Vote Down Groupthink

rules“[I]t is essential—now more than at any other time in the history of humanity—that we master the art of making good, healthy, and wise choices, based strongly upon an inherent esteem of ourselves and of others. As society is no longer making our choices for us, we recognize that our destiny is now in our own hands.”

–Katherine Woodward Thomas

This quote, from a book about finding love in the 21st century, was written a good decade before the current election season got underway. But its applicability to the current climate within our country now is pretty obvious.

For much of the history of human society there have been rigid guidelines by which the majority of people lived. There really were not a lot of choices to be made. Whether you were a man or a woman, your life-track was pretty clear. Your family’s religious legacy determined how you worshiped. People lived near where they were raised. You married the person chosen for you. Until the mid-20th century a woman would most likely not attend college or have a career except in a few “accepted” fields, and would have no choice about marriage (to a man) or childbirth—they were simply in the cards. A man would not be able to choose homemaking while his wife pursued a career. Although sexual orientation and gender are not choices, people do have the choice now to live openly as gay or trans, though they are still vulnerable to bias and hate.

But aside from our personal lives, we face moral choices now that perhaps people always faced, but it is harder and harder to excuse racist or sexist choices by saying someone is a “man of his times.” The times we live in remove the easy comfort of groupthink. Until recently….

Whereas boundaries were once rigid, now there is choice. There are not as many rules to follow—aside from moral precepts such as “do the right thing” and “act from love.”

Yet certain people seem to crave that rigidity. The monochromatic whitewashed “Pleasantville” of old where someone like Mrs. Cleaver still baked cookies for someone like Beaver and the Mr. Cleavers had all the power.

There are people who don’t want to be asked to help form policy, foresee a better future, or contribute to a society of equals, but rather prefer to be told how it is—and how it will be. They want all the inconvenient and anxiety-producing grays turned to black and white for them. They want this so badly that they’ll overlook almost anything in their desperate quest for non-choice.

Their desire to avoid thinking, making choices, opening their minds, and facing growth and change causes them to overlook blatant and repeated misogyny and disrespect for women including an admission of sexually predatory behavior, unmitigated racism and the welcomed support of openly neo-Nazi groups, numerous facts about cheating at business, being in bed with foreign dictators, the inability to NOT take everything personally, full-out, scary ignorance of the constitution of the United States, full-out scary ignorance of foreign policy, and promises to uninsure the insured, remove protections from the vulnerable, roll back the already paltry efforts to steward the planet safely. To name a few.

In fact, they want to dictate patriotism to our democracy and what it should look like. They are less offended by a swastika than by peaceful protest. They don’t seek to be governed, but ruled, even if it means being belittled and disrespected or belittling and disrespecting others.

To vote is to choose. It is a choice many have fought and suffered and died for.

Vote so that we continue to have choices and will be able to say, “We did the right thing.”

My Mother’s Battle Against White Male Privilege

woman-in-mans-world-3

I’m sure I don’t know the half of it.

Back then, if it was named at all, it might have been called chauvinism. I doubt she even heard the word “sexism” until she was out of the corporate world and battling a different set of demons that dominated the latter part of her life.

She grew up in poverty during the Depression, was the first person in her family going back to forever who went to college, and the first of her immediate family to leave Ohio. She was also the first woman in her family to pursue a career outside of domestic service. She was, I believe, the first to imagine a different life. She had aspirations.

She learned how to “pass” in the world she longed to enter by taking lessons from a kindly aristocrat who lived on the other side of town. As a girl, my mother would visit Mrs. Myers to learn how to speak properly, set a table, pour tea, walk gracefully, descend the stairs with a book balanced upon her curly head. She had aspirations, sure enough.

Her fascinating career path, post-college, included stage acting, a brief hiatus as a travel agent (it got her to Europe), and even her own 15-minute TV show called “At Home with Lee”—a kind of proto-Martha Stewart thing where she (as I understand it) advised about home décor and fashion. That was all out in California. Then, in 1962, when I was two, she ended up leaving my dad behind in Pennsylvania where they lived, to pursue acting in NYC, only to change gears again in the pursuit of enough money so she could feed me and pay rent. A clever writer, she got a job with L’Oreal (then known as L’Oreal of Paris) creating names for lipsticks and nail color and was soon promoted to copywriter. Within five years she was a rising star in the New York advertising world.

I literally had to watch Mad Men to realize how thrilling, and truly horrific, that must have been for a young woman.

