Allergy, Auto, Aspergas, and Art

Call it an “A” day.

Allergy: Welcome to the yellow pollen and white wispys now attacking Boulder. Even my car has taken on new hues.

A new ‘do for old wheels: yellow highlights orange. Or does it?

I call them “white whispys” because they don’t stay still for photos. Instead, these feathery bits float around in the air like ephemeral angels (devils?), unnoticed until the sneezing and red eye begin. I thought they were pretty. Until Thursday morning.

It was my fifth morning of four mile walks. A speedwalk on Elmer’s 2 Mile Path devolved into sudden paroxysms of sneezing. Why am I sneezing? Then the teary gushers with itchy red eye began. On my return to the townhouse, I noticed the yellow pollen blanketing my orange car. When I caught me in the bathroom mirror, even I was afraid.

The delightful millenial barista at the Pekoe Sip House proclaimed similar agonies when I explained my junkie eyes. She said blame the oaks for the yellow pollen then curse the dogwoods for the white whispys.

The why of the what matters less than the cure. First, it’s load up on tissues, nose sprays, and eye drops. Second, it’s leave town to head south where after 34 years, my body is well‐acclimated to Houston’s tree floaties.

Auto: My Subaru Forrester died in traffic only hours after the allergy attack. It took Magic Max of our Summer Writing Retreat fame only minutes to get the car (and its two women travelers) safely out of rush hour traffic and parked back at the townhouse.

I met my two BNF’s, as in Best New Friends, this morning: Eric from Triple A who linked with Phil of Hoshi Motors, Yes, that’s two bald commercial endorsements. How many mechanics have you met who will build a list of best gas stations in town to help you avoid another misadventure?

Phil in the Hood, triple‐checking battery connections.

Everything checked out: battery, starter, alternator, transmission, blah‐blah‐blah. Even my homeboy mechanic was perplexed, and he did a thorough car check pre‐road‐trip. Best guess of these three mechanics? Bad gas from an off‐brand service station and a quirky car unused to mountain driving in summer temperatures.

Two learnings emerged from today’s RoadBroad misadventure. If you’re a woman, both can help you.

  1. Don’t buy gasoline from off‐brand stations, especially when you’re on the road. Brand means the major oil companies such as Conoco, Exxon, Shell, etc. What’s four cents a gallon saved today when the engine quits tomorrow?
  2. If you’re stuck in traffic with a malfunctioning car engine, try these Magic Max tricks, in this order:

1. Turn off the engine.

2. Pump the gas pedal twice (or more, but don’t flood the engine).

3. Turn on the engine until it “catches.”

4. Rev the engine for several minutes.

5. Your car should be drivable now. If not, your car has a different problem.

Thank you, Max Regan!

Aspergas: The morning’s car drama preceded our regular two‐hour small group writing class. Only at 12 noon did I realized I had not eaten since consuming a mango popsicle at our Thursday night salon. At a quirky Pearl Street restaurant, I ordered an egg white fritatta.

Arugula tops green squash and egg whites — with a surprise veggie hidden in between.

What you don’t see is the surprise vegetable sandwiched amid the gorgeous arugula that tops the crepe‐style egg white underneath.

You know this vegetable as asparagus.

I call it Aspergas. It should be regulated by the E.P.A. as a toxic substance. It is the most awful vegetable known to sentient beings. This truth has something to do with my mother’s inability to undercook it, causing aspergas fumes to permeate our entire house. For days. As a result: I. Do. Not. Eat. Aspergas. Or Asparagus.

Only after I bit into a thick wad of arugula on my fork did I taste the Aspergas. But it tasted different, and it was OMG good. I left nothing on the plate.

I reported the experience to DH. He was stunned. A first. After 34 years.

Art: Whlle eating my Aspergas surprise, I made art.

When I had entered the restaurant, I noticed a crayon basket on the table behind the restaurant hostess. I asked for two crayons, plus a puzzle page. She did a double‐take. Not many 61‐year‐olds request art time while dining?

When Crayon Art meets a hungry RoadBroad.

I thought of Pat Clark, my dear writer friend who taught me about how art can heal during rough times. I needed ease after my allergy/auto misadventure. Pat’s clever Kindergarten Art morphed into my Crayon Art today.

I felt so much better when I finished.

Thank you, Pat!

Aspergas and Art.

A healing combination after Allergies and Autos.

P.S. My longest post as a RoadBroad. Forgive the windy! I hope you’ve enjoyed this read, even as you’ve learned something. That’s our goal. 

