Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Road Trip, Part 2: Nashville.

We stayed at a different sort of place Saturday night, a hotel in Nashville. One odd thing about the hotel was that the toilet was noticeably hot, especially the tank. I popped off the lid to check and found very hot water in it. I couldn't resist asking about it at the front desk and was told that during construction, they'd accidentally hooked all the toilets in the building to the hot water pipes instead of the cold and can't fix it without tearing out all the pluming. Seems like a mistake that would be ridiculously expensive in an ongoing way. Not to mention being environmentally unsound.
After we checked in, the first order of business was dinner. I'd been to Fido once before when I visited my son, so we went there. It's located near the Vanderbilt University campus, in a former pet shop.
 The restroom is marked only by this sign.
They've also enclosed what must have been the alley next it, with the painted exterior wall now inside. We spent some time doing our usual thing of making up stories about the people around us. Particularly entertaining was the young guy who casually leaned against a chair to chat up a young woman working on a laptop. He made the tactical error of introducing his buddy to her. The second guy promptly moved into the girl's personal space and leaned over her shoulder to look at what she was working on, clearly outmaneuvering the first guy. I think this is a friendship code violation, but maybe he operates on the "all's fair in love and war" principle.
In spite of the coffee house feel of Fido, it has delicious food. Cornmeal crusted catfish tacos for him, salmon with spicy kale, crispy onions and baked cheese grits for me.
And then we headed over to downtown Nashville to walk around.
Things were hopping outside on that Saturday night. Groups of costumed Elvises (Elvii?), for instance. Have you ever noticed that Elvis impersonators always take on the role of the older, fat, drug-addled Elvis? I guess it's a lot easier to copy a flamboyant caricature. We also saw lots of young women in bachelorette parties. They were easy to spot - one in each set wearing a short white veil and many of the women carrying plastic penises on sticks. And no, I can't explain why anyone would want to do that.
Not sure this blond-wigged Jesus approved. Judging from his slumped posture, he's probably the discouraged Jesus mentioned on the roadside sign in Kentucky. At one point, we heard some women yelling, "Ooooh!" and became aware that another young woman was using our kiss as a backdrop to her selfie. As we ducked away and laughed, she yelled, "I love y'all!" I just know that somewhere on facebook or instagram, there's a post of her selfie with the caption "Old white folks making out on Music Row."
In one store there was a fortune-telling machine. We plugged in our dollars to have Zoltar talk to us in a ridiculous accent, saying vague things like, "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right!" Thanks, Zoltar.
And then he spit out his predictions. General and convoluted, I've yet to figure out what they actually predict. I think they are less fortunes than general life advice. But who cares? It was Zoltar!
We were tempted to hop on board one of these mobile taverns, which appeared to be powered by the customers pedaling. From the sounds of it, however, the only drink options were beer and shots. We opted instead for a glass of wine at an restaurant with outdoor seating.
The streets were chaotic. Lots of drunks, some aggression. At one point, two men began squaring off, with the posturing and threats that precede a physical fight. A bored looking cop watched from his car for a bit before using the loudspeaker to say, "Either go ahead and fight or move along." It was a little unnerving to see that he had no intention of intervening. But there was mostly a celebratory atmosphere. It was a beautiful night and it felt good to be out amidst all that life.
The next morning, we checked out to head to my older son's university so my boyfriend could meet my son and his girlfriend. I noticed the manufacturer's sign in the elevator. We were on Schindler's lift! I mentioned that to my son and he said, "Stop it." We met for brunch (and it reminded me how much I like eggs benedict) and had a little time to talk. I love both my son and my future daughter-in-law and don't get to see the two of them nearly enough. Later, I texted my son to relay the message from my boyfriend that he'd enjoyed meeting them and received this in response:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Road Trip, Part 1: Kentucky.

Friday found us heading out on a road trip to meet some family on either side. First up, Kentucky.
We left after work Friday with a plan: Sleep in a wigwam!
That's right, a cement wigwam near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Well a cement tipi rather than a wigwam, which is a domed structure. But who are we to quibble over semantics? It's pure kitschy Americana, and we were in.
The old sign on the garage is almost illegible, but you can see that air conditioning (little window units) was a selling point. The first Wigwam Village was built in 1933 in nearby Horse Cave, Kentucky, but replaced with this one in 1937 in Cave City. There were a remarkable number of old school motels along the highway of that town, serving visitors to Mammoth Cave. There are only three remaining Wigwam Villages of the original 7 that were built around the country in the 1930's and 1940's.
Each tipi is 14 feet in diameter at the base, and has a tiny bathroom in the back and minimal furnishings (all original rustic-style hickory furniture - double bed, chair, vanity and lamp). One of the best things about this place was that although it is all in American Indian theme, it was run by an actual Indian. We checked in late so we had to sign in at the owner's house and sat with him in his living room, with curry on the stove and Bollywood on the television.
And of course, there was "art" on the wall of the tipi of a somber boy with what seemed to be a feather stuck directly into his head and a horse leaning over his shoulder. Whispering to him, threatening to bite his ear? It wasn't clear. But we loved it. We toasted the vernal equinox with champagne, showered in the strangely slanted shower stall and giggled about the hokiness of it all.
The evening there were kids playing in the playground and a fire in the fire pit. The cars had license plates from a variety of midwestern states and the owner told us that he was surprised to discover people come from all over the world to stay here. That big tipi on the right is the gift shop (and former restaurant) but it was closed when we left. I have to admit, I'm a bit of a sucker for silly Americana.
After a cup of coffee in the tipi the next morning, we left to head farther west in Kentucky, where the dinosaurs still run free. And where we passed several hand-lettered religious signs including a gem that said:

