Texas girl in the middle of Kiwiana

Amy Boatman

Be Sure to Read the Small Print

I have recently taken up hiking. Yes, you can stop rolling on the floor laughing now :D. It’s so beautiful up here that I want to get out and see it. And the bonus: It’s not hot!!

Up until yesterday, I had only gone on what could be considered leisurely strolls through a local park not too far from my house. A few days ago, I decided to spend one of my days off on something more challenging. I have this great book called 60 Hikes within 60 Miles or something like that. I looked through it and found one that sounded interesting. It was at Tiger Mountain State Park. According to my book, there are three peaks and the one I picked was the smallest. Great, I thought, I can do that one.

Tuesday morning came and went and it was Tuesday afternoon before I got myself out of the house. I entered the coordinates into my handy dandy Garmin GPS and off I drove. It took me probably twice as long to get there as it should have because the coords I entered were to the trail head and the little GPS was trying to get me there. Unfortunately, the trail head wasn’t on the road so it was having a really hard time. Anyway, I finally found it by following the directions in the book. Huh, go figure.

I parked the car and pulled out my pack that Shannon gave me and off I went. I had wanted to do some geocaching while I was out here but the cloud and tree cover was such that my littler GPS couldn't get a signal. No problem, I thought. I’ll just do the hike.

I headed off in the direction the sign was pointing and at first the trail was fairly flat and nice. That quickly changed. I was busy looking all around at the beautiful, tall, moss covered trees and listening to the sound of water rushing nearby when I rounded the bend and saw that the trail went straight up. Okay, I though, no problem. It’ll probably level out around the next bend. I trudged up, my out of shape legs doing their best to get me up the slope.

I saw another bend coming up and thought cool, it’ll get flatter now. Well, no, it didn't. It continued to go pretty much straight up. Ugh, I thought but I was convinced I could do this. I may be out of shape but my stubbornness serves me well on occasion. I trudged up that slope to the next bend. And, you guessed it, the next slope went straight up as well.

By this time, I was breathing quite hard and sweat was pouring down my face. The clouds had dropped a bit of a drizzle on me so what wasn't covered by my waterproof coat was a fair bit damp. My hair felt as if I had just gotten out of the shower but all that exertion was making me very hot so I took off my jacket and stuffed it in the pack.

As I plodded up the slopes, one just as inclined as the last, I noticed that there was not a sound around me. No birds singing, no animals snuffling, nothing. It was eerie. It dawned on me they were probably waiting for me to die so they could eat me. I envisioned dozens of other hikers who had just keeled over on this mountain and become animal chow. Sure enough, on the next bend I saw a mound of dirt and gravel. The last unfortunate hiker, I was sure.

When I first set off at the beginning of the trail, the sign said the summit was 1.6 miles. After dragging my ass up for about an hour, I came to another sign that said 1.9 miles to the summit. Okay, I felt supremely lied to but I’d already come this far, I was determined to make it up. So, I sat for a minute, drank some water, looked around nervously for the animals waiting to eat me and then headed out again.

I had started off only having to stop and gasp for 10 minutes every other slope. Well that soon became every 10 feet of so. Walk a few steps, lean against a tree and suck air for a minute. The cool thing I noticed about this was that I could breathe. I was getting winded but I was not becoming wheezy. My asthma was taking a day off and I was extremely grateful. When I was still smoking, I couldn’t have made it up the flat part of the slope much less any of the rest of it.

My world gradually became very small: Walk, gasp, walk, gasp. I stared at the trail directly in front of my feet because if I looked up, it was more than I could handle. When I stopped to breathe, I looked around at the beauty surrounding me. The book had said the view from the summit was gorgeous and I could see hints of it through the trees. The animals had become active again. Birds flew over head, a beautiful woodpecker was busily tap tap tapping at a tree, a tiny little squirrel ran up a tree with something about half as big as it was in its mouth. I could hear water rushing somewhere nearby. The trees were covered in moss, some of them looking as if they had been there since the dawn of time. Their huge trunks led up to slender tips reaching for the sky. The air smelled of pine reminding me of Christmas and Mr. Clean. The air was chilly, my breath smoky as it came out of my mouth. My skin was so hot, it was steaming so that I was surrounded by a self-created fog.

I continued making my slow way up the mountain. The thought of stopping crossed my mind but by that point I had gone too far to turn back. I was determined to make it to the top. Several people passed me on their way down and I was relieved. Someone to bury me when they found me dead or at least call someone who would. At one point, this wizened old lady came up behind me and blew right past me. She was trucking along at a good clip as if this were just a Sunday stroll instead of a fricking mountain ascent. A man, who had passed me on the way up about an hour before, came trotting past me. “Good job,” he said to me as he went by. “Yeah I’ll shove my good job up your….” I thought as I shot daggers into his retreating back. Uh oh, I thought, this was probably the beginning of the altitude dementia I’d heard so much about. Of course, on reflection, I realized I’d only heard of that happening on Mt. Everest and Mt. Fuji but surely my lack of upward treks in the past left me susceptible where others were not. Yeah, that was it.

