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We drove through a tunnel of noise, adding our own tiny tinnitus to the cacophony of tinkling horns, ringing roads, buzzing bells, babbling motorways, looking for egress to ingress in some small motor motel to recess and relax and redress for a new beginning, a new morning, an internal spring, a fresh start. These motels are not hard to find, cities big and small all designed for the convenience of the motorist: the traveller, the travelling salesman on a limited per diem, the tourist on a budget, the trucker desiring a shower nap and cup of coffee, the rodeo rider on tour, the four piece garageband on a trip booked of small venue gigs, the soldier sailor or airman on leave on weekend pass or perhaps just Absent Without Official Leave, the family of four on vacation, the adulterous couple, the relocator, the lost, the looking, the hiding. The first place we pulled into because Sylvie liked the name: Motel In Vino Veritas. But the beds had coin operated boxes on the nightstands – for 50 cents you could make the bed vibrate for a couple of minutes – and Sylvie refused to stay in such a place, said such a bed forebode bad dreams.
“The Foreboding Bed” is episode 70 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Fall now ahead, Sylvie’s baseball season over, we drove from Tucson to San Diego, where Sylvie was to attend a three day conference. Not in a hurry, we drove west to Why, then dropped south to the border crossing at Lukeville. Back in old Mexico, we stopped in Sonoyta to eat, dry and hot, folks moving slowly in the heat. After lunch we walked around some, surrounded but ignored by border business as usual. I had drunk a beer with a taco burrito full of red and black steaming beans and hot chilies, and with Sylvie now driving, I fell asleep. When I awoke we were on Mexico Federal Highway 2, driving west along the border. Desert, mesa, flat tan and sandy, rocky hills. We switched seats again and Sylvie slept while I drove and when she awoke she was surprised by crops and greenery reappearing around San Luis Rio Colorado. We crossed the border again at the portmanteau crossing of Mexicali and Calexico, picking up 8 west through chaparral forest to El Cajon and La Mesa, and finally drove into a muted San Diego night, where Sylvie had booked a bungalow near the water in Ocean Beach. We had encountered no gods in the desert, had not felt watched. The desert gods are heavy sleepers, Sylvie said. Now back to the city gods, I said. The beach gods are my favorites, Sylvie said. I should move the team to a beach city next year. You can never be sure about the gods, I said, how they’re going to act, or react. I unpacked the car while Sylvie opened up the bungalow windows to the ocean breeze. We sat out on the front porch facing a narrow road that led down to the beach, and Sylvie poured herself a glass of chardonnay and I drank a beer and then we went to sleep for the night.
“Tucson to San Diego” is episode 61 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Sylvie and I drove southeast and south from Tucson, stayed a couple of nights as tourists in Tombstone, crossing the border at Naco into old Mexico, where we spent a night in Motel Cowboy, and a few nights farther out, in a rough cabin in a shady grove near a dry stream bed. Attempt no profit from your epiphanies, Dr. Lao had said. No worries, since I wasn’t having any, though the desert was lovely in its apparent simplicity. One story trailers, shacks, lean-to structures, adobe and brick block dwellings, old pickup trucks. Little commotion, no one about. No plots brewing that I could see. The prickly pear grows little opportunities, another Dr. Lao ambiguous comment. Life is a mystery only to be enjoyed, he said, not to be grasped mentally. That I got. When the beer and wine and food ran out we drove back north, cutting west after the border crossing to Sierra Vista and north past Fort Huachuca, and on up back to Tucson. Sylvie said what she got from Dr. Lao was motifs, like string theory. Life seemed made up of motifs, but her theory never went much beyond that. Life is made up of moods, I said. Moody. Life is a mood, and mostly a bad one. Very moodily said, Sylvie replied. Yes, an adverb chasing after some runaway verb, now ahead, now behind, a sentence with its noun cut off. And no object. No, and no object. Intransitive. In transit, anyway. Where to now? I don’t know.
