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Despite all of the time I’ve spent around palm trees lately, there is still something so enthralling about their presence to me as hoards of their silhouettes line the final stretch of my foray into Los Angeles.
It’s probably because I’m a pasty white girl from the Pacific Northwest, but their structure and plumage totally fascinate me, as does their ability to occasionally produce coconuts. My grandmother’s fridge was dotted with palm tree-related magnets, among the company of seashells that lined her mantle and cactus on her windowsill. There’s something about such tiny artifacts, foreign to the pine-tree motif and harsh winters of the Northwest, that suggest warmth of a different nature than what we experience in Spokane. Wherein last year, I spent much of the summer wandering around with a black eye and deeply broken sense of being through dry heat in Browne’s Addition, 365 days later I’m getting lost in Los Angeles at night and prolonging calling an Uber while I sing to passersby on the street. Whatever fire that has such a tendency to burn me inside out this far in life seems more inclined to power my heart when met with humidity and strange plants, and it absolutely loves Los Angeles.
I’m really not kidding. L.A. was so far off my radar before I left home. The way it has always been represented to me seemed too vapid and, dare I say, uninteresting to be worth visiting. In movies, it looked like ugly suburbs and plastic surgery and crowded beaches. In music, it was shallow glamour and gang-laden mean streets. I don’t know why all of these bleak aspects formed a conglomerate in my head that had me so disinclined to see it for myself; I can only guess that it appeared as a place that the most inane aspects of humanity had eaten.
In reality, Los Angeles is the hardest place to leave on my trip so far.
I arrive here at four in the morning on a Friday, catching the day’s first Red Line Metro to Hollywood. In the dark of the early morning, I walk down Hollywood Boulevard, barely able to make out the names on the stars of fame under my feet. I stumble into a Starbucks that has just opened and, like a true American, down 30 ounces of cold brew coffee before walking to the hostel I won’t be able to check into for another five hours.
It’s the first time in a while, after spending so much time with my family, that I’ve been completely alone with a whole day to myself. I ask myself what I would like to do in Los Angeles. At first, I wonder if I should go to Compton, just to see the birthplace of West Coast hip-hop’s most badass talent since its inception in the 90’s. And then I remember how Compton is rapped about and decide that a solo white girl with blue hair is probably not going to be very welcome there. As it is, the hostel sits right off of Hollywood, in the thick of obnoxious tourist bus tours and costumed movie characters. When I’m exploring it for one of the first times, I walk past a Jack Sparrow that, for a moment, I think might be the real Johnny Depp, pranking the public. I look back and Jack Sparrow shoots me a creepy wink and a wave. I keep moving. It seems that whenever I step out on the street here, the current of liveliness that runs through the hills, the noisy streets, and all the way down to the ocean is lighting me up and propelling me in every direction. The entire town feels bathed in a warm California glow that sets me alight without sucking my oxygen, despite the very real presence of urban smog.
I was warned by a couple of people close to me that Los Angeles was a car city and that public transportation offerings would be slim. This is actually untrue. Yes, it loves its autos—-with the exception of the wee hours of the morning, traffic is insane. Regardless, the city boasts an actually largely cohesive system of busses and subways, and though it requires patience, it is as efficient and stable as any system you might find in New Orleans or Seattle. When I decide to go to Venice Beach, it takes me an hour and a half; such long transit times are common due to the expanse of the city. I don’t mind killing the hours this way. I’m not in a hurry to do anything other than see. Often on my trip, most prominently when I’m riding trains between cities, I wish that time would move slower, the journeys would be longer; the peace of being able to just sit and observe new surroundings is that much of a gift.
Venice Beach is crowded, boho-gaudy, and wild; teems of folks in swimsuits and American Apparel walking the alleys between cluttered shops, the sand completely covered in the kind of people who might describe themselves as West Coast Beach Bums. (There is a difference between East Coast and West Coast beach people. The lifestyle of those in Florida, for instance, is more focused on relaxation and family, where the California folks are there to live out designer clothing ads.) Break dancers and magicians draw onlookers, as does an old man playing classical piano with a sign asking that you don’t photograph him without tipping. Some particularly inventive dudes sell “Hail Satan” signs for $5 each.
The second day I’m here, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. due to roommates who have chosen to turn all of the lights on and talk loudly in an Asian language. It’s a stark contrast to hostel life in NOLA, where my Australian counterparts would sleep off nightmare hangovers well into the afternoon while I’d wake up at eight, sober yet hot humidity-weary. My dreams over the past two weeks have become so vivid, and this factor coupled with how long I’ve been on the road, have me waking up every morning with a sense of placement in each new city so strong I forget that I have a life anywhere else.
As I roll around in my sheets, trying to not turn this over in my head for fear of ruining it, I remember that Los Angeles has an outpost of the Erin McKenna’s Bakery I visited in New York. These bakeries—gluten-free, vegan, and often with sugar-free goods—simultaneously make me homesick for Boots back home, and encourage a healthy amount of occasional gluttony on my part. The L.A. bakery is parked on an adorable stretch in Beverly Hills. The girl at the counter and I chat about Kathryn Schulz’ recent New Yorker article about the earthquake that will seemingly obliterate the Pacific Northwest, and the magma caldera beneath Yellowstone that will destroy everything else. The juxtaposition of a lively conversation about impending doom in the midst of such sweetness seems to be reflective of the person I’m becoming these days.
And I’ll tell you—it’s a person I am glad to be. Throughout the history of my being, I’ve lived the very odd reality of being a sweet, intelligent girl deeply confused by the world we live in; the resulting incarnations of such being a shadow side that is still finding the right fit for the practice of being a whole person. By some cosmic function, it is this aspect of my personality that has taken precedence in my relationships with other humans. For years, I’ve heard other people tell stories about it to me—that it came off as mentally ill; that it came off as jaded and cynical; that it came off as anxious and self-destructive; that it just plain scared the crap out of them. My grasp on it has been overestimated to the point where I’ve lost things about myself and people I cared about to all of the noise this has created for me.
I am reassured by my counselor back home on the regular that this isn’t entirely my fault, and is in fact one of the problems that women have to live with in our modern society. The last year has been an exhausting process of trying to pick up the pieces and craft them into something that makes sense to me. And what makes sense to me at this point, twenty-one years in, is that I’m done caring. You can think of me as apocalyptic if you’re inclined; you can tell me I’m a mess, or that I’m nuts, and all of it will have a grain of truth to it. But these things do not own me, nor am I going to put them away for you. It’s just beginning to matter less and less, because what I see in the mirror is a ball of girl-powered, gently loving fury that is too wild to need a definition of a society that I wasn’t very sold on in the first place.
I walk all over L.A. with this in mind, listening to the band Saint Motel and dancing on the inside through highs, lows, and peace. Saturday night, I am in the very front to see T.V. On The Radio, moving in maniacal joy while singer Tunde Adebimpe unleashes the lightning on a 5,000-person audience and the man in a white suit plays a trumpet behind him. I get lost that night trying to find my way back, getting on and off busses at wrong stops and at one point, spending 40 minutes waiting for one that never even shows up. In the Uber I take back to the hostel, the driver talks to me about Los Angeles and I about my rail pass, and I tell him the same thing I tell a lot of people these days as I exit the car—“you should totally take a train trip.”
Having been at it for more than a month by now, I’m honestly extremely tired. After California, I am giving myself a while to chill out in the PNW—you know, before it’s completely obliterated by the Cascadia subduction zone. (If you’re actually concerned about this, read Jim Camden’s piece which clears some stuff up.) Next time you hear from me, I'll be writing from Ashland, OR; home to Shakespeare everything and some really sick mountains.
That said, Los Angeles is yet another place that has captured parts of me, almost as if in a bad romantic comedy where the wealthy playboy turns the tables and shows the Manic Pixie Dream Girl how to free herself. (Just for the record, this is the only time you will ever hear me use that character trope in my vocabulary unless in the form of a worldly complaint.) The city I thought to be so bleak is in fact bathed in color and sounds like a trumpet orchestra playing every genre of music known to man. It's somewhere I could even see myself living pretty happily. The good news is that for its brevity, life is indeed an ample amount of time to live so many of the dreams we create. All one has to do is stop fearing the fire.
It is an odd phenomenon, the sound of your own voice, after nearly a month on the road alone. There’s a manner in which it seems to shift in its volume. Louder, as if to reflect the weight of your reliance on it. When you break hours-long silences to ask for directions, or coffee, or call your mother. The negative space of the quiet dissipating as it cracks through with proof of your existence. Where in Spokane, my voice is simply one in a series of the chatter that fills my day, now the sound of my voice is an entity that occupies space.
As of today, I've been gone for a month. I am asked a lot of if I am afraid to be wandering like I am. It’s a question that comes up in nearly half of the conversations about my trip that I have with people these days. In one instance, as I explain the details of my Rail Pass to a seat partner in a dining car, the woman—a retired schoolteacher picking at her vegetarian burger with a level of extreme skepticism—looks at me and said “Aren’t you scared?”
As if I am crazy for not being.
The tall, cathedral-like arches of the Golden Gate Bridge loomed ahead as I followed the line of cars in front of me. The day was overcast and traffic was shrouded in fog, draped in the mist blowing in from the bay.
I was a rolling island. All around me a sea of people were buckled into cars and walking on the sidewalks at the sides of the bridge, but alone in the car, behind the wheel, I was singularly solitary. And that was fine by me.
There is something about traveling alone that centers the psyche and opens the imagination. It is a rare pleasure.
There are no distractions; no music, no television, no idle chatter. There is no worry about housework or making dinner or folding laundry. It is a chance to leave behind the matters that worry and distract us.
For those of us who have spent years, happy years, at the beck and call of a busy family, the idea that we are free to board a plane or a train, that we can slip behind the wheel of a car and simply move away from it all, is exhilarating. The freedom goes to your head when you least expect it.
It’s not that we want to run away forever. It’s just that time away can be good medicine. The luxury of listening to our own minds refreshes and renews us.
I love my family. I love my home. I like being with the people who mean the most to me. But now and then, when I can arrange it, I take off on my own. No spas. No workshops. No schedule. Just a dot on the map; a plane, train or automobile, and a place to breathe in the peace and quiet.
On the surface, age has its cruelties. Gravity takes a toll. The years are etched into our faces. We become invisible, overshadowed by the young and beautiful. We learn to find our way without any of the tricks and trappings we relied on when we were just starting out.
But, as one eventually discovers, time bring its own grace. We discover that on the inside we are always young; we’re still who we always have been. And the fine sense of adventure that comes with any journey is evergreen.
Travel is the bridge between who we are, who we have been, and the person we want to be. A trip to a new place spans the years drawing out memories of where we’ve been and dreams of where we long to go. Each experience is, when you think about it, sweetened by the knowledge that time moves quickly and years have the stronger wings. Fly now, something inside us whispers.
Passing over the San Francisco Bay and back onto solid ground, I looked back at the Golden Gate in my rearview mirror, at the perfect metaphor for what I was experiencing.
I know a time will come when I’m bound to my home, or some place meant to be my home, and my wings will be clipped forever.
Until then, whenever it suits me, my life will be a road from here to there.
Like the saltwater of the Intracoastal Waterway as seen from the I-1 drive between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida and I have a deep history that runs like high tide through my veins. When I was maybe seven years old, I took a trip down with my grandparents to visit family. At the time, only my dad’s brother and his family lived down here—nowadays, I also have an aunt in Deltona and some of my mom’s family in St. Augustine. I remember returning after a little longer than a week’s stay, sitting in the living room at my parents’ house upon our reunion, and crying. On so many levels, even at that age, the state embodied magic to me—the ocean, the warmth, the curious array of birds. I didn’t want to be away from it.
