Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Esalen

The young woman slipped past me as she entered the hot tub, her shapely right hip nearly grazing my shoulder.

The water was warm as she immersed her naked body and took a seat opposite me. I lowered my eyes and quickly glanced at her breasts hoping she wouldn’t notice, even though I was sure she was fully aware of my interest.

Esalen was founded in 1962 by two Stanford graduates who focused on alternative methods of exploring human potential including experiential sessions involving encounter groups, sensory awakening, gestalt awareness training, and related disciplines.

Named after an Indian tribe that inhabited the area, Esalen was sometimes described as “a hippie place where people go to smoke pot and get naked.” Pot smoking and other playtime drugs are now forbidden, but nakedness is encouraged as an option in the communal tubs warmed by natural hot springs.

Jackie speaks glowingly about Esalen, a place that she has often visited. My interest heightened; we booked a weekend that included a workshop whose description was a bit murky. I didn’t worry about the description since my primary motivation was to see the Esalen grounds situated on a hillside overlooking the Pacific. And maybe naked women.

Five hours from Ojai, the last hour is a beautiful stretch of Highway 1 running along the ocean. Only two lanes, the road can be intimidating as it commands one’s complete attention while negotiating the blind curves that slow your progress. Jackie drove like a pro while I enjoyed being a wide-eyed passenger.

We arrived at the center, checked in and found our cottage. One bedroom, a living room and bath, it had an ocean view from the patio that made the half-day trip worthwhile. With two hours to spare before dinner, we stripped and put on the complimentary robes for a ten-minute walk to the hot tubs.

I’ve had one other experience with nude bathing about two years ago at Ecotopia Hot Springs near Ojai. No tubs there, we had to settle for a comfortable rock surface in a watery stream. Shedding my towel and scanning the bathers, I was convinced that they were evaluating my penis which made me somewhat shy and inadequate until I slowly relaxed and went with the flow.

I’m convinced that evaluating private parts, much like dogs sniffing one another, is part of the nude bathing experience that never fully dissipates for both males and females. Ecotopia has been closed due to the drought or we might have made more visits.

A classier version of Ecotopia, Esalen offers several fashionable tubs accommodating just one or as many as six people. Selecting a tub involves a quick survey of the current occupants. I look for a nice mix of males and females, a good mix of ages and preferably no one wearing a bathing suit.

Most people immerse themselves in the hot water up to their shoulders. But there is no guarantee of anonymity since the water is crystal clear. Multiple conversations are common in the same tub, names are sometimes shared, and stories told that might otherwise be withheld if it were not for the nudity and communality.

The water temperature varies and is regulated by an ancient wooden plug inserted in a spout through which fresh hot water can enter the tub. Tub residents are careful to poll the other bathers before removing the plug or replacing it in the spout. Newcomers like me steer clear of the plug, allowing more seasoned bathers to wrestle with its occasional fickleness.

I tend to avoid long term immersion in warm water and usually finish my bath while others remain more durable. So it was only twenty minutes into my freshman reverie that I slowly exited the tub on all fours, careful to avoid a nasty spill that could have been chalked up to my vertigo or my advancing age. I made it safely, though without grace.

I searched for my colored towel among the others lying on the perimeter of the tub but quickly realized that I had forgotten which color was mine. Deciding that a fresh towel was needed, I marched uncovered to the spa entryway and walked up the steps to the opening.

I found myself surrounded by about a dozen bathers who were either leaving or coming to the tubs. All of them fully clothed. I initially felt out of place and on display. After what seemed like an eternity, I adjusted to my situation, straightened up, acted normal even though naked, asked for a towel, and walked back down the steps to the dressing area.

I decided to do it again tomorrow.

Pismo-Part 1

My grandsons, Morey and Isaac, invited me and my credit card to a weekend in Pismo Beach.

A city of about 8,000 permanent residents on California’s central coast, summer visitors swell the population to more than triple that number.  The name Pismo is Chumash for tar, a natural substance that has diminished over the years, as has the once famous Pismo Clam. Monarch butterflies now take center stage in winter as they hang out in a grove of eucalyptus trees, escaping colder weather in the north.

Clamming was a serious business until the 20th century. Like most of our natural resources, humans believed that the Pismo Clam was indestructible and that its many millions of offspring would quench the hunger of future generations of clam diggers. Photographs of horse drawn multi-pronged rakes churning up the sand and collecting boatloads of clams can be found in the Pismo archives.

When I was a young man, my family took up the tools of clamming and spent a weekend in Pismo. All that we needed was a common pitchfork and a pail. Jamming the pitchfork beneath the surface of the wet sand often resounded with a tell-tale clink announcing the presence of a clam about six inches below. A scooping action sometimes produced a clam; more often it produced a lot of wet sand.

A measuring device in the shape of the letter C was taped to the pitchfork. The lucky clammer would slide the clam through the device. If it passed through, the clam was deemed a juvenile and required careful replacement from where it came to wait for adulthood. Park rangers with binoculars were often found in the surrounding hills spying on the diggers hoping that a hefty fine might result. There are still clams in the surf, but their fate is mostly in the hands, or the flippers, of the resident otters.

Help may be on the way. Due to the laziness of the X generation and the seeding of juvenile clams, the clam is making a hard-fought comeback. Yet too small for harvesting, and with increased Clam Ranger surveillance, we may once again see the mighty Pismo Clam filling our buckets.

My Pismo trip began Friday afternoon on the 101 Freeway heading to grandson Morey’s digs in Santa Barbara. Road construction on this monster has been in progress for the last two generations, resulting in Caltrans jobs being passed from father to son with no completion date in sight. I hope that the workers will maintain their virility so that the work can go on.

An alternative approach would be to hire 300 Amish men and women who would surely complete the project in a single weekend…without power tools.

From Casitas Pass to Montecito, about 25 miles, the 101 creeps along. Creep is an overstatement of the speed of the traffic as it passes by father/son Caltrans workers who seem unaware of our presence. Squirm, wriggle and writhe are more appropriate considering the agony that is prominently displayed on my fellow drivers’ faces.