“Intransitive” is episode 60 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Quiet finally filled Wormy’s place as an early morning fog rose over the dunes from the ocean beach. His plan to slough off Tilde awoke a sleeping shrew. They fought and argued and cried and wrestled and scratched, clawed and scolded each other all night long, Tilde’s wails crescendoing up and down scales like fiddles in flight. Why he couldn’t wait till morning to tell her I don’t know. Something about he wanted to give her time to pack and say goodbye. Late morning I got up and went inside and made coffee. On my way to the bathroom I passed their bedroom and saw them sleeping head to toe. The ’56 Chevy two-ten was gassed up and ready to go. I packed my bedroll kit and stashed it in the trunk with a small cooler of ice, a couple of beers, a chunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread. I waited outside with Brigid, sipping coffee, feeling the breeze begin to shift offshore to onshore. We were not getting the early start I had asked for. Wormy came out with his coffee. We heard the shower come on through the open bathroom window. Tilde came out, her hair still wet, her backpack fully rigged, and walked straight to the car without a word. She stowed her stuff in the trunk and climbed into the back and whistled for Brigid who jumped into the back seat, the two of them hugging and snuggling in a way that did not suggest goodbye. I gave Wormy a questioning look. Oh, yeah, he said, turns out Brigid is Tilde’s dog, not mine, and she wants to keep her. We were now three for the road as I pulled onto Grand Avenue and drove down to Vista del Mar where I turned north to San Francisco.
“Three for the Road” is episode 52 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Wormy had a girlfriend, was in a relationship, he wanted to get rid of, to get out of. He had a plan. He wanted to do some time travelling on the scooter. I tried to tell him that was a bad idea. All times are the same, same rotten humans unhappy with their lot. The only road to true happiness was to live like a gypsy in a caravan putting down only shallow roots if any, keeping with your family. Nonsense, he said. The girlfriend was called Tilde, a nickname ascribed to her from the way her eyebrows grew: ~ ~ . The plan was I would give Tilde a ride up the coast with me to San Francisco, where she had a sister Wormy was in touch with who would take her in and help her find a job waitressing. Tilde had been tending bar at the Orange Orchid Tiki Bar and sleeping with Wormy and had grown accustomed and comfortable with the arrangement, but Wormy was beginning to feel cramped and closed out and wanted to kick out before wiping out, as he put it, and did something really stupid like get married. He would tell Tilde it was all over between them, but that I would give her a ride up the coast to her sister’s place. Tilda’s sister was some sort of professor at one of the Frisco colleges. Her beau was a veteran right fielder for the Kyoto Kinks who owned a fancy Japanese restaurant in Frisco. Long ways to go two on a Vespa, I said. Impossible. You’re not taking the scooter, Wormy said. You’ll take the Chevy. The Chevy was his restored 1956 two-ten with a rebuilt 265 cubic inch engine, 3 speed synchromesh manual transmission. Cream white with turquoise roof and lower side panels. Not as classic as the Bel-Air, but a nice ride for a coast cruise. Go ahead, Wormy said, who had backed the car out of the garage and was beckoning me to take the wheel and we’d go for a test drive around town. It was a different kind of time travel, the ’56 Chevy, and maybe I’d had enough of the scooter for a time, and I agreed to Wormy’s plan.
“An Old Rig and a Passenger” is episode 51 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
A reader of the Toads writes:
“Hi Joe, I have been reading your travel posts . They seem familiar like maybe I’ve seen them before . The photos are recent , though , so I must be wrong about that.”personal correspondence
That is precisely the problem with writing, with, indeed, life, the feeling we’ve been here before, Déjà vu, been there – done that. Yet we continue to imagine our future, awake and asleep, waiting for something new.
“I pity the poor immigrant“I Pity the Poor Immigrant,” Bob Dylan, from John Wesley Harding, 1968.
Who wishes he would’ve stayed home”
“Make it new,” Ezra Pound said, over and over again. But if you make it too new, who will recognize it?
HAMM: Go and get the oilcan.“Endgame,” Samuel Beckett, 1957.
CLOV: What for?
HAMM: To oil the castors.
CLOV: I oiled them yesterday.
HAMM: Yesterday! What does that mean? Yesterday!
