The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Fashionably late.  Again.

I’ve managed to lag behind in the photo challenges so why should this week be any different?

The subject for LAST Saturday’s Lens Artist Challenge is Getting Away. What an appropriate title for 2021.

We were stuck in 2020. Cabin fever, depression and not a small amount of despair.

In the late summer of 2020, my wife and I dipped our toes in the getaway waters by traveling down the California coast to Morro Bay.

The indoors were still shuttered but outdoors it was beautiful, bracing, welcoming and healthy. Healthy for body, mind and spirit.
Below, images of Morro Bay and environs.                     

I’m checking out an otter who’s checking me out in return. Morro Bay Harbor.


Mornings were foggy and brisk. Morro Bay Harbor


A wave explodes in a 1/10th of a second exposure.

Our short period of getting away gave us a welcome feeling of harmony.

The little town of Harmony, just up the coast from Morro Bay

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Early in 2020, when rumors of the coronavirus became reality I began a series of posts that I called The COVID Chronicles, a journal of my own personal experiences and feelings in the midst of a global pandemic. I thought I was done with the series.

“You ready to put your mask back on?” he hollered.

“Yep,” I answered tersely.

He’s one of the maintenance guys who works at a local apartment building. I see him almost every day when Lexi and I pass by the building during our morning run. It’s always been no more than a wave and a, “Hello, have a good day.”

This one particular day was different. I paused during the run and he took a break from his work. We talked.

We agreed that we weren’t happy about having to pull the masks back out of the dresser drawer, or wherever one keeps masks. It isn’t so much the masks themselves, it’s having to do it because of the rising cases.

I told him that back in May, Cora and I had travelled through 16 states and in some places, in some states we hardly saw any masks. Told him about Amarillo, Texas, where it was a maskless free for all.

“I’ll bet they start wearing masks again,” he said.

“Nope. Not in Texas. Not in South Dakota. It’s a different world out there.”

He was stunned. I guess he doesn’t watch the news much. Doesn’t realize that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has not qualms about plays political roulette with the lives of the people under his watch. Has no moral compass, no heart, no common decency.

We talked about the rise in COVID cases, mostly among the unvaccinated.

He told me that he’d been late to the vaccination party. I guess the hesitation wore off or the fear creeped in but he finally got his pokes.

It was the only time we’d stopped and talked and we agreed, we’re sad, we’re baffled and maybe most of all, we’re pissed off that we’re turning back the clock.

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“Black and white is mix of toughest simplicity and easiest complexity.” ~ Vikrmn, Corpkshetra

I’m a late arrival to this party, the black and white photo challenge, hosted by Anne Sandler. Better late than never?

“There are some locations I go to and they scream black and white to me because of the ambiance. For me, great black and white images fall into two categories: very dramatic with stormy skies and bold compositions and at the other end of the spectrum a calm and minimalist composition.” ~ Helen Rushton

Who could disagree with Ms. Rushton that some locations scream black and white?

Graveyards for instance? Not cemeteries – graveyards. There’s a difference.

The image below was shot on a sunny afternoon. It was washed out, bland. Editing to black and white the photo is suddenly transformed into a spooky moonlit, nighttime scene.

Silver Terrace Cemetery, Virginia City, Nevada

Silver Terrace Cemetery, Virginia City, Nevada

Silver Terrace Cemetery, Virginia City, Nevada

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Monday, June 7, 2021
Day twenty-two.

It’s another of those gotta get out early days, and this time we’ve actually managed to get out early. It’s not a matter of beating the mid-afternoon heat but of finding parking. This day’s plan includes a stop at Devil’s Tower along the way to Sheridan, and the National Park Service website warns that the first come, first served parking at Devil’s Tower is very limited.

On the way out of South Dakota, we continue through the green, green mix of forest and ranch land.

When you cross the state line entering Wyoming from South Dakota, you leave Black Hills National Forest behind and enter Thunder Basin National Grassland. Two lane Highway 16 cuts through an arid land that’s roughly carpeted with tall grass and scrub. In the distance mesas and rolling hills add some relief to this craggy table.

