A lonesome two weeks in Southern California

(Lonesome: solitary, isolated.)

In 2010 I attended the ESRI GIS Federal Users Conference in DC and chatted with Debra Riley of the University of Redlands about the possibility of my delivering a 1-day workshop for the students of their Spatial Masters degree program. During 2 years of sporadic emails we eventually agreed on a day in October 2012, to be proceeded by a 1-hour talk at the ESRI HQ. My old friend Bob Breuer was also fitfully urging me to attend the 50-year Fairfax High School reunion to be held the Saturday before the workshop, but as the event was being held in Tarzana - wherever that is - I wasn't keen. Finally Bob talked me and himself into attending, so there were 3 reasons to spend a few days in Southern California; and I decided to bring the trip up to about 2 weeks with some kayaking north of Los Angeles and hopefully around the Channel Islands.

Redlands and I worked out the details and I busily researched outfitters that guided paddlers in the Ventura County/Channel Islands area, thinking I'd make a counter-clockwise circuit: LAX-Hollywood-Redlands-Angeles Forest-Ventura-LAX, but after months of discouraging responses (we don't organize tours in the Fall, we'd take you out but have to charge you the group rate, the weather can be chilly, etc.) I decided to flip the circuit and head south from Redlands-desert-San Diego, and up the coast to LAX. Turned out to be an excellent idea.

What follows is the usual (re)collection of events, feelings, and images. I keep a daily notebook and post these journals less for their value to others (though a few do read them) than to refresh my images and to prolong the pleasure of adventure. The process of reviewing notes, editing pictures, writing, and poring over maps helps keeps at bay the fog that rapidly envelops memories.

NOTE: Some of the images at the beginning of this journal are not with the days recounted; I took few pictures at the beginning of this trip, so I placed later ones earlier in the document.

Friday, October 5; IAD-LAX

I arrived in LA around noon, picked up a bright green Fiesta, and checked into a large corner room at the Beverly Laurel Motel (whose name is its location). The room had a small kitchen, complete with stove (which I never used), but can get pretty noisy when the diners at the Singles Café get buzzed at night, yelling over the occasional motorcycle, hot car, and LA horn-blowing. Earplugs help. Checked on the 'new' owner of 736 N. Martel Ave., my boyhood home and found the neighborhood physically unchanged and still settling into decession tawdriness: clothing/beauty/head shops changing hands yearly, scattering of eateries and nearly-upscale restaurants, and a few still-intriguing places that sell oddities: Necromance, Aardvark, The Record Collector (the owner remembers my father), etc.

I'd been telling Breuer and the reunion organizers that we should meet at Canters Delicatessen, where I went for a chopped chicken liver on rye with a slice of onion (still yummy, and still enough for 2 people). I asked the manager if she did Fairfax reunions and she said yes but they probably couldn't accommodate the numbers that were RSVP'ing. Still, they could find someplace closer than The Valley. After the chopped liver I attended a screening of Complicity at the Silent Movie theater on Fairfax (now called CineFamily). Alas, the Fairfax Movie Theater across Beverly (where Arny Geller and I would sail flattened popcorn boxes during sci-fi movies) has closed.

Saturday, October 6; Kaiser, Reunion

A couple of weeks previous I had gone kayaking and camping on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay and acquired what a Kaiser dermatologist called "the worst case of insect [sic] bites I have ever seen." My body from the neck down was covered with hundreds of what were almost certainly tick or chigger bites: from intensely itchy pimples to hemispherical blisters a half-inch in diameter. The MD was mystified by the outbreak and extracted a biopsy the week before, but by the time I arrived in LA it appeared that the biopsy site was infected, tho the bites were healing. I spent the morning and into the afternoon trying to get seen at the West LA Kaiser Permanente urgent care facility, which entailed hours of phoning (Virginia and LA), paperwork, and waiting, but eventually I saw a nice doctor who prescribed antibiotic ointment that cleared up the infection. We chatted about life in LA and he said it was a struggle, even for a couple of doctors like him and his wife. Life in the big city is always a struggle, usually aggravated by self-awareness. The whole morning was unpleasant, although all the people I dealt with were friendly and helpful. The last step was paying for the tube of mupirocin, which the cashier quoted as costing $70 street, maybe $30 for members, but she figured out how to get the price down to $12. No wonder the US has the lowest quality per dollar health care in the world: wasted time, paperwork, registration, confusing prices and rules. Stay healthy, then die quickly.

It helps to know your way around LA, as I do. The city has four features that facilitate navigation.

  • First are the landmarks, especially the transverse range of Santa Monica mountains; provided you can see them, you always know where north is. And the ocean is always to the west (or the south if you're down there).
  • Second is the almost constant visibility of the sun, so provided you know whether its morning or afternoon (a challenge for some) you can orient yourself to the sky.
  • The third aid is a fairly consistent north/south street grid, which does wrap around a bit out near the coast and orient northeast as you go east of Downtown.
  • Finally, the freeway system is pretty easy to understand, although old-timers like me may still speak of the Hollywood, Pasadena, and Santa Monica Freeways, instead of the 101, 110, and the 10 (sounds binary to me). Use the grid to get to the nearest on-ramp, take one or more freeways to the nearest off-ramp, use the grid to get to your destination.

