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100 Days

June 17, 2019

Today is my 100th consecutive day on the road. Prior to this, I also took a 3-week trip in November to Oregon and a 3-week trip in January to the desert south of Palm Springs.

The stats: 100 Days, 9 states, 4425 miles (plus driving around town).

The prettiest drive? Sedona to Monument Valley, Tuba City notwithstanding.

My favorite place? Taos, New Mexico. Gorgeous mountains, history, deep blue sky, quirky people and good food and coffee.

My least favorite place? El Campo, Texas. It looked like the beginning scenes of every serial killer movie, and had this weird racist sign thing on the approach to town.

Best food? Austin. The rest of America needs to do better.

Worst food? Somewhere in Arkansas.

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Arkansas “burrito”

Place you’re dying to get back to? Memphis. I was only there overnight because of rain and flooding, and damn, that city has soul.

Scariest Bridge? Lord preserve me if I ever have to drive the Calcasieu in Lake Charles again. I mean, look at that thing.

Nicest People? Tennessee, hands down. Hope you have time to talk.

Highlights? Seeing my brother’s family in Kentucky, Monument Valley, White Sands, the nice people in Jackson, TN, Ojo Caliente, the Georgia O’Keeffe museum.

Lowlights? Knocking a hole in the roof of Gladis with a monsoon storm approaching. Thinking a tornado was going to get me in Texas.

Learned anything? Americans aren’t terrible people when you talk to them. Pretty much everyone is polite, even when they disagree with you.

How do you feel? Profoundly grateful for the opportunity.

Where to next? Off to see my brother-in-law Mike in Chicagoland.

The Itinerary Miles
Ventura to Coachella 

202

Coachella to Yuma

143

Yuma to Quartzsite

83

Quartzsite to Tempe

139

Tempe to Sedona

126

Sedona to Tuba City

107

Tuba City to Monument Valley

117

Monument Valley to Albuquerque

311

Albuquerque to Santa Fe

64

Santa Fe to Taos

70

Taos to Ojo Caliente

41

Ojo Caliente to Santa Fe

84

Santa Fe to Belen

96

Belen to Alamagordo NM

176

Alamagordo to Fort Stockton, Texas

319

Fort Stockton to San Antonio

312

San Antonio to Austin

80

Austin to El Campo

130

El Campo to Lake Charles

214

Lake Charles to Lafayette

74

Lafayette to Shreveport

213

Shreveport to Hope AR

103

Hope to Hot Springs

79

Hot Springs to Memphis TN

188

Memphis to Jackson TN

87

Jackson to Dickson

93

Dickson to London KY

244

London  to Barbourville

26

Barbourville to Cave City

144

Cave City to Shepherdsville KY

67

Shepherdsville to Elkhart IN

293

Total

4425

 

 

Hot Water

June 17, 2019
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One of the retired bathhouses

I Love Hot Springs!

Remember how I went to Ojo Caliente? And remember how quiet and relaxing it was to lay in the New Mexico sun all day long, dipping in and out of mineral pools?

I realized I would be heading through northern Arkansas and decided to make a trip to Hot Springs National Park, the weirdest national park. No, it is. It has the typical wilderness kinds of areas, but is also part of a town, and commercial hot springs are mixed in with the national park in the town, and it is all very confusing.

In the middle of this cute little town, I found 2 baths still operating, and discovered they were the only way to bathe in the hot springs. Ok, fine.

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A retired bathhouse lobby is now a nice air-conditioned place for a sit on a hot summer day.

Taking the Plunge

I picked one, stood in line and paid my money, choosing the most modest package of services. A trip up a creaky elevator took me to the second floor, where ladies only are allowed.

Some laconic looking workers told me to have a seat in a changing room. The other ladies and I sat in a row. Some were in sheets wrapped like togas. No one had told me to bring a toga. Was I supposed to bring a sheet?

No, because soon enough a woman ordered me into a changing booth and told me to lock my clothes and belongings in a locker and wait, naked, with my back to the booth’s curtain. She soon came along and wrapped my corpus into a toga, too, then ordered me back to wait in the line of chairs.

Shut Up, Suebob

Time passed quickly because I started talking with the lady next to me. We started talking racial politics and though she was black and I was white, I was far more radical than her. We were deep in conversation and I was just about to say “Respectability politics are bullshit!” when I realized two things: 1) the lady was calling me for my bath and 2) the other six white women had all stopped their conversations to gape at mine. Um…Read “So You Want to Talk About Race?” Bye!