The memory comes to me as a flash at some point while I’m in the car with my aunt Kim. Kim, my mother’s sister-in-law, is the personification of fierce love in several ways. Many of my relatives innately are. However, there’s a way I connect to her brand of strength in particular—whether it’s listening to her talk about her relationships with her female friends, her dynamic with her parents, or the chapter of our family’s hell when her son had cancer—that I haven’t found with most other females in my life. It’s raw, yet compassionate and grounded. It leaks through her when she sits at a table while we prepare a mailing for her kids’ school one night, as she tells me how amazed she is to see how I, my brother, and cousins have grown up; or when the two of us sit on the beach and talk about the nature of love. It hits me hardest when she brings up my grandmother.
Mary Lou Joseph was one of the great loves of my young life, and a presence who I have had to miss on the daily for around six years. It is normal for grandparents to pass early on in a person’s life, but I confess that the cosmos and I have had a couple of arguments where I’ve relentlessly whined about this. In her wisdom, her brilliance, and her unapologetic genuinity, she was a magical creature. All of the things I am learning about womanhood and life and love have a tendency to blow my head open more frequently than I’m prone to admitting, and as much as I feel cheated out of the perfect teacher, I feel guilt over neglecting my time with her in the final stages of her life.
Before M.L. moved next door to us when I was maybe nine years old, she lived in a blue house on a cliff by Vinegar Flats, and before that, she lived in Florida. It makes sense to me that the most magical person I ever knew in my life spent many of her years in a place that keeps its magic a secret. Yes, there are Dunkin’ Donuts all over the damn place; ditto for housing developments, confusing billboards, and strip malls. But if you look a wee bit beyond each of those things, you find hordes of cranes standing at the edge of man-made ponds. Marshes that are home to manatees in crystalline waters. Trees that have towered like giants for hundreds of years. A sky that boasts a variety of clouds to interrupt shades of blue that barely seem to belong on this planet.
Inland from Daytona Beach, a small town named Deltona is home to my Aunt Jeannie these days. She has long dark hair and the kind of laugh that will, even at this age, cause a rupture of joy so deep inside me that once I join her, it’s hard to stop. She possesses the sort of good nature where my words begin to spill the minute I sit in the car with her, and even though they slow down at points during our time together, they never really stop; the sort of good nature that furthers my belief in the magic that is inevitably drawn here (she is a Seattle transplant.) During our time together, we pass “Gilmore Girls” references back and forth, gleefully wander around Target, and take small adventures of all sorts.
She also lives minutes away from a place I’ve always dreamt of visiting. Cassadaga is oft referred to as “the psychic capital of the world.” A drive into the settlement along a tree-lined road shrouds the visitor in an eerie charm, and a giant wooden sign reads “Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp” right at the edge of where a small collection of houses begins. Cassadaga is tiny—it warrants the title “unincorporated community” instead of “town.” It was claimed in 1835 by a man named George Colby, who was prophesied to start a spiritual community during a seance in New York; since blooming into a hub for seers, mystics, and gurus. Bright Eyes, one of my favorite bands growing up, recorded an album named after the place, the opening track of which—-“Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)”—-has at moments been the very slim thread that has held me together and reminded me the world is a beautiful place to live.
The center of the activity is Hotel Cassadaga, across the street from the welcome center, and kitty corner from two blocks of home-operated psychic readers. There are multiple shops jam-packed with crystals, oils, incense, tarot cards, and the like. In one of these, I pay $25 to have a picture taken of my aura. The polaroid comes out completely red-colored. Red, in auric language, is said to indicate passion and physicality. In theory, a person has multiple colors in their auras. In this photo, my outline is swallowed by a large cloud of red, my body dark, and magenta hanging over the top.
“You need to let go of some of your anger,” the aura photographer tells me. “Forgive the people who have mistreated you.”
I tell her I’m working on it.
She points to the photo of her aura she wears as a badge around her neck, which is a murky white-indigo-blue, indicating enlightenment, she tells me. She’s worked very hard to have the aura she does, she says.
“You have potential, but I don’t think you love yourself,” she tells me.
My nostrils flare and I cock an eyebrow. If I wasn’t necessarily angry before, I am now. This is my least favorite conversation to have with people, and it’s one I’ve had a few times over the years. Because I am emotional, and because I have a dark streak, it’s been assumed that, as a woman, I don’t love myself; that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before I can pick a fight with her about this, she launches into a fifteen-minute oral history of how she acquired her aura camera. She writes a number down on the packet she gave me, and tells me I should consider buying one.
Afterwards, Jeannie and I wander back towards the car. On the ground, I find an action figure with flowers pinned to it. An odd artifact.
“What is that?” Jeannie asks me.
“It’s a fairy,” I tell her, because that seems the most appropriate answer. I take it with me, and later, pack it into the box of stuff I send back home to myself.
After Jeannie sends me off to Kim, I spend the next few days exploring the corner of St. Augustine they live in, drinking a lot of iced coffee, and running errands with her. She takes me to the old village of St. Augustine to explore the shops and eat gourmet popsicles. She also makes a point to take me to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological park.
St. Augustine is currently celebrating its 450th anniversary, having been founded in 1565. The Fountain of Youth is a site that traces back through its history, with replicas of early buildings, boats, and informational activities such as a planetarium. It is paradise for my geeky side, as I bounce around in models of old chapels and down the boardwalk that stretches a coastal inlet. The park is littered with peacocks that roam freely, some of which are albino, and the roar of a cannon periodically disrupts the quiet to send my aunt and I jumping out of our skin. In a small theater, we watch the voyage of Ponce De Leon explained on a three-dimensional globe. We leave just before the park closes.
My last day in Florida, my aunt Lisa (who is married to my dad’s brother) takes me on a bike tour of Jacksonville Beach. We drink at a rooftop bar that overlooks the sea, which is a variety of colors in the day’s calm waters. We coast along the beach shortly afterwards, for miles. I remember a bike ride I took through the area a few days prior, wondering if I was bad at loving; now, as a level of surreality sets in, the world becomes a simple matter of me passing beach goers, following my aunt, listening to the approach of a storm in a distance, and feeling my legs push the pedals. It feels a little like sorrow, but a little moreso like freedom. Having time with my aunts down here has affected me in such a way. The three of them—all strong, smart, gentle women—have allowed me to share myself in ways I’m still learning how to do, and what I take from this is an immense amount of relief that can only be explained by the mystical powers of love.
Before I catch my train, my uncle Tom takes my cousin Andrea and I to dinner on the river in Jacksonville. Only a few brief moments into being seated on the porch, the three of us fixate on a cloud of flying black objects hovering only slightly yonder. Throughout the course of our meal, we watch this giant mass of birds mimic the ocean’s movement in the air, flying in perfect harmony like currents. Other patrons take photos, and the waitress gapes in awe. None of us have seen anything like this before.
The bewitchery of Florida to me is present in some of the most beautiful shoreline to be found in the U.S., the wild that seems unfazed by the presence of a human world, and the succession of people I love who have found home here. The rest of the world seems to see a very different beast than I do, in the politics, retirement communities, and pastel-colored houses of Miami, but they just haven’t met the place properly. The feeling of leaving isn’t as devastating as it was when I was younger—I have the power now to return at will, and still things to look forward to on this trip. After I go see more family in the Atlanta area, I’m pulling a big fat smiley-faced route to Los Angeles, where I have a free ticket to see my most favorite of bands.
But at one point, Kim whispers to me under her breath “You should really move to Florida, Audrey.” She might be right. If I ever really want to start over, I have a trove of resources and dear people to make that a reality.
Yet it might be better to leave my relationship with it as it is—a place to escape that feels like home.
For the first time on this trip, I experience an adrenaline rush as I arrive at my destination. The exact cause of it isn’t something I can imminently identify — it is a mixed bag of panic, and excitement, and fever, but at this point in my life, it is a foreign sensation. Yet, as the train speeds into New York, it is all-consuming, and much of my experience here is similar. For the past few days I have experienced intense insomnia, emotional whiplash, and crippling loneliness, tempered by absolute serenity, joyful laughter, and millions of tiny, precious surprises. New York is built on the diversity and creativity of its inhabitants. The result is a place where every single element of the human experience seems to belong.
For the first while that I am here, it feels uncomfortable to refer to the city as “NOLA.” The term seems reserved for people more well-acquainted with the city. As a white girl from the Pacific Northwest, I feel awkward using this abbreviation in texts and Instagram hashtags. It is also a mere six hours into being here when Mother Nature begins to wreak havoc on my womanly body (it is, after all, approaching the full moon.) And it is with these tidings that I begin my four-day-long stay.
The first morning I wake up here, the kitchen at the hostel is closed while much of the space is renovated. I order a Buddha Bagel at Good Karma Cafe, a vegan stop located underneath a yoga studio two blocks from the hostel, then return and ask one of the desk staff where they would visit in the city as a traveler. The woman’s name is Jen. She carries a relaxed, guardedly sweet demeanor and becomes the person I talk to the most during my time in the area.
Jen tells me to visit the section of Magazine Street that borders Garden District. The French Quarter is absurdly popular, but Magazine Street promises vintage shops and a lesser-reported on part of New Orleans that holds a quieter, gentler charm. After dragging my butt forever on leaving the hostel—at this point, the humidity and ninety degree weather is beginning to take its toll on me—-I take a series of streetcars and busrides to find that she was absolutely correct. It’s in this neighborhood, with its tree-canopied streets, funky shops, and neighborhoods built on allies, that I really begin to soak in New Orleans.
The Garden District is every bit as historic and stately as the French Quarter, however, it lacks the mid-city confusion and replaces it with a whole lot of well-cared-for yards. Magazine Street itself is home to a mix of chain stores, locally-owned shops, and variety of food offerings, from Korean to Ethiopian to Cajun. Like I alluded to in an earlier post, there’s something about this town that makes its cultural mishmash seem perfectly harmonized and nearly intentional, even though the aesthetic organization does not always give this away at first glance.
I walk Magazine Street forever, but eventually no amount of ibuprofen can squelch the storm in my ovaries (insert bad hurricane jokes here at your leisure.) I finally give out when I find the Hey Cafe, a coffee shop that boasts air conditioning and Hibiscus Arnold Palmers, to relax and wait until I maybe feel better. This never happens. I surrender to the nearby bus stop, head back to India House, and curl up in bed for hours, convinced I can power-hydrate this off in time to catch a friend’s band at ten that evening.
I met Jason when I was thirteen and his family moved across the street. Years later, we re-acquainted ourselves in the context of a DIY-punk scene that bloomed in Spokane for a small but productive period, and for a short time shared a house in Peaceful Valley. His band Bad Hex is an emo/lo-fi punk aesthetic, and it is very good. On tour this year he brought Ellie, a wonderful magical creature who he happens to date, as well as Chase, a drummer I had never met before. When I find them at their gig in New Orleans, it holds an element of surreality to it, brought on by loneliness I’ve been in denial about, as well as the novelty of seeing old homies thousands of miles across the country. The act that opens the show sports the most aggressively obnoxious lead singer possible, boasting a swag he doesn’t actually have. Bad Hex, suffering some technical difficulties, sets up afterwards.
“Don’t go on tour,” Jason tells the audience multiple times while tuning his guitar. It's his brand of endearing pessimism, to which the crowd laughs nervously. He begins the set with raw noise, the kind he used to make with loop pedals perched on our living room floor at 2 a.m. It leads into an impressive show overall, and The Willow is a decent venue for it. Around midnight I know I’ve lost the war with my body and call a cab back to the hostel, bidding my pals luck on their trip to its ultimate destination— The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios.