After two hours of pushing myself ever upward, I saw a sign ahead of me. Woohooo!! I thought. It was surely pointing the way to the summit. As I approached, I read “Summit: 0.9 miles.” My pack suddenly weighed 500 pounds and my legs refused to take another step. I plopped down on a rock and nearly cried. In the last hour, I’d only gone a mile. I thought for sure I’d gone 10. But no, here stood this little white sign mocking me. I pulled out my book to see what the actual length of the trail was. As I was perusing the entry, I noticed some text I had missed the last time. It said that while this was the smallest peak, it was the steepest. Well, there ya go. The steepest. I would have thrown a fit but I didn’t have the energy. That urge passed and I realized the absurdity of the situation. If only I’d read the small print. Teach me to skim.

As I sat there, I noticed how late it had become. The park closed the gates at dusk and I wasn’t sure when dusk was coming. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck on this side of the gate unable to get out. I had stupidly forgotten to charge my phone and the one little red battery line flashed impotently at me.

I contemplated my choices. I could continue to slog up the mountain. I really wanted to see that view and my sheer stubbornness was enough to carry me up there. On the other hand, what good would the view do me if I became one of those completely unprepared Survivors I giggled at every Thursday night. With a big sigh, I decided to do the prudent thing and head back down. I put on my coat since I was now soaking wet and quite chilled, shouldered my pack, and headed down.

Here’s what I had not counted on even though from past experience I should have. The decent was in its own way harder than the ascent had been. My knees crunched, my toes smashed into the fronts of my boots, if I leaned just the slightest bit too far forward I knew I’d go tumbling head over feet into the ravines looming beside me. Yeah, I know, sounds dramatic but hey, that’s what I was feeling. I can be a supreme drama queen at times.

After what seemed another hour and with my legs aching, I finally made it back down to that deceptively flat spot where I began this grand adventure. My hair was drenched, my shirt was soaked through, the inside of my jacket was wet as well. My legs ached, my lungs hurt, and my feet had blisters. I hadn’t felt that good from physical activity in a long time. I hadn’t made it to the summit, true, but I had made it about 4.5 miles and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering this was my first hike of any consequence. I was quite proud of myself.

At the trail head, I got my GPS to work and decided to do at least one cache. The little arrow pointed me .6 miles down a flat path so I headed that way. One of the things I really love about caching is the unexpected places it takes me. Oftentimes It’s places I would never have gone otherwise. This cache led me to this quiet little spot next to a bridge with a small stream running busily underneath. The bridge must have been new because it still had that tarry smell. I found the cache after a couple of minutes looking, signed the log, and tucked it back into its hiding place. I had not eaten before I left my house and now I realized how ravenous I was. I pulled an apple out of my pack and sat there by the stream eating my apple, listening to the stream, and enjoying the spot.

It’s not often that I don’t have some kind of noise in my head whether it be the TV, the radio, people at work, or my computer. This was one of those rare times when the only noise in my head was internal. I sat there a while contemplating the changes that have taken place in my life of late. I thought about faith and relationships, endings and beginnings, how the smallest ripple can cause a huge wave further down the line. I’m on an interesting journey right now. I’m learning about myself, about those I love, and about what I want in the future. Several paths have opened before me that I once considered closed.

There’s a lot going on. It’s exhilarating, exciting, scary, and interesting. It’s quite a ride right now and I can’t wait to see where it’s going.

It's About That Time

I started my new job at Starbucks on the 26th. The class has been alright. I’m not really good at sitting in a classroom but it was probably the best training class I’ve been in for years. Plus, there’s some really great people in the class. It’s kicking my ass having to get up so early and it’s only going to get worse. My new shift’s gonna start at 6am. 6am! Fuck that’s early! I also have to work weekends. Shift bids are done every three months so hopefully in April I’ll get a better shift. I was really bummed to get such a crappy shift, especially since I was told right after I was hired that I’d have at least one weekend day off, so I came up with a list of things that are good about coming in early and working weekends:

  • I’ll be working a similar shift, including weekends, with my classmates. That’s the best thing.
  • There will be plenty of onsite parking.
  • The gym is pretty empty around 3pm so I’ll get right on the machine I want.
  • It’ll still be light when I get off.
  • I’ll get to go to lunch around 10ish so it won’t be so crazy in the kitchens and in the cafe. 
  • The weekends are really laid back. I can wear sweats and look all slouchy. 
  • There’s no bosses there on the weekends. 
  • The building is almost empty so I can explore in peace.
I’m sure there’s more but right now they elude me. I’m looking forward to getting down to the real job though. The classroom stuff is over. We start talking to real people on Monday. We’ll still be in the classroom with mentors though. Now if I can just keep myself from saying “Ummmm, wow, I have no idea” in response to my first question, I’ll be doing good.

Not much else going on in my life right now. I get up really early, I go to work, I come home, I go to bed really early. I go to my Tuesday night NA meeting which I love. I’ve missed the Thursday writing get together lately but hope to get back at it. A couple of Wednesdays in a row, I got to go to a women’s treatment center and share my story. That was awesome! I really enjoyed that. It’s great getting to share my experience, strength, and hope with other people. Now I just need to find a sponsor here. I’m not sure why I’m reluctant but I am. I have someone in mind I want to ask but I haven’t done it yet. We’ll see.

