Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed?

We're home. Which means this blog rests until we refuel Otto, pack up
us and the dogs, and head out again. Which will be in about six weeks.

But part of what has happened, happened because we were traveling. So,
by extension, it fits. Here's the story.

While we were away, someone stayed in our house. Without an invitation.

We arrive around 5:30 p.m. and our neighbors come out to greet us. One
is back from college (in Florida; we didn't know he was there!) and
another is back from getting dinner (Chinese takeout.) It's nice to
see people we know again ... to have conversations lacking the
requisite bio information (where are you from, how long have you been
on the road, are you retired, do you have children, etc.)

Don't get me wrong. I ADORE life on the road, meeting new people,
hearing their bios, telling mine. But, unless you spend a few days
with someone new, the conversations rarely become deep. Thought
provoking. Our neighbors tell us about the windstorms that swept
through the area (taking a few of our trees with it ... but we have
many, many more) and how our timers worked perfectly over the winter.
Lights on. Lights off. Lights on ... Lights off. There was no out-of-
the-ordinary activity in our house.

Deep. Thought provoking. We grin. We love it.

The dogs seem to grin, too, as we unleash them into their fenced back
yard. They ignore us as we walk along a portion of the fence, making
sure it's intact. They LOVE being home. And free.

We do, too. We hang the leashes up. We're finally untethered.

We throw open the doors and a pleasant, spring scent greets us. No
musty or rank greeting. Just a fresh, clean scent. I think it's the
infusers my girlfriend gave me before we went away. The whole house is
gentle with this aroma.

So we start the routine of returning the house to our living place.
Push the stove and refrigerator back against the wall and plug them
in. Turn the hot water heater back on. Remove the timers. Oh. What's
this? Why is this lamp on the floor?

And, oh, look at that, all of the pictures from the window ledge lay
scattered on the floor. And, OH, EWWW. What is that dried liquid
splattering down the front of our couch? LOOK AT THAT! A foot print.
About the size of a quarter. Four or five toes (I can't remember now)
and now I see, heavens, poop. Little lincoln logs here and there. A
trail of them, leading us through the house. Showing us where whoever
was here went while trying to get out.

And he went everywhere.

None of our window ledges display their pictures or books anymore (the
floor does). Stuff on top of window-front tables is scattered. A jar
of lentils from the kitchen window lay in the sink, next to a broken
coffee cup (that broke, obviously, upon impact from the lentils).

Whoever was here, tried heroically to get out. Going from window to

Somehow, he got in and somehow he got out. We don't know how. But he's
not here now.

We are. We're home.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Homestretch

We cast off from Jekyll Island Tuesday, it's now Wednesday and we'll
be home Thursday.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Failure and Success, Lost and Found

A huge amount of living and giving can happen in two hours.

We pack our lunch (celery and peanut butter, radishes, cookies and
Coke) hop on our bikes and head out to explore a scraggly beach
across the way. We head down the bike path, divert a brief distance
into the woods then spill out to the sea.

Allen is so taken by the man vs nature competition he sees (the sun
bleached, wind blow trees leaning away from the jumble of broken
concrete pieces assembled into a sea wall), that we stay here for lunch.

While we eat, I hear a noise out on the road about 100 yards away. It
sounds like thin metal crunching. We shrug and continue to eat.

A family of four stops by, pushing their bikes through the sand. The
mom looks out to the road and asks, "What's happening?"

I stand up, turn around and am shocked by what I see. Firetrucks.
Rescue vehicles. Ambulances. Policemen. This is a small island. I've
never even seen a cop car.

I volunteer to go snooping (the reporter in me). In addition to all
the rescue personnel and onlookers (me included), I see a motor
scooter on its side, next to a white truck with a crumbled left rear
fender. (Ah. The "crunch" I heard). And I hear cries of pain.

A woman, a sprite of a thing, about 55 years old, is on the pavement,
her head and spine in a neck brace and men, about six of them, trying,
gently, to roll her over onto a litter. Each time they touch her, she
cries, horrible cries. They shy way, and try to calm her. At least
she's living.

I hear a witness tell police the woman was speeding down the road
and lost control of her scooter. She whammed into the truck, then was
flung head over heels about 10 feet away. She was wearing no helmet.

I go back to report my findings to Allen and the awaiting family, who,
like the woman, were riding bikes without helmets. I warn them of the
obvious dangers.

When we ride our bikes past the crash scene after the ambulance
left, I see bubbly red ooze on the road where the woman's head was.
I think it was part of her brain.

I shudder.

And, I wince. I should have gone to investigate the sound when I heard
it. Perhaps I could have been of comfort to the woman as she waited
for help. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Later, I get another chance to offer aid, in a minor way. But I felt,
well, forgiven for failing the earlier Good Samaritan test.

We take a shortcut through the woods, only to discover ourselves
winding aimlessly about on fireroads, laden with sand, leaves and pine
cones. I learn something about the deep woods. The wind doesn't blow
in here. There is no sound but us. It's so still, I can hear
mosquitoes discuss their attack strategy before they take flight. And
it's so hot and humid, my brow perspires like a spigot, flushing my
glasses right off my nose.

Up ahead, I see a gaggle of kids slogging through on their bikes. A
boy, about 10, topples off his, rights himself, then just stands
there. Everyone else keeps going.

As I pass, I look back and say, "Are you OK?" He cocks his head and
lowers his eyes. "I'm OK." He murmurs. He sounds very sad.

"Want some water?"

"Yeah!" The offer perks him up. I can tell he's overheated. He
swallows enough to regain his composure, then pedals off to catch up
with his crew. I feel better, too. I passed this test.

We keep pedaling, too. It seems like we've been here for hours, lost
in the deep woods (see the pic) on sandy, rutted roads. Somehow, my
legs hold up under this abuse and keep moving me forward. Twice we
dismount to carry our bikes over trees and other debris.

Finally, I hear a sound. A hammer. Soon, we see houses. And,
eventually, I hear, what, wind? The sea? Traffic? At least I know were
are close enough to a space open enough to generate sound.

It was all three. We spill out to a side street, which leads to the
main road and our campground is just three miles away. There's the
sea, traffic and I feel the wind.

But the time we arrive, we're exhausted.

And I discover we've been gone not six hours, not five or even three.
Barely two hours.

We did a lot of living in that two hours.

Just a Slice of Life at the Speedway

This is a first for me.

We're watching car races, sitting on wobbly metal bleachers at the
Golden Isle Speedway in a town called Waynesville, GA.

I understand little about qualifying rounds, heats, stock cars, late-
model cars and the like. But I'm loving the action.

Smokers surround me. The man on my left smokes. The woman on my right
smokes. And the man behind me smokes. I'm a reformed smoker. The worst
kind. I can't stand the smell and usually gag or get up and move.

But initially, I neither gag nor leave because when the cars zoom
round and round, I can't smell the cigarettes. Because once the cars
hit the track, it's exhaust, not cigarette smoke, that envelopes me.
Exhaust mixed with burning rubber and dust billows off the track and
coats me. My teeth are gritty. The air is visible.

