Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Vagaries of Blogdom

So I return from yet another epic training weekend, this time in the hinterlands of Galena, excited about sharing my latest discoveries in cutting edge training with my eager readers in the vast blogosphere.....but first I sit down to check my email to see what exciting opportunities might be coming my way, as per my good friends in Nigeria. After deleting the usual 89 emails from Swimfan (sorry kiddo!), I notice with some curiosity that I seem to have an inordinate number of new fans of me and my blog, all very eager to meet me and expressing a lavish amount of admiration for my “talents.” Now, while I’m used to having such praise heaped on me for my triathlon accomplishments......this seems a bit excessive.

Things quickly become clear when one kindly soul takes pity on me and informs me that unless Mr. Idiot Trucker Dumping Rocks On My Car and I met up for a “very special reunion,” that I might want to check and see what pictures are lurking on my blog. And let’s just say that when I did, well, the fact that the Guiness Book has already contacted me for a world record in “deleting pictures in warp speed from one’s blog” – that should tell you something. I hardly even realized that one could find such pictures for free so easily. Apparently, instead of being happy that I was bringing his stellar cement truck photography to the world, the person who had the site from where I linked the picture SO resented my usurping a smidge of his bandwidth that he substituted that picture for one much more unsavory. Downright smuttish, even. I shouldn’t be so unsympathetic though - perhaps it’s an issue for him, having so many people linking from his pictorial in the Cement Trucks Today periodical that it crashed the lone server in all of Oklahoma? I hang my head in shame, for disrupting the Cement Truckers Unions’ sole source of entertainment.

Before the quick deletion, however, the errant picture did help me achieve a very rapid rise in popularity among the denizens of Slowtwitch, which was certainly fun while it lasted, though now that I’ve sworn that as penance I will only post benign and happy pictures of ducklings and puppies, I think my newfound popularity will sink like a stone.

But most interestingly, I’ve also expanded my fan base beyond just the triathlon world – inexplicably, I seem to have struck a chord (so to speak) among fellow music lovers and musicians. I’m not sure how they intuited that I am in fact a classically trained pianist and have played the flute for years, but suddenly I’ve been invited to join all sorts of intriguing websites, with titles such as “Girls Who Blow,” “Women and Their Pipes,” and so on. I mean, clearly those are sites for current and former flautists, right? Right?

A Mighty Wind


Somehow IDOT must not have gotten my missive, because cars do NOT clear a path for me on the highway. Sigh, the things I have to put up with. But enough whining – Sálome and I have some serious riding to do. I pump up the tires, and as I’m wheeling her out of my mom’s garage, I notice a rather loud humming kind of sound coming from the back wheel, derailleur, something. Hmm. I decide this must be a function of her sparkly newness, that the chains and such just have to “settle in.” No problemo - we are stylin'! Off we go!

1 mile away

Damn, it’s amazing how much fitness one can lose when one counts a lot of deep breathing as training. Who knew? Even though a lot of that was at altitude – yeah, maybe that’s it. I’m just not used to being at sea level.

4 miles away

I guess when they said there’d be 34 mph winds today, they weren’t kidding. Figures. However, I’m pleased to note that my chunkification strategy has worked exactly according to plan. You see, given how light Sálome is, I would be blown off the road, easily, if the added pounds I so painstakingly and deliberately put on weren’t helping to anchor me to the road. Training tip for the newbies: It’s important to start off the season as hefty as possible, losing that weight only as the season goes on. This is a critical training tool, the equivalent of wearing a tire around your neck or of using crappy wheels in training. Then, when race day rolls around and you’re so much lighter from having given up the bonbons for the previous week and having put on the Zipps, you’ll just fly along.

Still riding

I realize that before I just got on my bike willy-nilly after putting the new saddle on, perhaps I should have actually taken a measurement or two to make sure I wouldn’t be doing an imitation of someone riding a clown bike. I know, crazy talk. At least now I’ve learned to always have my multitool with me, so I finally get off to adjust. Luckily, this puts me out of the way as a trash can lid comes flying by, then some hay from the nearby last remaining pig farm in Kane County, and then.......... is that a house? No, it just seems that windy.

Far too much later

After struggling through mighty winds that had me too paranoid to try the aerobars much at all, I decide to head back. Clearly, I’m back to the Land of Suckitude as far as my cycling is concerned. I don’t know how that crept up on me, but it did, as I’ve gone from doing 100+ mile rides almost effortlessly last summer to struggling up what could hardly even be called “hills” out in Huntley. I get back to my mom’s, and as I’m wheeling Sálome into the garage so that I can go thaw out, I’m still hearing that damn humming sound. I look down at the back wheel to see if I can figure anything out and.......oh. Oh.

Note to self:

Picking the windiest day of the year thus far AND discovering only after you get back from a hellacious ride that the back brake pad is flush up against the wheel – these are not exactly what one could call precursors to success. And are probably not the best way to start off one’s outdoor triathlon training season, especially on a new bike, as they are not particularly known for boosting one’s confidence. Just an FYI.

Other than all that.........the SNB (Shiny New Bike) is lovely. Swoon........

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sálome’s Big Day

Of course, the first call I made when I got back from CA was to Get a Grip, to see when I could bring Sálome in to get those damn aerobars changed, which they hadn’t had time to do before I left. So I call, and of course, YCBG Matt answers:

YCBG Matt: “Hello, Get a Grip Cycles, may I help you?”
Me: “Matt, it’s Tasha. How are you? But more importantly, how are you in relation to fixing up Sálome for me? And most importantly, how quickly?”
YCBG Matt: “Well, if you...”
Me: “I mean, if I bring her in today, Friday, do you think you could get her done by, say, Tuesda....”
YCBG Matt, interrupting: “AbsoLUTEly, we can have her done by then. Why, my schedule has magically opened up, I could probably have her done by tomorrow even.”
Me, munificently: “Oh, no need, Tuesday is fine. I’ll stop by in a little while.”
YCBG Matt: "Great, can’t wait!”

Now, if I were truly delusional, I would tell myself that YCBG Matt is so eager to get my bike back to me quickly because of a combination of my winsome charm and inescapable beauty, that has people leaping to do my bidding, particularly when it comes to assisting me in my athletic endeavors.

I am not that delusional.

I head on over, and Eric is behind the counter – and while I’m sure Eric is a great person and all, he’s not my regular “go to” guy, and let’s face it, he doesn’t really understand the criticality of getting me out of the shop and out on my bike as quickly as possible. The fate of small nations rests on this premise.

So I trundle in there with Sálome, and because YCBG Matt is helping out some other folks, I’m dealing with Eric – who greets me with a look of trepidation and a slight tic in his eye. His hands seem to be shaking as he grins slightly, wanly, a smile that speaks to a combination of wariness and fear.

