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The Beginnings of Things +20

This is the second entry in a single story that spans over 10,000 words. Be sure to read The Endings of Things preceeding this entry.

Life would have made a lot more sense to me at the age of 19 if I'd been initiated in the Christ mystery of death and rebirth prior to some real messy times around then and for years later. Having a touchstone would have been handy. Instead, the world seemed pretty malevolent for sustained periods of time, and part of the reason for hanging on to the Melissa relationship was because for a period, that was about the only thing that brought form and meaning from chaos. So the dissolution of that relation in the span of a week hit me hard to begin with. Because Melissa's mom Marie was nice enough to mediate the breakup experience and see that I had a softer landing, I began the very next day at a life without Melissa but with some optimism and newness of vision that things might turn out okay. I'd meet new people and interesting things would happen. In other words, what died could be resurrected into a new form with a bigger meaning to it.

Melissa and I broke up on February 22, a Monday. The next day I was back at school and found myself talking to two girls in my philosophy class at Mesa. That took the edge off some, even knowing that I'd not retreated. I can't recall anything happening after that but the experience was a lift just as it was. Hitting up Subway on the way back home I saw a girl I'd had my eyes on for a while, Abbey. She and another girl or two were easy on the eyes and since I'd been somewhat regular there, I already had a bit of a chatty way with them. I told her what had happened. I don't know if I expected this to go anywhere but I asked if we might be in touch and I left my number. I think she was seeing someone anyway. The damage was done the day before. At this moment, there wasn't much to lose.

The Pig Solution

Matt Zuniga and I had a particularly juvenile evening on the first Friday after the breakup. Usually we were content to go out and play drums in isolated and semi-secure parking garages, increasingly so in the middle of the night. The Friday night just before the ill-fated ASB ball that I was supposed to attend with Melissa, we were out until 3:30 in the morning playing at a new spot that had a janitorial storage locker that we found open. We relished in the raiding of such a place. There were boxes of 4' flourescent tube lighting. We heisted the entire collection. We also opened several cans of paint and poured them out over the street. It was raining pretty mightily that night so by the time we made a return visit some time later, there was hardly a sign of paint. On this first weekend after the breakup there was a bit of boy frustration to get out so we sort of rampaged at the mall, with Matt doing his trademark antisocial grunts, charicatures of old people, some well chosen ventriloquistic obscenities, and worse. We took the bulbs we'd collected the week before and took them to a spot on the edge of the suburban buildout, near a freeway, and cast the tubes majestically down to ... well, it was really kind of pointless since none of them exploded in the way we hoped. But then we were off and running, dropping in on an adult bookstore. Call it a pent up need to be a guy. Or a pig.

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

At home I dug into the contacts book a little harder than I had since the summer before. I probably called everyone to reconnect and maybe sob with (a number of whom were high school people I really had not connected with since that era a couple years before), but the most notable contact in there was one girl friend of mine that I'd known for a couple years since 1990. We used to go to church together when I was still doing that. I don't think I'd seen her in some time, except maybe at Christmas Eve service, if anything. She was just a bit younger than Melissa by a few months but was uncannily mature for her age, and was one of those passionate color-outside-of-the-lines beings who jolts you awake. It was something I needed. I called her and we went out for some fun and talk on Saturday, just less than a week after the breakup. She was ready to go. I never expected I'd marry her one day. Yep, in some odd way, it was kind of a first date for Kelli and me. And yet not. But that one day put her on the map as a trusted friend and confidante. And more than the compassionate ear she offered, the story ahead sets up a whole set of resonsances that radiated out for a long time and really has shaped most of the life I've lived in the 20 years since the Melissa breakup. Curl up with a blanket and a nice drink, once again...

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

I'd seen my grandmother every weekend for all the time I went out with Melissa since I was coming and going to pick up the car. I might have seen her more often if I had other reasons, like practicing piano or doing other errands and chores to earn the use of the car. But all during the Melissa era, the relationship that she and I had was not as close as when I had no girlfriend, and therefore, no secrets to keep about my emerging intimate life with a girl. That kind of talk of course is kind of awkward with people anyway, but since I already knew her to be rather conservative but not totally close minded, I did keep hushed and would limit the talk about Melissa to discussion of the places we went or other developments of a pretty benign nature. But in that breakup week, I did not seek counsel with her. I didn't even tell her. Even a week and more later, I hadn't told her. The mantle of trust in my emotional life was starting to be transferred away from her as I rather foolishly thought I'd go it alone or limit myself to some friends and peers, few of which had the depth of perspective I'd need while maneuvering the minefield of life. At about the same time, calling upon my pastor Jerry happened less and less. The departure of our associate pastor Judy in 1993 also eroded my relationship with the church and folks constellated around it. I became unchurched. The road to any real faith was now beginning because I had outgrown the version of religion that gives the answers and the storybook versions of how things went. (I hasten to add that my church was anything but shallow theologically. But youth materials are geared toward, well... youth, and that is just foundational. Life itself build faith.)

Kelli Parrish was one notable exception. For several years she and her sweet mother Kay were about the only connection to the church congregation that a few years before had been a huge part of my life. There wasn't too much else, but as I found, friendship with Kelli kept me abreast of developments—and disintegrations—within the church. She was my lifeline to the church and even to a bit of spirituality for years to come. She and Kay were always ready friends of mine, and even though time might pass in larger or smaller blocks, the same spirit was always there. But let's not get too far ahead. There's that one Saturday at the end of February 1993, to start with.

Moving Violations

Until I refreshed my memory with my journal from then, I'd forgotten the part about not having been to her new house prior to spending that Saturday night with her. She lived in a place that came to be known as the "Treehouse" —a spot on the edge of the Mission Hills community of San Diego, overlooking the airport. (It's actually just a mile or so from my church now. In fact, for a time, she went there as a pew sitter herself.) Her place was up an insanely steep hill that juts off another road that itself is barely wide enough to park one lane of cars and let two other cars pass. Her street name did not appear to be anything more than a nebulous driveway up a crazy hill. That's what it looked like once I even found the first street after getting turned around in the odd combinations of dead end streets, one way streets, and other navigational oddness that defines that area. Her directions sounded clear enough. But in the downpour, everything got way more difficult. It took me 45 minutes to do what should have taken 20.

Finally I arrived at the Treehouse, a 2.5 story duplex up that nasty hill. It was indeed a sight, the balcony having a nice view of the harbor and airport and a bit of downtown. It was a place I'd get to know in the coming years. Often I'd been made to feel quite welcome there. For this first visit, we made small talk and headed out in the Ford Escort, not really knowing where we'd go. It was odd. She wasn't my date. No, at that point and for years to come, Kelli was kind of like a kid sister to me, and a church sister at that. This wasn't a date, and it would be years before our first movement toward our present relationship was made, and years more before we embraced it and went full on. But she was sometimes loud and outrageous. Colorful. Opinionated. Bold. Free spirited. Interesting. Too much for me. And she had lived a life or two by the time this night happened. Everything she was stood in stark opposition to Melissa.

My journal mentioned going to a number of places but didn't name any. Those details are lost to history, but let's set one thing down right here. Melissa lived in a newer suburb than I did, about ten miles northeast of where I was. Mira Mesa was (and still is) a place that I tolerated. It's technically not all so different than Clairemont where I lived but it feels different, maybe a bit stuffier. Really it might just be that it is just newer and with different particulars of merchants and street names. Oh, and maybe the considerable population of Filipinos that earned it a nickname of Manila Mesa. A point to make is that almost the entire relationship with Melissa was conducted in the suburbs, whether it was at her house or mine, or the parks we frequented, or the malls. Kelli on the other hand was far more urban and bohemian. This one rampaging night on the town was all in San Diego's more seasoned, older, and eclectic neighborhoods, or in downtown, about ten miles south of where I lived. Oh, she'd lived in many places, and she herself was in Clairemont not too long before this. In fact, she used to be on my bike route home from school and I dropped in on her a few times there. But her spirit is far more urban and alive with the stuff of arts and poetry and music arising from underground and repressed populations. Kelli herself was culture shock to me. The things she continues to introduce me to today still has that effect!

But that night we serviced some more immediate needs. The evidence shows we ate ourselves silly on pizza and gyros sandwiches after hitting up a few places. We got downtown while it was storming rain. If I hadn't run enough stop signs and lights just finding her house, I certainly met my quota while we went around looking for things we had vague inclinations to find but seemingly couldn't. She had just finished a first day of driving instruction and here I was showing her all the ways to NOT operate on the road! It was hilarious. With the big news of the period being the Melissa story, I'm sure we covered that in enough detail. Eventually we escaped downtown and its inside-out network of one way streets and all those damned red lights. We stopped for some time at Old Town a few miles away, and parked at the lot at the Presidio. That's the part I remember best, even if now it's more an impression on my heart that this time together was really the time that put Kelli on the map for me as a person I could really open up to and trust, and that was also hungering for a similar connection. With Melissa, I always felt like it took a lot of prying and coaxing to get a substantial exchange that communicated life's deep truths. By comparison, this was cake.

I think that we both had stories about divorced parents that kept us going for a while, and the lives we've led in the shadow of those broken relations. Indeed. Is there any way we would have known that early trusting time, peppered with some of the hilarity we experienced while running red lights would have paved the way for us to be married? Nope. We were just really kicking off a friendship then, sitting in the car on the side of the hill overlooking town, with rain pouring down around midnight on a cold February night.

We hit up Gelato Vero, a coffee shop at India and Washington, essentially across the street from her house (as the crow flies) but some distance away if you actually use the road. It was 12:20 am by the time we got there. That was pretty astounding since the 16 year old I was out with two weeks before had to be home by 10 and I had to be on my way by 11. Gelato Vero makes some kick ass gelato Italian ice cream. If I had any that night, it was probably the first I ever had. Already, Kelli was leading me into new areas of life. We retired to the Treehouse and watched Saturday Night Live. I suppose I went home at 1 am. Or later. What a time.

Serendipty is Her Forte

I don't recall exactly what day this part happened but real shortly after the Monday of Doom on the 22nd I happened into Kelli at Mesa College at the music department. I had taken the Basic Musicianship class because she herself had taken it a semester or two before and that got my interest up. Recall she was 16 at that time, so she was at Mesa not as a full fledged post-high school graduate but instead taking college classes there because it was possible, but also because her alternative high school was just next door. That day at the music department, she was talking to some guy named Josh. She introduced me as a drummer. Josh was a guitarist who could barely contain himself at the prospect of getting a drummer to help he and his other guitar buddy in their progressive hard rock band Forte. (I don't recall any of the material but I think they were into Queensryche or something.) I said I'd be interested especially if he could give me some demo of their stuff first so I could prepare. I might have to cover my early 1993 music activities in another post, but suffice to say that in that first week after Melissa, the stuff of new adventure was already taking form. And Kelli was right there in the middle of it.

But the Forte thing was small potatoes compared to what happened next while under Kelli's influence. Just a flash in the pan. I was just barely kicking tires and running my hand over the vehicle that was going to take me for the ride of my life.

But it Does Mean Beans!

