Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ride ride ride.

I woke up to ominous skies, gray, cloudy and at least in the distance threating rain. Not a good sign when the intent is to spend the better part of the day on a bike. For grins I went out and started my car to check the temperature - 48 degrees. At least now I has an idea of how to dress and I was suddenly quite happy that I'd brought equal complements of summer and winter clothing. 

It was cold as I rolled down the hill from my apartment. Very cold especially since I lacked gloves. The ride to our coffee shop meet-up was short and I was the third person there pulling up just as two others arrived. We went inside so I could fortify myself with a hot Americano and a huge freshly baked chocolate chip scone. Other riders dribbled in and around 9 we were ready to roll.

There were two routes planned, one to the east and one to the hills of the west. I knew the latter, the A Ride would be a killer in spite of all the talk I was hearing about conversational pace and no drops (no rider left behind) and we'll just take it easy. Nice sentiments, but even if did those things we would still be climbing all morning long, and I hate climbing

We took off through the north end of town where I faced one last opportunity to chicken out when we passed my street. I kept going and once beyond the limits of civilization the road went up and kept doing so for about the next hour. It was now sunny which was nice but still chilly, especially when descending on the far side of the first big hill in the deep shade. The ups and downs went on for the next three hours and I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say the strong guys did wait for us, we slow people did ourselves proud, no one got left behind and it eventually came to an end with a quick descent into town. We split up and went our separate ways. I had a bit of distance to cover and I took a nice leisurely ride back to my turn off. The street back up to my place is short and very steep but I tried it and made it about halfway up - my legs just didn't have anything more to give. I walked up to the flat and rode to my driveway where dismounting I checked my speedometer and saw it stood at 41.93 miles which of course would not do. I got back on and rode to the end of the block, finishing with 42.05. Checking the app on my phone I discovered that we'd done 4,289 feet of climbing. That means roughly 21, 200 foot hills. Did I mention earlier that I hate climbing?

After cleaning up I drove to my friend's house for a nice picnic of local Mexican food and good cold beers. As the sun fell behind the hill in his backyard, a pair of deer came out of the woods to forage. It was now getting chilly again even surpassing the strength of my thermal shirt so I bid everyone adieu and headed home for an evening of writing and relaxing knowing that tomorrow holds another long haul through the desert.

Beyond the edge and to the sea

The rain progressively got worse as I wound my way across the hills to the west of Paso and down towards Cambria. I stopped a couple of times to take pictures while minimizing my time outside the car because my camera was getting wet. The hills were an absurd shade of neon green, alpmost imaginary. I suppose by August they'll be brown and ready to ignite but for the moment in spite of the heavy sky and steady downpour, the were breathtaking. 

These hills got me thinking about coastal California in general as it was my first time in this part of the state. Up north the hills are densely covered with pine and oak. In the Bay Area, coastal redwoods get thrown into the mix, making a drive say from San Mateo to the coast very different than what I see where I live. South of that around Monterey the hills get scrubbier and further down south towards Mexico, you have genuine desert tumbling into the ocean. Here it's verdant and different in its own way. I was glad to see it like this. 

I made it to Highway 1 and took the first Coastal Access road I could find. It turned out to be a bust as all it did was take me on a nice loop past houses that were sitting above the beach. Exiting that neighborhood I went north and took the next left as it was tagged with a sign that said State Park Ocean Beaches. It turned out to be just what I was looking for with a couple of turnouts where I could park and watch waves crashing the rocks and scan the ocean for seabirds. I did manage to spot a few Common Loons bobbing among the detached Kelp floats. Again there was no way to spend but a moment outside the car without getting wet. Satisfied with a few enjoyable minutes staring at the stormy expanse I turned the car east and headed back to town. 

The purpose of this trip was a gathering of the people who make up an online cycling community that I've been a part of for nearly 20 years. From the very dawn of the internet well, at least at its conversion from a system linking military researchers to what we know today. There have been several of these meetings over the years but this was the first that factored well into my schedule so I decided to attend even though it meant 4 days in the car an a not insignificant financial outlay. But life is short and I figured it would be nice to put faces to names. After all, I actually spend far more time communicating with these electronic people than many real persons in my real life. The weekend was planned around a small cocktail gathering, a ride on Saturday and an afternoon party following the cycling. 

