One of our best friends, Wes, turned 30 last week and invited a bunch of us to Vegas to celebrate. I didn’t really know much about Vegas prior to going. Most of the loose assumptions I had were based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and its film adaptation starring Johnny Depp and mescaline. And the Hangover movies, of course.
We left San Francisco Thursday night and drove south towards LA, staying in some random hotel that night. Cheap hotels are the best. Will there be hard water? Probably. Do all the lights work? Kind of. Let’s take that top cover off the bed, ok? Is that old guy at the ice machine making eyes at me? 2 star hotels are a part of traveling I’ve come to find oddly comforting. Those just-passing-through joints with the shady characters. Right on.
The next day we drove East towards Vegas and stopped along the way at some old abandoned houses and other stuff people had randomly left in the desert. Then we went through a stretch of desolation in the Mojave desert until what seemed like a mirage on the horizon came forth. Big buildings, bright lights, Vegas. We met up with Wes and the others at Caesar’s Palace and he showed us around the crazy big suite the sixteen of us would be living in for the weekend. It was a good time. I won’t dive into too many details of our raucousness, but there was dancing, drinking, hanging out at the pool, drinking, hanging out at the bar, eating, drinking, laughing, and drinking.
One memory I won’t forget was on the last night when the birthday boy Wes passed out early with his shades on and we all tried to Weekend at Bernie’s him downstairs for his birthday dinner. I haven’t laughed like that in a while. Also when a member of our party got lost, was found in a gutter, and wheel chaired back to the hotel.
I thought I was going to hate Vegas. Kind of like those frat parties I’d get dragged to by girlfriends in college that I’d hate my life at. It was always the same routine- stand in a corner with a pabst I had brought in my purse while quietly surveying the room like a mars rover looking for any signs of intelligent life. Nope, nothing here. But here’s the thing, I actually liked Vegas. Mostly because of the people I was with. You can go just about anywhere with friends and good people and have a great time. You don’t go to Vegas to have good conversations, but I kept finding myself immersed in them with some pretty rad people and it was nice.
On the last night I remember laying on the floor buzzed in the middle of the suite at 4am watching basketball highlights and laughing with some new friends I made. And it was happy. And that’s all you can ask for really, isn’t it?
Last weekend we drove to Vegas to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday. Wow, Vegas. I’ll put a post together about that later this week, but for now, here are some words I wrote while on the road.
Long stretches of road heading east get me. What if I just kept driving? What if I went back. It’s been a while, years. More than I care to admit sometimes. In my mind it still looks the same, although I’m sure it’s different now. New streets and buildings, more people from increasing urban sprawl I assume. I’d take the exit off the highway onto the back roads leading behind the Food Lion to the street I grew up on, then I’d drive down the gravel driveway and walk up the stairs onto the porch of my parent’s house. My mom and dad would be happy to see me and greet me with a hug. We’d catch up over iced tea and talk about how much rain they got this year. My dad would show me the garden he’s been growing outside and pull fruit off the fruit trees for us to eat.
Then there’s the part of me who knows how it all would really go. Things would be good for a while until they weren’t. I’d want to tell them about the rain forests of central america or chasing whales with a camera off an island in the pacific, but the topic would always find its way back to something more commonplace like the newest chain restaurant in town or my mom’s teaching job or how some person I went to high school with has three beautiful kids. We’ll dance around the subject of my brother who left and hasn’t spoken to them in ten years but still talks to me occasionally. Then my mother and I will disagree about something fundamental and instead of letting it go, it will sit and fester like an open wound that no one cares to dress. My dad will try to mediate in his authoritarian way and I’ll let him know that we can talk to each other like adults now which undeniably always pisses him off. He’ll remind me that it’s his house, just in case I had forgotten. Over the next few days we’d stop talking and I’ll catch their drift- they want me gone. And then it’ll be me who has to go, again. Like some plague that’s been introduced to an indigenous tribe and needs eradicating. Like clockwork I’ll gather my things and toss them in the back seat of my car. I’ll think about not driving away. I’ll sit in the car hoping my dad will come out and tell me that even though we’re different we’re still family and to come back inside. But he won’t. Instead he’ll hold his ground, sitting in his chair by the window in the living room, knowing me leaving is the best thing for everyone. And then I’ll throw the car in reverse, stubbornly wipe away the tears in my eyes before they have the chance to fall down my cheeks, and I’ll drive back to California. All the while reminding myself this is why I don’t go back. I know this is how it would go because it’s how it’s always gone. Until I just stopped going.