Eric: “Hi, can I help you?” (I can tell he’s thinking, you again? Now what?)
Me: “Just the aerobars, need to be changed out. I talked to YCBG Matt about it a little while ago.”
Eric: “Okay.” (enters info into computer) “We can have the bike back to you next Friday, is that okay? Maybe?”
Me: “Next Friday, hmm. Maybe, can we split the difference and, say, get the bike back to me by Tuesday?”
Eric: “But...I....”
Me: “Great!” (grinning broadly) “Tuesday it is!”

You see, this is why I garner the kind of respect I do, everywhere I go. It’s that no-nonsense approach, coupled with a sense of generosity towards the “little people”, that takes me where I need to be. As I leave the shop, I notice that Matt is somehow still busy with this family, and he seems to be slipping the little boy something, a folded bill, while glancing nervously in my direction. Hmm. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the boy then asks YCBG Matt to show him all the bikes that GAG has in the other room, thereby keeping YCBG Matt busy during my visit. Yes, just a coincidence I’m sure.

In any case, I’m happy to report that Sálome was all done, ready to go, waiting by the door, when I went to pick her up on Tuesday. Tomorrow, our first outing in the great outdoors. I’ve already contacted IDOT (IL Dept. of Transportation) to inform them that I’ll be traveling with her out to Huntley at precisely 5:15AM, and that perhaps they might want to post something on their traffic update website to warn people to STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM MY CAR. Haven’t seen anything yet, but I’m quite sure it’ll be there come morning. If not, I will just have to start going with the bubble wrap approach to driving.

Anyway, I will report back on this momentous event – our adventures await!

Free at last, free at last.......

If there’s one useful thing I can impart to all of you in Readerland, it is this: the road to hell is paved with good deeds. Some of you may recall that last week I picked up my latest foster dog, Frosty, the blind albino Doberman who I was told “can be barky but not too bad.” Since I’m pretty much the only volunteer who has no dogs, I was asked to take him to see how he was on his own, since there was concern that he was aggressive in general. Okay. This was my trip out to Carol Stream last week where on my way home, my windshield got cracked by a rock from an idiot truck – so one can kind of see how THIS was going to go.

So Frosty settles in that evening, and other than the fact that he can’t quite hold it all night and I’m cleaning up crap in the middle of the night, things are relatively okay. Even when he starts barking and won’t stop until I let him out of the kitchen, which I do because it’s 3 fucking AM. Fine.

The fun starts the next day, when, after talking to the woman who adopted a former foster dog of mine, Gary (aka The Dog With the Unfortunate Name), we agree that she should basically return him because she’s had him a month, and in that time frame he’s become completely neurotic, pacing around, destroying things, because he’s left alone for an 11-hour day. Now, there are some dogs that can handle a long day like that – Gary is not one of them. This is the dog that would drape himself over my lap while I was working so that he’d be as close to me as possible. My sweetums.

So now with two dogs, I discover The Real Problem With Frosty. Which is that he’s insane. Okay, not technically, but he’s about 9 months old and acts like a puppy, which he is, and wants to play ALL THE TIME. Given that I live in a small Chicago apt., it’s not exactly conducive to two huge dogs turning and tumbling and wrestling and so on, so I wind up supervising them all day. Because the Other Problem With Frosty is that he can’t be separated. Put him behind a babygate in a separate room if there are other dogs in the house and he sounds like he’s going to rip someone’s throat out and will attempt to leap over the gate. Now, not actually aggressive, but he won’t stay behind the gate.

So this is our new scenario: me, my cramped apartment, trying to get a report finished under a deadline, two huge dogs being as rambunctious as they can possibly get, and oh yeah, Frosty the “Not Too Barky”? In fact barks when he hears people in front of the house, when he hears other dogs barking, when he hears my idiot tenants get home at 2/3/4 AM, when he hears the universe turning as part of the time-space continuum. He barks so much, and so loudly, that I worry the police will show up at my door because someone is complaining. When he’s not barking, he’s whining, or jumping on my head, because god forbid the people who had him for his first 9 months should have thought about teaching him some manners.
At this point, I tell the rescue folks that this is not going to work, because a) I can’t get any sleep, b) I can’t get any work done since I have to referee these 2 all day, and c) they are going to hurt each other while in the process of completely destroying my house. Sadly, my selfishness in being unable or willing to deal with the above has made me a bit of a pariah with the organization - the fact that I’m not independently wealthy and need to be able to actually get work done at home wasn’t considered to be very important, it seems. So today I took Frosty back to the kennel, where the organization keeps dogs until they can get into foster homes. And there was a decided chill when I dropped him off, as I am now a bad, evil volunteer for not being willing to let my life further degenerate into a complete and total shambles.

To my original point – even though I’ve fostered some difficult dogs, from sweet Jennings who had severe separation anxiety such that I couldn’t leave the house, to lost/stolen Amber/Embry who also couldn’t be crated or separated and went nuts at the kennel, so I went to pick her up in Carol Stream on a snowy winter evening late at night even though I already had one foster dog and the two of them made for quite a handful since Amber/Embry couldn’t really walk, it’s not enough, apparently. I feel guilty for dropping off little Frosty, who in between the barking and whining, really was very adorable and cuddly and sweet. Really. When I wasn’t ready to kill him, I really liked the little guy. As for guilt, well, I’m not the idiot breeder who breeds for eye color and winds up with white Dobes with beautiful blue eyes who happen to be blind; I’m not the idiot couple who bought Frosty from said breeder and then dumped him at 9 months old at a shelter because oh, they were having a baby, and oops, this rambunctious pup that we didn’t teach any manners to at all is now quite a handful. And while no one else in the group stepped up and was willing to take in Frosty either, somehow the weight of him being stuck back at the kennel is on my shoulders. Because the worst part is that while I feel bad about Frosty, I can also admit that the silence at home right heavenly. Either that makes me a not very good person, or my heart just turned to stone when I lost my little Hudson, and there’s no room in it for anyone or anything else anymore.

And so, dear reader(s), this is my life. I have this tendency to try to solve the world’s problems, while my own life continues to be a train wreck.

Trust me, it doesn’t pay.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My friend Swimfan

A comment on my blog from Anonymous - "don't you think instead of all this writing you should put down the cookins and train?"

- - - - - - - - - -

Oh, I do so love it when I get comments from my fan(s) and they throw in some of the wonderful little colloquialisms or jargon that makes this country great. If I’m not mistaken, I believe “cookins” (cookies) is part of a rural Appalachian dialect, as in “Maw ’ll bake us’n summa her oatmeal-hogfat cookins when she gits them darn goats outta the kitchen’s.” This is just splendid. I suppose it could have also been a typo, in which case I do sympathize – my father was a master at the single-finger-typing method, but not everyone has his skills; hence, mistakes do happen. Though since the “e” is nowhere near the “n” on a keyboard, perhaps we should go with the dialect theory.

