Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

9/11 – Where were you?

Since the airwaves have been cluttered with heart wrenching stories and pictures all week of that infamous day – can it be – TEN years ago, I felt compelled to comment briefly on September 11, 2001.

My high school reunion in Maryland was held on September 8, 2001, and I am again traveling up there this week for another class get together.  My friend here in Florida and I had decided to drive up there that year and share the cost of a rental car rather than put the wear and tear on our personal vehicles.  Her son was living at that time in Arlington, Virginia, so we parted there and I headed on up to Maryland and had a lovely visit with old friends.

Picking her up in Arlington, we drove past the Pentagon on our way south, noting how close it was and how imposing.  Little did we know what the next day would bring.

We spent a lovely evening with her relatives in North Carolina and left very early the next morning (Tuesday, the 11th) and headed south.  We spent a few pleasant miles down the road, chattering happily and sharing stories of our individual visits.

Her cell phone rang and a friend asked if we had heard the news.  What?!!  We immediately turned on the car radio and were stunned and shocked by the news.  She tried to reach her son in Arlington and I tried to reach my son and daughter in Chicago.  (The radio reports suggested that the Sears Tower might be targeted next).  Since all the cell phone circuits were, of course, jammed, we were unsuccessful in our attempts and worried.

Listening to the radio reports in horror and in total shock, we continued down I-95 as if we were in a daze.  Since we weren’t watching TV, only our imaginations could picture the terrible sights as the news got continually more and more scary:  Both World Trade Center towers crumbled to the ground, the Pentagon in flames and a crashed hijacked jet down in Pennsylvania.  What in the world was going on?  We were two women alone not knowing whether the entire country was being attacked and where our children were.

I thanked God when my phone rang and I heard my son’s voice just about the same time as Linda heard from hers.  Everyone was okay, just sickened by the events of the morning and wondering what would happen next.  For us it was a flat tire!

We pulled onto a grassy area by the roadside and tried to call AAA.  When they asked us for out location, we were stumped – trees to the right of us and trees to the left of us, no road signs or any indication of where we were except somewhere on I-95 heading south!

It started to rain and large tractor-trailers were whizzing past us and, frankly, we were scared!  The brilliant operator with AAA said that one of us “girls” should get out and walk until we saw a sign to tell him where we were!  Guess again, Buster.  We were sitting tight; there might be guns in them thar’ trees.

THREE hours later a state policeman pulled up behind us and told us he had been looking for our car all over the interstate!!  Now that he had found us, he radioed AAA with our location.  Our hero.  Shortly thereafter, we did indeed get our tire changed and headed off on that tiny “donut” tire.  The gentleman who changed our tire said we should trade in the rental car as soon as possible as we were not able to drive on the little tire very far or over 50 miles per hour.

Calling the rental car company, we were told that their next location was at the Savannah, Georgia, airport (we were further down the road than we had realized in our shaken states), but, sorry all airports were closed.  Yike.  Soooo, we drove from mid-somewhere in South Carolina to the middle of Florida on that tiny tire, 50 miles per hour, and hazard lights flashing all the way home, stopping only for a difficult-to-swallow evening meal.  Huge trucks were bearing down on our butts the whole way, but somehow we made it home!

Arriving just after midnight on the 12th, we saw the horrifying pictures on television.  Hearing it on the radio gave us only a small picture of the devastation and we, needlessly to say, were not able to sleep despite our exhaustion.

We will never forget that day, as millions and millions of people throughout the world will also remember where they were.  I am so thankful that my friends and family were safe and pray that something like that never happens again.  Granted our country has changed a lot since then and will never truly be the same, but despite its many flaws it is still the greatest country on earth and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.  I love visiting other countries, but am always glad to return!

God Bless America.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAVID!

Wow, I started this blog exactly a year ago today to chronicle the story of my trip across country with my dear friend.  He would have been 55 years old today but I will always see him as a young man.

The past few months have been somewhat stressful, buying a new home, etc.,  so -although it is no excuse – I have put this story on the back burner.

I spoke with David’s dad today as I always try to do on this particular date and he and I reminisced about how much we both miss David and his mom, Jo.  The years do fly by and we are getting older, but talking and laughing with him gave me the incentive to pick up the story and continue telling of our odyssey across country.

