Our ears were buzzing; our backs tightening. Road tripping in a two-seat roadster has its merits, but bombing down the interstate at 75 mph is not one of them. With the clock approaching 7 p.m., three-plus hours of driving still ahead of us, and a desert thunderstorm threatening, we decided stopping for the night made sense. With a strong cell signal on I-40 outside Needles, CA, Judy perused the upcoming options.
The lone Marriott property (it’s our go-to chain) in Kingman, AZ was sold out, but the Best Western in Needles looked promising. It cost a little more than we thought we should pay, but it received good ratings on Trip Advisor and looked like the best among the limited choices. She booked the room.
A half hour later we pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of the two-story motor lodge that looked just like the thousands that dot the interstates across the country. We ducked in and on our request Diana recommended River City Pizza Company about a quarter of a mile down the road.
The room, like the rest of the motel, was just like thousands of motel rooms that dot the country … a king bed, two nightstands, a small table with a pair of chairs, a low dresser, microwave, fridge and standard bath. The furniture was dated and a bit worn, but the bed was crisply made and the carpet clean. The air conditioner hummed softly and blew fresh, cold air — a bonus since they can often be loud and musty.
We called in an order for pizza, grabbed some ice from the machine off the lobby and poured the last of our pre-made cocktails (brought from home) into the plastic cups near the sink.
We toasted the joys of getting off the road when you’re hungry and tired just as the pizza arrived — fresh, hot and really good! We celebrated the little things, thankful to be off the road as the winds picked up and the storm hit.
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes taking a break makes the journey even better.
Santa Ana winds blowin’ hot from the north, we were born to ride.
I grew up in Los Angeles. Okay, technically, I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but was still in the confines of the City of Los Angeles. I spent most of my life there. It’s where I went to college — undergrad at USC (Fight On!) and Pepperdine for my MBA. It’s where I worked for a good chunk of my life at PR firms and corporations downtown, in the Fairfax District, and near LAX and Westwood. It’s where I lived … the Valley and the Santa Clarita Valley, Redondo Beach, San Pedro, and the Hollywood Hills for a short time.
I take it all for granted.
Having not lived there for nearly two decades, I find countless reasons to trash it. We visit often (or at least we did until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived), as my mother still lives there. I find myself constantly complaining … the crowds, the smog, traffic, gas prices, taxes … all seem a bit too much. Oh, and did I mention the traffic?
And yet …
And yet there remains a certain allure, an appeal to Los Angeles that transcends its faults. Every time Judy and I watch a movie that was filmed there, I constantly point out landmarks (to her considerable annoyment). I talk of the good times there, like when my buddies and I drove to Century City three times over a two week period in 1977 just so we could experience Star Wars in Dolby surround sound. The sailing trophy I won in Huntington Harbor in 1974 still adorns my display case. We proudly display vestiges of my Alma Mater and engage in serious trash talk with my Ohio State Buckeye and Oregon Duck-loving neighbors during football season. I taught Judy to sail in Marina Del Rey during one of our first visits there together.
And, during these difficult times, I tell the positive stories of communities coming together in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, just as the nation did in the wake of 9/11, and communities around the world do following natural disasters of various sorts.
Recently, our granddaughter proclaimed she wanted us to take her to Los Angeles next year for her 10th Birthday “Trip With the Grands” (her older brother opted for some Arizona desert adventures). Whether she’ll still want to do that a year from now remains to be seen, but it was a reminder that, despite my trash talk, L.A. is in my blood.
So for those who want to go there, I offer a tarnished Angeleno’s top 10 tips for “doing” L.A. They’re a bit irreverent perhaps, and the Chamber of Commerce might not approve, but they’ll give you a strong sense of the town I grew up in. (Note: Many places are currently closed due to the pandemic…but plan your trip around these for when things open up!)
Rent a convertible. As Randy Newman’s anthem to the streets of L.A. attests, Los Angeles was built around the automobile. The Hollywood stars and L.A. elites may crow about their Priuses and Teslas, but L.A. is best experienced with the top down. Feel the Santa Ana winds on your face, taste the salty air when driving PCH, see the iconic billboards along Sunset Strip, and hear the panoply of voices along the way.
See a show. Get a taste of “Old Hollywood” by taking in a musical at the Pantages Theatre. Dress up and grab dinner at Musso & Frank Grill before walking the four blocks down Hollywood Blvd. to the theatre. Look for your favorite “star” along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Visit California’s version of Mediterranean resorts. Hire a gondola or paddle boat for a cruise around Naples. Then take the high-speed catamarans from nearby Long Beach to the “island of romance” (as the Four Preps called Santa Catalina Island). Eat and drink your day away in Avalon’s many watering holes and feel like you’re in Cannes or Monte Carlo.
