July 9, 2018
“You will take other trips, but you are going to remember this trip for the rest of your life”
Russian Gulch State Park, site 26 (best sites=12 and 25).
I’m sitting here at the picnic table writing this and the birds are just waking up. It’s a sunny day here on the Mendocino coast, a place I associate with gray skies and wet fogs, and I don’t know what we have planned to do today, so it is the best kind of day on a trip. The journey is past the halfway point now, and while usually that is a sad realization on a trip, it feels fine with me. One of the great things about leaving the house and dogs and turtles behind is that they draw me back home, and I know we have a blessed life because as much as I love being out here and rolling with the Bus, I also look forward to getting home.
Robert keeps fretting that the Bus won’t fit in the garage, and I keep reminding him that either it will fit, or it won’t, and we will need to get a new garage door installed. We’ve been working on organizing the bus, even reattaching a door cabinet and fixing some of the interior spaces, and it has given me great joy to find just the right place for everything, so that now the linens are stored with the nature guides above the bed, and the refrigerator has become a pantry. I look forward to doing more, and Robert loves to discuss how we will restore the interior, but that’s after we get the wiring fixed, and the door locks.
Yesterday was a driving day made longer by an unexpected road closure, and there was a ton of traffic on the 101, so we got very good at finding turnouts. “Slower traffic KEEP RIGHT” we kept yelling out, and we are definitely the slower traffic. “We stay to the right,” Robert keeps saying, “but not politically,” and I realize again and again how this trip will define this time in our lives. It will become one of those markers, like the year we got married or the year we bought our house. We take some version of this coast trip every year, retracing our honeymoon, and in many ways it is how we reconnect after the toil of work and all the daily anxieties. The other night Robert turned to me and said, “I’m so happy I could cry,” and I knew just how he felt. This is the most indulgent, impractical, and wonderful thing I’ve done in years, and I am so thankful for having it happen.
I’m going to drink a little more coffee and then walk to the beach. I often use the walk to this beach as a meditation exercise because I know every step so well, along the burbling creek past the blackberries (beware of picking them—nettles—and this year we are here so early they aren’t even ripe), then down the green and leafy path to the tiny beach under one of those arched bridges you see on postcards. There in the tiny cove of Russian Gulch I like to sit on “my” rock and watch the line of the light on the water, dividing the bay into light and dark. I have sat there many mornings, just thinking about the trip I was on, or something I was worrying about, and even now when I am home I can always go there in my mind. Often a harbor seal comes to visit me, year after year, and sometimes I sing to the seal, just softly, as the gentle waves break on the beach. There is something in the continuity of returning to these places, and a look through our photos or calendars reveals us in the same places, year after year. I joke with Robert that we are making a flip book where we get older and older, but that is also part of what I like about the trip. This year is different; of course, because we have the bus, but we are the same people we were when we were here last, only with more wrinkles and gray hairs. Once when were hiking the Fern Canyon trail here we came through a particularly high part before the waterfall, and I was silently congratulating myself on being able to make the hike. As we looked down the canyon to the fall, we saw we were not alone. A much older couple was holding hands and watching the water. Later that night I asked Robert about them, and he said what I was thinking: “I hope that’s us someday.” I hoped so too then and do now.
So, here’s the saga of today with the 5-part harmony, old country style. I’m going to just set it down here like it was. Today was the day to get the Bus’s fluid levels checked and make sure we weren’t doing any permanent damage by driving with the parking brake on (we won’t do that again!). Robert dropped me off at Moody’s Internet Café in Mendo (a fine establishment with STRONG, Nor-Cal coffee) and headed to a little garage down the way. When he walked in he was tempted to walk right out upon seeing both a Trump inauguration t-shirt proudly hanging with a MAGA hat, but he remembered our maxim: better to have Republican gear heads working on your car than hippie stoners. Once he met the actual mechanic, Joe, Robert relaxed. Joe is the kind of guy I have met in many garages over the years, oil stained and grease ingrained in his skin, but with a bright smile and a calming aura. “Hey, Rob, “ Joe yelled. “You gotta come see this—it’s a really weird VW van!” Robert left the bus in Joe’s capable if stained hands, and we went off to mail postcards and visit the Gallery Bookstore, my favorite place in Mendocino besides the bench on the bluffs.
