Travel Meanderings


A yellow school bus slices open a wide swath of chaparral, the road it travels invisible to the distant traveler, me, him and them. We travel north til nearly the northeastern edge of the state, destination Davis soccer tournament. Mounds of tomatoes peek above the semi’s trailer, slowly steaming along this blanched roadway from heat, oil, dust and wind. 

Passing telephone poles look like cemetery markers, wired crucifixes, testament to scorched lives and anonymous death. 

Stockdale Highway in one mile, roadway to The Tule Elk State Reserve and CSU Bakersfield. Never far from a Jack in the Box and Subway at a gas station, even when the surrounding desert flecked with patches of green, low lying crops of indecipherable genus paint the landscape endless. Astonishing that this waterless wasteland harbors any life: bleached rock and sand. But there they are, tiny patches of great pines and firs engulfing secluded ranch homes visible from the highway, a contrast forest green to the sage, amber and tans of the desert floor.

A glance at a blur-by motel housekeeper outside the door of a room leaning upon her cleaning supply cart, seemingly hinged on the highway’s terrace, checking her phone. Who texts her at work? Who stays at this hotel in the midst of nowhere?
 
Long green corn stalks half grown, foreshadowing the kernel largesse to follow in a month’s time when seeking the sun’s vigor–sustenance–the sturdy stalks stretch open to the sky 8, 9 and 10 feet tall, or so it seems.
 
The hay tractor kicks up the dust as it slowly rounds the corner of a field’s dirt pathway, and of course, he has to say it, “Hay!” Hominem of humor on repeat. Now I know I am on a road trip. That and the question, “How far are we?” To which we reply in unison, “Half way.” No matter where we are, we are half way. That is our tradition–to torment further our restless children, now adults, or nearly so.
 
The almond trees. I’m not sure why they pique curiosity in me: Where did Christo install his umbrellas? Was it in the Grapevine or somewhere past Bakersfield? I tell my students the latter when we read Dillard’s essay about the stunt pilot who renders the air art in shredded ribbons of lines drawn and dissipated. 

Lost Hills Paso Robles sign reminds me of the trip we made in the 90s to the Central California wineries. The two-lane highway dips and dives through hilly tree covered expanses ranches tuck into. We found our dream ranch home hidden just off this little traveled wending way.

San Francisco is 238 miles away. She wants to go to school there. She and her teammate traveling with us plan to attend SFSU. Or prepare to by attending the JC there. Far away enough to inhabit her styled rebellion and independence but still an hour’s plane ride for safety net parents.
 
Romas on the side of the road arranged like marbles readied for the game do not look like they fell off a truck so much as were placed there, a peculiar sight.
 
Low lying shrubs dot the clean shaven desert floor in tans and ecrus. Twisselman Road. Spell check tried mightily to fight that last road name. 

Heather lined highway, peppered with sage colored brambles and bushes, blonde dirt, sticks, twigs and tumbleweeds every where halved by the steel girded dividing rails. C.R. England semi sidling by. Slower traffic to the right. We travel the passing line a bit just like the other California drivers. Except we know better. They probably do too. Some of them–with impunity.
I tease, “You think you’re thug coming all the way from Huntington Beach? Oh wait, you were actually born in Fountain Valley. Oh, you bad.” I laugh.
She pipes up in a flash, “I’d kick your ass even if I came all the way from Belmont Shores!” Her friend and teammate spits her water in laughter. Some of it splashes on my face turned to my opponent in the rear most bench in the van.

Coalinga Canal, near Fresno. Trucks parked, their cargo brimming over in red roma ripened in stark contrast to the surrounding dessert. A dairy farm, dismal to witness and inhale. The heat, dung, lethargy, exposure and pollution overwhelm the senses. Factory farming. 

A burst of Gerber daisies or black eyed Susans flash by, a couple dozen in a row, brightening the heather in sun bursts. Card board boxes fallen from some speeding vehicle mar the steady stream of browns and tans, sage and hunter greens. We swerve. He’s typing on his phone. “Do you want me to drive?” No. Apologetic and slightly defensive.

A faraway lover professes sweet adoration in my memory chewing upon the scenery. Warmth in the desert.

Twelve Minutes at the Bar


Perfect. I’ll do my ten-minute write here, a place I haven’t visited in a while. The last time I imbibed here–my usual IPA per the bartender’s suggestion–I wrote a piece that my editor thought worthy of publishing. Perhaps inspiration will visit again. 

Swallowing quickly the two offered shot glass sampler selections, surprisingly I choose the Pale Ale. It’s smooth and hoppy, more like an IPA than the IPA the bartender had me try.

I have not been here–a place exactly five minutes walking distance from my house–because I drink beer here, always drink a happy hour beer here, and I have not wanted to anesthetize in beer-land for a couple months or so. But today feels like the day. There is nothing to hide from, just the spirit of the day I nod to in being here.