And there’s a big part of me that hates it, all of it. How the slight semblance of family we had to begin with fell apart pretty much the moment my critical thinking skills kicked in. How we somehow got to this place where we’re all better off without each other.
Driving east tempts me now, but not like it used to. I can romanticize about what a family should look like, or I can go to Vegas and hang out with my friends who are my family. And that’s what I intend to do.
We drove down to Pismo Beach for the long weekend. Pismo is a cool spot about half way in between San Francisco and LA. You can drive out on the beach and camp, have fires, and play on the dunes. It was Keep’s first camping trip. When Jack was her age we took him to Lake Tahoe and it was a great experience, so we thought it was time we got her out and let her start experiencing our way of life outside of the house. I loved everything about this trip. The way we drove out on the beach and slept in the back of our old truck with the pups between us. How we stood side by side looking out at the setting sun while Keeper chewed on sand dollars on the beach. How the sky looked like it was on fire from the layers of red and pinks streaks. Waking up to the smell of salt water in our hair and dog breath in our faces. How we drove home up the 1 and stopped along the way to sit on the cliffs that fell into the sea below. The sounds of the elephant seals in the rookery. Looking over and seeing Jack’s head out of the back window, his face silhouetted by the sun shining on the Pacific. How Lola, our Land Cruiser, got a new fan belt and air compressor once we got back to the Bay. How it reminds me that we’ll be building fires on beaches and chasing horizons until the sun goes down on us for good.
This past week we flew to Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with family. We all stayed in a big chalet at the top of a snowy mountain overlooking the town of Gatlinburg in the Great Smokey Mountains. It was fun to get together and eat green bean casserole and pie, watch movies, play poker, dodge snowballs from being thrown at each other, and just relax with the glow of a fire heating the room. While we were there we taste-tested authentic Tennessee moonshine and ate pizza in town. In the mornings we woke later than usual, lounged around in pajamas while sipping coffee and looked at the black bear footprints in the snow from the back deck (they came through the back yard over night!). We met a new wee family member for the first time and ate an enormous dinner with a house full of other familiar faces both young and old. We had a nice time, but are glad to be back at home snuggling up with Jack and Mila cat. Hope your Thanksgiving was as relaxing as mine. I can’t believe it’s already December…winter is here!
This weekend we had planned to go south to hit up a skate park and hang out at the beach, but since Trey ate it on his skateboard last week and tore his hands up pretty bad, we decided to opt for some hiking along the beach in Point Reyes instead, sans-hands.
A vole! ^
Dairy cows! ^
Jack, what are you doing up there? ^
My first experience with Point Reyes was when I was working for a veterinary clinic that specialized in treating sick and injured marine mammals, mostly seals and sea lions, several years back. This particular year hundreds of seals and sea lions began stranding themselves along the California coast, disoriented and having seizures on the beach. The influx was caused by the seals and sea lions eating prey laden with domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by phytoplankton which impairs brain function and causes seizures in marine mammals when ingested in large quantities. The facility quickly became filled to capacity with hundreds of young pups and adults that showed signs of the illness, and we worked around the clock to get the recovered animals back to sea. One day I was tasked with loading up two rehabilitated California sea lions and a northern elephant seal pup into the back of a pick-up truck and making the hour and a half long trek up the coast to release them at a protected area, Drakes Beach, in Point Reyes. The beach is a popular haul-out and rookery for seals during certain parts of the year, making for a good place to introduce the animals back into the wild (pic below). We backed the truck down onto the beach and unloaded the animals, watching them make a beeline for the tide and swim off into the waves. I came home that day and told Trey all about it. It was some of the prettiest land I’d ever seen and convinced him we had to go back. We’ve visited there a lot since then, sometimes to walk on the beach, other times to whale watch from the cliffs high above the ocean, and sometimes just to get away from the urban sprawl of the city.
This weekend we put Jack in the back of the car and set out towards Point Reyes, stopping at a cute little place called The Garage in Fairfax to look at some local made goods, then driving further north through the redwoods. We got to the quaint town of Inverness and stopped to have some lunch. There’s always a crowd of people getting lunch at the little town strip, but we like to skip the lines and head to a deli/grocery store a little further down the road. There’s never a wait, the sandwiches are on par and there’s always an open picnic table outside to sit and eat. We got to Point Reyes with nothing on the agenda. It was the kind of day where you take your shoes off and have no real plans except sitting in the sand and throwing drift wood for your dog to chase. Jack had a blast running down the beach and up the dunes. He smiles all the time, everyone says. He’s technically panting most of the time, but when he’s out there chasing sticks and running around and he looks up at you with his mouth hanging wide open, it’s hard not to think he’s flashing a big ol’ smile our way.