She was a strange product of two worlds—the one she was born to and the one she pushed her way into (brooking no argument). She did not think in terms of “feminism” but the constant inequities she faced were, to her, shockingly, soul-burningly unjust.

But she shared little of this with me. Interesting, considering she did not hesitate to include me in way too much information about other things in her life. Perhaps she felt that it was somehow her fault that she could not convince her employers that she was worth more than 50 cents on every dollar her male counterparts earned. Her solution was simply to work five times as hard as they did, achieve 10 times their success… and maybe if she was lucky inch up to 55 cents.

One story she liked to tell—probably because it showed my father in such a good light—was this: My father had recently taken a job as a professor at a small Pennsylvania college. At this point, their separation and her move to New York was still a couple years in the future. Though she’d always worked before they moved back east from California, she was now expecting a child (moi), and didn’t have a job. My father was asked to give a speech, but felt overwhelmed with his new duties, so he asked his wife if she’d help him out by writing the speech for him. The way I understand it, they talked. He told her the gist of what he wanted to say, and she made it happen. It’s called ghost writing (I do it for clients all the time). It was apparently a very good speech. He delivered it, with few, if any, tweaks.

When the chair of his department came up to my parents after the speech and praised my father for it, my dad (bless him) said, “Well thank you! My wife wrote it, actually.”

The professor looked down at my mother with (I imagine) a painfully patronizing faux smirk of uber-unctuous paternalism and said, “You mean she typed it?”

A good story in that the guy was set straight, but very few of my mother’s encounters with entrenched sexism had happy endings. As a single working mother over 30 she was constantly judged as either doing a crappy job of parenting or, inevitably, doing a poor job of everything else.

Still, she earned lots of respect from many people in her field. She always managed to be promoted, or head-hunted for an even better job, and broke through several intermediate glass ceilings on the way. But she had to prove herself again and again in ways that the men in her field did not. She and her team won numerous Chloe awards and, every time, had to correct assumptions that the team was led by the only man on it, 15 years her junior and with less than half her experience or savvy.

Before she left the corporate world, she was making more than anyone in her family ever had, despite the income disparity between her and every guy within ten thousand hectares.

That was the 60s and 70s. One woman: my mom. Multiply that story by a zillion cubed and we might have an idea of how women have had to fight for every ladder rung. Beat off the guys who tried to grab them by the arms and throw them off that ladder with dismissive claims that they belong in the secretarial pool, if not the kitchen. I imagine my mother sitting in meetings with a bunch of men and trying to report on her department while being called “honey” and asked to make coffee. How many times was her ass pinched in the elevator? How many men tried to sleep with her? How many men threatened her job if she did not sleep with them? I mean, I don’t know for a fact. So maybe it never happened.

But it happened.

Here we are in the 21st fucking century. Women have been elected to the highest offices in several countries. Women populate the colleges and universities in the US by over 50%. We’ve crept up to 74 cents on the dollar (average between the 79 cents of white women and the 68 cents black women earn). Do we celebrate those gains or beat our heads on our desks because it’s so insanely not enough? But we keep inching painfully forward. Justin Trudeau makes headlines by having a totally integrated cabinet. I love him, but why does that make headlines? It should be a non-starter, as it would be to splash the front page with two inch letters saying Boys and Girls Being Born Every Day in Local Hospitals.

Still, what I’m saying is that we’ve continued to (mostly) make progress since my mother’s story.

The coming election will mean everything to this continued narrative of women’s rights. Will the tone set by Trump and his followers become the tone of the story of this nation in the future? Will the ugliness of bare-knuckle misogyny be the new starting point with our children, sons and daughters alike—the next generations who will either continue to be incrementally moved toward gender/race enlightenment or have the scaffolding knocked out from under them?

Women still get their butts pinched in the work place, but at least now it’s against the law. Women still have to cope with intrusive, objectifying, sexual, patronizing behavior from men every single day, but they are less and less afraid to come out in public to say, “This happened and it’s not okay.”

Is all that going to change?

“Momma, I’m sorry to say that all the work you did will come to nothing in the end” is not something I want to say to the urn sitting on my bookcase. I want to say, “The asshole got his comeuppance and the first woman president has been sworn in. And she’s badass, Momma. You’d love her.”

Love me, love my pet (5 reasons to love a pet owner)

(This blog appeared previously on the Be Free to Love website  where I am an occasional guest blogger for the inimitable Betty Russell.)

My familiar.

Me with my familiar.