CLOV (violently): That means that bloody awful day, long ago, before this bloody awful day. I use the words you taught me. If they don’t mean anything any more, teach me others. Or let me be silent.
A Google search of “Yaquina Head Lighthouse” will bring up over 300,000 results (in .78 seconds, no less). Click on “images,” and you’ll see more than 500 pics of the lighthouse. Nevertheless, I now double back and offer readers of the Toads these entirely original never seen before pics of the lighthouse, freshly taken about a month ago:
A perspicacious reader asked why I haven’t posted any pics from the road trip. I’m working on moving toward a new kind of blog, more like the one I started, back in December of 2007, which contained no pics, just short bursts of writing pleasure. I had in mind the kind of posts the venerable E. B. White wrote in the early New Yorker.
“From 1925 to 1976 he crafted more than eighteen hundred pieces for the magazine and established, in the words of editor William Shawn, “a new literary form.” That form was the magazine’s Comment essay—a personal essay that was, in White’s hands, light in style yet often weighty in substance. As White noted in a 1969 Paris Review interview, > I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.“Eighty-Five from the Archive: E. B. White,” by Erin Overbey, The New Yorker, June 7, 2010.
Not that I ever achieved anything everyone might call, “not lousy.” In any case, I drifted away, or off, and into a kind of academic stream, where I imagined I might augment my adjunct work at the time. And I tried to bring some attention to the books I was working on, both reading and writing. Then I began to work-in more slant, though never totally “false,” and found the proverbial bottom of the barrel when I started putting up some poetry. And I recently considered retiring The Coming of the Toads, leaving it to sink to the bottom of the archive abyss of the Internet, where some future crab scuttling along might find a few morsels to criticize.
E. B. White’s idea of the short, personal essay (note the importance of that comma) has been replaced in many blogs by the personal pic essay, with and without words, the latter like Beckett’s short play, “Act Without Words.” And I suspect more reading is done on phones these days than when I started The Coming of the Toads on a desktop computer back in ’07, and the phone and other smaller size formats encourage changes in aspect ratios of screen, pics, and writing. And thinking about that, I decided to remove this blog’s header pic, begin writing with a minimum of pics altogether, returning to the short, personal note or comment type essay. I even thought of a new tagline for the title space: The Coming of the Toads: No links, No likes, No comments. I know that sounds a bit anti-social, but what I’m aiming for is clarity, simplicity – a clean, well-lighted blog.
Besides, I don’t get many comments or likes, and many that I do get appear to be from spam and bots, and I lost all the pics I took on our recent trip, mistakenly thinking I had backed up my phone photos to Google Photos when I had not, in the meantime deleting all the photos from my phone, then crashing my Instagram account trying to retrieve what I had at least saved there. Seems poetic justice for an anti-social attitude.
Having at this point already exceeded my target word limit, not to mention having probably lost my target audience, those interested in hearing more about the Road Trip, I give you this portfolio of road trip pics, all taken by my sister Barbara and Susan as I was trying on the lighthouse keeper’s uniform jacket at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, north of Newport, trying to strike poses I imagined a lighthouse keeper might have aimed at were he the subject of a live, on the job photo shoot:
Note: Comments On for this post. Have fun!
We followed Dry Creek Road into the country northwest of Healdsburg to Lake Sonoma. Along the way, wineries, carefully cultivated vineyards, acre after acre of grapes. We stopped at the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Dry Creek Valley, a snazzy estate with an “Italianate” villa with views of the valley and vineyards and with exuberant gardens, where we found a cork tree, this one some 50 years old, though they can age to 300 years, and one doesn’t want to start harvesting cork from their bark until they reach 50 years of age. The bark looked like cork, folds of it, and felt like cork, a hard sponge. The trunk was 4 or 5 feet wide.
I was reminded of the cork tree later when back in Depoe Bay, Oregon, we saw a whale, just off shore, bending in vertical dives, showing its back and sides, along the edge of the cliff just north of the harbor entrance. It was probably a gray whale. It was certainly alluring, and we watched for it a long time, and it came up every 10 minutes or so.
