Most People Are Good–My Cincinnati Airport Miracle

My plane from Charlotte NC had landed about fifteen minutes ago. I was back in Cincinnati where I’m staying for a few weeks. Pulling my little carry-on, I got to within 20 yards of the parking garage where I left my car 36 hours earlier when my brain exploded with the realization that I did not have my computer. It was not hanging, in its case, from my shoulder where it belonged. I was slammed by the white flood of horrible awareness that wants to be denial. You know that feeling? My mind fell to its knees wailing, “NNNNOOOOOooooooooooo!”

But my (tired) body raced back into the airport. I headed to the first official-looking person I saw. It turns out she is called an “airport ambassador” and she has a magic telephone. But though she used the phone to seek help for me, none was forthcoming. It was while I was standing there with her, waiting for a call-back from the security guard who was going to look in the women’s room—and I explained exactly which one it was and how it was on the right side, just after the first moving walkway coming from gate B22—that I realized the case was not in the women’s room.

“The train!” I exclaimed in a voice squeaky with panic and hollow with disbelief. By now 25 minutes (at least) had passed, and my on-flight, post-job interview sense of well-being and exhaustion was completely washed away by adrenaline spiked by cortisol. “I had it on the train!” How could I explain to the utterly baffled ambassador that for almost a half hour immediately after getting off the train, I had forgotten I was even on the train? The human mind is maddening.

Now I remembered. I was so tired, I’d decided to take that little tram/train—which I normally eschew in favor of walking and the cool moving sidewalks. My daughter called while I was aboard the zippy little train, and I missed the announcement that we’d reached the destination—near ground transportation. The only other person on the train got off and I leaped off too, in the nick of time, before the doors closed and the train would return to the gates.

That’s when the computer case became a distant artifact lost in the Cincinnati airport, without my realizing it. I begged the ambassador armed with The Phone to find out if I could go back to look? Somehow? With a security guard? Please?

Finally, after another call or two with her not-so-magic phone, she said it was time for her to go home. She informed me that the American Airlines personnel upstairs at the ticketing counter could give me a pass to go beyond the checkpoint.

Not so.

I went upstairs and the woman at the counter told me what my good sense already knew. “No, we cannot give you a pass to go back.” (Implied: you poor deluded woman.) She explained very kindly that it was very likely someone would turn it in to security and tomorrow Lost and Found would contact me. “This happens often. People usually do the right thing.”

It was at that moment that I realized: my wallet was in the computer case.

No kidding. I’d forgotten that too. Why? Am I fucking senile or something? No, I swear. But my brain, like yours, is a creature of habit. I never—and I mean never—put my wallet in that bag. But in the interests of traveling light, I had not brought a purse, and so, in addition to my computer, the case held both wallet and hairbrush. The really essential things.

At this point I was vividly pre-living the next 24 hours in my mind. Cancelling all my credit cards. Trying to think of all the websites that my computer remembers my passwords for. My bank, for example. Why hadn’t I used a good password to protect my computer instead of the word “peace” which is probably second only to “love” as a non-birthday password among the hippie/shaman/gluten-free set.

“People are good,” I kept telling myself. “People are kind. People usually do the right thing.”

The airline lady—Traci—looked at me with great compassion but her hands seemed tied. I said, “Do you think that, somewhere in this airport, there is a person who would just go peek on that train?” She looked at me and said, “You know what? I’ll go.”

“C’mon,” she said. I followed her down the escalator. “You stand here and just watch people coming through.” She pointed to where travelers poured out from the American arrivals gates. She used the secret employee passage and said she’d be right back. I stood there paralyzed with the intensity of my hope, and stared at every man, woman, and baby stroller that passed me on the way to their cars, Ubers, and waiting grandmothers.

Then I glanced at the security guard. You know, the guy who sits at a little desk/kiosk thing at the end of the tunnel? His job is probably pretty boring. He was chatting with someone. That’s when I noticed a black strap—suspiciously like a computer bag strap—dangling down from the shelf of the desk/kiosk behind him. “Sir!” I burst out, my voice cracking. “Is that…” He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Is that,” I pointed, “a computer case?”