Good News, Good Friends, Good Food

Late yesterday, I learned an essay I wrote is a finalist in a national Creative NonFiction Essay contest. From more than 200 submissions, 37 entries were chosen finalists. Oh yeah, friend, it’s major buzz time.

Finalist notification letter about Boulder‐based essay

It gets better. Call it the woo‐woo factor.

The essay in question involves an incident that occurred in Boulder, at a Max Regan writing retreat, seven years ago this week.

Add that I learned the news while in Boulder, at a Max Regan writing retreat, only one day after visiting the location where the essay unfolded. I shiver.

Imagine a traumatized golden retriever in this picture.

Do you remember the blog mention two days ago of my search at the Trident Cafe? My search centered around an abused dog, an old lady, and a coward.

Seven years ago, cobalt blue draped everything in an eerie blanket of communal color: bands, straps, leashes, and booties engulfing Dylan the golden retriever. 

Only two days ago did I notice the cobalt blue of the awning, the Trident logo, and, in a softer blue — always, the sky. 

Besides weird timing, I’ve relearned several other things about the writing life in the past 24 hours.

One is, foremost, persistence.

I’ve worked on this essay for seven long years. It’s been through more drafts and readings than I will admit publicly. It’s been rejected by magazines (both on‐ and off‐line) multiple times.

But I kept polishing this essay because it felt important, universal. Such bigness demands a big audience, I believed. What writers’ essays demand, I learned, is persistent effort. And patience.

Secondly, I’ve learned that what I experienced in my broadcast news days also applies to the writing life. You’ve got to start small, gain your chops, and work your way up the publishing ladder. That’s rarely the truth any writer — young, old, or in‐between — wants to hear, especially in our get‐it‐now‐or‐get‐lost culture. Slow down, writers, and learn your craft. And, always — be easy on yourself. Max preaches the same. Now, I’m listening. In a new way.

If nothing more develops of this particular essay — as in I end up #37 on the finalist list for this contest — I carry away the call for continued persistence and slow‐small‐steady progress. The simplicity of the message is sweet. And easy to pursue.

I celebrated today’s news with a dear friend, a tasty lunch, and a shopping trip to the Tennyson neighborhood of Denver. For the first time, RoadBroad’s chauffeur became a passenger — nice! 

Today became mix‐it‐up day. We had no retreat classes, by design. Why not try a different city, different restaurants, different bookstores — an altogether different approach? BookBar whispered, thanks to a writer friend’s recommendation. Its theme says buy a book, drink a vino.

I did neither. Instead I bought a clever set of writer notecards plus a pair of map earrings. Do you hear the RoadBroads clapping? After my purchase, I turned around and left. Leaving the writer notecards on the counter.

BookBar bookstore: for books and wine, in that order (for some of us).
Little maps of tiny towns cover quirky earrings. Perfect for a RoadBroad!

Oh, no! Guess who now must return to the BookBar? Who knows what else she can buy? Books maybe?

Of course, she’ll be wearing her new pair of RoadBroads earrings.

Dog Days

Today was about the dogs. They showed up twice in 20 minutes. 

The first dog sighting came in a quick stop on a goat hunt. Ellen swears Diana and I resemble bouncing mountain goats. Have you seen them? They’re the Internet‐famous baby goats hopping around an Alpian farm. When I heard of Boulder’s Laughing Goats cafe, I had to find out if I fit in. Plus get a picture of the goats for Ellen. Maybe I could hop and laugh?

Dogs like goats? Or is it only a water thing?

Instead, I found this.

The dog bowl would seem a disappointment. Instead, I saw a thread.

Writers are, among other things, seamstresses. We search for threads with which to sew a story. Sometimes those threads come from multiple places.

After the Laughing Goat, I had one more thread to find.

I walked to the Trident Cafe in search of a real‐life dog.

In 2011, I witnessed the heroic Dylan. That’s what I dubbed the golden retriever mix who stumbled down the sidewalk then stopped in front of the Trident Cafe. Make that “was stopped at the cafe.” Dylan was draped in a complicated contraption of leashes, harnesses, collars, and dog boots–all colored a cruel cobalt blue. I watched for several painful minutes as his master tugged, dragged, and yanked her dog down the sidewalk before shoving him against the Trident’s outside wall. Dylan laid against the brick building and baked in the sun as his owner went inside the cafe. I watched, horrified. Then walked away. Seven years later, the images — and my choice — haunt.

In planning this writing retreat, I had an odd mission to look for Dylan. Call it one of those things. This time, I’d do the right thing.

The Trident today held no Dylan, of course. Waiting instead was cobalt blue:

Cobalt blue haunts Trident Cafe dog.

Logo. Awning. Sky.