There is a moment the next day when I am wandering aimlessly around the French Quarter Facetiming one of my best friends back home when the rain begins to violently pour. I hang up the phone and continue to walk in it while folks nearby scramble for the cover of awnings or businesses. Rain holds such a fascination for me, in its ability to somehow completely trigger a feeling of calm joy anytime I experience it. And as I walk through the emptying streets, completely soaking in my tank top and shorts while occasionally being cheered on by those less bold, I think about how this moment is something I’ve wanted my entire life. It’s not even an exaggeration. It’s a cosmic combination of everything that makes living special for me—-the raw power of nature, the spark of inherent joy in being human that makes the rest of it worth staying awake for, the fulfilling of a wish, and the freedom of adventure.
Later that night, I assemble myself for a 5-in-1 tour with Haunted History, a guided walking tour company out of New Orleans. “Five-in-one” entails the inclusion of locations pertaining to “Ghosts, Vampires, Witches, Voodoo, and Unexplained Mysteries.” This is the kind of stuff that they show on the Travel Channel specials that I even have the patience to sit in front of a television for. The two-hour-long trek does not disappoint. My guide, Lisa, was incredibly knowledgeable and articulate. She wove the story of each location in with a solid amount of background historical information pertinent to the city, a couple of humorous personal anecdotes, and an overall handle on the crowd that displayed a great deal of commitment to her job.
The route of the tour takes us through several pockets and sidestreets of the French Quarter that one might otherwise miss when strolling through, and at each stop we are given what feels like a loaded ten-minute lecture about its significance and the supernatural occurrences that have taken place there. What you have to understand about New Orleans—-in case you aren’t already aware of this—-is that the city possesses such a range of character that even tales of a vampire that has haunted the city for decades becomes imminently believable. Though it does have a reputation as one of the most paranormally active locations in the world, I view this as just another component to the innate magic of the city itself.
It’s the kind of magic that isn’t born of fairytales. Much like being human, New Orleans embodies the spells and curses that come from pain, shadows, and a lust for life that feels almost voyeuristic for someone like myself to encounter. But it all lives here, in harmony and balance, without hiding or pretending to be anything else. The entire time I am around, barely anyone speaks of Katrina, yet you still see her footprints in certain spots, in small ways, even a decade later. Certain parts of the city are so bleak in their being that I didn’t want to even pass near them. And yet, NOLA apologizes for none of it. It just wears all of these facets of its nature proudly and demands you to love it for such. And I do.
The last night I’m here, the city is sold out of hostel rooms and cheap hotels as it is slowly invaded by visitors for Independence Day. I have moved my ticket to NYC two days early at the behest of these circumstances. I stay up all night waiting for my train, walking downtown with my pack on my shoulders, trying as much as possible to keep off the streets. My ultimate savior is Deja Vu Bar and Grill, where the waitress assures me I am welcome long after I have finished my food.
At some point, I’m outside with the bouncer. The full moon that has thrown my body into such a huff is perched right above me, hidden behind dark gloomy clouds; the brazen picture of Southern mystery. I tell the bouncer that I feel selfishly privileged for the moment I am living—the intimacy that exists between myself, the sky, and the ground I am standing on. He tells me that he likes my ability to appreciate it. I take a picture and post it on Facebook. It is something precious that I can share a tiny bit of.
Three hours later, I’m on yet another train for another long voyage somewhere else, my pack hoisted into the carry-on storage and my earbuds drowning the noise in my head. New York City is two days away, and I’m ready to be rocked to sleep by the movement of tracks. New Orleans prepares itself to handle rowdy chaos like the expert it is as the distance between us grows, however, not before I have a chance to look back and whisper “thank you.”
The 59 City of New Orleans train is an identical vessel to the Empire line—-two levels, reclinable seats, outlets on the window side of each cabin, and a sightseeing/snack car. It leaves Chicago after an hour’s delay. If you are unfamiliar with the Amtrak system, I will explain that, first, the trains are not all identical to one another. For example, the trains I have taken up and down between Oregon and Bellingham are often only one level, with seats that are not nearly as comfy as the ones described in the first sentence. Second, one does not always get to choose their seat; occasionally, I have come across assigned-seating situations. Lastly, the ending location on your ticket is abbreviated on tiny, colorful scraps of paper, and placed above your respective cabin, in case you fall asleep before your stop and the conductor needs to wake you.
I seat myself next to a woman destined for Yazoo City, Miss., while eyeing the tags in my car—-studying my train route map to match abbreviations with physical locations, and identify whose window seat I’m going to take when they exit. While the practice does hold an element of immaturity to it, it is also so that I don’t have worry about intruding my neighbor’s space with my phone cord when I need to charge it, or giving her the creeps when I want to stare out the window at the new territory I’m passing through. The conductor tells me I have a few hours until the car starts emptying out. I kill this time in the sightseeing lounge, nursing a cup of coffee and watching lightning split the sky over Illinois, thinking about the nature of power and its relationship to love and beauty.
In Centralia I take my seat, and fall asleep around one in the morning. When I finally wake up, I’m somewhere in Tennessee. The landscape becomes distinctively more southern, as we swoosh through miles of meadows and descend through swamps over the course of hours. I listen to Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut record and wonder how my neighbor labeled it as “math rock” in a recent conversation, while the track “Uncatena” seems to perfectly match the speed of what I feel as a greater distance grows between myself and my home state.
As the train moves deeper into Mississippi, the sight of brown-watered rivers and white egrets complement abandoned structures and dusty townships. When I get off the train for a five-minute stop in a small town, the humidity is stifling—-like being wrapped in a warm, wet, invisible blanket.
Eventually, Lake Ponchartrain comes into view, as does the interstate along its shores. As the train nears New Orleans, I catch a glimpse of the Superdome, and remember that I’m about to visit a city that only 10 years prior was devastated by one of the deadliest natural disasters in our country’s history. There are still parts of New Orleans, I’m told when I get here, that still haven’t entirely recovered from Hurricane Katrina.
The city center is a jumble of the eclectic, ugly, wild, and stunning—-tall, bleak hotel buildings juxtaposing a variety of garish-seeming businesses, sandwiched by stately historic blocks and palm trees. It’s a place that seems to make room for all that encompasses its identity, owning the weird that such a composition is. Classic-looking streetcars run straight through downtown, with names like “City Park” and “Cemeteries.” I spend a lot of time during my trip trying to imagine the conversation that occurred between the powers that be in the world of local transportation here, overthinking why it seems like a grand idea to identify a street car with the world of death. But then, New Orleans itself seems inherently comfortable with the idea of death and shadows, as much as it is celebrated for its liveliness and resilience. For someone who has the number thirteen tattooed on her arm (in Roman numerals, so it is occasionally mistaken for “kill” by strangers), this is a relationship I can appreciate.
I check into India House Hostel, which sits on the edge of Mid-City. The inside is colorful and covered in art applied directly to the walls, amidst several Sharpie scribbles professing life wisdom of all varieties left behind by young travelers. I want to use the word “Bohemian,” in a non-ironic way, to describe the atmosphere, but here I will also note that the hostel is incredibly clean and well-organized. Out back, a 4-foot deep pool spans the radius of a raised deck. I am given a top-bunk bed in an all-female dorm right next to the air conditioning unit. This is a godsend like no other.
At twilight, I stand waiting for the streetcar on Canal Street. It occurs to me at this stage of my journey that at no point have I ever felt afraid of any aspect of my travels that, before the metldown I had last year, would have nagged at me. Things like being thousands of miles from home. Being completely and utterly alone. Being unsure about money matters, or if I would have a place to stay at night.
Instead, I only have this feeling, and the more I travel like I have been the past six months, the stronger it gets. It’s this sensation that I belong exactly where I am, as I am. I belong to the moment, seeing the things I see that are new, without trying to make anything else of it other than what it is.
I take a deep breath of New Orleans through my nose. I’ve dreamt about this place for years. Wondered endlessly about the magic so powerful here that the realities of its poverty, danger, and tragedy do not swallow it in any single way. And now I am here, baring my teeth and some hurt and a big heart, ready to fall in love for a few days.
The streetcar arrives, and I step aboard.
Within five minutes of my arrival, it becomes clear that Chicago—the streets of which are sparsely walked at the midnight hour—is both very much an alive place to land at any point in the day, and perhaps as a consequence, smells like poop. However, I feel safe and anonymous here, setting up a game plan to ensure that for the three days I plan to spend, I have the ability to get around easily and see as much as possible.
I purchase a three-day Ventra pass for $20, which allows me rides on all busses and trains within city limits (“You don’t want to go out to the burbs, man” the agent who sold it to me tells me) and walk to the bus stop that will take me to the "L" (short for elevated) train station. Chicago is quiet at night, but bathed in the glow of high-rise lights, which reflect off both the river below and the fog hanging above. I stand waiting for the 151 train, trying to take it in, though eventually remembering that the practice is more effective if I completely quiet all of the observations in my rapid-fire brain and instead notice the sensation of my own broad, shotgun smile in the humid air, and my feet standing on completely new territory.
It’s midnight. I’ve already phoned the hostel I booked at the last minute to tell them I’m checking in late, and when I arrive I am greeted by a woman who shows me where the bathrooms are, explains the fairly small set of rules, and leads me to my room, a four-bed women’s dorm in the basement. I plug in my electronics, tuck myself in, and conk out.
In the morning, one of my roommates, an older lady, introduces herself to me as I pull out of a hazy sleep and address the disaster that is my hair (dingus forgot to pack her hairbrush.) She grew up in Chicago and taught here as well, but now lives in San Francisco. I explain where I’m from and who I am, which only opens up the door to more questions I’m not yet ready to answer so as politely as possible, I run over this interaction with “BOY AM I HUNGRY!” and skitter upstairs for the promised free breakfast. This would become a pattern with her—the only consistent hostelmate for my entire stay—to deflect gradually prodding questions or meaningless chitchat with “WOW I HAVE TO GO DO THIS THING BUT I’LL SEE YOU LATER.” My social skills could probably use some work.
A short time later, I find myself walking towards the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I would learn more and more throughout the rest of my stay that Chicago, for a person like myself, is an easily walkable city. The place is completely flat, and for much of my radius, the streets were cohesive and easy. The neighborhoods I spent much of my time exploring were shady, boasting well-kept gardens, and endless rows of buildings that bore near-exact resemblance to each other. (The photo of my hostel demonstrates how most of the residences I past often looked.)
After plenty of tromping around in multiple directions looking for the Lincoln Park conservatory because Google Maps is consistently drunk on the power it holds to get me lost in foreign places, I come upon the Lincoln Park Zoo. For an hour, I let go of all of my high horses about animals kept in captivity and gleefully wander through buildings housing tigers, monkeys, sea lions, giraffes, and so on. My life becomes a scene out of an indie movie. I’m watching the humans around me and their interactions with jungle creatures, the Mountain Goats’ “Heretic Pride” giving me an almost sickeningly sweet background noise as I forget that I’m ever a well-informed grown-up with social anxieties that would make Boo Radley roll his eyes. I can’t remember the last time I was at a zoo, or even did anything remotely this simple and free in the pursuit of enjoying living. But eventually, I get cold, and decide that I feel really awkward without a leather jacket, and I probably need to go find one because I forgot mine at home (this would end up being a wild goose chase I would set myself on for the sake of exploring the city, which is a common practice I do on vacation. I never end up buying anything, but the wandering that kills my time is always worth it.)