Back in town I dropped in at the meet-and-greet and spent the next couple of hours sampling some excellent local wines, eating Kobe beef sliders and expanding on many of the conversations I'd had with these people over the years. We were outside on the patio at a local inn and thankfully under a roof because the rain just kept coming. Propane heaters made the cold tolerable as did the company. It was a nice introduction to the group.  It all wrapped up around 9:30 and I went off to get some sleep, having been convinced to do the A Ride, a scenic tour of the steep, steep hills to the west of town. 

Well beyond the edge of the known world.

It's amazing how much better you feel after a decent night's sleep. Even one punctuated by two or three sleepless periods and some time spent in an altered state where you're convinced that you're participating in some sort of pillow research involving articulating the finer points of the stuffing material and naming it accordingly. I woke up to a blue sky framing tall palm trees and a hotel swimming pool. I also noticed the train tracks whose use had contributed to the afore mentioned two or three sleepless periods. 

As I'd driven so much further than planned I was in no great hurry to leave so I made a nice breakfast from the yogurt, fruit and cereal I'd brought along and sat back, listening to Bach concertos. When finished I went out and cleaned the bugs off the windscreen confirming once again that there is no  Windex like Mexican Windex. The glass was so clean that I suspected its overall thickness had been reduced significantly. While I worked a passel of Japanese tourists loaded their luggage into a waiting bus. Their driver stood there smoking and watching. One of the tourists took several photos of the front of the motel taking the time to carefully line up his shots, I guess to maximize the grandeur of the Ramada. A woman was doing the same only her subject was the Taco Bell across the parking lot. I was pretty amazed at how empty the lot was this morning, everyone must have left in the wee hours. Several groups of motorcyclists came out, decked in leather and stood around chatting and smoking. On their way to the big ride-in back down the road at Laughlin. 

I gathered my things and headed down Main Street to the Starbucks I'd found last night. Arriving I discovered that there were only 4 parking spots and they were all filled. I got in the drive through lane and it wasn't moving at all so when a spot did open I backed out and parked figuring that inside was bound to be faster. The place was busy, but half the people inside were workers. More than I've seen in a Starbucks, anywhere. For all those people I couldn't figure out why things weren't moving faster. I made my order and waited, taking a moment to surreptitiously check out a young woman with a stroller.  Taller than 6 feet, dressed in black sweat pants, black hoodie, black sneakers and a black baseball hat, the only uncovered parts of her were covered with tattoos. Like the back of both hands and every finger between all the knuckles. She played with her phone while her toddler sat there staring into space. I'd love to hear her story. 

I got my goodies and got on the road and a mile up that same hill as last night I freaked out about my missing reading glasses figuring I'd left them at the hotel. While I probably could have just written them off, I know myself well enough to know I'd be thinking about them for the next three days so I took the first exit and figured since I was stopping I may as well top off the gas tank. There was a Shell station on the corner offering regular for $4.89 a gallon. Behind it on a side street there was a generic station offering the same for $4.08. The choice was obvious. I pulled in and paid with my now working credit card and found my missing glasses in my messenger bag. Problems resolved and fully fueled I got back on the highway and headed towards Bakersfield. 

The highway didn't last long, choosing to head off towards San Bernardino instead of in my direction. I got off onto one of those classic western rural highways, two lanes with solid double yellows down the middle and knots of traffic led by RVs whose drivers say "dammit I'm going the speed limit, too bad for them." A red Suburu tailgated me until the highway suddenly divided and he roared past. I caught him again fifteen minutes up the road when we narrowed to one lane again and he got stopped at the back of another RV led convoy. Every ten minutes or so we'd come to a four way intersection and I'd pray that the RV would turn off, but they never do. The red Suburu pulled off at a rest area and I bid him adieu. 

