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Collecting Memories

November 16, 2019

 

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Hirschorn Museum, Washington, DC

My internet friends Kizz and Cindy inspired me to visit 100 museums. At the time they proposed this idea, I had visited about 40 museums in my lifetime.

Now I’m up to 91. (If you go to the link, keep scrolling down. You’ll get there). I’m thankful that Kizz and Cindy came up with this very fun challenge.

My mom started taking me to museums when I was a little kid. One early, memorable experience was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The show featured kinetic art, which in the 1960s was something new and strange to us. When we got to a piece made of styrofoam blocks moving and squeaking together, the noise made me lose my damn mind and launch into a tantrum so epic that it is engraved in Davis family history. I vaguely remember someone doing a fireman carry to remove me from the building.

Despite that early mishap, I eventually made friends with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and have visited many times since. It is a very fine small museum, partially thanks to the wealthy who live in the area. It’s the first place I saw a Monet and an Isamu Noguchi.

That Noguchi sculpure gave me the experience that keeps me going back to museums – that feeling of completely relating to the work so I can feel it in all my bones and also simultaneously lose the experience of self, so the work takes me beyond ordinary reality. It rarely happens, but when it does, it’s like art heroin.

My most memorable museum experience was at the San Diego Museum of Art, where I was so captivated by a wooden Guanyin Bodhisattva that I lost track of time and myself as a separate being and took a trip through time and space and had a mystical experience of mind-meld with the artist, who lived thousands of years ago. It really doesn’t translate well into words. Mystical experiences so rarely do.

So let’s make a list.

Favorite Collection: California impressionists at Crocker Museum, Sacramento
Most Fun: Exploratorium, San Francisco
Closest to My Heart: Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, Santa Ynez, CA (has artifacts from my family)
Coziest: Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, Taos, NM
Most Enthusiastic Volunteers: National Heisey Glass Museum, Newark, OH
Best Gardens: The Huntington, San Marino, CA
Most Annoying Exhibit: Yoko Ono One Woman Show, MOMA, NYC (The SCREAMING!)
Most Inspirational: Bill of Rights at the National Archive, Washington, DC
Most Amazing Museum Overall: Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY

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Harwood Museum, Taos, NM

 

A Little Magic

November 10, 2019
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Brookgreen Gardens oak alley.

Theodosia Burr Shepherd was one of my town’s most famous residents. She was California’s first nurserywoman and a genius plant breeder.

When I heard the beautiful love song “Dear Theodosia” in the musical Hamilton, I started wondering about how Theodosia Burr Shepherd on the west coast got the same name as Aaron Burr’s beloved daughter, and it led me down a rabbit hole of history.

I learned the whole story of Theodosia Burr, from her mother to her, to other Theodosia Burrs like Hollywood silent-movie vamp Theda Bara and Ventura’s Theodosia.

I developed a PowerPoint presentation on the many Theodosias and gave the speech at Toastmasters over and over.

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Today, I visited Brookgreen Gardens, a 9000 acre park about 10 miles from where I’m staying. It has a sculpture garden, zoo, gallery, and nature preserve.

They offer a number of tours during the day, and I got there at 2:15 and hopped on the 2:30 bus, not quite sure what I would see.

Halfway through the hour-long tour, the bus driver stopped and began explaining where we were. A few bricks from the foundation of an old home stood next to the bus. They were all that was left of the home of Joseph Alston and his wife. Theodosia Burr Alston. Dear Theodosia.

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What is left of Theodosia’s home.

The tour guide relayed the details of Theodosia’s life, from her birth to her mother’s death when she was quite young, to her becoming one of the most educated women in the United States at the time, to her marriage to a South Carolina planter and her untimely death.

I could have told that story. I knew every detail. And yet somehow, completely unaware of where I was going that day – I thought I was going to a botanic garden – I was walking on the very land where Theodosia had lived.

I’m sure the tour guide was wondering why I began tearing up and nodding madly as she spoke. I finally had to tell her. There is no history I know as well as that of Theodosia Burr Alston.