About 60 billion dollars is spent by pet owners on their pets each year. Researchers actually dedicate time and resources to do studies to confirm cat person and dog person stereotypes, figure out if dogs or cats have human-type emotions (duh, of course they do), and other super important catdog stuff. There are hashtags on Twitter and Instagram devoted to cats and dogs and there are hundreds of cat and dog fan pages on Facebook with tens of thousands of followers. And do you know anyone who, according to their profile pic, looks EXACTLY like their pet? Oh sorry – that IS their pet. They switched out their profile photo for one of Fuzzball or Siegfried.

As an animal lover myself who is relationship-minded, I think about what being a pet person says about me, you, or anyone. I know people who don’t live with animals. They have reasons. Lifestyle, allergies, expense. Personally, I have lived with an animal every day of my life since I was 6 and got my first cat. (I named her Venus.) Well, except my first year of college when I was in a dorm. That was the year that Venus died, within weeks of my leaving her. That says a lot about the pet-person bond.

My familiar as a bottle fed kitten. (With my daughter.)

My familiar as a bottle fed kitten. (With my daughter.) 15 years ago.

And I still remember the grief I felt at having left her, broken her heart, and not been with her when she died. Why? Because I am like most people who own a cat or dog. To us, that animal is A) a person and B) a family member. And yes, research has been done on this.

So as you chat up the guy in line at CVS or scroll through your matches on whatever dating website you prefer, take note of those who love a dog or cat. Or both. Or several.

Here are a few reasons being in relationship with a pet lover is a good idea. This is not so much about cat-people or dog-people qualities as it is about #catdogloversarecool.

  1. Compassion. People who live with and love pets are (usually) genuinely compassionate. Remember how much money people spend on their pets? And not just that, people truly feel for their animals. When Rover is sick, his person is sad. When we leave Fluffy at home for the weekend we feel… a bit guilty, even though our neighbor is feeding her. Dating a pet owner is more than a little likely to hook you up with a person in touch with some sweet emotion.
  2. Loyalty. It is a truism that dogs are loyal. Cats can be too, but that might depend on how long you let the food dish stand empty. But pet owners are definitely loyal. For sure. They look out for a totally 100% dependent person known as the cat or dog (or guinea pig or horse or goldfish). The pet owners who toss their pets away when they become inconvenient are the rare exception. Most people will jump through any number of hoops to ensure their furry person is happy, healthy, and available for a hug at any moment.
  3. Enjoyment of life. Whether you are a cat or dog person, you know that pets teach us to cherish the moment. How can you walk in the woods with an energetic dog and see her bounce and run and chase and frolic without feeling happy? How can you resist the pure delicious pleasure at that moment when you’ve just sat down with a cup of hot tea and the cat tiptoes onto your lap and curls up into a fuzzy ball of purring? The moments of life are so often enhanced when shared with an animal, and if you find someone to love who loves animals—you’re golden.

    My grand-dog enjoying life as she knows it, with ball.

    My grand-dog enjoying life as she knows it, with ball.

  4. Intuition. It’s no guarantee, but there is reason to think that a person who lives day in and day out with someone who can’t speak (aka dog, cat, or other fur/hair covered quadruped) will be more likely sensitive to non-verbal cues. Plus, dogs and cats are great at reading people, reading “the room,” and in general figuring out what’s up. When your super friendly cat hisses at the delivery guy (or your I-love-everyone dog growls at him), and then that guy asks you out, you have to wonder…. Anyway, it’s always best to SAY what you want in a relationship, but if there is any intuition to be found, I’d guess a pet owner will have it.
  5. Cuddliness. Not to be underestimated, the cuddle-factor is huge in a relationship. An interesting study by the Kinsey Institute found that men actually are even more into cuddling than women, and I personally know that I love cuddling so I can only assume we all agree on its value. If you have a relationship with a cat or dog, you are required to cuddle often, so this is good practice for relationships with human people. (And according to my daughter a horse is the best animal to cuddle. She made me put that in.)

    My daughter cuddling and kissing a horse last week.

    My daughter cuddling and kissing a horse last week.

Another factor to consider is that you can tell a lot about people by how they treat the animals under their care. Most pet owners are wonderful, kind, and loving, but there are some who… not so much. So, if you drive up to your new girlfriend or boyfriend’s house and see the dog chained to a tree 10 feet from his water dish, back out of the driveway and get away, fast.

