So I guess I’ll do an end of the year post instead. Here’s some random shit I noticed this year.
When you see your people after a long time apart, it almost makes your heart explode for the first couple of moments, then it’s like no time has passed and you settle into a delightful groove. When it’s time to leave, the tears show up to say goodbye too. It’s hard, but maybe not as hard as the first time. Maybe.
In the nine months we’ve lived in Pacific Grove, I’ve heard only one driver honk their horn. That driver was me.
I’ve spent much more time walking and much less time in San Francisco than I expected.
There are almost no bugs here.
People are very comfortable openly smoking pot in California.
The first time I went hiking by myself in Big Sur, I alternated between worrying an animal would attack me or a person would knock me on the head and steal my shit. This is a change from living in Houston when I only worried about a person knocking me on the head. Eventually I’ll only worry about animal attacks or falling to my death off the side of a mountain. (Contrary to what Kerouac’s buddy says, you can fall off a mountain.)
When you see comedy outside of Texas, you find out that comedians make fun of Houston.
Recently we were drinking wine on the porch when we heard Taps being played (at the Defense Language Institute). A storm was coming in, a “Pineapple Express” from Hawaii, and the wind was blowing a different direction than usual. The next morning, I got up early to photograph the big waves and heard Reveille. Here’s an article about PG that mentions the different things you can hear, depending on the wind. When we got back from Houston a couple of nights ago, I heard the ocean in the darkness. A fitting welcome back.
This is my favorite paragraph from a post I didn’t publish this year. It was too bitchy, if you can imagine that.
This guy had spent the weekend in Big Sur, but he hadn’t really been there. This place of respite. This untamed wilderness. This edge of the world, west of the west, final frontier. I picture him standing at one of the many breathtaking vistas, one hand holding a pre-paid cellphone fruitlessly searching for a signal, the other holding a Coors Light while he desperately tries to connect with civilization to tell them what a wonderful time he’s having getting away from it all.
Here are some accomplishments from 2014 I’d like to remember: saw my first full-length play produced; puked four times off the side of a whale watching boat; started working from home and not wearing pants; moved across the country in a fit of middle-age crazies; fell on multiple hikes in multiple parks; saw otters, seals, dolphins, whales, pelicans, sea gulls, black squirrels, hawks, one bobcat and a dog parade; learned to make kick-ass cheese enchiladas; hung out with my family in California and Texas; packed our shit so well that literally not one thing broke on the trailer ride out here; didn’t hit any of the pedestrians that walked out in front of my car like baby deer; and, finally, nine months in, am happy to report that my heart still beats a little faster every time I look at the Pacific.
Here’s to a healthy and happy–and not too bitchy–2015 for us all. See you on the other side.
Number of hours spent in the minivan we rented
to drive home for Christmas : 70
Miles driven : 4,309
Least paid for regular unleaded gas : $1.99/gallon (in Texas)
Most paid : $2.99/gallon (in California, near the airport)
Weather conditions driven through : snow, fog, rain
Most fun, yet undocumented, coincidence :
passing mile 420 on I-10 in Texas at 4:20PM
Best combination of items sold at gas station along the way : fireworks,
moccasins, ceramic dogs, dream catchers, ‘Murica t-shirts,
Dairy Queen (Butterfield Station in New Mexico)
Most bothersome vanity plate : ienvyme
(in Houston, California plates)
Number of rainbows witnessed : three, all in California
Most dramatic highway event (tie) : overturned 18-wheeler, huge fire late at night
Terrain driven through : mountains, desert, prairie, swampland
Most unexpected thing I said : “That’s a fucking camel!”
as we passed a truck hauling a trailer…with a camel inside
Most awkward conversation : hearing about polar shifts
from the guy working the night shift at the hotel
Want to see some pictures?
You’re driving out of California and trailing a storm, the road still wet from the rain that passed ahead of you. The backroads you take to get from your small town to the big interstate are covered in mud, having recently been under water. You feel lucky you didn’t leave a day earlier when roads might have been impassable to your rented minivan.
You hope you can stay behind the storm and that it dies out soon. It doesn’t really rain in the desert, right? Isn’t that why it’s desert? You expect endless blue skies (and maybe a bit of smog) once you reach southern California. You get not much of either.
It hits you hard once you reach Phoenix and turns into an almost blinding rain by the time you roll into that night’s destination (Tucson). After a good six hours of sleep and a hearty breakfast at Best Western’s companion restaurant, which is way better than it has to be, you continue eastward under gray skies. The dogs don’t like the rain, but they do like road trips. Maybe it’s the close accommodations, everyone within eyesight at all times. A sleepy dog opens her eyes, lifts her head, sees everyone is there, puts her head back down, dreams of little mammals.
