Category Archives: Places

10 Flooding Photos from Houston that look like the apocalypse

Continue reading 10 Flooding Photos from Houston that look like the apocalypse

Sunrise on Water

Just after sunrise at Cocoa Beach, Florida
Just after sunrise at Cocoa Beach, Florida

We didn’t stay more than a half hour.

But it will go down in our memories like it was hours and hours.

I couldn’t figure out the pay-by-phone system on the parking meters in the tiny lot at the 1st street access to Cocoa Beach.

So my son and I wandered down to the water’s edge to catch the sunrise with the specter of a parking ticket hanging over my head.

We arrived exactly seven minutes before it was scheduled to appear, according to the weather app on my phone.

The sun was set to rise from the cold Northern Atlantic Ocean horizon at 7:12 a.m. on Christmas Day 2014.

And I damn-well wanted to be there to witness it.

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Savannah on my mind

She always finds her Tardis
She always finds her Tardis

Gabrielle and I approached the breakfast buffet at the Comfort Inn in Columbia, South Carolina, trepidatiously.

That is to say we’ve been there before.

That moment when you walk into the foyer of whatever cheap hotel occupies every single exit from here to Modesto, and you discover that it looks like it’s been pillaged by Viking raiders.

The tables were covered in the viscera of yogurts and bananas, whose skeletons and skins bulged in a heap atop the trash can like a pile of bodies ready for the pyre.

Sloppy paper notes indicated the orange juice, waffles and sausages were gone. Forever.

So we made up toast with jam, salvaged the rest of the Fruit Loops and drank apple-juice colored water and headed to the pool, where I taught her my secret skills of playing the mouth trumpet in an echoe-y room.

“You’re really good at that dad,” she said.

“I know,” I replied. “I want you to put that on my grave stone.”

She just looked sideways at me and continued to swim.

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Asheville, The Art of War and Cheryl Strayed

IMG_7658I started writing this from the Chili’s across from the Comfort Inn we’re staying at in Dentsville, South Carolina tonight.

The kids are staring at me after I just scolded them for replying to the waitress with their typical “ya,” or barely discernible grunt meant to infer  that yes, they would indeed like fries with their burger.

“This is the South, where people are polite, and when they ask you if you want fries with your burger, you say yes please,” I told them.

They replied with those barely discernible grunts meant to infer that they indeed understood what I was saying.

After a long evening with Jon in Cincinnati, I was up early, as is my usual habit. I showered, dressed and sat in bed for a while waiting to wake my sleeping wife and kids.

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Cincinnati: Under the Rhine

We were going to blow through Cincinnati after a short beer stop with my buddy Jon.

We’d make our way down to Lexington and have a short hop over to Asheville in the morning.

But we met at the Rhinegeist, which felt good in the way a creative spot feels good. The brewery in a massive industrial space filled with people celebrating the end of a workweek and the upcoming holidays.

The beer was phenomenal, and catching up with one of my dearest friends was too easy in the way that makes a new place feel homey kind of way.

The kids played corn hole, ping pong and fusbal while the adults caught up, and we all waited for the pizzas Jon ordered.

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Live inquisitively, not judgmentally

Indian Toilet

Recently my daughter’s teacher told my wife that our incessant moving around the country seems to have benefitted her quite a bit.

I was taken aback by this, feeling a father’s guilt at loving a career too much to the detriment of the well-being of my children.

It seems Gabbers has a keen understanding of political boundaries like counties and state lines, well above that of her second-grade peers.

Her teacher even said that she had learned things about places and people because of her interactions with Gabrielle.

I shouldn’t be surprised.

This was my education too.

Continue reading Live inquisitively, not judgmentally

Riding the last great whistle stop train

The pleasure in riding trains is derived purely from the physical experience of riding on trains. I can only imagine how good it must have been when the herky, jerky steam engines ruled the planet. But even the smooth-running diesel engines of today with the beshocked cars still give pleasure in the way they yaw and chuck along their way.

On Saturday I rode the Alaskan Railroad 100 miles north to the town of Talkeetna. The journey, while short, is a phenomenal experience in an increasingly rare form of travel.

The conductor pops his head into the station and yells, “Goooooooooood, mooooooooorning,” to a sleepy group of passengers. He barks out a series of instructions, and like good farm animals, we corral ourselves through the doors toward assured shelter.

He’s done this, this railroad, for 40 years. It’s his life. He checks his gold pocket watch regularly to make sure the train is slightly behind schedule. For people who rely on the train as a way of life, it wouldn’t be a good idea to be right on time or, God forbid, early.