Into every life a little magic must fall. Today was one of those days.

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The inscription on Theodosia’s memorial where her husband and son are buried. 

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The Joseph, Theosdia and Aaron Burr Alson memorial (the graves are underneath the crypt.

A Summertime Town in Winter

November 9, 2019

Myrtle Beach is a summer paradise. It’s a fun town. There are about a dozen mini-golf courses, waterparks and amusement parks. There are many, many giant 2-story stores unlike anything I have ever seen in California selling summer supplies (t-shirts, beach towels, beach chairs, floaties). And of course, there is the long and perfect strand of beach itself.

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The road next to the beach is lined with hotels and condos large and small. Some are 20 stories, others shabby 2-story family-run motels built in the 1960s. In winter, they are practically empty. Signs advertise seaview rooms for $35 per night; $225  per week.

My Terror

Here’s a weird fact about me: I have a terror of empty swimming pools. The sight of a waterless pool – or worse, one partly filled with dark and dirty water – causes my stomach to drop and my head to spin. Yeah, I don’t know why either.

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You know where there are a lot of empty swimming pools? A beach town in winter. Everywhere I look. I have been practicing exposure therapy, forcing myself to at least glance sideways at the terrifying concrete pits while clinging to fences to keep from fainting. I’m not quite cured yet.

Even with that, I love to walk down the street with all the hotels. It’s quiet and a little eerie.

Walking and Talking

A Friendly’s restaurant is one of the few places still open on the strip. One night, a mom walked out of Friendly’s with her little boy. I was playing Pokémon Go on the opposite side of the street from them, and the boy was scampering around and exploring every cranny, so we were both making slow progress, walking parallel.

At one point, I got ahead and crossed the street. A little while later, the boy said behind me “Hey, you’re playing Pokemon Go!”

I turned. “Yes, I am! Do you play?”

“No,” he said. “My cousin does. How long have you been playing?”

“Three years, which is probably about half your life.”

“Mmm almost. I’m 7. I’m James, and I’m good at math!”

“That’s great!” I said. James was a skinny, shorts-wearing boy with big eyes and long gorgeous eyelashes that curved up on the ends.

“Yes, my teacher always says I am so good at it. I love math! I love to do math problems. I know my times tables, almost anyway. 3 times 7 is 21. 3 times 8 is…24.”

His mother had barely looked up at us. She was just dragging along. I realized that she was exhausted and that she probably worked in one of the hotels.

To give her a break, I kept walking with James. We chatted for the next few blocks. I learned that James was going to be a scientist and study the ocean, but also an engineer and build robots that would do everything for people.

“I want to build a robot so my mom doesn’t have to do so much,” he said. “I want her to say ‘Vacuum the floor’ and the robot will vacuum so she can sit down sometimes.”

His mother finally smiled. “That would be nice, son.”

We parted ways and walked on through the empty streets of a summer town in winter.

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In Which I Cheat on Gladis

November 5, 2019

I’m not quite retired, but I have already achieved the gold standard of old-personhood: I have my own golf cart.
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Not permanently – just for the next few months. I have settled into a community near the beach in South Carolina (the actual beach is 3 blocks away) in a tiny bungalow, the rental of which comes with a zippy little black and red golf cart.

I just needed a break after a year spent largely on the road. I need to see a dentist and get some physical therapy on my ouchie arm and take real showers in my own shower. And I wanted to spend the long, dark nights of winter somewhere other than an RV park.

I liked Myrtle beach, and when I found that rent here is about 25% of what it is in Ventura, I started looking around and after only about 6 hours on the phone (this is the South, y’all. Dang, people like to chat.), I found myself a little place with a porch as big as the actual home. I can sit in a porch swing or porch Adirondack chairs or porch rockers or the porch picnic table.
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I can zip down to the rec center or to the onsite restaurants or to the Walmart across the way in the golf cart. I can even go to church on the golf cart!

