The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Friday, June 4, 2021
Day eighteen.

It’s already sultry at six in the morning at The Raine Motel in Valentine, Nebraska. We’d arrived sometime during mid-afternoon yesterday and The Raine was a lonely place. Just us and one other car parked two rooms down. The Raine is another throwback motor court that we’re staying at during our four week journey. It’s the last and I suppose fittingly, the best of the bunch. What was an empty Raine yesterday is full this morning. Full of pickup trucks.

Nebraska is the land of pickup trucks, mostly beefy, burly ones. In our San Francisco Bay Area, a guy will buy a gigantic pickup, knowing that the most he’ll ever haul is a few sacks of groceries once a week. And that four wheel drive package he added on? Well that’ll come in handy for negotiating the gravel parking lot at the county fair. There’s a much more important convenience that comes with this pickup and that’s the aura of rugged manliness. Nothing says virility like an F350. Well maybe a gun, but that’s for a different post.

Not so in Nebraska and neighboring Iowa. Out here a reliable pickup truck is a tool. So are tractors. Driving through Iowa and Nebraska we’ve seen more John Deere and Case dealerships than we have car dealers. And why not? If you want to earn the scratch to buy a car you’re going to first need the tractor.

It seems that we never leave as early as I’d like to and today is no different. This was one of those days when I really wanted to get out early. The heat wave that’s hitting The Plains States is predicted to bring temperatures into the high 90s. It’s coming up to nine in the morning when we get out of The Raine.

Our ultimate destination is a cabin in Custer, South Dakota, but on the way we’re stopping at Badlands National Park and then The Wall Drug, a mecca for road warriors coming from all parts of these Great United States and, indeed, the world; travel weary tourists in search of the ultimate kitsch. Wall Drug, the capital of campiness made famous by the bumper stickers that read, Where The Hell is Wall Drug.

As if it wasn’t already famous enough, Wall Drug received a recent boost of notoriety when it was featured in the Academy Award winning movie Nomadland, in which Frances McDormand’s character Fern finds herself working in the restaurant of The Wall Drug.

Before The Badlands or Wall Drug though, the plan is to stop at the South Dakota Welcome Center to get a road map. Ever since lady Google threw us for a 50 mile loop back in Arizona, I’ve been on a mission to stop at each state’s welcome center to get the free map. It’s been a hit or miss, well, mostly miss proposition. In my map quest I’ve so far struck out in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

In fact I’ve only been successful at the Arkansas Welcome Center. There, a nice woman offered coffee, pastry and little packets of rice (who knew that Arkansas is the biggest rice producing state in the country?). The packet didn’t contain enough rice to construct one small piece of sushi but, hey, it’s the thought that counts. The kind lady also doled out maps of Arkansas and Missouri and some friendly conversation.

Why maps? Not only do I fact check Ms. Google but I find that a map gives me the wider view that Google Maps doesn’t, and a real map often features places of interest that Google fails to show.

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Saturday, May 29, 2021
Day eleven.

Note: Posts are not in chronological order.

We’re traveling from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Amarillo, Texas.

We’ve just hit Cline’s Corner’s at the junction of Highways 285 and 40 (Route 66}. Cline’s Corners isn’t a town, just a large rest stop; RV park, filling station, café, and last but most assuredly not least, a gift shop. It’s been a traveler’s rest since 1934.

In either a bit of irony or fanciful thinking, the address for the rest stop is 1 Yacht Club Drive. It’s Northeastern New Mexico and I guarantee there isn’t a yacht, much less a yacht club within 1600 miles. Maybe the founder, Roy Cline, had relocated from San Diego or some other yacht friendly place and felt sentimental.

In any event, Cline’s Corners is not where I want to be. Our first destination is Santa Rosa and I’d planned on getting there by taking Highway 25 which follows the route of The Mother Highway. Instead I took Google’s advice and followed Highway 285 which cut out a large segment of the Route 66 course.

I can’t blame Google this time. I asked and she delivered the quickest route as is her mission.

In any event, we’re back on the course of Route 66, headed east with a final day’s destination of Amarillo, Texas, a distance of 230 miles.

My original plan was to keep the daily miles down to 250 or less and I’ve achieved that but for the fact that we’ve been taking detours to see sights or simply to follow the roads less traveled. The result is it’s taking 6 to 8 hours to cover what would be a point to point drive of around 4 hours. We’ll see how long I can keep this up.

We’re listening to the not so dulcet tones of a radio show called The Hour of Rage, hosted by a fellow named Eric Strauss. It’s 9 in the A.M. on Saturday, F-ing morning and this is how he starts your weekend? With an hour of rage?