Even Siri was confused. Periodic messages spewed forth from my iPhone. “Accident two miles ahead. You are still on the fastest route.” There was no accident, and I was on a route with no viable alternative.

Five minutes later, “Accident a quarter mile ahead. You are still on the fastest route.” No visible accident and no other route available other than circumnavigation of the globe. And on it went, repeating the mantra every mile or so.

Earlier in the day I had filled my tank at my neighbor’s Chevron station in midtown Ojai; normally enough gas to make the round trip to Pismo and back. But schizophrenia kicked in as I was bombarded by Siri who insisted that I was on the fastest route. I was sure that my tank would empty in California’s first permanent gridlock. I visualized a place of honor on the freeway with a plaque that announced, “On this spot Fred ran out of gas because he foolishly trusted Siri and refused to find an alternate route.”

Construction had narrowed the normally spacious passage by closing the shoulders on both sides of the road with tall concrete barriers. It was like going through a tunnel without a roof. Drivers moved from one lane to another as they sought the faster one. There was no faster one. I often met the same driver coming and going as we alternated our search for the holy grail.

Aging by the moment, I awaited nature’s call to empty my bladder. Exiting the freeway and seeking a place to do so is a challenge even in good traffic conditions. At 4 on a Friday afternoon, it was a challenge of the seventh magnitude. Focusing on the pressure in my groin, I evaluated my options. Leave the freeway in an uncharted realm and seek a depository only to be informed of its unavailability due to Covid was one option. Gutting it out until reaching Morey’s digs was another. Feeling no pressing need, I calculated the approximate time when one might occur. Twelve miles to Morey at an average speed of ten miles per hour was doable. I relaxed and listened to Siri. 

I stared at drivers who sometimes stared back. A young man driving a shiny black Tesla pulled alongside me. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders like comrades in arms. I thought I could read the expression on his face which seemed to say, “This is getting serious. I think my batteries are about to give up their last few watts.” Maybe he was thinking about a plaque too.

Tripping…final chapter

My twisted leg, ingloriously earned when I fell in the last ten minutes of the last hike of the week, put me at a disadvantage compared to the other nervous passengers at the Saint George, Utah airport. I was no longer my agile macho self, doped up on Tylenol Plus that didn’t seem to be living up to its claims.

I hobbled into the tiny airport from the resort van only to discover mass anxiety displayed on dozens of faces jockeying for position at the two check-in counters that served United, Delta and American. One couldn’t be sure which of the two lines to use since there were no signs nor an amplifying speaker; nothing but the ability of the rather petite agents with matching tiny voices who sought to organize the increasingly unruly crowd.

Barely able to push around my suitcase, I had burdened poor Jackie with my carry-on bag housing my Apple lap-top, Kindle reader, Air-pods, several charging cords, NY Times crossword puzzles, and the NY Review of Books that had gone untouched during the last seven days of our vacation at the Red Mountain Resort.

We watched the digital clock hover menacingly on the wall behind the ticket counter. It moved relentlessly, oblivious to our need to make a super-tight connection in Phoenix. Even if things went perfectly, we only had thirty minutes to catch that connecting flight and arrive on schedule in Santa Barbara.

After what seemed like glacial movement toward the ticket counter, we were greeted by an exhausted agent. She accepted two pieces of our luggage, tagged them and sent them to the mysterious place where all baggage goes, only one miscalculation removed from the surely lost and sometimes found department.

There was still time to get to the gate before the scheduled 3:15 departure. All we needed was reasonable cooperation by TSA and a speedy trip through security. It was as though half of St. George was in line ahead of us. Perhaps, I wondered, is this how St. Georgians spend their Saturdays; a trip to the airport creating mayhem for predatory visitors?

Aging does have its benefits; people over 75 need not remove their shoes when walking through security. I have often pondered the reason for this regulation. Was it because old people are unable to bend down to unlace their triple-wide clunkers? Most old folks wear those glaring white nursing home specials with three Velcro straps; unzipping should be easy. Or do we look as though we are unable to construct and hide a shoe bomb; good thing they didn’t know that I built a Heathkit amplifier right after my college days.

I also was the beneficiary of being led around the scanners and passed through without anyone touching me. Perhaps I looked harmless as I stumbled around on my gimpy right leg. No such luck for cute little Jackie who was flagged down and body scanned three times by some TSA brute who seemed to be enjoying himself.

We cleaned up our carry-on mess and headed for one of the airport’s four gates. It was SRO at all four, but happily the electronic screen announced an on-time departure for American’s 3292 to Phoenix. We had dodged a bullet and only malfunctioning equipment could stop us now. 

And, of course, it did.

We were seated quickly without anyone beating up on the flight steward for enforcing mask wearing. The engines rumbled and the plane backed from the gate. We taxied toward the runway, the plane stopped, there was an overly pregnant pause and we waited for the captain who eventually said, “Sorry folks. We’ve got a warning light that needs to be checked out. Shouldn’t be long. Sit back and relax.”

What he really meant, I thought, was “God knows what the problem is. Never seen anything like it. You will all probably have to exit the plane on the 110-degree tarmac while we nonchalantly see what’s going on. You’re going to miss your connection in Phoenix and your bags will probably get lost too. Hang tight and don’t bother the crew with dumb questions. Oh, and this is the last flight out today.”

The captain finally just unscrewed the offending warning-light and we were on our way, but not before we had lost half of the allotted time to make our Phoenix connection on American 5332 to Santa Barbara. I was sure that the departure gate for 5332 was going to be a day’s walk from where we would deplane. For me, it would be a two day crawl.

Jackie took it in stride when we landed, summoned up her majestic five-foot-one height and got ready for battle. From our location in the way-back cheap seats she called the steward and, citing my inability to do Olympic high hurdles, asked that we be given special priority in exiting the plane. Sure.

Despite her valiant efforts, we gained little in the aisle and then began the long march up the gangway. People passed me as though my feet were in concrete. If I had been a lame horse, they would have shot me.

Arriving at the top of the gangway after what seemed like a full day spent on the Bataan Death March, we were told that flight 5332 had departed on schedule five minutes ago. With a healthy dose of hostility, I wondered why connecting flights are always on schedule when we are late. And why they are always on time when we are early.

