There is this old kiddie poem that goes like this:

Where shall I go a-traveling,

Traveling, traveling, traveling?

On the sea, in the air,

On the land – I don’t care,

For I love to go

Traveling, traveling.

A-traveling, traveling I go first by bus from NH to Boston in the morning dark. A fellow is playing his acoustic guitar to pass the time ’til his ride arrives and it sets the mood for what will be a lively day – a-traveling, traveling, traveling all the way to San Francisco. The bus is dreadfully silent, even the safety video they make us watch in the dark has a dated, quiet doom. A man behind me reads his paper fresh off the press and I write by the streetlights we pass to the hum of the engine below me.

A woman near me is holding the tiniest baby I have ever seen and I realize that she will carry that tiny human to some faraway land and that babe will never remember the epic adventures he has been on already before taking his first step. It’s a miracle if you ask me. East Boston never sleeps, as it is airport country, the lines already curl out of the parking lots of the Starbuckses into the highway – risking bumpers for coffees, but it’s a risk worth taking. An early bird seagull goes to town at an overstuffed dumpster. Sprawl. The bus bumps into the terminal and I get up and shake off the last bit of sleep before the sun rises. We’ll be flying with the sun on its ride across the nation – from sea to scummy sea – losing the race but gaining an extra three hours of our day, so that’s a fair trade-off.

My walk through the TSA line is more like a skip, and I even get to keep my shoes and belt on. We enter the airport terminal and a beautiful Muslim girl wearing a scarf under her hat pours me a big cup of Peet’s coffee, some of the good stuff. I sit in an east-facing window overlooking our plane and the sun hovers over the horizon, filling the terminal with bright so strong I need my sunglasses. The plane starts loading but we’re in group 4 so we take our time and people watch. Nothing to see, really. Lots of pajamas and tired eyes on this morning flight. I step into the plane and want to say F*ck you I’m not getting on the plane, I’m getting in the plane! like George Carlin, but the stewardesses are so nice and well-dressed, I just smile and sit quietly in my seat.

A-traveling, traveling, traveling. The plane is proud and it struts across the Logan Airport runway. See my wings spread, watch my nose rise, my dainty wheels pushing me upward into the sky. My tail, it sings, bids you farewell, and it rushes down the runway, suddenly pushes up into the air. The air feels thick under the plane. The air is a thing. We aren’t flying but wading through the sky. I’ve never waded before and am certainly mindful of every bump and wave, of the shrinking size of Boston’s flora and concrete. Some rivers and cities in western Massachusetts entertain me for a few moments, but the girl in the window seat falls asleep and I feel uncomfortable looking over her unconscious bouncing head, so I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – a title I find appropriate for a plane ride across the United States, but when I look out the window later I only see the midwest, not cuckoo enough to warrant any great punchlines. Just squares of green and grey, straight lines and wispy little clouds. Looking up, I see the brightest blue and puffiest whites. There is frost on the window.

So I just read and write and refuse any offers of airplane snacks from the pleasant stewardesses. I think about how boring a plane ride really is: everyone is face deep in a movie on their phone or a newspaper, the granny on my left is reading a medical thriller on her ipad, my dad is a few rows ahead eating a tuna sandwich he brought on the flight, and somewhere a woman is holding her baby to her chest on its first adventure. All of this in a tin tube 30,000 feet in the air. Bo-o-o-ring.

Just another plane, someone thinks as he sips his coffee on his back porch overlooking the hah-bah. Yawn.

The girl on my right only wakes up once during the six hour flight, in order to snag a free can of juice from the stewardess. Everyone on the flight is obsessed with all of the free snacks and drinks. A few people ahead of me scarf down IPAs, which they pay for, pre-gaming for San Francisco nightlife. I peak out the window and there are snow-covered mountains and lonely country. I peak out the window moments later and there is ocean and the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge, crawling with cars and trucks. We are arriving in San Francisco. It is all a dream. The sky is hazy and painted behind the ocean, the bridge below is dull and solid and permanent on the water. There’s something magic about this place California already but I can’t put my finger on it.

