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THE SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK NOOS http://shnoos.com Sun, 29 Nov 2009 22:21:27 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.6.1 en Get your rock off http://shnoos.com/?p=566 http://shnoos.com/?p=566#comments Sun, 29 Nov 2009 21:54:51 +0000 Noodle http://shnoos.com/?p=566

The sun rises. The sun sets. It does it every day.

The sun rises. Things are set in motion. Breakfasts eaten. Commutes bird-flipped and snarled through. Knees skinned in playgrounds. Milk bought at corner stores or removed from front doorsteps. Gardens weeded. Lawns shorn. Houses made and deals built. Relationships cooked, cialis cialis cakes ended. Beers inhaled. The sun sets.

It does it every day.

Every damn day. Pulling us from lid open to lid closed, viagra generic like a human Goldberg contraption of knock-on reaction and forward momentum and don’t forget to take out the rubbish.

The sun rises. The sun sets. It does it every day.

But sometimes you have to pay money to be reminded to even look at it.

Of course it’s free. The sunrise. The sunset. But when you’re standing in a car park with a glass of bubbly and store-bought salsa hanging off the lip of a corn chip, you don’t mind that you’re paying for it. Because you’re too caught up ogling a bloody big rock as it flashes its sandstone thigh and reflects the gaze of that huge ball of fire.

Why am I in a car park? Why am I looking at a bloody big rock? Why am I rambling about the sun?

Because I’m a bad Australian.

I’m a bad Australian, but not because I represent the brand poorly overseas. I honor the brand. I am a great ambassador. I spread lies about the true meaning of Boxing Day, and how I rode a kangaroo to school as a kid. I still say “boot” and “jumper” and laugh (though not out loud so much anymore), whenever Americans say “khaki pants”,1 “who do you root for”2 and “I bonked during the race”.3 I fly the flag. No flies on me, mate. I’m dinky di, eat a meat pie, here’s Aeroguard in your eye.

No, I’m a bad Australian because I have seen more tourist highpoints of other people’s countries than I have of my own. And that is a crime. (See, I even honor the convict heritage.)

What’s the Great Barrier Reef like? Dunno, never seen it. Is it worth driving the Great Ocean Road? Dunno, never seen it. What’s Perth like? Dunno, never seen it. How about Uluru? Is it really just a big rock in the middle of nowhere? Your guess is as good as mine.

This, Sir, cannot stand. So that’s how I find myself standing in a carpark, sipping champagne—that for legal reasons we have to call sparkling wine—and taking way too many photos of a giant, glorious, and sexy rock that looks exactly like it does in the postcards.


Tick that box. Uluru is off the list. And I’m checking it off my parent’s list while I’m at it.

For those about to Rock.
We fly in on a Monday. My mother steals the window seat, which is fine by me, and proceeds to point out all sorts of flat things, straight things, dry things, and salty things from her vantage point. My Dad sees nothing like that. Just the aisle and flight attendants, and a movie that’s hanging from the overhead bins about three rows in front of us. This goes on for a few hours before necks periscope out towards tiny windows to catch a glimpse of the rock prior to landing.

And there it is. All around it, flatness. And the rock rising from nowhere. Truly, it is a boil on the arse of the earth.

Later, we learn the original airport used to snuggle right up to the side of the rock. I see a photo in the airport of a plane parked pretty much up its skirt, snuggling with it like some sort of aeronautical friends-with-benefits buddy. Of course that was back in the day. Before they realized it probably wasn’t such a great idea to have aircraft engines farting on sandstone and dribbling fumes and fuel onto the chin of the planet.

The first thing I notice when I step onto the tarmac of Uluru Airport is the cold whipping up my trouser leg. My Dad, usually a reliable source of barometric, isometric, and prognostication techniques, is way wrong on the temperature prediction. It’s bloody cold. In the middle of the day. In the desert. Although the sun is blaring and it’s in the mid 20s, the wind is nipping at nostrils and uncovered arms.

We laugh at how wrong he was. Oh, how we laugh.

Later, in the gift shop, I buy a hat. A tourist hat. It is well daggy. The kind I would never buy. Straw and cowboyish. I go to great lengths to crunch it into a full western look, with tilted front and rolled up sides. I call out a ‘look ma’ in the middle of the shop and Mum shakes her head. A mix of both embarrassment and horror. I expect one never gets over the wonder of the statement “that’s my child.”

I explain my rationale to her. That everyone is a tourist out here. There’s no escaping it, no way to look cool and aloof. I have a camera hanging ‘round my neck and I am a tourist. I plan to roll around in the juice of it until I’m wearing socks with sandals and subjecting people to my never-ending slide nights.

All aboard the sunset train
Our first true tourist commitment is the Sunset Tour. Barry, our guide, drives us out to the National Park and we do a fast lap of the rock in the bus. He points out things of interest, and also things the Aboriginal people would prefer we not photograph. Sacred sites.

It’s very educational, but he also throws out a couple of distinctly Australian phrases and dry comments that I know, I just know, the foreign tourists don’t quite understand. But I soak it up. It’s nice to rub my face in Australian-ness and Barry is a credit to the nation.

Also, I learn more in this hour about Uluru than I ever did in school.

Temperatures drop and spirits rise. It’s pretty chilly as the sun sets and we all ooh, and ahh as the rock changes color over the course of about 15 minutes. The memory card in my Nikon takes a good kidney punch or two, but I take a break from my relentless snapping to throw down some bubbly and gnaw on a chip. Looking down the length of the car park, I see a sea of tourist humanity.

Tripod legs spread, lenses swivel and arc in one direction, waiting paparazzi-like for the moment to arrive. That perfect color. That perfect second. The faint crackle and click of buttons being pressed and motors firing. The anticipation of pixels arranging themselves in an aesthetically pleasing order. Wine flows, beer cans clink and jolly faces beam in the golden hour.

I stand and have my photo taken. Face frozen mid-grin, eyes squinting against the light. The rock doesn’t move. Doesn’t even throw up the rabbit ears behind my head. I feel magnificently corny. Everyone who has ever been here, who has ever got their shoes smudged in the red earth, or been taught by a guide that ‘minga’ means very small ant, has this very same photo. It’s just the faces that change.

But I don’t care. I stand and I grin stupidly. Touristy. I just don’t care.

This is my photo. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

The quiet before the dawn
In the still darkness, the quiet time before the curtains open on the day, we walk together. A group of back-packed early birds. I’ve had a freezing night on a fold-out bed with one blanket to whisper my grumpy dreams to, yet I navigate through the darkness in a mood that could be accurately described as jaunty.

Barry has given each one of us a lunchbox. I’m giddy like a schoolgirl. Breakfast will crack along with the dawn!

Mick Jagger’s lips enter the conversation, though it takes a bit of imagination to see how a rock formation could be construed as that. I think they might actually mean the Rolling Stones lip logo, but no matter. And then there’s Darth Vader’s head. That I can see.

Barry is boldly dressed in casual khaki shorts and seems not to feel the chill, but there’s a breeze that must surely be tickling his kneecaps. He stops from time to time to point a wise finger at a shrub or bush (we now all know how to spot a bush with witchety grubs in the roots if we’re feeling snackish), or to tell a story from the dreamtime us outsiders are allowed to know.

Finally, the crowd hushes as Uluru and her dance partner, the sunrise, take to the stage. A moment of silence, please.

Six miles is a long walk when you need to pee. I would now like to apologize to anyone who did, because my Dad and I immediately lag behind the group and duke it out in a ‘who can take the most photos of the rock’ competition. The group waits patiently. Dad and I mumble ‘sorry’, but I’m not. It’s my bloody holiday!

My mother has a different strategy, choosing to motor off as though in some sort of base walk foot race. She doesn’t have to be physically restrained from power walking around in record time, but I can tell she’s getting frustrated at some of the old fuddy duddies dragging the chain of their we-really-should’ve-listened-to-the-lady-at-the-front-desk-because-we’re-not-fit-enough-for-this realization behind them.

It’s a good old trek. There’s more to this rock than sediment and 50,000 years of just sittin’ around. It’s got nooks and crannies and water holes. Awesome trees, rock formation weirdness, and cave paintings. We marvel at the toothy grin that is ‘the happy cave’, then all shake our heads and the douche-bag named “Richo” who graffiti-ed his dumbass name on top of some ancient aboriginal cave paintings.

I think we all learned something.

I learned I take too many photos. Dad learned he does too. Mum learned she can out-walk a bunch of tourists who are unprepared for her awesome onslaught of spryness. Everyone else just learned that when it comes to tourist guided events, the McCrae’s have their own pace cars.

Doh! It’s what’s for dinner
Fun Fact: Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), when viewed from afar and from a certain angle as night creeps up to go boo behind it, looks like Homer Simpson having a lie down.