David and I

Stay tuned…

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU ARE BUSY DOING OTHER THINGS

My travels with David story will continue soon.  I have been looking for a new home and spent 11 wonderful days in California with my son and daughter for Christmas holidays.  No excuse for not completing my story, but I will get back to it as soon as I have a home again!!

Part 9 – ON THE ROAD WITH DAVID AND SANDY – BASE CAMP SAN FRANCISCO

We left Grandma Green’s townhouse early in the morning after a light breakfast and after reading the daily “earthquake report” (!!) in the morning paper.  We drove east towards Sacramento and spent several hours in its Old Town section.  Lots of neat old buildings, a fun restaurant for lunch and lots of new age-y shops.  David bought me a beautiful fluorite stone and for the car he bought a cassette tape of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  It became our theme song for the rest of our journey.  The music seemed to fit every mood and every bit of scenery and weather that we encountered.

We arrived at Placerville and stayed with some friends we had done theater with in Cocoa Beach and they invited us to stay with them.  They were doing a production of “Once Upon a Mattress”, so we attended and it was a good time.  They had been dating when we all had worked together in Florida, we attended their lovely wedding a few months before, and now they were living out here.

On the way to Yosemite

The next two days were spent touring Yosemite National Park and the Lake Tahoe area with our friends.  Such beautiful scenery and so diverse.  Mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and casinos!  What more could you ask for?!

David at Lake Tahoe

After returning to San Francisco, we did a thorough tour of the Bay Area and surrounds.  One day we drove up Mount Tamalpais and looked back to the view of the city.

Entering Sausalito

We drove into Sausalito and walked around its unique shops, art galleries, and an interesting little place called “Wet Dreams” (don’t ask) with bubbles floating out through its open door.

We spent some time in downtown San Francisco, climbing up Coit Tower, browsing on Pier 39, laughing at the sea lions near the docks, driving down Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in America”, walking around the Japanese Gardens and other areas of Golden Gate Park. I stuck my hand in the freezing Pacific Ocean, and capped off the day admiring the Palace of Fine Arts left over from a world’s fair of 1915.

Some stranger in front of Palace of Fine Arts

A visit to John Muir Woods was especially significant to David.  He told me that when he had been diagnosed with his illness, he had been out here visiting and came to Muir Woods. He sat on a bench for hours and said that after that time he felt at peace with the surroundings and his eventuality.  I can understand why the huge trees and ferns and beautiful pathways would make anyone realize how everything in our universe has a reason for being and there is a time to live and a time to die.  We don’t decide; a Higher Power has the ultimate decision.  He said his time in these woods gave him the courage to keep living every day and appreciate all that he has.  Profound.

Gorgeous Muir Woods

Back at Grandma’s for our last night in San Francisco, we had brought a cake and some champagne and celebrated her 88th birthday.  What a sweet lady and how much she loves her grandson.  We showed her videos of our trip so far and talked and laughed a lot.

My impression of a sunny Golden Gate

It was a bittersweet parting the next morning, as David and I both knew it was probably his last visit out here, although his grandmother didn’t.  As we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge for the final time, we once again climbed to the top of the hill over looking the Bay.  Unlike the previous day, the whole bridge and city were covered in a thick fog…gray and misty, sort of like our moods.

At least we were on our way to Napa Valley and some wine-tasting adventures to cheer ourselves up!

To be continued…

PART 8 – DAVID AND SANDY ON THE ROAD – SAN FRANCISCO AND BEYOND

(To recap:  my dear friend David had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and wanted to travel the United States, seeing places he hadn’t seen, returning to places he loved, and visiting friends and relatives along the way.  He invited me along, and since neither of us was flush with money, we drove in his tiny car,  stayed in inexpensive or free places, and he gifted me with memories to last a life time.  Nothing special, just good times and a new perspective on life.)

To continue –

We finally found David’s grandmother’s San Francisco townhouse through the fog and even though it was fairly late,  she was up and waiting for us to arrive.  Her home was very comfy,  in a row of similar places, garage underneath and two levels of living space above.  She was telling me how David always referred to her as his feisty grandma and she had looked the word up in the dictionary and found out that it meant “full of feist”  – feist meant gassy, so she chastised him for calling her an old gas bag!  (Actually, I looked it up and it more or less refers to “breaking wind”, so guess she was kind of right!) How cute.  Eight-eight years old this week and “full of feist”!

