My grandmother died on Christmas Day in 1962. She was a sensible and kind woman who adored her family. I remember her being so very sweet to me and I think about her often. I hadn't been back to see her grave since I was 14 in 1971. As I approach my own death it has somehow become more and more important for me to connect with my relations that have already traveled to the great beyond. I do not know why this is so and I do not question it. It is strong desire and there is nothing unhealthy about it...it is, in some strange way, deeply comforting and wholesome. I also visited my grandfather and uncle's graves...family I never met but with whom I feel a tangible and sentimental connection.
I spent two hours in the Rocky Ford, Colorado cemetery thinking of their lives and their hopes and dreams and fears. My poor uncle Chuck wanted to enlist after Pearl Harbor like two of his brothers but when he was given his physical they found an "enlarged heart". According to my father he was devastated by the news and died in two years at age 22. I was stunned by the poignancy of the visit. It is possible to love people you have never met and will never meet.
Indeed this was quite a road trip. As well as these deeply emotional and affecting parts of the trip there was also some just pure fun. Won't you come along? You'll get to meet my amazing Aunt, one of my dearest friends who I have known for 52 years, and go to the Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie Centers in Tulsa, OK and visit my new favorite city with a small town vibe - Kansas City. Then there was beautiful drive home... here's a photo of from Highway 160 in Colorado.
Let's go! I decided on this trip to take things easy - no long drives. I liked it. It gave me more time to take in the sights and pull over whenever I wanted to. In fact, my first day I set google maps to "avoid highways" and cruised out to Kingman, AZ. On the way I stopped by the tiny but fun Route 66 Museum in Victorville, CA.
The following day I slept in - relaxed - and leisurely drove to Grants, NM. This is the same road that I have been on probably over 50 times in my life and always saw the Walnut Canyon National Monument but never stopped there. Finally! Here was my chance and what a cool little place - unfortunately the main hiking trail was closed due to trail maintenance but I still enjoyed traipsing around and peppering the Rangers with questions about the history and flora.
In the afternoon I drove by the Petrified Forest National Park and stopped in the Painted Desert. It wasn't the best light but it is certainly a beautiful place.
And a black and white.
The next day saw a rather uneventful and relaxing drive to Amarillo, TX. The following morning I got up early and hit the road - there is always a problem heading east first thing in the morning. The sun was in my eyes, I was blinded in my little roadster, and I just pulled over and waited until the sun rose a bit. I only mention this because with the years comes a bit of wisdom - when I was young I would have powered through it even though I couldn't see a damn thing...now? What's the hurry? Relax...life, to me, is best lived simply one moment at a time and on this trip I was able to let go and really let things unfold. What a way to travel...
On my way to Tulsa I stopped for lunch with my friend Jill in Yukon, OK. We had only known each other online so it was a kick to meet 'in real life". We talked each other's ears off for 3 hours. Then it was on to Tulsa - and I was excited... the first thing I saw was the home of the Tulsa Drillers - the Dodgers AA affiliate. Now, I got to go back during baseball season!
The ballpark was within a block of my hotel. I had a restful evening and got ready for a day had long awaited. When I was in high school a girl who I viewed with fondness, okay, maybe a little more than fondness, loved Woody Guthrie. I was a Dylan boy and so, naturally, we became friends and shared favorite songs. She turned me on to "Deportees" and "Pastures of Plenty" and I turned her on to "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "I Shall Be Released". We were both astounded and astonished and it was pure delight.
Indeed my love for Woody Guthrie has been lifelong (thanks, Blythe wherever you are now). As a result, I signed up - years ago - to be a member of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa. It was always a dream to see the place and here I was at the doorstep.
You know how in life you sometimes think things are gonna be great and they let you down a bit? Sure you do... it happens all the time ... but not to me in Tulsa and not at the Woody Guthrie Center - I made fast friends with the staff and other visitors and immediately felt like I belonged.
Rumor is - and I cannot verify it - that Bob Dylan was so taken with the Woody Guthrie Center and, in particular, their care of the archives that he was enthusiastic about his center being in Tulsa too. I heard about it a few years ago and knew that when it opened I would be there. No other artist in any medium has meant as much to me as Bob. I became a member and founding supporter and set my sights on visiting opening day. Sadly, that didn't happen as I was on my big train trip - I mean, I never dreamed it would open on time... but it surely did in May 2022. By golly, I would be there as soon as I could. I felt like I was in a dream during my visit - such is my love for the music and artistry of Bob Dylan.
Of course I'll share some photos - who wants to read all this anyway but, please, if you are a modern music lover - make the trek to Tulsa - what a divine treat...you won't be sorry that I can guarantee.
In would be remiss if I didn't share that the Guthrie Center also had a Bruce Springsteen exhibit. Lots of cool E Street stuff and here's a photo of the Clarence's saxophone - RIP Big Man.
What a day! Who knew the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma would give me so much joy at age 65? Seemed unlikely most of my life. Now I wanna go back. That night I had a quiet dinner basking in the wonder of where I'd been and prepared to drive early the next morning to Kansas City.
I woke up very early the next morning and started the long and, on this particular morning, seriously rainy drive to Kauffman Stadium to see the Kansas City Royals play the Minnesota Twins at 1:00 PM. I arrived at the stadium about 90 minutes before game time.
As I was waiting near the gates a Royals stadium employee asked me if I was from out of state (How did he know? My clothes? My California mannerisms?). "Why yes", I said, "I am indeed." Well, the stadium employee said, "Today is your lucky day - follow me". I did as I was told and he showed me the "only open gate" and a path to the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame. It was a kick!
I have been to few baseball parks in my life and quite a few stand out but I must say that the park in Kansas City is absolutely one of the best - hands down. Someone described Kansas City to me as a large city with small town feel and that is precisely how "the K" felt to me - a big stadium with a small and intimate vibe- it has a great sight lines and a family feel - the employees and fans are friendly and personable and I was made quite comfortable there. I didn't know it at the time but this was a feeling I would carry with me for the next few days during my visit. Kansas City is a new and favorite place. Man, I can't wait to get back there...
After the game there was no traffic (seriously) and I made it to to my hotel in about 15 minutes. It rained that night and I woke up to steady downpour. As a Southern Californian the rain was welcome and I walked around town a bit just feeling that wet stuff in my face.
I visited the Negro leagues Museum which was one of the big reasons for me to visit Kansas City. Most of us baseball people are amateur historians and the story of the Negro Leagues is fascinating and tragic and wonderful and bittersweet. The Museum in Kansas City, run by the irrepressible Bob Kendrick, is a gem and I spent a few hours getting educated and immersing myself in what life must have been for a baseball player of color until Jackie Robinson came along (and even for a few years after).
When you walk into the museum the tone is immediately set. There are some figures playing baseball but you can't get to them - you can see them and you have a desire to walk to where they are and you just can't understand why they won't just allow you to do that - one is, indeed, on the outside looking in. It is, of course, the perfect metaphor.
I spent probably too much time at each exhibit but I was enthralled with the place.
Finally, at the end of the museum tour you are allowed to walk among the players.
I had to have some Kansas City Barbecue and that evening I walked down to Gates Bar.B.Q. I was told by a taxi driver that it featured Soup Nazi employees and that I had better have my order ready when in line and called upon and he wouldn't recommend it - "the food is great but it's a bit intimidating". I wanted to go, but after hearing his words, I HAD to go.
I wasn't disappointed. Sure enough there was an indecisive person front of me.
"I'm still looking at the menu".
"Give me just a minute"
"SIR! STEP OUT OF THE LINE. PEOPLE BEHIND YOU ARE READY TO ORDER".
"STEP OUT OF THE LINE!"
He did step out and was then ignored. He finally gave up and left. I think I may have been the only person who noticed. And let me tell you when I was asked for my order? I was ready! And was it worth it? The line that almost went to the door gave testimony.
After dinner I realized I had reached the eastern limit of my trip and tomorrow I would start heading west through Kansas. I would be staying the night in a Best Western in a little town called Wakeeny. I looked at the map and saw I would be traveling through Abilene - the place where Dwight Eisenhower was raised and home of his presidential library. I hadn't thought much in my life about Presidential Libraries until recently when my pal Tom Thrash came out west and we visited the Nixon Library together and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I am related to General Omar Bradley and he - along with most of my relatives - no matter where they fell on the political spectrum - all admired and respected Ike for his extraordinary leadership in WWII, his intelligence, class, and decency. He was, by all their accounts, a good man.
I decided to stop at his library in Abilene and I wasn't disappointed.
The Eisenhower family home was being "refreshed" and was closed but the museum and grounds were beautiful. It was a warm spring day and I pictured young Ike enjoying the Kansas weather the same way I did on that fine day.
The next day was the real reason for this long drive and, as I shared above, I was unprepared for the emotions of visiting my grandparent's and dear Uncle Chuck's resting place.
Rocky Ford, Pueblo and Aunt Lisa
I was 7 years old and my mom began struggling with her own sanity. We started moving and trying a new community every few months. My father was working two jobs and was never at home and we somehow ended up in Laguna Beach the next year in 1965. It was an artist colony and hippy haven. The greeter (Eiler Larsen) was there in full regalia and voice and personality.
My aunt Lisa - who had divorced my uncle - moved to Laguna and was as bohemian as they come. She also ran the children's theater in that artistic community. She taught drama classes and had her own studio. She drove a TR-4. And, thank you universe, she adored her nephew. And, let me tell you, her nephew adored her (and still does!). She cast me as Sneezy in Snow White. She was, for almost a year, the only adult in my life with whom I felt connected. I remember us cruising PCH in her Triumph with top down, wind whipping through our hair, and holding on for dear life as she made the left turn into the hills around Laguna or zipping through Laguna Canyon Road and her looking down at me with the most loving smile I've seen in my life. How grateful I am to have had her in my presence in my childhood.
A few years later I tried my hand at acting and directing and became a High School Drama teacher. Today? Well, they don't make those Triumphs anymore but I own a tiny roadster anyway and, once in a while, on a fine spring day you can see me on PCH and carving corners around Laguna Beach and thinking of my dear sweet Aunt Lisa. You might say she influenced me - just a tad.
And Aunt Lisa? She is still kicking and living in a nursing home in Pueblo, CO. She's in her 90's - closing in on 100 and still sprightly and kind. I don't know how many more chances I'll get to visit her - she and I are both "getting up there" as they say. Here we are...and you'll be hard pressed to find a photo of me with more joy in my heart.
We said our goodbyes and off I went for another trip down memory lane with a long time friend - Lee Anne Martinez. She and I have know each other since 1970. I met her in 8th grade and we have remained pals all this time - she is a professor in Southern Colorado and also lives in Pueblo. We met for dinner and reminisced. Her father was one of the finest teachers I have known and he was a tremendous influence on me and a man of great integrity and heart. Lee Anne's family are extraordinary people - all of them absolutely brilliant. We met when the restaurant opened and were there when they closed it- and I still wanted to spend more time. We gotta figure out another time to meet soon. I love my friend Lee Anne.
I wasn't quite through with Southeastern Colorado. In 1998 I took my father, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, to visit his brother - my Uncle Bill - and we took a trip to Bent's Old Fort. I returned in remembrance of them. Here are a few photos.
