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Story Time: Freeway of Love

May 25, 2020

Leather

The air conditioning in the work van had gradually been dying. Every day the summer got a little hotter and the air conditioning a little less cool. My sister and I drove around with the windows down, sticking our faces out to catch breezes, but the fragile product we were selling was sitting in the back of a windowless metal box.

We had a job selling greens to florists. Each week we drove through two counties, visiting 10 or 12 florists per day, delivering the leaves they needed to make their bouquets and baskets look full and lush.

Most of the greens were what we called leather – a triangular glossy fern leaf that arrived from Florida in thick waxed boxes that were too big for one person to carry. 

We would talk with the florists, ask what they needed, and grab the orders from the van. Most greens vendors had refrigerated trucks, but we only had a large blue Ford Econoline van with wimpy air conditioning. 

The owner of our company insisted she couldn’t afford anything more, and she probably couldn’t. Her business was spotty at best. She had rapid cycling manic depression, so Laura and I never knew what we would find when we arrived to pick up the van each morning – joyful, ebullient, talkative Kim, or the Kim who would swear at us and occasionally threaten to kill herself or someone else. 

Floristry is a business rife with the crazy, the odd and the addled, so most of Kim’s customers put up with her descents into the bizarre, but often Laura and I were left to sort out her messes. Laura was much better at this than I was.

In fact, Laura was much better at the people side of the business than me. She would hang around, chat people up, ask about their families. We were working on a day rate, so I felt like time is money – get in and get out. But Laura was what kept the business going, because while many vendors sold greens, the reason people bought from us was Laura’s kind heart and genuine interest in their lives. 

If they didn’t buy from us, it was because greens which have been driven around in a hot van for a few days start to turn yellow. If they weren’t yellow when we sold them, they started to turn in the days following their sale. No one wants yellow ferns in their bouquets.

This was a constant source of stress for us. Kim would take the angry calls from florists and we would have to drive far out of our way to take replacement greens for the ones that had gone bad. I saw this as cutting into our day rate, and it made me tense, which made Laura unhappy. It also cut into Kim’s profits, which made her moods even more unpredictable and foul.

We knew that every extra minute on the road in the hot van was killing our ferns. Sometimes we would be sitting at a stoplight in midday and we would just look at each other, both thinking about the disaster taking place in the boxes behind us.

One day in the middle of summer, we were coming up the Conejo Grade when we hit a traffic jam. We had already had a long day of deliveries, and the heat was rising off the blacktop in shimmery waves.

Traffic was stopped. There was an accident at the top of the grade and it was apparent we weren’t going anywhere for a while. We sat silently, contemplating the death of our greens.

Laura reached over and switched on the van’s radio.

“Here we go,” a voice sang. 

We started laughing with Aretha and singing along, as loud as we could:

City traffic movin’ way too slow
Drop the pedal and go, go
Come on baby, go, do it for me now 

We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love 
Wind’s against my back
We goin’ ridin’ on the freeway of love
In my pink Cadillac

We didn’t care if the people around us were staring. It was the perfect song at the perfect moment. We forgot about the ferns, the heat, everything. Suddenly we were on the freeway of love, and all was funny and pink and perfect. 

Thank You for Helping

May 17, 2020

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Life is a little odd, isn’t it? I am back in Ventura. I had gone up to San Luis Obispo county and spent a week in Oceano, but had to return to Ventura for one thing.

Did I mention I got laid off? Yeah, me and 36 million others. We’re a big club.

I filed for unemployment benefits online. It took me 10 days to get onto the website – and California is one of the better ones. There were several times when I was able to log on and partly complete the form before the site crashed. Once I completed it, but when I returned, there was no record of it. Eventually I got it done and at the end there was a box to check saying something like: “I would like to conduct all correspondence electronically” so I checked it because of course.

Several days later, after I had headed north, I got an email from the state: “You requested online correspondence only, but we have mailed you a form that needs to be filled out and returned within 10 days.”

Of course you did.

