Sunday, April 30, 2006

Not so welcome

At "A’Roma’s" coffee shop today, a young woman entered the room where I was, sat down and set up her laptop computer. Her perfume was familiar. “Is that DK, that fragrance?” “No, it’s Burberry,” she laughed. Simply intoxicating!

Was really feeling forlorn today, being sucked down by depression, hopelessness. Health fading. Anything serious will send me over the edge, I think. I don’t want to be here, playing this game, stuck in this reality.

Had slept late again, then driven out to the Kenwood post office to collect my mail. No distribution check.

Not only that, my bank charged an $8 maintenance fee this month, since my balance dropped below their threshold for free banking! Paraphrasing the bible, “from those who have not, it shall be taken, even that which they have.” (I thought the Bible condemned usury, yet our “Christian” society is built upon the practice.)

Then, leaving “A’Roma’s” I found a friggin’ $25 parking ticket on my motorcycle! (I had parked it alongside the old train depot building.) "Unbelievable. Welcome home!"

Worked on the blog from 11:30 to 7:00, then drove down to “Oliver’s Market". Tried to put on a good face for Jess, though my sadness must have shown through.

Bought a sandwich and ate it sitting at her counter. Watched as she worked so conscientiously. She’s such a sweet soul!

Back at the apartment, worked several more hours. To bed at 2:00 a.m.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Where are we going?

The scourge of modern society driving me crazy this morning: lawnmowers, leaf blowers, edgers, weed whips and garbage trucks contributing to the mayhem. Ah, Suburbia!

This is unacceptable. To think this is what we now consider “normal”. I can’t stay here for long.

Lay in bed. Nothing to get up to. Leg in pain from something. What happens when one of these days I can’t get out of bed? A flurry of troubling thoughts.

Over to the Kenwood post office at 11:00, looking for a distribution check from my investments. Counting the miles, the gallons, the dollars. 10 miles over. $1.50 to $2.00. No mail. I asked the postal clerk if they’ve put all the mail out yet.

“No.”

“When do you expect it to be available.”

“2:00”

(“Crap.”)

You know you’ve arrived when "Sotheby’s International Realty” is handling your property sale. I first saw the signs in the Carmel area. Now I’m seeing them around the Bennett and Sonoma Valleys of Sonoma County.

Hiking through Annadel park today, I encountered a rattlesnake on “Rough Go" trail. It seems early in the season!

Spent about eight hours at “A’Roma Roasters” working on journal notes.

Learned that former Mondavi co-worker Stephen Krimont is finally going to Portugal (and Italy) on business! He’ll be visiting the cork forests and cork processing plants in Portugal, then vacationing with his wife in Italy. I have been there numerous times, and had hoped to enable all my staff to experience the conduct of business with foreign suppliers. Sadly, I wasn’t able to make that happen.

I’m gradually uncovering my old (pre-trip) habits. At 9:00 p.m., I knew there was something I would usually listen to. Today I remembered: “BBC”!

On a Commonwealth Club (of San Francisco) broadcast, I listened to a talk by Dr. Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve) in which he discussed his latest book, “In our hands”. A press release states:

“Charles Murray offers a plan that would eliminate all income transfer programs at the federal, state, and local levels—including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, and corporate subsidies—and would substitute an annual cash grant of $10,000 for life, beginning at age twenty-one. Murray argues that “the Plan” would end poverty, allow all Americans access to health care, and empower people to control their own lives. Murray’s book describes the financial feasibility of his ideas and their effect on retirement, health care, poverty, marriage and family, work, neighborhoods, and the larger civil society.”

It’s a fascinating premise, and something I need to study more carefully.

My apartment is not much larger than the tree houses in a couple of the oaks outside! I’m in the middle of what I hate: massive homes, 3-car garages, SUVs, the gas-powered landscaping equipment, water-sucking New England-style lawns and gardens in the midst of arid California chaparral. Are we idiots, bent on planetary destruction? Do I need to answer that?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gasoline

The rent on my storage unit is twice the price I thought I was paying! $97 per month. Called recently to see how long I have rented the unit: until June 11th, though the contract says May 11th. The urgency to find a home increases!

Heard an analysis of gasoline costs today:

$1.60 to 1.70 per gallon is the cost of crude. (Oil is still being produced at about $7 a barrel, but is now selling for ten times that!)

Refining costs $0.50 to 0.70 per gallon.

Taxes are $0.45 per gallon.

And retailer mark-up is about $0.15 per gallon (of which credit card companies take 0.07 to 0.10 per gallon.)

It’s good to now be using less than a gallon of gas a day, but even that’s too much!

Americans need to make a sacrifice, but we are not going to do it voluntarily, and no one is going to tell us what we need to hear.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Moving day

Slept late again, 9:00 a.m. (after being awake until after 3:00.)

Almost had to fight off housekeeping, perhaps since I offered a $5 tip the other day for "refreshing" the room.

Packed up before 11:00. Good riddance to the depressing Extended Stay America Hotel. What a dismal place!

Went to Anchor Storage to load as much as I could on the bike. What a way to move! I intend to rent a pick-up, once I'm ready to move in fully.

Over to my new apartment. And things begin to sink in. “This is where I've chosen to stay?” The thought of moving into yet another person's home is almost unbearable. 55 years old and still a renter. “This is insane.”

The negatives, and the realities pop up, one-by-one. The asphalt surrounding the apartment will create an oven-like effect. I don't have a vacuum cleaner. (What happened to it? Oh, I think I left it behind on Sonoma Mountain last year, unable to carry it away on my fully-loaded bike.) I don't want to buy another. I don't want to buy anything (except maybe a home.)

I stood, nearly paralyzed, for a long time. Just soaking in the fact that here I am, and I don't really want to be here. I seem to be in a downward spiral.

Needed to move. Motion often dispels negative states. Decided to go over to Kenwood to check my mail, then have some lunch at Cafe Citti. I haven't been there in a long time.

With no income, little drives like this will become less prudent. With gas over $3.00 per gallon, my lifestyle must certainly change. The middle class will get squeezed out. The wealthy will be little-impacted. Republican Arlen Specter has actually proposed a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies! That's heresy! “Bravo!”

At "Citti", indulged in a wonderful soup and their "Lucca's Garlicky Caesar Salad", but it was hard to enjoy, when the bill (with some biscotti) came to over $27, including tax and tip!

On to A'Roma's Roasters to spend some time on the computer. Forced to bail out when my battery drained.

Stress building, symptoms of angina surfacing, eating becoming more of an obsession, and distraction.

Another run to storage, then over to the apartment. The activity kept my mind occupied. I know once I sleep here a few days, things will look different.

On NPR’s “Fresh Air”, listened to an interview with Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a quadriplegic and the author of Letters to Sam. A very inspiring and humbling story. In contrast, my difficulties are minor.

Sorted through receipts from the trip. Finances are now becoming a concern. To my shock, I’ve spent $10k in just the past couple months!

“Democracy Now!”, which is broadcast on a local radio station at midnight included a great story on the oil companies’ agenda in Iraq.

Just for fun, re-read the shareholders' information on the Mondavi-Constellation merger (which coincidentally led to my joining the ranks of unemployed.) If people really understood how much senior management is handed in their employment packages, there would be revolution. It's all there in black and white, for those who take the time to read.

The current and generally-accepted inequities of corporate structures assure the preservation of a privileged ruling class.

Falling back into society

Slept until nearly 11:00! My new abode is too quiet and comfortable! But it was cold overnight. I had left a window open.

Today, it's warm. I’m concerned just how hot this apartment will become, given its asphalt surroundings. I probably won’t be able to bring my wine here, which complicates things. I may have to continue to pay storage fees, just for the wine.

Visited Jess at “Oliver’s” for a smoothie. She asked if I wanted to attend a YWCA auction Friday. I was torn. I want to support her and the event, but I can’t afford to buy anything, and I really don’t have anything to wear! I reluctantly declined.

Spent some time at the storage unit, digging out more stuff: the CD player, my modest CD collection, cleaning supplies and more clothes.

Stopped at the near-by “In-N-Out Burger”. At just over $5 for a meal, it’s not a bad deal (though vegetarians may shudder.).

Need to get back on track and moving. I need that “can do” attitude, that sense of a greater plan, to guide me. I need to get off this the roller coaster I’ve been riding. But I have work to finish the blog. Before I can move on, this must be put to rest.

And then there’s Jessica’s graduation celebration to plan.

Henry came over to see how I was doing. Together, we looked around his garden.

On-line at “A’Roma’s” later, I tried to look up “Spaghetti Benders” (that great restaurant in Nova Scotia). I wanted to add to the blog a photo of the three sisters. Found very little mention of the restaurant, which was surprising. And no pictures.

A trip into Bennett Valley "Safeway” supermarket was enough to make me cringe. Finding items to buy was a struggle, not for lack of choice, but for the story that accompanies so much of this stuff. The corporate mergers and acquisitions, the marketing deceptions, the unhealthy and unnatural ingredients, etc., etc.

The newly-remodeled store attempts to have an up-scale appeal (apparently in recognition of the changing Sonoma County demographics.) But we pay dearly for the remodel. Looking at prices around the store, I’m appalled at the escalation. (Though “Club Members” receive special discounts.) Produce is elevated on crate-like structures to almost chest level. An appearance of abundance, though there may actually be less inventory on display now.

In the bread section, “non-industrial” bakeries are virtually gone, their look appropriated by marketers at corporate giant “Sara Lee”. Artisan-style breads “Santa Cruz” and “San Luis” are in fact “Sara Lee” breads. And the concepts used by “Safeway” are co-opted from independents, then cheapened. But the prices don’t reflect this cheapening. They charge the price one would expect for the superior product. Other “upscale” features include a lunch bar, soup bar and gourmet cheese selection.

