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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

Huelga

March 17, 2020

IMG_20200315_130204My travel plans change minute by minute, turn by turn. It’s how I do it, and it has worked out for me so far. I was headed into Death Valley. It was very windy, and the messenger in my head said “Nope.” So I turned as soon as I could and headed in a different direction.

A while later, the nudge was to get off at the next exit, up in the mountains near Tehachapi. A road sign pointed me to the César Chávez National Monument in Keene.

A narrow winding road led to a building set in the middle of a beautiful garden. Only one car was in the parking lot, and a woman was raising four flags – US, California, National Parks Service, and the red and black eagle of the United Farm Workers.

The flowering plums were dropping their petals in the breeze, a spring shower of soft white floating down onto the walkways.

After a little hesitation, I entered the building. Social isolation from the Corona virus was just starting in earnest, and I wasn’t sure they were open, but the young woman said “For today, we are. Today.”

The museum has many photos from the UFW organizing and strikes, as well as an example of farmworker housing, Chávez’s office, and a shrine.

The Corona virus and our coming struggle were much on my mind as I learned about what the farmworkers went through.

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The first strike lasted five years. Five years. On day two of Corona virus panic, people were already losing their minds, and these humble workers had spent five years giving up everything – their homes, their cars, their health – for a better future.

They had faith…”the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” No one guaranteed them anything. There was no sign they would make any gains. And yet they persisted.

In the center of the garden, near a waterfall representing the martyrs of the movement, lie the graves of César Chávez and his wife, Helen. I stood there and prayed a while. May we all be touched by their strength.

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Self-Isolating

March 15, 2020

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I headed to the desert to self-isolate because of the Corona virus. I feel like the luckiest person on earth to be able to do this. It feels surreal, like another world. It’s weird knowing I won’t be meeting other people. No museums, no Elks Lodges, no church. It’s a strange time.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to isolate, here are my podcast recommendations to pass the time.

This American Life – the radio show that started it all. There are hundreds of great episodes archived, and each one holds different surprises.

The Daily – your quick deep-dive into one of the day’s issues, brought to you by the New York Times. Consistently brilliant.

Armchair Expert – I always assumed Dax Shepherd was kind of a bonehead from his roles on TV shows. His long, free-associating interviews with all kinds of interesting people prove otherwise.

The Moth – True stories, told live. Bonus: my lovely blogging friend Alexandra Rosas has several stories.

Fresh Air – speaking of interviews, Terry Gross has interviewed almost everyone of consequence in the decades of her show. If you have a favorite celebrity, flip through the archives to find their moment at the mic.

Throughline – modern issues enlightened through the frame of history. It often leaves me literally open-mouthed with amazement.

Here’s the Thing – Alec Baldwin’s voice is like deep chestnut honey. It’s a good (if very occasional) interview show, but for me it’s main use is to soothe me into an instantaneous, deep sleep. Better than a meditation app.

Enjoy. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Pray for us, all of us.

 

 

 

 

Three Short Lessons I Learned From Rving That Can Be Applied to the Corona Virus

March 14, 2020

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I learned some valuable lessons from RVing that are helping me panic less in this time of Corona virus.

1. Pay attention to the conditions around you. You might save your life. Traveling in an RV, it might be the person with the overloaded trailer weaving in front of you. In CoronaWorld, it’s the person coughing into their hand and then using the door handle you’re about to use. It’s better to open it with a tissue and look like Howard Hughes than to spend two weeks in quarantine.

2. You can redefine “necessary.” You need so much less than you think you do. Hunker down. Look out the window. Make some calls you have been putting off. Enjoy what you have. Say a little prayer of gratitude. You’ll feel better.

3. The best thing about being human is being adaptable. Adapt. If you run out of milk for your coffee, bust out that can of coconut milk gathering dust in the pantry. Trader Joe’s doesn’t need you today, trust me.

Be well, my friends. Be kind. We can do this.

Recalled to Life

March 6, 2020

I have been home in Ventura for three weeks. I had forgotten how utterly nice the weather is here. I tuck my head down and smile secretly when people complain that it is “freezing” when the temperature drops below 67 degrees F or “so hot” when it is above 72. People, it is neither freezing nor hot. It is perfect, as it is day after day after day here. The sunlight has a pure, clear quality. The air smells like ocean and strawberries. Aaaah. Home.