I’m so happy today is Friday. R and her friends are gonna get mani/pedis tomorrow and then go to the thrift stores. They’re looking for sweaters to take apart so they can use the yarn for other things. It’s really pretty funny. Anyway, I’m getting some alone time!! Woohooo!! I’m hoping to finish Family Guy. That’s a damn funny show! Tomorrow night, we’re gonna go see The Golden Compass and then Sunday, hanging with the mother-in-law for her birthday.

Snappy Comebacks and a Brilliant Spouse

You know how we all have those situations in which the witty, snappy comeback alludes us? Hours later, when we least expect it, the perfect line comes to us. It’s so damned annoying. Well today we went over to Barnes & Noble to spend a $25 gift card. I got two books and the total came to $24.98. The cashier asked me if I planned it that way but of course, I’m just not that good with numbers. She gave me my $.02 and said “I don’t know what you’re gonna do with it though.” I said, “I’ll give somebody my $.02 worth.” I could hear the drum and rim shot in the distance.

We attempted to do some geocaching today but struck out once again. We are now something like 0 for 12. I’m not sure what it is but we just can’t seem to find anything here. It was rainy and windy today so, honestly, we didn’t try that hard. We ended up on Alki Beach looking for this one cache. We didn’t look long due to the aforementioned rain and wind but over just about 50 feet from where we were standing, the water was washing up on the wall. There was this couple standing there and every time the water came up, they cheered. They looked like they were having so much fun. It was awesome!

Afterwards, we went over to Starbucks (go figure, huh) for some coffee. R was looking out the window at the water and I was looking at the sale circulars. I saw that Radio Shack had GPS units on sale. Now, a little background on this. Last weekend, we were going…somewhere and I was supposed to be navigating. I couldn’t tell how to get on the highway so I told R I usually just “feel” my way around in these situations. Well, she got a bit upset. Turns out she has a thing about being lost, not knowing exactly how to get somewhere. I hadn’t been aware of this before. I love it when I learn new things about her just when I think I know it all. So, anyway, knowing she has this fear, I saw these GPS units for sale. I told her we needed to go over to Radio Shack and look at them. So, off we went on a mission.

Do you know what a bad idea it is to go to one of the shopping centers two days before Christmas? Well it’s right up there with yelling fire in the theater and watching The Pirate Movie. We spoke with the young man in the store at length and asked him questions he had no answer to but at least he had Google. (What did we ever do before Google?) We ended up leaving with a brand new shiny Garmin Nuvi 200 complete with maps of the whole US, driving directions to every Starbucks and yarn store in town, and this bland female voice that tells us which way to turn. The funny thing though is it tells us to turn as we pass the turn, lol. We played with it all the way home and had a blast.

So, we get home and decide we want to figure out how to use our nifty little gadget for geocaching. I hooked it up to my computer and transferred over a gps coordinate file. We turned it on expecting to see all kinds of pretty geocaches light up on the screen. What we saw instead was…black screen. And then more black screen. It turned out I overrode the internal file or some such. We both dinked around with it for a bit but couldn’t figure out. I gave up and suggested we take it back to Radio Shack in the morning. Then I sat my ass on the couch and watched the Amazing Race. R continued to play with it. Periodically I would glance over at her seeing her wrinkle her forehead and stare intently at the computer screen. Occasionally, she would tap the GPS and it would beep. I would glance over at her hopefully but she’d shake her head and frown deeper.

Hours later, I hear a shout of triumph. She had gone from site to site, forum post to forum post, odd bit here and odd bit there. Somehow, against all the odds I had placed on it happening, she managed to restore the whole damn thing. I am incredibly impressed with her. She rocks!! Now she’s figured out how to do all kinds of impressive things with it. She is a rock star!

Hmmmmm

It took me a while to realize something I wasn’t seeing here in Seattle that I had been used to seeing in Texas: Bush/Cheney bumper stickers. Back home, they’re everywhere. It wasn’t until I saw one that I realized I hadn’t seen one in a while. I was driving…somewhere. I drive there but have no idea where I am half the time. Anyway, I saw this big bubba truck parked on the side of the road. It was a commercial street and they have these shoulder-type things here. The truck was a Ford 250 with one of those wimpy half-assed backseats. I mean really, if you’re gonna buy a truck with a backseat, get one with a REAL backseat. So, anyway, this truck was parked on the shoulder. As I got right up to it, the driver suddenly pulled out in front of me and gunned it. The truck was a diesel so it belched nasty black smoke all over my car. I thought it appropriate. A big, fuel guzzling, black smoke belching, ozone layer killer driven by a selfish bastard who thinks he owns the road. Yep, that’s a Bush/Cheney fan.

Something else odd I noticed the other day. I was at my Tuesday night NA meeting at the local community center. In the women’s bathroom were two condom dispensers. State sponsored condom dispensers. Now, condom machines aren’t alien to me. I’ve seen them in truck stop bathrooms and rest stop toilets. They usually sit seductively next to lube and “enhancer” dispensers in bars. I’ve even seen them in lesbian bar bathrooms. Go figure. But I’ve never seen a condom machine in a bathroom frequented by kids. I mean, everybody knows teenagers in Texas don’t have sex. At least that’s what the evangelicals say. They’ve managed to convince the lawmakers of this fact so it’s almost illegal to give a condom to a teenager. “If we give them condoms, they’ll have sex,” is the mantra of the religious right. “If we don’t mention it, they won’t figure it out, and therefore they won’t do it.” Hmmm, maybe that’s why Texas is near the top of the list for teenage pregnancy. So, to see the state of Washington not only admit the kids will probably have sex, but also want to protect them from STDs and pregnancy just cements my belief that I have moved to the right place.