  • Keep an eye on the mountains and the sun to check your direction.

    data point from kayakThe reunion was not very remarkable except for the large turnout and the small number of people I remembered, let alone recognized; it would be nearly impossible to match 1962 yearbook faces to the elderly and near-elderly 2012 bodies I encountered that evening. In my usual provocative fashion I went around asking people "What did you learn at Fairfax?" and got a few interesting answers: "I wasn't as smart as I thought," "projective geometry isn't that important," and "I was happy in high school." It is possible to learn to be - or that you are constitutionally - happy; this can happen somewhat earlier, though probably not before puberty. No one asked me what I learned at Fairfax, and indeed I didn't have a ready answer, but reflecting upon the three years I suppose I learned that I was a smart fellow. It's taken me decades to realize that the kind of intelligence that helped me succeed in high school (and of course throughout life), while useful and often exciting, isn't as valuable as kindness, imagination, compassion, wisdom, honesty, self-awareness, and all the other qualities that high school isn't set up to reward or recognize.

    My feeling almost a complete stranger at the event reminded me that my social life was severely constrained by my studies and the constant attention of Susan Schneider, leaving me ignorant of the rich social ecology that high school provides. I suggested to the 70-year reunion organizers (oyez) that in addition to booking the school or a nearby facility, they hire a social network programmer to query each of us about the people we most want to meet at the event, then somehow physically organize us into clusters so we can relatively effortlessly group ourselves. After all, few of us want to meet new classmates after 50 years; it's the old 'friends' who are still alive and take the trouble to attend whom we want to reminisce with. Still, it was a pleasant event, probably largely because a reunion is the kind of place where one is expected to be more cheerful than in daily life, and cheerfulness is infectious in moderate quantities (these are almost uniformly Jews, after all).

    Yet on this first day were also being planted the negative seeds of this trip: homo vehicularis behaving at nearly his worst; gates, walls, and fences (such as those surrounding Steve Breuer's condo); endless sprawl leaving people at the complete mercy of the car. These things make me cherish Reston, where I walk or bike everywhere and never have to negotiate walls (though we do have much more than our share of 'creepy-crawly' security state compounds patrolled by dogs and armed rent-a-cops).

    Sunday, October 7; Pasadena

    This was my first free day and I spent it wandering around downtown Pasadena, although I'd forgotten the old jokes about Pasadena, little old ladies, and Sunday, so the place was rather quiet (except for the many churches). It seems that almost all towns have sections where political and/or business leaders profit from preserving some of the feel of the 'old' place, and if even if the more successful of such neighborhoods have been taken over by chains, the structures are usually intact; and such is true of the West Colorado section of old Pasadena, where I had dinner (or an afternoon meal in a nearly-empty patio restaurant) and chatted with a Tibetan gift-shop owner who had plans to move east (not back to Tibet).

    ocotillo in Anza-Borrego SPI also thought a bit about a state of mind that often arises when I travel alone: sometimes one has a mission: to find lodging, get to a scheduled event or tour, see a planned sight, and so forth. But I'm often occupied with how to 'kill' time (an odd phrase): wander aimlessly, think up a small mission that will pass the hours before heading back to my room. Time is a tangible thing that one may waste or use, but if used then not much experienced, and if experienced directly then felt as a kind of tangible flow (but not in Csikszentmihalyi's sense). I suppose this is a kind of mindfullness if one is not attached to the notion of wasting time; just let the moments come and go, pass like a stream, and sure enough the next thing to be done will be due. At a minimum you'll find yourself in the night with no place warm and comfortable to sleep. I'm sure that high school helped to teach me the 'value' of time well 'spent.' Education is about instilling anxiety.

    I ended by visit to Pasadena with a brief walk around Cal Tech, which I had last seen when I was in high school. As I wandered around the cramped campus - almost no open space, a clutter of small buildings, many of an unimaginative California Spanish design - I was reminded of my days at MIT; the atmosphere of grim studiousness punctuated by occasional serious play. Remember that all this is largely supported by the great surplus wealth of development; In this spirit, I checked on the building named after W.M. Keck, lately of ExxonMobil, and don't forget his Observatory and Institute, many other buildings, etc. The students can have their fun, but their lives must produce the technological progress that can enrich the rich even further, so they'll donate money for more buildings.

    I drove surface streets back to the motel, following Sunset from downtown, through Angelino Heights and Echo Park, recently studied by Norman Klein. I didn't feel like stopping, but the boulevard certainly went through some very lively, mainly Hispanic, neighborhoods.

    Monday, October 8; Wilshire Temple and downtown

    The main event was a visit to the Wilshire Boulevard (Reform) Temple, currently being renovated, at a cost of $50 million (over 30 times the expense of its 1929 construction). In a way it was a pity to visit the temple in this gutted condition, though the exquisite care being lavished on its restoration was impressive. I vaguely remember 'making out' with a young lady (from Fairfax?) in a basement stairway; I hadn't thought of this event for over 50 years. I observed to Bob that the temple reminded me of Hagia Sophia; Aldous Huxley made that observation in 1936.

    Food isn't very important to me. I'll grab a bowl of cereal from the motel 'continental breakfast,' stuff a couple of pieces of fruit and a bagel in my bag, and I'm set until sundown. And even by dinner time I may dine on trail mix, another piece of fruit, followed by a shot of whisky. So food costs for a day may be the price of a cup of coffee.

    The Breuers, however, are food people: by no means fat, but they built to a larger scale than the members of my family, so the important matter of lunch arose. And it was Bob's birthday, so a festive lunch seemed in order. You know you're in an ethnic neighborhood when the signs are in the language of that group with no English subtitles, and we were in what some of the maps call 'Koreatown.' The 3 of us wandered across the street towards a couple of Korean restaurants, and Bob queried a fellow about places to eat. He pointed to a quality Korean BBQ place about 3 blocks away, so after some discussion we began to head for the cars, but I strongly suggested we walk.

