Tag Archives: California

Suffering

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It doesn’t matter why we were in Fresno, CA at 9am on a Friday morning.

I was jacked up on coffee, it is true, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, but the sun was shining and the temperature had dropped on that first day of autumn.

I’d exited Highway 99 to get breakfast at Taco Bell and use the internet. When it was time to get back on the 99, we could see the highway, but due to the one-way street we were on, we couldn’t get directly to it. The Man was working with Google Maps to get us to our destination, and I found myself driving through an industrial part of the city that looked sketchy to my no-longer-accustomed-to-an-urban-environment eyes.

Make a left, The Man told me.

Here? I screeched. I could see railroad tracks, but no street.

Here, The Man confirmed, and I turned. There was a street there, narrow and running next to the tracks.

It wasn’t a place where I’d expect to see people walking around, so I noticed the woman near what appeared to be a warehouse. There was rubbish piled all over, and while the woman was standing, she seemed somehow hesitant, as if she’d stumble if she took a step. I didn’t get the impression she was drunk, but imagined she’d recently awaken and emerged from a nest in the trash. Maybe she wasn’t fully awake and still unsteady on her feet.

I glanced at her and made assumptions about her in a second or two while I was driving, then put my eyes back on the road. When I looked at her again, I realized something else.

She was an African-American woman, thin, wearing a red ball cap and a long red shirt, but I’m pretty sure she wan’t wearing pants. I didn’t see any private parts or underpants, and maybe she was wearing short shorts under he long red shirt, but I don’t think she had on pants or a skirt or any sort of bottoms.

Some people would make a joke here about a woman who forgot to put her pants on, but I didn’t see anything funny, only felt profound sadness.

After telling her about the woman, Nolagirl said in a text, She probably has some mental illness which makes it hard to remember you need pants. That’s probably true.

It shouldn’t happen to anyone—mentally ill, living on the streets, sleeping in a pile of trash, no pants or the recollection that pants are a necessity—but it’s not a way of life we associate with the developing world, not here in the good ol’ US of A.

I know people are homeless, I’ve seen them, and I’ve been one of them, but even I can be shocked when confronted. No wonder so many folks who’ve never lived on the streets can pretend it’s not happening in their country and can believe those homeless people are different, a foreign other.

In seconds, we had passed the woman. The Man never even saw her. Out of my sight isn’t out of my mind, though. The woman haunts me. I wish I could have done something for her, but what?

What could one stranger passing through, a stranger in her on edge-living situation really do to help? I suppose I could have given her a couple of bucks or a pair of pants, but would either of those things have really helped her? My tiny offerings would not have changed her life. Still, I feel as if I should have done something.

 

 

Nobe Young Waterfall

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Nobe Young waterfall is tucked away off the Western Divide Highway (also known as Mountain 107) in Tulare County, California. It shows up on maps of the area, but there’s no sign marking its location. If you want to see it, you might need to ask a local, or you can use this blog post to find your way.

Who was Nobe Young and why is there a creek and waterfall named after him? I have no idea on either count. When I did a Google search, I found no information online about Nobe Young the person. I’m not even sure how to say the first part of the name. Some locals rhyme it with “probe,” while others rhyme it with “adobe.” I don’t know who’s correct.

From the junction of Mountain 50 and the Western Divide Highway, turn left toward the Trail of 100 Giants. Pass the trail’s entrance and the nearby campgrounds. About three miles after the trailhead, look for three tires placed as a landmark in a big turnout on the right side of the road. The tires are immediately before an unmarked road to Last Chance Meadow. (This unmarked road is a shortcut to Lloyd Meadow Road.) From the turnout with the tires, go 9/10 of a mile. Look for another big turn out with boulders to the right and a big log well to the left. Just beyond the middle of the turnout, the land rises in a gentle slope. Park in this big turnout.

Walk to the left, toward the big log and find the trail. Walk 10 or 15 minutes on the trail. The first part of the hike is flat and easy, but the downhill part of the trail is somewhat steep. When I visited, I was glad The Man had reminded me to carry my walking stick. I was also glad for my closed-toe Keens. I wouldn’t want to walk that trail while wearing flip flops.

Very soon after we started out on the hike, I thought I heard the sound of water flowing. The Man contended we were hearing the sound of wind through the pines. I’m not sure who was right. Maybe we were hearing a combination of wind and water.

Seeing the waterfall was worth the hike, even the steep part. The drop in temperature was delightful, as was the moisture in the air. The Man called the falls “Native American air conditioning.” The falls were lovely, with water cascading down boulders at different levels. Bright green grass grew at the base of some of the rocks, and the water splashed as it fell.