I'm having a great time. Go figure.

In addition to the air pollution, there's noise pollution. As the cars
zoom round and round, their engines scream at varying degrees of
insanity. And there's a pop and sizzle that explode like firecrackers.
If a car spins out, the track slows while emergency vehicles do their
sweep. But the noise intensifies as the drivers anxiously rev their
engines. Growl. Growl. Growl.

I look around. What a crowd. I enjoy watching them as much as watching
the race. Maybe even more.

Lots of dads brought their sons. You can tell, because the kids are
younger versions of the older guys, in dress, stature and, obviously,

Whole families have made this their night out. They walk in dragging
coolers filled with stuff to eat and drink, then have their kids haul
the heavy load up the wobbly risers. (Sit high, see more.)

Some people show little interest. A woman behind me, to my left, wears
a camouflage jacket to match her husband's. But she doesn't match his
interest in the race. She reads a book instead. A steady stream of
teens and pre-teens pay more attention to each other and the snack bar
than to the multiple heats warming the track.

A man to my left wears an orange shirt with screaming skulls and a
headwrap of black, red and white bones. He's with an older man in
denim, who's a pretty popular guy. Lots of people stop by to give him
a hug, holler up "Hey!" of just give him a wave.

Many of the women (large and small) wear cropped pants, showing off
tattoos on the sides of their legs, running from their ankles to their
knees They're hanging on to guys (also large and small) wearing cowboy
boots and T-shirts that used to fit better.

The absolute best are three little boys (shown) down to my right who
wear ear protectors and imitate the big boy's game behind them. They
play with their own miniature race cars on one of the wobbly benches.
Someone even spread a bit of red dirt on the seat to emulate a track.

They're having a great time. And so am I.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My AHA! Moment

A co-worker once quipped  I was smarter than I pretended to be.

Although his sarcasm is legend, the truth kernel is, too. On many levels, my ignorance amazes me. And at times, charms me. Like today.

Jacob (a standard poodle who pretends to be a bloodhound) and I are geocaching. (Well, I'm the treasure hunter, following my GPS, while Jacob  just follows his nose.)

As we near the intended site (historic ruins called the Horton House on Jekyll Island), I see a scrawny raccoon frozen in mid-step about 250 feet ahead of us at the side of the road. Jacob stares right at him, but shows no hunterly response. No arched ears, no lowered head, no raised foot to point (yes, Jacob pretends to be a pointer, too). Does he NOT see this creature?

The raccoon, confident he can move along and not retreat, scoots across the road and into the brush that leads to a great salt marsh, where I'm sure his dinner unknowingly awaits.

We move on our way, too. Suddenly Jacob GOES NUTS! He runs in circles  with his nose to the ground, and he whines/sniffs, sounding like a hyperventilating drama king. I get it, Jacob! We're standing on the very spot the raccoon occupied seconds earlier. Hunter Jacob redeems himself.

I calm him down. But it takes a while because he's so excited.

Now, here's my moment. Here's when I notice something that shows for a smart little cookie, I can be so dumb.

I see a path from the spot I am standing on (where the raccoon was seconds ago) back into the woods. Then, across the street, I see the ]continuation of that path, on toward the marsh. And I ponder it. I look back and forth. It's a well worn path.

And I get it (you probably already know it): The raccoon's wanderings are not random. This is the same route he takes daily. Maybe even at the same time daily. Habitually. Epiphany: Is this the genesis of CREATURE OF HABIT? (How charming, if it's so.)

This well worn path in front of me provides safe passage for this scrawny little racoon. Because it's familiar. He knows what to expect. So when we amble into his world, he recognizes potential danger immediately. And freezes to assess it. When he determines no threat exists, he scurries on his way, on his well worn path, on proven grounds. Aha!

All my life, I just assumed wild animals dart or meander about covertly, constantly avoiding potential danger. And, because danger lurks predictably everywhere, the animals skitter here and skitter there, trying to stay out of harm's way. They stay nowhere long enough to carve a path.

I just figured all those paths I crossed in the woods growing up were made by other kids growing up ahead of me. Oh my word. I walked with wild things. And didn't know it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

66 and Still The Best

I love birthdays.

To me, the most important day of the year is the day I was born. It's not a pride thing. It's all about possession.

My birthday is the only day of the year that actually belongs to me. In my head. It belongs to me. I don't need presents or a cake or a big todo (but when it happens, I smile). I don't even need anyone else to know that it's MY birthday. Because I know. It's the day of my birth. I've always loved my birthday. 

Today is my husband Allen's birthday. It belongs to him. I'm a part of this day that belongs to him. And I smile.

We light a match stuck in a cookie to celebrate his birthday. And he smiles. 

I love birthdays. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just Another Day

The day starts perfectly. With a new friend, Lorraine, stopping by the
motor home to say good-bye.

Lorraine designs and creates exquisite sculptural jewelry (stunning
stuff, really) she then sells at upscale art shows across the country.
She and her husband, Walter, plan to sell at a Hilton Head show this

So she's sitting INSIDE my motor home on Jekyll Island, a guest. I get to entertain.
What to do? I offer coffee. She'd love some.

I get the pot perking and we chat, about stuff like God, dogs and
husbands. A good, but brief, girl chat.

The coffee is finished, and the missteps of the day begin. The coffee
is terribly weak. Lorraine loves Starbucks. She takes cream, or at
least milk. We have none. So much for entertaining.

We both sip our bad coffee and promise to write, maybe even get
together again. Makes me smile. Bad coffee's not that big a deal.

Now for misstep No. 2: Allen and I go geocaching. What fun! It's our
first time. We take our GPS and we think we know what we are doing.
But it's so very confusing. We bike and hike for about a mile and
after searching the underpinnings of a bridge for a few minutes, we
realize the booty hides elsewhere.

No big deal, but the GPS tells us, I think, to go back the way we
came. Could that be right? We lose interest. So we return to the motor
home. Where I discover my mistake: I've copied the GPS coordinates for
a different cache, one down the street, not the one ... well, let's
just say it's no big deal.

Now, for misstep No. 3: I've lost my purse. We look everywhere inside
and outside the motor home three times, climb through the car, then
through the craggy corners of our brains trying to remember where we
saw it last. WHEN we saw it last.

I don't carry the purse around much. I don't need to. Allen's wallet
holds the important stuff. Like money. But, my purse has the health
insurance cards, back-up credit cards, my driver's license. And, most
important, my little pink Bible.

So, we've decided the purse is gone. It dropped out of our lives at
some point way back somewhere when we opened the door.

This is a very BIG DEAL.

I will miss that little pink Bible. Everything else can go. But, I
will miss that little pink Bible because of all the stuff I've written
in the margins. And it was a gift from a dear friend.

So the day is now ending, and it's perfect again (well, except for the
purse). I made perfect coffee, yummy chocolate cookies and fixed my
GPS coordinates.

And, you know, I have another Bible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Cold Shoulder and The Little Beggar

We are at the beach on Jekyll Island. Without the dogs.

