replaced, I noticed that my fluid was empty again, so the problem hadn't been fixed. So I headed up to Mike's auto again, where he found a stripped bolt on the power steering pump (probably the result of the intense vibrations the car had endured on the rough roads). He fixed it at no charge, and I headed over into the Angeles National Forest to take a scenic route to Joshua Tree.

It's amazing how you can drive such a short distance from L.A. and find yourself in such high mountains, from which you can see downtown miles away. I saw signs on the road saying the road was closed ahead, and figured I'd turn off onto a northbound road out of the forest and continue west. I assumed there'd be a sign denoting the last chance to turn off, but when I finally came to the closed road, I had to drive back 25 miles to find an alternate route up out of the park. Up and over, I drove through flat country, past Victorville, and arrived at Yucca Valley by nightfall.

I checked into a Best Western hotel in Yucca Valley. Took a non-smoking room, too tired to continue searching. Big mistake this time - here, I had to take an elevator down from my 3rd-floor room and walk outside through the lobby every time I wanted a smoke. I know smoking is bad for you, blah-blah, but you'd think businesses could show a little more consideration for their paying customers.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coast to Ragged Point Inn

I was glad to leave the Surf Motel behind on Sunday morning, and stopped in at Mel's on Geary Blvd. for breakfast. I spend so little time out west, and I've already got myself in a rut - but I love Mel's. Eager to continue my southward journey, I headed down US-101, and got off in Palo Alto to check out the old neighborhood (I'd spent a year out here attending Stanford in '67). I stopped in at a Starbuck's on University Avenue, where I used to shop with my young wife so many years ago, and compared the passing crowds to what it looked like in the 60s (my memories refreshed from having watched Getting Straight the night before). Not quite as drastic a change as, say, the Lower East Side, but a totally different world today.

Back on 101, I turned off before San Jose and headed over towards the coast and Santa Cruz. This part of the coast had no cloud cover, and I soaked up the sun on the drive south from there, passing through Big Sur in the afternoon. I had considered staying there, but I remembered from last year's trip that none of the little motels/cabins had internet, so I kept on going. I've driven this route many times over the years, and it's still one of the most beautiful rides, with the mountains ending right at the coastline, and the waves pounding far below the edge of the road. By late afternoon I was miles down the coast, on the long stretch of CA-1 with hardly any services, and it was starting to look like I wouldn't find a place to stop for the night before San Luis Obispo, when it would be dark. Damn, I didn't wanna be driving this coast highway with so many hairpin turns after dark!

But then, on a long stretch of empty highway north of San Simeon, I spotted the Ragged Point Inn, a hotel with cabins and a restaurant I'd never noticed before, so I pulled in just before sunset. I got an amazing room, with glass doors facing the ocean 350 feet below. The grounds on this piece of rock jutting out from the coast were landscaped, and the restaurant was really fine. Again forgetting about budgeting, I got a great steak and watched the sun go down through the glass walls of the restaurant.

After a few hours online, I went out for a walk and found that there was a full moon. I've seen the Pacific coast many times by day, but I'd never experienced it by the light of the moon. I sat gazing at the waves pounding the rocks far below, their sound breaking the silence of the night. And walking around the gardens was sublime. The light was much lower than daytime, and the colors way subdued - like a faded old black-and-white movie. Looking up at the moon, I saw that there was a this layer of clouds in front of it, moving slowly steadily inland. So I waited for it to pass, knowing that this light would become even brighter after a while. Which it did. Out over the sea, I could see what appeared to be an army of clouds moving in to the shore. I couldn't detect their motion, as they were too far off, but I knew they were advancing as steadily as the cloud had passed revealing the moon. But I stood for a long time taking in this sight, at the edge of the steep slope leading down to the water. As great as this entire adventure has been for me, I couldn't help but think that this was the kind of scene were it might have been even better to have someone at my side to share it with. (Well, I had one person in particular in mind, but we won't go into that here).

