Friday, September 16, 2016

The Road Trip: Slug Bug

My first car was a bright yellow, 1960-something VW bug. It rumbled down the roads, stalled on steep hills, and had a particular smell: upholstery, mildew, and gas mixed with decades of tree shaped air fresheners. My dad bought it for around $500 and I was thrilled. It was, after all, the most average car at my high school.

Every day, I pulled in and parked beside Chris's baby blue bug or Rondee's red convertible bug. There were white bugs and dark blue bugs. They were cheap and forgiving of teenage drivers.

My first job - my first real job - was as a delivery driver for the local florist. I'd pick up my deliveries and pack them into the backseat of my car, balloons obscuring the tiny oval rear window. On sunny days, I rolled down my window and popped open the tiny corner window, putting my elbow on the door and zipping along at speeds upwards of 45 mph.

It was the car in which I learned to drive a stick shift, my mom and I yelling at each other until I cried and she threw her hands in the air taking up the neighbor's offer to teach me to drive himself.

It was the car in which I was in my first accident, inexperience and a tricky break resulting in a slow roll into the slough, a bruised hip, a screaming friend, and the knowledge my mom was going to kill me.

It was the car my dad towed to California where I used it to drive to work, buckling my cousin in the back seat in such a manner that I wonder my aunt and uncle didn't have daily heart attacks.

The death of that car - on a hot summer day as I tried to drive on the freeway at a speed that was good to avoid being smooshed by semis but not good for an air cooled vehicle - resulted in my first clandestine under aged drink bought by a friend: a sickly sweet screwdriver bought at the Circle K I now go to pick up Redbox movies and fill my gas tank.

Don had told me he bought a bug, a grown up model without tears in the seats or an old traffic sign welded to the floor boards. When I showed up, I saw it sitting in all its round and lovely glory and felt an ache to drive it like I've never felt with another car.

After a day in Portland, Don suggested we take it for a spin. I sat in the passenger seat, giddy with excitement. He started the engine and I was seventeen again.

The sound and smell and slight pause as it shifted into gear jolted me to rainy days with the windshield wipers barely big enough to clear the glass, to stuffed animals lining the rear ledge, to a black and red tassel hanging on the mirror, the '93 mottling from silver to a dull gold.

We roared along the back roads. I held on the handle and laughed at the sheer joy of it, my mind jumbled by the time we got to the store. My past and my present mixed until I wasn't sure if I was a middle aged mom running errands or an awkward teenage girl wandering the grocery aisles wondering if she can sneak a box of Captain Crunch into the cart.

Then, Don handed me the keys.

It's been years since I've driven a stick. More years since I've driven four on the floor with reverse positioned sneakily by second. It didn't take long - and thankfully Don didn't yell like Mom did - but pretty soon I was driving over the hills of a country road edged in greens and pines and the transformation to seventeen was complete.

I wanted to keep driving.

I wanted to let the years disappear with the miles. I wanted responsibility to fade to nothing. I buy my own bug.

At some point, I will.

The Road Trip: Lazying About Town

Sometimes, you arrive someplace you've long left and it's as if you've never been gone. As if the two years were mere days or hours and the familiarity surrounding you is pleasingly comfortable, like sinking into a soft chair on a cool day.

That's how I would describe the days we spent with our friends.

Our first day was all about Portland.

We went to Powell's where we once again walked out with more books than we could imagine reading. Elizabeth has recently been introduced to graphic novels, devouring every one she can get her hands on. Lucky for her, her friend Frankie loves them too. They huddled over the books, looking for used copies and creating a pile that threatened to topple with every addition.

Joseph stuck to the Goosebumps collection where he painstakingly looked for the least expensive copy so he could get at least fifteen books for his $40 limit. I stood on a handy step stool on tip toe, running my fingers across the spines of childhood classics, books that sang as I touched them: Little House in the Big Woods, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Heidi.

I made my choices and then spent a happy hour wandering the stacks and floors, stepping over the outstretched legs of readers, and remembering to keep a bit of an eye on my kids though they assured me bad guys never go to bookstores. (And I stymied them with, "How else can they learn to be bad?" Until they reminded me, "Google.")

We walked over to a pizza place where the slices were delicious and the cider was crisp with deep pours. We walked to a fountain, my shoulders dropped to relaxation. Don somehow managed to procure three more ciders in to-go cups and we sat with our feet in the water while the girls splashed in shirts wrapped and tucked into midriff tops. The boys lay in the shade, their books pressed open as they left us behind and entered another world.