It's been a long time since we headed out for a day of fun without them.

But we do. And I feel like a bum. Leaving them behind in the motor home (with the air on, of course). When they love the beach so much.

But being at the beach with the dogs is no day at the beach for us.
They don't like to lay in the sand and sunbathe, or nap, or read a
good book. They don't sit and stare at the horizon, just in case a
dolphin leaps into the air or a whale blows his spout. A boat might
unfurl its sails right before our eyes. But the dogs don't care.

They want to chase the birds, jump the waves, run, run, run, play with
people, play with other dogs, and inevitably nature calls and then we
walk around carrying the goody bag until we leave the beach.

That's what we did yesterday.

Today, we leave them behind. And we're sitting on the beach,
sunbathing, staring at the horizon. Just in case.

Dozens of little birds skitter about a few yards away from us (if the boys
were here, these birds wouldn't be.)

We watch them and enjoy their company. There are two larger birds
among these biddy ones. One, who wears a black hood making his eyes
really pop, trots our way. And trots and trots. He stops barely 10
feet away. (Again, not if the boys were here).

He stares at us with those pop eyes. And stares. I know what he wants.
My sandwich.

Allen and I are eating PB&J at the beach and this little guy wants
in on the action. How cute. But we don't feed birds at the beach. They
need to fish for their food, so they don't starve when the tourists go

That's what I say to this little bird.

Still, as I keep nibbling ,  he walks closer. Hmmm. Nibble nibble. Walk walk.  He doesn't believe I'm serious. 
As my sandwich gets smaller, he draws nearer.

He's only about five feet away now and it's breaking my heart. I KNOW
he won't starve, and it's just a little peanut butter. If I drop a
piece in the wind, I think to myself, it will blow over his way and he won't
know I gave in to his begging.

NO! I STAND MY GROUND. I WILL NOT be a part of this bird's death by


I close my eyes to the seaside mooch  and gulp the remaining two bites
of my sandwich in one. The  little bird knows it's over and
 flies away. Toward another family eating their lunch at
the beach.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Real Treasure on Jekyll Island

What fun! What fun! What fun!

I'm walking Jacob, my large standard poodle, who unexpectedly darts off the paved trail down a woodsy path to, oh, I don't know, chase specks of dusts in the air. That's just Jacob.

But when he darts, I do, too, because we're tethered to each other, me and this dog. He scrambles through a copse of live oaks, their boughs dripping with Spanish Moss, to the edge of a great sea marsh. So there I am, too, with Jacob, looking out over this great sea of grass.

Jacob and I both look down to see how far we'd have to climb (well, me climb, him jump) to continue this dog's journey. 

"Wait!" it's one of the few commands Jacob often obeys.

What I see excites me to the point of gasping.  Excitedly. I'm thrilled.

Jacob has led me to a treasure. There, embraced by a tree trunk, I find a beat up, metal ammo box and I know exactly what it is. I clap my hands. Like a schoolgirl. Goodie! Goodie! Goodie!

It's a geocaching box, something people hunt for for hours, sometimes days, using their GPS and latitude and longitude coordinates they find online at It's a worldwide adventure game I've never played. But have wanted to play for years.

And today, I'm playing it. Without warning. Backwards. I find the treasure first. But I'm playing it, thanks to Jacob.

I open the box and find it filled with trinkets from other people's lives: a little can of Playdoh, a baby-blue plastic flower ring, an orange rubber bug, a golf tee, an Army patch, religious tracts, seat belt safety notices, a little bag with one sea shell (see the slide show below).

In geocaching culture, you take a trinket, you leave a trinket. That way players collect booty for their treasure chests while replenishing the supply. I take nothing (I want no reward for Jacob's effort) but I leave behind a yellow hair thingy. Just so a piece of me is now in play.

I also find a red spiral notebook, a log, a diary of sorts from the successful treasure hunters, who've left  their sentiments and memories behind for others to read. I sign in (admitting it's an accidental find). Then  I flip through the pages and now know there used to be a golf ball in that can, but it was swapped for a tennis ball. Which was also swapped because it's not there anymore. 

I sit down on the tree trunk because there's so much to read. 

Someone took the wrist band and left a bouncy ball. Someone traded the bag of shells for Arnold the pig. (Must be that little bag had more than one shell at one time.)

And someone "took nothing but memories." Awwww.

Back in the motor home, I continue my backwards game. I log onto the geocaching Web site, join and track down my particular find using the island's zip code and a google map.

After a bit of online sleuthing, I learn my special box went into play Nov. 22, 2005. The guy who left it says this:

"This cache is located on a little finger of land overlooking the marsh. This is one of the best places on the island to watch the sun set. My family spends the week of Thanksgiving on the island and has watched many sunsets from this location. In the summer time don't come without bug spray. The container you're looking for is an ammo can."

I also learn 247 people before me peaked inside that can. I'm No. 248.

I also learn another geocache treasure is hidden on the island.

Goodie! Goodie! Goodie! Tomorrow, I'm playing this game forward. What fun. What fun, What fun.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lots of Country To See -- Later

I've sat here, in the motor home as Allen drives, for three days.
Passing by some potentially fabulous nooks and crannies of the USA.
They're in our dust. Unvisited. Because we're in a hurry to reach the
Atlantic Ocean.

Our destination: Jekyll Island for eight days. Which is like a
vacation for us. That's an odd way to look at it, isn't it? We've been
"on vacation" since Jan, 3, when we left a wintery Baldwinsville, NY,
to snow bird in the South.

Since then, though, we've rarely stayed put more than a few days.
We've traveled to Texas, to Florida, back to Texas then to southern
California, then up the West Coast, all the way up, to Seattle, then
back down, and back across the US.

We're tired, and weariness focuses Allen on getting to the beach. So I
watch the world fly by. And mourn the loss of each little nugget of
potential fun as we zip along Route 82 through the Arkansas Delta, the
Mississippi Delta, rural Alabama and then the boonies of Georgia.

I absorb the countryside via billboards I read quickly as we wind
pass. Here's what we didn't do:
* Check out the historic Blues Highway in Arkansas (Route 61)
* Visit the Delta Blues Museum
* Stop by the Jim Henson exhibit near where a little Jim Henson
played with his best friend Kermit. (No kidding.)
* Explore the BB King Museum and Delta Cultural Center
* Visit catfish hatcheries
* Drive the Natchez Trace
* Learn about the cotton industry at the Cottonlandia Museum
* Explore a prehistoric Indian burial ground, then a modern cemetery
near where a Baptist Church will soon be built
* Visit a Jefferson Davis historic site (it's where he was captured by Union soldiers)
*Attend a Sacred Harp Sing
* Walk through a Confederal Soldiers Park
* Take in a race at the Golden Isles Speedway (we MIGHT still do that

These tourist treasures aren't lost to us. I've added them to the
possibilities of next year's agenda, when we might return to Route 82
to take us all the way to White Sands, NM.

Well, maybe not next year. But I know we will be back.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Coming To Terms With Dinner

We'd have never found Olivers if we hadn't had a fight.

