Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 10: The Choices are getting hard

Today I drove to a produce market and bought fruit.  Not amazing, except it is the first time in two months that I have driven my car. (My husband has used it on alternate weeks to keep the battery charged.)

At the market, I wore my face mask.  The market allowed only 10 customers at a time.  Within the market, duct-taped arrows on the floor directed me around the fruit and vegetable stands – if I missed something, no turning back.  I avoided putting my choices in bags as much as possible – everything went into one bag at the check-out station, which was shielded by plastic curtains except where  I could insert my credit card for the check-out.

For a decade we have been asked to bring our own reusable bags to shop. Now reusable bags are possible vectors of infection, and the plastic bag makers are staging a comeback.  All I can do is to pile my fruit and vegetables all together in one cart, let the checkout clerk sort, and put my purchases into one paper bag.

Public transportation, re-usable bags, cluster housing – all those ecologically correct ideas are now hazardous – how can we save the planet now?

A Piece of my Mind: Get Wired or Get Out

I’ve always thought of myself as pretty tech-savvy.  I was an early (think 5.25” floppy discs) user of computers, had an email address with AOL, a car with GPS, and carried a Blackberry for business.  I was always a little ahead of the curve, I thought.

But twice in one week I’ve been jolted into realizing that all that is so last century, and I’m headed for the scrap heap along with the other technological dinosaurs.

The first jolt was at my beloved alma mater just to the north.  It was a lovely day, and my spouse and I decided to pack a picnic lunch and drive up to the campus, where we could eat our bread and cheese while watching the next generation whiz along on motorized scooters and electric bicycles.  On a Wednesday we would have to pay for parking, but what the heck – we’d splurge. My spouse wrote out our license number to tap into the pay kiosk, and I had my credit card at the ready, being grateful I no longer had to scrounge for quarters for the meter.

But when we arrived at our preferred picnic table, no pay kiosks were to be seen.  Instead, a sign on the curb directed me to pay using my smartphone, with an app to be downloaded if I needed it.

Alas!  I had forgotten to plug in my phone that morning, and it languished on the car charger at only 8%.  No chance of downloading or paying anything.  We cruised around a bit, but every Visitor parking space was marked with the same sign. If one has no functioning smartphone, one is a non-person on this campus.  We turned back to picnic at a local park, where parking was free and the younger generation strolled by on strollers and pushbikes as we ate our bread and cheese.

The second jolt was at my local museum, which is currently undergoing a remodel, but where the staff had created an outdoor exhibit, where visitors could amble through the museum garden along a path where signboards and photos illuminated the career of an illustrious local author.   I love museums, and usually spend at least an hour per exhibit because I can’t resist reading every explanation on every wall and every caption on every exhibit (much to the chagrin of my impatient spouse).

But I zoomed through this exhibit.  Instead of time-and-budget-consuming informative posters, each of the eight pathway markers was adorned with a few photos, a brief paragraph, and four of five QR codes to be scanned for “additional information”.

My phone was charged, this time, and I have a QR code reader on it, but standing in the sun staring at a miniature screen was not compelling.  I passed up hearing a daughter talk about her father’s work habits, the author reading from his own work, photos of the author’s boyhood, and many other QR code- accessible features of interest.  The thre- step process, the scrolling through screen after screen, the phone held to my ear, the ignoring of my surroundings… I decided I knew enough about the illustrious author without that. 

So I may have to confine my visits to my alma mater to late afternoon when the parking limits expire.  And when the local museum completes its remodel, I’m hoping it will have the headphones and placards and interactive displays I am used to.  Meanwhile, look for me at the Computer History Museum.  I’ll be one of the exhibits.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I attended at least three meetings a week on ZOOM.

I stood in line (masked, but not distanced)

I rode in a bus (masked, but not distanced)

I rode in a train (masked and distanced – not many riders).

I flew in a plane (masked, and with a vacant middle seat)

I ate inside at a restaurant (not masked, but distanced)

I served myself food in a cafeteria (with a disposable glove, masked)

I ate meals in a dining hall with people who were supposed to be vaccinated, but no proof was required. (not masked, not distanced, lots of open windows)

I went to an outdoor live music performance (not masked, distanced)

I went to an indoor theatrical performance (singing from the stage, not masked, not distanced, no windows) that lasted two hours.

I attended several lectures, and emceed a variety skit night (not masked, not distanced, lot of open windows, everyone had provided proof of vaccination) each lasting at least an hour.

I attended several exercise classes. (not masked, not distanced, lots of open windows)

I hosted a meeting of eighteen people on one of those 100-degree days, so we moved inside.

I had a COVID-19 test.

Negative! – I got away with  all of it.

BUT:

My #2 son and his family  (fully vaxxed and boosted) caught COVID-19 while traveling.  It took a couple of weeks for them to return to normal.

My #1 son and his family (fully vaxxed and boosted) came down with COVID-19 together the weekend after the son started school with live classes.

I’m getting another booster shot this afternoon.

Some weeks later:

I’m scheduled for a minor precautionary medical procedure. Three days in advance, I’ll need another COVID-19 test, the kind where you send the results to a real laboratory and wait for clearance.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Cross fingers.