It was just under two weeks after the Weekend of Doom with Melissa and one week after the Moving Violations tour with Kelli when it became time to do something to fill the new weekend-long void. Kelli suggested I go to a coffee shop with her to see a band she and Kay liked. They love acoustic music, folk music, protest music. The part about "coffee shop" threw me. Being so sheltered and suburban as I was, I was barely aware of what she could be talking about if it wasn't one of those kinds of Denny's-like greasy spoon places from the Ike's 50s and LBJ's 60s. You know...the places with glass and rock walls and odd diamond shaped roof panels that look kind of Jetsonlike, a cocky waitress with overdone makeup, and truckers with buttcrack issues? Oh! No, that's not what Kelli was getting at? Since I didn't drink coffee then and only now have adopted enough tolerance for coffee that I drink it about two days a month to kick my ass into gear for early morning work route driving to LA, I was clueless about the fair trade selling, earthy and colorful, free-thought-inducing bohemian dens she had in mind. The only coffee I knew about was gross stuff my old man drank: that freeze dried crystal crap that Folger's sells. I never drank it except to taste it once and that broke me of the habit immediately. Coffee was an adult drink. What did Kelli want with the stuff? Man, I was in for something new. Coffee? Coffee shops? Music in a coffee shop? I guess you'd be more likely to find music there. I doubt I ever saw live music at one of the Jetson types of coffee shops. That's why I was not really on the ball with her pitch. But she had an idea that might improve my life so I went along.

On March 5th I accompanied Kelli and Kay to Beans, ironically located in the shadow of University Town(e) Center, a major mall that us suburban rats would like to be seen at, and indeed, where Melissa and I launched into our relationship in June '92. Beans was just down the hill in a smaller strip mall, tucked into a corner. It's proximity to UCSD would have clinched it a smart and progressive crowd—all of which would have pretty much scared me then. It was high ceilinged, colorfully painted and inviting as those places tend to be. Art was on the walls. Since the entire area surrounding UTC was rather new, Beans too was new, and perhaps newer than the rest of things. Beans was a place I'd just drive past. But it became the stage (literally) for a huge new act in my life. My notes only indicate that I went there a number of times during that month and into April, always on weekend nights. I don't have but a couple notes indicating exactly who played one night or the next. But the band Kelli wanted me to see was Rekless Abandon, a duo with an incredibly imaginitive and sensitive acoustic guitar player named Paul Abbott and an equally incredibly dynamic and emotive singer, Randi Driscoll. Because I was deep into my progressive rock music and was only distracted by Melissa's gravitation to sappy soft rock, Rekless Abandon was foreign to me. First off, where was the band? It's just a dude and a chick strumming and singing! The drummer in me was unimpressed. But all this got me out of the house. There were a couple other musicians I recall seeing there. At first I was more impressed with a fellow named Dominick Giovanellio, a solo guitarist/singer who had some songs that I recall were tinged with some humor and wit. Another night I might have seen—and sat in with on drums—the Ray Iverson Quartet, a traditional jazz combo that I really had no business sitting in with, but they were gracious enough to let me do it twice. There was a blues band that I saw a couple times. Or maybe that was just their name?

He Played with Frank Zappa

But by far there is more at stake by returning to Rekless Abandon. They had a tape that I eventually got, and then another once it came out later in the year. Kelli and Kay had seen Paul and Randi play several times and were on first name basis with them. They even had them play a house party at the Treehouse. I was along at Beans and got to meet Paul somewhat. Enough anyway that after I'd seen the following spectacle at least twice I had to ask Paul what the hell I just saw. The thing is, while I remember certain things and certain impressions, since I was not steeped in the history of Rekless Abandon and did not yet have an inkling of how the San Diego music scene was networked, even now I don't have all the facts about the story I am about to tell. Yet I am certain I have asked people who were there those nights and who made it happen. Here goes.

At the end of their set, Paul and Randi did a boisterous song with a fierce chorus that I'm pretty sure went "Freaks! Freaks! Mother Fuckers!" repeatedly. That was obviously a crowd favorite as it got patrons into singing it too. But the curious thing was that they invited a bespectacled, long black hair flowin', trenchcoat and purple knit cap wearin' (or was it the purple and green pork pie hat?) guy up to the stage to sing that refrain in full vigor. Was it random? Could I get called up if I shouted and waved most enthusiastically? Once I saw it in two performances I knew there was something. He wasn't just another guy in the crowd. At the set break, this trenchcoat dude garnered some adoration and attention, even at a rather isolated coffee shop. Who was he? I had to ask Paul.

"Oh, that's Mike. He's a friend of ours. He's played with Frank Zappa..."

That got my attention. Not even so much because I was a fan. I wasn't a fan, and even now I'd be slow to call myself a fan of Zappa. Back then I had not one Zappa recording, but this sped up the process so that I had one by about June. It turned out that I started tentatively picking up some Zappa from the used CD shops. During the summer I was crafting some drum/vocal ode to Zappa for Rhythmic Catharsis. In early November I went to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. 1993 was the year of getting into Zappa. It proved to be an oddly fated year for that.

The stuff I was doing with Rhythmic Catharsis was intuitively attempting to appropriate the dirty humor part of what Zappa did but never in a million years could I ever compose anything even as musical as his farts! Later in the year I crossed paths with Mike again at another Rekless Abandon show at another coffee shop, Rumors in Ocean Beach. It seems Mike was there to watch but had somehow become their soundman for the night. I was there with some new bandmates from New Electron Symphony, and Ian, the NES bandleader who surely would enjoy Zappa but did not know Mike, was really bugged at the sound that night. By that time in late November 1993, I'd gathered enough knowledge to wonder about Zappa, his studio, and his methods. At break time, I went outside and listened in on some open conversation and then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth. I hereby met Mike Keneally.

How's that Foot Taste?

Almost verbatim from my journal from December 7, I wrote, picking up on Paul's first mentioning of Mike's claim to fame...

He looked a little young [for having played with FZ who was in his 50s. Mike was 31]. Well, about two weeks ago I saw Rekless Abandon at Rumors, only about a week before I played there with NES. I saw Paul's friend again and talked to him. Sure enough, he played with Zappa in the last touring band in 1988. Since then he has played with (and still does) Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. If that's so he's also been playing in a band [Z] which as seen the likes of Chad Wackerman, Doane Perry, and several others. The best in the biz. And the album he played on is one which also has Sting guesting on it! He told me a little more about Frank's studio and his history with Frank's band, and his solo stuff. I asked if Frank was still active in music. He said no. Frank is very very sick.

Who would have known that Frank died a week later on December 4th?

Strangely, I turned on the news today at 4 pm, something I never do. As I watched, a clip came in just before the commercial: something about the "late Frank Zappa." The LATE Frank Zappa?

Man. I felt so bad for asking such trivial shit of Mike just a week before his hero and mentor died.

I don't think I saw Mike for some time, but I did later hear his name in September 1994 when I went to a digital studio to do finish work on the Slaves By Trade recording that was new then. Joe Statt, the engineer, said Mike Keneally had been there recently with a whole mess of DAT tapes that he composited into his new album, Boil That Dust Speck. That Keneally name kept coming up. Was there a message in it? I found out when I saw my first Mike Keneally show in December of 1994—a year after the foot-in-mouth incident. And that was like losing my virginity all over again. But better!

Now, Where Were We?

Okay, so you saw I started this entry on one topic and then hovered for a while on Kelli talk, and then got to Keneally. Exactly. When I think of how all this stuff unfolded from that breakup with my first girlfriend (who as I said in the previous entry was someone who had her eye on me for some time prior to our dating, and whose parents were friends with mine before I was born...the story goes backwards and forwards), my mind is always blown. But this whole post is also a very diffuse thank you to Kelli who of course is my dear wife now. But even that was years in the future and was dotted with many stops and starts along the way. But the grand point that I have to make is how she's been accomplice to reshaping my life at some interesting times when I've felt, well, dead in my soul, defeated, lost. Kelli has often been responsible for sparking a new me into existence, for a rebirth of my spirit. And that's the honest truth.

The story of Kelli in my life is in some ways parallel (up to a point) with Melissa. But then there was an incredible divergence. Analogous to the prenatal history of Melissa's folks being party buddies with mine is the fact that before Kelli was born, Kay was at the same church as the one my grandmother helped found. Kay was my Sunday School teacher for a while when I was about 5-8 and Kelli and I used to have some play experience together. In both cases I was about three years older and had childhood experiences with Kelli and Melissa, even a few miles apart in town, mostly around Clairemont for a while. Kelli moved to Florida. Melissa to Mira Mesa. Both arrived back on the scene for me within about six months during the summer leading to or within my senior year in high school. To be honest, I didn't imagine a relationship with either until somehow circumstances seemed right according to the great mysteries and machinations of the universe. Back then, while I had made myself comfortable with Melissa because she was present and willing to be in a relationship, but I was really holding out for Shelby for no particularly tangible reason. Interestingly, it took until that imaginary relationship collapsed in 2000 before the way was clear to be open to Kelli. 

And that's about where the similarities end. I'm certain I got the better partner in the end. But try telling that to the tortured 19 year old for whom the world seemed to come to an end until Kelli, still pretty young but already wise beyond her years, was just a friend who was willing to connect at a substantial level that I didn't feel was possible with other people in general but certainly with Melissa. It's kind of odd how one had shallow roots and the other deeper roots. Melissa always (even now, from what I can see when I do a quick web search) seemed to be into stuff I'd never be interested in. Kelli was like an oasis the way she kept the light on for me, a living connection to matters of faith and spirituality, allowing life to be complex and messy because she too knew that was a major pattern. In one way it was good that the whole Melissa chapter was done by the time I was 21 (we had a short fling the following year), and good also that Kelli finally made sense to me in time to turn 30 (28, really). The years in between had a considerable darkness lurking that really set me up to recognize what Kelli meant after so many years of church youth groups, casual friendship, collaborating on a CD, and a bit of pre-dating foolin' around. Ultimately, as the story goes elsewhere on this blog, the summer of 2001, with two tragedies hitting us (9/11 and the murder of one of our church buddies, Daniel, a month before), we found ourselves cashing in our relationship capital and recognizing we needed to be closer if the world around us was going to keep descending into utter madness. And then closer still. It's quite a story. But now you just read one big chunk that hitherto had barely been mentioned.

And of course volumes could be written about how things worked out after I saw Keneally play in December 1994. The effect he had on my creativity was immense. Following leads opened up by interacting with him has taken me down many avenues. There are even a few interesting bits concerning how the Keneally and Kelli worlds have interacted. That is another entry altogether.

Taken together, it's all the story of my life. The greatest story ever told, man...


Names Will Never Hurt Me...Sort Of

Oh, I think most people had someone taunt them as a young'un. The ones who didn't seem to have natural taunters at school probably had them at home and they just brought the gift to school to share with everyone else. I had mine. And with them came the much despised names and chants that rubbed it in.

In elementary school, most specifically through fourth grade, my much-maligned name was Eddie Spaghetti. The fuller taunt was "Eddie Spaghetti, your meatballs are ready." I hated that name—and that dish—for years to come. In the last two years of elementary school I went to a different school and got a chance at a clean slate with the names. I don't recall people ever automatically latched on to the Eddie Spaghetti taunt. I was relieved. One day on the bus, since I was one of the last stops, I reluctantly let the secret out on some kind of "you tell me yours, I'll tell you mine" dare. I don't recall if I regretted that but it did bring back some sour times.

In 1996, I had some fun with the various ways people had made fun at the expense of my good name Ed, in a snappy little one-two punk song bearing my name. By that point, other variations on Ed (McMahon, Gein, Wood, Scissorhands, Mister) had become known to me. Not all were taunts. But the song was a chance to finally own my dreaded past. Hah.