Well, not so a much a fight as a coming to terms, again, about just
where we're going to eat. His terms: Something familiar, common,
dependable, reliably clean, like McDonalds or a fine steakhouse. My
terms: Something off the wall, indigenous to the land we're driving
through. Like Big Al's Big Butts, the BEST smoked B-B-Q in the World.

We cooled our "coming to terms," gnawed on hunks of cheese instead,
and got back on the road.

Of course we got hungry again. And in Cuthbert, Ga., on Route 82,
Oliver's homemade roadside signs buttered up both of us: down-home
barbecue (for me) and sumptuous steak (for Allen).

We nearly pass it by because it doesn't look like a restaurant at all.
It's a simple, small pine-plank rectangle, nothing special, stuck
between a few fields (We park in one of those fields).

Once inside, again, nothing special. Eight tables, A few diners and us.

Then as the people began streaming in, I notice something special.
Everyone seems to know each other. A young boy in a baseball outfit
walks in with his mom and dad and everyone wants to know: Who won?
(His team won.) Newlyweds snuggle up to one another on the same side
of a table. How do I know they're newlyweds? Because the waitress
talks to them about their wedding she attended.

And a little girl dining with her grandparents draws a picture for the
waitress to hang on the wall. The waitress, the owner's daughter-in-
law (see, I'm getting to know everyone, too) leans over a little
banister and coos over that picture. The little artist clasps her
little hands under her chin, grins and twirls on one foot. She's so

Ken owns this down-home goodness. And he's pretty curious about the
strangers in his midst (us). So, he ambles over for a chat.

"Where y'all from?" he's grinning so wide.

"Just north of Syracuse, NY," I'm grinning, too.

"Why, y'all lost!" He's laughing at his own joke. We're giggling. We
can't belly laugh because we're too stuffed with perfectly moist,
tender barbecue (Allen didn't order steak after all).

Ken's a storyteller (that's why I put that funny picture of him -- and
a customer -- on this blog ... he's just a cut up; more serious pics
are below). While we finish our peach cobblers, he entertains us with
amazing things about this little eatery. It's only 6 months old.
Before that, this man and his son (who does most of the cooking) were
-- ready for this? Roofers, down in Florida, cashing in on hurricane
repairs, while looking for another line of work.

Neither of them did much cooking, except when they were out hunting.
But that hunting food was good, Ken said, good enough to convince them
to cook for others.

Therefore, Olivers, their last name, was born.

Ken leaves us to visit with others as his son, daughter-in-law and
Lori, the hired help, see to the business. I get it. They do the work,
he drums up the business.

As we leave, I find Ken outside, storytelling with yet another
customer (about birds stealing stuff from a hornet's nest). I bet
that man comes back for more, like us (if we're ever in these parts
again), not just for the yummy barbecue, but for the goodness served
up with it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stop, Look and Listen

Pine Bluff, AR, got our business today because of a roadside sign for

It'd get lots more business if it added a roadside sign for its murals.

Thirteen of these masterpieces stretch out sideways from Main Street.
We walk back and forth across the main drag like laces on a sneaker,
heading up to the historical courthouse featured at the end of the
road and on one of the murals (the one above ... click on it ... see 
how massive it is? How lifelike? That's Allen in the middle, with suspenders. )

We're alone, though, like Pine Bluff wasn't expecting us. Which is
sad. Because it embarked upon this mural project to attract tourists
and one Web site said it was working. But it doesn't look like it's
working today. We're alone. Well, almost.

There's a barber shop still open for business, and a few customers
hang around outside. A few doors down, a man in a pink suit and white
hat sits in front of a closed store and next to a buggy overflowing
with stuffed garbage bags.

It looks like it's just us and them.

Most all the other shops either closed for the day (it's after 5 p.m)
or have been exhaled into the suburbs, knocking the breath out of this
little historic downtown.

I look around and see a classic take on aging gracefully -- or not.
Imagine a town from the 1940s, like Bedford Falls. That's what Pine
Bluff feels like to me. Only George finally left to tour the world.
Classic architecture embraced by renovation stands in the shadows of
its cousins in disrepair. A dynamic aviation mural leads to a ghetto-
like collection of apartments. The promise of restoration enlivens a 
gorgeous 1924 movie house. But when?

To enjoy these paintings, we navigate past these buildings and through
a sea of shards, rusted pipes and a roped-off excavation sites.

Well, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. The town is clean and the
wide streets allow for safe zig-zagging.

And the murals. Wow. Ignore my blathering about the town's bad
breath and be consumed by the art.

My favorite is the main street scene from 1888 (above). It captivates
me. I stop. I stare. I start taking lots of pictures.

I listen. From somewhere, over my head, I hear a clear, tenor voice,
singing a beautiful, unfamiliar collection of notes. A riff. Where's
it coming from? I look over my shoulder, thinking I'd see a nearby car
with the windows rolled down, the radio blasting or a loud speaker on
the side of a building angled my way. Nope.

I continue to take pictures, but the voice sings to me to stop. And
just listen. I stand there, eyes closed and listen. It's surreal.
Who's singing?

And then I see him. Around the corner. It's the man in pink (below). The man
pushing the grocery cart, wearing a pink suit and a white hat. He's
singing. Please. Don't stop.

He doesn't. He's crooning. Serenading an unseen audience.

I give him a silent ovation as we walk away.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Real Dog Day

Today, Bo joined the Obamas in the White House.

It's a milestone day for dogs, so I'm telling a dog story. This one is
about the ugliest dog I've ever seen in my life. And I saw her today.

I'm sorry I left my camera behind. Because now I have to describe this
little dog. And you'll just have to believe what I say is true.

We're in Norman, OK, at a dog park, hoping our Standard Poodles can
work out their motor home kinks. As we enter the small park, I
notice bales of hay set up inside.

Then I notice a young, delicate woman, maybe 20, sitting on one of the
bales, cradling this ugly dog.

I stare (how rude). I think the dog's a failed Jack Russell Terrier/
Chihuahua experiment. Something went badly wrong. She is a little
bigger than a normal Chihuahua, with a chunky midsection and sporadic,
wiry blonde hair.

I mean, it grows a little here, a little there.

Her pointy ears are hairless, as are her tiny feet and rat-like
tail. She has wavy, very thin hair on her back, legs and snout, and a
mohawk of blonde on her head down her neck. Her skin is mostly pink,
with accidental splotches of brown.

Long, whimsical eyebrows straggle above her bug eyes. Those brows flutter
when she growls. Oh, yes. She growling because I  extend a hand
in friendship and she's not impressed.

"Oh, she's mean," her owner apologizes. "Just a plain ol' mean dog.
She doesn't like people or other dogs."

Mean Dog's eyebrows flutter. She stares at me (how rude!) and dares
me to just try that hand of friendship again. I learn fast.

Here's Mean Dog's story.

Her owner found her alongside the road about three years ago.

"How'd you pick her up if she's so mean?"

"She was hungry."

After a few bowls of food and a good night's sleep, Mean Dog showed
her mean side.

