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It's not a vacation until you've scared the locals.

Sara really wanted to see a coyote.  And the Octomom, who lives in Palmdale.  The coyotes are evasive creatures, so I'm sure we scared them off before we even knew they were there.  The Octomom... well, I don't think she's hiding from anyone.  Nevertheless, we didn't see her. Somehow I get the feeling that we hang in different circles. 
We know you're out there somewhere!

The people who say the journey is half the fun are liars.
I’m a white-knuckle flier.  Usually my coping method is Ativan, but I wasn't able to get my hands on any.  In a pinch, I've found that a nice wine and Xanax cocktail works almost as well.  I always keep my cool, but sometimes I’ll come clean to my seat mates if they seem approachable.

Most people are understanding and kind enough to talk to me during takeoff and landing, which helps to keep me from panicking.  Flight attendants are also sympathetic if they recognize that I’m a bit tense (usually they’re tipped off by the pill I have ready to wash down with the wine I've just ordered).

One leg of my trip was particularly rocky, so much so that the pilot actually warned us that the descent would be bumpy and to “hang on and don’t worry, we’ll be through it momentarily.”  I happened to be sitting with another panic-stricken passenger (she was way worse than me).  In between us was a patient older man who was getting his hands crushed from both sides.  The flight attendant assured us that the bumps were nothing to worry about, that she’s been through much worse, and that we’d be fine.  Just before she walked away to prepare for landing, she said “engine failure, however, would be a big problem.”  

I froze in my seat, happy that the patient man had a firm grip on my right hand to keep me from punching her in the head for mocking me.
The flight out of PDX was smooth enough for me to operate a camera and photograph Mount Hood.

Thank goodness my hiking shoes fit in my suitcase.
I packed my under-used hiking shoes in anticipation of a possible hike at Ecola State Park in Oregon.  Even though that hike was rained out, those shoes became my ruby slippers.  Of all the items I packed, they were the most valuable (even more so than the Xanax).  Within two hours of landing at LAX, my sister and I were trekking through the neighborhood and up a dusty hill to the aqueduct that overlooks the city of Palmdale.  We strolled along the sidewalk and then returned home through prickly bushes.  A few nights later, we hiked back up to the aqueduct with Tom and Pete to stargaze and citygaze.  It was twenty degrees colder than the daytime, but twenty times more awesome.

Vasquez Rocks
Vasquez Rocks tested my self-confidence.  A test I certainly failed, but at least I kept my footing and didn't go tumbling off a cliff.  The views were worth it, though.  From the top of the rocks, we could see for miles.  No coyotes anywhere, but we found juniper trees and drank in the fragrance of the berries.  Then, on the way home, we stopped at Agua Dulce Winery and did the same thing with the grapes, and – even better – did a wine tasting and food pairing.  What better way to reward ourselves after a good hike?

Devil’s Punchbowl reminded me of a miniature Grand Canyon.  It’s a steep switchback trail down into a canyon where a little creek winds its way to somewhere.  The trail is where all the fun is, though.  Just like the G.C., Devil’s Punchbowl looks a lot different from the top of the trail than it does from the bottom.  The reward?  Wine, of course!

Devil's Punchbowl

All that hiking (and wine tasting) strengthened me for the urban hikes in Portland.  Only a few hours after my arrival at PDX, I was trekking to the Pearl with Brad and Amy for happy hour with an adventurous group of people.  I couldn't even tell you how much of the city we covered that night, but it sure felt like a lot the next morning.  I woke up to a hangover that, mercifully, wasn't nearly as bad as it should have been.

Urban hiking in Portland
Brad and Amy live in a part of the city that is within walking distance of everything.  Psycho Safeway is next door, an art museum is across the road, Powell's bookstore is just a few blocks away, and the VQ (a fantastic place to get brunch) is down the street.  On Thanksgiving day, Brad, Amy, and Luka gave me a walking tour of the city, and then on Saturday, we (minus Luka) took a two-hour historical tour that spanned the river banks, the underground tunnels, and everything in between.  My ruby slippers even survived a soggy trip to Cannon Beach, through driving rain and blowing sand.  

Now I wonder where those hiking shoes will carry me next.

I’m happy to just eat and drink my way up the west coast.
Those are good burgers, Walter.
Everywhere I traveled, I dined like a local.  In Palmdale, Tom, Sara, Pete, and I ate something different every day:  Mexican (okay, I insisted we do that twice), Indian, Sushi, In ‘n Out, Coffee Bean, Nadia Cakes, Agua Dulce Winery, and Antelope Valley Winery.  Palmdale has pretty much anything you could possibly want to eat (except good pizza, but I didn't miss it anyway).  In Ventura, Tami and Tina took us to a Greek place for some great food, wine, hummus, and flaming cheese.  We even stopped for ice cream, but I didn't have any.  In Portland, Brad and Amy took me on a bar tour, introduced me to Portland-style happy hour, cooked a great Thanksgiving feast, and drove through a rain storm to a coastal restaurant that served Dungeness crab cakes (very different from the blue crab I’m used to).  