The agent at the counter gave us good news; there was another flight to Santa Barbara today. The bad news was that it wasn’t departing until 6:30, three hours from now. No calamity, since I figured it would take me that long to crawl to the gate.

It’s times like this that I wished I had the platinum American Express card that would welcome us to American’s Admirals’ Club lounge. There I would be pampered and get moderately smashed at no additional cost beyond the annual AMEX card fee (reputedly equal to what I paid for my first house.)

Jackie did her best to do a hail Mary around the menacing hounds guarding the entrance to the cushy VIP lounge. I admire her boldness but find it hard to watch; as a result, I usually lower my head and turn away from the spectacle as though I didn’t know this woman.  Shamefully, I did my part by imitating a Viet Nam veteran returning home with a war-torn leg. But they had seen that ploy before and sent us away to lick our wounds. In retrospect, maybe a row of medals on my sweatshirt would have done the trick.

The adjacent Escape Lounge beckoned us. No need for the platinum card as it was only $35 a person to enter this non-sectarian Valhalla of airport lounges. Well, maybe not Valhalla, but better than the airport’s blue plastic seats designed by Torquemada for the Spanish inquisition.

We paid the lounge fee, settled into our chairs, ate bite-sized mystery sandwiches and drank as much wine as needed to mindlessly pass the three hours before our 6:30 flight time.

We faced a wall displaying airline departure times including our new best buddy, American 3677 coming from Cleveland. With great trepidation, I occasionally raised my head from my glass of cheap wine to assure myself that our departure time had not changed.

It did. As if punishing us for our unpatriotic attempt to surreptitiously enter the Admirals’ Lounge, our Cleveland connection was now delayed; two more hours were tacked on resulting in a planned 8:30 departure.

The plebian Escape Lounge was closing at 8pm, thirty minutes before our new departure time. Bidding it a fond adieu, we dragged ourselves to our new digs, gate 12, and waited for the Cleveland express.

The Greek god Hermes, in furtherance of his assignment to deal with travelers, determined that we had not been punished sufficiently for our lounge indiscretions and tacked another hour onto our fickle departure time, now 9:30. The advancing electronic clock became our enemy, and the airport began an ominous path toward complete silence.

The only remaining airport passengers were huddled around gate 12. We were really alone, feeling like Ernest Borgnine and Shelly Winters struggling to escape a capsized ship in the Poseidon Adventure. Would the airport shut down completely, discarding us on the street and leaving us to find our own salvation in some depressing motel with thin towels and a broken air conditioner?

But salvation was at hand when Air Cleveland arrived much like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. We were unceremoniously stuffed into its bowels and lifted off at 10pm, seven hours after our original departure time. I almost didn’t care where we were going as long as we got there on time.

Miraculously, both our bags and our bodies arrived together in Santa Barbara. A tired Jackie drove us home where we poured ourselves into bed at 1:30am.

It was a great vacation.

Tripping…Part 5

It’s Saturday, the seventh day of our Red Mountain Resort adventure; by Jewish biblical standards a required day of rest.

Oblivious to that standard, Jackie had asked me the night before, “So what’s your plan for tomorrow? I’m going hiking, how about you? Maybe you should rest and get ready for our departure. It’s ok, I won’t think any less of you.”

I had given serious consideration to skipping the morning hike. After all, I had done the six previous daily death marches and had survived to tell the tale. But her question was really a challenge, one that I was determined to accept. No slouch, me. I’m going to be at the front of the pack, setting the pace even if I’d prefer hanging out on the patio with a latte and bagel with cream cheese.

We were scheduled for a 1pm bus ride to the St. George airport leaving us just enough time for a three-hour hike, a shower and packing up all the complimentary toiletries that Jackie had cleverly accumulated during the past week.

Our morning began benignly. We had our usual dish of six pieces of cut-up fruit and limited our coffee intake to half a bladder full. After a precautionary trip to the rest room, we proceeded to the Gazebo where we found our hiking guides, Julie and Mark.

In contrast to leader John, yesterday’s father figure, these young people were barely out of diapers. Kind and welcoming, they nevertheless had a frightening air of repressed confidence and a “let’s get on with it” attitude. One other person, a matronly shy woman named Joan, completed our band of adventurers. It was a small group in comparison with prior days and eased my concerns about any impetuous daredevil hiking. The prognosis for my survival until our 1pm departure was good, and I felt reasonably smug about taking up the gauntlet thrown at my feet by Jackie.

First impressions are often unreliable. Joan was an animal.

As she shed her matronly demeanor, Joan urged our guides to traverse steeper terrain at a faster clip. My confidence level moved toward the red zone; I should have opted for the bagel.

The hike almost over, I was congratulating myself at surviving the demands of the she-devil Joan. Only ten minutes remained before I could shed my macho exterior, remove my fake water bottles and shelve my hiking shoes for the next decade. While I would secretly lick my wounds, Jackie would tell our experiences to all who would listen, especially about how she had transformed a 78-year-old wimp into an 82-year-old Hercules.

We were 200 feet from the end of the trail descending a ladder-like cluster of rocks that the angel Moroni had surely placed there to punish the wicked. I stepped down to the next level, slipped, and my right foot attempted a dance move that was popularized by the Royal Ballet’s Margot Fonteyn in The Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps it could be best described as a pirouette on top of an arabesque.

I failed to emulate Ms. Fonteyn as my leg tried to complete a 180-degree turn. My right knee was now at the back of my leg. For an instant I thought that my right foot was facing in the opposite direction of my left foot.

Having little experience with this move, I adopted a survival mode and skipped forward on one leg, pirouetting in a manner that would have been unrecognizable to Ms. Fonteyn. Failing that attempt, I slammed into Jackie who had miraculously been positioned to keep me from falling on my ass. Fortunately, my leg remained attached to my hip, but my ligaments were screaming something other than encore, encore.

My companions stared at me as though they had never seen anything like it. Reasonably solicitous, they asked me if I needed help. “No, I’ve done this before. Piece of cake. A little sore. It’ll pass. Let me walk it off.”