It’s no accident that the vast majority of dating websites have a question about whether you are a pet owner and what kind of animals you like. I found some very interesting (strokes chin) stats from a survey done by PetSmart Charities and Match.com:

  • 66% of people would not date someone who doesn’t like pets
  • 27% of women find photos of pets in an online dating profile a turn-on
  • 70% of singles think their dates’ reactions to their pets are important
  • 35% of women are more attracted to someone because of his/her pet

I wouldn’t race out and buy a pet just to get a date, nor would I make pet-owning a deal breaker. But personally, I’d be hard pressed to love a guy who didn’t love my cat. Or at least appreciate her fine qualities. Just sayin’.

ubercuddle

ubercuddle

A favorite dog of ours, out for a walk.

A favorite dog of ours, out for a walk.

Boy + cat + sleep

Boy + cat + sleep

The Bad Boys It’s Easy to Love Are Not That Bad

This blog appeared as a guest blog on Betty Russell’s amazing website.

As a strong feminist I have often wondered at the idea that women are (allegedly) irresistibly drawn to “bad boys” – aka full grown men who are not “nice guys.” The iconic James Dean, like in East of Eden or Rebel Without a Cause.

James Dean, iconic rebel

Or Damon in Vampire Diaries.

DamonOr one of my personal faves, Heath Ledger playing Patrick Verona in Ten Things I Hate About You, a fab Taming of the Shrew-inspired movie. Okay that one doesn’t really count because he’s just faking. Then there’s George Clooney and Sean Penn just being.

If you make your own list you will see that the “bad boys” on it, like the ones above, are likely to have a soft caramel center (well maybe not George and Sean, but the fictional ones anyway) so their humanity/vulnerability/sweetness just needs to be “discovered.”

Ahhhhhhhhhh…. There’s a reason for women to be drawn to those bad boys. Oh, to be the one woman in all the world to uncover the secret soft caramel core—the ultimate score. But there’s so much more to it than that….

Research of all kinds has been done on the subject of bad boys and the women who love them. There are, from what I can see, loosely three types of bad boys and loads of articles and blogs that attempt to “definitively” analyze the heck out of them. First, and most easily dismissed for my purposes, are the hardened criminals who attract some women, and the ensuing jailhouse weddings, tabloid headlines, etc. Without intending to be uncaring or dismissive, I’m just going to chalk those up to the “pathological” column.

Then there are the narcissists—the ones who start out great (aka brilliant chameleons) only to reveal later that they only have eyes for themselves and are trying desperately to fill a hole inside them as big as the Valles Marineris, a canyon on Mars that makes the Grand Canyon look like an infant bathtub. Women, research suggests, who go for these guys have deep seated beliefs about their own unworthiness stemming (perhaps) from a poor father-daughter relationship. The unmet needs of that relationship with an aloof, distant, narcissistic dad result in women trying to “get it right” this time. Okay so that’s not the kind I’m going to be talking about either.

The above two types of “bad boy” aside, there is still that allure of the James Dean/George Clooney guy. A study of 1000 men and women done in Barcelona, Spain suggests that women are actually biologically programmed to go for James Bond, not Columbo. Rhett Butler, not Ashley Wilkes. And let’s face it, Mr. Darcy is sexier than Charles Bingley. As happy as we are for Jane, we all want to be Elizabeth.

Bond vs. Columbo Rhett vs. Ashley Darcy vs. Bingley

It is not cruelty or self-destructive behavior that your normal, well-adjusted woman is drawn to, however. It’s basically confidence. The “bad boy” we all drool over, who seems so sexy and alluring, has certain traits. But guess what? So does any woman you’ve ever admired.

  • Confidence. Not the faux confidence of a narcissist or braggart, but actual confidence. The real thing. The behavior and body language of a confident person is appealing because it implies comfort with self. In a Venn diagram you’d notice that many bad boys are confident but not all confident people are bad. In fact, most aren’t. They are just out there being themselves and getting shit done.
  • Authenticity. If you don’t need to prove yourself to yourself or anyone else, you will be real all the time. It’s kind of hard to tell when a bend-over-backwards-to-be-nice person is being real, and when he (or she) is just holding all the uncomfortable stuff inside. Can a nice, kind person be authentic? Sure! And I attest that when we are drawn to an authentic person who is himself without apology, we think it equals “bad boy” because #movies.
authentic Obama/sexy

authentic Obama/sexy

  • Purpose. “I can” is sexier than “I can’t.” Just like “go for it” is more rewarding than “but what if?” Again, not rocket science that this trait (and all the traits in this list) applies to men and women alike. When you have purpose, and confidence, and tackle your goals without second-guessing everything in the world, it’s hot.
Petitte/purpose/sizzlin'