I packed up and came back to Ventura to retrieve my Very Important Form lest I receive a note in my Permanent Record or get thrown in jail or lose my $450 per week.

When I opened the form, I found it is a Very Important Form to confirm what I told them online. It was literally a list of the answers I had given them on the online form. It said if I needed to make changes, I would have to inform them within 7 days and return the form. Otherwise, ignore the form.

BUT I JUST TOLD YOU WHAT I TOLD YOU. I do not need to untell you the thing I just told you.

The upside is that I got to come back to Ventura and found a sweet super-secret place to stay at night in Gladis near a friend’s place. I spend the days in the Ventura Harbor area, enjoying the great weather and beach for the incredible price of free. Could be worse.

What next? Good question. Hit me with your ideas in the comments section. I’m considering either becoming a cowgirl, a charismatic preacher, or making hemp kombucha.

 

 

Remember the Sabbath

May 10, 2020
Mothers Day 1963

Mother’s Day 1963, Gaviota

My RV Gladis is named after my grandmother, who owned a dress shop. The shop was called “Janie’s,” because my grandmother was smart enough to figure out that no one wanted to shop somewhere called “Gladis’s.” 

Every day, she walked out of the store in the late afternoon, walked the day’s receipts down the street to the Wells Fargo bank, and went home to make dinner.

One of her shop assistants locked up and was home shortly after 6. The shop wasn’t open nights or weekends. Hardly anything was. And pretty much everything was closed on Sunday. If you needed something, you could borrow it or wait.

I remember Sundays as being both boring and fun. You knew there wasn’t going to be a lot to do, but there was always the possibility of a drive around the county. Many times, there were visitors – an aunt and uncle and their children, a random cousin driving through, neighbors who had moved to a nearby town.

Visits weren’t formal. Someone would show up and knock at the door. They would be greeted with delight. After all, we weren’t going anywhere or doing anything. Someone would make coffee. There might be a beer or two consumed while sitting on aluminum lawn chairs with green webbing out in the yard. The adults would all be smoking like mad.

We children chased each other around outside, playing freeze tag or shoot the pin, a complicated kind of hide-and-seek. We rode bikes around in circles.

That was the Sabbath. We weren’t church people. We never rarely talked about God. But we had a Sabbath – everyone off together, all at the same time. 

Covid has made me realize how much a Sabbath is missed. A time to stop, a time where just hanging out is more important than getting things done. On Sabbath, no one has classes or sports practice or meetings. 

I remember going to the park with my dog a couple years back on Thanksgiving Day and finding a softball tournament in progress. I was horrified. People can’t even take Thanksgiving Day off anymore to be together. Something must always Be Done. 

Has Covid taught us that we slow can down a little more? Yes, I realize this is a privileged position. Yes, women still do much of the labor on “days off.” Yes, some people will always have to work.

But would most things being closed one day per week be so awful? Wouldn’t it be nice to be human beings for a while and not human doings? 

Just wondering. 

Storytime: Oceano, California

May 2, 2020

Chachos restaurant

My housemates decided to stop social distancing, so I hit the road a little earlier than I had been anticipating. I knew I might run into some difficulties being out and about in the time of Covid, but they say to isolate at home, and Gladis is both more home and more isolated than where I was living.

I ended up in Oceano, California for a few days. I spent 20 years in San Luis Obispo county, so it’s all very familiar.

So: Storytime

I became a vegetarian in 1986. My sister Laura visited me not too long after. She and I went to Oceano to the legendary Chacho’s, a tiny tiny little box of restaurant (there were 2 tables) for burritos.

In the middle of a burrito the size of your arm, I said, “I wonder if these beans are vegetarian.”

“I don’t think so,” said Laura, barely pausing from her burrito while pointing behind me. I turned around. Cardboard boxes labeled Manteca Lard were stacked up to the ceiling.

I walked by Chacho’s today. It didn’t smell very vegetarian now, either.

