If I had thought the competition to get into LA was fierce, the race to get out could easily be an Olympic sport. Leg two day two. John and I load up our gear and weave our way into The 134, The 210, and The 10. Fighting our way through a series of intersecting The’s connecting our way east, John does a nice job of navigating around spontaneous pile-ups and slow-downs. It’s a relief to again have someone in the right seat. We still hit sections of superhighway turned parking lot, but eventually the population density backs off the insane-o-meter and space between cars can be measured in feet not inches.
The sky slowly returns to a light blue as we climb out of LA County. We hit a section of particularly rough grooved pavement and I feel a familiar vibration from the ground up. Is it the drive shaft? The transmission? Another U-Joint? I’m fully paranoid at this point. Any change in behavior or off-tune humming sends me into a panic. John doesn’t notice anything and as we find smoother pavement things return to normal. I relax for a moment and look at the panoramic open space surrounding our roaming orange cube. Signs to Joshua Tree National Park sprout with increasing frequency and we decide to stop for some groceries.
The city of Twenty-Nine Palms is not really a city, but a compilation of small towns interlinked by The 62. You can learn a lot about a community by shopping in the local grocery store. We got an earful of relevant information from a woman waiting by the deli counter. I’m not sure what about John and I inspired a temperance lecture, but we graciously took note as I reached over the counter to grab the roasted chicken we ordered. A few items later we progressed through the check-out isle, the parking lot, The 62, and entered Joshua Tree fully provisioned. Even if I had to cover the beer with a bag of baby carrots.
Joshua Tree National Park is a rock climber’s paradise. I am not a rock climber. The beautiful perfect routes surrounding the entirety of our campsite are completely wasted on me. My daughter Kéa is a rock climber. Kéa has signed on to Leg Four of this journey. Nashville to New Hampshire. I’m sensing that she may have made a mistake. John, on the other hand, has not made any mistakes in the past 28 years. He’s not about to break that streak now, and pulls two half liter craft beer cans from the cooler. The ambient temperature at sunset is a solid 85 F. Sunlight turns to starlight and the black above is awash in celestial brilliance. There is no cell service. Leg two day two in the books.
The night sweats came on about a week before Mother’s Day. I don’t have a blood pressure monitor, but I’m pretty sure my vitals were all over the map. I made last-minute preparations, tied up some loose ends at work, and pre-paid the bills I knew would arrive while on the road. Still, something about this trip was deeply troubling. I had a great plan, but I just didn’t trust it.
Leg two would take me from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where I would collect the next victim for a trip across the rugged southwest. Coast Guard Commander John Sifling, a long-time friend and former office-mate of Diana’s at the Graduate School of Oceanography in Rhode Island, agreed to right-seat the trip from Pasadena to Albuquerque.
I flew back to Oakland on Saturday the 8th to spend Mother’s Day with my folks and hit the road first thing Monday morning. After so much time on the shelf riding out the Pandemic, it was great to be with family. We had a fun dinner with some neighbors who were curious about my route, and jokingly offered help in Arkansas where they had some family in the auto industry. Sunday evening, I double checked my packing, looked at weather forecasts, and tried to get a good night’s sleep. My target to launch was 6:30 am. Thick traffic in the Bay Area rarely falls into remission and I didn’t want to begin this 500 mile leg on a choked stop and go artery.
Loaded up with homemade chocolate chip cookies, cheese wheel, and sandwiches – thanks Mom – I pulled the Jeep away from the curb and eased on to California 580 East. This is my first solo leg of the trip and it’s oddly quiet. The Jeep feels ok, but I hear and feel sounds real and imagined. As I slip past massive wind turbines over Altamont Pass, I see signs for I-5 and merge south. This stretch of road is competitive. The speed limit is 75 and I can comfortably cruise at 68, so I’m being passed by horses and carriages.
Southern California is foreign to me. I’m a fourth generation Northern Californian, and the divisions in my home state have been seething for more than a century. I’m reminded of why as I pass over a giant aquifer carrying water from the North to the South. Lifeblood. I-5 is a bit mind numbing and I do my best to not get run over by semis. Occasionally I find a giant box going close to my pace and nose into the draft shadow. A skill I picked up in college to save gas while commuting to ski races between Reno and Salt Lake City. It’s a dangerous but welcome relief from the noisy wind.