    After we sat down at a comfortable table I left the ordering to Bob & Fredi, who wanted 2 kinds of beef, which the waiter suggested would be more than enough. I announced to all that 1) I was buying the lunch ("not for you, Fredi," I joked) and 2) if there were any food remaining I'd re heat it in my motel kitchenette. It was a tasty meal, and nothing was left, which was just as well, because it was hours before I got back to my room.

    During our animated chatter Fredi gave Bob a kiss on the cheek; it appeared spontaneous and I found it very touching. I loved being with Bob & Fredi, though I find talking to old friends after months (years!) of separation rather hard work. One wants to share so much in so little time; it's a wonder we take the trouble, but we do, and I must thank Bob for exercising a bit more effort in maintaining our contact than I do.

    I followed the temple tour with a walk east on Wilshire through MacArthur Park to downtown. The park, where 'we' used to rent electric boats, is still centered around the lake, but the sidewalks are dusty and encrusted with birdshit. But the grass is reasonably green and no doubt a welcome taste of semi-open space for the thousands of families who live nearby. I very much doubt if there are many Jews in the neighborhood.

    Downtown were rather too empty - I'd forgotten it was Columbus Day, and the Museum of Contemporary Art had an indifferent exhibit, so I felt disappointment and weariness from three rather fitful nights. I sat back in an outdoor Disney Concert Hall chair and promptly fell asleep, my face in the warm sun; woke up perhaps a half-hour later from a sleep so deep that I was momentarily disoriented; for a few seconds didn't know where I was, felt quite exposed, like waking up in one's own bed but finding it in a concrete park overlooking a busy highway. Not pleasant, but a bit of an experience nevertheless. I took the LA Metro back to Wilshire & Western and had a coffee and wandered back to my car.

    One thing I noticed on this day but on many other days was the frequency of sirens in the city. Has there been an increase in the numbers of trips or the use of sirens since 9/11? Are the much-beloved 'first-responders' becoming just a bit lavish in their displays of urgency? How many rescue vehicles are rushing to a woman who fainted from that last doughnut? Just asking.

    Lying in my hotel room that night I wondered how much difference vehicle speed made in increasing noise (it's apparently linear, contrary to my expectations). Beverly Blvd. is a pretty fast street, and LA drivers are faster than I'm used to (and a hell of a lot faster than I am!). I figured that cars are a lot noisier at 40 mph than at 30, but apparently not; still, they're more dangerous, and their engines are running louder. The things I ponder at night.

    Tuesday, October 9; Redlands

    Lee De Cola at U. RedlandsI drove to Redlands in the morning: the 10 to the 60 to the 215, then northeast on Barton Road and into town; all the way feeling still in LA. I was early enough to explore the center city and began to look for a walking guide to Redlands. Sometimes the hotel has them, occasionally the Chamber of Commerce, and usually the visitor's center; but the library is often the best place to look. Much fuss is made over the library's 'resources' but I think the key attractions of libraries are the people and the space (a quiet place to read, write, meditate, and nap). In a small library its often just one person who has that combination of honesty, knowledge, and commitment that will help you out. Fortunately I found my way to the lovely Smiley Library (where I'm sure my father-in-law spent many happy hours) and got a simple map.

    For some reason the 1-page map doesn't include the very pleasant and well-preserved 'central business district' along West Colton St. I think Ed Linsley would have been at home walking along the street today. The whole place seems not only great for walking but also for cycling, but I saw very few bikes. Every chance I get I'm outside, enjoying the fact that nothing's biting me.

    Wednesday, October 10; Oakmont trail

    I didn't have anything to do until the late afternoon, so I went on a short hike through Oakmont Park; the first time I got away from cars and their people. You get a bit of the feel for the 'natural' countryside here, but you're never out of sight of a road or house, or out of earshot of combustion. I tried to remember a few of the birds I saw, but my memory is vague. But I did see ants everywhere; they are truly nearly ubiquitous, if you just glance at the ground - or at any tree - you'll probably see an ant.

    It was nice to get away, if only for a few hours and if only a few hundred yards from people; my mood is definitely improved by isolation: humanity's restless efforts to create, destroy, transform cause so much dirt, noise, sham design, juxtaposition of conflicting ends, almost all of it driven by an uncoordinated commercial urge. And overlaying all this, I noted most of the time, is also the fear that builds fences, walls and installs gates, cameras, and hires guards or barking dogs. Humanity needs another millennium to clean up its act, and until then, one can try to get away.

    After my talk at ESRI the head of the U. Redlands program, a few students, and I went for pizza downtown. I declined the offer of a ride back to the hotel and checked out theFox theater, which was featuring a Les Adieux à la reine that night. I paid for my ticket but was told I was the only patron so far and the showing might be cancelled. I went off to have a beer at a dark little place around the corner and returned to be told that although I was indeed the only ticket-holder, the show would go on. Apparently Redlands isn't a hotspot for first-run French movies. So I sat in lonely and relative splendor through the film, but I think someone did come in during the showing. Walked the lonely main streets of Redlands back to the hotel.

    Something else I noticed almost everywhere I went, except the U Redlands campus: very few bicycles on the road, even though several towns accommodated them with their own lanes, there were few bikes to be seen. However, there were skateboards everywhere at the university; many buildings have racks on the wall where the kids can leave their boards while they eat, attend class, work out, etc. On top of the few bikes, the many skateboards along with cars add to the risks of walking.