I was now in the heart of the Mojave, miles of nothing in both directions save for desiccated sage bushes and a few Joshua Trees here and there, no doubt cursing the wind that dropped their seed in this particular circle of hell. An F16 did a long, lazy arc across the sky up the road making me think how this must be a pilot's heaven. Miles and miles of nothing preventing you from taking a plane out and just flying around just above the power lines. Edwards Air Force Base was far off to my left recognizable by those big sinister buildings we've all seen on the news over the years. Every once in a while I'd pass a trailer park, a cluster of palms and maybe ten trailers unhitched from their trucks and sitting there in the sun. Talk about the end of the road, I can't imagine why someone would pick a place like this to park and sit. Maybe the night sky? Outside of that, there is nothing else within 50 miles of here. 

The road kept changing from divided to two lanes and back again about every 15 miles. Why the highway department didn't just finish it is beyond me, probably due to some arcane budgetary problem or perhaps some malice between the state and one of these godforsaken counties. My driving rhythm was suffering, being jacked back and forth between stuck behind trucks and roaring past them. Finally the road split and I was able to gain some speed. 

There was no color here. The sky was the same gray as the soil and the sage made no effort to differentiate itself. Suddenly though, tiny yellow wildflowers appeared filling the gap between the road and the edge of the sage wasteland. A truckload of convicts bedecked in prison orange and safety green added to the improving palette. A range of mountains appeared off in the distance crowned with dark gray rain clouds. The coastal rain storm I'd seen on last night's news. The highway continued to angle that way and the sky grew darker. As the mountains drew closer, the big wind turbine farm at the town of Mojave came into view. More blades than I've ever seen anywhere, and in many different sizes. The big white ones dominating little dense clusters of small gray and white units. At first it made me think of an army, coming over the hills. Giants protecting squadrons of dwarves. That notion made me think of all things, the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an whose ranks were arrayed by weaponry, rank and race. The tall fierce Manchus leading the small Han in their eternal battle with the foes of Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united all of China. The highway ended up wrapping around the base of the big turbine army before turning sharply into a gap in the mountains and climbing up and out of the desert and into that lovely chaparral that makes California so beautiful. Live Oaks studding the hillsides, Eucalyptis hiding in the clefts in the sides of the mountains. As I descended that zone gave way to another round of  nude gray hills and finally the floor of the Central Valley, America's Fruitbasket which of course would be another desert, sister to the Mojave were it not for all the water that gets poured on it in the name of agriculture. For the next hour or so I had time to think about water and whether it really made sense to pour such a valuable resource on endless acres of potting plants. Fruits and vegetables, sure. But Petunias? Of course I was constantly informed that it was a good idea by signs on many fields that said "no water, no jobs", placed there in response to a move by the state government to allocate more water in a probably vain hope of saving the Sacramento River Delta, now threatened by salinization. Climate Wars, coming to everywhere soon. 

After a weird map problem in Bakerfsfield I got myself straightened out and on the road to my destination, Paso Robles. While glancing in my mirror to make a lane change, I saw a familiar car - the red Suburu - racing up behind me once again and weaving in and out of traffic. He roared past again and this time disappeared into the distance. After fifteen miles on this highway it was off and onto yet another  two-lane/four-lane switcheroo, this time thankfully without an RV to lead the way. I made a call ahead to the rental agent and arrived when I said I would. A nice place overlooking the town. Modern and well appointed and owned by a couple living in China. I made a quick grocery run, ate a quicker lunch and headed out again to see the coast. Rain or not, I was going to see the sea.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Into uncharted terrain.

I haven't had a solo road trip in perhaps a year and the last time I sallied forth I drove off into a blizzard on my way to see my kids and attend the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Denver. But I've driven that route up I25 so many times that it hardly feels unusual. So when I was offered the chance to have a bike ride and party with 30 or so of my cycling e-friends I jumped at it. Not only for that particular experience but to drive beyond the western edge of my motoring experience; that is to say well beyond central Arizona. 

Just out of college I took a couple of grand tours of the west sleeping in my pickup truck and visiting all the major sites. I visited the north rim of the Grand Canyon on one of those trips driving in from Utah before finally turning left and heading back to my home of the time in Rochester, N.Y.  The Grand Canyon visit was as far west as I've driven in the US, at least from somewhere east. Of course I've driven all over Oregon and California and Washington but those trips started at coastal airports. The furthest east I've been in California happens to be the Fashion Square Mall in San Diego. So this trip offered the possibility to fill in a large blank space in my travel experience. I loaded up the car, kissed MLW goodbye and headed west.