Catch a game. Los Angeles is home to two truly legendary sports venues, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Dodger Stadium. The Rose Bowl is pretty cool when the Trojans play there New Years Day, but otherwise it’s too tight and UCLA plays there. ‘Nuf said. The new SoFi stadium being built near LAX looks like it will be pretty cool. The L.A. Rams and the San Diego, er, Los Angeles Chargers will share it. L.A. has two basketball teams, too. Oh, and soccer!
Hit the beach. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello made Malibu famous, and for good reason. Sun, sand and surf define the SoCal lifestyle, so make sure you dip your tootsies in the Pacific.
Hit the beach, Part 2. A visit to a California beach isn’t complete without a visit to a pier. Santa Monica Pier is the classic with carnival rides and midway games, and, importantly, a booth celebrating the end (or beginning) of Route 66. Redondo Beach Pier has plenty of food, drink and music … look for fresh dungeness crab. And, any visit to Malibu isn’t complete without a stroll down Malibu pier, or head a few minutes north up PCH to Paradise Cove to dine at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe … don’t forget to check out the historic photos!
Ride a Horse to the Hollywood Sign. Saddle up for a ride to the “best view in Los Angeles” at Sunset Ranch Hollywood. We did it in February a few years back and had truly spectacular views of the city and beyond along with a simply enjoyable ride. Never ridden? Don’t worry, they’ll match you with a horse friendly to novices.
Discover L.A. History. When you grow up in L.A. you learn all about California history in the fourth grade. But you don’t have to go back to your childhood to learn a bit of L.A. history. Head downtown to Olvera Street where the original pueblo was located and stroll through the plaza and market to get a little taste of what old Los Angeles was like. Sure, it’s a bit kitschy with its souvenir shops, but with a bit of imagination, you can step back in time to when Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was young.
Eat! Fast! Food! The L.A. area is home to some of the earliest fast food venues, including the first McDonald’s in nearby Downey, and certainly some of the most famous. I took many late-night college study breaks at the original Tommy’s at the corner of Rampart and Beverly near downtown … a double cheeseburger with extra chili would play havoc on my waistline today, but back then I had a healthy metabolism and an iron stomach. The oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy is in Burbank. Pink’s Hot Dogs is an institution in the Fairfax District; Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles earned the same appellation and has been around since 1945. Philippe’s, across from the iconic Union Station, is home to the original French Dip sandwich and retains its classic 1940s vibe.
Drive. Just, drive. Hop on the freeways, navigate the (mostly) logical street grid pattern, or meander the canyon roads over and through the hills. Forget the GPS and just go. There will be traffic. That’s a given. You might even get lost for awhile, but at some point, you’ll likely come to the ocean, another freeway, or a recognizable landmark. And here’s an insider secret … that street grid helps you gauge distance easily. Main drags off the freeways are spaced a mile apart. The primary streets between them are a quarter-mile apart. Simple, eh?
There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. L.A. is a world unto its own … Go see it!
Inspiration is the perennial wish of any writer. If you’ve ever written anything, even an essay for a high school teacher, you know that without inspiration, the words that end up on the paper are flat and boring. Travel is similar. Inspiration comes from images, movies, songs, friends’ vacations … all kinds of places. For those with wanderlust, there’s a seemingly never ending “bucket list” of places we are inspired to see.
As a writer with wanderlust, my list of ideas to write about is considerably shorter than my travel bucket list. That means I am constantly on the lookout for inspiration.
Yesterday, Greg opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass for each of us while I threw something together for dinner. It was good. In fact, it was surprisingly good. I picked it up at the store because of the label and the name, Storyteller. I had no idea if it would be any good at all. It was crisp and refreshing. I tasted tart apples and sweet summer peach. It was the perfect wine for a hot Arizona day.
I grabbed the bottle and read the little thought on the back: “Sonoma wine country is brimming with fables (of varying degrees of truth) passed down through the generations, usually aided by a celebrated local wine. Storyteller wines encourage your stories to unfold in ever more fantastic versions.”
The fact that I had already finished my first glass may have contributed to my reaction, but the voice in my head said, “That’s a great inspiration!” I refilled our glasses, grabbed the bottle and set it on my desk with a little note about inspiration. I knew trying to write a blog after a glass (or two) of wine would mean a lot of editing later.