San Francisco area

As soon as I got to my motel in Half Moon Bay, I checked the city listings online to see what might be going on up in the city. There were a few bands playing at Annie's Social Club. I'd gone there on last year's trip, but although they told me it was usually a "punk club", both nights I'd gone were folksy acoustic nights. I checked tonight's bands on myspace and they seemed alright, so I crossed the peninsula and headed up El Camino Real.

The atmosphere at Annie's was pretty cool (considering), Cramps and such playing. The first band, the Hi-Nobles from the Bay Area, were high-energy funk, with lead singer Scotty in his polyester suit leaping about and swinging from pipes while he belted out the tunes. Band #2 were the Laundronauts from British Columbia, a 3-piece who appeared in dazzling white suits and spectacles. They were pretty accomplished musicians, but their "thing" was to create songs with laundry connections - tunes like "Unbalanced Load," "Hard Water,", "Spin Cycle" etc., and the novelty wore off for me after a while. The Love Me Nots from Phoenix AZ were the headliners, and they totally blew me away. Lead singer Nicole reminded me of Chrissie Hynde and Betty Blowtorch, putting her entire body into the performance while knocking out amazing riffs on her classic Farfisa. I managed to spare some of my attention for the enchanting female bass player who kept the foundation pulsing with her fingers and pelvis. After the show, I bought both their CDs. Often when I buy a band's CD after an exciting show, it doesn't measure up to the live performance, but these tracks kept me rockin way down the coast in the Eldo.

Out of the club before 2 AM (California!), I went to Mel's Drive-In over on Lombard St. I've made a ritual of eating at Mel's while out there, and the post-club crowd along with the 50s music provided a nice backdrop to my late night dinner. The drive back down the winding highway to Half Moon Bay past 3 AM was a bit harrowing, but I made it.

I escaped the cold cloud cover Saturday morning and headed over the hills to visit a guy on the staff of A Lucky Dog, a pet care company whose website I manage. We'd communicated a lot via email and phone, and I wanted to meet him in person. He lives on the bay (sunny) side of the hills, and besides a house has a couple of horses, rabbits, dogs, and room to board plenty of dogs for the company. Great to see the life another ex-New Yorker has found after getting away.

I cruised on up to the city again and found a cheap motel on Lombard St. Pretty downscale, but I just need space and internet. After the late Friday night, I lay down for a short nap around 7:30 before heading out again. I was woken up around 3 AM by a pounding on the door (so much for another evening on the town). There stood a diminutive dude, who with a definitive speech impediment asked for J-j-j-j-jennifer. "Sorry, wrong room" - he went on about "m-m-m-medication". I couldn't tell if he was bringing Jennifer her medication or looking for some (most likely the latter), but I got rid of him. Well, here I was at 3 AM with a good night's sleep behind me, so I figured I'd go out to eat. Down in the parking lot, a loitering brother asked me for change (ah, back in the city), and the all-night IHOP next door was filled with a distinctly less interesting clientele than Mel's (which it's impossible to characterize in a politically-correct way, nuff said).

Back at the Surf Motel, wide awake at 4 AM, I watched a 1970 movie online called Getting Straight, where Elliott Gould plays a Viet Nam vet who's going back to college, somewhat wiser and more cynical than all the naive idealistic classmates who are protesting and rioting for control of the university. It paints a vivid picture of those times, which look so vastly different in retrospect.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fort Bragg - Half Moon Bay

Friday morning, I dispensed with the idea of sticking close to the coast for the ride down to SFO; the extra travel time wasn't worth it, since it was gonna be cold and cloudy anyway. So I headed east from Fort Bragg to get onto US-101 for a quicker ride. After I had gone about 10 miles into the hills and redwood forests, the sky was blue again, and the temperature back up in the 80s. Damn, I had spent 3 days holed up in a motel with lousy weather outside, when all this was only minutes away!

