Monday, January 23, 2017

The Great Winter Road Trip

By Carolyn Rose and Mike Nettleton

Carolyn: Although we both have fond memories of the days when we could toss a few things in the car and take off, one of us is realistic enough to know those days are gone.

Mike:   Boy, I miss those days when you could find yourself in Reno, Nevada, with 74 cents, no gas in the VW, and no clue how you’d get home.

Carolyn: So, with that in mind, I devoted significant time to researching a new car for the trip, then more time to making lists and gathering an assortment of warm- and cold-weather clothing, towels, plastic bags, paper plates, dog toys, dog tranquilizers, dog bed, books, maps, spare pillows, flashlights, and food. As it turns out, we never needed the kitty litter (for tire traction) or the gallon of water. But everything else came in handy.

Mike: Cue the banjo music. She’s right, of course. Still, I could have sworn I could hear Homer and Jethro singing “Come listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed. Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed,” as we rolled down the road.

Carolyn: And pre-planning paid off. When I noticed I-84 was closed yet again and the temperature in Ontario, Oregon, was -7 two days before we set out, we changed our plans and headed south and west instead of east and then south. That put us in Redding, CA, the first day, and just outside of Bakersfield on the second.

Mike: Bakersfield. I won't say it's ugly but-

Carolyn: Careful, bucko, we might have to go back there some day. On day 3 we left freeway driving behind and, more by accident than design, took old Route 66 through rugged country to Oatman, AZ.


Mike: Oatman is an old mining town up in the mountains. When we passed through, the streets were packed with tourists and wild burros wandered around trying to cadge something to eat.

After an hour and a half of 20 mph switchbacks, we finally made it to Laughlin, Nevada. Despite being dominated by casinos,


the town does have some charm, with a river walk that meanders along its length. Across the water is Bullhead City, Arizona, a haven for the AARP set who ford the stream periodically to blow their Social Security checks. I’m somewhat chagrined (but mostly proud) to admit I relieved them of $265 by co-winning a morning poker tourney at the Colorado Belle, a casino disguised as a riverboat.

Carolyn: I bid a fond farewell to my new favorite slot-machine game, Cops and Doughnuts, and we headed east, stopping briefly at Walnut Canyon (no dogs allowed on the descending trail) and then the Painted Desert. 

The day was overcast, but occasional sunbeams lit up the hills and we enjoyed the show.

Then it was on to Albuquerque where we stayed with a friend from my VISTA days and turned her on to the benefits of CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in medical marijuana for her arthritis pain. So far, it seems to be helping. https://www.projectcbd.org/what-cbd

Mike:  I snuck in a game of golf with an old friend before a snowstorm hit, ate red chile enchiladas with my ex-partner, and shared an hour or two of telling lies about the good old days with another old pal. We also broke bread with several of Carolyn’s former co-workers and a couple from our old neighborhood.

Carolyn: Timing our departure between storms, we headed for Phoenix to visit my aunt, then scooted for Prescott, a wonderful city with the best of the old and new. 

 We’re thinking this might be a place to spend part of next winter, so Mike checked out the golf courses, theaters and the library and I made note of grocery stores and 
walking trails. Max made note of a dead javelina by the side of the road. He thinks it might be fun to own a wild pig of his own.

The next day I navigated us on back roads through the desert toward Lake Havasu. At a crossroads with three houses and a single store, we met a man walking a dog named Whiskey. I think he was named after his owner’s breath. The little mutt was about Max’s size and wearing a torn green dog sweater. Max isn’t much for dog clothing, so I offered Whiskey an orange sweater our Malty dog wore exactly once. Whiskey and his owner were delighted.

 Mike:  I liked Lake Havasu more than I thought I would. 

It had some charm, mixed with kitsch and classic American tackiness. London Bridge crosses a canal they dug for it, and despite being a bit underwhelming was kinda cool. 

We passed through the spectacular country around Boulder Dam on our way to Las Vegas. 

Since they wouldn’t let us up to the viewpoint with Max (security concerns) this shot from the car window was about the best we could do. I guess they’re afraid our little dog might have been carrying a shoulder launched missile. 

 We did pull into a viewpoint with a spectacular vista overlooking Lake Mead 

Image result for desert wildlife refuge las vegas
Winding down the mountain, we scurried into Las Vegas and a visit with our goddaughter and her kids.

Carolyn: Rain cut short our visit to Spencer Lodge, which is not a charming vacation inn, but the name of the son of a friend and an archaeologist at the Desert Wildlife Refuge 

 That afternoon, we headed for Tujunga, scooting in before LA traffic reached gridlock. Max enjoyed being out of the car for 8 days and roaming the terraced garden in the back yard of Michael and Mia’s home. 

