Shopping in Thai Town for Tom Kha Gai.

Thai Village shrine Los Angeles Thai Town

Thai Village shrine Los Angeles Thai Town

 

My friend, Linda, and I decided that I would stay at her cabin in Bear Valley Springs, and that we should have a sleepov

er with our fabulous girlfriends. I’ve known these women for fifteen years. We’re a tight group. We accept one another’s foibles, give support when needed (even if it’s not asked for), share what we have, applaud our successes, drink wine, smoke a little, and we laugh. A lot.

Since our gathering was a pot luck, I decided to make Tom Kha Gai, or Thai chicken coconut soup. I would shop in Los Angeles Thai Town for the necessary groceries. I hadn’t been there for several years, but how different could it be?

I drove around looking for thimagee small grocery store I used to shop at- 7-10 years ago. I nevert did find it, but I found a larger Asian store a few doors from the Harvard House Motel that advertised: adult movies, color TV AMFM water bed, and the Crispy Pork Gang restaurant, a name better suited to a rock band, or creative LA gangsters.  A Mexican security guard stood watch at the front entrance to the store, maybe so only a few of the Crispy Pork Gang could come in at a time.

I needed coconut milk, galangal (kha orn). a root similar to ginger, lemon grass/citronella(ta-krai), kaffir leaves, (bai ma-grood), fish sauce, (nagom pla) and this could not be derived from shell fish which some fish sauce is, black chile paste, (nam prik pow), cilantro leaves, and green Thai chile peppers (prik khee noo). I could buy the other ingredients anywhere: sugar, chicken, and limeimage juice.

I wandered around the messy store stepping aroound bags and boxes of dried fish, rice, noodles, cooking utensils and other unidentifiableThai imports. I marveled at how many ways bamboo can be prepared and preserved, from back scratchers to pickled snacks. Dozens  of bottles of fish sauce and countless variations of hot chile paste lined the shelves.  Coconut products: milk, cream, and  juice, in cans, jars, and boxes took up two shelves. Coconut cookies, pie, and puddings jammed the dessert aisle, and different varieties of fresh  coconuts filled a bin in the produce section.

Thailand is not called The Kingdom of a Hundred Fruits for nothing. Even in Los Angeles there were fresh and canned durien,  a big melon or maybe squash thing that smells like it’s rotten as it ripens. When I was in Thailand, residents of the hostel were forbidden to have it in our rooms. Jack fruit, bitter melon, mango, mangosteen, longan, lychee, papaya, pink, thorny rambutan, and several different types of fresh and preserved bananas were stacked high in crates and on shelves.

I blazed through the snack food, picking up  garlic green peas, dried okra, pickled cucumbers, and lychee. I bought my friend, Mary, a can of mangosteen because she believes in its abilities to heal.  Wandering into the health and beauty section, I had to restrain myself. Since I’ve just moved to Lake Isabella where temperatures can rise to three digits during the summer, I was tempted to buy Snake Brand  Prickly Heat Powder, but I was even more captivated by the variety of beauty products. Since  I am a woman of a certain age I bought a small bar of  Firmly Face Soap. I’ll keep you posted on the results.

I added mushrooms and some white wine  to the chicken broth. An hour or so before we ate I put in a fillet of Latham link cod in with the chicken. Ot was delicioius. Ask anybody.

 

 

 

 

Sightseeing at Home.

Entrance to Kern Preserve

Entrance to Kern Preserve

Recently I  was asked to write about sightseeing around my new home in the country, in the middle of nowhere, in a one-horse town in Kern county, California.

After seven years living abroad and traveling the world, I’ve moved to the small town of Lake Isabella, CA, population 2300. With one main road and three traffic lights, there are no sights to visit. To understand and appreciate the extraordinary diversity and raw elegance of my new home, one has to venture into its essence..

Situated in the high desert, on the edge of the majestic Sequoia National Forest, home to the world’s largest trees, this small hamlet offers easy access to countless activities for everyone. The surrounding landscape is as magnificient as the gorgeous trees.

 Lake Isabella

Lake Isabella

In spite of the drought, the lake is still full of bass for sport fishing and kayaking. There are two rivers and countless creeks for trout fishing, rafting, tubing, swimming,  more extreme kayaking,  just putzing around in the shallow water, or stretching out on one of the smooth boulders that line the river.  My friend’s daughter, Rose, has lent me a kayak, and I just bought the necessary life jacket at a local thrift store. I’m ready. Estoy lista!