In any case, anonymous comments make me a little sad, because I like knowing who my tens of readers are as this makes it easier for me to visualize our happy little family, just part of the larger triathlon community as a whole. So there’s Colleen, professorial and sporty, Bridget, corporate and sporty, Deanna, prairie-knowledgeable and......well, you get the picture. Deanna also stands out due to the picture of Drew Peterson that she carries in a locket around her neck, but that’s another matter.

So in the absence of a name, I’m forced to use my imagination a bit, though I’m pretty sure that Anonymous here is one of my, umm, more persistent fans, who I like to refer to as Swimfan, and who lets nary a day go by without an eager missive reaching my desk: “Tasha, your Greatnessess, I patiently await your next gems of information so that I can proceed with my own training, patterned exactly after your own. While I appreciate the multi-paged plan in Excel that you sent me, as well as the laminated cheat-sheet for nutrition on the bike (which I promptly zip-tied to my aerodrink!), both at my request, I must confess that I am lost without your daily (would that it was hourly!) guidance. Please, do not keep us waiting!!”

(Note: I have translated from the rural dialect that Swimfan tends to use, to make it easier for others to comprehend. It’s only after the hundreds of emails I’ve received from Swimfan that I’ve become so adept at figuring out what the hell he’s saying.)

I fondly recall the time I foolishly went a few days without posting anything – that didn’t stop my Greatest Fan, oh no! The little ping of each and every email, hour after hour, growing increasingly frantic...well, I finally took pity on Swimmie and sent along some details on my latest epic 15-minute swim workout, and all was quiet for a while. But, it wasn’t long before the proverbial clicking of the bike shoes tapping impatiently against the floor began anew, as Swimfan has mentioned that he likes to sit around in his cycling gear all day (see picture, last person on right), so that as soon as he receives more training information from me, he can leap out the door and go to his garage where his trainer is set up – something about how hard it is to tape the necessary one-gel-per-ten-minutes onto his new Cervelo, even though the ten spacers on the bike give him almost enough room to manage this – so he just does all his riding in his parents’ garage. Shrug. We all have to make our own path in this world, I suppose. Who am I to judge?

But, to his comment – while it seems that the OCD is getting worse for my dear Swimfan (note: I keep telling you, Swimmie, UP THE MEDS!) as he continues to rather obsessively try to get me to stop writing on the blog and just correspond with him, sharing my Secrets to Greatness – I am a bit aggrieved that after all of the explanations, he is not quite grasping the essence of my nutritional plan. After all, it is the nuances of my plan that are so critical to its success. Some seem to take my instructions as license to just eat whatever they want, willy-nilly, in an opportunistic fashion: “Oh, there’s a corndog stand, I guess I’ll declare it corndog week and have at it!” No no NO, gentle readers, this is just not how it works. One must work hard to meld opportunism with the natural lifecycles that should dictate our food choices. So, for example, to suggest that I’m sitting around eating “cookins” these days flies in the face of the plan. It’s a mockery, really, and while I apologize for being a bit harsh here with my gentle nebbish reader Swimfan, I don’t want people to misinterpret my advice, and then blame me for the disaster that ensues, as in “Tasha’s nutritional plan didn’t work at ALL! I’m now the definition of roly-poly, not a finely honed athlete! Well, even more roly-poly than before, if that’s possible.”

The point being – there is a strict schedule that must be followed, based in part on the waxing/waning cycles of the moon and tidal patterns. This means that DECEMBER, yes, December, was “Cookins” Month. Right now is, rather, Petit Four Week – since everyone knows that petit fours are the perfect expression of spring, with their sprightly wee appearance, their light texture and pastel colors – and so this is the week that I have incorporated petit fours into my training, not cookins, sadly, since cookins are so much easier to transport in a bento box. But, far be it from me to take the easy way out. And no, none of this is easy – why do you think not everyone trains this way??

Another data point

So this past Tuesday's stupid good deed involved my driving out to Carol Stream to pick up another foster dog – I had wanted to take a break for a while to perhaps get my life in order, but of course got suckered into picking up Frosty, the blind albino dog who may bark a lot and seemingly is not great with other dogs. As I’m heading back into the city with Frosty in tow, a rogue rock/cement truck loses a rock, which of course goes flying back with great force to land on my windshield, cracking it, leaving a nice hole, right at eye level on the driver’s side. After I get over the shock, I trail the truck to try to get the license plate number, but there's a rope or something hanging over it so it's tough to read. So I go around to the front, and imagine that, he's got a totally different number on the front license plate. As I'm looking at the truck to see if there's one of those "how's my crappy driving? call blah blah" stickers, the asshole gets off at the next exit - which doesn't really matter since there was no trucking company name, no nothing on the truck. I guess I could have followed him and sicced the blind dog on him, but that might not have worked out too well.

I think I’m getting some kind of message here, but unless it’s “do no more good deeds,” I’m not sure what it is. Anyone?

Back to the grind

Monday the 14th

My return to Chicago coincides with the usual, i.e. bitter cold and rain. While I have six million things to do, squeezing them in between my usual 6 hours of training a day, I have also somehow and rather foolishly agree to dogsit for a woman in Rock Island, who also does volunteer stuff for the Doberman rescue group. But all is not lost – I figure I can take my bike out there and get some decent riding in, outside for a change. The theoretical miles on the trainer are killing me!

Thursday the 17th

Dear God/Fates/WhoFuckingEver –

I agree, it probably wasn’t enough that when I started out on my little trip to Rock Island, which should have taken less than 3 hours on a typical good day, I was met with monsoon-like rain and blustery winds. This is what I’ve come to expect, and it was hardly much of a challenge. The endless construction, now that was a nice touch, with lanes appearing and disappearing seemingly out of nowhere, and the usual crazed drivers zig-zagging to get either on or off, because obviously if they missed one exit, there wouldn’t be another one for way WAY too long, so better to risk a multi-car pileup.

Traffic, well, come on. Even though it was Thursday morning, not a usual time for traffic, I took this in stride. And I had not realized that there is apparently one gas station in the entire western part of IL, so worrying about running out of gas, well, that made me happy too.

However. Just to be clear – we do understand that I was doing this purely as a favor to someone, a woman I’d never met, no less, out of sympathy for her recent disaster when she went on vacation and the person who was supposed to look after her dogs......didn’t. You can imagine what the house looked like when she got back. So more the fool I, I said I’d help her out if she were ever stuck again, and next think you know, there I was driving to Rock Island, which is basically Iowa, not even bothering to bring my bike because the weather was beyond miserable. Now, I mention all this merely to set the stage – it’s not as if I’m looking for some kind of medal here or anything – a heck of a lot people do a lot more, so I know it’s no big deal. But conversely, I did not expect what actually did happen: that there I’d be, almost at my destination, driving on highway 5 which is a 4 lane divided roadway with a grassy median of sorts – the kind of thing where there are side roads with no traffic lights where people will go across your lanes to get to the ones going the other way. Typical rural stuff.