Gladis is off seeing Mike at the RV spa, getting some treatments done – a little Botox, a little herbal wrap. I am renting a bedroom from a lady and her grown daughter. It’s clean, comfortable, and a real bargain.

And my health is improving. It is an odd feeling. It’s like when you live next to a busy road for or so long that you get used to it and there’s a road closure and you can hear the birds again. You think “Oh, I forgot about birds!” I forgot about energy and waking up feeling good.

I have to thank Dr. Cold Russian Fish, who was the first person to take my concerns seriously. I had been unwell for so long that it seemed normal to me to have no initiative and to need naps every hour or two. I felt kind of sheepish even mentioning it. But her eyes flew open and she got very, very interested. She did a lot of expensive testing and gave me a protocol to follow and guess what? It worked.

I had been convinced that my life would be one long tired beige slog to the end. Then I woke up in full Technicolor in Oz, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself, but I’m positive it will be good.

 

 

 

 

A Day in the Glamorous Life

February 7, 2020

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This morning, I awoke in Gladis on the shore of a crystalline lake. A hot spring bubbled near the shore, so I slipped off my silk robe and took a quick soak before…

Joking. What really happened is that I awoke about 4 am in the back parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in Albuquerque. Hey, Cracker Barrel is an RV-friendly place, and free is free.

I finally got up at 5:30, made coffee, and put on sweats. Going out to turn the propane tank off for travel, I noticed that the homeless guy I had given $5 to the night before was taking a leak in the drainage ditch at the back of the parking lot. His buddy was still sleeping under a blue plastic tarp. Flurries of snow were starting to fall.

I started Gladis and got on the road at 6:15 a.m. It was still dark, but I really wanted to escape the snow. My weather app made it seem like the storm was landing in ABQ and heading east. We were going west. Good.

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Stopping at a casino outside of town to get gas, the wind cut like a knife. I was completely overjoyed to find my favorite kombucha at the mini-mart. Gas stations NEVER have good kombucha. It’s the little things.

I was feeling smug about leaving the snow behind. Then it began to snow. And snow. For three hours, the snow fell in tiny flurries and we crept slowly along on the interstate. No side roads for me during a snowstorm. I was thankful all the cars and trucks were keeping the road fairly snow-free. A semi truck lying on its side on the highway served as a cautionary tale.

I stopped in Gallup, New Mexico to work. I had technically taken the day off, but you know how that goes. As soon as you say you have a day off, everyone has something that just has to get done. A Subway parking lot was my office. It also gave me a chance to cobble together a breakfast protein shake with ingredients I had on hand. The secret is cinnamon, people. Lots of cinnamon.

After that, I only stopped to buy gas and to eat lunch at the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park for about 10 minutes. I was tempted to visit and see the sights, but I knew it was already going to be a long, long day. I kept asking google maps how much further and then swearing loudly when I found out.

I went from the plains to the mountains back down to the plains and up and down mountains. The west wasn’t won, people. It’s still out there, and it is gorgeous.

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What did I do to pass the time?
I listened to podcasts. Throughline, The David Chang Show, Good Food with Evan Kleiman, The Daily, Fresh Air.
I sang songs, badly.
I talked to God.
I thought about my trip and all the places I had visited.
I checked google maps again. Swore again.

When I rolled into Mesa, Arizona, it was 4:03 pm. I had been on the road since 6:15 a.m. 475 miles, probably my longest road day ever, but I’m that much closer to home.

I may not have started my day soaking in a mineral pool near a crystalline lake, but I ended it in a jacuzzi in an RV park across from a strip mall in suburban Phoenix. Close enough.

The Great Burrito Hunt

February 2, 2020

I never thought making a burrito was difficult. You heat up a large flour tortilla. Slap some beans on it. Rice if you have it. Salsa, onions, cheese, cilantro. Lettuce if there is something wrong with your head. Meat if you are so inclined. A splodge of sour cream adds a nice touch. Roll over, fold ends in neatly, complete roll so you have a tidy little package.

Well.

On Friday in San Antonio, I went to a humble Mexican place and considered the long list of meats for burritos. At the bottom was “Aguacate.” Avocado. Lovely. I do love some avocado on my burrito.