Ginning Up Trouble

April 29, 2020

Covid-19 has forced us into some weird little strategies that may be more superstitious than effective, but we’re grasping at anything to feel safer.

One of mine is that I leave my groceries in the back of my station wagon all day after buying them (cold food and produce excepted). I figure the sun and heat will bake some of the germs, and time will cause some die-off as well.

Can’t hurt, right?

The other day I splurged on a $35 bottle of gin. My rationale was that it is made by a local company and they need my support, and I need a really lovely, beautiful gin and tonic every once in a while.bottle of Wilder Gin from Ventura Spirits company

When I went out to my car in the evening to fetch my sun-sanitized groceries, I opened the door to be met with a wave of air that was positively shimmering with alcohol fumes. It knocked me back on my heels.

The gin is corked, not bottled with a screw cap. The heat had cause the cork to separate and fly out, and 5/6 of my lovely gin was now scenting the air of my car. The angels had gotten more than their fair share.

The good news though, is that my car got doubly sanitized – first by the heat and sun, then by all that alcohol circulating all day.

_____

Update: I had contacted Ventura Spirits about their most recent batch of gin tasting of sesame oil, which was a little off-putting. They asked me to drop off and exchange the bottle so they could taste for themselves. I had to admit what had happened, and sent them the link to this post. They kindly offered a replacement bottle. How nice is that? They don’t just make good liquor – they are good people, too.

 

 

I Fell in Love with Every Place I Went

April 20, 2020
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Dogwoods, Yosemite National Park, May, 2010

I am opinionated. Everyone knows that. And they comment on it. I have never been so proud as when I found out that one of my college professors told a friend, years after university, “Oh, Sue? She was quite a radical, that one.”

One of my most strongly held opinions was that I couldn’t exist apart from California. My family moved here early on both sides – in the 1860s and 1870s, which in some places is practically yesterday, but in California’s timeline is ancient history.

I felt like I was Californian more than American. California, as much as people love to hate it, was in my bones.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with other places. I knew I would visit and like some of them, but sitting here in my rented room among strangers, I feel the pull of the lands I visited and made my temporary home. I realize I have fallen in love with so many of them. A friend’s Instagram picture of dogwoods blooming brought tears to my eyes as I realized I would not see the dogwoods bloom this year. I have only seen them bloom twice in 58 years, but that doesn’t matter. Remembering a lost love, one only remembers the time together, not the years of absence.

I want to be everywhere at once. I want to wake up to the sunrise over the pure sugary dunes of White Sands National Monument. I want to have my hat blown off as I walk along the Mendocino cliffs. I want to smell the piñon burning in Taos under that purple-blue sky. I want to hear the bayou frogs and flip on the radio to hear Cajun music playing. And yes, I want to sit beside a creek and see the dogwoods bloom.

Physicists talk about alternate universes – that our universe may be like one slice of bread in a loaf with similar universes on each side of us. I wonder if my longings are being fulfilled in the universe next door.

My sister used to say that you needed to do crazy stuff in life so that, when you got old, you’d have something to look up at the ceiling and think about. I never knew the opportunity to sit still and think about things would come so soon, but thanks to social distancing, it has.

So please, appreciate the dogwoods for me. I will go down to the harbor and watch the seals for you. And in some alternate universe, let’s all meet again.

The Story of Leel

April 10, 2020

Leel was born whole, perfect and complete. But the one thing the Skurn could not abide was someone who was whole, perfect and complete. With their knives, they waited.

Each time someone hurt Leel, a gap appeared in Leel’s protective armor where the Skurn could reach in and slice off a piece of Leel’s body. An insult left them space to cut off a finger or an ear. A big betrayal gave them a gaping hole big enough for Leel to lose a leg. As life wore on, Leel became smaller and smaller.

The Skurn could fly thousands of miles in one day and would carelessly drop the pieces all over the world as they flew.

Leel thought a partner could provide protection from the Skurn, so Leel married Gul. But Leel was wrong. Gul hurt Leel so often that the Skurn chopped Leel down to almost nothing. Leel got a smaller suit of armor because so little of Leel was left.