The next day I started the long drive home. My heart was full of joy and sorrow and love and despair. Just the old human condition I suppose...
I hope you enjoy the start of autumn and these photos of Colorado and Navajo Lands. I also hope you too are able to travel and see the friends and family who you love and who have meant much to you in your life. This trip was one of the most poignant experiences of my life and I wish the same beauty and poignancy in your life. Words fail to describe how much this trip meant to me and how much sharing it with you does too. Much to love to each of YOU.
In the 1960's kids in other places probably heard surf music and wanted to come to California. As a California kid I dreamed of Hawaii. There was, I swear, a kind of Polynesian love affair everywhere in Southern California - my parents and our neighbors had "Tiki" Parties. There was (and still remains) the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. All of us kids had Tiki totems for necklaces. There were Tiki bars in every city. Elvis was in Hawaii and, to the tune of Pearly Shells, our sugar came from Hawaii (after browning in the sun) and, well, surfing... sure Huntington beach was calling itself Surf City but everyone knew that Waikiki was WAY cooler and that the north shore of Oahu was where the big waves crashed. And, of course, we all remembered Pearl Harbor. Hawaii was in our bones.
As I grew older I never had the money to fly to Hawaii and so, as is my way, I decided it wasn't that great after all. Then, sometime in my mid 30s I met someone and she offered to take me to Maui for free. Free? Oh, OK then...why not?
I can remember stepping off the plane in Maui and instantly the world felt fresher and cleaner and friendlier and, well, just so damn beautiful. I'll never forget it and I still get that feeling when I step off the plane on any Hawaiian island even if it's raining or humid (or both).
After that trip I made several other trips in the next 20 years. Oahu twice, Kauai 3 times, Maui 3 times and what we called, "the Big Island" twice. We were told by some locals on the last trip that they do not like the Island of Hawaii to be called, "the Big Island" they prefer simply Hawaii or, the Island of Hawaii. That's cool - other words for it might be "nirvana" or Shangri-La". I had always been told that it "rains all the time in Hilo" and so, I'd only driven through one time (it rained). But, this time we decided to throw caution to the winds and spend 3 days there and it was delightful and truly felt like "Old Hawaii".
The photo above was taken at Akaka Falls State Park just up the road from Hilo. What a place!
It rained softly but steadily one afternoon. We were at a local shave ice place and there was fellow tourist who asked a local, "Does it rain like this a lot"? "Um, sir, this isn't raining". Ha! Point made! Here are a few more photos from around Hilo.
After some unnecessary rental car issues (never again Budget Car Rental!) we made it Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Some geezer was standing by the sign and his wife took a photo of him.
I am not sure why this, my third trip the Island of Hawaii, was the first time I visited the National Park. Indeed, it is something quite different and remarkable. The following photo is of the walk through the Nāhuku lava tube which closed a few weeks after we left due to "structural issues" Yikes.
The next photos are from the "Devastation Trail". I always appreciate and admire plants that grow with such little nourishment and against all odds - they inspire me to keep goin'.
Kilauea is still erupting and while they don't let folks get too close I did make a few photos. It is wild.
My favorite part of the National Park is at the end of Chain of Craters Road. Stunning! Here is the Hōlei Sea Arch. My goodness, I was mesmerized by it's beauty.
After spending a fine evening at the Volcano House we headed for Kailua-Kona and made a few stops along the way. First up is famous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. I was sorry we were there in the middle of the day - I'd enjoy going back in the early morning or evening and making some photos some day.
We then went to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park known as a sacred place of refuge. The last I was there was with Lilly when she was about 5 years old. This time Lupe was with me and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
We then moseyed on down to the hotel and went on a coffee bean tour - got good and wired and then went to a luau and wondered how in the world those dancers can be so graceful. Wonderful. The day we left we had loco moco for breakfast and I made one last photo. We are already planning a return to the islands - maybe Oahu next year... Thanks for coming along...
I officially became a geezer in 2022. I'm not sure what milestones you mark in your life but 65, as Ron Burgundy would say, is "kinda a big deal" to me. Moreover, it also marks my 20th year of sobriety. Of course, turning 65 isn't really anything at all except what's in your head. And here's what's in my head... I'm in the autumn of my life and, as the song says, "the days are dwindling down to a precious few." I could make a list of all the people that I have loved and lost in this lifetime - including my parents and grandparents and best friends and cousins and schoolmates but the names would fill this page - I know my time is coming. I wish it wasn't but that's the way this all goes. I am relatively healthy and I need to do the things I've always wanted to do and see some of the things I've always wanted to see. I watched too many of my relatives waste their last days watching TV and sitting on the sofa waiting to die. I want to celebrate being alive while I can. And, by God, that's what I am going to do.
I am a "Travels with Charley" and "Blue Highways" fan and, as a result, originally planned a cross country car trip and while I still have many road trips in front of me it occurred to me that I could take the train and see lots of the country - get fed - and relax in ways that aren't possible when you're driving. Further, I didn't want to be on the road longer than a month. I spent several of the Covid lock down months planning the 10,000 mile trip and it worked out well.
So, let's go. I'll do a short narrative for each day so hold on tight and please remember this is an overview. Several events, by necessity, have been left out but these are most of the highlights. Also, please note that the photos in this post are not high quality - they were often taken through the dirty window of an Amtrak passenger car replete with smudges, reflections and lens flare - nevertheless, since this is a TRAVEL blog, I shall include them - I hope that's OK- the idea is a to provide a summary narrative...it ain't high art.
Oh, and guess what? Apple Music finally acknowledged their problem and fixed it! MY library is back...I listened to some SWEET tunes - maybe I'll share my playlist on another post.
April 11, 2022
It started early on an April morning in Fullerton - just a few miles from home. Lupe dropped me off at 5:45 and I waited - on the wrong platform until about 5 minutes before the Pacific Surfliner arrived. A kindly Amtrak employee inquired if I was headed to LA? Why yes, yes I am. Well, you need to get in to the elevator and cross the tracks the train is almost here. Yikes! So, off I went with my suitcase and Tortuga backpack in tow.
After arriving at LA Union Station I walked to the Amtrak booth to say hello and the agent said, "Hey, you want some coffee"? "Sure!" Well, head on up to the Metropolitan Lounge. This was the first of many lounges that I was to spend time in over the next 3 weeks. Free coffee and snacks are the mainstays of all the lounges but none of them compare to the New York Lounge. Here is the LA Union Station "Metropolitan Lounge":
I waited a few hours and then headed down to Track 12 where we boarded the Coast Starlight bound for Portland, OR. The photo on the lower right was my roomette view in the station.
Excited, I settled in and we headed up the coast. This was my 4th time on the Coast Starlight. The first was back in the early 2000's to celebrate earning my doctorate at USC. That was in December and it was rainy and we were stopped for hours because the tracks were covered in water. This time it was mid April so - I looked forward to the beautiful American spring weather. (This is what is known in the writing business as "foreshadowing".)
I do love the parts of the California Coast that one can only see on foot or by train. I have driven Highway 1 dozens and dozens of times in my life and missed so much of the coast that is only accessible by train. These photos were all taken from my window (as are 90% of the photos in this blog post). The lower photo here is of Gaviota - a place I have visited every year for 10 years.
By the afternoon the train turns inland and you roll through California's extraordinary Steinbeck Country.
The evening approached and I had a fine chicken dinner in the Dining Car. I went to bed early. After all, lots more to see and tomorrow night I'd be meeting the great Lilster, my amazing daughter, who is attending school at Oregon State University in Corvallis for dinner in Portland.
When I awoke in Northern California it was a darn winter wonderland. What the? So much for the mild spring weather. I looked at the weather app and it looked OK in Portland but the route of the Empire Builder - the train from Portland to Chicago which I was scheduled on for 4/13 - looked like it was going to get some real winter weather.
We were delayed for two hours in Klamath Falls due to an Amtrak personnel issue (yeah - I don't know - something about a crew change). I was hoping the snow would clear up but on the ride to Portland it got worse and worse.
As we got closer to Portland the conductor made an announcement that all passengers heading east on the Empire Builder would be terminated at Spokane as the tracks were closed beyond that station. Welp, there it was. As the conductor came by my room I stopped him and told him my situation - that I was headed east on the Empire Builder tomorrow. His response was, "It doesn't look too good". Oh great...I was just starting my journey and already there's was a potential major hiccup. I started looking at the airfares from Portland to Chicago. I had to be on the Lake Shore Limited in 3 days.
The beautiful Willamette River came into view as we rolled into the pretty Portland Station. My sleeping car attendant said goodbye and wished me luck. Lilly was waiting for me and drove us to the Mark Spencer Hotel in Portland. That night we prepared for a possible flight if my train was canceled. Lilly showed me her packing tips - I folded all my shirts into burritos based on her direction. I gave her a bag of some items that I could survive without and which would allow me to perhaps not check both my bags at the airport. Then we went and had a nice dinner at local Mexican joint.
I slept in a bit in Portland and checked in with Amtrak - the train was still running despite the various websites showing service disruptions and closures at stations like Minot, ND. Lilly met me at the Metropolitan Lounge and we waited - sure enough, the train was running after all. No one knew but we would be the last train through for nearly a week - a historic blizzard was bearing down on the Montana Hi-Line.
I sadly said goodbye to my sweet daughter and got on the Empire Builder bound for Chicago. In the over 10,000 miles I traveled on Amtrak I believe the most scenic part of the ride was from Portland to Spokane and through the Columbia River Gorge. It was simply stunning. A few times in my life I have been moved to tears by nature's splendor (OK OK - more than a few times - I am a sentimental old fool) but this was certainly another one of those times. I gazed out the window and relaxed. This then was the trip I'd been planning and dreaming about for over a year. It was happening. The good life...
After an excellent night's sleep I woke up to chilly weather outside. It was 9F but according to the weather app "felt like" -1F. There was snow on the ground but the sun was shining and I looked forward to another relaxing day staring out of the window.
Around 11:00 AM it started to snow. And then it really started snowing. Then the wind began to bend trees over sideways and drifts began piling up. The conductor made an announcement that the next few hours were going to be a challenge and that we should expect delays. He also named several train stations along our route that were not in service because they were snowed in. A hush fell over the train.
In the afternoon we were forced to a siding to wait out the storm. I talked to one of the sleeping car attendants and she told me they were a little nervous. All Amtrak and even the freight trains were now canceled on our track - we were the lone rangers and the only train running. We passengers mumbled worried words to each other and visions of "Train Stranded for Days" headlines ran through our heads.
After about an hour on the siding the conductor announced we were ready to move but there was a frozen switch ahead and that he and some other crew members would need to manually throw the switch. This required him to exit the train in the blizzard and would take him about 30 minutes to accomplish the task if, "it goes like it should". It was a rather nerve-wracking experience for all of us but at least we were warm and inside. Fortunately it went, "as it should" and we were on the move plowing through the snowdrifts.