In reality, I felt that even the surgical prowess of Christina Yang and Derek Shephard of Grey’s Anatomy couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Far from experiencing the reputed benefits of walking it off, hobbling back to the van only intensified my discomfort.  Adopting the well-used role of the suffering hypochondriac, I envisioned amputation as the probable result of my refusal to stay on our patio with a warm latte.

We hobbled back to our room where I assumed a fetal position on the bed while Jackie finished packing. We called the tram that shlepped us 200 feet to the visitor center. I found a couch and tried to find a comfortable position that let me believe that my leg still was attached to my hip. Carefully attended to by Jackie, who offered a non-stop course of Tylenol and bottled water, we waited for the 1pm bus to the airport.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 3:15. We were assured by the resort mavens that two hours were more than we needed to comfortably make our flight from St. George to Phoenix where we had a connecting flight to Santa Barbara.

Our bus left on time. No traffic. Piece of cake.

Tiny St. George airport welcomed us with open arms and a horde of passengers waiting to check-in. I watched the processing of the passengers at the counter and calculated that the rate at which this was happening would delay our departure until the passing of Halley’s Comet in 2061.

To be continued…

Tripping…Part 4

This is the fourth of the series called Tripping

Hiking is an activity that requires a belief that the effort is worth it and, for octogenarians, exceptional bladder control. For example, breakfast coffee intake must be limited because it seems to double in volume as it passes rapidly through my system. A bottle of water can be carried in a backpack but drinking it must be strictly avoided unless heat stroke is imminent.

The hiking terrain near the Red Mountain resort resembles that of Mars. Very dry, very barren, and devoid of any privacy screens for those who might want to watch you do your business. This may be acceptable to those less shy, but it becomes a Maginot Line for those whose early toilet training precludes any thought of exposing oneself during the performance of normal bodily functions. Ergo, keep water consumption under control; you will probably recover from severe dehydration in a couple of days.

Hydration planning clicks into gear at breakfast and accelerates at 7:30am under the gazebo adjacent to the restaurant. The resort’s guests number about 200 souls and half, including Jackie and me, are assigned to the morning’s array of hiking adventures. Ours is called the Explorer Hike; a fairly basic foray into the surrounding hills that requires enough energy and working muscles to travel about five miles up and down the firmament in about two hours. Another hike, the Challenge, is the same as the Explorer but is done in less time, proving that Challengers are tougher, maybe dumber, than Explorers.

I hadn’t done much hiking until I met and wooed Jackie. A major component of my wooing was learning to hike more than 100 feet at a 4% grade without sustaining a stroke or heart attack. To date I have survived without either, but am keenly aware of the laws of probability.

The early demise of the runner and fitness book author Jim Fixx may have been an aberration, but I have always been suspicious of the claimed benefits of exercise, especially walking, jogging, climbing hills and participating in marathons. If running is so good, why did the cave man die young? After all, he spent most of his waking hours chasing or being chased by predators. Unfortunately, Mr. Fixx did not adequately cover this peculiarity in his bestseller, The Complete Book of Running.

Each of the gazebo-sheltered hiking groups is guided by two resort employees. One is the leader while the other is the tail. The leader leads while the tail picks up any dawdlers who are either seeking a place to pee or who have simply lost interest in the adventure and would rather be back at the resort, sitting on their patio drinking chardonnay, even if it’s only 9am.

The ages of our hikers is the usual…everyone is younger than me. My ability to guess one’s age deteriorates as I get older. For example, I think Jackie looks 42; but she claims I’m biased. I even think Mitch McConnell is younger than me (turns out I was right on this one, by three years). And nearly all of the Supreme Court justices are younger than me; only Stephen Breyer is older (by nine months) and the Democrats are already telling him to retire. When he does, maybe I can hike with him.

John is our leader this morning. He’s no spring chicken, working full time at the resort, hiking, biking and greeting arriving guests. Gregarious and knowledgeable, we often stop during the hike for a drink of water (I generally fake it so as not to upset John) or a story about the surrounding fauna and flora. This morning’s hike was nearly over and I found myself at John’s side near the head of the pack; I decided to ask him how old he was (you can do that when you’re my age.)

“Eighty next week”, he said. I was surprised he was that old, in light of his agility, strength and stamina. I figured I’d one up him and said “I’m two years older than you.” I hesitated and half-hoped he’d say something like, “Wow, I’m shocked. You are astounding. Your stamina is amazing. You are stronger than most men half your age.”

Instead, he said, “Wow, you’re the oldest guy I’ve ever had on a hike. Wait til I tell everyone back at the resort. Oh, and don’t forget to drink your water.”

Hiking is only one of the resort’s fitness activities that interferes with my sitting, drinking and eating. Water aerobics that invite third-degree sunburn, yoga classes designed to rearrange bone structures, and e-bike riding while avoiding a skull fracture are just a few of the other delights.

We purchased two e-bikes nine months ago and had ridden them regularly (like once a month), and had wrestled them to the ground occasionally (like once a month). The resort offered a two-hour e-bike trip that sounded kind of neat, even given my lack of enthusiasm for the bikes that sat mostly idle in our garage.

We booked the e-bikes when we made the resort reservations three months before; I then spent most of the intervening time in a state of high anxiety. I even developed a mantra to calm my nerves. “Now, Fred. You are perfectly capable of riding a bike. So, get your manhood back in your pants and quit fretting about falling and breaking your femur. It has nearly a zero chance of happening.” It was the word “nearly” that had kept me awake at nights.

Arriving at the designated bike pool, we were greeted by four other riders, all bouncy, bright-eyed young women who had far too much energy and far too little regard for their physical well being. Just what I needed, a ready-made audience to view my Evel Knievel leap for death.

Jackie had been enthusiastic about taking the ambulance provoking rides, leaving me alone to worry about the outcome. Five of the six bikes were properly sized for those with average stature while one was for the more petite. Perfect we thought, until Jackie tried mounting the beast and discovered that she was sub-petite. She wrestled with it, twisting her legs and hips in ways that bordered on the obscene.

Tired of waiting for us, the young, nubile women reved up the bikes and practiced wheelies in the adjacent parking lot. The super-charged bikes scared the crap out of me. Adding to the Nightmare on Elm Street feeling was the resort supervisor’s twice repeated caution. “Never touch this button. You’ll activate the turbocharger and the bike will throw you over the handlebars and into the ditch.”