I’ve heard it’s possible to walk behind the waterfall; there’s talk of a cave back there too. I didn’t try any fancy exploring. I did climb up onto one of the huge boulders in front of the falls for a photo opportunity and found the wet rock rather slippery. I’m in big trouble if I break a bone or hurt myself in some way that makes working for money impossible, so I carefully got off the boulder and stayed off the treacherous wet rocks.

We followed the water down the rocks to a small pool. The water in the pool wasn’t deep enough to swim in or even for an adult to submerge in, but it was plenty deep enough for wading. The Man and I took off our shoes and socks and stood in the pool. Yowza! The water was cold (although not as cold as the water in the Rio Hondo earlier in the year). I’d joked about taking off all my clothes and lying down in the water, but I wasn’t nearly hot enough to do such a thing.

We’d come down, so we knew we’d have to climb back up. After our feet dried, we put on our socks and shoes and started up the trail. I was really glad for my walking stick on the way up. I struggled a couple of times, but I made it safely back to the van with no injuries.

It was a wonderful afternoon of exploration. With a picnic lunch, I could have spent half a day out there, but it’s also possible to make it a quick half hour or 45 minute trip.

I made a short video of the falls, which I like because it lets me see and hear the water splashing down the rocks. The sound of water flowing is so comforting to me. I wish I could sleep next to Nobe Young waterfall (or at least the sound of it) every night.

I took all the photos in this post and made the video too.

Do You Know the Way to San José?

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The tourist asked the manager of the mercantile how to get to San Jose. The manager explained the directions to him in great detail—twice. The tourist and the young woman accompanying him seemed satisfied after the second time. They walked out of the store but were back in a few minutes. He requested the manager tell them again how to get to San Jose. They wanted to write down the directions.

Maybe there was a language barrier. The man spoke with a pronounced Spanish accent, so maybe he was unsure of what the manager told him. I grabbed a map so we could show as well as tell.

Take a left out of the parking lot, I said. Go to the stop sign, I told him, and make a right.

His fingers skimmed across the screen of his phone. Apparently he was taking notes.

At the second stop sign, make another right, I said.

Will there be a sign there?  he asked me.

Yes, I said, a stop sign. Make another right.

So there will be only the stop sign I see? he asked me.

Yes, I told him, fighting the urge to beat my head on the counter. At the first stop sign you see, make a right. At the second stop sign you see, make another right. When you get to the town with the stoplight, your GPS should work.

It looks like I can keep going straight, he said, pointing at the map.

I’m not sure, I told him. I don’t know how to get to San Jose, I said. When you get to the town with the stoplight, your GPS should work, I repeated. Or you can buy this map, I continued, tapping on the map spread out in front of us.

What highway is this? he asked, pointing to a roadway shown on the map.

If he had looked closely, he could have found the number for himself, but I did it for him. I looked at the map closely, found the highway number, and read it to him. He continued to study his possible routes.

I think we can go straight right here, he said again, pointing, and I agreed, Yep, that’s what it looks like.

They didn’t want to buy the map, but they did thank us for our help.

When they left, the manager and I shook our heads at each other.

I don’t know how to get to San Jose,  I told her. He wanted me to tell him exactly how to get there, but I don’t know!

Well, I do know, and I did tell him, but he wouldn’t listen to what I had to say, she complained.

I’ve noticed people—particularly city people—expect to find an interstate or a direct route to an interstate up on the mountain. I hate to be the one who has to break it to them, but it’s just not happening. It takes two curvy mountain roads to get to a state highway to get to another state highway to get to an interstate to get to San Jose. I could see how all that could discourage even Dionne Warwick.

Coupons

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I’d come down from the mountain to get supplies. I think I had an appointment with a dentist too, otherwise, I don’t know why I was in the large (by my standards, if not by California standards) city. It was hot in the valley, and as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t get back to my campground on the mountain soon enough.

I’d already been inside the discount grocery store. In addition to my week’s supply of food, I’d gotten a good deal on hummas and crackers for my lunch. I had the side doors of my van open, trying to cool the interior as much as possible, even though the outside air wasn’t much cooler than the air inside. The giant SUV next to me was parked as close as possible while still being inside its yellow line, so I could only open the doors partially. I was sitting in between the open doors, perched on the edge of the floor, trying to benefit from the slightly lower outside temperature.

I was enjoying my hummas and crackers when I heard a voice say, Excuse me.

I looked up and saw a young boy (no older than 13) had slipped between my van and the SUV and was peeking around my open door. I don’t like strangers getting that close to me when I’m alone in public, so I was immediately on edge.

Are you selling coupons? he continued politely. Free printable babysitting coupons clip art image

Coupons? I thought. WTF? I didn’t know what in the world he was talking about, so I was pretty sure I didn’t have what he was looking for.

No, I told him, and he left.

What was that all about? I wondered.

The next time I talked to the Lady of the House, I told her the story.