Upon exiting the stuffy tin flying tube, I choke on the thick, cool breeze. I drink it all down and am revived for the extended day of west coast a-traveling. I fail on the third step as rental car co-pilot, getting us lost one mile from our motel. We stop in a Safeway and load up on snacks. The store charges me for a plastic bag – it takes a few shopping visits to pick up on this – that’s a California law, I think. I begin rejecting bags and carry all my purchases in a hamburglarish manner through the parking lot, drawing stares from well-to-dos with handfuls of tote bags. But we retreat to the Motel 6, where the light has indeed been left on for us, then pop in next store for some lunch. The diner is operated by Mexicans, and all of the food is exactly what I’d like in California – al fresco fare, meat topped with avocadoes and tomatillo and chile peppers. I demolish it. Delicioso. My dad is wondering if there is a Taco Bell nearby. Aye, mi padre está loco. I doze after watching Exaggerator win Preakness, taking Nyquist to task. I sleep from 5:30 pm ’til 3:30 am, refusing the local time for my curmudgeonly Atlantic standard.

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The Golden Gate Bridge is ethereal at seven o’clock on Sunday morning. The sun rips through clouds and rips through the bay, making this magnificent 4,200 foot long human masterpiece its shrine. Huge dying hills and big oil-paint sky set the scene, but first we drive down what my dad calls Rice-a-Roni Street to Presidio Park to a parking spot. There is no soul, save for an occasional jogger with a RUN SF shirt on, and a cop who pulls over to adjust his prisoner’s handcuffs. What a guy. We have to walk the bridge, all of it, and unwind from the flight. There is barbed wire on the gate, as well as numbers for jumpers. This bridge is the suicide capital of the world. I also read on my phone as we walk that the War Department was against the bridge being built in 1937 because it feared its ships wouldn’t be able to pass under. The idea of the bridge was so popular that locals used their own homes to buy bonds to fund its construction. It’s amazing to me that I can spend a day hiking a 4,000 foot mountain in NH but can zip across the Golden Gate Bridge in just under a half hour. But I’d rather jump off a mountain. It’d be easier, too, because there’s less barbed wire.266

Traffic and people pick up as we leave for town. We are here to meet my brother, who lives in Berkeley. We jitter up Lombard Street – a very steep hill (San Francisco much?) – and we flow down the flowery, windy, zany Crooked Road. It is a ridiculous experience, my head rolls on my shoulders all over the car. All up and down the hill on top and on bottom to boot were dozens of Asian tourists with cameras. We provide the necessary exhibition of how one navigates the Crooked Road for them to take pictures of. I take pictures of them, for they are as entertaining to me as we are to them. My dad is from Boston and is used to clusterf*ck driving, so we have a good time dodging death and vehicular manslaughter. Then we find my brother, the man about town, near a building that looks like a giant Klansman golden statue. I retire from being co-pilot and sit in the back. I take a wonderful photo of a cowboy riding a Chinook Salmon. It is exactly what I want to see at that time. We go to the piers. Something smells fishy, it must be all those seals lounging on the docks. We take a cruise, more Asian tourists and lots of people with selfie sticks. I sit in the back next to an ancient couple, the old woman of which holds her cell phone with feeble hands over the boat’s railings to take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. I watch carefully in case I need to jump over the railing to save it for her. A woman holds her baby over the railing for a photo and I hope her husband will jump over the railing to save it. Everyone takes pictures of everything. We float under the bridge (snap), which awes (snap, snap), then back toward Alcatraz (snap, snap, snap). No one drops anything, thankfully.

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Have you heard of this place – Alcatraz? It was a prison on an island, surrounded by a current that is so strong if anyone tried to swim it, they’d get carried out into the sea. Supposedly the worst criminals ever were brought there, dudes with names like “Birdman” and “Al Capone.” Today people circle around it in boats and tour it like it is Jurassic Park and take pictures (snapppp). I stare into the trees on the island and pterodactyls materialize upon the branches. No, there are buildings with graffiti like INDIAN LAND on them. Just as terrifying. I think of Nurse Ratched. My brother and I get talking. How, I ask, can people accept this as a tourist destination? They pose in front of it by the thousands every day. It was a place to put people to rot and die. My brother, one who carries an also/and worldview, proposes that it exists so that some people may think of how not to learn from history. If not, I offer, we can peep through the Thaddeus Russell lens – and pay tribute to the famous criminals, especially the ones who escaped. Finally we agree, you don’t do pull-ups when you’re in an Alcatraz cell, you do swim strokes.