In New Mexico, you can’t tell if you’re looking at dark storm clouds or the gray of distant mountains. Most of the time, you’re seeing both, and you again find yourself in the misty nothingness of highway spray from 18-wheelers. They barely slow for the rain and you wonder if it’s balls, experience or stupidity that keeps them moving. Maybe the desperation of an unyielding schedule and fears of no pay for late arrival.
You wait until you’ve crossed the Texas border to grab lunch at Whataburger. It’s about four miles from New Mexico in a town called Canutillo. It’s just right, exactly how you remember it, and you marvel at how taste memory is so specific and so easy to access.
As you drive the endless road that is I-10 through west Texas, you appreciate a bit of blue above. It makes it easier to snap pictures of the border patrol trucks driving up and down the barbed wire fence. Mexico is so close you can throw an empty Lone Star out the window and litter in another country. You wonder what would happen if you park on the shoulder, crawl through the fence to pee behind a bush and get stopped by the border patrol on the way back. You decide to hold it until Van Horn.
Flying J/Pilot has the cleanest bathrooms, so you plan your stops around their locations. You wonder if the pickled and preserved food in jars with homemade looking labels is made by a nearby little old lady or a huge company like Nestle or Halliburton. You can’t remember the brands from location to location, so you plan to pay more attention on the way back. Not because you want to buy any of it, but because you like the idea of locals plying their wares in big truck stops to people from far away.
When you roll into Houston, it’s raining hard and traffic is at a standstill. The familiar and expected. Within a few hours it feels as if you never left, as if the adobe house with a view of the Pacific is a sweet dream from a long afternoon nap. Familiar faces at your company party, at a gathering of friends, at your boyfriend’s mother’s house, at your favorite Tex-Mex place. Joyous reunions, promises to come visit, unwelcome allergies, welcome queso.
You can’t wait to see your family on Christmas Eve. To enjoy the comfort of Home. The excitement of your niece and nephew waiting for Santa. The soul familiarity of family. You hope to not overwhelm them with your excitement to see them (like the Abominable Snow-Man with Daffy Duck) but know they’ll forgive you if you do. Even if you call them George.
I spent the entirety of the 1990s bartending for a living. The nature of the job–plus the active social life of someone in her 20s–meant I was often driving home at 3 or 4 in the morning. Most of my interactions with the police happened during that period, often late at night. And I realize my experiences were very much shaped by who I am. White. Middle class. Female. A “non-threat.”
Anecdote A (I’m a jerk):
There was a problem with a taillight on my car. I kept replacing the bulb, but the light kept shorting out. I was heading home after a night out and didn’t know my light was out again. I was pulled over. Not by HPD–I think it was a constable.
It was late. After the bars closed. He came up to my window and said, “Did you know your taillight is out?” to which I replied, “Yes. I leave it like that so I can meet cute cops in the middle of the night.” (editor’s note: This was totally out of character, and I still have no idea why I said that.)
He laughed, we shot the shit for a while and I mentioned where I worked. A locals hangout that was on his patrol route. When I reached for my glovebox to grab a business card, I didn’t get shot or yelled at or treated with suspicion. Instead, he took the card and began stopping by to check on me when he was on the night shift, either idling in front of the bar or coming inside for a Coke.
Anecdote B (the cop is a jerk):
Putting gas in my car after a shift. It was probably 3:30 in the morning. I saw a cruiser sweep through the gas station but didn’t really pay attention to it. I left, the cop followed me. I drove carefully, not too fast/too slow, but I still got pulled over.
I knew I’d done nothing wrong. I was tired but not drunk. “Why did you pull me over?” I asked as I handed him my license. He stood there staring at my license and asking questions. What was I doing? Where had I been? Did I have a boyfriend? (Uh oh) I realized this aggressive man with a gun–and my license in his hand–was maybe going to be a problem. I sat there and talked to that asshole for 45 minutes because I was afraid to be confrontational. When we realized we knew some of the same people, he ended the conversation and I went home. I didn’t get gas after work anymore.
Now this is the difference between youth and middle age. I would handle that second situation very differently now that I’m full grown. And I think I would have handled it differently then if it had been the 10th or 50th time I’d gotten pulled over for no reason on my way home from work. I would have grown less and less accommodating, eventually reaching the point where I’d want to hop out of the car at the first sign of blue and red lights and say, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT? Just leave me alone.” And I probably would have gotten a pat on the head in response.