I guess the answer to “Where do you find inspiration?” is “Everywhere!” Sometimes it’s a bagpipe-playing firefighter, sometimes it’s a casual comment about a memory, sometimes it’s the label on a bottle of wine. For travel-thirsty, quarantine-stir-crazed-cabin-fever-sufferers it seems like anywhere is the answer.
The world is slowly reopening. We’re all chomping at the bit to get out there and do something – anything. Be careful. Be safe. Be curious. Be friendly.
After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, and we all have a lifetime to keep seeing it.
A friend from high school recently moved to a new home. It was one of several she’s made in recent years. She and I are very alike that way. In the past eight years I have had six homes. That’s six full-scale, move-everything-you-own-to-a-new-place homes.
In fact, we grew up that way … the two of us and thousands of other kids known as “military brats.” Vikki, who also an author, and I had Air Force dads, but others had dads and moms who were soldiers, sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and women. We moved often and, from an early age, learned to expect and even embrace the change that comes with a new home, new friends, a new school and a new lifestyle.
I suspect that my childhood and the following time on active duty are big parts of the reason I have such strong wanderlust. I CRAVE new places and new things to see and do. I long to pack a few things into a bag and go somewhere I’ve never been. I strike up conversations with strangers … sometimes with strangers who don’t even speak English.
If you are a fellow traveler, you probably have many of the same feelings. When people ask, “where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” you simply have no way to answer. There are too many “best places” to pick one.
My husband grew up in one town for the most part. But something in him is excited about travel, too. I’d like to believe I had something to do with that by taking him with me on several adventures early in our relationship. We’ve been on trips by road, air, rail, river, even horseback. We’ve hiked, biked, snorkeled, soared and sailed. And we’re not even close to done!
It seems for every trip I take, I add two more to my bucket list. An insatiable desire to travel consumes me. I feed it and it grows like a weed.
After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … I just can’t seem to get enough.
Somehow I didn’t think I’d be writing a travel blog about my neighborhood for my 100th blog. Yes, I know there are almost 150 on this site, but the others were all written by Greg, so this is officially my 100th. I hope you’re having fun reading them and if you have something you’d like to see me write about, feel free to send me a note or comment.
Like you, I’m staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing my part to stem the flow of this virus. When you’re plagued with wanderlust, that’s not easy! To keep busy, I spend a lot of time on the internet enjoying the humor and doing what I can to mitigate the sense of caution and fear that’s running rampant.
Several memes and jokes highlight our mutual boredom being “stuck at home.” Here are a few favorites from Facebook.
As funny as these memes are, there’s a bit of truth in the humor. We’re all spending more time in our backyards and spending more time with our lockdown families. There’s lots you can do to add a little fun to your days.
Our walks around the neighborhood have opened our eyes to the creativity in our neighbors’ yards. We’ve seen several ideas we’re now considering as we look at a backyard upgrade.
Our evening cocktails through the fence with our next door neighbors continue to make us smile and appreciate the little things … like a beautiful sunset.
Twice our neighbors on our street have had a corona twist on a block party. We all come out at a specific time, sit at the end of our driveways — some in their golf carts — and wave and shout greetings as we catch up.
We’re all doing what we can to make the best of this bad situation. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … we’re all getting anxious to go see some of it.
Editor’s Note: A year ago, Greg posted the following on his Facebook feed as we wrapped our cross-country trip to our new home in Arizona. When it popped-up as a memory yesterday, we were both struck by the humor and thought it would be fun to share here. CAUTION: Strong language.
Caution, rant ahead (but in a good way…sorta).
Let’s talk about Texas. It’s a big f’in state. So big that we spent 9-1/2 hours getting from the CENTER of the state (Waco) to the western border (El Paso). We can see New Mexico (and frankly, Mexico) outside our hotel window, but we’re still in Texas. Shit (or as they say here, “Sheeee-it”). We went from tree-lined streets and roads through the vast nothingness of west Texas. We drove through a town that on its “welcome to” billboard praised its band. I guess their football time was such a west Texas embarrassment that the band got top billing. That’s not a bad thing…when I was in high school, people came to games to see MY award-winning, kick-ass, LA All City Champion, take-on-all-comers high school band. But I’m sure they don’t talk about it in the diner in this west Texas town. Heck, the Sheriff at the gas station didn’t even give me crap about my foreign sports car with the Virginia tags…probably out of embarrassment for their football team.
But I digress. Let’s talk about the bad things about Texas. From Beaumont to Waco, we collected more bugs on the front of the Spider than a fly strip in a dairy farm. We collected an equal amount between Waco and the aforementioned embarrassed by its football team west Texas town. There, the bugs were replaced by a hellacious wind straight on the nose that lowered our gas mileage into ’70s American muscle car territory (okay, that’s exaggeration but it was pretty sucky for us) and stirred up dust reminiscent of Los Angeles smog in the late 60s. We skirted a few dust devils that looked like they could suck up the Spider like Dorothy’s tornado sucked-up the wicked witch of the west on her bike.