I swivel in my seat and verify this fact. Well, bugger me! So it does. I follow the code of the tourist and snap a picture, then turn back to dinner. In the desert. In the open. There is no roof to this restaurant.

The Sounds of Silence dinner is a fine dining affair, but held in the bosom of some sandy dunes. It winds up its clock and starts with a sunset, viewed from atop a dune. We tick tock and gluck gluck our way through some sparkling wine. Fingers pick canapés from the shine of a silver tray and pop morsels into mouths as we watch the rock blush its way into the dark time.

Swivel to our right, and there is Kata Tjuta. Formed by the same geological event as Uluru, yet completely going its own way, composition wise. I can almost see it look Uluru in the eye and say “I can’t live by your rules, man! I hate sandstone! Conglomerate is the way forward!”

Or maybe that’s just the just-like-Champagne-but-not-called-that-for-legal-reasons sparkling wine, talking.

A didgeridoo moans, stutters, and mingles with everyone. We mix McCrae-style with people from all over the world. McCrae style is a stand-to-the-edge and don’t make eye contact until approached by others technique. I am an expert at it, and yet we still manage to make small talk and have our photo taken as family unit in front of the scene. I look like a boozer.

When the sun fizzes out, down a track we go. Over the edge of the dune. We come upon a gaggle of dining tables, finishing-school dressed and waiting behind the wind-sheltered dunes. It’s fancy schmancy, with oil heaters and a blazing fire off to the side.

With napkins flapped out onto laps and wine dribbling erotically into glasses, I look around. We’re sharing a table with 9 strangers, but the booze up on the sunset viewing area has already loosened a bunch of tongues. I am sitting next to a guy from Baltimore. A doctor. Conversation flows and dips. Candles flicker and bums are warmed against the bad-breath of the fire.

We eat. With gusto and vigor. Stabbing chunks of meat and ladling soup to our chatty mouths. It’s not long before the wine turns the volume dial in the desert to eleven.

But then, silence. Candles snuffed out and a voice from the darkness booms. It is strong and sure. This is the part I’ve been waiting for. The constellation talk.

The star guide, a loud-talking lass, flashes a giant beam of light skyward as she points out the major hotspots of the sky’s tablecloth. The Southern Cross hangs still and all her points wink as the light is waved across her. Planets, constellations and more stories. It is my favorite part of the trip so far. Of course, I’m saying that before I’ve had dessert, but I’m pretty sure it’ll hold up.

Later, I walk a dark trail out and away from the tables and diners. Telescopes are set up and I see that moon gonna shine like a spoon, big and brassy through the eyepiece.

Gird your loins here comes a cliché. The sky out here is so big. It’s probably the same size in New York, but I only look at it when it can equip me with some vital information related to how many layers I need to wear on any particular day. Is it full of clouds? Is water falling from it? Is the sun looking angry? That sort of thing. At night, I most definitely do not look at it, and even if I wanted to, light pollution tends to take the edge off.

But out here, the sky is big. The earth is big. I am just minga.

Giant steps are what you take
Kata Tjuta means “many heads”. I have now heard this about 20 times. What they don’t tell you is that it also means “another planet”. Ok, I just made that up, but it really does look like you’ve stepped onto the surface of an alien planet.

There are 36 domes (heads) jumbled together and bobbled up to form Kata Tjuta. We walk between two of them, through the Valley of the Winds. The path up there looks man-made. Cobbled and smooth. But really, the only thing man did here was line up some rocks to indicate where we should walk. To keep the tourist mob on track. The surface formed this way naturally. Cobbles and boulders pieced together into a weird drunken honeycomb and held by sandstone wax.

It’s pretty neat.

We drive out there after a free morning of not doing much. And by not much, I mean I’d basically pedaled a rented clown bike around the resort with my knees around my ears (couldn’t move the seat), and had a stare-off with a dingo on the way to rent it.

I’d seen him wandering around the car park looking for scraps, and then he’d popped out from the shrubbery behind me and said “Whaddup?”

I may have replied “Coochie choochie coo, cute doggie” and eagerly showed the mutt I had no jelly babies or sweeties of any kind. It sniffed the air in a manner that could only be described as arrogance and wandered off. My first dingo sighting.

Highlight of the morning really.

But the afternoon was planned out and locked in, and so we’d piled onto a tour bus and slogged it out to the many heads to see what all the fuss was about.

Our guide is a young fella. Very amiable. It’s a casual stroll and he let’s the group string out, taking turns at talking to the little clusters individually. My parents tear off up the valley at warp speed, while I lag behind doing my very best to avoid a small group containing an insane, un-manageable child.

This kid is out of control. He sticks to the guide like some kind of rash you just can’t get rid of, not matter how much cortisone you mush its face into. Kids who ask a lot of questions are great. Kid’s that are just little bastards are not. It’s not until we’re on our way back down to the bus that the guide manages to extract himself from the blonde-headed leach and approaches my parents and I.

He starts talking to my Dad. Then he asks me where I’m from and I explain how I live in New York, but have traveled out here with my parents so we can see stuff like this and be good Australians.

“Oh, you guys are together!”

It’s not obvious and I can see why he’s only just joined the dots on us. I’m not really walking with Dad, and Mum’s about 20ft in front of us all. We’ve not really spoken much the whole afternoon. It’s not that we’re having a dustup or anything. We just choose to marvel at the magnificence before us in calm and reverent silence.

Dad, being Dad, changes the subject by pointing out a dead camel down amongst the trees. It’s not listed in the official marketing materials, but I would say that’s a tourist attraction right there. A photo opportunity. The guide gives my Dad a ‘well spotted’ nod, and confirms his carcass conclusion. Others gather to see what we’re pointing at. Mentally, I check another animal off the list. Let’s see, that’s one begging dingo, one rotting camel carcass. Hmm, can an emaciated Emu be far behind?

As the sun goes down, we eat bread dipped in oil and local bush spices, and wash it down with some plonk. It’s quieter now. The child has been taken back to the bus to get something, and we take the moment to enjoy the serenity. Surrounded by desert oaks and the largest stable dune system in the world, we break bread with strangers and watch the bald heads of The Olgas get a sun licking to within an inch of their conglomerate lives.

I take a moment to reflect. If knowledge is power, I’ve had enough drilled into me these last couple of days to run a small bicycle headlight. And if amazing sunsets were alcohol, I’d be a fall-down, black-out drunk after this trip. Rehab tomorrow. All of us. Climbing aboard that QANTAS flight, packing our memories into overhead compartments and asking our seat mates “didya see that thing with the things and the other thing?”

We will go back. Back to our lives. Back to reality. Away from this surreal afternoon light. We stand silent as it catches the grin of all our faces and crinkles the corners of our eyes as they reflect fading pink, red, purple, and orange hues.

The sun rises. The sun sets. It does it every day.

Just show it some love and give it a squiz4 every now and then.

1: “khaki pants” – Where I’m from, the color khaki is pronounced “car-key”. Here in these great United States, it is pronounced ‘cacky’. Again, where I’m from, cacky means shitty, and pants means underwear. Thus rendering the sentence “I’m going to wear my best khaki pants” fantastically awesome.

2: “who do you root for” – root means to, you know, do it. Sexy time.

3. “I bonked during the race” – bonk means the same as root. And if you’re doing it during a race, I tip my hat to you.

4. “squiz” - Australian slang meaning to have a look.
For example: “Giz a squiz” = May I please have a look at that.

Hey, wanna ride bikes? http://shnoos.com/?p=529 http://shnoos.com/?p=529#comments Fri, 09 Oct 2009 17:14:57 +0000 Noodle http://shnoos.com/?p=529

My mouth is hanging open like an overhead bin on a turbulent flight, viagra sales sovaldi sale all slack and dumb and gobbing for air. I become aware of a pool of saliva hatching escape plans, viagra canada gathering near the tongue and waiting for the opportunity to drop over my lip.

I feel it begin to Rapunzel its way out.

Now, I was raised right and normally I’d not let something like that slide, least of all out of my mouth. But at this moment, with my lungs double bagging it and my heart rate techno-beating it, I don’t give a damn. I’m all, “Stand down, guards” and “Fly, be free, young spittle Padawan!”

Out it dribbles in a spectacular line of defeat, and I’m sure I hear it cry out “Tell Laura I love her” before continuing on to kiss my leg and be dashed on the road below me.

I can’t be bothered even reacting to it.

I am breathing so loudly I want to adjust the knob on my internal subwoofer. It’s reverberating around my brain and through my ears and surely the neighbors are about to bang a broomstick on their ceiling and call the cops.

Something’s gonna blow.

I crank on. I decide to turn the camera off, but know it’s too steep to do so with one hand and not fall on my arse. So I climb a bit further, to a slight bend with a MBV (Magnificent Bloody View), and clip out. I turn it off. I am huffing. My face is red. I taste salt.