I get to live my life as a non-threat. To have the opportunity to charm my way out of a ticket. To be in a dicey situation with a cop and still go home, unscathed. To be inappropriate, and not pay the price for it.
My white male friends have different stories. And my brown and black friends have really different stories. Dave Chappelle has different stories (here he talks about how cops treat his white friend Chip. Spoiler alert: differently than they treat Dave).
The truth is, some of us have more to fear than others. And that’s a big problem.
A PR firm in Austin got its ass handed to it over the weekend when people beyond their inner circle of hospitality industry clients heard about their name: Strange Fruit PR.
If you don’t know the significance of that name, here’s some history. In 1937, teacher Abel Meeropol (a white Jewish man) wrote a poem after seeing a horrifying image of two black men lynched in Indiana. After it was published, he set it to music to create a protest song (Strange Fruit).
A couple of years later, Billie Holiday added the song to her performances. The record sold a million copies and was her biggest seller. Nina Simone recorded the song in 1965, and Kanye West sampled her version in his latest album. So though it was born in the late 1930s, the song still has a life and among the many, many people who’ve heard at least one of the versions. And the people who hear those two words together automatically connect it to a horrifying image.
The PR company–a couple of young white women (so unusual for PR!)–thought no one would be thinking about a song that was recorded in 1939. They figured they could create their own definition for the term. Turn it from a powerful protest of murderous racism into a fun and exciting way to talk about hors d’oeuvres and skinny margaritas. They now know that they were mistaken, but it’s amazing it took a Twitter shitstorm for them to figure it out. I mean, the song’s history had been pointed out to them in the past. And they work in public relations! Come on.
I hope their new name, Hitler Nibbles, works out for them.
Not a real one because it would probably eat Stella. Just a super cool, kind of scary, fairly large replica for the yard. Though this skeleton version is pretty neat (and only $100,000), I prefer the kind with everything.
Dino on left: What the–dammit! Who left this here?
Dino on right: What are you talking about Mildred?
Left: This huge wad of gum. I’ll never get this–and now it’s between my toes. Great. I can’t even reach my toes.
Right: You don’t have to be so dramatic. Rub an ice cube on it.
Left: Is that what you’re going to do?
Right: I don’t–ahhh, motherfucker. If I see those little Evans midgets, they ass is mine.
A lawnosaurus isn’t really in the budget, but if it were we would count ourselves lucky we don’t live in Carmel. A couple planted a 12-foot tall dino in their front yard and ended up having to remove it due to neighbor complaints and hardcore city regulations. Boo.
There was a house in the Heights in the ’70s that had a couple/few dinosaurs in the yard. I’d see them on bike rides with my parents, and I loved them. My dim recollection is that they were more cartoonish than scary–I see a purple brontosaurus in my memory. But that could be childhood embellishment. Anyway, that’s when the seed was planted, and I haven’t shaken the idea since.
I wish I had a picture of those dinosaurs.
Tomorrow will be our first major holiday away from family. We debated how to mark the day. Drive to San Francisco and eat at our favorite pizza place? Go to a local restaurant and eat their sad Thanksgiving spread? Or make a bunch of food and eat leftovers for the rest of the week?
We opted for number three. We’re doing the whole deal. Hors d’oeuvres, baked ham, three sides and dessert, all washed down with James’ magical sangria. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. I think Gandhi said that.
I had to pick up a couple of last-minute things for our meal at the grocery store this morning, something I wouldn’t have attempted in Houston. A regular Saturday at HEB is busy. The few days before Thanksgiving are insanity. People ram you with their carts, jostle for the last can of cranberry jelly and generally make you weep for the sad state of humanity (then again, what doesn’t these days). Not the same deal here. We may have to drive two hours to see live music or go to the airport, but, dammit, there’s no line at the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving.
We’re coming home for a quick visit in December, so we put up our Christmas decorations early. Pro tip: if your house is adobe, the addition of colored Christmas lights *may* make it look like a Mexican restaurant. Which I’m totally fine with.
The small format of our tree this year meant we could only put out a few ornaments. You’ll notice the Christmas pickle made the cut. I didn’t hear about this murky tradition until maybe a decade ago. I don’t think I have to tell you why I’m a fan. Tradition or not, it’s a fucking pickle! On your Christmas tree!
We also brought out the dogs’ stockings (this is what people who have no children do), the dancing Santa that sings and farts and a few other cherished items. Hey, you celebrate your way, I’ll celebrate mine.
And however you celebrate tomorrow, have a good one.