He turned, grabbed my case and said, “Someone found it on the tram. I don’t know if there’s a computer in it…”

I did not even mind his lame attempt at a joke. “It’s mine! OH MY GOD IT’S MINE!”

The hot flood was back but it was such a happy flood this time. “I can prove it. My wallet is inside.” He unzipped the case, peeked, zipped it and said, “Yup. This is yours.”

I must have looked like I was about to stroke out because he said, “Breathe! It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe, lady.”

A no-man’s-land divided us. A line painted on the floor near him kept him in his spot, and a wide strip, on which the toes of my boots shuffled impatiently, said, “DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE.” Six feet divided us. “You come to me,” he said with an authoritative nod.

Grabbing the case to my chest like a recently ransomed infant, I thanked him 63 times. “Just so you know,” I explained, “I’ll be waiting here until Traci from American comes back. She’s looking for this.” I raised the case as exhibit A, as if there would be any confusion. “I need to thank her.”

Not even a minute later, Traci emerged from the employee hallway with a dejected “I didn’t find it” look on her face. I waved like a madwoman, swinging the computer case around like a total fool. “I got it!”

She rushed to me, and we embraced—a genuine, full body, arms tight embrace of joy and solidarity. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” she kept saying. We pulled back, grinned into each other’s faces, and embraced again. “I’m so happy for you!”

“Most people do the right thing!” I said, nearly weeping. “People are good. Really, really good!”

As she hustled back to the escalator and the end of her shift, she called back, “Yes! They are!”

 

Note: I am neither deluded nor stupid, but I do believe that most people are good. We cannot forget this, despite the palpable evidence that there are, in fact, people who callously do evil on a daily basis, using their power to increase their privilege and to disenfranchise, belittle, ignore, mock, bully, and harm others. Remember that you are good. And I am good. And the person who turned in my computer is good. And Traci is good. And millions more who can take our planet and our country back from the ones who are not. Don’t give up. #resist

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Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah

 

 

 

 

The Grand Canyon–Self-possessed and Flawless

  

We’d gotten in at midnight the night before, and seen the black sky smeared with a blizzard of stars. That alone told us all we needed to know—this was a different kind of place. One that can surround a person with pure blackness. And it did, but for the sparse pools of yellow light shed by just enough lamps to get us from check-in to our lodge without falling into an abyss. With nothing to see—yet—we were able to sleep.

When I woke up, my roommate, Chris, was heading out to find coffee. Dressing quickly, I left our little room at the end of a narrow hallway. Turning toward the light that peeked through a pane of glass in a door at the far end, I shivered a bit. This was it. I was here. What was I going to see?

Pushing open the door I walked 15 feet, dodged a small tree, took four strides across a paved walkway, and stood before a low wall—all that was left between me and the Grand Canyon.

My breath stayed in my chest for a moment, then another, and then—unexpectedly and all at once—tears sprang to my eyes.

It is unclear how long I was there, but it was long enough that when I looked around again, I was lost. I had no memory of getting to this place. Had I moved? I must have, though I remembered nothing. I was not where I was when I first came out from the shadows of the trees into the morning light and saw the deep and layered, sloping and sheer, sun-drenched and shadowed, speckled and smooth, lined and creased, orange-red, mossy-green, white-brown, brown-white, brown-red, rusty-pink crevasse that splits the earth’s crust.

Eventually, after a few false starts, I found my friends in the dining room. I walked up to their table and the tears came again. “I’m so overwhelmed,” I blubbered.

How does anyone take a picture of a geological masterpiece and do it justice? She doesn’t. How does a person write about that moment when all the tiny, silly details of daily life melt in the face of deep planetary history? She doesn’t. Forgive this blog, my small attempt at photos and words.