I’ve already taken advantage of a few of the hundreds of hiking trails in the area. They   range from ea

Kern Preserve

Kern Preserve

sy to difficult, and most are accessible. Camping and lodging is plentiful. One need only contact the Park Department to make camping reservations within the park, and each small town has at least one motel or lodge.

In addition to water sports, you can picnic on one of the National Forest’s developed picnic areas, go horse riding, mountain biking or view wildlife from your car or while hiking with your camera or binoculars. Use your manners. How close do you want a complete stranger coming to your family?

During the winter, with any luck at all, there are ski slopes, snowshoeing, and even snowmobiling which I must say I am not fond of  because of the damage done to the forest floor.

At night, after a hard day of outdoor fun, people flock to the many pubs in the surrounding towns for great food made to order, locally brewed beer, and to listen or dance to live music played by excellent blue grass and folk bands. Before bed, take time to marvel at the crisp, clear sky above you. Track NASA’s satellites, identify your constellation, view the Milky Way, and wish on a falling star.

Settling In. Traveling back.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on the move. Some places I stayed a few months,  some a couple of years.  I settled into apartments in Mexico, China, Costa Rica and Los Angeles, plus, at my daughter’s request, I lived with her and her children outside historic  Charleston, SC.  Except for Los Angeles, where I actually got my stuff out of storage for a short spell, I purchased or borrowed what I needed to make myself comfortable wherever I happened to be in the world.

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

The Cabin

The Cabin

I learned a lot about myself. My odyssey taught me that my most useful attributes are my improvisational skills, and the ability to be flexible. I discovered that although coffee is  preferred, tea will do just fine; that unusual spices and unidentifiable food make eating an adventure, the struggle to communicate with those who speak different languages is challenging: sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, that the best adventures happen when one is lost, that fear is overrated. That we are basically all the same.

L

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Mis Amigas

Mis Amigas

Moving crew

Moving crew

ast year I felt compelled to go home.  Unfortunately I didn’t have one.  I had a 10X10 storage unit in Tehachapi, in the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mohave Desert.  I didn’t belong in the south. My daughter had her own life, and a family that didn’t include me. I missed my friends in California. Maybe I missed the state itself.

I headed across the country in Margaret, my Mini Cooper to my friend, Brandon Maggart’s, house in Venice Beach. Maybe it was the beach, the craziness, the chaos.  What ever, talking to my daughter, Alice, on the phone, she said, ” It must feel good to be home.” Ah, she understood. Still, Brandon’s, although I was totally comfortable, and I loved having another writer to share thoughts and words with, was not my home. I went back to Tehachapi, then to Bodfish and Lake Isabella. Searching.

My cabin in Lake Isabella is surrounded by woods and rocks. Outside my window three Hummingbirds argue constantly about nectar rights at the newly hung feeder. Abby, my friend Sherry’s  dog, comes to visit and to do yoga with me. At night I have a commanding view of the valley lights  stretched out below me as a long strand of rhinestones gracing the neck of the sparse mountains above it.

My Tehachapi friends rallied to pack the uhaul truck. That I have these good friends fills my heart.

Bedroom in cabin.

Bed in cabin.

Opening the boxes, I find pieces of myself that go back to my childhood. There are letters to my mother while she was in the hospital having me. A photo of me in my dad’s arms, my great grandparents surrounding us and several of my grandpa Naughton, the main man in my life for the first decade of my life. My home in Foxburg, PA was the flat on the second floor of his Irish bar. Across the street the beautiful Allegheny River flowed, sometimes leisurely as if it had all the time in the world, sometimes raging as if it was angry, to Pittsburgh.

A small three-legged table that was  my grandma Emma’s sets beside my bed.  I eat my meals on her red, separated plates. A hobnail vase of Mary McCoy’s, my mom’s first cousin and closest friend all of their lives,  my Mother’s bible, so important in her life, a banjo and a dulcimer made and given to me by different men who hoped in vain that I would become a musician.

