Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Trip Report with Dangerous Video: California 2015

Driving. Driving. What do you do after hours of driving, thinking, worrying, planning, listening to the radio and trying to stay awake? I whipped out the camera and made little movies, completely unfocused on my driving, on other cars and upcoming hazards. Holding still and editing on the run, I had to spin the wheel a few times, correct my trajectory in order to stay in one piece while on a 12 day trip through Northern California to see old friends and family. I was in the world that raised me and it was all familiar and sometimes a little sad. Things change. We're supposed to be happy about that, adjust to change, be flexible. I am, for the most part, fine with change, I've experienced the best of it,  but memory is a tricky bastard and can really fuck you up. I felt as if I was being crushed by memory a few times and other times I was wallowing in it, overjoyed and outloud.

There were fires unlike anything anyone has ever seen in the foothills of the Sierras, near Yosemite, Clear Lake and in the Trinity Alps. Catastrophic. A few mornings I awoke to a smoky landscape and nervous homeowners. Friends were evacuated and didn't know if they'd have a home when they returned. California is bone dry, desiccated and unwatered by rain or snow for several years. Rivers that have crashed through the famed gold country for centuries are now simply large rocks resting in a few puddles. A fire can wipe out an entire community in a half hour. There are those who believe in climate change, global warming, drought, and there are those who deny that these are problems and they dismiss the science. None of that matters when the fire starts. Everyone's home burns.

I knew I was going to be on the road for a long time and I knew that I'd be driving 6, 7, 8 hours a day through crazy mountains, long stretches of nothing doing, along the coast and deep in city traffic, so I rented a brand new, big assed, black, comfortable American car with V8 engine and top of the line tech. The frigging seat could be both heated and cooled for driving comfort. It was 109 degrees in Cloverdale, California and I hit the wrong button and was warming myself to an uncomfortable degree. There can be drawbacks to too much tech, but once I got the hang of the controls, the badassed Satellite radio and all the stupid sensors that report every bump and insect, I had a damn fine time.

Highway 5, straight up the spine of California, infinite nothingness, flat, hot, dry and dull with the odd rest stop that was usually closed for repairs. Fortunately I had thought ahead and rented a big American car, Buick Lacrosse, fully loaded for a long drive, comfortable except for the goddamn moon roof that lowered the ceiling by a few inches and made sitting upright difficult. Still, it was fast and the AC more than fulfilled expectations. The best part? Satellite Radio. Good Jazz, Blues, Soul.

More of goddamn Highway 5, long and boring and after a few hours of motoring though the ennui I like to take some risks and see what I can get away with. How long can I drive at 75 mph with my eyes closed? How long can I keep my hands off of the wheel and how far will I drift? Let's pass some trucks. Those guys are loaded on several drugs, sleep deprived and boozed, I'm exhausted, feeling morbid and edgy. Coltrane has just popped up on the Sat Radio station. Go for it.

Possibly Freddy Hubbard wailing as I leave Arcata, California. There was a blazing heatwave and much of the mid-state was pushing well above 100 degrees, and a lot of the places I traveled to were soon to be on fire and experiencing the nervousness that comes with impending doom, but driving through the northern forests and nearing the coast it was cool, pleasant and empty. Pretty sweet places: Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, Trinidad. Coffee shops, artists, music, good restaurants, the ocean. Hung with my friend Ernie. We met when we were 15, started a band and we still play our songs, sing and have fifty years worth of fun. Laughed our asses off, remembered, regretted, renewed. Lots to think about for a few hours on the road from McKinleyville to Leggett, where I look forward to Highway 1 along the coast. These places were my backyard for most of my life.

First view of the coast from Westport, above Fort Bragg, after a long drive through hazardous mountains, followed closely by aggressive logging trucks while I was thinking a little too much about the past and digging the Chi-lites. An almost perfect formula for dreaded sentiment and unreliable memory.

Fog; good, clean, mysterious Pacific fog north of Mendocino. Fog is perfect for concealing the future and confusing the present. I didn't really need to be drawn much more into myself, but a dense fog, a decent road and no appointments are rare pleasures and encourage wild thinking. A hypnotic component overtakes the driver who is wheeling though memories and vague landscapes, wondering when, or if, he will ever return. Dazed and foggy from hours on the road, staring into the cloud.

In the Anderson Valley, in the Sierras near Placerville, along the coast, there used to be grocery stores, bait shops, car repair and towing services, diners and bars. Those businesses are still around, but most of the towns are now becoming over-built with wineries and tasting rooms and galleries that are part of a new culture industry, where the illusion of sophistication and refinement are for sale to daytrippers from cities. There are plenty of places where a traveler can find lovely eggs Florentine and a pastel landscape. The problem is, once you've tasted the wine and browsed the gallery it's time to go and why would you come back? More landscapes? The locals who are my friends are confused and a bit resentful.

The return. A couple thousand miles on the road, stopping to visit, to record and recall, seeing familiar places, some altered, others the same, enjoying family and friends and back into The City from the north, from where I grew up, grew old, became despondent and eventually bounced into contentment. All places are good if I'm OK. A bittersweet trip, but what a great way to end. In the past I drove across this bridge to see great music at the Filmore Auditorium, The Carousel Ballroom, the Avalon, drink at the Bit o' Paradise, the M&M, the Lucky 7,  and have many of the experiences that I can call up today, experiences that I either enjoy remembering or fail at forgetting. San Francisco has been criticized heavily for the homeless problems, the filth, expensive and impossible housing, the entitled populace, crime and a failed government. I'm from here; while a lot of that is true, you can also have Burmese and Chinese food all the time, buy books at Green Apple and City Lights, see the Turner exhibit at the De Young, get tickets for Wayne Shorter and Merle Haggard. Everyone I met was friendly, pleasant and accommodating. City living is more than I want to manage these days, but San Francisco and Northern California are part of my DNA. That Buick was pretty sweet, too.

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