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I stroll the piers and admire the odd giant chard plants on display, and a hip guy holding a yorkie dog panhandles, but only for one penny. Just a penny! he insists. My dad is so enamoured, he digs out a penny for the fellow. Some sort of social experiment my brother says. I think the guy just feeds the pennies to his yorkie. We stop at the seal docks for a moment and wonder how the seals could sit there all day and do nothing as humans move in and out like the tide. But I wonder, perhaps the seals do the same thing and we just don’t notice. It smells too sealy for me to hang around and find out. The Musée Mécanique is only a block away and my pockets feel a bit heavy with spare change. I put a quarter in a machine called Opium Den and the display comes to life. A man in a bed starts sitting up and down, a skeleton starts opening a closet door and closing it. Some drug dealers move back in forth in chairs. I’m reformed. I’m never doing opium. I put a quarter in another machine and we watch loggers saw logs. I want to do that. Then I peep a peepshow machine! I see what a belly dancer does on her day off! (Spoiler: she wears a bathrobe near a bathtub, then she wears a corset and puts her leg on a stool. I want to invite her to the opium den.) Finally, I buy a man who lives inside a machine a drink. My brother names him Drunken Jim, and he surely looks drunken. He pours himself a glass and tips it into his mouth, staring at you with devilish glaze the entire time. In the old days, there would be liquid in the bottle and it would pour into the cup, then follow gravity down his arm and through his shoulders back into the pouring arm, where it would flow back to the bottle. A brilliant invention. But Drunken Jim’s had too many drinks and has spilled his hooch; now he puts on shows for quarters to unsatiable tourists who want Prohibition-era entertainment on demand.

San Francisco is fun, but we must ride for Tahoe. We need sugar pines, but must drive through the pistachio country to get there. I sit in the back and “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin comes on the radio as I look out to Benecia by the bay. Reminds me of another song:

The quaint scenery can’t hide the fact

That it’s a cultureless wasteland

But they’re so proud of what they lack

They’re so proud… of what?

Proud of such a nice little suburbia

Still living in the shadow of the Zodiac Killer

Maybe it was the toxins in the water

Hills and flats and dying grass, fields of pistachios, Sacramento. Then we begin rising into the sugar pines – snow-capped mountains peek from the trees. Cliff-side roads with pullovers for drivers who clog up five cars or more – that’s a California law. We are seventh in line behind a jerk driver, but I don’t mind. I see a beautiful waterfall called Bridal Veil Falls and wish I could stop and experience it up close. We stop in a cultureless wasteland to pick up drinks and I take a run down the street. I buy a Diet Coke in a gas station run by a Pakistani man who offers a lot of glassware, but can’t keep his bathroom operational. As I kick the pebbles in his parking lot, I see the pretty girl who was in line behind me head toward the bathroom. I hold it ’til Tahoe, but I wish I went behind his store.

Fortunately it isn’t so far. The motel is sandwiched between the Kingsbury peaks and a bike trail, covered in lupines and mule’s ears, about to bloom just for me. Geese stomp along the fields on the hunt for bugs and grass and 333do whatever other goosy things geese do. Everything is perfect and quaint and exactly what we’d like South Lake Tahoe to be, until the sun goes down. Then the road work teams come out and kick up dirt, shining lights and rumbling heavy all night long – that’s a California law, as well. But I’m a sound sleeper.

I begin my morning routine for the week, up at 5:30 am and walk to the Tahoe ‘bucks to sit with the homeless lady who talks to herself and shows everyone who enters her papers. A sporty dad with a husky sits on the patio and reads. All the baristas have tattoos and piercings and airy California perfection surrounding them like halos. Besides California girls in backwards hats with Crossfit physiques and homeless ladies in biker jackets looking over shopping carts filled with tarps and sweaters, there are also crusty old hippies, burned out young dudes on skateboards, and preppy blonde siblings driving the Camino to school, all stopping in before six am for a venti something or other. It’s wonderful because they all seem to know each other and say hello. I’m the outsider, sitting in the window with my Kesey and my moleskine, my Neil Young in my earbuds. Love and only love will tear it down…

But my companions wake up eventually and we drive to South Lake Tahoe’s shores. There is the Heavenly ski area. The gondola is running, but is not open for rides, so we hike up the Van-Sickle trail for our first intimate look at the lake. At its deepest, Lake Tahoe goes down 1,645 feet. It’s also pretty damned clear, amazing to gaze into. That is a California law. This is possible because something like 1.4 billion gallons of water evaporates from the lake every day, and fresh water is always rushing in from the Truckee River and from precipitation…keeping it all clear and fresh. Due to pollutant threats from fertilizer runoffs and other human sources, people like to slap bumper stickers on everything they own here that read KEEP TAHOE BLUE (some read MANTENGA TAHOE AZUL).