Meanwhile, years later I was told that Kelli never liked her name to be rhymed with "belly." Even I don't get to mess around like that.

Then, this week, the darndest thing happened.

We went to Costco some days before and when selecting some meat dish that we'd want to pick up, we bypassed the fish, the Italian sausage, and even the rotisserie chicken. I offered it had been a while since we had meatballs. So we got a bag of those.

On Thursday night we were both nursing colds and were hoping for a mellow night. I put the meatballs into the spaghetti sauce and set them on a slow simmer so everything would mingle for a while. Then Kelli came home and finished off her work. She started on the spaghetti. She's just a bit more practiced in getting the noodles right. I was off setting the table in the other room when I head a shout and maybe a naughty word that startled me. Kelli just scalded herself with the boiling water as she tried to drain the noodles. It splashed all over her... belly. Even as she walked out of the kitchen that first time, pulling up her shirt, the skin was lifted and curled back in an area of a few square inches. Red.

A quick Google check to see what we might do...

At the moment it didn't look too bad but I couldn't feel it of course. After some running around town to find an urgent care (that was actually open and took our insurance) and finally finding one back down in San Diego, we found it was a second degree burn. They got her some burn cream and a dressing and a prescription.

On the way home, after all that drama, as she got out of the passenger door and reached for its frame to shut it, she had the misfortune of gripping the thorn of a rosebush branch that reached over the fence. Nice.

Anyhow, that's the facts of Thursday.

But back to the childhood taunts. What a weird world it is when in one event, both our reviled names are brought to our minds. We sat there at dinner munching on the spaghetti. Kelli uttered "Eddie Spaghetti." To which I retorted, "Kelli belly." We had a laugh that defied the weight of the moment and probably made us cough up a lung in the process. Then it sprung to mind that this was even more cosmically ordained because there were meatballs involved and they were indeed ready!

Married life is indeed an interesting path to walk. The old hurts of life have the strangest ways of being processed. You just can't make this stuff up.


The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Tuesday's Return

A funny thing happened this morning. The first plan to leave for home would be the obvious, which would be to plan to travel about seven hours on the route which brought us to Yosemite. Bo-ring!!! The Central Valley of California is a pretty damned boring place unless you're taking notes on things agriculture related, or counting gas stations and chain restaurants and maybe cracks in the concrete road surface. There's really nothing to see if you're not in the foothills of the Sierras. And by that I mean, there's nothing to see between there and San Diego! So we resolved to get up and take the Tioga road, out the northeast part of the park over to the town of Lee Vining on the shore of Mono Lake, and then to drive down the US-395 all the way to Victorville and then burn it home. To my knowledge, I'd never done the upper half of that, and there was a chunk of 395 that I hadn't done. There was a part between Lone Pine/Manzanar and the CA-178 that Kelli and I had done twice on our Death Valley trips. The second of which was done at night, but hey...

Thinking we'd maybe get up at 8 and make the drive, we didn't anticipate that I'd get up at about 4ish in the morning, walk out to the bathroom for a whizz, and then upon my return and attempt at sleep, realize that maybe we ought to just leave as early as we could, even if that meant that we just make a break for it now. Around 4:30 Kelli stirred. I made the suggestion we just wake up and get out. After some hemming and hawing, we did just that. With nothing but a couple lights to gather our stuff from the bear locker and the tent, we packed up and didn't mess around. Checked out and got on the road by about 5:40. It takes a good 15 minutes to just get out of the valley and to start making the climb out the western side.

The move was a good one. The distance was nominally more than the straight shot down to Fresno and through the valley, but from the get go, in the pre-dawn darkness, this felt mystical and fascinating. The canopy of trees in the valley made for some serious darkness. Typically not living in a place or time that knows real nature and the darkness of the forest, it's easy to see how old myths and stories could be launched, and how the forest commands a place of respect when it's that dark and mysterious.

We got out of the valley just as the day started to break. Winding around the western side of the park and up to the eastbound Tioga Pass road was indeed a thing of wonder. The altitude along that road gets up to 9500' and more. The surrounding low areas were covered in mist. It hadn't been too cold down in the valley, but we found that the car's thermometer read 42 degrees. I just happened to be wearing a T shirt, shorts, and sandals and it was when we got out to gas up and more so as we gained altitude that I noticed it was a wee bit chilly. It prompted me to put on a light coat. Since we hurried out of camp, Kelli didn't get her precious coffee, and even a couple hours later, I was only half way through hearing about it. At one point we turned into another camping area that purported to have a general store. The place was closed up tight but the detour off the main road brought us to a meadow where the icy mists were heavy and low to the ground and again, were one of those stupendously beautiful things to behold. At a few points, we saw deer, even multiples. A time or two, we turned a corner only to find one smack in the middle of the road, at once commanding our attention and reverence. Got a few pictures of the elusive creatures but none so well captured in the camera's eye as our own when all of a sudden there it was, before us.

One notable stop along the Tioga Road was Olmstead Point, a place where one sits at or above the level of Half Dome, now several miles down the valley but a fiercely amazing sight from the opposite side of what one sees while in the valley or at Glacier point. A quarter mile hike gets one to the best viewing location with no obstructions. There is a lot of pronounced glacial history on the rocks that make up the Olmstead lookout. Polished granite surfaces, randomly deposited boulders sitting upon larger boulders and rock formations... The view from the top of the Tenaya valley down into Yosemite valley was mighty. It has to be one of the most beautiful sights I've put eyes upon. We hiked out and got several pictures. All this before about 8:30 in the morning.

The entire road was amazing, and one lovely sight was Tenaya Lake that is just a bit east of Olmstead. We didn't have time to investigate but it was a treat for the eyes. Just a shimmering mountain lake that speaks of all things good and pure. Then onward down the road we got to Toulumne Meadows, also a lovely place that we only paid lip service to (except that here was where we found the coffee that would finally switch Kelli on for the day). I've only been to Yosemite a couple times, but I think that Toulumne Meadows was a place I'd been before. I had a vague memory of a daytrip up there while at one of the old man's motorcycle rally events in the 80s. I recall it being quite cold, even in May, and also high altitude (8600'). Seeing that there are just a few roads up in Yosemite, I guess this was the second time I was there.

It would make sense why that was the end of the line for that day trip back then. I didn't realize that Toulumne was so close to the edge of the park and that the geography changed rather notably in just a few miles. After a last ascent through some lovely areas east of Toulumne, we saw the landscape changing to more jagged surfaces, fewer trees, and a range of other colors. In no time we were at the gate, exiting Yosemite at the Tioga Pass, 9,943' up. Not long after that we were on our way down the hill in a really big way. At one point before the major descent, a newly constructed bridge spans a relatively short distance just alongside the nearly perfectly vertical mountainside that was blasted away. I had never actually seen such a mountainside up close before. I went and got some pictures of the bored out holes where the dynamite was lodged in the rock, and then the rather artistic but stark fractured rock that radiates like abstract spokes from the blast hole. Some gawking at the valley below and a contemplation of the CalTrans plaque that explains the treachery of the entire Tioga Road and we had to see ourselves off.

The road was a glorious one, descending pretty quickly down to Lee Vining, the town that forms the junction point of the Tioga Road and US-395. It's also situated at Mono Lake. We stopped at the visitor center there and did a rather hurried run through the outdoor path. It would have been a mile or so down to the actual coastline to see the tufa formations. We were planning on taking in some extra sights on the way home so everything was going to have to be quick. The morning cool gave way to a rather hot sun at the lower elevation, in the high desert, still at some elevation even after coming down from nearly 10,000'. I had originally hoped to get to Mono Lake to spend a bit more time as a side trip during a full day in Yosemite. I was cautioned against it because of the 90 miles we just drove being something too nice to take in in a hurry. Okay, I see what was meant by that. And then of course, just turning around and doing it in reverse would be too tempting to stop for other pictures under different light. So this time Mono got short schrift in favor of a logical route. I can't quite tell if there was anything else I'd be interested in there, except to take it in the sublime beauty under different light, or to enjoy the funky little town of Lee Vining.

At least at the visitor center we were able to ask if there was any logic in trying to get down to the Devil's Postpile Monument, something that only appeared on the map as we did the early Tioga drive. It looked tempting but it was situated about 25 miles off 395 down some dead end mountain road. Was it worth a couple hours' detour? Uh... not this time, though we left that decision till we actually came up on the turnoff and then declined.

What started as a dark early morning drive from a warm valley into the high and nippy Sierra mountains, with clear skies, and then progressed to a very hot desert at the other side of the mountains became yet one more atmospheric adventure. As we drove south along 395 the clouds amassed at the mountain tops. And then lower elevations. The sky was simply astoundingly beautiful as we passed through the area around Mammoth. At points we got some heavy rain, but then drove out of it just as quickly. This was still part of the trip that neither of us had made before so the whole thing exploded in wonder for us. It would be a hundred miles or so before we got to familiar territory down at Lone Pine.

In the mean time, just making the pass through Bishop or racing past the sign to the White Mountains (where the ancient Bristlecone pine trees stand) caused us sparks of "oohs" and "ahhs" signifying that it might be a place to return to as we chip away at California's varied destinations and points in between. I have enjoyed the hamlets along the 395 in the Owens Valley; they seem like the places that time forgot. They have their mid 20th century charm about them, but are usually in some kind of decay, if not seemingly deserted. Oh, a place like Bishop was loaded up with a rather decent complement of the same names I'd see here but it wasn't as big a town and so it didn't feel oppressively ugly like I find things can get in the city. There's a more or less distinct "in" and "out" of the town—and not too far apart, either.

One rather tiny town, Independence, looked like someplace you'd expect from the movie Brokeback Mountain (situated in Montana). Small town in a big expanse of land and sky. Not a lot of activity, even on a Tuesday at two in the afternoon or so. We were pretty hungry by then and sought out someplace with about as much local color as possible. A place called Jenny's was a restaurant that used the old Freemason hall. If it weren't in eastern California, it could easily by in Iowa. I got a Rueben sandwich. I was actually surprised that the meat was, well, authentic. The fries too were actually made from potatoes too. Hmmm. You know how some of those off-main kinds of places can be, and of course, living in San Diego's foodiest neighborhood for a while started to spoil us. This food was actually worth eating. I mean, it ran rings around the utter garbage that was peddled in the Phoenix SkyHarbor airport Fox Sports Grill.

Next to the Masons' hall was the courthouse, a stately building with columns aspiring to architectural greatness in search of a city to wrap around it. Yes it was on the main drag through town, but there was so little else that commanded attention like that. At least not in a positive way. I strolled down the main road for a few blocks, camera in hand, and found a handful of things. The post office was one of those wimpy attempts at architecture from the mid 20th century. Just enough to get the job done. But it was white with red and blue bands that reinforce the national colors, particularly in a town called Independence. 

I think I was more interested in the derelict side of the town, as made evident by the Pines Cafe, Mair's Market (not sure if I got the name right), and the Foreign Legion hall. Boarded up. Painted over windows and signage. Rotten wood. Spider webs. Trash collecting in doorways. I didn't see any WalMarts, and the nearest one (or anything like it) could only be in Bishop. It's a sad thing to see such a place seemingly gutted of its modest vitality. To see the places boarded up, you can only imagine what the places were like before the mid 90s or when they served the hard working locals and the mountaineering adventurers and other folks who demonstrated the grit it took to live or sport in that landscape in the high desert or into the mountains.