It's been more than 10 years since I last drove on I40 from Albuquerque towards Flagstaff. That trip was just days after 9/11 and for a business meeting in Phoenix. I remember no one wanted to fly at that time but I had to be there so MLW and I turned it into a mini vacation, taking in the sites, shopping in Scottsdale and even visiting the Meteor Crater on the way home. Every time I drive through New Mexico I'm reminded of just how beautiful a state it is. So many things we have here would be a state or national park elsewhere. We're blessed in so many ways - people, weather, scenery - that sometimes we just forget. But a drive in the country brings it all home in such a short period of time. Today was no different, high clouds slightly shading the sun brought out the reds and ochers in the buttes near Grants. Mt. Taylor had no snow. The Malpais lava looked as sinister as ever. Reaching Gallup around mid-afternoon the landscape changed and the road was hemmed in by big weathered offshoots of the Mogollon Rim, classic western landscape. 

The temperatures had been mild but jumped up rapidly as I crossed into Arizona. It was as though the state wasn't going to let its reputation for scorching go unproven. I drove across the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest passing tourist shops with giant stone tree trunks and fake dinosaurs out front, placed in hopes of generating some business. All that kitsch offset by rounded hillocks composed of varying shades of purple and white sand. Climbing towards Flagstaff the land changed commensurate with the elevation and I was now surrounded by tall pines. 

A really big hill leads down and out of that more pleasant zone, quickly reminding you that you are in the desert. Sage brush and sub blasted mountains trailed off into the distance, as far as I could see. The next hour or so was more this, the northernmost tip of the Sonoran Desert and not all that different than what we see on our regular trips to Mexico. Cooler perhaps, but still very hot in appearance. As I passed through Williams, Arizona I realized I'd crossed into a new place, one where I had never driven before. 

The desert changed a bit here - different cacti, smaller bushes. The temperature continued to rise,  seeming to accelerate as I started to descend into the flood plain of the Colorado River. It was now in the high 90's, more than 30 degrees more than what I had left behind. I passed through Kingman and the road took a big turn south, moving the afternoon sun into the passenger window and giving my left arm a break. I crossed the Colorado about 6 PM marveling at just how much water it held even while knowing that by the time it dumps into the Sea of Cortez, that water will have all been diverted to the region's thirsty cities. 

I was running low on gas so I stopped to refuel in Needles. There were three stations, all with identical prices that were almost $1.50 a gallon more than my local station. When you're driving a boat with a 44 gallon tank, that kind of price difference is shocking but having no choice, I picked one and pulled up. It was hot and windy and dry, and the clothing I'd left home in was suddenly inappropriate. I popped my card in the pump and was promptly refused so I took it in and talked with the kid behind the counter. He tried it again and it was denied. Another victim of credit card fraud algorithms. I gave him a different card, guesstimated the pre-approval amount and went out and filled up. 

There is a long, long climb out of the river valley and as I rose, the temperatures once again fell to more reasonable levels. The sun was getting low now, and the shadows were long in the valleys on both sides of the highway. The terrain took another turn, the mountains appearing even more blasted and lifeless than those I'd passed earlier. Cresting the hill and looking south, I did a double take at what was laid out before me - the black stony mountains seemed to be half-submerged in a sea of soft gray ash. I stared but my brain wasn't processing what I was seeing. It didn't look real. There were only two colors, black and charcoal and the whole scene looked painted. Only when I got to the bottom of the hill and looked out across the now level plain did it become clear - an endless sea of small buff sagebrush extending to the bases of the distant peaks. Those bushes plus some late afternoon haze had conspired to create that fantastic, impossible vista. 

