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Hello, I Hate You

March 24, 2019
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Hello Yuma, you beautiful thing.

Pretty much every time I arrive at a new destination, I go through the same cycle: I look around, think “Ugh, why am I here? I should just go.”

Then I stay for a week and end up wanting to stay just a little longer.

I have had this happen in diverse places including San Francisco (the traffic, the noise, the sad homeless people). Most lately, it happened in Yuma, Arizona.

All of my RV groups raved about Yuma. I was kind of excited to go to a place that I had only ever heard of in the title of the old movie “3:10 to Yuma.” Then I got there and realized that the people who were raving about Yuma were uniformly from places covered in 4 feet of snow this time of year.

And to be honest, Yuma is no garden paradise, especially upon first approach. It’s a sprawling, dusty town full of long, straight streets with fast-food restaurants and strip malls looking somewhat the worse for wear.

It is, however, home to approximately one million RV parks. Well, probably 40 or more, anyway. It is the place voted Least Likely to Snow.

I spent my first night in Yuma at the Paradise Casino on the Quechan native American lands. An evening walk led me to stumble into the fascinating history of Yuma. The area was first visited by Europeans in 1540, 80 years before the Plymouth landing.

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This is not the mission. It is just down the hill.

The St. Thomas Indian Mission overlooks the casino and was the site of a 1781 Quechan rebellion. The Quechans, sick of their treatment by the Spaniards, attacked, burned the mission, and took over 100 Spaniards prisoner. After that, the Spaniards didn’t try to control Yuma anymore.

The mission was rebuilt in 1922 and now sits just a few feet across the Colorado River from California. I walked across the river bridge just for the non-experience of having one foot in each of two states. “Hm…feels like…nothing.”

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The mighty Colorado separates Arizona and California.

I spent the rest of the week tucked into a cozy RV park full of friendly snowbirds. All I ask for is clean showers and a nice swimming pool, and that I got from the Blue Sky RV park. I’m working all day, so it’s not like I’m going to be playing golf, anyway.

Yuma is also notable for dentistry. Not in Yuma – across the Mexican border in Algodones, 7 miles away, 350 dentists ply their trade, fixing teeth for people who could in no way afford dental work in the US, or for bargain hunters eager to save a few thousand dollars.

One more note about Yuma: that winter lettuce you’re eating? It comes from Yuma.

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I got your lettuce. ALL OF IT.

I left on Friday evening, not hating Yuma anymore, but feeling a little wistful that I didn’t get to spend more time in this scrappy, dusty little desert town.

Quiz Question

March 11, 2019

If the showers are 50 yards from the RV and it is dark and raining and you remember to take everything you need to the showers with you EXCEPT for a towel, which you only discover after you have showered, how long should you drip dry before putting on clothes and venturing out into the rain to walk home?

Show your work.

Destination Unknown – Borrego Springs

March 7, 2019
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On the road to Borrego Springs

Traveling without a destination is thrilling and stressful. The possibilities are wide open, but I often spend hours peering at campsite apps on my phone, trying to find a place to stay for the next night, wondering what it will be like when I get there.

Will the electricity be good? (This is a real concern in an RV.)

Will the place be a little paradise, or a run-down junkyard with rutted roads and RVs parked 2 feet from one another? Will the sites be level? Will I be paying for something that looks suspiciously like a parking lot with a fence around it?

And the real question which must be answered every weekday – because I work from the road – will the cellular signal be solid?

But beyond that stress is a world of possibilities and fun. I love driving up to an intersection and deciding: left or right? The thrill and mystery of having that choice outweighs the stress. Mostly.

I had never heard of Borrego Springs, but one night I was bobbing in the pool in Desert Hot Springs and a lady told me I should go there. She called it a cute little artists’ village and mentioned it was a dark skies town – a town that tries to preserve darkness at night so you can see the stars. Right up my alley.

The directions to get there are basically this: go about 60 miles south of Palm Springs, turn west, go 30 miles into the sprawling desert until it starts to meet the hills, and you’re there. IMG_20190206_185649_317_resized

Anza Borrego State Park is huge and remote, and Borrego Springs sits within the embrace of the park. It’s a small town of just a few thousand people, with a few stores, a few churches, and a truly spectacular library.

I stayed at a very fancy RV park with a 9-hole golf course (don’t get me started on golf courses in the desert being an ecological disaster) and mineral spas and another deliciously hot swimming pool.