So I’m toodling along, paying attention as always, and I see a car on the right that has stopped and is obviously waiting to cross my lanes to get to the other side. Kind of waiting, that is. Because suddenly the scum-sucking POS driving that car, and whoever he/she is I am still heaping curses on your wretched head, decides to pull RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Not peeling out quickly assuming they could zip across, oh no. It’s as if I’ve activated the stealth cloaking button in my car that renders me completely invisible. Oops, I hate it when that happens at the wrong time. So here I am in a split second trying to decide if I could speed up enough to make it in front of this car, or slam the brakes and swerve behind them. I pick option two, and somehow, someway, a massive collision is averted. Though subsequently my heart is beating so rapidly I’m pretty sure a heart attack is imminent – which is the only thing stopping me from turning around and hunting down this bastard and beating the ever loving crap out of him. Don’t think I didn’t give it serious consideration.

Which brings me to my point. Again, not looking for recognition for trying to do the requisite good deed once in a while. But. Perhaps. Given the fact that I’m trying to do a fucking GOOD DEED here… you think you might want to give me a fucking BREAK once in a while and not try to KILL ME??

Thank you.

Saturday the 19th

Apr 12

Apr 13

Apr 14

Apr 15
Sunny / Wind

Apr 16

Apr 17

Apr 18

Apr 19

Apr 20

Apr 21

Those are of course the temperatures for Tujunga, CA. Here, well, as I’m driving back to Chicago, this time even more cautious – like someone who “smetana vezoot” as my dad would say – it starts snowing. I call my brother to tell him this, and I think he starts choking from laughter on the icy fresh lemonade he’s made for himself to combat the heat. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Survival of the fittest


My brother has realized that time is running out, and so he steps up his efforts to kill or maim me, or (god forbid) derail my budding path to triathlon glory. Tonight while cooking dinner, I reach over the stove to stir the melting butter, and he turns on the front burner, almost sending my arm up in flames. The cheeky, innocent grin and the “oops” comment do not allay my suspicions. Then after it gets dark, I go to get something out of my car, and “someone” has taken the huge trashcan for recyclables and put it RIGHT outside the little gate, where a person less clumsy than myself would have tumbled over it willy-nilly. Hmm. The coup d’grace, however, is the dinner itself that he’s preparing: rack of lamb with a berry reduction sauce, cream of asparagus soup, real scalloped potatoes with heavy cream, asparagus with a hollandaise sauce. As an appetizer, a triple-cream cheese with buttery crackers. For desert, éclairs. And he’s been cooking like this EVERY NIGHT! Now, if this isn’t an attempt to kill me outright, then I don’t know what is. So sad.

Friday night

We go to dinner at the house of one of my brother’s friends – a beautiful place in the Hollywood Hills. We’re barely there 10 minutes, drinking some tasty wine, when it begins anew: Andrew “accidentally” knocks over my leaded glass wine tumbler, a hefty thing that weighs at least 5 pounds easy, and it misses my foot only because of my super-quick reflexes. I just give him The Look, the one that says “I’m on to you”, and get the usual cheeky grin in return, the one that says “hey, it was worth a try.” The rest of the evening passes without incident.


Weather report:

Chicago, IL – 66 degrees
Tujunga, CA – 62

Later – Big Boy’s Big Adventure

After bundling up in heavy coats, we decide it’s time to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, aka Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, the oldest one still standing. I take Big Boy out of his hiding place for this excursion, and it’s clear to see that he’s excited about the trip to visit his namesake – I’ve told him that they needed to make the little Big Boy (him) so that they had a model for the big Big Boy (restaurant and accompanying figures). The burgers, onion rings, and milkshakes are as outstanding as usual, enjoyed by one and all. And while I don’t see anyone else with their Big Boy at the table, or subsequently taking pictures, this doesn’t seem to be too freakish of an occurrence, because the waitstaff is very careful to not blunder in front while I’m taking pictures. I guess they’re used to this kind of madness.


Yes, a very scary moment for all of us at Bob’s. Big Boy wanted to have his picture taken on the counter, in front of the glass case of other Big Boys throughout the years – you can see from his smug look just how thrilled he was at this. But while a couple of waitstaff folks ducked and weaved while this was going on, one woman did so and then did a double-take, looking at Big Boy and thinking that somehow he had escaped.

Waitress, moving towards Big Boy: “Hey, how’d he get out? Was the case left open?”
Me, aghast: “No, no, he’s MY Big Boy – he’s just vintage, so he looks like yours.”
WMTBB: “Are you sure? Because he looks just like.....”

As she started to pick up BB with her grasping hands, I quickly snatched him up to my bosom protectively and hustled out of there. Now, while I certainly appreciate her diligence towards making sure that itinerant rapscallions do not walk off with original Big Boys, this incident left us shaken for some time. Well, at least a minute, after which we were shooing people away outside so that we could take more pictures of little Big Boy with his mini-me, big Big Boy, in his "king of the world!" pose. Still, one can’t help but think about these close calls, with more than a touch of horror. So close......


We’re watching the news and when the weatherman does his little teaser and says “it’s been a bit chilly, but things are looking up for the week ahead!” Angela just starts laughing. A bit hysterically, but laughter nonetheless.

In the meantime, on my last day, my brother has finally figured out the way to wound me most deeply: he starts talking about their tomato plants last year, how they have to cut back this year because they had “so many tomatoes, they were rotting on the vine, we just didn’t know what to do with them. Hazel would wag her tail and send tomatoes flying in every direction.” And on and on and on. Considering that I spent about $2000 and 480 hours of my life last year tending to my tomato planting and all that entails, and had pretty much nothing to show for it thanks to those beastly rodents called squirrels (who I’ve declared war on for this year, oh yes), this cut me to the quick. Had my trip been any longer, I’m sure a coronary or perhaps just death due to overwhelming tomato sadness and jealousy would have done me in. I hope he doesn’t remember this for my next visit.....

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Death Valley "fun"


So last night after my native-food dinner of chicken-fried steak at a local diner, and before I fall into a deep, restful sleep as a result of my strenuous workout, I watch the local news for a while, and I have this to say: these Californians are not a sturdy lot. Because the very first item on the news, which warranted about 8 minutes of airtime, was about the rain that had been falling in the region. A deluge of biblical proportions, you ask? Umm, no. “Up to half an inch in some areas!” was more like it. Tujunga, where my brother lives, of course got no rain, because I was not in the area. LA got about a quarter of an inch – the horror!

The best part involved their interviews with the common “people on the street.” Whose lives were summed up in the caption beneath their names, as these lucky folks were forever lumped into either the group that “likes the rain,” or conversely, “wants warmer weather.” There might have been a bit of selection bias involved, because in the end, the “likes the rain” contingent beat out the “wants warmer weather” crew by about 6-2. The newsman wraps things up by noting “It’s really unusual to get much rain at this time of year.” Yeah, tell me something I didn’t know, bub.