It was starting to get late as I rolled onto the flats of the Mojave and I began thinking about finding a hotel having passed up multiple opportunities in Kingman due to the early hour. Now though I was beginning to think I'd been hasty as nothing was presenting itself. Barstow was still 1.5 hours off and I was hoping that Ludllow would be a possibility, but driving past it was clear it was not. Resigned now to continuing I was starting to wonder what I was going to do. The sun was dead ahead turning the highway into a bright golden ribbon, working with the countless bug bodies on my windshield to further impair my vision. I was glad when it finally went down and even allowed my mind to wander west with it imagining it falling below the horizon and into the Pacific. 

Barstow finally appeared on the horizon and I chose to bypass the first exit hoping that a hotel would be closer to the next one. That turned out to be a fruitless wish so I took the next opportunity and followed the signs towards downtown. After a couple of miles it still hadn't appeared so I took the next major right and headed back to where I knew the highway was. The business density started to increase so I was hopeful, but the hotels looked liked they'd been cloned from the old motor inns I remembered from my childhood Florida trips in the 1960's. I don't expect much, but I do like hotel names I recognize and there were none. As I got closer to completing the big loop I'd started when I left the interstate I saw a Ramada and decided that was it, but I couldn't find a way in. Every driveway seemed to be a 1-way exit. I drove past, did a grand u-turn and headed back, finally finding a way into the maze. I parked, checked in and called it a day. 

I have to say my night time exposure to Barstow is not all that encouraging. I can't wait to see it in the daytime. The hotel is nice enough but the clientele seems to be the type that feels it's okay to leave empty beer bottles on the curb in front of their cars. I did find a Starbucks down the road, so perhaps all is not lost. But for now, I am glad to be out of the car and lying in bed. Tomorrow is another day. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Last fall I decided to get a tattoo - not so much to express my individuality (as just about every other person has now done) but more to have the experience of getting needled as well as to see how having a permanent piece of portable art would make me feel.
The problem was what to get. Tattoo shops are loaded with catalogs of both standard drawings and freelance work. The breadth of options is staggering if you only want something canned. My thoughts went in the other direction - I wanted something that meant something to me, characteristic of my life experience. So I thought about meaningful statements, written in Sanskrit or some other obscure language, or maybe something to do with a bicycle. Or maybe something Chinese. Or who knows, the only thing I did know was that I didn’t want a giant orange Japanese Koi wrapping around my biceps.
One day it came to me. While wandering around Sevilla last year, we saw the same logo over and over, on anything that had to do with the municipal government and factored into displays all over the city.

It’s a “rebus,” a structure that uses a picture to convey words, and commonly found in heraldic representations of names and places. Things like using the drawing of three fish to represent the name Salmon. In this case, it’s used to tell a bit of Sevillan history where, according to legend, the city´s logo originated in the 13th-century coat of arms awarded to Sevilla by King Alfonso X the Wise. King Alfonso X was one of the great heroes of the Reconquista, the seven century long battle by Spanish Christians to reclaim their homeland from the Moors. The Reconquista was not as simple or straightforward as we may have learned in school - it was a time of shifting alliances, treachery and deceit. And while the Christian leaders may have had the noble goal in mind, it wasn’t uncommon to make deals with the enemy if it meant furthering their personal goals. Just like Game of Thrones.
Alfonso’s first born died in battle, leaving him with two young sons the oldest of which, Sancho IV of Castile, claimed his rights as heir. Alfonso would have preferred to leave the throne to a grandson based on some convoluted notion of genealogy, but Sancho had strong support within Alfonso’s court. As would be expected, this led to civil war which ultimately ended with Alfonso’s acceptance of Sancho. Only three cities stood with Alfonso – Murcia, Badajoz and Sevilla – not enough to carry the day considering the alliance between the nobility, Sancho and the enemy Moors. Even Alfonso’s deal with the Sultan of Morocco could not overcome the power of his enemies.
Alfonso is reported to have said “No me ha dejado,” - she has not abandoned me - referring to Sevilla’s support. And from that, the rebus was formed into a coat of arms.
It goes like this: the 8 in the middle of the phrase is a “madeja,” Spanish for a skein of wool and representing Sevilla’s preeminence in the middle ages as a place for the production of wool and fabrics. “NO” simply means no, and the “DO” is added to madeja to close the loop. The completed form actually translates as “no madeja do” dropping the “ha”, but it’s said that in the rapid fire Sevillan dialect, you wouldn’t hear it anyway. She has not abandoned me – a reward to the people of Sevilla for their loyalty.
I liked it for a couple of reasons. First of all, she has not abandoned me, speaks to MLW’s persistence in dealing with my personal set of peculiarities over these years together; a nice sentiment. Secondly, I love Sevilla. It’s one of the most agreeable, enjoyable and wonderful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. If a move to Spain was on my horizon, Sevilla would be where I would go. The food, the culture, the people, and the day to day rhythm – all perfect for me. Lastly, I think it’s a nice graphic – different than most, interesting to the eye and one not requiring more than an hour in the tattoo chair.
And so it went, I had it done, the months went by and we headed off to Spain where we decided to create a photographic record of as many NO8DOs as we could find. Interestingly, the tattoo didn’t attract a lot of attention although the weather more or less meant long-sleeves pretty much every day. I was asked about it one night in l’Oca Giuliva, an Italian restaurant we visited twice due to the excellent food and nice staff. The headwaiter asked about it and I told him the story. He liked it.

