Wednesday, December 23, 2009

California. Oh, California.

There's nothing sexier than bare feet covered in computer cords. I know, because I just looked down, and my bare feet were covered in computer cords, and I thought, 'That is dang sexy, Rona.'

However, that has nothing to do with anything related to blogging on the road, unless to indicate how I do it.

A lot has happened since my last post: Sedona, Joshua Tree, L.A., Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur and other such coastal wonders. And I can't decide if I should just post pictures and be done with it, or try to describe the moods and settings, or maybe a combination of the two. I've also found an interesting dilemna with my new-to-me collages (which I love, as I can post oh so many more photos now), and that problem is my inability to caption them individually. Which is usually not a problem, not really. But sometimes I look at a particular photo and I have something to say about it. Or more often than that, the words come when I'm TAKING the photo, like the moment, the place has something to say--and that's why I'm taking the shot, to hear it and give it voice--and then later I sit down and I look at the hundreds and thousands of them on the screen, and the din of their clamor is deafening. And into a collage they go, making a giant commotion all the way.

Alas. So it goes. On to the ruckus.

First, Sedona:

You know, it's funny, but I'd always heard about Sedona in terms of its new-age-spiritual-feel-goodery-crystals-and-detox sorts of activities. But when I was actually there, it felt for all the world like a ski town. Maybe that's because these giant rock mountains were right up on the streets, all 'yo yo look at me not at that bagel and coffee,' and that's the same sort of aggressive mountainous talk you get in ski towns. But either way, it was interesting and unexpected and I liked it. I'd be curious to someday try one of those secluded spa-retreat places, where they starve you all day with chai tea and teach you to meditate, but until that day happens, please to love Sedona's red rock majesty with me.

Then we have Joshua Tree:

Joshua Tree National Park pretty much speaks for itself: it's got trees. Rocks. Brush. Rocks. Trees. More brush. Mountains. It's very rad, very 'mojave desert.' Very, 'you need a jacket and a bottled water, and don't hike too far in or you might die.' Which is all one can ask for out of their national park, really.

And then we have central coast California, the lush and lovely green opposite of all the deserts and hot springs and rocks that have been loved to date. How can these places be so different and yet both so absolutely perfect? 

Someday I want a house with a palm tree. And a lemon tree. And maybe some small rows of grapes, just to check out what all the fuss is about. Someone, tell me you want to do this with me. And we'll do it.

It's breeding and birthing season for Elephant Seals right now. Did you know that? I didn't until hitting Morro Bay, where kazillions of them hang out, lying around like so many giant lumps of blubber on the sand. According to the many informational signs posted, the male elephant seals have this sort of chest armor for all the chest-thumping they do when battling with other elephant seal males. Another sign explained the sounds one would be hearing from the beach--the coo'ing of the pups to their mothers, the roars of the males to each other--and it mentioned that the females snarl when the males come near to ward them off. Which I thought was pretty fantastic. Then another sign that said that all the battling between the young males provided good experience for mating season, although it didn't say exactly why. Hmmmm.

I was going to put some Big Sur pictures up, but I realize now that's too much for one day. Plus Big Sur was so wild and dark and mystical that it really stands alone.

Off to Bodega Bay now, land of barbequed oysters and miles of foggy, rugged coastline...

Until we meet again, hugs and kisses,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Life on the rez

Welcome to my weekend in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, a.k.a., 'the rez.' I was there visiting my Pima cousins, and it was one of the most fantastic experiences I've had on my road trip yet.

I learned how to make Indian frybread and red chile stew (top left), helped decorate the tree in the yard for Christmas (only in Arizona would it be warm enough), and pin-curled my hair for the first time. And you see those sunsets above? THOSE ARE THEIR VIEWS.

This is Zakira. She's three quarters Pima and one quarter Black.

This is Zakira's stepsister Alyssa. She's half Navajo, one quarter Pima, and one quarter Mexican.

Random Pima facts: historically, their rival tribe was the Apache. While the Pimas were agricultural in nature and also sharers of their bounty, the warrior Apaches survived by looting and pillaging. The round-faced Pimas apparently snapped one day after years of being ransacked, blew into an Apache tribe, and wiped them all out in one go. Awesome.