Even smaller than Independence, or even than Lone Pine where we'd stayed before is a tiny place called Olancha. Even calling it a place is rather generous. It's one of those locations where you have to wonder if there is any there there. It's really just a little outcropping at the junction of 395 and CA-190, the gateway to Death Valley. Now there's a claim to fame! Olancha is a place that once served as a piss stop on a motorcycle trip my old man and I made in February 1988. It was on that trip that I had the distinct misfortune of forgetting to pack a toothbrush for the trip. By the end of the three day weekend, my mouth felt awful. I had braces during that period so there was probably even more funkiness going on than I care to remember. Anyhow, that brief piss break following the amazing road out of Death Valley (that 1988 trip being the first time I saw the 190's sights) has lodged itself in my mind. But even in the quarter century since that trek through the area, Olancha seemed even more dead. Maybe it's because the gas station has been closed and boarded up for seemingly most of that time. Still, I got out and took some pictures. Those post-oil kinds of relics just call for my attention.

But by far the tumultuous sky playing over the forested mountains was the thing to remember for this trip home. At various points along the way we got fierce rain for a few feet, and then none, and then some more. The clouds were very impressive as they masked the Sierra mountain tops. It had a very awe inspiring "biblical" kind of look and feel. Since this is just the late summer, it was still rather hot, and the clouds made it rather muggy, not cold and brisk.

Eventually, the Owens Valley gives way to landscape that just isn't as charming, down near the lower end of the Sierras, as one approaches Ridgecrest. We decided that for the adventure, we'd drive the whole length of the 395 down to Victorville where it joins the 15. The timing would be such that it would be the end of the scenic driving and then we'd hit the freeway not too far north of the Cajon Pass. To drive the freeway in the desert is efficient but misses a bunch of local flavor. The deserts are just filled with some of the oddest shit. Only in the past two years have Kelli and I unleashed a latent interest in exploring the state we've called home nearly all our lives (she lived in Florida for seven years and Vermont for a semester). The smaller roads that usually got ignored as seeming too insignificant might still be insignificant, but for once, our trips of late have tried to take in more of them. What have we been missing when we take the same old roads that seem uninteresting at 80 miles per hour? And why do smaller roads seem more interesting even if the speed limit is quite lower?

It is sad to say though that the places that look like smallish cities and towns on a map often turn out to be filled with the dreck we sought to escape. Places that seem off the beaten path are getting a bit harder to find. Show me to the place devoid of Loew's, WalMart, Home Depot, Carl's Jr.; even passing them on the freeway is a soul-sucking experience. Even as we had a pretty good distance of relatively empty desert to cross, when you can't go for even two hours' drive without seeing a piece of what writer and critic James Howard Kunstler calls "the Geography of Nowhere," it's hard not to feel like you've gone so far, only to be surrounded with the stuff you left. In Southern California, most specifically in the San Diego area, it's nearly necessary to get at least 130 miles away to get away from things. If San Diego was the static point in a compass' radial sweep around the region, it becomes evident that one must try to escape the gravitational pull of the oppressive ugliness of our manmade landscape.

And then, there are times when the sheer ugliness of the manmade landscape is part of the fun. The desert affords both the natural beauty and the obscenity of human ambition and wastefulness. With all that space and the fierce climate, there's little incentive to do things to keep things beautiful. No incentive to do much to create order. No incentive to even clean up or tear down old structures. And no real protection against vandals, looters, or others into making mischief. So the landscape is often littered not just with the kinds of junk you'd expect on a roadside: cans and bottles, fast food, occasional busted furniture. Nope, it's just home to old buildings that are caved in. Boarded up. Blown out from amateur explosives or meth production. Who knows. And then, you might have to admit that even the places that are still lived in are pretty much eyesores. 

When we passed through Adelanto, a town closing in on Victorville, we saw the imposing tail fins of commercial aircraft, but it didn't make sense why there'd be an airport out there. Was it military? A boneyard of old decommissioned craft? It turns out, it's neither. But that made it more interesting, if not a bit disturbing. It's a "logistics airport" —a term I'd never heard of. It turns out to be an ultracommercial hub of shipping activity in the age of globalized trade. It's got massive land to spread out upon yet is still fairly close to the greater Los Angeles area, and by extension the entire west coast.

After Victorville's merging of the 395 with the 15 freeway, it was literally and figuratively all downhill from there. Just about two hours more of burning down the 215 and 15 in the twilight and then the dark, and the trip was over. Living in Escondido now means that we're essentially 30 miles closer to any destination up that way. Hardly much to get excited about but a half hour's a half hour. We got back and chatted with Lois, our friend who was nice enough to come to the house and stay to keep Buber Dog company. And now, what do I do with another 700 pictures? Yikes. I still haven't done anything with all the other pictures of the other trips! 


The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Monday

Our last full day in the park was to be an excellent day of sightseeing, more or less along one road to the absolutely stellar Glacier Point, a lookout over the valley some 3000 feet below. (It also happened to be Kelli's birthday.)

We hit the road about 9:15. The drive through the valley is lush and beautiful but it gets a bit repetitive since it is essentially a one way loop that one must go around to get anywhere. Even to get on the southbound CA-41 road toward the Glacier Point turnoff, half the loop must be driven, even swinging back around toward the campsite part way, and then peeling off in another direction. And then the 41 is a low speed road, mostly at about 35mph. Yesterday's drive to the Mariposa Grove took about an hour to get those same 35 miles. This turned out to be about the same, but with a left turn involved about half way to Mariposa Grove.

Considering the road was light of traffic and it was a Monday morning when we expected all the families with kids were gone, it seemed for a while that we might not have so many tourists. That was proven wrong at the first hiking stop we made—Sentinel Dome. Not being avid hikers, we didn't really plan to do much more than rubberneck, so we departed the car with too little water and without any real breakfast in us. The hike was about a mile out and supposedly terminated in a fantastic view but with no food either in us or on us, and just a bit of water, we backed out and made our way for the car, deciding to go only about 1/3 of the roundtrip distance.

We headed out on the last stretch of the road and came to the dead end loop at Glacier Point. Okay, if we hadn't found our tourists before, they were all here. Or enough of them were, anyway. It was noon and therefore rather hot too. Not my favorite mix. It's always these gorgeous places that attract the noisiest people, the kids, the swarms of either foreigners or worse, Americans. There are so many who want to get exactly the same photos at the same location, and with every permutation of their family or party in the frame. Okay, we're the same too, but we like to go and be reverent and we speak in modest tones that don't call attention and just fill the air with noise.

Being among the last days of summer proper, it was pretty hot by the time we were there. The concessions stand was pretty welcoming after we saw people milling around with ice cream bars in their mouths. We surely tracked that place down and had one before going into the scenic areas. The shaded area outside the store was welcome but taken mostly. Still, it was a nice respite from being in the sun before we went out and did our own gawking at the scenic points.

There are two parts of Glacier point, and both tell close to the same story, but one part, a bit south and east of the more commercial part, feels more like it's tied to earth. Both feature the most kick ass views of Half Dome from a level nearly equivalent to Half Dome's 8000' elevation. We were at about 7200' and while that doesn't seem like much, the fact that there is a valley floor that is as low as 3000' below is pretty damned remarkable. We're talking about a straight drop. Sick!

If I had a serious camera and was prepared to really make the best possible shots, these places would hold even more appeal. And of course, if there were either fewer tourists or at least the silent and reverent ones I wish for, then it would make the experience even nicer still if all there was to do was to sit and take it in. But as such they aren't and I haven't so I do the best I can with either my tripod, getting some pictures of Kelli and I together, or for this trip, the a new gadget was employed to get some shots. It's just the upper section of an old tripod I had from years back, shorn of legs, and amounting to an 18" extension of my arm with the camera at the end. It's good enough to get a solo snapshot or some shots of the two of us with the timer enabled. It also is a lot less to carry and of course requires nothing much in setup and positioning. It proved invaluable for shooting while driving down the road, helping to steady shots while going at any speed. Not to mention, when doing road shooting, two hands on the camera rig is a safer bet so nothing drops onto the road, never to be seen again.

Since this was our last full day in the park, we started on our way out of Glacier Point, stopping again at the concessions stand for another couple ice creams and a last look out over the amazing valley network carved by glaciers over eons of time.

On the road back we stopped at Bridalveil Falls for that relatively short hike under the forest canopy. While on that path toward the rather thin-flowing falls, we spotted a climber high up on the sheer cliff face. It was hard to tell if he was moving at all, even in the half hour we were there. Being as hot as it was, it baffled us how someone would want to be in such a spot, seemingly unable to do such a thing as change into or out of a shirt. Oh well, the world's big enough for people of all interests. We got to the uppermost part of the trail where the signs emphatically cautioned not to climb on the slick rocks in the area near the bottom of the falls. They cautioned that serious injury or death is a regular occurrence. The rocks were clearly tough to navigate, not just in their random placement and jagged edges, but in the fact that the smooth surfaces could cause a slip at any moment, even when they were dry. Still, even in our few minutes there, some dumbfuck was trying to impress his girlfriend and without even gaining on the falls, went and proved himself worthy of the Darwin Awards, slipping into a gap and giving himself a good knock, but not getting injured.

Then after Bridalveil came my favorite part of the trip. It was the quietest, most unassuming part. On driving back to the campsite, we stopped at the river like we had on our initial arrival a couple days before. This time it was pretty sparsely attended. By this point, it was time to put the camera down, not fret about getting the clothing a bit wet, and just going in and savoring the river's absolutely mellowing effect. After all the tourists at every other place—and even at this same place a few days earlier—this was what I felt I came for. It started off feeling cold. Even in the summer, it is still mountain runoff and pretty cold that close to the source, but after being immersed in it for a few minutes, it started to feel quite bearable. The afternoon sun was sinking behind trees, and then ultimately behind the towering El Capitan. There were just a few folks around, but all quiet and seemingly in tune with the splendor all around. The water was mostly shallow, but it was welcoming to come up most of the way up my legs, and to let the mountain's bounty flow around me. This was hands down my favorite part so far. I wish there was more than just about a half hour to enjoy it.

This being Kelli's birthday, we got back to the village with our wet feet and pants and got some groceries and a pizza that we took back to the campsite for our final night. We had to be sure to finish off the 1.5 liter bottle of wine before we left, and this was the fine excuse to do so. While at the campsite we found our night's neighbors were a couple of Swiss girls who were touring California and trying to sample a bunch of things in the west. They had some naive ideas of traveling Route 66, and that led to some correction that they'd need to cruise a couple thousand miles one way, and that only a few places could be reached in the few days they had left, and that plenty of the kitchy, nostalgic spots are dribbled all about but not all were that interesting. It got us into some talk about southwestern bucket list destinations. We pitched them Death Valley, having fallen in love with the place on our two trips there. Eventually we retreated to our respective dinners and later on Kelli and I went for our final showers before we would leave the campsite. We got some things packed up and decided to leave some for morning.


The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Sunday

Sunday had that Saturday feel, actually. Waking up in that tent at the Housekeeping Camp was done to the sounds of kids out playing and yelling. It was eight in the fuggin' morning. Give it a rest, you monkeys! But alas, I realized that if it was Sunday morning, they were probably all on their way out in time for checkout and were getting some last kicks in before the check out time and ultimately, before school started the next day, maybe bringing their summers to a close if they had not been in school for the week prior.