Where are the Mineral Pools?

A woman named LaToya led me into an exceptionally hot, noisy and wet room. Women were lying on what looked like physical therapy tables, covered in sheets with towels draped over them. I was taken into one of a row of booths along the marble walls. The booth had a large bathtub already filled with hot water and a thing the size and shape of an outboard motor in it.

Huh. I guess this was a different kind of mineral spa. It looked for all the world like a 1900-era sanitorium.

She told me to step up on a stool and into the water as she deftly removed my toga with one move. I got in the tub, but she had obviously calculated the amount of water on a woman of…smaller stature, because when I plunked my large ass into the mineral water, a tsunami of water cascaded over the edges of the tub and onto the floor, adding another inch of water to the already sodden tiles. It was truly impressive. I could hear the ghost of Archimedes laughing.

Mind Your Toes

She gave me some instructions and turned on the outboard motor, which turned out to be the bubble machine. The one instruction LaToya neglected to give me was to keep my feet away from the intake, because that thing sucked onto my foot so hard, and LaToya was already gone. After a panicked second, I jerked my foot away from the evil sucker, inspecting it to make sure there was no lasting damage.

I perched in the pool and breathed in the scalding air as the other outboard motors cranked away around me. A large clock ticked away on the wall. LaToya had told me I had 20 minutes and she then would come get me.

She also brought me two tiny cups of mineral water. Hot mineral water. “Sip on that,” she told me. Ok, that’s just weird. She also came in and gave my legs and back a very perfunctory scrub with a loofah they had given me at the front counter. I had expected some Korean-level exfoliation, but nope.

Not for Germaphobes

Once my 20 minutes were up, LaToya again wrapped me in my sheet and led me to a soaking wet physical therapy table. She squeegeed off the table with the side of one hand and told me to sit there and wait.

I watched the proceedings as I cooled. LaToya and another attendant worked – literally feverishly – to serve the never-ending parade of bathers. In a precise, sweaty ballet, they moved toga-clad women from one treatment to another.

An ever-flowing faucet delivered a powerful stream of steaming water into a large tub sink. The attendants would come over, grab a clean, rolled towel, and saturate the towels in this straight-from-the-spring 143 degree (62C) water, then wring them out with powerful hands.

It was these towels that LaToya laid on my table, then had me lie down on, yelping at the scald. She put a cold towel on top of my head and gave me a cup of ice to suck on. I laid there and steamed for another 15 minutes.

Following that, I also had the option of a sitz bath (a bath for your butt, basically) and a steam bath (looking for all the world like an industrial kitchen steam cabinet), but I was hot enough, so I just got the “needle shower” (about 20 seconds in a shower with nozzles on all sides that had probably been needle-like in 1920, but which now just dribbled out a pathetic stream).

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Another old bathhouse. They are so elegant. Gangsters, baseball players and Mae West were notable guests.

Sweet Release

And that was it. I was free. I tipped LaToya a lot because damn, that is one hard-working woman and she had to see me nekkid several times. I squeezed my damp self back into my clothes and descended the creaky elevator.

I went outside and sat on an Adirondack chair on the porch for a minute, wondering “What the hell just happened?”

It was hot. It was weird. But on the other hand, my muscles felt great for a couple days, and my skin was softer and silkier than it had been for decades.

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It LOOKS relaxing!

 

 

 

Easy Being Green

June 15, 2019

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Typical 70 degree day in Ventura

Person 1: “I’m freezing!”

Person 2: “It’s so hot for this time of year!”

One of the perils of living where the weather is perfect year round is failing to realize just how much the weather sucks in other places.

People keep asking me why I traveled to somewhere when I knew it would be too hot there, or too cold, or too windy, or too stormy.

The truth is that I’m clueless about all of those things. My family has been in California since the late 1800s (ask my sister Paula, the geneaologist). We don’t know from bad weather.

Change of Itinerary

All this is to explain why I never made it to New Orleans. I was in Lafayette and planning on heading east, but the mid-90s heat and humidity completely defeated me.

“Oh, this is NOTHING,” people kept saying.

I headed north in the mistaken belief that I would find some cool somewhere. North = cool, right? Shreveport begs to differ.