She had made up the guest room for us and David told her he would be fine on his sleeping bag in the den.  She said she understood that young people today shared rooms without benefit of marriage and that she wouldn’t be offended if we slept together.  We told her that we appreciated that, but that we were old fashioned and wouldn’t dream of being disrespectful.  Guess she didn’t know David was gay and of course knew nothing of his illness.  Thank goodness.

The next morning, David was up bright and early and ready to hit the road again.  Determined to see what we had missed yesterday because of the fog and impending darkness, we hopped in “Tracy” and headed south via the interstate highway and within a few hours we were back near Carmel and Monterrey.

Back on the Pacific Coast highway and once again encountering breath-taking views of the coast.  Today was sunny and bright and we were back on our adventure!  Found the Carmel Mission in the little town and toured the beautiful gardens, went in to the chapel where Father Junipero Serra had established another of his string of missions up and down the California coast.  Beautiful and inspiring.

Mission Carmel

Mission Carmel - Oil

Drove around the town and out to “7-mile drive” where we saw Pebble Beach, sea lions barking from the rock formations on the coast, purportedly Clint Eastwood’s house (one-time mayor of Carmel) and the famous Lone Cypress tree growing out of one of the rocks jutting out of the coast line.

In front of the famous "lone cypress tree" near Carmel

Watched a little sea otter floating on his back and performing for onlookers.  Had someone take our picture and we were on our way back up the coast, through beautiful farm country, past lighthouses, canneries and more.

Back to Grandma Green’s house in time for a lovely dinner which she had prepared for us and lots of fun conversation about the most recent earthquake (eeks) and how her furniture had fallen over and broken a lot of her china and crystal.  She didn’t seem perturbed at all, just happy and “feisty”.

To be continued…

PART SEVEN – DAVID AND SANDY ON THE ROAD – LEAVING LA AND THE PCH

The next morning, David drove me over Mulholland Drive to the Pacific Coast Highway.  Saw huge houses and more of Beverly Hills – a bit sad to be leaving LA and Hollywood.  Didn’t really have enough time here to see everything but I’ll be back.  I have to keep reminding myself that this is David’s trip and we are pretty much going where he wants to go.  Actually he has been wonderful about taking me to places I want to see, so I can’t complain at all.

Got out at the Santa Monica Pier and walked along the beach.  Saw rollerbladers, bikers, body builders, etc.  Everything I have seen out here makes me feel I’ve been here before – it is so familiar because of all the films and TV shows they film out here.

Too bad it was kind of foggy misty, but interesting anyway.  Breeze off the Pacific Ocean kind of nippy.  Had a burger, took some pictures and bought some cards.

Drove up the coast through more familiar-looking areas along Malibu, etc.  Still very hazy and hard to take pictures.  Over Malibu Canyon road back to the freeway towards Bakersfield.  Gorgeous mountains between LA and the desert, past Magic Mountain amusement park.

Since David had lived in Bakersfield at one time, he had some good friends that he called and they asked us to come stay with them.  (Another notch in the old “mooching belt”)  They were so thrilled to see him and took us out to dinner, around town, to a car wash to get some of the grime off our little car, and back to their house to catch  up on old times.  David has not told many of his friends his health issues because he wanted to be treated without any sympathy, etc.

Then it was back to the California coast line at San Luis Obispo and the awesome scenery began.  We must have stopped at every rest area along the Pacific Coast Highway to take pictures and just gaze at the craggy shorelines and the beautiful ocean.  I have so many photos that will make gorgeous oil paintings and I will be remembering this for a life time.

When we came to the area where Hearst Castle loomed over the hills, we stopped into the gift shop to see just how much a tour of the castle at San Simeon would cost.  WAY over our budgets, so we took lots of pictures and bought some books!  We were later to learn that David’s grandmother grew up in one of the mini-mansions which surround the castle as her father was a teacher to the Hearst children.  Interesting.