Not that I really understood what I was seeing. I went to a geology lecture that helped. I loved the young man who spoke with such passion and poetry about the billions of years made evident in one mind-boggling natural formation that opened up behind him as a clump of us sat, dazzled, on stone benches in a rough-hewn amphitheater.

I won’t describe everything we did or saw, asked, learned, felt, or experienced. But I want to try to understand what the overwhelm was really about. Yeah, yeah, it’s big. A walk around the rim would be equivalent to a walk from New York to California—so it’s really big. Yeah, it’s old, and even though (as we were reminded repeatedly) the scale of time is a bit much for the human mind to comprehend, I visualized the period at the end of Remembrance of Things Past and reminded myself that punctuation mark represents human history on this planet that does not need us. The Grand Canyon at its lowest levels is over a billion years old, but still does not enter Proust’s masterpiece until several volumes in.

I think, really, it’s the beauty that flattened me. And the beauty is part of the size. And the size is part of the age. All pieces, inextricable.

The beauty is the kind that does not exist in my world. It is not a tree covered beauty. It is not a skyline beauty. It is not a rolling hills beauty. It is not a pasture beauty. Not an estuary beauty. Not a watershed beauty. Not a rolling wave beauty—or crashing wave beauty for that matter.

The exquisite subtlety was unexpected. For something that monumentally vast, old, and renowned to convey its magic so gently is astonishing and wondrous.

The delicate pastels, and how they changed as the sun moved across the sky. The glittering ribbon of the distant Colorado, glimpsed, from certain vantage points. The speckling of junipers clinging to the slopes. Rock formations, windows eroded into limestone, the temples, plateaus, outcroppings, and drop-aways—breathtaking yes, but quiet. The wind blew, creating a silence in my head, and as my eye wandered, the overwhelm was perhaps about an unfathomable accumulation of so many hundreds and thousands of individual, subtle, self-possessed pieces of flawless beauty.

I was within sight of the Canyon’s rim for a mere 34 hours. My visit taught me that, wow, I wish I could have more—a few additional days, longer hikes, slower walks, a few more sunrises and sunsets, expanding time to just sit, more chances to learn. But there was no hole in me from wanting more. Because the Grand Canyon filled me up and left me sated, grateful, humbled, happy.

PNW Part III

My kids being awesome

After a final day of experiencing the coolness of Nevada City, CA and Grass Valley, CA (where Win did find the most amazing fanny-pack for outdoorsmen and the Salvation Army and I bought some geological artifacts (aka crystals such as witch’s broom) at a local shop called The Cult of Gemini), Maggie and I said a temporary goodbye to her brother and we headed north again.

Fanny pack for fisherman

En route to Etna, CA (which seemed to be mostly a crossroads with a few houses and a school) for a halfway point/overnight, we drove towards Lake Shasta, Mount Shasta, the Shasta Dam, and our vision was filled with the huge snowcapped 14,179 foot high semi-dormant volcano. We got rather excited by the human story of the building of Shasta Dam during the Depression. Not to mention the beauty of the dam itself, a testament to some badass engineering and a lot of really hard work. The lake, created by said dam, looked pretty delicious on a 99° day. It seems many of the lakes in California are created by humans, not ancient glaciers or springs or meteors—not even god-like creatures with big feet and magic jazz-hands.

Shasta

Below Shasta Dam

Biggest (not tallest) dam in the country

Yet another amazing Mexican meal here at Joe’s Giant Orange Cafe in Shasta Lake

We also went to the headwaters of the Sacramento River—where the water percolates, freezing cold, from a spring. The spot felt very sacred to both of us. We lingered for quite a while, breathing in the ozone-infused air and dipping our feet into the water until numbness hit—in less than ten seconds. We set some intentions, let some things go. And moved on.

the headwaters

The further we got from our time with Win and Heather, the more we looked forward to seeing them again soon, as goodbyes are not as much fun as being together. Nevertheless, we pushed on towards Portland.

The last few days of our trip—Saturday to Monday in Portland and Monday to Tuesday back in Seattle, were glazed ever-so-slightly with melancholy as the sun and crisp air outlined every sweet or inconsequential moment and beautiful thing with dazzle.