As I’m contemplating the Mt. Whitney vs. Death Valley conundrum, I see all these grubby looking hikers stocking up on fruits and other things at the little fruit stand down the street, and once again, I think – "good god, what does one have to DO to get away from all of these damn people?” Really, who can commune with nature when after huffing and struggling one’s way up some craggy peak one reaches the top to find a gaggle of ex-urban former yuppies who’ve made their billions and now have nothing but time on their hands, enjoying a picnic? Not me, certainly. Death Valley it is, though first I stop for a latte at the sole coffee emporium in Lone Pine, where I chat with the lovely woman there who tells me that the wildflower vista is a bit of a disappointment this year in DV. With my expectations thus reset (read: drastically lowered off a cliff into oblivion), I set off. I also pick up an information sheet that tells me about the mountain passes to Yosemite and other places (all closed), and the condition of some of the roads in Death Valley – supposedly all open. Hmm.

Death Valley – 122 miles thataway

I took my brother’s advice and filled up on gas before I left Lone Pine, since the General gets sucky gas mileage and even I’m not foolish enough to tempt fate by driving through barren hinterlands toying with an empty gas tank. Though I don’t feel I need to worry about breaking down due to an overheated engine – it’s pretty damn cold for this time of year, so I can’t imagine even DV is that hot. I’m bundled up sufficiently to ward against the bone-chilling cold and wind, parka and all. As I drive over the endless roads, I think: this would be a great place for a triathlon! Okay, so my only rationale for this is that the roads are as smooth as butter, and thus far they’re just rolling, no major hills, so hey, why not a triathlon? I’m sure they could find volunteers willing to stand out here all day in this pleasant vista to hand out water and beef jerky and such, right?

40 miles later

I get to a scenic overlook, where the starkness of Death Valley starts to become clear – it looks like the land has been strip mined or something, it’s that bleak and foreboding. And to top it off, there are turkey vultures lurking about everywhere. As a result, I feel right at home.

Ah, but now that whole “valley” part is starting to become a little clearer. Because now we’re getting into these windy, twisty, curvy very steep hills that would be making me extremely carsick if I weren’t driving. This all seems a bit dangerous – are you telling me they couldn’t just carve a straight road up and over the mountains? Pish-posh. Slackers.

20 miles later

It’s as I’m going up one of these windy twisty sections that suddenly I see it! Wildflowers! My reason d’aitre, my mission, my.....well, whatever, because instead of the vast sweeping fields of wildflowers I had originally anticipated and been told to expect, I’m now getting all excited because I see a few clumps of flowers hither and yon. Still, I stop to take pictures – who knows when I’ll see something other than acres of rocks again?

Another 40 miles

I wonder, did the people who designed DV National Park have a weird sense of humor, or had they all just lost their minds from being out here too long? Because I get to the first real blip on the map that has a gas station ($5.16/gallon) and general store, and it’s called Furnace Creek. Not to be confused with Hell’s Stovepipe Falls, or something like that, which is the next blip. I step out of the car to go get some local food, and......holy shit, it’s hot. About 90 degrees hot. When did this happen, and why did no one inform me that Death Valley would be like an oven? Geez, had I only known.

I look at the map, and for some reason have a compulsion to head to Badwater. I wish I could say that I did some research on it, calculated mileage, distances, likelihood of wildflower viewing based on amounts of rainwater in January, etc., but no – I just think it sounds cool. Onward.

30 dusty miles later

It seems to be getting hotter, and there’s something foreboding and paranoia-inducing about the signs that insist “Turn off air conditioners next 28 miles to avoid car overheating.” Not only does it make one extremely thirsty, parched even, but I also keep looking at the gas gauge and fretting. I’m down a quarter tank – what if I inexplicably run out in this dry and dusty wasteland? Oh, okay, I guess there are plenty of other tourists driving by, but still. Damn people.


Apparently I’m not the only one who felt compelled to make a pilgrimage to Badwater – which is really just a little turnoff where one can park a car and wander out onto the salt flats, which give Badwater its name. Some creative settler apparently had a mule who wouldn’t drink the water because it was too salty, and hence proclaimed it “bad water.” Such inescapable logic. Having procured a bike for my travels, a bike which I’ve laboriously stuffed into the back of the General Lee making me determined to ride it, dammit, I decide that this is a good spot to set off, aging tourists in their RVs be damned.

Later: okay, so perhaps going for a bike ride in the middle of Death Valley has not been my brightest idea yet. Must make a note of this for future trips. Gasp. Need..........water..........

After a rest

Now that I’ve awed even myself with my heretofore untapped levels of stupidity, I decide I’ll start heading back towards civilization. Having studied the map, I see that there’s the way I came, and then there’s another road that will put be on the road back towards LA in less of a circuitous fashion. Looking at the map that I bought in Furnace Creek, I can see that this alternate route looks like a decent road – not one of those dirt roads that are all but impassable in a hunk of tin like the General. So all should be well.

First, however, I make a detour to check out the Devil’s Golf Course. When I first saw this on the map, I admit I was a bit exasperated: “Must these fanatics stick a golf course everywhere?” You’d really have to be insane to attempt any kind of physical activity in Death Valley, not that golf really counts as a sport, though. In any case, when I see the actual sign for the DGC, naturally I need to check it out, dirt road and all. After traversing over the rocky road (note to my reader(s): NEVER buy a used car from a car rental place, EVER!), I get to what is simply a vast terrain of very craggy salty earth/rock. An endless sea of divots, I suppose – making the moniker appropriate if you’re, say, on heavy psychotropic drugs and coming up with names for such things. Nearby there’s a group of people with professional looking film shooting equipment, and one of the ever-present sightseers asks them what they’re up to – they’re shooting a “spaghetti kung fu western,” whatever the hell that is. When the “star” starts pulling out his samurai sword and swinging it about, I take that as my cue to leave.

28 miles later

I’ve just turned off onto a bucolic-sounding road called Wildrose – okay, so I missed the turnoff at first since the Park Service here apparently ascribes to the Missouri Methodology of having people guess at what roads are what, but now I’m on my way, whee! It’s a decent road, and lo, what’s this? Another clump of wildflowers! Feeling victorious, I stop for a picture.

Shortly thereafter, I’m squinting off into the distance and see something that appears to be somewhat familiar. As I get closer I see..........another completely insane person, aka a cyclist?? WTH? I thought I had cornered the market on this kind of foolishness! I go past him pretty slowly, prepared to offer assistance to a fellow loon if needed, but he looks prepared with a Camelbak and all, and hasn’t put a sign on his back saying “HELP ME!” or anything like that, as I like to do when I need to refill my water bottles, so I figure he’s okay.