After about a minute, I feel fine again, clip in, and surge away. Full of energy. Of vim. Of enthusiasm. For about 10 seconds.

Then two things happen.

One, my quads form an impromptu committee, take a vote, and decide their tactic will be short, persistent stabs all over.

Two, an awesome dynamo named Liam flies by, as though carried majestically upon a cloud of extra gears. Nine years old and pedaling like it ain’t no thang. People walking their bikes groan at this development, then one yells “Go Liam!” I am ashamed of my sluggishness, and decide to ignore the United Union of Quads and their picket line. I will not be defeated by this hill. Grind on. Allez, allez, allez!


Air protests at being sucked in so hard. Lungs billow like sails. Heart? Well, it hasn’t stopped, so let’s not bother it shall we? One thing becomes crystal clear—I really shouldn’t have had the extra PB&J sandwich at that last rest stop. The jam is fast approaching the esophagus and requesting a hall pass.

But I will not bow to the Coleman Valley climb. Why? Because I am what’s called a “dumb cyclist”. And by dumb, I mean stubborn.

I hate hills but I love hills. And if, Dear Hill, you think I’m ever gonna walk my bike up your impressive 16% grade, you’ve got another thing coming. I will grit my teeth and hunch over the bars and look at the bloody asphalt below me and as long as it’s moving in an out-the-back direction, I will continue on.

I don’t care if you throw short, sharp inclines at me. I will stand up on my pedals and grind you down. And if I put my foot down at any point, it is with the express purpose of taking a photograph, or simply to say to passing cyclists, “Wow, now THAT’s a vista, and I’m somewhat of a vista expert!”. And all while pretending that I’m not buggered and am actually having a great time. Then I’ll clip in and attack again.

Because I am a dumb cyclist. Isn’t it great?

I crest the top, huffing and puffing, burning and churning, sweating and burping jam. I could use a lot of words to describe this feeling. Pain. Hurt. Stupid. But there’s only one word I can think of.

That word is joy.

Before any of this ever happens—the stabbing quads, the spittle string, or the jam burps—I rent a car in San Francisco. I’ve had 2 hours sleep and just stepped off a plane from New York city. It is now I realize how hopelessly I have prepared for this part of the trip.

I’m completely prepared for Levi’s GranFondo of course—just hand me some Butt Butter and point me to the start. Wait, that didn’t sound right.

No, I’m just not prepared for all that stuff that comes before it, like, I dunno, getting to Santa Rosa. I can’t remember where I’m staying exactly. I did book a hotel, right? And if I’m being totally honest, I’ve never even looked at a map to see where Santa Rosa actually is. It’s definitely in California, right?

I have a quick chat with my GPS lady. While she is not exactly surly towards me, she sure ain’t no ‘let’s swap recipes and start a book club together’ gal. But she puts her aloofness aside and confirms that I am in the right state. After a short disagreement about whether I can touch her while driving, I instruct her to ‘take me past the plonk!’ and off we go. Wrong side of the car, wrong side of the road, but I will make allowances for you Americans and your silly rules.

The no freeway route meanders you through some gorgeous green stuff. And some brown stuff. And some blue sky stuff. And then green stuff that makes booze, and ‘ohhh pretty’ stuff. And hey, there’s a gum tree! That’s not your stuff, that’s my stuff! The scenery actually reminds me of Australia a little. But you know, with less Australians, and practically no kangaroos.

I find these vine-infested hills to be very alluring. Each time I pass a tasting sign I feel a bit tasty myself. But I won’t stop and tipple. I’ve got places to go get lost in, unfamiliar bikes to hit on, and spandex to lay out on a hotel bed.

Drive, Noodle. Drive like the wind! But you know, always within the strict confines of the speed limit.

As I roll into Santa Rosa I remember the third thing I forgot to look up before leaving New York. The address of the bike shop I’m renting my bike from. After a little side-pulling-over and some non-sexual touching of an iPhone, I work out the co-ordinates and arrive. It’s the wrong store. Apparently I’m looking for the OTHER NorCal Bikes. You Californians are tricky with your two-location stores. I tip my invisible hat to you.

At the real store, I burst through the door, trumpets sound, and I declare my intentions to remove a bike from their premises. I meet Greg, the dude who set me up on this date with the Specialized S-Works Amira.

“Oh, Janeen,” he says. “This bike is the shit!”

These words tumble out honestly, unmolested by gimmicks and brochure-speak. But he doesn’t need to talk the bike up—I’ve seen photos. I’m already in lust. And all he did was dangle that carbon carrot in front of me via email a month ago and I was saying, “What’s up, Doc?” pretty damn smartly.

But I begin to panic. What if I love the bike too much? Will I be able to get away from this place without dropping over seven G’s on a piece of rolling carbon? If it truly is the shit, how can I not own the shit? I deserve shit, don’t I? Again, that didn’t sound right.

Later, in my hotel room (which I find thanks to a well timed reservation confirmation email), I can’t help looking at the bike. Its intense gaze, its rakish charm, its lithe body. It is Zen-like in its composure. I christen it Buddha (even though it has a little sticker on it saying 51-Arnold. You can’t name a bike Arnold. What is this, Happy Days?)

I nod off, but jerk awake suddenly remembering something about race packets. Ok, fourth thing I forgot to do. Where the hell do I pick that up? It would’ve been very helpful to make a note of that before leaving Gotham. I’m bone-weary and dog tired. Sleep tugs at my ankles, I kick it off.

Out in the parking lot, I shake the GPS lady awake as she dreams of longitudes and latitudes and the male GPS voice who never calls. She begrudgingly agrees to find the place for me and we’re off, screaming our way into the stretching shadows of a Californian afternoon.

Line, sign, grin, and within moments I am strolling back across the grass, past the stage and corral for the start tomorrow. This is getting real, peeps. This thing is on!

There are many words I could use to describe this feeling. Excited. Thrilled. Aroused. But there’s only one I can think of right now.

That word is sleep.

Riding a bike that’s well above your paygrade feels like what I imagine it’s like to marry up. At first you’re all “Hey, look at this fella I snagged. Ain’t he awesome! He, like, uses all the right forks and shit.” But then one day he’ll use a word like ‘indubitably’ and you’ll go ‘huh?’

It won’t be that you don’t know what that word means. It will just dawn on you that he’s not using it as part of a joke. And you’ve never heard it uttered without some kind of ironic twist associated with it. Or as part of some stuffy Sherlocky Holmesy sketch. And so you’ll schlub back to your aluminum framed world, and he back to Carbon Nirvanaland, where everyone weighs nothing and they all spin gaily while seeing who can lift whom with one finger

Ok, I switched gears mid cassette there, but you get my point.

Riding Buddha is everything Zen, baby. It’s a long sustained Ohm of carbon wheels turning on blacktop. It’s clipping in to the sound of one hand clapping as I whiz by wineries and locals cheering. It’s achieving enlightenment by coasting on the freewheel whirr of awesomesauceedness.

The noble truth is this. I am a monk who has eschewed all possessions. Yet I want this bike so badly I am tearing at the hem of my robes and whipping myself with the corded belt that holds it all together.

Early on, during the congestion of the start, the rider next to me compares the road to a clogged pipe requiring Liquid Plumr. Little does she know that I am stuck in some kind of otherworld Zen-like state, and I say, somewhat cryptically:

“No. Don’t you see? WE are the Liquid Plumr.”

She, quite rightly, chuckles awkwardly and moves to another position in the pack.

We ride on, one mass of legs turning and gears changing. Cow bells clang, kids cheer, locals yell obscenities like “You’re awesome!” and “Go Fondo!” Oh wait. Sorry. Usually when people yell at me on my bike it’s something like “Why don’t you ride on the sidewalk!” or “Hey, fatass!” or something. I’m not used to people being supportive.

I stand and climb a small hill and have a new awareness – I am fat and Buddha is not. Usually, when I stand to power up a hill, I feel the weight of the bike in my hands. Here, all I feel is the lumbering mass that is my body above it. It is exhilarating and diet-plan formulating. This machine is Helen Hunt to my Jack Nicholson. It makes me want to be a better (wo)man.

The soothing drone of the wheels on the road is a sweet song to me as I pass and get passed. Together we move through low vines, high hills, corridors of tall trees, and beside wide rivers. Conversations pass between strangers, car ups and car backs are thrown down the line.

We stop to eat and talk and I spend great swathes of time being the spokesperson for GoPro. Which cannot be helped. If you saw someone with a camera strapped to their chest, would you be able to stop yourself asking about it?

Oreo cookies have never tasted so good. PB&J on fresh bread is stuck to the roof of my mouth. Every local rider I meet asks the same questions: “What do you think of the ride? Isn’t it beautiful? Are you having a good time?”

I can tell everyone wants everyone else to have just the best day ever. I can only speak for myself. I haven’t stopped grinning. And I have to say, if you can still grin while entering a portapotty, you’re having a good time.