And the reconfigured check-out lines are outrageous. It is now impossible to look over the displays. You pass through a marketing canyon, absolutely barraged with sales pitches. Forget visiting with your neighbor, or the market staff.

Heard a new term today: “recontexturalize”…twice. Bruce Springsteen used it, referring to recording old folk songs and a “Slate.com” commentator used it in talking about a “Dunkin’ Donuts” make-over.

To address skyrocketing gas prices, President Bush now proposes easing environmental laws, calling for cleaner-burning fuels, suspending replenishment of the strategic oil supply and easing oil company taxes. In my humble opinion, the guy is truly insane.

An “NPR” headline story today stated the number of Americans who are uninsured is increasing dramatically. Another example why my blog is named as it is. I’m in the same boat as the average American, and, increasingly, the average human.

Now that I have my radio back, I’m listening to “NPR” and “Democracy Now!” regularly. The latter comes on at midnight on the local Santa Rosa station. (But, since I don’t have a TV, I’m missing out on “Fox’s” Bill O’Reilly!)

If you have access to internet, and have a question, there’s almost no reason not to have an answer (though not necessarily the correct answer!) There is a new level of accountability. A very positive benefit from the net.

There’s open-access wireless somewhere in the area of my apartment. Occasionally, my computer will connect and download a bunch of e-mails. But the connection is brief, and presently I’m not able to work on-line.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I'm in!

Charlene Morita called before noon to say she had talked with the folks at Perdue and told them they had spoken with me. I should be getting a call.

When I still had not heard anything by 3:00, I finally called Rosie.

"This is Tim Campion."

"Can you hold please?"

She left me on hold for several minutes. When she came back on the line, I said

"I'm still here...I'm calling about the procedure for moving into that apartment at 4600A Bennett Valley."

"What procedure?"

"What do I need to do now?"

"You need to bring a cashier's check for the first month's rent and security deposit."

"Were you going to tell me?"

"I left a message."

"There was no message on my phone."

"That's not my problem. I've done what I'm supposed to do. Just like I've done all along."

"Okay. Can you tell me the amount the check needs to be?"

She told me the amount, then added "if you're going to sign a lease today, you need to be here before 4:00."

"I thought you were open until 5:00?"

"I only do leases until 4:00."

"Okay. Thanks.

Then I had to call her back.

"Who should the cashier's check be made out to?"

If indeed Rosie had done everything she could, then circumstances were conspriring to create a little comedy of errors.

I went to the bank to get the check, and with half an hour to spare, headed over to her office. I half-expected her to intentionally be unavailable so that I could not conclude the contract today.

When I arrived, there was a "Post-It" note stuck to the door. "We will return in 5 minutes at 3:40".

I waited. After a while, I could hear someone inside and knocked. Rosie unlocked the door and stuck her head out. "Where is the note I left?"

("You mean the one I took down?") I shrugged as if not knowing what she was talking about.

Something came over me and I immediately apologized for doubting her when she said that she was unable to reach the owners last week. She didn't say a word, and did her best to ignore me while I sat there.

Taking calls while working on my lease, it was clear there were other personalities at work. She can be helpful when she wants. She told one client she had tried "all day" on Friday to reach her. To another, she said "I called the tenant numerous times and she hasn't called back." ("How does it feel, Rosie?")

Finally, the contract was finished and she stood before me reviewing the details, as she is no doubt required to do. I then signed, and we were finished.

On my way out, I said "take care of yourself," trying to leave things better than we started.

Back at the hotel, I called Charlene to report that everything was completed, and I'd be moving in by tomorrow. "Welcome!" she said.

Henry Morita called right back, saying he has an SUV and was available to help me, but I declined. I just didn't feel comfortable at this point. Instead, I would foolishly attempt to use the motorcycle for hauling my possessions in little bites.

Made a run to the storage unit and loaded up. (This just won't work for the wine cabinet, TV, file cabinet and ironing board!)

Stayed at the hotel one last night, in theory taking advantage of the internet connection to get some work done. But I didn't get any work done.

Feeling pretty lost and hopeless, but being negative is so damn enjoyable!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

E.D.

News headlines ask “What if our dependence on oil becomes an international crisis?” Are we dense or what? When was it NOT an international crisis?

Listened to an interview with Dr. Robert D. Manning, author of Credit Card Nation. He claims Americans’ debt level is unprecedented. Last year saw “negative savings growth” for first time since The Depression.

Out to Annadel Park for a hike. Overcast, cool and breezy. One month from now it will likely be very hot, but that's a distant concept right now.

A vigorous 4- or 5-mile walk through this city's little gem. Lake Ilsanjo is full.

Driving through Downtown Santa Rosa, I am again struck by the perpetually-anemic business district. Could it be a sign of a disappearing middle class? The “big box” stores thrive, catering to the lower economic class. The wealthy shop in Marin County and San Francisco.

It would be very easy to fall right back into all the old routines, and, indeed part of me desperately wishes to do just that. But that's impossible. Too much has changed. And that's probably a good thing.

If I see one more erectile dysfunction (E.D.) commercial on TV, I'll scream.

The pharmaceutical industry goes to great expense to sew doubts and capitalize on our insecurities in order to sell their products. They have a vested interest in creating a nation of hypochondriacs. (And evidence points to their success.)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

CNN: Certainly Nothing New

Watched “CNN”, the only news I have here at the motel. The stories are repeated over and over, with the same commercials interspersed. The whole thing seems to be on auto-pilot. No one at the wheel.

Feel I’m going insane here!

“CNN” is airing a sensational story: "We Were Warned" (before the 9-11 terrorist attacks.) It’s now okay for them to roll out the story, since it has already been widely reported. Such is the courage of CNN (which acted as one of the most vocal war boosters during the run-up to the Iraq invasion.)

For anyone who has looked for answers beyond the corporate-run media (with it's widely-diversified corporate "interests" and ties to political leadership), this is hardly a revelation.

But, at least the message is going out. The average, oblivious American will find it “news”.

I've been commenting aloud how, after all my travels, Sonoma County is one of the most beautiful places I've seen. Today I'm doubting my own words, and sensing there is nothing for me here (except, of course, my daughter.)

I got out to visit Jess at work today. She's feeling better. At "Oliver's Market" she's getting $8 an hour. That means, after all taxes and deductions, she's netting just over $4. That's crazy. $32 for a full day's work? For Sonoma County, where the median home price is somewhere around $560k, it’s an outrageous wage. Not that one would expect to buy a home while working a deli counter, but home prices are just one reflection of the local cost of living. Rental costs, food and fuel are equally inflated in this market.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Boiling blood and global warming

There's a mixture of anger and depression, as I feel my hands tied over this apartment situation. The hotel is getting very old, but I don't want to go looking for another. I keep thinking it's just another day, but how long can they string me out?

The smoke alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., launching me to my feet. This is not one of those annoying home units. It's like a fire engine in your bedroom. I pulled the thing off the ceiling and yanked the electrical connector. Then I heard others going off around the motel, and people talking.

Someone had apparently set off the motel's fire alarm system. As I tried to rest again, my ears were ringing. I hope the damn thing did no permanent damage.

Renewed for yet another day. This time I asked they service my room. It hasn't been done since I arrived about 10 days (and $600) ago.

Over to look at the apartment again. The owners are obviously away. It's anyone's guess when they might return, but I find it hard to believe they wouldn't leave rental instructions. That's very irresponsible of someone.

George Bush is visiting Napa Valley today and tomorrow. I may go over and heckle. He should not be able to go anywhere without hearing from the many of us who disapprove of his cavalier Administration making the World more dangerous for our nation. Eisenhower's parting caution about the rise of the military-industrial complex has become a reality on a scale that even he could never have imagined.

After 4:00 p.m., with the weekend approaching and no further word from Rosie at Paul Perdue, I drove over to see what I should do. I walked in and asked Rosie "what's new?"

"I still haven't heard from anyone."

"Well it's irresponsible to have a house on the market and no way of contacting the people."

She said she hasn't been irresponsible, and has done everything she could. "I've left messages for both and...the owner hasn't called back." (She stopped herself short of saying Paul hadn't called back.)

"I've spent $300 waiting around for an answer."

"You didn't have to wait."

"Yes I did. I want the apartment. You didn't talk with Paul?"

"About your request to talk to him?"

"Yes."

"You can talk to him next week."

"Did he say that? Or did you say that?"

Then she said she really didn't want to talk to me anymore, and that she would ask me to leave.

"Will you leave or do I have to call the police?"

"Am I threatening?"

"Yes."

"I will leave, but here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to report this to the Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce."

"Oh, I'm scared..." she said sarcastically.

"It's your job..." I said, and walked out.

This bullshit just makes me want to leave this place. It's true that I wasn't treated this way anywhere I traveled. Even the police who asked for pay-offs showed more respect and consideration.

At first I just started compiling notes to support a claim with "Better Business Bureau". Then I started crafting a letter to the Moritas (the apartment owners), as at this point I had serious doubts that Rosie would even pass on my application.

Went to "FedEx Kinkos" (geez!) in Santa Rosa to print out the letter. No longer at the former "Kinko's" location, I had to ask a neighbor where they had moved. He pointed just down the street, next to "Peet's Coffee". They were now in the old "Copperfield's" location. ("Copperfield's" was the downtown bookstore "Barnes and Noble" put out of business by going in right across the street.)

Drove over to Moritas, to leave the letter attached to their door, but arriving, saw lights on in the house.

Rang the bell, reluctant to disturb them, as they obviously had just returned from traveling. Mr. Morita answered and I explained my intention to leave this letter for them. He very graciously invited me in so I could explain the situation. He had some concerns about the property management company in the past.