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Every night after working while watching the clouds roll across the desert and the snowbirds walking their dogs, I would wedge myself into my swimsuit, waddle down to the pool, and get some exercise. Then I would luxuriate in one of the tiny mineral spas while looking up at the glorious night sky, take a shower, and walk back to Gladis, leaning my head back to stare at the stars.

It was dark out there, and quiet, so quiet that the manic yips of the many desert coyotes sounded like they were right outside as I lay in my little RV bed.

20190206_172719_resizedOne day after work I drove outside of town just to see what was there.

Soon I found myself among dozens of larger-than-life metal horse sculptures, scattered among the sage and ocotillos across the desert as far as I could see, maybe every quarter-mile or so.

There were also a few giant crows and elephants. Why? I don’t know and I didn’t ask.

It was just part of the mystery and beauty of the desert.IMG_20190207_174035_631_resized

 

 

Salvation in the Desert

March 3, 2019

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There’s something about driving all the way around a lake. I found this out a few years back when my brother-in-law Mike and I did a trip completely circling Lake Michigan. It just feels right.

In this spirit of completeness, I also wanted to drive all the way around the Salton Sea, so I proceeded south when I left Borrego Springs. But then another completion called to me – I decided I needed to drive all the way to the international border in Calexico. It was only an extra 20 miles and it seemed like something I ought to do just to be able to say I had driven from one end of California to the other.

I made the side trip and found Calexico a grubby, grotty town. Traffic was heavy and even though I was hungry, the restaurants looked iffy and there was no place to park Gladis. I headed back toward the sea, traveling through the great expanses of agricultural fields that are the southern counterpoint to the San Joaquin Valley.

On the way to the east coast of the Salton Sea, I took a right at the tiny, tiny town of Niland and visited Salvation Mountain. This desert landmark is a spectacularly odd monument to faith and persistence, built by a man named Leonard Knight.

After a sudden religious conversion at age 35, he wanted to share his simple faith (Repent and be saved. God is love. Read the Bible.) by means of messages written on a hot air balloon, for which he spent 14 years fundraising and trying to sew. The balloon fell apart and was a failure. Leonard, ever-faithful, was undeterred, began building a monument to God’s love in the desert with adobe and donated paint, only stopping when he died. It ended up being a candy-colored mound about 50 feet tall and 150 feet wide with a cross at the top and the most prominent message at the top – GOD IS LOVE.

He also decorated everything he could get his hands on – trucks, tractors, a scooter. Today some of the local residents sit in a little shed, answering visitor questions and giving out pamphlets.

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Salvation Mountain is surrounded by Slab City, a former military base that has attracted a sprawled-out collection of squatters, artists and eccentrics living in trailers, RVs, broken-down trucks and pretty much any type of shelter anyone would care to haul out into the blistering desert and occupy.

Dozens of people stopped by to see Salvation Mountain during the hour I was there, many loaded with photo equipment to capture the oddities. Japanese students posed carefully in groups in front of the mound A little girl in a sparkly party dress perched on the rusty bumper of Leonard’s truck for a portrait. And of course, many people took selfies. I wonder what Leonard would have made of that.

I tried to feel God’s presence which I sat and mused at Leonard’s work, but I have to admit I felt closer to God while looking at the cloudy sky than his candy-colored mountain and busy creations.

 

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Slab City art car

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Slab City church

 

 

 

 

I Know You Do, But What Do I?

February 28, 2019

The funniest part of jury duty came from the police body cam video.

They stop a car with a plainly impaired man in the driver’s seat and a youth of about 24 years of age in the passenger seat.

After some investigation, they find meth, which the driver admits he is “holding for a friend.” That trick never works!

The police decide to search suspect #2, the young man.

Police Officer: Do you mind if I search you?

Youth: Do you have consent?

Police Officer: Um, I’m asking…

Youth: I’m not trying to be an asshole. I don’t have anything. I just want to know if you have consent.

Police Officer: [a moment of puzzled silence]

Youth: I mean, I’m not trying to give you a hard time.

Police Officer: I’m going to take a look on your person, ok?

Youth: [puts hands behind head]

Civic Duty

February 24, 2019

juryI have been called for jury duty many times, but have never served on a jury before. Usually I just go to the comfy cafeteria (couches! plenty of electrical plugs! I love our courthouse cafeteria) and have a long, relaxing day of reading.