Eventually I find the Grapevine. Climbing from 1,499 to 4,144 feet, this stretch of highway originally built in 1956 has claimed many unsuspecting vehicles in its 65 years of service. Today, I would not enter into that statistic. Getting bounced around in the right lane I pass the elevation milepost marking Tejon Pass and breathe out a full chest of depleted air. The Jeep quiets down on the descent as the sky fills with marine haze and exhaust particulates. Blue sky turns to brown and I pull off the highway in Santa Clarita for gas.
The 405. The 5. The 205. The 15. The 210. The 605. The 10. The 605. The 710. This is the language of Southern California. I take a quick look at the map on my phone and choose between the best available “The’s” with the least amount of red and plot my course to Pasadena. The lanes narrow, traffic thickens, and speeds accelerate. It’s a terrifying exchange of corridors and I move at top velocity inches from steel and wheels vying for the checkered flag. I hear rubber lock up behind me and see a black Chevy Yukon fishtailing in my rear view. This allows a necessary vacuum to fill the space off my tail and I’m able to trade the The 210 for the The 134. I exit at Colorado Boulevard, twist though leafy upscale neighborhoods, and safely back into John’s driveway. I’m given the tour de Pasadena, we catch up over a pizza, and pull up an itinerary that will take us through Joshua Tree National Park, Sedona Arizona, and Santa Fe New Mexico. Leg two day one in the books.
Nobody wants to hear about your first class flight to Baja. The most amazing meal you stumbled across when your incidental connection funneled you into a two-top of a nine star Michelin restaurant in Paris with a 26 year waiting list. This is all bullshit. Great. So happy for anyone’s super good fortune and exceptional luck. Just kidding. No one wants to hear these stories. They make people angry. We want misery.
This is why I’m not going to write about days four and five. Nothing happened. Nothing anyone wants to hear about. The Jeep ran fine. We made it to Healdsburg, California for Diana’s birthday. My parents, who we hadn’t seen in two years, joined us for a lovely meal at one of Sonoma County’s top vineyards, and we took a deep a breath. Kéa was not orphaned. With the Jeep safely parked in San Leandro awaiting instructions for leg two, we made our flight back to Alaska. JeepChryslerDodge 1. Your reading pleasure 0.
The length of US Highway 101 from Seattle to San Francisco is 913 miles, none of which runs in a straight line. Winding along the coastline of three western states, the road climbs 24,669 feet. Many of the highest points along the route are narrow with sheer thousand-foot drops into the Pacific Ocean. What better road to put an unfamiliar sketchy vehicle through the paces.
Diana bravely enlisted for the first leg. We had four days to make the trip from Seattle to San Francisco. Kéa would stay home to hold down the fort, take care of the dog, and not miss any school. It’s our first attempt at leaving our 14-year-old daughter at home alone, and I’m admittedly uneasy with the plan. Not because Kéa isn’t capable of taking care of herself, but the image of a Jeep carrying both parents careening off a high cliff onto wave swept rocks kept invading my thoughts.
An alarm went off early Sunday morning, Diana and I grabbed a coffee to go, and we set off to catch a direct flight to Seattle. I was prepping for the longer legs later in the spring, so I needed to check a bag that would stay with the Jeep. With no connections, I didn’t give a second thought to tagging my duffel and watching it disappear on the conveyor belt behind the check-in kiosk. The flight left on time and landed early.
Seventy-five minutes. This is how long it took to get the bag in Seattle. We needed to get all the way to Cannon Beach, OR. A roughly five-hour drive, and already we are off schedule. We decided to cut our losses. I left to retrieve the Jeep while Diana stayed behind to wait for the bag. The only real reason for checking the bag in the first place was to bring a battery pack that doubles as a jump box in the event the Jeep is dead.