After a nap, I wake up around 8:30 and decide that I need a drink. I take the subway downtown, and spend the better part of an hour walking through the fracas that is Friday night Chicago. Read: I comb through teems of well-dressed people looking for a bar where I won’t be swallowed in sports fans or uppity awkward mixology bull. I ask Google Maps to take me to a dive bar. It delivers.
Rossi’s is positioned between a 7-11 and a pizza parlor, dim-lit and small—a stark contrast to the glassy polished tables and italic print menus of its neighbors. The bouncer, sporting a long, ratty ponytail not unlike the one I rocked for most of elementary school, checks my I.D. and calls me “sweetheart” in a very polite manner. I order a greyhound and share a table with a gender-fluid person who is continuously hugged and purred upon by other patrons, while I scroll through AirBnb and nurse my drink. It’s an hour later that I find my new favorite thing, the Pick Me Up Cafe, a vegan-friendly late-night restaurant tucked into Clark St, and attempt to eat a Veggie Benedict with my left hand while chatting on the phone with the other.
Hunger sated and sleepy-eyed, I wander back to the hostel and lay awake in bed, listening to the sounds of dogs barking in the distance and the rain hitting pavement outside the window.
The next morning, I’m back at the Pick Me Up, drinking coffee and thinking again about whether or not I really need to purchase a jacket, reasoning with the parts of me that advocate for hella style, versus the parts of me that advocate for hella not spending money. I decide I’m not going to win this battle with myself, that the shores of Lake Michigan still haven’t met me, and nothing seems sweeter than to sit in the sand and pretend I’m at the ocean or something inane along those lines. I catch the Red Line, this time going north. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, the city and its inhabitants are bearing rainbows of every possible physical incarnation. The family sitting across from me on the train are following suit to match their marathon-running gear. I decide that I’m more in love with this city than I would like to admit.
I spend most of the day wandering the stretch of city by the shore. Lake Michigan could honestly be mistaken for any computer desktop background’s picturesque beach. The sand is white, the water shades of turquoise and dark blue, the waves gentle and steady. In Montrose, where it is bordered by a long stretch of pavement, I watch a man ditch his bike and jump in. Passersby make comments about the cardboard sign he put in the wheels, asking that no one steal it and explaining the rider to be in the water.
I walk all the way back to the hostel, and shower before meeting a friend of mine who attends the Art Institute at the Reservoir in Uptown. The restaurant is surprisingly reasonably priced, and the two greyhounds I order come out to less than $10 in what has to be a Chicago miracle. She and I discuss the nature of change, and the trap that Spokane can be for a young person’s growth; she expresses that her move across multiple states has allowed her the room to make a life that is real for herself. What she’s talking about is a real phenomena. People my age in Spokane seem so stuck in their lives that they don’t create with them, that moving forward is difficult, that malaise becomes normal. Many of us are simply making of each day what we can, without ever thinking too far ahead.
After she and I part ways, I decide to visit a jazz club that Gary Graham, the Spokesman’s editor, told me about. Unfortunately, the Green Mill charges a cover beyond my budget, and though I don’t make it in, I peak into the dark club with sharp curiosity before I decide to take the train back to the hostel and fall asleep.
As I finish writing this, I’m currently parked in Union Station, waiting for my train to New Orleans, watching a bold pigeon flirt with disaster in concourse D. I’m anxious to get back on the rails, head somewhere new, though I do love Chicago, and hope to return with my friend Danielle in tow eventually (she would just really love it here.) The time spent hopping subways and exploring various degrees of concrete-covered civilization, all the while in blissful seventy-degree weather, feels almost too good to prolong. I’m ready for my first bump down to the South, especially with the nature of my trip to New Orleans unplanned (I mean, I don’t even know where I’m going to stay at this point.) And I’m also just really ready to sit for a few hours at a time and watch some pretty scenery before I have to deal with the return of hot weather to my skin. I’ve been waiting to visit New Orleans for years, and it’s kinda looking like my introduction to the city will be in the winging-it-fashion that suits me pretty well or horrendously. Either way, I’m interested to see what the city will make of me….stay tuned to find out.
OUTDOOR TRAVEL — Good timing if you, like me, picked this summer for a wilderness adventure in Alaska.
Alaska's wildfire season worries scientists
While 2004 is currently the holder of the record wildfire year in Alaska, fire activity this month has put 2015 in contention to take over that record, with 391 wildfires covering more than 1 million acres reported thus far this year.
This article has a startling map detailing the location of the largest fires in Alaska.
On The Road
I wake up to the sound of my own voice, emitting a throaty howl from my seat on the Empire 28 Builder.
This has only happened one other time in my life, during a nightmare about my neighbor’s dogs probably fifteen years ago. But now, I am a grown woman, waking the nearby baby and perturbing the man in the seat next to me, as the train rolls into Sandpoint.
“What’s wrong with you?” my seat companion asks.
I don’t know exactly how to explain that watching a passenger pass between cars a few feet ahead of me had registered as having my house broken into during my half-asleep state. The angle from my seat to the doors was akin to my bed and the door to the hallway in my bedroom. For a split second, all of my roommate’s fears about having our place broken into became real, until my surroundings set in and they weren’t. All I can do is play off feeling like an a-hole and apologize to this man and the people across the way from me. As he leaves—-Sandpoint is his stop—I take his seat by the window, wrap a blanket over myself, and laugh myself to sleep.
So begins the first leg of my voyage, a two-day route between Spokane and Chicago. After it passes the Idaho panhandle, the train carves through a Glacier Park that is hidden from much of civilization and gives weight to Montana’s “Big Sky” claim, meadows and mountains positioned under a crisp blue sky and thin, wispy clouds. Afterwards, the landscape remains largely flat and eternal, peppered with modern ghost towns where the train stops but passengers seldom board. These hamlets—with names like “Malta” and “Wolf Point”—seem to exist in the realization that they are barely places at all, but their residents will occasionally be seen walking a dog or riding a bike; proof of life not swallowed by the loneliness their hometowns possess.
Having forgotten to pack food for the trip (nothing about being on the road for two days triggered in me the realization I may need to feed myself) I eat an evening meal in the dining car with an aging couple and Eric, who is preparing to return to school so he can become a “real paralegal.” I douse my bean burger in mayonnaise, much to the mild horror of the gentleman sitting across from me. The Amtrak black bean burger is actually a decent meal, served with kettle chips but clocking in at $11.50. The first time I ate it was during a ride back from Seattle with my friend Lauren, whose book of poetry was just published by the University of Hell Press (and is one of two pieces of reading material I’ve taken with me for this trip.) The practice of trying to converse with the strangers you are seated with in the dining car never gets less awkward, but now I seem to have developed a system where I rely on my weirdness and whatever charm that holds to deflect questions about myself (“Yes, I do my blue hair myself! It makes me feel like a mermaid.” “I go places by myself all the time. It’s just easier.”) After the couple leaves, Eric, the not-real-paralegal tells me he really just wants to open up a Poutine foodcart or travel to India. I tell him to do both things, because going back to school for a career his current degree doesn’t match sounds way too boring to me. He tells me he likes my can-do attitude. I pay my check and bid him good luck with his life in Fargo.
Halfway through Minnesota, the sight of trees and shrubbery becomes more frequent. The Mississippi river appears, and the dwellings become more suburban-looking. Corporate America pops back up in the form of McDonald’s and Wal-Marts. We stop in Minneapolis, which I was only told I should have planned to visit right before my departure, so I probably won’t. I get off the train to stretch my legs and breathe air, half-contemplating jumping from the platform into a nearby field so I can roll in the weeds. After the screaming incident, I decide I’ve caused enough trouble at this point and get back on the train before we continue.
Wisconsin is surprisingly beautiful—lakes, forests, and golf-course communities whose inhabitants take walks in the sunset. Milwaukee’s river is an unnatural lime green. I express curiosity but no one arounds me seems to know how to explain this.
On hour 47, we pull into Chicago. I’ve listened to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” probably like five times in its entirety by now, noticing new nuances that haven’t registered in the bajillion times I’ve listened to the album back at home. Rap music and empty landscapes seem to complement one another in a way I can’t explain—or maybe it’s that the violence of Lamar’s art keeps me feeling alive when the wild outside looks less so for long stretches of time.
I’m on the phone with my mom, telling her about my hassle with the State Department and its doubt of my identity as a US citizen during my passport process. How, when I called the passport information center today to check on the status of my application, I became so infuriated with their bass-ackwards bureaucracy that I yelled at the agent and cried after hanging up.
(When, about ten days ago, I got a letter in the mail asking me for five more pieces of proof of identity, I wondered if this was a cosmic joke. I struggle with the notion that I am a real person sometimes, and at that point, it was especially infuriating trying to sift through. This is derived from multiple instances—my upbringing, my relationship patterns, my interactions with the rest of the world that seem to pit me on the extremes ends of a spectrum between “Magical and mysterious” and “damaged and bizarre.” I have my doubts some day, and now the government seemed to, as well. However, if I don’t get my passport processed by the end of July, I can’t attend a music festival that I paid $500 to attend, and the festival itself will not refund my money.)
As the train nears the station, I tell her I love and will call her soon. I gather my belongings, hoist my pack on my shoulders, and step out onto the platform.
On Thursday, read about Audrey's adventures in Chicago.
I am a Spokanite by birth. As I grow into adulthood, in all the mess that such a practice is, I am able to sate my wanderlust more frequently as I untangle myself from who I am and what I want my life to be. Last month, it was a week traveling up and down the coast of Washington and Oregon. This month, it’s a whole new ball of wax in my practice of leaving home to experience myself and the world beyond. With my tax refund and some magic, I purchased a 45-day Amtrak rail pass that allows me 18 segments of travel in that period. Eighteen segments is plenty of travel, if you play your cards right and allow room for flexibility with the system.
Here, my morning ritual consists of: hazy-eyed dips in and out of consciousness in the hours between five and seven, the heinous sounds of my phone alarm around 7:25 a.m., a long groan, a roll out of bed, the donning of a sweater, and a walk out onto my downtown apartment's roof to stare at the sky and breathe in whatever the day may be. It's the method to my madness - I am a young woman who works two jobs in a city where I hold a certain amount of notoriety, and this time that I give to myself helps me with reckoning the world outside with the world within.
I assume my perch above an oft traffic-heavy street, before the rest of Spokane is awake enough to stroll its sidewalks and roll over its potholes. Being above it all allows an overview of my worldly day-to-day life, comforted by pigeons and the creeping morning light before I have to go meet the world halfway. The practice is born out of a longing to be unapologetically wild, with the understanding that I have to be a grown-up. That my responsibility as a young woman is to be the best version of myself I can muster (with mixed results, depending on my mood), but to not take any of it too seriously.
It wasn't until the cusp of slumber Monday night that I realized this was going to be my last night in my own bed for a solid while. I hugged my stuffed animal Maxine - the best companion I've had for the last fifteen years - and woke up with one of the most obnoxious songs in recent popular music history blaring through my head. In my green lawn chair, I told myself how much I believed in myself, even though at this point that should be the last thing I ever worry about.
At 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, I boarded my first train that began the six-week adventure across the country. Adventure is a huge thing for me, as I believe it should be for everyone, and this summer I'm taking off until August. A lot of people asked me why I was going. I don't know how to explain that, without being deconstructed, adventure should be reason enough. The question should be, why wouldn't I go? But instead I said, "to get out," or "to see other things" or "just because."
The truth runs a little deeper than that, though the nature of truth is something I tend to question frequently. I suppose a more whole explanation would be that the world puts a lot of noise in my head, and when I'm on an Amtrak (your girl has 1,500 guest rewards points at this point, from April on alone) it tends to shut up. The effect of riding a train is slow, comfortable stillness, punctuated by baby cries and the chatter of baby boomers about whatever cruise they're going on or family they're visiting. There is occasionally the loud drone of intercom narration about the scenic or historical importance of what is passing outside. And then there is me, tucked into my chair, head on my knees, melting into it all because it feels like home.