Petitte/purpose/sizzlin’

  • Proactiveness. If you go ahead and live life and do what you want, whether you’re introverted or extroverted, a thinker or a doer, cautious or spontaneous… if you are unapologetic about your life choices, and feel worthy of your own best interests, you are not being an asshole, you are living your life and being awesome.
  • Self-esteem. People who basically are good with how they are, not dying to “fit in,” and able to live without anyone’s approval are sometimes the rebels, with or without causes, but truly broken people, the bullies and the braggarts, the narcissists who do faux confidence so well in short bursts… they don’t have that much self-esteem after all. Trying way too hard.
self-esteem/Depp/"I'm me"

self-esteem/Depp/”I’m me”

  • Assertive. A man who can make up his mind is, in my opinion, sexy. And that includes when he makes up his mind he likes/wants me. I also deeply admire assertive women who know how to negotiate, stand their ground, speak out against injustice. There is a clear, not-at-all fine line between assertive behavior and bullying. We all have a responsibility to know that line and honor it. But sometimes we just want to be grabbed and kissed, ya know?

kiss

  • Honesty. If there is nothing to hide—#honesty. Men (and women) who are genuine and self-assured have no reason to lie. I’m not talking about what my mother used to call “aggressive truth telling”—when you go out of your way to clarify how ugly you think someone’s haircut is. I’m talking about being in relationship with someone you can trust to be straight with you. Yeah, it’s sexy. And it’s good—not bad.

honesty

  • Relaxed. As in: comfortable in his own skin. What this looks like: cool. This person will smile when he thinks something is funny, leave the party when he wants to leave, and wear his old Run-D.M.C. tee shirt whenever he feels like it.
Clooney/chill=cool

Clooney/chill=cool

  • Modesty. By that I mean standing on his own merits. When your worth is not in question, you don’t need to sell it.
  • Passion. Why do the apocryphal “bad boys” have this reputation of being the hottest things in bed since electric blankets?
    Pitt/Banderas/passion/vampires

    Pitt/Banderas/passion/vampires

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that passion is part of that whole unselfconscious, confident, authentic, relaxed, assertive vibe that we’re talking about here. Passion won’t grow from a place of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, or dishonesty.

No need to be an asshole bad guy or gal to be irresistible. And I choose to believe that the above traits are not in the slightest bit in conflict with the ability to bring a hot cup of tea to someone or give a foot rub. A loving person makes himself happy by loving others. I tend to do what I want most of the time, and part of that is nurturing and loving my friends and family. No conflict.

If you really have the qualities above there is nothing bad about it. You will ultimately be unafraid to show your vulnerability within a relationship because you don’t give a damn what people think and doing so is honest—because even the most badass among us has vulnerabilities. So what’s my takeaway from today’s train of thought? When your confidence is intact you don’t have to be bad to be oh-so-good. Or even great.

Solo in Cali part 4 (LA + Santa Barbara)

Los Angeles—to be honest—was the city that held the least allure for me—as a destination–on my journey. Still, I looked forward to it greatly as I was to see an old friend and colleague (full disclosure, she was my boss), Andrea, who now lives and works in the Bel-Air section of the sprawlingest and most highly trafficked of cities. She’d invited me to basically move in with her for a while and hang out, see the sights, and catch up on every little thing.

Lucky for me, I could ditch my rental car at LAX and spend the rest of my 5 days in the area tagging along with Andrea and not having to drive among the hard core risktakers of LA.

In addition to the great pleasure of Andrea’s always stimulating and/or funny and/or comfortable conversation/company, there was the great pleasure of not eating out every meal, and instead of trying to figure out all by myself what I should do and see, I had an expert touring me around and making the big decisions. It was a relaxing change.

After a couple days in LA we drove to Santa Barbara where Andrea had a conference to attend and I just got to tool around and see the sights. #timingiseverything

Highlights of my LA/SB interlude:

The nighttime skyline of downtown LA. Pretty.

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The Getty Museum. Gorgeous. Free. Perched beautifully at the top of an LA high point of land, thus 360o views. We went one evening, and had to wait in a long line to get on the tram that takes people to the top of the hill where the museum is. The museum was packed (but not overly so— we could still move around and find a table to sit and chat and drink overpriced beer). I was heartened by the enthusiastic crowds. LA takes advantage of this glorious gift and that made me happy. Young and old wandered the galleries, full of very good art by superb artists though not typically the famous pieces (refreshing) and the gardens, which were, to be honest, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The sun set. The moon rose. Soft ambient light infused the white stone spaces, all but the art galleries open to the sky. Music played—it was a little weird but people seemed to like it. Getty is now way at the top of my list of great museums.