This road, however, is interesting. It’s clear that nature is attempting to assert itself, as the grasses, brush, and other shrubbery of the area is growing at the side of the road where presumably there once was unbroken pavement, thereby making the road pretty narrow. I guess that’s why instead of a road sign, there was a warning telling people with RVs and trucks to not use this road. I can’t help but wonder what this road would look like if there were no maintenance at all and the encroaching vegetation were allowed to take over. Scary thought.

38 miles later

So apparently I’m not the only one who finds these “maps” rather useless, as I pass a couple of cars pulled over on the side of the road, and then find myself doing the same, as the signage makes no sense whatsoever. I’m looking for a turnoff road that will get me headed in the right direction, but the main nice road is taking me to some kind of mines, which isn’t where I want to go. The only (unmarked, mind you) road I passed was one that said “Caution, very rough road” – so that couldn’t be my nice main road back to civilization, could it?

Sometime later

It could. And now I’ve learned what happens to the roads when nature is allowed to take over, because I’m on said “roads.”

The General is NOT happy. We’re crawling along this potholed, rutted, gritty road, I’m worriedly looking at the gas gauge, contemplating turning around but then that would put me in a bad spot because I’d have to go way way back to get back to my first road......when suddenly I see a glorious sight. People! Yay, glorious people, denizens of humanity! Ah, there should be more people everywhere, I tell you. Since I know now I’m not entirely alone on this godforsaken pitted stretch of road, I happily give them a jaunty little wave. At least if the General loses a gasket or something else of that ilk, I know that someone might come along eventually before I expire of thirst. That’s some comfort.

I also make another useful note to myself: the road less traveled.......sometimes, it’s that way for a reason. I really have to get over this inclination of mine to take the “alternate route” or “scenic route” or “seeming shortcut.” It’s not necessarily a good thing, particularly in Death Valley. Which is undeniably gorgeous and breathtaking in a magnificently bleak and harsh way, but there’s also something about DV that makes you want to, well, leave. Because you quickly wind up with the rather desperate feeling that you just might not be able to.

More driving

As I look at the craggy black mountains and hills on which very little is growing, I can’t help but think of the first people to come across this sight as they made their way westward in search of gold, adventure, and California beaches. Nomadic pilgrims who, having walked through the lush territories further east, step over a crest and see stretched out before them a vast valley of rock, salt flats, and not much else. I imagine that many of these pilgrims perished here in the desert, their trademark conical hats left to bleach white in the unrelenting sun. Sad.


I now realize that being in Death Valley is a lot like being on the moon. The rocky terrain is certainly much like a moonscape, but there’s also the following commonality: that in both places, you feel like you’re pretty much the only person out there, and if you have some kind of mechanical failure or malfunction, you’re basically screwed.

Aha, I see

NOW I get why it’s called Death Valley. Duh! Now, when it’s too late, sigh, I finally get it. I’ve seen nothing and no one for miles and miles, gas is running low, I’ve turned off the air conditioner to conserve said gas, I only have a jug of water and a cooler (a small one) of snacks with me.....clearly, I am doomed.

Some ungodly number of miles later

Huzzah? Suddenly, after the endless miles of bad pavement, I see a most beautiful sight: an endless junkyard of hulking, rusted-out old cars and other pieces of discarded machinery stretched out as far as the eye can see. I have no idea how and why this is where bucket-of-bolts cars and the like come to die, but who am I to quibble?

As I drive into what is apparently the little burg of Trona, I’ve never been so happy to see a town, any town, even one as dumpy, run down and boarded up as Trona is. Starting with the car graveyards on the outskirts of town, we quickly get to salt flats on the left against the backdrop of some kind of industrial equipment, as if some conglomerate has tried to dredge some kind of cash crop out of even this scrubby and desolate patch of earth. On the right – another big factory in the background, with lots of squat houses along the road, most of them boarded up with plywood. Any signs of commerce seem extinguished – it looks as if there was some kind of nuclear disaster and everyone just picked up and left. In fact, look up the definition of “industrial wasteland”, and there would be a picture of Trona.

And yet – a sign indicates that this wee town has NINE churches (why does that always seem to be the case, that the most forgotten and poor towns and cities have an inordinate number of religious institutions? Because, I hate to say it, but I don’t think God is listening) – and then, of all things, a bike path. A dusty one to be sure, but yes, an actual paved bike path running alongside the road. Soon, I see an actual person riding on this path, on a recumbent bike. Now I truly feel like Alice in Wonderland – and no, I have absolutely zero inclination to stop the car and ride on said path for a while. I’m not crazy, you know. In fact, this whole town, happy as I am to see some sign of civilization, gives me the heebie-jeebies, in a very Stephen King “Children of the Corn” kind of way. Though I guess it would be more like “Children of the Barren Desert Industrial Salt Flats”, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

I do fuel up quickly at a gas station on the outskirts of town, and head off, noting that I temporarily have cell phone reception again, and feeling like I’ve just emerged from the Bermuda Triangle. When I pass the Bel-Air motel again, on my way back to LA this time, I feel like I’m seeing an old friend. Decrepit and slasher-esque has never looked quite so good.

Friday, April 11, 2008

In search of America, or wildflowers


I set off on my adventure with the shout of my brother as I’m driving off – “Hey, where’d you leave Big Boy??” –echoing pleasantly in my ears. It’s not long, however, before a little nugget of concern starts to burrow into my brain. I believe it’s when I see the “Very strong winds next 28 miles, proceed with caution” sign, and shortly thereafter am almost taken out as I try to pass a lumbering 18-wheeler that almost gets whipped off the road. The cow signs are next – “cattle crossings next 60 miles, be prepared to stop suddenly.” Suddenly, it seems, peril is everywhere.

In the middle of this vastness of tumbleweeds and danger, I come across the first motel I’ve seen yet, one of the roadside places that my brother spoke of:

Not only does it look like a slasher movie cliché, but the fact that it can only aspire to the “luxury” of the Bates is not a good sign. I press on.

While I have yet to see a wildflower, I do soon see another alarming sign for heretofore unimagined dangers: crazed elk crossings. At least, the elk look pretty crazed on the signs – leaping into the air, mouth agape in an almost feral snarl. This is when the lightbulb FINALLY goes off – my brother is attempting to employ the well-known Machiavellian “death by caffeine/heavy foods/marauding elk” scheme to do me in! Aha! Now that I’ve realized this, I can be more vigilant.

In the meantime, though, I’m on my current mission, like it or not: wildflowers or bust. Soon (meaning after another 300 windy, dusty miles in the middle of nowhere), I come to the town of Lone Pine. While I had pictured a small decrepit town rolling in tumbleweeds, it’s actually kind of quaint. By “quaint” here I mean there are actually hotels/motels that appear to be held together by something other than duct tape, AND a little coffee shop. Civilization!