I ambled down to the dining car and saw the conductor. I thanked him for braving the elements and getting us on our way but before I could finish my compliments we were interrupted by an extremely agitated woman who demanded that we stop at her station even though it was closed. I sat down and listened while the conductor explained that they were not going to drop someone off in a massive and historic blizzard at a closed station. "Cars are not able to get to the station. Amtrak would essentially be stranding someone by dropping them off. It is "CLOSED". I admired his patience but he grew progressively firmer as the conversation went on for maybe 10 minutes - finally the woman asked, "well, what stations are open"? The conductor told her and she exclaimed, "Oh! That works! I can get a ride from there". She got a major eye roll - not just from the conductor but from everyone within earshot. When things get dicey some people are calm and centered and, well, let's just say some others are not. It had been a helluva day. In fact it would be another FIVE days before passenger trains were back on this route.
Woke up - had my coffee and looked out the window at downtown Fargo, ND. Today, if the fates would allow, we would get to Chicago where the temperatures were supposed to be downright tropical - high 40s!
By the time we hit St. Cloud, MN the sun was shining. Oh how welcome it was...
It was a chilly but glorious afternoon in St. Paul as we rolled alongside the Mississippi River. I knew I'd see it again in a week or so but way down south near New Orleans.
Grateful to have made it through the blizzard (how do people live in Minot, North Dakota anyway?!) I spent a very enjoyable afternoon and evening rolling through the farms and fields of scenic Wisconsin. I also must mention two of the greatest employees that work for Amtrak -Lisa and Aiyana. They took amazing care of me when things got weird on the Empire Builder. I'll never forget their kindness and hope they are reading this!
We arrived in Chicago and I had this delivered to my room. Yes, I know Lou Malnati's is not on my diet but, come on, when in Rome...er.. Chicago! And yeah...it was as good as it looks - maybe better.
I went for a long walk in the neighborhood along the Chicago River after I stuffed myself full of pizza but it was too cold and windy - about 36F with 40 MPH gusts. I also saw so many people, all bundled up, enjoying time with one another and got a bit lonely. It doesn't happen often in my solo travels but it did that night. I headed back to my cozy hotel room where I slept for 10 hours - a rare thing indeed.
After spending a lazy day resting in my room and wandering around Chicago I hailed a taxi and went back to Chicago Union Station. Turned out to be the craziest taxi ride of my life. The driver was angry. I asked if he was alright. His answer, "NO- you are only going to train station everyone else is going to the airport! Airport is much bigger fare!". He was driving 65 mph through the streets and then screeching the brakes at every stop. In my experience the people of Chicago are generally quite polite but when this taxi driver cut them off I found that they do have a quite extensive vocabulary and aren't afraid of expressing their displeasure by use of an age old finger gesture. After 15 minutes of Hell I finally arrived at the station - not the entrance mind you - but close enough for me to get the hell out of that cab. Geez. The world seems so angry these days.
Chicago Union Station is HUGE - ten city blocks long and it feels a little intimidating at first but with the help of station personnel it's not too challenging to figure out where to go to eat and to relax. Like most things Chicago I like it. The train platforms are all underground and on my way to my roomette on the Lake Shore Limited I saw this private car and stopped to take this photo. The photo isn't much but in taking it my suitcase and backpack fell and and splattered on the platform. The passengers behind me were not amused so as I put my luggage back together I let them go ahead, muttering, "sorry".
As usual I had a marvelous sleeping car attendant and he assisted me with my luggage and directed me to my room. I was surprised at how different the eastern trains (Viewliners) were from the western trains (Double deck Superliners) - the biggest difference? A sink and toilet in the train compartment.
Again, I slept very well that night. I was on my way to Utica, NY to rent a car and drive to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown - a place I'd wanted to see since childhood. I was stoked. I can remember in High School telling people that I doubted I'd ever get married but, if I did, it would only to be to a woman who wanted to spend our honeymoon in Cooperstown. It was a joke, of course, but it had a sliver of truth to it.
The photo below is of the dining car on the Viewliner. On the train I am always up early, typically the first passenger to arrive in the dining car - there for my coffee and the view.
The Lake Shore Limited is a more scenic train than I had anticipated. It hugs Lake Erie and I enjoyed every minute.
Here is a photo of Buffalo, New York or, "Dirty Old Buffalo" as the great musician and my friend, Gurf Morlix, calls it in one of his terrific songs. It looks like I always thought Buffalo would look - frigid.
Yep! That's snow on the ground! And more was coming. I arrived around noon in Utica on Easter Sunday. No taxis around so I sent for an Uber to take me to my Motel. The driver arrived, it was sunny, and it was only a 5 minute drive to the Best Western. By the time we got there the ground was covered with hail. That was an omen.
I walked through the slush over to a nearby restaurant and had a fine dinner. I returned to my room and went to bed fairly early because I was renting a car at 8:00 AM the following day and meeting my buddy Tom Thrash at the Baseball Hall of Fame around 10:00 AM.
I awoke at 4:00 AM to a storm alert on my phone. A big red STORM WARNING. The next day 12-16 inches of flipping SNOW was supposed to fall. Road closures were predicted. I was supposed to be in Cooperstown for the next two nights. Yikes! (I didn't actually say yikes- just FYI - I used another word). After living in the snow for 30 years of my life the last thing I wanted was to have to deal with THAT - in a car rental - 3000 miles from home.
So, what to do?
I waited until 6 AM and, casting polite behavior to the wind, and because he's such a good dude, I texted Tom and asked him to give me a call when he awoke. Tom had also reserved a room in Cooperstown and I figured he would have an idea of what to do. Five minutes later I was on the phone with Tom and, yes, he knew exactly what to do. The first thing he made clear was that I was not overreacting. Indeed, a big storm was on the way. In fact, he was already planning on not staying in Cooperstown in order to avoid the mess that was surely coming. Thanks to his insight, savvy and kindness we came up with a plan. I would grab my luggage, check out of the Best Western, and get a ride to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Tom would drive the several hours to meet me. We would spend the day at the Hall and then Tom, out of the goodness of his heart, would get me the heck out of there, take me to Poughkeepsie where I could catch the train for my next stop - the Big Apple. It was kind of a genius plan. So, after a very enjoyable ride to Cooperstown through some quite beautiful upstate New York countryside, I met Tom and, after all these years of dreaming about it, we went to the HALL OF FAME!
Look, I know social media stinks and is responsible for much needless angst and stress and plain meanness in the world but my Twitter account allowed me to meet my friend Tom Thrash. Let's see...what is Tom interested in? Baseball (a fellow SABR guy), nature, National Parks, history and trains. Anyone you know who likes similar things? It's uncanny, isn't it? We really are, in many ways, two peas in a pod. And, let me tell ya, we had a damn fine time at the Hall of Fame. Here is the old man with the first group of inductees.
𝐁𝐀𝐂𝐊: Honus Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson 𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐍𝐓: Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young. Not pictured: Mathewson (sadly deceased), Cobb (tardy!).
Yes,. it does appear as if I am sitting in Connie Mack's lap - he was a gentleman and wouldn't say a word.
Speaking of gentlemen. Here's Tom's photo with the first class. Smarter than me he's sitting between Connie and the Bambino.
Pictures don't really do the Hall justice - it is a pilgrimage that all baseball lovers should make. I know, if I stay upright long enough, that I will return. Nevertheless, I will offer a few photos for those of you who might find it interesting. The Hall consists of 3 floors - the docents recommend exploring floors two and three before coming back down to number one to see the plaques. So let's start on the second floor.
The first floor highlight is the Plaque Gallery. I remember hearing the great Tom Seaver talk about how proud he was to have his plaque at the hall and that each time he visited he would run his hand over it - just to make sure it was real. The first photo is my childhood (and adulthood) hero.
Here are a few more plaques - it's just a taste. You should go and see them in person - it was an emotional experience for me. They are vertical photographs and, if you see someone you like, be sure and click to read the entire plaque.
Lastly, here is the statue of the great Buck O'Neil.
After spending several hours in the museum I went to the Gift Shop. As I was checking out the cashier asked, "You staying here in Cooperstown? We are gonna get two feet of snow! I can't believe this is April". She confirmed my worries. "No," I said, "my buddy is driving me to Poughkeepsie". "Your buddy is smart!" she replied. And so he was. My hero Tom drove me all the way to Poughkeepsie. I got a room a few blocks from the train station and avoided the storm - which was huge and did indeed end up closing roads and was, in general, a huge mess. I am including the following photo -it's not mine (thankfully) that I pulled off the internet from a resident of Cooperstown to give you an idea of what happened and how Tom saved my behind from dealing with that wintry drama.
The following photo was taken from my hotel room in Poughkeepsie and I never thought I'd be so happy to be in Poughkeepsie, NY - but, I was, I was. Whew! Now I would spend an extra night in New York City but, hey, I could handle that! What a relief it was to be out of that crazy weather. I am so grateful to Tom for helping me - and I knew in a few days I was headed south to The Big Easy on Amtrak's Crescent and warmer weather.
It was chilly and windy in Poughkeepsie and I went to the Station which was old and drafty and beautiful.
Here is a view from the platform.
The ride on Amtrak's Empire Service was uneventful to New York City and, of course, the minute I got off the train the New York experience hit me - full force. How I love and have loved that city. There was so much to do and see and it had been ten years. My hotel was adjacent to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. I know not everyone agrees but I think New York City is magnificent. Here are two views from my 33rd floor hotel room.
My first night I had a wonderful dinner at Uncle Jack's Steakhouse on 9th Avenue. It was a bit cold - no snow - and so I walked around for awhile just taking in the perfect madness and rush of the Big Apple. It took me awhile to get it together and get my bearings. It had been awhile and, to use a surfing metaphor, you have to ride NYC like a big wave - it takes a while to stand up on the board and be comfortable when you return. And then, unlike any other city I know, once you do catch your balance, you will go for the ride of your life. There is no place I have ever been that's like it.
I woke up and leisurely walked up to Times Square and the TKTS booth. I was hoping to see American Buffalo with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell. I got to Times Square about an hour before the booth opened and already there was a long, serpentine line for tickets. That was OK - it was a nippy but sunny day and it felt so good to just feel New York. After some searching, I found the end of the ticket booth line. I heard someone yelling behind me, "SIR! SIR! HEY! HELLO! THAT IS NOT THE END OF THE LINE! - THE END IS OVER THERE". Hmmm, it seemed like someone was yelling at ME. I looked around and the people in front of me pointed to another spot. It was only a few feet away but I had clearly committed a major TKTS faux pas. I moved to the REAL end of the line and a young woman who had observed the entire episode turned around and with a twinkle in her eye said, "Well, I'll guess you'll never make that mistake again!" We both laughed and rolled our eyes. Oh, you fabulous New Yorkers. Embarrass me one moment and let me know that's it's all OK in the next - such is my favorite city.
I was able to score the tickets for American Buffalo and it was even better than I'd hoped. Sam Rockwell is probably my favorite actor these days. He was utterly brilliant. It had been awhile since I'd seen a show on Broadway and now I gotta hurry back.
The next day was devoted entirely to the New York Mets and baseball in the Big Apple.
I was up early to eat a hotel breakfast and then take the Number 7 train to Long Island. When I arrived at Hudson Yards station (the steepest incline in NYC) - the first stop on the line - I was the only passenger. An empty NYC train was an odd experience. It wouldn't stay empty for long. We rolled along and picked up Met fans all along the line until the train was FULL of folks in Mets gear.
It was, for me, another cold day but setting my eyes upon Citifield changed all that. It is magnificent. I am a Dodgers fan but I love the New York Mets and Tom Seaver has been a lifelong favorite and was a fellow USC Trojan. His statute is perfect- and captures his style, competitiveness and unique pitching motion - the drop and drive - extraordinarily well.
