Saturday, April 18, 2009

white as frozen custard

First off, I'm back in Maryland, so this is all a look over my right shoulder. And I'm alive, so you can rest easy. I added pictures to things that needed pictures, starting with Los Angeles Is Cool. And I also added text here and there, so things aren't exactly the same. I'm not saying you need to reread everything, but, you know. If there's a photo it probably jogged my memory and I wrote something alongside it.

Where did I leave off? Oh, Las Cruces, banana splits in the hotel room.

The next morning I drove north. Here's the road there. They tested missiles and bombs and the like in the area.

I went to White Sands National Monument. Maybe not a surprise, but the sands are blinding, cream of wheat, Irish skin, when-doves-cry WHITE.

And as soft as a kitten. By this point my digital camera was no longer working. Sand in the lens, we figured. I bought some disposable cameras, made a promise to myself to not be stingy with film. Even still, it's a colossal disappointment.

Mostly because CVS tried their best to guess what I'm thinking. What a popular sport around these parts. So they made the white sands into yellow sands. I tried to fix the colors, but I don't own photoshop, and I have very few skills to speak of, so I did my best. As a result the white sands are a few different shades of white. Better photos can be found at the wikipedia article on the place.

Looks like I'm having fun! And that none of my clothes fit quite right?

I rented a sled from the gift shop. Actually, I bought one for $15, and if you keep your receipt they let you return it for $5. It's a ripoff, but you're helpless, because when in your life are you ever going to sled down white sand dunes?

The park is small but the hills make it feel spacious. Even when it was full of people, there was no problem finding an isolated hill to go down. I started small, on a little hill, but quickly learned that the steep hills were nothing to be afraid of. Steeper the better.

Walking through the dunes is tiring. When I was trekking up another hill, wondering whether my lack of breath was an accurate reflection of my health, a man on a motorcycle, about 50 yards away, asked me to pretend I was sledding so he could take a picture. Never mind that I was not really on top of a hill. I complied. Then he waved and drove away.

I continued. Imagine using a stairmaster in the desert--except the stairmaster is made out of soft, depthless sand. I got tired very quickly. I lay down to make a sand angel. I went down the dunes about 3 times. Seriously, that was all I could manage.

Later I went back to my car and discovered that my keys weren't in my pocket. So, awesome, they were somewhere in the desert. I was sure they were already five feet under the sand, buried by the wind. I calmly retraced my steps and they were in the spot where I collapsed and made a sand angel.

Not everyone rented a sled. One family just told the kids to rough it.

That little boy with his legs curled up in the air? I felt so bad for him. So when he came back up the hill I said, "You can borrow my sled if you take a picture of me when you're at the bottom. Deal?" He nodded in the way I imagine little boys do when talking to strange older women.

I wrote some postcards in the car. Then drove to nearby Alamogordo, where I could not find any atomic glass, though it was the only thing my dad asked me to bring back. I did get another banana split, though, from the same local chain that made the previous night's split. And I got my oil changed. While I waited I took a walk and did some word puzzles on a bench. A man asked me what I was doing and I told him the truth. It didn't seem to please him and he walked away, shaking his head.

What I should have done was waited inside the auto place, because they were showing Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I already watched a Harrison Ford movie earlier on the trip. I should have continued the trend.

I have no idea why I took this picture, but here it is:

Maybe it just seemed nice, somehow, that sad little American flag. The road out of Alamogordo, headed east, started in an environment that was the New Mexico I was used to. But then I climbed higher and higher through the mountains and trees started appearing. I went through lonely towns.

Near Elk, NM, I saw a lump on the side of the road and thought it was a hobo at first. But then it moved and ran across the road and I saw it was an elk! I didn't get a picture because I was too focused on not hitting it.

Then the land flattened out. I still felt like I was high up, somehow. I got that feeling sometimes in the West--I would be on a very flat space and still I was certain that I was on top of a plateau and that at any minute I would get to the edge and see a steep road leading down, towards the rest of the world below. Never happened. I did see a beautiful sunset that night, though. I felt at peace.

Here's a failed attempt to take a picture of a group of cows, to prove that they really do look like bears, sometimes.