Mrs. Morita joined us in the living room and I shared the week's events and learned that, indeed, they had been in Arizona, out of touch, and probably had numerous voicemail messages awaiting them. And, yes, they had insisted that Perdue contact them before renting the unit. So, it seems I owe Rosie something of an apology, though she could well have done a better job of explaining the situation.

As it turns out, Mr. Morita rides a Honda Gold Wing, and before I left, he proudly showed me his "baby", carefully garaged and on a trickle-charger, awaiting the riding season.

***

Motorcyclists are necessarily among the most attentive drivers, I think. Their bodies depend on a more heightened awareness of their surroundings. They're less likely to be driving distracted by cell phones, stereos, food and drink, newspapers, books, maps, children, DVDs, animals, etc.

In fact, as I ride in traffic, I'm shocked how distracted drivers have become. Maybe it's a skill they've developed, to multi-task successfully, but from a motorcyclist's perspective, it's frightening.

***

Sensors for many trafffic lights around Santa Rosa fail to be triggered by the weight of my motorcycle (and it's a relatively heavy bike.) This often leaves me with a decision: "run" the light (when it's safe, of course) or wait until a car comes along that will trigger the light. I feel discriminated against!

***

With gas right at $3.00 per gallon, I'm probably making the same compromises other drivers are making: using a lower octane fuel, reducing speeds (and putting an end to "jack-rabbit" starts), trying to consolidate errands, generally driving less. "Going for a drive" is just not acceptable now.

Of course, market economics generally work: as prices increase, demand falls, causing prices to eventually fall, always in search of equilibrium. Outside influences (government intervention, corporate intervention, natural disasters, etc.) can skew the marketplace but it will inevitably resist these forces. Greedy oil companies too slow to react to lowering demand can drive innovations that are not in their best interest, such as alternative fuel sources, mass transit, consolidation of cities (reversal of sprawl), walking and bicycling, telecommuting, etc.

Many of us consider a high gas price a positive behavioral influence. Oil companies may be becoming obscenely wealthy, but it's unsustainable. People will find a way to live without their product. They will innovate. It doesn't necessarily require technology either. It might be a lack of technology that solves their dilemma.

And when "CNN" is filling it's programming with shows on global warming, you have to be encouraged that the innovating has begun, and oil companies are becoming very uncomfortable.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Party house

Actually got a message from "Rosie" this morning: "there's nothing I can do. I wish there was, but there isn't."

Jessica picked me up at the motel at 11:30. We were going "house hunting" today. We need a venue for her graduation party. Since we have nothing bigger than an apartment here in Santa Rosa, we wanted to look at rentals in Dillon Beach.

Perfect weather.

We had a half dozen prospects to view at Dillon. At each house, capacity was limited from 8 to 10 guests, a fairly modest gathering indeed. None of the houses were very exciting. They all seemed to be suffering from neglect. It was a bit discouraging, especially considering the price tag for a three-day weekend: all over $1,000.

We stopped at the rental office in Tomales and learned that gatherings were strictly-limited in Dillon Beach. If a house was "rated" for 10 guests, no more than that can be present, even for a brief time. That convinced us to consider other options. Dillon Beach would not work.

Jessica suggested we look at Bodega Bay. It's more accessible and well-known.

We found the “Vacations Rental USA” sales office along Highway 1 and went in to see what was available in Bodega Bay. Well-organized, the agent provided information about several homes and sent us off on a self-guided tour.

Later, as we sat in their office viewing "virtual tours" of the houses on computer, I overheard an agent discussing a "3-for-2" deal with another customer. It didn’t hurt to ask. They gave us the same deal: "three nights for the price of two".

The “Gull House” looked good. We asked if we could look at the inside and see what amenities were provided. The agent gave us a key. We didn’t have much time, as this weekend's renters were due to arrive shortly.

It looked pretty ideal. A short walk to the beach along a path just beyond the back deck. “We’ll take it!”

Stopped for a hot dog at a nearby shop. In the bathroom, this from Sonoma County Health Sevices:

EMPLOYEES MUST WASH THEIR HANDS

BEFORE

Work or putting on gloves

AFTER

Using restroom
Sneezing or coughing
Handling raw food
Smoking, eating or drinking
Touching face or hair
Mopping floor
Taking out garbage
Handling money
Any chance of contamination

Having traveled where I've been, I've seen enough disgusting food service conditions, so instilling these standards is refreshing.

In our society, however, it seems the sign, which formerly just required the employee to wash their hands before returning to work, will inevitably grow to a wall-sized format.

Out to "Safeway", Bennett Valley. Redesigned á la "Pavillions" (in southern California).

Surveyed the wine selection. “Was the wine selection reduced?” I asked a clerk stocking the shelves.

“No. It was increased! The sodas and waters were reduced.”

Many premium wines with screwcaps - at least 20 products on their shelves. (Sorry, Russ!) But I believe this is big step forward.

Even plastic wine bottles (which we were investigating at Mondavi) are now on the shelf: “Virgin Vines” wine is marketed in plastic 187ml bottles.

I also noticed the candy aisle was radically condensed, with the most candy now marketed at the check-out lines, the display at each aisle identical to the next (obviously, it’s now mapped out, with only certain brands making the cut.)

And another new feature: an entire display of assorted "pre-paid gift cards". A plastic card for any occasion! This is something I had not seen before my trip south.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My mountain

When there was still no answer to my calls, I went over to see the defiant Rosie.

"I haven't called because I still haven't heard anything," she said as soon as I stepped through the door.

I took a seat. "What am I supposed to do?"

"I have 3 to 5 days, and I told you that!"

(My blood was boiling. "You also told me on Monday that you had what you needed!")

I tried to convey my need to get out of a motel and my annoyance at this situation. But it was useless to get upset. She was indifferent.

I told Rosie that I would like to speak to both the homeowner and to Paul.

"If they're concerned I won't be a reliable renter because I might be in the market for a home, I want to assure them..."

She said she'd pass on the message.

***

Depression is beginning to have an effect: I've fallen into a pattern of sleeping late, not wishing to face the day.

I've lost that feeling of inevitability, of being guided by a script. My journey taught me, among other things, to believe in myself (that all-too-common admonition). That leads to action and "inevitability". That confidence seems to be eroding by the day.

On the internet, I viewed Dillon Beach homes for rent. Speaking with an agent, I learned only a few are still available for Memorial Day Weekend. Prices are exorbitant, in the $1,000-2,000 range for a 3-day weekend!

Over to "Oliver's" to get some groceries and visit with Jess. She was fighting an illness since Sunday, but still working. I ordered a smoothie and sat at her counter, visiting.

I listened to seniors talking about the 10% discounts they receive here on Wednesdays. ("Ah! Another form of 'welfare' so prevalent in our society, yet it's regarded as a birthright. When we 'boomers' retire, these discounts will have quite an impact on the prices others have to pay!")

***

Returned to Sugarloaf Ridge for a hike. Today was a perfect day: sunny, blue and cool. A brisk wind out of the west.

Went up to Bald Mountain. Despite the recent lack of exercise, the hike was not particularly taxing (a negatively charged word these days!), which suggests I may be carrying a little less weight than a year ago.

It was a much-needed "time out" and infusion of natural impressions. The mind is invigorated by this energy, and a little physical exertion straightens out a body and gets it functioning in a more efficient way. The various parts interfere less with one another.

"What to do next?"

The thoughts rolled along:

- Leave and continue traveling around the World
- Get a van and move around the U.S. (Drew's suggestion)
- Travel "for hire"! (have readers help choose the next destination)
- Carry "gifts" and messages from one place to the next, connecting people
- Travel for particular causes ("Campion's Champions"!)

Relaxed atop Bald Mountain. "I should have brought my camera! It’s so perfect out here!"

I looked over Sonoma County and thought about the growth here. It is truly a beautiful land, but development and exploitation have been virtually unbridled for thirty years now.

There are too many seriously-congested areas and "they" just keep building. In Sonoma County, there's no room for developers and speculators any more. Their interests simply do not serve the public interest.

The "quality of life" diminishes for all. Developers build outrageously large homes now ("supersizing" just as the fast food industry has done), giving a customer what they want, while giving them more than they really want. There is no choice. (And we consumers always find a way to justify the purchase. "I guess we can use that for a game room...")

You simply cannot buy a new, small home. "There's no demand," they would have us believe. (What's the sense in building a small home when forcing consumers to over-extend a bit for a larger home on the same lot will generate greater profit?)

What ever happened to virtues such as humility and restraint (i.e. modest homes), and respect for the common good?

These hikes always stir up thoughts, some more hair-brained than others. (Pretty funny coming from a bald guy.)

Descending the trail, I looked off to a lone vineyard draping a nearby hill. That one little plot is still my dream.

It was a good, refreshing hike.

***

Coming out of the mountains, I stopped at the intersection of Highway 12 and Adobe Canyon and noticed many cars parked around the “Vineyards Inn”. I thought about stopping in to talk to the owners, and friends, Steve and Colleen about Dillon Beach rentals (they have a house there), but then turned toward Santa Rosa, uncomfortable about walking in after being away so long.

About a mile down the road, I turned around. “Discomfort is not going to be the decision-maker here.”

Went back, parked in the rear, then walked around to the front of the restaurant. The bar was crowded. I realized I had walked into some kind of special event. Colleen spotted me and said "hello". I asked what's going on. She said that (the bartender) Greg's mother had just passed away. They were having a gathering in her honor.

There were many familiar faces in the crowd, all a little older, yet full of life. Colleen and Steve welcomed me home, Colleen offering me a margarita. "You probably didn't have one of these on the road."

