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).