Now that I'm back a handful of people have asked me, in some variation, if I found myself, or if I searched the entirety of my soul. I'm not really sure that I wanted to explore my soul on this trip. It's hard to say what I wanted. In my head the trip made such perfect sense that I often got frustrated with my inability to explain it to other people.

Here's another attempt. I just had the feeling that something more was out there. I wasn't looking for the meaning of life, or looking for something to give shape to my life. I just wanted to see what I already suspected was out there. It was as if I had already visited it all, but so long ago I barely remembered it, and I wanted to revisit and see things that would trigger long lost memories. If that makes a scrap of sense.

The East is very crowded and you go from one shopping plaza to another. Sometimes you go through little forests, and that's a nice feeling. But I imagined that the West was full of these big, open spaces that would take my breath away and replace it with an awesome peace. I was right. Seeing things was great, monuments and mountains and towns, but the spaces left the biggest impression on me.

I slept in Carlsbad, which is probably a great town if you want to go to the caverns. Otherwise, it's sort of a wasteland. I went to walmart for dinner, and bought three of my favorite items, to make up for the sort of lame motel I stayed in: Stouffers mac and cheese, a mango, and Little Debbie strawberry shortcake rolls. The latter are artificial and superdelicious, but I did once eat so many that it did prompt me to become a vegan for two weeks, a trial-run thing that I hoped would flush out my system of whatever is in those devilish little rolls.

Monday, April 13, 2009

styrofoam containers and wrapped plastic utensils

Why I like being alone on this trip is I can wake up and leave Tucson, having seen absolutely nothing except the mexican supermarket--and who will say anything? How could they?

I did meet a guy in the morning, very mysterious, wouldn't go into his plans, with a pierced lip and in another universe he would have taken up a lot of my time. We looked at Craigslist ads for amusement and I took a typing test so he could learn how quickly I type (80 wpm, 80% accuracy). He said to go to Las Vegas, New Mexico, because everyone there has low riders. He said Las Cruces could be avoided without any real loss. A young man with a feminine countenance and heavy black boots disagreed and said I should see Las Cruces if I liked places filled with artists.

He said, Art is everything. I agreed.

I did go to Las Cruces. I don't remember what happened that day. I will look in my red notebook where I track my expenses. Maybe I napped. Maybe da road lulled me into a waking sleep. I did see this rock formation, which goes to show how whimsical nature can be. Hee hee!

And remember all the rib-tickling ads for Chick-Fil-A done over the years, you know, the cows painting signs that say "Eat Mor Chickn?" Well, someone in Arizona wants you to disregard those, and they are so serious that they aren't going to couch their message in a cute or clever campaign. Let's cut to it. I zoomed and cropped the photo.


I got into Las Cruces as the sun set. I took a picture at their rest stop, an award-winning rest stop, they'd like you to know, because they have incredible views of the city and a giant roadrunner made out of recyclables.

Please also notice that there are two signs on the post: "Truck Parking" and "Beware of Snakes". It was a great rest stop.

I went to the historic artist area of town and got a spicy meat burrito smothered in green chile sauce and cheese. I considered taking a picture but I ate it too quickly and sometimes Mexican food isn't as appealing when it isn't right in front of you. Sometimes it looks like swamp food. Rest assured that it was delicious. I also got a banana split from a frozen custard place, recommended by the book and by the crowd in front of the store.

The banana split had real strawberries, real pineapple, real marshmallow sauce (!), salted pecans, hot fudge, two cherries, bananas and the rest.

I ate these items in my hotel room, charming and older and still stuck in the 60s. The shower was the best shower I've had on the trip, what a water pressure. It must have become illegal at some point to have showerheads like that. You could bruise the skin.

cactus instead of moss

When I sleep in my car my breath condenses inside, and my sleeping bag becomes wet and cold. There's a certain smell that is always the same but which I could never begin to describe.

I drove to Tucson, up and through roads that have no business being roads. Upright cactus every few feet, some held up with pieces of wood. I saw a mountain covered with the cactus, and then I saw more. I took a breath and I did think, this is why I came, I think.