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Another thing that is blue is Montbleu, a casino just over the state line in Stateline, Nevada. That’s the real attraction in South Lake Tahoe, California…..Nevada – it’s a law in Nevada.

You can jaywalk from Heavenly ski area to Stateline in a minute flat and get your ramblin’ tamblin’ gamblin’ on – there are at least five casinos in 100 yards. My dad and brother wander around the slots while I play Q*Bert in the arcade, surrounded by little kids and bored teenage girls. I’m pretty good at Q*Bert. I also like this game called Crazy Taxi: I slam a taxi around a city while late 90’s west coast punk bands wreck the speakers. My customers yell at me and I tell them to shut up and deliver them to places that are impossible to reach the way I drive, yet I get them there. It’s a beautiful game. Real free-market stuff. Eventually I run out of arcade tokens – well, I have one left but am not interested in jumping on pyramid blocks or being chased by bouncy snakes anymore, so I leave my last token on a tabletop for a kid to find – and wander back into the smoke-filled casino – at least someone here will be a winner. The themes of the slot machines are confusing to me: Konami anime girls, but totally white, shove their computer cleavage into faces 342whose fingers press buttons that only their seasoned casino basal ganglias understand. One game has puppies, one has buffalo, one has poker. A real poker table is nearby, next to a parked truck that I presume someone wishes to win. My dad and brother talk strategy, but I am more curious about the strange ladies who chain smoke and play two or three slot machines at a time, with meticulous yet apathetic motion. My dad tells me you can “never win” on the slots, then wastes $3 to prove his point. They lead to the Hard Rock Casino across the street, so I walk around, finding nothing of interest at this quiet hour except the James Brown Sex Machine costume, complete with suggestive mannequin pose. I remember when I watched his funeral on TV in the mid 2000s, it was on a staticky TV, and they had his casket open. The man was a hero. Once someone told me if you’re ever in a bar and no one is dancing, put on a James Brown song – people will start dancing. He was right. And if you’re ever in a bar with me I will show you.

The next morning on my walk to the coffee shop there is a sloppy shmear of snow on everything, pounding down the mule’s ears and lupines, but feeding them for a thunderous bloom just one day later that rides out our entire visit and enthralls me still to this day. I walked with spring in my step on this last bit of winter at 6,224 feet, I gotta say pretty pimpin’…

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But the winter won’t last long today, we drive down off the mountain to a city that is below Lake Tahoe, Carson City at 4,802 feet. I gaze out at nothingness, my eyes flicker only once when we pass the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, but I don’t have a helicopter, which according to their website is a preferred method of arrival to their facilities. Sorry, Air Force Amy, not today. We are off for Virginia City, Nevada, where there are silver mines and cowboys and family-friendly folklore about dead prostitutes and drunken fighting miners and Bonanza fans everywhere.

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And two Asian people are taking pictures of everything. I can’t get around them. The poor girls in the shop windows try to make fudge and blush and the cowboys walk around with tickets to sell for their gun show just wanting to make some cash, but pose because it’s in the job description. I follow a crowd into the back of a tour bus, which promises a tour of Virginia City. The bearded hillbilly driving the bus begins the tour with an enthusiastic yee-haw “WELcome folks.” He outlandishly nods and expresses every syllable with perfect tour-guide class – he really does – “to Vir-GIN-ya City. OVer here you SEE we have the COM-stock LODE. And HERE is where the RED LIGHT DIS-trict once sat.” These miners were paid $4 a day, which was eight times higher than other miners at the time. They could send half their pay home and still get schnockered and gamble and stir the sheets with whomever they could afford. And for the hell of it, they’d fight in the bars. One place is known as the Bucket o’ Blood because every night after they mopped up, the water bucket was always red. Our guide tells us of a famous prostitute whom all the boys knew, until she was murdered by some guy who wanted all her jewelry. There are a few cemeteries in town, but they decide to hold a parade and march through town, burying the woman on a hill outside of town. I perk up to hear that Mark Twain also lived here, but the museum is in a creepy basement and I don’t feel like paying to go in, for I may not return.

