Archive for the ‘Hell Yeah’ Category

Oh, SoCal: Ferrari, Ferrari

May 6, 2013

Update: My finger has returned to normal size after a few days of on and off icing and antihistamine. I believe it is time for me to accept the fact that I may be slightly allergic to bees. ANYWAY… a tale from the Southland, as the weathercasters say. 


I’m in the bike lane at a stoplight on Pacific Coast Highway (not the part that is on fire) when in what seems like a freak accident of probability, two Ferrari convertibles, identical models but different colors (one white, one off-white…I know, diversity) pull up to the same stoplight. You’d think they’d just rolled out of the same dealership, but  they don’t appear to caravaning, if such a word can be used to describe Ferraris. While this is nonetheless a coincidence, it is no probabilistic anomaly: I’m riding by an affluent neighborhood and Kobe Bryant’s address would prove it. One stoplight, two Ferraris. It’s not Monaco, but it is Newport Coast.

In the white car is a likewise white-haired gentleman and his visored and sunglassed little wife. Behind the wheel of the off-white car, a few lanes over, I can just make out a polo shirt, big, expensive shades, and a luminous spray tan. Every other driver must be staring at them (I sure am) as they acknowledge each other with sauve, rich guy nods. Spray Tan breaks the silence with an inevitable rev of his engine/manhood.

“Can you take off?” Spray Tan hollers devilishly across several lanes of poor blokes in regular cars between engine revs.

“What?” yells White Hair, either because he is hard of hearing or because Spray Tan cannot restrain his fervent revving.

“CAN YOU TAKE OFF?” He yells again, this time like he means it. White Hair, I’m sure, gets the message, but he’s smarter than that and as such, he plays dumb.

“Oh, take off? I’m not sure…” he waves one hand in the air to demonstrate his uncertainty. “I’m not sure what that means, take off,” says the man behind the wheel of a sports car that costs more than the average house. Riiiiiight.

But it’s too late: the light changes and White Hair accelerates evenly forward like a regular car. Spray Tan, not to be outdone by safety and good sense, is hot on the gas. His Ferrari roars forward with a great acceleration (Aha! “take off!”), weaving between regular cars to the front of the pack until nothing but the blue sky and open road lie before him.

Until of course, the next stoplight, half a mile down the road.

there’s your sign

February 21, 2013

Awkward advertisements spotted in the Southland.

1. On the card in the baby seat of of shopping cart, a woman with straight blond hair and blinding teeth tosses carrots into a brown paper shopping bag. In boldfaced black letters, just below her chin, she proclaims: What’s in your shopping cart? Nothing tastes as good as thin feels!

Ha, I think. Except for peanut butter, lady. Except for peanut butter.

2. When they first put up the new illuminated megacreen signs for the Citadel Outlet mall in Commerce on highway 5, the good people of the 5 must have complained. Driving by them at night one noticed that not only were they offensively ugly but blinding; the powers that be must have realized the hazard, as the signs have since dimmed. But yes, the Citadel building indeed looks, from the freeway, like what I would imagine the great Mesopotamian ziggurwats to look like, had they been constructed in the early 1920s and subsequently starred in Ben Hur. But those signs, those signs are still an eyesore, day or night. To drivers they flash five second pitches:  Shop here! Sale! One Weekend only! Look, a SHOE!  Today, I notice they flash one I haven’t seen before, one that I find more tempting than all the others combined: WORLD CLASS BATHROOMS!

Next time, Citadel. Next time.

3. I’m at the gas pump, cringing as most Californians are these days. From the warm, homey glow of the screen were I entered my debit card information just moments ago, the gas pump begins to speak to me. HEY, says the gas pump screen, in scrolling all caps. THAT CUP HOLDER LOOKS LONELY. HOW ABOUT A REFRESHMENT?

Cheeky bastard gas pump, I reply in my head. Are you hitting on me?


March 10, 2012

“…but what can any body’s native air do for them in the months of January, February, and March?”

–Emma. Yes, Jane Austen’s Emma.*


Los Angeles: How I’ve always despised it, disapproved of it, and oh so readily disowned it.