KKOB is a conservative news talk station so I’m not overly surprised.

After a few minutes of the Hour of Rage, we decide to ride to the more soothing tones of big rigs blowing past.

I can tell we’re back on the Route 66 course from the billboards we’ve been passing. A lot of come ons for attractions, souvenir shops and curio shops.

Pistachioland! We’ve been passing a succession of billboards advertising the many and varied merits of paying a visit to Pistachioland. According to the billboards, you can buy “guy stuff, ” and “knives, knives and more knives,” and you can fill the inner man with “hot eats and cool treats.”

If you’re more of a pyro kind of guy you can even buy fireworks at Pistacioland, I’ve noticed that fireworks are readily available in Arizona and New Mexico. They’re almost impossible to find back home in the Bay Area.

A friend of mine suggested that I bring some fireworks home to the grandkids but I’m not really on board with hauling high octane fireworks in a hot car for 3 weeks.
“Welcome to California sir,” said the state border patrol agent. “Are you carrying any fruits or vegetables?”
“No, but I do have a trunk full of explosives.”
“Could you please pull your car over into the lot there, sir.”

Pistacioland offers pistachios in a range of flavors; Garlic, Lemon-Lime, Ranch, Bacon Ranch, and Spicy Ranch. For the purist there are also pistachio flavored pistachios.

The piece de resistance of Pistacioland is a 30 foot (9.1 meters) tall pistachio. I trust that the giant pistachio is a facsimile but given that Pistacioland is right next to the old White Sands Testing Grounds where they once blew up a nuke, well, one never knows.

I thought about stopping at Pistacioland on a lark but then I found that it’s 200 miles out of our way.

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On Sunday we left Amarillo, a fair sized city in the Texas Panhandle, for Stroud, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City is on the way to Stroud and Cora and I debated about keeping the Oklahoma City National Memorial on our itinerary. I wasn’t ecstatic about taking on city traffic, but given that it was Sunday we decided to detour off the main highway and into the city.

The Oklahoma City Memorial is a monument of remembrance, to the victims, the survivors, the responders and to the nation, of an event that shook the nation and the world. It was at 9:02 in the morning of April 19, 1995, the start of a busy workday, when Timothy McVeigh detonated a homemade bomb composed of more than two tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil, all packed into a rental truck. The blast decimated the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 and injuring more than 680. The building housed a children’s daycare center. Nineteen children were killed in the blast.

McVeigh, a Gulf War Veteran, came out of the service disgruntled with the Federal Government, unable to find a job and looking for camaraderie. He found his niche in the radical fringe of the far right. He became an acolyte of a fiction book titled The Turner Diaries, written by an American Nazi/white supremacist named Luther Pierce.

The book chronicles the overthrow of the Federal Government and the extermination of non-whites. It became and continues to be a sort of bible for the far right.

McVeigh’s reason for the bombing of the Murrah Building was retaliation for the sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco. He had thrown in with fringe militants whose mission it was, and still is, to overthrow the Federal Government.

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Friday, May 21, 2021
Day four

Mother Nature. Sometimes she can be a real; you know, that “B” word? When she gets to feeling a little fishwifey, she’ll cut loose with an earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. I had a friend in Missouri who used to hunker down when the tornadoes hit and over in the Philippines, Cora’s relatives deal with typhoons. And I haven’t even mentioned climate change (but let’s be honest, that’s largely on us; the unruly, selfish kids).

And then there are those times when Mother Nature goes on one of her creative jags, gets fixated on some work of art (and she can crank out some doozies) and can’t seem to stop adding on. Sort of like Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, only on a grand scale (for more on Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch click here). Grand meaning the Grand Canyon. Grand meaning, according to some scientists, a work of art that’s been in progress for 70 million years; and she has no intention of stopping. The Grand Canyon is forever changing.

Today’s destination is The Grand Canyon and we need to get an early start to the day.

The Stagecoach 66 Motel doesn’t start serving breakfast until 10 o’clock. The motel actually has operating hours. You might be staying there for 24 hours but the staff is some woman and her husband and they’re only at your beck and call starting at 10. There’s no night clerk at The Stagecoach so if you get into town after closing time you might consider finding a nice turnout on the highway so you can bed down in the car.

I’d really like to get breakfast at the nearby Roadkill Café and OK Saloon. The Roadkill is a Seligman, Arizona institution offering culinary delights such as, Splatter Platter, Swirl of Squirrel, and Highway Hash. What could be more delectable?

Roadkill Café; that’s one of those business names where, as the saying goes, you takes your chances. You’re counting on more people appreciating your creativity than being turned off by your crassness.