When we hit the coast, it kinda hits back with a gusty wind that’s all “Hi, I just had to rush over here to meet you!” I get what it’s up to. It’s going to do everything in its power to make you stop and take a photograph. So I oblige.

It’s gusty as all get up as I fly down that road. The deep dish pizza wheels on Buddha are trying to teach me a new truth – hang on or you will turn into a sail and fly over the countryside on your left there. I hang on. Tight. But I don’t slow down any. Roads like this, scenery like this, opened wide in front of you, you have to gun it. It is the law. Open the throttle and book it on through. I stop one more time to take a photograph. This is stunning. Why am I not living here?

When I turn off the highway, Coleman Valley climb rudely and unexpectedly delivers a very convincing throatpunch. This is where Spittlegate occurs, and further on up the road, after kicking a few more climbs in the lady balls, we’re at the top. Descents thrill me and my grin is so wide it’s getting out the chisel and adding more wrinkles to my already laugh-ruined face.

The flat-out terror of flying down a mountain in a tunnel of trees with ever-vigilant eyes on potholes and sticks. The bump, the air whizzing past, and me just hanging on to this throughbred and hoping it won’t hurl me to the tarmac. I can imagine it, flesh tearing, that thought that flashes through your mind mid-air ‘this is gonna hurt’. The hands-out, grab-at-the-air before tearing it up on the asphalt. But I don’t slow down.

There are many words that can describe this feeling. Terror, fear, holding-on-for-dear-life-edness. But there is only one word I’m thinking of.

That word is Wheeeeee!

Baby (my bike back in Brooklyn), is going to hate me. She will be sulking in her corner—after putting herself there, I would never do such a thing—and obsessing about how I’m out riding with another bike. Green eyed. They should put that in the Specialized Dolce Elite reviews “Gets jealous when you ride other bikes”

I still love her. I think. I am trying to decide as remove my hand from Buddha’s saddle and watch it go off into the crowd of bikes at the bike valet area. It’s not you, it’s me? No, that’s no way to end it.

The Medio is done. The Medio is done, though I am not. I realize I’ve left my ID in the car, so I ride the 8-mile round trip to go get it. It’s not that I need my free beer. It’s more that I know I have to take Buddha back and I don’t want to get off. Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! I’ve grown accustomed to its pace.

To extend the ride even further, I spend half-an-hour trying to find the parking garage where I parked the car. This is unintentional and a little nerve wracking. I didn’t mean to lose the car. But that’s what pre-ride excitement does to you: makes you forget the most basic of rules. When you drive in a strange town, take note of where you park the car.

There is much relief when I find it, although the GPS lady doesn’t seem too thrilled. I pick up my wallet, and then ride off again knowing this is the second to last time I will be pedaling on my master.

But now let me tell you all that I know about Paella.

It’s the name of a dish once mentioned on Fawlty Towers by Manuel, who wanted to cook it. The sentence ends there because that’s the end of my knowledge.

Consider me enlightened! Holy smokes, it’s tasty. It’s like a garbage plate of awesomeness. And my belly is more than excited to receive the bounty that is also the Fat Tire. I sit and eat and contemplate the day.

I don’t really know when I become obsessed with cycling. It has been a late-in-life revelation. Although I have always owned a bike, and traveled with a bike, I have never used it as a basis for making decisions. Now, whenever I go anywhere, one of my first thoughts is always “What’s it like to ride there?”

I can tell you what it’s like to ride here. It’s amazing. It’s a stupid grin-fest of an experience. Flying along roads lined with massive trees, zipping over bridges, beside rivers and up mountains. Cranking it by the ocean in this beautiful landscape and you just can’t help but beam like a maniac. Stony faced? How would you even manage it out here?

There is solidarity amongst us all. We few, we happy few. We band of brothers and sisters of the ride. The air is filled with so much energy you can feel it. Of course that could also just be the wind. I watch as a tent blows over and a guy is enveloped. He pops up out from under and to the delight of everyone, has not spilled his beer!

And I finally get to meet Greg from Twitter, a guy who I don’t know from Adam. (It should be noted that Adam just happens to be the name of a guy I’d met the night before and who rode the Fondo as his first ever century. I can’t help but wonder how he did?) Greg and I compare thoughts on the event. As a local, he is curious to hear an out-of-towner’s perspective.

I am chuffed. High on paella and GranFondo fumes. It’s been a hell of a day. A hell of an experience. It has poked me in the motivation. I must do better, I must become better. It has stoked the fire of life. The joining together of strangers to experience the thrill of the ride, the sharing of the moment with nothing but the sound of fun freewheeling behind you. The wind in your hair, the sweat on your brow, the bugs in your teeth.

There are many words I could use to describe why we share this feeling. Freedom. Human. Love. Kinship. But there is only one word I’m thinking of.

That word is bike.

Levi’s GranFondo from Noodle on Vimeo.

Zephyr. The Movie. http://shnoos.com/?p=501 http://shnoos.com/?p=501#comments Fri, 26 Dec 2008 14:36:29 +0000 Noodle http://shnoos.com/?p=501 Ladies and gents, generic viagra health I bring you a short film by moi. It features:

  • Some shaky footage shot by me from a moving train (The California Zephyr) on a Sanyo Xacti
  • Some awesome Moby music, sovaldi used with kind permission from mobygratis.com
  • My crappy voice, recorded in a bathroom and featuring a lot of background hum and occasional water pipe noise
  • An excerpt from “A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side B“, which is a story about the trip.
  • TIP: If you have a slow computer, let the vid load before playing. Still probs? Roll over the vid and turn off HD.

    Zephyr from Noodle on Vimeo.

    A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side B http://shnoos.com/?p=477 http://shnoos.com/?p=477#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2008 15:30:40 +0000 Noodle http://shnoos.com/?p=477


    The noise, discount cialis sovaldi the noise! I’m all Quiet Riot and feelin’ it like the world’s worst cover band. I turn my face to the gods of sound above. I beg, viagra sale remedy I beseech you—release me from this wretched spawn of yours, viagra this child called Noise.

    Can you see it, dear reader? Can you see the Noise?

    Look there, as it slithers on the floor of my sleeper car. Right there, see it? No, no! Don’t look directly or it’ll snake you good. Just use that special corner-of-your-eye vision.

    See. There it is. It’s doing its best impression of a live wire, cruelly cut and crying. Zapping, dancing its jolly jig upon the cheap carpet. Look. See it how it forms the word shiver and eagerly looks for a spine to run up. For the spine is the path, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

    “The path to what?” I ask.

    “Your last nerve,” it hisses. “I must use your spine as an organic conduit to your ear. There I will scratch my whine and squawk and creek-e-craw down the chalkboard of your eardrum, until that last nerve of yours is more frayed than the cord of your 70s dressing gown.”

    How rude!

    But man, what a racket, what a din. What a world-class noise!

    As the California Zephyr pulls out from the comfortable snuggle of the Oakland station, I sit and get all grouchified in my traveling compartment. Just me and my Noise.

    It is day one.

    It is day one of my great big train whore across America. Eastward ho! All aboard!

    The California Zephyr is, as you may have guessed, a train. It propels travelers across the broad shoulders of America, from Oakland all the way to the windy city. Think of it as the Orient Express without the express, the Orient, or the murder. Although a trip to the café car and subsequent hot dog purchase may change your mind about the latter.

    The fine folks of Amtrak are the Zephyr Wranglers. Say what you will about Amtrak and their timetables and lack of respect for them, but you have to give them their due here. They do an admirable job of employing people capable of shaking off train malaise like wet dogs emerging from the surf. They are both cheery and approachable.

    But this Noise, this racket, this dark melody of machinery, is neither of those two things.

    I sit here in my cabin and imagine what I believe to be making this racket. And as the daughter of a mechanic, it is my inheritance to obsess over these things. To ponder on the cause of the ping, the whine, the hiss. All leading to a confident, “I now pronounce you faulty alternator” or “dust in the brake pads”, or some such nonsense.

    But this one, this Noise of undetermined origin, has me beat up and twisted like a nightmare sheet.

    Let me set the scene properly. Masterpiece Theatre of Your Mind Time. Curtains up.

    There I am. See me hunkered down in my seat? I face the direction we travel, as I prefer to gaze toward the future rather than lament the passing of the past. (It’s actually for travel sickness reasons, but let me seem at least somewhat mystical. This is, after all, my telling. My production).

    I am located at the forward end of a Superliner train carriage. On the lower level. The upper level contains the teeny-weeny cabins. These are advertised as “sleeps two people, no cat-swinging possible”. The lower level contains the larger family rooms. Rooms in which, should a person choose, they could easily grab a cat in each hand and swing mightily and freely. Don’t worry, the cats love it.