Pachelbel, We’re Not in Texas Anymore

I discovered a glaring deficiency in my wardrobe shortly after I moved to Seattle. My coat is a Texas coat. It was adequate for the occasional cold snap back home but I just don’t think it’s gonna cut it up here. So, I headed over to the local Goodwill to find me a coat.

Their coat selection was enormous. I probably spent an hour going through first the women’s coats and then the men’s coats searching for just the right one. Unfortunately, the perfect garment alluded me. Oh well. I wandered around the store for a bit seeing if anything jumped out at me. While strolling through the shoe aisle, a man brushed past me. I didn’t give him a second. Once he was past me a bit, though, I noticed something odd about the way he was dressed. He was probably in his late 50′s, about six feet tall, with a monk’s bald patch and hoop earrings in each ear. He had a weather wrinkled face, a big, bulbous nose, and bright red lipstick on his lips. Over his flanneled shoulder he carried a black purse, and at the end of his blue jeaned legs, he wore black high heel shoes.

I’ve been told that I can be a bit closed minded. I try not to be but sometimes I just can’t help it. While in theory I find nothing wrong with people dressing however they want, actually coming face to face with a middle aged man (who was obviously a man) dressed in women’s accessories took me by surprise. I might, and let me emphasize MIGHT, have seen a man dressed thusly in Austin, I would never have seen a man dressed like that in Marble Falls. I mean, you can get your ass kicked for looking like that. I went through a period where I didn’t want to shave my legs and you should’ve seen the looks I got. It’s just not done. The men look like men, the women look like women, and the queers live in Austin. And of course being queer, I hightailed it to Austin as soon as I could.

I have certainly seen my share of drag queens. I lived in San Angelo in the late 80s. In fact, that’s where I came out. I had a number of gay male friends who were drag queens. Some of them were quite good. I even got makeup and clothes tips from them. Well, they tried to give me makeup and clothes tips. By the time they got to me, that boat had sailed. I was doing my best to perfect the baby dyke look. The look consisted of a mullet with the hair on top of my head spiky. Button down Polo style shirts with the collars starched up tucked into Wranglers with a snuff can impression on the back pocket. I didn’t dip snuff but I spent hours rubbing the pocket with the can in it so it would look like I did. Why this was fashionable, I have no idea. Mine was not to question why. Mine was simply to look the part. On my feet were slightly scuffed (just slightly, mind you) Ropers boots. That was the dyke uniform of 1988. My drag queen friends didn’t stand a chance.

So anyway, I understand the difference between drag queens and transvestites. Drag queens are usually gay men while transvestites are usually straight men. My first reaction to this man was Wow, that is just weird. And in all honesty, my second, third, and fourth reactions were the same thing. Why in the world would he want to dress that way? I mean, if he was trying to look like a woman, he failed miserably. It would have been like my father-in-law dressed in drag. He could never have passed as a woman. And then I thought why in the world would he want to wear the most uncomfortable parts of women’s clothing?

All this got me to thinking of my own prejudices. I typically dress in what would once have been considered man’s clothes. I never, repeat never, wear dresses. I don’t wear makeup. I only wear boots or sneakers. When I can get away with it, I don’t wear a bra. In years past, I would have been ridiculed for dressing like that. So why shouldn’t this man be able to wear anything he damn well pleases without having to deal with people laughing at him or worse. Why was my first inclination upon seeing him to look around and see if anyone else had noticed? Had I met the eye of anyone thinking the same as me, we would have smiled and shaken our heads in that “Boy is that dude weird” kinda way. Had I been in Texas, I have no doubt that’s what would have happened. Living in Seattle, though, no one seemed to give him a second glance.

So why was my reaction to him negative? What do I care what he wears? What finally dawned on me is that I was jealous of his blatant disregard of anybody else’s opinion. To leave your house wearing clothes you know might get you laughed at or beaten up is the ultimate “fuck you” to society. To boldly be yourself no matter what anyone else thinks is a most courageous act. I was jealous that I don’t have enough strength to be totally who I am without caring what other people think. I have a really hard time breathing through my nose. I wear those nasal strips at night when I sleep and boy has it made a big difference. I will even keep it on after I wake up until it falls off or until I leave the house. Once I leave the house, though, it comes off. I’ve commented several times that I wish I could wear them all the time because it really does help my breathing but I won’t because I’m afraid of people’s reactions. I care what total strangers think of me. It matters to me that Mary Sue at the Albertson’s doesn’t think I’m a nut job. I’ve never seen her before and odds are I never will again so why should I care what she thinks? Why are we taught practically from birth that other people’s opinions matter? That total stranger’s opinions count for so much?

I have stopped caring what others think about me in several areas of my life. I am an out and proud lesbian. I dress comfortably even if it’s not anywhere near close to being stylish. I talk loud and laugh louder. I’m a huge Xena nut and I’m a sucker for good sci fi. I like video games and I don’t even try to hide my inner 14 year old boy. But I will not leave my house wearing a nasal strip. I also won’t wear high waters or anything with lace.

