Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, etc.

I’ve been back almost a week, but here’s a quick trip report on the tail end of what I wrote about last time.

So I stayed just south of Little River. They have a town hall and post office that are in the same building as a two-pump gas station. So the whole town is basically a Marathon quick-mart, which isn’t unusual in this part of the state. I drove down to Albion, a few miles south, and it’s sort of the same thing.

If you follow the 1 north along the shore of the Pacific, it winds about three miles until you get to Mendocino. It’s a little square peninsula hanging off the highway, with about 800 people living there, and made up mostly of small galleries and shops in buildings that are from the late 1800s. The whole thing has a very New England feel to it; I don’t know if it’s the open sky, the architecture, the whaling and mermaid stuff in all the gift shops, or something about the small feel of the town. Or maybe the way the drag on Main Street only has buildings on one side, and the other faces off to a bunch of cliffs and a headland that dumps right out into a bay off the ocean.

Mendocino was a nice place to walk and look around, and my cell phone worked there, but it wasn’t entirely my trip. There’s one good non-chain grocery store, and a lot of cafes that made me nervous. I was looking at one gluten-free coffee place with sandwiches, and got sketched out by the healthiness of it, so I went outside and found a sign for a taqueria which was on the back of a building, in a space about as big as my home office. I went in and everyone eating there was a construction worker, and nobody spoke English. This was more my speed, and I got a plate of nachos with like ten pounds of carne asada and cheese, plus a bottle of Mexican Coke for like ten bucks, including tip. That was a good find.

Photography was good. (It’s mostly on Flickr, https://flic.kr/s/aHsm7woRAX) It was hard to take a bad photo, although the sun wasn’t out much, and there was a lot of fog. The fog had a certain Twin Peaks feel to it, especially when I was in the cabin, surrounded with evergreens. But for a person with bad Seasonal Affective Disorder, it wasn’t entirely ideal. It wasn’t a hundred degrees, though, which I missed this weekend as I was broiling in Oakland.

Fort Bragg is about ten miles up from Mendocino. It has nothing to do with the Army base, which is confusing at first. There’s about 7,000 people there, and a bit more of a downtown, with that midwestern street layout grid that made me think of places like Goshen or North Liberty or whatever, tree names from left to right, dead presidents or generals from top to bottom. There were a few chain places on the outskirts, like a Safeway, CVS, McDonald’s, and so forth, but the town was more local places. It still had that New England feel to me, and a lot of quirkiness. Like there was a Radio Shack, but inside a Tru-Value hardware that sold everything, and reminded me of a store in the Catskills. Or the brunch place that was inexplicably covered in Wizard of Oz memorabilia.

I reached a point where I normally do when I get incredibly bored and need to go to a big city or a large museum or something. I’m not a social person, and can’t meet strangers on a vacation, so I fall into an isolation funk when I’m on a trip alone. And in a big city, my defense is to lose myself in the masses of people. It’s why Vegas is ideal for me. But here, there was none of that, which caused a real problem for me.

One day I got the idea to take the US 20 inland and go to Willits, which is about four or five thousand people. That drive, from the 1 on the shore to the 101 running through the meat of the state, is brutal. It’s about thirty miles, but with no traffic, it takes at least an hour. It’s all switchback turns and quick elevation changes in a deep forest of redwoods, which is beautiful, but not the place you want to be when weekend warriors are tooling around in RVs. Also, temperature changes galore: I left the house when it was 55 degrees. By the time I got to Fort Bragg and took a right, it was 75. In Willits, it was just about 100. I thought Willits might be interesting, but it was a bit of a bust. There was a pretty walkable downtown that looked desolated, and a cluster of chain fast food right off the highway on-ramps. I went to a McDonald’s and sat at a table next to a woman about fifteen years younger than me who was with her grandchildren, and was pregnant. So, yeah.

