Tag Archives: Travel

Brazil, Atlantic coast beaches, dunes, travel by bus, Itaunas, Hostels,

Rome: Not for Sissies

At the colosseum

At the colosseum

Rome is flooded stimuli: energy that permeates and disrupts the senses, swarms of tourists clogging crooked streets, illegally parked cars, designer clothes , gorgeous shoes the price of a month’s rent, alleys with hidden treasures, and sadly, ubiquitous cheap Chinese stuff.

I asked Alessandro which side of the street the Italians drive on because it isn’t apparent here in the city. ” It doesn’t matter,” he answered. “Doesn’t matter! Of course it matters. I’m renting a car in Pisa and need to know.”  It’s the same as the US.” he says. Lordy.

The violent past of the colosseum invaded my dreams last night. I was fighting for my life. Hitting some snake like thing with something no bigger than a golf club. Afterwards I felt sorry. It’s not who I am. In the colosseum, only 3 % of the gladiators lived, none of the slaves or criminals or animals. Huge boatloads of reptiles, tigers, lions, bears, etc. were imported  from Africa and Egypt to fight in the ring. An estimated 100,000 animals were killed during the Romans short reign. Some species  became extinct because of the emperor’s thirst for entertainment, of public executions called games.

imageIt’s astounding how brilliant Roman  engineers built aqua ducts, astounding architecture, roads and the government was democratic. And yet, a couple of times a month, screamed for blood to entertain them . Or, maybe they didn’t attend the gory get togethers.

Romulus and Remus raised by a she wolf raised a city from dirt. Beloved Cesar stabbed by Brutus. Myth mixed with fact: legend with history. Barbarians brought down by barbarians. The fallen city plundered and pillaged by everyone, including the hollier than thou popes who used the heathen’s  materials it to build their Rome.

imageAnd then there were the vestual virgins, In charge of keeping the eternal fire lit. If you lost your virginity, you were buried alive; If you let the fire go out, you were beaten by the emperor (I think him). Rome, gorgeous, but not for sissies: not then-not now.

 

 

 

Murphy’s law and Chinatown in Roma.

imageIt was unusual for me to have dire thoughts prior to leaving on a trip. But, this time I did. I had visions of being robbed, left alone, lost…. I think they came from the guide books and a travel book my friend sent me. ” Watch your stuff!” Beware of late-night train & bus stations, keep you money secure in your belt.” Maybe it’s because I just felt too lucky, and too blessed- the shoe will fall. What ever silliness runs through one’s head like a bullet train, it is hard to drive those thoughts away.

It all started well. My flight was on time from the U.S. My burly English seat companion was of my ilk. We slept and laughed-slept and laughed. The flight from London was two hours late.

In Rome I found the train. Two ticket machines were defunct. But finally, I got one. When I was taking it out of the tray, I spotted a 20 euro note on the ground. Found money is a good sign. To counter that, the last train was pulling out of the station when I got there. I ran for it anyway. I was the last person standing in the cavernous station. Alone. A guy looking through the garbage cans was working the perimeter of the place. He looked at me and passed. Finally, an employee opened a door. “Last train. Go to bus.” It was English-enough to make me feel better.image

I found the bus. The passengers were sitting patiently, waiting to leave when the driver came in and yelled at an obviously gay, young, Asian passenger across the aisle from me. “Get off the bus!” He yelled something about his purse. The passengers sided with the passenger. “It’s just a purse. Just a friggin purse!” They yelled at him. the young  man held his ground. (and niggled the driver just a bit) “I’m never getting off this bus!!” Ah, I could have been in New York in the 70’s.

20 min later, I got out of the bus, took a cab driven by a tout driver who preys on tourists, ( even though my shoes DO NOT LOOK LIKE I AM A TOURIST )and, because I had no idea how far the hostel was, took him up on his offer of 20 Euros for a three or four block trip. 20. Easy come: easy go.
(Btw, it was the second time I’d been gifted a 20 dollar bill on the ground in a week!)

At the hostel the night guy said there was a problem. “What problem?” I asked nicely. I have been on the road 24 hours, I am tired, cranky and need to sleep. And, I have a reservation.”
“The hostel has been closed. I can send you to the Downtown Hostel. ” “Will you pay for it, otherwise I am not going anywhere.”
He looked at the computer and called someone. ”
“Good luck. You can sleep here tonight.”
I slept like a baby. Now I am in the Downtown Alessandro, Roma. My bed is comfortable, my belly full. Two slices of mushroom pizza-2 Euros, one half bottle of vino tinto-2.5. Huge fresh strawberries, 1.5 E. And, image
imageI found Rome’s Chinatown. See. Good luck everywhere
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The Gypsy Wagon

The Gypsy Wagon

Etching by artist Larry David Dunn

Etching by artist Larry David Dunn

Thirty seven years ago my friend, artist Larry David Dunn, gave me an etching he made for my 35th birthday. It’s called Gypsy Wagon. When he handed it to me, he said, “It’s a portrait of you. You travel with your own light.” The wagon is small, wooden, and sturdy, with a slightly sloped roof. It has a window with four panes, wooden wheels, and wooden spreader bars for hitching my horse. The ground around the wagon is bathed in a warm light that comes from the full moon above. It is one of my most precious possessions.