"Each time she'd growl at me, I'd whup her butt," her owner said. "I
did a lot of whuppin'."

Who'd a thought this delicate young woman would raise her hand and
whup. (For the record, I disapprove of hitting animals. I endorse the
voice-activated control system.)

It didn't take long, she said, before she finally whupped Mean Dog
into submission.

It's clear the ugly, cantankerous old pooch feels safe on her owner's
lap and enjoys the warmth of their friendship. She's content to sit
there, not be touched by anyone else, and just growl if anyone tries.

Monday, April 13, 2009

My Life in a Beetle

As we zip down the I-40 thoroughfare in Amarillo, Texas, we're hungry.
And we want someone else to do the cooking. And we want the food to
taste uniquely Texas.

But that's a tall order. Arbys. Texas Roadhouse. McDonalds. Olive
Garden. Homogenous. Anytown USA. Yawn.

We keep on driving. When cotton fields replace Amarillo, our dining
opportunities disappear. Which means we no longer care where we eat.
We'll take what comes next.

And according to a highway billboard, that's the Motel Cafe in Conway,
, right off I-40 on a section of the Historic Route 66.

We pull off and, alas, it's obvious the Motel Cafe closed years ago.
So, we aim to return to I-40.

But wait. Look at that! It's a bunch of colorful VW Beetles nose down
in the sand. I yell to Allen: Turn in! Turn in! Turn in!

There's a sign. It's says "The Bug Ranch." Awwww.

Allen pulls the Navion around, but he doesn't get out. It's
me who's drawn in.

The sight speaks to me. Tickles me heart.

My first car was a VW beetle, a 1968 powder-blue baby that got me
through college. As I stare at these highly decorated shells, I grin,
in memory. I lived my life in that car.

My girlfriend and I used our hairbrushes as windshield wipers during a
blizzard once. I had to wear a lap blanket to drive in cold weather
because the heater never worked and a hole in the floorboard near the
accelerator created a wind tunnel. I used a coat hanger to hold up
the exhaust pipe. My "friends" found humor in picking the bug up
and moving it around the parking lot, so when I got out of class, I'd
have to go find it.

I drove donuts in that car.

VWs never die. They evolve. I gave mine to the mechanic whose magic  kept it alive to get me through college. He spiffed it up and drove it in parades, plastered in American flags.

These five in front of me have morphed
from autos into artistic creations, each being a canvas upon which dozens
and dozens of people have painted pieces of themselves. Their
feelings. Their hearts.

I walk around each car, takes lots of pictures (see below), read the messages from
the past, touch the paint. I smile, time and time again.

Shelly Loves Lori! (but I wonder if it was Lori or Shelly whose
sentiments I read). Nathan Van was here. Jessica visited in 2003.
Someone, with a heart like mine, wrote, "The bug has finally found her
oasis." Awww.

And, my favorite (see the pic above), "I'm having the time of my life." I
am, too. This Bug Ranch is as deserted as the Motel Cafe, but it's not
as dead. It's alive because of the steady stream of visitors  leaving bits and pieces of
themselves behind.

I know it's time to go. But I'm like those visitors ahead of me. I
want to leave a bit of myself behind. So before we leave, I grab a red
Sharpie pen and I write "ME, TOO!" in response to my favorite line (after I took the picture).

Then I add: "Hug a Bug, Love, Nancy, Jake, Josh and Allen."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Birthplace of Storms

Often our day's adventurers just happen. Like today.

On a lark, we head out of Gallup, NM, on Route 491 because, well,
because. It heads north, into Colorado. Or Utah. Or Arizona. We have
all four states at our doorstep. So, what should we do?

I google for places and hit upon a perfect solution: The Four
Corner's Monument, where you can touch, with one hand, Utah, Colorado,
New Mexico and Arizona. Cool. Let's go.

As we drive, we leave cities and suburbia behind. Far behind. For
hours we plunge deep into the high dessert landscape of the Navajo 
Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. Fences rope off the road
from the Indian world. Their low-slung houses and roundhouses (called
hogans) infrequent the landscaoe.

At Shiprock, NM, where we pick up Route 64, there's a dollup of city
life (fast food restaurants, a daily flea market, other businesses and
lots of roaming dogs). And an ominous sky that begs us to turn back.
Fluffy clouds blot out the blues; whites and greys slide into blacks.
We ignore the warning.

We turn on 64, and notice few others travel with us. And we're driving
toward an expansive black cloud consuming the mountaintops ahead.

"Do we drive up into those mountains?" Allen sounds concerned.

I'm clueless, but say, "Of course not."

Splat. Splat.

Yes. Those are ice-laden huge raindrops coming down on our windshield. 
We turn on Route 160, and we're heading uphill. Into those mountains.

Splat. Splish. Shhh. Mixed with snow. But its 40 degrees. We're fine.

When we arrive at the monument, we find it's maintained and managed by
the Navajo Nation. And we discover only die-hard tourists venture this
far into nowhere in April. Because it's cold.

And it's on the Colorado Plateau. It's where snow and rain storms
stabilize before heading east. We didn't know that.

And that big black cloud? That's a storm stabilizing right now. So
we take the obligatory picture of us in four states (that's our shoes
in the picture) and then we're outta here.

Route 160 (remember that mountain?) is our two-lane roadway out (see
the top picture). Now and then cars pass by, but not often. We're
surrounded by lava-black mountains salted with snow. Swimming-pool
sized boulders balance on themselves at roadside.

The storm percolates, spitting sleet and rain down on us. And then the
sleep turns to snow, the sky darkens to black and we're driving
through a snowstorm the areas to our east will get tomorrow. The
temperature's dropped into the 30s and the snow is sticking.


Wait. Up ahead. We see the brilliant southwestern sun battling with
the storm's raging blackness. Who'll win?

We endure lightening, snow, hail, spittles of rain.

Then, yeah! The sun's victorious!

Well, we actually drive out of the darkness into the sun. We turn and
see the storm still brews behind us, but it's in our dust.

The day finally ends, and we climb into bed with our map, our GPS and
our wits. We've driven east, so as we plan our journey to a warm East
Coast beach, that southwestern storm catches up with us again. And
rocks our motor home with snow, sleet and hail. We turn out the lights.

He Lives!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

National Shame

I'm surprised I feel this way. But I do.

I'm standing inside the visitor's center at the Wupatki National
Monument near Flagstaff, AZ. And feel no pride in my country. Only

In the 1920s, the government took the land I'm standing on, turned it
sideways, shook off the few native people living here, then righted
it again, as a shrine to the very people it threw out.

What I see is a wonderfully colorful edge of the Painted Desert and a
handful of pueblo remains stretching out against a most dramatic sky.
I walk to each structure, and touch one of them. Wow, I'm touching a
pueblo (the one shown above). I remove my hand. I feel like I've
trespassed on someone's home.

And my heart begins to tighten.

Why did we kick them out? Who are we? Neither of us owned this land.
They lived with it. We took it. I took something once. My mother made
me return it.