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One of many Getty views.

One of many Getty views.

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The Culver City Hotel. Very old and historic. We met up with some of Andrea’s friends for happy hour one early evening and sat in the spacious bar, suffused with late day light and jazz music.

Great happy hour compatriots.

Great happy hour compatriots.

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The long beach walk. We drove to Santa Monica one morning before breakfast and walked the beach heading north, or maybe south. Not sure. Passed from one neighborhood to the next. Saw Muscle Beach—or at least what it has become now. Watched people who like to be watched do amazing things on the equipment permanently installed for just this purpose. Rings and parallel bars and some other cool stuff. It was impressive, and I’m just relieved I get to do my work-outs inside with just a few nice people who don’t take my sweaty picture and don’t judge. This walk helped me understand that LA is also a city of neighborhoods and pedestrians, as much as it is a city of cars and traffic.

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The Mission at Santa Barbara. While we were in Santa Barbara, I headed to the Mission with someone Andrea introduced me to. Barbara, a retired teacher and Cali native, was able to give me great background and fill in details of the mission system. The place was beautiful and fascinating. It is worth noting that the propaganda was laid on very thick by the materials available there—the video, the brochures, and the museum write-ups. Composed by the Catholic church, which owns the mission, these materials serve to rationalize and whitewash its incredible subjugation of the native people throughout CA. Indigenous slaves (from the Chumash tribe now all but extinct) were referred to as “native people inclined toward physical labor” who were “instrumental in helping build the missions and farm the land around them.” (AKA they were enslaved and did all the work.) The padres “worked alongside the Chumash.” (AKA they supervised the labor being done. There exist numerous primary documents recounting beatings and other brutalities perpetrated against the Chumash by their devout overseers—but not mentioned at the mission.) I understood what was happening (historical denial) but understanding doesn’t make it easier to take.

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La Super-Rica Taqueria. Best food of my trip. Totally local place with a crew of cooks furiously making homemade tortillas and heavenly, flavorful, authentic food in a tiny kitchen and serving an endless stream of happy people.

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The Four Seasons. Where we stayed in Santa Barbara. Yeah, it was really nice.

Lowlights:

  • $75.00 manicure. Seriously people? That does not include tip.
  • $15.00 beer (admittedly at the Getty).
  • If the automobile had been invented when Dante wrote the Inferno, a circle of hell would have been reserved for LA traffic.
  • Interpretive driving. Like people who don’t entirely drive on their designated side of the street. Especially when traffic is not heavy, or you are on a side street, the rules get vague.
  • Rodeo Drive. Not really a lowlight, but an unpleasant reminder of the consumer culture in this country. I was there before the shops opened, early in the morning, and though I could appreciate the iconic sight of the palm-lined street (nod to Julia Roberts), I was stunned by the sheer critical mass of designer/high-end shops in one place. My imagination was not quite able to come up with a guesstimate of how much money is exchanged there on a given day.
    IMG_5129 IMG_5151 Rodeo

On Thursday the 23rd of June, I made my way to Union Station, as famous in films as Grand Central (well, almost), and caught a train to San Diego, my final destination. I sat on the top level of a double-decker train (something I did not know existed) and enjoyed great comfort as we passed the stations and towns that dotted the southern California landscape.

 

 

Solo in Cali part 3 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Before I left Clementine Cottage in Monterey, I accepted my hosts’ challenge to use the little manual Royal typewriter in the room to produce a story. Using the characters, Oob and Oona, from the delightful storybook written by my hosts for their guests, I wrote “page 134 of Oona’s memoir.” Using the manual typewriter was like giving my fingers an advanced calisthenics class but it was fun to participate in a quirky Clementine Cottage tradition.

Royal typewriter

After coffee and a breakfast burrito as large as my head, enjoyed at a coffee shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I wended my way to the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Glory be!

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I live in a part of the world with amazing green space—state parks, walkways, rail trails, mountains, streams, the Hudson River, vistas, valleys. And it is beautiful. But it’s my “usual” beautiful, the beautiful I must remind myself to appreciate at times when life gets heavy. “Look around you, Vanessa, and be grateful.” And I am.