Steve, Colleen, Greg, Kathy and her husband Jim, Marlene and her husband, (later) Carol and Eddie, Christine (who I think started working here as a teenager), Jay Gamel and many others.

Talked with Kathy's husband, Jim Fletcher who does concrete work for the wine industry and rides motorcycles. He was happy to meet me after reading about me in the Kenwood Press. "You've got cajones!" he laughed.

Marlene's husband rides a Harley and is going to Sturgis this year. (Without Marlene!) He's been there many times, but never on a bike. (He lived in Montana, building grain elevators.)

I saw another familiar character as he was about to leave and called out to him. I hadn't seen Jeff McBride in over ten years. After years with “Kenwood Vineyards”, then “Dry Creek” (and teaching at SRJC), he's now Winemaker and General Manager at “Chateau St. Michelle’s Conn Creek” winery in Napa. He said he loves it and invited me to come visit.

What an unexpected and pleasant surprise to be among so many friends (though unfortunately marking such a sad event.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Too much coffee

In what is becoming a daily routine, at about 10:00 a.m. I called down to the front desk and said "I need to extend one more day..."

I was livid at what I viewed as Rosie’s disrespect and unprofessional behavior. There were no calls to update me on the apartment status, I was unable to get beyond her answering machine, and my messages went unreturned. Tension was building. The frustration at being “in the hands of incompetents” was driving me crazy.

Looked at another apartment being offered: in the new development southeast of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Now that it's finally sunny, construction activity in the neighborhood is at a fevered pitch. That won't do.

“I'm going to be forced, kicking and screaming, to make a decision.”

My travels had depleted my bank account to such an extent that now, while I’m waiting for some assets to be liquidated, I turned to my daughter for a loan. (Fortunately, she’s more responsible with her finances than “Dad”.)

Drew joined in the effort to find a rental house for Jessica's graduation, contacting his friend Dale Webster, to see if he has any Dillon Beach connections. Dale, who lives in nearby Valley Ford, holds the Guiness Book Record for most consecutive days surfing: at least three waves every day since September 2, 1975!

Resorted to my usual routine, hanging out at A'Roma's. Parking my motorcycle, a fellow came over and commented what a nice bike it is. He appeared to be homeless, like many who wander the streets in this area of town.

But he knew a lot about motorcycles. “I used to ride, before my life took a turn…” He called me “sir”, when he answered. “Yes, sir.” Strangely, he did not seem to be looking for a hand-out. Just waiting for his life to turn around again.

Talked with “Evan”, another A’Roma’s regular, about his 1964 Mini Cooper.

Coffee is a big part of my diet now. Too big!

Living in the motel, I’m still using up some of the foods leftover from my trip (a few, such as miso soup, that I started out with!) Miso, Thai noodles, honey, sugar, creamer.

Monday, April 17, 2006

"Property Management"

The Paul Perdue Property Management office opened at 10:00. I wanted to be the first to talk to them about the Bennett Valley apartment.

Unable to reach anyone, I left a message. This, in addition to one I had left over the weekend.

Over the next few hours, I continued trying to reach the office. Later, I saw the phone’s message light flashing. There had been a call-back around 11:30, but the caller had hung up. Finally, after about twenty attempts, I spoke with a human. She said someone at the hotel switchboard had put her on hold. “I can’t afford to be on hold more than a few seconds,” she said.

Arranged to visit their office to discuss the apartment. When I got there, the office manager appeared to be reading a book. (Why had it been so hard to get through?)

"Rosie" said I could go look at the apartment: I left a deposit and she gave me a key, asking that I return it within an hour.

The “granny” unit looked great: newly-remodeled, high-quality materials and an attention to detail. Tucked away in a quiet hillside subdivision, it was tiny, but almost perfect.

Returned to Perdue and said “I want it.” Filled out the application and paid $30 for a credit check.

Rosie explained earlier they "have 3 to 5 days" to process the application. When I told her the “Extended Stay” was costing me over $50 a day, she said she would try to get the application processed faster.

I was able to reach her later in the day and she reported she had everything she needed, but had to talk to “Paul” (Perdue, her boss.)

Tax Day

I knew there was a reason to be home early. Taxes. It would not have been good to ask for an extension (as I thought I might do while continuing to travel in South America.) That would have subjected me to stiff penalties as I had no idea of my tax liabilities. It seems the buy-out of Mondavi and the separation process complicated my finances this past year.

Taxes in previous years were an exercise I could easily finish in less than an hour. Not so this year. For the first time, I was required to file a "Form 1040" versus the simpler "1040A" or "1040EZ" versions. So there, was much to read, many publications to review and interpret. (I stubbornly refuse to have a tax professional prepare my returns. But this year I think I'll go to one to have them check my work!)

Particularly amusing were the instructions for completing Schedule D:

Schedule D Tax Worksheet - Keep for Your Records

Complete this worksheet only if line 18 or line 19 of Schedule D is more than zero. Otherwise, complete the Qualified Dividends and Capital Gain Tax Worksheet on page 38 of the Instructions for Form 1040 to figure your tax.

Exception: Do not use the Qualified Dividends and Capital Gain Tax Worksheet or this worksheet to figure your tax if:

• Line 15 or line 16 of Schedule D is zero or less and you have no qualified dividends on Form 1040, line 9b, or
• Form 1040, line 43, is zero or less.

Instead, see the instructions for Form 1040, line 44.

1. Enter your taxable income from Form 1040, line 43
2. Enter your qualified dividends from Form 1040, line 9b
3. Enter the amount from Form 4952, line 4g
4. Enter the amount from Form 4952, line 4e*
5. Subtract line 4 from line 3. If zero or less, enter -0-
6. Subtract line 5 from line 2. If zero or less, enter -0-
7. Enter the smaller of line 15 or line 16 of Schedule D
8. Enter the smaller of line 3 or line 4
9. Subtract line 8 from line 7. If zero or less, enter -0-
10. Add lines 6 and 9
11. Add lines 18 and 19 of Schedule D
12. Enter the smaller of line 9 or line 11
13. Subtract line 12 from line 10
14. Subtract line 13 from line 1. If zero or less, enter -0-
15. Enter the smaller of: The amount on line 1 or
$29,700 if single or married filing separately;
$59,400 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er); or
$39,800 if head of household
16. Enter the smaller of line 14 or line 15
17. Subtract line 10 from line 1. If zero or less, enter -0-
18. Enter the larger of line 16 or line 17
If lines 15 and 16 are the same, skip lines 19 and 20 and go to line 21. Otherwise, go to line 19.
19. Subtract line 16 from line 15
20. Multiply line 19 by 5% (.05)
If lines 1 and 15 are the same, skip lines 21 through 33 and go to line 34. Otherwise, go to line 21.
21. Enter the smaller of line 1 or line 13
22. Enter the amount from line 19 (if line 19 is blank, enter -0-)
24. Multiply line 23 by 15% (.15)
If Schedule D, line 19, is zero or blank, skip lines 25 through 30 and go to line 31. Otherwise, go to line 25.
25. Enter the smaller of line 9 above or Schedule D, line 19
26. Add lines 10 and 18
27. Enter the amount from line 1 above
28. Subtract line 27 from line 26. If zero or less, enter -0-
29. Subtract line 28 from line 25. If zero or less, enter -0-
30. Multiply line 29 by 25% (.25)
If Schedule D, line 18, is zero or blank, skip lines 31 through 33 and go to line 34. Otherwise, go to line 31.
31. Add lines 18, 19, 23, and 29.
32. Subtract line 31 from line 1.
33. Multiply line 32 by 28% (.28)
34. Figure the tax on the amount on line 18. Use the Tax Table or Tax Computation Worksheet, whichever applies
35. Add lines 20, 24, 30, 33, and 34.
36. Figure the tax on the amount on line 1. Use the Tax Table or Tax Computation Worksheet, whichever applies
37. Tax on all taxable income (including capital gains and qualified dividends). Enter the smaller of line 35 or line 36. Also include this amount on Form 1040, line 44

*If applicable, enter instead the smaller amount you entered on the dotted line next to line 4e of Form 4952.

So simple even a child could fill out this form. It's we adults whose heads are spinning after trying to follow this nonsense.

At Santa Rosa's Main Post Office, employees are out in the street with baskets, collecting returns from drive-bys. I've just dropped mine off and come to A'Roma Roasters for celebratory coffee. (Any excuse will do.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday


Jessica and Sergio, eleven months older


Awakened by a phone call from Jessica: she and Sergio wanted to invite me to breakfast. I told her I’d be ready in an hour.

They wanted to take me someplace new, one of their favorite spots: the Willow Wood Café in Graton. Just a few years ago, this town was still agricultural, with an apple-packing plant (and later, winery) at its core. In addition to the winery, the main downtown businesses were a dingy bar and a burger shop. I became familiar with the town while working at Chateau St. Jean. We operated a sparkling wine production facility in the former packing house.

Gradually, professionals fleeing Silicon Valley moved in and changed the character of Graton. There was an effort to shut down the winery because of the smells, noise, truck traffic and flood-lighting. Today, there’s still a winery there. So, maybe a truce was declared.

The quirky, up-scale restaurant is an odd mix of gift shop, old-time candy store and country bistro. Today, it was very busy and they’re not really set-up up to handle crowds. We had perhaps a 45-minute wait. Looking around, I saw many “almost-familiar faces.” It finally struck me: these are people like me. Aging “Boomer” professionals, with a bit of money.

Our brunch was very good and the company, great! And it was my daughter’s treat, which made it even more special! (After all, she has a job!)


***

It was a sleepy day, but I forced myself out for a hike at Sugarloaf Ridge. Paid the $6 entry fee, headed out onto the trail and promptly stepped into deep mud. Then the rain started and it was a chilly rain. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I wasn’t prepared for rain. After half an hour, I turned around.

