Los Angeles

The Jig Is Up

I’ve never been great with milestones. When I left New York after five difficult years of college, the friend with whom I was driving cross-country asked if I had anything I wanted to say or do to mark the occasion. I said, “yeah, get in the car and leave.”

Setting intention isn’t historically my strong suit, and sabbatical-ing around the world was no different. As I mentioned way back when, I landed in Bogota with a four day hostel reservation, an around the world plane ticket, a six-year-old copy of South America on a Shoestring, and two weeks to get to Bolivia. Advance planning: not my strong suit.

So how do I mark today, the momentous last day of freedom before I return to work? With gratitude, with friendship, and with adventure – the same way I spent my time out and about in the world.

I walked the dog this morning the same way I have most days I’ve lived in this neighborhood. I happened, today, to see the owner of a home that I have watched, dog walk by dog walk, be lovingly restored and re-landscaped in a neighborhood where homes are more frequently torn down and replaced with McMansions. I got to tell her how much I’ve loved watching her house come back to life – and see how happy she was to be thanked.

Dogwalk LA today

Dogwalk LA today

I went to the Broad Museum, just opened last week, and saw amazing art with a friend who took the same semester off from college in 1991; the last cultural thing we did together was use my dad’s tickets to see La Traviata at the San Francisco Opera, which we left after one intermission because we were both crying so hard we couldn’t take anymore. But even today, we both remembered that evening for its beauty, which I believe is how I will remember today. Something old, something new, something inspirational.

Me beside a chair in Robert Therrien's Under the Table, at the Broad

Me beside a chair in Robert Therrien’s Under the Table, at the Broad

These plates are taller than I am. My grandfather always said, "Don't stack the plates!"

These plates are taller than I am. See the person in the background? My grandfather always said, “Don’t stack the plates!”

And then I delighted in the mundane. I went grocery shopping. I cleaned my room. I changed my sheets and unpacked my suitcase from last week’s adventure. I hardly remember how to go to work, despite some contract jobs here in LA (like that time I worked on the Oscars, which I’ve yet to report). So I’m trying to remember what I need at a desk, what one wears to an office, and to bring my paperwork to prove I’m a legal, able to work, resident of the USA. Thank goodness my passport is close at hand.

This transition – this last day of ‘freedom’ – is one of many lasts I’ve had since I packed up and hit the road over two years ago. There was my last day in Dallas , my last day ‘out and about in the world, which took place in Turkey, my last drive in my beloved Bessie.  But this transition also marks one of many more firsts on this adventure my life has become: my first visits to 16 countries, my first published piece, my first new car in 15 years, my first time (and second, and third) in the Eastern Sierra in 25 years, and tomorrow, my first day at a new company since 2005.

My last day out and about in the world, in the harem in Istanbul.

My last day out and about in the world, in the harem in Istanbul.

My last day out and about in the free world (today). Do I look THAT different?

My last day out and about in the free world (today). Do I look THAT different?

The struggle with this transition is the looming question, “Is this the end?” Is the adventure over? And while, of course, I’ve had moments of panic at this very thought, the reality is no, of course not. The adventure began where, somewhere along the way, I learned to let go of fear and let in life. To take risks that were previously unimaginable because I would have rationalized my way out of them, before even starting. Quitting my job was a risk. Moving to LA was a risk. Taking this new job is a risk – it seems safer than the wander but the truth is, I will be measured against or among a number of incredibly competent people while undertaking new and unfamiliar tasks, and I may not measure up. But at least I will have tried.

What I have learned these last two years could fill a book – and hopefully, it will.  In the meantime, I will be toiling away at something new – at a desk, or on a page, or here in LA – and storing up time and resources for the next great wander. And I will be doing it with a degree of gratitude and compassion that I’ve only discovered in myself because of the amazing trip I’ve taken.


(PS: This isn’t goodbye. There are at least three half-written blog posts on this computer crying to be published, not to mention that in looking for that picture of Turkey, I realized I never wrote about Turkey (or Morocco, or Patagonia, or…). So check back…)

Goodbye, Los Angeles

Driving Off Into the Sunset

I’ve said goodbye to many things over the last few years. Things, and people, and experiences. My dufflebag was first. It was followed by a bandana that fell off while I was hiking in Parque Tayrona, (and washed up on the beach an hour later so is once again with me). My travel pack sprouted one structural break after another starting somewhere in Asia, got repaired in Kenya, and sprang another leak before I got back to the states. More significant are the less physical things to which I’ve said goodbye: economic security, a physical grounding in place, an emotional safety net. Recently, constant adventure. And now, the perfect combination of them all: Bessie.


