Glasses and Contacts

As much as I forget how old I am, because I look and feel so young, my body is keeping count of the years and maintaining processes that come with the success of age and annual birthdays. This Valentine’s Day, instead of being gifted a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I was picking up my pink-framed, transitional lenses that would bring my sight from very-slightly blurry to super crisp.

I know my dad will read this, or at least look at the picture, and recall a time he recommended I get glasses. I’m sure I went to the optometrist the next day, upon returning from my visit, and was told I could but they weren’t necessary. That was probably years ago. A week and a half before picking up my prescription I allowed Caleb to give me an amateur eye exam using a can of nuts from a distance and realized I needed glasses now as I took a step or two closer than him to read the flavor.

I proudly wore my glasses home, to work, to the store, etc. as I adjusted to it being too bright outside, at first, and too dark inside, as the lenses adjusted. I think they’re cute, but they also cost more than all my prior sunglasses purchases of 15 years combined so I was nervous to wear them around paint and other hazards that might cause me to have to buy another pair so soon. There’s also the issue of keeping them clean, which seems impossible, and not scratching them in the process.

Then I got to thinking about all the times, outside of work, that it might be inconvenient to wear them and Caleb told me he’s not used to me wearing glasses yet… I get it. My mom didn’t want to wear glasses as a sign she was aging, but I don’t want to deal with headaches as my eyes try to adjust what seems to be just out of focus, like trying to read this first thing in the morning or with a severe hangover. I recently passed a driving test and the doctor said I was fine, so it’s barely noticeable to anyone else, and happened so gradually that I barely noticed the change myself.

I went in for a contacts appointment, which I didn’t know was a separate occasion, where they teach you how to use them before prescribing them. The doctor said that my blindness was the least amount possible and that he didn’t want to take my money, so I walked out without being seen thinking it would be ok, but I thoroughly enjoy being able to read longer again, stare at my screen, and read things further away with ease. I called the office back and made another appointment.

I sit down and practically shove my money in the doctor’s face, so to speak, as this will not be covered by my insurance. He’s not yet convinced, but has someone sit down with me as I’ll be required to poke a curved silicon hydrogel lens into each eye, twice! The eye doctor assistant is super patient while I attempt to peel back the lids around my tiny sockets and pull the contact out without scratching my retina. He suggests I cut my nails and stare straight forward; don’t blink.

I pass the test, reassure the doctor that I do want to wear contacts, and that I’ll be back next week after having worn them daily to get my new prescription. My appointment is in two days, just two weeks after getting glasses. It took me five minutes yesterday to get the contacts in as there’s definitely a learning curve, but one I’m willing to lean into; along with remembering to blink so my eyes don’t dry.

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In Search of Silence

SATURDAY
Some people spend the weekend looking for distractions but after a busy week of dealing with the noisy other, Caleb and I find our escape in the peace of the desert. There is a calm here that is covered in sand, rocks, remains, shrubs, lizard poo, and the heat of the sun. Caleb was given coordinates to an alien abduction that we decided to see for ourselves.

Getting out of town was easy as we grabbed our bag of clothes and toiletries, bag of snacks and meals, and bags of sleeping gear to toss in the back of the car only to have them work their way towards our seats for easier grabbing access. We’re still experimenting with the best meals to pack on longer hikes and want more freeze-dried fruits and veggies on those menus.

We drive west on the I8 and forget to stop for the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, less than 14 miles from the Desert View Tower to which I’ve been to at least twice. This already gives us something to come back for. We pass through El Centro and stop to watch the four-wheelers chase each other over the sand at North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area.

This is a sport better participated in than watched but also one where someone leaves in an ambulance due to broken helmets, collar bones, and arms; but that’s more probably the bikers. After this, we head towards the California/Arizona border and the Colorado River to test the temperature in this season and region. We’re near the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, more for where the road turns than the park.