Jackie, unwilling to simply say that she was scared shitless, said, “I just had a hip replacement and I never ride in or on a vehicle without my handicapped placard. I’m sorry I won’t be joining you on this adventure.”

And then she added, “But Fred can go if he wants. He should go. I don’t want to be an impediment. I’ll just go sit on our patio, recover from my surgery and drink a margarita.” Coming to my senses I told the supervisor, “She needs a lot of help. I’ll go make the margarita”.

We hated missing the Evel Kneivel opportunity and spent the next few hours visualizing the possible joys of flying over handlebars. In addition, we took umbrage to the fact that a bunch of Amazon women could do something that we were too chicken to try. So, we began hoping for the worst news upon their return. A feeling of schadenfreude enveloped us that fell just short of wishing bodily injury on perfectly innocent strangers.

To be continued.

Tripping—Part 3

This is the third of the series called Tripping

We last left our travel weary young couple in front of room 226 at St. George Utah’s Red Mountain Resort. The electronic key had failed to work, it was 95 in the shade, and the dinner hour was rapidly approaching. What to do, what to do.

And here, as if summoned by the Mormon Angel Moroni’s trumpet, came Martha, our own angel with the golden golf cart. “What’s up kids…oh, the key thing. Not a problem, I’ve seen it a couple of times today. Remember real keys? Bet you wish you had one right now.”

Unreservedly placing herself in Martha’s hands, Jackie plunked down her cute tush next to our angel, and they drove off in what I presumed was the way to the front desk. I remained on guard in the shade, temporarily casting aside my manhood in favor of allowing the women to assume full control of my destiny…like always.

I hardly had time to finish my stand-up nap when they returned with a new key card that clicked and opened the portal to our sanctuary. Martha bestowed a motherly smile on us and reiterated the caution offered by the caustic Anne when we had registered. “Don’t put the key card next to your credit card or you will again be exiled from your room. I’m not on duty all day just to make new keys for you.”

With that benevolent reminder, a sneak peek at Martha’s somewhat limited patience, and a blast of a heavenly trumpet, we bid her good-bye. I collapsed in a comfy chair on one of our two patios where I resumed my nap and awaited our first exposure to the much anticipated dinner hour.

Dinner at the resort featured a grab-it-where-you-can table of your very own (Covid rules) and the typical services offered in most restaurants. The menu offered five etched-in-stone entrees that we became quite intimate with during the next six days. A featured special or two spiced things up even when they were no longer available due to our usual tardy appearance at dinner. We killed a lot of salmon during the week, drank our share of alcohol and prepared ourselves for the grueling mornings to follow.

I never set a morning alarm. My diurnal cycle is like the battery powered clock settings on an irrigation system. On, off, on, off with annoying repetitiveness starting around 3am. I wake, wonder whether I need to pee (usually) and resume my feeble attempts to doze off. Around 5am dozing has morphed into a half-sleep where I think foolish thoughts, complain about life in general, try to focus on my breathing, and wait for a signal from Jackie that the day has begun.

Unless one is going fishing or catching a global flight to some fun place, nobody my age, with a diurnal cycle better suited to a bat, needs to get up before 6am. So, you see, there is no requirement that I set my alarm. Doubly so when Jackie has the com, never misses a beat, and is ready to go even if the weather is shitty or she has a day in front of her that challenges her considerable capabilities. She is my time clock hero.

The resort comes alive around 6am and readies itself for the hikes that occupy most of the morning. Breakfast is a buffet with different foods well hidden under covered, stainless steel, chafing dishes. There are ten of them, each with a breakfast mystery in its depths.  Covid rules require the wearing of masks in the buffet line which adds a bit of adventure to the selection process.

The two-foot in diameter chafing dish top weighs as much as my old bowling ball and must be tilted upward to reveal the contents of the dish. Even then, you cannot always rely on your eyes since it is dark (no one has thought of installing a light over each dish) and some of the food is immersed in a strange liquid that effectively obliterates the identity of its ingredients.

This combination of darkness and primeval ooze is further enhanced by the absence of any sign next to a chafing dish that would give you an inkling of what it contains. Therefore, each lid must be raised for viewing the contents and then replaced when you realize you don’t want any rubbery scrambled eggs.

If you do want rubbery scrambled eggs, a three-pound stainless steel serving spoon is provided for scooping or dipping. If you arrive toward the end of the breakfast feast, the spoon has been thoroughly coated with several layers of the aforementioned eggs, restricting the amount that can be placed on your dish and requiring several scooping and shaking motions to satisfy your egg requirements…while the person on your right is mentally shoving your ass down the line.

Breakfast isn’t a staple of my diet, but I do make occasional exceptions. In this instance, some protein and glucose are called for as the morning hike is next on our schedule. Uncovering a dozen or so chafing dishes had left me with little appetite (but much larger biceps) so I settled on fruit chunks, a half-scoop of the rubbery eggs and a cup of coffee. But not too much coffee.

As I age, my ability to consume liquids is progressively limited by my bladder’s ability to store them. I am focused laser-like on the amount consumed and the span of time during which expelling it is fraught with uncertainty. For example, auto trips involving traffic snarled freeways are a particularly difficult situation. Being stuck without a reliable exit and an easily accessed toilet-blessed facility will wreak havoc if too much liquid has been consumed prior to the beginning of the trip. Draining my bladder immediately before embarkation is a necessity; drinking any kind of beverage during the trip is, of course, out of the question.

To be continued…

Tripping—Part 2

(This is the second of the series called Tripping)

Our trip from the St. George, Utah airport down memory lane ended as we emerged from the courtesy van in front of the Red Mountain Resort. The usual angst kicked into gear as I considered tipping the driver, reconsidered it and finally succumbed to the basic instincts etched into my DNA; I slipped twenty bucks into Martha’s waiting hand.

We entered the reception area and were greeted by Anne who appeared well beyond almost anyone’s retirement age. My quick evaluation of her feeble stamina proved to be incorrect as she launched into a non-stop dissertation covering all aspects of our stay. It appeared that she was compensated based on the number of guests she greeted rather than the quality of her performance. I was unable to grasp much of anything other than her warning of the impending closure of the lunch hour at the restaurant and the unavailability of food until the dinner hour.