Don started a conversation with a couple and discovered they were newly transplanted from California. They talked a bit about the weather, the beer, and then in one of those quirks of fate discovered their neighbor in LA had gone to high school with Don and I.

To put this in perspective, Portland is ninety minutes from Cathlamet which hosts a population of around 800. There were only 150 students in our high school, bused in from around Wahkiakum County. And there, at a fountain in Portland, two decades after we graduated, we met Californians who had known our classmate.

It was one of those moments of such universe alignment it could only happen in Portland.

Or New York City, I suppose.

After a couple of hours, we decided to start heading in the general direction of Salt & Straw, an ice cream parlor I was told was worth the 45 minute waits.

They were right.

When I lived in the PNW, it was the 80s and early 90s. I still remember not knowing what a bagel was and when Mexican food came from Taco Time. At dinner before senior prom, my friends and I stared at a pile of artichoke leaves and wondered what they were.

The world was smaller then. Especially if you lived in a tiny community. Our staples were salmon, sturgeon, elk, goose. We ate crab and dug for gooey ducks. We caught crawdads in the creek and picked huckleberries, salmon berries, loganberries, blackberries, and raspberries. We had tayberry jam and marionberry pie.

Before I realized what a treat smoked salmon and crab cakes were, I didn't really know how seriously we took our food. For a while I was seduced by the international buffet of California. I devoured Mexican food spicy enough to make my lips tingle, I feasted on dolmas and pitas, I happily ate San Francisco sourdough and grilled tri tip.

Going home, I realized that not only has the world become so much smaller, but Oregon and Washington has become a foodie's dream.

Or maybe it always was.

After all, we were eating local and fresh before it was a catch phrase. We were catching fish in the morning and smoking it at night with chipped apple wood. We were baking berries the size of a bumblebee into pies. We were drinking milk from a dairy ten miles away and eating what could be the best cheddar I've ever had before or since.

But I forgot.

Until I went back, tumbling into gastronomical paradise.

Like the Salt & Straw where I had roasted berry ice cream with white chocolate and sea salt.

Tummies full, we wandered fabric stores and went back home where Makensy and I spent the evening hunched over sewing machines making small skirts, glasses of wine nearby and laughter mixing with curses and the sound of ripping seams as we struggled with elastic bands.

It truly is amazing to be able to sink into a space as if you were a treasured friend who had never really left.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Road Trip: Mt. Hood to Washougal

Everyone told me the drive between Bend and Portland was one of the prettiest they've done.

Everyone was right.

The mountains sat in the distance, silent giants watching over the golden valley below. I don't quite know when the valley turned to forest. If I had to guess, it would have been right around the time Hermoine saved Harry's life when we traded open space for forest so dark and dense it turned the road into a canyon with only a strip of blue sky showing ahead. The green hurt my eyes, the colors so deep and vibrant I wanted to use a filter to tone them down to the dusty browns and greens of my drought stricken home.

The twists and tangles of the road took us deeper up the mountain. I turned off Harry as Joseph fell asleep and drove in silence, the hum of the car lulling the memories from my brain.

Mt. Hood is one of my mountains. Growing up, it was Hood, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier who stood guard over the stretches of road and river where I spent my childhood. While Adams and Rainier were content to sit silently, Hood and St. Helens made themselves known - one with an eruption, both with death.

When I was in elementary school, a tragedy ensnared my imagination, forever painting Mt. Hood with a slightly sinister shadow. A group of high school students, teachers, and a guide embarked on a climb. Of those who pushed to the summit, four survived: two who were found alive on top of a pile of six bodies in a snow cave they built to protect themselves from the sudden spring storm and two who made their way down the mountain, searching for help.

As I drove up the mountain on a warm summer day, I couldn't help but think of those students, their families, and the time that's passed. Thirty years since I pored over The Oregonian and the daily news from the top of the mountain. Thirty years.

It's shocking to realize those sixteen and seventeen year old students would now be older than the adults who led the expedition. It's more shocking still to realize that I'm older than all but one teacher and a decade older the guide was at the time.

I flipped on the radio, drowning dark thoughts that had no place in the magic that was Highway 26. We drove through small towns, past campgrounds, and, finally, Portland and civilization.

My cell phone died, the only charger in the back of the car. We crossed the river on remembered directions and finally pulled off in a parking where I let the phone charge and we stretched our legs, so close to our destination, we could almost walk.


We drove through the back roads, getting lost only once before arriving at the vaguely familiar home of the Byrums. I had a momentary panic that the amazing visit we'd had two years before had been a fluke and we were about to embark on an awkward holiday weekend.

I was, of course, wrong.

