Victoria Gardens is a Rancho Cucamonga mall, one of many in the Los Angeles area where shopping ranks high on people’s to do lists.
The day before Christmas, late afternoon, crowds are thinning. By now, most have their shopping complete and are winding home to pack, wrap, tie bows, slip their gift under a tree or drop it into a red sock hanging from fake fireplace mantles. On the outside wall of a mall store, the California Soul Records marquee is a synopsis of California.
The surf is here. The palm trees are here. The image of carefree living is here. The surfer is here. The feeling of comfort, washed out shirts and denims, short sleeves and caps is here. The effects of unlimited sun, salt, air, and wind have worked the images on the painted brick wall into something as comfortable as your favorite pair of shorts.
There might not have been a California Soul Records, but if there wasn’t, there should be.
In this California state of dreams, having a Band is one of them. This afternoon, Chris and I take photos for our make believe albums with the wall as our background.
When you are an imaginary recording star, with California Soul Records , looks are everything.
This afternoon I imagine Andy Warhol opening a can of Campbell soup, grasping it with a pair of channel locks,and warming it on a can of sterno by a Christmas tree on Wall Street
Finishing 2014 on the road, in crazy California, seems a fitting end to the old year.
Most of my past year didn’t end up on scotttreks, and that is good.
When I tuck a past year into the past, I’m okay if most of it doesn’t wake up again.
Your chariot has to be tuned up to keep you in the Los Angeles race.
You aren’t going to get anywhere in this L.A. burg without a good set of wheels, a team of rested and well fed horses, and enough time to get where you are going through a maze of interconnected freeways, on and off ramps, incorporated towns that remind you of a patchwork quilt with each town independent but linked to the others to make a California dreaming quilt.
It is almost a forty minute drive to Los Angeles to reach Chris’s mechanic.
Ontario, where Chris and his mom live, is fifty miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Getty Museum, Staples Center, Sunset Strip, Hollywood, the Walk of Fame, and other landmarks. His car’s CHECK engine light is on and fan belts, recently replaced, are slipping and making a squeal..It isn’t something any garage can’t fix but when you get a mechanic you trust, you will grudgingly drive the hour to let him work his car magic on your car.
The Auto Care Center,when we pull in, is busting open at the seams with car hoods up, tires off, doors open, uniformed grease junkies busily removing and replacing parts, running computer checks, calling parts suppliers. It is the day before Christmas and cars are doing what they invariably do – break down.
Chris’s car belts are tightened and his engine light turns out to be caused by not tightening down on the gas cap enough so a seal is broken and escaping emissions trigger a sensor.
On the way back to Ontario we stay off the freeways.
Traffic here always is on our minds, especially near a holiday.
Chris worked in an assisted living home out here and cared my father and stepmom.
Keeping in touch is something I do.
The Victoria Gardens shopping mall is not only a metaphor for the Christmas season, but a melody.
Jingle bells ring from inside closed stores as a security pickup patrols and deliveries are made to the back door. Stores open at ten in the morning and stay open till ten in the evening.
Palm trees and oranges mark this territory as Southern California but this shopping mall could also be in Arizona or parts of Nevada, Texas, or even Florida. Malls, once a new concept, brought customers out of neighborhood stores to shop in retail fantasy lands, closed down mom and pop places that had higher prices but kept neighborhoods together. Malls gave big business a chance to grab market share, streamline operations, centralize and advertise their brand. They changed America.
Christmas is promoted here as far as my eyes can see. Windows have nativity scenes, garlands are draped over light poles, decorated trees have presents wrapped underneath, snowflakes are sprayed on windows.
The last time Los Angeles saw a real snowflake was when Hell froze over.
High on a ladder, a painter keeps up appearances.
In California, there is no room for wrinkles, sags, or cracks.
At the end of Route 66, dreamers come here to create utopia by hook and crook.
California dedicates herself to the pursuit of Dionysus and when Santa rolls into town with his reindeer, real soon, he will be wearing yellow speedo’s, a bright red stocking cap, and a pair of dark sunglasses that would make a gangster proud. .
The days of 2014 are almost gone.