There are lots of ghost stories about the Monterey Peninsula, which is made up of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and Carmel-by-the-Sea. Whether it’s the eerie feeling that comes in with the dense nighttime fog, the oddly shaped Monterey cypress trees that reach out to you from the sea or the many old shipwrecks at the bottom of Monterey Bay, it’s easy to find a creepy tale and an unabashed believer.
One evening when checking out at Trader Joe’s, the girl ringing us up mentioned her other job at a restaurant with a reputation for being haunted. I asked if she’d seen any ghosts there, and, while she hadn’t seen anything at the restaurant, she had experienced all sorts of things at Trader Joe’s. Most notably items flying off shelves at night when they were closing up. Whether those activities could be blamed on a pranky coworker or not, it was interesting to hear a stranger talk so openly about ghosts. And she’s not the only local I’ve run into with a story to tell. Ghosts and ghostly activity are just considered part of life around here.
There’s a cemetery not far from the path I walk on along the ocean. It’s called El Carmelo, and it’s been here since the late 1800s. I’ve heard stories about the cemetery–of course, since ghosts and cemeteries are like PB&J–so I decided to take a detour to check it out. It’s a peaceful place with a constant breeze off the Pacific. And there’s a lot of activity alright. But not ghosts. At least, not so far.
SOUND: It’s early and I’m sitting at my desk, listening to the garbage truck empty our three trash cans. One for yard waste, one for household garbage and one for recyclables. It’s easy to tell when he gets to our recyclables. The clanging of empty wine bottles is enough to wake the neighborhood. Luckily, they’re already up because other people’s cans sound similarly populated.
SIGHT: I just started reading Big Sur (Jack Kerouac). It’s about his trip to Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s cabin in the woods (near Bixby Bridge). He’s trying to deal with the letdown of life, post On the Road. His mental state comes through clearly in his description of Big Sur. It sounds like a frightening, cold and overwhelming place. And though I feel differently about it, I still recognize it. The reason I mention the book is this passage made me chuckle:
I’m absolutely alone for weeks on end (because later in August when the sun conquered the fog suddenly I was amazed to hear laughing and scratching all up and down the valley which has been mine only mine, and when I tried to go to the beach to squat and write there were whole families having outings, some of them younger people who’d simply parked their cars up on the high bridge bluff and climbed down) (some of them in fact gangs of yelling hoodlums).
I feel you, Jack. I feel you.
TASTE: When I went to Boston, I ate something called a Butta Burger. Oh, did I mention James and I are eating meat again? Mostly just on the weekends (and mostly just burgers). Like riding a bike. Anyway, the burger came from a place called Tasty Burger, and it was right next to my hotel. The Butta Burger is a bun that’s been toasted on the grill (and buttered) gently holding a meat patty topped with caramelized onions (and a gilding-the-lily pat of butter). Too rich to finish, but it was a damn tasty burger.
The place I stayed in Boston is a renovated HoJo from the ’50s (it’s now The Verb). While I’m not big on themes (theirs is rock-n-roll), I thought this place was pretty cute. And it offered the occasional unique experience. Like, when I was bent over in the bathroom drying my hair, this is what was looking at my backside. (It’s the sliding door to the bathroom.) Also fun whilst sitting on the loo.
TOUCH: I flew JetBlue to/from Boston. First time on that airline, and I liked it. You can choose your seat when you book your flight (and I was able to move to a better seat when I checked in), and their planes have the most legroom in coach. I didn’t feel like I was stuffed into my seat, which was good since the flight was around six hours. This was my first trip as a Californian, and it made me realize how conveniently located Houston is for travel.
My only complaint: We hit what felt like a speed bump an hour or two out of San Francisco, and it would have been nice to hear that calm pilot’s voice say, “We just fucked up a flock of birds or some shit, no worries.” Instead…silence. Which kind of freaked me out, so I would have appreciated a little more communication from the cockpit. Oh, and this young guy kept hitting on me the whole way back from Boston and no one seemed to care. In fact, they were egging him on.
SMELL: The Pacific smells a little fishy lately. And there’s been some foam on the water. And I don’t know what it all means, which makes me realize I have a lot to learn about where I live. And that makes me happy.
(I would have written about this experience sooner, but I came home from Boston to a sick dog, Dali, who is hopefully on the mend now.)
It’s hard to describe the emotions you feel when you see a production of your work, especially if you’ve never seen it staged before. It’s an ass-puckering combination of fear, excitement, fuck yeah!, potential humiliation, existential angst and gurgling intestines. Or maybe that’s just me.
