going home again

The day before we
The day before we left to go home for Christmas, Jean, James’ mom, came to the end of her nine-month battle with cancer. She was still young, vibrant and feisty, so this was a huge blow. Jean used to send me a mother’s day card from Stella the rat dog every year, and she always remembered dates like our anniversary or the day my brother died. Her house was full of things she made with her hands–from paintings on the wall to ingenious inventions to deal with the minor irritations of life (like a lost remote). We shared a lot of laughs over the years, including after the ill-fated whale watching trip where I spent the entire time puking into the Pacific. I’m so glad she was able to visit us out here in 2014 and wish she’d been able to make the second trip we’d been talking about.
When we left
When we left in our rented mini van to make the three-day drive to Houston, we knew it was possible this soul wouldn’t be making the return trip with us. She’d been declining for a few months, and she was in pretty bad shape as we set off. Dali died on the shortest day of the year, December 21, the winter solstice and the day before Jean’s funeral. She’d been with us for almost 13 years, and we think she was a year old when we got her. Not a bad run for a crazy dog with two different-colored eyes and a bit of an attitude. She had many nicknames, but a favorite was “Cooj” (rhymes with Baton Rouge, short for Cujo because sometimes she liked to bite us).
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We broke the drive up like this: Pacific Grove to Blythe, CA (just inside the border with AZ) –> Blythe to Van Horn, TX –> Van Horn to Houston. After fighting our way through the gridlock that is the western half of Southern California, we expected smooth sailing across the desert with just a few semis to keep us company. But CalTrans decided to do a little road work on the Saturday before the Christmas holiday, and it took us two hours to go seven miles. I considered using this random port-a-potty in the median–I could have easily done my business and caught up with James and the van walking at a casual pace–but I was a bit afraid of using an interstate terlet in the middle of the desert as night is falling.
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Van Horn, Texas is just a blip of a town in the moonscape that is West Texas. But it has a super cool, old school (but renovated) hotel with a great restaurant. This is the sister hotel to Hotel Paisano in Marfa, and they share remarkable physical similarities. The hotel in Marfa is a bit cooler because the rooms have patios with fireplaces in them. This place just has a view of the railroad tracks, empty lots and a gas station. But the rooms are nice, the lobby is beautiful and the chicken fried steak with jalapeño gravy is pretty hard to beat.
While in Houston
While in Houston, we had the chance to check out a few new places. This is Lei Low, a “rum and tiki lounge” in the northern end of the Heights and just a short walk from the house we rented for our stay. I had a drink with an umbrella in it that was tasty and not overly sweet. The drink, not the umbrella. I didn’t taste the umbrella. We also had really amazing brisket at Pinkerton’s Barbecue and a delicious breakfast (twice) at Morningstar–both in the Heights. When we lived in the Heights, dining options were Andy’s, Someburger and King Biscuit. The area is an embarrassment of dining riches now, and I wish we’d had more time to try more places.
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After a few days in Houston, we headed up the country to see my family, stuff ourselves with my mother’s nonpareil cooking and drink all my dad’s booze. My nephew and niece, almost 8 and 6.5, are at that great age where they’re smart and fun to talk to but aren’t too cool to hang with the old people. I was thrilled to see Molly reading real, live, 3-D books and watch Rowan build intricate Lego creations instead of being buried in electronic devices, staring and swiping like zombies. They both have great senses of humor and a surprising handle on absurdity.
Here's a shot Molly took of me and my mother with the (pink) camera we gave her for Christmas.
Here’s a shot Molly took of me and my mother with the (pink) instamatic camera we gave her for Christmas. She took her photography very seriously and captured some seriously great shots. She also learned a lesson about angles to avoid (like not shooting up toward people’s faces/double chins).
My car is
The two times we’ve driven back to Texas since the move, we’ve rented a mini van. Our cars are nine and 15 years old, both on the small side, so the van provides lots of room for dogs and luggage and the confidence we’ll actually get from A to B and back to A without mechanical difficulties. It was nice driving a brand new vehicle for a couple of weeks, but I was happy to get back to my no-computer-display, no-warning-when-a-car-is-in-your-blindspot, stick-shift Mazda. I can’t get behind this no key thing. Pushing a button to start a car, then turning a knob to put it in gear makes for a completely unsatisfying driving experience. On our long drive, James and I talked a lot about automated cars and how in the somewhat near future a kid will be talking to her grandmother about road trips and will be incredulous–“You mean you had to steer the car and make it go by pressing your foot on a pedal? For hours? How did you pay attention? How could you be off (insert relevant social media tool) that long?” And the grandmother will think longingly of a more simple time when you had to balance your intake of caffeine with truck stop availability so you didn’t consider using a port-a-potty in the median of the interstate in the middle of the desert as night is falling.

Links
Hotel El Capitan
Lei Low
Pinkerton’s Barbecue
Morningstar

the view from here

 

christmas tree reflectionMorning breaks on Christmas Eve. December 24. Just like last year.

James and the dogs are still sleeping. The only sounds are the clicking of my keyboard, our whirring refrigerator and seabirds passing overhead. I might also be slurping my coffee a little since no one’s within earshot.

Our weather, cold and rainy, reminds me of winters past in Houston (though today, Houston is expected to reach 80 degrees). El Niño has arrived in central California, and the rain comes often. The brown, crunchy land has turned green again, a contented sigh of oxygen coming from the earth. It’s soothing to look at the thick grass and clover covering our yard, and the dogs are enjoying a soft carpet underfoot on which to make their morning deposits.

At night, the ocean is loud. We can hear the waves pounding rocks at the shore. The sound makes me want to run down the hill to the coast, camera in hand, but I never do. Too cold. Too dark. Too drunk.

James and I are off for 11 days, today through January 3. A vacation in the place where we’d travel on vacation if we still lived in Houston. Assuming the rain stays away, we’ll do some hiking in Big Sur. Maybe drive up to San Francisco. Work in the yard, removing the beautiful clover that threatens to overtake our drought-tolerant plants. Read books. Watch TV. Try new restaurants. Go for drives. Take naps. A bit of soul rejuvenation at the end of the year.

Tomorrow is Christmas, our first without family. We knew the dark side of the bargain when we made this move. It sometimes means not being there when you want to be. It often means not being there when you want to be. But our people are a phone call away, and the gifts we’ve exchanged are a tangible connection. And I’m coming home for a visit in less than three months. Time moves so fast now, three months will feel more like three weeks.

The dude abides, and so do I.

However and whatever you’re celebrating as we close out 2015, cheers friend.

 

too early to start drankin’

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.

Stella is ready to party
gotta go – Stella is ready to party