It’s not an unattractive land but any appeal that it might have is largely spoiled by the appearance of oil wells. They appear as giant, malevolent steel birds pecking unceasingly, boring deep wounds in our Earth’s skin. The thought occurs to me that I have no righteous standing. By the very act of being here, driving past these unsightly rigs, putting thousands of miles behind me with thousands more to go, I’m simply whetting the appetite of these monstrosities.

We pass through Newcastle, a decent sized town that’s described by the Black Hills and Badlands Website as an area of “Cattle ranches, oil wells and coal mines, a perfect mingling of industry and agriculture, blend with the area’s past.” Is this meant to be appealing to the tourist?

We pass through little Osage, so little that it’s a mere flicker on the map, a moment’s drive-by.

Fifteen minutes later we arrive at Upton, Wyoming, which claims the title of “The Best Town on Earth.”

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When we started out, we hadn’t included a ghost tour in our plans. Thing is, when you cover 8000 miles over sixteen states, the diverse American story is bound to offer up a collection of spectres.

The ghosts that we encountered weren’t those mischievous, annoying spirits who move the furniture about while you’re out of the house, or scare the hell out of you with unholy middle of the night shrieks. We didn’t come upon the tormented souls of long dead soldiers who, it’s been alleged, float among the trenches of the battlegrounds of old.

The ghosts we discovered are the shadows of hopes dashed, dreams unfulfilled, plans turned sour and the simple, inexorable erosion of time. They’re still out there, those ghosts, scattered about the country.

Unlike the goblins that secret themselves below floorboards and in the cracks of an old house, these ghosts are easily spotted but like any self respecting spook they can take many forms. They’re the crumbling concrete, rotting wood and rusting metal of places that were once alive with purpose but now wait for an exorcism by human hands or the beating of nature.

Goffs, California.
There’s a time change thirty miles or so east of Goffs, California, at the Arizona border where the clock advances by one hour.

At Goffs though, the clock stopped advancing for good in 1931, when a bypass of Route 66 abandoned the town and left it to its own fading resources.

Once upon a time, Goffs was a railroad town, housing workers for the AT and Santa Fe Railroad. Today the long freights still pass through Goffs along with a few ghost hunters who come to view the remnants of the town and the renovated old schoolhouse.  Nobody stays anymore.


For more on Goffs follow the link to Route 66 California: Bottle Trees and Ghost Towns

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June 4th, 2021. The Black Hills, South Dakota.
After an interesting, if somewhat disappointing, stop at Wall Drug, we’re headed to our cabin located somewhere between Hill City and Custer.

Our route has taken us through relatively large, Rapid City, slowing us down on a sweltering afternoon when all we want to do is get to our destination and relax.

From Rapid City to Hill City, it’s 27 long, very long, miles. At least it seems that way. Cora and I joke that South Dakota miles are longer than regular miles.

At the end of the 27 South Dakota miles we arrive in Hill City. Driving through town I’m looking for a grocery store because if we want to eat we’re going to need something to cook. This is our first VRBO stop of the trip. My plan is to drop Cora off and then go out foraging.

We take Highway 385 south out of Hill City and watch for the road listed in the VRBO directions. There it is.  And it’s a dirt road. Ugh. I know what Cora’s thinking,
“This American has booked us into a faraway cabin in the woods that we have to get to by driving down a long dirt road.”

Cora is not a dirt road fan and has been known to take a dim view of faraway cabins in the woods. The one, years ago outside of Gardiner, Montana, had Wi-Fi that was so spotty she spent the first half hour walking around the cabin and the property, looking for reception on her phone. All to no avail. I’m expecting an ass chewing from the wife.

The cabin is about five miles down the dirt road and we’re tired, dog tired, so we’re measuring this initial trip through the dust, in South Dakota miles, because it seems so damned long. During subsequent trips down the dirt road when we aren’t so exhausted we’re comfortable enough to measure the distance in regular miles.