Mostly these last days were about people, not places. Examples:

  • On our first night in Portland, two dear friends (connected to me through a board on which I serve), took us out to dinner on the Wilamette River (not pronounced Wilamĕtte but WilAHmette) and talked long past the setting of the sun… which happens very late out there on the first day of July, on the western edge of the furthest west time zone in the country.

    Breakfast at Lianne’s … comfort and love!

  • We visited the largest new and used book store in the country: Powell’s. A full city block, several stories high, and requiring a map to navigate. Um… some advice: go to Portland, OR immediately if you have not been to this store.

    One floor of 6, one room of a million

    Powell’s Books Forever

  • The next day, Win arrived, sans Heather, having driven a total of 9 hours just to spend 24 more with his mama and sister. We spent some time just chatting as we wandered around heading into stores like Patagonia and Icebreaker.

    #FlyFishingGeek

  • Another happy former teacher-former student reunion took place while we were in Portland. My children, Win and Maggie, plus Alison, her husband Tom, and John, all gathered one afternoon at the Rogue Distillery and Public House (a good place to geek out over Oregon beer). John was the oldest (class of ’91), then Alison (’98), then Win (’04) and Maggie (’07). I was almost giddy with the excitement of such a gathering. Nothing would make me happier than having a chance to sit and have a drink or a meal with every student I ever taught. That afternoon, we talked about academia, real estate, the school, music, their children (John), upcoming birth (Alison and Tom), jobs, plans, and whatever came to mind. It was perfect.

    Teacher Love

    14 years apart and so much in common (John on the left, Win on right)

  • Breakfast with friends (at Gigi’s—another delish breakfast spot), dinner with friends, and a chance to wander the city by car but no chance to park it and take a walk through the Japanese Gardens or the Holocaust Memorial because it was July 4 weekend and tourists just like us got up earlier and were far more organized. So my kids and I just tooled around. Found a coffee place. Found a lunch place (honestly it was pretty amazing—called Fat City Café and basically you need to go there). There is never a shortage of talk when we are together, in a car, on a trail, or sitting at the counter at any given restaurant or coffee hot spot anywhere, any time.

    Fat City fun

Eventually, we had to say goodbye to Win. He drove off towards Bend and a meet-up with Heather, and Maggie and I drove back to Seattle where we spent the 4th with our friends, Anna and Louise. This fun included an afternoon in the sunshine on Lake Washington, and a long, joyful, speed-boat ride around one end of the massive lake.

Last night with Anna and Louise!

Lake Washington and me, chillin’

Louise is a badass boat driver!

Ranier was supposed to be behind me but I failed at this pic.

As the sun headed towards the horizon, we were at the airport again, waiting for our redeye. As we flew, we felt sleep deprived and a bit sad. Also a bit happy. Maggie was going home to her girlfriend, her cat, and a new job. I was going back to summertime-as-I-know it. Some work, some play, more work, a little more travel, if I’m lucky, and maybe a few good dates with a few good men.

Final photo…of my kids being together, with me, which is the best part of all.

 

 

 

 

PNW Part II

The first installment of my PNW travel blog left us off in Olympia, ready to head southward towards California, where we were to meet up with Win, my son (and Maggie’s big brother), and his girlfriend, Heather. We road-tripped down Rt. 5 making several stops along the way. And no, not all of them were for espresso drinks.

  • Key gustatory stops included:
    • Fabulous and unexpected Mexican lunch in Eugene, OR. Mama Mayra has 5 stars on Yelp, all of them deserved. Definition of hole-in-the-wall, suffused with fragrant cooking aromas, smiling diners chowing down at worn linoleum tables.

      Lunch in Eugene.

    • More coffee. (So not all our stops were for coffee but, I mean, we made stops for coffee.)
    • Bricktowne Brewing Co. in Medford, OR. Don’t hold the “e” at the end of “Bricktowne” against them. The beer was good, and Maggie loved their dry pear cider.
        