This time, I had the fun of seeing my friend do her job as the staff person who does the announcements for jury services. The announcements take about half an hour and she has a whole schtick, with jokes and asides, that makes the experience much more tolerable. At the end people clapped, so I threw in some concert-level whistles to show my appreciation.

I just had a feeling that I would be called to a courtroom and put on a jury, and I was right. Jury selection seemed like it took forever, with two very young attorneys, the prosecutor and the public defender, asking the questions. Of course, it is one of the casualties of getting older that everyone starts to look like a high-schooler.

The defendant for the meth possession and use case looked like he was high in court, which caused me to have a long talk with myself about whether I could judge the case based solely on the evidence, not on his appearance as he sat there bobbing and weaving in court. I decided I could, and soon was sitting in jury seat #2.

The whole process was surprisingly enjoyable for one reason: I could simply focus fully on one thing. I’m normally doing many things at once and am interrupted often. So to sit for several days, fully present to the matter at hand, was an odd kind of luxury.

It was a simple case. Lots of evidence, including video and audio. The defense had basically no case, which was made very clear, especially during a section where the defense attorney spent about 10 minutes trying to pin the police officer down on whether the contraband was found directly under the glovebox or slightly in front of it.

Jury deliberations were going to be simple, but there was one holdout who had some mysterious reasons for dragging it out. She claimed to want to give all the facts a full hearing, but I’m suspicious that she may have wanted another day off work.

But we did our work methodically, seriously and followed every rule. My fellow jurors were all committed to giving the defendant a fair shake. The whole process was very well laid out. I was impressed with the thoughtfulness with which it was created. The jury instructions provided the law and each box we had to check to find the man guilty, which we did, on all counts.

There was no satisfaction our verdict. The defendant was a man who seems to have made so many bad choices in life, and this is just the latest thing. There was no winning in this case, but I’m glad I got to hear it.

 

Photo used under a Creative Commons license. Credit https://pxhere.com/en/photo/394975

Deadland

February 9, 2019

20190204_170056-01_resizedThe Salton Sea has been calling to me for years. My friend Joe Nichols had taught elementary school down there and had described the strange, hot, brutal countryside.

Even though Joe was long gone (he moved to the East Coast before he died) I wanted to visit to see where he had lived and to see the Sea. I didn’t want to go during the hot part of the year, and the hot part lasts about 9 months per year, so I kept missing my window, year after year.

Some background: the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, and it is dying. Created by mistake, it was doomed from almost the beginning. An extreme rate of evaporation combined with industrial agriculture on its shores have left the formerly great lake a saline, shrinking, toxic pond.

The shores of the lake are dotted by failed housing developments (“Lots $4995” read signs), closed businesses and graffitied-over abandoned homes. The roads are so cracked and buckled by extreme heat and neglect that there are moguls, and driving Gladis felt like riding a particularly high-strung dolphin.

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And yet the lake is beautiful, rimmed in the distance by desert mountains. The winter clouds pour across the lake in dramatic bands creating ripples of light and shadow. At sunrise and sunset, the mountains are aflame with reds, orange and pinks right up until the point where darkness falls.

20190205_070424-01_resizedPeople still hang on here. They have to. For some, this was where their single-wide vacation mobile home was, and they ran out of other options. They build structures over the roofs of their metal homes to try to survive the long summers.

Other people are farm workers, braving temperatures of up to 120 degrees to bring us food year-round.

These are the people whose children and grandchildren Joe served as a teacher. He didn’t start teaching until he was in his 40s. He admitted that there were many nights where he laid on the floor drinking ice water, drained from facing the challenges of being a beginning teacher in a blistering climate.

“But the kids are so great,” he said. “I feel like I have to stay here for them.”

I thought of Joe as I drove around and slept on the shores of the Salton Sea. The wind blew hard and the air was tinged with something sharp and metallic. I had never been somewhere so strangely beautiful. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Joe is gone and soon the lake will be gone, too. I wonder who will teach the children then.

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This was on the shore of the lake. Now it is about half a mile away because the lake has shrunk.

Ways to Stay: Casino!

February 3, 2019

You can’t park your RV just anywhere. Many towns and cities have parking ordinances specifically targeted toward RVs. My own town has an ordinance prohibiting street parking of any vehicle which exceeds 25 feet in length; or exceeds 80 inches in width; or exceeds 82 inches in height.