This is the last whistle stop train in North America.

A whistle stop train is a very particular form of transportation for a very particular person. The kind of person who wants to live out in the wild. A wild so wild that only a railroad passes nearby. These people ride many miles on snow machines to catch the train into town or down the tracks to a neighbor’s house to fix a problem.

Along the way, the conductor tosses a newspaper out every once in a awhile when he knows someone will find the orange bag containing this week’s news updates along side the tracks.

Along the way he welcomes passengers for whom the train is no novelty. Their belongings are not tourist bags or traveler’s packs.

As we disembark the train in Talkeetna, he wishes us a fond farewell, by name, each of us, with a smile.  As we walk away from the train into the quaint little valley town, he checks his pocket watch and hops aboard the train for the nine-hour journey to Fairbanks. Into the cold, cold north. Chugging along and telling stories and hearkening back to a better time when travel was as simple as the monstrous engines that carried us here and there.

One Month in Anch!

Who moves to Alaska in the winter? November isn’t exactly the heart of winter, but it’s close enough. The lack of a sunrise before 9:30 a.m., the strange, heavy snow followed by a fast melt, the way the air takes your breath away when you first step out a door, this far north is exactly what you’d expect it to be this time of year. 

In the month since we ran to catch our plane at PDX, we’ve done a lot and a lot of nothing. Downtime after a huge move is good, and we’ve taken the cold snowy nights to watch movies, eat around the coffee table, learn how to tiptoe around the apartment, enjoy chilly walks down the Park Blocks after dinner and walk downtown to have coffee or watch the lighting of the Christmas Tree.
Call us cautious, we’ve made new friends, but good relationships often grow slowly, developing deep roots, so we’re not in a hurry. We’ve learned to like each other in cramped quarters. We eat dinner in shifts, because our dining room table is a green fold up for two. 
We share a bathroom, which is decidedly tough with a nearly teenage boy who likes to shower every day, a younger brother who’d rather not shower at all, and a little sister who seems to have to go pee every 10 minutes or at least every time I am in the bathroom. 
Because many people rent these fully furnished apartments by the week, we’ve had a lot of neighbors we never get to know. The good news is that after a month, Cheryl finally found out that there is a laundry room in the building, and she got the lock code. No more long nights hanging out in the green fluorescent light of the laundromat up on Fireweed. 
We’ve seen many moose since we saw the big mama moose eating leftover pumpkins on our first weekend in town. Cheryl saw a huge bull moose in front of the library in midtown last week, and we saw another big cow and her baby on the way to visit Portage Glacier with a visitor. 
We’ve been ice skating with the kids on the oval at Cuddy Park as the sunset just after 4 p.m., casting an orange-creamsicle light over the midtown oil buildings. And we’ve spent an afternoon sledding and cross-country skiing at Kincaid Park, with a stop for hot chocolate on our way home. 
Saw the Nutcracker ballet and enjoyed evenings out and about at clubs and pubs.
Life is not perfect, but it is good. The adventure of Alaska is in the daily experience of living here. You don’t have to launch an expedition to go and find it. In a place so beautiful, danger is an overabundant commodity in Alaska.
On a long-enough timeline, Alaska will kill you. I can attest to this just in the news reported every day on our station and in the local newspaper. Living here is surviving here. Even in the crowded metropolis of Anchorage, death isn’t very far away, be it bullet, cold, car or plane crash. 
The dark won’t kill you, but I can see why so many give up and go back south where the dark hours play more fairly with the light. There is a certain anxiety until the solstice comes around and the simple knowledge that the days are growing longer brings those first hopeful thoughts of spring around again. 
My claustrophobia gets the best of me occasionally. I wake up feeling a bit stifled, but I know that is a product of the fact I haven’t driven much farther than the 45 miles it takes to get to Girdwood. I haven’t been to the valley yet. I haven’t been to Homer. Until I get a sense for the bigness of the place and the few roads that take you anywhere in this state, I’ll wake up feeling a bit stifled, or I’ll look out my window at work at the Chugach Mountains and wonder what is behind them and behind that. 
One month and so much to look back on already. The adventure has good start. 

Hot Springs Eternal

My favorite getaway will always be to a hot springs somewhere. Something about soaking in hot mineral water is embedded deep within me. I almost always ask if there are hot springs whenever I travel somewhere.