You know things are bad when even Jesus is discouraged.
Breakfast in Bowling Green, which had several little restaurants around the main square. It was a beautiful day and I'm so happy to be out in sandals again.
The coffee shop we settled on was the sort of place with a variety of people from tattoo-decorated college kids to a pair of grandmotherly women knitting and chatting. This bagel was called a "Humanitarian," if that tells you anything about the sort of coffee shop it was. Tomato-basil bagel with tomatoes, cucumbers and hummus. I though it needed lox, but I always think bagels need lox.
We walked around the little park for a bit before getting back in the car to head northward to visit with his mother who still lives in the house the family bought new in 1963, before my boyfriend was even born. As a Navy brat who moved from station to station on a regular basis growing up, I don't have the same sense of "home" so I'm intrigued by the concept. I can't decide whether I like or hate the idea. At lunch time, I suggested I stay to talk with his mother while he ran out to pick up food, saying I wanted a chance to learn all his secrets. Sadly, however, he is devoid of a sinister history.  At least that his mother was wiling to admit to. But we did talk about raising boys and gossiped about the neighbors. When we left, she pronounced me a "keeper."
Then it was time to leave, past the hospital for shoes (because what town doesn't have a drive-through shoe hospital?), and southward through the rolling hills to Nashville.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I like to celebrate. So when St. Patrick's Day rolled around, I had to observe that part of my heritage. Which is why I had a "People of Walmart" moment on Sunday morning, when I went to the only auto center open to get the oil changed in my car. As I sat in the dingy waiting room next to the stacks of tires and pallet of motor oil, I painted my nails green with the polish I bought there. The mechanic, incidentally, referred to me as "that girl with the Prius."
We'd had such a good time going eating outside on the square on the first day of daylight savings time (which I anticipate with increasing desperation as the winter plods on) that we decided to hit the town again yesterday. First up, fish and chips and some rather mediocre green beer at the brewery. The blonde ale reminded me why I usually order IPAs. So bland. But when you're having fun, who cares?
We'd hope to find Irish music going on, but it turns out that happened this past Saturday. Instead, the Old City was having a pub crawl, which meant you had to fork over ten bucks just for the privilege of entering any of the bars to buy a drink. Only one of those bars had live music of any sort and that band was playing covers of the likes of Taylor Swift and Daft Punk. Nope. After a long walk around, we went back to the square and sat outside with an order of baked brie and some wine. Our friendly waiter Mickey, who we suspected had simply adopted the name for the holiday, pulled up a chair to chat with us while we decided what to order. I asked him about the green drink I saw on another table and he walked over to ask those customers what they were drinking. He was the most casual waiter I've ever encountered.
Reluctant to end the evening, we walked over to the speakeasy club hidden behind the unmarked door in a downtown hotel. Finally, the happy crowd we were looking for. We sat at the bar with our drinks (I don't even need the menu hidden in the encyclopedia anymore because I stick with my favorite cocktail, the Mr. Darcy) and giggled as I narrated the goings on of a group of four I named Detroit, Bald Johnny Cash, Middle Eastern Guy and Hipster. We made up stories about all the occupants of the bar because it was such a varied group. At one point when no one had entered or left for a few minutes, I said that the bar was in stasis at the moment and my boyfriend started laughing, saying "Only someone with a Ph.D. would say, 'The bar is in stasis.'" We laughed at nearly everything, in fact. The kind of laughter that had us doubled over and gasping for breath. I was a little sorry to have to leave. This morning as we lay cuddled up, I said, "Hey, did you know that people who have sex two times a week live longer?" He asked, "What about people who have sex ten times a week?" Easy answer. "We'll live forever. It's the secret to immortality." Between that and all the laughter, we should be healthy for a long, long time.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

And home.