California Coast Painting - 36"x24" - Oil - $900

Passed the Big Sur area – GORGEOUS – and had wanted to stop in the Monterey/Carmel area, but the fog was rolling in and we decided to head straight to San Francisco before it got too dark and hard to see to drive.

By the time we got there, the fog was so thick that David had a difficult time finding the street where his grand mother lived.  As we crept up to each intersection in the little car, we felt as if we were the only ones on the road.  David would carefully drive while I called out the street names.

I finally said,  “David, do you see anything you recognize?”  and he responded,

“Well, YOU look kind of familiar…”

And then we found Grandma’s house!

To Be Continued

PART 6: DAVID AND SANDY ON THE ROAD – LA LA LAND AND BEYOND

Since we got to Los Angeles  around 3 in the afternoon, before David’s friend Michael (from whom we planned to “mooch” a place to stay) was home from work, we drove around a bit for him to show me a little of the town.  Stopped in the Sherman Oaks Galleria where they filmed lots of movies (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” comes to mind) and I bought a few postcards. David had worked in a building next door and said he used to visit the food court during his lunch hour. In its present iteration, the Galleria contains nice restaurants, stores and the Arclight movie theaters where my kids and I now attend first run cinema every time I am there to visit – but I digress. David drove down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, where I took pictures, etc. and marveled that I was at last in Hollywood!

We returned to Michael’s around 5 and what a really nice place – apartments in a gated courtyard with a pool in the middle,  I thought – just like on “Melrose Place” on TV. (I was definitely star-struck – ha).  Michael’s a very nice guy – old friend of David’s from when he lived here a few years ago.  Michael is a counselor and I hoped he and David would discuss David’s illness and maybe Michael could offer him some comforting words.

I called my friend Chad who he asked me to have dinner and go to a movie. We reminisced about the “Passenger 57” goings on (I was a “featured extra” and he was production assistant during its filming near Orlando and we became friends). He drove me around town a bit and we had dinner at Tony Roma’s by Universal Studios and went to the huge Cineplex Odeon there to see “Sneakers”.  (You can see how long ago this trip was, by the age of the movies we are discussing!)  We saw a poster for “57” on display in the lobby and both got excited.  Can’t wait for it to open to see all the work we both put into it! Chad brought me back to Michael’s around 1:00 am and said he’d take me on a “sampler platter” tour of Hollywood tomorrow.

David came in right after I did from a bar where he was hoping to run into some old friends.  Apparently, he located a couple since they are meeting us for dinner tomorrow night.  Michael came in around 4.  David and I are both sleeping on his L-shaped HUGE sofa, feet-to-feet. The next morning, David, Michael and I walked down to Sunset Boulevard to have breakfast.  I know I must be in LA when the menu offers tofu and avocado and sprout omelets!

Chad picked me up at 12:45.  We all took some pictures in Michael’s courtyard and then we were off.  David and Michael were going off on their own expeditions and Chad wanted to show me “his” Hollywood. Over the hill and down Melrose Avenue past all the trendy shops and cafes,  by LaBrea tarpits, down Wilshire Boulevard, to Rodeo Drive.  Chad parked his car and we walked on Rodeo, took a few pictures and wandered in a few of the fancy shops.

We took a long drive around Beverly Hills, Bel Air, etc.  Down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.  Took me to the Samuel French Book Store where I could have spent all my money on movie and theater-related stuff.  Bought T-shirts for me (“I act therefore I am, I audition therefore I may be”) and Mandy (“ I can’t, I have a rehearsal”) and a coffee mug for Erik that had “screenwriter” on it.  Got a free bumper sticker that read, “I brake for auditions”. Fun.

This will be my star!

Parked again near the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and walked on the sidewalk of stars and Chad took a picture of me on a blank star saying it would be mine someday. Ha.  Funny how our ambitions and life itself changes. Recently my son took me to some of the same locations and I was surprised at how some things had changed and others had not.

We drove up to Griffith Park Observatory by the Hollywood sign and saw a beautiful view of the cities of Los Angeles and Hollywood and directly below our vantage point, a deer meandering through the woods. Neat.