One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to Descanso Gardens. We enjoyed the less manicured and more natural arrangement of shrubs and plants, and I especially enjoyed the huge spreading oaks. 

You oughta see the other guy.
 While in the Los Angeles area, I took up a new hobby. Senior citizen cage fighting. Great fun; they escorted us into the cage with our walkers, positioned us about a foot apart, blew a whistle and cheered and whistled while we whaled the crap out of each other. 
  Carolyn: Actually, he fell down and went boom while walking Max.
Mike: Damned sprinkler head.

Carolyn: With a forecast for 4-7 inches of rain, we decided to leave a day earlier than planned and head north. Along the way we saw fields filled with standing water and rivers reaching the tops of their banks. After a stormy night in Redding when the motel staff piled sandbags around one door, we canceled plans to take twisting and mountainous roads to the coast and stayed with I-5.

 Watching a mile-long row of big trucks chaining up, we feared we’d have to turn back, but research paid off and our AWD Toyota was waved on when other vehicles headed for the off ramp.


Mike: The stretch around Lake Shasta was kinda white knuckle, but really, not bad, all things considered.  The rest of the drive was fast and uneventful. Even with delays through the mountains it only took us 7 1/2 hours to get home.

Luckily it didn’t look like this when we pulled in. We timed our vacation perfectly to miss the ice and snow storm of the decade in Vancouver and everything had melted off by the time we arrived.

It was a memorable trip, gave us a chance to catch up with old friends and family, but as Max, the quivering doggy hulk will tell you. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Love Affair with Maps

Carolyn J. Rose

Recently my neighbors helped me sell my car—a process that, thanks to technology, took about 10 minutes. Surprised by how quickly we had a buyer on the way, I scurried around, cleaning out the glove box and trunk. They pitched in to help and, as they used to say about 1950s sitcoms, hilarity ensued.

First, they gawked and guffawed over the manila file folder that contained documents for every time the car was serviced. Then they chuckled and nudged each other at the sight of the little notebook where I’d recorded each fill-up (complete with cost, mileage since the last time I hit a gas station, and total mileage) since the date of purchase.

Refusing to be embarrassed by their reaction to my level of obsessive organization, I moved on to the door pockets and a collection of maps. Oregon. Washington. California. Assorted cities in each state.

“Maps!” my neighbors exclaimed, their voices carrying a mix of disbelief, amazement, and pity. “Who still uses maps?”

The short answer is, “I do.”

I love the smell of a new map. I love the feel of a map. I love the crisp creases. I love unfolding it to get the big picture of where I’m going. I love tracing the route ahead and the miles behind. I even love refolding (correctly, of course) when we’ve rolled off one map and on to the next one.

I like to see more than a screen with the route ahead. I like the color shadings, the blue of water, the green of forest, the red and gray of roads, the many little markers for airports and highways and parks and campgrounds. I like to check out the names of cities and towns and wonder how they came to be.

Sure, maps have their drawbacks. When they get old, they fray in the creases. And then they often rip. An ink blot or coffee spill can wipe out key landmarks. Sometimes I have to add up incremental mileage postings to get the total for a long journey. They don’t update automatically when roads are closed or built. They can’t tell me where I am if I can’t find a key landmark or signpost.

But I can forgive all that because of their beautiful complexity. And because they’re works of art.

Someday I may get a GPS, but no way will I ever throw away my maps.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Gone But Never Forgotten.

Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours--Yogi Berra

         None of us is immune to cancer. I mean this, not just in the obvious sense that this ugly disease could strike anyone at any moment, but from the perspective that we’ve all been touched by it.
          For many years, my awareness of cancer was somewhat abstract: a co-worker’s mother who fought off a medical death sentence for many years beyond the original prognosis; the eerie vision of Yul Brynner, an actor of vast talent and energy reminding us from beyond the grave; “Now that I’m gone, I tell you, don’t smoke”; my wife’s cousin succumbing to breast cancer.
All tragic, of course, but until I was in my forties, I hadn’t lost a close friend or family member to a malignancy.
          In 1996, Rick Olsen, one of my best friends from college, asked if he and his wife could stay with us while he was being treated for skin cancer at the veterans’ hospital in Portland. He did, and I saw first-hand the physical and emotional toll the disease took on this bright, athletic and relentlessly optimistic man and his wife. After several years of struggle and, unfortunately, a succession of scams that bled them financially while offering false hope, he passed away in Brookings, Oregon, the town where he grew up.
To this day, I have to fight off the urge to phone him and hear his unconventional greeting when picking up. “Hark,” he would always say.  You have to admit “hark” adds a whole new dimension to “hello”. It’s impossible to think of Rick and not smile. Losing him hammered in the final nail on the coffin of my own innocence.
          Dennis, a friend I made in the mid-70’s when our wives worked together, succumbed to colon cancer in the fall of 2002. I jokingly referred to him and his wife Pam as “the last of the old-time street hippies,” but that really didn’t do either of them justice. Dennis was a successful businessman, an inventor, and smart as hell. But he lived the best of the 60’s ideals: love for your fellow man, generosity, and love of loud and raucous San Francisco rock and roll. When I think of him, I can still hear Janis moaning “Down On Me.” I
          I had occasion to walk the beach at Florence with him just before he died and although I hadn’t touched marijuana in more than ten years, I broke my cannabis fast that day. How could I not? It was an essential ritual for us. His death closed yet another chapter in my life. Like it or not, I am now the establishment. Or perhaps I’m a plain-clothes hippie now.
          Lisa Breeden was my newswoman and morning show sidekick for four-plus years at KRKE radio in Albuquerque. Gallons of mega-toxic coffee, riffing on the news of the day, cross-zinging each other on a daily basis, and being called on the boss’ carpet for our on-air transgressions cemented a successful radio partnership and a life-long friendship. Our on-air synergy led to “Mike and Lisa” merging into one word in the minds of our listeners. She was smart, irrepressible and insanely generous. She loved Christmas and showered gifts on her friends and family, even when times were tight for her.
          After attending Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe a number of years before she passed, I saw Lisa for the last time. We ate carne adovada, giggled about our encroaching age, and waxed nostalgic about the old days. She seemed fine, upbeat and energetic. A friend of ours e-mailed us the day after she died early in December. Lung cancer. Literally, only days passed between diagnosis and her succumbing to the disease.
          I have air-checks from that era, the two of us goofing on whoever or whatever blipped on our radar. One day, when the grief has subsided, perhaps I’ll listen to them and drift back to that smoky studio in Albuquerque. Then I’ll crank up a Janis Joplin tune and think of Dennis. And, if someone should call when I’m lost in my reverie, I’ll answer the phone Rick-fashion. “Hark,” I’ll say. Hark, indeed.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Crank Old Guys Club

This meeting of the cranky old guys club is now called to order. (Sound of gavel pounding)

It’s true. Stuff that I would have shrugged off a mere 5 (or possibly 10) years ago now annoys the s*** out of me. 
Examples? Ooooooh, have I got examples.

  •    Sequels to movies that were turkeys in the first place. Exhibit A—The Thomas Crown Affair. The original was a ho-hum thriller with the always phlegmatic Steve McQueen and the monotone mumbler Ali McGraw. The remake starred the sleek and emotionless Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, who makes even Ali look animated.

  • Speaking of movies, why do we have to sit through a dozen trailers, seven commercials and a 20 minute whoring of television shows to get to the featured movie? It’s enough to put a guy off his popcorn.

  • High tech golf gadgets. Here’s a typical conversation on the golf course with me and Mr. GPS.

Mr. GPS: How far do you think it is from here to the hole? 
Me:(Eyeballing 150 yard post and flagstick) Maybe 165 yards.
 Mr. GPS:  Wrong! It’s 167.4587 yards.
 Me:  Great! I wouldn’t want to make a big mistake and swing my 165 yard club and come up  2.4587 yards short.      
The average weekend golfer is not even sure he will hit the ball, let alone know exactly how far he’s going to hit it. I vote to restrict GPS usage to those who want to get hopelessly lost in a strange city when a road map could have told them where to go.

  • People who constantly take big risks by zooming from lane to lane in gridlocked traffic. Got news for you, pal. When we finally make it to the Interstate Bridge, you’re going to be right beside me again. With some luck you'll get to your destination 2.4587 seconds earlier than if you'd just cooled your jets and waited.

  • Freeway or major highway exits that don’t offer an immediate way back on to aforementioned highway or freeway. Having zoned out on my way to take a friend to the airport recently, I slid off one exit too soon and wandered through an east Vancouver neighborhood for 20 minutes trying to get back to the big asphalt. What they need is a GPS with a voice that shrieks “You’re taking the wrong exit, numbskull.”

  • Electronic music. I’m sorry, but it takes no talent to program a computer to repeat the same series of synthesized drum rhythms from now until the end of time. One of our water aerobics instructors favors this insult to music lovers during her deep water workouts and I have to fight the urge to tear off my flotation device, sink to the bottom of the pool and stay there.

  • Food manufacturers who try to jack their profit margins by whittling down package sizes. Did you know ice cream no longer comes in a half gallon? Instead, you’re buying 1.75 quart containers. Note to the folks at the Tillamook creamery. Charge me an extra 25 cents and put the ice cream in half gallons like God intended them to be.

There’s more but I’ll save it for the next meeting. Hopefully I can include some of your faves.