But as a north-easterner walking the sandy trails of (for example) Point Lobos for the first time, coming upon cliffs overlooking a boiling whirlpool churning with white foam, with deep turquoise water stretching out to the horizon, rocks cropping up in picturesque spots to create more of white water so flawlessly juxtaposed against the vivid blue… well let’s just say my heart beat faster. I realized I was holding my breath. My fingertips tingled a bit. I walked a trail that circled a large point of land. The paths skirted the very edge of drop-aways (there were little rope “barriers” to alert hikers to be mindful). The sound of barking seals and breaking waves washed over me on ocean gusts that blew my hat off my head.

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In another part of the park I tiptoed across worn stone expanses and pebble beaches to peer into tide pools and watch microcosmic galaxies of life busily conduct business a mere quarter mile from where whales might at any moment show up as they passed through. (I never saw them.) The Point Lobos adventure occupied me for most of the morning, but I realized I had several hours to drive before arriving in Los Osos where I would stay for the night.

Along the way I explored Palo Colorado Canyon Road that wends up a dark crevice in the towering hillsides along Route 1. Shaded by massive redwoods, the road is dappled with green light and to each side ancient wooden homes on stilts teeter, with long stairways and bridges giving access to inhabitants who live in this hidden spot just a stone’s throw from the Pacific coastline.

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I stopped for lunch at the Rocky Point Restaurant to enjoy a meal and a view—it never gets old. Then I embarked on my journey south on Route 1/Pacific Coast Highway also known as Cabrillo Highway (which is what my GPS insisted on calling it).

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Heading south I was on the ocean side of the highway—the proper side for mentally reenacting every Hollywood movie scene where someone speeds along the hairpin turns with tires spitting gravel to the crashing surf below. Needless to say, I drove very slowly and deliberately (everyone did), and rather than rubbernecking and putting my life in danger, I merely stopped at every single solitary turn-off along the way to gawk, snap pix, and realize my ETA would have to be adjusted. Again. And FYI—there are a lot of turn-offs.

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I kept thinking, “Maybe I’ll get inured to all this glory and not have to stop so much.” Nope.

Wildflowers. Not like the wildflowers in New England or the Hudson Valley. These were rugged flowers that survive the vicissitudes of even the current California drought. Bright cheerful things that wave and bob in the constant off-shore winds.

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Drop-aways, crevices, outcroppings. If a landscape can be a drama-queen, this one is. I mean that in a very admiring way. The landscape sang opera, not folk music. It was Matisse, not Rembrandt. Isadora Duncan, not Margot Fonteyn.

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It dawned on me at one point that not having a full tank of gas could end up being a problem. As could the need for a restroom. Places to stop were few and far between. And when I did stop a bag of chips cost 5 bucks and gas was almost $6.00. Seller’s market for sure.

I stopped off at Big Sur. Though I did not have time to enter the Pfeiffer State Park and hike as I would have liked, I left my car in the lodge parking lot and strolled into the woods nearby. The redwoods (the “small” species that “only” gets to 250 or 300 feet tall) had a delicious smell, completely different from any woods smell I know. The air was cooled by eternal shade and I quickly came upon a brook like many I’ve walked beside in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania and other states in my part of the world. Again I was struck by the way this hidden world of old wood, nesting birds, trickling streams existed mere moments from the blue glory of the Pacific.

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My journey ended that day—Thursday (a mere four days after I landed in California)—with the best part yet. The elephant seals rookery.

There were signs for yet another “vista point” or “turn off” for curious, awe-struck travelers like me to enjoy, but this time the words “elephant seal” definitely indicated I was in for a different kind of view. Coming out of the long and twisting few hundred miles of Route 1 onto something that resembled a “normal” road, I saw a rather large parking lot ahead.

Walking from the lot to the chest-high stone wall that separated it from the beach, I noticed everyone returning to their cars was smiling. Grinning. I pointed myself at an unoccupied section of wall. From a distance the resting bodies of the seals were sandy mounds, like large-scale, beachy moguls. When I got closer and could lean up against the wall, I thought I might want to stay forever, watching these placid sleeping giants. Now and then one of them would flick some sand over herself, or use one flipper to scratch the other, or an itchy spot on her tummy. A few bulls by the water postured with mock aggression (I’m sure the aggression can get quite real when it needs to), the top parts of their bodies raised, heads aloft, waving back and forth together. A few seals moved from one spot to another, in the ungainly way that sea mammals operate on land. They looked like amateur break dancers doing the “Worm,” with their flubbery body mass shifting in undulating rhythm.