      Maggie’s list of high points (cough) would include: “it’s legal!”

    • The best breakfast place ever in the history of history— Morning Glory Café in Ashland, OR. This place had a menu so delicious and creative, a décor so campy and cozy, servers so sassy and efficient, that we are seriously considering a move to Ashland for the duration of life.

      The glories of Morning Glory cafe.

We arrived in Placerville, CA by evening of our second day of driving, after stopping for groceries. Our arrival, and the much-anticipated bear hugs from the bear-of-a-son (I was prepared for his bear-like-appearance), took place in 109° heat.

But the heat was incidental. What mattered was the warmth of being with both my children at the same time for a whole week. Slipping back into the on-site mother-groove and letting the flow of talk and laughter fill me up. The Maggie and Win show is always fun to tune into….

I felt blessed to be able to see through a small window into the life shared by my son and the woman he loves (beautiful, vibrant Heather). For three of the days I was able to stay with them and see firsthand the easy, intimate rhythm of two people who love and support each other. The fact that one of them is my grown child made it especially meaningful for me.

  • Here are some of the superfun things we did together:
    • Visit Lake Tahoe. I’ve been collecting possible words that I can use to convey the impact of Tahoe on my brain/psyche/soul. I came up with this one: WOW. The three of us (Heather was working) had a little picnic, took a short hike around (part of) the lake’s perimeter in the 100° heat (with lots of looking-at-the-view stops), then went somewhere to drink a cold beer.
       

      This was the “cold beer” part of the day.

    • Wine tasting. Heather was not having a good day that day. It got notably better when we started puttering around to a few nearby wineries and tasting their honorable wares. Turns out that Napa is not the only county in CA with a zillion superb wineries. Within 5 miles of where we were staying there were 20+ we could visit. We checked out about 5. Our favorite was Jodar. Of all that we visited, the people were the most real, the wine the most delicious, and the atmosphere the most jovial. Plus, geeks that we are, we learned the most and liked that. Side note: as Heather, Maggie, and I sipped wines and nibbled cheese, Win hung out either outside or in a nearby arm chair, depending on where we were, reading fly fishing articles on his phone.
    • The Haircut. When we first arrived in CA, we saw firsthand what no scissor and no razor looks like on my son for 7 months. Remember Jeremiah Johnson? Or maybe Forrest Gump on his cross-country trek? Like that. And in temps pushing 110°. Win: “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get a cut.” ENTER MOTHER (wearing imaginary cape, hovering five inches off the ground with hands on hips): “To the rescue!” So, the day we visited Nevada City, CA, we stopped off at a barber shop on the outskirts of town. When the four of us (all rather tall humans) poured into the little shop (we left the dog outside), the barber was unfazed. She proceeded to cut an elegant swath through my son’s hair collection, moving it from his head and face to the floor at her feet.

      Pre-cut, in car with the gang of us including Stella the bestest dog ever.

      Mid-cut with the unflappable barber.

    • A woods-walk on the Deer Creek Tribute Trail near Nevada City. Beautifully maintained by locals and with gorgeous retaining walls, artistically designed, including niches where people have created community altars to nature.

      One of two altars with additions by us.

      Suspension bridge on Deer Creek Tribute Trail.

    • Geeking out about gold rush history. The “kids” and I headed to Coloma, CA, location of Sutter’s Mill, the site of the first gold nugget discovery by James Marshall (1848). The South Fork of the American River flows gloriously by the spot where a saw mill was created. Soon the non-existent town, and the area of CA that was home to around 150,000 Native Americans, was flooded with white men fixated on quick wealth (a tale as old as time), and about 120,000 of the rightful residents were utterly wiped out. The blip in the road that is now a few historic buildings and a little museum was, for about 8 years, a thriving metropolis.

      Highly knowledgeable and skilled blacksmith at Coloma.

      Super cute lunch place in the heart of this “birth of the gold rush” area.

      Surveying the North Fork.

      Recreation of Sutter’s actual mill.