Finally, the only part of Leel that remained was just a heart. Leel tumbled out of a gap in the armor and rolled down a hill, away from Gul. Gul didn’t even notice because Leel was so small and hadn’t spoken for so long. What was left of Leel miraculously kept beating there alone in the grass. 

Rardna, the Being of Mercy, heard the lonely beating heart and came to visit Leel. 

“Do you want to become whole again, Leel?”

Leel was unable to answer, no longer having a mouth. With great effort, Leel managed to beat hard enough to jump off the ground and impress Rardna with the ferocity of the response.

“Very well,” Rardna said. “If this is what you truly want, here is a magic basket woven from my own silver locks. You must take it everywhere the Skurn dropped a piece of you, collect them all, and knit yourself back together.”

For a tiny heart, such a journey isn’t easy. First, Leel had no map to where the body parts had been dropped, so the search was long and arduous. And Leel had to keep beating the heart hard enough to bounce down rocky roads, over rivers, and across mountain ranges.

Finally, Leel found a missing piece and put it in the basket, but did not know how to reattach it. As Leel was resting by the river and wondering what to do, a wise old Owl appeared and, seeing Leel’s bravery and exhaustion, showed Leel how to knit the piece back on stronger than ever before. Leel trusted Owl because it was easy to see where Owl had been knitted back together. Owl offered to accompany Leel on the journey and would fly beside Leel, carrying the basket. Owl, having flown high and far, could also point Leel to the places where the Skurn often dropped the pieces of their victims.

Whenever Leel found a body part, the journey became a little easier. When Leel found a leg, Leel could hop instead of beating the heart so hard. Rediscovered ribs protected the heart from damage. A foot made the trip quicker, and toes added to the balance.

Piece by piece, Leel gathered what had been lost. The trip took years and by the time Leel and Owl were done, Leel was much older and looked a little strange, having been knit back together from pieces. But Leel knew every millimeter of every part of the reassembled body because of the long nights spent knitting.

Leel, whole, complete, and far from perfect, thanked Owl and then returned to Rardna to stand before the Being of Mercy. 

“Rardna, I have completed the task,” said Leel, at last able to speak. “I would like to say thank you and to return your basket, but I have one question.”

“What is that?” asked Rardna.

“How will I protect myself from the Skurn now?”

“Your knitting will protect you,” said Rardna. “When you knit yourself, you did such a good job and became so strong the Skurn knives will no longer be able to slice through you.”

Leel sat the basket at Rardna’s feet, knowing another would soon need it, and walked away, listening for a lonely, beating heart. 

In Memory of Ish

March 25, 2020
Ish watching Elephant Seals 2011

Ish in 2011, watching Elephant Seals near Cambria

Ish died of a heart attack on March 20. He had been a good friend, but we had drifted apart over the past few years. It was a complicated relationship where I chose loyalty to one friend over friendship with him.  He understood.

He was a funny man with powerful enthusiasms and tastes. He had an unstoppable zeal and curiosity. One time, we went to a Jewish film festival. Another festival-goer, seeing Ish’s obvious Filipino looks, asked “Are you Jewish?” Ish replied happily, “No, I’m just a fan.” That was Ish. A real fan.

No one could order food like Ish. We would go out to dinner, discuss the food and think we had our order set. Then he would throw in more and more items, until the server started looking at us with wide-eyed skepticism. We would end up with a table overflowing with food and bags full of to-go boxes.

Ish July 2010

Ordering food at a fancy restaurant on my birthday in 2010. He bought new shoes for the occasion. He usually wore black t-shirts with a dark overshirt and jeans.