    Thursday, October 11; Workshop

    The Redlands workshop went well; later evaluations of me and the event were all GOOD and EXCELLENT, and it appears many participants benefited from paper and pencil exercises. The students were a lively bunch and asked great questions. One participant even complimented me on my organization, which is a factor I usually get criticized for. What I found exciting about the day was that because they were in an intensive program that required applied research, they seem to have the sense that the activities were indeed useful, and because I had asked them to apply techniques to their own work they were often thinking about how the techniques applied. And it's always nice to be surrounded by motivated young people.

    Although I had looked forward to the end of the workshop and getting out on my own, I naturally felt a bit letdown as well; the next week depended solely upon me.

    Friday, October 12; Salton Sea

    I headed due east on I-10, still feeling in LA, but there is a brief somewhat empty gap at the San Gorgonio Pass just before you enter Greater Palm Springs; it's where over 3000 wind turbines wheel (same kind of feeling as Altamont Pass 400 miles north). If I could avoid the desert sprawl, I might escape into the wildness.

    One thing about traveling alone with no fixed timetable or destination is that you can improvise. I'd never seen the 500 square mile Salton Sea up close, so I decided to use it as the eastern focus of my clockwise elliptical circuit, and I didn't stop until I reached the visitor center of the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, where a helpful ranger welcomed me to inspect the exhibits. It was hot/warm, dry, and breezy, and I was beginning to relax. Next door was a boat house where kayaks were stacked up, and I waited for the proprietor to finish his seemingly endless chat with a customer/friend. Finally, I interrupted:

    “Hi, I'd like to paddle.”
    “Well, I was about to close up; you're the only customer today.”
    “OK, well I realize it's late, but I don't suppose I could go out for a short while?”
    “Hmm; all right, I'll get you a boat.”
    “Let's see, it's $15 an hour, so I'll go out for a couple of hours?”
    “I'd like to close up soon.”
    “OK, when do you want me back?”
    “Let's say 4 o'clock.”

    He proceeded to chat with me about this and that, particularly his giving up drinking (this was a theme I was to hear again), but finally I got away on my boat.

    salton seaThe paddle was uneventful: the Sea/lake is surrounded by flat land with mountains in the distance, and lots of birds, none of which seemed unusual to my untutored eye. Once the 'sea' was the northern head of the Gulf of California, where I'd camped and paddled in 2004. The high point of the day was a leisurely cigar (my father used to speak of smoking "a contemplative pipe" and this was exactly what I was doing) accompanying a shot of Jagermeister, which I'd bought in LA (and wasn't a great choice for smooth tasty sipping by the Sea).

    During my entire visit to the Salton Sea I heard trains: their engines, their wheels, and the characteristic dash-dash-dot-dash signal they make when approaching a road. (It's the Morse Code letter Q, but I don't think that's significant.)

    I was on my own; I could chat up the AAA lady, the ranger, the kayak guy, or mind my own business; from yesterday evening nobody would depend on me for a whole week. In fact, if no one heard from me for a week there would be no particular concern.

    I spent the night in Brawley CA; asked the woman at the Brawley Inn if the name was because people fought a lot there but she said it was named after someone (according to Wikipedia in 1902 the town was named after J.H. Braly, who refused to let them use his correctly spelled name). The town is depressing: a dusty strip along CA78 that once had a couple of probably lively blocks centered around a now-crumbling arcaded sidewalk. One of my rules is to find lodging and then start walking, in this case in search of dinner, which I found at the clean but utterly artless El Rincon Mexicano restaurant (actually run by Hispanics!) under the arcade. The flautas were tasty, and I discovered horchata (sweetened rice water and vanilla) as an alternative to soft drink or canned juice.

    If I don't have a specific destination I'll be in a state of mild anxiety, searching for places and experiences of interest; but sometimes you can just stop at the next town before sunset and take whatever comes. Whatever came was Brawley.

    Saturday, October 13; Anza-Borrego Calcite Mine Trail

    Other than the colloquium and workshops (and of course the reunion) my two goals for this trip were visiting the desert and kayaking in the ocean, so I began to feel mild pressure to head into Anza-Borrego Desert, which I'd visited about 10 years before, when it was hot-hot-hot. After eating one of the flautas from last night's dinner, I headed northeast into the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. I really didn't pay attention to the signs, which mentioned the various kinds of vehicles that were allowed, so at the first lonely turnoff I turned off and walked into the wilderness, and immediately heard the whines and growls of dirt bikes and dune buggies, and whatever the hell else was being accommodated in the SVRA. Everywhere I looked were the tracks of these things, and the air was alive with their noise. It appears that hundreds of square miles of the state (and not just at Ocotillo Wells other places as well) are reserved for this kind of environmental abuse. No doubt the state couldn't stop it, so they try to confine the noise and dust to a few places. Beyond the noise, what struck me about the 'park' was that all these wheels were wearing down the relief of the region: the constant abuse was turning rocks into sand, ridges into hills, and hills into sand piles. Homo vehicularis is a species designed to warm and wear down the planet: the most effective entropo-morphic agent Earth has ever supported. Loathsome; I got out as fast as my highway-legal vehicle could get me.

    I next stopped at the Anza-Borrego SP headquarters and picked up a few maps, and the volunteer ranger suggested I check out a few of the hikes. But I really only wanted to spend the afternoon in one place, and decided that the Calcite Mile trail sounded remote enough. But first I cruised around the town and after checking out a few motels settled on the somewhat grandiosely named Hacienda del Sol, which turned out to be delightful.