My first stop is Chicago, via the Empire Builder, which passes through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin before Illinois. The Airbnb rental I requested - a privately run hostel for "open-minded music loving travelers" - was rejected, but I'm not too heartbroken over being denied the opportunity to sleep on a couch because I don't seem hip or underground enough on my freaking Airbnb profile. The fact that every hostel or room I've tried to book so far has backfired seems like a either a sign I'm already blowing this, or maybe the Universe has other ideas for me. Before I left, I was honestly more focused on tidying up my work as a photo archivist at the Spokesman, so the sweet colleague covering my post won't be overwhelmed by searching through the messy debris of folders with names like "FIRES" and "greek" that would only make sense in the jumble that is my head.
Nor did I raise a big stink about leaving. I hadn't even spoken to some of my closest friends in the weeks leading up to my departure about the trip at all. Tuesday morning I experimented with telling people that it was the last time they'd see me until August. It just made things awkward as I suspected it would.
It feels odd to even be writing this and telling you - whoever you are, whether you know me or not. I don't like saying goodbye, ever. It implies having to miss someone, which is my least favorite activity in the human experience. And to think that I’ll even be missed, given the relatively short time I’ll be gone and that I never really leave the people I care about behind (for better or worse), isn’t something I have the energy to wrap my head around right now.
Instead, I’m thinking of trees passing by me out the window. Of beaches, of big city skylines, of new smells and new streets to walk. Of waking up on a train. Of waking up on a stranger’s couch somewhere to the sounds of their own morning routine. Of waking up in my family’s house in the South. Of all of the things I can’t even begin to expect or imagine because it will be life, somewhere totally different.
I have a few stops specifically plotted out, per the guidelines of the my rail pass. After Chicago, New Orleans. Then New York, then Savannah, Georgia, and then Florida, where I spent my summers as a tween with my dad’s brother and family. I have been given the honor of being able to share my experiences here on the Spokesman site - to take Spokane with me in a way that is endearing and feeds my writerly hunger.
So, though I am not fond of goodbyes, I believe that it is not applicable in this context, because this post marks the beginning of showing those who choose to follow me all of the places my feet will stand on and traverse, the beautiful and curious things I’m beyond excited to see, and the observations that bubble up as a result.
In essence, an opportunity to explain the ever-evolving concept of adventure, so you can understand its importance to me, and maybe ponder about it for your own.
It was prime time in Paris. Friday night, just after 9pm, and the sidewalks of Boulevard du Montparnasse were crowded with people celebrating the end of another work week. There was just enough chill in the soft September evening to make me pull the soft cashmere wrap I always bring along when I travel, closer around me.
I was taking one last stroll before going back to the Hotel Le Littré to pack my bags for an early departure in the morning and I’d just passed a small cafe when two women stepped out of a doorway and out onto the sidewalk ahead of me.
Even with so many other people around, I noticed the women immediately because they were both dressed in vintage clothing from the 1930s or 40s: floral dresses, close-fitting hats and shoes with short heels. Both were wearing coats and carrying handbags.
The women walked quickly, purposefully, and the sound of their heels striking the sidewalk rang out over the noise of traffic moving along the busy street.
I suspected they were part of some theater troupe or art installation because they were well aware of the looks they were given as they passed, but I loved the serendipity of the moment. Every time I’m in Paris, usually staying at Le Littré, a small pre-war hotel on a quiet street tucked into a residential area in the 6th Arrondissement, I imagine the human drama the street has surely seen. Sometimes, late at night when I can’t sleep, I hear laughter or a woman’s heels on the pavement and imagine similar sounds have been heard many times in the past century. I could close my eyes and travel back in time, supplying a visual image to fit the sounds, putting them in the age of my choice.
That was part of the appeal of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” wasn’t it: the idea that time settles around us in gossamer layers and—if we are fortunate and open to the experience— we can move in and out of history when the moment is right.
And there, on my last night in the city, the two women had given me my own not-quite-midnight in Paris moment.
I reached into the pocket of my coat and pulled out my phone. The women were walking fast and I had to hurry to keep up with them, but just before they turned and entered another doorway tucked between two storefronts, I held up my pone and snapped a photo. The light was poor and I was moving as I pressed the shutter button, so I didn’t expect much out of the shot. After the women were gone, I walked on, soaking up the energy and beauty of Paris before I had to leave, walking as far as the Musée Rodin before turning around and heading back to my room.
I flew out the next day and the women and the photo on my phone were forgotten. It wasn’t until later when I was going over all the photographs from my trip that I found it and the moment came back to me.
I’d expected a shaky, out-of-focus, image and that’s exactly what I got. But what I hadn’t expected was the effect. You could clearly see the two women in period clothing walking on a busy street at night, illuminated by lights from the stores and headlights of cars on the Boulevard. But the colors faded into one another and all the lines and edges were softened. The photo on my camera looked exactly like a watercolor that could have been painted 80 years ago.
Of all the photos I’ve brought home from my travels, the watery image my camera produced without any filters or manipulation on my part, is one of my favorites. I’d somehow managed to capture exactly what I experienced: a you-had-to-be-there moment in a beautiful city with a rich, dramatic, and poetic history.
So, I set aside the cliche photos of the Eiffel Tower, Pont Neuf and Notre Dame. They are a dime a dozen. The blurred image of two women dressed for another time is the one I chose to keep where I can see it every day.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap's audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at email@example.com
On the night I attended “Untamed Antarctica,” the final program in WestCoast Entertainment’s premier season of the National Geographic Live! series, I settled into my seat expecting something close to the classic travelogue: a big screen, canned music and the detached voice of a narrator describing places I’ve never been.
What I got was so much more. WestCoast Entertainment’s National Geographic Live! series at the INB Performing Arts Center offers everyone a chance to see the world as only National Geographic photographers can capture it, and a chance to see and hear the men and women who lived it.
For Untamed Antarctica, after a brief introduction by Jack Lucas, TicketsWest and WestCoast Entertainment President, award-winning veteran climber and explorer Mike Libecki strolled onto the stage (co-climber Cory Richards was scheduled to be there but flight delays left him stranded in Denver.) Libecki was relaxed and comfortable on the stage.
With humor and sometimes self-deprecating honesty, he shared the story of the team’s ascent of a sheer rock peak at the bottom of the world as dramatic images filled the giant screen, stopping the video from time to time to share some fascinating commentary or to add insight to what we were seeing.
Libecki looks for what he calls “Virgin Earth”—places that have not yet been conquered—and during “Untamed Antarctica” he chronicled the battle with wind, water, cold and time that at times threatened the success of the adventure. When one photo showed him grimacing as a bandage was placed over a spot of frostbite on his face, Libecki took the opportunity to share the personal philosophy that drives him.
Life, he told us, is made up of moments that can be categorized one of two ways: The good moments are joy, the bad moments are simply pre-joy. I thought about that comment for days after the show. On the surface it appears a bit simplistic, but it reveals a lot about what drives someone like Libecki, who seems to thrive on doing life the hard way, and it’s not a bad lesson for the rest of us. The bad days are just the prequel to the good times ahead.
After each program Lucas returns to the stage and sits down with the National Geographic Live! explorers for an informal chat. Audience members are invited to submit questions on the slip of paper that is included in the program.
Next season, beginning in November 2015, WestCoast Entertainment will bring four more National Geographic Live! programs to Spokane as an addition to the Best of Broadway series. The series will include an astrobiologist on space travel, up-close wildlife photography, a feature on endangered big cats: tigers, cougars and snow leopards, and the story of an epic 700-mile biking, rock climbing adventure. I’m already planning to be there and I’m going to take my family.
If you want a window to the wider world and and a chance to see and hear the story from the explorer(s) who lived it, National Geographic Live! is just the ticket.
For more information about WestCoast Entertainment’s National Geographic Live! series go to www.bestofbroadwayspokane.com
<i>Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on NPR stations across the country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org</i>
The first time I remember being filled—being overcome is probably a better description— with the need to travel was when I was 12 or 13. My mother and I were driving across the county and we passed through a sleepy farm town a few hours from home.
There was a Hollywood back-lot familiarity to the structure of the town: A main street, framed on either side by small storefronts, a couple of churches, a warehouse by the railroad tracks and a small but still functioning passenger depot
It was when I saw the depot I lost my head. I’d never been anywhere by train and here was a picturesque whistle stop just a couple of hours from home. I begged my mother to let me take the train and spend a night in that small town.
I could see myself arriving and checking into the hotel. I could see myself having dinner in some small cafe, watching the people as they came in and sat down for a meal. I could see everything about the experience but the fact that I was a child who wasn’t old enough to travel like an adult.
My mother’s answer, once she realized I was actually serious, was no, of course. And I was heartbroken. The ride home was long and uncomfortable, the silence broken only by my tears.
I said I was going to stay home more this year and so far I haven’t been anywhere. But, of course, assignments I hadn’t anticipated are tempting me to a few places I haven’t seen before. So I have travel on my mind.
I have a secret suspicion my family believes, even though they do not say it aloud, that I sometimes like to travel on my own to escape them. But what they don’t know is that the very opposite is true. They are with me no matter where I am. But, sometimes, in a new place, I am able to get a clearer picture of who we have all become.
When I am at home, they are never far from my thoughts. Even when I try to push them into a corner, the people I love, all the quirky, precious, problematic people who make up my family, are always on my mind.
And the moment my attention strays from whatever task I’m working on, there they are, front and center. I often find myself sitting with my fingers still and frozen just above the keyboard, the brochure or column or whatever else I’d been writing forgotten for the moment.
Instead I am thinking about the son who is trying to find his way, worrying about the daughter who is too far away, the married daughter who is struggling to balance her own career and a family, or missing the youngest who is just beginning to figure out who she is and where she will go.
I see them as adults but that view is filtered through the images of their childhood and my time as the mother of four children.
At home everything reminds me of my children as they were; the house is full of photographs, mementoes, heirlooms and souvenirs of the life we’ve lived. I fold laundry and find an old t-shirt one of them left behind on the last visit. I look into the refrigerator and it feels strange to be making a meal for only the two of us after so many years of feeding a crowd.
I pick up toys after the granddaughter goes home and I’m assailed by memories of her mother playing with the same things and wonder at the speed at which the years have flown.
When I am home I can’t get enough distance from who we are were to see who we are now. But when I travel, especially when I am alone, the hotel room is sterile. No memories linger in its corners.
The landscape, sometimes even the language is unfamiliar and it’s then that I find myself figuring things out. It is as if I’ve brought a puzzle with me and relaxed, away from the distraction of what used to be, by looking only at the way the edges fit and not at the picture on the box, I can begin to piece together the mystery of the people I love.
Alone, with enough time and distance to think clearly, lying awake, unable to sleep in a new time zone, I replay our time together and sometimes there are sparks of clarity that startle me. I recall some small tone of voice, some turn of phrase or brief body language I missed in the moment. Sometimes, when they are not in front of me, I see more than I saw before.
Of course, this goes both ways. I’ve noticed that when my grown children return after some time apart, they seem to be making their own adjustments to us, their parents. Most of them, and the youngest is almost there, chart their own course. They make decisions, sometimes life-changing decisions, without our input, just as we did at that age. But the awareness that we won’t always be here is creeping in and without the tension of the adolescent and young-adult tug-of-war for independence, they are more relaxed, more affectionate toward us.
I don’t say any of this to them. Not now. I let them tease me when I occasionally go off on my own because they’ll figure it out eventually. True love is impossible to leave behind and, like a star, sometimes shines brighter in a different sky.