Do you think he was looking for drugs? she asked.

Drugs? I asked, increasingly perplexed. He was really young. And polite. I don’t think it was about drugs. Besides, do I seem like I’d be selling drugs?

I’m firmly middle age and totally unhip. Would anyone possibly mistake me for a drug dealer? Well, maybe if the parking lot were at a Dead & Company show, but probably not in a strip mall parking lot. Do people even buy drugs in strip mall parking lots?

Well, The Lady said, you were in a van. (Does all the world see people in vans as drug dealers?)

Maybe he was looking for LSD, she said. Maybe “coupon” is code. LSD comes on paper, coupons are made of paper…

She made a strange sort of sense, although I didn’t think a preteen boy was combing strip mall parking lots asking middle age white ladies (even the ones wearing colorful long hippie skirts and hanging out in 1990s-era conversion vans) for LSD using coded language I’d never heard. But—kids these days—who knew? Maybe she was right.

Later I figured out what (maybe) had been going on.

Nolagirl works for a major newspaper conglomeration. She told me about people who go into stores on Sundays and pilfer the pullout coupon sections from the newspapers on the rack. The thieves don’t take the entire paper, just the glossy pages featuring coupons. When a genuine paying customer gets home and finds the paper is sans coupons, said customer is often pissed by his/her inability to take advantage of the savings. Clip Art Coupons

When my friend told me about purloined coupons, I thought the thieves worked for their own cents-off benefit. However, after the young man asked if I sold coupons, I realized the thieves may work for hard currency profit. But how much money can a person make selling coupons, even stolen ones? Does the thief sell the whole glossy coupon section for a couple of bucks, or does each coupon bring in a few cents? How much will a shopper pay to save a few cents? If coupons go for half off face value (and that’s just a guess on my part), is it worth seeking out a coupon seller and paying 12 cents to save 12 cents? If coupons go for just pennies each, can a coupon thief really turn much of a profit? And is the risk of jail time and a criminal record worth making a few cents per coupon? I think it would take a lot of coupon sales to make the effort and danger pay off. Even coupon theft for personal use seems like too big a risk for too little payoff.

Furthermore, do middle-age-lady coupon thieves post up in conversion vans in front of discount grocery stores and peddle their ill-gotten wares? Did that young man really think I was in the coupon business? Also, was the boy coupon shopping for himself, or had he been sent out on a mission?

So many mysteries remain.

Coupon images from Clipart Library.

Firefighter (Tracy, California)

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I had a house sitting gig in Tracy, California in late October of last year. I stayed in a comfortable house, watched a lot of Food Network and Cooking Chanel shows, hung out with two adorable little dogs, and worked on my blog and my book.  One morning, I spent a few hours in downtown Tracy.

One of the interesting things I saw downtown was a sculpture of a firefighter on the side of the fire station on Central Avenue.

Firefighter sculpture, Tracy, CA

There wasn’t any information about the artist included with the statue. It wasn’t until I did a Google search and read a 2003 article from the Lodi News-Sentinel that I learned a couple of things about the statue.

The artist who created this piece is Lawrence Noble, “an honorary firefighter with two San Bernardino County fire departments…[who’s] spent the past 15 years of his career specializing in large public sculptures, often of firefighters.”

According to the article, “Tracy reserve firefighter Terry Langley commissioned the sculpture on behalf of his nonprofit group Hometown Heritage…” The statue was originally carved in clay, then cast in bronze.

In the same article, Noble says, “The firefighters of Tracy are very, very lucky, because they’ve never lost someone in the line of duty… “What I chose to portray was just an honest day’s work, and the pride a single firefighter would take in doing the best job he could.”

This firefighter is a working class hero, much like the Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam. I like this guy. If you ever find yourself in Tracy, you can visit him too.

 

Golden State Green

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I’d heard the stories from other travelers. Seemed like most everyone had a story about being handed weed while flying a sign. Seemed like everyone had a story like that except me.

Maybe I looked too middle age and normal. Maybe I just didn’t look like someone who wanted marijunan. In any case, although I’d flown signs for two years in a dozen states, no one handed me weed until I went to California. Money, yes, and food–once an entire cake–and hand sanitizer and a toothbrush, all were given to me as I stood on corners and held my sign, but no one thought to give me pot until I made it to the Golden State.

I was in Ukiah the first time it happened. Mr. Carolina and I had just spent a few days with the Viking and Mick and Karl, his three friends I’d recently met in Santa Barbara. We’d made some new friends and seen some beautiful California mountain land, and now we were back on the quest to return a pipe to Sweet L’s dad and then drink from the headwaters of the Sacramento River. After we said our farewells to our friends, we headed down from the mountain and into civilization where we hoped to get fuel for the van and for our bellies too.