A blurry Hollywood sign

Chad took me back to his apartment in North Hollywood to show me his photo album from “Passenger 57” and we shared our memories of working on our (for both of us) FIRST feature film production. We met David, Michael and their friend Al at Micelli’s Restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal (Italian) while servers serenaded us. Hated to say goodbye to Chad at the end of a fun day.  He got kind of choked up and so did I.

Later that evening, David drove me up to La Canada Flintridge area to see the lights of the city stretched out below.  Incredible – looked almost as if we were in an airplane coming in for a landing!  The place where we stood was totally dark and quiet – eerie but fascinating and beautiful.  It was a really long drive and by the time we got back to Michael’s we were both exhausted.  A long but wonderful day. My first – but not last it would turn out – visit to Los Angeles!

To be continued…

PART 5 – ON THE ROAD WITH DAVID AND SANDY – CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME

I remember thinking that this must be the ultimate goal of David’s trip, the Grand Canyon, but it turns out that we had only just begun!

My Impression of the Grand Canyon - 36"x24" - Acrylic - $900

When it finally got too dark and cold to safely wander around the edge of the canyon, we drove down to the IMAX theatre and watched a fabulous movie about the discovery of the Canyon. We stopped just outside the populated area, got out of the car and looked up at the stars.  There were no other cars on the road and no lights from anywhere but the sky.  The brightness and abundance of stars was incredible.  We just stood there in total silence and awe and looked at the heavens.

Then it was back on the road.  We had thought about going to Las Vegas (we could see a glow in the distance from all the lights on the Strip), but decided to just keep on to California.  I wasn’t much help driving, kept falling asleep.  Poor David was exhausted when we finally found a room in Barstow at 4 am. This time we each had our own double bed, so we slept soundly and comfortably (and with no more embarrassment!).

I woke up around 8 and David finally got up and was ready for us to leave the Motel 6 by 11!  I like to let him go at his own speed since he is the one who knows how much strength he has on any particular day.  The way the past few days have gone, though, I think he has a lot more energy than I do!

Kind of interesting for me to visit this desert town, since years before I had almost moved here.

We drove into what we assumed was downtown Barstow and had breakfast in a little cafe that seemed like a favorite hangout.  The locals were right: it was nice and not too expensive.  We drove through lots of desert and mountains and it was neat.  Kind of pretty in its own way but very dry.

On our way to Los Angeles and I grew more excited. Hard to believe I finally made it to California and LA after all these years of hoping to come here.

I guess I am having a few of my own miracles on this trip.  Excited to be in California for the first time, not knowing that in years to come I would return many times to visit my precious kids who both live here!

Thanks to David, I am experiencing all kinds of new places and people.

To be continued…

Part 4: On the Road with David and Sandy – The desert nomads

You know how you envision a cheap-y motel on the outskirts of a small desert town (especially one adorned with pink neon)?  Well, the room is even funnier.

The temperature outside at 11 p.m. in Gallup, NM, was about 40 degrees – inside the room was maybe 10 degrees warmer.  The décor was all velvet-painting-meets-Southwest ugly and…there was only one bed.  Now David and I were great friends, we were tired and cold and hadn’t slept in a bed in 2 nights, but it was still kind of awkward.  He was gay and I was a straight mother of two grown children.  We were too weary to quibble about it, just jumped under the covers turned our backs to each other and clung to our sides of the bed.  I remember hearing him say, as I dozed off:  “if you roll over and touch me, I’ll scream like a girl!”  I reminded him of the manager’s warning and we both drifted off to sleep.

The next morning we decided to find a nice local coffee shop for breakfast and located one that looked promising – lots of cars in the parking lot, so it must be good, right?  When we walked in, we felt every eye in the place on us.  We were in a strictly local native-American diner and the food and service was great. However, I guess we weren’t exactly a couple they typically served every day!

Anyway, after breakfast, we were back on the highway and decided to take a side trip through the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.  Stopped in to the visitors’ center, bought a few post cards and a handful of semi-precious stones (which would prove to be my favorite souvenir throughout the trip) and watched a movie on conserving the environment.  In other words, don’t steal the petrified wood.  Drove around a bit, looking at  trees-turned-to-stone on the ground and some beautiful and colorful scenery.