Finally, Anne whipped out a map of the resort and identified the location of the restaurant, spa, fitness center, bike rentals and other soon forgotten sights. Carefully pointing out the location of our room, she ended our visitation and wished us well.

I folded the map, shoved it into my pants pocket and promised myself that I would review it carefully before venturing out on the paths leading god knows where. It was the last time that I fondled that map.

We emerged from the reception center and, of course, had no idea where our room was. We spun on our axis and tried to divine the path to it. Martha, the van driver and a lot more sympatico than Anne the receptionist, noted our discomfiture and offered to drive us to our room in one of the dozens of electric utility vehicles that littered the landscape. My twenty bucks proved to be a worthwhile investment as Martha flawlessly piloted the cart less than a hundred feet and deposited us in front of room 226. I’ll pay better attention next time.

We held our breath, swiped the electronic card into the reader and were relieved when the lock clicked welcomingly. Room 226 was beyond our expectations.

A sleeping area with two large beds, a gargantuan TV, and sliding doors that led to a patio with a view of the mountains and a brilliant Disney designed blue sky. A bathroom with twin wash basins, and a large jacuzzi tub and separate shower suitable for intimate parties. A closeted potty that allows you to hide your most intimate functions while your spouse expels gas nearby, oblivious to your own emanations.

There was more. A short hallway led to a large living room with comfy chairs and an even larger TV (I began to wonder if anyone ever left their room), refrigerator, cooking supplies and yet another bathroom and even larger patio. Further exploration revealed a washer and dryer fully capable of satisfying Jackie’s penchant for perpetually clean clothes.

Believing that some of this expansive grandeur might be shared by the adjoining guestroom, and to avoid midnight surprises from strangers, I sheepishly phoned the front desk, “Is this all just for us?”

“Yes, Mr. Rothenberg, it is for your sole use. You deserve it. Enjoy it. And give our very best to your lovely wife, Jackie”….who was already loading a sweaty t-shirt and a pair of very cute pink socks into the bowels of the LG washer.

It was only 2pm and the adventure got into full gear with a pair of massages intended to loosen up our bodies that had been primarily sedentary since the 4am trip from home to the Santa Barbara airport, a plane change in Phoenix and a courtesy van to our present abode.

Finding the spa was surprisingly easy. It was a domed structure sitting atop a hill as though it was in charge of all the other buildings. Built much like a Pringle’s potato chip container, it had four levels. The usual Covid warnings were posted on the entry doors, windows and any other place that screamed for appropriate artwork. The welcome desk was on the top level, necessitating an uphill climb that challenged our lungs that were already struggling with the 3,000-foot elevation of the resort. I half expected to find Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at the welcome desk or, as we dubbed it, our base camp.

Instead, we found Suzanne. She appeared much like other young women who register out-of-shape spa guests. Slim, bright-eyed, perfect makeup and impeccable dress, Suzanne looked just like you want to look.

We were relieved when Suzanne found our reservations; the ones we had made two months earlier when we booked the trip. We exhausted the ink supply in our pens as we completed the usual forms prying into our medical history, and dutifully signed the waivers that excused the resort from all sorts of potential disasters, including asteroid collision and volcanic eruption.

Suzanne smiled, mispronounced my name, and said we were all set. “Just go down two flights to the massage rooms. You will be greeted there.” Somewhat disappointed at having wasted a walk up two flights, we accepted her directive and looked for the stairs.

The Pringle’s design of the building included a circular stairway running through the center of the can. It was much narrower than any other circular stairway that I had encountered, and definitely was in violation of the building code even in the madcap construction frenzy rampant in St. George.

I sent Jackie ahead of me so that she might break my fall that was sure to happen.  Balance is not my strong point, having demonstrated my proclivity for falling off bicycles and collapsing in a heap while hiking Shelf Road. Looking like a whirling dervish while descending the spiral stairs only increased the probability of severely broken bones. But crap, I had already paid for this massage and I was going to get it even if it included a full body cast.

Despite having to duck my head because of stationary objects impeding my descent (surely another building code violation), we made it to the massage level where we were treated to a mediocre body thumping by women who seemed to be more interested in another job.

We exited the Pringles can and began the trip back to our room. With only two wrong turns and the addition of a thousand unexpected steps to Jackie’s FitBit, we found room 226 and swiped the magnetic key into the 21stcentury door lock. Nada. No welcoming clicks.

As we all do under these circumstances, we stared at the room number prominently displayed on the door frame to verify that this was indeed room 226. And then we swiped again. Nada. Perhaps we had disappointed Suzanne or one of the upwardly mobile massage therapists and we were being punished for our misdeeds.

To be continued…

Tripping

St. George, Utah is in the southwestern part of the state, about 450 miles from Ojai, California. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, it can feel a whole lot farther.

The city is only 118 miles from Las Vegas, making it easy to lose the money you had planned to tithe to the Mormon Church. Fortunately, Zion National Park is close by where you can sleep under the stars after you lose your home at the craps table.

 According to the census folks, there are about 90,000 people in the city; in 2005 it had the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. Based on what I saw during our trip last week, it still is.

My first exposure to St. George occurred when I took my two sons on a fishing trip to Panguitch Lake, about 120 miles north of the Saint. My older son, David, was about 19 when we went to the lake; we were both much younger and hardier 38 years ago. Driving was the only option open to us then and St. George was merely a pit-stop for a pee break, leg stretch and something to eat.

We made that trip twice, and each time we ate at Dick’s Diner, the Copacabana of St. George. We enjoyed the food; it was cheap and flavorful, with lots of fat, salt and sugar. Although the food was enough of a draw, the menu took top billing. Ignoring the dried-on food detritus, we laughed at the misspellings. For example, cigarette smoking was acceptable, but cigars were a no-no. In big print the menu shouted “No Gisar Samoking”.

