America the beautiful

“Aloha from the west coast,” I wanted to write, late last week, on our usual appointed date.  But there was too much to say, and too little time.  And the truth is, I was distractedly happy, laughing and laughing.  I couldn’t help but relish the occasion.

Forgive the delay.  If we could start over — bonjour from my writing desk!  It is precisely 4:46 PM.  Outside my window, foreign curses are being flung from construction workers next door.  Cicadas are humming intermittently.  Cars are traveling well past the speed limit of 25 mph, back and forth and back again.  Inside I am sifting through photographs taken from my recent, most wonderful summer road trip.  I am smiling to myself.

When I was younger, my beloved lola and lolo moved to California with two of my aunts.  To move them there, the rest of our Illinois family packed up a u-haul, and my dad’s Oldsmobile station wagon, and proceeded to drive across the country.  I was four, five, or seven?  Who knows.  Despite being in a handful of states, my memories are limited to a zig-zagged deck of souvenir playing cards from Las Vegas, and once believing that carpools were cars with pools in them.

While my grandparents lived in Cali, my parents and I visited annually.  But when they moved to the Philippines, the trips became more sporadic.  They became only random visits to my one aunt and her family left living there.  This year, the short itinerary included visiting her, followed by more family, and finally driving back to the midwest with my best friend.

So, how to recollect a trip with too many details to recount?  How to map an adventure with so many stops?  Think I will attempt to do it, dividing by state:

CALIFORNIA

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prehistoric, dinosaur-sized succulents, oh my!

What to say about a state flush with perfect weather year long?  Arriving in Long Beach, I was immediately over the moon, over the cascades of flowers heaped over every wall and gate.  No fussy, midwestern patches of yellowed grass here.  Everything is lush, so green!

This wealth of weather and locale also translates to fresh greens, fresh fish, and tons of tasty foods to eat, all the time, everywhere.

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house-made soba within hours of arriving. heaven!

After a great night spent jamming on instruments with my sweet cousin, and swimming under the stars in their stellar pool, the next morning brought the first quarter of road-trip — to San Francisco.  A few stops along the way included Santa Barbara, where there was a fiesta taking place:

el mercado de la guerra

el mercado de la guerra

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heart-warming birria

The streets were lined with vendors selling painted eggs.  Lunch and churros and coffee were had.  And this was followed, a few hours later, by a stop in Steinbeck country, in Monterey.DSC09882At a nearby hotel restaurant, this friend stepped inside to tweet a few songs of friendship:

"tweet!"

“tweet!”

The thing about California is that it is hard to believe I share the same country with it.  Driving a little ways up the coast, and then primarily on Highway 101, I watched the state grow more beautiful.  From seashores to mountains, to forests, to hills, stretches of it would take on multiple characteristics, all surprising and other-worldly.  Maybe I have been in the midwest too long, but isn’t this lovely?

on the road, up to san francisco, your casual, every-day view

on the road, up to san francisco, your casual, every-day view

And don’t get me started on San Francisco.  Look at this.  Look.

IMG_1169DSC09899The one day stay in San Francisco led to a surprise visit to nearby napa.  Closing in on wine country, the scenery began to take on this expression:DSC09854DSC09852

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At the vineyard we tasted at, apart from the amazing wine Arger-Martucci produces, I was also clapping to find that rosemary can grow into bushes??  Aye me!

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To sum it up, California warmed my heart, and made me reconsider my fixed notions of always living somewhere with four seasons.  While I might miss my favorite autumn, and winter soups, I could always comfort myself with delicious seafood and eternal gardens?

UTAH

If we checked our maps, there is no magic carpet ride from California to Utah.  There is – no way around it – a necessary foray into Nevada, before one can drive through salt flats and ski slopes.  Nothing against Nevada, of course.  But in Reno it was startling to find, at the local Conoco, on my way to the restroom, an unsuspecting door that opened into a large, dark room filled with dozens of sweaty bodies, slumped and stapled to looming slot machines.  The flutter of colored lights reflected off of their foggy glasses.  Otherwise, they were expressionless.  Motionless.  It was an alternate universe, confined in an otherwise sunny gas station, sharing walls with the cold drinks and frozen Crunch bars.

This day, the drive was almost 13 hours, between San Fran and Park City.  The music?  The Nerdist Podcast, and Toro Y Moi.  The view?

DSC00054DSC00062Eventually, the reward came in the shape of this:

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salt flats, by sunset

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I’d never seen salt flats before. And, wow, is this why Salt Lake is called —? Everything makes sense now.

It was still a few hours before arriving in Park City.  By then, night made the mountains seem like sharks in a dark sea.  But morning brought this surprising perspective:

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That morning, there was an art festival in the streets.  I saw a lot of swank animal paintings, of zebras especially.  Most awesome was a cafe/tea house/used book store by the name of Atticus (as in Finch).  Emblazoned on tea shirts and reusable bags was a picture of bespectacled Gregory Peck with a teacup, underneath the motto: MAKE TEA NOT WAR.

Oh yes, I liked Park City very much.  Very, very much.

COLORADO 

Alas, Park City, and later, Colorado were only morning visits.  To arrive at the following destination before dinner always required an early start.  But there was still much adventure within the drive itself, especially when the sights and sounds included these:

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Oh, and at some point it started to rain, which was terrifying because we were in the mountains, with me driving.  But then:

NO I AM NOT MAKING UP THIS DOUBLE RAINBOW, THIS TOTALLY HAPPENED

NO I AM NOT MAKING UP THIS DOUBLE RAINBOW, THIS TOTALLY HAPPENED

Felicity.

Denver is fitness town.  Bikes on the loan everywhere.  Pups allowed in almost every establishment, walking out of hotels and into restaurants with apparent ease.  There was a complimentary yoga mat in my closet.  And what I loved is that the general sense of well being seemed consistent throughout the entire city.  Forgive me, but at home, in Chicago, whenever someone is into fitness, or bacon, or kindness, it becomes their “thing,” which either magnetizes similar minds or spurs away contrary thoughts.  In Denver, it didn’t strike me as “trendy” to find raw sugar and organic loose leaf tea at the morning coffee bar.  The table was set to fulfill the every day necessities of your average Denver civilian.  And when the braided valet girl brought over the car, and said, “Hey, have a nice trip!” I knew she would have handed over a fistful of protein bars, if she had any on her.

A quick trip to Marczyk’s Fine Foods, and on the road an hour later, I reflected on the days gone by with the sort of full satisfaction usually reserved for Thanksgiving dinner.  The music?  Bill Bryson exploring the short history of nearly everything, and more Toro Y Moi.  The view?

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classic midwest.

To be honest, the trip came at the perfect time.  Last we met, I was exhausted.  I was also feeling a bit bluesy about things.  A little lonely.  The trip was a relieving hug and a kiss, a very sweet blessing.  I return refreshed, purposeful, joyful, and greatly impressed by our native lands.   I want to share these feelings, and bloom all the good things planted in me over the past two weeks.

Thanks for reading this, for being here, friend.  And also, happy, happy summer!

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