On the surface, attraction seems to be mysterious and hard to predict. What is it exactly that takes, puts them together two individuals and makes them into a couple? It’s surely something deeper than superficial appearances and it has to more than some random spark of sexual chemistry. So what draws us to the mate we choose?
Apparently, according to the book I’m reading, it’s all in the voice.
She speaks. He listens. He speaks. She listens. They get closer. Then comes a little preening, a little flirting and before anyone is fully aware of what’s happening, it’s just a short hop to building a nest, hungry little mouths to feed and the constant juggling of daily chores and endless live-or-die decisions.
This is probably the time to point out I’m reading a book about backyard birds of the Northwest, and the writer was describing the courting rituals of male and female goldfinches, but it seems to me the process is not dissimilar to the route most of us take when we find “the one.”
The writer, Bob Waldon, addressing the mating habits of the male goldfinch in Feeding Winter Birds in the Pacific Northwest, writes, “He bonds to his mate by learning the notes of her song and playing them back to her.” To paraphrase: She sings, he sings, they sing. And then it’s down to business.
Contemporary cruising is all about getting a personalized travel experience designed to match your interests. Like to watch Dancing with the Stars on television? Holland America’s Dancing with the Stars: At Sea cruises put you on the dance floor with your favorite show celebrities.
Celebrity Cruises has partnered with Bravo TV’s Top Chef show for Top Chef at Sea cruises that put foodies shoulder-to-shoulder with the show’s featured chefs and select itineraries will allow passengers to compete in a Top Chef-style cooking competition.
This year Princess Cruises debuted Chocolate Journeys featuring delectables by chocolate expert, Norman Love. In addition there will be chocolate tastings and cooking demonstrations and the cruise line has designed unique and luxurious chocolate spa treatments for a complete experience.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises will bring on a French master chef and offer chateau and wine estate tastings on its Bordeaux, Vineyards and Chateaux voyages in France.
Family Fun on a Big Ship
Multigenerational travel continues to be a growing trend and a number of cruise lines have themes that ensure a good time for everyone. Disney Cruise Line’s October Halloween on the High Seas cruises take Disney World and Disneyland’s popular Hallloween celebration out of the park and brings it on board the Disney Dream. When they’re not playing on the beach at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, kids and adults can Trick-or-Treat with the Princesses or party in costume at Mickey’s Mousecarade. The cruise line’s Very Merrytime Christmas cruises are another popular holiday option.
Carnival’s Seuss at Sea, Dr. Seuss-themed itineraries are also a good option for families traveling with small children.
Music, Movies and More
Carnival Cruise’s Carnival Live series gives passengers a chance to attend a concert with popular musical acts with VIP seating and a meet-and-greet opportunity, for around $100. Musical acts for 2015 include Smokey Robinson, Rascal Flatts, Journey and STYX. I took a 2014 Cozumel cruise featuring Martina McBride and it was a fantastic experience. It’s rare to see a big name performer in such an intimate setting and the show was spectacular.
Cunard Cruise Lines’ Insights enrichment series brings aboard popular speakers and entertainers from astronauts to political figures. Past notables have included bestselling author Margaret Atwood, filmmaker George Lucas and actor/comedian John Cleese. The programs are offered several times each day and are the perfect way to spend a few hours on a day at sea.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at email@example.com
OUTDOOR TRAVEL — The Canadian — Rockies, ski resorts, fishing waters — are calling louder than ever.
Pack the bags, baby, this a great opportunity to head north across the border.
Plagued primarily by plummeting oil prices, the Canadian dollar — the loonie — reached its lowest value in six years in recent days, trading on the global market for barely 79 cents U.S.
- Click here to view a conversion calculator showing the exchange costs for U.S. and Canadian currencies.
A year ago, anxieties were already rising after the loonie dipped below 90 cents for the first time since mid-2009.
This is troublesome for business that rely on Canadian tourists coming to the US, but it's an invitation for US citizens to visit Canada.
Analysts forecast the loonie may keep dropping in value through spring and potentially summer perhaps as low as 75 cents U.S.
The stereotype of the avid birdwatcher is classic: a well-equipped enthusiast wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest lens, peering into the trees through the most expensive binoculars, traveling to all the most exotic corners of the globe to be able to check another bird off the official life list.
But there are just as many of us who simply want to be where the birds are. We carry our mid-priced super-zoom cameras and our mid-priced binoculars and we take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color.
That’s what drew me to McAllen, Texas. As one of the premier birding locations in the country, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is home to 9 World Bird Centers. Thanks to the region’s temperate sub-tropical climate there are more than 400 species of birds which live in or pass through the area and, for the most part, you don’t need anything more than a good pair of eyes to see them.
Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, just 5 miles from McAllen, is a birder’s delight. The 760-acre park adjoins another 1,700 acres of federal wildlife refuge. Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.
But the thing Bentsen offers that makes all the difference for the casual birder is a bird blind strategically placed near a feeding station. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities. Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. This makes it possible to get a pretty good photo with a point-and-shoot camera or even, if conditions are right, with a cellphone. All you have to do is sit and watch the show.
January and February are prime months for birdwatching and we were there on an unseasonably cold (for Texas) November day, during a weather event that had most of the country in the deep freeze. Temperatures hovered in the high 40s and the sky was overcast. But the birds kept coming to feed. I sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter again and again without disturbing the birds. Great Kiskadees swooped down in front of me and drank from the small pool of water. Green jays postured and fluttered at the feeders. A golden-fronted woodpecker fed at the peanut butter log. It was great fun.
When the trolly came around I surrendered my seat in the bird blind knowing I’d managed to get one or two good photos with what I had on hand. I don’t have a formal list, but I could have checked off a few that day:
Green jay. Check
Great Kiskadee. Check.
Golden-fronted woodpecker. Check
All for the price of the park’s $5 admission.
Birding can be an expensive hobby. But, in the right place, it can simply be great fun at little expense. I can see now how the whole enthusiast thing gets started, though. The one bird I’d heard so much about but didn’t get to see was the beautiful Altimira Oriole. I saw a nest that had been blown down in a storm but no bird, so I feel like I didn’t quite finish what I started. I guess I’ll have to go back to McAllen. With an official list.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
They are one of the first signs of the holiday season: bright red cranberries in a sauce or compote on the Thanksgiving table. Sometimes they’re part of the centerpiece or decorations and they’re there all the way through Christmas.
It used to be that when the holidays were over, the cranberries were gone. But that was then. In the last decade cranberries have moved out of the holiday-only aisle and into the year-round pantries of most Americans. Now they’re baked into cookies and scones, sprinkled on salads and eaten as a quick, healthy, snack.
Most of us grew up with a kind of Norman Rockwell-inspired image of New England as the only place cranberries grow but that isn’t true. Wisconsin has been growing and harvesting the berries for 140 years and since the mid-1970s has produced more cranberries than any other state. Today, more than half the cranberries grown and consumed around the world come from Wisconsin, with Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington trailing.
In the last few years a new industry has grown up around the Wisconsin cranberry harvest: Agritourism. Now you can tour the marshes and get a glimpse of the unique processes involved in growing and harvesting one of the three fruits that are unique to North America (the others two are blueberries and concord grapes.)
I was curious and joined a tour at two Wisconsin cranberry farms: Glacial Lake Cranberries and Elm Lake Cranberry Company.
At Glacial Lake Cranberries we boarded a bus and drove along the narrow pathways between flooded marshes. The iconic image of cranberry fields is a flooded bog filled with floating berries, but they don’t grow that way and the low-growing vines are perfectly acclimated to the sandy soil acidic soil left behind Wisconsin’s ancient glacial lakes. From June through late September they form and ripen. Then, during harvest the marshes are flooded and red-ripe cranberries are scooped off the vines by special tractors (this used to be back-breaking work done by hand) and, thanks to the four small hollow chambers in each berry, float to the top of the water.
Like any kind of farming, growing cranberries is hard work, subject to the whims of nature and the ups and downs of volatile markets. It’s easy to forget the hard work behind the berry when in the fall the cranberries ripen and the beds are flooded to create a temporary marsh.
At Elm Lake Cranberry Company, the rich crimson color of the berries, contrasted against the vivid blue of the sky and the brilliant gold larch trees reflected in the water, was as pretty as a postcard.
With slow, graceful, movements, harvesters dressed in hip-high waders walk the circle of berries corralled by a yellow plastic boom and I watched as a man stretched out his arms, extending the wooden rake in his hands to gather and pull toward him the bright red cranberries while a vacuum swept them up onto a conveyor belt and into the deep bed of a waiting truck.
I know it’s intense and a lot is riding on getting the berries to market without bruising them, but he made it seem like water ballet.
Most of the berries are taken to a nearby processing plant where they will be frozen before being processed into juice, sauce or dried sweetened berries. Only a very small percentage of Wisconsin’s cranberries are packaged fresh for holiday sales.
Like every other behind-the-scenes look I’ve gotten into the heart and soul of any kind of farming—usually thanks to the agritourism movement— I came away with a deeper appreciation for the small red berry that has always been such a big part of my holiday table. And now, in ever increasing ways, a part of my everyday diet.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Every year, usually some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I bring out all the good stuff. I put out an assortment of foods I’ve picked up as I traveled in the months before and brought home to share with my family.
Some years it has been a feast of German chocolates, Wisconsin cheese and Pecans from Texas. Other years I have jams and jellies and sauces from around the country, around the world.
This year when my children come home for the holidays it will be all about the taste of Tennessee.
I spent two autumn weeks in East Tennessee this year and I came home with a suitcase full of tasty souvenirs: two kinds of honey—a raw wildflower honey from Appalachain Bee, a woman-owned artisanal honey company in Ocoee, and a bottle of sourwood honey I picked up on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have rich buttermilk cheese from Sweetwater Valley Farm in Philadelphia, Tennessee and a box of Ole Smoky taffy from Gatlinburg, a sweet treat I remembered from childhood trips to the mountains. And I couldn’t resist a box of mini Moon Pies from Chattanooga, another childhood favorite.
But this year I brought home the bacon. It isn’t just any old bacon, it’s Benton’s bacon. Walk into any upscale restaurant, coast to coast, and there’s a good chance Benton’s Smoky Mountain Ham or bacon will be on the menu. It’s sold in gourmet markets and it can be pricy, but when you stop by the smokehouse in Madisonville,Tennessee, they’ll pull it right out of the box and sell it to you for just about the same price the chefs pay.
The store is plain and no-nonsense with not much more than a display case and a cash register. And there’s usually a line leading from one to the other.
From the front, you can see smoked meats hanging on racks in the back of the building and I watched as a woman packed big boxes of bacon to ship out to restaurants across the country. Men were busy, moving meat from the smokehouse to the slicing room.
The man at the counter told me they sometimes struggle to keep up with demand. but that wasn’t always the case. Allan Benton bought the smokehouse in the late 1970s from the man who started the business in 1947 and he’s been making ham and bacon in the traditional way—dry cured or hickory smoked—since then.
The business struggled at times until several years ago when Blackberry Farm placed an order. A few days later Allan Benton got a call from the chef saying he wanted more. Word got out quickly and it wasn’t long before leading chefs around the country had Benton’s on the menu. Suddenly, Smoky Mountain bacon and hams were flying out the door.
“We smoke it and ship it, the man behind the counter told me. “And when it’s gone, it’s gone. You just have to wait ‘till we catch up.”
I wasn’t taking any chances. I bought three pounds of bacon and put the package in my suitcase. (Benton’s meats are cured so they don’t need to be refrigerated to ship.) If I’d had room for one of their country hams, I would have put one of those in, but I did buy a couple of ham steaks—my husband’s favorite— and brought them home especially for him.