Through countless photos and  mementos, I wander back through the years to my son’s births and deaths, my daughter’s births and schools years, their marriages, and the birth of my grand children, to life before my teenage brother was killed by a drunk driver, my ill-fated marriages, the fulfilling comedy years, to the time I could pick up the phone and call my mother. I wonder why my daughter doesn’t want to talk to me. Through photos and articles, I revisit countries I’ve visited, men I’ve loved, and people who have both inspired and thwarted me.

The past gives us perspective for the future. I see a busy one filled with the talents of my friends, music, stories, laughing, sharing and travels. This time when I leave, I’ll have a place to come home to.

French Gulch

French Gulch 3

French Gulch 3

Desert art

Desert art

Bodfish Creek

Bodfish Creek

I’ve been walking late afternoons around French Gulch, a section of Lake Isabella easily accessible from the road. The water is so low that sometimes I’m directly on the lake bed. A brisk wind causes small waves to lap at the new shoreline that is littered with small clam shells the size of dimes and quarters.

Even with minimum water the lake is beautiful. Here and there a few fishermen stand patiently with their fishing rods, ready to catch large mouth bass, and renegade catfish. An occasional boat can be seen on a far away shore, and yesterday a family was camped a few feet above the water line.

I walk briskly, up and down the sandy, dirt roads that criss-cross the gaunt  terrain, thinking about the critters that might join me at any moment-might come down f

French Gulch

French Gulch

image

rom the hills for a drink and some leftovers, or minnows.In my childhood hometown, Foxburg, PA, the black bears still saunter across the defunct railroad tracks, now a bike path, to the Allegheny River.

I imagine

coyotes, or bobcats, even bandit raccoons, bewildered by the dry creeks, having to travel farther, even across the busy highway for life sustaining water. Taking a photo of a cluster of large, smooth boulders,  I halfway expect a Western rattler to emerge, yawning from its nap, from between the cracks.

I think about what I’ll say to them. The first thing I’ll do is apologize for my race -all of us homo sapiens because we have fucked the earth up and are not capable of getting along with other enough to make amends. I’ll tell them I hope I have another chance, in another life, even if it’s on a different planet, to make amends.

“Still, I will say, I am ever so grateful to have had the pleasure to see you all  alive and free in spite of sharp-shooters and greedy cattlemen, and the dumbasses who think snakes are out to get us;  that all in all its been a pretty sweet ride on the big blue ball.”

The Cabin

The Cabin

The Cabin

Kern County California is bone dry, but still has the most beautiful wild flowers anywhere. Even the cacti are bursting with swollen magenta buds. Tiny yellow daisy-like flowers carpet the ground making a stunning back ground for the blue lupines, and numerous other flowers I don’t know the names of.

I drove through the canyon from Tehachapi to Lake Isabella feeling like I was in cowboy movie shot in the l950s, or back in the Andes in Peru. The Kern River snaked below the winding road flanked by sheer rock wall cutting into the skyline.

Until I move into the cabin on the 30th, I am staying with my friends, Pat & Mike, musicians and home owners who also work in the desert on behalf of the desert tortoises.

After seven years traveling the world,  I’m looking forward to spending some easy time, writing another book, hiking, kayaking, and visiting friends in Italy come fall, and generally learning about this high desert terrain, where the gold miners struck it rich or died trying. In spite of the drought, the river and some creeks still have water, and

Wildflowers in the front yard

Wildflowers in the front yard

hiking trails are plentiful.

It is true one doesn’t have to go far for adventure. Check out your own back yard.

,

Life, The Ultimate Trip-Venice, CA

imageI walked from the house on the 300 block of Windward Avenue. Within a minute or two I came upon a small, full, bright green tree, maybe 8 or 9 feet high. Dripping from the slender leaves were long yellow tentacles, each one filled with tiny bright, yellow balls. The tree reminded me of the fire works that drip long streams of color when they explode. Something about the tree made me feel happy. Maybe its whimsey, the way the yellow, lanky, arms bobbed and swayed as if dancing to the easy breeze blowing off the ocean.

I caressed the fleecy leaves. I put my nose into the blossoms as if I were searching for nectar. I walked on feeling a bit lighter, maybe with more bounce in my step than I before I saw it. I thought of the many ways nature affects us: huge life-giving ways, and small, almost unnoticeable, unexpected ways.