    As I headed east to the trail I noticed little airplanes whining in the sky above the Borrego Valley Airport - Acrofest was on that weekend. I ordered a salad from the Assaggio Ristorante Italiano (whose entire staff appeared to be Vietnamese) and sat for an hour watching the cutest little planes do acrobatics in the clear desert air. I asked one of the spectators (a fit young fellow with pilot patches on his jeans) "Is that as dangerous as it looks?" "No," he replied "they're a lot safer than you are in your car." "Well, I still don't think their mothers would want to watch this!" Cute little planes doing loops, rolls, dives - fun, fun, fun!

    The Calcite trail was a two-mile hike north off of CA22; exactly what I wanted to do (if a bit more strenuous than a stroll over flat desert terrain). The jeep trail was reportedly constructed by Gen. Patton during WWII and has since eroded into a jeep trail that would certainly defeat the VW bug I used to get my family from Ikom Nigeria to Mamfe Cameroon in about 1982. Yet I stepped aside for a couple of 4-wheel drive vehicles that slowly but surely made the trip. I think their drivers were doing this partly just to prove they could.

    About every 10 minutes during my quite pleasant if strenuous hike I heard gunfire, so my goal of attaining perfect solitude generally failed. I had originally thought we're never far from internal combustion man, but now I think the combustion is from many sources: terrestrial engines (cars, trucks, trains), aerial engines (props and jets), and the combustion of gunpowder, or whatever propels shells these days. Like Buddy and Arny 60 years ago, people must forever be blowing things up. At least I wasn't subjected to the whines of Acrofest.

    I returned to the Hacienda ready to enjoy a rest in the desert garden, went across the highway to buy a beer and was told you can't buy a 12-oz bottle from a 6-pack, so I got a 24-oz bottle which I was sure was too much. But I had no trouble drinking it while relaxing in the warm sun. A perfect wind-down from the first almost totally pleasant day. When I fly over the Western US I always imagine myself in some lonesome spot in that desert, and I had been able to realize that dream.

    But during the night I lay awake in bare Room 18 of the Hacienda del Sol, whose only decoration was a poster from The Killer Is Loose; My 'chigger' bites still itched, and I felt like I was getting new bites, especially at night. And I could imagine Wendell Corey stalking me in the next room. Getting enough sleep when you travel is problematic: shifting schedules, jet lag, strange noises and beds, the feel of a new place.

    The whole 2 weeks was marked by moody swings, from mildly unhappy to content, and sometimes anxious, but none of the extremes very great. I think an upside of this moodiness is that I will work to plan activities for myself that either distract from unhappiness or provide the material for stimulation (Woody Allen talked of this in a New Yorker article within the past year). Push yourself to spend a week traveling in a circuit from LAX through Redlands, the Salton Sea, and La Jolla. Keep moving, driving, walking, paddling, write, have a drink or a cigar, talk to someone, etc. whenever you feel blue. But don't forget to stop, especially when the world invites mindfulness.

    I was told by the Hacienda's owner that he (or his predecessor) was given the posters for the rooms by the director, Oscar Boetticher, Jr. Maybe...anyway the poster fit the mood.

    Sunday, October 14; Santa Ysabel Open Space

    I picked up a coffee and bun and scanned the San Diego Union-Tribune left in front of my room while sitting in my favorite place, the "desert garden," which I later learned was actually the foundation and relict fireplace of a burned-out cabin. The coffee was OK, the bun huge and sweet, and the paper almost worthless. As for pastries, it seems that one day I woke up and found that buns had mogrified from small conic frustums into large cylinders, thereby at least doubling in size - no wonder we're all so fat (and I also noticed the proliferation of handicapped parking places everywhere I went: fat and sick and old!). This reminded me that the 'lemonade' I'd asked for at the Borrego airport and the water I'd been given at dinner that night were also huge. In fact, I discussed the size of the water with the waiter and he admitted it made his job a bit easier (no refills) but that people rarely drank more than a few sips of what he brought. I recall CA drought a few decades ago when you had to ask for water; now you can drown in it.

    When I was sufficiently warmed by the sun I took off up and to the west on County 22 into the Pinyon (Piñon?) Ridge, stopping several times to meditate on Borrego Valley, sparsely dotted with houses, trailers, camps, and just cleared spaces.

    Given that this was a travel day, I looked for a place to take a brief hike, and when I passed a half-dozen cars parked along CA29 north of Santa Ysabel I stopped, backed up, and gathered a few items for a hike into the Santa Ysabel Open Space. While doing this I wrenched my back painfully and had the usual thoughts, ranging from: that's the end of this trip, to this little pain will pass and I can go on. I carefully got out of the car and gingerly began to climb the west slope of Volcan Mountain, stopping to read instructions about what to do when encountering a mountain lion (try to scare the beast). Don't hike alone, let someone know where you're going, etc. It was a nice little loop hike, marred by my having forgotten to bring any food and a recurrence of the back pain, aggravated by self-directed anger, and so forth.

    During the hike I tried to walk mindfully: pick a few hundred yards where you're fairly sure of the terrain, walk slowly, and look straight ahead, noticing how your head seems to bob in space relative to the infinite horizon. It's almost like floating, but like meditation, hard for me to maintain for more than a few minutes, and if the ground is uneven then you do have to look down occasionally. Other than a brief spasm at the middle of the hike when I discovered I had no food (no coincidence there!) the back slowly settled down over the next few days and didn't interfere much with further hiking or paddling.

    I used the Lonely Planet CA guide to find my way to the La Jolla Village Lodge where I was given the 'Sunset Roofgarden' room; best in the house, where I settled down for 2 days. In fact, if you're traveling without an immediate destination, try to adapt to good fortune; if you find a nice place to live, live it.

