Transitional Tourist

It’s funny, the way you know that you really belong somewhere is that you never go and see the things that make that place famous.

If you live in New York City, you just don’t go to the Empire State Building, for example. My best friend lived in NYC for years, and I think the only time she went to the Statue of Liberty or any of that stuff was when a starry-eyed friend like me came to visit.

I never understood that about her, until I moved to London. That first year, man, I went EVERYWHERE! Any chance to pass by Big Ben, hop on a train and go to Oxford, wander around the Tower of London, I took it. Fast-forward a couple years, and I barely ventured out of Camberwell, the neighborhood where I lived. I spent 98% of my going-out time in local pubs just sitting around with friends. When people came to visit, I sent them on their own to the Tower.

We’re in the transitional phase now, in Silicon Valley. Before I get all comfy and this tech / beach / California thing gets normal, I’m going to get out there and have some adventures.

Top five so far:

1. Google campus

2. Santa Cruz boardwalk

3. Big Sur

4. L.A.

5. Wine country

Someday, when I’m blogging about life on a sustainable urban windfarm in San Francisco, I’ll look back on these first several months with a chuckle.

Well, if you’re reading this, Future Me, don’t get too smug. You were a tourist once, too.



Nowhere Person

The transatlantic move and Great American Road Trip have ended.  We’ve arrived at our destination – California.  Now comes the tricky bit.  Moving from one state to another in the U.S.A. is a headache, to be sure.  But moving from overseas and establishing yourself outside your home state is bureaucratic transcendence.

Take health insurance, for example.  Moving from England, we couldn’t pre-register for health insurance because the insurance company bases its policy on the laws of your resident state – I don’t have a resident state.  Yet, traveler’s insurance only covers you if you intend to return to your point of origin – in my case, England.  And I happen to be sorting this out during the roll-out of Obamacare AND a post-government-shutdown reshuffling.

Months of living in a state of flux has unhinged me.  I wonder if my sense of home has become permanently unfixed.  If I’ll forever be just off kilter, flitting eyes over the landscape, searching.  Maybe the idea of “home” is the mirage, and what is fleeting is real.

The address on my Virginia driver’s license was four moves ago and now doesn’t exist.  The housing development was demolished.  If I’m not careful, I could make a metaphor of this.

Grand Finale

I have written and erased many words trying to capture my first glance of the yawning mouth of infinite rock that is the Grand Canyon.  And several hours later, watching a slow and glorious ballet of color dancing over the canyon as the sun set.

I find the experiences I most want to capture in words evade me entirely.

Photo courtesy of Sal

Grand Canyon, South Rim. Photo courtesy of Sal

I can, however, offer some practical advice:

1. Bring a good pair of hiking boots.  You’ll walk for hours and not realize it.  I have discarded 85% of my wardrobe in the process of moving from the U.K. and lacked even tennis shoes to wear.  I shopped for hours in Flagstaff, AZ for a pair of women’s hiking boots with no luck.  I finally settled on a pair of men’s hunting boots that we found in Wal-Mart.   Not great, but they did the trick.  Better to bring your own.



2. Stay for sunset or come for sunrise.  Sunset at Lipan Point (South Rim)  was downright phenomenal.

Nearing the end of our transcontinental adventure, I can’t think of anything more grand than this finale.

Sunset at Lipan Point - the Indian Watchtower visible to the right

Sunset at Lipan Point – the Indian Watchtower visible to the right

Sunset at Tipan Point, Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Sal

Blue corn dreams

It’s hard not to glamorize New Mexico.  The scenery alone draws a sense of drama and romance from your soul like no other place.  Nature paints from a different palette out here – all pinks and ruddy browns, clear blues, and dark, troubled green.  We pass stone hills that resemble piles of black lava.  Just beyond them, layers of dusty pink and smoky black mountains rise and fall in clean-cut steps, as if shaved with a celestial scalpel.

Billboards advertise serapes, moccasins, Indian tacos, fireworks,  and casinos.  However, the adverts are blissfully sparse along Interstate 40.  Trains run alongside a stretch of track that parallels the highway for miles and miles.

Santa Fe shops

Santa Fe shops

At twilight we pull into Santa Fe and wander  in and out of art galleries and shops.

After breakfast, we make a beeline for the Sunday morning farmers market.

farmers market

I wander Santa Fe like a woman dreaming.  I buy atole blue corn mix, eat blue corn doughnuts, gaze at the gleaming turquoise and silver, flit from one stall to the next with wonder at everything.