Speaking of driving, the roads SUCK. They’re not smooth in any way. I think they lay down tar by pushing it through a potato peeler. When you drive a two-seat sports car, you feel every bump and the performance tires complain. When the road is no smoother than a cheese grater, you long for smooth interstates, but alas, even there the road surface was akin to the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. No wonder everyone there drives a big truck or SUV…lots of suspension to soak up the crappy roads.
But here’s the good thing about Texas roads…speed limits. In Texas, they assume you’re not a candy-assed driver. They have two-lane roads with speed limits set at 75 mph. You read that right. Seventy-five f’in miles per hour on a two lane rural road with driveways and tractors and animals of all kinds. I’ve heard that armadillos, in particular, can take out a suspension…of course, by the looks of it, a Ford F250 can take out an armadillo pretty well, too. In most states, brand new four-lane highways still have speed limits topping 55 mph. Texas says screw that! If you can’t handle driving that fast on a rural road or drive 80 on the Interstate, stay out of our state….pansy.
Finally, there’s one other good thing about Texas…the people are creepily nice. I didn’t meet a soul who didn’t say good morning/afternoon/evening, offer a tip on a good restaurant, hold the door for you, or let in a driver into traffic (okay there were the two a-holes that cut in front of me thinking they could accelerate their POS Toyota pick-up to 75 in five seconds flat, but at least they weren’t pansies). They smile, say ma’am, sir and thank y’all and simply dare you to dislike them. But it’s just not possible.
So thank you, Texas, for being, well, Texas. You still need to remember that you are part of the U.S. of A. and not your own damned country. But we’re happy to have you — God knows, we don’t want you against us — and happy that you continue to show us that not giving a damn has its merits.
Within the last few months, I’ve seen at least two movies that include a storyline about a character rewriting the stars; that seemingly predestined journey through life that fate deems inevitable. In these movies, as in real life, those who are able to find a more satisfying, even fascinating path are called dreamers.
I have always been a dreamer! When I was young, that label was used to chastise: “Get your head out of the clouds.” “Pay attention and stop daydreaming.” “You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t stop wasting your time dreaming.”
Those phrases held me back. I’d dream of rewriting my stars and hear one of those voices in my head reminding me how futile dreaming is.
Somewhere in my 40s the voices stopped. I started dreaming again. At first it was cautious, but eventually I dreamt with an almost childlike enthusiasm. I acted on those dreams.
There are those who work all day. Those who dream all day. And those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. Go into the third category because there’s virtually no competition.
Steve Ross, Former CEO, Time-Warner
I noticed a sparkle return to my eyes. Smiles came easier. I found myself spending less time worrying and regretting and more time dreaming and looking ahead. I walked away from people in my life whose voices echoed those taunting, anti-dreamer thoughts.
Somehow, looking back, I knew I’d always be a dreamer. I’d always found a way to make a dream come true. I always found enough money for another trip (a consistently repeating dream involves travel). I never gave up looking for professional satisfaction — at least not until I realized my life outside of the office was shining brighter that life in the office.
When I started to dream more, I found myself surrounded by other dreamers. Oh sure, there were still naysayers in my life and their “poo-pooing” was ever present. I started seeing them as sad and unfulfilled.
My new life is filled with joy. Smiles are a constant. I travel more and am achieving my dream of doing it in style. Sending happiness out into the world has brought it back to me time and time again.
I say “thank you” all the time. To my fellow-dreamer, fellow-nomadic, enthusiastic, happy husband … to God … to the universe … to any and everyone who gives me another reason to smile.
I relax more and enjoy more. Little annoyances are dismissed with ease, pushed out to make more room for joy.
Ten years ago it seemed the stars were pointing me to a future of settling for things, of growing old without much excitement. Then I started dreaming again — and I rewrote my own stars!
There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … start with a dream.
When my son was about two-and-a-half, we found ourselves at JFK Airport waiting for a flight. He has always been a good traveler and we managed to keep ourselves busy for a little while people-watching. After about ten minutes of a never-ending stream of passers by, he turned to me and gave me one of those looks that only a two-year-old can muster — so very serious, but overwhelmingly curious.
“Mom,” he asked, “why do we say people are black and white?”
WOW! How do you answer a question like that? I didn’t want to influence his thought, so I answered his question with a question: “What do you mean?”