One place I am willing to pay to tour is a REAL LIVE SIL-ver MINE, YES-SIRee. We let the tour guide in a hard hat at the POND’R-osa SIL-ver MINE finish his cigarette – something pleasant smelling, like a cheap ultra-light 100 – and then lead us deep into the dark. “WELcome to the COMstock LODE,” he tells us all (just my brother and me, but we feel like the audience extends into the shadows behind us), “where they’ve mined FOUR-point-FIVE BILL-ion dollars in SIL-ver since eighTEEn fifty SEVen.” It seems as if anyone here who offers tours speaks in this voice of Vir-GIN-ya City. My brother and I get to wear hard hats to tour the mine. It is especially helpful as we are both over six feet tall and the mine was built in a time when men were only five foot four, as we are told.

We see the original Ponderosa pine beams that hold the mine together, this is amazing to me. They are reinforced for safety, but the reinforcements aren’t necessary. The beams aren’t even nailed together. The pressure from the earth holds them in place and they hold the earth in place. This technique is so efficient it is still the norm today, we are told. We get to meet the world’s largest stuffed canary, sitting in a cage high above our heads, and then the tour guide lights a candle and turns off the lights. It is dark and terrifying in the mine. Then he blows out the candle and we wonder if we are going to die. We get to see the original drills – also known as “widowmakers” because they’d explode if the oil ran dry – and other equipment miners used. And yes, I have a question, my brother says, where did they go to the bathroom? There is an outhouse behind the mine, and they would climb up to it, the tour guide tells us, coming out of his character to answer our odd questions, now that we are down here where no one can hear us. And no, no one could get into it from the outside. Only entrance was through the mine. He tells us we can see it if we climb the hill behind the Ponderosa Mine. We never get around to it, unfortunately.

I insist on stopping at the Marshall Mint and checking out the silver bars and rounds for sale. The tanned old woman behind the counter turns on like a sales-pitching automaton, letting me know that their Bonanza coins celebrating Nevada’s 150th anniversary as a state are limited edition. She shuts down for a moment, then kicks back in, her arm swoops across the glass at an ancient pace, and tells me I should stock up on silver before the prices shoot up, ‘cos they’re gonna shoot up, don’t ya know? She swoops back on her track and I say I am only here to buy a souvenir and settle on a half troy ounce of silver shaped like Nevada. She seems unpleased with my selection, but is happy to make a sale nonetheless. I still pay 200% spot. Then I peruse their little museum of fine and expensive rocks, including a mesmerizing chunk of crystal that is on sale for $38,000. I ogle it until I am dragged kicking and screaming out of the museum, it was clear and purple and pink and sunny and dark and mysterious and I saw the past’s secrets in its cracks. It is time to return to Tahoe and casinos and mule’s ears, those yellow little mountainside stragglers, with their big goofy dusty green leaves. I occasionally pick them but they wither into dust at human touch.

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We drive within a shout of Reno and up the 9,700 foot high Mt. Rose through a snowstorm before descending in a most dramatic fashion (you can check out any time you like but you can never leave) to lake rain and mountain clouds through the tunnel behind Cave Rock and hold hands with the lake all the way back to California, dipping our toes in the lake and patting a few sugar pines. My brother and I play a little game we call seagull bocci, in which we take turns seeing who can get closer to a seagull before it flies away. He beats me, but the cheater twiddles an orange slice between his fingers. I find a statue of a grizzly bear and its cub fighting off a penetrating bald eagle and its little eagle friend. It’s an intense, violent piece of art, but I see the meaning in it. The east – civilization – is coming. It is going to destroy the wild west and tame it. It’s going to take your cub and teach it how to read and write and submit to the good Lord like a good white man. The grizzly’s eyes are deep and painful, fierce and refusing to die. From what I can tell, the sugar pines are tired of trying and the California grizzly is extinct. “When the Yankees came, they raised a flag that bore a crude image of a bear and in the next sixty years or so hunted the real thing into extinction.” They still raise the flag, though.

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But it’s alright, California is a happy place, helplessly hoping… All of the California girls are happy with their goofy bearded boyfriends, the Warriors are kicking the Thunder’s butt, and the Giants are hosting the Cubs, a pennant preview if the town ever wanted one, and not a plastic shopping bag in sight.