A man gives me a sip of Hopi tea, some sort of Navajo herby elixir.  I sip it and think, we could park Horatio here forever, under this big sky, and live an adobe blue corn dream life.

I’m in love, maybe.

The Palace of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe hosts a number of different tribal vendors

The Palace of the Governors in downtown Santa Fe hosts Native American artists from many different tribal communities

Samples of hot atole drink hand ground for you as you watch! At the Santa Fe Farmers Market

Samples of hot atole drink hand ground for you as you watch! At the Santa Fe Farmers Market


The fanciest doughnuts I’ve ever had. And let me tell you, I’ve eaten some doughnuts, people! At the Santa Fe Farmers Market

Star-aligned cars of sublime mystery

It takes us a good 20 minutes and several wrong turns to find it.  There – just ahead – something shimmers against the cold, grey sky.

We made it.

Entrance to Cadillac Ranch

Entrance to Cadillac Ranch

“I wonder what the ancients were thinking,” I shout over the wind. “What divine purpose this was serving.”

Spray cans are littered all around.  Sal picks up one and gives it a curious shake.

“I don’t know,” he says.

There are a half dozen Americana pilgrims on this sacred ground today, at 10 am on a Saturday in late October.  Our guide book says the cars are aligned in the same configuration as the Great Pyramid of Giza.  I climb on one, rubbing spray paint onto the toe of my shoe.

Its mystery is exceeded only by its sublimity.

Its mystery is exceeded only by its sublimity.

A fellow Route 66 road tripper offers to take our photo for us.  She and her husband are in their fifties or so, bundled up in identical red windbreakers.  They also lived in England for a few years.

“I wasn’t that impressed with Stonehenge,” she says.  “Every time someone came to visit, they made us go back to those rocks.”

“Have you been to Foamhenge in Virginia?” Sal asks.

She laughs.  “No.  I hear there’s a carhenge too.”

We run back to Horatio, panting from the wind and cold and mystery.  Cadillac Ranch, in that unassuming field of yellow grass, leaves us with more questions than answers.

Sal makes his mark at Cadillac Ranch

Sal makes his mark at Cadillac Ranch

On the road again

The road beckons.  We bid family adios and turn Horatio’s nose north, picking up the Mother Road in Amarillo, Texas.  Dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch is ridiculous and absolutely necessary if you’re ever in Amarillo riding Route 66.

It's literally too big for my camera.

It’s literally too big for my camera.

Why?  Three reasons:

1. The vittles 

The food, though pricey, is downright delicious.

texas vittles

If you have a notion, you can step up to the 72-ounce steak challenge – if you can eat it in one sitting under an hour (plus side items), you get it free!

2. Practice your shootin’

While you wait for a table, you can shoot some stuff.


3. Show off your new boots

Nothing says “cowgirl” like a chair with horns on it.  Yee-haw!

chair with boots

Yippee Ki Yay, Texas

Our wanderings take a sharp detour from Route 66 deep into the heart of Texas, to the city of Austin, that magical, musical oasis.  We stay several days with family to catch up on lost time as I recuperate from my sinus infection.

Sal decides that, since I’m in Texas, I ought to have some proper cowgirl boots.  On recommendation from his aunt, he takes me to Cavender’s Boot City.



So many boots.  Brown, black, red-white-and-blue, hot pink boots.  Boots with tassels, skulls, bedazzled boots, snakeskin boots.


A saleswoman asks if I need help, sensing my disorientation, perhaps.  I smile and shake my head, pick up a pair and examine them.  Like I buy boots all the time.

Sal and I line up a few candidates.  I pick up a deep brown pair, shoving my feet into the stiff leather.

“These don’t feel right,” I frown in the mirror.  “I don’t think these are the boots for me.”

The saleswoman approaches, a wiry grey head of hair and cool, dry saunter.

“As a sales professional, it is my duty to inform you that you are wearing two right boots,” she says.

“Oh, right.  Well.”

She retrieves a left boot and kneels down with a patient air.  Helping me slip the boot on, she explains that the ball of my foot needs to line up with the widest part of the boot.

“There should be some shuffle room at the heel,” she advises.

After several attempts, we find a pair that line up nicely.  Sal gives an approving nod.

“Yep,” I grin, looking down at them.  “These are my boots.”

It’s not just how the boots look, I realize as I take them out to wear them to dinner that night.  It’s how they make you feel.

These boots want to saunter and stomp, and cause a ruckus.

And maybe they will.