“Can I get a refund or rain check?”

I didn’t think so…


***

Taxes are so amazingly complicated, as I sift through on-line publications and follow computation instructions. It's a riot, it’s so insane. It would be even funnier were it not for the potential penalties for errors.

But the tax code must be providing all sorts of shelters and loopholes. Otherwise, why would there be such opposition to a “flat tax”? Termed “regressive” by economists, a flat tax would eliminate entire industries devoted to this completely wasteful undertaking. Think of how much more Americans, and our government could accomplish if we were freed from this annual nightmare!

And I dismiss the “regressive” argument. Middle and lower income families already pay a greater percentage of their income to taxes. They are less likely to have mortgage interest write-offs, medical expense deductions; moving expense deductions, donation write-offs, business expense write-offs. Most likely 100% of their income is subject to Social Security tax. (Don’t get me started…)

Actually, a pay-as-you-go “consumption tax” would be the most appropriate tax. No exemptions. No excuses. You consume. You pay. The more you consume, the more you pay. How fair is that!

Went over to my storage unit several times to find missing documents: last year's return, donation records, stock records. Went through nearly all the boxes (again!)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Housing hunt

Called on about a dozen local apartments with monthly rents ranging from $675 to $900.

The apartments for which I had addresses, I later went out to see. The first one, at 4600A Bennett Valley was clearly the best. The others looked terrible, most run-down. Apartment rental is huge business in Sonoma County, becoming huger, as home ownership is increasingly unattainable. (Last I heard, the median home price for Santa Rosa is well over $550,000.)

At “A'Roma’s” this evening, Sergio and his friend Shannon found me and sat down to visit. A while later, I saw a familiar toddler off to the side. It was Cooper! Turned around to see the Clevelands seated right behind me. “How long have you been there?” They had not wished to interrupt while I was talking with Sergio and Shannon.

Went over to my storage unit to search for stock and donation information. I clearly hadn’t anticipated this when I stored things away last year. Spent an hour or more searching through boxes, never really finding what I needed.

1040A or 1040?

Slept late again, rising after 9:00. Clearly, there is not much enthusiasm for dealing with my situation, “my reality”! (“In other words, when are you going to get off your butt???”)

Several tasks for today:

- Contact Bill Mapes at “Exchange Bank” to see about my investment "liquidity”
- Take Jessica's car in for a smog check
- Then deliver it to Napa for an insurance photo
- Look at how dire the tax situation is

Stresses are already building. I'm not really enjoying being back in this society!

After working through the Federal Tax Form 1040A, I reached a point where it concluded I need to file a 1040. “Great!” Of course, I don't have a Form 1040.

Drove into Santa Rosa, to the state building where I have in the past picked up tax forms. No more. The offices are moving, and signs directed me to other locations. The nearest is the Federal building on Sonoma Avenue.

Inside the building's lobby, there’s a security check. I was turned around because of the “Leatherman Tool” I was carrying in my riding suit.

“Can’t you just hang on to it while I go grab a few forms?”

“If I take it, we’ll have to keep it,” the guard replied. That's all it took to piss me off at this bureaucracy. I’ve become thin-skinned indeed!

Returned to my illegally-parked bike to stow the weapon.

In my second attempt, I successfully passed the screening and proceeded to the IRS office to collect the needed forms. On my way out, I offered a suggestion to the guards:

“It would be a lot easier if they just placed the forms outside the secured area. Then you guys wouldn’t have to screen nearly as many people.”

“This is the way the government runs it,” was the carefully-considered reply.

Picked up Jessica’s car from her work, leaving my motorcycle in its place. The smog check cost $70. Jeez! What happened to the days of $20 or $30 smog checks?

Drove over to Napa Valley once again. Daytime traffic is very frustrating in the North Bay. If you’re in an office all day, you don’t really sense the growing problem. And it's definitely worse in a car than on a motorcycle.

It was insane to drive 35 miles or so just to take a photo, but “Tara” said they have to personally photograph the car for the insurance coverage to be valid. They wouldn’t allow me to submit a digital photo.

So, I pulled up in front of their office and she came out with her “Polaroid” camera (“who uses these things any more?”) She snapped front and rear view photos, then said “that’s it!”

I’m becoming sensitive to every penny going out, every mile driven, and it’s feeling like a hemorrhage!

With the rush hour crowds, I crawled back to “Oliver's Market” in Cotati. Joined Jessica on her 30-minute break. Bought some groceries. They even gave me the employee discount!

Up until 3:00 a.m., listening to a series of stories about Neko Case on NPR, and to a concert they also broadcast.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Americas Trip Maps



North America with the return route from Miami to California overlaid



From Central America to Tierra del Fuego


The first leg of the journey, through North America to Central America. It's hard to imagine that if you stetched out this squiggly line, it would stretch around the World, but it would! (Maps courtesy of CIA.)

Lessons from the road

Before I forget, I should note a few things for travelers to remember:
  • If possible, understand all your gear before leaving: motorcycle/vehicle, camera, computer, working with internet cafes, etc. Study the manuals, instructions, service locations, etc.
  • Full face helmet. Don't be caught without it. (Thanks to this, I still have my teeth.)
  • TIRES! If you're riding a big bike (above 500cc), don't assume you'll be able to find tires. If possible, arrange in advance to have them waiting for you!
  • If you need to import parts, tires, etc., consider asking the shipper to declare the items of minimum value (i.e. under $100). In many countries, customs duties are exorbitant and can easily double your cost.
  • Air freight and courier (DHL, Fed Ex, etc.) charges can be outrageous and the process mired in bureaucracy. If you network with other travelers, consider having someone hand-carry needed items.
    • Learn which countries require vehicle permits and International Driving Insurance and procure them in advance, or at the border.
    • BE CLEAR about the duration of your visa (the time officials have allotted you for your stay in their country. This may be noted in your passport upon entry.)
    • Plan critical crossings well in advance! Where to ship from/to. Ferries, airline connections, etc.
    • Get required vaccinations well in advance. Reactions could cause symptoms that will sap much-needed energy in the final days before departure.
    • Try to prevent things from rushing you. If you need to hurry, it’s more important than ever to go through a mental checklist, then be extra alert. These are the times when accidents are more likely to happen.
    • If you don't have an economical cellphone, buy and use pre-paid phone cards in each country.
    • Think carefully about documenting your journey. If you plan to do a blog or website, be prepared to commit an hour on that project for every hour you're away - it is easily that much work!
    • Exchanging currencies upon return is a losing proposition. Try to use up your currency before leaving a country or exchange at the border (where there is a demand for that particular currency.)
        • The people you meet are the teachers. You are the student.
        • Remember: you are a guest in their land. Conduct yourself accordingly.
          • Remember, it is all part of the journey!

          Virus-free!

          Clear blue sky and warm today! Everything changed overnight.

          Went to the Village Barber Shop, the same place I’ve gone for 17 years. (No laughing, please.) And the same barbers: Michelle and Jim. Jim wasn’t there today. Michelle said he’s in the “final stages” of congestive heart failure, on oxygen all the time now. She has purchased the shop from him.

          It was necessary to make a trip over to Napa to have the motorcycle insurance policy re-written. Among the changes I’ve seen, new stop signs and signals. (I have seen countless traffic controls added here over the years, so much so I keep wondering if someone on the City Council is a contractor or wholesaler for traffic control devices!)

          One of the latest, on Highway 12 at Arnold Drive, is long overdue for this dangerous intersection.

          I couldn’t pass through Sonoma without a stop at Artisan’s Bakery, part of my daily routine for the nine years I worked at Robert Mondavi. Outside, a sign says the building’s for sale. “What does that mean?” The staff didn’t know. But for now, I had my “butterhorn” and coffee, and all was right with the world!

          On the east side of Sonoma, another signal is going in at East 8th and Napa Road, another place I’ve long wanted them to add one..

          At Napa Valley Insurance, even though I was “bad” in allowing my vehicle insurance to lapse, the policies were rewritten without any penalties or hand-slapping. I was whole again! (Of course I had to pay very dear premiums to be made whole.)

          In another nostalgic indulgence, I went to Villa Corona for lunch. This was a favorite eatery for the Mondavi gang I worked with. Still getting used to portion-sizing, I only ate half of a burrito that, in the past, I would have had no trouble devouring.

          Drove up the Napa Valley on Highway 29, past the Robert Mondavi Winery, then turned around. Stopped out front to read the line-up for the Summer Concert series. Shawn Colvin appearing on the list gives a nod to the younger crowd. It had long been my criticism of this event that we were not attracting a younger audience, younger wine lovers.

          Returned to Sonoma County via the Oakville Grade, a wonderful winding mountain road through the Mayacamas Range. A gorgeous day.

          Kept roaming, reacquainting myself with all the old territory. Up Sonoma Mountain Road toward my home of 16 years. The road was closed just half a mile short of “my” driveway. A particularly troublesome section of road had started to slide away again.

          I took the “long way around”, a five or six mile detour, up to the property entrance. “Why am I looking up here? I said ‘good-bye’ to this place. Am I having second thoughts?”

          At the entrance, a “for sale” sign. One of the two house on this 150-acre property is being sold. In the neighboring redwood grove, there are more “no trespassing” signs posted along the fence, where the Land Trust now controls access to the grove that was once part of “our” property.

          Another change: the “Lewis Road Car Wash” is now $2.50 ($1.75 before I left!) Gave the bike a quick cleaning.

          A'Roma's my favorite local hang-out, offers wi-fi but expressly prohibits electrical hook-ups. (They have now covered the outlets.) So, my working sessions there are limited by the computer’s battery to less than two hours.