And what is turning into a regular feature: Road Pics. Meet Arizona, as seen from the highway: 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oh, good morning, Desert. I love you, too.

I woke up this morning to the above view outside of the double glass doors of my room at A Lodge on the Desert. I didn't know I had this view when I drove up at eleven o'clock last night; all I knew was that it was very, very dark, and I was very, very sleepy, and I needed to climb into the rich, soft, red four-poster bed awaiting me and close my eyes. And then I woke, after the warmest and softest night's sleep of any room yet, and there it was. The view of a lifetime. This is all the more remarkable considering this place (complete with a kitchen) cost the same price as this place.

And then I went outside to take photos, and SERIOUSLY. Do you see the eagle in that second photo? THAT'S A MOTHER EFFING EAGLE WAKING ME TO THE DAWN. I swear the desert is trying to steal my soul with all of its scrubs and birds and mountains. It's TOO MUCH.

And now I'm off to the Pima Reservation in Arizona to rediscover my tan side! After stopping at a farm for some famous Hatch green chiles, that is...mmmm...
Oh, and more random photos from the road:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No Man's Land

Today was a lovely, lovely day on the road. It was also longer than my average run, with more tourist-related stops and more swerving-onto-the-shoulder-I-have-to-take-a-picture stops. I am now both exhausted and exhilarated and absolutely in love with the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma's panhandle is rightly called No Man's Land, and it is a dark, desolate, and lonely place (the bottom right picture and top left were taken there). I expected the Texas panhandle to be much of the same, but as I came around a bend between two hills, a canyon opened before me that was so huge and so unexpected and so utterly, utterly stunning that my heart felt like it was ripped from my chest and flung into the rolling, plateaued vastness stretched below me. I hope hope hope that there's more of the same on my way to Roswell, New Mexico, tomorrow morning, although I don't know that my heart could take much more.

I have formal shots of the day, ones related to my actual activities (a tour of Boot Hill, a visit to Dorothy's house and the yellow brick road, Beaver Dunes State Park and Shaman's Portal in Oklahoma, and an early dinner at Ned & Darlene's Cafe--the best roadfood experience I've had yet), but for now I need to lie my head down and in their place, I just want to share with you a couple of the aforementioned roadside snapshots. I hope you like them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And I thought Milwaukee packed a punch.

See that bright red spot on my cheek there? Where it looks like I've been hit across the face? Well, THAT'S BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN. BY THE MOTHER EFFING WIND. The wind that is responsible for the current wind chill of TEN BELOW ZERO. That's a NEGATIVE, people. THAT'S A NEGATIVE TEMPERATURE.

I spent eight hours on a six hour journey today, crawling through the arctic tundra that some call 'Kansas.' The country highways I had to take from Kansas City to Dodge City were so iced over that the only hope of movement without skidding was to keep one's vehicle in the tread marks created by the other crawling vehicles. If, say, a gust of wind at 33 mph--oh yes, the same wind that slapped me across the face--were to buffet your car and push it out of the tread marks, your vehicle would scuttle sideways like a crab across the ice until you could realign it, hands white-gripping the wheel. There were no formal lanes today; the highways were snowed over beyond recognition. There were hours in which I was the only vehicle in sight on either bleak horizon. It was lonely, dangerous, and by far the most entertaining drive I've had yet. I think this was the first day I didn't contemplate closing my eyes for a few minutes and letting cruise control take over while I napped.

There were a load of photos I wanted to take--a black windmill against a white field and a white sky, a graveyard of red stones--but because the entire road was covered was ice, I couldn't brake or pull over. I was immeasurably disappointed by this, but I hope you can at least imagine the gorgeous starkness of such a forbidding landscape.

And--just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I got to my Dodge City lodging. I picked it out based on its name (and price) alone. Look how fantastic it is:

This place is exactly what I dreamed the American road motel to be. Please note that every car in the parking lot with the exception of mine is a pickup. Please also note that my room cost me, with tax, a mere $35. And I've got a fridge and a microwave in my ROOM. And free wifi! And cable television! And coarse tuscan-themed bedcovers! I know. It's like a dream come true. I think I made it happen with the power of my mind.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to actually try and * see * Dodge City. Boot Hill sounds absolutely fantastic--the American Old West preserved, from the apothecary to the general store to the old doctor's office and saloon, complete with all the appropriate antiques on display. In the summer they have gun fights in the street and a troup of candy girls doing a cabaret-style dance, but in the winter they just have an arse-kicking wind.