So, when we all get together in a week or two, I’ll have delicious things from other places to share with my family—dried cranberries from Wisconsin, a bottle of Champagne I brought home from France, and more—but I have a feeling Mr. Benton’s bacon will steal the show.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been away for nearly three weeks.
Traveling home to my native Minnesota and then to the Caribbean with friends from high school, offered perspective. St. Augustine wrote: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
Conversations with Mom and friends connected my present to the past. Cool, crisp Minneapolis weather reminded me of childhood ice-skating parties and high school days of marching band and boyfriend kisses. A week in the Caribbean forced me to listen to myself.
I left home at 18-years-old; seems I have been on a field trip for decades. At the Minneapolis airport yesterday I felt I was leaving home to travel home. And while travel means I have read many pages of the world’s book, I can only stay on one page at a time. My heart, dissected by time and place, always leaves pieces behind.
(S-R archive photo)
Last fall I spent a few days exploring Appleton and the other small towns and cities that make up Fox Cities, Wisconsin. It's such a beautiful part of the country and I can see why Appleton has been called one of the best small towns in America.
I loved the Edna Ferber and Harry Houdini exhibits at the History Museum at the Castle. I made paper at the Paper Discovery Center on the banks of the swift-moving Fox River, a hands-on center that pays homage to the city's past. I toured the grand Hearthstone House, the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity.
And then, because I always try to stop by at least one antiques shop or mall when I travel, I went antiquing.
For those of us who love old things, even in this age of online shopping, it's interesting to see what people collect in different places. I almost always find some little something I don't want to leave behind.
In Appleton, I stopped by the Fox River Antique Mall and hadn't been there long when an old 1920s camera tripod caught my eye.
It was made of golden oak and in great shape. The slender telescopinng legs were straight and still had the original brass screws to tighten them to the desired height.
I've seen similiar tripods (reproductions) at Pottery Barn, World Market, Restoration Hardware and other decorating and home good stores, most made into lamps and other accessories, and they can be expensive. But the vintage piece in the antique mall near Appleton cost about what I'd pay for lunch and I knew I could make something out of it. I bought it knowing it wouldn't fit in my small carry-on suitcase but before I left I stopped by the post office, put the tripod into a flat-rate box and shipped it home.
Later, still thinking I would make a lamp, I bought an old-fashioned Edion-style lightbulb and put it aside with the box holding the tripod, waiting for the right time to start a new project.
Then, warm weather arrived and we started spending more time outdoors, eating most meals on the patio and lingering until long after dark. I put candles around the garden and shadowy corners of the patio. One evening I was looking for something with a little height to hold a candle and I remembered the tripod I'd sent home from Appleton. I finally opened the box and, after putting a white candle on the brass fitting at the top, I put the tripod in a corner beside the wisteria vine that screens the patio. It was exactly right.
Summer faded into fall and when the nights finally got too cool, I surrenderd and moved back indoors. But I brought the tripod with me. I bought a package of small plastic caps at the hardware store and covered the sharp metal spikes on each telescoping leg (useful for balancing and steadying a heavy camera in grass or soil, but not kind to hardwood floors) and replaced the chunky white candle with a wax-covered flameless candle. I set the timer and now each afternoon at 5pm the faux candle comes to life and flickers throughout the evening, creating a warm glow in what would otherwise be a dark corner. And each time I look at it I remember the trip to Appleton.
Most of us like to bring home some kind of little souvenir of the places we've traveled to. I know I do. They are special because they are tangible reminders of a vacation or travel experience. But when I stumble on a lovely old thing and can come up with a practical use for it, I love it all the more.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap's audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at email@example.comˆ
I’m fortunate that my work takes me to Europe several times a year, but I try to go on my own at least once each fall or winter. Sometimes I travel with my husband or accompanied by one of my adult children, and that’s always fun. But I’m just as happy to go solo, to walk down streets that have seen the cultural history of the world unfold and come home richer for the experience.
In the past I looked for a direct flight to Frankfurt or London or Paris. But the 10 or 11 hours in the air, flying directly to or from Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles, took their toll on me. Especially on the way home. For a week or more after my return, I was fatigued and weary, fighting the confusion and physical effects of jet lag. I couldn’t get a lot done.
I began to talk about this with other travelers who live on the western side of the country and I realized I wasn’t alone. Jet lag, when returning from Europe, seems to hit us harder.
It finally dawned on me that maybe a direct flight isn’t necessarily the best idea. I may save a little time but I pay for it in other ways. If I give myself a few extra days on the east coast—usually New York City—to adjust before continuing my trip further west, I come home more rested and less likely to suffer from extreme jet lag.
I have put this theory to the test several times now and it makes all the difference. Now, whenever possible, a trip to Europe ends in one of two ways: an extra night or two in New York or a few days on a short cruise out of New York. Then, at the end of my mini-vacation, I catch a flight home with only a 3-hour time adjustment.
For my return from a recent assignment to write about France’s World War I western front, the Millennium Broadway Hotel’s “Fall into Autumn” package was perfect. I had some additional WWI research to do at the library and a couple of private museums, and I wanted to see a show or two while I was there. I booked a room for three nights in early October.
My Air France flight arrived at JFK Airport just after 4 p.m. After clearing customs I hopped in a taxi and took the 45-minute (rush hour traffic) ride to the hotel. Once there, I checked in, showered, and made myself a cup of tea. By that time it was almost 8 p.m. My room was on the 45th floor and overlooked Times Square. It was fun to watch the crowd with a bird’s eye view as I rested and answered the emails that had jammed my inbox after two weeks away. I had two more nights so I didn’t feel pressured to immediately go out and play. I made another cup of tea, fished around in my bag for an energy bar for dinner and went to bed.
The next morning I woke up early, still on Paris time, and watched the sunrise paint the skyscrapers surrounding the hotel. I’d slept well and I was ready to get to work.
The Millennium Broadway sits between 44th and 45th Streets and the location is perfect. The lobby is always a hive of activity, but the rooms are quiet and spacious ( especially by Manhattan standards.) The hotel is right in the heart of the theater district and within easy walking distance of all the other places I wanted to visit while I was there. The exercise revived me. Each morning, after a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in the lobby restaurant, I felt ready for anything.
By the time I flew home I’d adjusted to the time difference without any jet lag and I was far more productive than I would have been without the Big Apple break.
The Millennium Broadway Hotel’s “Fall into Autumn” package runs through November 30. If you’ve ever wanted to be there for New York’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, here’s your chance! (Note: The discount increases for a stay of three nights or more.)
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I had a lot of miles ahead of me. I was about to depart on a 3-week solo itinerary that would take me from the Northwest to Paris to New York City to a cruise along the New England coast before coming home in mid-October. My husband was staying home for endless meetings and first-of-the-month reports.
That just didn't seem fair.
I'd worked a lot of extra hours finishing the assignments that would be due while I was gone and I was stressed out and irritable. And, to be honest, I felt a little guilty about leaving my husband with the house and the pets to care for while I got to see some wonderful destinations. So I treated us both to a little getaway before I got away and booked one of Cedarbrook Lodge’s custom “Mancation” packages .
Cedarbrook Lodge is sheltered by 18 acres of wooded property that includes a restored wetland. Just five minutes from SeaTac Airport, minutes from downtown Seattle, the 99-room resort caters to business travelers but it’s ideal for couples and families who want to be pampered. The rooms are quiet and spacious with incredibly comfortable beds and a pillow menu that allows you to build a custom “nest.”
We drove over on Friday and had lunch with our son in Seattle, who was just back from a trip to India, before driving on to the resort. We checked in and walked along the shaded path to our room on the Northwest side of the “Spruce” building. The wide window opened right into the treetops, giving us a “treehouse” feeling of isolation and solitude.
While my husband settled in and explored the grounds (His first stop: checking out the unlimited chips, candies and cups of Haagen Dazsin the “living room” of our building) I went directly to the spa. My first appointment was with the friendly Sunshine for her sea salt scrub. The combination of massage, aromatic essential oils, and the exfoliating properties of the salt salt made me feel like a new person. Then, still pre-treating for intense travel, I spent a quiet hour with Jamie getting the spa’s hydrating facial. I left feeling like I'd shed all the tension I'd been carrying and could handle anything the next three weeks brought my way.
We reunited for our dinner reservation at Copperleaf, the lodge's premium restaurant focusing on French-inspired Northwest cuisine.
The Copperleaf menu is creative and the food is delicious. I had the scallops and they were fantastic. Perfectly caramelized and paired with fresh locally-sourced vegetables, the dish was one I would come back for again and again.
My husband opted for the decontructed chicken pot pie, with the chicken and seasonal vegetables arranged separately on his plate. He ate every bite.
Tiny demitasse cups of the restaurant’s signature vanilla cream hot chocolate accompanied by miniature donut holes were the perfect finish. No other dessert was needed.
Saturday was his "Mancation" choice and he opted to take the Road Dogs Brewery tour. We joined the Road Dogs van downtown and spent the next three hours tasting beer at three outstanding Seattle breweries: Georgetown, Hale’s and Hilliard’s. Our driver, Jason was a true beer enthusiast and a lot of fun. Tip: Even if you sip and pour at each stop, you will taste a lot of beer on this tour. We booked a Town Car to take us into the city and pick us up and we were glad. No need to fight for Seattle parking and no worries about drinking and driving. At the end if the tour the car was waiting for us and whisked us back to Cedarbrook Lodge.
For Saturday night’s dinner we indulged in Copperleaf’s unique tasting menu and wine pairing. It was an outstanding evening of delicious food and fine wines.
Sunday's noon checkout allowed me to get all my work wrapped up and have a relaxing morning, lingering over coffee and the lodge’s continental breakfast before my husband drove back to Spokane and I prepared to fly to Paris the next morning.
It was my first stay at Cedarbrook, but it won’t be the last. The 99-room retreat is only minutes from the heart of Seattle but it feels as though you’re completely removed from the noise and traffic of the city and the airport nearby. It’s the perfect place to recharge before or after a long trip—like a cruise from the Port of Seattle.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at email@example.com
When I have a little time to myself, I like to drop into my favorite chair in the living room, the one next to the low white bookshelf near the fireplace.
On the shelves, beside the stack of pages torn from magazines or clipped from newspapers from around the world, are the books I’m reading, or the books I’m hoping to read, or the books I read a long time ago and like to have where I can pick them up and fall back into a familiar story.
I start reading and before long, out of habit and without taking my eyes off the page, I reach over and pick up my silver cigarette case. My fingers find the latch, press it and the case pops open. But I’m not fumbling for a cigarette.
The engraved silver plate cigarette case is a bit battered but that’s to be expected. It’s almost 100 years old, after all, and who knows where it’s been over the last century? The silver is thin in places, showing the brass beneath, but one can still read the date and message engraved on the top: “To A. Gates from the girls at Manor Works.” and the date: 1918.
I keep colorful self-adhesive paper flags in the case and use them to mark an interesting page or passage in a book so I can easily find it again.
When I found the case online I was intrigued. I was searching for reference material about World War I and it popped up because of the date. I wasn’t looking for a cigarette case, but it was a bargain. There is a tiny puncture in the back but the latch still works and even with shipping costs, it was less than a lunch out. And, to be honest, I was attracted to the slight mystery of the engraving—Who was A. Gates? What was Manor Works?—and I knew I would eventually find a use for it.