There’s plenty of parking and a giant wash. It’s a bit of a walk before we find a route to the river that doesn’t include climbing a sandbank to get back to the car. We enjoy the quiet exploration as we continue to peak through bushes and over ditches in our search to touch the water; it’s still cold. I won’t be jumping in today as I might come out a moss-covered zombie, not that I don’t smell like one now.

Next stop, Tranny Porn Ville. Somewhere on a dirt road in Imperial County lies a stash of VHS tapes, the 80s and 90s version of online streaming before DVDs were released in 1997. It was almost as if everything was there but the walls of whatever structure these participants called home. Across the road, a rusted empty canned goods collectors dream as far as our eyes could see.

We walked the wreckage for a while finding curiosity and joy in some of the trinkets nature has left behind as these monuments to mankind have been forgotten about for future archaeologists to ponder over how one place could have use for so much aluminum, rubber, film, plastic, cotton, and metal objects with bullet holes in them and the casings dropped to add to the collection.

We find a parking spot further down the road and walk towards the sun, for hours. To some this may seem boring, annoying, disappointing, etc., but to us it is meditation, a retreat, a vacation. We take turns sharing Caleb’s hat as I only brought one to keep my head warm and not the sun from my face. We feel the small rocks crunch, the big rocks poke, and the slight breeze when we turn around.

We see the scratches on our exposed skin as we find the best way through this unmarked land that is more common for off-road vehicles and those in search of geodes. We find our alien abduction and the obligatory selfie is taken as proof before we put our backs toward the sun and return towards the red hills where we can find a camping spot by sunset and stare at the stars in the Milky Way.

SUNDAY
It’s so dark and quiet but our city ways of being woken by car lights and sirens stick with us and we awaken through the night, both of us thinking it’s daylight each time. I’m grateful for our watches, but being this close to the border and the time zone difference they have also proven less than trustworthy with the exact hour. Our bodies do not fail us though and I’m out of the tent as the sun crests the hill.

I make coffee and breakfast while Caleb packs up our mobile bedroom. We had thought we would go farther into the desert, but unlike camels who can go days without water, our car can’t go a mile without gas. We had enough to make it back for the $5.39/gallon fill but chose to make it further out, whether we were going three or 23mph this bumpy terrain doesn’t offer an increasing miles to the gallon.

We’ll park and use the road as our trail instead as we have no traffic to worry about on this beautiful morning. It’s moments like this, one hand warm each, as we think about the cold clothes we put on and the steaming coffee we have yet to sip, that we appreciate finding each other and having so much in common but being so different and making so many memories together.

I thought we might go to Anza-Borrego area which is why I took us south instead of going north of the Salton Sea to deliver us to hiking in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Yesterday we were on the lookout for tortoises and tarantulas, today it will be bighorn sheep and rattlesnakes, and though we see none this won’t stop us from trying.

I’m grateful for Caleb’s ability to read a map, whether it be via dirt paths, a paper book, or online he has a way of not getting lost… most of the time. That’s also why I prefer an outline of an itinerary when we travel so there’s less to worry about if we do get detoured, delayed, or distracted. We stop at the SR & SJM National Monument for the mountains on the Pines to Palms Highway.

We stop at vista points along the way and one offers more than the others — the oral history of the Cahuilla people and 21 interpretive panels that describe how they continue to use the living landscape. We stop at a campsite, part sun, part breeze and use the remaining daylight to cook dinner and setup the tent. The wind is still increasing and the clouds spreading over the few stars we can see.

Had the cloudy sky been any prediction of the Strong Breeze (25 to 31mph) that would wake us in the middle of the night we could’ve looked for a large rock or grove of trees to hide behind. We both know that this is something we’ll have to deal with on longer hikes and just stick it out in the tent, but with the option to leave, we take it.

The plan had been to do more hiking in the morning before returning home to chores before the week of work, but we’re greeted with a change-your-oil light and a storm warning upon starting the car. The rain will tease us on the ride home while the orange light flashes a constant reminder to tend to the needs of my vehicle soon — just as soon as the place down the street can get me in.