“Well,” he pondered, “there are lots of people here and I’ve been looking at them, but I haven’t seen anyone who is black or anyone who is white.”
I responded with another question, “What color are all these people?”
His response was quick and perfunctory, “Brown.” Nothing more, nothing less. His innocent observation of probably a few hundred people was that everyone was brown.
I was proud. JFK Airport is an endless variety of people. International travelers from every corner of the world passed by our seats. We’d seen people with every shade of brown you could imagine. I asked him to explain what he meant by brown.
He said, “well, some people are really light brown – like you, and some people are darker brown – like dad (his father is part-Hispanic), and some people are really dark brown – like the chocolate you like.
OK, that gave me a little chuckle, people described as the colors of food was a great two-year-old observation.
We spent a couple of minutes wondering why anyone would say black or white to describe a person and never really came up with an answer. I explained that people from different places have different color skin and they also have different cultures and music and food and wear different clothes. He asked if the kids play with different toys. “Yes, they do,” I answered. He asked if he could play with other kinds of toys and I noticed the topic had returned to more typical kid conversation.
That conversation has stuck with me his whole life. He is almost 30 and still has the same wild curiosity about life and people. I am still proud.
I wish everyone could see the world through his two-year-old eyes. I wish everyone could see differences as fascinating instead of scary. I wish people could see the world in a never-ending number of shades of brown and not black and white.
After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … it’s thrilling and different and brilliantly colorful … go see it!
EDITOR’s NOTE: I wrote this several months ago, but recently realized it was never posted. The thoughts are still relevant, however. As they say … better late than never.
I have come to appreciate meandering. For most of my life, nearly everything I did was rush, rush, rush. About the same time Greg and I got together, I learned how to slow down. Along the way, we created road trip “diversions.” As a reader of this blog, you’ve seen us write about these stops that are not on our plan, but rather something that caught our eye and intrigued us enough to check it out.
The rush of my youth was great for me. I’ve never really had any patience and hurrying here and there is perfect for someone who just can’t seem to find a way to wait for anything. Yet, somehow, here I am appreciating wandering, lollygagging, dilly-dallying.
Often, when we land after a long flight, we make our way to a favorite restaurant for a bite to eat on the way home. The fridge is not stocked; we are craving a little nosh; and friends beckon.
Today, though, I find myself wanting to get home. My impatient inner-child longs to rush through the next few weeks as we make final preparations for our permanent move out west. I want to go home, get packed and move sooner. I’m anxious to start the next chapter of life in a new home, in a new world (the desert southwest), with new friends. I know the benefits of taking our time to get through this next phase. We will be more careful, forget less, be more attentive to the details of a cross-country move, but I am still anxious and excited.
I like to think of it as youthful – a sort of childlike fascination with what’s around the corner – the same kind of sleepless excitement that you get on Christmas Eve when you know you will awaken to the thrill of gifts, laughter and joy.
I laugh a little as I think of the memes about deciding not to adult – “I’ll be in my blanket fort with cookies and milk” or “I’ll be outside running through the sprinkler.” Waiting, planning, packing, counting the days – adulting is hard! The benefit is, when you’re an adult you know the reward at the other end with be worth it and the waiting and working for it make it all that much sweeter.
EPILOGUE: We have now completed the move and are living in our new home full time. The anticipation was, indeed, worth it. Everything I had hoped for is coming true and I find myself relaxing and enjoying a slower-paced lifestyle. Of course, I am also constantly looking forward to my next trip. After all … there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored!
I’ve been reading a series of books by the same author for almost two years. I am so obsessed by the ongoing stories of the heroine that I have eschewed other authors as I dove into and through every one of the books published to-date in the series to catch up to the present. The next book isn’t due out for 6 weeks, so I returned the previous series I was reading to catch up on the five books that came out during my obsession.
A single chapter in and I am struck by the extreme differences in writing styles of these two best-selling authors. One is complex, even a bit cerebral, and challenges my academic sense while appealing to my dream of a world-class, jet-setting life. The other is more common and allows me to relate to the more realistic life of the heroine and her job while feeding those dreams of wealth and jet-set life the lead character finds herself in after a surprisingly fortuitous and deliciously passionate marriage. Despite the disparate styles of these authors, reading their novels compels me to write; to put pen to paper and give ink to the thoughts that occupy my waking moments. They inspire me .. and they help me realize that my style is yet a third style of writing for future readers to enjoy.
Inspiration — incentive — perhaps even a new-found enthusiasm for writing that seems to have evaded me for almost 10 years. Determination to re-find my muse and restart a process I had essentially abandoned.