Speaking of the weather I have to look forward to: tomorrow morning is supposed to be a wopping zero degrees, with a wind chill of -18. So, you know, ideal for a pleasant stroll around town. By the time I start heading south, the day's high will be peaking at 10/-3. Just in time for me to get the heck out of Dodge.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wisconsin, Peoria, and on the road crazy-style

'There are some days I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.' --Salvador Dali

These next few days on the road are going to be a whirlwind: I'll be hitting a city (I use that term loosely) a day until I hit Phoenix in five days. Yesterday was Wisconsin to Peoria, Illinois. Destination: the planetarium. In the summer, Peoria is home to the largest solar system model in the world, with the Lakeview Museum acting as the sun, and planets placed to scale, reaching as far as 60 miles away. While I didn't get to see that, I WAS lucky enough to catch a show on black holes that was so realistic that the room appeared to bend and dip and spin and fly through space; I was frequently dizzy and not a little nauseated. Light speed is FAST, you guys. Don't do it. But DO go to your nearest planetarium as soon as possible and discover how awesome it's gotten since you were a kid. It is SO much more than little white stars on a black canvas. It's an effing ADVENTURE. Oh, and just so you know, I learned the sun is going to flip out in about FIVE BILLION YEARS. So get started on organizing that airing cupboard, because time is TICKING. You are NOT going to like the way it starts behaving when it turns into a red giant or a white dwarf. NOT NICE, SUN. NOT NICE.

Before it gets too late, let me share with you a little Wisconsin-in-Pictures. This first sequence I call 'Trying to Photo a Barn and Making a Friend, Instead.'

The next two collages are a montage of Ixonia, Watertown, and Oconomowoc, sweet little Germanic Wisconsonian villages:

What I think I love best about these towns are their mottos: Oconomowoc: 'A Public Power Community.' I don't know about you, but I find this to be really stirring. I personally feel publicly powerful on a regular basis.  And Watertown's is even better: 'It's Our...Water.' I feel like the ellipses mark really packs the punch here. It's like Watertown is thinking about it: 'It's Our...wait, wait, it's coming to me...come on, Watertown, what have we got?...Oh, hey! Water! It's Our...Water!'

A few things about Wisconsin that make it Special and Unique and so very, very German: its affinity toward bratwurst, beer, and deep-fried cheese curds, its weekly Friday Fish Fry, and the celebration of St. Nick's Day. I don't know why the rest of America isn't celebrating these latter traditions, but I'm personally gonna BRING it.

Now if you'll excuse me, my Kansas City hotel room is calling...along with a bed so fluffy I'm going to drown in the pillows with joy.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Have you found this in a motel room?

I just walked into my motel room to the pervasive smell of smoke in my non-smoking room. Apparently the previous guest thought 'non-smoking' meant 'less than a pack a day.' Either that, or this little 'no smoking' card on my night stand was put in mere moments before my arrival.

But I'm not gonna complain. I'm cool. Plus this room was so cheap I wouldn't be surprised at finding a body or a bullet-hole.

Then I go to unpack my toiletries next to the sink. The surprisingly clean sink, the sink with the well-ordered linen pyramid and the tidy trash can and the soaps folded into a clever washcloth boat. Then I see it.

Is it...?

No way.

Oh yes. Oh yes, it is.

It is a half-finished bottle of wine.

Re-corked, just chillin' here on this sparkling counter like it moved in with the last patron and thought, 'Yeah, yeah, this feels about right. I think I'll stay.'

I was startled. It wasn't like, say, a tissue in the trash, something that is understandably overlooked. This is a bottle of WINE. It's not a QUIET thing, a blending white crumpled thing. It's red, and it's got a long neck, and it's on an empty COUNTER.