They opened their door and it was as if twenty four months had been days. In a few short minutes, the kids were in their suits, swimming under the trees while the adults caught up on the changes of the last couple of years.

The sun sets late in Washington in the summer. Late enough that by the time the kids changed out of their suits and got ready to eat dinner, I realized they'd been swimming far past their bedtime. While we waited for Makenzy to get back from work, Don and I sent the kids to bed and opened a bottle of wine, turning our conversation to people we knew, people we remembered.

Every visit, it seems, comes with news. And every visit, I realize yet again how far away I am. Makenzy came home and we finished our conversations in the quiet starlight. I went to bed that night in a pretty nook of a room, excited for the adventures still to come.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Road Trip: Around to Bend

When I was in the fifth grade, my best friend was Lacey Thacker.

Time makes memories fuzzy, but some stand out with perfect clarity:

Rainy days in the dusty library attic dressing up in costumes stored by the high school drama class.

Choreographing dance routines to Whitney Houston with passionate pleas to teach the children and let them lead the way.

Playing Labyrinth and concentrating on the marble's path while telling secrets too important to remember.

Jelly shoes and slap bracelets, being jealous of her blond hair and practicing putting on sticky lip gloss, the memories jumble and twist and I'm left with nothing but a feeling of the highs and lows of tween girlfriends.

I'm not sure when we drifted apart...sixth grade? Seventh grade? By high school, I was happily ensconced in nerdom and she was the willowy cheerleader. Still, when you're in a class of thirty-five, you're never really not friends. Which was why I enthusiastically accepted her invitation to stop and stay the night at her family's home in Bend.

After all, what's twenty-three years between friends?

We crossed into Oregon and as if a curtain lifted, were instantly surrounded by water. Lakes, rivers, streams, we soaked up the liquid with our thirsty California eyes. We'd been on the road for hours, stopping when we could, paying our respects at the Memorial Statue Garden, and eating Red Vines.

Harry Potter took over and we discovered, to Joseph and my dismay, that Elizabeth hates audio books. We hit a compromise - an hour of Potter followed by an hour of music - and drove past lakes so wide and long they looked like massive rivers. We made a last stop, walking from the bathroom to the nearby river. We stood in the frigid waters and let it soak into our dusty skin.

And finally, we reached Bend.

I was worried I wouldn't recognize Lacey. After all, it's been over two decades since I've seen her. We found her home in a maze of gorgeous stone and wood houses. She texted that she was walking from the pool and that her house was open. As we unloaded, I saw her walk to me, the same loose-limbed walk I remember from our treks across the baseball fields for band class every day for three years. The same easy grace I remember from PE volleyball.

We hugged and the years disappeared.

We joined her and her friends and family around the pool, eating a late dinner, letting a drink loosen my joints tight from sitting in the car. We talked of people we knew, people we know. We talked of children - her oldest daughter is sixteen, nearly the same age she was when we last saw each other and so similar it made memories flood. We returned to their house, letting the kids play while we continued talking, our words tumbling over until it because so very obvious that an overnight visit just wasn't enough.

The next morning, we drove to downtown Bend to a restaurant where I ate Cardomon and sea salt French toast I dream of and made me remember the PNW reigns the west coast. We stood in the hot sun, talking until, finally, I realized we needed to leave but not without exacting promises of visits, of camping trips. Promises that hung in the air like hopes and wishes, but, perhaps, ones that might come true.

We left Lacey's beautiful family and pointed our car west. West to the Bryums and Fourth of July fun. West through the mountains. West away from a small city where we'd found warmth and welcome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Road Trip: We Heart Weed

When we were in our early 20s, Melissa and I - along with our friend Katrina - made a couple of road trips to Washington to visit our parents. We left after we got off work in the early evening hours and drove straight through the night, stopping three or four times for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. We usually arrived in Cathlamet shortly after breakfast, exhausted, but not nearly as much as we'd be if we tried to attempt the same trip in our late 30s and early 40s. We were, after all, used to being out all night and wandering bleary eyed into work with only a shower and a strong cup of caffeine to get us through the day.

The joke was, of course, that I usually took a Dramamine and fell promptly asleep in the backseat for five or six hours making me the worst road trip partner of anyone we knew.

This time, though, the only ones taking Dramamine were the kids and I didn't have a friend to jump in the driver's seat when I started to get tired.

We left the Sacramento valley behind us and started north on I5.

I have a very deep love of Interstate 5. When I was growing up, it was the main thoroughfare between our house and my aunt's. It was what connected me to my family when I moved to California and, as they followed me down here, it became the vein connecting us still. Whether they lived in LA or San Diego, I always knew I just needed to jump on the 5 and it would deposit me into their lives.