When we returned, I was nervous about what Joe would say. I picked Larry out but I had no real external confirmation that I could trust him aside from the bus getting us this far, and my anxiety prone brain had been imagining the moment a mechanic checked out his work. In my feverish and anxious mind, I imagined the imaginary mechanic saying, “You paid money for this?” But Joe first showed us how the windshield fluid pump worked, not an issue I was concerned with as I spent part of the morning polishing the windows and cleaning bugs off the face. It turns out that Joe was raised in a commune in Topanga and has two busses of his own. “This is a great job,” he told Robert. “Whoever did this knew what he was doing. Aside from that wiper fluid, you’re all good to go, and the transmission fluid is clean, so you aren’t grinding any gears.” This made me feel very, very happy, but as if my cup was not full enough, Joe returned with a bunch of Dahlias for me from his yard. When the universe smiles, sometimes it beams.
However, all was not quite well in the world. As we prepared to back out of the garage, a familiar put put put sound began to surround us. I initially thought it was a herd of Volkswagens, but it turned out to be one of the many motorcycle touring groups that head up and down the coast. They were blocking our exit from the garage, so Joe went to move them, but they were not in the mood. Now, lest you are thinking these were Hells Angels, let me clarify: this was a Swedish Biker group. I have seen Germans on motorcycles all up and down Highway 1, but these were my first Swedes. I told Robert to go tell Joe it was cool, we could wait, and he returned with the following story:
“I fucking love Joe. This lady—one of the Swedes—was bitching because the pumps weren’t turned on, and she was just making a scene, demanding to see the owner. Joe calmed her down and said right to her face: ‘OK, no worries, we’ll deal with it, and I’m just going to charge you extra because you’re an asshole.” Robert thought the lady didn’t fully understand what Joe said because she just followed Joe into the office smiling and soon enough the Swedish Motorcycle gang was cleared and we were rolling again.
The middle of the day was lazy, eating in camp and hanging out in the bus, me telling Robert stories about my Dad’s epic hunts for rattles. My father hates a rattle in a car, and he will hunt it down and silence it. Robert pointed to some tape by the spring acting as a curtain rod: “Is that there to silence the rattle,” he asked. “Probably,” I replied, then we realized the other curtain rod was loose and likely responsible for the Ry Cooder sounds coming from that vicinity, so we got out the screwdriver and fixed it.
After lunch and lazy time, we headed to Fort Bragg to do errands and to visit our favorite hardware store. We always frequent small hardware stores when we travel because they are a dying breed, and they always have exactly what you want (funnel for the oil, goof off to clean tape on windows, cup holders, and a set of Allen wrenches). We also went to Noyo Harbor to buy a car Buddha. There’s a great import place in the harbor where we buy all our garden Buddhas, and we wanted a tiny one for the bus. He sits neatly in the ashtray on the dash, and he does not move as we roll down the road.
Right when I was getting ready to write this, the story kept happening, a frequent problem with this sort of thing. The camp host drove up in his golf cart and asked us a now familiar question: “What year?” We told him the whole story with the five-part harmony and the verses and all, and he told us his parents owned a 66. “I grew up in the San Joaquin,” he said, and before long we were old friends. It turns out that he grew up in Reedley, where my father is from, and he even knew my Aunt Joanne. “The Cake Lady, right, “ he said, and I nodded. The universe is a strange place indeed, and if I had any more questions about magical thinking or portents and signs, this was a very strong one.
He told us his parents owned the Five and Dime in downtown Reedley, and he learned to drive stick on a bus. There was some bonding from Robert, here. He also told us that growing up in the 70’s there were only three VW busses in Reedley: his parent’s, some other guy’s bus, and the one that belonged to the constable. The constable was a sort of unofficial sheriff, and he didn’t have a government issued car, so he drove a two-toned beige and white bus. “I don’t knowhow he ever caught up with anybody he was looking for,” the camp host said, and we agreed. It is more than hard to imagine chasing someone in a bus, a sort of a plot hole in the whole Scooby Doo franchise, but that actually looked more like an Econoline (I have no Google here—I cannot check). We ended up discussing what a small world it is, and it is. We all live here, and we are all more connected than we think. Just this morning someone I hadn’t heard from in a long time emailed to tell me that she was reading this blog. “You will take other trips, but you are going to remember this trip for the rest of your life, ”and I thank her for giving me such a great closing line.
Update (July 10, Moody’s Internet café, Mendocino)
There might not be much posting for a day or so, but we are fine—we have reached the night in the trip when I messed up the reservations, so we aren’t exactly sure where we are going to land, but we do know that we will be fine. As Robert reminds me, don’t panic, and we have very strong towels. Once I have access, I will post again.