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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.

Either My Gall Bladder Or…

December 18, 2018

Last night I was driving home when I felt a burning pain in my abdomen. I felt my side and it was so weird – the pain was right on the surface, like one of my organs was right under my skin, ready to have something horrible happen to it.

I tried to remember the Four Fs of gallbladder disease, because I was pretty sure I had all of them. I looked them up today and they are:

1. Female

2. Forty

3. Fertile

4. Fat

Yeah, well, ok, I’m not fertile but I do take hormone replacement (see about 30 posts I wrote about having hot flashes 3-4x per hour for 5 years straight).

So obviously, I was going to need gall bladder surgery and was going to spend Christmas vacation in the hospital and then what was I going to do, because I have been sleeping on a futon on the floor at Nancy’s and OMG HOW AM I GOING TO LIVE MY LIFE?

I got home and went in the bathroom to take my pre-hospital shower. I looked down and found a long red scratch crossing my abdomen. I had been frolicking too hard with the dogs and things got crazy.

So no, I don’t have gall bladder disease today. I may not need surgery. Just send some neosporin and a new brain, please.

Anniversary

December 4, 2018

One year ago, my mother’s caretaker Jennifer started her shift by saying “There were sure a lot of sirens I heard on my way here.”

I remember sitting with my mom, talking, not realizing that in a few hours I would be back there, loading her in her van as Jennifer stood by, holding mom’s medications in a bag and the flames raged in the hills just a mile or two away.

That night the biggest and most destructive fire in California started, just two months after the previously most destructive fire in Santa Rosa. Since then, we have had two massive fires that have destroyed thousands of homes and a debris flow that killed dozens.

That night changed everyone who was here. We’re wiser and sadder and, I think, kinder to one another.

It should be obvious, but we pretend so we can get through each day without feeling paranoid and afraid: everything can change in a moment.

That knowledge is also a font of strength and mindfulness.

One of my great spiritual teachers, Richard Levy, said that all of his lessons could be summed up as “Show up. Pay attention.”

The zen saying is “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”

Before the fire, show up and pay attention. After the fire, show up and pay attention.

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What remains. #thomasfire #venturastrong #ventura

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Love at the DMV

December 2, 2018

I lost my driver’s license. I don’t mean it got taken away (though that lady who almost hit me in the parking lot today probably thinks it should be); I physically lost it, most likely somewhere between San Jose and Ventura. Lost for the first time in my life. Gah. I think I had it wedged between my room key cards at the Hampton and left the cards there, of course.

I went on the Department of Motor Vehicles website to order a replacement. Easy right? HA, no, this is the DMV, have you ever met us? You have to go to the DMV to get a replacement. Visiting the DMV, in California, is a task most people enjoy about as much as a colonoscopy (but at least with a colonoscopy, you get to be asleep).

I saw the first available appointment: December 26, also noting the large warning on the website: You MUST not drive without a license. Crap. I was going to have to go stand in line with no appointment.

People advised me when to go. Get there 90 minutes before they open. No, an hour is ok. You should be ok with 45 minutes, but you’ll probably have to wait an hour and a half once you get inside.

I decided I would arrive at 7 a.m., an hour before opening, and take my chances. ¡Bueno! I was first. It was a cool, drizzly morning and I was so happy to wait in my car as long as no one else was there. Another guy showed up and waited in his car. Yay. We were on the same wavelength.

Then about 7:15, a lady showed up and sat on the bench near the door. I was going to have to exit my warm car and sit outside. I walked over to the bench, clutching my fuzzy blanket, grumpy at this woman.

“Oh, you can go first!” she said. “I saw you were already here.”

Hmph. Ok, BE nice, then.

“Do you want to sit on part of my blanket?” I asked, pointing to the concrete bench.

“No,” she said. “I’m not really in line anyway. I’m waiting so my dad doesn’t have to.”

We got in a long conversation because her dad is 86 and needed an ID and she helped care for him. We talked, as dutiful middle-aged daughters tend to do, about the elderly and driving and caretaking and worrying and feeling like nothing you ever do is enough.. After a few minutes, I offered her part of the blanket again and this time, she accepted.

“Oh, my gosh, this is so much better,” she said, insulated from the bone-chilling concrete hardness.

Right before the DMV opened (when there were about 45 people in line), her sister drove up with her father. As the doors opened, dad and daughter changed places.

This is love. Getting up to be at the DMV on a rainy day so an 86-year-old man doesn’t have to stand in line. Coordinating with your sister so you can come early and then she can drive dad.

May we all have people who love us so much. May we all love each other this much.

Guess What I Found Today?

November 30, 2018

The cherry tomatoes live on.

Happy Birthday, Laura

November 26, 2018

My sis would have been 67 today. I wish she were here, happily enjoying Social Security and pottering around in the garden. It always seems unfair that we have to live in a world without her in it.

Laura and Me

Feeding seagulls, Silver Strand Beach, November 1983.

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