I sped on down US-101, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and it felt good to be on the familiar streets of the city. I stayed on CA-1 through Golden Gate Park, and veered off towards the ocean for the drive down the coast to Half Moon Bay. Arriving after dark, it was cloudy and cold, and I regretted doing the old reservation thing instead of cruising around for a place to stay as I usually do. I remembered from my days at Stanford how the Los Altos Hills, a small mountain range running up the center of the San Francisco Peninsula, act like a dam against the marine layer; as you can see from the air coming into SFO airport, the clouds come in and stop at the hills, and the bay side of the peninsula enjoys sunny skies regardless of what's on the ocean side. This was confirmed as I later drove the eastbound highway towards US-101 on the bay side, and the night sky opened up for a clear ride up to the City. So while it was good to have a place to stay, with Internet, I figured I'd find another with better weather tomorrow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crescent City - Fort Bragg

When I left Sequoia de O on Tuesday morning, the sun had already burned off the marine layer of white clouds, and I bade farewell to Scott and Lisé under a warm sunny sky. As he predicted, only a few miles south Crescent City was still covered by a low white cloud layer, and the temperature was a few degrees colder. It remained this way all down the California coast, lifting only when US-101 occasionally veered inland and there was some blue sky above the redwoods.

During one of these drives through the woods, I took an exit off US-101 at Klamath, CA to get gas about 30 miles south of Crescent City, and wound up on a little winding road. Taking a 20 mph right turn at around 35, the car swerved momentarily into the wrong lane, and wouldn't you know it, a car came around the next turn right at me. And wouldn't you know it, it turned out to be a cop car! Sure enough, he turned around and caught up with me, and pulled me over. A cheerful dude less than half my age, he said "you almost hit me", and I explained that I was low on fuel, and the turn took me by surprise as I was checking my gas gauge. Then he asked "why aren't you wearing your seat belt?", and I explained how on this old car, the belt retracts a little every time I go over a bump, eventually getting so tight it hurts. No excuse, he wrote me a ticket. I guess it was lucky I forgot to fasten the belt when I got pulled over, as it gave him something to write up besides the wrong-lane thing, which would have been a moving violation. I promised to wear the belt from now on, and tried it for about a half hour, but it did get tighter and tighter, and I went back to beltless as I've been throughout the trip.

At Legget CA, US-101 continues down to San Francisco inland from the coast, so I turned off onto CA-1 to follow the coast more closely. I continued the drive down the coast with the sky shrouded by the low cloud cover and a chilly wind, having set my sights on Mendocino, which was supposed to be a nice seaside town. The coast and beaches are beautiful, the highway excursions inland among the mountains and redwoods are beautiful, but I miss the heat of the desert. Arriving at Mendocino just after dark, I drove around the little streets checking out the hotels I found on the iPhone, and they were all pretty upscale resort-type places, prices reflected in the ornate woodwork etc. I didn't feel the need to sleep surrounded by the affectations of luxury, so I turned around and headed back up the road a few miles to Fort Bragg, which seemed to be a much "plainer" town, stretched along CA-1, and checked into the reasonably-priced Surf Motel at the southern end of town. Fort Bragg seemed to be a long thin town straddling the highway, and I had dinner at a Denny's I found at the northern end.

I decided to stay another day to try to get some website work done at the motel. No fun driving on down the coast with the marine layer covering everything, and I had no schedule pulling me onward. Checking out the town next day by getting off the highway and into the streets, I found shop-lined streets and a little coffee shop where I'd eat for the rest of the time I was there. It was pretty busy with mid-California-type people, with their laptops and kids (and Obama T-shirts). It turns out that Fort Bragg is the largest city on the coast between San Francisco and Eureka, and is something of a tourist haven (not while I was there, though). An old railroad line winds its way through mountainous terrain from what used to be the main line 40 miles inland at Willets, which has been maintained as a tourist attraction, running a "Skunk Train" with restored antique cars. I didn't ride it, nor did I visit the town museum or botanical gardens, but I got a better idea of this place that at first appeared to be nothing more than a strip of businesses along the highway.