    As luck would have it, I am in one of these larger rooms (sans cat). Actually, luck can get its own late night talk show, because this had nothing to do with luck. I paid for this privilege. And this privilege comes at a cost sicklier than money.

    The cost is as follows: I am next to the shitters.

    At first glance, this is bad news. At second, still bad news. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s supposed to be romance of the rails, not romance of the poop chutes, right?

    So that’s one strike (Noise) and one decidedly foul ball (the poop proximity).

    But here’s something I have not shared with you, which is possibly a ball, though not quite a walk (ok, end baseball talk right now). My room has its own bathroom. I can close the door on my travel cocoon and never be faced with either pooper or poopee in the hallway. But more than that, it means I have a window on either side of the train to look out of. How many toilets do you know where you can see which part of Colorado you’re actually peeing on as it flies by?

    But I’m jumping ahead. Colorado is yet to come. We’re still in California. For right now, right this very minute, it’s Noise that invades my brain. So I climb the stairs and walk one car back to the dining car. To indulge in the yellow of an egg-like product and two shots of steaming train coffee for breakfast.

    Noise can take care of itself.


    Observation. I kill at it. I can observate the pants off anyone you know.

    Wait, that didn’t come out right.

    What I’m saying is that my powers of observation are intense. And this is due to a lifetime of practice.

    To illustrate:

    When I was 14 and still very much a farm girl unaccustomed to the ways of the English, I was hit by a car while jaywalking. You see, Kentucky Fried Chicken was across the street and I’d never sampled its wares. I was very excited about opening the palatial doors for the first time in my life and being let into this esteemed fast food club. It was a champagne moment in my life.

    What would you do in this situation?

    I know what I did. And I have the x-rays to prove it.

    I dashed out like a girl possessed by eleven secret herbs and spices. And then I was hit.

    For many years, my mind’s eye would replay the tape from that day and I would turn and see that car. It was a green Holden Commodore. But when the true facts of the case were presented to me some years later, I discovered that the angry vehicle in question was not in fact a green Holden Commodore at all, but a brown Datsun.

    I was astonished. Brown? And a Datsun? But how? From that moment on, I swore to be more observant. To take in everything around me and absorb like some kind of eyes-peeled sponge. (That said, I can’t explain why, 8 years later, I managed to get hit by another car. I still haven’t seen that one coming. But hey, are we not all just works in progress?)

    But let’s get back aboard this train. The idea of an entire train car devoted 100% to Observation sounds to me like a ripe place to work on my powers. Really whittle them to a sharp, jabby point.

    I enter.

    At what point in the history of man did it become popular to travel somewhere just to have a look? I don’t think early man had Observation Cars. Well, they might have had something like it, but not for looking at pretty mountains or great big holes in the ground, just for the joy of it.

    No, they probably had them but used them for spotting…I don’t know, sabre tooth tigers and such. Not for gazing out toward some shimmering horizon, turning only to yell back, “Hey, check out this kick-arse vista!” to the bored children sitting back in the van.

    But not many things eat us anymore. That’s a crack in nature’s armor. One that the Observation industry has wriggled into.

    Now we can refer to maps bursting at the folds with handy icons and riddled with “must see” verbiage. All so we know where IT is—the absolute best place to go and just look. To observe. And if you do your observing while encased in glass to protect you from the gnats (the modern day sabre tooth tiger), then that’s even better.

    The Observation Car in the Zephyr has floor to over-ceiling glass. And boy, do I observe. I observe my own pants off. That’s how Olympic level I am.

    I observe for a full five minutes.

    Boy, this scenery doesn’t half wind on. Windows on a forest, a canyon, a stream. I see the distinct oil of nose prints pressed on the glass. I can’t help but hypothesize that the nose prints are not really from an eagerness to get closer to the view, but more likely an unplanned bump into the glass caused by the natural gait of a drunken train.

    Some people look out, contemplating the trees. I get bored and start looking in. This early in the trip it’s nearly empty in here. The trees flail by, the Sierras wave hi. I stick my nose in a book and let my shins drink in the sun.

    Despite all the efforts of this Observation Car to make me look, I don’t. And then, a voice from above…

    “This is the first call for lunch in the dining car.”

    All at once I am 15 again and being lead across that busy road by my stomach and the promise of something new. For once, the Observation Car watches me, and he has a great view of my back, leaving.


    When it comes to mealtimes on the Zephyr, the socially awkward need not apply. It’s very confrontational. But if your goal in life is to overcome your shyness in as many uncomfortable ways as possible, then the dining car is the place for you.

    Here, they seat you based on how many people are in your party.

    The party in my head is always well attended. A real window rattler. But in this particular instance, I have to admit to the dining car attendant that my party, though a righteous good time, is a party of one.

    I know what you’re thinking. Ah, to be a lone wolf traveler. A quest seeker. A grail hunter. So noble.

    But truthfully, I travel alone simply because I have no choice. When you’re single and wanna see things in an observation car-like setting, well you have to do it by yourself or you’ll never, ever, ever get to see it. I’m not going to sit around waiting for someone to go looking at stuff with. I’ve got to see it now, and I’m going to see it with or without you! (Whoever you are).

    So, once again, my party on this trip is one. Normally, that just means a lonesome table, where they whisk away that other bothersome setting and give you plenty of space for your notebook. But on this trip it means I will always be seated with people I don’t know.

    Strangers. On a train.

    This is both scary and awesome.

    It means that at every meal, I will meet new people. That I will have to overcome the napkin-picking awkwardness of the first few minutes. That I will have to step outside myself and start a conversation. And then there’s the flipside. Each meal will reveal to me a new victim. Someone who has never heard my thrilling life story.

    So I ask you—who should be more scared? Them or me?

    The roll call at my table for the first lunch of the trip goes like this. On my right is Mary-Anne. She’s a librarian. I like librarians. They touch books and stuff. Very dewey decimal. She is staying in the room at the other end of my car and also traveling alone, returning to the east after visiting her grandkids.

    Sitting across from her is Ruthie, a sprightly 81-year with impeccably applied makeup and a fist full of rings. She orders a Heineken and we chink our bottles together in newfound solidarity of the rails.

    Then Axel rolls in. He has sauntered on up from the regular cars, not the sleepers, and is also traveling alone. A fifteen-year-old, five-grade-skipping, long-haired, braced-teeth kid with the gleam of Keroauc in his eyes and a guitar minding his seat.

    He explains to the ladies that he’s named after Axel Rose, and a confusing couple of minutes ensue.

    “You’ve never heard of the band Guns ‘n’ Roses?”

    He seems genuinely surprised as he chomps down on his burger, proceeding to explain the deep pool of complexity that is the band, and his mother’s obsession with them.

    Later, as we nibble on our individual cheesecakes, Mary-Anne tells me that she wants to read my book when I’m done.

    So do I, lady. So do I.

    I laugh that uncomfortable laugh that has me reaching for my inadequacy medication shelf. Where is the pill to make this guilt taste good? But all I find are the deflection pills, so I mutter ‘sure thing’ and change the subject.

    In the end, I am so enamored with the lunch that I skip out without paying for my beer (food is included, but not booze). From that moment forth, every time I visit the dining car, even if I’m just walking through, the attendant points and says, “Hey, there’s that lady who doesn’t pay for her beers. I never forget a face.” And we laugh and laugh and laugh, and she does that ‘I’m watching you’ hand motion from her eyes to mine. And through the laughter my shame pinks my cheeks good and proper.

    As the sun drops low later that afternoon, we stop in the middle of the empty desert and throw someone off the train. It’s all rather dramatic. I see a police car waiting by a bush and we slow down and stop. I can’t see what’s happening but I have a vivid imagination.

    I imagine the life of riding the rails, and boxcar boys, taking the West Bound freight, and all that other train speak I don’t know how to do. It fills my head with wild images in sepia. Oh joy, America! Wrap me up in a hobo cocoon. A dream coffin of freedom riders. Nail down the lid and bury me in myth. (Cause I don’t want to hear about the starvation and beatings and such.)

    Oh, and just as a side note, here’s a tip. When they say no smoking on an Amtrak train or they’ll throw you off, they mean it. And it won’t be in a place that’s convenient to you. Just ask that guy back there in the desert.

    After dinner, I come back and find that my car attendant, Steve, has set up my bed. I eye the turned down sheets and blue blanket with interest. It’s only 8, so I read aloud to the Noise for a while, just to help it fall asleep. But it doesn’t, so I give up and decide to bunk down myself.

    It is night. The first night sleeping on a train. I’ll admit, this was a part of the trip I was looking forward to. I had imagined what it would be like. The lying down in the dark and the gentle clack of the rails and swagger of the train as it rocked me to peaceful slumber. And looking out to the oil black sky with its pinhole stars and distant towns twinkling as mysterious mountain shadows passed by. Yes, I imagined the ca-clack soundtrack beating on my back. The gentle Elvis rock and roll of the ‘won’t you be my teddy bear’ carriage.