Mets fans are a serious and baseball savvy bunch and they follow the game intensely. No selfies or the wave or arriving in the third inning or leaving after the seventh inning. Some west coast fans could learn from them.
A trip highlight happened just before the game started as the players came out to warm up. I saw the Mets first baseman Pete Alonso - a fine player come trotting out and just then a young boy - maybe 8 years old - yanking his mother by the hand came flying down the stairs next to me and ran to the railing while shouting in a perfect New York accent, "OH MY GAWD! IT'S PETE ALAAAAAWNZO!". It absolutely cracked me up and reminded me of every child who has ever fallen in love with a baseball player and finally gets to see them for the first time in person. It always feels like a miracle. My GAWD, I loved that little boy and baseball and all the feelings it engenders.
One last night in New York.
I couldn't sleep so I walked around Hell's Kitchen already missing New York and not having left it yet. Got back to my room and made a melancholy photo while lying in bed. As I grow older each visit to a place I love makes me a bit sentimental and I always wonder...will I be back?
Up and at 'em. I walked across the street to Moynihan Train Hall. It was time to take the Crescent all the way to New Orleans. At last - some warm weather!
We rolled out of New York and my sleeping car attendant wasn't too helpful. Apparently her beau was also on the train so let's just say she was scarce. The spring weather was uplifting as we passed over the Delaware River near Trenton, NJ and Philadelphia and nearby environs.
We picked up speed nearing Baltimore and I clocked the train going 107 mph (there's an app for that called Speedbox).
We slowed down here to cross the Susquehanna River.
I was deeply interested in the next part of my journey. While I am a regular New Orleans visitor I had never seen much of what is considered the "Deep South" other than a visit to Atlanta. As a music nut, and a Delta Blues fan, I had always wanted to travel to Memphis and to see the Mississippi Delta. Moreover, the view from the train often captures a kind of hardscrabble point of view of America - after all, people of means don't usually live too close to the tracks or in a hobo jungle. I wasn't going to get a glossed over chamber of commerce version of the South. As a California man I had lots of stereotypes in my head...just what would my experience be like? One guy on social media said for me to "watch my back". Yeah. OK. I thought at the time that was a racist comment - and still do. The Delta is approximately 85% African American.
In the meantime...the view from my window on the Crescent was mesmerizing. Here are some photos near DC and Baltimore.
I fell asleep in Virginia.
And woke up in Georgia.
The next several hours I had my nose glued to the window taking in the sights. As a man of the West I have become somewhat snobbish about the great outdoors. However, I must say that there is some true scenic splendor in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that I did not anticipate and brought on my favorite feeling while in nature - a feeling of awe. I hope you enjoy the photos. Here is Alabama:
And my first glimpses of Mississippi.
The photo just above struck me somehow. It is of Meridian, MS the hometown of the great Jimmie Rodgers or as he was affectionately known, the "Singing Brakeman." I envisioned old Jimmy working out there on that particular part of the railroad while dreaming of making music. Regardless, for me it is an evocative photo reminiscent of the past and, oddly, perhaps my favorite of the trip.
We arrived in New Orleans late due to freight train interference which is a ongoing and regular problem with passenger train travel in the United States. If you are an Amtrak traveler you know just what I'm talking about.
Finally, around 9:00 PM I was in the Crescent City. It was a heavenly 79F!
My day in the Big Easy. I woke up and walked to the French QuarterFest. It was hot and steamy and so very welcome. I went to the Chevron stage near Jax Brewery along the River to listen to Cajun Music. As usual in New Orleans it was a party. I often think about the notion that we should let go of the past and stop worrying about the future and focus on the NOW (and try to live accordingly). That viewpoint seems to be the philosophy of New Orleans which is a major reason why it is and will remain one of my favorite places on earth. It's a gas.
What a fine day I had!
After hours of listening to terrific music and chatting with some locals, I ate a delicious gumbo dinner and went back to my room. I got sick to my stomach afterwards and figured it was a passing thing. It was not and would plague me off and on for the rest of the trip and then for a few weeks after I got home - it was a particularly virulent stomach bug (good news -after many doctor visits and tests I am better now!).
The next day I was up early to find my brick at the WWII Museum and then make my way to the train station to ride the City of New Orleans train to Memphis.
Several years ago I made a donation to the WWII Memorial in DC in my relative's names for its construction and for the construction of the WWII Museum in New Orleans. One of the donation opportunities was to fund a brick to be placed outside the museum - and I visited the museum several times after I purchased it but never actually looked for it - until this trip. I didn't have time to explore the museum again but wanted to find that darn brick- the docent located it on the computer and gave me a map and, indeed, I found it. I am proud of ALL who served but in particular my 3 uncles - W.A. (Shorty) Hubbard, Bill Hubbard and Edward Poppe. Each of them served in the Army Air Force and my Uncle Shorty flew 35 missions over Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. He was severely injured as a tail-gunner on a B-17. I am a bit of a WWII historian as a result of my family's influence and service.
Speaking of inspirational people - there is a modest monument to Anne Frank at the Museum and she has been a personal hero to me for as long as I can remember. When I became a high school drama teacher I couldn't wait to direct my own production of "The Diary of Anne Frank"- it remains one of the poignant stories of my life and one of my proudest moments as an educator.
After that short visit I jumped on my next train which is only a few blocks from the museum. I was unprepared for how scenic the initial section of the City of New Orleans train was as it moved north through the bayou country and into Mississippi. The sleeping car attendant caught me staring, slightly agog, and said, "Oh yeah...I see you. I know I should be working but sometimes I just have to stop and look out the window too. Some days I count the alligators. Counted 50 once".
The clouds rolled in as we got closer to my destination of Memphis and the rain fell - very hard at times - and it was dark and beautiful and made my little roomette even cozier.
The train arrived in Memphis about 11:00 PM and I was excited to see that my hotel - the Central Station Memphis was adjacent to the tracks. How convenient. I had been receiving confirming emails from the hotel for a few weeks and it looked great.
Looks can be deceiving.
When I arrived the young lady at the front desk informed me that there was no record of my reservation. I showed her my confirmation number and emails. She said, "Sorry, sir, I have no record of a reservation and we have no rooms" and smiled. That awful smile. It was 11:00 PM and I explained I was tired and none of this made sense and she said, "Call booking.com" - and then, because I didn't leave, she called her supervisor. After several minutes trying to get the phone number for Booking.com I spoke to someone overseas who said, "Oh, they have to find you a room. We will ring them". Finally, the hotel front desk had another person arrive to help - a sympathetic and evidently more experienced employee. She winked and said, "don't worry...we will figure this out." Finally I started to relax a bit until the first employee hung up the phone with her supervisor and said, "DON'T EVER USE A THIRD PARTY. That's your problem."
She then sighed - a huge sigh - and started punching the keys of her computer and then gave me a key to a room - a suite because, "that's all we have".
Wow. What a mess. It was now midnight. I was supposed to get my car rental at 8:30. I got into the room - took a shower and tried to relax -nope - still too wound up by the reservation drama - couldn't sleep - all night. Still, I was thrilled about renting a car and driving through the Mississippi Delta and exploring the home of so many of my musical heroes. How curious and interested I was about my next adventure.
At 7:00 AM I went down to the hotel restaurant, ate a veggie omelette, and then called Enterprise car rental who said they would send someone to the hotel to pick me up at 8:30. I gathered all my luggage and walked outside. It was a nice morning. I waited and no one arrived. At 8:45 I called back and someone said, "we are on our way". At 9:15 I called again and was told, "Sir, we are having a challenge getting you a car". I can't remember precisely what I said but was later told that the guy expected me to yell and that I remained calm and told them I had no place to go and needed a car and that they were to come pick me up and I would wait in their office for a car and didn't give a damn how long it took. So far, Memphis had not been exactly a welcoming place. They sent someone for me.
My grumpy strategy evidently worked and I believe they got tired of my pouting geezer face because within two hours I had a car. It wasn't exactly pretty but it was a car.
Fired up, I jumped in and, of course it was on E, but I got 'er filled up and went directly to Stax Museum.
After spending about 10 minutes inside I thought, "Hey, did I get all my luggage from the Car Rental place?" As soon as I had that thought I received a call from "Enterprise - Memphis".
Hello, Dr. Hubbard? Yes, I know - I'll be right over...
I gathered the suitcase I left behind at the rental agency and decided to get out of Memphis. Soon, windows rolled down in the sticky springtime Mississippi heat, I was driving south on legendary Highway 61.
First Stop - Tunica, Mississippi.
I took my sweet time driving down to Clarksdale. My first stop was to visit Roger Stolle and his fabulous Blues store Cathead. He was as kind and friendly and knowledgeable as expected. If you are a Blues fan and make a pilgrimage to the Delta like me - I strongly encourage you to to make Cathead your first stop. Your mind will be full of ideas about what and who to see and where to go...and you'll walk out and feel like you're going back in time to an earlier era. Right next to Cathead is an old Rexall sign...how many years since I'd seen one of those? 30? 40?
From Cathead I drove to my spot to sleep the next few nights - the famed Shack Up Inn. It was my kind of place. Here was my bit of shangri-la. I was in the "Caddy-Shack".
I sat outside at the shack with a cold drink and meditated and read and relaxed and felt that cool Delta breeze on my forehead. I immersed myself in the feeling of the place. It did feel just as I supposed it would. The problem is that as I imagined it long ago there was too much pain to contemplate. Still, I was grateful to finally be in the place I'd dreamed of seeing my entire life.
Slept beautifully and was up early and off to the crossroads. Yep. Those crossroads.
I wandered around and ended up at the Delta Blues Museum.
I had dinner at Abe's back at the crossroads and tried one of their tamales. Sometimes we Westerners don't realize that tamales are eaten in the South - there is even a "tamale trail". It wasn't too bad although eating it with saltines seemed pretty darn weird.
I spent most of the day exploring the Delta with a visit to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, MS which is right across the street from Delta State University and in the same town as the Martin & Sue King Railroad Museum. Everyone that day was extraordinarily kind and helpful and generous with their advice and time. Southern hospitality is a real thing.
On my way back to my room at the Shack Up Inn I stopped and made a few photos of the old Hopson Plantation which is adjacent to the Shack Up and the surrounding area.
The next day I made a leisurely drive to Memphis to spend the day at the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated. I also wanted to see the Blues Hall of Fame Museum (of which I am a member). In my life - one leader towers above all the others in my estimation - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His philosophy of non-violence, patience and kindness and love have inspired me my entire life. Thus, it was a deeply emotional experience to see the very place where the world lost him. My breath left me and I had to walk away from other people and gather myself upon witnessing it. In my life I have never seen another site that brought so much sadness for our country and "what might have been". I have not been to Dealey Plaza - perhaps it will have the same impact.
Here are a few other photos I made. I took too many and didn't like any. In candor, I struggled with the fact that this was the place chosen for the Civil Rights Museum - until I saw that Coretta King had agreed to make it so. If she thought it was fine then who am I to doubt it? It is a place that every American should see.
Leaving the Museum was bittersweet but I know I'll be back - hopefully with my grandchildren.