One of the things I’ve learned along the way is that nothing is really about anybody else. It’s all about me. My reaction to that man in the Goodwill had nothing to do with him. More power to him if that’s how he wants to dress. My reaction had everything to do with me and my own feelings of envy. Maybe someday I’ll have the strength to leave my house wearing a nasal strip on my nose, my skanky holy old t-shirt with no bra, my shorts with big bleach stains on them that are so comfortable and my ratty flip flops. But then again, there’s a big difference between strength and just plain stupid. I think I’ll just stick to wishing I could leave the house like that because, really, who wants to see something like that?

What to Do When the Starbucks Closes

While I was sitting at the Starbucks last night waiting for Rhonda to finish her meditation class, the shop closed. I had arrived at about 7:20 and the shop closed at 8pm. I had just assumed it closed at 9pm since that’s when they close in Texas. So, here I was with at least 30 minutes before Rhonda was done. She had the keys to the car and there wasn’t another coffee shop in sight. What to do, what to do? Most of the other businesses had closed up already and the street was semi-deserted. There were still cars whizzing by but not much foot traffic.

I decided to go lurk near the building where Rhonda’s class was being held. It’s one of those tiny little doors that leads upstairs to other rooms so the only place to sit was on the front stoop. One of the few places still open was the fitness center next door. I used to have a gym membership and I really enjoyed going. It was just too hot in Texas most of the time to do much of any exercise outside. So, it was nice to have somewhere air conditioned to get all sweaty. Now that I live in Seattle, though, I can’t imagine being cooped up in a small room, running on a small strip of rubber, constantly moving but going nowhere. It’s just so beautiful here and the weather! Oh, it’s heaven!

Anyway, while I sat in the little doorway, people would occasionally come out of the gym and head to their cars. There weren’t many but enough so I felt safe sitting there. I figured if anyone messed with me, surely someone in there had lifted a few weights and could help me out. After about ten minutes, I saw this man heading towards me. He was looking right at me which is unusual when someone is walking on the sidewalk. Usually, people don’t make eye contact. It seems too threatening. Well, this guy was looking at me and making a bee line for my stoop. The night air was cool but not enough for a coat. There was no breeze on the street and the temperature was around 60 degrees. This guy was wearing a quilted coat and a cap and he had a backpack slung over one shoulder. So, not only was he headed toward me, he looked suspicious doing it. I was going through the rudimentary karate moves I’ve learned when he stopped a respectful distance away and asked if I could spare any change. His dark hair was greasy and came to a point on the top of his head. The coat he wore had probably once been blue but now was covered with mysterious dark brown spots. His jeans were nice enough and he had on really nice shoes. They were black, possibly leather, and polished to a high sheen. I couldn’t have done better when I was still polishing my boots for my EMS dress uniform. His voice was very soft and I could barely hear him when he spoke. My immediate response to him was, “No, I don’t have anything.” I didn’t think I had any money on me although it turned out I had $2 in my wallet. After I told him no, he put down his backpack and rummaged through it. I felt my heart quicken as I was about to enter the flight or fight state. But then he pulled out two cans of Chunky soup and asked me if I wanted some.

I worked with and around homeless people and street people for a long time. One of my EMS stations was in downtown Austin a block from the homeless shelter and two blocks from the Salvation Army. I have seen them at their worst and at their best. But I have never been offered food by any of them. Now, I’m assuming he was a homeless guy. He may not have been but he had the look and his mannerisms while asking for money spoke volumes about the way he had probably been treated in the past. To say I was touched would be an understatement. He took my saying I didn’t have anything to heart and offered to share what I’m guessing was his breakfast, lunch, and dinner with me.

I have had some interesting street experiences. I lived in Baltimore for one excruciatingly long year back at the beginning of the 90s. I didn’t have a car so I took the bus most places. One of my haunts was the gay and lesbian center in downtown Baltimore. This part of town was actually considered to be a “good” part of town. Not much crime, clean streets, plenty of police cruising by. Well, one night as I was leaving some gather or other, I was waiting on the street corner for the bus. This guy comes up behind me, grabs my arm, and swings me around to face him. He gathered up the collar of my shirt in his meaty fist and asked for my money. I didn’t even think. I was carrying a backpack full of books. I swung the bag at his head and knocked him over. I then ran like a bat out of hell towards the bus across the street that wasn’t going anywhere near where I wanted to be. I couldn’t have cared less where that bus was headed. It was going away from him and that’s all that mattered.

I have had some interesting street experiences. I lived in Baltimore for one excruciatingly long year back at the beginning of the 90s. I didn’t have a car so I took the bus most places. One of my haunts was the gay and lesbian center in downtown Baltimore. This part of town was actually considered to be a “good” part of town. Not much crime, clean streets, plenty of police cruising by. Well, one night as I was leaving some gather or other, I was waiting on the street corner for the bus. This guy comes up behind me, grabs my arm, and swings me around to face him. He gathered up the collar of my shirt in his meaty fist and asked for my money. I didn’t even think. I was carrying a backpack full of books. I swung the bag at his head and knocked him over. I then ran like a bat out of hell towards the bus across the street that wasn’t going anywhere near where I wanted to be. I couldn’t have cared less where that bus was headed. It was going away from him and that’s all that mattered.

