my birthday approaches as i coast down the other side of my road trip. as i could have easily predicted, i have heard of late the not-so-oblique references to my vagabond joblessness as something i should be concerned about, something incomprehensible and strange. but i have been very occupied of late.
last weekend i spent with my good friend shannon bowen in oakland. she and her boyfriend, sean, welcomed me into their lovely home not far off telegraph. her sweet little dog welcomed me, too, showing me all of her toys and prancing around with a doggie grin.
we made pizza of four varieties and hung out at their casa. i wish we’d taken pics, but we preferred to devour most of it forthwith.
next day shannon and i took a tour of the neighborhood, heading to mama’s royal cafe for breakfast. on the way we passed a funky garage sale tended by a woman who has a penchant for reptiles. her iguana was sitting on the walk outside, eying us as we approached to make certain we wouldn’t consider snatching his chunks of squash. she told us he was her life partner of 20 years so far and had recently survived cancer – hence his foreshortened tail. she also had a ball python inside hiding in her undie drawer (so she said) and some other reptile whose genus (phylum? species? – whatever) was not familiar to me.
brunch was delish and we strolled back through her neighborhood, temescal, browsing a little shanty alley of shops filled with art, antiques, and a plethora of et cetera. our afternoon was lazy and chatty and we eventually went out for martinis and truffled grilled cheese sandwiches further down telegraph near the fox theater.
we grabbed a cab back to her house and discovered the driver was french a french speaker. he proceeded to drive us exceedingly slowly up the street, speaking with me in french till we got to her door. he was from algeria, he said.
next day we had plans to go to shannon’s writing group in the afternoon, but before that, my former boss and good friend, craig dykers, met up with me for lunch at the ferry building. my lovely hostess lent me her card for the bart and i got there in reasonable time. the bart is very clean compared to older systems like paris and new york, but i found that the trains were rather infrequent. budget cuts? regardless, it was a crisp fall day, the fog rolling away to reveal blue skies beneath and leaving behind wispy clouds to shine white in brilliant sun. such changeable weather in the bay! after lunch, we walked toward the site of the new project my former firm recently won, to design the new warrior’s stadium right on the water, in the city! it was gorgeous out as we sat behind red’s java house and drank a beer. i even saw a seal surface nearby, but when we went over to see it, it submerged and stayed hidden.
craig walked me back toward the bart and we went our separate ways, so i could get back to oakland.
shannon and i drove to a different part of oakland, in the hills. a lovely suburban hood with views of the bay and the sunsets, well kept yards and dogs walking with no leashes. her friend was hosting us at her house and we were joined by one other writer, another ozarkan, though she is from the missouri side of the mason dixon line. the ozarks are a little like the basque region straddling the border of france and spain, a little remote, a little hillbilly. i believe she said she was from nixa, which isn’t far at all from my hometown.
we chatted and snacked and read our work to one another. i showed my graphic novel pages and shannon had us read parts of her screenplay in progress. it was so much fun and sowed the seeds for what i did the following weekend.
i had thought of driving south for a ways to see parts of california beyond l.a. to the south – san diego etc. but in the end it seemed silly to head down when i knew i needed to be back north to pick up my friend julian from the oakland airport. so i looked into things to do near napa and remembered that harbin hot springs had been mentioned to me by someone at burning man. as it turned out, they were having a writers workshop that weekend and i decided to join it and spend the weekend there bathing in the hot springs and writing. i drove north on the silverado trail through calistoga and further still to middletown and past it to where the retreat was convening.
i arrived around 5pm and after some preliminary snacks we did some writing and reading and general introductions. some of us stuck around that evening and made use of the hot tub in the back yard (i.e. 6,000 acres of open spaces). the stars were crisp and clear and we talked about all sorts of things and caught a little of the orionid shower.
after everyone else went to bed, i found myself – where else? – sitting in my car, writing a story. finally i was able to banish the chorus of pointless thoughts and worries about past and future, i started to imaging my sister’s journey from her body, through her last night on earth. the story seemed to tell itself and the process of imagining her experience was both compelling and cathartic.