It’s morning again and we drive up another mountainside, this time its Tallac. We creep around the southwest bend of Tahoe toward Emerald Bay, a hidden gem on the lake, only accessible via bumper-to-bumper traffic. We find a fantastic pullover, though, and spy the Victorian castle-like structure on a beach and an island known as Fannette Island (previously known as Coquette Island, a name I prefer) on which there is another castle-like structure that the rich lady who lived on the beach used for tea, once in a while. Her handyman was a local hermit, and would row his boat all the way to Tahoe City to hit up the saloons. Once he got frostbite on his toes and had to cut a few off. He saved them to show visitors. His name was Dick Barter, which is an excellent name. I jump up and down on the rocks and around the restrooms and past old fat ladies resorting the ice boxes in the back of the SUV in the parking lot while her portly hubby shuffles the map guide and hmmphs in the hot sun. More traffic ahead.

I make like Exaggerator and saunter far to reimburse the sidewalks for all of the sitting in a car while we drive around, a-traveling, traveling, traveling. I try to observe people and make connections and eye contact. A girl and her kid sister riding their bikes from the grocery store back to their neighborhood, oh to live here, a homeless pair nodding at me as I pass them, oh to sleep here, just another dude in a backpack with a dirty pair of shorts on, oh that’s me, a mindless cashier who wants to talk to her coworker rather than ring me out, oh to think nothing of this place, but I am polite anyway. I have been in Tahoe long enough that I am beginning to wonder if I should try making a friend, as I have one more night to go and no itinerary beyond wandering the casino village laughing at all the boxes of giant pine cones for sale that are free across the street in the park. But perhaps it is my Yankee insensibilities; I prefer to people watch, and point out all the flowers and birds, mumbling alone. I walk past a statue of a Washoe woman holding a baby Washoe kiddo. She represents the past and the baby represents the future, but I see nothing but white kids and tourists. Then I see a mallard but it flies away with its secrets before I can tell it hello.

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We snag a picnic table at Zephyr Cove, an appropriately named place, though I would change the Cove to “cold” and you got it perfect. We huddle around a grill to hide from the wind and roast meat and corn. Some overly curious chipmunks and Steller’s jays hover us into our spot, demanding payment for our trespasses. The chipmunk is so brazen, he runs up onto the table and licks the salt off my plate. I read a sign the next day that warns people about the plague, which is carried by chipmunks.

We watch the tail end of a thunderstorm pass by the western part of Tahoe – we are on the east, in Nevada – blowing the dark clouds and taking the wind with it. Then we get onto an old timey steam boat and ride into the rain. I stand up on the deck in the mist and smile at a miles-long rainbow that reaches from the dock we take off from all the way to Cave Rock. I’m feeling a little homesick, especially as tourists ask me to take their picture in front of the rainbow. I agree, of course, but only so I can return to my mindful gaze into the mindless wonders of the world. It’s interesting to me that a rainbow is an illusion that is different from every angle, therefore everyone is seeing a completely different rainbow all at the same time. The ends of these rainbows follow us for miles, and each fades into the mist as calmly as they appear.

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The next morning for breakfast we have another cookout but at Nevada Beach. I sit among geese prints and read in the sand, getting some sun. A flock of geese float idly by, a group of children erupt in cheers as they float by. I want to cheer as well. Some stand-up paddlers wade by, one paddle holding a girl and a dog. The dog jumps out and flips the paddle and the girl, excellent entertainment, all in good fun. I climb a tree, the first tree I’ve ever climbed. I look out to some smoke across the lake, and the adventure creeps back into me. But save that energy for tomorrow, it’s time to relax and prepare myself for a return to San Francisco.

 

We descend from Tahoe’s 6,224 feet to Berkeley’s 71 feet, down to the flats, and across the line into Rockbridge for lunch as a fancy restaurant my brother works at. I was feeling peckish so I ordered only some roasted hazelnuts and a sparkling water. My dad and brother cut pizzas with special pizza scissors, which I am pretty sure is a law in California. My dad drops me off at a Safeway and I sit under a tree and wait for my L.me pal Dan to meet up and whisk me away for a personalized tour. So many white people, so many craft beers and rented bicycles and coolers and Oakleys. A parade of half-naked Marines bro’s march by – camo bags, boots, and boxers. One guy has a twelve-pack hat on. They are cheering and waving their Marine Corps flag. I don’t give a damn about them. But hey, we’re in San Francisco. Nobody has to give a damn about anyone here, that’s what I like about it. I hope they are all happy marching together.545

Dan takes me to Golden Gate Park and we wander into the art museum. Eskimo tusk and ivory carvings, miniature eskimo people in tiny boats made from tusks and wood and various mammal intestines. My brother meets us there. I look for the tallest person in the room, but he wanders in when all these Russian art model ladies are wandering around. He shows up to ruin the view. I am not allowed to carry my backpack over my waist. I think this is so I don’t turn and knock the statues or paintings over. We gawk at how close we can get to the paintings, a surprising lack of ropes. I inspect up-close at Stuart and Peale works, as well as an amazing piece that overlooks a South American mountain scene, with a rainbow that looks superimposed on the painting. I look for special lighting, but it is the canvas I am amazed by. Fantastic.