Which in turn makes us smile, in the best kind of way.
This week has been eventful. We got the awesome place in the best part of town and are really excited to move in this weekend. After living out of suitcases and hotel rooms for the past three weeks, we’re all ready to move in somewhere more permanent. Then our car got broken into and that was crappy, but hey I’m excited to get my guitar and bike out of storage and actually eat food on real plates instead of plastic take out containers soon.
Yesterday, I took Jack out to Fort Funston, one of our favorite dog park/beaches in San Francisco. We were both in need of some time outdoors. He ran down the dunes and jumped in the tide, so stoked on life. I love how he sprints ahead and then turns back to make sure I’m coming too. Dogs really are the best form of therapy. I think I’ll keep him.
Last weekend we ventured down to Pacifica, a small, sleepy beach town just 20 minutes south of San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite places along the California coast, mostly because hardly anyone goes there despite it being so close to the city. It’s covered in a thick blanket of fog most of the year and doesn’t have much going on typically except for a handful of surfers who brave the cold water to catch a few waves. Crab carapaces, pelican feathers, petrified wood and other treasures wash up on the shore when the tide recedes, making for some good beach combing. One foggy day, I came here and a 100ft blue whale had washed up. She was a mammoth of a creature, hit by a ship I later learned, then washed in with the tides.
On this day, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperatures plateaued in the high 80s (unheard of around here). We played in the waves and ran along the beach, dangling bull kelp behind us for Jack to chase. Then we met a friendly basset hound named Marco and buried Jack in the sand. We went home salty and happy and ate fried chicken and salad (they cancel each other out). In other news, we’re waiting to hear back on whether we will get this great place we viewed. It has 900 sqft, hardwood floors, big closets, a claw foot bath tub and bay windows that let in lots of sun light. We’ve been scouring Craigslist since we’ve been back and this one would be perfect. Fingers and toes crossed!
Last week we traveled across the country from south Florida to northern California. I took a ton of pictures along the way, so if you decide to read this in its entirety, you might want to get some snacks. We decided to take the scenic route, visiting some cities we had never spent time in before and steadily make our way back to San Francisco. The first major city we passed through was Atlanta, Georgia but since we had been there so many times we didn’t stop. We had our eyes set on Nashville, Tennessee.
We got to Nashville and did some exploring. I really like this town. It’s reminds me of a smaller, more country version of LA in some ways. We got coffee at Hot and Cold in the morning and then checked out some cool local spots including Love Circle (TN’s version of Lover’s Lane) where we got some killer views of the city.
Then we hit the road en route to Chicago, traveling through Kentucky and Indiana, watching out for lurking dinosaurs along the way.
Oh Chicago, you beauty! With your lake side views and big buildings and friendly people. It was jacket weather aka the best weather. Some of the leaves had already started to change and the air had just enough bite to it to make it feel like fall. While we were here we had cake donuts and coffee at Stan’s Donuts, did some walking/shopping around the Wicker Park neighborhood, tried on bear suits (as you do), visited the Bean downtown and Frank Lloyd Wright’s house in Oak Park, then wrapped up with drinks at Bangers and Lace and tacos at Big Star before heading back to our hotel.
I have become an expert at smuggling my cat into hotel rooms. Nicole Lee, Cat Smuggler. Nicole Cat Smuggler Lee, Ol’ Cat Smugglin’ Lee. My biggest feat to date was in Chicago while on this trip. We stopped in downtown for the night at one of these boutique-y hotels in downtown. The ones with the doormen and the views and the 5 dollar bottles of water in the mini fridge. First, I had to convince the valet guys that I didn’t need a luggage cart and would carry my own bags to our room to, you know…secure the goods. Then, I carried Mila Cat, swaddled in a blanket like the world’s largest bean burrito baby past the front desk and lobby, into the elevator. Yes! I thought. I’ve made it! But then, an elevator attendant got on. An elevator attendant…seriously? Who needs helping pushing the elevator button these days? This is 2014. I knew Mila Cat was going to meow, because she hates being held and we had 13 floors to go. And not like, hates being held a little, but full on you’re going to die in a fire for holding me- hates it. I’ve had Mila for a long time, I got her when I was living alone in college. We’re good friends, but chick is a freak. A big, orange, black and white freak. But lo and behold, she didn’t make a sound. That’s right. The eagle had landed. KaaaKaaaaaaaa
After getting some morning coffee we hit the road for Iowa. What’s in Iowa? you ask, well there’s fields and barns and cows and then there’s fields with barns and cows in them. And pick-up trucks.