    But I don’t get that tonight.

    I get a moaning, grumbling train that’s nothing more than a screaming banshee dream destroyer. I get Noise as my sleeping companion, and it’s not staying on the top bunk. It short-sheets my bed and sticks the pins of its mememe, lookatme voice right in my ear.

    At around 4 am, I try a new tactic. I put in my earbuds and listen to music with no lyrics. I think I fall asleep, because suddenly it’s light.

    Noise is well rested. It begins its day filled with vim and anger anew.

    “Sleep well?” it creaks, and I begin plotting my revenge. But how does one get revenge on a noise? It’s impossible. So I do the one thing that I have the power to do in this situation.

    I hunt down a shower and go trawling for food.


    If I can stand on the 4 train without holding on as it screams downtown in New York during rush hour, then it stands to reason I can take a shower in a closet on a train without holding on to the metal railing. (I don’t like signs that tell me what to do. Hold the rail. HA! You can’t tame me!)

    Let me point out the critical difference between the 4 train scenario and the situation I face now, standing naked in this tiny white coffin with a sad water jet that works in 30 second bursts. The difference—apart from the nakedness and presence of water—is this.

    The 4 train during rush hour is a packed cattle truck. You can remain standing without holding on because you are crushed between the workers and wanderers, perverts and pensioners. The bigger challenge is to actually extract yourself from that crush at your stop. Just try to fall over. It can’t be done.

    In the Zephyr shower, however, it’s just you. You and your stand up and sway motion.

    I don’t fall. Just bang my elbows awkwardly, get shampoo in my eyes, and curse in my own special way. Finally, I grab the shiny railing with a reluctant gratitude, and after a few 30 second bursts of tepid water, I feel sufficiently schooled enough to end it all and reach for the towel.

    Flinging back the plastic curtain that has been flung back many times judging by the torn press-studs at its edge, I stand, blinking in the harsh light. My reflection suggests that I lost some kind of aquatic battle, perhaps featuring blunt tridents, judging on the red welts on my face where I whacked into the wall early on in the experience.

    Not much I can do about that. Dry, dressed and humbled, I exit.

    Breakfast is a chatty affair. Across from me sits a couple out to see America. Turns out they lived on a sailboat for ten years (this comes up due to a conversation about train legs vs. sea legs). Then one day, they stopped for repairs at a small island in the Caribbean and ended up living there for twenty years.

    “We had the inclination to leave,” they explain. “Just not the motivation.”

    Inclination, but no motivation. Why does that sound so familiar?

    Holding that thought, I sway my way back to my room and the bed is gone. Packed up and put away. I settle in with my laptop on my tiny little table and two pillows behind my head. America waves lazily as it saunters by the window.

    A blur. A shift. Time ticks. A snooze sneaks up behind me and throws a burlap sack over my head. My eyes close in a whoosh of relief.

    I don’t inquire as to the whereabouts of Noise at this time. But I dream of it sauntering off to find a breakfast of axle oil, or at the very least, some WD40 toothpaste.


    There’s a distinct lack of swooning in the world. It’s a crisis actually, a real tragedy. The untold story. Imagine the millions of humans living their lives minus the pouncing shiver at the back of the neck and the tightening coil of anticipation in the thorax.

    What power! What thrill! To be physically overcome and rendered useless by the sensation of rapture. To literally faint. To drop. To come over all funny due to the sheer presence or action of one on another. Knees tremble and fold with sharp crease. Foreheads manufacture beads of excitement and eyebrows throw their hands up in genuine surprise.

    Man, to swoon!

    Weary swoon seekers of the world, rejoice. For I have hit the mother lode.

    Direct your browser to Google maps and plot your course to a longitude I don’t know and a latitude I can’t be bothered looking up. But plug any old decoder ring into these numbers and it’ll spell out S.W.O.O.N. It’ll breathe it out in hot waft of hair-shifting delicateness. This place is a slow eyelid droop. And it grabs you by the throat while stroking your cheek with a fur-lined glove.

    Oh, Colorado. You had me at CO.

    Ruby Canyon flashes its leg first. Smooth, red and luscious. Every layer aches to be touched, but I sit quiet and dumbstruck in my rattler. Imagine the weight of time, the force of patience that made it this way. Imagine. The determination to grind down this ancient path, to carve its name in the face of hard, red rock on the hem between Colorado and Utah. Before there even was a hem. Before there was a Colorado, or a Utah.

    Noise, happily sitting with me behind this window, creaks approval. My camera whirls a click of its own. Curved red line against sharp blue sky. If I were a sentimental old woman, it would be enough to make me mouth the word “holy”.

    We chug on.

    Grand Valley, Glenwood Canyon, then Red Canyon steps out. I like this name. Red Canyon. It’s named the way Australian’s name things. Blue Mountains. Snowy Mountains. The Great Dividing Range. See-say. It’s not always a bad thing.

    Side note: Who named Space? That was brilliant.

    Red Canyon winks and flexes a bicep. Gore and Byers Canyon show me some abs. My heart books a spot on Springer’s “love at first sight” show and my finger exerts its influence on my Nikon.

    As we sit in semi-darkness for the 15-minute dream and float through Moffat Tunnel (no murders reported), the Continental Divide limbos its way beneath us.

    What is it about this trip, this train? Why is it such a swoonfest for me?

    Is it the broken, ancient landscape sliding by, cinematic and grand? Is it the gentle motion rocking me to my very contemplation? Drift away dear brain. Marvel at the wilderness, the snarling crags and jagged silhouettes. Behold the indifferent trees that stand and fall, and care not if you or anyone else sees or hears them.

    I swoon, America. What a great vision you are. People find you easy to hate. From afar, and sometimes from within. But from this window you have never looked more open to me. More filled with possibility, with hope. From the easy conversation in the dining car, or the quick chat with Amtrak Steve as he deconstructs my bed of a morning, you have never felt more free.

    And I guess that’s what the romance of the rails does to you. Optimism jumps a gauge. Curiosity shovels coal into the dream.

    Right now, right now, the great tailor is grabbing a spool of cotton and darning a nice hem into my life pants.

    It’s the 7th inning stretch. The last day. Time to reach down, touch the toes, and extend the hamstrings. Nice and easy.

    Time is running out. We’re going to have to sprint.

    The Zephyr’s out of sausage. Out of pancakes. It’s a mix ‘n’ match breakfast today. I sit alone for a spell, me and my USA Today. I pull my head out of it only when Mike and his mum slide in across from me.

    Mike is from Inverness in Scotland and, I don’t know how to put this delicately for all my fellow passengers, someone who is not of retirement age. It had not escaped my notice that the majority of people I have dined with—the ones who do the trip from coast to coast—have been, for the most part, retirees or grandparents visiting kids in California.

    We chat for a bit and I find out that this trip is both a big birthday trip for his mum’s 80th and an opportunity to knock out some research he’s doing for a book. I’m insanely jealous. Not because he’s writing a book about the five Inverness’ in America - which he is - but because he’s actually taking steps to get the damn thing written. A totally different strategy to my mine.

    I run away. He chases his down.

    I, of course, refuse to divulge anything about the pain of my not-getting-written book. I’m hoping the lack of talking about it will cause it to just explode out of me one day, like a build up of creative gas from my bloating unmotivated corpse. It might destroy me in the process. All I ask is that my wake is a simple affair. Oh, and should my explosive demise make the papers, please ensure I am described as a “tragically misunderstood dreamer”.

    This day’s scenery is horribly consistent once we get past the Mighty Mississippi, which we do around lunch time. The Zephyr is now out of any kind of beer that I would drink (meaning they still have Bud), so I settle for a half bottle of wine. I get it uncorked and go back to my car to wrap up the trip in style: Drinking a cheeky little pinot from a paper cup.

    Corn goes by. Then some more. Then, more corn. I keep a watchful eye out for a young Clark Kent, should he choose to race the now thundering train. It should be noted that the speed of the train has banished Noise to the heavens and I raise a soaked paper cup to the make in gratitude.

    It’s all moving horribly fast now. We must escape the corn; its regimented rows, its starched math of consistent height and stand-to-attention vigor. I run my glazed eyes over America’s bread basket as it flies by. I pronounce it yellowish with green edges.

    And like this fast moving train, I grind out the day at breakneck speed. It’s not long before I wave goodbye to my cabin, to the Noise and to Steve the cabin man. It’s not long before I find myself in a Chicago hotel room overlooking the river, the bridges snuggled to its dark water as the sun sets. It’s really not long at all before I am barefoot and cross-legged, eating room service and yelling at McCain to look at Obama when he’s debating him.

    I sleep like a contented drifter on a feather bed in the sky. I wake like a person so close to home they can already hear themselves dropping their bag on the wooden floor, and watching the trajectory of the house keys as they are thrown in the direction of the couch.