I thought the golf cart would be hard to drive – I have to park it with extreme care in a tiny shay-ed (I mean shed), but it turns out driving a very large vehicle makes driving a tiny one incredibly easy.

So grab your windbreaker and hop on. We’re going for a ride.

A Song of Survival

November 4, 2019

I went to Target after church, as one does. Because I have Gladis, I took a short break on the couch before I went inside. I could hear this lovely violin music that was surprisingly loud.

I couldn’t imagine someone blasting that music from their car, so I thought it was probably one of those “Play classical music to keep kids from congregating in front of the store” ploys I have heard about.

When I walked up to the store, I realized I was wrong. There was a man with a violin and an amp out in front of Target. He was playing music from all kinds of genres. He had a sign that said “I have no work permit. Please help.”

I walked up to leave a few dollars in his case. As I dropped my money, I looked up and saw his face. He didn’t look like someone who had spent his life inside playing violin. He looked like a campesino, his skin tanned dark and deeply lined.

He also had an expression filled with sorrow and stress. This wasn’t someone who was playing for fun. He was playing for his life, and probably the lives of his loved ones.

I was happy to see so many people contribute to him. Parents gave their little kids money to go drop into his case. An elderly couple stopped their car and opened their windows to listen for a while.

He brought forth beauty from darkness. I hope he is well.

In which Southern accents trip me up

November 2, 2019

Sue: Oh, your dog is so cute. What’s his name?

Lady: Vayennie

Sue: Vienna?

Lady: VAH-ennie

Sue: Vah-ennie

Lady: V-I-N-N-I-E

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Sue: Is the shed supposed to be locked?

Landlord: What?

Sue: The shed, is it supposed to be locked because…

Landlord: Oh! The SHAY-ed.

_______________________

I walk up to a deli counter. Two men stop talking to look at me. One Middle Easterner behind the counter and one Black man in front of it.

“We were talking about coaches,” the customer explained.

“Like football coaches?” I asked.

“Football, whatever, all kinds of coaches. But people try to take your coaches away, you know? You come with coaches and they don’t appreciate those coaches.”

“Um…yeah?”

He looked kind of annoyed.

“Yeah, they do. They do.”

In the car, about half an hour later, I yelled, “OH! CULTURES!”

East Coast, West Coast, Best Coast

October 31, 2019
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The spreading gold fields of Delaware

Destination Unknown

This trip has taught me to love many places and things that I didn’t know I loved before.

The California desert, with its scorched mystery and deep starry skies and rivers of Painted Lady butterflies. During wildflower season – which lasts about 3 weeks – the air at sunset smells like a perfume made of purple, tangerine and yellow.

The deep green forests of Louisiana, so tangled that they seem to suck you in like a dizzying whirlpool of verdure, steamy and alive.

The rustling cornfields of the midwest and east, always hinting at something alive and peeping out just beyond those first rows by the road.

The wind-swept rocky canyons and mesas of New Mexico with ever-changing bands of light made by clouds spilling over the red rocks.

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Wells, Maine gave me some spectacular sunsets.

Take Me Down to the Sea

It is a grand and beautiful country, but my people, there is no place for me like a coast. When I saw Cape Cod, I burst into tears and then felt a weight lifting off of me, but I wasn’t home. It wasn’t until I walked on the beach at Wells, Maine, that a ribbon unfurled in my heart, tied all the way back to the mouth of Ventura Harbor, 3112 miles away.

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The horseshoe crabs at Bethany Beach, Delaware were spectacular and a little frightening.

After that, I wanted to cling to the coast. I took the inconvenient path south through Delaware and Maryland, both of which I fell in love with.

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I took a lovely hike out to this estuary in Delaware.

With the Ponies

I spent a week on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, re-reading the horse story of Misty of Chincoteague from my childhood. (Synposis: every year, wild ponies from Assateague Island are swum across a narrow channel to be auctioned on Chincoteague so their numbers don’t grow too big. A boy and girl living on a farm with their grandparents save money to buy a pony and her foal. They train the horses, race the mother and eventually return her to the wild, keeping the foal).