He loved music. He went to every concert he could make time for. I don’t go to many shows, and yet I look back and remember off the top of my head that I was with him at Los Tigres del Norte, Cafe Tacuba, Dwight Yoakum, Adam Ant, Los Lobos, The Bangles – an eclectic mix for sure. He was on top of the latest bands – Pitchfork and Rolling Stone were his bibles – and he always caught KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

He worked as a contractor for the military and spent years out on San Nicholas Island, or “San Nick.” He was proud of the dock he maintained and loved fishing off of it. When we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, his primary comment on the fish was “Oh! These are good eating!”

He loved cooking shows and the idea of cooking, though he was more likely to eat out. A ribeye was probably his favorite thing on earth. He won our church chili cook-off by making steak and bacon chili – but who wouldn’t win with that?

He loved security. Guns, knives, locks, self defense moves, tips for avoiding scams and criminals, and flashlights. The best present I ever got him was an AAA membership, which he thanked me for every time he saw me.

He was a US Army veteran who served in Germany, cementing his love for a good schnitzel. For some mysterious Army reason, he always backed into parking spaces.

Ish was devoted to his mom, Bernarda. He lived with her on and off for years and loved helping her out, taking special care with her yard and swimming pool. He admired his parents for taking the risk to move to the US from the Phillippines. His father was serving in the Navy in Kodiak, Alaska when the terrifying 9.2 (second most powerful recorded) 1964 earthquake struck.

I have missed Ish a lot recently and will miss him even more. Rest in peace, my scrappy friend. Thanks for all the flashlights.

Ish and CC at Los Tigres del Norte

At Los Tigres del Norte, with a jalapeño cheese dog

Ish at Hearts Castle crop

Hearst Castle, where his highlight was talking about the pool filtration system with the man who worked there.

Ish Bernadette Georgia

Mom Bernarda, sister Georgia and Ish

Ish wins chili cookoff 2007

Winning the chili cookoff, 2007

Sue and Ish at Morro Rock

Visiting Morro Bay, 2010

Alone Again, Unnaturally

March 22, 2020

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Ever since I was a toddler, my main goal in life was to get some peace and quiet. When I was little with 5 siblings and 2 parents in a small house, I hid in the hall closet where I made a comfy nest.

I remember walking down the street at age 8 and crossing the street to avoid someone I knew. Even back then, I thought “This is probably not normal.” Nobody had told me about introversion.

I always lived with someone – family, roommates, boyfriends, more roommates – until I finally got my own place when I was in my 40s. It felt like a puzzle was finally complete – “Oh, HERE is what I was looking for this whole time.”

And then 14 months on the road by myself in an RV. I met a lot of people who said “I could never do it by myself,” and I would think “I could have never done it with someone else.”

But even the lifelong hermit has her limits. I was talking to my friend about the COVID lockdown the other day and she said “It’s like I have lost my identity.”

We all have. We derive our identity from our friendships, our work, our community activities, our clubs and teams and churches, temples, gurdwaras, mosques, ashrams. We want to reach out and connect and hold each other, and we can’t. And we’re all mourning that loss at once. It’s significant, and it’s ok to grieve.

Take some time to process your emotions, to be afraid and sad and let those feelings flow through you. As Glennon Doyle says “We can do hard things.”

Breathe. Write, dance, make art, sing, set up a Zoom meeting. Do what you have to do to survive isolation. But also realize that your identity is far beyond what you do or create.  You were made a precious child of the universe, period. Doing and making are just the icing on the cake. You are you, and that is enough. Breathe.

 

The Narrator Voice

March 18, 2020

The more time you spend by yourself, the more you talk to yourself. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself, out loud and often.

My trip has a narrator, and that narrator is British. From her accent, I think she’s a Londoner, slightly upper crust. She is encouraging and slightly enthusiastic.

“Why, yes, darling, I do think a rest stop would be a good idea.”

“Darling, do be careful backing. That tree is frightfully close there.”

“You can do it. I know you can. It’s simple, really.”

If you hear me talking to myself in a British accent, don’t worry. It’s just my narrator.

To honor my narrator and her helpful advice, I got a pretty tea mug. As she knows, a good cuppa and a bikkie sets everything right.

Do you have a narrator?

Cuppa

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