Kelli and I made our way about a half mile over to Yosemite Village where the most familiar kinds of facilities were: restaurants, store, services, and among all that, things like the Ansel Adams photography gallery and the visitor's center with the interpretive displays demonstrating what the park has to offer. We milled around there and then availed ourselves of the free shuttle that works the path around the valley destinations and campsites. I had camera in hand and got a few snapshots.

Our big destination for the day was the Mariposa Grove of the supersized sequoia trees. There was a very scenic drive that is only about 30 miles along a very winding path on CA-41. It is very serpentine and scales a few thousand feed so it actually takes about an hour to do the relatively short path. As the road climbs out of the valley there is a gorgeous vista point that looks back on the valley. At the time we thought it was cool but we had yet to do the drive to Glacier Point: the destination for Monday, nor had we done the Tioga Road. But on the way to the Mariposa Grove, this was quite a sample of what we were in store for.

Despite going on the weekend AFTER Labor Day, the place was still rather busy for my taste. Of course I realize that even my being there is part of the problem. Arriving at the Mariposa Grove, able to take the humbling place among the largest of the living things upon the Earth, there were some moments of powerful emotions. Getting to the grove at just before 3 pm, and finding it a very hilly place we could never cover in the next three hours of daylight, we opted to take the tram at $18 apiece. The vehicle itself was a natural gas burning tractor truck (sort of like a drinking water truck) with an open air passenger trailer. It had a pretty good PA system with narration of the tour and comments from historians, botanists, park rangers, and the like. All the trees along the path had railing around them. There was no pavement, only a dirt path for the shuttle route and then other foot paths with railings along them.

You see, the completely amazing thing about these trees is that even though they are the largest living things, standing nearly 300' tall, they have a fragile, shallow root system. They spread out pretty wide, at about 100' around, but never very deep. We're talking about 6' or less for these towering giants. All the fences attempt to keep people from trampling that fragile root system, but it's probably too little since it's not really possible to cultivate a love for these trees by keeping people 100' away, especially where there are some trees that are close together along the path. While you can stand at a distance and marvel, the real powerful experiences come from standing at the bases of these magnificent, almost sentient beings, craning your neck to look up. One particular tree, the Grizzly Giant, looks almost grotesquely huge. A relatively short example at just 209', it has a ginormous trunk diameter of 28', and its primary branch has a diameter of 6' (with a staggering 96' circumference!) —larger than many trees most of us would commonly see.

It's an amazing thing, even taking the cursory two hours or so in the grove. It doesn't seem like that could possibly be enough. But I was ever aware that it's probably too much. For the trees, I mean. Too much for those trees to have hordes of humans stomping and driving around in a place that only the lightly-treading native population and just a scant few Westerners ever saw in its completely natural state. The park services are in an odd place, making these precious groves open to so many people. Even though the place naturally provokes reverence, anything being done up there is by definition a disruption of things. It's easy to look about the parking lot and to see just two hours' worth of crowds and to imagine this going on all day every day for a couple seasons a year could not be beneficial. And that is today's reality with a generally progressive conservation effort going on. Seeing what constituted tourism in the days of old could be rather disturbing. The one remaining tree with a car-sized path cut through its trunk is one such case. Yes, it's novel and exhilarating to stand within the core of a tree like this. But really, it's uncalled for to have paths cut through them. It just seems like a barbaric and unenlightened thing to do. But in 1895 when the cut was made, it must have made some sense. (This was the second giant tree we'd visited in our California tours. The first was during our honeymoon tour, stopping at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett over in the Redwoods up near Fort Bragg. That time we did drive our PT Cruiser rental car through it.)

Kelli had a rather peculiar experience that afternoon in the Mariposa Grove. A week or so before, a beloved and personally supportive member of her church (formerly mine too) had died. We'd not be able to get to the memorial which coincidentally happened about the same time as we got to the grove of the giants. Kelli, a bit sour that this great trip caused her to miss the memorial, blogged that she had an epiphany that she belonged among the trees that day:

I had already planned to be out-of-town the day that was scheduled for Antonia’s memorial service, so I did not get to share the impact she had on my life with her family at that time. I was in a grove of grand Sequoia trees at the time of her memorial. Minutes after I expected her service was over I felt the undeniable feeling of her hug surrounding me and I knew I had made the right choice in not changing my plans–that I needed to be surrounded by trees that were growing when Jesus walked the earth to continue my path of ministry. She knew this and knew right where I’d be.

The great wilderness can do that to a person.

Alas, all we had was about two and a half hours and we had a half cooked plan to bail on the grove and head out, up the road to the turnoff to get to Glacier Point. It was 5 pm as we were leaving the Sequoias, and with the forest being tall and dense, it looked later still since the sunlight didn't permeate the canopy. As we got onto the road, we did the math and had to admit that with the miles to the turnoff and then 16 more miles of this curvy and speed-controlling road, we'd get there but too late to see much of to take pictures. Just as well. There was tomorrow too, and it was getting time to take it easy. Not being avid hikers and hoping for some down time while on vacation, we opted to get back to the valley and get some dinner.

On the way down we were able to snap a few more pictures at the touristy vista point that we visited on the way up. It was more touristy, as everyone and his brother were there with cameras, ready for shooting all during the sunset period, with Half Dome and its peers bathed in the orange glow. We got our snapshots and bailed.

We stopped in at the little old wooden church in the valley, not too far from our campsite, and to our surprise, there was a small service in there. It was sunday night after 6 pm and there were about six people in there when we sneaked in like, well, church mice. Inside, the construction was quite nice for what amounted to a country church. The preacher was dressed casually and the few who were there even more so. The preacher man had his guitar laid over its case which in turn was laid upon the piano. That was the worship music, I guess. It was pretty casual. We were unimpressed in the five minutes or so we sat there. Preacher man was hopscotching his way through this text or that and doing some weird associations that didn't suit us. So we ducked out and headed to the campsite, but not before spying a few deer in the meadow near the church.

We retreated to our campsite after stopping in at the store and getting some fresh food. After the road snack kinds of food we'd been having, a salad was as refreshing a treat as the mist that we wish we'd been able to have upon us at one of the falls. Fresh fruit too. We had along with a 1.5 liter bottle of wine that we'd tackle a bit each night but to be honest, the drowsiness from the wine was uncalled for since those days, with altitude, heat, and walking around, were enough to make a person tired. For as primitive as the accommodations were, the beds, dressed in our own blankets and pillows, were comfy enough to put us to sleep. Sunday night was far quieter after all the families left. The opposite half of the concrete/tent structure was empty that night and the campground was also with many vacancies. The lack of noise and smoke suggested this wasn't such a bad place to be after all. It hadn't seemed that way on the first night, but now it was turning out to be okay.


The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Saturday

There weren't any morning prayers but the nun was there at the counter at 8:45 when we went down for our modest motel style breakfast of fresh waffle and a bowl of cereal. For $40 covering both of us, there's no sense in whining. The fact that they can afford to put a bed and AC unit in there for that price is kind of amazing. At Yosemite, we were looking at $96 a night to stay in a concrete shell with two tent tarps stretched over the top with some more flaps forming a doorway, with beds and a picnic table out in the little porch space. The bear-proof box does not have a parallel in any hotel or motel I've ever been in!

Getting on the road, we had to right ourselves after the last minute detour out of Bakersfield. We found ourselves just west of that town and found that the road outside the motel would take us straight over to the 99 freeway. Not too bad. That took 20 minutes and then we were off and running by about 9:30.

The central valley of California is a pretty forgettable place. It's known as America's Salad Bowl because it is such an agriculturally productive region. But on the roads, it's trucks, trashed freeways and mile after mile of farms. There is enough dust and particulate matter combining with the humidity in that huge valley that there is not a lot of visibility. In the summer, it's pretty hot and since it's so far inland, there's no cool refreshing breeze or anything. It's an oppressive place that just sort of needs to be endured on the way to one end of the state or another, or to get to places like Yosemite, Tahoe, and Mono Lake.

But since this day was one when we thought we'd relax and enjoy the route some, it was okay for Kelli to spark a quick drivethrough detour into Kingsburg, a town south of Fresno founded by Swedish immigrants, and that has that kind of small town charm that you can barely connect with in places like San Diego that are surrounded by more cities on all sides, all grown into one another. This was just a quick pass but it was enough to make me think there might be some charming places along these roadways that I have pretty much written off.

Today wasn't the day for investigating the valley though. We were here to get to the mountains and to check in to our funky concrete and canvas yurt at the Yosemite Valley Housekeeping camp. The one town I did want to check out was Mariposa, a place in the foothills some miles before Yosemite's gates. It is a town where I used to visit annually for most years in the 80s when it was the venue for a BMW motorcycle rally that my old man used to take me and (for a couple years of overlap) my step mom to. We always went there on Memorial Day weekend and from year to year I got to see familiar faces and did some day trips to Yosemite. But I doubt I went even in 1989, and if I went in 1988, I have forgotten about it. But from 1981 onward, I think it was an annual ride. The rally was held at the fairgrounds just outside of town, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that Kelli and I could drive into the grounds and just give her an idea of how those old days went for me.

We headed out to the town and stopped to walk around for an hour or so, taking in the old Gold Rush era town. It's kind of like our local mount tourist town Julian, but about 40 years older. We were able to meander our way up and down the two blocks or so of viable town, checking in at a few shops, taking a bathroom break, and stopping in the Yosemite visitor center to get our park pass. I didn't expect much, but it was nice to connect with the town again after over two decades.

All that lay ahead was forty four miles of winding roads, following the Merced river for many miles, upstream into the park. The river just below the road was crystal clear and shimmering in the mid afternoon sun. We came upon the one lane road that has a stop sign at each end of the half mile or so path that navigates a single lane bridge that crosses the river. The signs say it could take 15 minutes to wait out the other direction's traffic, but we got through in less than five. At the boundary of the park there was a gas station to provide the last minute opportunity before entering the valley where there were no stations for miles. It was priced accordingly: $5.01 for the cheap stuff.

The Yosemite Valley is a long and narrow place that is totally shrouded in trees and lined with the granite walls and giant boulders that define the park. The road is primarily a loop with one way lanes running all the way out and back and a few crossing points along the way to make shorter loops. Now having taken my seat as a passenger I was able to shoot the camera at anything and everything. On the one side, the enormous wall of granite, El Capitan, stood like a sentry watching over the valley. Ahead of us, the mighty Half Dome. To the right, Bridalveil Falls, rather sparse in this late season, compounded by drought, but impressive nonetheless. Beside us in the valley, the river and alternating patches of meadows and forest.

We stopped at the Swinging Bridge and enjoyed the water on our feet. It was cold at first, first fruits of the glacial icepacks that birthed it, but it got to feeling quite comfortable after a few minutes. Camera in tow, I was a bit timid about getting too far into the water but it was clear we'd have to get into the river a bit. Kelli watched in wonder and amusement as a duck sailed up right near her like she was an old friend.

After a day of driving what was really about a four hour drive, we decided to get to camp and get established before the store closed at 6. There were lights in the tent and patio but we were wondering if we needed a lantern. Decided against it and also decided against getting a box of firewood. That was a good thing. On the Saturday night before everyone made their sunday trips back home, it was noisy and smoky as everyone had their firepits going. It rather offended my respiratory system, compounding the shift already brought on by the 4000' elevation. I got a headache and found myself rather tired and depleted. But not before a pleasant walk down to the river just a short way from our tent.