We pulled into a gas station next to the Wal-Mart and stood behind the van. Mr. Carolina held my two-gallon gas jug and I held our “out of gas” sign. A few different people handed ua a few crumpled dollars, and we thanked each person sincerely.

Mr. Carolina had wandered away when the man approached me. He didn’t look like a hippie or a Rastafarian , or a sterotypical stoner. He just looked like a normal guy.

Here you go, he said to me, holding out his hand. This might help.

I reached out to receive what he was offereing. He placed quite a large chunck of hash in my hand. I quickly closed my fingers to conceal it.

You can probably sell that for $60 or $70, the man told me while I thanked him very much.

I knew we weren’t going to sell it. First, I’m not in the drug sales business, because it seems like quite a risk. Secondly, who was I going to sell the hash to? I didn’t know anyone in town, and I wasn’t going to walk through the Wal-Mart parking lot and approaching strangers and saying, Psst! Want to buy some hash? while suspiciously shifting my eyes from side to side. Third, while I wasn’t going to smoke the hash, I knew Mr. Carolina would.

Mr. Carolina lived with pain. He’d been in a terrible car accident some years before. He suffered from a brain injury and what he called a “broke neck.” His spinal cord obviously hadn’t been severed, but I suppose one or more vertebra had been damaged. He told me about coming out of a coma and trying to pull out the catheter draining urine from his body before he realized where he was and remembering what had happened. He told me about pissing blood when the catheter was removed. He’d had multiple surgeries since the accident, and he’d lived with pain since then. I suspect he suffered more pain than he ever let me know.

He’d been on prescribed pharmaceutical pain pills for a while. He’d been a “bad drunk” too, he said. Now he used marijuana, when he could get it, to manage his pain. The chunk of hash in my hand would get him through the next few days.

When he came back to the van, I opened my hand and showed Mr. Carolina what was hidden inside. He had a big smile on his face when I handed it over to him.

The second time it happened was in Bakersfield. Mr. Carolina and I had picked up two traveling kids at a truck stop in Santa Nella, and now we were trying to get them to Oklahoma City.

Please don’t leave me in Bakersfield, the Okie kept pleading with me, although I’d never threatened him with such a fate. I don’t know what sort of disaster he’d experienced the last time he was in the city, but he was really nervous about being left there.

We pulled into the strip mall housing a Wal-Mart and about a dozen fast food joints, hoping the Universe would provide us with money for dinner that night and enough gasoline to get us out of town in the morning. Lil C siad he wanted to fly his sign at the parking lot’s main exit. I said that was fine with me, but told him I’d make more money than he would, and I planned to share whatever I was given. He said I should go ahead and take the main exit.

I’d been standing next to the stop sign for a while, and people had been blessing me with dollars when an older man wearing his hair in a ponytail pulled up. I saw him rooting around, trying to find something. He rolled down the window on the front passenger side and reached across the seat. I stepped over and leaned in to take what he was offering.

Do you smoke weed? he asked.

Even though I personally didn’t, I knew the boys would, so I said yes. The man handed me two skinny joints, and I thanked him very much.

Sure enough, the boys were happy when I returned to the van with enough money for dinner and gas to get us out of town, as well as two joints for them to pass around before we slept.

 

Waterfall Comparison

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When I returned to the area where I’d lived and worked the last two camping season (mid May through mid October), we went the long way. We were trying to catch up with The Big Boss Man so I could introduce The Man to him while The Man was freshly shaved and wearing clean clothes. We thought The Big Boss Man would be at the campground where he sleeps, so we took the most direct route there.

In the mountains, even the most direct route is not necessarily so direct. The “direct” route to The Big Boss Man’s campground is twisting, turning, winding–one switchback after another. Even Google Maps says it takes 45 minutes to go 25 miles on that part of the mountain. Because the road is so difficult, I seldom go that way to Babylon.

Going that way did allow us to see a waterfall I’d seen before. In years past, the water flowing over the rocks had been a thin trickle. Still, the falls was exciting because it was right there, right off the road, easy to pull up to and take photos of.

This is the photo I took of the falls in May 2015:

I could tell it had been a wet winter because when we saw the falls in late June 2017, the water was rushing and splasing over the rocks.

Stop the van! The Man yelled, and I did so he could jump out a take a photo of the waterfall. I wasn’t

This photo shows my feet cooling in the pool.

thrilled to be stopped on a curvy mountain road, but he was fast with his photo shoot (and thankfully,

there’s not much traffic on that stretch of highway).

I took my photos a week or so later when we stopped there again (this time in a proper turnout) on our

way to visit a tree. I not only photographed the falls, I stood in the little pool at the bottom. The water was so cold and refreshed not only my feet, but all of me.

This photo from July 2017 shows the difference a season with a good amount of snow can make to a waterfall:

I took the photos in this post.