Dear Tuesday (Notes from the Road edition)

Dear Folks at HTC/Google/Sprint,
You've built a fine product, gang. Normally, my insides shrivel up and my body convulses at the sound of the word "product", I hate it so. But, I truly and honestly don't know what to call the four inch by two and half inch black device sitting next to me right now. It's a phone, sure. But it's also been a roadmap, a restaurant review guide, a computer, an electronic diary, a camera, and a way to connect with friends as far away as the other side of the country. I would not have been able to do this trip without it. Well, I would have, but I'd probably be sitting in a corn field in the middle of Iowa right now, lost, crying my eyes out, hungry, lonely, and with no way to take a picture of myself with the caption: "Vacation: Day 1".

Dear Rooster's Restaurant in Medford,
You guys are awesome. When I asked for an outlet to plug my laptop into, you graciously unplugged your nearest ceramic rooster lamp and allowed me access. Then you served me a delicious omelet and your waitress made sure to refresh my coffee at the edge of the table instead of inches from my screen. That sort of courtesy, plus your love of all things roostery and hand painted stuffed into every corner of your wood paneled dining room, is a rare and wonderful thing. May you outlive all the Applebees and may your kitsch never need dusting.

Dear Palm Cottages,
You are so lovely. You are like a doting grandmother standing at the side of the road with a tray of fresh baked cookies calling me to come in and rest a while. Rest I did, Palm Inn. Your beds are wonderful cinnamon-roll folds of cozy blankets and pillows. Your front desk is wonderfully helpful, your gardens are relaxing, your little red doors are charming. You even offer the weary traveler far from home a pillow menu. A pillow menu! Which is a good thing, because....

Dear Madonna Inn,
Thanks for agreeing to mail me back my pillow. It's a weird thing to wake up in a cold sweat five hundred miles from where you slept last night and realize that you've left a pretty important part of your sleeping set-up in another city. For god's sake. I can't remember a damned thing anymore. Which reminds me....

Dear San Clemente Inn,
Thanks for agreeing to mail me back my book. Who the hell goes on vacation with a self help book about healing trauma? I do. And who then leaves that book in a hotel room and drives off without it? That would be me too. The irony of packing a book about getting over anxiety and then waking up in a cold, sweaty panic attack after realizing I'd left said book somewhere along Route 1 is not lost on me.

Dear Future Traveling Self,
Next time you pack for a vacation, you are not allowed to bring anything but the following: underwear, toothbrush, cell phone. Forget changes of clothes, toiletries, laptops, etc. Clearly you cannot seem to manage keeping track of anything else. For God's sake, you almost left your phone on a paper towel dispenser in a roadside bathroom miles from anything. You know what? Forget the underwear and the toothbrush. Just bring your phone and a tether.

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They Have No Idea Who They’re Dealing With

Write a review about my recent stay? Why, sure, Sure I will.
Here ya go.

Title: "Where dreams of comfort and hospitality go to die"

"What should I start with? The ping pong ball sized hole torn into the drapes? The drapes that wouldn’t properly shut out the light because every third curtain hook was bent and unable to be placed back in its track without a pair of pliers and a ladder? The black mildew ringing the shower stall? The power button on the TV pushed in so hard it was lodged an inch deep into the device and the remote that didn’t work? The room key that was a single loose key with the number of the room scratched into it with a wood screw? Maybe you’d like to hear about the water damage on the ceiling, a sagging, stucco bowl of water damage big enough to hold a few pieces of fruit? Or maybe the lampshades ragged and torn and not really bolted to the mismatched lamps so much as perched cockeyed from the tops of their wire frames? Or perhaps you’re not bothered by the aesthetics of a place and you don’t care about these sorts of things. Maybe you don’t care if your furniture looks like it was pulled from a run down schoolhouse circa 1967. Maybe you’re more into the language of a place. Like, maybe you’re the sort that enjoys a good printed sign stapled to the bathroom wall in a sheet protector warning you NOT to use the towels and sheets as vehicles for applying shoe polish and car wax. Maybe that sort of thing gives you an ego boost because, for god’s sake, what kind of person polishes his shoes with a motel pillowcase? Or maybe you’re not here for the comfort factor and classy signage at all. Maybe you pulled off the road because the words “free continental breakfast” caught your eye. And maybe your idea of continental breakfast is a dingy plastic pitcher of reconstituted orange juice and five Styrofoam cups. If all this sounds tolerable to you, then, by all means, pay the outrageous sum of $50 a night for this dump. All your wildest fantasies about what it would be like to sleep in a room used to stage a grizzly murder scene for an episode of America’s Most Wanted would come true."

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Pink Is the Color Of Contentedness

Can you hear my contented sighs from where you are? Because I have been doing nothing but exhaling dramatically with relief and happiness for the past 12 hours or so.

Yesterday morning was a rough one. I'd spent the previous day, all day, in the hot, hot sun. I thought I'd drunk enough water throughout the day. I also thought I'd put on enough sunscreen. Turns out I did neither. And then I drank beer.

