A Poignant Pilgrimage
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.
My Lifelong Love of the UFW
It's time to DO something, don't you think? Now, that I'm retired I am going to do some things that appeal to my convictions and my passions.
Since I was a young man, the farm workers of California have had a special place in my heart. I don't understand how anyone can drive by the fields and farms in California and not feel great compassion and empathy for those hard working people who feed us. It's back breaking work. Often bent over, in the hot sun or the drenching rain, these folks keep working for infinitesimal wages. Many are forced to live a migrant lifestyle moving from farm to farm and city to city to "follow the crop". Their bodies take a beating, often they get only short breaks, and must inhale pesticides and other toxins. Many, who come here simply seeking a better life, face possible deportation. It is a grueling life. I can't describe the respect I have for these men and women.
Last night I received the word that my education mentor and role-model, Mr. Bill Dickson, had passed away. He was my high school drama director and he cast me as George in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". To motivate me to understand my character he said, "Jeff, he's a lot like you. If he were alive today he'd be working on behalf of the farmworkers". Good old Mr. D., he went right to my heart.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph the United Farm Workers march in Madera, California. It was my first time photographing a march and I learned a lot about how to approach this next time. Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy looking through some of the photos and see the passion and determination of these marvelous and indefatigable people who feed us.
I need to express my gratitude to Teresa Romero, Jocelyn Sherman, Jamie Padilla and Oscar Mejia of the UFW for allowing me the opportunity to help the UFW in this small way.
At the end of the march there were speeches, and dancing, and music, and food. It was a celebration of brotherhood and a common cause. Bless them for their kindness and hospitality.
You might know that Cesar Chavez was one of my childhood heroes along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cesar's emphasis on non-violence resonates deeply in me still. How lucky I was to be in the presence of his spirit and among people, who despite hardships and unfairness and injustice, find meaning and passion and hope in their lives. They are the best among us. I hope, someday, to get another opportunity to be at marches and help document their indomitable and "Si! Se Puede!" spirit.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.