The 5 is familiar to me, reassuring in its wide, high speed way. But this time we were going to veer off its path and take a new road through the mountains and dipping into the valley of the Cascades. And the divergence started in Weed.

The buildings and manicured walls gave way to fields of sunflowers pointing their golden heads to the sky. We drove through farmlands and empty spaces filled with more Harry Potter. We took bathroom breaks - too many - until, finally, lulled by the sunshine, Elizabeth fell asleep in the back, her head resting on her big girl booster while Joseph fought to keep his eyes open and his imagination at Hogwarts. "Pause it, Mama," he finally said sleepily. And so I did.

I turned off the book and turned on the music letting Adele and Ruth B. keep me company while farmland slowly turned to tree-covered hillsides. Mt. Shasta rose from the valley floor, impossibly far away and then, somehow, it wasn't. It towered to my right, its peak partially covered in snow as we twisted our way through the foothills to Weed.

We'd decided to make Weed our lunch stop. I wasn't sure what there was, but the map showed a sparsely populated route after it. Road construction and slow traffic meant it was going to be a late lunch and an even later arrival in Bend.

There are all sorts of amazing apps to help plan a road trip. Apps that make finding a spot to eat or to stretch your legs easy. Apps that promise vistas and delicious food, perfect spots to sleep, and the best place to find a haunted site. The problem, I discovered as the kids snored in the back seat, is that on a solo adult road trip, I couldn't actually access those apps unless we stopped.

Which meant we were going to have to rely on a little bit of luck.

We pulled into Weed and parked the car outside a souvenir shop. I woke up the kids and got out of the car cursing the hereditary bad hips and knees. I limped to the back of the car and, while I was stowing away my purse and grabbing my camera, chanced a look up. When in the shadow of a mountain, the views can't help being majestic.

We walked down the main street, my hip slowly loosening until I stopped resembling a range rider after a four week cattle drive. We were hungry. The snacks we'd packed hadn't been a substitute for a real meal and right in front of us was a kitschy cafe promising meatloaf sandwiches and breakfast served all day.

We walked into the tiny restaurant, nearly getting run down by the waitress with plates lined down her arms. I pulled Elizabeth back and she said, "I've got nine of them at home. I know how to dodge a kid." I grinned and decided it was absolutely the spot for lunch.

It was simple food, but the cucumbers were crisp, the tomatoes were sweet, and the sweet potato fries perfect. We watched the regulars chat with the waitresses from our seats at the counter. We took a moment to look at the pictures the kids had taken on my cell, to enter an address into the map, and for me to sip my soda and let the caffeine restart my brain.

We wandered out by way of the gift shops. I said no to the tie-dyed shirts proclaiming its wearer's love of Weed and herded the kids back to the car. We were about to start on a stretch of unknown road that would lead us into Oregon.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Road Trip: Driving into the Night

The sun was low in the sky as I passed Gilroy. Elizabeth sat in the back seat watching a movie while Joseph and I listened to Harry Potter. Buildings flew past as I shifted into cruise control. One thought flashed repeatedly through my mind.

This isn't a good idea.

I'd been up since just before six and spent almost ten hours at work before loading the car and kids and heading north. Hundreds of miles stretched out before us and hours of driving.

There used to be a VW commercial that on the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers. The ad was aimed at the drivers, showing twisted roads and a sleek car hugging the curves. To me, it confirmed what I always knew.

I'm a passenger.

Traffic stresses me out, windy roads make my shoulders hunch, cliffs make my knuckles white. I'd much prefer to be sitting to the right of the driver, looking out the window than staring at the white and yellow lines.

Which is why 120 miles into a 1,900 mile solo road trip with the kids made the orange "Caution: Bad Decision" light blink in my head.

But I'm a stubborn sort, so I just kept driving north, telling myself I only need to reach the Bay Area and that a road trip would look better after a good night's sleep.

We were staying with a friend - though one I'd never met - for our first night. Amy had offered fresh sheets, clean towels, and a chance to meet in real life. We pulled into her driveway late, both of our kids awake far past their bedtimes and energized to an almost manic level. We weren't much different. Our words tumbled over each other as we tried to stuff years of online friendship into minutes before we all needed to go to bed; it was a work night for her and I wanted to be on the road early.

The morning was rushed: press of hugs, promises of proper time together, hurriedly packed snacks, waves goodbye.

In the light of day with a new road in front of us, the doubts of the night before were a memory and the knowledge that I'd be spending that night in Oregon with a friend I hadn't seen since high school graduation spurred us on.