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Road Trip of Christmas Past

Dad has already posted about my arrival and first day on the road and looks forward to what I’ll say about the trip — the one he invited me on just days before going. I was excited, of course, and glad to go until I remembered that I have a job and had volunteered to watch my friend’s dog while they went on a trip of their own to see family further east for the holidays.

THURSDAY
Caleb’s maternal grandmother had passed away and he was already in Montana to soothe his mother’s broken heart, so I was even more so excited when another friend offered to watch the dog so I could go and the boss gave the go-ahead for Thursday off so I could leave a day early and have a break from all the driving. I leave later than planned and pass through Yuma without a speeding ticket.

I walk in the door like I live there with my camera, pillow, and coat — ready for adventure. Dad shows me some old photos that I haven’t seen before, some behind-the-scenes on his blog, how to make Sundubu Jjigae (kimchi and tofu stew), and his favorite neighborhood holiday lights and decorations. I’m always so glad to be included in these processes and wonder why I don’t visit more.

We’ll finish the night with an action movie in the theater that sneaks philosophy into its story telling; which gives Dad an excuse to eat popcorn, me a reason to listen to him talk excitedly about the points of the film and his old company after, and Caroline the role of making sure we get to bed before sunup. Lights off, goodnights said repeatedly, and fart jokes made, we can sleep.

FRIDAY
Nothing like leftover Brussels sprouts for breakfast after catching up with my husband on the phone and then meeting one of Dad’s friends who lives in Lebanon, but makes time to exchange hours long conversations over a cup of coffee in Phoenix. Caroline and I will find our own table and topics to keep us entertained until it’s time to get on the road.

I’ll set the scene — Dad is driving on the rain filled highway, Caroline is reading Lord of Dark Places (read the reviews or listen to Better Than Food), behind Dad is camera gear and snacks, and I’m sat beside that looking out the window at waterfalls as we make our way to lunch in Miami. We’ll stop for a caffeine refill as Hal Bennett leaves a cliffhanger of chapter one.

We near New Mexico and the Sandhill cranes are already in view. Part of being in the car is also being a part of the conversation. I’m still not taking sides but asking my readers — who of you have ever read on the last page of a book before reaching the end of the story? Do you feel that this ruins the mystery or sets you up for excitement about the journey to that destination?

A stretch of highway running through the western side of the state has high wind warning signs. Tonight those gusts of air will attack the car at 22 mph, but the vehicle’s persistence pays off with a dinner had at El Camino — the place where the Wise’s dine twice every time they stay in Socorro. After a day with these two, I’m grateful for the opportunity to see their little displays of affection.

SATURDAY
This morning starts off like all the rest — open eyes, sit up, look for something; except we missed the first exit to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Reserve and are saved by a dirt road that will get us lake side in time for the avian performance. People are here to watch the thousands of snow geese and cranes takeoff (hopefully at the same time), and to see the ducks, starlings, and bald eagle.

We’re here to watch the birds sit, eat, fly, land, swim, and chatter loudly. This is their migration path sanctuary and where we chose to be before the sun came up as it seems that’s the magic moment as the sun crests over the mountains and the birds take flight to carry on with their day somewhere else. We will return to the park after filling our bellies to watch javelina, the smallest one puffing his back hair.

How wonderful to share this long moment as we sit in the car, listen to birds, snack on fruits and gingerbread, and watch the clouds change shape on Christmas Day. We will park and continue to indulge in this feathered play land on foot as the starlings put on repeated murmuration shows and the sun dips behind the clouds as it nears the horizon.

There’s a lone bald eagle in a dead distant tree, a single duck eating in the wet weeds, two sisters screaming in childish fun, a husband and wife watching the fantastic sunset, and a daughter being kissed on the cheek by her loving father. We pair a dinner at El Camino with finishing the second chapter of Joe Market’s life, of which we are not catching the dull moments.