But I did spend a work week in Shreveport, parked under some tall pine trees, reveling in my fellow campers’ Louisiana accents, swimming every night in the only-somewhat-suspect-looking swimming pool.

My Modus Operandi

I usually travel on weekends and stay put during the week, because working all day, pulling up stakes, leaving an RV park at 11 a.m checkout time, working in some parking lot with no air conditioning all day and then driving and then re-setting up on the other end is just too much.

Greensleeves

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My overall impression of the South is this: green and more green. From San Antonio through southern Texas to Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennesee and Kentucky – SO MUCH GREEN.

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I come from a dry and brown place. Don’t let the postcards they make during the one green month of the year fool you: Southern California is a desert.

And the quality of the green is so much more vibrant and glowing than our green ever gets, probably because our water is alkaline and in most places back here, it is acidic.

I tried to drink in all this lush green as best I could, knowing that I’ll soon be in less leafy places.

Decay

I have a weird fondness for the rapid decay that happens in a moist and rainy place. I’m always taking pictures of overgrown buildings. I loved Highway 49 for all of the interesting decayed places I found.

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On Highway 49

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The sign used to say I (Highway Sign) 49

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Not only could you get fresh livers n gizzards here, but there was a man, Clayton Dyess, singing the most beautiful gospel music with a guitar in the parking lot.

Hey, I found him on the internets!

Ways to Stay: Municipal Parks

June 14, 2019
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Suebobian foolishness

I never really thought about municipal parks as places to park an RV. RV parks range from janky to fancy. I have stayed in muddy rutted parking lots and in impeccably groomed golf-course-adjacent spots.

State and federal campgrounds tend to be somewhat rustic and usually lack cell phone service and full hookups, but make up for it in great scenery.

What I never thought about until I got to Welsh, Louisiana, was the possibility of camping in a city park. I don’t think this happens much in California. We probably have meaner lawyers.

I only stopped by Welsh because I think I’m part Welsh and thought it would be funny to take a picture. While I was doing that, a police officer stopped to make fun of me for taking a picture in front of the Welsh Fire Department sign (justified, I admit) and during our conversation – people in the South generally don’t mind stopping a while to talk – he told me to check out the city park.

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$15 will get you a spot

It was great. About 30 RV spots right on the lawn in the city park, $15 per night.

So when I got to Hope, Arkansas (home of Bill Clinton)a day later, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself parking on the lawn at the city fairgrounds. I had a long conversation with the park supervisor, a man who loved his park with all his being.

“I’d love to do what you’re doing,” he said. “But then who would take care of all this?” He gestured toward the fields with a baseball team playing and a kids softball team practicing, other kids riding bikes, playing basketball and tennis, the horse barns…and of course the RV park.

The showers there are in the fair office building, so if you want to use them, they just give you a key to the offices so you can go in and leave the key in the mailbox when you’re done. Welcome to Mayberry.

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Hope, Arkansas

Later, taking a lap around the park on my evening walk, I spotted him frantically trying to solve a problem at the swimming pool – an ant infestation. The south is weird, y’all.

 

 

 

 

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Ants. In the pool.

In my brother’s town in Kentucky, I stayed in the public park there. It had a boat ramp to the river and a splash pad, as well as the most popular walking trail in town. I did have to leave after 4 days because the barbecue festival was starting, but it was time. You know what they say about guests after 3 days.

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In my brother’s little town

Mudbugs and Drive-Thru Daquiris

June 13, 2019

20190526_143550_resizedSouth Texas

The closer you get to Houston, the more Cajun culture starts to appear. I was delighted to come upon it. Barbecue restaurants give way to signs advertising crawfish and Boudin sausage, gumbo and jambalaya.

My dumbest move of the weekend was to try to go to the beach at Galveston, forgetting that most of Texas would also be heading there for Memorial Day. I made it over the terrifying bridge onto Galveston Island. I gaped at the vast flat muddy expanse that passes for an ocean down there. Then I turned around and skedaddled back over the bridge before traffic got even worse.

The Oil Patch

I grew up traipsing around oil fields, thanks to my dad’s work, but it turns out I had the tank farms I had seen were tiny, miniature, really. South of Houston, the tank farms go on for miles. And miles. And miles. Traveling side roads, you get to see all the stuff that is hidden from the interstate highway.