The smaller, less manicured wineries or vineyards, off hardpack dirt and gravel roads, with small wood buildings and just a few workers going about their chores – these we preferred to the larger, commercial estates.
Lake Sonoma is partially created with an earth dam over the valley, and we climbed up to the top of Rockpile Road and the bridge viewpoint where from a 3 story observation deck built with thick but old and now weathered timber, parts missing, we learned we were in feral pig country. Wine and pigs. What a life.
Healdsburg turned on the heat for our arrival and stay, the temperature in the 90’s. My brother’s house stayed cool though under his big California Oak trees, and we slept with the windows open and ceiling fans running. John, old surfer and teacher that he is, always awakes early. I got up early, refreshed but with that feeling you get after awaking in someone else’s bed and for a moment don’t remember where you are. No one else seemed up and about, so I took off walking. I walked to the high school and across the baseball fields. I stood at home plate, taking a couple of high and outside fastballs. Then a curve aimed at my belt broke slow in my zone over the plate and I belted it out to left center, an in the park home run, though I walked the bases, and after touching home declined the interviews with the excuse I had to get back to John’s place.
John and I drove out to Jimtown Store, east of the Russian River, which half circles Healdsburg, for some coffee. A small bridge crosses the river, the road falls suddenly like the Pike roller coaster at Long Beach, a panoramic view of a wine valley flashes, and you’re on the valley floor heading east.
Seems everywhere we went around Healdsburg a former student of John’s said hello. John was just awarded teacher of the year for this past session, but the tall fellow working the Jimtown store today was a former field and track star who quickly recognized his former coach.
I was eight and a half years old when my brother John was born, the fifth in a family of ten kids, the first to be born in California. I was in the front yard playing when Dad walked Mom out to our 1956 Ford wagon, parked in the driveway on Mariposa, to tootle off to the hospital. Mom was never in labor for more than a couple of hours. Some girls have all the luck.
At Jimtown we drank some ice coffee and climbed back into John’s rig and headed back to Healdsburg. Grapes growing here, there, and everywhere. Some old, some newly planted. Up hills, down into valleys. And where no grapes, oaks, a few redwoods still, pines. Bay, willow, maple. Grasses, yarrow. Shrubs. Wineries. At a crossroads signs pointing this way and that to this or that winery. Not by bread alone. Bread and red, white, and rose.
Near the Russian River to the northeast of Healdsburg, John pulled over near an old barn off the side of the road and pointed out the high water marks folks had painted on the siding over the years. Historic floods. Several years where we were now standing we would have been more than 20 feet under water. The homemade historical markers seemed more dramatic and effectively sobering about man’s indifference to nature than the new tsunami signs we’d seen up north near the ocean on Highway 101.
…to be continued: this is part six in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.
South of Eureka, Highway 101 again turns inland, curling through more redwoods, passing through a few small towns. The road curves and curls through the tall woods and slants south-southeast away from the ocean, the trees gradually grow smaller and more sparse, the land opens up into rolling hills, and you enter wine country. Travelers wanting to continue hugging the coast cut over from Leggett to Fort Bragg and continue down old Highway 1, through Mendocino, and can roll and stroll on down all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Travelers wanting more Pynchon can spend a few nights in Garberville. But we were on our way to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, in the heart of wine country, though we’d only be about 20 miles from the ocean as the crow flies, about an hour from Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed “The Birds,” and on the south side of the bay, Dillon Beach, where my brother John likes to go surfing.
Alas, we would not go surfing this trip, in spite of the fact my brother has enough surfboards in his garage to supply a squad of dolphins, and Kevin had brought along his wetsuit. Healdsburg was a happy happening hive: a wedding was being planned though a couple of weeks out yet and anticipation was high; more immediate, a birthday gathering weekend was bringing California family coming in from all directions; Healdsburg High was holding its annual graduation ceremony; there was a jazz fest blowing in the downtown square; and at John’s place there were guitars enough to equip a choir.
After the long drive down the coast, getting lost upon arrival in tiny Healdsburg trying to find John’s house, and the excitement of seeing folks we’d not in some time, we slept like sloths.
…to be continued: this is part five in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.