I did a long stopover at a rest stop. I've become fond of highway rest stops. I brush my teeth and wash my face. I sit in my car and put on a little face powder, not because I'm a vain little belle; my powder has spf 15, and my face has taken on a tan that is both beguiling and unforgiving on my skin.

I drove up towards the Phoenix area looking for an In-n-Out. I read about one in Chandler, AZ. Oh, and I stopped at a CVS to buy a disposable camera. Sad to put the digital away, though occasionally I still turn it on to see how it's doing and nod in disappointment when it reports that yes it still has a lens error or some other eye infection.

In Chandler, AZ, I sat in a parking lot under a small amount of shade and talked to Wylie on the phone for an hour. Meanwhile the sweat collects in the small of my back. Then I got my double-double burger at In-N-Out and a Neapolitan shake (all three flavors), a secret menu item. I found a radio station in Chandler, AZ, that seemed to only play T.I. and 50 Cent, all right with me.

I wanted to visit the world's smallest museum in Superior, Arizona, but it was closed. Next time. I did go to the Bryce Thompson Arboretum State Park, which sounds dorky, but that's one of the beauties of traveling alone. You can indulge your dork. The park is quite nice, lots of lonely, secluded paths that in the East might prompt caution. But since I was the youngest person there by about 40 years, I wasn't worried. The park was selling cactus, and I bought one. Tiny. Stayed in my trunk the rest of the trip.


And here is a fairly horrible picture of a hummingbird.


And a much better picture of the desert section of the park.


They had a tropical palm section, and yes, I did miss Florida a little. Hummingbirds were everywhere, as were the elderly. I kept my camera out of use, for some reason. It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to just take it in.

The road to Tucson was another ridiculous mountain road. I drove in 3rd gear. They had something I'd never seen before, and something that qualifies as the day's Most Frightening Thing on the Road. It was a sign that said "Runaway Truck Area Ahead." Then the road branched and a big stretch of sand, like the long jump pit -- if the long jump was 60 feet. I guess if you are a truck and the steep downgrade is too much and your brakes fail, the state highway system has a plan: just steer along, keep calm, and then veer off into this giant sand pit. But, really, the phrase "Runaway Truck"?? Great and terrifying.

In Tucson I got to play the "If my life had gone a different way" game. I was accepted into the U of AZ writing program and didn't go. But of course spent much time thinking how things might be different. People I wouldn't have met, for better or worse, whether the dry air would have been better for my mood than the wet. How I would have done without spanish moss.

Tucson was a city I planned on visiting. When I got there it was empty. I parked and walked by some houses with homemade lawn ornaments, signs on the porches about parking, cats everywhere, music and incense and cactus flowers. And I parked my car for a second to look at the book, and I suddenly heard "I'm Proud to be an American" coming from behind, and THIS drove by me:


Which, if you can't tell, is a man wearing a cowboy hat, driving a Rascal with a flag on the back of it. And music was playing from somewhere.

I stayed at the hostel in Tuscon. I met another girl doing the same kind of trip as me. Instead of books, though, she raised money by selling her expensive yoga clothes. She was going northish, aroundish, towardish yellowstone.

I wanted to make cookies so I went to the best-named grocery store in the city, FOOD CITY. A mexican grocery store, too, so next to the Ramen noodles are 50 different kinds of garbanzo beans.

I bought cactus again. Delighted to think I could try and cook it again, after my last attempt was doused in gasoline. I bought one cactus pad, one container of shredded oaxaca cheese, one container of pico de gallo (heavy on the cilantro), one pack of little flour tortillas. Altogether it was delicious. The cactus has got punch, sort of lemony but very green. Here's my cactus soft taco. The green strips are cactus.


Then I made my oatmeal cookies and that may have gained me some friends.

One friend I did not make was the older lady sharing our room. She went to bed at 9 pm when the other 4 girls in the room were still up, coming and going and getting things from our bags. Old lady rolled around and groaned when we made noise. She was on the top bunk, so was I. We were alone up in the stratosphere and by the time I hoisted myself in she was nearly hoarse from the theatrics. Oh to be put out by these young assholes!