Eighteen days after parking the Jeep at the airport, I arrive to find it happily occupying the same space. I pulled the key from my pocket, opened the door, and made the required cursory inspections. After rolling the window open, I inserted the key into the ignition, closed my eyes and held my breath. Success. The Jeep starts. I let it run for a minute, pull the seatbelt across my chest, and set out to find Diana and a bag.
The Port Authority of Seattle-Tacoma has been flawed for decades. SEA-TAC is a perennial junk show, but we finally collect our one bag and set off for points south. Things go reasonably smooth, but that nagging vibration is still present. I can feel it through the floorboards. We start off on I-5, find the Washington Oregon border, and make a right turn.
The world is different. Crazier. Maybe more accepting. We stop for gas and a thin middle-aged man in very rough shape writhes on a wheel chair in the entry way of the gas station mini market. No mask. He wasn’t shouting, but the words he spoke at full volume were random and nonsensical. At least five or six locals walked by and were kind enough to say hello. If they didn’t know the man, he was certainly familiar to them. I followed a young couple through the door, paid for the gas, and we wandered away toward the Pacific.
Arriving in Cannon Beach feels euphoric. The magnificent intertidal rocks rising hundreds of feet from the beach separate the forest from the sea. We find our hotel and park the Jeep. Both Diana and I are fully vaccinated and we’re looking forward to our first dinner out together in well over a year. Tired from the journey, we decide to set out on foot. The main town is four miles from where we’re staying, but we find a small grocery market and a few closed restaurants. Needing some milk for the next morning’s coffee, we drift into the store.
It wasn’t a hard sell, but in the back of the market was a pizza oven and three beer taps. The owner was convincing about the quality of the pizza and our first dinner out in over 15 months happened in the back of a small grocery store. Fitting. The beer was cold, the food tasted great, and we didn’t get back into the Jeep until morning. Day one in the books.
Day two was always designed to be the most grueling. Cannon Beach to Crescent City. Roughly seven or eight hours of white-knuckle road threading an undulating strip of pavement though the coastal mountains. Somewhere before exactly 73 miles from Crescent City, the steady vibration became a violent shake. A sickening deep rattle preceded an even more violent shaking and the already short-coupled Jeep became difficult to handle. Diana and I looked at each other calmly and I said “this isn’t….”
Downshifting from 5th to 4th, a deafening whine from underneath the back seat crescendos to a sudden blast. The Jeep loses power on a steep climb approaching a blind corner. There’s no shoulder on our southbound lane, only a thin guardrail to defend against a thousand-foot drop. The image I feared before boarding the airplane ricochets in my head. US 101 is a busy trucking route, and semis push the speed limit on every inch of the highway. I see a Peterbuilt round the bend and I have a few precious seconds to cross its path to the shoulder of the northbound lane. It’s more reaction than plan. I see the window, have exactly enough speed, and get the Jeep off the road.
It only took eight calls to AAA to get a confirmed tow. I had half a bar of cell service. Without fail, every time I was at the final step, the call would drop. Eventually we were picked up by a very nice but unintelligible truck driver who loaded our Jeep and us onto a flatbed tow rig. After four hours of standing on the side of a dangerous section of road, the small cab of the truck was a welcome change.
Originally from Oklahoma, our driver was extremely chatty. We conversed the entire 90-minute drive. I had to guess at most of what he said, but I kept the banter up with polite ambiguity. The tactic paid off. He agreed to take us all the way to Crescent City, drop our Jeep at a garage, and deposit us at the hotel. We checked in at 9:50 pm, and were immediately informed that nothing in Crescent City stays open past 10. Across the street from our room at the Lighthouse Inn was a liquor store. With little time to spare, we jogged across US 101 as hunter gatherers.
Hungry and tired, our options were expectedly limited. The best we could do was a stack of Pringles and a bottle of Jameson’s. It would have to do. Diana and I have experience contingency planning, and we spent the night listing options from best to worst. I set my alarm for 7:15 am to be Joe Wilson’s first phone call when Wilson’s Auto Repair opens at 7:30, and tried to get a few hours of sleep. Day two in the books.