The river was shallow and rather calm. It was flowing but not with any force. The valley is deep and the sun is eclipsed from sight about an hour before sunset everywhere else. With the trees everywhere, the effect is that it is getting dark rather early. But look to a higher point—Half Dome—and the sun is all over it, turning it harvest gold and orange. As we walked along the river, following its contour that provided a natural boundary to the campsite, people were out on the sandy shores, watching the sun set on Half Dome. Kelli and I walked along the pebbly beach up to another bridge. Realizing how fine the dust was in the campsite and knowing it would be hopeless to try to keep clean this weekend, we walked into the water again and at least chilled our heels. It was just as easy to kick at the sand some and to go rinse off again. Sweet. Eventually we got back to the tent and had dinner and some of the 1.5 liter bottle of wine we had along for the weekend. I barely needed that to feel totally out of it. Kelli read me something from a book and I dozed off on one of the beds. Needing to take care of the nightly routine stuff, I had to get up and make some effort. But then I was out. Nevermind trying to stay up till my normal 4 am. This was over with by 11 or so.

Stay tuned for more.


The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, preparation

Kelli has been saying for a long time that she wanted to go to Yosemite park for one of our road trips. We've done Death Valley a couple times (with passes through the Kern River valley), Joshua Tree, Big Bear area, San Jacinto Forest via the Palm Springs Tram, Salton Sea, and for our honeymoon in late 2004, a run up the California coast to points up near Eureka. On our last Death Valley trip over Thanksgiving 2011, we did make a try at seeing some Sequoia trees in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park but were thwarted by snow.

This time I was more anxious about embarking on a trip since I have lost my unemployment insurance and therefore have no money coming in. Since it was Kelli's birthday weekend last weekend, there was really no way she was going to be dissuaded so she booked the campsite in Yosemite Valley. The housekeeping camp was described to me as being semi-primitive concrete boxes with canvas ceilings but with a store, bathrooms and shower/laundry facilities nearby. To tell the truth, it didn't really matter much because just three weeks before I was up at a campsite near Shaver Lake, not too far south from Yosemite park. I was at a men's spirituality weekend and spent the night outside in the woods with nothing more than a blanket and camping mattress pad and a pillow. As you'd expect, that wasn't comfortable but it did make Yosemite's modest accommodations seem rather plush. I worried the bugs would be a problem as they were at Shaver Lake but it turned out to be a non-issue.

Having a new car was a luxury to us that we haven't enjoyed except once when we rented a PT Cruiser for our honeymoon trip. For all the trips we've made since 2010 when all this California travel kicked off with a vengeance, we've driven my Toyota truck, a rugged little ride with no shell to keep stuff secure, so as we make stops in that ride, we have to move stuff into the cab and then set it back into the bed upon return. With our curious stops at various roadside monuments, trailheads, and other places that draw our attention, that could be an inconvenient thing to do whenever we thought we'd be out of sight of the truck. Now we went like normal people! And to have a CD player was also a first since the honeymoon trip. My truck just has a stock radio in it.

We planned to stay three nights in the Yosemite tents and knew we'd need to put our food into steel bear lockers. We decided to do what is now a fairly common move: escape Southern California the night before the ultimate destination so we don't have to lose at least four hours just getting through the stuff we've already seen and kinda hate to see again. All that stuff from here to Grapevine on the I-5 is just 195 miles of tedium. Kelli booked a room in "Bakersfield" and said she sent me the confirmation notice but I never got it. Being rather prone to distraction and a bit depressed of late, I procrastinated any trip prep until about the day before we left. I usually do some research on what I might like to see, map out the route and all, but took a real casual approach. We found out how casual when we got into the car. But more on that later.

Buber the Dog was ably taken care of by our friend Lois from MHUCC. She was willing to come up and stay for the four days and nights to look after the pup. She had taken care of him before when it was an easy drive across Hillcrest to our house, and when it was something where multiple people could help out in shifts. But now we're kind of far away and no one would just drive up, and it seems like no one is able to take him either, so it went to Lois who was flexible enough to stay here for the weekend.

The food situation was cause for some wonder. We aren't very well equipped for camping, particularly since there are such forceful bear-related demands in Yosemite. I borrowed a trunk of camping cookware and a burner from Lee Van Ham and then we packed up a bunch of the stuff that would make road food so that we wouldn't have to stop at McDogfood's a couple times in each direction. Without a cooler, we did what we could. At least there were some food options in Yosemite, albeit at some elevated expense. We hit the Costco for some road grub but would have to get the fresher stuff as needed. I made a bunch of sandwiches though we found we had no cheese. All was well though; they were made with Dudley's awesome breads like sundried tomato and jalapeno cheddar.

Lois came by at about 7:15 on Friday night and we showed her what she needed to know about and small talked while packing to go. Finally we set out at 8:30, got the gas and were leaving Escondido. There was some indecision about whether to go up the 15 or the 5 (thereby hitting any Friday night LA traffic which I have come to expect would suck). Good thing about the indecision. That's when we found out that Kelli's supposed hotel confirmation email never came to my desk, and therefore we had nothing to work with. Not only that, I had no idea where it was, nor did Kelli! It was in "Bakersfield" and with that, I presumed it was on the CA-99 because B-field doesn't really reach the I-5 which splits off from the 99 a few miles south. So we found we needed to return to get that printout. And then we could start our 3.5 hour drive in earnest.

We tried a new route up north, using the 15 up to the 91 for a few miles over to the 71 and on up to the 210 which then rendezvoused with the 5 again. Kelli had her work phone along so we were able to navigate on the fly as I drove. It was a bit clumsy since she wasn't used to using it for that and of course she was describing a path I had never thought of. We got through the greater LA area, slashing across it diagonally, but upon getting to the 5/14 split, somehow I missed that while blasting some Peter Gabriel and then found it necessary to do the night's second backtrack. As I say though, "I never get lost. I just don't always make the right turn first." Or, another one is like this, "I made a wrong turn by going straight." I never get worked up about such stuff. There are roads enough to work things out. But historically, when I drove for Mike Keneally's tour, Bryan Beller would get in a panic and go nuts about a time or two when I missed a turn. Jeeze. Anyhow, driving the Grapevine was a breeze in this car, made all the more smooth by the tunes that we could pump for the first time since 2004.

So we got closer to Bakersfield and it was time to look up the exit we'd take for the motel. We knew the name, but there was no sign of it on the 99. As I said, I just drove up the 99, not even thinking it might be on the 5. I confirmed it was in Bakersfield, right? That means it's on the 5. Uh... Kelli wasn't sure. She got on the Google map and found it was actually on the 5, now about 20 miles away. So it took a detour or two to get onto the detour we actually needed. This took us across the CA-119, a rural section of road between southern B-field and the 5. Our noses detected it was rural before our eyes did. I mean, does anything signal that like the sudden onset of industrial-grade cow operations? Oh, it was foul, foul, foul! I had to give Kelli credit for this one. She took down the address but not the Google map directions. If we had just taken the 5, we'd have missed this. To add a little more to this bit of navigational nonsense, she got on the phone with the motel and found that since it was just the Vagabond Inn, we could as easily stay in the B-field location, not this other one. But what the hell did it matter now? We were 3/4 there!

We got to the 5 and rode up a short way before we found our exit and then it all made sense and was just a thing to chuckle about. It was 12:30 am now. Kelli was amused beyond belief when she went into the lobby and found a nun at the counter. Upon getting to her room, she resolved to go down and half-snarkily ask if there were morning prayers she might join in on. She signed her name "Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas" and noticed a look on the nun's face, a look of some surprise and bewilderment. As for us, we too were bewildered what in the world a nun was doing running the desk at this two bit motel on the outskirts of Bakersfield, CA.

With the car's trunk it's so much nicer not having to move everything into the motel room. Amen, sister! We didn't have a plan for what time to depart in the morning, so getting to bed at 1:30 am wasn't a problem. We just knew that the next day would be more scenic since the worst of the driving was behind us and we could just get up and sightsee as we went by places. There was some more valley time to do before breaking off toward the hills at Fresno, but the day ahead was to be enjoyed.


Casa Kansas

Kansas street house just minutes before pulling away for the last time in May 2012

The previous post was a long way of saying I moved house. But it didn't do justice when it comes to saying what I left behind. The old house at 3967 Kansas Street was a place that deserves some words. It is the first place that Kelli and I lived in and actually liked and had no real reason to leave except that it was far from where our bread is buttered up in Escondido. It was the first place we did a ritual walkabout in the last days before leaving, honoring what the house meant to us for the two years and eight months we were there.

Here on the site, I just created a gallery that illustrates much of the really memorable stuff that made Casa Kansas special. Why not go see it. There are considerable notes to accompany the pictures, and you can view larger version in the lightbox mode. Just click.

Hiding in Public

For some years now, I've not reported on where I lived for some concern about my old man and his history of snooping us out and sometimes doing some unwelcome stuff. The last that happened was in the last days of our previous house on Nashville St. I had made the mistake of giving out the address there to someone in mutual contact, and I think that might have made it easy for him to pay us a visit, unbidden. 

But there is a lot of life that happens at one's house and it sucks to keep that from the official record. (I just happen to keep a publicly viewable record.) The fact is though, Casa Kansas was nearly more a community hangout than just "our house." Lots of people knew where it was because it was a hub of community life for us. In fact, I counted 70 people who graced us with their presence at our dinners, parties, or JEM related work including podcast recording sessions. And really, there's a feeling in me that begs to be honored with a public telling of the story of how life was so rich there.


I found it in a different way than others of our houses. I was driving the neighborhood as a volunteer delivery driver for Special Delivery in September 2009. My eyes were open for places then because our old place on Nashville was in foreclosure and it seemed an unstable place, and I wasn't satisfied that our landlords could hold it together. One day while delivering to the apartment complex next door, I spotted the sign on this house and by late September had put the money down on it. It is in a richly varied part of town, with some of the most innovative and interesting restaurants, plenty of walkable streets with services and just as far from church as the previous house had been. About the only thing not to like was the commute home from work. I had just agreed to move to a place upon one of the great mesas in San Diego, from a place that was closer to sea level and at about the same elevation as where I worked. In 2009 though, that was a welcome challenge, seeing how that was my pinnacle of biking activity. After paying my deposit at Kansas, I went to the bike shop and got a new cog for my fixed gear bike, a lower gear for making the hill at Washington St. near work. I would do that hill at least five times a week for the coming year and more.

At $1500 rent, even as I signed up I felt queasy. Kelli was just freshly out of her hospital residency, so her stipend was no more. I was earning about $2400 take home then, sometimes less, to the tune of about $2200. I had no idea how we'd do it if she didn't get work in the coming months. It was kind of miraculous how we held it together. Casa Kansas left me feeling quite overextended. But it was a charming 3-bedroom in a charming, walkable neighborhood, and near work and church for me. Bikeable area that was also near Jubilee Economics Ministries office too. But this house was also the latest in a series of ever-rising rent rates that we faced. Rents at my old place on Quapaw were enviably low for me, at $150. The thought was not lost on me at Casa Kansas that our new rate was TEN TIMES that. Of course, Quapaw was an unusual deal even in the Kelli year (it went up to $450 then), but still...the margin it allowed to work or not work, to risk living a bit was nice. It just came at a steep emotional price. In between Quapaw and Kansas, there were more realistic rates that climbed each time we moved, for the most part: $775 at our first apartment; $600 up to $800 at the Calabrese Compound (the shift was when we lost one roommate and split the $1200 into thirds instead of quarters); $1200 for our share at Nashville, and now $1500 for the entire place at Kansas. It was dizzying. And worrying.