And for those of you who worried about the ominous tone in the "poem" of my first Arizona post, those were just the lyrics of a song about Arizona that I had stuck in my head while I was there. Betrayal theme notwithstanding, things are actually very good back at home.
The night before I left was Valentine's and in order to get to the airport at 5 am the next day, I spent it with my boyfriend and his younger daughter. While he cooked dinner, she and I played with the Barbie dream house, and dressed all her dolls for a big evening out on the town. I had only one Barbie doll myself growing up, but she didn't spend a lot of time getting dressed up. Instead, she would go camping with my brother's GI Joe doll.  (And don't even try to claim GI Joes were action figures. They're dolls.) But when in Rome. I was responsible for the two dolls on the left. Pretty fancy, huh?
After dinner, the three of us built a blanket fort around a double mattress pulled in front of the fireplace. This photo was before the back wall of it went on. All three of us slept in it, the daughter between us. At one point during the night she rolled toward me, threw her little arm around my shoulder, tucked her head up under my chin and slept like that for a while. We did have one interesting moment as we were getting the bed ready:
Dtr: "Daddy snores."
Me: without thinking: "I know!"
Dtr: "Have you slept with him?" 
Me: "Uhhh.. I've heard stories." 
I take comfort in the fact that at 8, "sleeping" means exactly that. It's not that we didn't acknowledge was Valentine's Day, of course, it's just that we had to celebrate a little more chastely.
It snowed most of the week I was away and my boyfriend spent a fair amount of his time camped out at my house. On one of those days, my younger son stopped by to get away from the dorms for a while. They spent some time talking and after I'd returned home, my son came over to visit and told me about it. He said to me, "I told him I liked him the best of your boyfriends. I hope that was okay."
You mean that guy who insisted on shoveling out tracks in the ice for my car "because  that's what boyfriends do"? Yep, I think it's a reasonable thing for my son to think. As we waited for my boyfriend to come over for dinner that night, my son also said to me in that conversation, "You just have seemed happier lately."
After my long week away, we fell back into our routine of spending nearly every night together. Generally we alternate where we stay and who cooks. This particular night it was spanakopita.
On the next Saturday, he and his younger daughter stopped by and we built this snowgirl on my deck. I like the asymmetrical hemlock hair, the trendy ivy belt, and the Mona Lisa smile. Afterwards we had hot chocolate and watched a few episodes of a cartoon that was new to me, "Octonauts." I am here to tell you I'm not fit to watch cartoons with children because when one of the Octonauts said he needed to go polish his spy glass, I snorted and said, "Oh, is that what they're calling it now?" Our giggles netted us a stern "Stop laughing!" from the daughter.
It has snowed off and on since I've been home. Weirdly, my entire neighborhood seemed to get plowed clear each time except for the little stretch in front of my house. I try not to take it personally, but maybe it's in retaliation for me painting leaves on the city-owned water meter cover. Finally today, the weather appears to be turning toward spring. I'm ready, but at least it's been cozy in my house.
So yeah, the song was just a song I like. Everything here is just fine.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What do a bunch of Sierra Club folks do after a week of hard work?

Well, we clean the lodge. And then we go hiking, of course!
There were some old structures, now abandoned, up in the Baboqivari mountains. These stone walls were everywhere and I can't imagine the work that went into them.
This shed had a door but the lock was open.
Impossible to resist, we had to see what was inside.
Next to the stone shed was a cattle pen with rusting mystery equipment.
There were five of us on this hike - three in their 70's and two of us youngsters. Seriously, I have to love a group where I feel absurdly young. In fact, one of the men in our group responded to something I'd said with, "You're a good kid."
This stand of sycamores by the creek looked ghost-like to me.
But the smooth bark was a rarity - most plants have spines.
Brown's Canyon is what is called a "sky island" - one of a series of ecosystems isolated from others by altitude so that it houses unique species.

Our goal was the arch - a 47-foot natural bridge with a creek and pool running through it.
As I stood under the arch next to the water, I said, "You know, this would be a great place to camp. You could put your sleeping bag ri... are those bones?!" Yes they were - deer bones. As it happens, there is a mountain lion who also thinks it's a great place to camp.
Normally you are only allowed to go up to the arch as part of a guided tour but as Refuge volunteers, we had free range. This meant we were the only group out for a hike.
We walked back past this old farmstead.  It's pretty dilapidated inside, but I bet it would have been an interesting place to live. You'd have to be comfortable with isolation, though.
Baboquivari Peak in the evening light. I took this photo standing behind the lodge. I can see why the Tohono O'odham felt it was a sacred place.
I came away from the week with a new set of role models for how to age right. They were a friendly, hard-working bunch who also knew how to have fun. I can't say that the desert is for me, but the trip - the work, the interesting new scenery, and especially the people with me - was absolutely worth it.