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It was impossible to watch them without smiling. These animals are endangered, and their habitats threatened. Another of Earth’s beloved creatures disregarded by human “progress.”

A tiring day, long and full of twists and turns (the literal kind), some over-the-top visual dazzle (except for the guy with the mullet standing in line for the rest room at one point), and a few more (like 200) photos for the album.

Mullet alive and well. 2016, somewhere on Rt. 1.

Mullet alive and well. 2016, somewhere on Rt. 1.

Solo in Cali Part II (Monterey)

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Coming up with a strategy for the first half of my trip was a combination of getting advice from everyone I knew, browsing AirBnB listings, looking at maps despite being a little map-disabled, and then making well-informed but ultimately random snap decisions. So after my second night in San Francisco, I woke up Wednesday morning, got an early start in my trusty rented Toyota, and headed south towards Monterey.

I found parking near what seemed an interesting spot—Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame. The woman at the parking lot I chose (mostly for its location and the availability of empty spots) decided I was a potential best friend. Greta was her name and she quizzed me on my trip, exclaimed at the fact that I was on my own, said she never could do a trip to New York alone, and made me feel kinda badass. She proceeded to tell me about her kids. Her daughter’s ex-fiancé who turned out to be gay. Her horrid ex-husband who wronged her in these specific ways (she then listed them in detail). Her dogs and two jobs. Greta demanded a hug before I walked off in the direction of Cannery Row.

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Despite being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel, the Row nowadays lacks cans, canning, or any evidence of seafood processing. The only seafood in evidence was on overpriced lunch menus, but my desire for a cold drink and my phone’s desire for a charge (I had not yet realized the car had a USB port that I could plug my house charger into) led me to a touristy restaurant with a view of the water.

After lunch, a quick perusal of the Row led me to walk swiftly away from it in search of a place to relax by the water. I found some tables outside a hotel about a half mile away. It was peaceful and uncrowded, unlike the clogged thoroughfares and souvenir shops of the Row, and I went back to my car to retrieve my journal and a pen. I got sucked into another long conversation with Greta who this time walked to her car to retrieve her two tiny fluff-dogs. She introduced me to them, and told me some more stories. I really wanted to go sit in the sunshine and look out at the water, but that was not to happen until some more bonding took place. I had to borrow a pen from her and on account of that, plus just because, I could not be rude to her. So we talked some more. Then she gave me the pen. A “really good pen” she said. I was grateful. She asked for another hug.

Back at the seaside table, there were now two large men leaning on the railing directly in front of me, blocking my view. I turned to the side, adjusting my seat to allow me a view, and set to catching up in my very neglected (of late) journal. The pen broke pretty darn quick but I did manage to limp along using just the skinny thing inside the pen that actually writes, but that is hard to hold onto. No biggie. I wasn’t writing a novel.

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At some point my AirBnB host called to welcome me to Monterey and give me the code to retrieve the key at Clementine Cottage, possibly the cutest AirBnB accommodations ever. I eventually moseyed over there and had time to read the amazing book my host and her husband had put together with an original fictional account of guests from another planet, Oob and Oona, as well as more fun things to do around Monterey than I’d ever get to.

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That relaxed and sunny evening I got dressed up, headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the boats in the harbor and watch the sun lowering in the sky as people fished off the pier. The sun made long stripes of light on the water and the breeze—like that in San Francisco but fishier—was a perfect reminder that it feels good to have skin on my bones. My hair flew up and over and into my face and eyes and I felt happy.

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Next I drove to a nearby town—Pacific Grove (home of the butterfly parade)—recommended by my host as being home to a restaurant with okay food and great views. At this point the views were more important to me than food. I’d made a reservation, but got there early to wander Lover’s Point, a small peninsula that thrust into the water and offered more California eye candy. Pretty soon I went in to await my table at the bar, drinking a yummy basil infused cocktail. The dinner was rather mediocre and the glass of wine nothing to write home about, but I did-not-care-one-bit because I was on the California coast and it was almost sunset.

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Dinner view

Dinner view

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I sat outside after dinner, watching the sun go down and feeling the temperature drop from cool to cold. Hustling back to my car and then to my cozy Clementine Cottage I thought about Greta. She lives in a lovely part of the world. So do I. She probably won’t make it out to see my lovely corner of Earth. How lucky I am that I got to see hers.

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Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That's on my bucket list.

Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That’s on my bucket list.