On Lincoln, I encountered a coiffed, white-haired, woman dressed impeccably in a white pantsuit, red blouse, stripped red and white socks, riding toward me on her scooter-chair. She was a good driver, traversing the uneven pavement, handling the dip from the sidewalk into the street, and up again, skillfully, with steady confidence. She looked like she could be in Florida, instead of Venice Beach. But I realized that was an unfair stereotype. When she passed me, both going and coming from the AT&T store, I smiled at her. She smiled back.

At one point a young man on a skateboard sped past her and around me. I flashed on her 40 or 50 years ago: different vehicle, maybe on a surfboard or skateboard, with the same confidence-and him 40 years hence, an old man, on a scooter bike cutting in and out, still skillfully avoiding pedestrians.

imageI left the AT&T building, stopped at a small Thai restaurant for some spicy mint noodles, and continued walking north on Lincoln Blvd. When I came upon a photo of two covered woman with their draped daughters, and small boy outside the Venice arts building, I stopped. The door was open so I went in to see Marissa Roth’s photo exhibition: one person crying: women and war. My timing was good, it was the show’s last day.

The open airy space was bustling with activity. Young students sat at several large tables discussing photos and drawings spread out before them. I was ignored as I wandered around them, looking at the photographs on the walls.

Face after face filled with fathomless pain and sorrow looked back at me from: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Ireland, Viet Nam, Japan, and Europe, survivors of the holocaust and Hiroshima. None of them have forgotten-will ever forget. Pain was etched in scars, deep ridges, their eyes, and in tight mouths that rarely smile because they some how survived to spend a lifetime mourning their family members who had perished. Because of war; Because men value money and power more than life-over and over again. That women bear the brunt of it.

From photo to photo, my sadness grew heavier, feelings of impotence increased. I wanted to collapse crying on the floor. I walked out of the building into the sunlight knowing that human rights don’t exist anywhere. That they won’t ever. I carried my burden of knowing, heavy in its sack of grief as I continued my walk.

Just past the bus bench on California at Lincoln, a man was sitting on the pavement beside his bike laden with goods only he, in all the world, cared about. Dressed in bright clothes, wearing three hats, the top most a child’s, knitted lime green elephant. He was cursing. Streams of fuckyous, motherfuckers, and goddams burst from his mouth in rage, hopelessness, and fury. I imagined his head was jumbled, the connectors disconnected somehow. I wondered what he had seen, what had been done to make him hurt so. I knew he didn’t want change. He wanted peace. Behind him thick, sweet, aromatic jasmine was growing on a fence.

Jasmine

Jasmine

A few blocks later, feeling weary, I went into the coffee shop at California and Abbot Kinney. I ordered an ice coffee. The smiling young man behind the counter handed it to me. “I’m getting your coffee. Enjoy.”

“Really? Thank you.”
A tiny random act of kindness.

I sat at a table, sipped my coffee, and read the LA Weekly paper. Movies, Theatre, Art, Music. Medical, or Illegal marijuana, Sex. Everything is here in Los Angeles-in Venice. It’s a microcosm of the real world: the very best to the unfathomable. Life. The ultimate trip. Continue reading

Ensenada, Mexico – How safe is it?

 

horses loaded with tourists

horses loaded with tourists

 

saguaro with buds

saguaro with buds

When I told my friends I was driving to Ensenada, Mexico, the majority of them were concerned. “Be careful.” said one. “Our cruise ship advisor told us to stay close to the boat, to be back before dark,” advised another. “Mexico is not safe, especially for a woman,” warned

a man.

It’s been a few years since I’ve driven to the border towns south of California, but I used to drive down often. I like shopping in Mexico, horse riding on the beach, having a massage and soak in the hot tubs at the Rosarita Beach Hotel, eating fresh, fish tacos, and my favorite, the Mexican shrimp, or miixo (with everything) cocktail. Yum.

mixto cocktail

mixto cocktail

This delicious concoction consists of fresh fish, shrimp, clams, octupus..whatever is in season I assume, chopped, put into a cup with fresh onion, cucumbers, cilantro, and covered with tomato juice. The consumer then adds salsa and or hot sauce to taste. Packets of saltines or crisp tortillas are open for the taking.