I thought she was an alcoholic, because, why is anyone with a full head of gray hair in a hostel? But in the morning she was talking (about young people, politics, and the spirit, and our lack) and I understood that she wasn't an alcoholic, she was just an aggressively self-righteous new age hobo.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

rough it

Okay I'm in Houston and Rebecca is helping me figure out what, exactly, to write here.

Like, I'm a week behind or so, and what should be included?

Rebecca says that I should absolutely include the name of the muffler repair shop in El Centro, CA: Desert Muffler, motto, "No Muff Too Tuff." The man, Freddy, said to go to the restaurant two blocks down and he would call me there. I did, and he did, after I ordered a footlong breakfast burrito (chorizo, cheese, potatoes).

The muffler is fine, everyone, have a little faith. It was rusted from when my uncle owned the car and lived in Boston and the salt splashed up and ate it away.

I walked to the library, didn't update this blog. I think I just enjoyed being on the internet.

The ultimate irony is that El Centro, California, is the center of nothing at all. Not cultural or geographical.

I drove through Imperial Sands something or other, where they filmed the desert scenes of the original Star Wars pictures. This reminded me of Wylie's friend Charlie, who is a big Star Wars fan. We stayed at his house in Georgia, once, and we stayed in the Star Wars room. I have my own memories of Star Wars but Charlie came up. Wondered, Has he ever visited Imperial Sands? He should. Look at where the tall dunes meet the sky and expect C3PO and R2D2 to beep beep over the hills.



I spent the night near some petroglyphs in Arizona. I was supposed to pay $8 but I didn't, and I was paranoid. The wind was so incredibly strong that I couldn't pitch my pathetic childrens' tent. I slept in my car and that was okay, not great. I don't do well sleeping on a hard surface, though I wish I could. This night also marked the first occasion where I misplaced my keys in a serious way.

They were in my bra, in the end. But I was worried. I thought I had an extra, but I tried it out and it was for another car, my parents' Accord. So, shit.

Other times I have misplaced my keys:

-In the desert at White Sands National Monument. I found them on a hill where I attempted a sand-angel.
-In the trash in San Antonio KOA. I accidentally put them with a head of lettuce I was disposing.

You have to understand that this is pretty good for me. I lose things all the time, and I'm in the habit of checking for keys, wallet, phone each time I change locations. But still it's not enough. Well. I do okay. The key to life is just knowing your own limitations. One of mine is this: sometimes I put my keys in my bra for safekeeping and then completely forget about it.

I tried to cook the cactus at the painted rocks. But the wind was so strong that when I poured the gasoline into the cooker, the gasoline flew all over the cactus. Lucky that it didn't spill onto me, I guess. But it ruined my cactus!

There was a bathroom nearby but I tried to rough it behind a rock. I really wanted to. But the only place that provided enough cover from the two other RVs was located adjacent to a hole in the ground that looked like it might house a brown recluse spider. No roughing it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm lazy

I have a lot to cover, I know, but the past few days I've settled into a sluggishness. It's not that I want to go home, really. But I do have the feeling that I'd prefer to sit on the internet for more than an hour at a time, in some place other than a public library.


I'd like to sit in a bathtub all day and not be charged an extra night.


I'd like if I had a vehicle that could handle the piles and piles of shit I have. Papers, plastic bags, receipts, wrappers, ughh, clothes, ugh.

I promise in the future I will update on the who-what-where. Probably in Houston, where hopefully Rebecca will let me use her computer for more than an hour. Until then here are some bullets.

-Every time I pass a group of black cows, I think they are bears. Every time.

-I've gotten suddenly and seriously addicted to HBO's "In Treatment"

- Injuries
+ the back of my neck is sunburned, rendering me a redneck
+ my left ankle hurts from climbing through the steep, shifting sand dunes of White Sands
+ I have a cut on my left pinky from cutting a mango in a hotel room.
+ about 10% of my left thumbnail is missing from an incident where I tried to remove my key from an inpenetrable keyring

- Towns that I could have skipped and been just fine
+ Carlsbad, NM
+ El Centro, CA
+ Kerrsville, TX

- Something has leaked in my shower kit and I don't know what it is.