“Un burrito de aguacate,” I asked, having heard the order taker was much more comfortable in Spanish than English. “Sin lechuga.” No lettuce for me.

“Solo aguacate?” she asked. Just avocado? I expected this. Most people think I’m crazy for not wanting meat on my burrito.

“Si, no carne,” I said.

“Tomate? Crema? Lechuga?”

“Sin lechuga.”

I waited a long time. The woman who brought out the burrito out said “Un de aguacate. No tomate.”

Oh no. I hated to tell her it was without lettuce, not tomato, but lettuce is the one thing I cannot stand on a burrito. She had it remade.

I grabbed the bag and drove off, peeled my burrito and…it was a large tortilla tube of avocado. A few pink pieces of tomato and a squirt of sour cream were in there too. Solo aguacate, though. No rice, no beans, just unrelenting avocado for about 7 inches. I could have made 2 orders of guacamole with all that avocado.

You know what is boring? A whole tortilla stuffed with avocado.

Strike one.

So today in New Mexico, I went to a place that listed the ingredients. I ordered a bean and cheese burrito, confident that it would also have the rice, tomato, salsa and sour cream listed on the menu.

It came on a plate. It was a tortilla rolled with both ends open, beans and cheese inside the tortilla, rice, salsa, onion and tomato on the plate.

WHO DOES THAT? Who leaves both ends of a burrito open? These were runny beans, too. I tried to add the other ingredients inside, but by then beans had gotten everywhere and the whole thing was a floppy damned mess.

I never thought that burritos in California were California style, but I’m starting to think that the way we make burritos might be very specific rather, a local thing rather than the rule. In CA, if you order a burrito, it always has beans and cheese and salsa. If you want all-meat (or all-avocado) you have to ask for it and pay extra.

How are burritos where you come from?

 

 

 

 

Remember Me Well

February 1, 2020

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The way I understand Christianity is this: Learn to love people in all their fullness.

That’s it. That’s all I have, but on the other hand, it’s a lot, because people are messy and complicated and weird and unpleasant and mean in addition to being kind and lovely and generous.

One day I took a bouquet over to the house of a woman my BFF and I know.

“Why did you do that?” my BFF asked. “All you do is complain about her.”

“But I love her,” I said. “Yes, she’s fussy and a pain in my butt and she never stops complaining about things, and she drives me crazy on the reg, but she’s also caring and concerned and tries to make things better, and she’s just a dear. She’s one of my people.”

It’s like that.

I have been thinking about how, earlier this week when Kobe Byrant died, some people immediately wanted to talk about how weird it was seeing him being lauded. In their minds, his admitted rape (which he said had been consensual, in his mind) outweighed his stellar basketball career and his charitable acts.

Others said how dare anyone bring that up during a tragic time like this, when people are mourning? We shouldn’t talk about that NOW.

Kobe was all of it. He was a guy who came straight out of high school to play in the NBA, so great was his talent. He was a guy who raped someone. He was a loving dad and someone who granted more than 200 Make-A-Wish requests. He was good. He was bad. He was awful. He was arrogant. He was kind.

If you love the player and the wish-granter, you love the rapist. You don’t love the rape, obviously, but you have to acknowledge the deep flaws in him and then choose the path you want to go down. Do you offer him a crown of thorns, or grace?

We have to be honest with one another, especially in this world, where increasingly we use don’t want to admit terrible things, so we surround them with flowery language. Torture in “enhanced interrogation.” People killed in wartime are “collateral damage.” Getting fired is “involuntary attrition.”

We have to see our sins and talk about them honestly and still keep loving. Covering up for someone never does any good. Unclean wounds fester under a bandage and the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons – unless we admit our shortcomings and vow to do better. Father Richard Rohr says “What is not transformed is transmitted.” The transformation comes from being real and honest.

When you remember me, it’s ok to say I was a bit of a shit. I know I’m quirky and weird and impatient and judgmental and have a mean streak, and I love being right and I can show off and I am too often a people-pleaser. And on some days, I’m pretty all right. But I would expect those who love me to be honest with me and want me to do better.

It’s ok to tell me when I have fallen short. Do it gently, of course – I am still me, as sensitive as a venus fly-trap and as quick to clam up. But please don’t stop loving me, and I will try to do the same with you. As Ram Dass put it so well, “We are all just walking each other home.”