Can’t have people sleeping on the streets! What would hotels and RV parks do? It’s as usual, all about the Benjamins.

In the west, many casinos are located in rural settings with gigantic parking lots. They set aside parking lots for trucks and RVs with the idea that the mere proximity to casinos will automatically tractor-beam people in to lose a couple hundred dollars, and I have to say they are probably right.

20190203_085930-01After a week of paying to park, I decided to save money and spent two nights in different casino parking lots. The first, at Morongo, had a separate parking lot for trucks and another for RVs, but they were close together and dang, those trucks are noisy with their refrigerators running all night. I slept fine with earplugs, though. It was raining too hard to venture into the casino, even with a door-to-door shuttle.

The next night I took a 10-mile drive after dark in the rain and wind that felt like a 50-mile drive. I eventually arrived at Spotlight 29 Casino near Coachella. Trucks were further away this time, and traffic a little lighter. But it was also hammering down rain, so I huddled inside without venturing in. Two nights, nothing spent, and no shower. This is why I have a gym membership (through AARP called Flip 50, $35 bucks a month) that allows me to go almost anywhere and take a shower and oh yeah, maybe work out, too.

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This weekend’s highlight was a trip to the Palm Springs Art Museum. They have a gorgeous art glass collection, lots of western landscapes, some locally designed craft furniture, and a couple large blobby Henry Moore sculptures, whose charm is entirely lost on me.

A perfect rainy-day outing. Palm Springs has 350 sunny days per year, by the way, but you should still go to the museum.

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Palm Springs is, per capita, the gayest place I have ever been. It is gorgeous, clean, safe and fun. If this is the way The Gays run things, I say turn the keys over to them.

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All of my pets have had theme songs, composed by me. Now Gladis has a theme song. To the tune of “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong,” Gladis’s song is “Love Puts Shit Back Where It Belongs” because anything out of place in a 23-foot RV is a disaster. You’re welcome to use it on your children.

Summerland

February 1, 2019

My great-grandparents, my grandparents and my mother all lived in Summerland, a small beach community just to the south of Santa Barbara. The town was founded by Spiritualists, whose word for heaven was “Summerland.”

My mom told me about attending seances as a child with her grandmother, who by all reports was a very Christian woman. In Summerland, that’s just how they rolled in the 1930s.

I’m rolling again, on the road with Gladis. I headed for the desert last Sunday. I had never spent much time in the California desert, and didn’t really see why one would. I have never been one of those people who rave on about the subtle colors and sky.

But I’m all about new experiences lately, so Palm Springs it was. I spent the first night, Sunday, at the Elks in Indio, given that the lodge in Palm Springs was both closed and janky, and that they charge you $15 to park in their lot that has no hookups. The Indio Elks are much more accommodating, with hookups and camp hosts and the holy grail of RV parks – level sites!

On Monday, I left Indio and drove over to Desert Hot Springs at lunch to the Catalina Spa RV park. Desert Hot Springs is about 15 miles from Palm Springs, set back in a little notch between the mountains. The park was remote – Desert Hot Springs is a small town, and it is about 3 miles outside of town. I was a little worried that it would be a busted-down freakshow, but the online reviews were encouraging, so I went.

It is down a long, dead-end desert road, plains of bleached shrubberies on one side, towering snow-capped mountains in the distance. Fields of solar panels and giant windmills stretch across the landscape. Scenic in its own deserty way.

Guess what Desert Hot Springs is known for? Oh, come on, think. It begins with Desert and ends with, yes, that’s it! Hot Springs!

The exceptionally friendly and helpful park ambassador, Jack, who helped me back into my site told me all about the hot springs. Water at 160 degrees comes down from the mountains and is cooled to 94 degrees by the time it reaches Catalina Spas two swimming pools and somewhat hotter mineral baths.

The park has about 150 spots and is crawling with snowbirds – refugees from the frozen north – Canada, North Dakota, Minnesota. They come for a month at a time and spend their time relaxing, playing pickleball and card games, and bobbing in the pool on pool noodles, chatting.

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Photo from Catalina Spa Resort website

When I walked into the pool area, the first thing I heard was a bearded and grizzled guy telling two friends “We smoked so much hash back then. We didn’t smoke to get high. We smoked to get NORMAL.”