I have been a member of the Blues Foundation for many years. Their museum is located in Memphis directly across the street from the Civil Rights Museum. When I arrived and shared my membership card one of the docents jumped up from her chair and said, "WELCOME We have been waiting for you!". It was too sweet and, of course, I loved it.
Here is - no kidding - Muddy Water's guitar. 😲
Soon it was back to the train station and the City of New Orleans on our return trip to Chicago.
The ride to Chicago and back to the cold weather was uneventful on the City of New Orleans although I had oddly stopped being hungry and, trust me, that it is highly unusual for me. Nevertheless, Arlo Guthrie's version of Steve Goodman's classic song, "City of New Orleans" song was stuck - as it should be - in my head and on repeat. And look! Here is Kankakee! Followed by a few other photos I enjoyed making and that made me hum... "Good Morning, America- how are ya?"
That night in Chicago, despite not having much of an appetite, I walked down the street to the Berghoff and had a Root Beer and a few bites of German food. When I got back to my room at the Central Loop Hotel I checked my Amtrak ticket on my phone and it said, "service disruption". That is trainspeak for, "you are screwed -the train isn't running". I called Amtrak and the agent said, "well, maybe you're getting that information before we are, which often happens, but it looks like your train is still running". That was encouraging - or not. I slept fitfully. I was ready to get on the Southwest Chief and come home - it had been almost 3 weeks.
"Service disruption" no longer was displayed across my iPhone Amtrak ticket. Thank goodness. I took a taxi to the splendid Chicago Union Station. It's really quite a place. Unlike airports (yuck) there is plenty of room to spread out and walk and sit and relax without other people around. There is also no TSA theater where they do things like take away your 6 oz sunscreen because you know... well, actually I don't know.
I got on the train for long trip home. It was beautiful ride - the Southwest Chief is a gem. I was also enthusiastic about going through my father's home town - La Junta, CO on the train where, in the early 1950's, he got on the "El Capitan" and came to Los Angeles and met my mom.
Unfortunately, my stomach issues really kicked in and I wasn't able to enjoy the trip as much I'd hoped. Still - I was able to make a few photos and I hope you enjoy them and they give you a sense of what riding on "the Chief" is like.
We were reaching Colorado and I was able to take a few photos of the place where my dad grew up. I will return this September, in my little Mazda, and visit the graves of my grandparents and Uncle and my last remaining Colorado family who live in Pueblo. The photo below is the "old" train station in La Junta - did my dad walk out those doors? Buy a ticket from that window? Wait outside for the train right here?
These photos are all in New Mexico - the next day I'd wake up in California.
My trip was originally supposed to include a stop in Kansas City - due to Amtrak staffing shortages that part of the trip had to be eliminated - I was bummed at the time but it actually worked out OK. By the time I hit California I was pretty sick from that nasty (and long lasting!) stomach bug. It felt good to be home. And, let's face it, I love California.
What a journey. Of course, a blog post and these photos don't do it justice -if I had the creativity and energy of a younger version of myself I might be tempted to write a short story or novel about it. As it is these words and photos will have to suffice. I can't imagine taking another trip similar to this length on the train - it might happen but I doubt I'd do it solo. Maybe if you came along?
The big Western train I didn't take was the famed California Zephyr - I'll make up for that this autumn. I'll also visit Kansas City when I visit Colorado late this summer while on my Bob Dylan Center and and family ancestry pilgrimage.
This was a long post because, well, it was a long trip. I truly appreciate you reading and allowing me to share. Connecting with people has always meant a lot to me and, after retiring several years ago, I lost my ability to do much of that. Except with you - and for that I'll be forever grateful - and when I say much love to my friends and readers I mean MUCH love to each of you.
May this summer be the best of your life. Thanks again.
Let me leave you with lyrics from a favorite Dylan song that has inspired me these many years and that I thought of often on my once in a lifetime cross country train trip.
"Let me Die in my Footsteps".
Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground
Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
Let every state in this union seep down deep in your souls
And you’ll die in your footsteps
Before you go down under the ground.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
This getting older is an interesting ride, isn't it? The years have certainly simplified things for me. Today I'm 20 years sober. I am grateful for my sobriety and the clarity it has brought me. In my youth, I was, sadly, very confused regarding what was truly important. Then, after retirement and a breathtaking and heartbreaking injustice, I had to re-calibrate everything. Many days I just wanted to go away for good. I can't tell you how low I was because it was an exhausting trial every day just to continue to live. I felt utterly useless and desperately despondent. Fortunately, I did have a wonderful shrink who said to me, "Well, Doc, you tried to change the world. How'd that work out for ya? Maybe you should simplify and just change yourself." She also suggested for me to do things that "soothed" me, reminded me that all things are temporary, and to just hang on.
It became clear to me that two things, besides my beautiful family, might soothe me and help me to make it through the days. One of those was music. The other was nature (part 2 is coming). I have been a music addict since birth (My mother claims that she listened to Calypso music daily while she was pregnant with me in an effort to make me a music lover - evidently it worked). I have been a Bob Dylan fanatic since about 1965 when I was 8 and my cousin Staci played, "Blowing in the Wind" for me. I was also hugely influenced by my blind Uncle Edgar who, in the cool of the evening in his tiny apartment in Southgate, California in the 1960's would put Jimmie Rodgers on his old record player and listen to him yodel and sing songs about trains. He was definitely "soothed" by that and so was I. The songs made my uncle's sadness just vanish. As a result of these particular influences (and growing up the 1960's when AM radio was great) I have been a lifetime lover of American Roots music and the Blues - it's now often called "Americana" and a group called simply, "The Band" epitomized it in many ways.
15-20 years ago I discovered a fellow with the same last name whose music really spoke to me. It's rootsy and swampy and bluesy and the lyrics are witty and hit me right in the heart. He may be best known for "Redneck Mother" and "Snake Farm" and those are certainly fun songs but hardly capture the particular genius of Ray Wylie Hubbard. I could write paragraphs with my recommendations of his albums but couldn't tell you my favorite - there are too many. Occasionally people ask if Ray and I are related and I always say, "Not that I am aware but we do appear to be brothers from another mother". His new album, "Co-Starring Too" has gotten rave reviews and is zooming up the Americana charts so it's an easy place to start if you're just now hearing of him. Email me if you want to know more.
I started following many of my favorite artists on social media and one day while I was out on a walk I got a notification on my phone that Ray Wylie Hubbard had followed me back. Well, lemme tell ya - that was a kick. Then in August 2020 I was lamenting the fact that while I had been sober for 18 years the pandemic sometimes made me feel like drinking again. I then received - in my private messages - a message from Ray which said, "Old timer told me once: "no matter how bad it gets, taking a drink will make it worse. ODAT".
For the un-initiated ODAT means - one day at a time. I was blown away to have the man himself, a fellow friend of Bill W., send me such a kind and meaningful message. I responded and hoped to one day meet my friend in person. That actually happened last December in Las Vegas. Ray was playing at the Golden Nugget and I sent him a message and asked if I could get a picture. To my surprise and delight he said OK. The show was marvelous - I've been attending concerts for many, many years and I cannot recall another where the musical artist connected so easily and deeply to his audience. Ray was humorous and friendly and the crowd adored him.
After the show I was told to wait near the exit and sure enough a gentleman came up to me and asked, "You Doc Hubbard? Ray says for you to come on back." I went back stage and Ray was talking to some people but his son Lucas and drummer Kyle Schneider came right up and asked me how I was doing. They were so damn nice. Then Ray came over and said hello and, you'd think at my age this wouldn't happen, but I got tongue tied and a bit star struck. This, to me, was a really big deal. Dammit! How was Ray gonna know how cool I am? Still... Ray was great and couldn't have been more welcoming and kind-hearted and personable. I managed to mumble something about how much I loved his music. I wanted to be respectful of his time and so asked someone nearby to take our photo so I wouldn't be too much of a bother. Check this out:
Can you believe it? That is me and Ray! We said our goodbyes and off he went - me? Still on Cloud 9, I wandered around Las Vegas in a bit of a stupor... it was such a pleasure to meet a man I respect so much for making some of the best music on the planet and being my brother in sobriety. I'm still over the moon that it happened.
Now, go listen to, "Mother Blues" and "South of the River" or "Conversation with the Devil" and tell me what you think...
My 65th year on the planet started fabulously. For many years I have wanted to be with my family in my favorite desert place - Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It was a dream that, candidly as the years have gone on, I wondered would come true. And while my daughter was stuck in Corvallis amid the omicron variant mess, my boys, their wives, my grandchildren and Lupe were all able to join me. It was a slice of heaven! My only wish is that we could have spent more time out in that glorious green desert. I have decided that, for the foreseeable future, I'll be spending at least two weeks every January in the Sonoran desert. So...who knows - maybe we will be able to do it again. And why don't you too come out to visit?!
Also in January I got a new iMac computer which I needed. Sadly and ironically, I lost much of my music library on Apple Music making the transition from PCs to Apple and was told just yesterday by a "senior advisor" that, "Sometimes at Apple we can't solve everyone's problem". Wow. I could spend hours writing about how technology has plagued me for the last few years but that is NOT the point of this post - I mean if we want to hear complaining we can just go on social media, right? Suffice it to say - you know how much I love music - and this has been a setback - fortunately, there are lots of choices for music streaming out there - and I prefer the ones where I can hear Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. My road trip playlists will carry on! Enough complaining...
As I mentioned my daughter Lilly wasn't able to join us in the desert so I decided to drive to her in Corvallis. She is in her junior year at Oregon State and is doing beautifully. I couldn't be more proud. The only problem - and it's a serious one - is I miss her like Hell. So, I drove up and we went to a basketball game and hung out - she showed me around town and it was fantastic.
The weather, as expected, was chilly. I did bring the camera and made a few photos. Here is Mt. Shasta from Highway 5.
I decided to take the coast road home. It rained from Newport to Gold Beach. I was, as always, stunned by the beauty of the Oregon coastline.
Here is the Heceta Head Lighthouse from a distance.
The next day I drove to Fort Bragg and, when I got to California, the sun broke through the clouds - just for me.
Just last week I made my last desert trek of this winter at Anza Borrego. Marty and Dell joined me and it was a kick - until I hit a rut at speed in my truck and ripped off the bumper out in Blair Valley. But, hey, if you're gonna off road... it's all part of the deal.
Here are my two buddies Dell and Marty - for a couple of city slickers they're not too bad. I can't wait until we do it again.
Thanks, as always, for coming along. Next up is my dream trip - a cross country train trip on Amtrak. I'll be on 8 trains and passing through more than half the states in the USA. As the years dwindle in my life I'm trying to get in as much travel as I can while I am healthy. I do love it so. I'll be making big stops in Chicago, Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame), NYC, New Orleans, Memphis, and Clarksdale MS (Mississippi Blues Trail). I can't wait to tell you all about it.
Much love and best wishes to all who read these words. May 2022 be a beautiful year for each of you.
Hello friends. The world remains weird. This year, as it related to the pandemic, was filled with optimism (vaccines!) and despair (delta and omicron). My travel plans were OK and then interrupted again and then OK again and then... well, you know the story. In terms of my own travel adventures, photography and growth as a photographer I would rate the year a 5 out of 10. A highlight was meeting so many friends on the road. Maybe you can meet me next year?