    As we touch down, the trip is slain and I am reborn. The adventurer of old. The escapee. The runaway. New York. I breathe you in as we yellow-taxi weave through Brooklyn to that spot on the map where I get my mail and store my mind. A smile settles. I can’t kick it off.

    See you out there.

    Here endeth the missive

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    A Ramblin’ Mixtape - Side A http://shnoos.com/?p=393 http://shnoos.com/?p=393#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2008 04:00:34 +0000 Noodle http://shnoos.com/?p=393


    Both feet, viagra sovaldi sale baby. Both feet. Strap on your best driving boots and jump into the flow. Slip in. Into that stream of consciousness. That steady stream of steel, generic viagra ask and exhaust, and rubber, and hollow-sounding horns hit with flat, angry palms.

    It’s my first time driving on a freeway in America. Something about it reaches out of the darkness and prods my inner animal with a blunt stick. I picture that inner animal as a sloth, but a punk-loving sloth. Angry when roused.

    Wake up! Wake up!

    Freedom is illusory, but the sensation, real. The world’s your oyster at 65 mph, pre-shucked and squeezing its own secret lemon on itself. The road, they say, is open. And with it, your heart. Wind in your hair and horizon wrapped around you, you press on towards that piece of yourself that’s adventurous and free and undeterred by the uncertainty of real life.

    The car is free, in spirit. You could go anywhere right now. Depending on how much gas you can afford and the quality of snacks in the car.

    Awareness creeps. A free car may also be not free. It can be a rental—like this one.

    But still, I feel it.

    A tingle in the nostril, a flare of air and my un-muzzled foot pressing the pedal down. The toes whispering faster, faster pussycat. Faster.

    A fear raps its knuckles on the door of my gut. A fear. Of being on the wrong side of the road, the car, and life. And it’s going 65 mph with its dog face and tongue hanging out the passenger window.

    A twitch nibbles at my hand. It is an eagerness to flip the bird at the first person to look askance at my airplane hair and erratic swerve-ability.

    Grip the wheel. Keep it real.

    Like mercury seeking out other blobs of mercury, we blend together to form traffic. Angry chest beating traffic. I am thrilled. Heart beating wild. Brain zipping do-dads and blip-toes. To drive. To feel human and in control.

    To be Cali, Cali, and all the way Cali.

    On the freeway.

    Free. And on the way.


    What wind did wind you this way west? To California?

    A wonderful zephyr, actually.

    The kind that lifts your skirt and makes you acutely aware that you’re wearing back-of-the-drawer underwear. Oh, the check-blushing shame!

    In this case, the zephyr I speak of is a train called The California Zephyr. It’ll feature in this story but not until much later. I needed to come to the west in order to take it back to the east (which is the proper direction for a zephyr anyway), and a lot of stuff will need to happen in between.

    So, let’s get on with the stuff.

    My justification for this trip is, at best, flimsy and fake.

    I could ramble on about needing to seek inspiration from the world. To crack its shank and suck out the marrow until it dribbles down my chin. To become a more well rounded person, rather than the squashed rhombus or syncopated blob of thought that I normally am from day to day.

    I could confess that the plug in my adventure sink is leaky. That I feel my spirit of discovery and checking-out-the-world-edness slowly sucking down the drain, along with soggy rice kernels and old bacon grease.

    Suck, suck, suck, down the suck hole.

    I need to refill that sink!

    But the truth is much more ugly and painful. Personally painful. The truth is—and this is just between us—I need to escape the horror of my novel not going well.

    “I need to seek inspiration outside its pages,” I say.

    But that’s just code for “I’m crapping my pants with my no talent.” Which I think might be a talent in itself, albeit a not very PG-13 marketable one.

    I’m a great one for running away, so I’ve run away from it. As far away as my budget will allow.

    California, here I am. Lock up your talent. I’ll totally seduce it on a bearskin rug, first chance I get.


    It’s been a while since the snotty English lady said “Recalculating”, and I’m glad. I don’t like her tone. It makes me feel like a stupid colonial convict type. I almost hear the catch and frustration in her voice right before she breathes it out.

    I know what she’s thinking.

    “Oh bugger, she’s gone her own way again. Along streets I specifically didn’t mention in my directions. And now I have to look deep into my GPS brain and work it out once again.”


    That’s what I pay you for, you insolent wench!

    I am at her complete mercy and she knows it. I can tell she’s a little grumpy because I asked for directions to the “beach” and she didn’t know what to say. I’m sure she wants to tell me where to go, but not in that friendly, map-directional kind of way.

    It’s California and there’s a whole coastline of beach. I don’t know how to be more specific. Isn’t it all in one direction?

    I press all her buttons and beach doesn’t even come up under Points of Interest.

    So I wing it. Type in “Beach Street” and a random number. Bada-bing-bada-boom, not 20 minutes later and I end up at Newport Beach.

    Jeans rolled (but cool), shoes off and freckle-face squinty, I step onto black and gold-flecked sand. The sun rushes over to lick my face all cat-tongue and rough. The wind strokes the hairs on my arm. The glare from the Pacific bounces from my eyes into my brain.


    It’s such a long stretch of beach. I can see for miles, all the way to what I imagine is Huntington Beach. I plop down on the sand and watch non-working parents get browny glazes, while casting watchful gazes over their frolicking spawn.

    I mash my toes into the sand and stare out to sea. Could I live here?

    It’s very different to NYC.

    New York is a grinding machine, churning through season after season, like a never-ending run of Survivor.

    Gazing out to the horizon, sun igniting my freckled arms, I think. Think of New York and what’s lurking around that next corner in the east.


    That slap of cold on my cheek.

    That frigid air sticking its hand up my shirt, uninvited.

    The black sludge after snow, the soggy jean legs. Cold toes, fingers and heart.

    The grey dragging on and on and ever on. No escape, no relief. Not even with a long, atmospheric bath infused with the good bubbly stuff.

    But always the flip side.

    The freedom. The flow. The “filled with people who know how to walk” town. The “never need to own a car” town. The “5.5 years of slogging your guts out and whittling down the crowd to reliable dining companions and beer after work pals” town.

    Throw that away, would you?

    I don’t know, Master Yoda. Would I?


    “He’s a creep. A total Creep Creeperton.”

    This makes me pause with a fork of runny egg halfway to my mouth. I put it down and scribble this gem of language on back of a postcard for Matt. You can’t let something like that slide. That has to be shared. I imagine Thom Yorke singing it. Then something else wipes that away.

    “Your baby is totally rad.”

    “Yes, we have a rad baby. We won the genetic lottery.”

    I shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but hey, not much else to do except sit here, eat my breakfast, sip my mimosa and gaze longingly at the ocean like a pill.

    I should be writing, but the most I can muster is to scribble on the back of a free postcard from the Greeter’s Corner café, and jot down some notes about my tussle with a freeway toll machine.

    I drove through the otherworld to get here. Past the shiny arses of cyclists doing the Tour de Good Life, and bright-faced beach goers with surfboards strapped to their cars and Starbucks lattes snuggled in their center consoles.

    Everything is a little odd here. Just a little odd. On my walk ‘round the cliffs to the beach, I happened upon cheerleaders. Lots of cheerleaders. Posing in front of ocean views and being pointed at by German tourists.

    I can’t remember ever having seen this many cheerleaders in the flesh. Their bright white socks, constant commercials for some whitening laundry detergent. Jaunty jumps and giggly secrets on the grass. After the photo, their mothers herd them back into the van.

    Forget leader. Cheer follower. That’s what I would have been at that age. Not born to lead anything, least of all a cheer.

    Unless it went something like this:

    You might be good at bball (clap)
    You might be good at track (clap, clap)
    But when it comes to awkward?
    You might as well step back
    Say what?
    You might as well step back
    What, what?
    Noodle’s here, step back!
    Goooooooooo loser! (jump around wildly)

    I walk along dramatic cliffs, past scuba divers and Saturday strollers. A fever of weddings sweat their way through the pores of the path. A laid back groom in his Hawaiian shirt, a bride in full meringue dress. Both are lead down to the beach. Eager to hitch their tiki torches together. Eager to get on the road and start burning their lives bright, or down.

    Protesters multiply on the sidewalk.

    Honk if you want to bring the troops home!

    Say no to Prop 8!

    Sitting on the beach, amongst the beach umbrellas and washed-up seaweed, I watch the whitest of all white-haired children scream their cold arses out of the water. I lie on a towel, reading Wired and working on my farmer’s tan. The sand is a pair of comfortable shoes. The breeze a snug cuddle from someone loved.

    California, California. You roll me in your weather and whisper sexy, naughty, cheeky things in my ear.

    Somewhere in the distance, Wall Street crashes.