    Monday, October 15; La Jolla paddle

    The Southern California coast between San Diego and LA was my only formal destination, and I decided to skip San Diego and head for La Jolla. So I'd made it: four full days until I had to catch a plane on Friday morning. I could practically kayak to LAX in that time.

    But first I investigated La Jolla, beginning at a coffee shop where I sat outside and made notes and tried to draw a palm tree. Among the first things that you notice when arriving in or returning to SoCal are the palms, or what Wikipedia designate the Arecaceae, 'a botanical family of perennial lianas and trees.' Although apparently only one palm is native to the region (and I visited a small grove the last time I was in Anza-Borrego), you really should learn the major types: short and fat, tall and skinny, many with fruits - they're iconic. Also saw lizards.

    A few tables away was a lovely Asian woman and a man to whom she was talking. I use this construction consciously because I only heard her voice and her occasionally quite loud laughter (laffter). In my late sexagenarian way I reflected on how far women had come in just a few decades ago. Although she was dressed elegantly, her movements and sounds were expansive and completely at ease; none of the reticence that would surely have constrained one or both of her grandmothers. (A few days later I followed a woman who strutted just like a man - more manfully than many in fact - and thought much the same thing; how far we've come.)

    I called and made a 1PM appointment to paddle. But before that I had a few hours to kill (that phrase again) so I hiked up La Jolla Natural Park (ignoring the No Trespassing signs), turning back every few yards to admire more and more of the headlands unfolding about me; my first full view of the Pacific in a couple of years. I suppose it was then that I began thinking how it might be possible once again to live near this ocean, as I had for the first 18 years of my life.

    I returned to the Inn and asked about walking to the paddle place and was told to drive, so of course I walked, most of it quite pleasant but a few hundred yards very busy Torrey Pines Road. Having been born in SoCal and given that I visit there nearly yearly, I am quite comfortable wandering around the region, but as usual I see new ideas: this time it was noticing the number of walls, fences, and gates; and hearing so many car alarms. Lots of affluent people are collecting at the edge of the continent, and they're worried about being robbed, or molested, just encroached upon. This paradise is woven of fences, visible and invisible: keep out, keep off, keep away. In fact, the overall style of the affluent is rather boring: just look at the displays in the shops in any upscale neighborhood: apparently well-crafted items made of high-quality materials, but not very interesting.

    The tour was led by a pleasant young (they all are) man who tried to keep the group together and interested, and a pleasant afternoon was had by all, but of course I wanted more. I do think ocean paddling is much the most fun and most interesting: the waves are a challenge, you can see into the water, and you can explore the near shore's rocks and beaches in a most exciting way. Of course the rocks can be dangerous, and even the beach can toss you about, as I was to learn a few days later, but it was a great day. (In rereading this journal I see lots of complaining, but for me this is what 'thoughtfulness' is about; it's hard to talk about what was OK, and much of this trip really was OK and more.)

    I returned to my room at the inn to think about dinner but remembered I'd brought a half sandwich from the previous day, so I retired to my roof garden to find a couple of guys drinking beers, but I ignored them and had some Jagermeiser and attended to my journal. Yet I was too stimulated by the paddle to do anything quiet, so I hopped on the parapet of the roof and meditated on the sunset. In a few minutes a fellow called up to me from the parking lot "May I join you up there?" A voluble fellow bounded up the 2 flights of stairs and proceeded to share his life story, and a few minutes into the account asked me if I wanted to share some of his medicinal cannabis - just what I'd been waiting for!

    He chattered on and on and I got pretty high but stopped dragging on the generous pipe after a few minutes. For me the essence of vice is knowing the simple rule that though some may be good, more may not be better: you need to stop when the marginal benefit equals the marginal cost, and this requires two things: self awareness and the ability to objectively run the calculus of pleasure and pain. I think this is what enables me to smoke a couple of cigars a week, drink a couple of ounces of whisky a day, and stop smoking dope before I get too high to enjoy it. A virtuous approach to vice.

    But the fellow wouldn't stop chattering. At one point he asked me a question and before I had a chance to answer went on about something else. I mumbled something about his being quite self-absorbed, and he seized on that comment, thanking me for the observation several times during our time together, becoming at times absorbed in his self-absorbtion. Meanwhile I enjoyed the chance to get stoned, though became a little paranoid as I often would. I asked him how he'd gotten the prescription and he said it was for 3 complaints: depression, insomnia, and alcoholism. Naturally I asked if this was substituting one addiction for another, but I don't recall his answer, if he replied at all, as he may have been babbling about something else. Anyway, dope is probably easier on your body than booze. (I still recall his habit of pulling on his sensuous lower lip: an erotic gesture or just a tic?)

    I declined his offer to retire a local bar and watch a ball game. But my back was still sensitive, so I asked the Inn's proprietors if they knew of a place where I could get a massage, and they directed me to a local establishment they felt they could recommend. Getting a massage isn't something I regularly do, but the dope, being in an adventuresome mood, and my sore back inspired me. The massage was administered by 'Mimi' who was Chinese and appeared to know almost no English, so I let her administer for about an hour, thanked her, and paid. She had strong hands (and elbows, I felt) but no particularly unusual moves that I or my wife didn't know already. I left feeling somewhat refreshed, but this didn't keep me from having a fitful night - dope always keeps me awake.

    Tuesday, October 16; Dana Point Harbor

    I awoke after a dopey night, packed my stuff (leaving a shirt behind), and chatted with the La Jolla Inn proprietors before heading out of town. I was in a state of being that I'd forgotten often arises after smoking marijuana; not well focused, feeling out of 'it' and indeed, I noticed that whole day I had the odd sensation of being detached from everything, slightly lonely and away from 'home' almost the way one feels when traveling outside of one's home or native country. Amazing how subtle one's moods.