This past Monday, I left Venice Beach around 9AM, zipped down the 405 freeway to the 5, and before I knew it I was crossing the border. In spite of the lack of legible street signs and construction along the main drag, I managed to go directly to the Backpackers Hostel on Segundo St. in Ensenada.

sexy statue in courtyard of art university Ensenada

sexy statue in courtyard of art university Ensenada

The bright yellow hostel was only two blocks from the main street making it easy walking distance to the tourist area, but far enough away to avoid the noise and drunk Americans who come by ship to party. I know this because in days past, I was one of them.

The young man at the hostel spoke English. I preferred Spanish, but at one point, he laughed and asked me to speak English. ” Why, because my Spanish is so bad you can’t understand me?” Non committal, he laughed. By the time I’d put my bag into the locker, and changed my shoes, it was beginning to get dark. I asked if he thought it was safe for me to go out for a walk. “No problem in this area,” he assured me.

cruise  ship in Ensenada

cruise ship in Ensenada

I felt perfectly safe walking around. Several blocks away at a corner street shack, I bought a cocktail, (approx 5 dollars for a large) and stood there eating along with six or seven  men who were communicative and friendly.  The cocktail was delicious. On the way home, I stopped into the Thrifty Ice Cream store and treated myself to a cappuccino carmel nugget cone, which I must say, was as close to an orgasm as I’ve had lately (from an outside source).   

The following day I interviewed at two schools for teaching jobs, after which I drove around the residential areas looking for places to rent. Margaret. my Mini Cooper, dipped and groaned into and out of the ubiquitous pot holes, and cement troughs in the streets. There’s something to be said for a tight suspension system!

pina colada

pina colada

The following day I walked south to the beach. Because it was a windy, winter day, the only people on it were tourists out for a horse ride, and homeless men huddled beneath the public bath/gym complex who I’m pretty sure will be chased away come tourist season.

I left Thursday morning. Except for taking a wrong turn in Tijuana, which is as busy and crazy as it’s always been, the trip home was uneventful. It gave me time to think.

Why does the United States (media and government) malign Mexico? How does it serve us?

Yes, there are drug cartels in Mexico, because customers in the US buy drugs. We are their customers. We, too, have a crime problem.

Fact: our beloved city of New Orleans has four times more crime than all of Mexico, and five times that of Mexico City. Does the media run stories telling us to stay away from Marti Gras? Of course not.

Fact: The governor of Arizona recently admitted that a story about finding severed heads in the desert was untrue-but only after the story had run for months. I’ve driven through that desert many times without seeing anyone else, or being threatened in any way.

The truth is, in 2010, Orlando, FL , the home of Disney World had more than twice the murders than either Puerto Vallarta, or Cancun, two of Mexico’s popular tourist towns.

According to FBI stats, in 2010, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US. Houston, TX had over three times the rate of murders of Americans in Mexico.

fish taco

fish taco

Only a few Mexican states are on the US travel warning, not the whole country. Most of Mexico is safe, beautiful, and friendly. In spite of the fact that we dammed and use 99% of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers before they can flow into Mexiico, they welcome us.

Every country has crime. I have driven in 50 USA states, and when I lived in Puerta Vallarta a few years ago, I drove around Mexico freely and comfortably without a single, negative incident.

Remember that our media survives on sensationalism, not facts. When visiting anywhere, use some common sense, stay away from dicey areas, illegal substances, and enjoy yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Home.

Home is where you hang your hat. Home is where they have to take you in, if you have to go there. It’s in your heart. It’s with your family….

As I type, I am in the kitchen of the Backpackers Hostel in Ensenada, Mexico. I’m drinking tea, munching on a dark chocolate Milky Way.  It occurs to me that I am capable of making myself ‘at home’ just about anywhere in the world. But, I’ve  been seven years on the road. Seven years!

A year or so ago I began to long for my own home, to make a place for me again. I want my art on the walls, mementos of my trips, photos of my family and friends, a pot of tomatoes, some herbs, a bunch of red geraniums trailing over a wall, or porch railing, the smell of laven

 Lake Isabella

Lake Isabella

Entrance to Kern Preserve

Entrance to Kern Preserve

Kern Preserve

Kern Preserve

Cabin interior

Cabin interior

Moving crew

Moving crew

Mis Amigas

Mis Amigas

The Cabin

The Cabin

Wildflowers in the front yard

Wildflowers in the front yard

der, a hammock, a clothes line, the freedom to be naked if the mood strikes, if it’s sufficiently warm out.