And then the thing I had been waiting for: Louisiana. It was as overgrown, gothic and mysterious as I had expected. I rattled along through the flooded rice fields, listening to Cajun music on the radio. It felt perfect.

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Lake Charles, where pipelines are overhead.

I stopped overnight in Lake Charles, another oil town, where there are so many pipelines that they make overpasses out of them.

It also has a truly terrifying bridge, the worst of the trip so far. Narrow, tall, rickety – it ticks all the bridge-terror boxes.

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Lake Charles. If you squint, you can see Earl.

Earl Goes Fishing

Out on a fishing dock in Lake Charles, I met Earl, a retired truck driver and father of nine. He talked to me about life and fishing and asked all kinds of questions about my trip. I asked him what kind of fish he was hoping to catch.

“Ah, I don’t mind if it one thing or the other,” he said. “I just come out here to get out of the house.”

Lafayette!

Earl recommended that my next stop be Lafayette, a town full of gorgeous old buildings and moss-covered trees, so I went there. I visited the Vermilionville historical park, a collection of old buildings and historical exhibits, complete with actors playing the residents of the time.

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A parsonage house at Vermilionville

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The hand-pulled ferry at Vermilionville

I was surprised at the mix of visitors – about half were French, exploring this part of their heritage. It was fun to hear the actors speak to them in Cajun French and listen to their difficulty in translating, much like me with Louisiana English accents.

It was hot, though, well into the 90s and of course humid. My stretchable spandex-laced denim pants soon gave up stretching and just turned into dampish bags around my legs, my waistband sliding lower and lower. It made me think of the people who had lived here in that heat, cooking over open fires and picking crops.

I parked Gladis at my first KOA on a little Lafayette lake and went to the swimming pool where I spent the evening watching teenagers do cannonballs around me.

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Cajun Daquiris. Drive thru service.

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Natchitoches, Louisiana

 

 

Relaxing in Austin

June 11, 2019

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The Pause that Refreshes

After my disastrous entry into the great State of Texas, I was thinking about just flying through to Louisiana, but the weather was a mess in every direction, so I decided to huddle in Austin and relax for a week rather than forging on.

There are worse places. Austin is the purple state’s most firmly entrenched liberal enclave, so I knew I could slap my Obama/Biden magnet on Gladis’s bumper and put on my trans pride shirt and I’d be amongst my people there. (I didn’t actually do either – but it’s the principle of the thing).

Barton Springs

I stayed in a conveniently located RV park over in Barton Springs, an area that is geared to touristy activities. Lots of barbecue restaurants with outdoor patios, live music, a whole food truck court, bike paths, kayaking, museums, and so on. Austin is a fun place.

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A river runs through downtown

One night after work, I walked over to the most unique and interesting swimming pool I had ever seen, local landmark Barton Springs. It is a natural pool 3 acres in size, fed by a cold spring that bubbles up from the ground. Some parts are 18 feet deep, and it is a chilly 68 degrees year round, so I didn’t swim. My preferred water temperature is 82.

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Barton Spring Municipal Pool

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The spring itself

Striking Conversations

I did, however, end up in an almost 2-hour conversation with Richard Powell, a fascinating gentleman. A 26-year vocational education teacher in Austin, he also invented a popular baseball pitching machine, the Louisville Slugger UPM . He told me all about his inventions and about his “non-academic” students’ successes, like the one who hated school but loved auto shop and ended up owning one of the largest mechanic shops in Texas.

Seeing places and going to attractions is all well and good, but it is the people who make the place. As my friend Charlie Sill (and talented voiceover artist who you should totally hire) used to say “If you don’t talk to strangers, you will never make any friends.”

La Grange, Home of Fine Kolaches

If you’re heading East out of Austin, stop in LaGrange and get some Czech pastries. I took an online class with a delightful Austinite named Melissa Sternberg, who runs a knitting shop, Gauge. She took me to lunch in Austin and clued me in to the Czech roots of LaGrange and told me to go there to get some pastries. I was not disappointed. I got this poppyseed coconut roll at a gas station named Weikel’s. They also sell the classic Czech pastry called kolach in about 20 different flavors. Best gas station food ever.