Thanksgiving dinner 2010 with the MHUCC young adults bunchThanksgiving 2010 with Young Adults group

Open House, Community Hub

Setting that aside for a bit, we opened our place up to friends from church and other circles. The young adults group at church was the first major bunch of new friends that came by for the Thanksgiving dinner about a month or so after we moved in. A few of them, Margie, Nichol, and Amanda, helped us move in a scramble when the Nashville house situation crumbled a bit faster than we planned. I got a box truck from work, and one buddy from there helped out too for a couple nights. The whole Kansas era was one defined by community life, and Kansas had the most open door so far.

The place had the charm that accompanies houses of its kind. A craftsman style place from 1922, it was pushing 90 years old when we got there. Stylish and useful built in cabinets and drawers, wood floors (mostly), a pretty big kitchen, and other features from days gone by were things that were functional and novel to tell people about. Being so centrally located was handy. Being in walking distance to a dozen quality restaurants was an easy hook to "come over to my place." It was in short distance to Balboa Park where the Critical Mass ride launches once a month (I rode it several times), and where three dog runs were available. The JEM office was just a mile away so it made it easy for Lee Van Ham to ride over and do podcasts and other media work. It wasn't far out of the way so I might have Kelli drop me off at church and then I'd just bum a ride back with someone going that way. We had Sunday dinners with spontaneous lists of folks. Kelli had a bible study series. Birthdays, New Years Day wine parties, and other events all happened there.

Backdrop for Life

Even aside from what actually happened onsite, the Kansas years were the backdrop for a great many developments for both of us and the communities we operate in: my male initiation and the trip to New Mexico a year later that was as important; we had time and will to do some regional travel to desert locations like Death Valley, Salton Sea, Joshua Tree, and other regional points; Kelli became a professional chaplain by getting not one but two hospice positions while there; she was ordained too; I was let go from my job but spent considerable time helping Jubilee Economics Ministries with all manner of digital tools; so too with the newly created Women Who Speak In Church, a way to help Kelli and Amanda network with other women in ministry, especially those getting into it; I briefly rehearsed some music with MHUCC players there and also made the most strides in a long time, trying to get back to making music with the help of the nearby store, New Expressions Music and a couple Meetup groups that introduced me to folk music and songwriter groups; Kelli's growing place in UCC at a national level, bringing her disability ministry concerns to a wider audience, and I suppose a lot more still.

Torelli fixed gear bike which has been my main ride since 2009My main ride as of July 2009

The Five Mile Radius

For those years, I found that I could live within about a five mile radius most of the time, and often just three or so. Church was at the far end of that three mile radius, but the Kansas era was largely shaped by the time at MHUCC. At times, it was like I rode grooves into the street along University Avenue. I liked riding to church but didn't really like the route I had to take. While there were a few alternatives, none was really any improvement upon just throwing in my lot with the rest of the madmen on the road and charging along the too-narrow stretch from Kansas to Park, and then into the vast sea of asphalt from Park to 10th, and then back into the smaller streets that get me to Washington, closer to church. When I worked at Specialty Produce, I rode nearly the same route, but without any detours off University or the part of Washington that drops off the mesa and down to Specialty. I sort of got tired from doing that commute since I'd ride the same path to church and work for about three miles, and on a busy week with five days of work and a few things happening at church, I suppose I could rack up nine trips along that road per week.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

The economic tide shifted toward Escondido though, particularly after a year and more of my being unemployed. Kelli got her job there as a per diem in early 2010 but it took until September 2011 before she got Amanda's vacated job as a full time chaplain at the same place. (This is in addition to her working back down in San Diego at another firm, also as per diem chaplain. She keeps busy.) The miles up to Escondido take their toll on the car and take time from both of us. Having seen Amanda move to north county for the same job just as we started off at Kansas, we knew it might just be a matter of time once she got the full time offer. The hospice down in San Diego though did make tentative offers at about the same time but never gave enough detail to really lock in to a position there, so then it became clear our fate was linked to Escondido. But how long would it last, commuting those 30-45 minutes each way? The math says that to do that for 48 weeks a year, it would be about 13,000 miles. That's a lot of gas, and mostly a lot of time on the road that isn't spent living together. And sometimes even after all that, Kelli might need to come home and chart the day's visits. Or she might need to work a few nights per month at the local hospice, or even two Saturdays. That was just too much. Buying the car in April forced us to evaluate where exactly that money would come from. Fortunately the car payment could be offset with a reduction in the gasoline bill from moving house, this time to a place that for the first time was actually less expensive than the one before.

Amanda, just a short while after getting the green light to become ordained. She was camping out at Kansas for the weekend before we moved.

The State of the State Street

Kansas was more than just a house. It had spirit. It was a venue for a lot of growth for both of us. It was a hub of activity that is not insignificant. It's impossible to know the trajectory of influence. Who knows what one of our JEM podcasts will become when the ideas therein are scattered about in the minds of people who saw the economics of life one way and then the JEM way? Who will hear those words and change the world? Same with the prospects yet to be evident from both Kelli and Amanda launching their professional careers with the help of this house. Who knows what they shall do in the realm of disability inclusion or therapy for those abused within church settings? Or for the young women who are yet to enter ministry? So many areas of promise met and mingled at this house for just shy of three years. It was vibrant there in a way that no other residence but for a short while at Quapaw was. I never learned this stuff from my home life, except maybe seeing it from a bit of a distance of age when my grandmother was more socially engaged when I was a boy.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli and I did a walkabout during the one day we had to cooperatively work on cleaning the place out upon moving. I did much of the work myself, but on one evening we toured the rooms and paused to reflect on what the place meant to us. To be glad for all the friends and experiences that made the place special. It was quite moving. All told, I was there cleaning the place for six days and nights so I got a chance to let my mind wander and to be ready for that moment. 

I wonder what other stories that house has to tell, if just a couple years there was so rich for us?


Beautiful Hidden Valley

In spring 2010, Kelli got a part time at a hospice agency in San Diego's north county. She worked there as a per diem chaplain for over a year. She had another job that overlapped it for a while. And then she got another per diem chaplain position at a hospice in urban San Diego. Juggling the two per diem schedules was unruly. Finally, in summer 2011 she got a full time spot at the first one, despite what appeared to be a kind of unwitting bidding war for her. Both places had full time spots turn available, and it was an interesting time waiting to see which would settle down first. What was at stake was that we realized for her to work in north county, we'd see less of each other as she spent time in commuting, and with a job that required her to drive a lot even while in north county, she'd be at the wheel seemingly all the time.

Kelli's spiffy new Mazda 3, all sporty and red, just before we went off the lot with it.

The Car

In April we paid a visit to a Mazda dealership up there and ended up getting Kelli a newish car. It's the first of its sort she has ever had. Late model, valid warrantee, nice features, sporty, in good condition. On April 20, we came home with the new car. It was the first time I'd had that experience since I got my truck from a dealer in 1996. About the same time as the car purchase, Kelli was keen to drive me around in some of the areas where she works, up in the rural reaches of the north county. A pleasure drive turned into checking out some rental houses in the next couple weeks.

buber dog slumped over the recliner chair looking all lost and wistfulWe're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli's Work

And then checking those houses out gave us the clarity we needed: living over 30 miles from her office was taking time from us. Spotty dinner times because the work day finishes just "whenever" and then she'd have an hour or more of charting to do. Tired Kelli, especially if she went to exercise at the YMCA or picked up some groceries after work. We couldn't always walk Buber Dog together. Evening activities at church? Hit or miss, at least doing them together. Once every couple months or so, she has a one week period of being on call. It pays whether she's called or not, but there were times when she came all the way home at quitting time for her regular day's work, only to be called back. And on some occasions, she was pulled back again like a yo-yo. Weeks like that were brutal. Fortunately they were rare. Some on-call weeks had no calls at all.

And that's just her full time job. The other requires four shifts a month, and the way Kelli's broken it up is to do two weeknights and two Saturdays a month. On top of all that, she's also a board member on a national board of disability ministry for our denomination, the UCC. That takes some meeting time and other work. And even more so, all this is not particularly the stuff she got into ministry to do: be a pastor at a church. That process has borne no fruit so far, so as time has passed, the realization is that Kelli right now has many chaplaincy opportunities that actually pay well enough to juggle the rent, car, and most critically, the student loan payments that are just bruising each month. Okay fine, but the time suck of the commute was something that made things rougher than they needed to be.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

Calculations revealed that to move near her primary job would cut out about 13,000 miles/year JUST on her five day week commute. That turns into some real money when looking at the gasoline bill. Not pushing the new car that hard would stretch its lifespan appreciably. But by far, the option for a better quality of life not spent on the road (even in the new car with Bluetooth and all sorts of creature comforts) was more compelling. So we found a place in Escondido pretty close to work. Her mileage compensation kicks in after the distance from home to office is surpassed. You can imagine that cutting that to two miles or so is more attractive than driving 30 miles or so. That means that nearly all her work day behind the wheel is on the company dime. And moreso, some of the work that she'd go to an office to do can be done at home, so her work day is partially spent here now in our new house. Phone calls, charting, prepping other notes and planning for presentations to the others in her office... all that can be done here.

Roses, citrus trees and a white picket fence. Cute.Our new pad with roses and white picket fence. Awww...

Home Sweet Home...again

Where is here? Here is a cute little late 40s/early 50s house with our first white picket fence and rose bushes in the front yard. It's a tad smaller than the one we had in North Park, and after that place, we miss the built in features like cabinets, book shelves, and so on. While it's an older house, it's not 90 years old like in North Park. It's old enough to have real hardwood floors (a bit abused but recently refinished and glassy smooth) but new enough to have a number of remodeled features like brand new windows, kitchen cabinets, bathroom features, pretty new and complete set of appliances. The microwave is the first one I've had in my kitchen since early 2007 when our old one died and we didn't replace it and took to living without regular access to such a device, but having some access while we lived with Suzanne, where she had a microwave in her granny flat. The presence of a dishwasher is officially the first time I've either had one, or more specifically, one that works. The one at the Calabrese Compound didn't work and that was just fine with me. I am perfectly content to wash dishes the old fashioned way. The only other place that may have had one was my old apartment on Mt. Ada in 1997, and I don't recall that being the case.

We live across from an industrial part of town, so there's trucks and ugly buildings across the road from our door. Industry across the street makes for a loud environment most days.

The problem with here being here is that here is also in a neighborhood that borders an industrial part of town, and with big trucks literally outside my front window, it's noisy. The area is nearly entirely Latino and while that isn't the problem, all the folks like to play music that I don't particularly know or like, and my neighbor, one of those junkyard kinds of guys who works on cars, has the radio on while he works, blasting it with the mile-a-minute announcements and commerciales en Espanol. I guess I could have spent some more time sussing the place out. The matter of noise is one thing for general livability but I also have on my mind what it might mean when I want to record. Only today did I record a bit of test material to see what I am in for. The double pane windows help.