    • Having a beer with a former student of mine at The Club Car in Auburn, CA (forever memorialized for me now). He and his wife are ranchers dedicated to sustainable animal husbandry. We sat at the bar, sipping local beer and talking about ranching, the environment, the school with which we all share a history, Gareth’s kids (small, lively, and brilliant and whom I’ve not met), my kids, who were in 3rd grade and kindergarten when Gareth graduated. It was joyful. An hour and a half passed and we parted with hugs all around.

      Maggie, Me, Gareth, Love.

The best part of any trip can happen between the “things we do.” This mother-daughter trip was across the country but we also logged over 1700 miles getting from Seattle to our meet-up with my son, plus about 2-300 additional miles exploring together once we got there.

The hours in the car included some of the most beautiful views imaginable.

Casual driving view….

Pull-over view American River.

Plus lots of fun scoping out coffee shops on Yelp and going out of our way to hit them. And then we read one and a half books (I read to Maggie while she drove –neither of us ever outgrew read-aloud). When we were tooling around with her brother, and Heather too sometimes—plus don’t forget Stella the dog—it was like a magical car-based opportunity to … well, talk. Then there was the talk-while-walking-around-random-towns, the talk-while-exploring-nature, the talk-while-eating, talk-while-cooking, talk-while-shopping, talk-while-sitting-around-and-forgetting-what-we-were-supposed-to-be-doing, and so forth.

Walk and talk. (This took place later, in Portland, but you get the idea.)

Not at all sure that wasn’t the best part of the whole trip.

But eventually daughter and mother headed back north, with plans to meet up with Win (and maybe Heather) again in Portland just before July 4th and our flight back. The last chapter of my PNW blog will be posted very soon….

 

 

PNW Part I

Skyline snapped en route from airport.

The pull of the Pacific Northwest grew gradually but inexorably over the years. When my son moved out there six months ago, there no longer existed a single excuse not to just… GO.

Seattle to (almost) Sacramento and back again in 2.5 weeks. Another epic journey undertaken with my 24 year old daughter, Maggie.

In this overview (Part I) — Washington State. If you told me tomorrow that I was moving there, had a job, a place to live, and sorry but it just had to be, I’d kiss you. Seattle stole my heart and the whole state captured my spirit.

High points included….

  • Seeing a dear friend from my school days in NYC and her wife, and getting the quickie overview of Seattle from a wise and pragmatic person who instinctively knew what we’d love.

    The wonderful Anna and Louise.

  • What we saw (and loved):
    • Lake Washington (where my friends Anna and Louise live) and the view of snow-covered Mt. Ranier at one end. For an easterner this hit my eyeballs as “A Mountain” putting Mt. Alander or Brace Mountain of my nearby Taconic range into stark perspective as “mountains”—note my use of capitalization. (Ranier is 14,410 feet high and topped by a glacier. By way of comparison, I learned to ski at Catamount, in the Berkshires, with an elevation of 1000 feet and topped by mostly trees.)

      Lake Washington and Mt. Ranier.

    • The troll under the bridge. Yes! A glorious art installation and he even holds a real live VW bug in his trollish grip.
    • Lenin-in-mid-stride. Someone thought it was a great idea to buy an old statue of the leader of the Communist Revolution from the Russians and install it in front of a café. He makes an impression in any city.

      Lenin striding.

    • The Olympic Sculpture Park (part of the Seattle Art Museum). Set on the water, artists like Alexander Calder (in all his majesty), Richard Serra (whose amazing work is at Dia Beacon in my neck of the woods), my old fave, Louise Nevelson, and many more, are on fabulous display. One artist new to me, Jaume Plensa, knocked my eyes out with his monumental Echo….

      Echo

      We walked together in the sun and the breeze, wearing light sweaters in late June. Bliss.

    • Pho.

      The Pho was delicious.