Shortly after we returned to the main highway, we had a flat tire!  We both tried to loosen the lug nuts and replace the tire with the spare, but didn’t have a whole lot of luck. Looking forward on Interstate 40 and behind us, we were literally in the middle of nowhere.  Very few vehicles passed us and there weren’t even any billboards to help us gauge where we were!

Thankfully, we had a borrowed cell phone from friends (this was before I had one of my own) and were able to call AAA for assistance.  We waited for an hour or so, playing backgammon in the car and sweating profusely in the mid-day desert sun.  Eventually a truck pulled up and the driver said he would place our car on the flatbed of his truck and take us to the nearest town where we could get the tire repaired.

AAA to the Rescue

That town was Holbrook, Arizona, home of the WigWam Motel (“sleep in a tee pee”).  The gas station where the AAA guy was assigned said they weren’t able to repair the tire and we would have to buy a new one – which of course they did not carry.

Our driver piled us back into the front seat of his truck and drove us over 100 miles to Flagstaff.  He said he wanted to take a drive anyway and regaled us with stories of the Arizona desert, the UFO sightings, his wife, and finally dropped us off at the Flagstaff Mall and a Sears store where we were able to purchase – of course – two tires.

Our goal for this particular day was the Grand Canyon and it was an absolute must on David’s list of places he wanted to see.  The guys in the tire department showed us a shortcut to the canyon and we arrived at the south rim in time to enjoy the awesomeness of the place and to see a fabulous sunset.

I’m not sure which was more inspiring:  the Grand Canyon in all its glory, or the look on David’s face when he realized he had reached this wonder of nature that he had always wanted to see!  Another miracle on this journey of miracles.

We made it!

To be continued…

Where the heck is Djibouti and what are we doing here?

I was surprised to hear a mention of Djibouti on the Ellen DeGeneres show recently,  since it isn’t a place that gets a lot of press!  The reason why it struck me is that when I was in my early 20’s, my former husband and I were on our way to Madagascar where he was being assigned to work at a NASA tracking station on that island.

We were to fly from Paris to Tananarive (now called Antananarivo), the capital of Madagascar, overnight with a stopover to re-fuel in Djibouti, French Somaliland (now called Djibouti, Djibouti).  Looking down as we were landing, it looked as though someone had painted an X in the middle of the desert!  We landed to 108 degree temperatures in November, were shepherded into a steel hangar for a “breakfast” of warm lunch meat, warm orange juice, cold croissant and a pickle (!) while the plane refueled.

Our Air Madagascar flight took off a short time later and immediately returned to Djibouti as our plane had lost an engine!  They kept a planeload of passengers in the hangar all day while assessing the problem, and since my husband, another NASA worker, and I were the only Americans on the plane, no one would talk to us!

Finally, with my fractured high school French I was able to discern that we were staying overnight while another plane was being sent from Paris!  After over eight hours in the heated airplane hangar (and we were all in winter clothes from our trans-Atlantic flights from New York and Paris), the airline personnel let us take one piece of luggage from the plane, shepherded us onto buses and drove us into town.

I felt as if we had entered an old movie about the French Foreign Legion and discerned later that there actually was a Legion outpost outside of town. Trying to find lodging for over 200 people was quite a challenge for the airline personnel, but my husband and I ended up in a room above a bar (which we later found out was a house of “ill repute”!) The adventure continued when they sent a bus around town to corral everybody, took us on a little sightseeing tour and then to dinner!

Our meal (turned out it was just an appetizer and drinks) took place at tables scattered around a little building under trees and it was a cool and pleasant setting.  While dining, we noticed several animals – a cheetah, a monkey, a camel and a few other creatures – tied to nearby trees. We learned later we had been enjoying our snacks at the national zoo.

Next, the buses picked us all up and dropped us at our various resting spots.  When we arrived back at our “hotel”, a lovely feast was waiting for us in the bar.  Filet mignon, spiny lobsters and all the trimmings!

Very early the next morning we were picked up and taken back to the airport where we saw our wounded Air Madagascar plane and next to it an Air France jet.  We boarded the new plane and finally reached our goal of the island of Madagascar, a day late, but enriched by the unexpected adventure in an old French Foreign Legion post town!

You can see why the name Djibouti evokes memories!!

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