I moved it with my elbow so I could see the label. Not that if it were nice I'd OPEN it or anything. Unless it were a Cakebread. Or a Duckhorn. We'd all become depraved humans at that opportunity.

But it was as I suspected: A Motel Red. That is a category of wine I'm now creating. Motel Red is the wine you get when you're staying the night in a smoke-infused motel room on an empty highway with nothing but an old t.v. and crusty remote control to entertain you, where your evening is spent half-heartedly flipping through staticky local programs from atop a coarse bedcover in a tuscan color scheme. Motel Red is a wine you buy when you don't really care--you're only going to have a glass (maybe two) anyway, and nobody's around to question your taste, and anyway, it will help you sleep. And when you pack your bags the next day, you leave it, because it has served its purpose. It's Motel Red. The one-night-stand of the wine family.

But it's still a bit shocking the maid didn't notice Motel Red perched merrily next to the bath linens. Maybe it was hers, something she brought along to take the edge off her shift. Or maybe she had planned to take it home and then forgot. Or maybe she's so used to half-drunk wine bottles in her own bathroom that this one flew by undetected. Either way, it's a strange, strange thing to find next to a bar of tissue-wrapped waxy soap.

Also, she neglected to leave me a glass. How am I supposed to drink my...water? 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What American City is This?

Let's play a little game called 'What American City is This?'!

Here are the rules:

1. You look at the photos.
2. You guess what city it is! Everybody who guesses right is a winner and everybody who guesses wrong is a loser. But only figuratively speaking, because I don't have any ribbons or anything to pass out. Although I guess if you're a loser, I can pass out some judgement. But I probably won't do that either, because I'm pretty awful at geography myself, and I only judge people for crimes that I consider myself above committing.

Here we go! An American city in pictures:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How I spent Thanksgiving

‘If I could grow one of those mutt chop mustaches, I would just tutt all the time. Tutt tutt tutt!’ –Joe Hunter

In my constant effort to do blog posts on cities now long gone, I feel a word is due about how I spent Thanksgiving.

I was worried about Thanksgiving in the planning of this trip. Restaurants and shops shut down here on Thanksgiving Day. Everybody goes to the warm embrace of their family, and they cook for hours on end, and it's oh so warm and fuzzy. And I initially thought I'd be on the road when this happened, or even worse, I'd be an awkward participant at someone's family affair.

But instead I was in Chicago, staying with a novelist and an artist, where they invited me to celebrate the day with their friends at a giant, wonderful potluck. It was a community of artists and story-tellers and comedians, and it was such a warm and open group that I didn't feel out of place for a second

A brief cast of the day's characters, if I may:

There was Joseph Terrance Thomas Hunter. He and his wife—the Lovely Reasonable Tara from Texas—had a beautiful baby girl named Lucy Monster. He told stories about his eccentric mensa uncle--complete with imitations--that made the table roar with laughter. This is a man who could tutt tutt tutt.

There was Madeline of Twinkletheuncanny fame—who looks alarmingly like Keira Knightley and aspires to obesity—and who makes fantastic videos on youtube. You wouldn't believe her age if I told you. (But ask me and I'll tell you.) Then there was a doubly-artistic married couple with a propensity for food who gave me a list a mile long of places to eat eat eat while I was in town, places I totally tried and loved beyond reasonable measure. And if that wasn't enough, later in the evening the husband embraced a departing guest with, 'Brothers don't shake hands! Brothers gotta HUG!'--only one of the greatest lines in cinematic history and one I use all the time but that is usually received with a blank stare. Because that's how I roll.

There was also our charming hostess Beth with her marimekko table setting and china too gorgeous to touch, with daughter Elena, who taught me about the greatest item ever that was invented while I was away in London--you have to watch the video it's hilarious--and last but not least we had Kim and Fatima, who looked like characters from The Babysitters Club and who I would like to model for my Colors of America campaign. Though they insist that we find a person in a wheelchair to complete the set.

Actual conversation from the evening:

Me: Lucy Monster sounds like Snuffleupagus!
Joe Terrance Thomas: I was just thinking about Snuffy!
Luke: It’s those long eyelashes, isn’t it? Who can resist eyelashes like that?

So was fantastic. Truly a day to be thankful for.