When LD gave me the picture, I was recovering from very tough times. Instead of light, I felt troubled and afraid. I couldn’t imagine that I was emitting much light. I certainly didn’t see how I could be traveling very far given I was recently divorced, and what little money I had went to pay the bills. I pondered how he saw me as a small, sturdy, wooden wagon surrounded by a warm glow.

Nevertheless, I bonded with the piece, as if its light could lead me out of the darkness I felt, and as if I was self-contained and sturdy enough to shine. A few years after LD gifted Gypsy Wagon to me, I sold the house that had represented the American Dream, but now consumed my energy and money, and moved my family across the country to an apartment in San Francisco. There, I became a stand-up comedian. Standing on the tiny stage at a place called The Holy City Zoo, I got my light back.

Three decades, other houses and apartments, the death of my son, and the births of grandchildren have gone by. I’ve traveled to 30 countries: some to teach and live for awhile, and some just to hang out in order to get to know my global neighbors-to connect my light with the universe, if I’m lucky maybe I can make them laugh.

Each time I unpack, Gypsy Wagon is hung on a prominent wall where I can see it. In my current home, a charming cabin on a mountainside in Lake Isabella, CA, in the lovely Kern River Valley, it hangs in my bedroom next to a world map.

The map and the Gypsy Wagon are the first things I see in the morning, and the last things I see at night. This morning I took it off the wall to pack it, because I am leaving again. Next month I’m flying to Europe to connect with former students and friends I’ve met traveling. My goal is to head north through Italy to Prague, Czech Republic, where I plan to teach for a few months.

I thank LD for Gypsy Wagon, for seeing my light when I couldn’t. I’m impressed with his prescience. I will do my best to spread as much light as one sturdy wagon possibly can.

The Iron Beds

Iron bed with Morrocan pillow

Iron bed with Morrocan pillow

A thing has to have meaning for me to keep it these days-to haul it in and out of storage every time I decide to travel. But, if it does have a place, say in my heart, or reminds me of good things and loves past, I’ll keep it even if it’s heavy and unwieldy, or takes the lions share of rented space.

Back, way back, in the obscure recesses of my memory, there was an iron bed. It figured prominently in a nightmare I had for three decades, but I never actually saw it until I was in my 30s. My mom used to tell my sitters, “If she wakes up screaming just turn on the light and hold her for a few minutes, she’ll go back to sleep.” Frequently, an earache triggered the nightmare. As I got older and life became more complicated, the catalyst was, more often than not, emotional distress.

2nd Iron bed

2nd Iron bed

In the dream, I am suspended in total darkness, alone and weightless. Suddenly, a high-pitched trill, like a bird in distress far-away seems to surround me. The sound begins faintly and becomes progressively louder and louder until I wake, shaking, sometimes sweaty, my heart pounding. Similar to falling dreams where one never hits the bottom, the source of the tormenting, other worldly noise never reveals itself.

In the mid-70s, when I was living in Chicago, the nightmare came so frequently I was afraid to go to sleep. My friend, Ginny, suggested I visit a past life regression hypnotist that she knew. I had nothing to lose.

The hypnotist turned on a tape recorder to tape the session: for his safety, and for me to review later. Within minutes, he had me in a trance. My first death occurred when I, as an old man, was on a dappled gray horse, being chased by rogue solders- Romans, we believed, by my description of their uniforms. They over took me, and dragged me hanging from a stirrup to my death.

The second time I died,, I was a young shepherd boy. I was tending goats on a verdant, grassy hillside overlooking the sea, but I felt very sick. I went home to a long, low, white washed building. Inside, small children were sitting on benches at a large table. It was warm. My mother gave me a bowl of soup, which I slurped slowly by the fire. As I was describing my second death to the therapist, the dream arrived, cutting my description of death short. I shouted, “No! No!” The hypnotist calmed my fear. “You are not alone. Let the demons come. I won’t let them hurt you,” he assured me.

Through tears, I began drifting in the dark. The therapist kept talking. “Don’t let it go. What do you see?” It was as if I was watching a photograph take shape in the dark room. The black void that had terrified me all my life, took the shape of nun’s habits, bunched together in a fluid galaxy, in a dim, sparse room. The screaming came from me. I was a baby, maybe a year old, just able to stand. I was standing in an iron bed, hanging on to the bars, screaming because my head was hurting. No one seemed to hear me-or care. The hypnotist assured me I was not alone; but I was sobbing now, because then I had been. And, I had never forgotten that aloneness, I’d been carrying it around in my psyche my entire life. After that session, the dream left, and hasn’t been back.