As I stood there trying to decided what to do, I saw a figure turn the corner and head down my street. I reached into my bag in search of something sharp. The only thing I could come up with was a Star Trek lapel pin someone had recently given me. That wouldn’t cause anymore damage than a paper cut. My feet were glued to the pavement as he made his way ever closer. At about ten feet, he stopped and stared at me. He was in his early 20s with short black hair and cocoa skin. He was nicely dressed and had a kind face. He looked at me like one would look at a lost dog. He put his hands up to show they were empty and spoke softly as if not to scare me away. He was treating me like the skittish animal I seemed to be. He asked if I was okay and if he could help. Something told me I could trust him so I told him what had happened. Halfway through my tale, I burst into tears and had to pause several times to regain enough composure to continue speaking. He listened patiently as I blubbered my way through my story and then asked if he could help. He asked where I was going then proceeded to walk me to the proper bus stop so I could catch the right bus. He stayed with me, telling me about his life in Baltimore, until my bus arrived. He made sure I got on the bus and then watched me pull away. I made it back to my house about 30 minutes later. I have never forgotten that kind man. His name was Calvin. Where ever you are Calvin, thank you so much for helping a terrified girl find her way home.

I seem to always find danger in the “good” part of town, literally and figuratively, and then find help in the “bad” areas. The most generous people I’ve ever met didn’t have much at all to share but they gladly shared it. By contrast, I have known some extremely wealthy people who wouldn’t give a dime to a blind old nun begging on the street. Some man stops to help me more than fifteen years ago and I remember everything about him to this day. A homeless man begging for change on the street offers to share his food with me because he thinks I don’t have any. There’s a bible verse that I’ve always liked but never can fully remember. It’s something to the effect of a miserly man having as much success getting to heaven as pulling a camel through the eye of a needle. I’m sure I’m mangling it but that’s the gist. We’re all in this thing called life together. None of us can make it alone. I don’t remember hardly any of the strangers I’ve come across in my life but I will forever remember Calvin. And I suspect I’ll always remember the homeless man who offered to share his food. Who will remember you today?

Sitting in a Seattle Starbucks

It seems really cliche these days to hang out in a coffee shop in Seattle. I mean, everyone does it right? After all, Seattle was the birthplace of a $4 cup of coffee. Seattle is famous for its coffee. Well, coffee and rain. The interesting thing, though, is that while there really is a coffee shop on every corner, it doesn’t rain that much here. I read somewhere, or heard from the proverbial “they,” that it rains more per year in Arizona than in Seattle. Now I’ve not lived here for a whole four seasons yet. I’ve been here for three seasons though and it doesn’t rain nearly as much as everyone thinks. Take today for example. It was sunny and 65 degrees. It’s supposed to be sunny and 60ish for the next seven days. In fact, it’s not supposed to rain until the first part of November. The best thing I can say is that it’s NOT HOT!! I can’t even tell you how happy I am about that.

Yesterday was my first full day here. I slept until I woke up and then didn’t have to load up the critters. Rhonda and I went to Lincoln Park so she could show me the ferry. Luckily, we had gone to Target the night before to get me a hoodie because the wind coming off the sound was chilly. The park was beautiful. All the trees are aflame with reds, golds, and yellows. In Texas, the leaves don’t change colors. They just fall off the tree and then you have trees with no leaves. Here the colors are just amazing. We walked down this little footpath lined with leaves and slick from the light drizzle that had been falling. Looking out over the sound with the smell of fall blowing in my face, I had this sudden sense of belonging. For years now, I knew that Texas wasn’t where I was supposed to be but I didn’t know where I should be. The feeling that I had at long last found it, THE place, was indescribable. I’m not sure why I’m here but I’m supposed to be here.

After walking around the park a while, we decided to go to this little fish place on Alki Beach. It’s called Spuds and it’s the oldest fast food place in Seattle. Its been there since 1935. They don’t serve any tofu there so I had french fries and cole slaw. Mmm, nutritious, lol. But Rhonda had been wanting to go there for a while so I was happy to oblige.

I wanted to go to Pike Place Market to buy some new t-shirts. There is a woman named Sara with a booth down there. She makes these beautiful mandala designs. I’ve been buying shirts from her for at least six years. Now that I live somewhere that will actually get cold, I bought a couple of long sleeve shirts. I just love the market. The energy of the crowds, the smell of flowers and fruit, the guys at the fish stand throwing seafood at each other. It’s exhilarating. There are lots more shops in the lower levels that sometimes people miss. One of my favorites is this dark little shop that just reeks of nag champa. It sells lots of “new age” type stuff. There’s also lots of stuff from India. What really intrigues me, however, are the jars along one wall full of mysterious herbs and who knows what else. Names like Chrysalis and Hempjaw adorn the jars. Some of the substances are obviously powders but some look like dried cartilage or bone fragments. I’m sure it’s all perfectly harmless but to me it just feels forbidden, like the voodoo shops in New Orleans. It seems as if there’s a whole other world of potions and mixtures of which I have no knowledge. Such mysteries to unravel!