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We wander away from living art to seek out static buffalo – there is a preserve nearby – but the dustballs are lazy and far away. Somewhere near there is a statue of a Pioneer Mother showing her children the great west, that they will someday inherit and destroy almost entirely. We go as west as we are able, to a beach, some caves, opting for more living art. I smell lots of salt and cannabis and a little too much urine, but the cave is as fantastic as the rainbow painting. If only I could hang the rainbow painting here over the F*CK TRUMP graffiti, which is at least tastefully done in Warriors colors of blue and yellow. The tide is high and I wade through the Pacific ocean to get into and out of the cave. I enjoy the cold wet sand in my toes and ignore the politics. Somewhere in California the riots at Trump rallies happen. Here the sun is threatening to set and we see herons on the rocks and it’s calm and wild in its calmness. “The ocean is not ugly. It is beautiful and wonderful.” Wilder yet: I pick up what I think is a shell, but it is a sand flea and I cringe. We get back in the car and go to Castro, where there is a delightful burger joint – sour cream and chile peppers and pepper jack and milk shakes spilled all over the table – and then Dan brings us to BART at Mission St. and 24th. Goodbye, Dan, a marvelous adventure companion.

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My brother realizes that we are very near an “anarchist” bookstore, so we decide to check it out before hopping on BART. We walk past some thugs who pat a man down and take his property from him – they use walkie-talkies. People walk by and ignore it as hard as they can. Oh, they are undercover cops. It’s incredibly awkward. I want to record the situation, but I don’t know how people in California treat people who record police – there are laws in California – and I know that I’d probably get real smahht around some undercover bro cops who lie to people on the street and take their property. We continue to the Modern Times Book Collective, one wacky little store. I can’t tell if the children’s book section is the queer fiction section, but I kinda like that. The “anarchist” section is all Noam Chomsky, but there is some good stuff on culture and blowback and other topics real anarchists can appreciate. I really want to bellow, “Where the Rothbard, bro?” to the cashier and then barter dandelion greens for my selection, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Second Edition by Hakim Bey, but something tells me the anti-capitalists prefer dough over dandelions. Bread for the masses.

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Anyway, I carry my clever little purchase back down Mission Street — or is it 24th Street? — toward BART, past crowded bars filled with cheers and TVs playing the Warriors game. T.A.Z.s and humans vs. zombies for me in sunny White Mountains New Hampshire just a few weeks away…… Shady eyes on shady guys ride past me on bikes and I snap back into focus. I pass a scratched message in the sidewalk: DIE HIPSTER. I get it, gentrification. I’m sympathetic to these local attitudes toward people moving into neighborhoods for the culture and then changing it to suit their desires. In Tahoe, I loved the Washoe woman, I loved the grizzly bear, in Belmont I loved the real Mexican food, I loved the Eskimo carvings, I loved the wild flowers that refuse to be picked and the shady bicycle rider, even if he didn’t know I loved him. And I love, as we walk down into BART, the old hillbilly playing his banjo and singing for tips. I don’t tip him though, I’m only here to observe the local color, and I slip my ticket into the machine and slip through the gate, my ticket slips back out to join me. They have their temporary autonomous zones and I have mine, in a BART car headed for Millbrea.