The tow truck driver had warned us that Joe was a grandpa-type guy and often took mid-day naps, but did good work and would take care of us. I called the shop at exactly 7:30 and someone other than Joe picked up. I learned that Joe wasn’t at the shop yet, but the Jeep was, and I could expect a call from Joe when he got in. With this information, Diana and I called an Uber which dropped me at the auto shop and Diana at the Airport. One hour later I had a work order and Diana had a rental car. Joe said he’d have us out by mid-afternoon. Preferably before a nap.
Trying to make the best of it, we toured the area around Crescent City. Giant redwoods and sweeping coastline softened the gritty and depressed urban center, but not enough to remotely entertain this town as a destination. One important piece of information we were able to translate from Oklahoman to Alaskan the previous night was that US 101 was closed south of Crescent City, except from 9 am to 10 am and from 2 pm to 3 pm. If you didn’t hit either window, you are effectively stranded. With 2 pm closing in and no communication from the shop, we decided to drive by and check on the Jeep. Sure enough the rear drive shaft was again connected to the rear axle.
Diana and I looked at each other and then at the clock. Without speaking I jumped out of the rental car to pay Joe while Diana sped off to get gas and return the vehicle. When I found Joe climbing into his truck, all I got was “I’ll be right back.” It’s now 2:15. We have only 45 minutes to successfully pass the closure 9 miles south of town. I still have to drive to the airport, collect Diana, and make 13 stoplights. Ten minutes later Joe turns up with his bag lunch and my bill. $112.
I happily trade my cash for the keys and jump back into the Jeep. 2:30 pm. The Jeep drives like a dream, which is good news because I’m pushing it as hard as it can go. I find the airport and pick up Diana. 2:40. I hit the first set of lights and make three of them. 2:44. It’s 2:49 when we clear downtown and head for the closure. Nine miles took eight minutes and we pull into a line of about a dozen cars stopped in front of a flagger. Did we miss it? I squint through my aviators and see the sign flip from red to orange. 2:58. I high five Diana as we push past the slow sign and we make our way up a steep dirt road that used to be US 101. Day three in the books.
Spending a slice of summer in Rhode Island was always the goal. With the 91 Why Street project more or less complete, our family dreamed of warm lazy sand filled days followed by nights of deck time. And to get around our South County beach town, Diana, Kéa and I had always dreamed of free wheeling a Jeep with no top. We looked, but never seriously, at picking up a used ragtop Wrangler or CJ for the house in RI.
Fast forward to 2020. Lives the world over ground to a sudden halt, or worse, their end. We’ve weathered the storm reasonably well. Jobs moved into the home, school came through a broadband network, and we did the best we could. Oh, I almost forgot. My NCAA Ski Team was cut. I spent the better part of five months clawing back through various methods. None of which more daunting than raising $628,000 in three of those months, all while managing a full college athletic program remotely from a home office. With a lot of time at home and conversations about what we’d like to do when life returns to some kind of new normal, our trio dreamed of bombing around with the wind in our hair.
As vaccines rolled out, and it appeared likely that we may someday jump a flight East, I opened Pandora’s box. Looking for vehicles on-line is incredibly stupid. It’s a magician’s game. You only see what the seller want’s you to see. And I saw so much more. I saw a means to an end. I saw a road trip down the Oregon coast. I saw access to mountain bike trails throughout the Southwest. I saw this beautiful blood orange Jeep with no top, the girls enjoying a birds-eye view from beneath the roll bar cradling surfboards, and a summer road trip across the back roads of an America I had never experienced.
I bought the Jeep in my sleep. Literally a dream. It took no time to call the dealer in Bellingham, Washington, ask a few questions I already knew the answers to, buy an airplane ticket, and make one of the worst investments of my life. The salesman picked me up at the tiny regional airport. I jumped behind the wheel and drove to the lot to sign papers. I never got the Jeep’s manual transmission into 5th or 6th gear, but I was pretty sure they worked. A slight grindy metallic clunk from under the chassis? Not a problem. This thing was gorgeous. And soon it would be…All. My. Problem.