The cabin is small – very small. Tiny to some maybe, perfect for me. It has a nice porch with a couple of chairs. You walk immediately into a kitchen area with a counter for eating. There’s a seating area with a chair, a couch, a side table and a small TV, and in the far back (not too far, the place is small) is the bed. It’s one long, not too long, not too short, room. It’s perfectly fine. We’re not here to do gymnastics, we’re here to eat, sleep, relax and be cozy.

After getting Cora settled I go to town. Custer is closer than Hill City and it’s in Custer that I find a good sized supermarket, Lynn’s Dakotamart, that has everything we need including the grapefruit which Cora has asked for. At $2.49 each, Lynn should be offering a Black Hills Gold bracelet with the purchase of every grapefruit.

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That’s the way it is with vacation trips isn’t it? Seems like eons ago – if you even remember it at all. Seems as if the national park t-shirt with the wolf on it and the Mount Rushmore refrigerator magnet are the only hard evidence that you actually went somewhere.

Going back to work dims the memory all the more and all the more quickly.

So that’s why I’m thankful that I’m retired. I can better savor the experience when I get back and I don’t have to suffer the pre-vacation office bullshit.

There’s no more of the insulting, “Well, if you must,” treatment from your boss when you put in for the two weeks off. That would be the selfsame boss who just the week prior encouraged “team members” to take some time off to “recharge the batteries.”

I’ve retired from having to compose the out of office message to keep coworkers, and especially management, at bay, “I’ll be out of the office for two weeks. Since I’ll be staying in Chicago where there is no internet and only limited phone service, I will respond to your message upon my return.”

I’m spared the onerous return to office rituals of sorting through a thousand emails and suffering the inquisition over whatever thing went sideways while I was gone.

This isn’t to say that I’m not going through a post vacation malaise; a what’s on the itinerary tomorrow, followed by the depressing realization that the only itinerary is getting out the green that developed in the pool, and digging up the plants that perished, while we were gone. Is that all there is?

Maybe part of that malaise comes from the fatigue of the last leg, the worst section of the entire trip. My daughter offered that the last day is always the worst because there’s nothing new to look forward to. What’s immediately in front is what you left to get away from.

That’s probably true for me but not for Cora. She was ready to return home. She wanted to sleep in her own bed again. Me? Give me ten milligrams of melatonin and a bed of nails and I’m good.  Slept like a baby. Where to next?

I will admit that when I travel I miss my coffee maker and my shower. We stayed at eighteen different places and it seemed that at each one I had to learn how to use a coffee maker. And as for the shower, I never could get the water temperature and pressure to my liking. Hell, in one place the hot and cold were reversed. I thought that I would have to take a cold shower until I tried the, “I wonder what’ll happen if…” bit.

But there were times, even towards the end, that I was plotting a way to extend the trip. Cora wouldn’t have had anything to do with that notion. She would have hitchhiked home if necessary. And then shopped a good attorney while I was still away.

Travel writing.  Straight from the start I realized that I have a lot of learning to do when it comes to being a travel writer. I started out with the notion that I could write as I go. I brought along all the tools; a journal, plenty of pens and pencils, a voice recorder and of course my laptop.

But the write as I go plan was trashed on day one.

The whole trip was almost trashed from the start as I was ready to turn us back around for home on day two. At the end of day one I was spent. In marathoner’s terms, I’d hit the wall. That first day was, on paper anyway, a drive from home to Porterville, California, a distance of 257 miles. That 257 miles is point to point and during the planning, I didn’t take into account the side trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and the scenic drive that added another 100 miles or more.

I was suddenly slapped by the realization that all of the mileage and drive times had been based on motel to motel calculations.  If I adhered to the point to point itinerary we would miss the planned and off the cuff side trips. I would’ve stripped the meat from the bone. It was a mistake that couldn’t be undone without undoing the trip.

At the end of that first day the rest of the trip was the furthest thing from my mind. I was exhausted and stressed and told Cora that I’d have to see how I felt in the morning. Maybe I’d bitten off far more than I could chew.

So what about that first day?

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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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