Paula’s Post #50 – Yeah! My 50th 5writers post!
While the title does, indeed, sound like a tired, shopworn re-tread of an old Willy Nelson song, this week I truly am, ‘On the Road Again‘, revelling in the liberating adventure of starting each day afresh, my husband and best friend at my side, (yes, one and the same) two snoozing puppies on the back seat, a long ribbon of highway stretching out before us.
A really long ribbon of highway.
2500 kilometres is a heck of a road trip. Vancouver to Palm Springs. But who doesn’t love a good road trip?
We left Vancouver last Thursday afternoon with no itinerary other than to spend the first two days enjoying the company of family in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.
No Powells’s City of Books this trip (Mecca to all readers and writers, as you may know if you read my post from my last visit to Portland).
How can one contemplate a visit to Powell’s when a starry-eyed three-year old has her sights set on the ‘Punkin Patch’?
Some moments in life are too precious to miss.
Imagine the bristly feel of a pumpkin stem, rough as boar’s bristles against the palm of your hand. For me, the mere sensation of that itchy stem is enough to dredge up a wealth of childhood memories: wood smoke and burning leaves, pumpkin carving with my Dad, my Mom roasting pumpkin seeds in the oven and sewing cat tails and bunny rabbit ears on tatty old leotards, recycling them into the sort of odd, pre-Walmart version of Halloween costumes we had as kids. The only kind we ever knew.
At the farm, the colours of fall are all around us: orange and yellow and brown and that strange shade of green that shows up as fine dots against the dark orange backdrop of a pumpkin’s skin. I’m reminded of my primary school days in Portland and the colours of a grade school art project. You remember. The kind where your first grade teacher tells you to bring fallen leaves to school and then, near the end of the day, when you’re feeling all squirmy and watching the clock, she brings out the Elmer’s glue and lets you glue the leaves onto construction paper and sign your name at the bottom and call it art.
No wonder I never learned to draw.
But that’s the thing about road trips. They help you remember things. Long ago forgotten things. And they help you think. About family. About friends. About what’s really important in life.
And as vivid as these half-remembered childhood memories of Halloween seem, once out in the pumpkin patch itself, this jumble of images suddenly dissolves away, over-powered by a flood of crazy emotions, inexorably entwined with an unseen future, with every hope and dream a grandparent can harbour for a grand-daughter as I watch my little grand-daughter trip over a pumpkin root and go sprawling in the mud. I stop breathing. But she jumps up and dashes off to visit the Vietnamese pot-bellied piglets and I take a deep breath and follow.
When we leave Portland, I’m only happy because I know this time it is just a couple of weeks before we will see her again. Happy that she won’t have time to grow another inch. Happy that we’ve planned a visit to the San Diego Zoo in mid-November and it is already marked on the calendar.
So by Saturday morning, all too quickly we’re on the road again, whizzing down I-5 in a ghostly fog, perfect for the “haunting season”, our truck is surrounded by a convoy of Duck fans, their cars decked out in green and gold, replete with little yellow ‘duck feet’ stamped all over the sides.
We stop at a Starbucks south of Portland to ‘fuel up’. The place is jammed with fans. The U of O faithful are showing the colours, most middle-aged and older couples heading south to Eugene for the big game against UCLA. My husband is fascinated and wants to discuss this odd phenomenon of tribalism and, after a while, I too am left reflecting on ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. On tribalism and the need to ‘belong’. As Joe recently reminded us, another essential tool in every writers’ toolkit, – the need to understand the very real need to feel part of the group. To fit in.
Everything about this road trip has me thinking about writing. Story ideas… human emotions… backstory, setting, mood, theme, story arc.
Maybe Joe’s posts from the Surrey conference having something to do with it, but I find I can’t help thinking about all my 5writers colleagues and all the hard work they’ve done this year. I’m following Joe’s blog posts on my iPhone, cheering on his success with his agent interviews at the Surrey conference, biting my lip when I read of his worries about his pitch.