Point Cabrillo lighthouse was a nice walk in the middle of nowhere — went on a day when the sky was almost black with rain, a sheet of dark gray overhead, but the desolation in the park was amazing. I also went to Glass Beach a few times. It had magnificent cliffs and coves, great walking alone there. It used to be a garbage dump, and now the waves have turned the broken bottles into pebbles of bright colored glass over the last century. It sits next to what used to be a large lumber yard that went bust a decade or two ago. It’s amazing to see nature taking back the entire area, reversing the years of damage done to it.

So, it was a nice break. Didn’t write as much as I’d thought, but that happens. I think I got a dozen pictures I really liked, and didn’t buy any books I didn’t need. Also didn’t get badly sunburned, which is a first for an ocean stay, so I’ll take it.

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Little River

I am in a cabin in Little River, CA. This has nothing to do with the Little River Band, who is apparently from Australia. (I had to go look this up.)

Not sure why exactly I’m here. I wanted to bug out of town for a few days, and didn’t want to end up back in Vegas. Didn’t want to go somewhere that involved flying, partly so I could use my own car instead of renting one, and partly because I assumed the second I bought plane tickets, some work disaster would require me to cancel.

I’ve never been to this part of the state before. I guess I’ve driven on I-80 to Reno, and that’s technically further north than this. But this is the other side of the state, on the water.  California is huge, and I’ve never spent any time outside of SF/LA/SD, so here I am.

My original thought was that I would drive up to Astoria, Oregon. I visited there in 1997, and I liked it a lot. But it’s a long drive, maybe 12 or 14 hours. And there’s the issue of ghosts, and I don’t know that I want to deal with that. I don’t mean the paranormal. I mean, I visited there with someone, and I’d probably spend the whole trip thinking about twenty years ago, which isn’t good.

The cabin is weird. There are maybe a half-dozen buildings from the late 40s, divided in half. They are all themed with various retro themes. Mine is “read” and it is filled with books and pictures of libraries. There’s also a tiny kitchenette, which I’ve been using extensively, and a woodburning stove, which I will not touch. I’d either burn down the cabin, or release a lethal storm of allergens into my room.

The drive up here was easy, maybe three hours. Take the 580 over the bridge, past Uncle Charlie’s old place at San Quentin, then the 101 north for a while. I guess I have been to Santa Rosa — there’s a big air museum there. After Cloverdale, you get on 128 and cut west across the state, all the way to the 1 on the shore. That drive on the 128 is pretty crazy — lots of twists and switchbacks and steep drops and rises and dips in elevation. There’s also an insane amount of redwoods there, thick forests of them, completely blocking the light. You can drive for an hour with no cell reception whatsoever, something strange in this day.

This place reminds me of visiting what was left of the Catskills in 1988. In the mountains, there were these little private resorts, campgrounds of cabins for single families, almost like a deconstructed motel, with every couple rooms in its own building. We stayed in one somewhere between Cairo and Freehold, a setup similar to this one. It’s probably a McMansion now. When the pre-Holiday Inn generation died off, stopped summering in the mountains, the land became too valuable. I’m not sure why that hasn’t happened here. The lack of cell phone coverage, and the remoteness to any other city may be the issue.

I’m a few miles from Mendocino, which is about 900 people. It’s mostly galleries, shops, cafes. There’s a grocery where I was able to stock up when I got here yesterday. Lots of incredible views of the Pacific. Lots of buildings from the 19th century, and all of them have these wooden water towers behind them. Something about the architecture — or maybe it’s the nautical feel, or the open space by the water — makes it feel like New England. It reminds me of some random Rhode Island village, where it’s all lighthouses and whale watching.

I think it’s about twenty minutes to Fort Bragg, which is maybe six hundred people. It has more of a downtown, although it’s only a few blocks of it. I saw the smallest Sears store I’ve ever seen, and a still-functional Radio Shack, although it was just part of a hardware store that was also a True Value. Fort Bragg is unrelated to the Army base in North Carolina – that’s probably a hundred times bigger.

So, it’s weird here. I mean, it’s really quiet. The weather is mild, cold at night, not terribly warm or sunny all day. The ocean is beautiful, but it’s rough, choppy. Beautiful colors of blue mixed with the white foam of the waves, but it’s under a canopy of gray that doesn’t want to burn off all morning.