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Waltz Across Texas

June 6, 2019
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Welcome to West Texas

Texas began scaring the hell out of me as soon as I got there. Right at the Texas border, the wind kicked up hard – 30 to 40 mph. Gladis turns into a sail during high winds, and driving is more like bronc riding. We swayed and bobbed toward El Paso, my white-knuckled hands clutching the steering wheel.

Down in the West Texas Town of El Paso

El Paso was not nearly as charming as the song would have one expect. I missed Rosa’s Cantina and Felina whirling completely.

Crazy Saints Among Us

Traversing the rutted path that passes for Interstate 10 in El Paso, I saw a wall of brake lights pop on in front of me. Me, Gladis, giant tanker trucks, delivery vans, all screeching from 60 mph to 0. Smoke from brakes. Truck tractors weaving around, trying to keep their trailers from overtaking them.

Directly in front of me, a tiny man opened his door and emerged from an old Nissan Sentra with Mexican plates. He boldly walked into the traffic lanes where trucks were already starting up again and slowly wrestled a large orange plastic traffic control barrel to the side of the road from where it had been bouncing around in lanes, which is what caused the panic. I gave him a big double thumbs-up for being the bravest person in all of Texas at that moment. Crazy dude. God bless him.

Rolling, Rolling

I was determined to cover as much ground in Texas as quickly as possible. West Texas is just gigantic and there’s not much out there (in one spot, it was 110 miles between any type of towns). I put on some podcasts and munched on Sabritas Japoneses (my one real addiction) and drank kombucha and put the pedal to the medal. Well, halfway to the medal, since Gladis hums along best at 60 mph.

Leaving a rest stop with Heather Armstrong on the “With Friends Like These” podcast, I noticed giant clouds on the horizon. About 20 minutes later, my radio burst to life with a squawk.

“WAH WAHN WAH WAHN. The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather alert…”

Haha, but not near me, right?

“One and one-half inch hail and a possible tornado on Interstate 10 between mile marker 257 and 265…”

I looked at the next mile marker. 245. Oh. That’s…close. My heart pounding, I tried to remember tornado etiquette. Something about interior rooms and bathtubs. I started looking for an exit, an overpass, a gas station, anything. Nope. I was shaking with fear.

A few miles later, a lonely exit appeared with no buildings nearby. I crossed the freeway and found only a locked gate leading to a Bridgestone tire testing grounds. I parked by the side of the road and wondered what the heck to do. It was the most scared and lonely I have been on this trip.

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My view from the roadside

Frantic, I consulted my storm watch app, StormShield (damn right I have the paid version), which told me the storm was blessedly moving away toward the northeast at 30 mph. I don’t know what I would have done had it been heading for me.

A couple people leaving the tire place for the day stopped to ask if I was ok – they thought I had a mechanical breakdown – then they left. I sat by the road for an hour by myself, waiting for the storm to move on.

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The storm later that evening

The Honey Badger

When I thought it was safe, I drove on to Fort Stockton, home of the hilariously named Honey Badger RV Park. It was a gravel parking lot with fence around it, but the owner, Naomi, was warm and eager to get me parked and out of the storm.IMG_20190517_191705_993

“That name,” I said, “It has to have a story.”

“Haha!” Naomi laughed. “It’s named after my ex-husband. We were married 38 years, and he was like the honey badger. He just did not give a shit. A good guy, but he didn’t give a shit.”

Saint Anthony Protected Me

I have always loved Saint Anthony, but his namesake town, San Antonio, tried to kill me twice within about 10 minutes. The first time was a swerving, lane-ending detour indicated only by about 8 traffic barrels before it actually happened – which would have been inconvenient if I could have seen it, but traffic was heavy and a huge RV was right in front of me, and they didn’t swerve until the last second, so suddenly I looked up and the barrier was RIGHT THERE and I had to swerve at a high speed and almost take someone’s door off and DAMN IT THAT WAS TOO CLOSE.

Then a couple minutes later, freeway traffic came to such a sudden stop that I had the brakes floored and realized I was going to rear-end a tiny Toyota in front of me unless a miracle happened, then I magically found 1/4 inch more brakes and missed hitting it by about 4 inches. I probably left a couple inches of tire rubber on the highway.

Everything in Gladis flew toward the front, including all the fridge contents, where a jar of olive tapenade exited the door, which had flown open, and across the RV, breaking and spewing broken glass and tiny greasy olive bits EVERYWHERE. I have been finding olive pieces ever since.