Montana isn’t what I’d call a hot springs Mecca by any means, but I’ve found some of my favorite springs within an hour or two of Missoula.

“It’s a beautiful day in Paradise.” The typical greeting when you call Quinns Hot Spring’s Resort is one of my favorites. The web site asks you to check in and make sure the pools are not taken up by overnight guests, so I look forward to their fun greeting whenever we get ready to go.

Seemed appropriate to begin one of the busiest weeks of our lives with a trip to the springs. I find hydro therapy to cause the most relaxed state I believe I can achieve.

The drive to Quinns is one of my favorite Western Montana trips. My daughter and I looked for deer on the summer-baked hillsides and on the backside of the National Bison Range while Cheryl took a nap.

The rolling highway reminds me of driving through parts of Sonoma County, where I first fell in love with hot springs.

My great grandparents owned a small piece of property in the town of Calistoga, which was nothing more than a little hippie enclave at the time. My great grandfather made wine and spent summers at the cottage known as a dacha. My father and his brothers and sister spent summers at Pachita’s Hot Springs. And years later, that is where I first fell in love with soaking in hot water.

One of the lasting memories I have of spending some good time with my grandmother before she died was at Nance’s Hot Springs in Calistoga. After Pachita’s was renamed Indian Springs and transformed into a very high-end exlusive resort, we’d spend more and more time at the lower-end Nance’s, and my grandmother reveled in the healing hot waters she had learned to love after almost 50 years in America.

Quinns reminds me of the old Pachita’s Hot Springs. It’s rustic and unrefined. It’s woodsy decor has not yet been stuccofied and palm treed like the California resorts.

Gabbers and I enjoy a soak in the warmer pool at Quinns

The pools are quiet as we arrive. After changing into our swim wear, we heard a lyrical language coming from the far end of the cool pool. My wife smiled at me knowingly as she recognized the Russian words for “more people are coming.”

I laughed at her, because no matter what hot springs we visit, we’ll almost always find kindred Slavic spirits abounding. Slavs love hot water. Visit Lolo Hot Springs any time of year and you’ll hear a beautiful symphony of byelaruskaya spoken as you enter the pool. The same goes for Fairmont Hot Springs near Butte.

We settled into the warmer pool next to two couples wearing knit caps and conversing casually about coming to Montana from Canada. I can follow along with Russian to a point, but when native speakers are speaking to each other, the speed at which they communicate is often too much for me to catch more than a gist of their conversation.

At one point, one of the men moved over into the hottest pool and sank down to his neck, his knit cap looked like a black mushroom on the pool surface. After a few minutes, he stepped over the wall into the cold pool, which felt colder than the air temp, which was 36 degrees when we arrived. He sat in the cold pool up to his neck for about two minutes as his companions discussed how many minutes he should spend in the pool to reap the benefits of hydro therapy. Most Slavs believe that soaking in pools with different temperatures is really good for the circulation.

The method the man used is one of my favorite soaking techniques. I like to start out in the middle warm pool and spend about 5 minutes soaking before moving to the hottest pool for 3 or 4 minutes. When I’m ridiculously hot, I get hop over the wall into the cold pool.

The water is so cold it numbs you instantly, and if you do it quickly enough, you won’t feel a whole lot until you are completely submerged. If you’re completely still, the cold water won’t feel like anything, and your breathing becomes very deep and your oxygenated blood causes your body to rise to the surface.

I like to float in the ice cold water until my breathing normalizes. If I can make a full five minutes, I feel completely refreshed. Once you start to move around, you begin to feel the cold water. Panic sets in, and all you can think about is getting into the warm water again.

After soaking in the cold pool, I ease into the larger warm pool for a brief swim to increase the already beneficial circulation effects. My daughter starts to chase me, and I begin the cycle all over again.

Quinns is not always so quiet and peaceful, but as I sat back and craned my head up to watch the sun come over the jagged hills behind the resort, I couldn’t help but be grateful for one last quiet soak.

After a bison burger and a Bloody Mary for lunch, we cruised back to a completely empty set of pools for a few more rounds of hydro therapy. At times I relaxed to the point of falling asleep in the warm pools. A good shot in the cold pool revived me, and when new swimmers showed up, they remarked that I must not have any blood in my system to be able to completely submerse myself in the cold pool.

Knowing that the closest hot springs I can find to Anchorage are in Fairbanks is bit disconcerting. But my plan is find the first Slavic person I can find and ask where closer hot springs are hiding. Slavs always know where to find a good place to soak.