So I placed the order. The day it came in the mail I unwrapped it and again wondered about the man it had been given to. I’m assuming A. Gates was a man. Women smoked at the time but there is something a bit masculine about the case. Still, I could be wrong…
I’ve been searching for more information about A. Gates and Manor Works and I think it might somehow be connected to the historic Crittall Window Company’s Manor Works in Braintree England. The company began in 1849 and during the early 20th Century moved into the U. S. market manufacturing windows for Ford Model T’s and built steel windows in Detroit.
During the Great War Crittall’s role shifted ( as did so many others) and they produced munitions.
In 1918, the year the war ended, Crittall entered into a manufacturing agreement with a Belgian company and began to manufacture metal windows for modern post-war housing.
Perhaps Mr. Gates was leaving to work in the new enterprise and the the cigarette case was a goodbye gift from “the girls.”
I’m going to keep digging but for now, the case, a kind of mystery of its own, is at home near my favorite chair in the company of a lot of fine old books. I think the girls would approve
Several weeks ago my daughter, a marine geologist who works off-shore assignments around the world, left for a 6am flight out of Spokane. It was the first of leg of a grueling multi-flight journey that would end when she arrived in Italy late the following day. She sent me a text to say the she was on board and we said our goodbyes. Then, a few minutes later she sent another text. This one was accompanied by a photo.
The picture was a “selfie,” taken with her phone and the expression on my daughter’s face made it clear something was wrong. I quickly saw why she’d sent it. Just beside her left elbow were the bare feet of the passenger in the seat behind her. The woman had stretched out and pushed her feet into the space beside my daughter’s armrest and the wall of the plane. My daughter’s expression said it all. Yuck.
A 6am flight is not easy on anyone. It means waking up at 4am or earlier to get to the airport for the inescapable check-in and security requirements. When you finally make it to your seat the first thing you want to do is settle in and relax, maybe even make up an hour or two of lost sleep. But there are limits to just how comfortable we’re entitled to get. Or, at least there used to be.
I sometimes feel like I’m the only one on the plane wearing shoes.
Once, halfway into a long flight across the country, I began to feel something move against my, uh, backside. It felt like there was some kind of small animal in my seat. Unnerved, I reached back and caught the wiggling toes of the passenger behind me, a young woman who’d burrowed her feet into the space between the seat and seat back. Her bare feet must have been cold, but that wasn’t my problem. I had to ask her to get them out from under me.
On another flight, a man sat down in the seat beside me and before he buckled his seatbelt, he reached down and pulled off his shoes and socks and pushed them under the seat in front of him. He rubbed his feet back and forth on the carpet, giving them a good scratch before he opened his book. Later, absorbed in the book, he reached down and absentmindedly rubbed his toes as he read.
I took an Advil.
Humans evolved from ancient barefoot nomadic wanderers. Now, it almost seems that here in the 21st Century we’re going through some kind of peripatetic de-evolution. We’re wandering without shoes again, only this time on flying machines. I guess once flip-flops became streetwear it was a short fall.
Sometimes, I like to sit and look at old ads from the golden age of air travel. The women are wearing gloves and hats. The men are dressed in suits and ties. The children are in their Sunday clothes. And everyone, everywhere, is wearing shoes.
We spent an October weekend at Walt Disney World several years ago, and every year around this time I wish we were back. Fall is a great time to visit Disney World or Disneyland, and it’s especially fun if you are in the park after-hours for Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween celebration.
So the introduction of Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween on the High Seas was too good to resist and we booked a 3-day cruise over a late-September weekend.
I love nothing better than being on a big ship. It’s the best way to sail away from the stresses of work and everyday life. It’s also the perfect way to enjoy time with the family.
After summer has come and gone, fall is a great time to travel. But finding a good time to get away, especially if you want to gather up far-flung family members for a mini-reunion, can be complicated. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel weekend of the year but flights are expensive and oversold and airports are jammed. The weather can also be a bit tricky. The weeks before and after the Christmas holiday season are filled with parties, recitals, final exams. Airfare and room rates are back up to peak.
Disney Cruise Line’s Halloween on the High Seas is perfect.
The 3-day itinerary—sailing out on Thursday and returning on Sunday—was ideal for us. Just enough time away without interfering too much in work and school demands.
We met our 19-year-old daughter, a college sophomore who flew in from her campus, in the terminal at Port Canaveral and checked in together. We settled into our balcony stateroom on the Disney Dream and from that point on it was everyone for themselves. (My first act may have been to check on the location and selection of the soft-serve ice-cream machine.)
During the cruise the 19-year-old caught up on her rest and shut out all thoughts of college classes and upcoming exams. My husband and I turned off our phones, got lost in books and soaked up the sunshine knowing the gray Northwest winter is only weeks away. We met each evening for dinner and the evening’s entertainment.
We all had a great time watching tiny princesses in gauzy dresses and tiaras line up to meet their idols, and little boys in pirate gear chase one another around the deck, but what many people still don’t realize is that just because it’s a Disney cruise doesn’t mean it’s all about the kids.
Sure there are plenty of ways to amuse any member of the family, with separate hangouts for babies to teens, but thanks to Disney’s attention to detail and famed customer service, there is no better way for adults to cruise. With adults-only decks, restaurants, lounges and events, it’s possible to spend a romantic week at sea on the world’s happiest ship.
I wish every cruise line would adopt Disney’s stateroom design philosophy. Their separate shower and toilet compartments are the most practical for families. There is a lavatory in each compartment so while Dad’s in the shower the kids can brush their teeth or Mom can put on her makeup. With foldout bunks, more storage than you could possibly use and a small refrigerator, the staterooms make it easy to spend time together without getting on one another’s nerves.
Food and Wine
“Hello, I am Corinne from France. I will be your server tonight.”
Our server’s elegant accent and knowledge of wine and cuisine only added to our date-night in Palo, one of the Disney Dream’s two premium dining options. We watched the sun set while sipping excellent wine and the meal was outstanding. From the antipasti platter prepared by our server to the grand finish, a chocolate soufflé that will live on in my dreams, Palo equaled any fine dining experience on shore.
An Island in the Sun
Disney always does it right. The three-night itinerary put us on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, on Saturday and a fine time was had by all.
Clean, uncrowded and stocked with plenty of ways to enjoy the day, Castaway Cay is reason enough to take a Disney cruise any time of year. From biking island trails to the water slide to snorkeling, there’s plenty to do. We opted for the adults-only beach for a quiet day reading and relaxing in the sun. The teenager spent hours snorkeling around the shore observing underwater creatures and spotting shells.
Halloween on the High Seas offered plenty of seasonal entertainment options. We put on our pirate gear and joined Mickey’s Mousequerade Party and watched spooky movies in the Buena Vista theater.
There are adults-only options, of course, including costume parties and a “Creepy Cabaret.”
For more information about Halloween on the High Seas cruises go to
His story was not uncommon but that only increases its bittersweet quality.
In late September, 1918, just weeks before the end of the Great War that had decimated parts of France and Belgium and effectively destroyed an entire generation of men in Europe, Sergeant Headley Williams, a young man from Lebanon, Missouri, did as he’d been trained.
As a runner in Company C’s 129th machine gun battalion, he carried messages between commanders and artillery, and on September 28, according to the document awarding him the Silver Star, after penetrating enemy lines and securing important messages, Williams was killed by a high-explosive shell in the Argonne woods.
At that moment, a world away, although she would not know it for some time, Jessie Williams became a Gold Star Mother. The blue star on the banner she would have hung from the window to signify the family had a son in the war, would be covered by a gold star to signify his death.
Later, she would receive several photos. One showed two simple wood crosses in a muddy field, one of which marked her son’s grave, and another was of a man, by accounts her son’s commanding officer, kneeling before
the two graves.
Williams, who lived to be 100, was only one of so many mothers who lost a son to a war somewhere in
France. After the war the families of those who’d died were asked whether they wanted their dead returned or
to be buried in a dedicated American cemetery in Europe. The majority requested the return of their loved ones
but more than 30,000 were left in the land where they fell.
The world moved on, but something interesting happened. In 1928, a decade after the war’s end, Gold Star
Mothers across the United States organized and became a solid, and in some ways fierce, lobbying group.
They began to demand the government take them to the battlefields where their sons had fallen. The women mobilized and effectively turned what had been such a powerful tool of motivation and domestic propaganda
into a demand: You’ve told us there is no bond like that of a mother and a son, no sacrifice like the loss of a
son, they lobbied. Now, take us over there.
Eventually the U. S. government capitulated and by 1933 more than 6,000 women— Gold Star mothers who
fit the narrowly-defined criteria —were taken to the American cemeteries in Europe on all-expenses-paid
pilgrimages to see the last resting place of their sons. That was only a fraction of the number who lost sons
(and daughters) to the war, but even the pilgrimages provide a window into American culture at the time.
African American mothers were also eligible but their tours were segregated. The white mothers traveled on
liners, the black mothers on freighters.
At American cemeteries in Europe, comfortable rooms, essentially parlors with comfortable furniture and a
homey decor, were created for the visiting women. In March, when President Barak Obama addressed the press on a trip to Belgium, he did so from the Gold Star room at the WWI Flanders Fields American Cemetery. I stood
in that room a few years ago and found it impossible not to think of the women who’d been there and the war
that had taken their sons.
In 1936, by presidential decree, the last Sunday in September would from that time on be known as Gold Star Mother’s Day. And today is that day.
Of course, the war that was to end all wars didn’t. Each year more women still become Gold Star Mothers because men and women still go into service and lose their lives. But in an age where every day is dedicated to something—Chocolate Chip Cookie day, Pet Your Dog Day, National Coffee Day— Gold Star Mother’s Day gets lost, a forgotten monument to a forgotten war.
So today, National Strawberry Cream Pie Day, by the way, maybe we should take a minute to think about something that isn’t sweet. About soldiers who went over there, soldiers who still go over there, and mothers (and fathers) who are left with only a golden star.
Most hotel rooms come with a few amenities, things like tiny bottles of shampoo, scented soap, a shower cap, a miniature sewing kit and occasionally some fragrant shower gel or body wash. But, because travel always seems to bring unexpected complications, I’ve learned how to make those hotel amenities serve more than one purpose.
Here are five ways you can get more out of hotel freebies:
Body Wash: Usually more gentle than shampoo, body wash works well for hand-washing clothing when you’re traveling light or discover a stain or spill on your shirt. (Of course, this is for washable fabrics.)
Shower cap: The ubiquitous plastic shower cap do more than keep your curls dry in the shower. The thin plastic, edged in elastic, can be a photographer’s friend. I’ve tucked one around my camera while shooting in bad weather. They also come in handy for wrapping leaky bottles, covering muddy shoes and wrapping items you want to protect in your purse or luggage.
Shoe mitt: You can usually find a soft flannel shoe mitt tucked on a shelf in the hotel room closet or wardrobe. The flannel pouches make a good jewelry keeper or a sunglasses case on-the-go.
Stationery. Some luxury hotels still provide stationery, although I’d love to know when the last guest sat down to write an actual letter. But I’ve used a hotel envelope to hold earrings and other small items so they wouldn’t get lost in my purse. The envelope is also handy for organizing all the receipts from your stay. Simply tuck them in and seal.
Laundry bag: In a pinch, the disposable plastic laundry bag hanging in the closet is perfect for wrapping a bottle of wine before you tuck it into your suitcase. I’ve also slipped my tall boots into the bag before packing them in my suitcase.
Soap: Not too long ago, I dressed for a meeting only to discover my jersey dress and my tights didn’t want to play nice. I was a staticky mess. I hadn’t packed any anti-static spray but I picked up a bar of soap and smoothed it over my tights. Like magic, the dress let go and I was static-free for the rest of the day.
Portions of this column previously appeared in INB Catalyst Magazine.