Another favorite store is not actually in Pike Market but on Western Avenue right across the street. It’s called World Spice Merchants. As I round the corner, the smell draws me in. There are so many types of spice in here, it’s impossible to tell which one your smelling at any given time. Right inside the front door are shelves containing little one ounce samples of everything they offer. If it’s a spice, they probably have it. What we were in search of this day, however, was something specific. Rhonda had discovered this little gem and was eager to share it with me. It’s called Mayan Cocoa. It’s a mix of cocoa, chile, allspice, cinnamon, and who knows what else. Rhonda has been putting some in with her coffee and said it was divine. I was looking forward to having some but it wasn’t to be this day. They were out! I sniffed at the little sample bottle though and it does smell heavenly. They told us they would have some more made it in a day or two. So, bummer of bummers, we have to go back down to the market area so we can get some. What a hardship for me to have to go there twice. :P

Oh, one other thing I noticed down there. They have installed one of those self-contained tubular shaped public toilets. I’m not exactly sure how it works but apparently, you enter and the door slides shut behind you. There’s a shower and a toilet in there which you can then use. The door automatically opens after ten minutes and spits you out whether you’re ready to leave or not. It then goes through this cleaning cycle and, voila, is ready for the next person. I’m not sure how it cleans itself. And what happens to the toilet paper during this process. Seems to me, it would get wet. But, hey, I guess you’d have to go look for yourself and I wasn’t willing to wait in the long line to find out.

I just love living in the city. There’s so much to see and I am easily amused.

Day Six – Home At Last

Alright, I know this is a day late but I was just too tired to blog last night.

Day six started off pretty well. I’d had some sleep. R.J. digging in the litter box woke me up and I had to go move him out. But other than that, I slept. Pachelbel woke me up earlier than I planned but hey, it was my last day on the road so getting an earlier start couldn’t hurt.

The first thing I had to do before I could leave town was get gas. Luckily someone in California had told me that you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas in Oregon. I find this really odd in our self-serve society but hey, what ever keeps me warm and dry in my car is a good thing. Turns out, there’s a $500 fine for everyone involved if someone is caught pumping their own gas. In Texas, it’s just a given that people do everything themselves. We’d get a might pissy if told we couldn’t do something ourselves, lol. So, anyway, this really nice young man pumped my gas. I feel so old calling him a nice young man but he couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17. What the hell, maybe I am getting old, lol.

I took her outside so she could pee and it was still cold and rainy. Now, I was in a weird state when I packed for this part of my journey. I had already packed all my clothes except for some t-shirts and shorts when it dawned on me it wasn’t going to be 80 degrees the whole time. So, I opened up a box and pulled out some pants and a pair of sweats. Why grabbing a sweater or a jacket didn’t occur to me, I have no idea but it didn’t. So, yesterday morning when I went out to walk Pachelbel I was in a short sleeve t-shirt and sweat pants. I was quickly damp from the drizzle and very cold by the time Pachelbel had done her business. Getting everybody out to the car was easier than before because I had finally had the bright idea of putting them in the same carrier instead of carrying around two big carriers. Why this didn’t occur to me before the last day of my trip is probably the same reason I was freezing my ass off. My brain was pretty much mush.

It rained pretty much the entire day. Sometimes, it was coming down in sheets so thick, I could barely see the road in front of me. Once or twice, I COULDN’T see the road. I found myself sitting up close to the windshield hoping that would help me see the road better. Yeah, that extra foot made everything just so much clearer, lol. Most of the time, though, it was just a drizzle. The truly astounding part was the rainbows. I saw more rainbows in one day than I think I’ve seen in 10 years. There were rainbows on the mountains and rainbows between my car and the one in front. I felt like I could just reach out and touch them, they were so close. It was amazing. I took it as a sign that I was headed down the right path.

When I hit the Washington state line, I still had 150 or so miles to go. That was probably the longest 150 miles of my life. It just seemed to go on and on and on. Finally, the real countdown began. 40 miles, 30, 20, 10. I was so close, I could taste it. It was at this point that I missed my exit off I5. I totally flaked. Yep, I watched it go by on my right with no hope of making it. Luckily, I was able to make a u-turn at the next exit but still it added 10 minutes to my journey which honestly at that moment felt like an hour, lol. After getting turned around, I was 10 minutes from my house. As I pulled onto the street, I started whooping and Pachelbel whooped with me. I pulled into the driveway and Rhonda ran out to meet us. It was wonderful! I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. I bet I hugged her five times in as many minutes. I knew I had missed her but damn, I hadn’t realized how much until I saw her again. We both agreed that doing that again was a bad idea.

The book continues but a page has turned and this chapter of my journey has ended. What began six weeks ago, for me, has come to an end. I never realized how long and how short six weeks could be. It seemed to take forever before I saw Rhonda again and then again, it seems like only last week I still had two weeks left at work. I learned a lot about myself during that time. I really can get everything done that needs doing. I may wait to the last minute, but I get it done. I can drive 2600 miles with three cats and a dog and not go crazy. Podcasts are the most wonderful things on Earth! I am stubborn as the day is long and I will not be defeated by anything. Rhonda is the most amazing woman I have ever known and I don’t ever want to be apart from her for that long again. And most importantly: It’s not hot in Seattle!!!!!

