Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Happy Rain Dance

The collective rain dance done by all Californians has been rewarded. Rain, heavenly rain, how happy we are to see you.

The whole town of Napa, probably like the rest of the state, emerged from their homes, blinked and smiled up at the downpour, and took a long-awaited deep breath. Followed by some dry hacking that went on for a few days. The smoke is finally gone. The firefighters can go home. And we can start the process of rebuilding. Again.

The Pacific Ocean on a beautiful Fall Day (Bodega Bay, CA)

Lance and I went for a drive yesterday.  It started off as a casual conversation over breakfast "it's been so long since I've seen the ocean" followed by deep sighs from both of us; 5 months since the Atlantic and 13 months since the Pacific... but who's counting? So we loaded up the dog and drove to the coast.

The Pacific at Bodega Bay welcomed us home with fluffy clouds, birds cruising comfortably on the consistent ocean breeze, whales spouting in the distance, Chloe running happily along the ridge, and bellies full of dungeness crab and bay shrimp happily gobbled at our favorite outdoor restaurant by the working boats' marina. All better now.

It's always better to take the scenic route. The grapevines are stunning this time of year. (Sonoma Valley)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Homeless in Albuquerque sucks. We're outta here.

The mechanic called us with the final diagnosis... the exhaust manifold is cracked. Also a bunch of ducting on the cold air side of the turbo had perished allowing leaks here and there, robbing Loretta of critical turbo power. Grand total $3400. The shop itself was also undergoing a major overhaul, in that their computer system was being completely rebuilt from the ground up, which caused significant delays getting our parts underway. Altogether we waited two weeks until the actual work started, and when it did... major oops.

The technician in charge of separating the exhaust manifold struggled with removing the broken parts because over the years the bolts holding everything to the engine had seized, and in trying to remove them he managed to break two bolts off in the head, the first of which he was able to extricate, and on the very last one the coup de gras - he broke the head itself.  So now we're looking at a pretty major engine refit. Probably weeks. Final bill likely closer to $8000. Ugh.

Well, we've definitely had enough of Albuquerque and have no intention of spending Thanksgiving here, and so the decision was made to pack up the whole furry family, check out of the hotel, and hit the road to spend some time with family in California.

This meant visiting Loretta at the shop to collect some clothes and pet supplies, and throw away all the food in the fridge/freezer (rrrggghh).

When you spend so much time with a vehicle, it sort of takes on a life of its own; seems to breathe, triumph, suffer. You become used to each of the little sounds and learn to interpret their meaning. Our boat was the same way, so we shouldn't have been quite so surprised at how it would affect us to see Loretta torn apart this way.  The shop had the bed propped up so they could work, and from the hallway we could see all the way through to the shop floor.  Her engine parts were separated and spread around. She was not plugged into any shore power and the propane was off, so she was cold and dark, and the usual warm happy smells of a life well lived were replaced by sharp shop smells and just a hint of food beginning to spoil in the fridge. While we negotiated the scene collecting our things it felt like standing in the middle of a surgery room or murder investigation, the way her guts were exposed and spread around like that was just too much to witness. We packed as quickly as we could, patted some love on her dash, and fled for California. Yes we heard the smoke is bad... how bad can it be?

Lance and the cats are having a battle of wills

Traveling with two cats and a dog in the Subaru is a challenge. The dog settles right down in her usual bed and is fine unless any cat tries to share it with her, which they do every now and then probably more to annoy her more than for any other reason. They each have their own comfy safe spaces created for them which they choose to ignore in lieu of being all over the driver and passenger and trying to climb the seat backs. I know what you're thinking... "Why don't we leave them in the carrier?". We tried that. The yowling is neverending and soulful, it goes right through to your bones, and the driving days were really too long to ask anybody to sit that tight in their little carriers. Eventually they found their own space at the passenger's feet or the backseat footwell and settled down. We drove for two days like this, taking care they didn't escape at fuel and bathroom breaks, doing a pet head-count before rolling from each pause.

California is on fire, as it usually is this time of year nowadays. We first started noticing the smoke in Phoenix, and without a doubt the majority of it is being held back by the mountain range separating the Mojave Desert from the Central Valley.  Our last clean breath of clear air was on the Tehachapi Pass; when we started dropping into Bakersfield on the Central Valley side we instinctively held that last breath as it seemed like we were being slowly dropped into soup. The buildings and cars along the roadside in Bakersfield had a thick layer of red dust/ash on them and combined with the dark skies at midday it all felt very apocalyptic. The schools are closed, the traffic minimal as everyone tries to stay at home and exert themselves as little as possible.

Pray for rain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Albuquerque - petroglyphs, chili and dragon lights

The waitress said "chili?" and stared at me expectantly in response to my taco order. What went through my head was this:

and I just couldn't wrap my brain around how this one word was a question, and what it had to do with my simple order of street tacos. She shifted her weight, adjusted the pen in her hand and continued to stare expectantly at me for a few seconds. I started to get nervous that I'd picked the wrong place for lunch. I wished I'd been paying better attention when our friends placed their orders in Santa Fe as they did it with ease, and I tried to ignore the angry somersaults my stomach was doing over the concept of dumping a can of goopy chili on top of my fresh, light and crunchy tacos.