Also, it’s odd vacationing with my car. I’m used to renting a different car, driving an anonymous white Hyundai with rental car stickers all over the interior. Strange to have my daily driver here, to see it in unfamiliar surroundings. I pulled over at a Cove, the top of a windy s-curve road with a vantage point overlooking the beach below. Took a bunch of pictures with the real camera, my dirty Toyota at the edge of the road. It reminds me of when I took my last car from Denver to LA, and stopped in the mountains of some random part of Utah, took pictures in the snow at a rest area of the mud-streaked Yaris, parked next to big rigs of interstate truckers.

I’m supposed to be writing. I’m not. I’m picking at something, but I think the grand scheme was that I’d lock myself in this cabin with a week of TV dinners and a few cases of Coke and come up with some completely new idea. And that didn’t happen. So I’m picking away at this big thing, wondering how I can deal with it, package it, finish it. Or not. I don’t know.

Was sitting on my deck and saw a deer a few hours ago. It wandered past, eating grass, maybe ten yards away. Scared the shit out of me — I’m not used to being around nature. Anyway. I’ll probably go into town tomorrow and buy a bunch of stuff I don’t need at the local bookstore. Here until Monday, so maybe I’ll get to the writing thing.

 

 

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Various Vegas thoughts

I planned on blogging more from KonCon in Las Vegas last week, but I didn’t, because I am lazy. I probably should write a synopsis of the trip, but the TL;DR is that it was way too fucking hot – usually at or above 110 each day, and even hours after the sun set, it was still above 100. So that’s why it’s so cheap to go in July.

Someone asked me for some advice on Vegas while I was gone. I have not spent much time there in years, and everything I mentioned in my book about Vegas is largely gone. But my response to this question in an email is an interesting companion to the trip itself and my thoughts during it, so I’ll just leave this here for your amusement.

  • I waste a lot of time on this site when I am planning: http://www.lvrevealed.com/deathwatch/ – their casino reviews are decent, but I am sort of obsessed with who is rumored to get imploded in the near future.
  • If you look at a map of the strip, most of the mid-strip properties are what I’d consider first tier (Bellagio, Paris, Harrah’s, Caesars, etc), and the Wynn is north strip, but I’d group it in with those mid-strip properties. Same with Aria/City Center, which is technically south strip. It’s the newest; I’ve never stayed there, but from eating/shopping there, it’s pretty high end.
  • The south strip was the big deal maybe 10-15 years ago, and that stuff is now dated, but can be tolerable to stay there. It can be cheap, and the location is decent. So Mandalay Bay, MGM, NYNY, Luxor, Excalibur in that order. (Most of those are owned/run by the same monopoly, so they’re similar.) Tropicana got bought by Hilton and redone, so the rooms are nice, but there’s not a lot in there.An example: the Luxor is not that trendy of a property – I think it was so-so when I stayed there in like 99, and now it’s really lost its focus. It used to be Egyptian-themed, and they decided that maybe flyover rednecks aren’t into that, so they started de-theming it and ripping out the king tut stuff, but it’s still got these random stone pyramid walls in places.  But, the rooms are now ridiculously cheap, and it’s a really good location, and connected to the big mall by Mandalay Bay. So if you don’t plan on spending a lot of time in your room, it could be an option.
  • Everything north strip is shit. Everything downtown is total shit. Everything that’s not on the strip is mostly shit, unless you stumble on some deal to stay in a timeshare at Trump or something weird like that.
  • Absolutely do not stay at Hooters like I did.  I won’t go into the horror stories, but I’ve stayed at hotels in rural Mexico that were much nicer.
  • I used to never rent a car and cab it from the airport and around town. But the last few times, I’ve found an okay deal on a rental car bundled with the hotel (I think I used Expedia this time) and if you drive at least once a day, it’s usually a better deal. You can generally park at any hotel for free, or valet for almost nothing.
  • If you are driving, don’t actually drive on the strip to get north/south. Either go west to I-15, or go east to Paradise, Maryland, or Eastern.
  • Think of whatever amount of water a person would drink in a day that would be entirely excessive, and double that.
  • You can drive off the strip and buy a case of water for four bucks or whatever, or you can buy two bottles of water at a hotel for seven bucks. The problem is almost none of the hotels have a fridge. You can buy a crappy foam cooler at the grocery store and then commit to filling it with ice every other hour, but that’s a huge pain in the ass.
  • Opentable is a good way to get reservations for dinner.  There’s a surprisingly large number of high-end restaurants with decent food.
  • Every buffet is a ripoff. Wynn is almost tolerable, if you pace yourself and don’t eat all day and go in with the plan of fucking them by eating five pounds of lobster. But I made the mistake of going to the MGM buffet, and paid $35 for about $10 of Sizzler-grade food.
  • If you’re into steak, Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak at the MGM has a fairly insane three-course beef selection that is not cheap but is awesome. Or in the opposite direction, there’s the Golden Steer, which looks a little dodgy because it’s ancient and has never been remodeled, but it’s cool because it’s ancient and has never been remodeled – it’s one of those old-school places where the brat pack used to hang out.
  • Everyone associates the Grand Canyon with Vegas, but really it’s like a 4-5 hour drive each way, and easy to kill an entire day to spend a few minutes there.
  • If you are actually interested in going to Area 51/Rachel I could fill up another post with details on that.
  • If you are there and hit the wall and need to bug out and go somewhere quiet to get work done or whatever, go to UNLV. You can hide in their library and use wifi without any hassle.
  • There’s a huge Fry’s Electronics south of the strip, at a big outdoor mall right before 215. There’s a Target at Flamingo and Maryland. There’s a few Vons grocery stores (Safeway-owned, I think) on Tropicana and Flamingo.
  • Pinball Hall of Fame on Tropicana is worth checking out. The atomic testing museum on Flamingo is neat, but their Area 51 exhibit is pretty cheesy.
  • If you want to tour the neon graveyard, book it early.  They have limited tours and they always fill up.
  • Don’t stay at Hooters.