          But I finally finished the blog’s "Winnie Inn" entry, which proved quite a hurdle for me. How to convey what I had just witnessed along the southern coast? The effort seemed supremely inadequate.

          At A’Roma’s, the familiar music and many familiar faces support the illusion of belonging to something.

          Back at the motel, installed “Panda Anti-Virus Platinum” software (a free trial download) on my computer and let it do its thing. It worked! Virus removed and the system is up to speed again.

          Watched CNN’s news journal “360-degrees: Dead Wrong”, a very critical analysis of the Iraq invasion. The criticism sounded very blunt and harsh, but you have to realize “it’s now safe” to attack the Administration. Where was CNN, our “news leader” in the run-up to the war, when these very challenges were put forth by those opposed to attacking Iraq? If I recall correctly, CNN was quite the cheerleader. Spineless hypocrites, I say.

          Wednesday, April 12, 2006

          Dinner with Good Friends

          Finally went to bed about 5:00 this morning after about five hours dealing with a computer virus. (This is a fine “welcome home”. I've used this computer all over the Western Hemisphere, and it’s only here at home that I have such trouble! (The infection may have been connected to the use of "Lime Wire" file-sharing, though I've used the program often. Oops. Did I say that? No, I've never used "Lime Wire"!)

          A call from Mike woke me about 10:30. No doubt, I was somewhat incoherent.

          Continued trying to deal with the virus. I was over my head, but researched solutions on-line, reading the accounts of others who have encountered the same virus. Much of the day wasted.

          Realized the insurance for both (Jessica's) car and my motorcycle has lapsed. Now I have to deal with re-writing policies. Ah, and then there’s that little matter of taxes. The forced sale last year of my Mondavi stocks adds a new twist to taxes this year. I’ll have to figure out (by Monday!) what impact that has.

          I'm ”kind of hating” being back in this culture of "legalized robbery". Everywhere you turn, someone has their hand in your pocket. And the “goods and services” received in return seem relatively meager.

          Thai noodles, hotel coffee, a banana and some tangelos constituted today’s meals.

          A nagging tension in my right arm and shoulder still bothering me, a likely residue from the relatively high-mileage riding days of the past few months (and the added irritation of “keyboarding”.)

          Rain through most of day, but there was a sign of a break as I was about to leave for Mike and Heather's house at 4:30. Dinner with the Clevelands tonight. They invited me over as soon as I arrived in town. Friends since we met in 1989 at Chateau St. Jean, we’ve shared a lot of good times, and I’ve been honored to be a dinner guest in their home on many occasions. Their son Cooper, who was just beginning to crawl when I left, is now walking, and on the verge of talking.

          After dinner, we went for an evening walk around the neighborhood, and Cooper expressed an interest in sitting on the motorcycle. I couldn't refuse him!

          Tuesday, April 11, 2006

          Motel Shuffle

          Up at 7:00. Lazed about. A rainy morning. Packed up for my move to the "Extended Stay America" motel on Corby Auto Mall, not an appealing location, but convenient to my storage unit and my daughter’s apartment.

          The rain became steady. It almost feels like I’ve experienced more rain here than anywhere on my trip! (Though I suspect places such as Costa Rica were in reality much worse.) But riding in the rain is no big deal now. I'm quite accustomed to it.

          My travels demonstrated once again that most obstacles are surmountable. You must have confidence in yourself and acknowledge the fears, yet not be thwarted by them.

          Checked into the new motel, dumped my stuff, then went off to "Denny's" to find a hotel coupon for the final billing at "Best Western". Returning to the "Best Western" with a coupon, checked out, receiving a $30 discount with the coupon. Not bad for 15-minutes' effort.

          Took more gear to storage. Yesterday, I had spread out the tent and tarp in the storage unit to dry. Today, I could pack them away for good.

          "Welcome home" greetings are coming in from friends and family. It is strange to be here.

          Watched "Festival Express" on TV, about a concert tour across Canada in 1970.

          Jessica and I went out to dinner at a new restaurant. "Flavor" opened on Santa Rosa's Courthouse Square after I went away. It reminds me of "Cafe Lolo", an excellent Santa Rosa restaurant (that closed while I was away!)

          Just like old times! Trying different foods together, critiquing and catching up on news. Tried a glass of 2003 "Alexander Valley Vineyards" Cabernet Sauvignon. As always, they've produced an excellent wine.

          First day back - taking care of business


          I dropped in on my daughter Jessica at her new job at Oliver's Market in Cotati. (I think I'm about to get a free sample of smoothie!)


          Beat the rain over to the storage unit to unpack all the travel gear and try to figure out what I'll need now. It's strange, and a bit sad, to see all my worldly possessions in a half-filled 4 x 10' container. (The motorcycle being about the only thing not in there.) Rent is paid through June 11th, so I have until then to find a new home for it all.

          Drove out to the Kenwood post office to pick up what Jessica hadn't already collected, including an invitation to the 2006 Napa Valley Wine Auction. Don't think I'll be bidding on any of the special lots. That's another world, to which I have little connection now.

          Back at the hotel, after sifting through 323 days' worth of mail, there were only a few things that required action. Found my vehicle registration sticker and applied it, making the bike legal (though still not insured.)

          In Santa Rosa, my old stand-by Mexican restaurant, Pepe's has changed names to Chelino's while I was away. (One of the partners bought out the other's share.) My "usual" tamale dinner proved too much food.

          Looked into moving to the Extended Stay America motel at Fountaingrove, but it was too expensive. I checked out another Extended Stay America, this one on Corby Avenue (adjacent to the Auto Mall.) Their rates were lower, roughly comparable to the Great Western, but with kitchenettes.



          When I left nearly eleven months ago, people in the small town of Cotati were fighting to keep out "big box stores". They failed, and with that another several football fields worth of greenbelt disappear. I talked with an electrician working on the site. He said Lowe's is targeting communities where Home Depot has already established a presence.


          Visited Jess at her job at Oliver's Market, taking some photos of her "on the job." Oliver's is a locally-owned grocery chain, which I'm happy to patronize. Jess runs the smoothie bar and and helps out in the bakery. Hopefully, she'll get samples to share with me!



          Oliver's: my kind of place!


          Called Jeff and we talked for an hour, discussing the possibility of my going back to Vermont to spend some time until I figure things out.

          Watching Fox "News" for fun. The main topic is immigration. With huge immigrants' rights rallies taking place throughout the country, these guys' blood must be boiling!

          Monday, April 10, 2006

          Home Stretch


          San Francisco offered me a rainy "welcome home!"


          THIS MORNING - NEAR LUCIA, CA

          A cold and restless night, I was constantly moving to generate some warmth. My body fatigued from the effort. Awoke around 6:00 but, waiting for the sun's warmth, I went back to sleep and, surprisingly, didn't wake for another two and a half hours.

          Last night, the wind picked up and I crawled out to have a look. The sky was suddenly clear, stars and moon above, lights out on the ocean. (And what were those vehicles doing up here? There must have been four or five that passed during the night. What kind of "crazy" comes all the way out here in the middle of the night?)

          A cookie (from the Apple Farm) for breakfast. A clear view to the ocean far below, but there were no boats to be seen. Clouds were moving up from the south. Rain on the way? Packed up the wet tent.

          I was a bit anxious about going back up the dirt trail in my groggy state, but it proved a simple task. ("It's always easier the second time!") Further down the mountain, an overnight landslide had nearly blocked the road. (This is a common hazard along California Highway 1.) There was a gap of a few feet that allowed me to get around it. In the early morning, the winding Route 1 is quite enjoyable. It's nearly empty. Sport bikes were already out taking advantage of this opportunity to have some fun.

          Looked into having breakfast at Fernwood in Big Sur, but on closer inspection, the restaurant didn't look that inviting. Moved on. So many slides on Highway 1! It reminded me of those people in Colombia, standing in the road with shovels. It could be a person's full-time job just to keep a tiny piece of pavement clear.

          In the picturesque and elite little town of Carmel, I drove the first block of the business district. That was enough. I had no interest in the wall-to-wall boutiques and galleries. There was a time I held Carmel in awe. No longer. On the way out, I noticed houses in the village are surprisingly modest, no luxury cars parked in the drives. I guess the really lavish homes are along the beach, out on "17 Mile Drive" and up in the hills.

          I was undecided about which direction to go in this final "home stretch". Pulled off the freeway in Monterey, and there was a Denny's ahead. Parked and went in. I was in a small minority of Caucasians. Compared to the Apple Farm of a couple days ago, the Denny's waffle was pretty sad.

          I wanted to take photos of San Francisco for the final chapter in the blog, but it was a "crappy" day. Thought of perhaps taking backroads into the Diablo Range, outside of San Jose, up to Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. "Get it out of your system now! The opportunity may not come again."

          I was heading in that direction when something steered me back to the coast. Near Watsonville, the rains started. Through Santa Cruz and onto Highway 9, winding up through the redwoods to the little town Felton. Drew lived here for a time in the early 70s. Riding the steep mountain road up to have a look at the house on Upper Scenic Drive, it was way up! Much farther (and steeper) than I recall.

          Took another break in Ben Lomond. ("I'm really starting to drag my heels now!") Coffee 9 offers specialty coffees and free wireless internet service. Outside, a foot race was being run along the highway. Coffee and a cookie in hand, I posted some photos to the blog while listening to the music in the background.
          I was sitting on a bar stool
          In a barbecue joint in Tennessee
          When this old boy walked in
          And he sat right down next to me
          I could tell he'd been through some hard times
          There were tear stains on his old shirt
          And he said you wanna know what you get
          When you play a country song backwards?