We had a little cash from not traveling for 15 months. The decision seemed harmless at first. It’s a 2009 Jeep Wrangler X. Low miles. Perfect paint. A three inch lift and 35 inch tires. It fit into our price range as long as nothing major happened. With only 68,000 miles on the frame it would be easy to put a for-sale sign on the window and flip it. I wrote a check, received a set of keys and temporary plates, and set a course for SEA-TAC. The plan was to park it in long term and catch my evening flight back to Anchorage. It had about a half tank of fuel, but I decided to fill it up before hitting I-5. After topping off the tank, I put the key in the ignition and pushed my thumb forward to fire up my first leg of freedom. I’m excited to finally be on the road.
Nothing. I turned the key and I got nothing. Not a click. Not whir. Not a breath of life. Dead. Many things are going on inside my head at this point. I’m still excited, but not the way I’d like to be. The loudest thought I have is “Are you F*@#ingh Kidding Me?!” I immediately called the dealer who descended on the 76 service station in a matter of seconds, as I only made it 500 effing feet from the dealership before the damn thing broke. This would be the first and easiest fix of my journey east. A loose battery connection from removing the defunct winch from the front bumper. Of course! Servicemen got under the hood, made a few adjustments and again I was on my way.
About 20 miles north of SEA-TAC I begin to feel a slight vibration in the steering column. Even the side view mirror blurred my return view, and I decided to make a pit stop. I looked under the chassis, not that I could ever identify any potential issue or remotely think about fixing it, but I’m a curious guy and you never know. If something was a amiss, I certainly didn’t see any signs of trouble. I pulled back on to the highway, the vibration went away, and I parked our beautiful new used not somebody else’s problem in the long term lot. In 18 days, Diana and I will return to start the next leg from Seattle to San Francisco down one of the most scenic coastal highways in the world. US 101.
This is the next blog series illustrating bad decision making surrounding 91 Why Street. It will take me a while to get you caught up to speed. But believe me, when you find out where I am and why I’m here, you’ll understand that I have plenty of time on my hands. Stay tuned. One again, I’m here to make you feel better about yourself through my own astounding ability to seek out misguided delusion. Enjoy.
Diana and Kéa will attempt to return to the top of the world today. No guarantees. Relief from the grip of New England’s current heat wave is in sight, but not before thunderstorms preceeding a cold front are forecast to move through Boston. If the current weather predictions hold, it will be a race to beat the storms. Godspeed.
It’s been quite the summer. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but we had no idea the quantity. Living in blissful Alaskan ignorance, the rent checks showed up from 4528 miles away more or less on time, and any impending maintenance to our Rhode Island house was just an eventuality. Something we knew would require attention…someday. Whether we were rolling around the Kenai in our 1987 Volkswagen Westfalia or traveling to some far corner of the world, it was all too easy to simply kick the can down the road. With busy lives, we became absent landlords. Out of sight, out of mind.
The irony is that we are our own worst enemy. In more ways than one. While neglecting our home in Rhode Island, we have been battling a shadowy reflection of ourselves here in Alaska. Three years ago we jumped on an opportunity to move from Baja Girdwood to what we thought was “uptown.” It’s anything but. We lucked into a strange agreement with a friend of former US Senator Stevens family, fit each of a long list of stipulations and requirements, and ended up being the family to end up in the infamous home of Ted Stevens.
The house is incredible, thanks to some high-end improvements made by various oil company subsidiaries. It also got Ted into a lot of trouble. The FBI had wire taps into what is now our back office, and eventually raided the property. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/31/washington/31stevens.html Stevens was ultimately acquitted. Without getting into historic detail, we now live in the house that brought down the house. More specifically, we now live in the house that brought down the house….next to the crack house.
About two years ago, the run-down abandoned cabin next to our house became a rental property of sorts. Two ski seasons ago it was home to all night raves, cocaine extravaganzas, and a revolving door of dereliction. We spent the better part of the winter with the Troopers on speed dial, who did little to nothing about it. I made the usual trip next door to attempt reason with the vagrants living there, but to no avail. They eventually moved out or died, I’m not sure which, and a new crew of harmless ski bums moved in. We were relieved and existed in relative Girdwood harmony and mutual respect. Peace in the valley.