I should know better than to blog about Bessie. Last time I waxed poetic about my reliable steed, she countered by ‘stranding’ me in Oregon for three days while she was fixed to the tune of more than her worth. It was late last summer, and I was heading down to LA to confirm I should move there. Despite having been on the road in some form for over a year at that point, I had just begun to feel homeless, in the sense that I was not in one place, but should be. I was unrooted. My movement was less of an adventure and more of an aimless pause in a waiting room of mid-life.

The Eugene stranding was a blessing in disguise. It was a reminder that wherever you are, there is an adventure to be had, something new in the mundane. I visited the museum at the University of Oregon, where the art was amazing and the campus a cool respite from the heat.

A Buddha of layered paper

A Buddha of layered paper

I managed to get to the Bell Telephone Pioneer Museum, with cool switchboards and a badass phone-fixing Barbie, during its four open hours of the week. There was good beer (hello, Oregon), decent food and more important, always, than any of this, were the unbelievably nice people of Eugene, from the motel clerk to the amazing team at Action Automotive, who cheerfully ferried me around town. Even when she lets me down, Bessie builds me up.

Colorful phone wire becoming obsolete at the Bell Pioneer Telephone Museum

Colorful phone wire becoming obsolete at the Bell Pioneer Telephone Museum

Since then, Bessie and I have driven almost 14,000 more miles. My commitment to be the one to get her over 200k miles has wavered as I contemplate all the places she may strand me when she gives up the ghost. Lights I’ve never noticed have lit up – and stayed on – in the dash display. Twice, the brake fluid has needed topping. I finally listened to the signs she was giving me. At 198,890 miles, we said goodbye.

When I began to clean Bessie out to sell her, one memory after another came pouring out. There was the fossil found behind a friend’s house in Taos that I keep for good luck, the Italian notebook I use as a travelogue, and the 20-year old swiss army knife I use for everything and anything. From the stick shift, I removed a rosary from Chimayo and from the rearview, a Hello-Kitty phone decoration a friend brought back from a business meeting in Japan. And then there was the visor organizer


A small collection of small collections in my visor

Inside, I found an entrance ticket to the Santa Fe museums dated Dec 22. The only Christmas I drove to Santa Fe was in 2007, the first year I owned my home, which means that this ticket was used two days before my house was broken into the first time. While unfolding it, I could smell powdered sugar melting into the thumbprint cookies I was making when the alarm company called. 

The art before the con

The art before the con

Tucked into a mesh side pocket of the organizer I found a stack of business cards, dating back to 2003. The gold US Senate crest on one of them reminded me that my parking sticker from some Capitol Hill garage is still tucked way down at the base of my window.

My 1.5x3 inch life

My 1.5×3 inch life

I found a faded receipt from the Dry Clean Super Center in Dallas, onto which had once been written the address and phone number of the owner. The store lost a new dress of mine, and the employee with whom I was discussing this lured me outside the shop to finish our argument because he could tell the rising tone of my voice was attracting the attention of other customers. The dress had only been worn once, and he wanted to pay me no more than half its value. My fury was mostly about the way he bested me in our negotiations, and my frustration at the degree of my anger. Despite it being the least expensive cleaning location in town, I never went back. Two nights ago, while looking for someplace to eat in Red Bluff, California, I noticed Yelp has messaging. In my inbox was a note he had written me several months after the incident to say that he found my dress but had been too embarrassed to contact me. The note is only dated “more than two years ago;” the faded date on the receipt says 2009.

A faded, angry dry cleaning receipt

A faded, angry dry-cleaning receipt

One after another I dug these bits of my life from the nooks and crannies of my car. There was a flyer for a friend’s short film  that showed at AFI Dallas, also in 2009. The friend is now a successful director.  Behind it, two thank you notes, from 2006 and 2007, evidence of my bad habit of opening mail in my car (and not cleaning it out, but that was obvious already). They are wedding thank-you notes from a brother-in-law and a sister.

Long-forgotten, still beloved thank-yous

Long-forgotten, still-beloved thank-yous

In addition to some pots and pans, the sister also thanked me for the flip flops I got the bridal party members to wear during the reception when our heels proved too much. Mine were grey with bedazzled flowers on the thin thong straps. I remember them well because I hardly wore them until the fall of 2013, when I took them with me around the world, and left them with my hosts, and a bit of my heart, in Kenya.

Long-forgotten, still-beloved flipflops

Long-forgotten, still-beloved flipflops

I pulled a removable decal from the windshield.