Heading south, I gloried in the sunrise over Chesapeake Bay on the Chesapeake Bay Bridges and survived the interspersed tunnels (barely – two narrow lanes facing one another, speed limit 55 mph, giant trucks coming straight at you and appearing to scrape the roof of the tunnel as they fly).

Virginia Beach was tougher because they certainly know how to keep the beach from people driving an RV (day-use parking was $15 in the sole lot that could accommodate RVs).

 

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Roanoke Island VA, home of the lost colony, retains a certain mystery.

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The Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NC

Take to the Air

But the Outer Banks of North Carolina – now there’s a place I could live. So homey, like a really flat Malibu. I stopped at Kitty Hawk and learned all about the Wright Brothers and thought about how far aviation has come, just having spent a week under the flight path of F-18s from Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach having my windows rattled every few minutes.

And now, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. There are skyscrapers along the beach, which is flat and white and beautiful and seems to stretch on forever. There is a state beach park where the trees arch over the roads, dripping Spanish moss. It is warm and steamy and largely deserted for winter. I’m thinking about staying a while.

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

 

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Myrtle Beach State Beach Park

 

 

 

A New York State of Mind

October 21, 2019
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Sunrise over the Upper West Side

I’m going to backtrack because I forgot to write this down.

 

Staying in upstate New York with my old housemate Robina Bobina, she invited me to come to New York City with her and her boyfriend.

I said no, of course. I’m not my mother’s daughter just so I can leap into things all willy-nilly when invited. It’s the anti-pleasure principle. But Robin was persuasive. Her boyfriend, Michael, would drive, and his family owned a pied-a-terre across from Zabar’s and we would have a grand time.

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Zabars – my final resting place

Coincidentally, before she ever mentioned this, I had told Robin I wanted my ashes to be put in a cookie tin and placed on a high shelf at Zabar’s so I could rest in peace in my happy place.

(Zabar’s is a grocery store/deli like no other. It has a cheese section that brings could take months to properly explore if you didn’t want to risk lactose overdose).

So then I said yes. I got to meet Michael, a super cute dermatologist with a super zippy Audi. He and Robin are goofy about one another in the sweetest possible way.

We got to Manhattan on the Friday night of Labor Day weekend and it was perfect. The weather was just softly warm and lovely and the city was deserted and not at all noisy or overwhelming – NYC at it’s most poetic. You could almost hear Rhapsody in Blue swelling in the background.

We ate Indian food and strolled up to Magnolia Bakery to finish stuffing ourselves with Banana Pudding (Robin and Michael) and Lemon Bars (me). This was pretty much the whole weekend – eating and walking, walking and eating.

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Instagramming our Barney Greengrass

On Saturday, we breakfasted at Barney Greengrass and parted ways – Robin and Michael to go walk through her old Riverside neighborhood and go shopping, me to get a haircut and see my friend Suzanne, whom I have known since the days when she used to publish a blog called “CUSS and other rants.”

Suzanne and I of course ate out. She had run 13 miles that morning. Hey, I got a haircut, so that’s pretty much the same thing, right? We had Druze food. Good golly, Miss Molly, I love New York and its cornucopia of world cuisine. We walked around and hung out at her place, which is conveniently only about 6 blocks from Michael’s family’s apartment.

I spent the afternoon – guess what – walking around, taking photos, gaping at the Nobel Monument like a tourist, and playing Pokemon Go. A perfect afternoon. I stopped at Milk Bar to get a highly overrated slice of Milk Bar Pie and to watch other tourists take photos of their ice cream.

That night Suzanne, her husband and I went out to eat (of course) – New York pizza this time – and walked around and then we just sat around their kitchen table and drank water and laughed our heads off because of stuff like Justin buying these as a subtle protest of his new open-plan office where he has to share a table with his boss and others.