Tomorrow I will embark on a road trip up to the far up north, another soccer tournament. With three soccer 17-year olds and a commiserating partner in tow, I will head for Davis and watch the road blur by as I gaze out the window and ponder the big and small questions: What did Jack Kerouac do on the road when he wasn’t taking notes for his novel? How many almond trees are actually out there in endless rows? Will I have time to yoga? Will she play well? How did pioneers foot and horse all of this, leagues and leagues of open vistas, dirt, dust and brush?

My eyes welcome open spaces, too often closed in confined spaces of the classroom, bedroom, kitchen, grocery store and local restaurants for a bite. Change of scenery flips the creative thought channels. Floating. Not like a pc drags me through the cyber-sphere.

The ten minute timer went off, but so did my notification buzz for a text message. She got a haircut and lost ten pounds. She looks the same–memory mine. 

Seated at the after thought extension of the bar, maybe the disabled low table, the woman next to me, leaving half her appetizer over, declares to the server, “Close out.” I ignored her while I wrote this but meant to pay her a few words of invitation to conversate. Too late, as ever.  But I’m sure her life bends back way past this moment and my feeble speculations about her momentary needs, wants and reasons to be at this bar. Now I’ll just have to create her story without her.

Road Trip


Travel jumpstarts wonder. 

Leaving the usual haunts along the same paths to and from work, market or eateries, draws out the dormant words, smoldered sparks awaiting flint. 

Nothing but changing scenery piques alertness, imagery and observation so profoundly. 

I eat nature.  

Travel bits piece large land masses speeding roadside to tiny impressions, ideas and memory fragments, creating a large mosaic of tile-words. 

As I write, I fly over the Pacific on my way to Seattle to meet a connecting flight to Spokane, where she awaits.

More likely she waits for my call: “I’m here.” 

She and I will drive the distance Google reports as 19 and a 1/2 hours, but I know better. 

Last June, we drove her to Spokane for school. 

She left school–and Spokane–in December to come home and heal.

Last week, she finally returned to the life she began to make there before the unfortunate detour, the accident.

Her head.

She, who took me to a radical feminist art show last April, who sometimes wears a “cunt” pin, who sports Klimt’s The Kiss line drawing of two women tattooed above her ankle, and who smirkingly cranks up Taylor Swift’s “We are never getting back together” on the car radio, will be my car companion across three states homeward.

Road trip.

Just like last year, the rain astonishes us, its violent insistence.

And again, the greenness of green, the way rain pelts the tinny Honda framed windows reminds me of crackling gum chewers, and the nod to engineers knowing that windshield wipers need three or four speeds, these three I recall in a whirlwind road-swallowing marathon beside a semi-conscious travel mate.

She peered into satan’s screen for 23 of the 24 hours. 

But she never could figure out how to find the nearest vegan restaurant to the five freeway in downtown, perhaps too daft from sleeplessness or not acquainted with practical phone features as much as the camera, social media apps and texting.

I grow older in bounding leaps, too old for freezing, middle-of-the-night rest stops along two-lane, farm-house roadways without gas stations for 94 miles and cramped, compact car cabins designed for legless sleepers.

It could have been the blue moon.

I drove and drove, sidling mountain edges; through snowy pines and meadows, rain-soaked forests and cloud-burst flashes drenching miles of almond trees squared off in rows blurring into golden heather fields dotted with black Jerseys ruminating time and space in their masticant jowly bovine stares prescient with the soon-approaching L.A. traffic psychosis.

And home.

Only my biceps carry the road residuals: the mindless painful wheel gripping in the desperate fight against gravity’s theory. 
 

The desert speaks legends

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Through a desert with sun settling atop the mountains and semis providing relief from the piercing glare while traffic crawls, except for those lawbreakers riding the emergency lane, speeding the sides dangerously, we travel, mother, father, daughter, and teammate. The weekend of games has ended. Reality drags itself in like a legless dog, leaving a flattened path in the sand behind it. Tumble weeds pass us by deriding us with snarly twigs of derision. “Ha, ha lemmings.” 

Traffic breaks, we speed on, and I keep my eyes on the passing blur of joshua tree and sand.

The landscape whirs with murmurings; the desert speaks legends.

Mountain silhouettes remind me that space is illusion as the peaks look like painted playing cards.

How many times have I passed through Baker?  Have I seen the signs with cowboy aliens before?

Aliens on horseback, now that would be a thrill. 

Perhaps they’ve already passed through,

nodded and kept on going to greener pastures.

 (A writer sighs and no one looks up–eyes glued to phones)

“We should have known,” his parents ruefully remarked to the reporter (I say out loud). 

“He always insisted on painting the moon brown. His teachers complained, tried to steer him right, but he insisted on brown. He was 8. He should have known.”

Daughter glances up at me and grunts, “Huh? You say something?”

I shake my head.

The rising moon face winks.