Man, they don’t make old people like they used to.

I embraced the spirit of it. I bobbed in the pool and chatted with Canadians for hours (I seem to attract Canadians), watching the color-changing lights glow underwater from blue to green to fuchsia.

I sat in the mineral baths. I walked the walking path. I went to the wine blind tasting where people were incredibly opinionated. I even played “Guess that 60s TV Show” team trivia and got high-fives from my team for coming up with the clue “Underwear Train Station” for “Petticoat Junction” and securing our win (we got candy bars! Woo hoo!)

A girl could get used to this life of pure relaxation and fun. I’d at least like to take a swing at it for a month. You might say I found my Summerland.

Fresno? I Say FresYes!

January 1, 2019

I wasn’t planning to take a trip to Fresno, but then my lovely friend Christine Burke posted a link on Facebook to an article about Kay Sekimachi.

I had never heard of Kay Sekimachi, and yet her work – weaving and other crafts – grabbed me by the heart. It was so subtle, so skilled. Imagine 70 years of total dedication to art, to weaving.

I was compelled to go see her works at the Fresno Art Museum. The only problem was that the show would end on January 6, so I had to hustle and get there.

Enter Gladis. I packed her up on Saturday and, after some fotzing around dumping of tanks and buying gas at Costco, we hit the road.

It was a smooth trip, but Vic’s was out of pie. Vic’s, you are trying me. (If you’re ever in Paso Robles, go to Vic’s and get some pie. Go early.)

I got there too late to go to the museum on Saturday, so a side trip to Hanford was in order. The San Joaquin Valley is vast expanses of farm fields and orchards, dotted with small towns.

Hanford is a classic rural town, with a town square featuring a yellow limestone courthouse,a carousel, and a concert hall.

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The Superior Dairy is across from the town square, serving fine homemade ice cream for almost 90 years. I had to get me some.

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I ordered the small sundae. Lemon ice cream with caramel sauce. I was kind of peeved at paying almost $7 for a small sundae, but then it arrived. The ice cream “single scoop” was the size of my head.

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No, I did not finish it. I barely started it. It was great, but come ON – a girl can only do so much before she throws in the towel.

I used Harvest Hosts to spend the night at the golf course in Lemoore. Big flat parking lot, pretty location, nice guy named James in the pro shop. What more does one want?

In the morning, it was freezing frosty cold and my aux battery was depleted, thanks to someone (me) who didn’t water the battery. So no heater. Still in my PJs, I headed out and cranked up the cab heater.

The Valley is so beautiful at sunrise, with the mist rising over the flat fields, the orderly rows of fruit trees and vines, the soft pinks, golds and greens dancing on the grasses. I stopped – still in my PJs, but way out in the countryside without anyone to witness me – to take some photos.

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I got to the art museum around 8 am, taking up 3 spaces in their flat parking lot to cook some oatmeal.

In the middle of making breakfast, I looked outside to see 4 cop cars. Stirring my oatmeal in my PJs, I waited for the inevitable knock on my door. “Hello, officer,” I practiced in my head.

It turns out that the Fresno Art Museum parking lot is just where the police hang out. It’s not that they take middle-aged lady RVers so seriously that they need 4 units to check it out. Fresno has other problems, trust me.

After a long walk around the neighborhood to stretch my legs, I entered the museum 2 minutes after they opened at 11 a.m., and was greeted by a very enthusiastic and helpful woman at the front desk. One of those cute art ladies with chunky glasses and handmade jewelry. She described all the exhibits, gave me some supplemental written material on Kay Sekimachi, and urged me to visit every gallery.

Then I got to see Kay’s work. I cannot do it justice, and it made me wish I understood weaving more. Some things just made me say “I have NO idea how that even happens.” She never has stopped learning and innovating. I could tell she has fun with her art, but also takes it very seriously. This is a good way to live life as an artist, or as a human.

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Ernest Lowe’s photographs documenting the Black Okie experience in the San Joaquin Valley towns of Teviston and Pixley were wonderful, too. Shot in the early 1960s, the photos made me think of the differences I experienced as a white child born to an oil field worker (many of whom – but not my dad – were Okies) during the same time period.

I headed back south, inspired, calmed and ready for a new year. Onward.

I wish you prosperity, health, and happiness in 2019. And I hope you make some art.

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