We even butchered the diner’s name, by associating it with all its food offerings. Dick Burgers, Dick Fries and Dick Cokes was just the start of it. Then there was Dick Toast, Dick eggs and Dick Coffee. Our favorite, Dick Dogs, is still invoked with laughter and warmth whenever I am fortunate enough to spend a little time with son David.

We would have our fill at Dick’s, empty our bladders, fill our tank and speed right through the rest of St. George in about three nanoseconds heading north to Panguitch. Not anymore.

Being much older and less robust than when I last visited the Saint, I got down on one knee, clasped my hands together in prayer mode and implored Jackie to have pity on me by taking a plane from Santa Barbara. And we did, arriving on time even with a very short layover to make the connection in Phoenix. I congratulated myself on what then seemed like a good idea.

The Saint’s airport is a three-gate affair and is humbly designated a Regional Airport, having years ago abandoned its somewhat strained International Airport status when it stopped delivering the mail to Tijuana. 

Located in the middle of something that looks like the movie set of Flight of the Phoenix, it is surrounded by mega-hectares of sand. Our friendly Red Mountain Resort van driver, who looked a bit like Jimmy Stewart, had little of interest to point out until we had placed a reasonable distance between us and the desolate land of the dinosaurs.

Houses leaped at us from every direction; most looked as though they had just been unwrapped and were awaiting their owners. Condos littered the landscape. This was still the land of the great expansion. An expansion that produced multi-million-dollar homes in places formerly occupied by your retired Uncle Sid and Aunt Marge. House trailers were definitely not the in-thing. This was no longer the home of Dick’s Diner.

All manner of architectural styles were on display. Most of it built to resemble the shadings and hues of a land that is deprived of standing water. Whatever moisture I retained from living in Southern California was instantly sucked out of me by humidity levels that were well below zero. As my Ukrainian mother would say, “It may be hot, but it’s a dry heat”. There were no flies; even they need water.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Red Mountain Resort.

To be continued….

Snow Story

If I only knew how much fun downhill skiing could be I’d have started it years ago, long before my 81st birthday.

But let me start at the beginning when Jackie said “Let’s go to Big Bear and play in the snow, drink hot toddies, sit in front of the fireplace, and cuddle.”

The cuddling thing was enough to sell me. Jackie took over and made reservations for three nights at a moderately priced hotel in Big Bear, about a four-hour drive to Southern California’s skiing mecca. 

Aware of the fashionably responsible thing to do, we dialed up Amazon and bought ski pants, funny hats, insulated underwear and amazingly inexpensive gloves that looked thick enough to work next to a Bessemer furnace.

Amazon delivered the next day, a feat that continues to amaze me. My ski pants were wonderfully warm and heavy. If the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had these Chinese-made pants in 1928, he would not have died in the Barents Sea after eating his sled dogs. I was confident we would survive Big Bear, a destination undoubtedly populated with multiple Starbucks and chichi pet stores offering a myriad of dog food products.

Jackie also selected a rather effeminate set of bright yellow tire chains. Living in Chicago gave me some familiarity with tire chains. They are supremely obedient when lying at ease in the dark bowels of your garage. Applying them in the midst of a snowstorm on Highway 18 is another matter best left to the local chain jockeys along the road who offer their services at a price that is non-negotiable. I decided to rely on the hired help if needed, and to practice an ancient Jewish incantation that has been known to ward off bad weather.

Things were moving along smoothly until I told Jackie about a friend who said, “Ya know, if you’re willing to drive four hours to Big Bear you might as well go to Mammoth Lakes, only another two hours away and 2,000 feet higher. A much cooler place that makes Big Bear look like a Girl Scout camp.”

Hearing this, Jackie did her own investigation and pronounced Mammoth “the place to be.” She set her sights on the Westin. Directly across the street from the gondolas that ferry skiers to the chair lifts, the Westin is considerably more expensive than other alternatives; a product of its location and the fact that there was only one room remaining. “Must be really good” she concluded and booked it.

Three days later we began the odyssey. Our plan was to devote our full attention to cross country skiing. Downhill, with its reputation for broken bones and instant paralysis brought about by head-on collisions with trees that fool you into thinking they are your friends, was out of the question.

On the first morning of our stay, we grabbed seats on a bus and headed to the Tamarack Lodge which was rumored to have all the equipment we needed. They provide groomed trails that are easy and others that are to be rigorously avoided by those who wish to survive the experience.

Cross country is what Amundsen would have done if he had more dogs to eat and a way to walk home on packed snow instead of water. You hop up on thin skis, grab a couple of ski poles and shove yourself forward on level ground until you find a downward slope. If you do it well, you look very competent and sure of yourself. If you do it poorly, you look like me.

There are no gondolas or ski lifts. You do everything under your own power. If you prolong the adventure, you breathe ever harder and become overheated. You remove most of your clothing and leave it on the trail in order to avoid a heat produced stroke. If you’re like me, you feel like you’ve been cross country…California to New York.

My second rocket-propelled fall of the morning found me flat on my back. I was sure I had cracked my skull but was strangely encouraged by the thought since it would be an acceptable excuse with which to end my misery.

Jackie had fallen only once and, while I decided to judiciously remove and carry my skis back to the lodge, she pushed on taking tiny steps that seemed to move her backwards at a glacial pace. I urged her on hoping to get our money’s worth.

We finished our sojourn about one o’clock and were able to get some very thin, taste-free lentil soup at the lodge. Eating it was a challenge as there was no indoor dining nor any outside tables or chairs. I did not complain in light of what Amundsen must have endured.

We were determined to get back on the trail and snowshoes seemed a viable option. The lodge kindly supplied them; we strapped them on and began a walk on packed snow. Looking more like a waddle than a walk, we found them of no practical use that consumed more energy than simply walking in our street shoes. We wrote off the adventure and went back to the Westin for more appropriate winter snow events, drinking hot toddies.

Having conquered cross country and snowshoe challenges, only downhill skiing remained to complete a successful trifecta. The next day we grabbed the free gondola across the street from our hotel and took the five-minute trip up the hill. It was early afternoon, and hundreds of skiers were taking the chair lifts and whooshing down the runs.

The sun was intense, and the temperature was mild. The absence of wind allowed us to bask in the warmth of mid-day. We had found the place we had been seeking.