The next day, a long-awaited pilgrimage to the Noguchi museum in Queens, where we met up with another old blogging friend, Neil Kramer. Isamu Noguchi is my favorite modern sculptor, with work that is solid and light at the same time. One of Noguchi’s works just stopped me in my tracks at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art years ago, and I had always wanted to see his former workshop and museum. We drove Neil back to Manhattan so he could eat Thai food with us and then go to a movie.

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Isamu Noguchi, supergenius

That night, we strolled around Central Park and down to the East Side and watched Brazilian drummers and dancers in the park, celebrating after the Brazilian Day parade. In the morning, we made the trip out to Queens to see Michael’s grandmother, the fabulous matriarch of a sprawling, funny Jewish family whose members keep several different levels of kosher and can talk at length about whether Zabar’s rugelach are the safe for one of the cousins. They told family stories around the kitchen table, reminiscing about vacations and summer camp and who played what musical instrument, just a beautiful family time.

Amd then back to upstate. It was a weekend as full and interesting as NYC itself. I didn’t do many of the typical tourist things (desserts excepted) but it was perfect. Labor Day Weekend in New York City – highly recommended.

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Central Park at night, with those weird skinny buildings everyone hates

A Secret Society

October 17, 2019

I know almost instantly. I see a group of people of varying ages standing in a circle, looking at their phones. They are in a park or in front of a store or on the steps of a government building. And I start to hustle toward them.

“Is there a raid?” I ask.

Nods.

“Are you in?”

Nods. They look me up and down.

“93 seconds,” someone says. “Hurry up.”

What kind of weirdo questions and answers are these? I have to admit, my friends. I still play Pokémon Go, and so do lots of other people everywhere.

Pokémon Go took the world by storm 3 years ago. It’s a video game that is based on a map overlay of actual geography – there are Pokémon everywhere and there are spots where you need to perform certain tasks in the game everywhere, too. More in urban areas, fewer in rural areas, but you can open your game app anywhere and see the map of where you are and start hunting.

So last night, I was playing as I took a walk in a park when I happened on a raid group and played with them. We instantly fell into the language of the game, a language completely impermeable to those who do not play. We can talk for hours like this.

And last week, in Chincoteague, I met a group of townies – mostly little kids, young guys, and a couple parents – raiding one night. Then I went out the next night, figuring they would be meeting up again – and found them out and we walked around town together, playing the game, even though it was cold and a wicked wind was blowing.

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Mortals, look upon my Shiny Giratina and weep.

The other thing about the game is that it is a way to keep in touch with friends all over. I collect “gifts” as I go about the game, and every day I send them to friends, who also send me gifts. Each gift is like a little postcard with a photo of where I found it, so my friends can see where I have been recently.

It’s a stupid game. You end up doing the same thing over and over. Only rarely does something interesting happen. But being part of a secret society and instant friends makes it all worthwhile.

 

A quick loop around the Northeast

September 30, 2019
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Wells, Maine

Lobsta, Anyone?

My brain full of vague Jack and Jackie Kennedy memories from my childhood, I headed out to the Cape. I even spent my first night in Hyannis, at a funky Elks lodge that had been built from a converted health club.

Cape Cod was beautiful and maddening. Beautiful because there is ocean hugging every side, which made it smell salty like home. A purple-blue sky expanded overhead. Pines and oaks stunted by the wind closed in around all the roads.

Maddening because these TINY twee little roads. I know the place is historic, but give a girl a lane more than 8 feet wide, people!

I can hear the residents saying “Nope. We’re from Massachusetts and you will deal with our wicked dinky roads or you can go back to Lala Land.”

Anyway, it wasn’t good for my anxiety. I felt like an elephant trying to balance on a popsicle stick going down those roads. And ducking from the branches overhead. It’s a good thing you’re cute, Cape Cod.

Country Roads, Take Me Home

It wasn’t just Cape Cod, though. It was all of New England, pretty much. Tiny winding roads, overhanging trees, me jumping out of my skin – alternating with gasping at some lovely brick building dripping with history.