What You Can Do

January 23, 2020

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Traveling through 30 states has taught me something: a lot of the United States is starting to look alike. Certainly every town has a Dollar General. Hell, every wide spot in the road has a Dollar General.

You know the biggies. McDonald’s. Burger King. WalMart. But there’s creeping uniformity in everything else, too. Planet Fitness is everywhere. Pearle Vision. Home Depot. Come off an exit into a town and you could be in Ohio or Florida or Arizona. Only the trees give a clue what region you’re in.

If you want your town to thrive and its unique local culture to thrive, shop locally. Yes, I know it can be more expensive and more inconvenient. Start small and have patience. Get your coffee at a local place. Have lunch at a mom and pop cafe. Send a bouquet from a flower shop, not from an online service.

Then branch out. Go bigger. Get your tires from that local guy. Find a local tax preparer instead of using H&R Block. A local gym. And so on.

I beg you. Appreciate your local treasures. Go there. Spend money. The money returns to the community instead of going off to stockholders. They support Little League teams and donate items for fundraisers and let you use their parking lots to sell Girl Scout cookies.

In Salt Aire, Alabama, a cafe owner stood on the porch of his shop with me for 15 minutes, telling me about his business, the neighborhood, and where my next stop should be. We only stopped talking because he had other customers he needed to catch up with. Try THAT at Starbucks.

I have been 17,000 miles and too much of it looks alike.

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Gullah Land

January 17, 2020
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Sandy Island’s longleaf pine and turkey-foot oak forest, carpeted with fairy dots of deer moss

Julie Dash’s luminous film “Daughters of the Dust” stuck with me. I saw it when it came out in 1991 and it captured me with its beauty and unique voice. I knew instantly I wanted to visit the South Carolina sea islands and learn about Gullah culture. It took me almost 30 years to fulfill that dream.

 

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Capt. Rommy Pyatt, Sandy Island’s official tour guide

In early December, I found myself hopping out of Gladis at the distant end of Sandy Island Road in a dirt parking lot, getting greeted by a tall, smiling man named Rommy Pyatt who was going to take me on a tour of his homeland – Sandy Island.

 

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Pyatt’s General Store

Being the off season, it was just me and Rommy’s nephew on a pontoon boat to the island on a cool and sunny day. The trip of about a mile was up a smooth wide canal through old rice fields. After brief introductions, Rommy launched into his tour patter, filled with jokes and misdirections. Rommy is a prankster who mixes fact and fiction with glee as he tells the story of his island.

 

Despite being from across a continent and of different cultures and races, Rommy felt like someone from my own family, who love to tell stories filled with goofs and exaggerations. He also has a ghost story he tells, complete with photos, and the story of why the store is located where it is due to some ancestral spirits. You have to hear him tell them, because they aren’t mine to share.

Arriving on Sandy Island – at 78 feet above sea level, the highest point in Georgetown county – you see the bright yellow Pyatt’s General Store. It turns out that Rommy is related to everyone who still lives on the island, just a few dozen remaining residents.

At one time, thousands of enslaved people who worked the nearby rice plantations lived there, and the docks were a busy rice processing area, with that grain feeding Europe.

The bricks from the ship ballasts that weighted the ships on the way to America were left on the island, and some homes, including Rommy’s uncle’s tidy home that would fit into any suburb, are made from those bricks.

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The church is bathed in beautiful blue light from the turquoise windows.

Rommy gave me a comprehensive tour, from showing me a little video and artifacts at the Pyatt store, to visiting the old schoolhouse and the island’s church, New Bethel Missionary Baptist. If you’re in the area, be at the Sandy Island dock at 10:30 on a Sunday and a boat will meet you to take you to worship. Rommy gave me a warm invitation, but I never made it back due to duties at my own church.

 

The island is covered in long-leafed pines, turkey leaf oaks, and magical beds of greyish deer moss. It’s a haven for some rare birds, including the notoriously shy red cockaded woodpecker. Many people come out to the island for day hikes. At one point, the island was threatened by a golf course development, but was purchased by the Nature Conservancy for preservation in perpetuity.

The Tour de Sandy Island is a glimpse back in time, a visit to a place unlike any other. It scratched a decades-old itch in my soul. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to meet Capt. Rommy and see his family’s island.

 

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