It’s a tinkerbell-like fairy.  I have no idea where it came from originally, but I found it on the kitchen window of my apartment in Seattle – the one I moved out of in 2002 when I headed to Texas. She has been flying right in front of me as I drove these last 13 years, and it was time to say goodbye. But now is a time for new adventures. 3,000 miles into my next car, I’m ready to tuck away some different memories that will last me the next decade and a half, and I’ve got a door-pocket full of national monument postcards to prove it.


Even Spanky was a little sad to see Bessie go

On the Road


Yesterday, I hit the 100-day mark since returning to the States. It’s a completely arbitrary milestone, especially since I left the country again less than two months after I returned, but I’m back now, for real, and reality is setting in. With decisions to be made (where to live? what to do?), bills to be paid, and responsibilities to attend to, my attention has refocused to my trusty steed, Bessie, a beloved 2000 VW station-wagon.

Bessie, clean and pretty at the beginning of the road

Bessie, clean and pretty at the beginning of the road…

And dirty and well loved at the end.

And dirty and well loved at the end.

Bessie and I have been on many adventures – 185,053 miles worth. Together, we have lived in four cities, driven cross-country at least twice horizontally and four times vertically, and tolerated more than our share of derogatory comments about station wagons and child-free soccer moms. Last summer, we survived no fewer than 9,000 miles together, though the heat and a two tires didn’t make it the whole way.

Among the places she's taken me is the Middle Fork of the Crazy Woman River.

Among the places she’s taken me is the Middle Fork of the Crazy Woman River.

It is possible Bessie has been better to me than I have to her, though she’s gotten me back with her fair share of expenses. It will be a sad, though much awaited day, when I have been re-employed long enough to replace her with a vehicle that has, oh, I don’t know, decent cupholders and someplace to plug in my phone.

Guarantee: when the heat is gone, the snow comes early. On the pass outside Bozeman during an early snow fall. Bessie makes an excellent tripod.

Guarantee: when the heat is gone, the snow comes early. On the pass outside Bozeman during an early snow fall. Bessie makes an excellent tripod.

This morning, as a matter of routine maintenance, I took Bessie in to get her tires rotated. (Don’t be impressed – it’s probably the first time ever.) When I handed over my key, the tech at Discount Tire asked me if there was a special lock required to get the tires off. Without pausing I looked at him and replied, “Hell no. It doesn’t take more than one midnight tire-change on the streets of DC for me to get rid of the locking lug nuts.”

Don't be impressed by tire rotation; this mirror was cracked for two years before i replaced it.

Don’t be impressed by tire rotation; this mirror was cracked for two years before i replaced it.

After 14 years, it is easy to forget some of the incidents Bessie and I have shared, but that simple question – is there a special lock on the tires – was enough to take me back ten years, to a time I lived in DC right after grad school, and en-route to meeting a friend for dinner, turned a corner too tightly and hit my tire on the metal gutter-guard on the sidewalk edge. My right rear tire went from full to flat in half a block, and I limped Bessie around the corner and into a blissfully available parking spot.

My dad taught me to change a tire early on because he considers it, along with proper use of duct tape and WD40, one of life’s essential skills. But after loosening four of the lug nuts on this tire, then struggling with the fifth for an extended period of time, I remembered being told about the lug nut key when I bought tires five months earlier. The tech made a big point to inform me I better not to lose it. And then, apparently, he never put it back in the tire-changing kit.

Bessie in the Tetons, on a happier adventure.

Bessie in the Tetons, on a happier adventure.

It took a good two hours for AAA to send a tow to Georgetown on Saturday night, but it was worth the wait for Ulysses, a wanderer of the Southern States with five children and a ‘good woman,’ this one, finally, after the other three. He seemed aptly named and he ferried Bessie and me into the far east side of Capitol Hill, to an all-night tire drive-through garage with cars lined out the roll-up store-front and partway down the street, waiting to buy used tires that were stacked as high as the garage roof.

Ulysses refused to drop me off, alone and conspicuous, so late at night, and so we sat in the idling cab of the tow truck for 30 minutes while he regaled me with stories of his travels, until it was our turn to pull in to the shop, where people without cars walked up to the pay window and left with paper sandwich bags of something other than tire parts. We had a store like that where I went to college; a Snapple cost $25 and came in a bag with a fun surprise, if you catch my drift.

The mechanic seemed tempted to file locking lug nuts under “white people problems,” and I can’t say I blamed him. After confirming multiple times that I understood he may strip the nut and I may need to buy another, he went at it, first with a compressed air impact wrench and then with a variety of other tools I have no ability to name. I’m not 100% positive one of them wasn’t a crow bar. At last, it came off, and Ulysses insisted on changing my tire for me, since that’s what AAA paid him for. Tire changed, spare on, Bessie was ready to go. I tipped Ulysses $20 and paid the mechanic his $35, and figured it was a cheap price to pay for such an adventure.


