Category Archives: Going Mobile

Yellowstone at half mast

Antelope social distance

Sign at entrance to Grand Teton National Park

Note: My husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 26: There are signs of the coronavirus everywhere. Store mascots and yard animals wear masks. A notice at the entrance to Grand Teton National Park shows antelopes social distancing. In Las Vegas a masked showgirl on a billboard announces, “Until it is safe to take off our clothes, we will remain dressed.” Covid-19 is taking the strip out of the Strip!

So even though it seems like a distressing number of people in what was once the wild West are not taking the pandemic seriously, this is not the same country I’ve driven across for decades. Still, I wish people in Wyoming were wearing masks more than they were in Utah. The state with a rodeo-rider mascot seems to be taking the threat of aquatic parasites more seriously than that of human viruses; we get stopped three times in one day to have our kayaks checked for foreign hitchhikers. Not all of the government officials wear masks.

Human ingenuity at a Wyoming road stop

In Yellowstone National Park, the effect of the pandemic is stark. With the hotels closed and dining halls open only for takeout, America’s pride and joy is at half-mast at best. After all, with no young people from Asia to work in the park, who would staff the facilities if the park system wanted to open up — which it wisely doesn’t. It’s strange not to hear the babylon of international travelers along the waterfall walkways. But with half the traffic and congestion, maybe this is the way the wilderness area should always be. Animals are always bold in Yellowstone, but it feels like we see more than ever this visit: mountain goats, elk, buffalo, pronghorns, many of them quite young.

Young elk at Mammoth Hot Springs

I’ve been coming to Yellowstone since I was a child, traveling with my family, pulling a camper trailer across America. I have a deep soft spot for this place and its myriad of natural wonders: lakes, rivers, waterfalls, geysers, plains, mountains, bright-blue geothermal pools, and of course, so many animals. We at least drive through here every year on our way to or from Michigan. This year, at the time of our visit, cabins with bathrrooms and campgrounds are the only overnight facilities open. We rent a cabin near Lake Lodge. We are traveling as self-sufficiently as possible so we cook our own dinner and breakfast on the little briefcase barbecue my son got his dad for Christmas. Our stovetop espresso maker, a few sausages, and bagels fit perfectly on its top. We do break down for a couple rounds of to-go drinks from the Lake Lodge bar. There are limits to our social-distancing restrictions.

Yellowstone is actually the first place on our trip where we see people really taking the virus seriously. Hardly anyone patronizes the gift shop; people wear masks inside and outside (somewhat), and generally hikers step off the paths to let each other pass.

I realize we all have our own risk-taking calculus governing our response to the virus. Age, health, preconditions, economic class, race, ethnicity, and geographic location are all contributing factors. I am more adventurous than my friend with thyroid problems, more anxious than my 17-year-old son. Some readers might think I’m crazy to have ventured to Yellowstone at all; some park visitors might have wandered why I stood so far from them as they attempted conversation. Of course it has become clear how political ideologies are also fueling responses that should be based on reason and science, necessity and caution. I can’t say we had to make this trip but the need seemed to outweigh the risk, and we are being extremely careful; masks on every time we enter any building or are around people, gobs of hand sanitizer every time we climb back in the truck. I try not to judge how other people handle their own calculus, but as the surge in cases that has paralleled our journey makes clear, I just don’t understand how governments can be so concerned about contaminated watercraft when they don’t even mandate masks.

But as we drive through the magnificent scenery, I’m reminded how our national park system is one of our country’s greatest achievements — that we are a nation that does value the earth it is built on, even if we have lost our way.

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Welcome to the Pandemic Road Trip

Note: My husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 25: I know, we’re crazy: We are driving cross country during the worst pandemic of the century. (“Worst pandemic of the century so far,” Homer Simpson whispers in my ear.) It’s our annual road trip, from our home in Los Angeles to our cabin in Michigan, where my husband was born and I have summered for 50 years (!).  In the past half-century, you can count on one hand the number of years we have not spent time in the Upper Peninsula. It’s our individual and combined Ground Zero, our happy place, our Walden, our home. Nonetheless, we seriously considered not going this year, for what I thought was an obvious reason: that five-letter and two-digit word, Covid-19.

But there were compelling reasons: Number one, my mother-in-law’s failing health. Heart attack, heart surgery, stroke, carotid artery surgery, kidney stones, etc.: She has suffered a litany of ailments in the past few years, and my sister-in-laws have shouldered the burden of care. Also, Bud’s daughter is there, his siblings, his friends. And I am hoping against hope that I might get to see — at least through a window — my father in his nursing home in Wisconsin. Usually, summer is the time my immediate family and my extended “Lake family” of friends convene here in Michigan. This year, I don’t know if I will see any of them.

At least I have my grandson. The novel coronavirus has caused all sorts of novel plot twists in people’s lives, and for my husband and I, it has meant taking care of Shine, 9, only child of my stepdaughter Kenda, this summer. After four months of home school and care, his parents, in Miami, must get back to work. So unexpectedly I’ve gotten something I have wished for but never thought would happen: I’m co-director of Camp Gramps. Shine has only been to visit his Michigan family once, when he was an infant. It is time he meets them. So not only are we driving through nine states and half the breadth and depth of the country during a pandemic; we have a grade schooler with us.

Road dogs

Road dogs Shine Hoover and Alexander Hamilton

We are not completely insane. While it is not why we are going, the thought of leaving  a county that is constantly in the news as a Covid hotspot, for one that has yet to have a single recorded case of the virus, is certainly appealing. (Update: The first case was confirmed over the July 4 weekend.)