As usual, I offer these photos as my "favorites" not my "best". And, I must tell you, I had a heckuva time picking 10 - there were about 10 others that I like darn near as much as these - and it's been making me kooky having to choose. But, of course, choose I did...
I use a software program - Lightroom - to process my photos. In 2021 I had computer problems (an intermittent black screen issue - the computer is still on but the screen goes black) starting last December and lasting well into the summer. After complaining up the corporate ladder to Dell Computers tech support it seemed like I had it resolved but Dell techs created a multitude of other issues. And, why, just two days ago after a Windows update the screen went black again. Sigh. After 30 years of using a Windows PC - 2022 is the move to Mac year. Man, sometimes I hate technology. These problems had a significant impact on my desire to even make photos. OK - you get the point - enough kvetching! I had a lot of fun too in 2021 and for that I am grateful.
One other note, while I'm still using my Nikon DSLR for most of my photos I did purchase a Sony RX100 Point and Shoot this year and used it on a few of my trips. Obviously, it lacks the resolution of my Nikon but it's better than my iPhone and it sure is fun to just throw it in my pocket and not worry about it.
I have BIG travel plans for 2022 including a cross country Amtrak trip (including the Baseball Hall of Fame - finally) a trip to see my family in the PNW, a trip to Tulsa for the Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan Centers and a trip with my children and grandchildren to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument - a dream come true! So - we shall be in touch!
Alrighty then... here are the photos from 2021.
The first photo here is from a drive I took in Arizona last February which seems so very long ago. This is Canyon Lake along the Apache Trail.
Also from this trip is this simple photo of a petroglyph in Saguaro National Park.
Over the years I have taken hundreds of photos of Morro Rock. It's always the exactly the same and always completely different - know what I mean? Here's a 6:00 AM photo I took last August.
Next up is a photo from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It's a typical Sonoran desert scene.
I have loved Gaviota State Beach since I was a student at UC Santa Barbara a very long time ago. It can still, occasionally, be a solitary place. Here is one of my favorite spots to hang out....under the pier.
Speaking of favorite places, I was able to venture out to White Sands National Park in October. When I went to the visitors center I was shocked - no parking spots and wall to wall people. Sigh. Such is the fate of National Monuments that we turn into National Parks. I was, thankfully, able to find some quiet spots in the Park anyway.
One night in Arizona I drove out to Ironwood National Monument as a storm was rolling in and caught some sun rays between the clouds.
I suppose, like lots of us, I dig lighthouses. This is the Port Isabel Lighthouse in Port Isabel, Texas. It's an interesting angle which took some contorting to achieve and, no, I didn't mind the odd looks from the other visitors.
Another telephone pole, railroad track, pier and sea photo of Gaviota from nearby Hollister Ranch on a stormy day last Spring.
Here is another photo from White Sands and I like the minimal contrast between the sky and sand.
This last photo of a Sonoran Desert sunset. It is an extra and not really one of my favorites but I include it because it had several thousand "likes" on twitter for some reason. Maybe you'll enjoy it too.
I wish you all the best and hope that 2022 is better for all of us. I sincerely appreciate you reading these pages and being my pal. It means the world. Much love to all.
In the last 18 months I have canceled over 60 nights of travel due to the pandemic and associated drama. Late in the summer, I was tired of canceled camp sites and reservations and decided, "THAT'S IT! I AM OUTTA HERE". I went on my favorite trip planning website and, since I've wanted to see it for awhile, planned a trip to Devil's Tower in Wyoming and Badlands National Park for October.
After a few years of deliberation I also decided to get a sports car. When I retired I sold my convertible and bought a truck but missed the sheer fun of the open air. This is especially true because, after too many close calls in the Southern California traffic, I sold my big Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle a few years back. In my life some of my finest moments have been on a lonely two road highway, top down in a convertible, banging the steering wheel to the beat of a great song and letting the wind blast through my hair. That, my friends, is living. I started researching sports cars a few years back and tentatively decided on a Mustang, Camaro, or even another BMW. I required a manual transmission which, today, is a little like finding a needle in a haystack on those models. I subscribed to Road and Track and Consumer Reports and my thoughts on my next car all changed. The little Mazda MX-5 ranked so far above the competition that I had to drive one and then, well, I fell in love with the little roadster. Talk about fun to drive!
Ok! Let's go! For grins and a bit more info I talked to a friend who is a regular visitor to Badlands and she said, "You want to take a convertible to South Dakota in October? Oh, silly boy, you do that when it's warmer - it could snow on you. You drive south in October in a convertible!". Well, alrighty then...let's drive south.
I stared at the map for awhile. I'd always wanted to see the Padre Island National Seashore along the Texas Gulf Coast. That is south. So, I got in the little MX-5 and drove 1508 miles...
But let's jump back a little bit. I actually did have a short 3 day trip to Morro Bay in August. It was quite lovely and I did manage to make a few photos. So before we head out to Texas allow me to show you a few images from an enjoyable short trip to sleepy (and foggy) old Morro Bay - love that place! Lupe and I will be returning this month.
Okay. Fast forward to early October 2021. One morning at 6:00 AM I threw my suitcase in the trunk. Put a backpack in the passenger seat. Hit my Apple Music playlist that included every single Texas song I could think of and backed out of the driveway. As soon as it warmed up I pulled off Interstate 40 - put the top down - and commenced the road trip bliss. My first night was at La Posada in Winslow. I met my pal, Liz, and we had a nice dinner at The Turquoise Room. With it's history, decor and proximity to my beloved trains, La Posada remains one of my favorite spots to stay in all of the Southwest.
After a restless night of sleeping, the thought of the road kept waking me up, I started the drive through some magnificent scenery and Billy the Kid country, to Artesia, New Mexico. Liz had recommended the drive through Quemado and Pie Town and avoiding the interstate and it was an inspired recommendation. I had what Mr. Maslow called a "peak experience" on the drive. No traffic, perfect 80 degree weather, scenery to bring tears to your eyes and cracking good tunes by my favorite Texas singers/songwriters. I lost all sense of time for a few hours and only felt that particular joy that only a road trip can provide. Here are a few photos from that day.
I arrived in Artesia, NM at about 5:00 PM after losing an hour heading east and driving about 550 miles. After trying, for several years, I finally met my social media pal Mike Nowak and we had a lovely dinner at the Adobe Rose - where I also happened to be staying. It was cool hanging out with Mike and I'm hopeful it can happen again soon. I slept well and woke up early the next morning to head to San Antonio. I had spent some time in Texas over the years, of course, but hadn't been on a road trip there other than when I picked up my little fiberglass trailer in Rice back in 2015. After driving through the oil country I stopped for some Texas BBQ in Ozona, TX at Wagon Wheel BBQ. After eating the most tender brisket I have ever had I spent about 45 minutes talking to the owner about how he became a barbecue master and the differences between Texas BBQ and Santa Maria BBQ after I told him about my grill and love of tri-tip. It was a hospitable welcome to the Lone Star State.
This was the first of many fine meals I had on my Texas sojourn.
After 3 days of solid driving I was becoming a tiny bit road weary. I decided to stop in one of the many "parking areas" on the Texas interstates and saw this old abandoned stagecoach stop. It was an interesting place and the view through the interior provided a fine photo opportunity.
I arrived to sunny and hot (95F) San Antonio at about 4 in the afternoon. I checked into the hotel and rested for a few minutes but had to, absolutely had to, go get some Tex-Mex. I walked down to the Riverwalk and had a lovely dinner.
The next morning was my obligatory Alamo tour. On the drive in I had listened to an audio-book called, "Forget the Alamo". It's a fairly new history of the context of the battle and it was eye opening and much different than the "official" history including the fact that Mexico's abolishment of slavery was a huge part of the story. I was looking forward to seeing if the tour guide would weave any of this information into his tour. I should have known better. The Alamo is still too sacred to mar with the truth.
I was very surprised when I arrived in Alamo Plaza. It was crazy. There were dozens of people everywhere and people participating in reenactments were wandering around aimlessly shooting their fake guns or selling souvenirs from booths and every 5 minutes cannons were being fired in the street and, man, it was all a bit much. The worst part? The tour itself is a snoozer. I'm still glad I did all this, I suppose, but I can't imagine ever "doing the Alamo" again.
I had Tex-Mex for lunch and visited the Briscoe Western Art Museum, took a river boat tour and that night went on a walking tour of the city - which I would highly recommend. The walking tour (free!) was a historically accurate and entertaining introduction to San Antonio. In fact, it'll make you fall in love with the city. I did. And I know I will be back - there is so much more to see and do and places to eat! Here are a few photos of my day.
As I left the next day for the gulf coast I thought that I would check out one of the San Antonio missions. After doing a little of my own research (scarier words seldom said) I decided to visit Mission Espada which is (allegedly) the best preserved. I arrived to a full parking lot on a gloomy but warm day and realized, since it was a Sunday morning, Mass was being observed. I quietly meandered around. It was an oddly satisfying hour or so. I kept wondering about who and how many people had walked in this same place for so many years.
I was 12 in 1969. Lots happening that year - even Glen Campbell sang an anti-war song called "Galveston". It captured me and inspired a lifelong desire to visit the Texas Gulf Coast. In particular, I had always wanted to stand on the coast and look at the waves and feel the gulf breeze on my face and in my hair. Finally, in October 2021, a mere 52 years after I first heard that song, I made that dream come true. It wasn't exactly in Galveston, I was at the Padre Island National Seashore which is a unit of the National Park Service. The place, as my Texas gulf cost dream evolved over the years, that I wanted to see the most. It did not disappoint.
This then was my first view of the Texas gulf coast at Malaquite Beach. And yes, the warm breezes were blowing in my face - it was just as I had pictured it in my mind's eye all these many years.
I spent two glorious afternoons at the National Seashore. I was astonished and delighted by the solitude I found there. Every summer, in my youth, I would spend days in the ocean swimming. It had been a few years but the water was so warm and inviting that I couldn't help myself. I spent half one afternoon being healed - physically and spiritually - by swimming in that temperate salt water.
I was delighted by the Coastal Prairie grasslands. How novel for me and how magnificent.
I spent a bit of time in Corpus Christi where the temperature barely changed while I was there - it seemed to be 85F all day and all night. That's not strictly true of course but let's not let facts get in the way of my feelings. It seemed to be hot - all the time. Of course, another song, Corpus Christi Bay by Robert Earl Keene, had boosted my interest in this area as well.
The following morning, unaware that a hurricane was building that would eventually alter my course, I drove to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park and spent time in the Lower Rio Grande Valley on my way to South Padre Island. I had a marvelous time other than running into the largest Mosquitoes I have ever seen and nearly being carried off and eaten alive. I talked to the Ranger at Palo Alto who lived there locally and he told me, "yeah, we're thinking about changing the state bird". Cracked me up. The following photos are from the battlefield and the surrounding area near Los Fresnos, TX. I need to go back and make that area near Brownsville my home base for 3-4 days and make photographs. It has it's own unique and, to me, spectacular beauty.
On my way to South Padre I stopped at the Port Isabel Lighthouse. Not too many folks around.