After Cape Cod, I spent a lovely evening with my old blogging friend Jessica’s family in Rhode Island. I loved Rhode Island and I loved Jessica and her family. Our smallest state is a wacky puzzle, with ocean at every turn. It’s also adorable in that historic New England seaport-y kind of way. Jessica drove me around and showed me the sights, from the huge historic estates and the wareshouses crowded by the water to the funky part of town by a back bay.

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Wells, Maine

I headed north, passing a pleasant evening at the Elks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a lodge located right at a river mouth by the ocean. They even offer kayak storage for their members to go for a paddle.

The Maine Thing

Maine was next, since New Hampshire only has about 12 miles of shoreline. The southern part of Maine was a shock to my imagination. I had thought of it being a rough and rustic coast, and instead it was rough and touristy. Crowded. Even in mid-September, packed with people storing up the last few weeks of warm weather. Hundreds of houses line the shore, cheek by jowl, interrupted by towns full of tchockhe shops and lobster shacks.

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Ogunquit Museum of American Art

I stayed in Wells, near the highway, where I could walk a mile to the beach and then stop at a brewpub on the way back to drink some IPAs and chat up my fellow travelers, since locals seemed to be huddling down and waiting for the invasion to be over.

My favorite thing in the area was the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, a small museum surrounded by colorful gardens and facing a rocky cove. Dear rich people: please endow more museums.

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Bar Harbor, Maine

Bah Haaabaaaa

I wasn’t going to go further north, but some of my brewpub pals talked me into going. “It would be a shame if you came all this way and didn’t go up there,” they said, and I couldn’t argue with that logic, so I drove the 4 hours up to Bar Harbor.

What a visually stunning place. Acadia National Park tops some tall hills over a large bay. Bar Harbor sits at the foot of the hills right on the water, with many waterfront restaurants where people can enjoy the sun and eat some lobster.

I made the terrible mistake of trying to drive Gladis in Bar Harbor. It was an even smaller and more crowded New England town than all the towns before, and they brag in their brochure “There’s nowhere to park.” I circled fruitlessly, using all my hard-won driving skills to avoid sideswiping other cars or killing people wandering out in the road with lobster rolls in their hands.

A Spot of Trouble

I finally spied a sign that said “Beach Park.” Great, I thought. I can park there, maybe. I ventured down a narrow road* that soon became even narrower. I could see cars ahead of me at the beach. Then I dropped down about a foot…onto sand.

Me and Gladis were sitting on a rocky outcropping above a beach, a spot about 30 feet wide and 12 feet deep. One one side, a rocky ridge with a 3-foot drop behind it. On the other side, a wall. In front of me, rapidly deepening sand, dotted with cars…all four-wheel drive cars.

About 60 onlookers gaped and laughed. How was this crazy California bitch going to get out of this?

With grim determination and a 72-point turn, six inches at a time, I decided. I just had to DO IT. The last thing I wanted was to have Gladis towed out of there.

Back and forth I began inching around, a spirograph pattern in action. Forward. Reverse. Tiny progress.

Then my savior showed up in the form of a friendly man from Texas. “Oh hun, I got a 35-footer. I’ll help ya out.”

And he did. He directed me back and forth, back and forth, yelling “Come on, come on” and “STOP” and “You got this” and “Just be patient, you’ll be fine.” And with help, I was. It took about 10 minutes and some sweaty moments, but Gladis and I finally emerged safely to the rutted path back to civilization.

I told this story to my friend Robin and she said “And at that moment, you said ‘Fuck Bar Harbor,’ and I started laughing because she knows me too well.

I went out to the mosquito-riddled KOA and took the shuttle back into Bar Harbor, but there was no love there from me. I took off in the morning, glad to be gone.

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Franconia NH

I drove Route 2 across Maine and New Hampshire for almost 7 hours. It’s a little two-lane highway that slows to 30 mph for every little burg that dots its length, but it was such a scenic and pleasant drive that I didn’t mind a bit. Finally, a road wide enough to drive on.

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*I thought I must have been mistaken and that the road was some kind of hiking path. But nope, it is clearly marked as a road in Google maps.

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