When I woke up the next morning for the second time (the first time was because I was having a nightmare about a grenade-tossing loner type and me scrambling up a tree) I'm pretty sure I was mega-dehydrated. And, because dehydration works a lot like drunkenness in that you can't accept that you are, in fact, dehydrated while you are dehydrated (Nah, bro... I can totally drive thish car home....I'm totally fine, dude!... [stumbles off curb, breaks ankle]) I didn't realize it until 300 miles, five hours, and many, many bottles of water later when I was feeling a LOT better.

This was the first mechanical failure I've experienced on this trip. And it was a short-lived one thanks to the dozens of stops I made along the way to fill up my water bottle. The technology failures, though, they don't seem to want to stop. I was in Ventura, CA, before I realized the car charger didn't work. So, without a laptop, and with my phone as my only guidebook/map/emergency lifeline, I have to make sure that my phone is fully charged every morning before hitting the road. Yesterday, after pushing through the morning's nausea and listlessness, I got all the way to the bell tower in Balboa Park in San Diego, clearly one of the most beautiful and ornate buildings in the whole park, when my camera ran out of battery. I grabbed a few shots with my phone's camera (is there anything this little HTC Evo CAN'T do?) and made my way back to the car, determined to not have THAT happen again.

Other things, however, have been aligning magically. I was checking my email (from my phone!) from a state park bathroom when I saw that a friend from high school, who I'd been trying to meet up with since March when I was down in SLO the first time, suggested that we meet at a cute little bistro in a sleepy little town for dinner with his wife. I was literally ten minutes from the turnoff when I checked my email. So, I pulled off the highway, called him, changed out of my sweaty traveling clothes into something not sweaty in my car (I'm sorry, Orcutt, CA, for flashing you my boobs, but it's just so much more comfortable to drive without a bra), and, like, just like no time had passed between us at all, we were having wine and eating meatballs. I had arrived just a few minutes before my friend and his wife and handed the lovely hostess at Addamo's my camera battery, explaining that I was about to meet a friend I hadn't seen in fifteen years and could she please plug this battery into her wall for ten minutes or so so I could take pictures of this momentous occasion, and also, was my shirt on backwards?

My friend, the inimitable J.C., his lovely wife Colleen, and I laughed the night away. It's becoming more and more apparent to me that this trip is only partially about the scenery. Letting your hair down and laughing is equally important. Understanding that some friendships do not need physical proximity to endure...this has been the most important lesson yet. I've stayed with some incredibly wonderful people along the way and they have been so warm and welcoming. They have all been tonic to my tired, vibrating soul at the end of a day of driving.

And then, THEN! I got to spend the night at the Madonna Inn. It figures that I would drive all this way to get away from the snow and the cold to sleep in a (very expensive) room decorated, of all things, like a freakin' Swiss Chalet, complete with wooden skis and wood paneling. Gah! Whatever frustration I was feeling this morning wore off in seconds, though, when I got to the pool. The pool, y'all. The pool is magical. Swimming in the early morning in a pool surrounded by mountains with birds chirping in the background? Heavenly. Topped only by the music being piped in through speakers made to look like boulders. The song?

"Take it easy
Take it easy
Don't let the sound of your own wheels
Drive you crazy".

Will do, Mr. Henley. Will do.

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Love Letters From The Road (Dear Tuesday, the Roadtip Installation)

Dear Everyone That Loves Me,
I am safe and sound. Thank you for your prayers for my safety. What I lack in preparedness, I more than make up for with street smarts and an East Coast tough girl swagger that will not leave my system despite all my granola munching and tree hugging. No one puts this Baby in the corner because this Baby will melt your face off with her stink eye.

Dear Mom and Dad,
Thanks for teaching me good manners. I thank the toothless owner of the filthy roadside gas station as profusely and genuinenly as I do the pretty Hawaiian-shirted and white-sneakered waitress at the seafood restaurant. You have taught me (among other things) to recognize a human being when I see one.

Dear Tara,
Thanks for teaching me that thirty dollars is a small price to pay for my sanity. Thirty dollars last night made the difference between anxiety and peace. Thirty dollars made the difference between curling my body into a tight ball to avoid making contact with the edge of what I presumed to be an unwashed, scratchy motel-issue comforter, and sleeping comfortably in a pin-drop silent, beautifully appointed room that was heated to my exact comfort level.

Dear Tim at the San Clemente Inn,
You, sir, are a rockstar. Thank you for joining the long line of people who think I'm roughly ten to fifteen years younger than I actually am. You asked me if I could handle hauling my luggage up a flight of stairs because I "looked young". I almost invited you to dinner, and not just because you judged my bare biceps to be the suitcase-lifting type. Thanks for that restaurant recommendation as well. I know a fellow eater when I see one. You, sir, have great taste in food. And you know your sleepy little town like the back of your hand. You made that last bit of driving so very, very worth it.