I can usually appreciate some name creativity, even if it goes beyond the boundaries of good taste. Hell, especially if it goes beyond the boundaries of good taste.

During our visit to Quebec City I enjoyed browsing through a little boutique in Quebec City called Fucklamode. They sell clothing that bears their logo – Fucklamode; and in really nice script, I should add. I wouldn’t wear one of their shirts but it’s a clever little bit of marketing. I suppose that if I was ever in Sorrento, BC, Canada and I needed some machine parts I’d check out Wally’s Private Parts, and if my car broke down in El Centro, California I wouldn’t hesitate to seek out a Camel Tow.

No time for a sit down breakfast, so it’s with a heavy heart (mine is the only heavy heart) and empty stomachs that we pass on The Roadkill.

This diversion from the general course of Route 66 is a late change to the itinerary. When I was first planning this trip I’d planned on a night at the Grand Canyon but rejected it for a lack of accommodations; Grand Canyon would have to wait for another trip, another year.

And then just the day before we left home I took another look at the map (the paper one that you spread out to get a lay of the land).
“You know Cora, the Grand Canyon isn’t that far out of the way that we couldn’t make a short day stop just to check it out.”
“Okay.”
We were both so blasé about it. Kinda like, “There’s a Target a couple blocks away from the motel in Flagstaff.”

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Thursday, May 20, 2021 continued.

Next stop, Oatman, Arizona.

We enter Arizona, through the town of Mojave Valley. I slow down at the Welcome To Arizona sign and ask Cora if she’d like me to take her picture standing by the sign. She declines.
“It’s too hot,” she says.

It is that. The thermometer on the dash reads 100 degrees F (37.7 C).

This is Cora’s first visit to Arizona and she’s in for a lot of first visits to states; by my quick count it should be 11.

In crossing the Colorado River into Arizona, I took a slight deviation from a section of Route 66 called the Oatman Highway. It’s been a long drive, it’s hot and after a stop at the town of Oatman the drive will still be long and still be hot. So I’m willing to sacrifice a view of the old bridge that crossed the Colorado back in the day, in order to cut the drive time to Oatman exactly in half.

The drive takes us through more sections of rugged, rocky and hauntingly beautiful country. The road is mostly flat until we get to the outskirts of Oatman where the road rises to the old mining town.

On the road to Oatman

A few minutes outside of town we come upon a wild burro standing in the middle of the road. The moment that I stop the car, the burro ambles slowly towards the passenger side.

The burro is mooching for food. It’s what the burros of Oatman do for a living.

Cora is enchanted, Lexi not so much. It’s Lexi’s first ever burro sighting and as soon as the beast gets to the window, Lexi growls and lets out a bark that sends the burro trotting away.

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

“Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox”

That’s George Strait on the radio.

It’s day three of a month-long road trip.

We’ve travelled down the eastern side of California’s San Joaquin Valley and are now passing through the Mojave Desert on the Southeastern edge of the state. When it comes to radio, we’ve been ordering from a limited menu; mostly conservative talk, God, and Country/Western.

Every now and again we receive a dash of sports talk and during our drive down the valley we got a spicy helping of Mexican Norteño music. The valley is ag country and the labor is heavily Mexican so we tuned to the Spanish speaking stations when we got weary of right wing talk and couldn’t find Country.

I have a fully loaded and functioning Spotify app, with a variety of playlists but I’m traveling to sample the flavors of the places I’m visiting and local radio is a big part of the sampler. Local radio speaks the local language.

So, yeah, I go with the conservative talk radio until I can’t take it anymore and then scan to something else. I’m skipping the God stations until we get to Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, where the proselytizing should get real intense. I wanna get it straight from God’s own shock jocks why me and all the other sinning, Beelzebub loving liberals are doomed to burn in the pit.

This third day marks our first on Route 66, the Mother Road. John Steinbeck coined that term. The Mother Road. In the 1930s she was the siren enticing migrants who were fleeing the ravages of the Dust Bowl and all its collateral damage; failed crops, poverty, hunger and bank foreclosures. They drove the Mother Road from small towns and sharecropper plots in Oklahoma and Arkansas, Americans who came to California to be treated as foreign interlopers.

In later years the Mother Road teased the adventurous spirit of travelers, as the automobile became a symbol of 20th Century American freedom. Route 66 was America’s Main Street, carrying vacationers west to glamourous Southern California, the Land of Milk and Honey, where the land locked could dip their toes in the blue Pacific.

Route 66 starts in Chicago and cuts through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, ending at the Santa Monica Pier.