Trey was born in Des Moines, Iowa so we decided to stop by and see his birth place since he’s never been back. As the highway rounded towards the city, all I hear is this loud, cackling hyena-like laugh from the driver’s seat. I look over and Trey is pointing to the “downtown” area which consisted of two measly buildings sticking up like buck teeth from the earth. We have to take the exit to downtown, I told him. We exited off. Holy ghost town. No one there, restaurants empty, hardly any cars. Every building seemed to be this same shade of beer bottle brown. Welcome home, bae..!…? We kept driving westward…
Are you still reading? Did you get snacks? Perhaps you need mega snacks.
Soon we came to Nebraska. If Virginia is for lovers, Nebraska is for…corn…husk..ers. ? There’s a lot of corn in Nebraska.
About 50 miles outside of Omaha and our tenth round of “Would you rather?” we reaaaallly started realizing just how crucial road trip entertainment is on a cross country trip. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, pod casts, talk radio, etc. My favorites are the Nerdist, which is a hilarious podcast where Chris Hardwick from comedy central interviews comedians and other celebrities, and Radiolab, a podcast about science, philosophy and other curious things. NPR news is alright if you’re feeling political and/or want to fall asleep (I’m convinced Diane Rehm is a zombie…someone, please call it). If you like laughing, the new Patton Oswalt comedy album is really hilarious. This trip we listened to the audiobook for Gone Girl. And you know, after 7 hours of listening to it…I still don’t know if I like it or not. Something about the voice-overs that they used just really urk me. I feel like it would have been better if I read it to myself (because the voices in my head are so much better! she says manically).
Finally we left the corn fields of Nebraska behind and got to Fort Collins, Colorado. Now we’re cookin’. Colorado is a winner, if I didn’t like the coast so much, I’d think about living in the mountains here. It’s progressive and outdoorsy and the terrain is pretty sweet. There are bike lanes and dogs everywhere and the people are of the friendly variety. Fort Collins is a little college town, which means it’s has a pretty young feel to it. We had some food and drinks in town at The Mayor, a local tap house and eatery. There was a Pink Floyd cover band playing and New Castle brewery was on hand giving out free beers with prune extract called “The Dark Side of the Prune”. Definitely a buy.
We decided to keep the night going and find the closest liquor store, as you do on a road trip, and ask the woman behind the counter what she recommends. She tells us to try cinnamon toast crunch shots, which is a lovely blend of fireball cinnamon whiskey and rum chata, which, I am oddly familiar with given one of my best friends loves to order these at the bar despite my known hatred for cinnamon flavored liquor (goldschlauggers, sophomore year of high school, I don’t want to talk about it). Fireball whiskey can also be known as Fire Throat Death Juice as it can cause the most painful reflux in the most unassuming of individuals sometimes FYI.
From Fort Collins we drove north-west into Wyoming. Having driven through Wyoming in both winter and summer, and visited much of the midwest, I can attest to this being one of the prettiest states in our country’s mid section. It has a certain charm about it.
After Wyoming came another beautiful state: Utah. We drove through the arid desert, looking up at the cool rock formations as we passed. We also visited the Great Salt Lake (which is the largest lake in the US outside of the great lakes…who knew?) and got some good views of Salt Lake City.
Daaammnn look at that butte. Dat butte tho! Butte jokes don’t get old (yes they do).
Leaving Utah, we were super tired and basically crawled over the border into the first town in Nevada called Wendover. Wendover has nothing in it but a few casinos and hotels. The kind of place one would only come to if they were scoping for good grounds for a meth lab operation and/or wanted to be knifed in the dark and never seen again. Let me preface this with saying, I have a dateline nbc obsession. It’s a weird thing to like watching, I know, but hey…you can only watch so much Seinfeld reruns sometimes (no you can’t, blasphemy!). So we’re driving through the town and there, in all his glory, is Wendover Will. Wendover Will. As in the huge waving cowboy statue/sign from that dateline nbc episode where the girl goes missing and the guy goes to jail for her murder but really it was the guy’s girlfriend who was jealous and killed her and buried her in the gravel pit in the desert but she got off the hook and now the guy is serving a life sentence in prison. THAT one. You know, creepy town.
Then, after driving across Nevada, the most wonderful thing happened……..the California state sign came into view and we crossed the border into California! I was so excited I almost missed the sign.