Come on Joe! I so want you to nail this!
We cut over to the coast at Corvallis and by the time we descend the hill above Newport and catch the first glimpse of rugged Oregon coastline, my mind is in full writers’ mode. Observant, engaged, thinking up stories….
Like those amazing offshore rock formations – mysterious… majestic… treacherous.
What was it like to be a young sailor with the early explorers? Fog, crashing surf, soul killing cold, monstrous sea creatures, mist shrouded forests… a landscape that must have looked like nothing from back home. Is that boy frightened? Excited? Did he sign onto this voyage or was he the victim of a press-gang? Is he running from something… or running to something? Is he excited to make land, or dreading what they might find there? Mesmerized by the stories of ‘savages’ and wild beasts? Spellbound by the fantastical tails spun by old salts…
But a writer’s mind is never at rest and before I know it the boy on the sailing ship is forgotten.
Sorry, but I’ve already moved on and am thinking about a different scared kid. The one a couple of hundred years later, holed up in the claustrophobic, cramped interior of a Japanese submarine, cruising the depths of the Pacific. Is he frightened? What of? Drowning? Death? Shame? Or maybe something as mundane as mere boredom? How long has it been since the sub’s support ship refueled and re-provisioned them? What do they have left to eat and drink? A bit of fetid water? Mealy rice and dried fish? I doubt they had sushi, so what did they eat? Did they all get along, or did the crew bicker and fight like school girls when tempers wore thin, or brood and plot revenge over slights, real and imagined?
So, thinking about Japanese submarines, of course I had to look it up. Did you know that according to The Oregon History Project, on the night of June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired seventeen shells at Fort Stevens, near Astoria. Most of the shells missed and landed in a swamp at the edge of the fort. Some exploded on the beach or buried themselves in the sand, but Fort Stevens has the distinction of being the only military installation in the continental United States to be fired on since the War of 1812.
If you haven’t figured out by now, I like to look these things up.
The miles slip by. As we pas each tiny town, I make up new stories. Wondering about who grew up in this town? Who stayed? Who left? And why?
By day’s end Saturday, we pull up in Gold Beach at the mouth of the Rogue River. The beach not really that golden, the town not really far enough south, but comfortable enough for the night and, hey – the Gold Beach Inn welcomes dogs! Finding a place to stay with TWO dogs not always that easy
By Sunday morning, we cross the border into California and wind through the majestic Redwood Forest, (which I hate to admit, mostly looks like a lot of British Columbia), but still a mystical experience, especially if you can’t get up to British Columbia.
And if you like twisty roads, this is the place for you. I recommend the one linking Hwy 101 at Leggett with Westport over on Hwy 1, the latter the true ‘coast road’ in Northern California. Drive that twisty roadway -average speed 15 miles an hour, -and you’ll soon understand why the Mendocino coast is a veritable haven of unspoiled beauty.
No one can get there!
But this trip we were in no rush and since neither of us has driven down that particular stretch of Hwy 1 before, we decide to make this detour and are rewarded with stunning ocean vistas, a sumptuous ‘room with a view’ and twin rocking chairs on the porch at Sunday night’s stopping point, the gorgeous ‘Little River Inn‘ on the outskirts of Mendocino, California.
Ah, I admit it.
I love my petty little luxuries.
We haul the dogs and half our luggage into the room. I read through the entire leather-bound hotel guide and discover the same family have owned the place since the 1850’s. ‘Cool’, I think.
And that the Inn has been in continuous operations since 1939, now run by the founder’s descendants. ‘Cool’. Right away, I think up more stories and find myself imagining who might have stayed here in the past? How did it survive?
Because inquiring minds want to know, I’ve soon researched everything I can find about the Inn and the town of Mendocino, aka ‘Mendo’. Did you know they filmed ‘Murder She Wrote‘ in Mendocino. And that they’ve just announced they’re reviving the series?
I love a good cozy.