Fast forward to May 2018. Girdwood, Alaska. We returned from our annual Mexican pilgrimage to find a new special brand of delinquency. The peaceful hippies had been replaced by William The Wandering Chef, someone named K-VIV, a super-drunk named Kasey, and Rachel the heroin addict. Our neighborhood went from never having to lock a door to collectively training shotguns on the ever-growing throngs of drug traffic speeding up and down our once sleepy short street.
Our dream home had turned into a nightmare. Kéa spent all of June with the doors locked, afraid to leave the house. William The Wandering Chef could be heard retching into the creek next door at all hours of the day. Loud fights would ensue nightly between the hours of 1 and 5 am. The acrid smell of Meth smoke wafted above the weeds hiding strewn whiskey bottles and beer cans. Trash was everywhere. Again and again, I rolled up my sleeves to knock on their door to plead for sanity. Mostly my own. But you can’t reason with someone on LSD and Methamphedamines. At least the heroin girl was mostly passed out and quiet.
We have since organized a neighborhood watch group and have had several meetings with local law enforcement. Diana and I both dug into a fairly extensive investigation to find out where these people worked, who their parents were, and any detail that might serve to remedy the intolerable situation. The property is owned by a well-known grifter. On May 28th, he put the deed and title into his daughter’s name to avoid the lot being taken in one of many legal suits being levied against him.
After some research, we learned that all four of the drug addicts next door worked at Alyeska Resort. I promptly wrote an e-mail to the owner of Alyeska, who to his credit, called me no less than 45 minutes later and assured me that he was aware of the problem. The behavior next door failed to change, regardless. One or two of the renters were exchanged for three or four others who were just as bad, if not worse. The state of affairs had gone from a menacing nuisance to downright dangerous.
Eventually, July 11th came knocking on our calendar. Feeling extremely apprehensive, we packed our bags, locked our doors and windows, and flew to Rhode Island. It was a welcome break…briefly. Upon the horror of our initial inspection of 91 High Street, we had to look in the mirror and face the fact that we had become the very landlords we now waged a battle against. Karmic irony is a bitch.
It’s now exactly one month later. 91 High Street is beautiful. Our little South County, RI town has matured into a bustling but quaint hamlet, and we’re grateful to the many people who have helped us bring our 1887 Colonial home back from the dead. A very special thanks to Scott (Uncle Scotty) Young for not only saving our asses in the 2015 move from Hottentot Mine Road to Northland, but for coming to RI on his own dime to shepard the revival of 91 High Street. A true glutton for punishment, what Scotty did for us qualifies as nothing short of Saintly.
Returning to Alaska has been bittersweet. It’s stunningly beautiful. We have built a life here and it’s the only true home Kéa knows. Girdwood, despite the ongoing drug epidemic, is a warm and caring community of incredible people. We have been afforded opportunity in Alaska that reaches beyond any we could have imagined elsewhere. Still, my heart aches for South County, RI. Freshly reacquainted with the charm and character of Rhode Island, I miss it the same as the day we loaded a U-Haul 18 years ago to drive “North to the future.”
I hope you have enjoyed 91 Why Street. It was fun to chronicle the anguish and package our misery into nice five paragraph essays of pain for your entertainment. In the two days I’ve been home in AK, the neighbors have either died or all switched from meth and booze to heroin. I haven’t seen or heard them. My new quest is to get the house next door condemned and torn down. Maybe the next Blog Project? Thank you for following along. In the words of my hero Edward R. Murrow, “Goodnight, and good luck.”
Alaska Airlines flight 143 touched down on time at Ted Stevens International Airport. 11:52 pm. Exactly eight minutes later, Shawn Loberg of Northern Exposure Shuttle Service loaded my stranded suitcase into his 1998 Dodge van and safely deposited me at Ted Stevens former home, just footsteps from Ted’s Express – Alyeska Ski Resort’s high-speed quad and homage to our former US Senator. It was now an hour into August 7th, and I could feel the sand speeding through an ever-growing gap in the pinch of the hourglass. Only 23 more hours to be in my 48th trip around the sun.