          You get your house back
          You get your dog back
          You get your best friend Jack back
          You get your truck back
          You get your hair back
          You get your first and second wife back
          Your front porch swing
          Your pretty little thing
          Your bling bling bling and a diamond ring
          Your get your farm with a barn and a boat and the Harley
          First night in jail with Charlie
          Sounds a little crazy, a little scattered and absurd
          That's what you get when you play a country song backwards
          Well I never heard it said quite like that
          It hit me in the face cause that's where I'm at
          I almost fell flat out on the floor
          He said wait a minute that's not all there's even more

          You get your mind back
          And your nerves back
          Your first heart attack back
          You get your pride back
          You get your life back
          You get your first real love back
          You get your big screen tv, dvd and washing machine
          You get the phone and the lawn and the bed and the mower
          You go back where you don't know her
          It sounds a little crazy a little scattered and absurd
          But that's what you get
          When you play a country song backwards
          Oh play that song Woo!!!
          What if I played this trip backward? Let's see...I get my job back.

          (Forget it.)

          At the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Highway 9 intersects Skyline Boulevard. Skyline is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire Bay Area. And today, with gray skies and light rain, it was quiet and very peaceful. Perfect. Skyline ends near the city of San Bruno.

          I took the cue and proceeded down the mountain to the Golden Gate National Cemetery, where my father and mother share a grave. It was nearly closing time, and the rain had grown more steady now. Standing over the marble stone, I realized my father passed away 42 years ago. In his case, more than a lifetime ago. (He died at 41.)

          ("What would you like to see me do?", I thought.)

          As always, my spirits rise driving into San Francisco. Yes, it was lousy weather "but it is what it is." Drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and up to the Marin Headlands for that San Francisco photo.

          Returned to Rohnert Park (some say Rodent Park) around 7:00 p.m., closing the circle. Over 46,000 miles in total (over 6,000 just since arriving in Miami.) And, by my count, 323 days of sitting on my butt.

          The first stop: my storage unit (which houses all my earthly possessions not on the bike.) Unloaded everything that I wouldn't be needing now, including the tent, camping gear, tools and parts, maps, etc. Picked up the boxes of mail (11 months' worth) that Jessica had collected for me and placed in storage. .

          "Now what? Guess I need to find a place to sleep." (I'm feeling a bit ill. Is it merely psychological?)

          Checked a couple nearby motels: the Motel 6 is $50 a night. (That "6" once meant $6 per night!) The Best Western, $80, but the manager suggested, if I go to a Denny's and get a coupon, the rate is only $60. Mary and Robert had stayed here when they came to visit, so that was good enough for me. I ran up the highway for that coupon.

          Settled into the room, showered and shaved. Called Jessica to say "I'm back!". Of course, I had to leave a message on her voice mail. I then headed into Santa Rosa to try her apartment. Fortunately, her roommates were home and Erin tracked her down and told her I was here. She and Sergio were on their way over.

          I have to say, it was a bit uncomfortable getting to know my daughter once again! It was the longest I've ever been away. I have far more catching up to do than she does, since she was able to follow the blog. For eleven months, I've done almost all the talking!

          I didn't stay too long; she was tired. (Working at a grocery store, volunteering, school studies and the health club are keeping her busy these days.)

          Too late for a proper meal, I went to the In-N-Out Burger near the motel. Wolfed down a "Double Double Animal", french fries and a drink. Not a rewarding experience.

          Sorted through mail, over 90% of it junk, until I pooped out at 1:30 a.m.

          Saturday, April 08, 2006

          Carrizo Plain to Lucia, the long way 'round


          Campsite on a ridge high above the Pacific, near Lucia, California. Fog is just rolling in.


          Camped on a ridge in Los Padres National Forest, high above the Pacific, a few miles off the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. It's a flat clearing on a stony promontory. Fog surrounds me and blankets the forest below, but above, a waxing gibbous moon shines brightly.

          Before sunset, and the fog, only a stream in the canyon below, a few birds and distant jets could be heard. Now, only the occasional jets above. All else is quiet.


          The ocean is about 2,000 feet below

          ***

          Up this morning at 6:30 after an uncomfortable, restless night on the Carrizo Plain. Two ravens sounded the alarm. Looked out to see them at their nest, what looked like a heap of large twigs, on a nearby power pole. It was cold! Tried to wait for the sun to bring some warmth, but I heard a couple of vehicles pass and I didn’t want to be discovered by rangers. (I was not in a designated campground.)

          Packed up the dew-covered tent and crawled out of the brush before anyone else happened by. The road is in good shape, with little washboard or dust. Stopped to take photos of a landscape with no trace of humans.


          Carrizo Plain



          Out in one of my favorite places, the Carrizo Plain, California


          There are indeed places you can go in California and still be alone! Well, almost.
          A young ranger approached in his pick-up. He asked me to move to the side of the road when stopping. “I know this is a low-traffic area," he said "but people don’t tend to pay attention in low-traffic areas.” (I wondered what research had supported that statement.)


          Carrizo Plain (with motorcycle dutifully moved to the side of the heavily-traveled road)


          At California Valley, I turned west toward Santa Margarita. Exquisite country - the best of the best! How wonderful it would be to own a small vineyard here and work the land. (The only problem is, there are too many vineyards! Not the only problem, really. There's a little question of money too.)

          Reaching U.S. 101, I "deviated" south to San Luis Obispo simply to visit the "Apple Farm Restaurant". They have perhaps the best strawberry waffle you’re going to find anywhere! Fresh strawberries and whipped cream, real maple syrup, great homemade sausage and good coffee. It's worth the usually-modest wait to be seated.

          The restaurant's very well-run. Today, in exchange for filling out the customer survey, they're handing out free fresh-baked cookies! In the bathroom, a sign explains that they recycle the hotel's laundry water to flush toilets. Impressive.

          Returned to Santa Margarita to see if I could find the "Santa Margarita Ranch" that Robert Mondavi developed and farmed. The vineyard was widely acknowledged as an environmentally-responsible (as much as agriculture can be) project. I found it along the road to Santa Margarita Lake, in a gorgeous valley. Pulled up to the vineyard's vehicle shop, but no one was around to talk to. Went to the end of the road to see the lake. It's a not very attractive artificial lake.


          Near Santa Margarita, California, the valley oaks are just leafing out


          As I drive this country, I feel wonderfully free to explore, yet not so free to stop. Everything's okay, as long as you "keep moving". The gates and fences and "no trespassing" signs reinforce the perception. If you're not a property-owner, you are really nothing. (What a rare feeling of freedom, out on the fenceless plains of Argentina, even if they were private lands!)

          I feel displaced. And the only way to overcome this is to become a property owner. Of course, this is the "American Dream". Home ownership. A place you won't be forced to vacate. We don't really talk about those for whom the American dream is unattainable. For many, there is no place to really call home. These are the truly disenfranchised.

          Refueled in Paso Robles. The "weekend warriors" were out in force, crowds of Harleys on 101 today. A group was taking a break at the station. There is a "meeting" up in San Jose, I'm told. A guy on a Japanese "crotch rocket" decided to show off, running alongside his bike and revving the engine, then jumping on as it headed out into traffic. ("Get me out of this place!")

          At Bradley, I took the Jolon Road turn-off and drove northwest toward Fort Hunter-Liggett (formerly Camp). There was a bicycle rally taking place along this (I thought remote) road. More vineyard country. Big operations. Scheid Vineyards appears to be one of the biggest out here. It's not one I'm familiar with, but obviously a supplier to major wineries.

          Reached the Fort Hunter-Liggett boundary. The last time I was here, there was no gate. Now a barricaded, guarded gate controls access to the land. There was a small line-up of vehicles. I heard the guard ask for current license, registration and insurance. ("Would one of three work?") There's no way they were going to let me in. My new registration is in a box of mail in Santa Rosa, and my insurance has long ago lapsed.

          When it was my turn, I asked if this road goes through to Lucia on Highway 1. She said Highway 1 is closed due to slides. So it was a moot point. "Plan B" became: take another of my favorite roads from Greenfield to Arroyo Seco, through Carmel Valley to Carmel and the Coast Highway. Up the road in Santa Lucia, I stopped at the entrance to Delicato’s sprawling vineyard. There was a sign to the “Purchasing Shop”. Tempted to go see just what a "Purchasing Shop" is, but...I didn't.

          In Greenfield, a billboard advertised "Niño Homes at Arroyo Seco - 5 miles." "Oh, no! They've started to develop Arroyo Seco!" Arroyo Seco is a dramatic river canyon in the Coast Range. The riverbed has carved through the valley floor, and now meanders between sheer mesa-like cliffs.

          At the entrance to the canyon, a cluster of custom homes sit on a barren mountainside. I guess the shopping center will come later. Up the valley, there are many vineyards on the bench where pastures used to be.

          Carmel Valley is as beautiful as ever. Things are slow to change there. Turned left at Highway 1, curious how far south along the coast I might get, before being turned back by a landslide.

          Carved into steep, rocky cliffs, hundreds of feet above the Pacific, it takes an enormous effort to keep Highway 1 open. There clearly have been many slides this winter. Beneath unstable mountainsides, it requires a lot of guts, or a complete fool to operate the heavy equipment clearing this roadway.

          Refueled in Big Sur and asked an attendant about the road ahead. He said the highway is open. ("So the 150-mile detour wasn't really necessary? Well, the Army wasn't going to let me cut through Hunter-Liggett anyway.")


          South of Big Sur, near Lucia, California. The last time I saw the Pacific was near Max's "Luminojos" in Chile.


          South of Lucia, I turned inland. This road, which crosses the Coast Range to Hunter-Liggett, is now paved. Not quite the same "adventure" it once was. But at the crest of the mountains, high above the ocean, trails take off north and south. Motorcycles aren’t permitted on the north trail, so I turned south.