My landlord saw that on the rental application I answered a certain question about risky property with "guitar, bass, drums." I was tentative about it but he okayed us anyway and said "that's cool, just keep the guy in the back cottage in the loop and respect him." With all the noise in the area, it might be justifiable to set up the drums and play in the house. That's something I did a small bit of at North Park but for which I was very self conscious. It's really been since the Calabrese Compound days of 2006 that I've played drums in a full-tilt way. And the last I've played actually inside the house was in Quapaw at the short lived post-demolition Hog Heaven. My room here now has just enough space to set up some drums and perhaps other stuff.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

We certainly didn't do this move for social reasons. In that regard it barely makes an ounce of sense. In fact, not only is it a step backwards, it's a leap backwards when you consider that in North Park we were in a highly walkable area that was in reach of everything. Church was bikeable; Lee of JEM came by on his bike to do podcasts and guests were constantly flowing in and out of the place; the music store down the road was the meeting place for two groups I was starting to get involved with; restaurants were plentiful and of great quality. Yep, Escondido has some big shoes to fill. The mileage now is +30 miles to just about anywhere. Church is a few miles more. We might not get down there weekly.

The larger picture, aside from the obvious economic case for moving, is one of feeling like I needed to repent a bit for Kelli's benefit. The last time it made a lot of sense to act according to what she was doing, I was not ready. I'm talking of course back in 2005 when we got evicted (this same day seven years ago, essentially) and when it might have been a good idea to pull up and get to Claremont, CA where her school was. I was scared shitless during that period and found a job here. It was also important since my/our therapists were here, family friends, church friends, and all that. It would have been too jarring to move that far out during that traumatic period. But I've always known that would have been a better thing to do since Kelli's progress has the power to be the economic backbone of things. So this time around, after the years of living with her gone part time, and then even after getting her back after all that preparation time, losing her to business-as-usual, it seemed time to relocate so we can get her off the I-15 (the road she cut tracks into from her seminary commuting schedule for seven semesters).

Shaking the Dirt Loose?

There's a part of me that wonders if, in one of those odd universal, fateful ways, this move is bigger than just the move to Escondido. Does it somehow register in a bigger way than just picking up and going up the road some thirty miles? Does it get me out of my comfort zone? I've felt for a long time that staying in San Diego is a sign of laziness or something else. It's a nice enough town, but I've sidelined other calls for adventure outside my little region. I've been aware for some years now that I never lived outside a ten mile radius from where I was born (at Sharp Hospital in Kearny Mesa). In fact, the measurements I took from Sharp to each house I've been in has made that claim even narrower. When measured directly as the crow flies, the previous peak distance was 7.65 miles out to Robin's house where I stayed for a couple months in 1996. But I never changed my postal address, so that's more of a technicality. Of the places I've actually had my mail sent to, the greatest distance was at the Calabrese Compound, at just under five miles (as the crow flies). All the others settled in a bit less than that. Now it's about 22 miles, or more like 30 by the roads. It doesn't seem like much, but this is the first time I've lived outside San Diego. We'll see what opportunity presents itself now that I've had the dirt shaken off my roots.

I have been upstepping my job search, perhaps aided by at least the firmness of the knowledge of what town I'll be in. For a while there it was hard to look at ads for jobs and have in the back of my mind that I could get a job and realize that it would still be better for Kelli to be spared the drive, and that maybe I'd have to look for work again in a new place. There's a show production company that might want to get me on their roster, and if I get paid at a decent rate for doing some mixing jobs, that might not be too bad, and not particularly a routine punch-the-clock place. I still have my reservations about that kind of work, but after all this time, it would be nice to actually get any income. But I did one show with this company and it went over quite well, which is in contrast to the experiences that mostly led me to walk away from that industry nearly ten years ago.

And then I wonder if now that we've made such a step that it's time for Kelli to get a break. She submitted her UCC pastoral candidate profile to 30 more churches nationwide. If she were to get a church, the unfortunate fact is that most of the pastoral positions so far have been seen to be a reduction in pay, and some appreciable amount like 20-40%. Since hospice is funded by Medicare and UCC churches by individuals in a community who rise and fall with the economy, one will be less stable, or be drawing from a smaller pool of funds in the first place. So it's a mixed feeling, looking forward to getting a church but knowing that it might not hold things together even as well as they are going now. Still, the move felt right and maybe somehow the universe will take notice that we're ready to do something different.

There's something that says to me that Kelli and I should figure out whatever big plan in life we might have and use this breakthrough moment to act on things we've sidelined while occupied with the usual life in our comfort zone, our home town of San Diego. She's got a rising star in UCC disability ministry work, and I've been urging her to develop a personal web site that casts her as an expert in the field worthy of consultant work, speaking, etc. It would be a way to work together.

So farewell for now to San Diego. The training wheels are coming off at last.


Proto-Blogging at TAPKAE.com +10

While my monthly archive might reflect a longer history than what I am about to write about here, the real beginning of this blog was on June 7th, 2002—still in the days before the actual blog technology existed (for me anyway). A small few entries have been added into the chronology to tell a story. Since I am just telling my own story anyway, they serve to fill in the historical record and it doesn't really matter if I play fast and loose with the entry dates, posting things into their proper place after the fact.

In the days before I discovered B2 blogger and later on, Wordpress, or still later on, Squarespace (which I now use as of 2011), there was no word "blogging." I just made a new HTML entry on the index page, and when it came time for a new one, I copied that entry over to the "archive" page and entered another on the index page. It was a bit lame but without a dynamic, PHP/database-driven site it was all I had. I didn't do it long enough to really get ridiculous. I've seen some sites that kept on that way and had to create archive pages that each carried oh, several months or a year's worth of entries, and then on to a new archive page. Only about two years of monthly posts accumulated that way and it wasn't too hard to manage the entries prior to discovering "real" blogging. I then started bringing stuff into the new formats in 2004 when my new hosting plan at Startlogic included something called B2 Blogger as part of the package. If I recall right, Startlogic offered a whopping 1 GB of space which dwarfed the 100 mb that my prior host Mavweb offered. I suppose Mavweb was state of the art a few years before when Mike Thaxton selected it and got me started in 2001.

But aside from all that, this blog got fired up in earnest on this day ten years ago. In many ways it was a simpler time and I didn't have all that much on my mind. Only a couple months before I had finished my year of school at Art Institute of California, so I was anticipating becoming a brilliant and high paid web designer (ahem!). Strike that. I was trying to get a couple crappy web design gigs with friends or friends of friends, and hoping my still-novice skills were up to the task if anything but pretty basic Dreamweaver-assisted HTML sites were needed. (Rockola's Mark Decerbo was one of the first to ever take me up on my work. Surprisingly, his site is still up, though a bit outdated as of 2007.) AIC turned out to be a rather disappointing place with regard to the proportioning of the subjects relative to the goal of a web design certificate program. The entirety of the web design courses included summaries of the Macromedia suite within 12 weeks. The other 36 weeks were broken into three 12 week blocks of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a CD-ROM production that included Macromedia Director and Adobe Premier primarily. But the web stuff was but one quarter of it all, and seemingly an afterthought. And above all, it was just a "design" emphasis. Never really learned coding there, and never anything with any real functionality. I recall being a bit miffed that I never was really showed stuff like Javascript or how to build CGI email forms and other stuff that really was, well... useful.

Getting out of school put me back into an unstructured world after a year. It had been a year of change, and not just because of schooling. In that one year from the start of April 2001 to that time a year later, my grandmother had died; I was in solo therapy for several months into the fall of 2001 in response to the family crisis around my older sister's big revelations earlier in 2001; I had entered kicking and screaming into the new age following my grandmother's death because my old man took over the house I lived in already for three years and ordered that I get two roommates; I got my first computer as just one way of blowing the inheritance I got (the rest was blown with an even larger display of gear acquisition for the studio); the notorious terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened and changed the work prospects for my industry of event audio; I finally finished Receiving; Kelli and I had gotten together during the winter and she had her car accident not long later; I was playing bass for a few months in an exciting trio with Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington, and sometimes with the mighty Todd Larowe (listen: All Things Frippy and Return to Zero). Oh, those are the high points. Or low points. But in the midst of all that, I got the first drafts of TAPKAE.com done and then finally cut the first settled version loose on the world in May or June, and the first "blog" was posted. It is relatively brief because I had not yet embraced the long, detailed, and boring voice I have since attained here!

Rebecca Vaughan of Loaf, with Matt Zuniga's handiwork in the backgroundIt was around that time when I found that Hog Heaven Studio was bursting at the seams. The crazy influx of new gear during the summer before saw to that. With my grandmother gone, I took over the two rooms she called her own, clearing them out and painting them for the first time in perhaps all the years she and my grandfather had been there. One room was a bedroom with a bathroom attached, and the remodeling of that was one of the projects that was alluded to in the first blog. The other room, a rather generous 15'x17' space, was the room immediately adjacent Hog Heaven Studio. Together, they were two spaces carved from what was once a garage. Hog Heaven extended the garage street side wall some 6' more and so was split down the middle by a space that was on the flat part of the garage, and also on the sloped part of the driveway. Inside, I had leveled the floor but the beam through the middle indicated the old garage face. In the great room, I set up my living quarters in 2001 after the new rental arrangement was established. I got the entire wing of the house to do as I wanted, so I cut a mouse hole from Hog Heaven into the great room and went about using the band Loaf as my guinea pigs to try out the studio options that would result. I did two sessions spaced out by a year or so, but that first session with the whole band, I had the bass and drums in the studio with me (an odd thing that later was resolved with moving the control room into the great room later in the year), and then I used the great room for the guitars, keys, and Rebecca's lead vocal and percussion. I used upturned love seats and mattresses to provide guitar amp baffles. The Roland VS-2480, my then-new recorder, able to capture 16 inputs at once with no compromise, was relatively mind blowing after years of using the VS-880 and the four inputs it provided. At any rate, the new opportunities for using up to three rooms to record in was exciting. It was a whole new age for Hog Heaven Studio.

Kelli, later on in 2002One thing that is conspicuously absent from the site for some time (even into 2003) is any mention of Kelli and the fact we'd entered into a new relationship at the start of 2002. By the time we did that, we'd known each other for over 11 years anyway. I recall much of 2002 was a time when it felt like I was floating, particularly in that new relationship. However, it wasn't a feeling of being totally lovestruck. It's hard to say what it was, but perhaps because Kelli's presence put to an end the five year dry spell that preceded this new era, or perhaps that Kelli and I were old friends in a new role that seemed too good to be true and could have dissolved, or perhaps that her presence also brought with it a new feeling that I should get to church and start the process of grounding myself in something different than the years before. Hard to say. I didn't want to try to capture lightning in a bottle by writing about it. Kelli was talked around on the blog, usually mentioning "my girlfriend" during 2002-2003. If her name is in the entries from that period, it's because I redacted those entries to right that wrong in 2011.

I'm glad I have these few entries from 2002 because there is precious little digital evidence of my life from that first year or so of computer ownership. I had some problems with my data going off to digital heaven, particularly so with the folder that contained my Microsoft Entourage data. In one shot in the late summer of 2002, I erased about a year of my life's notes, calendar dates, emails. Bad move. Worse yet, I had not kept a parallel record in a paper calendar like I had for all years prior. So there's a big blackout during that period. And maybe things are as they are supposed to be, even with that giant flub. The period was one of transition at a deep level. Losing data was perhaps part of the exercise of getting lost in more ways than one, this time a way of losing control over things. And, since I have tended to be a keen historian and curator of my own life, a lesson might be gleaned that to overmanage things is of no use.