I got to South Padre - checked in to my motel room and rested. It had been a busy several days. I checked my twitter account and someone said, "Hey, look out for Pamela". Well, OK. Let's see here. Oh, Pamela is a hurricane but it's not coming from the gulf. It's coming from the Pacific - crossing over Mexico and is supposed to hit Del Rio first as it moves into Texas. Well, tomorrow night when it hits - I'm supposed to be staying in Del... wait, what? I went on the weather app and, sure enough, there was a huge red cone showing the hurricane track and yep it was headed directly for my next stop in Del Rio. They were predicting 6-8 inches of rain in a 24 hour period with flooded roads. I suppose if I'd been in my Tacoma I'd have been more relaxed and game to deal with crazy weather but being in a tiny roadster wasn't a brilliant choice for happiness while driving through flooded roads.
So much for my leisurely drive through Laredo along the Rio Grande to Del Rio. I had to dodge this weather front and kick in plan B. The next morning I got up at 2:00 AM and hit the road on the way to Fort Stockton which would put me north of the hurricane track. Of course, it should have been easy enough to do - just go back east toward Corpus Christi and then north to San Antonio. Google maps had me start taking 2 lane highways all over hell and gone and then directed me to a closed highway. At 4:00 AM, no less. I stopped the car. Got out and breathed deeply - this was an adventure now. After a few minutes breathing in that fine Texas air I jumped in - looked at a PAPER MAP and got going - what a novel idea. I headed north but kept checking the radar and watching the leading edge of Pamela every time I stopped - nope - no way to avoid it. By the afternoon the weariness kicked in and then , like clockwork, the storm hit me on the interstate. Now, I've been in some weather in my life but this - just the tip of the storm - was pretty darn wild. The speed limit is 80 MPH and I was driving 30 MPH and passing trucks. We all got hammered for about 45 minutes and then... it was gone. Sweet. I pulled into the Fort Stockton Best Western a relieved and tired California boy. The motel offered a free dinner - what a genius concept. I ate and crashed for 12 hours. Woke up to a beautiful dawn and headed to Las Cruces through Alpine and Marfa.
I was on the home stretch now. Hurricanes and gulf breezes behind me I thoroughly enjoyed two relaxing days in Las Cruces. I spent one morning at White Sands National Monument - er Park - and was rather horrified to find the Visitor Center Parking lot full and the center itself was so crowded one could barely move. Sigh. This is the price we pay these days for making anything a National Park. I took a trip to Zion with my oldest son a few years back and was deeply saddened by seeing the park overrun - I had the same feeling here. Regardless, I did manage to find a bit of solitude and made some photos.
I spent part of one afternoon at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. I do not know why. I did have a nice conversation with the blacksmith and walked across an interesting bridge.
After eating New Mexican cuisine and gaining another 5 pounds and stuffing myself with sopapillas I started the trek home. After a fantastic lunch in Tucson with my friends Holly and Chip I spent a night in Gila Bend at the famed Space Age Lodge.The next morning I took the long way home over Interstate 8. It was a fine trip. I was able to have the top down in the convertible almost every day. I finally felt those gulf breezes blow through my now thinning and graying hair.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "I owe more than I can express to the West". Me too, Teddy, me too.
Adjusting. I think we are all adjusting. All the time. Have you ever watched a great running back in football avoiding would-be tacklers? Isn't that a bit like life from time to time? The evolution of the pandemic has been a damn 100 yard kick off return except it feels like the other team has 20 guys and you have no blockers. Getting vaccinated felt like a miracle. I started traveling again. And, now, here we are again headed toward more mask requirements and overflowing hospitals of the unvaccinated. Sigh. Misinformation is everywhere and seems to rule the internet. Despite all this I wanted to check in and send a bit of love. Speaking of love...do you know my new grandson William? Man, he makes my heart overflow. I'm still trying to figure out who that old man is in the picture with him.
This last weekend I was able to spend time with all three of my grand-kids. and, you know, when I am around them the problems of the world just melt away. Here are Finley and Joaquin in grandpa's backyard hammock.
Here is a short synopsis of my travels. I have had, for almost a year now, problems with my Dell computer but I will save that rant for another day - it's only worth mentioning because of the impact it has had on my photography - which has been an significant unfortunately. Having said that, here are a few photos from the last few months. The first set (and the top black and white) are from my annual trip to Gaviota. My pal Dell met me for a few days and we had an excellent time.
After Dell left I drove over to La Purisima Mission in Lompoc and spent the day there. I made a couple of indoor photos that I find interesting.
Marty and I drove up to see the Bay Area family and stayed at Half Moon State Beach. While we did go for a couple of short walks the trip was really about hanging out with loved ones. Every post vaccine get together feels like an overdue reunion.
Don't know about where you live but the fireworks around here for the 4th of July were insane last year. It makes our dog crazy. I think each boom is a message to his mind that his life is in imminent danger. It's painful to watch. I know he's not alone and don't fully comprehend the joy of making loud noises for a week before and a week after July 4. Chalk it up to just another thing that baffles me (the list grows daily). Regardless, we decided to go camping with our boy in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. We had a marvelous and relaxing time.
How about you? Get away? You know how fast this life goes... do the right thing - get the shot and get out there!
My next trip is to Lassen Volcanic National Park in August and then meeting old college buddies in Las Vegas in September - if it's not locked down - the virus is bad there now (again). And, well, you may know that Vegas isn't my "cup of tea" but I am hoping to see my pals.
Next year, God willing, I will be celebrating my 65th year of living and my 20th year of sobriety. I will be meeting my dear family in Organ Pipe in January and then, in April, I am taking a once in a lifetime nationwide tour on Amtrak with several cool stops including the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mississippi Blues Trail and Negro Leagues Hall in Fame in Kansas City. Man, I can't wait to tell you about it.
In the meantime - thanks for coming along on my little 2021 getaways - meager as they may be. It's always a joy to say "Hello"! Love to all.
In the month of February 2021 I was able to get out to my happy place again - the Sonoran Desert. It was an especially enjoyable trip for a number of reasons but, primarily because it, "cleared my head". I honestly believe that that human race is a mess but since the pandemic we are a mess times 2 - at least. While I like to see myself as a bit above the madding crowd - I'm not - and the pandemic made me a bit kooky too.
So it was with relief - blessed relief - that I escaped to perhaps my favorite place on earth - the Sonoran Desert. I was also able to meet some of my dear pals along the way. Thanks to Paul, Holly, Joel, Scott, Jen, and Liz. Love you all...
My first night was in Chiriaco Summit near the southern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. I love it out there.
Next morning I hung out with Paul and we made some photos - then on to the magnificent Superstition Mountains in Lost Dutchman State Park in Arizona. There is nothing like them in all of the West.
I was disappointed to discover that the Apache Trail scenic drive was closed due to a washout with NO plan to fix it. I've been traveling that road since I was 9 years old on my first trip to Arizona. The trip that I fell in love with the Sonoran Desert. I've often thought that it would be a great place to toss my ashes. Alas.
Nevertheless I did travel what I could of it and made a few photos.
After a few fabulous days in Apache Junction I drove to Gilbert Ray Campground near Tucson and Saguaro National Park . The following photo went kind of "viral" on the twitter machine giving further pause as to what I think is good vs. the rest of the world...
Arizona certainly has some sublime sunsets.
I spent a marvelous day in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park. It had been years since I'd been there.
The Signal Hill trail, with it's petroglyphs, is a treat in the Park.
From Saguaro I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument driving through Tohono O'odham land. I have been distraught over what is happening at the border. The wall is destructive and does not impede border crossings. Candidly, only fools would believe that to be the case. It does, however, mar and, in some instances, utterly destroy important natural resources and the ecology of the borderlands - and its beauty too. I try in these pages to bring joy and not sorrow but this is a sorrowful story. Here is what I found on my drive to magnificent Quitobaquito - a desert oasis and sacred land to the Tohono O'odham.
I was so grateful to find that the springs still had water although geologists fear it may have been irreparably harmed. Time will tell. The wall is right next to it. I did spend a few hours there - breathing in the beauty and history and was joined by only a few people. As I was leaving a number of Tohono O'odham friends arrived. It was good to see them too.
Here are a few more photos from my trip.
I am grateful to each of you who reads this blog. I hope that it provides a bit of fun and relief. I also want to tell you that next year will be my 65th on earth and my 20th of sobriety. I plan on celebrating in epic style with a 2 month long trip around the USA - literally from sea to shining sea. Perhaps I will be coming to your town? Or perhaps you'd like to join me for a portion of the trip? I will be writing a blog post about this trip soon - let's talk! I am planning on seeing many of my friends along the way...
Thanks for joining me on this little trip. I feel like a weight has been lifted - and now to get vaccinated... and back to concerts, restaurants, and the ballpark!
I listened to a lot of music in 2020. I suppose being housebound can do that to a guy. Of course, I'm a music nut without a pandemic forcing me to isolate. This year, as we all know, was weird as Hell though and usually the highlight of my day was making a playlist and going for a 3-4 mile walk around the neighborhood.
In my life - through all the sadness and loss - music has sustained and saved and soothed me. It certainly still does. I was lucky to grow up in the 1960's and be literally raised on Rock and Roll. That experience, along with my parents influences and my enduring love for American roots music, still affects me. A day with out music is like - well, I wouldn't know - I never go a day without music.
In my youth I was an absurd music snob and dismissed anyone who didn't know and appreciate the music of Bob Dylan, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.
That has changed. Goodness, it has changed. I now enjoy LOTS of different kinds of music and that openness has enriched my life. Nevertheless, you will see my tastes are still limited - I don't listen to current pop very much. So, I'm going to tell you about my favorites this year and it is important to note that this is a narrow look at 2020. As much as I enjoy listening to new music - there are only 24 hours in a day and when I find something I love it gets played and replayed...(and replayed).
I was going to rank the music from last year and I've been agonizing over it, I started several blog posts - got frustrated - moved music rankings around - then my computer went on the fritz and I just decided, "FORGET RANKING!" So, here is an unranked and mostly chronological list of the music that moved me in the strange year of 2020. I'll make a few comments about these albums and you can determine if there might be something you'd enjoy putting on your playlist. That is, after all, the point of this blog post. I will mention if an album would be in my personal "Top 10" list.
I should also say that I do purchase nearly all this music - streaming services shortchange our artists and since they can't go on the road they need our money more than ever. Please consider doing the same. It's the right thing.
1. Technically this one was released in late 2019 but I listened to the latest Who album, WHO, quite a bit at the start of the year. It's a fine album - not great - and didn't grow on me. Still, it was nice to hear a new album from those old guys who once proclaimed that they hoped they'd die before they grew old - too late guys...
2. The Drive-by Truckers released TWO excellent albums - The Unraveling and The New OK. Timely, topical and with typical Hood/Cooley musical charm and sharp lyrics, I listened to them both - a lot. Which is best? Ah, depends on the day and my mood but The Unraveling hit hard all year long. The song 21st Century USA was my second most played this year - and it oozes Patterson Hood angst from his always observant perspective.
3. Just before the virus hit Nathaniel Rateliff released a new album And It's Still Alright - his last album was so big and this is a bit slower and was released when our minds were elsewhere but the title track was a year long favorite and perhaps a bit of an anthem for those of us who scraped by in 2020.
4. A band that I think deserves greater recognition (you'll hear that frequently through this post) is The James Hunter Six. They released another fun and old school cool album, Nick of Time, in March. I grooved to it as the lock downs descended on us and the vibes provided a good salve to the world's problems.