Jackie grabbed two unoccupied chairs that we dragged to the end of a run near the common area. We bought two cans of alcoholic beverages, mine a surprisingly delicious White Russian. Sitting and sipping produced a euphoria that allowed me to feel like I was the one on those skis. Sliding effortlessly downhill, snowplowing to a stop and congratulating myself.

I should have started this sport sooner.

Pizza in Cambria

It was time we did something different. Hanging around the house, getting take-outs, and occasionally meeting friends six feet removed was getting old. Even the face masks were becoming all too familiar; the allure behind the mask was waning. A refresher was in order. Something with a challenge.

Cambria is about three hours away up the Pacific Coast Highway. Just far enough to feel like you’ve gone enough miles to stay overnight, and for friends to later say, “And how was your trip?”

We packed out bags with more than we needed and loaded the car with enough snacks to open a roadside diner. Jackie loves snacking in the car and shleps a potpourri of green organic grapes, outrageously priced granola from Rainbow Bridge, and similarly priced Brazil nuts. All of which fits nicely in a Westridge Market paper bag nestled at her tiny feet, leaving ample room to lean back and devote her attention to a busy iPhone.

We hit the 101 around noon and set the cruise control for San Luis Obispo, two hours north. I’ve been in SLO a few times but find it a bit too much like Santa Barbara. With fewer attractions, its principal draws are a local shoe store selling Jackie’s favorite Uggs boots, Cal Poly University, and the California Men’s Colony a few miles west of town.

With about 4,000 guests, the state-run Men’s Colony is both a minimum and medium security facility. It has housed many notables including several members of the once popular Manson family, some of whom, like 78-year-old Bruce Davis, are serving two life sentences.

Other less murderous, but equally dangerous, notables include Charles Keating of the 1980’s savings and loan debacle fame. Timothy Leary spent some prime time there in 1970 working off his conviction for possession of marijuana; today he would have been hailed as a successful CBD salesman on Bryant Circle.

Passing the Colony, we are eventually rewarded with a look at Morro Rock, the principal reason why anyone turns their head to the left while whizzing north through a rather desolate, cold and usually overcast town.  The 581-foot-high Rock, some 23 million years old, is a volcanic plug composed of lava and petrified bird feces. Trying to lure more tourists, the citizens of Morro Bay managed to get the Rock designated a California Historical Landmark, including the guano.

Completing our glimpse of the Rock, we continued north and passed through Cayucos. The town name is a Hispanic twist on the Chumash word for kayak or canoe, used by the Indians as they fished in the bay. The town is graced with two restaurants, one of which was closed for remodeling during our last visit.

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at Cambria’s El Colibri Hotel at the south end of Moonstone Beach Road. Expecting a largely deserted metropolis due to the virus, we were amazed to see No Vacancy signs adorning the front of many of the motels along the mile and a half stretch of road.

The El Colibri had cleaned and sanitized our room; the front desk clerk promised never to come back again during our three day stay. No daily cleanings, no waste basket emptying, no morning coffee and, most depressingly, the sorely missed bedtime turndowns complete with warm chocolate chip cookies.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking about town dodging the other vacationers who were nearly all wearing face masks. We felt guilty with our exposed faces and we dutifully covered them whenever we ventured into any of the lightly stocked, hand sanitizer possessed, overpriced gift shops.

Dinner was at Robins. Initially placed at a table for two in the restaurant industry’s equivalent to the Gulag Archipelago, Jackie rose to her full five-foot-one height and commandeered a lovely spot right next to two guys who make a living playing guitars for people who were alive prior to the advent of contemporary music, with its unintelligible lyrics. It was wonderful.

The next day included a visit to Nit Wit Ridge, an old, nearly abandoned home that looks like any one of the three wolves could blow it down. Furnished in junk rescued from the dump, it features old toilets standing at attention at the chain link fence entry to the property; the rest of the mansion’s art was less impressive. A sign announced, “Next Tour at 2.” We departed at one and proudly checked it off our bucket list.

Time for lunch. We marched from the west end of town to the east end, passing a fair number of restaurants with de rigueur outside dining. Thinking that the holy grail of restaurants must be just a few steps ahead, we walked and walked until we had exhausted all our options. A pizza place was at the end of our death march and, gasping for air, we gave our pizza order to a woman who obviously had prior experience working for the IRS, or had just gone on pension from the California Men’s Colony. We added a salad, paid for it with half our remaining vacation funds, and waited for our surprise meal.

The pizza was one of the soggy crust variety that showed little evidence of the mushroom, garlic and basil toppings for which we had paid dearly. We ate half of it and left the rest on a bus bench near a high-end homeless encampment.

We had planned to have dinner at a classier restaurant, but our visit to the elephant seals near Hearst Castle had tired us. Watching them slither along the beach with a ton of fat wobbling under their molting skin had also put a dietetic dent in our appetites. We returned to the confines of our untouched and somewhat less hygienic hotel room.

We procrastinated long enough to preclude dining out. Querying our innkeeper, we were told that, due to the hour, J J Pizza was the only food joint still delivering. We called and, discounting our noontime meal disappointment as a once-in-lifetime culinary aberration, again ordered pizza. Along with a salad, our meal arrived in J J’s arms not fifteen minutes later.

We tasted a pizza that reminded us of lunch and a salad with Italian dressing that seemed familiar. We wondered if all Cambria pizzas were made using the same recipe.  We ate half the pizza and put the rest on the top of the three-foot-high stack of used Kleenex, empty bottles and other detritus accumulating in our once pristine waste basket.

The following day opened with the prior day’s agenda. Take a hike to the end of the road under cloud laden, cold skies. Grab breakfast that had been better left on a bus bench and take another hike to the east end.

Reaching the end of the road, Jackie looked up and spotted a sign on the roof of the pizza joint that had provided yesterday’s lunch encounter with the former IRS employee. The sign boldly proclaimed, “J J Pizza.” Being quick learners, we realized that we had not only eaten lunch at this Michelin four-star diner, we had unknowingly ordered a delivered dinner from the same place six hours later.

Well at least we had a whole pizza…half for lunch and the other half for dinner. A one-for-two pricing special.


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