It never occurred to me when I sold my house that I would miss it. Then again, maybe it’s not the house I miss. I began to travel a couple of years after my son died. Maybe its him I miss. Perhaps it’s my friends: belonging, the comfort of being accepted-warts and all. It’s being around like-minded,  folks who care about each other-who care about me.

A couple of months ago I packed Margaret, my Mini, and headed across the US back to California. At present I am at Brandon’s in Venice where I lived over a decade-longer than anywhere I’ve ever lived. But, Venice is congested, and expensive, and the mountains are calling me. The music my talented friends play, beckons. The warmth of affection, solitude to write, hiking trails, laughter.

A couple of weeks ago, I was back in Tehachapi and Kernville.  Being there was easy. Being with friends is that: easy. Uncomplicated.  I’m ready for easy; knowing the language, where the post office is, biking to the bank. I’m ready to resume my soirées, St. Patrick’s day parties; ready to write more, maybe finally get the one woman show underway, the books published, to hang out with old friends, make a few new ones, to make a home for me again.

 

Venice Beach, CA

Venice Beach, CA is most known for its wacky street artists, throngs of homeless people, skaters, surfers, and the board walk which is now  glutted with pot stores. It’s difficult to ignore the street hawkers. Clad in green, as if they were medical professionals about to go into surgery, they beckon you inside. “Want to feel euphoric, Lady?”  Want something for your arthritis, your sex drive, your appitite, headaches.. “It’s all fine so far, thank you very much, even the sex drive for no apparent reason.” But I digress.

Venice was my home for 12 years. Now I’m back, staying at my friend, Brandon Maggart’s, comfortable home just a couple blocks from the beach. Brandon and I bonded about fifteen plus years ago while having lunch at the Sidewalk Cafe when I asked him if he knew any hookers. “Why do you think I might, Ruby?” he asked, his blue eyes twinkling.  “Well, I don’t necessarily think you do, I just wondered because Kirk wants to get laid again.” (Kirk was my quadriplegic son who had been born with cerebral palsy causing the need for assistance in every way. ) As it turns out Brandon rallied, and the proverbial village responded. Brandon and the considerable Maggart clan, consisting of six totally delightful, talented  adults, have been my friends ever sense.

My room is the “loft” designated to transient familty, including an exwife, and friends as needs arise. It’s situated about three feet above, and from the door to his room, where he spends much of his time writing about his life on and off Broadway, and on the big screen in Hollywood, as viewed behind the small attic stage behind his eyes. His books are delightful romps through time and place, guaranteed to entertain. At least two of them are available on Amazon now, and the third one, which will include escapades with my son, is in the works.

Apart from the famous boardwalk, another aspect of Venice that goes largely unnoticed, that even I’d forgotten about, is the complex  diversity of its aromas. A walk in Venice is to experience olfactory and visual sensations that trigger desire, memories, or the need for stimuli or contemplation.

On the boardwalk I’m assulted by a  complex profusion of man-made smells: coconut sun screen, sweat, dollar hotdogs with yellow mustard, fried samosas and homemade incense, mingling with the sea.

But just a few blocks inland, the smells become sweet: profusions of pink jasmine, orange and lemon trees, and complex spices wafting from the multi-million dollar homes along the canals, and on walk streets.

Venice truly has something for everyone.  It’s a village where one can see plays before they hit the Pantages,  listen to original poetry, see the creative garments of young fashion designers flowing on streetside mannequins , and get a 39.00 Thai massage before noon.

Developers are doing their best to unseat the funkiness that took this seaside sectiion of Los Angeles decades to perfect, but I have hope, and believe in the freedom and resistence of those who are staunch supporters of the wacky wonderfulness that has made it unique.

 

 

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Hope Surges on Route 66/ I 40 across the USA.

According to distance-cities.com there are 2,471.06 between Charleston SC and Los Angeles,CA. If one were to drive non-stop, it would take 1 day and 11 hours without stopping to pee. It took me seven.

Creek Casino, Muskogee, OK

Creek Casino, Muskogee, OK

The main routes across my expansive country are Interstates 80, 40 and 10. I chose 40 which is also the old Route 66 known as Main St US.

Route 66 cafe

Route 66 cafe

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch

A, made famous in the l960s by the song, Get Your Kicks on route 66, and the Route 66 TV show.