As each day concludes, it flies off the calendar like a free bird. What started as a novel is now looking like a memo.
Today, I climb a trail that runs in open space in the Albuquerque foothills where we hiked as kids. You follow the trail and it takes you around a knob of a hill called Star Mountain for Christmas lights that used to be strung on it in the outline of a star.
Some people have the gift of memory. They can close their eyes and remember events just like they were there. Others of us have to write things down.
When I travel people ask me what is wrong with the place I am from.
I tell them ” nothing ” which is mostly true, most of the time.
It is just that my feet get itchy and travelling scratches them.
Fort Lauderdale is to Pompano Beach as Cadillac is to Ford.
Fort Lauderdale has location, money, reputation, retirees. The boulevards are a little bigger, the canals a little deeper, the yachts a little bigger, the bling a little brighter, the stories much much more full of deception.
Pompano Beach seems more comfortable, more downscale, more livable. Pompano Beach seems like an old pair of beach shoes that fit your feet perfect, don’t care if sand gets on them, and fit on the floor of your car like they were made to be there.
At Sand Harbor there is an ancient hotel that retains the charm of the fifties, a bar and restaurant that serves great fish sandwiches, plus a nice view of the Intra-coastal Waterway.
After lunch Ruth and I walk the beach and it reminds me why half the east coast moved to Florida and stayed. Ruth moved her 90 year old mom down to Florida from New York into a second floor condo above her. Ruth and I met on a plane flight to Newark when I was coming back from Columbia and she was going to New York to sell her mom’s house and move her back to Coral Springs.
It is a slightly cool afternoon and at a little snack bar on the beach folks are gathering to chat, have coffee, eat, lounge under palm trees and be glad they don’t have to work at jobs they did ten years longer than they should because their kids were in college.
Pompano Beach, this afternoon, is one of those old fashioned postcard shots that tells everyone you are in Florida and having a great time, and eat your heart out.
The bond between mothers and daughters is sometimes tenuous, but, more often, tough and durable.
Love and duty are inextricably linked.
Tomorrow, I fly back to the desert.
You stay in Florida too long, you start to get webbed feet.
According to Ruth, we are in a Mob Bar.
Everyone in the place is well dressed and it is questionable whether I should be let inside with Levis, a nice dress shirt, hiking shoes and uncombed hair.
South Florida is a place with comfortable weather this time of year and an inclination towards leisure and decadence. There are banks, mortgage companies, pawn shops, tattoo parlors, restaurants and hotels, strip clubs, car dealerships, lawyers and anything else you might want or need to keep your equilibrium.
Once you drive away from the Fort Lauderdale International airport you are welcomed by wide streets, manicured lawns, palm trees and canals, million dollar yachts, almost cloudless night skies and a full moon this evening. The parking lot of Ruth’s favorite lunch place is full and Coral Springs is a long way from Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, or any beach.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays Travelino’s features live music or live comedy. Tonight, on a Monday, they don’t have a dinner that fits so our fall back choice is chocolate mousse.
When served, the dessert reminds me of Roman orgies.
The waiters in this club wear white shirts, black slacks and black ties. The bartender shows us a new tattoo on her left wrist. When tattoos appear on middle aged bodies one has to wonder how much longer our Republic is going to survive?
On second thought, maybe it was Al Capone I saw in the washroom talking to his accountant, smoking a Cuban cigar.
I didn’t see any bodies on the washroom floor with bullet holes in their forehead, but the night is still young.
While I enjoy mousse, my ears are cocked, listening for slamming car doors in the parking lot and someone saying the name , ” Vinnie. ”
Ruth brings her mom here for lunch, so it can’t be all that dangerous.
In fact, Ruth and I decide, after consideration, that this is the kind of place Al Capone would bring his own mom.
She would probably not have tattoos.
Florida is close to being underwater.
It is incredibly flat, incredibly wet, incredibly dense with vegetation, increasingly populated by people coming to paradise to restart lives, escape boredom, find wealth and prosperity, or just escape the cold. In the summer the humidity here nears a hundred, the temperature nears a 100, and citrus orchards are the only ones who think it is a paradise.