Through rain and sleet and snow (and the windshield, which has been replaced at least once).

Through rain and sleet and snow (and the windshield, which has been replaced at least once).

Life Skills

I Want All the Adventures

  When I was little, I had a book called, “I Do Not Like It When My Friend Comes to Visit.”  The basic plot was that the protagonist hates when her friend comes to visit because she has to share her toys and include her little brother, who gets called cute, and be nice, and not get her way all the time, and she hates it. And when her friend has to leave, she cries because she loves when her friend comes to visit and misses her when she’s gone. In other words, it’s about being selfish. image I’m pretty sure this book was around because I was one of the most anal-retentive, selfish children on the planet. If you don’t believe me, ask one of my sisters about trying to borrow my purple pen, cross the doorway into my room, or, god forbid, sit on my bed. As an adult, I know this was about jealousy and control, but that’s a lot to ask another 7-year-old to live with. I Do Not Like It When My Friend Comes To Visit is the first thing that popped into my mind last week when three of my friends landed in various parts of Brazil to celebrate the World Cup in all its intoxicated, sun-drenched, body-painted glory. Despite my having just completed a loop around the planet and reading their facebook posts from my last-ditch outpost in Sevilla, all I could think was, “I want all the adventures!”

Another boring view in my last ditch adventure outpost: Sevilla

Another boring view in my last ditch adventure outpost: Sevilla

I want all the adventures. Isn’t this the same thing as wanting all the toys? I want all the adventures. It felt like the wrinkle-browed toddler from my childhood fable had suddenly crawled into my skin and taken over my wonderful life. Only the difference was this: I don’t want all the adventures just for myself. I want all the adventures, with, and for, all of you. I don’t want anyone else not to have an adventure. If there is one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s the reality how many fantastic adventures are out there. Sometimes, the adventure is just figuring out how to cross the street when the traffic keeps coming from the ‘wrong’ direction. You’d be shocked at the thrill of making it safely from one curb to another without getting hit by that surprise coming from the right. Other times, the adventure is jumping out of a plane.  Most of the time, it’s someplace in between.

Sometimes, the adventure is jumping out of a plane.

Sometimes, the adventure is jumping out of a plane.

The intoxication of adventure is the thrill. You aren’t required to defy death to get it; you just have to feel something (a)new. My first morning back in the Pacific Northwest after I returned to the States, I snuggled into my purple beaded Moroccan jelaba and headed into my sister’s kitchen, where I got on the floor and played matchbox-car-closet-soccer with my nephew. Last summer he refused to hug me for two straight months. This day, my heart lept when he not only hugged me hello, he determined I was a worthy-enough playmate to receive two cars. I want all the adventures.

In my purple beaded jelaba.

In my purple beaded jelaba.

I won’t have all the adventures. And that’s ok. I won’t have kids, and I feel good about having made that choice. I won’t be a war correspondent; my feelings are still mixed about that one. When you depart for Asia next week I will ache with memory, and jealousy. And if my friends in Brazil really do go hang-gliding, I may turn green with envy. But despite my round-the-world trip having ended, I believe my adventures have just begun, simply because I’ve started wanting them. All of them.

Life Skills, On the Road, Traveling

About a Girl

It will shock no one to know that the blog essay, “Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels,”  (originally posted in May 2013 and recently picked up by Huffington Post and Thought Catalog, among others) has been sent my way a number of times in the last few weeks. Always, the sender noted that s/he was thinking of me, out here wandering the world, living  out my own wildest dreams, and a few of theirs as well.

I kept it to myself that I find the essay totally offensive. After all, I was in Africa when it began arriving. Who cares about bad writing and publicity politics when there are cheetahs to track?


Cheetahs that were tracked

Then I  was tagged in someone’s Facebook share of the article and a commenter included a link to a response that upgraded the original to something more than drivel. By that time, I was in a riad in Fes, only mildly interested to discover a hullabaloo on the internet about the original post, and a number of responses, many of which are equally superficial. Since the subject, via link, or comment, or email, has continued to come my way, I will take a solitary Madrid afternoon minute to tell you what I think.

How can I care about silly HuffPost politics when my riad room looks like this?!

How can I care about silly HuffPost politics when my riad room looks like this?!

If poor writing were the crux of the issue, I would snark and move on. But it isn’t, though that certainly led readers astray. Weak structure fails the satirical tone of the piece and readers are left unable to determine whether the author seriously thinks that a girl who travels, “doesn’t plan or have a permanent address…Chances are she can’t hold a steady job.” Or, as I think is her intent, does the author mean that someone who travels is independent, craves new experience, and prioritizes a travel opportunity over security?