But we survived, and so did the people packed into that Toyota. My heart is not strong enough for Texas. I was shook up and ready to leave as soon as possible.

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Nice job on the roadside wildflowers, though! Thank LadyBird Johnson for that.

 

 

 

Unearthly Earth

May 28, 2019

The usual dilemma – which way to go. Leaving Santa Fe, I could take the shorter route across the Texas panhandle, or go south and then across the wide fat, 856 mile part of Texas. I was scarred by memories of crossing Texas in the RV with my parents when I was younger. It just felt so endless. 

But in the end, I chose the long way for one reason: White Sands, New Mexico. Located near Alamagordo (famous for the first atomic bomb test), the National Monument is 225 square miles of pure white gypsum sand that remains cool to the touch, thanks to water just under the surface. It is inhabitied by white critters – little white birds, tiny pure white lizards.

It was an experience of calm joy like no other. Instant meditation. At first, the dunes appear at a distance from the road, but by the fourth mile in, the road disappears in a drift of hard white sand and it is nothing but whiteness and desert heat and wind as far as one can see.

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

May 22, 2019
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I pick the most scenic spots

Question

Why did you spend so long in the Santa Fe area, Suebob? Well, now the truth can be told: I needed healthcare. A mammogram, specifically, and of the difficulties I have had on the road, accessing healthcare was the most intractable so far.

Round 1 in the healthcare battle

I found a lump in my breast. I mean, a DIFFERENT lump in my breast. I have plenty of lumps. So many that, so far, I have had one surgical biopsy, three needle biopsies, five breast ultrasounds, a bunch of follow-up mammograms, and a partridge in a pear tree. But this lump felt different – harder and less slippery. It felt, frankly, like a lentil. Small, which is good, right?

So I took myself to one urgent care where they said they would not refer me for a mammogram, and to another one where the doctor said she would, but then when I called the next day as she told me to do, they said they wouldn’t.

“But you’re not an established patient,” the referral person said. So cold. So uncaring. I spent about 45 minutes on the phone, most of it on hold, while they decided to reluctantly grant me the permission to get a damned mammogram.

Round 2 ding ding

Then the mammogram place didn’t want to take a referral from an urgent care, and was so brusque and imperious about telling me I HAD to get films sent from my last 5 years of mammos, and if they didn’t get them, they would just have to reschedule, and their next appointment wasn’t for 3 weeks and no, they probably wouldn’t have any cancellations.

The person on the phone was just so mean. It was like it was a game to her to keep me from getting a mammogram. It was so awful and disheartening and makes me wonder how anyone who is truly ill receives healthcare at all.

So that’s how I spent 3 weeks in Northern New Mexico – I wanted to be within an hour of the imaging center, in case they did have a cancellation, though with the way Sandra treated me, I figured no one would be calling, and no one ever did, so I waited the entire 3 weeks.

The Decision

The mammo was fine. I had a weirdly inflammed tiny lymph node.

Meanwhile

I fell in love with a lady. A lady named Genoveva Chavez.

Well, I actually fell in love with a community center named after Genoveva Chavez, a center located conveniently about 400 yards from where Gladis was parked at the Santa Fe Rodeo Grounds.

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El Rodeo de Santa Fe

Yes, the rodeo seems like a strange place to park, which is why it was perfectly suited to me and Gladis. They had about a dozen RV spots in a gravel parking lot near some horse pens, and it was cheap and super low-key, so there I stayed. You just called a number on the gate and the guy assigned you a spot. “Do you ever want to get paid?” I asked him. “Eh, I know where you live,” he said. “I’ll come by sometime.”

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Where you can find the cowboys. Also, directly behind Gladis.

Genoveva Chavez Community Center (GCCC) is a gem. They have a huge swimming pool, a giant kids’ pool with slides large and small, a basketball court, weight rooms, a dance studio, meeting rooms and an ICE RINK. They are open from about 5 am to 9:45 pm every day.

I was in heaven. This was honestly one of the most beautiful and functional civic buildings I have ever been in. This is the kind of thing you want your tax dollars going to.

So every night after work, I would put on my swimsuit, grab my backpack, and make the short walk over to visit Genoveva. I asked who she was and the lady at the front desk said “She was a mariachi.” Ok, then. Thank you, Genoveva, for making my extended stay at the Rodeo grounds so enjoyable.