Thoughts?  Leave ’em in the comments.

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Sanjay Gupta and Jack Kevorkian went to the same medical school

  • I hate end-of-year lists. I didn’t even know it was 2014 for half of the year, and I can’t remember what I wrote, read, bought, or otherwise did. I published two books, and worked on two others, but you probably already know that.
  • I fell down a brief Jack Kevorkian k-hole the other day, probably because I spent too much time at the airport. I really want a copy of his jazz album. It always fascinates me when someone famous for one thing has a side-passion in something completely different.
  • This isn’t a good example, but I always found it interesting how prior to his career in blowing shit up, Ted Kazczynski was a math prodigy, and published several academic papers, mostly about boundary functions.
  • Both Kevorkian and Kazczynski went to University of Michigan.  (Not at the same time.)
  • I went to the same school as Jim Jones, Meg Cabot, and Joe Buck. (Jones was obviously before my time. Cabot lived in my dorm, I think, but I never knew her. I refuse to discuss Joe Buck.)
  • I went to Wisconsin for the holiday. I got sick. It did not snow. I’m still sick.
  • I guess a new year’s resolution, even though I hate them, is to not get sick anymore. This would probably involve jogging or something, and maybe not eating at Taco Bell four times a week.
  • A k-hole I plan to fall down, when I get off the DayQuil/NyQuil roller coaster, is Oulipo, and Raymond Queneau’s movement on constrained writing. He did this thing called A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems, which is like a paper version of those random headline generators, but from 1961. I don’t know any French, and I have no idea what I’m talking about, but it’s a good rabbit hole to fall down, maybe.
  • I have some fascination with constrained writing only because I wrote a ton of stuff just like Atmospheres, and then after the audio book and having to re-read it a dozen times, got really sick of that kind of writing, and thought I needed to write another book where the prose was much more simple. I don’t know what rules I would follow, other than to make it less manic, and maybe stop drinking Red Bull.
  • I was futzing with this app called Hemingway, which calculates the grade level of your writing and points out passive voice and stuff that’s hard to read. Most of the stuff I wrote in Atmospheres is way above the 12th grade level. I think I should just write books of lists at the 3rd grade level.
  • Not to be confused with The Hemingwrite, which is a hipster digital typewriter for about $400, and a kickstarter, which means you probably won’t get it until 2027.
  • I am about 4 for 17 on kickstarters, and just got in the mail this stupid pet camera I must have ordered in like 2011. It showed up right after we got back from vacation, so it’s sort of useless.
  • In 13 minutes, I get to take another dose of DayQuil. I’m pretty happy about that.
  • Other vague resolutions that aren’t are the usual: write more, ignore the news, lose weight, hail satan, etc. You?
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Nuremberg