The canals are a necessity and you see them in most residential neighborhoods along with the nature that goes with them. They give water a place to be, catch runoff, hold flood waters and keep residential homes high and dry. There is grass everywhere, plants, oranges and grapefruits, palm trees, flowers. Tropical plants grow in empty untended lots that gardeners elsewhere would kill for.
Spanish explorers came here seeking the Fountain of Youth. Florida does have fountains and a lot of youth so those old Conquistadors were definitely in the right search area.
Florida, one of our fifty states, protrudes into the Caribbean Sea like a giant nose and doesn’t seem to belong in the U.S. Most everyone here comes from somewhere else and Seminole Indians stay close to the Everglades, out of sight and hearing.
The state is more likely to bite you than bless you, more likely to sunbathe and drink margaritas than sit in church, more prone to faith healers and spas than cold hard science.
Florida Isn’t underwater yet, but, in the next hurricane, things could quickly float away.
If this state weren’t attached to the U.S. mainland, I would be worried about it.
In a La Quinta hotel room in Coral Springs, Florida I am distracted with television, something I haven’t been distracted by in over a month on the road.
On TV is a show called “The Basement Tapes,” about long lost recordings by Bob Dylan and friends shortly after Woodstock.
A music legend, Bob Dylan has entertained for decades with a distinctive and recognizable voice.” The Basement Tapes ” are an early experiment by 60’s musicians to break away from record companies. They are home recordings of jam sessions live from a friend’s basement when that idea was becoming technically possible and affordable.
One is surprised when returning to the U.S.
Streets are wide, neighborhoods are affluent, trash is picked up. landscaping is immaculate.
You can find any kind of food you want and it is fresh and affordable.
The U.S., that many of us Baby Boomers grew up in, is like living in a house where all the plumbing works, the refrigerator is full, riff raff don’t camp out on your front lawn, bills get paid.
When you come back home you see all the things you like about our U.S.
When you leave, you only see the bad.
Towards the end of a visit, I sort through high points, low points, things that didn’t work out, things that went well.
If you keep a journal, write a blog, take photos, or go with someone, you have a way to remember what happens. Traveling solo is tricky because you get off the beaten track, waste time and energy, spend needlessly, don’t see or do things you should. You miss the pleasure of other’s company.
This morning, on a wall in a local coffee shop, just under the cash register, is comic strip wallpaper. The strips are a series of square boxes with pictures and dialogue in each square. This comic strip features a hard boiled detective and gangsters.
Scotttreks tells its story the same way as this comic strip, one post at a time, one square at a time.
It doesn’t take a detective to feel a difference between Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Uruguay seems more civilized, more geometric, cooler, more European.
Costa Rica is jungle and monkeys with ancient God’s with forked tongues and curving beaks.
Costa Rica is one of nature’s great incubators. Uruguay is pasture.
The comic strip on the wall reminds me of a Mickey Spillane novel.
Even old themes can seem brand new.
Even old discovered countries are new when we discover them for ourselves.
In walks, I see other places I might like to stay in San Jose, Costa Rica.
This Inn has been passed before and always merits a second glance.
From the outside, it appears Hemingway really might have resided in one of the upstairs rooms and composed at a little desk with an old typewriter and pages of manuscripts edited and reworked with handwritten notes in the margins. From the outside, I have always thought this place would be expensive but a yard sign says rooms start at forty dollars a night. As much as I like the Hotel Aranjuez, this little Inn, even by peeking through the front door at a winding stairway and a front desk with photos and paintings on the wall behind it, seems grand.
The Hemingway Inn requires research, so, on line, back at the Hotel Aranjuez, I do my study..
Reviews of the Hemingway Inn go from enthusiastic, to lukewarm, to cold. You always find that, but somewhere in the middle you find that this Inn is clean, old, the staff is helpful and accommodating, the decor is quirky and the location is close to things to see and do in an older part of San Jose , rough around the edges.
Reading reviews, its owner is mentioned as a writer and a room inside is named after Hemingway.
Some night, when I lodge here, I can sit at the bar late and listen to stories of other travelers, then go upstairs to bed and wake in the morning to the sounds of sparrows and roosting birds in the trees outside my window.
If Hemingway didn’t stay here, he should have.