In brief, here's what happened. The U.S. government took possession of
this land in the 1920s to protect a fascinating history of native
peoples who came together here 800 or years ago ... and no one knows why.
Not yet, anyway. Research is constant and archaeologists are trying to
document what happened here, back around 1250, to cause thousands of people to just leave.

The few people living here at the time were told they could stay
until they died, as long as they didn't interfere with the government
plans. Sure enough, interference occurred and the people booted.

So, we tossed out people to study their ancestors.

OK. Not THE VERY people. The history of this place travels through
centuries, survives a volcano blast, and maybe even a few earthquakes.
We're not really sure which native people populated the place the
most. We have pueblo remains and pottery shards traceable to about 100
different peoples.

Yes, the history is fabulous.

A document online by Martha Ward Blue, a lawyer turned artist,
details the Navaho connection to the Wupatki Basin and examines the
way the land was systematically pulled out from under their feet. By
greed. National greed.

She feels a spiritual connection to this place: "Wupatki is not just a
visual experience for I often wallow in its silence, sniff and taste
the dampness of the air by the river in its spring flooding, and sink
in the cinder sand."

Follow the two links, one to the government' site and the one to download 
Blue's document, for the rest of the story.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Time Traveling in Flagstaff

"I'm next to the Buffalo Park," I tell the man who's answered the phone"

"Which way are you headed?"

"I don't know. Out of town?"

"Buffalo Park is in the middle of town ... which side is the sun on."

"My left."

"Good, keep it there, and head on down the hill. We are in the
shopping center at the light."

This telephone conversation is our roadmap to Brandy's, a Flagstaff
eatery so rich in personality and charm it's no wonder The Food
Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" tapped it for a show.

It's that connection that led us here. We want a neat place to eat,
so we google "Flagstaff" and "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" just to
see if the popular TV show ever made it to town. We hit on Brandy's.

So we're eating here, ordering the same food host Guy Fieri features
on the show (Tequila Lime Chicken and Flat iron Steak), but, in
essence, we're time traveling, because the show hasn't aired yet.

Today's April 9, 2009. The show airs April 13, 2009, (10 p.m. on the
West Coast). Cool.

Our very tall, blonde-haired, Nordic-looking Hawaii-born waiter thinks
it's cool, too (he's in the pic with our desserts ...yumm .. almond
grapefruit pudding cake). So he tells the chef we've preceded the
publicity. The chef, who wears a beautiful diamond stud in one ear (I
didn't see the other one), thinks that's cool, too, so his makes a
visit to our table and we chat about TV, producers and on-air "talent."

Here's some of the chef's insider talk:
* The scene that opens each show is of Guy driving up in front of the
eatery in a scrumptious red Camaro convertible. Well, that scrumptious
red Camaro convertible actually arrives ahead of Guy. It's inside a
truck, and is rolled down a ramp in time for the shoot.
* The producers spend two days at Brandy's (16 hours the first day,
12 hours the next); Guy (he's the on-air "talent") is there about four
hours at the end.
* Sixteen hours of taping boils down to 8 minutes on air.

Very cool.

We notice the chef talks to all of the diners, not just us, in a laid-
back, long-time friend kind of way.

Very, very cool.

And we notice our waiter chats with us a lot, too, and with the other
diners, too. He's got a lot to talk about. He's lived on the East
Coast, the West Coast, Hawaii. He's also a massage therapist and a
volcanologist. His dad owns a coffee plantation on The Big Island.
"Take my card," he leafs through his wallet for the right piece of
paper. "If you want to go to Hawaii, I'll call my dad and he can find
you a place to stay."


This is a very friendly, advant garde place, but it's not a diner,
drive-in or dive.

It's a trendy eatery inside a strip mall that attracts a steady flow
of locals because the food is inventive, moderately priced ($53 plus
tip) and the service, well, perfect. As is the conversation.

A Woman Scorned

There's always a story behind the story.

I feel all goosebumpy, standing inside the historic Lowell Observatory
on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, AZ.

Percival Lowell used this massive metal telescope in front of me to
document the changing landscape of Mars and passionately search the
night sky for other planets. The wooden dome creeks painfully as our
personal tour guide, MJ, demonstrates how it swivels to let the famous
Clarke Telescope (shown above with Allen and MJ) peer into any
portion of the sky.

I look to my left and my goosebumps intensify. Within inches of my
elbow is the very chair he sat on for years to study the heavens. It's
interesting that a man worth millions (he was one of The Lowells of
Boston) would settle for what looks like a cheap painted table chair,
and now an old, worn, cheap, painted table chair.

It makes sense, though. He was a passionate man. After investing a
sizable fortune in the observatory, he spent day and night in that
chair, looking upward, seeking out documentation of what's out there.

If the chair suited him, why replace it?

He was so devoted to the observatory that when he died, his wife had
a monument built in the shape of a mini observatory right outside his
beloved telescope.

I theorize, though, that she did it out of spite, not love.

When he died, Lowell left his wife, Constance, their mansion in Boston
and about $150,000 a year to live on. Not bad for 1916. But, the
remainder of his fortune, $2.4 million was to go to the observatory.

My theory: Boy, was Constance offended. I imagine she thought of the
observatory as her husband's mistress, a lover who stole him away day
after day, night after night. So she had him buried near the mistress
to keep him away from her. And then, she learned, the mistress would
continue to steal what Constance thought was hers, only this time it's
the money, not the man.

Back to reality: So, Constance sued. After a long battle, she lost,
but not all together. When the money was eventually released, almost
half was gone, lining the pockets of lawyers fighting for the
mistress' rights. But at least, the mistress didn't get it all.

No one employed at this historic place confirms my story of a vengeful
wife. They, of course, ARE "the mistress" and need to take her side in
the tale.

There is one Observatory employee, though, who responds to my tale
with a subtle, crooked, understanding smile.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Angel in Disguise

We're traveling the country in a 24-foot Navion motor home, towing a Saturn Vue.

It's not always easy.

Sometimes it's impossible.

Like right now.

We stop to eat in Needles, CA, near where Snoopy's brother Spike lived and  where cartoonist Charles Schulz lived, briefly, as a child.  On a more serious note, Needles is where comedian Sam Kinison died in a car crash in 1992. And, it's been featured in a book ("Grapes of Wrath"), a song (Three Dog Night's "Never Been To Spain"), and a video game (Wasteland).

The parking lot at Denny's looks too small to accommodate us (the Navion plus the Vue).

So we drive past the entrance to the next lot at the Motel 6.

We'll fit comfortably in the big, square gravel lot behind the building. Only Allen aims for the front of the building not the rear. As he inches toward the back of the front lot, I see there's no room to turn around. And, we can't back up. We can't back up while towing the Vue. Oh no. We're stuck.

So, I figure Allen'll just stop and I'll hop out, unhook the car, back up, pull around and, voila, we're ready to eat.

But. No.

He keeps inching forward, cranking the wheel as far to the left as it will go, trying to turn around on a dime while piloting a train.  I foresee us heading straight into one of the hotel rooms after taking off a portion of the motor home's roof.

"Can I make it?" he turns to me and asks.