Other than the Science Fiction Theatre Company people, no one knew I was in the audience until after the show. So I was able to eavesdrop. It was no surprise to learn that some folks found the abundance of semen in the play (yeah, that’s right) to be a bit disgusting. Good. My favorite thing other than the laughter was seeing people bend over and clutch their heads in embarrassment/horror about what was happening on stage. If they didn’t care about the story, they wouldn’t have been reacting. At least, that’s what I’m going with.
The first night I was there a physicist came up to talk to me, and the night before that an astrophysicist who discovered something related to Uranus (no joke) saw the show. In addition to a couple of theatre blogs, a local science fiction writer reviewed the production too. So there was interest from those communities, and they must have gotten headaches from my shitty science. I did do some research when writing about dark matter for the first part of the play but took huge liberties with it later on. Which I can do because this isn’t my thesis.
Actually, maybe it kind of is.
Let’s talk about the cast. Holy shit, they threw themselves into this ridiculous play. I can’t imagine a more game group of people. There are lots of awkward/inappropriate/gross lines, and each was delivered with no shame. Right on.
I can tell that Cait Robinson, the director, ran a tight ship because the show was pitch perfect all the way through. Set changes were flawless, tech was right on time and not a line was dropped or altered. Though I was tense when the lights went down, just a few minutes into the show I relaxed. They had this bitch on cruise control. After a while, I quit thinking the lines along with them and just watched the story unfold. There was a lot to see. I wish I lived closer to this theatre company so I could see all their work.
Hoping to get a few more pictures so you can see a little bit of the show and the rest of the cast. I took a picture of curtain call with my cellphone (bad theatre behavior), but good (theatre) manners keep me from posting it.
I barely made my flight. The drive from our house to the San Francisco airport with no traffic should take about an hour and 45 minutes. It took three hours with traffic. Then I had to dick around on the bus from long-term parking for a good 20 minutes before arriving at the terminal. Fast walked just one click under jogging to reach my gate (which was not only the last one in the terminal, I actually had to go down a floor to reach it) (that was weird).
Once seated and seat-belted in, I offered my neighbor a piece of gum. She couldn’t have been more rude as she said no. Then the b proceeded to cough the whole way here, and I’m worried she might have the ebola. Almost asked her if she’d recently come from Liberia but thought it a smarter tactic to dramatically turn my head every time she started coughing. I’m sure she appreciated that. Maybe next time she’ll take the fucking piece of gum.
This is my first trip to Boston, and the city is just as lovely as I expected it to be. Beautiful old buildings, lots of trees just beginning to change colors and plenty of stuff to check out. Way more than I could get to in a weeklong trip, much less one that’s only two full days.
In a weird case of immediately adapting to the time zone, I got up at 7 this morning (4AM California time) and headed out shortly after. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel on foot, a lady in an SUV pulled up and asked for directions. Guess I blend in with the neighborhood. Not wanting to break the illusion, I gave her directions. She’s halfway to Canada by now. (Okay, okay, I didn’t really give her directions.)
There were a few places I wanted to hit today, and I managed to do them all, walking a total of 9.5 miles (yes, I used an app to measure my distance–figured if the gubment is keeping track, I might as well too). Love checking out a city on foot. For instance, I saw a well-dressed man who did NOT look like he was talking on a phone of any sort. Just as we passed each other, he said, “Let’s get the drugs ready.” I overheard a number of conversations (some between two people who were physically there, but many more were people on phones), and only every once in a while did I hear that stereotypical Boston accent. Guess it’s like how people expect all Texans to talk with a twang, when in reality most people sound like they’re from TV.
LET’S GET TO THE PICTURES
First up, Granary Burying Ground. I might have been inclined to try to eavesdrop on one of the people leading the tour groups through the cemetery, but they were all dressed like pilgrims or some shit. No thanks.
A number of notable people are buried here. I wanted to check it out for that reason, sure, but mostly I wanted to see what a cemetery that dates back to the mid-1600s looks like. You know, because I’ve spent most of my life in Houston where everything is new all the time.
James found info on this epitaph, if you want to read what it says.
Saw a lot of other cool stuff. Here are a couple more pics.
Okay, so I need to dry my hair, grab a cab and go see The Singularity. Will report more later.
Or, the time I went on a four-hour whale watching trip and puked into the Pacific.
The signs were there that things might not go well.
A final note: I’m absolutely going to go whale watching again–properly medicated. But if you come with me, just don’t stand too close.
And it’s a beautiful day on Amity Island. Here are some quick snaps I took on my walk today.