          Crawled along the ridge-top trail, maneuvering across ruts and wash-outs, up and down steep rocky slopes. It was, finally, a little challenge. About 5 miles south, I came to a nice, flat pullout. Normally, I wouldn't camp in such an "obvious" spot, but there was clearly no one around. Set up the tent, then cooked some Thai noodles. The fog swept up the coastal canyons and hovered all around. Nothing to do but get in the tent. It quickly turned damp and cold.

          Friday, April 07, 2006

          A stop on the Carrizo Plain


          Strange math. 4663 people feet years.


          9:00 p.m.

          I'm camped out in my tent, surrounded and nearly concealed by the wild vegetation of Carrizo Plain, a couple hundred yards from the gravel road that traverses this place. Up off a dirt track utility crews apparently use to inspect power lines crossing the valley.

          I camped in this same spot during a pre-trip "dry run" about a year ago.

          It’s cold and overcast. Not a car has passed. There are some headlights about twenty miles north, near Soda Lake. The only sounds are that of the wind and an occasional jet high above.

          "D-Day" approaches. The movement will come to an end and decisions will need to be made. I can only put off the return for so long! The reality of "homecoming" is so different than my imagination of the event. But I must try to face this “arrival at the edge of the unknown” like all the others that have gone before in this journey: positively and courageously.

          A sense of “fate” or “destiny” seems to have abandoned me recently. Where has it gone? Maybe it’s a certain attitude or mental state that opens our eyes to signs our lives are indeed following some pre-ordained path or plan. (Sometimes it is so clear!) Perhaps the indications are out there right now. I'm just not seeing them.

          ***


          Sister Mary (no, she's not a nun) and brother-in-law Robert in front of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise. Oh, wait. That's their pool!


          It was 9:00 when the first stirrings woke me this morning in Glendale. Mary had overslept and was late for work. (That’s a terrible feeling!) She called her office and said she’d be late – she wanted to visit with me a little longer. Robert, Mary and I had some coffee and croissants, sitting outside in the warm sunlight. Previous mornings had a chill, but not today. Janie called from Las Vegas. She and Otto might visit L.A. this weekend. But I can't stay around.

          Saw Mary off to work, then Robert kept me company while I packed. They wanted me to stay longer, but I said “I’m melting! I need to move. To do something.”

          On the road just before 1:00, heading north on Interstate 5. Decided to take the backroads through Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ojai, up to the Carrizo Plain, then perhaps over to Jolon Road, through Camp Hunter-Liggett, and out onto Highway 1 south of Big Sur. Some of my favorite California roads.

          (How long can I stretch this ride out? And what happens when I reach Santa Rosa?)

          Only thirty minutes from suburban San Fernando Valley, the intoxicating fragrance of orange blossoms fills the air. Orchards stretch for miles across the Santa Clara River Valley east of Fillmore. What a treasure! I thought they were long since leveled for housing. Oranges, lemons and avocados, a time capsule of Los Angeles' rich agricultural history. Before the mid-twentieth century boom, the Los Angeles area was known for its citrus, grapes and other produce. A veritable garden paradise.

          Fillmore retains its small town character, however just a few miles to the west Santa Paula is slowly becoming assimilated as a suburb of the coastal cities.

          Highway 150 winds up a river canyon to Ojai. Along the way, there are many temporary signals controlling traffic through constructions zones, where landslides from severe winter rains have washed out portions of the road.


          Typical Spring landscape. Near Ojai, California.


          In my college days, I enjoyed stopping at "Papa Romano's Pizza" on the eastern edge of Ojai. Coming out of the hills,descending towards town, I found the building at a fork in the road. Now it’s “Boccali’s". When I asked how long since this was "Papa Romano’s", the owner said he bought the place twenty years ago, in 1986.

          Sat outside at one of their picnic tables, enjoying some good pizza and fresh lemonade from the farm. I learned from the staff that my intended route to Cuyama and the Carrizo Plain, California Highway 33 over the Santa Ynez Mountains, was closed due to a slide. "Rats." Visited a Forest Service office in Ojai to confirm the highway situation.

          The only options were to back-track most of the distance traveled today and take Interstate 5 northward, or follow a round-about path through Santa Barbara (where traffic is typically a mess) and Santa Maria, then east toward Cuyama. I didn’t want to go back. That's no fun. So, I turned toward Santa Barbara.

          Traffic wasn't so bad as I briefly skirted the Pacific and then crossed inland via San Marcos Pass to Cachuma Lake and Santa Ynez Valley. A perfect afternoon, if slightly on the cold side. This land, the Central Coast of California, is just incredible. It lifts my spirit, like no other place, I think. It may require some effort to accept all the other people who also love this place, but it's still fairly easy to escape the crowds.

          This afternoon, traffic was refreshingly light. At a turn-off for Solvang and Buellton, I hesitated, then continued straight. Then stopped and turned around. "Let's go to Buellton and see the 'Hitching Post' restaurant!"

          Then I came to the turn-off and hesitated again. "No. Forget it." Made a u-turn and started north again. Then hesitated again. "Come on. Let's go!" Another u-turn. This time I pulled to the shoulder and waited for the debate to be resolved. “Make a decision and live with it, for god’s sake!” "Buellton."

          At Solvang, the "Chumash Casino" (which didn't exist on my previous 20 or 30 trips through this land) is an enormous complex that’s totally incongruous with the pastoral Santa Ynez Valley setting.

          The beautiful gated homes, horse ranches and wineries that now populate Santa Ynez Valley remind me of the divisive debates raging in this country over welfare and immigration.

          "Welfare" comes in so many forms; it certainly isn't reserved for the poor. Though these people pay dearly to live out here, and perhaps consider themselves entitled, they receive a far-greater benefit from society, in terms of infrastructure, utilities and services than the disadvantaged. They could not live here without the burden being shared to some extent.

          It is humanity in microcosm: many take too little so that a few may take too much (as in Third World-First World relationships.)

          ***

          Stopped for a photo of “The Hitching Post”. That's all. The day was slipping away, and I didn't want to be reaching the Carrizo Plain after dark. Passed the miles of rolling vineyard around Los Alamos and into Santa Maria. Refueled: gas over $3.00 per gallon for mid-grade. Not much different than South America!


          From the movie Sideways, "The Hitching Post" in Buellton, California. Don't you dare ask for Merlot.


          Reached here just after sunset. The road is in good condition. It's early in the season. Later, it will turn to dusty washboard.

          At 9:00 p.m. a lone car passes by. Somewhere out there in the dark, the coyotes are making quite a ruckus.

          (Check the next post for Carrizo Plain photos!)

          Chilling (literally) in L.A.


          Timtraveler digs into some "World Famous Smokehouse Garlic Bread"


          Thursday

          Coffee and a cinnamon roll with Robert this morning. Afterwards, we got on the phone and, just for fun, put together a conference call with: Mary at work in West L.A., Krissy at her house in Burbank, Janie at home in Las Vegas and Otto at work in Las Vegas!

          Later, I plugged into Robert's DSL and read more 9-11 conspiracy stuff, consuming much of afternoon. I need to get moving, to shift back into a different frame of mind. If not, I'll simply atrophy!

          I was going to visit Mary at her Fox Studios office, but the afternoon slipped away. A chilly day. Being inactive, my body never got warm. Finally, late in the afternoon, I took a hot shower.

          Krissy and Ben came over after Mary arrived home and we all went out to dinner at The Burbank Corner Cafe, an upscale fast-food restaurant and bakery. My sister and Krissy were so boisterous, it was making me uncomfortable. Have to get used to these crazy Southlanders again! (And loosen up a little in the process.)

          Back at the house, we watched videos and some over-the-top Penn & Teller show on cable, staying up until 1:00 a.m.

          Wednesday, April 05, 2006

          Mulholland Drive


          From Mulholland Drive, the eastern San Fernando Valley, North Hollywood in the foreground


          A windy morning, with broken clouds. Fresh and stimulating. Enjoyed coffee and a cinnamon roll with Robert. We talked about my future plans, or lack thereof. What to do?

          Checking e-mails, motorcycle traveler Lana Lowe from Canada broadcast a message to other travelers: she decided not to go any further south than Panama. But she has really jumped into the culture of Central America, getting involved in indigenous communities there.

          Inside all day, reading 9-11 conspiracy reports, then looking through family photo albums Mary has put together.

          A feeling of depression and being lost, as a lack of activity allows all the questions and doubts to surface. Out to El Pollo Loco, a fast food Mexican restaurant. Stark and dreary, these places. What a dismal experience we've made dining!

          Looking for an opportunity to at least be around other people, I went to the Coffee Bean in downtown Burbank. (Parked up on the sidewalk, but it feels really inappropriate in the States!) The shop's clientele was almost entirely in their teens and twenties.

          Trying to alter my mood by getting out and moving, and maybe taking some photos, I went up to Mulholland Drive. This L.A. landmark rides the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains that divide the San Fernando Valley from the Los Angeles Basin. Steve McQueen and I used to race our motorcycles up here. (Well, at least that's what the cop who ticketed me said!)

          It has long been famous for its wonderful views of the city, both daytime and nighttime (and, at night, as a great place to "park".) Over the years, however, the mountain real estate has been developed, and where once there were open lots, offering views, now there are mansions, with their tall fences and hedges, and gated enclaves with security guard posts.

          The only parking now is at specified viewpoints, where nice little picnic areas have been created. The gesture barely conceals the insult though: these "parks" are closed from 9:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. This essentially means that in summer, you can't stop along Mulholland Drive at night. It is outrageous that this little urban treasure is becoming the sole domain of the rich. You're free to pass through, just don't stop!