Click on photo to see an enlarged view

Friday, April 11, 2014

The trip home, part two

And so - all wonderful trips come to an end, and we trade the urbane vacation lifestyle of coffee corto, tapas and Mudejar culture for Mulberry pollen, tax bills and sinking foundations.
We spent the final hours of our trip sitting in the Admiral’s Club at DFW drinking ice water and trying to stay awake. We found a couple of chairs in a corner next to a rather odd looking (for the lounge anyway) young man. Anyone who has spent any time in these places knows the pecking order. You have the loud business people congregating in the middle, making the world aware of their importance. You have the sophisticated traveling couples, trying to get out of the way. You have the families sitting around in goggle-eyed wonder finally understanding how mom or dad spends their time when they’re on the road. And you have the guy that no one wants to sit by because he doesn’t fit in those other groups. This was whom we chose to sit by – long trenchy kind of coat, knit hipster hat, scraggly beard and guitar case. He was a completely fine companion, but being odd looking we were the only people willing to associate ourselves with his space. He drank Vodka and Tonics and eventually packed up and left.
It was within an hour of our departure so we decided to head back to the Starbucks at C15 and treat ourselves to something other than ice water. As I walked past the seat where our friend had been sitting, I noticed a fancy pair of those giant headphones, now popular among the smart set, sitting on the floor by his chair. He had forgotten them. I showed MLW and told her that we should keep an eye out for him on the off chance that he hadn’t left yet; perhaps he had done the same thing we were doing, getting out for a bit of air before getting on a plane, and we might run into him.
We left and walked and got our drinks and were heading back to our departure gate when I saw him, walking straight at me. I raised a hand and waved but he didn’t see me so I gave a loud “Excuse me” that caught his attention. He was shocked when I explained who we were and where we’d seen him, most people simply do not absorb the details of their environment the way I do. I told him about the headphones and he looked stunned – I could see the wheels turning – and without even checking his bags he said “Oh my god, you people are so kind. Good karma on you!” I told we try to help where we can. He did an about-face and walked back towards the lounge.
We boarded on time and left quickly and settled into that awful state where you’re on the tail end of 20 hours of being awake and every little noise is amplified to the point of pain. MLW dozed off and I read, being wildly entertained by the jackass in the seat across from us. Two shots of vodka before leaving and he tells the attendant that “I’m going to be your problem child on this flight.” As we flew west, he continued to make loud pronouncements so that we’d all know the details of his trip. The flight attendant kept bringing him beer after beer, making me think about the last drunk the airlines had put on the road who had driven the wrong way up I25 until he killed himself and 4 out of 5 family members coming home from a gymnastics meet. I hoped he was being met, because I didn’t want to have to manage my way around him out on the road. As is turned out, he was meeting his brother who was not going to be there, because he didn’t know that we were arriving early and thus his first visit to Albuquerque in 30 years to see his dad was going to be messed up but it didn’t matter because he was never going to fly coach again. Such are the mundane details that drunks feel we need to know. It didn’t help when the guy in the seat behind him engaged him in a shouting conversation about how the Duke City hadn’t changed a bit in all that time.
I was glad to get off the plane and to begin the last leg of our journey home. I passed Drunk Visitor walking through the terminal with his family, still yelling about first class. His sister in law (?) said “I see you hit the bar on the plane” as they headed to baggage claim.
The car was where we’d left it, and the “check engine light” that had been on when I parked it was mysteriously off. One more real life detail to think about and one I’d been delightfully oblivious to for the past two weeks. We paid our fee and headed north.
When I was little, I used to go to Florida over every spring break with my dad. I’d leave in the winter and come back in the spring, the trees would go from stripped bare to green in the course of that vacation. And so it was here, turning on to our street, with the bright lights on the car illuminating the now forming long green tunnel that is the beginning of our neighborhood. I drove on, feeling that it was good to be home.