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Genoveva, I love you.

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An ice rink. In Northern New Mexico.

A

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I also got to pet horsies every day. This is Doc.

 

 

All Relaxation, No Fun

May 12, 2019
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The spa entrance

I love me a hot spring. When I lived in San Luis Obispo, my favorite thing to do was to rent a hot tub on the side of the mountain at Sycamore Hot Springs and soak in the sulfur water for an hour, watching the blue jays flit around among the oaks.

Ojo Caliente

I was so excited to get to Ojo Caliente, halfway between Taos and Santa Fe, way out in the countryside. It’s a historic hot springs that has been visited by humans for at least 3,000 years and “discovered” by Spanish explored Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca in the 1530s.

They have a hotel, a restaurant, and best of all, an RV/camping area in addition to hot pools located at the foot of some desert cliffs that look for all the world like Radiator Springs.

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Part of the old hotel

I arrived Friday night and spent some time sitting in the RV musing on my good fortune as I watched a woman my age with a German Shepherd and a puppy try to set up two tents. No, thank you. I am not a camper.

Discovering the Pools

At 9 a.m., I took the 1/4 mile walk over to the hot springs. It is a beautiful spa – quiet location, beautiful landscaping, a fancy gift shop, restaurant and wine bar. Aromatherapy scents of sage and lavender float through the lobby, which features some spectacular artworks and Native American artifacts.

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The newer hotel suites

The springs themselves consist of a large oval swimming pool at 89 degrees and a series of smaller pools with warmer water, each containing different types of minerals. My favorite was the Lithia pool, rustic and filled with slippery lithium water, said to help promote a mellow mood. I know I certainly felt fine, soaking with my big hat on in the 102 degree water.

The Iron pool was another favorite because the water rises up from a spring at the bottom, which is covered with a thick layer of gravel pebbles, so your feet get a warm stone massage as you walk around.

I didn’t visit the Arsenic pools because arsenic (I’m sure it’s fine, really), but later I found the arsenic and iron waters are mixed in all the pools. Oops. No ill effects, though…I think.

Getting Muddy

I took a mud bath – a first for me. A water-fountain-like thing pours forth a thin, slippery stream of mud – it’s more like colored water. You smear yourself with it and then bake dry in the sun. A shallow pool of opaque muddy water is provided for a first rinse, then showers made of buckets with holes in the bottom sprinkle you clean (or mostly clean) of the remaining red mud.

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The pool area

The day was a warm spring day, hovering between 65 and 70 degrees and breezy, so a little cool to just lay out, especially since I had chosen a lounge under a shade, fearing the high-altitude New Mexico sun. But I did spend most of the day and evening in and out of the pools and under a towel on my lounge chair, reading or just listening to the Native American flute music they play to set the mood.

Shhh Be Vewy Quiet

The crazy part about Ojo Caliente is the enforced silence. The whole thing is a “whisper zone” – no speaking above a whisper – and they seriously enforce this. Several times an hour, staffers with paddleboards  saying “Whisper Please” and chimes march through the pool areas, rattling the chimes at anyone who dares speak.

If you ignore them, they will stand there pointedly, becoming more insistent and jingling their sign. I didn’t see anyone get ejected, but I don’t doubt it has happened.

I could see that there were groups of girlfriends and families who really wanted to bust loose and talk, but for the most part people obeyed the rules.

I get it. It’s a spa. It is for relaxing. But some people relax by talking and socializing. I think there should be an area for talkers or a time of day set aside for a more lively interchange.

As a solo traveler, I realized there was no way to get to know anyone, as friendly as they might seem – because you just can’t walk up and begin whispering animatedly to someone. You would seem demented. It’s too weird.

Chow Time

After I got done soaking for the day, I had an excellent flatbread and glass of wine at the bar and ended up talking for about an hour and a half to one of the massage therapists. He was fascinating. We talked about energy, body senses not normally recognized, protecting your body while giving massage, neural massage, and a lot of other stuff. So I got my talk on. Whew.

So my advice is go to Ojo Caliente with your mind right. You’re going to relax, which is probably what you need. But hush your mouth, or seek the wrath of the guy with the paddleboard.

*No pics of most of the pools, because I didn’t want to invade swimsuit-clad peoples’ privacy.

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Even a little spiral labyrinth!

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