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My brother and I sit in the train and look at the city as the sun sets, it’s a messy and beautiful place. I’m not sure that I like it, though I enjoy visiting it. After nine days, I’m ready to go home. It is great to see my brother and visit his home for a while, though. On Sunday I wake up and it’s my 30th birthday. I have to take my belt and shoes off for the TSA and when I ask the government schlub about the scanner machine, he spits marbles at me, some kind of foreign accent that I’ve never heard before. So the TSA took a picture of my d*ck with their radiation machine for my birthday, hooray, while I hold my hands above my head like a sad drunk starlet. But then I realize I am about to enter a Tuckerian paradise, an entire terminal of commerce waiting to make me happy. My dad and I settle in at an airport bar and I order a birthday Perrier. He tells me it took 8 hours to deliver me when I was born. Then I explain that my birthday will only be 21 hours long because of the flight back east and with perfect timing, our sassy black bartender chimes in: “You’re just paying your mom back for all those hours of labor.” There is sitcom laughter – oh Nichole! – but shh, I don’t tell her that I gained an extra three hours of being 29 when I flew into San Francisco a week before. I spray canned laughter out of a spray can and spin around in my bar stool, relishing my final moments of being a twenty-someething year old. The girl next to me orders a Bloody Caesar, which the bartender doesn’t know, so she says a Bloody Mary. She’s a tired girl. A guy with gold henna tattoos he got at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert tries to chat her up and I step out of California.

I ride in planes and trains and automobiles, though in the opposite order. I sit next to an older gentleman in an A’s shirt who sees the Updike book I am beginning and he tells me it’s great. I want to tell him that we are living in present tense right now, that it was Updike who put that crazy idea in my head, to “move between minds, between thoughts and objects and events with a curious ease not available to the past tense.”

“I don’t know,” posits Updike, “if it is clear to the reader as it is to the person writing, but there are kinds of poetry, kinds of music you can strike off in the present tense.”

Instead I just thank him. Updike, I mean. It’s been a trip, man, I say to the man, who is going to Cape Cod, nice. Does my brother live in the flats or the hills? Is my employer unionized? I have the same birthday as Jack Kennedy, did you know today is Jack Kennedy’s birthday? He’s 99, I did a book report on him once, yes it’s amazing he was such an outsider and then they killed him. And like a good conspiracy plot, the pilot tells us to deplane because the part of the plane that is “our communication with the ground” is broken. Great. We reboard in an hour, but the older gentleman and my dad work out a deal and switch seats. I read an awkward sex scene, clenching Updike tight around the pages and peering at the bomb words exploding softly while my dad struggles with the United Airlines app on his phone. I put the book down for a while and focus on helping him. We give up because we are amazed we can even use a phone 30,000 feet up, and he’s still able to check our progress during the flight, telling me when we’re over Idaho, we’re over Nebraska, we’re over Lake Huron, and we’re over New York. Over Lake Huron, we tunnel through some wicked storms and the plane shakes. It’s exciting, but scary because it’s dark out and we’re supposed to pretend everything’s okay when the stewardess walks by calling, Trash trash trash like a bird walking backwards while holding out a plastic bag. The woman sitting in the window seat has closed the shades and when we land, we can’t see Boston, but my dad explains to me every movement of the plane and predicts accurately when the plane will touch ground. Bump. Strut. Sprawl.

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Pretty soon it’s 1 am and we’re standing in misty Boston traffic. The air isn’t fresh and I take off my raincoat while I prefer to get wet to feel something. A state trooper yells at people, his job is to keep folks from parking where the buses need to go, but as soon as he walks away, cars swarm in like flies. Welcome to Boston, land of the M*sshole. It is a giant M*sshole Preserve. One woman’s car breaks down right where our bus is supposed to pick us up, and the cop calls a tow truck. A woman walks in the street to the car to get her bag out and the State Trooper yells at her, Hey! On the sidewalk! ON THE SIDEWALK! and when she finally steps up, he adds, with a Bostonian spat, Theahh ya go! He stands in the second lane of four, on a road that shouldn’t be driven on like a highway but is – and I really hope he gets wiped out by something big. Maybe a train. Or pterodactyls. There’s a place for people like him, INDIAN LAND.

A magic bus arrives, with a big golden DOVER, NH shining on it like a slot machine we finally win. The fog gets thicker as we drive norther and all I want is to step into it and glide through it into sleep. In California it is green for the one week there is green, which is the week we are there — but in New Hampshire, the green is wild and abundant and bright even in the darkness, it surpasses California’s dreams and I am happy. Fog and green and shadows and moonlight and tangled oak branches and clematis vines and I am home.

Around 3 am, I stand on my own porch, and dig out my own key, and fit it into my own door. I find my spotless little kitchen and pour a spotless glass of water. There is nothing more exciting than the bed, and a final song lyric slips through my mind before I doze off to the hum of the ceiling fan – I’m a thousand miles away and I’m standing right in front of your face – and then I slept.