    • The salmon ladders. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, you’re in good company. It was new to me, too. Ladder is a misnomer, really, as the engineering is more about stair-steps that head upstream through gateways, so the salmon can access their spawning grounds despite the existence of a lock system that controls water flow into and out of the giant Lake Washington. There is a viewing spot below ground-level where we could watch the valiant wild salmon swim against the current, find the gateway to the next level, and use their muscular little bodies to push through it. They were beautiful and Maggie and I were thoroughly transfixed for a good hour. And yeah, we took about 9 million photos and at least 8 thousand video clips. We were inspired.

      The salmon in the ladders.

    • The first five or so of a plethora of small coffee spots we stopped at during our trip. My friend, Anna, understood that we needed to see multiple “temples of coffee” as she called them.
    • Amazing Copper River salmon.
  • Visiting friends, Tom and Nina, in Olympia, WA and experiencing their love and wonderful tour-guiding.
  • What we did with them:
    • Walked through part of the Olympic National Park. Since the park is about 1400 square miles, we were on just a microscopic fraction of it, but what we saw filled our eyes and souls with great beauty. A temperate rainforest covers most of the park, and we walked what is called the “staircase” trail, which starts about an hour and a half from Olympia. Majestic cedar trees, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and hemlocks towered overhead. Sunlight filtered through the canopy, but we were cool and comfortable as we walked. We stopped frequently to inspect a fern, some moss, a section of rapids, or a fallen cedar (one was especially enormous; the root system, lying on its side, towered over us).

      Tom, Nina, and me posing beside the huge fallen cedar.

      One of our hiking companions, Tom, is 81 years old. He impressed all of us! 

      Beautiful couple and a beautiful view.

      Tom and Maggie walk ahead.

      Trees grow on other “nurse” trees.

      The Skokomish River from up hgih.

      The Skokomish River.

      Taking a rest as we walked the Olympic State Park Staircase trail.

    • Toured the Capitol building in Olympia, WA. To be honest, many capitols in this country were constructed with ugly in mind. Or maybe it was just economy. But this building and all the ones around it are modeled on the neoclassical style of the nation’s capitol. The capitol itself was not only quite gorgeous, but contained more marble than I’ve seen in one place outside maybe the Metropolitan Museum. Fun fact: the supreme court of Washington is comprised of five women and four men. Seems about right.

      Washington State Capitol.

      A VW bug would fit in that chandelier.

      WA House.

    • Drank more great coffee.
    • Ate more delectable salmon. Plus some crazy-good chicken Perloo made by Tom, a Florida Cracker born and bred.

Washington State secured itself in me as a destination of my heart. I constantly imagined myself living there and began fantasizing possible move-to-Seattle outcomes for myself. It’s probably a good idea for me to visit in the winter and really experience the daily rain I don’t think I’m going to mind, but won’t really know till I see it firsthand.

Olympia is a port city.

Next installment: heading south through Oregon to meet up with firstborn, Win, in CA.

 

 

Tennessee Roamers, Mother-Daughter Style

The sun rose behind me on the first day as I drove west with Maggie, my 24-year-old daughter, snoozing in the back seat.

First hour of trip. ZZZZzzz

The sun rose ahead of me on the penultimate day of our trip as we drove east again, out of Memphis.

Penultimate sunrise, Memphis, TN

Then on the last day, heading north from our overnight stop in Virginia, I drove first shift as the sun slanted in through the opposite side of the car and fell upon Maggie’s head as she slept the sleep of the innocent and the young.

Final sunrise, somewhere in VA

Those are the sunrises I can measure our trip by. There are other benchmarks. Museums. BBQ joints. Friends. Local music. Local coffee. Local beer.

Seriously local Nashville Brew

Not my first road trip (by a long shot) nor the first I’ve written about in this blog, the recent mother-daughter journey to the heart of Tennessee was one of my most adventurous. Mostly because of the number of miles traversed—2,418, from one Friday to Saturday of the following week.

Road trips need no reason. They need no justification or excuse. They are, a priori, of value.

But why Tennessee?

