June 13, 2012
Tepid Coffee in Arcata
“Well, I’m looking at the schedule right now, and uhh we’re booked pretty solid for the next two weeks.”
“Fuck me…” I cursed under my breath in a momentary bout of frustration that had been building since the syncro first broke down a week and a half earlier.
“What’d you say?”
“Oh nothing,” I paused for a second, before leaping into the explanation of my situation with hopes of dislodging this stonebricker, “I’m stranded here; I was on my way to Portland and my van broke down on Saturday night. Is there anyway you guys can check her out if someone cancels or something? It’s VW Vanagon Syncro, she’s parked right out front.”
“Ohh thats yours? We figured she was towed here. I can’t promise anything, but swing by and leave your keys.”
“Thanks man, I really appreciated it.”
“No problem. Can’t promise anything though.”
“I totally understand. I’ll be by this morning.”
Taping the red button on the screen of my iPhone, I leaned back on a old couch and sighed. Northern California’s May showers dripped down the single pained window of Dan’s apartment. Staring out the window, my initial frustration subsided as I evaluated my situation.
Taking advantage of the empty apartment, Dan was back in New England for a few months, I spoke out loud to myself. “Hopefully they will get to it in the next few days, and I will be out of here by the end of the week. It cant be anything major, I had the fuel pump replaced in LA.” Rationalize this out loud put me at ease. Grabbing the last clean shirt from my backpack, I pulled it on, kicked on my worn out Vans and headed to the door. Time to kill.
I quickly fell into a cycle. Waking early, I would skate (or walk depending on precipitation) to a coffee shop. As I waited for my large black coffee cut with honey to cool down, I people watched. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of the economy in Humboldt county comes from growing pot. Guessing which members of the Arcata community earned their bread from the illicit trade provided constant amusement. The early 30s guy with dreadlocks down to his ass, a Bob Marley shirt, and a brand new Dodge pick up the size of football field? Looks like a landscaper to me. I took another sip of tepid coffee.
After satisfying my appetite for caffeine and observing enough of the flora growing fauna, I’d wonder around the town’s small neighborhoods passing the time until my morning tire kicking session at the Mechanic. Lunch was simple, Lengua taco’s from a truck parked in the middle of town followed by a trip to the skatepark. After taking a few spills and exchanging a few words with the locals at the park, I’d push off in search of an undiscovered street.
Crisscrossing familiar streets fanned the flames of my cabin fever. 10 months of constant movement at the turn of a key made the time spent with no mobility in Arcata drag on. I felt like a fifteen year old trapped in the dog days of summer with no drivers license or friends to cause trouble with. Luckily I had nowhere to be.
I checked my watch, 3:47. The sun wouldn’t set for another five hours. Time for some more tepid coffee.
Here are some more links,
LA to Arcata (Facebook).
June 7, 2012
Mountain Dews for Breakfast
A long hauler turned tow truck driver dropped us off in a large dirt parking lot behind a Chevron station some 100 miles west of the lonely stretch of road that we broke down in. After three hours of sage advice on topics ranging from float shifting techniques to picking up women through Facebook, our tow truck driver shook our hands and headed back towards his “Old Lady” in Bullhead City. It was 2:30 and Tim and I quickly folded down the backseat and laid down side by side in the back of the Syncro. We were unusually quite. Despite having lost its power of movement, the vans familiar smells were comforting, and I was asleep within minutes.
The 18 wheelers rumbled into motion shortly before sunrise and hit I40. The change of their diesel engines from idle to load baring woke me from a deep slumber. At 4:45, it was already 75 degrees. ”Fuck, It’s going to be a hot one..” I thought to myself before rolling over to sleep for an hour or two more. By the time, my thumping bladder finally drove me from my sleeping bag at 6:30 in search of secluded place to pee, only a few of the last stragglers were left.
Walking back through the empty parking lot towards the van, a man in faded Levis and cowboy boots stood brandishing a Subway foot long and inspecting my strange vehicle. He cracked a fresh Mountain Dew and took a long swing.
“You guys broke down?” A thick southern accident crept past his grey mustache.
“Yup, we got towed here last night.”
“Not sure, but I think its the fuel pump.” Turning the ignition, the started cranked in vain.
“Yup, sounds like a fuel pump!” the man laughed in agreement, echoing years of constant smoking.
Confirming my suspicions, I didn’t tempt fate a second time and left the keys in the ignition. ”We are getting towed to LA.”