Is he kidding? Make it where? Into room 106? Sure! Back into the open lot? NO!

"No, you can't make it," I say, far less calmly than I feel.

"Look again," he says, as he CONTINUES TO INCH FORWARD, STRAIGHT FOR THE PLATE GLASS WINDOW!!! Is he serious?

"NO YOU CAN'T MAKE IT!" I am no longer calm.  In fact, I have one hand on the dash and the other on the roof over my head. "I'll get out and prove it."

I hop out and I see the top right corner of the motor home nearly kissing  the hotel's overhang and the motor home itself  straddling a concrete parking curb.


"Are you sure?"


"Look again," he says, so calmly.

I am, clearly, losing it.

From out of nowhere, a man appears. He's wearing overalls, and has odd spurts of facial hair.

"Just keep on to the left," the man and Allen connect. BOTH of them are under some grand illusion that the motel will magically bend out of the motor home's way. Well, at least it won't be MY FAULT when something comes crashing down.

I turn my back and walk away.

I wait. I hear no crash. I turn to look.


He made it.

I am humiliated (but A LOT relieved).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Land ho!

I love adventure. Especially the kind that reopens the imaginary
worlds I left behind in childhood.

Today's like a high seas adventure, only we're on sand, in the middle
of a desert, in Twentynine Palms, CA.

As the sun glides lower in the sky, we turn off a main highway onto a side road, then off a side road onto a hard-packed sandy road with a most romantic name: The Old Chisholm Trail. (But it's isn't the REAL Old Chisholm Trail; it's just a little-used sandy/dirt road LIKE The Old Chisholm Trail.)

I notice after a while we're alone. No other vehicles, no businesses,
no houses, only sage brush, sporadic spring flowers and scrawny
mesquite shrubs. Then, I notice, the hard-packed sand's now  a
washboard (it's fun to hum along and hear my vibrato). Soon
the sand turns spongy and our slide potential heightens.

THEN,  The Old Chisholm Trail disappears  into an impassable sand dune, abruptly ending the romantic ride and begining my childhood adventure.

The only options are turning left or right in the dead center of an
uninhabited desert, where there are no roads, just lines in the
shifting sands left by other vehicles (probably ATVs, NOT 24-foot motor

We turn left; we curve right, then left, cutting through six-inches of
sand as we go. Then, as we descend and ascend across dry creek beds,  
I imagine we're  rising and falling with the waves. At times, the
washboard returns, and we rumble along as if we're crossing a motorboat's wake.  The road narrows and the sand deepens, yet still we slog
forward. Discarded household items appear, big items, such as
sleeper sofas, chairs and stoves. They line both sides of the trail,
as do dozens of books, piles of clothing and kitchen utensils. It's the stuff of many capsized families.  

As the sun slinks lower and the shadows dance, I can imagine I'm
riding shotgun, on the lookout for pirates (or banditos, cowboys, Indians and
maybe even Charles Manson and his "family"), all of whom are obviously
hiding behind every scrawny mesquite shrub, ready to relieve us of all
 our riches (our stuff) and maybe even our lives.

Reality returns and I feel the sand  getting deeper, and the road
narrower and steeper and the GPS announces we have reached our
destination, which we know is not true. There are no houses in the
middle of nowhere.

We stop, settling deeper into the sand. And wonder. Then I see, up to
our right, the outline of a sailboat.

This is no childhood fantasy or a desert induced mirage.

The aging, crumbling sailboat sitting in dry dock  in the middle of
the desert belongs to our nephew's neighbor. I remember it from
the last time we visited.

So with a mighty heave, we crest the top of our final wave and settle
easily into the calm of our nephew's paved driveway. 

I need to drop anchor.

Monday, April 6, 2009

You Go Girls!

I'm doing time at a tea with church ladies.

Ball and chain. Gray hairs. Prim and proper.

Oh, turn the page.

This tea party's in southern California. And there's more cleavage
(modest, mind you) and high heels than chin hairs and orthos. (I, by
the way, supply the only gray hair, I think.)

I've never attended a church tea party. So I found the invitation to
this one irresistible. The hostess is a friend of MY friend Nicole
(the lady at left in the photo), whose husband Carlos pastors a
bilingual church in Long Beach, CA. The only thing required of me is I
arrive in a dress (not going to happen) and a bonnet (OK, we'll dress
up Nicole's cowboy hat).

I walk in the door and the first thing I notice is a patio full of
tables and chairs with covers and bows and flower arrangements
interspersed with brightly colored cupcakes. The next thing I see is
the food: piles of sandwiches, fruit salad, confections and more.

And then, the women begin to walk in. These are beautiful women,
 and nearly all have tended well to their hair and
makeup which accents their beautiful dresses, and the hats! I see
feathers, bows and netting. They took their invitations seriously. And
it makes the whole patio even more splendid.

I no longer feel like I'm doing time at a church social. Instead, I
meet new friends, eat fabulous food and laugh and smile.

Which, come to think of it, is EXACTLY what happens at a church social.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Boys Just Want To Have Fun

Jacob no longer flits about a dog park looking for friends, tennis
balls and sticks. No. Jacob, one of my two royal standard poodles,
has discovered the underworld, an extensive and busy highway
crisscrossing inches beneath his feet.

The world of gophers.

Good grief.

We stop at the Cambria, CA, dog park for an hour or so to socialize,
to skip, to run and play. We're doing a lot of driving today and we
need to stretch, to unfurl our legs, to wiggle out of this motor home
cocoon. The park is empty, except for a grouchy woman with bright pink
lips and her also grouchy dog. Both dog and woman growl at us, so we
distance ourselves.

I busy myself picking up tennis balls, Josh (my other poodle) finds
the water dish under the shade tent, so he hangs out there and
Jacob ... well Jacob starts poking his nose down gopher holes, every
one he can find. I toss a few balls his way and he ignores them. I run
up close to him, clapping my hands and calling him to play. He zig
zags away, nose to the ground, ears perked. I notice the zig-zagging
becomes manic. Has he gone nuts?

I then see him leap into the air and dive into the ground with his
feet, scooping shovelfuls of dirt between his legs. Then, WHAM! He
slams his face, nose first, into the ground. 

No kidding. His face. He does this repeatedly: dig, dig, dig, face slam, face slam, face slam
(see the pic).

Just so you know: Every hole he digs, I fill back in. It's dog park etiquette.

Thanks to Cindy and Jerry, local poodle owners in the know, I discover
Jacob's not nuts. The zig zagging is him following the gophers as they
scamper along their little underground tunnels. He's digging to get

And his face-first routine is his hopeful nature.

Oh, Jacob.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Pound of Whose Flesh?

I should have learned my lesson. The last time I left Allen alone, he
and his brother, Bob, spent $300 on a small Netbook computer.

Today, I left Allen alone again. The bill: $1,000.

Here's what happened:

Instead of going in with me, Allen drops me off at the Riverwalk Feed
and Seed store in Petaluma, CA, because there's no place to park Otto
(our 24-foot Navion). I hop out to buy dog food.