I am glad Dylan was gone. I pray he’s out of pain, no longer defined by cobalt blue.

The Dylan story and all this rambling about dogs and goats in a writer’s life must strike you as weird. If so, I am glad. Because that’s the job of a writer. To make others uncomfortable. Stories do that as we novelists and essayists and others of the writing life gather threads to create stories that impact your life somehow.

Interesting that this shirt chose me this morning. Upon awakening, I lacked full understanding of the importance surrounding today’s mission. The t-shirt’s words best explain this seamstress metaphor.

Weird People. Writers. Artists. Dreamers. Outsiders. Pretty Special People. Can I say that?

I only sought a goat and a dog, never knowing I’d end up with two dogs and a blog post. And a really strange tale about the writing life.

Sherlock would be delighted my dedicated efforts at observation.

Somewhere my mother laughs.

I failed the sewing badge in Girl Scouts.

From Car to Bus and Back Again

The lady promised us the Boulder bus service was “quite efficient — very good actually.” We met her as we searched for our first bus stop near 28th and Valmont. Her directions took us to an easy‐to‐find pole with a simple sign, clearly marked:

Such a beautiful sign — and so easy to find!

The morning bus run from our townhouse to the Boulder Bookstore exceeded the stranger’s boast. We arrived early for class.

It marked our first official group working session. Three hours later, we left like we always do after experiencing a Max Regan seminar: eager, confident writers itchy to engage every storytelling possibility that our creative minds can conjure. The experience resembles a church revival, minus guilt and a tithe.

Ellen and I headed to the designated bus stop. Based on our morning experience, we felt confident in our ability to navigate the afternoon ride. Our only worry (at least mine; Ellen trusts me more than she probably should) was getting to the bus stop on time.

We arrived early at the designated location given to us by RTD (Regional Transportation District). The map planner had told us to board the 2:24 p.m. bus arriving at Spruce and Broadway.

A city bus neared us. It was 2:17 p.m.

Not ours,” I told Ellen before I saw our route number splashed across the top front of the bus. With ticket in hand, I waved at the bus driver as he sped by. He shook his head “no” and motioned to the next block. I began to run, waving my arms back at the driver as I yelled at Ellen behind me, “I’ll hold him for you.”

No such luck. The driver boarded three passengers then took off. I stood there in Texas disgust then waved harder and yelled a little louder. Don’t mess with a RoadBroad. Especially when she’s running and frustrated.

Can you see the red RTD sign? It’s behind the tree, peeking out from its upper left branches.

After the drama, we retraced our steps. There’s the bus stop sign we missed. Who looks behind a tree for a bus stop sign? Especially when it’s half a block from where you’ve been told to be? Do you follow the bus company’s specific instructions or do you wander sidewalks looking for hidden signs?

We parked ourselves at the corrected bus stop, crossing our fingers that maybe, maybe we’d get lucky and another #208 would miraculously appear. Then, an elderly man  with a beautiful German Shepherd joined us at the bus stop. He told us that sometimes RTD is early, “but never that early.” He shook his head in disgust. 

Of course, no later bus came. After our new friend got on his bus, Ellen and I looked at each other. What now? We now had no way of getting home because we didn’t have the later bus schedules. Who comes to town with all the city bus schedules in their backpack? Especially when they’re in town as a working visitor?

To the entire mess, Ellen offered one word: Uber.

Uber joins the RoadBroads team.

A minute later, we had Uber on the phone with a driver on the way. We met Frank of the silver Nissan Versa near Walnut and Broadway. We unlocked the townhome, an hour later than a pre‐paid bus coupon had promised.

Of course, Uber cost five times the value of that coupon. But we traveled from where we were to where we needed to be. Time and place no longer mattered.

Now we’re rethinking those books of bus coupons we bought long distance.

Today’s two learnings?

One good experience does not ensure another.

Sometimes cars really are the only way to travel.

****

By the way, the answer to Thursday’s post: the photo is of from high atop the Rio Grande River Gorge Bridge outside Taos, New Mexico. Sara Jackson: you got it — almost! The gorge bridge is a little bit upstream (or is it downstream?) of the Taos Box. Thanks for the guess!

Late & Lovely

It’s after 11 p.m. TX time & we’re only now in our Taos B&B.

So much to see and eat as we cruised across two states. Already Amarillo feels like a week ago.

That’s because, for both of us, today was lovely. For different reasons.

For Ellen, Santa Fe buzzed with memory and possibility.

For Melanie, Taos reconfirmed where home is.

More details manana after we reach our third state in three days. Of course, who knows what state we’ll really be in…

Our writing retreat — led by the magnificent and incomparable Max Regan — begins tomorrow night. And that’s the real reason we RoadBroads hit the highway in the first place!