“Plenty of places work on VW’s in LA. You boys should be fine. Back on the road in no time.”
“So I hope. Where are you headed?”
“Wisconsin. Was supposed to be there…” He closed one eye and peered up at the sky, “….Five hours ago.”
“No shit? how long will it take you to get there from here?”
“Well…” he closed the same eye and looked up at the sky, clutching the Mountain Dew in both hands, “…its about eighteen hundred miles, so if I beat feet I could be there in twenty five hours. Which reminds me, gotta hit the road.”
Here are some more links,
The Road Continues to Take (Faceb00k).
June 5, 2012
The Road Giveth, and The Road Taketh
We approached the cow cautiously, half expecting it to stand up with a moo or two and charge one of us. As we neared, the vultures relinquished their prize and joined a dozen or so others circling a few hundred yards above. The thousands of flies however, kept up their work, buzzing around the carcass.
“What do you think happened?” I asked, holding my t-shirt over my nose like bandana.
“Holly shit, see that calf?!?”
“Is that what that is poking out of its ass err I mean vagina..?”
Walking around towards the cow’s back, I noticed the hoofs and nose of a baby calf sticking part of the way out of cow’s vagina. My stomach contracted as I caught a small whiff of the what would surely be the first battle of a war of stench.
“Fuck.. it must have died giving birth.”
“I wonder how long it’s been here?”
Looking up at the sun, I squinted my eyes, “Ehh maybe a day, maybe less. It hasn’t been ripped apart yet.”
“No way to really know I guess. Can we go now? This is creeping me out.”
“Yah, this shit is weird.”
We walked back towards the idling van in silence, still analyzing the cow and her still-born calf behind us.
“That’s something you see in a movie. Remember when they killed that cow in Apocalypse Now? Well that’s how fucked up that cow is. Same level.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It’s trapped in suspended agony. Could you imagine being there when it died?”
“I’d rather not. Let’s get the fuck out of here. This shit’s bad juju.”
Nodding in agreement, I opened the door and climbed back into the Syncro. Releasing the emergency break, we rolled forward.
“That’s something you’ll never forget.”
Revving up to the top end of first gear, I shifted to second and we headed south towards I-40 on the Forest Service road.
Seeing that cow marked a turning point in our trip to the Four Corners region. Later that day in a wind storm on I-40, the strap of my Thule surf rack gave and we lost a surfboard. Tim and I heard nothing and didn’t realize the board was missing until we stopped to get gas a few hours later. Futily, we backtracked an hour hoping to see the board laying on the shoulder. No luck. In a separate but related incident a pair of jeans that I had drying in the cargo rack blew off. Hopefully a Navajo found both the surfboard and the jeans on the side of the road and is enjoying them.
Annoyed with the losses but happy that it was just a pair of jeans and a beat up surfboard, Tim and I continued our travels west, back towards southern California, where both could be easily replaced.
I downshifted from fourth to third on a two lane highway out of a valley in northeastern Arizona. Cutting through open range, the occasional cow dotted the otherwise unremarkable landscape. The van shook subtly twice in the low RPM’s and then continued its whining acceleration up the hill.
“Did you feel that?”
“No, what do you mean?”
“I think she misfired or, we ran over a snake the size of four by four…”
“Ohh yah, I thought we ran over something in the road.”
“Nope we didn’t hit a thing…She’s never done that before. Thats not good..”
“Maybe it’s the altitude..” Tim suggested in earnest.
Matching Tim’s optimism with a healthy portion of my own wishful thinking, I accepted this answer as a plausible cause and continued west. The knocks disappeared.
Hanging at the watering hole.
You Shall Not Pass.
Tim has a photo blog called Cairn Culture.
Wild Horses in New Mexico.
Craftsmanship in Chaco Canyon.
By the Nevada Arizona border, the knocks and misfires had grown from the occasional sputter on a steep hill to a voilent convulsion every time I accelerated. In low RPM’s, the shakes were hair raising. To avoid this, I kept revs high. As the knocks continued, my hopes of limping the Syncro back to Los Angeles evaporated. In vain, I tried a fuel injection cleaner at a gas station. For half an hour, the convulsions disappeared, only to return with vengeance.
“We aren’t going to make it to LA,” I said to Tim with a solemn face following a particularly long series of misfires.
“I know we aren’t…” He said as if he’d known for longer than I had. ”What do we do?”