Day Five – The Bad News First

The critters were pretty good last night. Pachelbel barked at some noisy neighbors once, Sparky didn’t meow at all, and R.J. behaved himself. The phone rang at 7am. The number was 999-999-9999. This is like the third or fourth time I’ve gotten a call from that number and it’s always really early. I answered it and it was a voice mail recording: “You’ve reached (number I can’t remember), leave a message after the beep.” There was no beep or I would definitely have left a message. Then my friend Mary, who was at dinner last night, called and I was pretty rude to her. Sorry, Mary!

When I got back in the car after checking out, my mom had called. My great aunt Kathleen died this morning. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a while back and was given six months to a year to live. She was doing fairly well until a few weeks ago when it finally became necessary to put her in the nursing home. After that, she started failing fast. So, this morning she passed on. She was 85 years old and had a good life. Her husband, my uncle Fred, died back in 1981. I was sad that she has gone but I’m glad she didn’t linger in pain and miserable for a long time. Most likely her funeral will be in a few days. I wish I could go but I’m just not going to be able to. After all this traveling, I just can’t get on a plane and do some more. I have reached my limit. My mom understands. We’ll all miss Aunt Kathleen but she’s in a better place now and no longer in pain.

After talking to mom, I hit the road. I had considered just driving straight through to Seattle. It’s about 12 hours or so. After just a few hours of driving, though, I knew I wouldn’t be doing that. I was just too tired and restless to go that far. Plus, it wouldn’t be fair to the critters, making them go through that just for my own sake.

Oregon is a beautiful state! The mountains were huge and some were covered in snow. All the leaves are changing so I had a feast of color for my eyes the whole way here. The road was pretty hilly and I saw more of those runaway truck ramps. The funny thing with these though is that they don’t ramp up so the truck can slow down with gravity. It’s just a big shoulder that ends in a big pile of earth. I’m not sure where the benefit to the driver is in that. He may not hurt the rest of us but he’s gonna damage the hell out of himself. See, we just don’t have that problem in Texas. None of our mountains are big enough for that. Something else that just tickled me were the signs for snow chains. I was advised several times that the right shoulder was for putting on your chains only. There were also signs along the road that were turned so you couldn’t read them until you were past them but they said: “Snow chains required.” Yet another thing that is totally new to me. I don’t even know what snow chains look like. I have an idea but I’ve never seen them in real life. The thought that I’m going to be living near a place like that just floors me. How different from everything I’ve known this will be.

About 30 minutes outside Sacramento, I hit some bad weather and it followed me the whole way. It poured down rain so hard I could hardly see for a while then it was just a steady rain. At some point along the way, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. A giant rainbow splashed across the mountains right in front of me. It was breathtakingly beautiful. As if that were the eye of the storm, the clouds moved back in and it continued to rain the rest of the way. I made it to Grants Pass and realized how much the temperature difference was when I got out of my car. I am so not used to cold weather. In fact, I started to only bring shorts and t-shirts on this trip. I finally got a clue and realized it wouldn’t be 85 degrees the whole way and packed some pants. I still have no coat though, or even a sweat shirt. Our stuff isn’t supposed to be in Seattle until sometime between the 22nd and 27th. I’m gonna have to make a Goodwill run just to find something to stay warm.

I’m happy this is the last night. Tomorrow I’ll be sleeping in my own, albeit new, bed with my wife in my own house. It’s been six weeks since I’ve seen her. I miss her like crazy. Plus I’m ready to start my new life. And I’m sure the critters will be happy to be out of the car for good. Although they’ve been real troopers. I didn’t expect traveling with them would be as relatively easy as it has been.

Alright, off to bed.

Day Four – They Drove How Far Just to See Me?

The nights are becoming progressively better. Last night, Sparky didn’t meow at all. But R.J. was doing his best to dig to China in the litter box. Now that in itself isn’t so bad but he would take 20 minutes to do it. I was really sleepy but it took forever to fall asleep. Then, R.J. woke me up at 8:30 and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I took Pachelbel for a walk and got some coffee. I was packed up and pulling out by 11am.

Today was a short day, only about four and a half hours. I have to say, California drivers are some of the rudest drivers I have ever seen. If I hadn’t had my critters, I’d have slammed on my brakes and let the assholes buy me a new car. I mean, come on, is it really necessary to shove the front of your car up the ass end of mine? I’ll move over as soon as I can.

The real kicker came when an 18 wheeler either didn’t see me or didn’t care and almost rammed me into the divider. He just came right over into my lane even though I was occupying it at the time. I slammed on my brakes. The harness I bought for Pachelbel proved its worth. The poor kitties got smushed up against the door of their carriers. I was able to avoid the tail end of the trailer but not by much. The really funny part of this is that it was a truck hauling chickens. I can see the headlines now: Texas Vegetarian Plucked by Chicken Truck. Well, luckily that bullet was dodged.

So, my friends began showing up at the hotel shortly after I arrived. Some of them drove up to three hours just to see me. I was so excited to get together with them. Some I haven’t seen in over a year and a half. It’s amazing how easy it is to just pick up where we left off. We had a great time over dinner and I got to meet some people I hadn’t met in person before. It was a lot of fun. The critters got lots of loving so they were happy.

Tomorrow is day five, off to Grants Pass, OR. I’m almost there. Just one more night after tonight and then I’ll be in Seattle. I can’t wait!!

Alright, off to bed. Maybe R.J. will avoid China tonight.