Sometimes, I think that is my true genre and I should just face it and concentrate on writing a delicious culinary cozy with dozens of improbable plot twists.
If nothing else, the research should prove reward in and of itself.
If I were writing a cozy, right here is the part where I’d describe the delicious gourmet meal we ordered from the Little River Inn’s room service, but in true ‘I-can-not-tell-a-lie-fashion’ I admit we were starving. We ordered cheeseburgers and fries and watched the World Series on TV.
Oh the shame of it all.
Maybe I better come back and explore more of the menu?
Monday morning we pack up the dogs and luggage and leave Mendocino. More twisty bits, hugging Hwy 1 south. I want to stop at the coastal cemeteries we pass and take time to read the headstones, all in pursuit of more story fodder, but something inside me is screaming…. quit wasting time… you’ve got to keep moving.
So we do.
At the tiny town of Jenner, just above Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, we cut inland towards Interstate 5 but get caught for hours on something called ‘The Old Bohemian Highway‘.
More twisty bits. Scenic, but slow going.
Time to think up more stories.
But now that we’ve finally made the decision to hit the interstate, I’m anxious to make time.
When we do reach the freeway, I-5 seems incredibly monotonous, our little truck bookended between big rigs, buffeted by the force of their draft. We’re stuck in the middle like marshmallows, sandwiched in a ‘Smores.
I consult the map and TripAdvisor, but the only oasis of tranquility I can find for a half way decent waypoint between San Francisco and LA, is the Harris Ranch Inn, located near the truck stop in Coalinga, north of Bakersfield.
Truck stop? Seriously?
Not promising, I know.
But my mouth falls open in surprise as I gaze at this enormous pink complex, part restaurant, part Inn, part working farm, part agro-tourism attraction. All I can say is a night in the ‘Jockey Club‘ bar and I feel revived, I’ve come away with dozens more story inspirations.
This morning, road weary and anxious to arrive at our destination we stop at Starbucks (again) and I wonder why I ever sold my shares in that company. By high, sell low.
I mean, really, how did they manage to get me so hooked?
Now, I think I’ve actually become addicted to their oatmeal of all things.
I’m wondering what they sprinkle in it as we head up the Tejon Pass towards Los Angeles. Is that the secret? Have they infused Starbucks Coffee, Starbucks Oatmeal, Starbucks Blueberry Scones with some sort of GMO secret ingredient that leads to addiction?
I think I’m on to something, but before we reach the summit at Tejon Pass our GPS ‘hijacks’ us and detours us onto some crazy route through the Angeles mountains, north of LA.
More twisty narrow roadways where the deer and the antelope play. And rattlesnakes. And tumbleweeds. More story ideas.
And of course I can’t help thinking about Joe.
Hey Joe, no kidding! We drove through Desert Rain’s territory today, traversing the entire depressing expanse of the City of ‘Palmdale’ before we found the freeway south towards Palm Springs and hightailed it out of there.
I called out to Lou as we passed.
You can call it ‘programmer error’ if you want, but I stoutly deny the charge.
I’m convinced that snooty English bitch, you know, the one who is always harping on you to ‘turn right soon….‘ was just being spiteful.
Sort of like ‘Hal’ in 2001, A Space Odyssey. Come to think of it, that would make a pretty cool story, too. A magical, wilful GPS Nav system that transports you wherever IT wants you to go. Maybe the system is even tied into something that works like a time machine and hurtles you back in time and… and…
Calm down, Paula.
My stories are getting crazier and I admit it is just possible I’ve been on the road too long.
We make Palm Springs late in the afternoon. The house looks great and I can’t wait to get settled in and jot down some memories of some of the people, places and things we saw on the road trip down.
I’m just old enough to remember an old black and white television show called ‘The Naked City’. Maybe you’re old enough to remember it too. Depends what kind of Halloween costume you wore as a kid. The show always ended with the line:
There are a million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.
It’d be a shame not to write some of them down.