I wound up staying 3 nights at the Surf Motel, and actually did get some work done. But I realized I was waiting for the sun, waiting for the sun, waiting... for... the sun. And it might not come. So I decided to get outta town Friday and make it down to San Francisco. For the first time, I called ahead for reservations at the Seal Rock Inn at the end of Geary Blvd, where I used to stay in the 80s. But it was booked solid, so I called some other motels in town - and they were all booked up too. So I made a reservation at a Day's Inn down the coast at Half Moon Bay, just to avoid driving around looking for a vacancy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sequoia de O

Scott and his wife Lisé call their home Sequoia de O. Scott is a friend who I met by lucky coincidence and have been fortunate to maintain contact with for some years. He was an old friend of my friend RT Pierce, who ended his life by going off the Queensboro Bridge four years ago, and I met Scott when he visited RT in NY some years earlier. We had kept in touch by email, and Scott met a woman at school in Santa Barbara a few years ago. Ever since he told me they married and bought a house in Northern California, I'd looked forward to visiting him in his new life. I first stopped by on last year's cross-country trip, and marveled at what they have created for themselves during my stay there.

So I looked forward with great anticipation to this year's visit, and it revitalized me just as last year's visit has. Scott spends most of his time (when he's not working on his painting or writing) cultivating and designing an amazing garden environment in the backyard of their 110'x60' plot of land. It is truly a botanical garden of exceptional richness and quality, with a vast number of plants, flowers trees, statues, paths with arbors and trellises, a pond with a recirculating waterfall, and two dogs; and this year two more deeper ponds are being dug, which will be interconnected by a stream and traversed by wooden bridges. No surprise that local horticultural societies offer tours of the property. Although it's pretty far from my normal world, I loved walking around the garden as Scott introduced me to innumerable plants, trees and flowers by name, reminding me to take whiffs of the more aromatic varieties. And somehow sitting out there surrounded by all that foliage and gazing at one of the Buddha statues filled me with a peaceful feeling I've rarely known. The land (like much of the Northwest) was formerly covered with redwood forests, which were ravaged by logging until as recently as the 1950s, and there are massive stumps around the landscape. The largest stump (nicknamed "Grandma") in the backyard is some 20' across and 12' high, and Scott has added a stairway up the side and railings around the top; he's presently carving one side of it to accommodate a waterfall and pool to feed the new pools and streams being constructed below. Like all redwood stumps, it has a number of secondary-growth small redwood trees sprouting from it, already sizable after only a few decades.

The house is richly decorated with his paintings and photography (mostly of the surrounding landscape and seascape), and the 2nd-story rear deck is adorned with many potted plants and trees. There's also a centrally-located wind chime about 10' tall, with low-pitched chimes tuned to a pentatonic scale. This is where I spent a good deal of time at a table working at the computer - a far cry from my normal space in my tiny Greenpoint room! A much larger wind chime hangs from a 16' tripod straddling one of the ponds under construction in the yard, emanating ever deeper tones quite different from the tinkle of most window chimes.

We went on several outings during the day - notably up to Harris Beach just over the border in Oregon, to get down among the huge rocks to watch the sun set, and inland to the Smith River Nat'l Recreation Area, driving through the towering redwood trees to the river bank. We spent a couple of evenings sitting around a fire in the fire pit in the backyard, talking about life and all manner of things., and telling crazy stories.

Scott's email signature reflects what I experienced during my visit:
Art beautifies existence as mythology shapes it and nature enriches it.