    On my way out of La Jolla I visited the Salk Institute, which I'd somehow missed in the 50 years since it opened. The architecture is both striking and chilly; another monument to wealth, this time under the guise of conquering death, or maybe just pain. Who could be against that? But since then I've begun to see the Salk minimalism everywhere in contemporary architecture and I begin to wonder whether mid-20th-century modernism wasn't really just economy and standardization under the guise of style. Of course that's right, and it's why 99% of the building since 1950 has been so really very boring. But the Salk building is exciting to stroll around in when you think about how striking it was 50 years ago; today it's a beautiful sculpture. I wondered if the (largely Asian female) workers there have much appreciation for the structure's iconic status.

    I tried to drive up the coast highway beyond La Jolla, but got impatient with the beach towns and all the houses offering little access to the ocean, so I made for I-5, through the open spaces of Camp Pendelton, and then again into the coastal clutter of San Clemente and finally Dana Point.

    The Lonely Planet guide recommended the Dana Point Harbor Inn, a 'modern' establishment from the 1970s that was being slowly renovated. Somehow, each night except for my time in Redlands I found myself at a 'vintage' lodging that reminded me of (my) earlier days in SoCal. Modern as the new old.

    After a brief walking tour of the waterfront I rented a kayak from Dana Point Watersports and made a 2-hour circuit of the docks: a couple of thousand idle yachts jammed into a small jetty-enclosed harbor (estimate based on counts from the GoogleMap of the harbor). Of course I was there on a weekday when very few of the boats were in use, but I'll bet that even on a weekend no more than a few hundred of the boats will go out at any one time. As a boat owner myself - a 16-foot sea kayak no less! - it's easy to understand why the boats are idle. First, even the enthusiastic boater won't be going out more than once a week at most, and even to do so takes one within a semicircle no more than a few dozen miles from the slip: either into open ocean which doesn't change very much or along the coast, which one has pretty much explored in the first year or so. To visit places further away requires trailering the boat, which is a major operation. Give me a kayak any day: easy to move around, cheap, and great exercise. And in line with the theme of this trip - the vast consumerist river flowing over the globe - thinking about the sheer waste of material and the thousands of gallons of gasoline in each of those boats (multiplied by all the idle boats in the world). And let's not get started on the cars! Makes the AcroFest seem an innocent little diversion in comparison.

    After the paddle I grabbed a cigar and walked up to the Heritage Park to smoke; had a chat with a couple of young men fiddling with a radio-controlled car. I mentioned to them about my post-cannabis sense of detachment and they seemed to know what I meant. Later I found that I'd left a shirt in La Jolla, so my behavior indeed reflected my mental state. Still, I enjoyed the high; another item to check off my informal list of things to do in California.

    Wednesday, October 17; Paddle Dana Point to Strands

    Another activity to check off was solo paddling in the open sea. I woke up early, as usual, and called, left a message at the paddle shop, then went for coffee, got no call back and called again, talked to the owner, who agreed it was a perfect day for paddling (so far) and that I should come over at 10AM. He figured I'd want to paddle for the standard 2 hours (for $20, a bargain) but I figured I'd be out for around 4 or more hours, but he seemed unconcerned. I tossed a few food and other items in a dry bag and set off around the harbor opening, to be met with a large fishing boat and few porpoises - perfect! Just enough danger and mystery to fully occupy my otherwise monkey mind. I slowly paddled along the breakwater to the point where it joins the land at a cluster of rocks. The tide was in so the beach wasn't visible, but I wasn't ready to land anyway, so I kept paddling around the point, studying the few houses precariously perched on the crumbling headlands; at least one looked to be an old wooden structure that had been around for decades, another a much newer, larger, and more expensive house built on concrete cantilevers. They will either retreat or eventually collapse.

    (Part of USGS 1:24,000 topo map of Dana Point CA)

    Whenever I stopped paddling I drifted to the east, and noticed that the kelp also pointed down current in that direction. I asked the son of DP Watersports owner about this but he didn't seem to know much. We speculated that the current might have something to do with tides, but I began realizing that offshore surface currents probably don't have much to do with tides. In fact, there are at least 3 kinds of ocean water movements:

    1.      currents driven by the ocean gyre, which don't change much during the year (Lynn 1987 suggests the Southern California current is ½ knot, which is consistent with what I observed).

    2.      the semi-diurnal tidal currents which are strongest in bays, etc, but probably aren't experienced much in the open sea.

    3.      the crests of the high tides that move along the coast lines but like surface waves don't move much water themselves. I did a quick estimation that because the high tides that day took about 15 minutes to move the 100 (straight-line) kilometers from Balboa Pier to Scripps Pier, this speed was about 400 km/h, comparable to the speed of the moon eastward over the surface of the earth at that latitude, which I estimate to be about 800 km/hr.

    This whole speculative narrative illustrates the value of a scientific mind that observes phenomena (one's own movement, that of kelp, even astrodynamics!) and is able to link them to prior observations and research, and then often pursues the topic further at leisure. It can be taught, but does require a minimum of intelligence and quite a bit of motivation, which probably isn't stimulated much - and may even be stifled - by being told 'this will be on the midterm!'

    The 1968 USGS 1:24,000 Dana Point CA quad shows a few roads, a trailer park, and a couple of large houses on the 'Strand' beach, which has been heavily but not completely developed since. It appears that several rows of lots were prepared for large houses that as of 2012 had not been built. I really do think that recessions/depressions are good for the environment and that there's a very strong inverse correlation between the 'health' of the human development process and the 'health of the planet' and that global efforts to reverse this negative connection are doomed to failure. No wonder the gnatcatcher and the pocket mouse are disappearing.