Anyone who knows me well understands that I hate birthdays. And not really all birthdays, just mine in particular. Something about the annual reminder that none of us get out of this thing alive hasn’t resonated well as the years speed past at an exponentially increasing pace. Anyone will tell you it’s just another number, but there’s no stopping father time. In the eternal words of Indiana Jones, “…it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”
Having just flown 5000 more of those miles and crossing four time zones, I’m not exactly feeling as spry as I normally do. We’ve done nothing but scramble to put our Humpty Dumpty home back together again. No real exercise to speak of, eating out late at the Dragon Palace Chinese restaurant, and falling victim to constant dehydration because you just can’t replenish that much sweat, has taken it’s toll. My original plan of returning Friday had me thinking I’d at least have the weekend to unpack, get on my mountain bike, and eat a proper meal. Yeah…no.
After five hours of sleep I hauled my sorry ass into the office to excavate three weeks of e-mail, voicemail, snail mail, and any other kind of mail heaped on my plate. Meanwhile, in a time zone four hours away, Diana worked through an ever-shrinking punch list. From the pictures I’ve seen, 91 High Street looks like a much different house. Neighbors, the UPS driver, and our new friend Steve The Mailman (yes, I have his cell phone number now) have all remarked on the contrast.
I’m now back in Girdwood after 27 days of firewalling the gas pedal. Day 28 here in Alaska wasn’t much different, and I don’t expect life to decelerate any time soon. Diana and Kéa have two more days in Rhode Island before making the trip to New Hampshire, returning the Mercedes, and saying goodbye to family before crossing the continent on Friday night. It’s a long way from the smallest state to the biggest one. 4528 miles to be exact. 10 days in a car, 9 hours in a plane, or 389 hours on a bike because you can’t take Amtrak. From the Lower 48 to 2 hours away from 49, I guess that they really are just numbers after all.
My disdain for summer air travel burns deep and slow inside the dark maligned chamber of my soul. Churning sour reactions, PTSD (Post Thunderstorm Shitshow Disaster), and a bad attitude. With about an hour to kill between rail and air, I lingered in South Station to intentionally procrastinate my arrival at Boston Logan. Alaska Airlines has succeeded in finding the absolute worst departure gate and terminal pairing. C 41.
Gates C40, 41, and 42 have their own security line. They lie unconnected to the rest of the airport. Ostracized from the C terminal’s 39 other gates and services, gate C41 has exactly one restroom, a small cart selling $9.00 Aquifina, and insufficient fire code capacity to accommodate standing room for a full flight. I hate flying Alaska Airlines out of Boston.
Diana and I stayed up much too late last night watching the Red Sox come back on the Yankees to sweep a four game home-stand in extra innings. The Mews, our local tavern, was full of friends yearning to head home but glued to an ugly meltdown by Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in the 9th. It would have been blasphemous to forsake such a turn of events, and we collectively high-fived our entire crowd as Benintendi singled home the walk-off run. These are the quintessential New England moments that can’t be replicated in Alaska.
Alaska. Right. I still need to get back there… Our morning arrived considerably too early and far too hot. I jumped into action to prepare for the return of our inept countertop crew coming to install the backsplash. Copper window boxes needed drilling to fix them to brackets, and I needed to collect the few remaining items in my possession for imminent departure from Kingston Station. Time to leave. Again.
I’m not sure why I favor train travel over airplanes. Amtrak doesn’t operate with the efficiency of Deutsche Bahn, but I like to watch the world go by at ground level. The “30,000 foot view,” stolen as an en vogue corporate platitude, leaves something to be desired. I like to move around the cabin…a lot. That, coupled with the fact that a historic train station easily beats a fashionable new airport, have me wishing the Alcan had it’s own version of the Orient Express.
I’m now sitting on a 737-800 waiting for a tiny propane-fueled tractor to separate our 138 foot long aluminum tube from the most uniquely detestable gate in airport history. Not surprisingly, we’re delayed. Problems with our paperwork. As I sit in apprehensive semi-comfort, Diana is slaving over a mulch mound in 100 degree temperatures. I’d happily trade places. Something about the visible progress of physical labor eclipses the absurdity of air travel. After seeing the evolution Diana has made, I desperately want on that train.