Dear Everyone That Told Me To Avoid L.A.,
Um.... it wasn't really that bad, y'all. I mean, have you sat in NY/NJ traffic? I have, and I'm here to tell you: It's the same damn thing! Only, at least in LA, you have PALM TREES to look at while you're crawling along! And the air doesn't smell like diesel or tar or defeat! Do you want to know a secret? I kinda liked it. Wanna know another secret? This part, this one stretch of an hour and a half of driving... this scared me the most about this whole trip. Not the winding turns down Highway 1 in the pitch black night. Not the random men who would give me the elevator eyes when I said "Table for one, please". Not the depressing, we've-made-this-only-a-modicum-above-tolerable motel conditions. Nope. None of that intimidated me. The traffic in LA is the only thing I was scared of. Why? I don't know, exactly. Maybe I was afraid of all the wasted time. (HA! There's a rock slide I'd like to introduce my pre-trip self to for a lesson in "wasted time"). Maybe I was afraid of getting into an accident and being stranded. Maybe I was afraid I would actually LIKE it. You see, everyone I know seems to hate L.A. But, they hate it in the way that everyone hates the prettiest girl in the room. They all want to BE the prettiest girl in the room- so they just talk smack about her to make themselves feel better. Well, L.A., I think you're pretty and I'm not intimidated by your long legs and perfect hair.

Dear Mr. Burdy,
Thank you for letting me do this. Not in a "thank you for unchaining me from the stove" sort of way, either. Thanks for letting me take an old car we share away for ten whole days and push her to the limits of her speed limits and mechanical capabilities. Thank you for enduring loneliness and having to explain to everyone that your fiance is a rather impetuous thing who loves to jump in the car from time to time, wholly unprepared, and drive for miles and miles just to clear her head. Thank you for making me smile proudly when male strangers ask me "what my man is like" because they cannot imagine why a woman would be on the road, by herself, without him. Thank you for being the confident, secure, and seasoned veteran of this relationship. Thank you for being a thoroughly modern man and a gentle, sensitive human being all at once.

Dear Madonna Inn,
I'm comin' for ya.

Dear Everyone I Know Between San Diego and Seattle,
I'm comin' to see ya. I promise. We're gonna have a beer, we're gonna catch up.

Dear Beach,
I don't even have words. If it weren't so inappropriate on so many levels to scoop up great handfuls of sand and throw them into the air in ecstacy, I would do it. I swear. Man, am I happy to see you.

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When Life Hands You Lemons… and a guy named Jake*

The clock is ticking here at the San Luis Obispo public library. For 26 minutes, I have Internet access. Then it's back to getting directions, checking my email, and Googling "cheap, shitty motels" on my phone. Why? Well, because my laptop is in San Francisco. And I am at least five hours south of it in San Luis Obispo.

That time calculation might be a little off. You see, time has unraveled these past 24 hours.

A savvier traveler might have a plan for traveling down the coast. A savvier traveler, for instance, might have checked things like road conditions and weather and packed something slightly warmer for those gusty coastal winds. A savvier traveler might also have, for instance, checked to see if Route 1 was blocked due a massive rock slide. She might also have believed the sign when it said in Monterrey "Road Ends 75 miles".

Ends? How does a road just END? Surely there would be a detour, no? Surely there would be something besides a gas station, a restaurant, and three burly contractors nursing tallboys of beer? Surely the Universe would not expect one to squint at a ragged map and know that "G14" was a forest road and that one would have to wend one's way, on a single lane road for 20 excruciating miles at 7 miles an hour, through the Los Padres National Forest as the sun was setting and then drive through a goddamned Army base to get back to Highway 101, right? And surely, surely, the Universe would not have planted Jake at the end of the bar run his ragged fingers through the back of your cute, asymmetrical haircut while you were looking away, offer you some of his shrimp tortellini, and ask you why you had to be going so soon.

Because nothing would light up your face after finding out that the road, WAS, in fact, closed, and that the "detour" you dreamed of was 50 long miles through dense woods, like a guy who was paying for his meal in weed, and knew those woods like the back of his hand because he lived somewhere in them off the grid. And nothing would make you feel better after pumping thirty six cents worth of gas into your car (because all the other pumps were dry, the other hundred or so drivers that day having panicked in exactly the same way you did and topped off their tanks) than his pet Chihuahua, Bella, who sat in your lap for a picture.

And nothing would make that day more complete than figuring out you'd left your phone, your only effing connection to the outside world, on the paper towel dispenser in that bathroom in the gas station, after driving five miles down the road.

Well, nothing except using that phone, after an hour of driving like a bat out of hell down 101, to find a motel, booking it, and then driving there - only to find out that the only room vacant is the handicapped room. There will be no bathtub, the power button on the TV will be broken, and your blackout shades will have a ping pong ball sized hole in them. You don't care much because you are exhausted. You will pull the plug for the TV out of the wall, you will bunch up the shades to cover the hole, you will turn on the heater (whose knobs are broken/reversed so instead of blowing hot air all night, blows COLD air) and you will dream of a more dignified, more planned vacation. One that does not involve holes in the wallboard, and rock slides, and not eating dinner, and definitely includes more guys eating pasta in a restaurant at the end of the world.

*Not his real name. I'm protecting his innocence from the Feds.

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