  1. Never been
  2. It’s drivable
  3. Music and food mecca
  4. Two dear friends have, independently of one another, moved there over the last two years making it OBVIOUS that the universe required us to visit

100% worth it.

High points:

  • The usual road trip with Maggie perks. Epic rounds of “naughty Madlibs” that would no doubt horrify most people but that have us crying gallons of laughter tears. Fabulously twisted 20 questions games. Listening to the same CDs over and over because she is obsessed (currently with The National)– oh wait, that’s not a perk, but I’m willing to put up with it most of the time.
  • We read a whole book as we drove. Or rather, I read. When I drove, she slept. When she drove, I read.
  • Stopover in Cincinnati to see my sister and her family.

    Laughing with my sister

    That visit included long card games, great cooking, a mani-pedi, a fantastic contemporary art center with some great current exhibits around gender, feminism, and race in America etc.

    Feminist cousins at Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center

  • An afternoon at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY. Neither of us is a fan of the racing industry for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the horses. But we are both horse lovers and the museum was all about the ponies.

    Derby hats

  • Wandering around Nashville with friend Betty. This involved non-stop talk-as-we-walked.
  • The Johnny Cash Museum. Seriously excellent museum with interactive musical exhibits, lots of info on the soulful, challenging, often uplifting life and times of the Man in Black.

    Maggie channels Johnny

  • Sitting in a famous Nashville bar (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) in the afternoon listening to live music and drinking local beer.

    Tootsies in the afternoon

  • The exact replica of the Parthenon that exists in Nashville (who knew?) with a wonderful American art exhibit and a seriously huge replica of the Athena statue too. Very fun stop-off on what became a torrentially rainy day. We left there and ran barefoot back to our car, headed to dry off and have dinner in the Gulch section of Nashville where we listened to more music, of course.

    Talk talk talk walk walk walk (me+ Betty+ the Parthenon)

    Athena!

    BLAT… having too much fun

  • Memphis! It is a seriously cool city. First night there our awesome friend Charles introduced us to one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever experienced. The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Ave was everything it should be, including the ice-cold beer. Their “dry BBQ”—basically with a dry rub to die for—was flawless.

    Dry ribs at Bar-B-Q Shop

  • Graceland—Elvis portrayed through the lens of worshipful love. The home is not huge, but it is flamboyant in its way, with a surprisingly modest kitchen! I was lucky enough to see him perform shortly before his death. I was 17, a senior in high school, and despite not being a particular fan, grabbed the chance because somehow I knew this iconic man was not long for the world. It was an amazing experience and I’ve had a soft spot for Elvis ever since. I’m glad I got to pay homage at the museum of Elvis-homage. 

    Surprisingly modest Graceland kitchen

    Elvis and his mirrored ceilings, amiright?

  • The Civil Rights Museum. Probably the high point of the entire trip. It is at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered and is worth going to Memphis for—the BBQ and music are nice bonuses. I wish every high school student in the country could experience this museum. We were cramming too much into one day and did not have a chance to see it all, so I will be going back. Someday. Warning: you will feel lots of things, and you will, in the end, cry.

    Balcony where he died

  • Four Way Soul Food Restaurant. Soul food, the real deal, straight to the face (and waistline).

    Fried green tomatoes at the Four Way … heaven

  • Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars playing on Beale Street on a Wednesday night—at Rum Boogie Café (hint: it’s not a café). Some seriously hot and dirty blues.

    Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars

    Beale St. Memphis

  • Taking home a cooler full of BBQ from another Memphis standard: Central BBQ, right behind the Civil Rights Museum. Their dry BBQ gave Bar-B-Q Shop a run for its money but I could never choose. Not in a million.

We drove back in two days that should have dragged but flew by, thanks to our tried-and-true road trip protocol. Re-entry was a little tough as it had been a long time since I’d been that footloose and it felt really good.

Maggie and I would both recommend a trip to TN. There’s much more to it than we managed to see in what amounted to 5 days actually in that state, but we were there long enough to realize there’s plenty of soul, beauty, flavor, history, and music.