One last photo from stroll down Calle Las Huertas, toward the Prado.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The trip home, part one.

I hate leaving but after two weeks and a lot of packing and unpacking, I also hate staying, It’s a great life being here with no responsibilities, but also wildly impractical. With those mixed emotions we got up this morning, made our last bit of preparation and headed out to Mercado San Miguel for one last coffee and chocolate Magdalena. And it was closed. The barista I’d made pals with over the last week was at the coffee bar getting things ready and looked out the window at me, but we were a full hour early so there was no way an exception was going to be made. We turned around, went back to the apartment, collected our things and headed back up hill towards the taxi stand at La Latina. It wasn’t Rastro day, and it was earlier than any other day we’d been out and the streets were calm, shady and pretty quiet for a work day. I almost nabbed a taxi in front of San Andres Cathedral, but the woman getting out didn’t understand my frantic waving so off the car went. We were lucky though, there were two at the stand and we ended up with a wonderful gal whose cab was unfortunately scented. Her sense of humor and willingness to chat made up for my allergy attack however. We talked about the summer and she said that the hot streets of Madrid are filled with “zombies” in August. Pretty funny.

It took precisely 30 minutes to get to Barajas. Also 30 Euros. Checking in was quick, the VIP security line quicker and only the sullen Immigration Agent put a mild downer on an otherwise perfect morning. We had just been lectured about having our passports and boarding passes ready when it was my turn so I handed her both. She threw the boarding pass back at me, rifled through my passport with extreme indifference, took my pass back and finally stamped my exit visa without even looking at me. We found our way to the lounge, cleverly hidden on the other side of Duty Free and parked ourselves for one last meal of tortilla and garlic mushrooms. Boarding time came and after some entertaining ignorant traveler antics we got on and sat back. The plane left more or less on time, rising up to the northeast over Segovia and the snowcapped Sierra Nevada. I’d hoped to get one shot from the air as we left Portugal for the Atlantic but the coast was clouded over.

Ten hours is a long time on a plane, not matter how you cut it. We ate, we read, we watched movies and we ate some more. Pretty soon it was over, but not without a drama when the man in the seat in front of MLW discovered his iPod was missing. Problem was, he’d sat in at least 3 seats so as we landed, one of the attendants spent the last few minutes pulling cushions out of seats and crawling around on the floor. They never did find it but she promised to send it to him if they did.

It’s a long walk from the jet way to immigration at DFW and normally you get around the corner and discover that the line is 10,000 people long. In the past, we’ve had the extreme misfortune of landing at the same time as multiple jets from the Yucatan so we have spent an hour standing in line with a bunch of sunburned tourists. Today though we got shuffled off to a new self-check station where you scan your passport, confirm where you’ve been, take an unflattering photo of yourself and then head on. It took no more than 2 minutes, and I only panicked once when the timer on the monitor offered me “more time to complete transaction” but it wasn’t necessary. We were on our way instantly once our receipts were printed. Ultimately, you end up handing those receipts to an agent at the far side of bag check but that was it, the only actual interaction with the Border Patrol.

Now we wait while our bodies say “Yo, it’s 1AM what are we still doing up?” Only 3 more hours until the plane to home sweet home.