Since I’m writing this post on my cell phone (& I’m cranky & tired), only one trip pic tonight:

Can you identify what this photo is? Hint: it’s deep, it’s wet, and it flows.

Tick Tick Tick Tick…

I’m in trouble now. Serious time trouble. 

Can all this fit into that luggage?

In 8 hours and 15 minutes — yes, I’m counting — I must leave my house. Ellen expects me at her doorstep at 6:15 a‐m. Wake‐up for me comes one hour before.

At least it’s a makeup free drive. We agreed.

I digress.

A nine‐hour‐plus drive to Amarillo dictates our early departure. Land after 6:30 a‐m on any Bayou City roadway, especially US 59 heading to I‐45, and the asphalt clogs up. RoadBroads don’t do slow.

I digress again. My apologies. Look up there at the trashy picture. Can you figure out what’s not yet done?

But wait. Turn around, leave this room, look to your right. You’ll spot three piles of dirty laundry. Head down the hall, you’ll find an unfinished stack of June‐due bill payments. In the kitchen rests a week of RoadBroad blog papers to sort and file. Intensifying the growing overwhelm is the June family calendar: two birthdays followed by Father’s Day times four.

All awaiting these diminishing overnight hours, and this blog post.

At least, Mother Nature cooperates. Boulder weather shows 88 degree highs and 56 degree lows. Amarillo temps for tomorrow mirror Houston, less the coastal humidity. From my childhood I remember the dry heat of the Texas Panhandle. Translation? Manana, even in an air‐conditioned car, demands less. Tank top and shorts. Less equals cooler. For this post‐menopausal chauffeur and her human cargo, cool matters. As in non‐negotiable.

This begs what may be my salvation tonight. Hot weather means fewer clothes equals less to pack. Or should I pack more outfits because wet and sweaty demands dry and cool?

When did I get too old for this kind of silliness? Mind mania has set in, my god.

My brain hurts. I’m tired. And I’ve got miles of things to finish before I sleep. I can’t pull a Scarlett, either. Tonight and Ellen dictate action and completion. So off I go to take care of all the silly busywork a 19‐day RoadBroads adventure demands. Who knows when it’s lights out for me tonight. Besides, I’ll probably go all “journey proud,” as my grandmother used to say, and not sleep a wink.

We’ll see. Instead, I’ll leave you with what I saw on my morning walk.

The trio of deer lolled in the Full Moon morning, the sun insisting this day belonged to the animals.

Can you find the three deer?

I hope to observe similar vistas in the road days ahead. Amarillo or Santa Fe or Taos or Denver or Boulder.

Crossing fingers.

And off to pack.

60 Hours to Launch a Road Trip…

and I’m letting go.

No more completing four page To Do lists.

No more pretending Wonder Woman inhabits my body.

My fantasy life exploded deep inside last night’s thunder and lightning storm.

At 7 p.m., the power went out, the computer crashed and into the weather ethers vanished three hours of writing. DH and I bailed, checking into a nearby hotel. Our disappearing act followed power company candor:  ‘we’ll have your power restored…some time later in the evening.”

What worried hands grab in dark lightning.

House temps rising above 80 degrees sped up our split. So did a scary black sky. Misery threatened overnight with lightning streaks boomed down to light the night, four belts at a time. I looked at Chuck, he looked at me and, with flashlights in hand, grabbed familiar bags in the dark. 

The two red bags hold everything two ex‐crisis communications consultants once needed for client emergency response. Odd to be both client and consultant in a single run of hours last night.

This morning, with the sun shining, I looked at last night’s haul and whispered to myself, “Too much luggage for one night.” But from somewhere deep inside came the defense:  we didn’t know what we would need — and we couldn’t see in the dark. We just responded. 

I’ve learned a lot about plans and fantasies in the last 24 hours. To wit:

  • John Lennon was right when he (or someone) said: “Life is what happens to you when you have other plans.”
  • I’ve lost 24 hours that I’d counted on to finish several Very Vital, Absolutely Must‐Be‐Done Projects that demanded completion before beginning any of the road trip nitty‐gritty preparation.
  • This afternoon, I sheared off two‐thirds of the Vital from the above‐mentioned To Do list. I have 60 hours to finish Everything. That’s on top of several outside must‐keep appointments, critical errands (gasoline in the car, hello?), along with routine daily chores.
  • Vital Learning: Vital can wait. It must. Truth is — cough, cough — most of it’s been waiting a long time anyway. C’est le vie.
  • Vital Learning: Road Trip packing list got major‐sheared. As in I’m packing half of what I’d earlier planned. No way I have time to pack everything I’d considered Vital only a day ago. I’ve got more important things to finish.
  • Vital Learning: When did Vital become so important to daily living?
  • Speaking of, next trip I take, I’m adding a blank page to the front of my Trip To‐Do List. The paper carries a single two‐word headline: The Unexpected. That’s Vital, too.