Yet somehow, just when you’re living stoplight to stoplight on Sunset Boulevard, the radio station knows exactly which song to play. Rancorous advertisements are everywhere, and left turns are impossible. Artifice is business is artifice. Above it all are the Bel Air mansions, barely visible, turreted up on those sunwashed done-up dirtpile hillsides, flanked by neon lawns and earbudded, jogging wives. It’s easy to forget that the palm trees are iconic when you see them all the time.

In a rush of lane changes, I’m swept out onto (the) 405 and into the masses. There is a working idleness in it, the mechanics of the drive, propelled by habit and necessity. Although we seem sedate, we’re really sizing each other up like nervous animals without knowing it; relic instincts from more primitive times certainly do not always go underutilized.

Is there a kinship in it? We’re not brushing shoulders, oh no, far from it. Nonetheless, in this sticky suffering, this flow of souls there must be some means of connection. At once I’m searching all over for it, desperately trying to spin some rapturous meaning from my inescapable immobility. It’s proving difficult, considering all I can seem to think about is how, more likely than not, the man in the Bentley next to me has air conditioning. My Isuzu does not. In SoCal it is always warm. Heat must be why our population grows and spreads so magically, I think, like bacteria.

Yes. California. Southern An absolutely improbable reality, like a cactus flower.

And LA, LA is our sprawling, sweating metropolis with no center but instead burning white or brown horizons. Broad and crowded avenues. Palm trees. Heat rising from the cement. Actors and what-have-you. Everything is teeming, crawling, barely moving. And here I am, in the mind-numbing daily motorcade, swimming in thick frustration amidst the throngs of folks who, for the love of Pete, just wanna make it home. Against all precedent, the steering wheel starts to feel good under my hands: As if it somehow fits, belongs there. Or I belong here. Belonging? An empty space opens up in front of me and without thinking, I accelerate a little. Belonging? My stomach drops. Ah, there it was. I found it. My freeway rapture.


*An aside: Is it my fault that I’m finding this book tedious?

Sunshine & Noir & Wind

January 28, 2012

Even the trees are confused; their branches already laden, gilded in midwinter blossoms. Along this street they are lined like misplaced and motionless images from some distant, idyllic spring. I can hardly stand to be in the car, the air is hot and stale with a slight electric quality. When I open the door to the house, my dog barks for no reason. As the sun sets I hear sirens and I expect maybe the grass in the morning will be littered with scraps of what-have-you, detached palm fronds….


Pause. Right there, I was about to describe the Santa Ana Winds. You see, my dear readership comprising of almost exclusively not Southern Californians, there are four types of distinguishable weather in Southern California: Sun, Earthquake Weather, Brush Fires, and Santa Ana Wind. I was about to tell you about these here Santa Anas we’ve been having, when I remembered that Joan Didion did it better in 1965. I do defer to Ms. Didion:

“There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night. I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.”

California, the mythic and the bizarre!


What this all apparently leads to for me at least, the lesson I was destined to learn this time via the prophetic and serendipitous nature of the hyperlink, is this: as I haphazardly googled my heart out in order to find a decent excerpt from Didion’s essay, I also happened upon a comment left by some bygone commenter on some bygone website…

“… (Didion) is such a gifted descriptive writer that she often can’t resist the temptation to wrap her otherwise keen observations with some Chandleresque hyperbole, just to see how the language turns out. It’s delightful to read, and leaves lasting impressions on your brain, but many of the impressions are, regrettably, not true…”

Have you ever heard a voice speaking through the void of years past and the awkward permanency of the internet and felt that it might be speaking, well, quite possibly directly at you? Hmph. It’s an odd feeling, really.

I’ve gotta go buckle down the hatches, the winds they are a’coming. Hold onto your Botox, SoCal.

Land of Enchantment

January 9, 2012

What I could say about New Mexico is almost not worth the saying. As a geologist I see the rocks, as a physicist I see the light, as a mountain biker I see the trails. All the while I listen, trying to hear the words that come along with it all (iron seeped cliffs and resting lava flows, sagebrush and breathless cindercones,  painted sands and brown pueblos. Oh, and the sun, the sun, the watery sun!) but eventually realize that New Mexico by no means belongs to me. It’s a place so saturated by creation and myth and creation myth, that I’m certain New Mexico has been said better. It’s a place and a time you should see for yourself; how incredibly vast this country is!