i’ll type it up soon, but in the meanwhile, i am happy to have written it and to have had such a receptive and supportive audience. the second night we read some of our writing at the library of the hot springs and someone associated with burning man said he’d like to feature my story about erika next year, if i go.
after the reading we went to the hot springs, which are nude and enforce showering and silence – though there is one pool where talking is allowed. the other, deeper, warm pool has a big sign hanging above it that says “no talking or sexual activity.” couples hug to the sides like frogs, limbs wrapped around each other, but everyone seemed to be abiding by the rules. next to that pool, which is overgrown with huge splayed branches of a sycamore fig, is a much smaller pool, filled with very hot water – upwards of 112 degrees! you must enter with caution, slowly and steadily slipping into the hot hot pool which tingles your toes and swirls like fire around you when another bather exits quickly, overcome by the heat.
i headed back to the retreat, about 20 minutes away from the hot springs. the next day was our final day. i finished my story and read the rest of it to the group. we all read and then it was time to go. i went back to the hot springs to meet my friend claire, who traveled with me and erika in south america in 2010/2011. she made it there in time to go to the 5oclock yoga class and i met her when it was finished so we could quickly set up our tent for the night. everyone was promising rain that early morning and predicting doom and gloom for campers, but we set up anyway and got ready to cook dinner in the kitchen by the pools. we made a spicy aubergine curry (eggplants, if you aren’t english or french) and shared it with a czech fellow we’d just met. we were changing to bathe when he discovered his bag had gone missing. he went off to look for it and we, naked, decided there was nothing we could do to help, and got in the water. it was drizzling, but the warm and hot pools made it comfortable. we talked with strangers in the talking pool, we dunked quickly into the cold pool after the hot hot pool. we stayed there several hours before continuing on to bed in our little tent. it was just beginning to rain, but it soon became a torrent.
i had a hard time sleeping, but when i finally awoke, it was sunny out, and somewhat clear. claire and i went to morning yoga and then to the pools once more. we grabbed lunch in the harbin grocery and ate up on the patio. marshall, erika’s boyfriend, had told me that she had liked coming to harbin and had been more than once. i liked imagining her there – she always loved being naked :). the food was tasty and the time was right to head out of town.
we had to drive up and over a mountain, normally no problem, but this having been the first rain of the season, the roads were slick with dust and oil and i slid more than once, though all was ok in the end. i made it back to napa and had dinner with marshall before heading to sleep at drew’s place, since he was out of town in china.
i needed to repack my car and straighten out a few things, like transferring my old mac’s data to my new macbook air, which i finally got a case for and got set up. christoph, drew’s roommate, has a cute little rescue pup named 29 – after one of the main highways in napa valley. she loves to play and is the cutest cuddler. hours of fun in the yard. when i did my laundry one night, she climbed in instantly and snuggled into the warm pile, making a little nest which she slept in till christoph took her to her bed.
the next day julian would arrive and i drove down to oakland to pick him up from the airport. we went to see his friend alex and met his roommates, jewellery makers and stone polishers and shapers. they were happy to have an interested eye and showed me all their best pieces. we went to lunch at a nearby mexican place called picante – delish! and then we left to visit some other friends of julian’s. ruth and cameron are artists who make cool work and live in emeryville, kind of oakland. we stayed with them and made dinner – the next day julian and i ran some errands regarding the car and made some small repairs – new wipers, etc.
we stayed with ruth and cameron again and she showed me some of her clothes, including a piece i got to model for her! it was really cool!
today we planned to head out of town to yosemite, but a djing gig is holding julian up, so the rest of us went to a nice lunch at aunt mary’s cafe – just a stone’s throw from shannon’s place in temescal! i sent away for my absentee ballot and tomorrow, my 31st birthday, we will head to yosemite and hopefully the weather will hold for us – it is lovely today!
all for now,
love and miss –