Back then it was all about the cars: colorful sexy, sleek, gas guzzling automobiles that felt like they were floating down the road-back seats big enough for three or four kids and a dog, or for making making babies.  In fact, my twin sons were conceived in a jaunty push-button, two-toned salmon colored dodge on a sultry summer evening in July, 1960.image

One has to deliberately exit the interstate to get to the old route, but to do so is a total trip into the past. I thoroughly enjoy the stores and restaurants that have been run by the same families for generations. I’m moved thinking I may have shopped in some of them during my first trip across the US with my mom and her friend, Tacy, in l953 when I was ten!

Eight years ago, on a road trip with my friend, Sherry Gaskin, we stopped for the night at the Route 66 Motel. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but the flouncy bedspread, and lace curtains could have been in my grandmother’s house.

As part of the price we were given breakfast vouchers for the restaurant next door: the Road-Kill Cafe. Although it didn’t feature opossum or freshly fender-whacked deer, we discovered that meat and potatoes were de riguer. When we both ordered oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, the young, pregnant waitress, peered at us with a blank stare. Within a few minutes she brought us coffee. While we sat waiting for our food,  customers around us came and went after devouring plates filled with bright yellow, slimy eggs over easy, accompanied by generous hunks of crisp bacon or sausage, potatoes, and toast or a plate piled high with four inch biscuits smothered in beige gravy. 

Finally we inquired about our food. She didn’t flinch. “This is the ROAD KILL CAFE. We don’t have yogurt, or fruit  or oatmeal,” she replied. “Oh. In that case we’ll have # 2 scrambled, with bacon and wheat toast.” we answered in succession.

I tipped her a dollar because she was surly, and the service was shitty. Sherry left her five. “Why’d you do that, Sherry?” I asked. “Oh, she’s a young, pregnant woman who lives in the middle of nowhere, working at the Road Kill Cafe. She needs something to brighten her day.” Ahh. Compassion. Random acts of kindness. I have a lot to learn from my friend.

This past trip, I stopped in Muskogee, OK, made famous by country music legend, Merle Haggard, with his song, Okie From Muskogee, recorded in l969. The song was Merle’s tribute to the values of folks in Oklahoma, and his renouncement of the  hippie movement going on in San Francisco. I was there to rendezvous with my dear friend, Kate, who’s living in Kansas, whom I had met in the 1980s in San Francisco when I was doing stand-up. We explored the sleepy town, had a hot chicken salad smothered with yellow cheese, at the new Creek Casino, and walked around an expansive park, where I unknowingly gifted to a lucky person a hand loomed scarf I’d  bought in Guatemala a few years ago.

Mole @ MEXICAN FOOD, AZ

Mole @ MEXICAN FOOD, AZ

Next I stopped  to visit with my new friend, Sandra, in Albuquerque, NM. I met Sandra and her mom, Rosa, in the Amazon jungle the previous September at the Nasty Monkey Hostel, (my name for it), Puerto Narino, Colombia. When Clare, another traveling acquaintance and I were invited to celebrate Rosa’s 70th birthday, we gladly accepted. Attended by two boys under ten, we drank beer, unidentified whiskey, and Rosa and I danced. Two old ladies cutting the rug in the jungle, happy to be alive.

L-R Ruby, Rosa, Claire, Sandra

L-R Ruby, Rosa, Claire, Sandra

The US is expansive, and diverse. Immigrants came from all over the world looking for freedom, to strike it rich, farm, and many other reasons. Aside from our deplorable treatment, and annihilation of the majority of the native Americans, I remember when our politicians compromised: when the country and we the people were priorities. Now, our politics are a mess. Congress has become the Tower of Babel, unable to communicate with each other, servants controlled and dominated by corporate greed and billionaires such as the Koch brothers.

Interstate 40

Interstate 40

However, zipping along in Margaret, my Mini Cooper that was a Christmas gift from my daughter, Anna in 2006, the windows down, the sun roof open, a CD blasting, and cruise control set to keep the speed legal, cruising from state to state, across highways that are still superior to most in the world, it was easy to forget our troubles. It was as if hope surged through the air. Even the ticket I got for an illegal lane change, while I was on the phone not paying attention, could not dampen my love of this place I call home.