What I really like about Portland is how so many restaurants pride themselves on their locally sourced meals.  Brad and Amy even made Saturday brunch using nothing but fresh, local ingredients from the farmer’s market, including bacon from hazelnut fed hogs (hazelnuts are a common crop in the area too), fresh vegetables, sourdough bread, and some honeycomb to soothe my cough.  Palmdale didn't seem to be quite as self-sufficient, but if you’re looking to get high in the poppy fields like Dorothy did, then the desert is the perfect place.  Just be sure to fill your Nalgene bottle first, because the Scarecrow probably won’t remember to do it and you’ll be thirsty as hell when you finally wake up.

History is so much more interesting than what they teach you in school.
Um, you guys, I think this is what you were looking for.
Palmdale, CA, the aerospace capital of the world, is currently inhabited by more than a hundred thousand highly intelligent people.  However, the people who settled the place a century ago were not quite as bright.  Bound for Los Angeles from somewhere in the Midwest, the intrepid travelers were told to look for the palm trees, and the ocean would be just a little further.  Well, they mistook the Joshua trees for palm trees, stopped right there in the middle of the high desert, and set up camp.  They started building houses, general stores, and a post office.  They named their new town Palmdale, and apparently never questioned why there was a mountain range to the west instead of the Pacific Ocean.

The Willamette River: Once a brothel
Portland, OR has one of the most sordid pasts I've ever heard of.  Most famous are the stories of the crimping, or Shanghaiing, where innocent drunks were kidnapped post-blackout by the pub owners, dragged onto a ship, and forced to work, never to be seen again.  But let’s not forget that Portland was the first city to declare itself “Jap Free” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when they sent all Japanese citizens to internment camps (for which the city has now made amends with a nice memorial by the river).  My favorite, though, is the story of Nancy Boggs, who successfully operated a floating whorehouse on the Willamette River while being pursued by the governments of both Portland and East Portland (two separate cities at the time, divided by the river).  Both cities desperately wanted to bust her, but she managed to continually evade them.  Why were they after her?  Because she was a morally bankrupt female entrepreneur running a less-than-respectful business up and down the river?  

No.  It's because she wasn't paying taxes to either city.  Morals are for A-holes.

The Ruins of Detroit.
The Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
I didn't actually visit Detroit, at least not in person.  Being solidly accustomed to East Coast time, I was always the first one out of bed in the morning, so I had some time to myself while I had coffee.  On the kitchen island sat a book of photographs of the ruins of Detroit.  This book became my morning routine in California.

Detroit fascinates me.  Chrysler commercials make it look like blue-collar glam, not to mention some incredible musicians have come out of that place.  But for as quickly as it grew, it fell exponentially faster.  The photographs in this book depict homes, theaters, schools, and communities that appeared to be abandoned with haste.  These pictures looked more like a National Geographic article on Chernobyl rather than a modern American city.

A melted clock.  A cinema-turned-parking deck.  An open refrigerator with food still in it.  An abandoned train station.  A house with stuffed animals stapled and glued all over the outside.  A soft exterior to hide the rough interior?  Usually it’s the other way around.  Or maybe it is: A soft exterior to mask the tough outer shell which hides the soft heart inside.  Keep them guessing, don't let them see through you.  A city that’s been through some rough times is just trying to live with the damage while protecting its pride.  Maybe one day the city will prosper again.

Detroit, in my mind, is a beautiful city, but I’ve only seen it through the lenses of others.  Once artfully designed and proudly tended, it has the potential to be beautiful again to the rest of the world.  It will survive the vandals and looters who care not for those who love their home, and one can only hope that it will return to its original glory.  What if I actually stepped foot in Detroit?  Would I feel the same way about it?  Would it captivate me at close range as it has from a distance?  Would the city welcome me with open arms and make me feel at home, or would it send me back from whence I came filled with emptiness and disdain?  

Or will I have forgotten about those sad, beautiful photographs in a few months time and put Detroit back on the same mental shelf to collect dust and grow cobwebs?

It’s not a vacation until you…
Feeling very drunk and unholy at The Roxy.
Drink wine at 9 am.  Sunbathe in late November.  Eat an authentic deep fried taco with no guilt whatsoever.  Drink a hot toddy to avoid getting sick.  Have a Gangnam Style dance party in the living room.  Eat a drunken late-night breakfast next to a neon-haloed Jesus statue.  Forget what day of the week it is.  Order a margarita with a wine buzz and don’t consider what a bad idea it is.  Change your clothes three times in one day.  Search for “Skunkworks” postcards and feel genuinely sad when you can’t find any.  Spontaneously stop at a winery for a tasting on the way home from an exotic cat breeding facility.  Fantasize about being homeless on a California beach and living off roasted seagull.  Attempt to avoid a contact high from the homeless people smoking weed in front of the police station.  Order Jell-O shots at a bar.  Go Black Friday shopping for shoes and cough medicine.  Take a yoga class thinking it will cure a hangover.  Buy a new dress that you’ll probably never wear again once vacation is over.  Take a walk on the beach during a rainstorm.  Ignore email and Facebook all week.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I should do those things all the time.


  1. So glad you had a great time! We loved seeing you!!

  2. A wonderful post, as always. Such attention to detail. I wish I could write half as well as you do. Glad you had such a great time.

  3. Sounds like such a cool trip!! And great pics!


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