Over the decades sections of Route 66 were rerouted. The late 1950s marked the decline of Route 66. With President Eisenhower’s push to build an interstate highway system, the Mother Road was either bypassed or had sections of it incorporated into new highways.

Today sections of the two lane road still exist. Other sections are closed or come to a dead end and some segments have disappeared completely. Today traveling Route 66, is time travel; a journey back to jalopies, chrome laden Buicks, family owned motels with big neon signs and diners that served simple comfort food for a fair price.

Where it hasn’t been incorporated into a multi-lane highway, the Mother Road is two lanes, sometimes rough, that curve and in places dip and roll like a concrete coaster. Most of the towns and cities that survive are those that were swallowed up into the interstate system.

The others? Route 66 goes past the remains of towns that were once vibrant but in the end could never survive being cut off from travelling America. Death by loneliness.

Other towns, like the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona, turned their history and that of Route 66 into an attraction that’s allowed them to survive as kitschy tourist destinations.

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Warning: Some content rated R.

Post-It notes, travel guides, an oversized Rand-McNally Road Atlas, assorted other maps, pens, pencils, a highlighter, notepads and a couple of spiral notebooks; my current life in a nutshell, all of it scattered about, on a little desk, a printer stand, the dining table and, to the wife’s displeasure, the surrounding floor.

We started planning this trip over a month ago and it’s not unlike Christmas; one day it’s Thanksgiving and the next thing you know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve and you haven’t bought a damn thing.

In just two days I pick up a rental, a minivan. The rental is because I don’t feel like putting 4800 miles on one of our cars. And 4800 is a conservative estimate. Normally I might just rent a midsize car. The van is for the dog’s comfort. Lexi will be able to stretch out on her dog bed surrounded by luggage, a cooler, my photo gear and all of our other possibles.

Two years ago I wouldn’t have done the rental thing. Two years ago I still had my pearl blue, Dodge Challenger SRT with a 396 Hemi. Sure, the insurance on that car was steep, and 500 horses sucked up premium gas like a disorderly lush, but it was fun to drive and it was just made for a road trip like this. Then again I’d have to wonder; is driving a muscle car with California plates in the South, a state trooper magnet?               

 

 

 

 

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It’s been alleged that COVID is in recession in America, and with that news, along with the arrival of summer and increasing vaccinations, Americans are looking to rid themselves of a side effect of the pandemic; let’s call it hometown-itis.

Whether they contracted the coronavirus or not, most Americans have exhibited symptoms of hometown-itis; alternating feelings of restlessness and hopelessness, outbursts of frustration, general malaise and wild hallucinations that might include standing in front of the local Walmart and imagining it to be the Gucci store in Rome; Rome, Italy – not Rome, Georgia.

There’s only one cure for hometown-itis and that’s travel. Setting aside some lingering COVID qualms, Cora and I have decided to self-medicate with a healthy dose of travel, but with one chief precaution; we’re avoiding airports.

So with air travel off the itinerary, Cora and I, along with our dog Lexi, are travelling in the legendary, old fashioned way. We’re embarking on The Great American Road Trip. The road trip is an American tradition, a paean to this nation’s twin love affair, with the highway and with the internal combustion engine.

When I was a child, the road trip defined travel. It was symbolized by American steel, the big station wagon, powered by a rumbling V-8, and bedecked with faux wood side panels, a roof rack and plenty of chrome. Bench seats, no center console, no cup holders, and only a radio, the scenery and conversation for entertainment. No Hondas or Toyotas thank you. It was a time when cars made in Japan were considered to be unreliable, puny, tinny, toys.

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Warning: Contents of this post rated R.

“Ever heard of rekall? They sell those fake memories,” Said Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the 1990 movie, Total Recall.
In a touch of irony, thirteen years later, Schwarzenegger would be elected Governor of California in a recall election that ousted Governor Gray Davis.

There are times when this Californian feels like he’s being pretty cheeky, in chiding other states for being over the top nutty. And this is one of those times.

The State of California has long been the target of jokes from the other 49, and I can’t deny that the Golden State has produced its share, maybe more than its share, of quirkiness. And if you want to jump from eccentricities to outright abominations, it was California that jump started Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan, eventually unleashing those Frankensteins on the nation and the world.

As election years go, 2021 is rather bland, which, after 2020, should be a blessing to anyone of sane mind. But, California just couldn’t help itself and decided to add some spice by holding a special election to recall Governor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom, a Democrat, has been a burr under the GOP saddle ever since he served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 1990’s. Since then, the Republicans’ irritation level has risen in direct proportion to Newsom’s rise to power. California, however, is deep blue, and the notion of recalling Newsom and replacing him with a Republican has held about as much popular allure as the sport of curling holds in the hot, arid reaches of southwest Texas.