When life rolls, I rock. What else can a RoadBroad do?

Writer as Detective Observer

Semi‐bored, I sauntered through the Sherlock Holmes exhibit. A passel of schoolchildren entered the hallway and careened along its blacken walls. I winced. Turning to my right, I glanced a casual side‐eye to spot the piece of paper. It seemed an afterthought in the glass case until I read its message. Eerily appropriate for this day, this time. Indeed, my life this year:

Richer storytelling inspired by unexpected sources

Holmes’ words around “The Art of Observation” propelled me back to his era. As quickly, my mind jerked me back to where I stood. A whipsaw journey for an ex‐reporter absorbing too much of daily surroundings, fast‐forwarding to a writer determined to grow her storytelling skills. Further afield lies a chauffeur‐in‐waiting, prepping for a 19‐day road trip.

Was the Universe trying to tell me something? 

I stopped and turned back around. The rousing antics of youngsters faded away. I leaned in to peer beneath the glass. Sherlock Holmes’ advice about seeing but not observing left me blushing “guilty!” He wrote of inspiration, forensic science, discovery.

I read on and begin to substitute words. Personalize. Connect. Words written in the 19th century morph into new meaning in the 21st.

Observations captured here, for later translation…

Storyteller becomes detective, exploring the why of characters doing things as they do, propelled by setting, mood, temperature, intangibles awaiting discovery.

I am a writer; observation begins everything in my profession.” 

My heart pounds, remembering what’s approaching. A road trip through three states across 19 days. With a fellow observer. There’s something for both of us to see, observe. Discover.

Thanks for the reminder, Sherlock. Or is that “thanks, Sir”?

We’re all detectives — or can be — if we see lightly, observe deeply.

Go Local, not Global

In advance of this weekend’s kickoff of the summer vacation season, Bloomberg published a glorious photo essay of what it called “the‐10‐best‐global‐road‐trips‐to‐try‐this‐summer.”

My reaction came fast and hard: go local, not global.

Think of all the things you can see right where you are. Or within a few miles from where you live. Or after a few days on the road.

This time next week, Ellen and I will have driven across the cityscapes of Houston and Dallas on into the rural grasslands and canyonlands of Texas before driving high into New Mexico’s mountain lands then leveling out over Colorado’s dry grasslands, ending two straight days on the road in the flatirons of Boulder.

That’s 16 hours of a one‐way trip only two days from home.

From the coast lands to the mountains, we’ll see beauty everywhere. Because we’re looking. Really looking. And that’s the point this Memorial Day weekend, the kick‐off of the summer vacation season.

Look where you travel.

Look local.

Of course, this comes from the RoadBroad who wrote in her bio that she’s determined to spend the night on all seven continents.

As an old newsman I adore told me once, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

I won’t. Not on this blog post.

My Why for a Blog “Yes!”

The idea dropped in like a dream.

Start a blog for the road trip part of your Colorado writing retreat. Then use your earned knowledge and skills for the later novel road trip. 

After a lifetime as a hired writer for others’ words, I’m shoulder‐deep in my first novel. It’s a classic journey story about a woman who hits the road to reconnect with old college friends. She finds them — and, of course, herself — along the way.

I’ve been working on this novel for nearly 11 years now. Here’s a sampling of what’s accumulated:

Two of five piles: more eek!  
Eek! Here’s h‐a‐l‐f the jump drives that contain my WIP.

And that’s only part of it. Real Life got in the way. During one five‐year period, my extended family experienced a hospitalization or a funeral, on average, every three months. Non‐stop. Did I mention that 14 of those hospitalizations involved me and my brain?

Writing fell victim to healing. Despite the lengthy interruption and massive accumulation, I return to writing with a goal of novel completion this year. The plan includes this blog in that strategy.

Learn how to blog on a road trip. Make this fun. Keep it relaxed, and easy. As relaxed and easy as WordPress can be.

Write like a fiend. Remember, everything on the road is a potential blog post, be it words, photos, or video.

Report like a wise version of the reporter you used to be. Seek the unique in whatever form it manifests.

Observe, observe, observe.

Demonstrate what a founding member of the RoadBroads does. Prove it can be done.

You’re never too old to learn.

Besides, one good road trip must lead to another.

It all makes perfect sense.

I think.