This evening will be filled with steam, conversation, drama, reading, writing, and photography. All this action, plus the lingering sound of birds, will coalesce in our minds and give us each our version of a nightmare — mine being a vocal jolt to join in with the screeching cats that have started a musical at our hotel room. In a blink, the night is over.

SUNDAY
We get another chance to witness the miracle that is bird migration. I’m just amazed at their ability to move so smoothly and effortlessly in large numbers, something that people seem to stumble over in small groups. Perhaps that’s because we were given the gift of opinion and thought, and the freedom to choose whether or not to use our cerebellum.

We know where we’re going this time and though we do love being early there are others set up before us because the boardwalk moves tripods and they want the best shot. We stand beside them with frozen fingers in our gloves and loving smiles on our faces. Dad motions me closer to him so I can get a better view of the geese as they take off in waves. It’s not the same effect as en masse, but it’s amazing still.

Back in the car: Dad’s hands on the wheel, Caroline turning pages, and me in the backseat as we head west and back to our lives in the cities. The thoughts and emotions inside the car, inside the book, contrast with what is outside — a state trooper blocking the lane, snow covering the ground, closed pie shops and coffee cafes as chapter three comes to a finish.

I’ll see a coyote, but shout, “a fox!” as I wonder if I saw a wolf. Then I’ll see another. We finish the book, drink another coffee, and contemplate how to share our experience with others without downplaying the author’s ability to share what life is — simple and complex, neat and messy, free and contained, controlled and impulsive, and short. I notice some hikers among the cacti covered hills.

I’ll leave Phoenix with warm hugs, thin books, and small cookies — all different forms of love. I approach Dateland as darkness reaches me. I’ll close my eyes for 20 minutes before going back inside for a famous date shake. It won’t be till later that I’ll remember how disappointing their date-sour cream cookies are, but they do the trick to keep me going, through the fog in Alpine, to San Diego.

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A Day in Phoenix

Start the morning with a 50-minute walk on a different path around the neighborhood and I’m partially distracted while on the phone. I’ll borrow one of Caroline’s shirts for the day and we leave to return the rental car. I check under the seats and find the cashew that I dropped and the coconut lip balm that I didn’t. We get Caroline to work and then go to King Coffee Roastery so Dad can get some writing done.

We get a comfy corner booth table against the back wall in the middle of the room. Mike is kind, and once he delivers our bagels, continues his chat with Dad. His caring doesn’t stop there as he discusses a job transition with another customer whose husband is looking to work for a smaller company. I love the small town feel in the middle of a sprawling metropolis.

There are pictures on the wall for sale from artist Denise Elfenbein who knows how to capture the glory of fruit and sunsets. Dad’s pulling his threads of our trip together, trying to jump back into that train of thought that was already a week ago. I tell him to try by starting from the beginning, but where is that when there’s no end as the lessons are ongoing and continue to reveal themselves in ways that go unnoticed by the human majority.

I used to be good at noticing patterns but haven’t been writing like I should. I’ve always done it in my free time as a way to learn more about my environment and experiences, fire the neurons in my brain, and bring together ideas to grow into something I could use that would unlock thoughtfulness for others when shared as my way of communicating and connecting the dots of past influences with future artists, dreamers, and travelers.

I meet Andrea, a 10th grade history teacher in her 21st year with 18 out of 35 repeat students and with the highest test scores last year then ever, that were taken in-person. Sitting here at 11:11 and reading a kind and descriptive review from The Phoenix Bean about this coffee shop, helping me to notice the giant bean-shaped lighting fixture above the bar. We leave after saying hi to Gary who is going to read his own book and be amazed at what he wrote. I feel the same way sometimes.