“Well, you have AAA dont you? Lets get off the interstate and take side roads back as close as we can. The other option is that we call it quits here and try to find a shop in Bullhead City or Havasu City to work on the van on Monday.”
“Fuck that. Those towns are hell holes.”
“My thoughts exactly. Let’s push for LA.”
Turning off the music, we continued towards the setting sun, reviving high in third gear.
On a linear progression, the knocks continued until the van stalled, contributing her last bit of forward motion. Turning on the hazard lights I rolled to the side of Route 66 a stone’s throw from the California border.
“Well, that’s that.”
“At least we are in a pretty place,” Tim said glancing towards the setting sun.
I sheepishly smiled in agreement.
“Do you want to make the call or should I? We’re 284 miles from LA. We’re going to have to use both of our AAA accounts,” I said to Tim as I checked Google Maps on my iPhone. Wrestled my wallet from my back right pocket, I flipped through expired New York Transit cards, reciepts and other old reminders of yesteryear. Eventually, I found my AAA card.
“We are so fucking lucky we have cell reception here.”
“What’s the deal, I’ll make the first call, then we wait an hour and then we get towed 100 miles and then you make another call and get towed another 100 miles.”
“Yup, thats about right.”
“Shit. It’s going to be a long night. What I would do for a beer,” Tim laughed.
“The Road Giveth and The Road Taketh,” I agreed.
Here are some more links,
Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves (Youtube),
The Road Giveth and The Road Taketh (Facebook).
May 22, 2012
Sometimes A Great Notion
One chapter of Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion bled into another as we hummed north out of Los Angeles. The Syncro revved up towards the redline in first gear, obscuring the narrator’s voice. Fresh off the plane from a three month stint in New Zealand, Tim was adjusting to the pace of traffic in the San Fernando Valley from the passenger seat. Periodic grunts and his constant gaze at the seemingly endless lines of suburban landscape conveyed his feelings.
“Pretty different from New Zealand huh?”
“I haven’t seen this many people in three months,” Tim explained. “The cars here are totally different too. Pretty much everything that’s 4wd has a snorkel on it. They use 4wd drive down there. Not like that.” Tim motioned to Cadillac Escalade weaving through traffic.
“They are different animal,” I agreed nodding towards the vanishing Escalade. ”Want to listen to some tunes or stay with the book?”
“Leave it here. I’m getting into it.”
Kesey’s novel about the brotherly corrals of a logging family in Coastal Oregon continued as we left LA’s smog behind us. A few days earlier, I had dropped off Tucker in Northern California and bee-lined it down to pick up Tim at LAX. For three months, Tim backpacked, sailed and sea kayaked on New Zealand’s South Island. Save for a few two line emails and ten minute Skype call, I hadn’t heard from him since I headed south towards Baja in January.
Two years and two months separate us in age. Growing up, we spent all of our time together. If one of us was into something, the other soon would be too. Our relationship was less of brothers, with a clear hierarchy and boundaries, and more an impervious friendship.
For a few days, we wondered LA catching up. For a short while, our conversations focused on his experiences in New Zealand, but they soon gave way to familiar conversations and idiosyncrasies of two very close people. After a night or two and few hours spent bumper to bumper in LA’s signature traffic, we decided to head north and explore the southern Sierras.
A year ago, sitting in my Manhattan office building, the importance of maintaining and contributing to this relationship with my brother was slowly giving way to a storm of professional aspirations, grown up responsibilities and the desire to build a new life. Following in parallel with Leland Stampard’s (a character in Sometimes a Great Notion) return to the Northwest, I too left New York, and headed back towards my routes in the Northwest last August. Unlike Leland’s desire for revenge on his older brother, a burning wanderlust and desire to spend more time with people important to me drove me home.
For 27 hours, Sometimes A Great Notion provided the backdrop for our travels.
Yours to keep.
Dark and Stormy.
Toppings and Salsa.
For longest time, I called Tim my little brother. He’s 6’8. Now he’s just my brother.
“We never fought like this did we? I mean we argued some when we were little, but nothing this deep-seated,” I said turning down the stereo, after the climax fight between the two brothers in the book.
“Yea, never like this,” Tim said as he grabbed the binoculars and peered out the window towards the distant hills.
“I think the last time we got in a fight was, maybe 7 years ago when you threw that stool at me.”
“Yup.” Tim adjusted the focus. ”I don’t think we ever will.”
Here are some more links,
Sometimes A Great Notion (Facebook),
Sometimes a Great Notion (Amazon).