The 2,000 miles in between are admittedly a deterrent. Yet in general, the route has so far been  refreshingly virus free, especially compared to LA. Sure, on the infection maps, there are a few orange and red hotspots, but they can easily be driven through — don’t even gas up. We are driving, not flying, and we have planned a trip with as few interactions with people and surfaces as possible. We have a picnic basket and cooler full of food. We are carrying a special purple coronarivus backpack, full of masks, sanitizer, gloves, wipes, etc. We love to experience the American West every summer. But this year, we will enjoy it primarily through the truck windows.

Provisions

Still, if there is one lesson I would want to convey at the end of our journey’s first day, it’s this: Don’t go to Utah.

We stopped just across the border in St. George, one of our usual haunts, perched as it is amid the beautiful red and black rocks of canyon country. But I was shocked when I entered the gas station/Burger King. The usual Mormon broods of seemingly endless blond children always freak me out, but this year they were like pandemic panic horror show poster children, as they filled the tiny bathroom — no social distancing, nary a mask in sight. At the food-ordering line, I had to ask them to back up. Maybe Utahns have so many children they consider them expendable, but I value my only grandson.

Basically, no one in Utah wears masks. Not the desk clerk at the La Quinta Hotel in North Orem, nor the guests, nor the gas station attendants.

No wonder the infection and death rates in Utah are rising — as of June 25, 164 per 100,000 and 5 per 100,000 respectively. The test positivity rate is even more alarming, currently 13.2% and rising.

111 in the desert

Don’t go to Utah.

We loved the scenery as usual, though found the highway surprisingly full. But we sprinted to our hotel room and will slink out in the morning. Here’s hoping the people of Wyoming are a little smarter.

 

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Pushing Limits at Camp CIMI

IMG_3481You could go as high as 30 feet, I’d guesstimate. From the ground, it didn’t look that far — just to the top of a two-story pole. But when you were dangling in a harness hooked onto a rope, being hauled up and up by a team of fifth graders, even halfway up seemed high enough. The feeling of vertigo was enhanced by the fact that you were on the side of a hill, and when you looked forward, the earth sloped away  — far away, all the way down to the ocean. It was a stunning view, the bay at Fox Landing framed by the steep cliffs of Catalina Island, with Los Angeles and the rest of the California mainland somewhere out there in the distant clouds. You knew, when you pulled the release cord, that you were going to go swinging out into that expanse, up into the air more than 30 feet above the descending terrain at the apex of your flight. The scenery was going to be epic — if you didn’t have your eyes closed tight because, like me, you’re scared of heights.IMG_3468

But I had to do it. The kids were swinging after all, even though some of them were scared too. I’d coached them to push themselves, to try new things: to snorkel for the first time — shoot, to be in the ocean, to swim, for the first time. If the boy who had such a frightening panic attack when he experienced the novel sensation of his head going underwater that I thought he was having a seizure (he neglected to tell anyone he couldn’t swim), could 10 minutes later be happily splashing along in the shallows, then I could climb that ladder, let myself be pulled up up and away, tug that release cord and swing out into oblivion.

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Bright Lights, Big Sky

Tammy Faye Starlite and me, by Shell Sheddy

Tammy Faye Starlite and me, by Shell Sheddy

The last two weeks have been a swirl: friendships forged and renewed, mother-son bonding, bright lights and big city, desert island and the deep sea, public performances, private connections, music and nature and ideas and activity. I spent five days revisiting my proto-Sex and the City life in New York and three days on Catalina Island with 31 fifth graders. Both experiences were deeply gratifying, and I’m immensely grateful to the friends, and family, who enrich my life.

First, New York. For my spring “break” from teaching, I finally made it to the center of the universe to do some promotion for Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways. I wound up with three gigs in as many days: a Women’s History Month Keynote speech at Bergen Community College March 6; a rock’n’roll show that night at the Cutting Room, featuring the Runaways tribute band the Stay-At-Homes; and a book signing and reading at Bluestockings in the Good Ol’ Lower East Side March 8. Each event was different, productive in its own way, and worth the trip all by itself.

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Desert Modernism

We spent a few days in Desert Hot Springs last weekend, grazing Modernism Week and visiting the Living Desert, one of the most beautiful zoos I’ve ever seen. Mostly, I paid my homage to John Lautner at the Hotel Lautner‘s cocktail party. Leonard Malin talked about how and why he and Lautner built the Chemosphere. Two of the architect’s daughters, Karol and Judith, were there representing the Lautner Foundation. Then the sun set behind the wind turbines and mountains.

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Touching Relics at the Rock Hall

Queens of Noise

Evelyn McDonnell, Lauren Onkey, and Shelby Morrison. Photo courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives

Sam Cooke used to carry a small wooden ukulele with him on tour. As countless YouTube troubadours and Amanda Palmer have recently discovered, the four-stringed downsized guitars are sweet-sounding instruments that are easy to play and even easier to transport. I love the idea of the soul singer crooning “You Send Me” gently over plucked nylon strings, on a bus, in a hotel room, backstage before a show.

Sam Cooke's ukulele

Sam Cooke’s ukulele

It’s an intimate image, an imagined moment of a deceased artist’s life that became partially real for me last weekend when I saw Cooke’s uke in the vault at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. It was one of many pieces of cultural history I got to witness, even touch, as exhibitions coordinator Shelby Morrison gave me a VIP tour of the climate-controlled room: Chrissie Hynde’s bicycle-club (not biker club) jacket, postcards from Patti Smith, the hat from Lady Gaga’s meat dress. On January 25, I spoke about the Runaways at the Hall of Fame’s Library and Archives (which is housed in a separate building from the museum). Yes, the boys club let the stone thrower in – more on that later. Continue reading

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The Crisis

PowellsBooks.Blog – The Crisis – Powell’s Books.

via PowellsBooks.Blog – The Crisis – Powell’s Books.

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