Inside this warehouse of organic pet and farm supplies, the help wear
natural wool hats and scarves (it's California cold, about 50) and use
cotton cloths, not wasteful paper towels, to scrub the shelves.

I hurry about to find the dog food we need (Wysong), then head to the
treat aisle. That's where the prices stagger me: $12.49 for three
stick-like chewies made from a bull. What part? The gold nose ring?

The sales clerk won't tell me what part (her eyes twinkle, though),
but says doggies love them. And, yes, they take a long time to chew
them up.

I HATE spending money, but I cracked. Why not?  We've
saved a lot on this vacation, so I can splurge on the dogs. I find
smaller bull treats ($6 for two), pay my bill and leave. Feeling a bit
poorer, but satisfied.

Here's when life got very expensive.

While I was inside spending $60 on dog food and treats, Allen was
outside ripping the left front headlight off a parked car, using our
motor home as the wrench.

It's really not that funny. An on-coming car was crowding the roadway
and Allen veered too far to the right, nailing the parked car.

That parked car could have been a rusting-out Ford. Or perhaps a

But, no. It was a Lexus.

That's right. Our Otto  took the lights out of a Lexus.

Thank goodness insurance will cover the luxury car's damage. But Otto
gave up enough of his own flesh to warrant a visit to the shop.
That'll cost about $1,000.

But we're OK. The doggies felt nothing. And Allen is fine.

I'll survive the sticker shock. And will NOT leave Allen alone again.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Almost Rubbing Elbows With The Rich And Famous

OK. A pattern has emerged. I'm on the West Coast, California,
actually, and I've had three brushes with the rich and famous.

I haven't actually connected with them. Touched or talked to them.
I've just brushed past their existence in very cosmic ways.
(Cosmic ... HA! ... Well, I'm in California.)

The first was a few days ago on a dog beach in Fort Bragg. A woman
named Kathy must have read my face, a face that must have screamed "I
NEED A GIRLFRIEND." Because she sat next to me in the sand for about
30 minutes or so just to chat. . (I'm traveling with my husband and
two male dogs; sometimes I need an estrogen injection to temper all
that testosterone.)

Here's the famous part: Kathy used to work for Fess Parker (as in Davy
Crockett from the '50s and Daniel Boone from the '60s), who now makes
wine at Epiphany Cellars and runs a hotel (well, it's called an Inn
and Spa ... more sophisticated language.)

Here's the neat, cosmic part: Fess LOVES giant stand poodles (we have
two, both traveling with us) and if we show up on a Thursday night
(with our dogs) Fess'd probably spend the evening in total
conversation with us.

Nice to know. Thank's Kathy! Probably won't happen. But, nice to know.

Why Thursdays? He does sing-alongs with guests that night. Usually.
When he's up to it. He's in his 80s now.

Our famous near connection No. 2 happened yesterday, when we visited
Bodega Bay. The restaurant we picked for lunch got our business soley
because our motor home would fit in the parking lot. Turns out Alfred
Hitchcock chose this very place for many scenes in "The Birds." Very

The restaurant is new, but it's the parking lot that saw most of the
action anyway. It was the scene of a major fire. And to think we chose
the restaurant because of that parking lot. Cosmic, I tell you!

And today, we brush up against fame again, this time at the Charles
Schulz Museum and Research Center
in Santa Rosa (that's us, above,
with Charlie).

Now there's famous stuff all over the place. But that's to be
expected. What's unexpected is who visited the place just hours
earlier: Jean Schulz, the late cartoonist's wife, and Charlie Rose,
who hosts one of our very favorite TV shows, "The Charlie Rose Show"
on PBS.

Star struck, I lean toward the docent who delivered that little
nugget, and say, "How long ago? Is it possible they are still
in the building?"

He shakes his head, but is clearly loving that I'm goo-goo eyed over
his news.

We finish our visit, and as we leave, I scan the grounds for a glimpse
of Charlie (Rose, not Brown). No luck. But still cool.

I'm beginning to think this rich-and-famous thing is a West coast
affectation. There're just so many of them out here that our paths
are bound to cross.

So I wonder whose cosmic dust will mingle with mine tomorrow.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's Not About The Destination

We wake up early so we have enough time to entertain both me and the
dogs. I want to explore Bodega Bay, CA, where Hitchcock filmed "The
and then let the dogs romp all nine acres of a dog park in

We do both. But it turns out the most exciting time was the drive to
get there, down California Highway 1, not a road really, but a roller
coaster out of sinc with capitalism and common sense.

The hairpins, the switchbacks, the crossovers! The ups and downs ...

The sheer cliffs, the pastural lands, the bluffs. The monster rock
islands, pounding surf, tide pools.

Transplant this place to the East Coast and there'd be a Hyatt or
Sheraton every 300 feet. And lots of lawsuits, because it's downright

But, this is California, so we find miles and miles of unspoiled
oceanfront, then small towns, where the restaurants have names like
Organic Catie's advertising Surf Yoga classes in the windows. Rental
properties stretch out and breath. Everything looks built 50 years
ago. Nothing is glitzy, razzle-dazzle, hot or way cool. Everything is
the Cat's Meow.

Sheep and cattle graze on what must be the most expensive real
estate in this nation. Ocean front. Pacific property.

As we leave the safety of the small towns and pastural lands, we enter
the Danger Zones. At times, our lane is 10 feet wide. That extra foot
I dearly wish we had fell off the cliff. I look out my window (lots)
and, after gasping (lots), I see a steep rocky decline plunging some
300 feet into an angry, swirling sea with teeth of ragged rocks. OK.
Allen's driving so I'll just shut my eyes (I do this a lot.).

I open them to see straight ahead it looks like our road ends, smack
into the side of a cow. A COW? Yes! There are six or so huge cows
kneeling alongside the road, unfenced, on a toupe of grass atop a
cliff. If they roll over. They die. Ravaged by the rocks. Natural

The road angles left, then down into a hairpin, then up again. We
rock back and forth. Gasp. Eyes close.

On down the road, we see two forest rangers on cell phones near a
billow of smoke curling through the trees. It's the start of a
California wild fire. They're calling for help. As we head on south,
fire trucks and other emergency vehicles plod past us. They cannot
zip. These hairpins and inclines and declines play havoc with them, too.

Further up the road, we see a daring rescue (click on the picture for
a closer look). Helicopter, emergency and ambulance crews gather on
one of the rocky precipices. A rescue team propels down the cliff
toward the sea with a liter in tow. We can't see what happens next,
because we drive on.

Finally, we arrive at The Tides, a restaurant in Bodega Bay. The
parking lot is the very one Hitchcock set fire to in "The Birds," and
it's also where Tippi Hedron (well, her character) rented a little boat to scoot across the
harbor with her love birds at her feet.

It's really neat to see a piece of Hollywood while in California.

And then it's on to the dog park, where we walk and walk to exercise
the dogs.

It was a nice, very nice dog park.

It's just hard for a dog park, no matter how nice,  or a restaurant, no matter how famous, to compete with Highway 1.