    Sinewy and reluctant, it protests. I rip at it with determined teeth. Finally, it gives up and tears away to meet its doom somewhere near the molars. My tongue tingles and my stomach is a little ‘eh, not sure if this is a good idea, kid’.

    Taking my hand off the wheel, I reach over and touch my passenger in an overly familiar way. That’s when I realize my traveling companion—a bag of Sweet ‘n’ Hot Beef Jerky—has reached the end of its life and will not be continuing on this journey with me.

    Holy smokehouse! I just ate an entire bag of jerky for breakfast. Part of me thinks I am amazingly awesome for doing this. The more rational part thinks I’m an idiot.

    But I’m driving. Better to be an idiot in the food stakes than in the lane-changing stakes. Today is the first day of my drive up the Pacific Coast Highway and a lot of it is in the tussle of heavy traffic. Cheek by jowl and jowl by side mirror action.

    I’m ready for a rumble, but it never happens.

    It’s uneventful. Boring even. The highlight is putting gas in the car—my first time doing that in America. Weird. I was nervous about it for some reason.

    “What if,” asks my brain. “What if you screw up in some weird way and the whole event ends up like that scene in Zoolander where they’re spraying around gasoline like water from garden hoses?”

    Yeah, like that would happen.

    It doesn’t, so I buy some jerky and book it outta there.

    The coast is to my left. It will stay there for the next two days if I continue in the right direction. I squeezebox and wheeze my way through LA on a Sunday. Up through Santa Monica, winding through Malibu, I flow.

    Past surfers, mobile homes, expensive cars and the smell of a life I’m not living.

    I jump on and off the freeway, trying to find Highway 1. I remain within kissing distance of the ocean for most of the day. Mile after mile of ocean, with the frequent bob of seal-like surfers in the swell.

    My map is a dartboard and at the bullseye lays the village of San Simeon—basically a strip of hotels either side of the highway. I don’t ask my GPS wench directions on how to get there. I just drive on instinct and guts. That’s how I roll.

    Later, the sun gets depressed and dips low as I sip on my Negro Modelo and try to kill the salsa after burn. It might be a gorgeous San Simeon sunset, I really can’t say. It’s so bright, I feel like God is welding right in my face and didn’t have the decency to give me eye protection. The photos I take are white hot and totally pointless.

    Oh, and here’s a tip: If you have a carnitas rave going on in your belly, a few Negro Modelos will not hose it down.

    With beer-trip snaggle in my legs, I let the wind push me down the street to my accommodations. And what a wind! To steal a Billy Connolly phrase, it makes me look “windswept and interesting”, but the lonely traveler has no one to impress with such a look and so I keep my thoughts to myself.

    “But I AM windswept and interesting!”

    Tell it to the wall, sister.

    The hotel room smells like burning, wet money. The dramatic but cheap canopy bed makes me giggle, and when I discover the push-to-light fireplace, I squeal kid-Christmas-morning style.

    Out of boredom, I watch the Emmys. Holy crap on a year-old cracker. They never end. I have no Internet to escape, and everything in my brain is shredded and waving a vacancy sign.

    Remember when you used to read books?

    Remember when you used to write?

    I can’t tear myself away from this train wreck on TV. I feel bad saying train wreck, but the drunken legs, the cheesecake I brought back from the restaurant, and the glow and non-crackle of a fake fire lull me into a state of who-gives-a-shit-edness.

    It’s a naked man of a wreck, and I dress it with my eyes. Slowly.


    Tack, tacky, tack. It’s hip to be tack. Roll around in it ’till you stink up the joint.

    Be ready for it. Smile at it with teeth and gums showing. Proudly, eyes crinkled with grin. Be ready.

    I’m ready, but like Godot, it never quite arrives.

    Hearst Castle—though castle-like but no Castle Greyskull—is a lesson in wow.

    Hearst himself sounds like he might have been a bit nutty, but in a good eccentric no-harm-to-no one kind of way. His architect sounds like she was incredibly patient with his craziness (sure, we can rebuild the pool three times, making it bigger each time!) The money clinking into the tourist coffers sounds like ca-ching-ching-chingy. Hey, everybody, let’s do the profit boogie.

    I board a bus with a bunch of strangers and we wind and snizzle our way up the mountain. Grinding silently. Gently.

    The voiceover to the trip tells a tale of wild animals roaming them thar hills. Hearst, at one point, had the largest zoo in California. A regular grab bag of animals. Polar bear, giraffe, bison, kangaroo, and plenty of bitey bitey eaty eaty things. He kept the carnivores behind the garage, which I guess is as good a place as any.

    Polar bears on top of a mountain in California. Of course.

    It’s quite a hike up there. We pile off the bus and are greeted by Linda and Bill. Bill takes charge and drags us ‘round for over an hour. Linda trails behind with a big stick to make sure none of us ooze acid on anything valuable, or linger too long in any area.

    Oh, the things I saw! The things I could talk about! The statuary, tapestries, gold, marble, carvings, party talk and crazy, crazy opulence. But I let my photos do the talking. They’ve been to finishing school.

    I dribble back down the hill. My brain packed tight and bubbling at the seams. It’s too much. I can’t form the words to even talk about it. But I have another bag of jerky, and chewing that is making talking a moot point anyway.


    “Hello, lady.”

    This is my waiter’s greeting. I’m at the Fish Hopper in Cannery Row, Monterey, CA.

    Tonight, I care little about money. I flip coins at fountains. I swat flies with Benjamin Franklins. I throw checkbooks into the mouths of hungry homeless lions.

    Tonight, tonight I dine!

    On a waft of pleasant ocean air, the shrimp cocktail arrives. It is the size of a small gopher mound, heaped on a dinner plate.

    “Here, lady,” says the waiter, sporting the same jaunty smile he wore for his greeting earlier.

    The plate waves its rude, pink limbs at me.

    I flashback. Something I learned in scriptwriting class to never do, but the brain cranks the memory back on its medieval rack. I think of prawn rationing. Of being in the kitchen and working out how many prawns are ethically allowed to go in each cocktail, considering the expense. Five or six? Five. No, six.

    Prawns. A luxury of inland Australia.

    But my life has changed, and now prawns are shrimp—although they look a decent size to me.

    I look down at my plate.

    The black, glassy eye of opulence stares back. Poor shrimp. Life held in such low esteem. What man knows the dreams of shrimp? Do they not have lives beyond our comprehension? Loves?

    No, the shrimp has no rights. No say at the PTA. Not even allowed to vote. Simply plucked from Ocean’s errant eyebrow and bathed hotly in screaming water. Dignity gone, piled on a plate, and forced to cuddle with a zesty lemon.

    All the while, drowning its sorrows in a spicy shrimp sauce.

    I dig in.

    I eat.

    Hey, if shrimp wanted a different destiny, they should have consulted the evolution chart before deciding their path. Not my fault they chose to become creatures that spend their lives twiddling about in the sea and getting tasty.

    Not my problem.

    All crab crusted salmon and chocolate moussed later, I snake back to the hotel to die. Wallet light and seafood fat on a bed big enough for a small meeting of the United Nations.

    I sleep like the dead and dream of nothing.

    TRACK 8: TENDER - BLUR {play}

    Up the hill, across the cable car lines, down the hill, and mind the homeless. Turn left, think of earthquakes, gun the engine, and check for cyclists. Decide to drive across the Golden Gate, just to say you did it. Curse the decision because of the toll you’ll have to pay to get back.

    Eat a fish taco, drink a Great White beer. Say “Sausalito” out loud three times because you like the sound of it in your mouth.

    Pay the toll, swerve across lanes and memorize her voice, her voice. Oh, GPS lady, I wish you love and success with your next victim!

    Dodge lazy-legged and eyes-skyward tourists in Fisherman’s Wharf, and then cruise to a halt-who-goes-there between the white, Avis lines.

    Hail a cab, sweat the ride, pay too much, and slap your stupidity when you see where you are.

    In the Tenderloin.

    The tender hearts dare not venture here. Don’t even ask about the loins.

    Check in, unpack bags, wriggle toes in the carpet. Seek and divine a signal, finally strike Wi-Fi gold on the toilet lid.

    In the fading light and evening air, hands in pockets and fingers on wallet, walk down to Market Street. No eye contact, the loud street fat with the yaw of talk.

    White rocks against a dirty palm, look away, but see the money change hands. In four blocks, witness and ignore three drug deals. All through the air the exchange cracks out as a flock of pigeons taking flight.

    The sun says “I surrender” and the light shrinks back down drains and gutters.

    The prickle of rush at the back of my neck. The air of scare. I embrace my room and we close the curtains on the wild street.

    San Francisco, we can never be lovers. This is the second time you’ve made no effort to make me swoon.

    But tomorrow is the big day. The California Zephyr.

    Tomorrow is my great train journey.

    Toodle Noo
    Here endeth the missive

    Continued on Side B of Mixtape

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    © Janeen McCrae 2008