A blanket of low-laying clouds surfaced overhead and the greenest Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine trees came into view as far as our eyes could see. Northern California: we were back! And it feels good to be back. That right feeling in your bones where you just breathe deeper and smile more. Where your Yelp and Uber apps are actually usable, and people are picketing for things like taxes on soda. Where saying “yes” to needing a bag at the grocery store is met with a judging stare and 10 cent charge. Where weirdness is celebrated and no one looks twice at a vagina mural sprawled across a building. You know, because why not.
We came through Truckee, CA, which is not far from the Lake Tahoe area and decided to stop off and take some pictures.
And just like that, we were home and our sixth trip across the country had come to an end. It was too dark to take good pictures of San Francisco by the time we got there, but rest assured there will be plenty of those pics to come. It’s good to be home!
We’re back from spending a few weeks in Europe and I wanted to share a few photos from our time there. We visited Paris, Naples and the Amalfi coast, Rome, and Barcelona. We had an incredible time and my favorite part of the trip was the time we spent along the Amalfi coast in Italy.
We flew into Naples from Paris and rented this cute little fiat car, because road trips are our thing. Then we started off for downtown Naples looking for breakfast, which ended up being hilariously unexpected and fun. The downtown itself is crumbling, it’s technically bankrupt as is evident by spray paint on the beautiful old architecture around the city (think Detroit a few years ago). No one uses traffic signs either, but somehow it all works out…organized chaos at its finest. I think a lot of people get stressed in situations like this, but for some reason we couldn’t stop laughing, perhaps too aware of the ridiculousness of the situation we were in.
We decided to get the hell out of downtown Naples and head towards the Amalfi coast. Little prepares you for the italian coastline. I’ve seen cliffs that drop into the ocean before…but this is just next level. The small roads and houses carved into cliffs that hug the coastline… the most beautiful turquoise colored waters of the Mediterranean sea just below…the vintage shellacked wood boats in the harbor that I could not stop taking photos of…the Italians and their animated hand-gestures…it was just so idyllic. We visited the small towns of Positano, Priano and when we rounded the turn to Amalfi we just couldn’t take it anymore…we had to park the car, throw on our bathing suits, and jump into the ocean.
We arrived salty and wet to our Airbnb flat. We rented out the home of two artists in the small hillside village of Ravello overlooking the sea. The most beautiful pink and purple wildflowers surrounded the home. Not far from us was a bar with outdoor tables set underneath a cavern where old Italian men sat playing cards and yelling at each other. In the mornings, roosters woke us. Sometimes I wish I could capture everything on my camera, but a lot of the time I just want to be experiencing it and I forget, so I have to describe it with words instead (use your words, nicole). We explored more, walking through lemon groves and down steep stone hillside stairs into town. There were friendly townie cats that hung around, which I always appreciate. One of the days we were there we decided to take the city bus up the hill after spending a day swimming at the local beach. The bus arrived and everyone began piling in. I held onto Trey, pulling him inside the bus (we were the last two that got on) and one behind us who didn’t make it on mustered up all the english he knew to tell Trey, inches from his face, “You are so bright! You stupid idiot!”. I laughed, thinking the guy must have been kidding…it was just a bus ride, and another bus was coming in 15 minutes! The guy gave me the death stare. Nope, he wasn’t kidding. That night we stumbled onto a “International Pop festival”, which reminded me of this tragically uncool talent/beauty pageant my high school used to throw called “The Miss CHS Pageant”, complete with big hair and sequined gowns. After a few liters of wine, this is really, really entertaining.
For local eats, Ada, our Airbnb host, recommended this seafood restaurant up in the hills. We arrived to the restaurant for dinner one night and were greeted by a young, mustached man. The restaurant was surrounded by a vineyard to our right, a goat farm to our distant left, and the sea in front of us. The mustached waitor brought a basket of fresh, whole fish over to our table and told us in italian-english “this is fish from the sea this morning (pointing to the sea). I prepare it for you”. We ordered a liter of the house wine made from the vineyard we were in, appetizers with goat cheese from the goats, and the fresh fish from the sea. Everything tasted amazing, and then…the supermoon came up, casting the most amazing shine on the night water. I know, I know…I didn’t believe it either, but there we were…bellies full of fish, minds tipsy off wine, walking home past friendly cats under the light of the biggest moon. And now I’m dead. It was a good life. Just kidding.
The last day we were there we walked down to the local harbor in Amalfi and rented a private boat that I captained, my first time outside of US waters. We cruised along the coast, hugging the shore and getting more views of the hillside, then we sailed over to the island of Capri before stopping and diving off the boat into the water. After that we came back, packed up the car, and headed for Rome. We really had an awesome time on the Amalfi coast and hope to come back one day.