5. Dave Simonett also released a fine solo album that deserved more notice. Red Tail is a slower more relaxed Simonett from his work with Trampled By Turtles. It's a soothing journey and offers timely wisdom. It should have made more of a splash and I highly recommend it.
6. A top 10 album of the year, for me, rolled out at the end of March and it stayed in heavy regular rotation all year long. The fantastic Lilly Hiatt released, Walking Proof, and I immediately liked it - the songs were lively and fun and insightful. I didn't know it would grow and grow and grow on me all year. Turns out, I LOVE IT. Lilly's father John is a lifetime favorite and, well, talk about the apple and tree... what an album.
7. Also at the end of March the remarkable album, Saint Cloud, by Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield) was released and has found near universal acclaim. It was ranked number 2 by Rolling Stone and was mentioned on most of the Top Album lists at years end. It was my introduction to her music and it is a creative and rootsy album that I continue to listen to on an almost daily basis. Obviously recommended and a solid top 10 choice.
8. Several years ago I discovered a band - Clem Snide (Eef Barzelay) - that had a moving and lyrically intriguing aspect to their music that was unique. In Spring of 2020 Eef released a beautiful album, Forever Just Beyond. Mr. Barzelay isn't afraid to tackle the great philosophical questions sometimes tongue in cheek and sometimes with a dagger to the heart - and the song Roger Ebert has haunted me since the first time I heard it. This is comforting music about unsettling issues. Excellent.
9. Good old Pokey LaFarge released a very enjoyable (in a Bukowski kind of way - ha) album this year called, Rock Bottom Rhapsody. I like Pokey's old school approach and it always lends itself to his ironic and poetic lyrics. This is a fine album and did manage to make a few year end lists - which makes me happy. Pokey is cool. My favorite track is, "Lucky Sometimes" which was on my playlists all year long.
10. The Strokes put out an album this year that is very good and I'm a bit surprised to see that it hasn't garnered more attention. The New Abnormal is a bit uneven but has some downright catchy tunes and the title was certainly prescient. Recommended.
11. While I focus on many underrated bands in this post the next album was, by far, the most overrated of 2020 in my opinion. That's probably sacrilege to many but while I liked, Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple it wasn't ALL THAT. I know many of the hipsters reading this are aghast and well - sorry, not sorry. I get that it fits right into the zeitgeist and while that's always powerful it just didn't resonate with me as it obviously did with many others. It's on almost every Top 10 list (but wouldn't make mine).
12. Lucinda Williams had a fine album this year with, Good Souls Better Angels. It's about as topical and political as Lucinda gets and it didn't disappoint. Man Without A Soul is fine song about, well, you know who it's about.
13. An early album of the year candidate, Lamentations, by American Aquarium was released in the spring and hit me right in the heart. The songs are hard hitting and powerful and "Six Years Come September" may be the best alcoholic regret song I have ever heard - and reminds me far too much of some of my drinking days. BJ Barham is a heckuva guy - we communicate occasionally on social media - he gets it. This, for me, is a top 10 album.
14, I didn't realize for some reason that the LA based punk band X released an album in 2020 (some of the songs in 2019). It's called, ALPHABETLAND and, hey, it's still punk and it's good!
15. A little known fellow, Joe Nolan, released a very nice and folksy album, Drifters, in May. If you don't know the name it might be worth your while to find him and listen - he's a singer/songwriter guy with excellent lyrics. Letters to Juliet is a song that I've been spinning since May.
16. I listen to a lot of music but, man, do I miss a lot of great music too. This year I finally discovered Samantha Crain and it was long overdue. Her music often has a 60's sound with penetrating lyrics and I'm stoked to have found her. From Oklahoma, she is Choctaw and has won several Native American music awards. Her album, A Small Death, has been on my daily playlists all year and in exploring her entire catalog I've found songs I'll listen to the rest of my life.
17. The USA has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. We are a society that loves locking people up. It's pathological. NPR says, "Each incarcerated person has a story. The new album from The Prison Music Project called Long Time Gone highlights a few of those stories. It features songs by nine incarcerated or formerly incarcerated writers and was put together by musician Zoe Boekbinder." Not a lot of songs on this album but it's important to hear them all - oh, and throw a few dollars to the Innocence Project if you can afford it.
18. The "ALBUM OF THE YEAR" no matter what anyone says, has to be, Rough and Rowdy Ways, by Bob Dylan. Bob stunned us with "Murder Most Foul" a song that managed to capture, with precision, the essence of America in the last 60 years in 17 minutes. We were blown away further when he released an entirely new album a few weeks later. It is, simply put, a masterpiece. How anyone could leave it off a Top 10 list is beyond me. The guy is 79 years old and still writing Nobel prize winning type lyrics. Remarkable.
19. Jason Isbell released another very good album and Reunions was met with listener and critical acclaim. The song, Dreamsicle, is magnificent. Another solid effort from Jason even if it is not up to Southeastern or Something More Than Free standards. It certainly should be considered as a Top 10 album - even not at his best Isbell towers above many other contemporary artists.
20. Neil Young dropped an album of some old songs and, like comfort food, Homegrown hit the spot. I listen to Neil and feel my entire body say....ah... and I breathe more easily.
21. The great Sarah Jarosz released an Album of the Year candidate with, World on the Ground. Sarah is a musical prodigy - plays several instruments - and watching her mature as a songwriter and artist is a joy. Each of the songs on this album has received over 30 plays this year and Johnny was my most played song in all of 2020. Fabulous, top 10 album.
22. Ultra cool Larkin Poe gave us some of their trademark Blues with Self-Made Man. Sisters Megan and Rebecca Lowell have some of the most raw, swampy, rootsy and traditional music being made these days. This is REAL American music and Larkin Poe are among the best practitioners today. Fine album.
23. Speaking of coolness and REAL American music it really doesn't get much more authentic than my pal, Ray Wylie Hubbard. I am occasionally asked if we are related and I always answer in that trite but apt way, "we are brothers from another mother". Ray even looks a little like me and he's a fellow friend of Bill W. He follows me on social media and when I was lamenting the troubles of 2020 sent me a private message of encouragement. What a guy. Let's talk about his music - Ray is a bit of a Texas legend for a number of reasons and oddly had never been featured on Austin City Limits until last year - an injustice that took too long to correct but, thankfully, they finally got it right. His show will air this year. Last year he released Co-Starring which is a fun and entertaining and endlessly listenable album. Ray teams up with many friends including Ringo Starr on this excellent effort. Listen to to the song Bad Trick - and, yep, Top 10 stuff in my humble opinion. And in 2021 let's remember Ray's words - "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...I have real good days".
24. I discovered another new artist this year who blew my mind. John Craigie is an LA boy and sounds to me a bit like a new Ramblin' Jack Elliott with a modern folk spin. Like Samantha Crain finding him this year was a major highlight. His album Asterisk the Universe has been on repeat for several of my walks. Check out Part Wolf and Nomads if you get a chance. Pretty sure you too will become a fan.
25. You know Chuck Prophet, right? I sure hope so because if there was ever a guy who deserved a larger audience it's him. Each of his albums the last few years have been excellent and he has a devoted following - and I am one of those devoted followers. This year the gift he gave us is called The Land That Time Forgot. The song Get Off the Stage about the imbecilic criminal in the White House was perhaps the most timely and apt song of the year. Chuck is a rocker for sure but it is his clever and at times satirical lyrics that always move me. He is the real deal. Check him out (and sign up for his newsletters - I promise you won't be disappointed).
26. Speaking of music that deserves a greater audience the always excellent Jayhawks released xoxo this year and it got lots of attention on the Americana stations but didn't make many Top 10 end of the year lists - too bad. It's a rock solid album. Dogtown days and Living in a Bubble are two of the best song so the year. You can't go wrong with the Jayhawks who are probably over the last few decades the most critically acclaimed band with the fewest sales. I'll never understand it.
27. Taylor Swift released two albums this year, Evermore and Folklore, and while her music doesn't always resonate - these are two excellent albums. I don't need to say much more, right? Taylor is doing just fine.
28. Lydia Loveless, one of my favorites, also released an album called Daughter in 2020. Unfortunately, the album lacks the vitality and energy of her previous albums. I am hoping she can turn things around. In the meantime, check out her album Somewhere Else from 2014.
29. The group Mipso also gave us a new album - Mipso - and it too lacks the vibrancy of previous albums. Still, this is another underrated group that merits more attention.
30. The Boss also released Letter to You and it's wonderful. I don't think it's quite as good as Western Stars (which I adored) but it's close. I always feel connected to Bruce's songs and this album does feel a bit like a letter to those of us who have loved the man since the mid 1970's. Hope you get a chance to hear it.
31. Gillian Welch's All the Good Times is a terrific LP (as she always gives us). This is a collection of 10 covers and she and David Rawlings are marvelous - they even cover Mr. Dylan.
So, that's enough. It gives you a taste of what I have been listening to and perhaps gives you something new to hear. I have to also mention an excellent EP called A Field Guide to Loneliness by Jamestown Revival. Love those guys. Another couple of must mentions are Stay by one of my favorite musicians in the planet Valerie June (an EP) and Hoosier National by rootsy Otis Gibbs.
Here then is an additional list of songs released in 2020 that you might check out too. In some instances I have listened to the album they come from and not listed them above or, in most instances, I still haven't given enough time to the entire album yet and had to leave it off the list. Or - it was only released as a single. Some really inspired stuff here.
1. Options Open - Kathleen Edwards
2. Headstart - Jade Bird
3. Crawl Into the Promised Land - Rosanne Cash
4. Leave Virginia Alone - Tom Petty
5. The Problem - Amanda Shires
6. Long Violent History - Tyler Childers
7. Over That Road I'm Bound to Go - Joachim Cooder
8. Love is the King - Jeff Tweedy
9. Are We Alright Again - Eels
10. Can Anyone Hear Me? - Dusty Wright
11. High Feeling - Cordovas
12. You'll Be Mine - Pyschedelic Furs
13. Ablaze - Alanis Morissette
14. Welcome to Hard Times - Charley Crockett
15. Letting Me Down - Margo Price
16. California - The Mammals
17. Days of Heaven - Jerry Joseph
18. Living in a Ghost Town - Rolling Stones
19. Punk Rock Girl - Sarah Siskind
20. Black Crow Moan - Eliza Neals
21. Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues - Steve Forbert
22. 24/5 - The Claudettes
23. Wreckless Abandon - The Dirty Knobs
24. It's Not Easy - Puss N Boots
25. Living for Yesterday - Jamie Webster
26. Better Luck - Heather Anne Lomax
27. Count on Me - The Lone Bellow
28. Feel the Way I Want - Caroline Rose
29. No Handle - The Panhandlers
30. Southern Rock Will Never Die - The Outlaws
31. When My Fever Breaks - John Moreland
32. Dawn - Fruition
33. The Well - Marcus King
34. Stay Down Man - Dan Reeder
35. Living Life - Kathy McCarty
Thanks for reading. My hope is that you find something here and that you will share some of your favorites from 2020 in the comments or in an email to me. I love finding new music and would love to hear your thoughts. May music continue to soothe and enlighten us in 2021 and beyond.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.