    I decided to continue around the point and see if it was safe to land, which I did, on an unnamed beach that its developers are calling The Strand at Headlands (at least not spelled The Strande at Hedelandes). I had no trouble getting ashore, and very much enjoyed my lunch and a nap after my minor exertions. After some contemplation I decided to try my hand at surfing or at least trying to land safely several times, so I removed everything from the boat and took off my hat, then had little trouble launching into the waves and paddling around in the far surf. But when I tried to ride a wave into the beach I was apparently broadsided by a wave that took off my glasses, which I was unable to recover by thrashing around in the surf. when I got my boat, paddle, and self safely ashore I also realized that the strap of one of my sandals was also torn, so it was a minor disaster all round" One doesn't need sandals to paddle, but glasses? Although I do travel with an extra pair of glasses (the last ones), I hadn't brought them on the paddle. I considered leaving the kayak on the beach and walking back to the motel for the spare glasses then walking back for the return paddle, but that seemed involved. In fact, I'd experimented a decade ago with eye exercises in which I didn't wear my glasses for increasingly critical tasks, up to and including bike riding and even driving a car (not recommended). I knew that paddling would be easy: after all, the major threats are rocks, boats, waves; all easily visible even to the very nearsighted. And in fact the return paddle was quite pleasant; everything took on a softer appearance, and the sunlight glinting on the water was especially fascinating. I made it back to the paddle shop with no trouble whatsoever.

    After the paddle I rinsed off in the hotel pool and hot tub, changed, took a walk and a nap on a rock, then a coffee ice cream. Save for the self-embarrassing idea of losing the glasses (not the loss itself) it was a perfect day.

    Thursday, October 18; Crystal Cove State Park and Long Beach

    Wearing my old glasses, I set out for the last leg of the trip, beginning with a visit to Laguna Beach, which I'd stayed at for maybe a week in 1959 when my father was producing a melodrama 'Murder in the Red Barn' at the Laguna Playhouse, starring Pamela Mason (I recall husband James made an appearance as well, but this was a long time ago). The playhouse moved up the canyon, leaving a parking lot and a silly sign, but the 'village' still seems quite charming, if decidedly less romantic than it would have felt to a 14-year old rubbing shoulders with stars and stagehands. The town has the topographical advantage of being in a canyon so steep that little more can be built on the slopes.

    The high point of the day was a hike and swim at Crystal Cove State Park, consisting of a mile-wide western strip of the coastal foothills and a 4-mile strip of beach southeast of Newport/Balboa (thank God for the State Parks!). The swim was the usual fun of being tossed about by maybe 4-foot waves, sometimes doing reverse somersaults to go with the circulation. My adventures have a pattern; try something slightly risky and later ponder what might have happened (broken neck or arm, but not lost glasses). Never thought much about being swept out to sea, though I'm not the strongest of swimmers.

    crystal cove SP, CAI saw a kayaker heading southeast a few hundred yards off the beach, and before I left I met the fellow; about my age though a bit more leathery. I approached him and immediately noticed dried blood on the left side of his face and in his eye. I said "can you see yourself?" and he replied "No, but I guess there's some blood on my face." I said it looked pretty messy and he started to wash it off with bottled water and my guidance. He said he had been caught by a wave coming in and the boat had gashed his head and taken his sunglasses (echo of my own adventure!). I suggested he visit the lifeguard station nearby, but he preferred to treat himself. He said he kayaked often, rolling his sit-on-top and a box of gear down to the beach, and that his stuff was never interfered with. I could see doing that - but only after I'd had sufficient surf training!

    I continued up the coast through the somewhat monotonous beach-to-the-left and tenements-to-the-right. As a native Angeleno I knew that Long Beach was a major port plus urban center due south of LA (somehow linked to San Pedro), and as I was beginning to think of my upcoming container ship voyage, I decided to check it out. Long Beach was fairly impressive: a few large old buildings from the early 20th century, somewhat like a smaller version of downtown LA. A 10 by 2 block mall-type area was pretty lively as well. What most impressed me was the Safe Navigation shop on Pine street: here amidst the not untidy small-time commercialism of the struggling Long Beach Pine St mall was a shop that catered not only to serious yachtsmen but also to the crews of all oceangoing vessels. I could imagine officers from the huge freighters and container ships of the harbor adding to their library or equipment toolkits from the precision wares of this shop.

    Returning to the mundane, I continued south to the end of Pine Street and had a nice fish dinner at Parker's Lighthouse, where I saw a raccoon exiting its lair among the rip-rap for its nightly dumpster-diving.

    My last night in California was at the LAX Travelodge in the 'Little Richard' suite, which the receptionist assured me had indeed been occupied by the singer. I dropped off the car and walked the lonesome streets of the usual dreary outskirts of airport neighborhood: rental cars, warehouses and expediting companies, walled hotels. The only misadventure occurred when I somehow I missed a turn and had to walk a mile or so in a complete circle, wandering around vast empty lots that evidently were being acquired by the airport for future expansion. I met no one on the street except for a couple of young ladies who were even more confused than I was. A creepy end to a strange day.

    Friday, October 19; LAX-IAD

    To save yourself time on the morning of your return flight, stay in lodging near the rental place and turn in the car the previous night; and book a room when you pick up the car.

    I checked out, taking the picture at the beginning of this essay; someone with a sense of humor tends the shrubbery of the TravelLodge.


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