Eventually the waitress clucked her tongue, and said "tourists?", to which we both smiled sheepishly, and then she finally explained. In New Mexico all the food comes smothered in chili sauce which is really just a very finely blended salsa. There is a choice of red or green, or you can opt for both by saying "Christmas". I do recall my friend adding the word "Christmas" to his order - aha - now that made sense, at the time I thought I had simply misheard him.

Whew. No cans of chili here. As it turns out you can have your chili on the side and enjoy your meal as smothered (or not) as you want. Excellent.

Street tacos @ Garduno's, chili on the side

We've been waiting for all of Loretta's parts to arrive and be installed, and searching diligently for something to love about Albuquerque in the meantime. On one such venture we noticed a sign for petroglyphs, so we veered over to check it out. This land was once Anasazi land, although the natives nowadays prefer to refer to their ancestors as Ancestral Puebloans. These glyphs were made between 1300 and 1700 AD and hold cultural significance, warnings or instructions for the people of the time although much of their true meaning has been lost to time.

Petroglyphs at Albuquerque's Petroglyphs National Monument
The view of the West Albuquerque suburbs, as seen from Petroglyph National Monument

We saw some signage one day for Dragon Lights of Albuquerque, and it turned out to be quite a singular little side trip. The lighted displays are made from silk stretched over wire frames, and took about an hour to walk through them all. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. There were also live performances with a face-changer and a pair of contortionists who somehow fit themselves into an impossibly small barrel. It was painfully cold so we didn't linger at the craft stalls or food lines, if you're in the area I definitely recommend catching this little show.

Dragon Lights of Albuquerque

Once again, it looks like we've overstayed our welcome. Winter has followed us down the mountain from Denver and has taken advantage of our mechanical pause here to catch us. Temps hit 19 in downtown Albuquerque last night. Brrr.

Tinkertown Museum on the hillside behind Albuquerque, just 20 minutes up the hill from us
We hope to get Loretta back later today and will be rolling towards warmer climes as soon as we are reunited.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Albuquerque, Home of Breaking Bad

When I worked for a post house in Hollywood, one of the Sony techs used to talk about buying a condo in Albuquerque... for 15 thousand dollars. That about sums it up. This was 2004 or 2005. 
Finally the leader of the Parade shows up. Things move at their own pace here, the parade was very, very late getting started.

This crazy float was about 20' high.  At one point it got hung up on the power lines we were all sitting under.

We are stuck here waiting for hideously overpriced Cummins repairs, and while we wait we're trying to find something redeeming about this town. So far a two-block plaza area with historical adobe buildings and the Dia de los Muertos parade have been the high point.

Day of the Dead parade

Sketchy characters abound.

One of the touristy things to do is the "Breaking Bad" tour. Great... exteriors from a show about cooking meth... Pass (although I would like to throw a pizza on the roof).

Maybe we haven't found the heart of Albuquerque, but not for lack of trying. For my California friends - it's like Riverside without the charm. The balloon festival is a big deal, but we missed it by a week. Can't wait to get back on the road.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The color of the smoke is white

So I got some bad advice.
It all started off innocently enough. Why take the boring route from Denver to Santa Fe when we can take the pretty route? The one recommended, repeatedly and with vigor, by a local?

Well, in short, because...
Rocky Mountains.

About the time the elevation imagery on the gps was looking frighteningly vertical and I was coming to the realization that I'd made a horrible mistake, Lance called on the walkie talkie to tell me Loretta was spewing some pretty copious smoke, and instead of it being the usual diesel-under-load black it was a shocking grayish shade of white. Not good. We were on a crazy high grade, with nowhere to turn around and limping along with a significant loss of power; she finally crested the summit at 9630' amidst much coaxing, pleading, and patting her dash with "come on Old Girl".

Santa Fe Skies RV Park has 360 degree views that are ever-changing.  At night the coyotes yip and sing just out of reach. The park, like most of Santa Fe, is heavily influenced by the local artist community, and the sculptures on the property are plentiful.

We eventually made it to Santa Fe, where friends were waiting for us. After taking a moment to shake off the flop sweat we headed out to a traditional Santa Fe dinner with sopapillas, blue corn tortillas and the best chili relleno I have ever had.

One of the best things about our nomadic lifestyle is being able to catch up with friends on the road

Downtown Santa Fe can be a bit crowded if you get there in the afternoon. On the second attempt I arrived early on a Monday morning and the crowds were a lot more manageable - in fact I found parking right in front of the Cathedral on the Plaza.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

The Cathedral is amazing, and the accompanying graveyard has a metal sculpture over the entrance that translates precisely from Spanish to "God gives and quits", likely meant to reference "The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away" from the story of Job's suffering, but the literal translation works, too. This church was not the first one built here, previous churches were destroyed by angry natives, the most bloody of which earned the label The Pueblo Revolt.  I expect many a Spanish settler on the receiving end of the natives' wrath may have felt "quit" in the 1600's.

The door to the cathedral is covered in vignette sculptures like this

The stained glass windows are breathtaking

Baptism wells

Santa Fe is an adorable town. The homes and businesses all share the same pueblo adobe style and are painted in desert colors. The downtown plaza is an organized chaos of street vendors, many of them from local native tribes, selling handmade wares.

A Gallery just off the Plaza, in typical Santa Fe architecture

Within a few days we found the right folks to give Loretta the attention she needed, so down the hill we went to Albuquerque to hand her off to the Cummins specialists. Fingers crossed that the white smoke isn't fatal.