I choose to stay at the Dow Villa hotel, which was built in the ‘20s and apparently catered to all the movie stars that came here to shoot Westerns – I of course decide to stay in the original hotel building rather than the “newer” 50s motel section, though I almost rethink this when I lug my stuff up the stairs to the 2nd floor and maneuver myself into my shoebox of a room. But then I think about the fact that I have a great view of the Grand Tetons or Kilamanjaro or whatever mountain range is outside my window, and remind myself that John Wayne and Greta Garbo undoubtedly stayed in this VERY same room, and I’m content. Who needs the fancy-schmancy motel rooms with their “Frigidaire” and other luxuries? Roughing it is the essence of my very soul.

After unpacking my hiking gear and making sure I have a couple of pounds of trail mix with me for the arduous trek ahead, I decide I’ll follow my brother’s directions to see what happens. Of course, as I’m driving up the Whitney Trail Road that he claimed would take me somewhere to the trailhead nearest the peak, I come across……a roadblock. Because of snow or some such lame excuse, my access to the trailhead is denied, dammit. What a bunch of wimps – being from the Midwest, we’d hardly let something like a foot or two of snow and ice stand in our way.

Thus, I park the General Lee on some rocky overlook and set out, “trails” be damned. Though I guess they would be helpful when climbing what seems to be practically vertical hills. As I huff and puff over the mountains, I bask in the fact that because I’m climbing at altitude, my efforts fall under the 2x rule, whereby every 1,000 feet of elevation doubles one’s perceived exertion and thereby training time. Though, once I see what is clearly bear droppings (piles of small, uniform objects about the size and shape of olives), I decide that I’ve had enough of risking my life for one day, and I head back. The smugness I feel in calculating my daily training hours, which in this case equals 12 (20 min. hike at 8,000 feet) is exhilarating. My dilemma for tomorrow – more of this same crazy training madness, or do I tackle……..Death Valley?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Here we go 'round again

Dear California Department of Natural Resources:

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of visiting one of your fine national parks - specifically, the Malibu Canyon park - in hopes of partaking in the flora and fauna of the region while enjoying a bit of brisk exercise. And, partake I certainly did! For, dare I say it, many an hour. Now, far be it from me to criticize a national park service that I'm sure has many many important things to do - which includes developing signs that warn hikers against various sins and trespasses such as bringing one's dogs along, or alcohol, or otherwise engaging in nefarious activities while communing with nature. These were more than useful, as were the signs warning of mountain lion and rattlesnake danger - neither of which I saw, but useful nevertheless. Oh, and I truly appreciated the detailed maps in the parking lot, which showed a multi-branched trail system that apparently stems into Nevada and other neighboring states. Fine maps, those.

However. If I might suggest a modest proposal, namely this: you might want to consider in future NOT working with the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources in developing your system of marking trails, because they too seem to have some work to do in this area, and I speak from experience here. Theirs stems from an inability to determine what a "loop" is, where one sets out and eventually winds up back in the same spot. This differs significantly from an "out and back," a distinction that those good people are still working on. In your case, I wouldn't quite say that the issue is the same. Rather - and again, I am in NO WAY denigrating your fine park system - you might want to think about the fact that an eager hiker, having looked at your extensive and detailed map in the parking lot, will probably not be able to instantly commit said map to memory. Therefore, when one is on one of those many many trails and comes to a fork, or even several forks at once, it might make sense to perhaps have a trail marker or two once in a while.

Again, I do not mean to criticize, nay! The sights that I saw, many times, as I hiked an endless circle of trails that wound in and around themselves and eventually began to resemble Dante's 7th Circle of Hell, were truly spectacular. In particular, the squirrels (which are apparently in season) were magnificent. As were the ducks - so exactly like those back in Chicago that for a moment, I felt so at home, even surrounded as I was by scrub brush and tumbleweeds. And dusty trails. Lots and lots of dusty trails.

a fellow nature lover,

Miss Tasha
- - - -
Monday evening

Going by the rule proclaiming that fish and houseguests become tiresome after a few days, I tell my brother that I plan to go on a road trip, in search of wildflowers and other forms of nature. Because of the heavy rains that occurred around here in January, it's supposed to be a good year for wildflowers in the desert, and I'm determined to see some of them.

Andrew: "Where are you thinking of going?"
Me: "I thought Death Valley would be nice. Do some hiking. Bike riding. That sort of thing."
Andrew: "You should try going north and west of there too - Mt. Whitney. A nice little climb, very scenic and pretty. You can stay overnight in Lone Pine, or somewhere around there."
Me: "Are there flowers? It's not too hilly, is it? The motels aren't too Bates-esque, are they?"
Andrew: "Nah, just a good little hike. Very peaceful, shouldn't be too many people this time of year. The motels are fine, just fine."
Me: "Ooh, that sounds like the perfect, relaxing little jaunt."
Andrew: "Totally! Oh," he adds as an afterthought, "there are some bears up there. Brown bears, I think. But they're very friendly - they're so used to people."
Me: "Bears? Aren't brown bears the mean ones?"
Andrew: "No, not at all! The baby bears are especially cute - you should watch for them. They're so playful and fun," he notes, smiling expansively.
Me: "Baby bears? Hmm..."
Andrew: "Trust me! We've seen them while hiking - they're adorable! Make sure you get an early start tomorrow so you have a LOT of time to hike. And the drive up there can be kind of treacherous- high winds and all that. Oh, and you might want to leave Big Boy here - you wouldn't want to weigh yourself down or anything."

Hmm. Far be it from me to be suspicious or anything, but......oh, piffle, how dangerous could it be, hiking alone up Mt. Whitney? Onward!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Same as it ever was


The temperature is a brisk 47 when I wake up - I believe I've just brought crop failure to the formerly warm clime of southern California. Hate it when that happens. Tonight I meet my old friend Kristine and her husband for dinner. When Kristine goes to the ladies room, I chat amiably with her husband, who seems like a relatively astute man. That is, until he too starts with the whole "pshaw, you don't control the weather" thing that I'm starting to find really annoying.

Me, matter-of-factly: "Yep, pretty much been crappy weather since I got here."
Him, wrongheadedly: "Nah, this is normal for spring. Warm, cold, sunny, rainy, that's how it is."
Me, pouncing upon this bit of nonsense: "Oh really? Then tell me why as I was tracking the weather here in LA for the last 3 weeks, it's been beautiful and sunny, not a hint of cold or rain?"
Him, reminiscing: "Hmm.......yeah, last weekend was just perfect........" as his voice trails off, until he suddenly snaps to. "I mean, clearly THAT was an aberration. This is normal. Really."
Me, going in for the kill: "If this is so normal, then why were people pelting my car with frozen citrus earlier today, huh?"

Knowing that I've won the argument, he lapses into silence. Hmph.

When I get home, Andrew is waiting for me with his new invention, some kind of bacon-cheese-cheese eggyolk concoction, awash in peanut oil. He tries to push this on me, "with a mug of coffee to wash it down," he notes in his typical disarming fashion. That night, I sleep with Big Boy tucked safely under my pillow, as I'm sure that's what he covets so much that he's willing to bump me off heartlessly. Vigilance is key.