Stephabroad.com addressed this in her rewrite, which took the original premise and turned it proactive, returning some ownership of the girl and her desires to the girl herself. Rather than focus on aging skin and instability, or try to convince a guy that it’s ok the traveler won’t go clubbing with him, Stephabroad notes how diligently the traveler seeks the world and what there is to learn in it, and how compatible that makes her with someone who shares these values, if not her habits. Written as it is, this version gives the girl credit for volition and experience.

And yet I still take umbrage:

This is not a girl about whom we speak. It is a woman. And we should all be less afraid of calling her such. She deserves it. In all versions of the piece, this protagonist makes her own money. She makes her own reservations. She carries her own pack and walks home at night down unfamiliar streets.


A sort of dark and very unfamiliar street in Marrakech

On a regular basis, she makes decisions of calculated risk that would make a wall street trader cower. Her life is a gamble of safety and adventure, joy and sorrow, experience, loss, and gain. She who has hugged a foreign and likely filthy toilet bowl for a long night of purging the wrong market stall of food from her system, and survived to hop the next bus is no  longer a girl, she is a woman. She who holds her head high while a carpet dealer discusses the sharmouta who won’t buy, and lets that not dampen her opinion of the country she explores is not a girl, she is a woman. And she deserves the respect of being called such.

The semantic error – and our constant fear of addressing it – underlies a larger cultural issue with the piece: even when heralding the independence of a woman, the author can’t think of anything more original than a traditional gender paradigm (dating) to evaluate the worth of her gender. She is trying to convince men not to be afraid of her, and her ‘shortcomings’ which may make her slightly less palatable in traditional roles.

Are you kidding me with this?

Here’s a piece of news for you: the chick who travels doesn’t give a shit whether you want to date her. You don’t get to make this choice on her behalf. She already knows that, if you need convincing, you aren’t the one she wants. This life she lives is about the choices she makes, the work she puts in, the desires she chases. It’s not about convincing a traditional world to figure out how to accept her. The original writer knows this – she is a former corporate employee who took a career break and is now a surfer and yoga teacher. She just isn’t able to write it.


The chick who travels, chasing her desires above the cloud cover in the High Atlas (photo credit: Paul Allen)

Unlike that original writer, I don’t speak for all women who travel. I speak for no one but myself, and here is my response: I am a woman, and I don’t want to be dated. I want to be adventured with. I want a man who can see the way the blue of an iceberg nuzzling against the shore of a lake in Torres del Paine thrills me to wondered stillness, and respect that being my moment of reflection. Sometimes, we will share these moments of awe. And sometimes, we will mutually appreciate them afterwards, in a warm pub over beer, and they will be no less valued. Awe, travel experience, and love can all be separate and equal.


Iceberg blue in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

This article fails to recognize that part of the impetus to explore the world stems in part from dissatisfaction with the roles available to one at home. It isn’t just in countries where shariah prevails over women to wrap their hair in scarves that opportunity lacks. In the US and in many developed countries, social paradigms and their resulting power structures fail to recognize that women aren’t paperdoll cut-outs. Women who travel refuse to be tab-folded and dressed in outfits suitable for a  given occasion. (Although, like a paper doll, I have about six outfits in my wardrobe right now…) And so we take a chance to look around the world first-hand and see what our other options may be.


Looking around (and under) the world for options (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

When I was young, my father used to tell me, “a girl without freckles is like a night without stars.” It is a sweet sentiment, when you are young. Now that I am on the night side of 40, I am endeared to the saying out of nostalgia, but the language, like that article, is problematic, because I am not a girl, and I don’t want to be evaluated on the basis of my face. My aged face, full of freckles, is in fact like a night sky full of stars, lit from within by a fire that started burning long ago, both fed and drained by travel across time and space. Its origin may be long gone, may be darkened by forces we won’t see in this lifetime, but in its present, it is brilliant and magical and strong enough to navigate oceans.

I am a woman, and this fact is more than just the failed semantics of a Huffpost article. It is a lifetime in the making. A lifetime of experience, of love, of adventure and heartbreak and bruises and bad train rides and good break ups and difficult jobs and random rewarding encounters. It is hard work and joyful leisure to be a woman, and regardless of who may or may not want to date me, regardless of who wants my journey for his own, I have my soul full of fires, lit over a lifetime. You can take that, or leave it, you decide. I’ll decide whether you are worth dating – or reading. Right now, I have a plane to catch.

Creating bruises

Creating a day of adventure and bruises.