I woke up Saturday morning in my own bed. Taking stock of the room I scanned my focus to the familiar ceiling fan, our large wood dresser, old photos, and various aspects of Diana’s scatter. Everything appeared, as it should, but something still wasn’t right. I was in my own bed, but on the wrong coast.
I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the latest bump in the road. It was extremely unsettling to walk away from so many line items of unfinished business. Window boxes still need to be installed, the dining room walls nag for a final coat of paint, counter top back splashes arrive Monday, and an assortment of new expensive tools are in desperate need of secure arrangement.
None of that happened. Thunderstorms produced flash flood warnings and South County endured a steady rain for most of Saturday. Absent any change of wardrobe, priority number one after a strong cup of coffee was to hit up the consignment store circuit. I arrived back in RI at 11:30 pm Friday night with a small carry-on and the clothes on my back. My suitcase is happily waiting for me at the Ted Steven’s International Airport in Anchorage.
Alaska. Crap! I need a ticket to visit my lonely duffel bag. This whole work-your-ass-off while bleeding money, enduring substantial stress, premature aging, and profuse sweating thing has been fun, but I have a job to get back too. Standing on the deck in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts while on hold with the Alaska Airlines MVP desk was an entertaining experience. Just not for me. Our only cell service is outside. We live downtown in a quaint historic village. I had nothing to wear and needed to be on the phone while passers-by smiled politely at the continuing spectacle that is my life.
I’m now booked out of Boston Logan Scum & Villainy at 4 pm on Monday. Yesterday afternoon was pleasantly spent wandering the new shops on Main Street, having coffee in the rain, and finding black raspberry ice cream for Kéa. Our friend Jamie drove up from New York to keep Diana company because I wasn’t supposed to be here, and we enjoyed a lazy day exploring a decade of gentrification in South Kingstown. I have 24 hours to sport my new old yellow $6 shorts. My only job today is to not get beat up by Biker Gangs at the Ocean Mist.
The wind had shifted from due south to directly off shore. There are times in life when you find yourself in the right place at the right time. This was last night. We said goodbye to Dave The Floor Guy, who kicked us out of our own home to let the final coat of poly adhere to our 131 year old floors, and loaded a pile of surfboards on top of the Mercedes. It was my last night in Rhode Island.
Narragansett Town Beach can be a shifty break. The notorious rip pulls sandbars from one side of the strand to the other. The beach faces southeast and picks up swell from multiple directions. It’s well known as a close-out beast, breaking fiberglass boards like toothpicks in even ridiculously small conditions. This was not the case last night.
I lost an undisclosed amount of time paddling into head high ramps of blue glass. It’s an addiction stronger than any I’ve known. Swimming a hand-shaped plank into a lifting wall of water over a moving liquid mirror is one of my Nirvanas. Compulsion becomes natural. It would be disrespectful not to revel in the ocean’s gift and I spent Thursday night lapping my surfboard back into the sea.
I’m now making an entirely different lap. Closing the circle of going nowhere, I boarded Amtrak train number 64, Newport News, headed to Virginia from South Station. We’re rolling 11 sold out cars behind a GG1 Electric Locomotive pointed south. I’m fortunate to have a seat.
All flights out of Boston were eventually cancelled. Alternative transit hubs were packed. I was lucky to escape when I did. After spending two hours driving a 737 around Boston Logan Airport, I jumped at the second chance to exit stage left. Leaving the herd behind to wallow in taxi-way stop and go purgatory, I fled the wretched hive and hopped the Blue Line T to Kenmore Square – Fenway. The Sox were playing the Yankees and I had 3 hours to kill.
I’m not sure what my new boss who I’ve never met will say when I eventually have to explain the fact that I’m not where I’m supposed to be. I don’t yet have a ticket home, I don’t have a plan beyond a beer at South Station, and at some point I need to remove myself from this shit show of a month gone amazingly wrong. As for now, gliding south on a rail out of Boston feels a lot like paddling back out. My only hope is that the next wave is a good one.