- Ross Perot or someone just like him showed me to my campsite at KOA and then invited me to Bible Study, so if I remember anything, I HAVE to remember to avoid being at the campsite at 7, because I think I promised him I'd attend.

- Do tourists think that by purchasing a cowboy hat, they blend in and become locals?

- British people speaking Spanish, unnatural and ticklish

- I considered but ultimately skipped returning to Santa Fe for a green chile cheeseburger at the Bobcat Bite. Sadness.

- The digital camera suffered an injury. I don't know what went wrong. Now I'm using one-time use cameras purchased two for the price of one from CVS, a deal I can only get using my CVS card.

- I ate two banana splits in 24 hours in southern New Mexico

- The stomach of the woman sitting next to me in the library just made a noise that sounded just like the zipper on my sleeping bag.

- Car is doing fine.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Days are a mix

The man at the Honda dealership directed me to a body shop where they could better look at my car. He even printed out directions, so, thank you, man with your Honda button down tucked into your khakis.

The directions led me to a main drag in San Diego, not downtown, but where lots of things were happening. The body shop had four or five broken down cars in the parking lot, but it looked fine. By broken down, I mean totally dismantled. The man was super friendly. I did my best to articulate what felt wrong in my car. We took it for a test drive. I sat on top of piles of maps and discarded In-n-out straw wrappers.

The drive was enjoyable and I was surprised that I didn't feel as shy as I usually do. He said the car was fine, and what I was probably feeling was a change in the shape of the car. Specifically, the bumper is a little lower and pushed out on the sides, by like 1/2 inch. Also there is a small gap where the hood meets the car, but he assured me the hood would not fly up. He looked at the engine, looked at the tires, and declared it all right. He charged me nothing, said I looked like a smart girl, and shook my hand the way I imagine men shake hands.

I drove with a renewed sense of purpose. I visited Balboa park, which is a gigantic urban park, housing musuems, sculpture gardens, exhibits, the San Diego Zoo, fields, trees, gardens, restaurants, and thousands of school children wearing matching shirts. One group of children had tags around their necks, like, furniture tags on cotton string. Love it.

Parking is free, the trolley around the park is free, and so is the botanical garden that I had read about. It supposedly had an amazing orchid exhibit. But it was closed on Thursdays, so I had to settle for a picture of the exterior.


Here's a sign to ponder. "Don't Abandon/Dump Any Animals in the Pond." What is the slash there for? Is it possible to dump but NOT abandon an animal in the pond? Like, if I took my pet fish to Balboa Park and dumped him in with the intention of picking him up later? Someone wrote this sign. Someone thought about what to write.


I did visit the museum of photographic arts, which was empty and great. I do love good photos, especially since I can't take them. Here is one, and I hope posting it isn't illegal. It's called "Sea of Hats"

When I visited the rose garden, I found it difficult to get "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" out of my head. Then I went to the desert garden and had to wrestle out the mutated version I invented: "I Never Promised You a Succulent Garden." Desert plants are creepy, and I took some photos, as well as a brief video.


My brief video tour of the succulent garden.

The rose garden was lovely, as expected, and some of the names are better than the flowers.


And here is a brown recluse spider, one of the thousands I saw on my journey.

The free trolley featured a wonderful, lively, androgynous driver named Kathy. She told us all about the history of the park. I got in my car and drove east, eastbound and down, homeward, through the mountains. The views were absurd.


Here is a woman walking a sheep. Hello!

I took a detour to Julian, CA, a weird old westerny town that is famed for its apples. A recommended bakery served a crazy delicious slice of apple cherry crumb pie.

The main drag through Julian. And a specialty store!

Cats, cats, cats and more? What possibly more could you offer? OR NEED?

The detour to Julian went on a winding road upwards, and though I felt comfortable with my car, I did not feel comfortable speeding on turns posted as 15 mph. A black pickup full of Mexican teenagers tailed me the entire way down the mountain. I talked to them as I drove. "Boys, I am not speeding here. I am going to fly off the road. I know it's possible. You'll just have to hold on. I know you want to add a few inches to your manhoods. You'll have to find another way." They didn't and instead passed me, on a double yellow, on a tight curve around a mountain, going at least 50 mph. I had some brief high horse fantasies involving coming across their crashed pickup and dialing 911. Yes, I am standing here at the crash site, no one looks seriously injured, though I can confirm that they are not smart people, even for teenagers, and you may need to slap their parents in the face."