Good to be back here.  I have walked a lot and ate too much and just bought a hundred pounds of art books.

OK, a bulleted list summary:

  • The flight out was brutal. Couldn’t sleep on the plane, other than little half-hour naps here and there. Left SFO at about 8:30 PM after a mechanical problem, got to Frankfurt at 4:00 PM the next day (but a nine-hour jump in there) and then had to wait for a 9:30.
  • I wandered the concourse, found a place to shower for 6 €. You got a little booth with a lock, a sink and counter in one half to put your stuff, and then a shower.  It’s Germany, so it’s all sterile and looks like an Ikea showroom.  I brought a change of clothes in my carry-on, and it was the best shower ever.
  • Screwed up meals royally – ate dinner at 4:00 the night before, skipped the meal on the plane, and then the “breakfast” we got was a dinner roll and a packet of jelly. Got off the plane and promptly ate an entire McDonald’s.
  • Handed over $200 at the airport exchange and got a handful of coins.  The Euro is doing much better than the buck.
  • I wandered around the airport and it was absolutely abandoned, then realized I was on the wrong level, and had to clear customs and go down one more level to the actual departures area.  Sat around and spent about a hundred bucks on hot dogs and tiny bottles of Coke.
  • Got to Nuremberg, got to the hotel, slept like a baby for eight hours.
  • Sarah had to go to her trade show on Saturday – she’s been at it all week.  So I loaded up what I still call the walkman (iPhone now, I guess) and walked about 2.5 miles west to an absolutely incredible little guitar store.  They had a ton of Fender basses.  I played some of the Custom Shop heavy relic Jazz basses and they were absolutely incredible.  Also played a Rickenbacker, which looked cool, but I found I am not a Ric guy.
  • Walked around Nuremberg for a long while, taking pics.  There was some kind of vegetarian festival going on, which was interesting.
  • Walked to the big train station, ate, dumped more dollars, bought some NyQuil, walked back to the hotel.
  • Went out for dinner with Sarah’s work people and spouses and ate a tremendous amount of Nurnburger (sp?) sausages, white asparagus, and hard pretzels.  Ended up getting sick from all of this shit.
  • Walked over ten miles for the day, and got a 20,000-step badge on the fitbit, which was a first.
  • Today, we woke up and found a triathlon was going on, and all of the streets were blocked off in a giant loop for the racing bikes.  It was too cold to swim though, so they made them run twice.
  • We went to a railway museum, not because I am Sheldon Cooper, but because it was attached to this communication museum, and it was a two-for-one.  The railway museum was all in German, so we made up descriptions for all of the exhibits.  (“Very few people knew Harland Sanders was a Colonel in the German Army prior to World War I, but was secretly a Jew and fled the country for Kentucky” etc.)
  • The communication museum was also mostly German and confusing, but they had a bunch of old telephones and crypto machines.
  • Ate lunch at the German National museum, but did not go in, since I’ve seen a lifetime of Gutenberg bibles and suits of armor.
  • Went to the New Museum and there was a Laurie Simmons exhibit there.  Who is… wait for it… Lena Dunham’s mom.
  • Bought a ton of books at the book store, including this giant Chuck Close book that was marked down to 7€ and a Damien Hirst book big enough to kill someone.
  • Walked not as much today but still a lot.  Everything was closed on Sunday, which was weird.  Even Dunkin Donuts was closed.
  • Leave for Frankfurt tomorrow.
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