Still, recalling Newsom has been a GOP mission almost since the day he took up residence in the governor’s mansion back in January of 2019. Every once in a while you could walk past a table outside of a mall and see some lonely folks sitting at a table set with pens full of ink and petitions bereft of signatures.

It was COVID, and the governor’s handling of the crisis that added just enough kindling to restart the recall flame. Newsom has had some coronavirus stumbles and I haven’t always been happy with his performance but in the end he’s apparently seen the state through the worst of it.

Not only is the state set to reopen on June 15th, there are scientists (real ones, not Googly ones) who are predicting that by that date California will have achieved herd immunity. That is not a small deal, whether you believe scientists, or the YouTube preacher who invokes god’s will, or the guy down the street who believes that the virus is a Soros plot. It doesn’t matter what you personally believe about the virus, it’s what the people in charge believe, that’s going to affect your day to day life, and in California, under Newsom, day to day life is fast tracking back to normal.

California is just about to cross the finish line far in front of the other 49 states and most of the world, but that’s of no consequence to either the troupe of candidates pouring from the recall clown car, or the petitioners who engineered that car.

This campaign is quintessential California politics.  Put in simple terms, a shit show.

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The fish house
The carcass of the Nantucket Restaurant lies at water’s edge on the northwest corner of Crockett.

The Nantucket was a local seafood joint, one of those simple, honest, unpretentious places that offered an easy atmosphere, neighborly service and a good meal at a fair price.  The best thing on the menu was the battered, deep fried captains platter with French fries and the common veggie medley of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

The platter included prawns, scallops, calamari, clam strips and cod, and plenty of it. The fries were pedestrian but the chef managed to get the veggie medley just right, firm and full of color.

Back in the day, a veggie medley was ladled out of an icky smelling vat. The vegetables had lost their color, unless you consider gray a vegetable color, and the texture was somewhere between mealy and mush. At some point in culinary time cooks learned that vegetables were best cooked to a sort of al dente, that broccoli should be bright green and, like other things in life, cauliflower can be more satisfying when it’s stiff rather than limp.

If deep fried wasn’t your deal there was always grilled fish or steak, or one of a variety of seafood pasta dishes. And don’t forget the chowder with a little packet of oyster crackers on the side.

The Nantucket was unpretentious, the everybody knows the waitresses and bartender place, appointed with the maritime kitsch that’s mandatory for a fish house. The dining room was decorated with paintings of ships and ocean scenes and depictions of old salt, seafarers; wizened ancients wearing watch caps or slickers and invariably sucking on a pipe.

We’d sit on the outdoor deck, at picnic tables painted a bright white, and covered with blue and white checked tablecloths. From here we’d watch the ship traffic, oil tankers mostly. The inbound ships headed east to the refineries on Suisun Bay were empty and rode high in the water. Once laden, the ships would lowride back through the Carquinez Strait, through the San Pablo and San Francisco Bays and finally out to sea.

The bright, fresh air of the outside dining deck was interrupted by the smell of frying fish and filled with the sounds of squawking gulls and the slooshing of fishing boats bobbing at the adjacent pier. The restaurant was located yards from the railroad tracks and the occasional freight would shake the restaurant and disturb the peace. But that was okay, it was part of the ambience.

It’s been years since I’ve been at that waterfront. I guess the last time was when I stopped on the way back home from somewhere east of home, to have a martini and a plate of fried calamari.

“We are sad to inform our loyal customers but the Nantucket Restaurant will be closing permanently Sunday, February 17, 2019,” read the restaurant’s farewell message. “Thank you for your continued patronage.”

The lease was up, the owner was 81 and I guess he’d had enough of the restaurant biz.

The site had been home to a restaurant since 1928, the first one named Dowrelio’s. Ninety-one years later there were no takers. The location was a mixture of good and bad; the good being a spot right on the water’s edge, decorated with piers and fishing boats. The bad was that the place wasn’t easy to find; down a dark winding road, past a graveyard of old shipping containers and into a cratered, dirt and graveled parking lot. For the newcomer it could look downright sketchy.

There’s not much left of that section of waterfront that’s worth anything. Even the bright view has vacated the place. In August of 2020 a fire took out the restaurant and most of the piers. What was left of the restaurant has been covered over with a sarcophagus of blue stucco and plywood, graffiti scarred and forlorn.

The remains of The Nantucket Restaurant. The skull marks the place where the hostess greeted diners.

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