One of the mountain roads to Julian, up so high. The woman who gave me pie assured me that the town was not on fire. It was just a cloud.


Happy chug a lug, and then right at the exit for Jacumba, CA, my muffler fell off, solid gold.

A gas station was less than 500 feet away. I stood there thinking about what to do. Parked across the street was a tow truck, and the driver just sat there. I walked up to him and said, "Hi, my muffler just fell off. I was going to call AAA." He said, "I have a call I gotta go to. Here's my business card. Call AAA and give them this number." The card was black around the edges with car oil. Okay, so, let me get this straight? You have a call to make and the reason you're sitting at a gas station is?

I called AAA and the nicest girl I have ever spoken to got me a tow truck, the very same company. I hoped whoever they dispatched would not be sitting idly somewhere, killing time. The tow truck came quickly and the man let me push the lever, the one that pulls my car up onto the ramp, while he held my muffler up into place.


We had an awkward ride, 45 miles to El Centro. We listened to pop music, so let me be the one to tell you the oddness of riding with a man who does not know where Baltimore is while lisitening to the Fray and Beyonce.

He took me to an Econo Lodge where the parking lot was full of pickup trucks equipped to carry sheets of glass, you know how they look. The man at the register was unnecessarily creepy--like I could tell he was amping it up. Why do old men do that? I even wore my hoodie and stuck my neck out like a raptor, so I would be less attractive (damn my good looks). It was nighttime, so I washed my filthy feet and went to bed.
When I was leaving LA I realized the reason everyone drives so recklessly insane is because 1) the road system is confusing and changes are sudden and 2) everyone else drives so recklessly insane. It's no big thing to pull an illegal move that in another town might get you jail time, or at least a ticket. So when my exit was suddenly three lanes over I understood that it would not work to sit there with my turn signal on-- "hi there will someone please be kind enough to let me in?" I cut in front of a pickup and swerved onto the exit ramp at the last minute, a triumph.

I stopped at a farmers' market and bought 3 fuji apples (to replace those taken by the fuzz), a bag of snap peas for $1, and two cactus pads, de-prickled. The woman told me to grill them and eat them with cheese and cilantro. Yes! I love any combination of cheese and cilantro, even if they involve a cactus.

I stopped and got In-n-Out again, because I was afraid it would be my last time. Always so crowded there.

Then, my belly full of animal-style burger, I went to the beach. There are many beaches in California and so they aren't crowded. I walked out and fell asleep on the sand. I took a picture, probably, and that will go here.


I took the Pacific Coast Highway down to San Diego.


The car felt funny, still, especially at high speeds. I drove through Laguna Beach and remembered the times in 2005-2006 when my roommates and I watched it, against our wills. We could not stop. For those who don't know what it is, Laguna Beach was a fakeish reality show about rich high schoolers living in paradise, sitting on their daddies' back patios talking about boys. They always started conversations like, "So now that it's the morning after the beach party and we just saw LC at the surfing boutique, what do you think about how she was flirting all over with Jason?" This is exposition through dialogue, and it is one of those most awkward techniques in modern storytelling. Later when they graduated some of them moved to Beverly Hills and MTV aired their trials and tribulations as "The Hills" and I showed this new show to Wylie who thought it was an ironic statement on society.


Anyway, it's nice in southern California, so nice you don't have to worry about weather or other external factors so you are free all day to obsess about your toenails.

By the way, I usually add photos after I write these entries so if you prefer to look at photos, or you are illiterate, check back later.

I enjoyed the night I spent in San Diego. Downtown has tall buildings, looks like New York, but emptier, and not everyone hates you. The Hostel where I stayed was awesome, three floors, huge lounge areas. I met a girl from the British Isles who was traveling alone through the US and then going to Peru. We talked while I looked on the internet for a nearby Honda dealership. It was time to have the car looked at.