On Monday, my last afternoon there, I spent hours emptying the car and trunk and trying to remove the last of the playa dust from everything. Hopeless - you can brush it, hose it, wipe it, and when it dries there's still dust remaining everywhere. Leave it to time.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Oregon coast

I got out of the Seaside Comfort Inn by the 11 AM checkout time, and headed down 101 along the coast on another bright sunny day. US-101 really hugs the coastline most of the time, diverting slightly inland at times, so the drive alternates between fantastic Pacific views and forays into the redwood forests that end just before the sea. As many times as I've driven the coast between San Francisco and L.A., I'd never traveled the coast route up in Oregon, which is quite different.
The San Andreas fault comes up from the south and curves out to the ocean at the Oregon-California border, and there's another fault some miles off the coast in Oregon, and those plate movements have carved a much more rocky shoreline than in the south. Huge rock formations stand off most of the beaches in Oregon, making for stunning views. After passing through a number of beachside towns, and with the inner drive to cover lots of miles behind me, I decided to stop after only 123 miles at the town of Newport, which had a lot of resorts. I cast budgeting to the winds, and checked into the Hallmark Resort hotel, off the highway and right on the beach. All the rooms face the ocean, and my balcony faced a smooth beach extending out to the breaking tide. The setting sun lit up the room, and a walk on the beach after dark let me take in the waves and incredible number of stars before getting back to work in the room. Nice.

Continuing down CA-1 in the morning, I enjoyed another day driving down along the magnificent Oregon coast under a bright sunny sky. Just across the California border, I arrived at the home of my friend Scott around sunset, just north of Crescent City, CA.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Seattle - Seaside, OR

Before leaving Seattle, I wanted to see my old friend Ruth. She and I had been friends for several year in the 70's, back when I was designing video editing software and she was one of my end users (an editor). We used to confide in each other for hours on matters of the heart, discussing our affairs with other people, and finally (inevitably, one might say) we found each other's fire. There was a period of uncertainty (mostly on her part) before we moved in together, in the 9 E. 10th St. apartment she found and I lived in for the next 13 years. Our two years of cohabitation was acknowledged to be a mistake afterwards, and I have to admit I was partly to blame for pressuring her to do it at the time. But we've remained friends throughout the decades, and realize that our long friendship is more grounded in the relationship we had before we hooked up than in that tumultuous period of romantic melodrama.

I visited her in Seattle, where she has lived happily with the rabbi she married over 20 years ago. Who woulda thunk? We were both surprised at the memory holes we both have, and filled each other in on details of our life the other had forgotten. It was amazing to look through her photo album and see pictures of us and JP, on trips I have no recollection of, like the hiking tour of New England inns, and the drive up the California coast. The rabbi husband was away, but hopefully I'll get to meet him some day - sounds like an awesome character.

So it was late Monday afternoon by the time I headed out of the city and turned toward the coast on US-101. I passed through some logging towns on the way west, and finally reached the Pacific Ocean around sunset, thus ending the trip segment filled with that anticipation of driving to the other side of the country. It's always great to take that first long look at the expanse of the Pacific with that feeling of "I made it." I stopped for the night at the first town on the coast, Seaside, Oregon, which turned out to be a cutesy resort town. The main street, perpendicular to the shore, is lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants, which were mostly vacant at this time of year. It's called Broadway Avenue (one of many such streets in towns around the country apparently named by people who didn't realize that "Broad Way" is complete in itself, and the additional "street" or "avenue" term is redundant.) At the beach end of the street is a statue of Lewis & Clark, and a plaque hailing this as the end of the Lewis & Clark trail. They spent the winter of 1806 at Fort Clatsop about 10 miles north of the town, but this is where their salt camp was located, where they extracted salt from sea water.

Tuesday morning, I decided to stay a second night at the Comfort Inn, in order to give myself a break from driving and get some work done. Noticing that I had a couple of headlight beams missing, I brought the car to a service station on Tuesday, and the bike I was still carrying in the back seat came in handy for getting back to the motel. As much as I love being on the road, it felt good to be stationary for a day. And since I told the people at the violin auction firm that after Labor Day I'd no longer be constrained to a schedule, I need to start spending some large blocks of time designing the web site that's got to be ready to handle an auction in a couple of months, and I made good progress holed up in my room in Seaside.

I also realized that I'd lost my digital camera somewhere in Seattle, leaving me with just the iPhone to take photos, until I pick up a new camera.