During the mid 80s I owned some land with a musician friend outside of Clear Lake, CA. One afternoon, we visited friends of his. We entered the house through the back door off the kitchen. Straight ahead, through the kitchen, in an alcove a foot or so above the floor, was a simple black iron bed. I shivered. My friend asked if I was OK? “Yes, but something is strange,” I told him. I felt a uncanny attachment to their bed. Just minutes after I met his friend, I told her, “ It’s crazy, but that bed is mine. When you no longer want it, let me know and I’ll come and get it. Having imbibed in psychedelic mushrooms, and a habitual pot smoker, she didn’t think it was strange at all. “OK. Will do,” she assured me.

A few months later, she called me to say they were moving and had left the bed in a storage bin in Clear Lake. They gave me the code to the combination lock. I had two weeks to pick it up. I moved my precious bed to San Francisco. It was squeaky and a bit unsteady. At one point during a raucous bout of love fun, the bed broke. Marty, my lover, bound it together with electrical wire. When I left the Bay area, the bed moved to Sonoma with me.

Several years later, I went on the road to do stand-up. I put the bed into storage in Sonoma. When I moved to Los Angeles in l990, I loaded the bed in the U Haul cart I towed behind my l977 turquoise and white Buick Skylark. I barely got out of San Francisco, when the car began to huff and puff up even the slightest hill. She ran hot. She just couldn’t haul the weight. I drove to my friend, Carol’s, in Alameda. We unloaded books, and other heavy stuff. I left the bed in. She said, “You need to get rid of the bed, too. Leave it here. I’ll call Goodwill to come pick it up.” “Oh no!” Crying, I called my daughter, Alice. “Mom, why are you crying about that old bed?”
“It has such wonderful memories,” I answered.“Memories are just burdens if you have to haul them around,” she wisely countered. It sounded like a country song.

The old bed was too heavy to haul up another hill, memories leaned against the garage wall, destined for Goodwill. I called my daughter for comfort, but her logic was sound, memories are only burdens if you have to haul them around.

Sometime in the late 90’s a childhood friend of mine and I bought a century old house in the forest close to the small Western Pennsylvania towns we grew up in. In the house were three iron beds, complete with heavy metal springs. Aside from a waterbed, I’d never slept on anything so comfortable.

When we sold the house a few years later, I hauled two of the beds and the heavy springs to California. Since then, they have spent more time in storage than out. A year ago, I moved to Lake Isabella. The friend who moved me into the cabin was about to set up the beds when he realized there were no rails. They had apparently had been left in LA –three years before.

It’s time the beds join the dream, as memories, not burdens.

Yoga is the Best Medicine.

Molgolian Steppes

Molgolian Steppes

I started doing yoga in the late l960s. I liked the way I felt after stretching my body. I liked the idea of saluting the sun, too. After all, it gives us light and warmth, not to mention we wouldn’t exist without it. I agreed with the Incas back then, and still do today, that the sun is the ultimate God.

I  give yoga much of the credit for my good health. I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the Ruby interior,  but I know I don’t have arthritis,  knee or hip problems,  and that I’m

comfortable sitting in the Chinese wait-in-line-squat indefinitely.

In the early 1970s, I was overwhelmed with my life. I was depressed and lonely even though I was living what I had been told was

Our horseman & Rowdy

Our horseman & Rowdy

the American Dream in the upscale suburbs of Chicago. One day I happened upon Lillas, Yoga, and You on PBS. Lillas was a vision. She seemed to have a strength inside her that I needed. I began spending thirty minutes each morning with Lillas, doing yoga poses and breathing deeply. For  that 30 minutes,  I forgot my troubles and the ones in the world around me. I stretched and breathed, breathed and stretched. Little by little, my body became more supple, my mind clearer, my heart healthier.

Mostly the benefits of yoga sneak up on you, but two episodes happened to me  in the past few years that showed the obvious and immediate examples of yoga medicine.

The first one occurred when I was in a hotelimage in Madrid, Spain. I rolled out of bed one morning, and was so dizzy I could not stand erect. As the room spun around me, I pulled myself into the p

ose of the child, and took deep breaths. Within a few minutes, the spinning stopped. I got to my knees, then hanging onto the bed, I stood up. I pulled my body into the tree pose. One arm raised above me, I put one foot on my inner thigh, raised my head, and breathed deeply. I changed sides, still holding on to the bed. The vertigo abated. Within a few days of yoga poses for balance: tree, half-moon, and balancing butterfly, it had disappeared completely.