We return home to wash our smelly laundry and aren’t there long after hanging things to dry before it’s time for lunch at Old Town Taste. Dad orders Chongqing chicken for the Szechuan peppercorns and their effect with water or iced green tea — a carbonated feeling on the tongue. He orders fish in oil, spicy tofu, and garlic greens too. Back by the house, with leftovers, for Dad’s laptop and my book.

This time we’ll sip drinks from Starbucks and I try the star drink with passionfruit, freeze dried kiwi pieces, and coconut milk. I understand the comfort of home can make concentrating more difficult but so can women who feel the need to perform in public — feeling privileged while complaining on their phone and another leaving her trash after a fuss for someone else to toss.

We pick up Caroline after work and say hi to one of her bosses who think Dad and I look a lot alike. Two hours at the house so she can unwind before dinner at Spinato’s. We talk with Susanna about her trip to Sturgis, staying in Dana Point, and taking backroads on a motorcycle. Caroline and I will walk after dinner and talk about hiking, music, and travel. I’ll call Caleb back and walk some more before returning to keyboard lessons with Caroline. I do enjoy being in a constant state of learning and awe.

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Flies and Switchbacks

Dad is up early because his CPAP was busy picking up the pungent smells in the hotel room and delivering them to his nostrils with added humidity. Last night’s restaurant will recommend their competition, less than half a mile up the road for breakfast, so we navigate the construction-filled streets to be the only customers dining in at Sofia’s Kitchen & Burrito Tyme between 640 and 7am.

We stop in Magdalena for small-bottled options of hydration and so that Dad can get more pictures of the passing wind turbine blades; these ones being transported by a different crew. We’ll travel 24 miles west before stopping again, this time to see the Very Large Array radio telescope observatory satellites, their tracks, and their mountainous backdrop.

In Pie Town, we pick up a small green chile apple pie and I will pace myself to only eat half in an effort to save some for Caroline. There are so many hidden secrets to each state that I can’t help but look forward to returning to uncover these other treasures on my next visit. The flies that have been with us down the 83, follow me to the bathroom, and keep an eye on Dad ten minutes from the Arizona border.

This time change adds an hour to our day as I realize that I’ve just been in 12 states in three weeks. It’s not long before we’re on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, also called the Devil’s Highway, a portion of the 191 from Springerville to Clifton that has over 400 curves in 123 miles of road, changing some 6,000 feet in elevation, and bringing you through a four-hour road trip of deserts, meadows, and forests.

We stop when the road will allow it or when we can block the way with no traffic. We’ll park and talk with Simon, a forest service employee who has lived in CA, FL, OH, MO, England, and AZ and loves to travel two lane roads on his motorcycle. He recommends the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile portion of the 129 with 318 curves along the Tennessee and North Carolina state line.

This Eastern Arizona route also passes through a portion of the 80 square miles of the Morenci Copper Mine. The Cat 793 haul truck goes from looking like a Micro Machines car in the distant depths to showing off its 15-foot high truck bed and 851,000lb gross weight when hauling a 240-ton load on a nearby hill. It helps to gauge the size with the engine, wheel, and bed they have on display.

I’m grateful that Dad has the opportunity to travel this region frequently and find the only restaurant in the town of Solomon, smaller than some private farms, where residents could live on a third of an acre each. We’re at La Paloma to enjoy the best elote, Sonoran enchiladas for me, and a tres leches that tasted like it was made with love, just for us.

I’ll learn a bit about our 25-year-old motorcycle enthusiast waiter/manager named Damian through his discussions with Dad. He’s writing a book about finding and communicating with your inner-self after some childhood issues that he’s had to work through. He wants to make a masterclass to improve the service of wait staff and wants to manage a fine dining establishment when he grows up.

We pass through Globe, where I found false teeth on a previous trip and Geronimo, where I held a doll’s head before reaching Superior and then back to Phoenix after 9pm. We covered 327 miles today, ten of which took us an amazing hour. We’ll greet Caroline with gear and then hugs before going to bed in prep of my last full day tomorrow before I fly back to San Diego.

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