From Georgia O’Keeffe,

From Not Georgia O’Keeffe,

And then there’s Beirut,

And for some reason, Scientists too:



Arizona Rambles and Cañon Grande (the big ditch)

January 3, 2012

Last two days in Arizona, coming to you from a motel room in Santa Fe, NM. 


Gand Canyon National Park, Arizona

We step out of the car and in a few minutes we are walking the rim of the world! It really is better in real life, and at first sight of the Grand Canyon I am reminded of what made me fall in love with rocks a few years ago: Rocks tell histories, or  as Muir would have it they are ‘talkative.’ the Canyon is the most complete stratigraphic column in the world, some of the most ‘talkative’ rocks on Earth. I’m peering down for a glimpse of the vishnu schist and the Great Unconformity and other such stalwarts of Freshman Geology. It’s a bit hard though, as the Canyon is impossibly deep, there are people from every corner of the country dangling their legs stupidly off the edge,  my siblings are throwing snowballs at each other and one of them is wearing flipflops (“I’ll be fine. FINE!” Le Sigh. Later, frozen feet.) We don’t walk far on the rim trail, as per family in tow, but I can help but notice that every few meters the view changes: I see something I hadn’t noticed before, a different color in the layers, an exotic shade of light. Grand Canyon, I will be back.

In Between

Clapboard houses are strung sparse, mute in the samecolored desert—a rosaceae spectrum of blushing mounds—the washing out of canyonlands, grazed by gaunt and eyeless mules. Here, there is no echo: the plain rolls flush with sky and so there are instead women behind sandblown roadside selling tables, pineframed and draped in discolored bandañas. Laid out before them are polished hunks of turquoise, bits of iron wrought, feathered and beaded things, beaked kachinas. All this vanishes before red sand succumbs to vacuumlands, to breccia gravel and feathered grass—gold spread thin on blackened earth.*

Sunset Crater National Monument

VOLCANO! Have you ever walked on a snow covered lava flow in the shadow of an extinct cindercone? 😛


One night in town, and my sister and I make the front page of the local newspaper. Or, more accurately, our tiny heads in the crowd at the Flagstaff Pine cone drop did. Yes, New Year’s Eve Flagstaff has an electric, six foot tall pinecone drop. Flagstaff, who knew you could be so fun?


*Yes, reading McCarthy still.


Scenes from Chandler

December 30, 2011

As it happens: Chandler, Arizona is exactly 666 miles away from a certain address on Bancroft Steps in Berkeley, California. Go figure, this being one of those prime happenstances in which fact is stranger than fiction. Of course, this calculation is according to the GPS system my dad uses to drive to the grocery store (everything around here looks the same, you see). He likes to play with the GPS, understandably. It’s something to pass the time at any rate, and when I’m in the car the chief entertainment seems to be changing the GPS direction lady’s voice settings to make her speak Swedish.

“Om 0,4 miles, sväng vänster…” she says in computerized stockholmska. “Sedan, om 0,6 miles sväng höger på Arizona Boulevard.” Weird, really, how Swedish and the desert just don’t mix. But my dad seems like he’s going to give it a try, at any rate. As I heard from him the other day:

“We’d like to put a gas line into the house you see, get a gas stove and maybe try and build a sauna out back.”

“A sauna? Like, for heat?” was my bewildered reply.

“Yeah, a sauna.”

“Can’t you just stand outside?” It’s the godforsaken desert, after all. You can’t even hardly swim in the pool in the summer because the water gets too hot.