A few years ago, I was galloping across the steppes of Mongolia on a horse I affectionately called Rowdy Brown. Suddenly, I felt a searing pain in my back. I slumped forward onto Rowdy’s neck. Clammy sweat poured from me as I clung to him while breathing deep cleansing breaths.  I was in the middle of nowhere. Truly. The guide came up alongside me to see what the problem was. There were three others in my group, all good riders. We had all come a long way for this experience.They did not want to be slowed down by me.

I lay on Rowdy’s neck, walking far behind the others until lunch time. The hard part was to keep him from running. He didn’t need to  be the last horse, but he sure did not want to be last. When the lunch car finally arrived,  I dismounted. Someone gave me a couple of extra strength pain killers. I pulled myself into the pose of the child, my knees under me, my head on the ground, my arms along my sides. I declined the suggestion that I go to the hospital, but, when it was time for the lunch man to leave, I realized I had no choice but to ride  along with him. 

For three days I took pain killers, and rode in the car with the meal/camping man. Rowdy. ran along with the guide and his horse. Each night  I returned with him  to camp. After he pitched my tent,  I crawled into it and did yoga stretches. Each morning  my back pain had lessened. On the fourth day, I was back in the saddle.

The three people I started out with left to ride into the mountains. Four new folks showed up. None of them were experienced riders, so nobody was in a hurry. We mosied over the steppes, conversing and looking at the scenery. Every morning and evening I stretched my back: the cat, the pigeon, the sphinx, the hamstring stretch.

That was three years ago. I still have occasional back pain after sitting at my desk for too long. When that happens I get down on the floor. I breathe, stretch,  breathe stretch. Ahhh. Powerful yoga medicine.

 

A Sunday Morning on Venice Beach

imageWhile staying at the Maggart’s, my extended family in Venice, I took a Sunday morning walk on the beach. I was surprised by how early the beach was alive with activity. Since I moved away in 2000 some things have changed, but not too many. It’s still Venice. The homeless sleep under what ever material they find, towered over by tall palms, joggers sprint through tourists on the boardwalk, vendors roll up the metal doors to reveal rows and rows of sun glasses, tank tops, and tee shirts-3 for $10.00. Artists paint, and skaters, some as young as six or seven, zip through the concrete gullies of the skate course, launching themselves into the air as if they had wings.

I saw a fittness commercial being filmed. Twenty or so folks raced through the sand to the surf and back, did jumping jacks, and raced again. The instructor barked instructions, the camerawoman, hauling her heavy Nikon with a lens as long as my forearm, did her best to keep up.   Continue reading

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Muskogee, OK, North America

Creek Nation Casino

Creek Nation Casino

Kate & Ruby

Kate & Ruby

image image1,134 miles across North America and I’ve reached Muskogee, OK. Muskogee was not on my bucket list. However, it’s just a four hour drive from Lawrence, KS, where my friend Kate lives, so it seemed a good place to rendezvous on my drive across North America. 

Muskogee is a quiet town. Kate, Mary Jane,  and I are crusing Main Street. No one is burning their draft cards, probably because we haven’t had a draft since Merle Haggard put Muskogee on the map, but Old Glory does still wave from the court house. I didn’t see any white lightening at the new Creek Nation Casino, but the hot chicken salad smothered with yellow cheddar cheese was a first, and the wine too sour for me to drink. Not a first, but close.

I took several photos of  inside the casino and the  cleaning lady held down the button on my iphone taking several priceless photos of Kate and me before the guard stopped our illegal actions. Casinos- such a surreal place to to throw  your money away.

Was Merle’s guitar blue?

Unfortunately, The Museum of the Three Civilized Tribes was closed, but the park was bustiling with children and folks walking around the lake. We slid down the yellow tube slide at a  smaller park, shrieking like old ladies,  and watched the Canadian Geese forage for acorns until a woman in a near-by house brought out the bread. Salt and sugar over raw nuts anytime!  

Canadian Geese Muskogee

Canadian Geese
Muskogee

Kate and I met in the early 80s. We lost touch, but she tracked me down through the  internet. Now, We are righteous, old liberal women, agast that our country has been taken over by corporations, and worst of all, that folks don’t seem to notice. Still, we find many things to laugh about, and Kate, bless her, can even remember some of my long retired, comedy routines.

Last night in Amrillo, TX,  I had supper at a restaurant that sported a large sign MEXICAN FOOD. Enuff said. The home made mole was delicious.

Today, I’ll drive 4 or 5 hours to Albuquerque where I’ll spend a couple of days visiting my new friend, Sanda, whom I met, along with her mother. Rosa,  in Puerto Narino, Colombia,  during the summer.

The road, new friends, old friends. Hose me down.