While some would treat a week in California as a vacation, I of course am always aware of the need to hew to my stringent training plan, and so I've decided to make this a "crash week" of sorts. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, that's where you basically train a LOT. Every day. Now, while I'd be perfectly happy in my usual element, i.e. swimming the endless (theoretical, dry-land) laps, biking the endless (visualized) miles, etc., I've decided to shake things up a bit with some serious hiking off in the mountains or canyons or whatever. On my way out, I contemplate getting a scone at Starbucks as the carbs necessary for the long day ahead, but I'm determined to stick to local food, so I get a bacon-cheese biscuit at the local diner instead. Tough, but necessary.

Having not asked my brother for directions, I find the Malibu Canyon National Park without any problems, though the signs at the trailhead do give one pause. There's the requisite ones saying that alcohol, dogs, etc. are not allowed, but then there's a whole host of them warning of the dangers lurking ahead. Rattlesnakes, poisoned grasses, wild boars, and of course my friends the mountain lions. This particular sign tells one how to act should one come across a mountain lion (as if we don't all know that already!): "Make yourself appear larger. Open your coat if you are wearing one. Make noise. Do not crouch down. Pick up children." etc and so on. Now, I read this as their telling us to use any nearby small children as a shield, which makes sense to me. If they're going for the little ones, then that gives the adults a chance to escape. Though maybe that's not what they really meant. Hmm.

After reading the final sign warning about the extreme DANGER and HAZARDS in hiking alone andhow one should never ever do this, I set off. Adventure awaits!

California. Freezing.

Last Thursday

Ah, my annual trip to California, to visit my brother Andrew, who will have probably thought up devious new plots in his attempt to kill me. I'm not sure exactly why this is a goal of his, but last year his scheme revolved around giving me directions to places that didn't exist or that veered off a steep cliff. I wonder what he'll try this time, realizing that I'm savvy to his ways now.

During my layover in Denver, I contemplate taking advantage of the fact that calories ingested in transit don't count. Not too many people know about this little axiom, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense: your body requires so much effort to adapt to the change in climate, altitude, atmosphere, etc., that right there you're burning off more calories than you could possibly ingest. However, I like to test my iron will by sticking to a liquid diet when traveling, just because I know I can. Not many people are capable of this kind of discipline. Thus equipped with my double-hot-fudge sundae, I saunter off to my gate where I gaze at my fellow travellers, with burgers and sandwiches clutched in their hands. I shake my head.

Finally, I arrive in California, where it's sunny and gorgeous. Ahhhh. I've been tracking the weather for the last few weeks, and it's been consistently in the 70s, even in the 80s a few times. More of the same is predicted, so I've packed all sorts of warm weather clothing. Suntan, here I come!

The only annoyance in what is sure to be a perfect week to come is when I go to get my rental car. The "5-passenger compact car" they give me is....the General Lee. A Ford Mustang? I didn't think they even made these anymore. Probably has the fuel efficiency of the Tinman. Great. Oh well, I'm sure that'll be the only wrinkle in the sunny days ahead.

Friday's a bit chilly when I wake up, and overcast. I'm sure it won't rain though - it never rains at this time of year.


It starts raining.

I go for a run, but wisely have decided to not ask my brother for directions. I somehow wind up at a hill that is mountain-goat worthy, and of course decide to go up it, positive that the elusive "national forest" that's somewhere around here must be over the crest. It's not. Damn nature - why is it never around when you need it? On the way back, I get lost, naturally, but at least this time it's on my own watch. Take that, Andrew!

This evening, I find out what my brother's new plot is, wily one that he is. I'm hanging out on the couch when I sense my brother and his wife Angela looking over at me and whispering. I attempt to discern in a subtle manner what it is they're up to - I don't want them to know that I'm on to them:

Me: "Hey, what are you two whispering about? Trying to come up with new ways to kill me?"
Andrew: "Oh, don't be silly. We're just discussing whether you take half-and-half or heavy cream in your espresso. "
Me: "Umm, at 11PM? You know if I don't get enough sleep I go insane and then just keel over in a death spiral into beds of petunias."
Andrew: "So heavy cream then. Here you go - it's this great new French roast, very strong. You'll love it."
Me: "Very strong?"
Andrew: "Oh, I don't mean strong in the caffeine sense, no sirree. I just mean in terms of flavor. Yeah, that's it. It's very rich, robust, all that. But hardly any caffeine, I swear," he says, grinning broadly and reassuringly.
Me, a bit suspicious: "I don't know about the heavy cream. I have a bum heart, you know. Trying to avoid clogging up the arteries too much and all that."
Andrew: "'Heavy' cream, it's a bit of a misnomer. It has to do with the blah blah blah..." and off he goes on some tangent that circles back to wine and monks and why so-called heavy cream is really a good way to lower one's cholesterol. I am skeptical, but drink it anyway.

(3AM, wide awake)


Saturday morning

It rained overnight, but while it's chilly when I get up, it's not raining.

Me: "I'm off to the farmers' market - I'll be back in a while!"
Andrew, sleepily: "Isn't it raining?"
Me: "No, just gloomy."
Andrew: "Okay, see you in a while."

I step outside. It starts raining. Sigh.

At the farmers' market, I wander around with the 5 or so other people who are also there. They're bundled up in down coats, thick scarves, and yes, even thick leather gloves. I overhear snippets of conversation: "This is the strangest weather we're having!" "Where did this cold front come from?" "Damn, it's freezing!" I bask in the glow of having the ability to bring about this kind of climatic change. However, there are some who try to deny the power of my abilities.

Me, chatting with the woman selling peach cobbler and sweet potato pies: "Too bad we don't have you selling these things in Chicago, where I'm from."
WSPCSPP: "Oh, Chicago, so you're used to this kind of weather. This is so unusual for this time of year!"
Me, modestly: "Well, yes,'s me, really. I bring the bad weather and rain with me wherever I go. I'm kind of like a shaman that way."
WSPCSPP: "Oh, now don't say that, this is typical spring weather, it's not you."
Me, firmly: "No really, it is me. It happens all the time. Everywhere I go. I'm a walking bundle of storm clouds and rain."
WSPCSPP: "I don't believe that for a minute. This is totally normal. It'll pass, and go back to being sunny and 80, you'll see."
Me, gritting my teeth: "Sure, when I leave."

I decide to leave her to her delusions, though I'm a bit annoyed that there are those who fail to recognize the spiritually gifted among us. On my way home, I stick to my food plan which revolves around "going native," as it were. In other words, when I travel I like to stick to just the local food and produce. I thus stop at Jack-in-the-Box for a burger, and feel virtuous at having done my own little part to help combat global warming, setting an example for others to follow.