“For the winter,” my dad parries back. I’ll have you know that today is December 30 and it is 70 F outside. Winter? Um…jag fattar verkligen inte vad han menar med detta…

Scenes from the Road: California to Arizona

December 29, 2011

Preface: My brother and I are driving across the American Southwest with two primary goals. One, to visit my Dad, his ladyfriend, and my younger siblings in the Sonoran *cough* Suburban desert town of Chandler Arizona (where I am now), and two, to visit my Grandma in her new place in the much anticipated Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Temecula, CA

We pick up my grandpa at the Shell station on Route 79. He’s bumming a ride to Yuma to fetch his camper van, which he entrusted to some RV dealer to sell. Bum luck for the sale, it’s been, so he wants to get it from Yuma and drive it to a dealer in El Cajon. Good timing, grandpa. Your Chariot Awaits, and it’s called an Isuszu.

Highway 8

Our Isuszu is climbing into an alien landscape buttressed by pink granites (Orthoclase! Orthoclase!) interspersed with strokes of twisting sage. When we descend down the other side, she doesn’t need any gas and whizzes effortlessly by motorhomes towing trailers towing cars towing boats and whatnot in high gear. We’ve fallen into cloudless blue and alarmingly agricultural plans that end up in sand dunes somewhere past El Centro. Dune Buggies are crawling and rolling all over their granular slopes and the aforementioned motorhomes congregate in the foothills. My grandpa’s on the lookout for remnants of the old plank roads through the dunes as we pass by. All I can think of is Peter O’toole riding a camel.

Yuma, AZ

“Do you have the attitude to match that red hair?” Is the first thing I hear from Smokey as he shakes my grandpa’s hand. “I can say things like that, you know, I’m married to a redhead, so I know about the temper.” Smokey’s a big man: at least six feet and borderline rotund with a thick graying mustache flayed over his upper lip. His cowboy boots thud as he walks out onto the porch of his trailer home turned office, squat in the middle of his gravelled RV lot just past mile marker 11 outside of Yuma, Arizona. He thuds, I realize, because he doesn’t bend his knees as we walks. He’s got a silver belt buckle and a murky indistinguishable tattoo up his forearm and if he says one more thing about redheads I’m gonna go all beserker on him. Or at least I’d like to think I would.

“Smokey hasn’t sold my goddam camper van in the last five months,” my grandfather told me earlier. “How in the hell is he gonna sell it when he’s this far outta town?” Now here we are, face to face with Smokey, and the big man begins to protest:

“But the season, why it’s just beginning now,” Smokey is gleaming the salesman smile. “All them snowbirds gonna be coming down from Canada…” My grandpa gives him a look that says I’m takin’ what’s mine, and Smokey quits yammering about sellin’. “Well sir,” he says, “I’ve got her right over here.”

“Alright kids, this is it,” grandpa says, coming in for a hug. “And thanks for the lift!”

I don’t necessarily want to abandon my Grandfather in this godforsaken RV lot a stone’s throw from Mexico, but it’s what he wants and he’s damn near eighty so I figure he can do as he pleases.


Gila Bend

We’re skating the Blood Meridian. On our left are the infinite and sandworn flats of southern Arizona, El Norte. On our right is a wire fence and beyond that, Sonoran Mexico vanishing in the folds of deep lavender hills that melt into the distant spectrum of winter desert sky. Specifically, that desert, having always lived on the valence of my cognizance through mountaintop vistas in El Cajon, through hearsay, and through literature, is beyond the reaches of my actual knowing. Oh, Mexican desert where Jaguars walk and Coyotes prowl, were the bones drying on the sides of the roads are of not just the bovine variety.

We’re stopped at a border checkpoint and a patrolman in aviators (I kid you not) peers into our car, the name on his uniform: Jimenez. “Be safe now,” Jimenez says, and waves us by.


Chandler, Arizona

I cannot believe I am in a restaurant called Famous Dave’s, and Famous Dave’s logo is a pig BBQ’ing a rack of ribs. Oh, and there’s a neon sign: the outline of a pig enclosing the word ‘Meat’, where the ‘M’ flashes on and off. “Eat…Meat…Eat…Meat…Eat…Meat…” the sign proclaims ad nauseum. Everything around this place is newly made, old timey BBQ decor, but all I can see is factory farming, environmental degradation, broken and irresponsible food systems, obesity and rampant heart disease. But it’s what my family wants, so I bite my lip and say ‘no thanks’ to the ribs. I’d rather survive on Le Trailmix From the Back of My Car, thank ye kindly.