Freeway-free in California: Amtrak Falters, BART to the rescue

We are ready for the parting of our ways:  M and the trailer will return to Davis, where she will dive headfirst into the maelstrom of detail involved with selling a house and buying another, while I will catch a Capital Corridor train at Fairfield and spend a relaxing two hours reading, writing, admiring the scenery, and feeling sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

First wrinkle:  There are now TWO Amtrak stations in Fairfield.  Our faithful GPS unerringly directs us to the new one, Fairfield – Vacaville.  I have been to the Fairfield station before it was re-labeled Suisun -Fairfield, and I am pretty sure this adobe “Transit Center” in the middle of a giant parking lot next to nothing at all is not it. 

Moments of panic –I check my ticket and realize the error.  Is this really a train stop?  Where are the tracks?  Will my ticket be good starting at a different station. Should we head off for the other station? Cooler heads prevail; I spot an underpass which leads toward the tracks, we trundle through and there are a couple of benches and a sign saying that the train I am scheduled to travel on will arrive in 15 minutes, and, most reassuringly, another passenger waiting. 

I hug M, “Wonderful trip!” and watch her pull out of the parking lot.  The train arrives as advertised, and the conductor doesn’t get around to our car to check my ticket until after we have arrived at and left Suisun Fairfield.  My only regret is the lack of a snack machine at the new station – I had counted on a candy bar to get me through to my Great America stop.  Rummaging through my tote bag, I find a forgotten granola bar.  All is well.

Until we get to Richmond.  We stop.  And stay.  An unintelligible announcement is made.  I get out and find a conductor in the next car.  “There’s damage to the tracks ahead.  We don’t know how long the delay will be.  Could be 45 minutes.  Could be two hours.”

I go back to my car, inform my fellow passengers, and we stare disconsolately out the window – at the sign that says “Take underpass for BART”.  The young woman across from me is distraught. “I’ve GOT to get to the Oakland Airport for a flight!  I allowed an extra hour but…”  

I look at the sign.  “There’s a BART stop at the Oakland Airport”, I tell her.  There is also a new BART station in Milpitas, not so much further from home than the Great America station.  We gather our bags and lead a parade of passengers to the BART station.

To our surprise and pleasure, a BART official is handy who tells us “We have an arrangement with Amtrak.  Just go through that turnstile there – no charge.”  A BART train arrives a few minutes later, I phone my Personal Travel Agent at home, he checks the route to the new station, and I settle down to read, write, admire the scenery, and feel sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

Coda: The next day I get a standard email from Amtrak asking about my trip.  I grouse about the lack of signage at the new station and most particularly about the delay and poor communication about it.  The next day I receive another email from Amtrak giving me a voucher good for the value of my trip from Fairfield –Suisun to Great America.  They are trying!

Freeway Free in California: Ocean to Forest to Vineyards – What’s not to like?

We wake from untroubled sleep to fog outside and a healthy breakfast of fruit and granola as a sendoff. We dress lightly in spite of the fog, as we know summer heat is just on the other edge of the fog bank. Bits of sun are already breaking through as we pass Arcata and Ferndale without stopping for the Victorian delights available there.

But now we are truly in Redwood Country, and we can’t resist the Avenue of the Giants, so we take the side road off the freeway through the green canyons of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We do stop to switch drivers and use a restroom at the Eternal Tree House. (Yes, it’s a cheesy roadside attraction, but the setting is beautiful, the cafe is hospitable, and the restrooms are clean.)

No signs anymore commemorating the great flood of 1964, and there is no trace of the town of Weott anymore, though Google says remnants still exist high above the flood plain.

And then we emerge into sunlight and suddenly the outside temperature is in the 90’s.  Our Redwood RV Resort is right next to Hwy 20, a fairly busy e/w corridor from Willits to Ft. Bragg, but it has shady valley oaks and redwoods, a pool, a splash park, a trail through adjacent vineyards, and lots of Hispanic families and American flags.  We back successfully into our gravel pad (four tries to get close enough but not too close to the picnic table), change to airy cotton frocks, lay out late lunch/early appetizers of hummus and veggies and Ritz crackers on a little table at the splash park, and watch the children playing int the water. It’s 90 degrees in the sun, but we are not in the sun, and we are feeling very relaxed.

Freeway Free in California – Morning among the Giants, Evening among Friends

 

My old friends T & C, who live in McKinleyville, arrive at our campsite. T is a volunteer ranger at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, so of course we go for a hike enjoying all sorts of special tidbits of knowledge provided by our Personal Tour Guide – and also the lunch goodies brought by C. We eat our lunch at the foot of the big tree used in a National Geographic article about mapping the redwood canopy. re redwoods.

T&C twist our arms a bit and we desert our campsite in favor of a night in their new “downsized “ 3br / 2ba home with a 270 degree view of ocean and forest. Every wall and bookcase is filled with photos, artifacts, and mementoes. The old house accomodated a family of nine, but looking around, I can’t see what’s missing, other than the seven kids.

T, M and I go for a walk on Clam Beach, a short hike from their promontory. I find a whole sand dollar. Lucky omen for upcoming days, we hope.

After dinner C offers board games, and I choose Scrabble. Fair warning: Don’t ever let me choose Scrabble! Years of crossword puzzles, anagrams, and the license plate game make me near invincible. (However, Son#1 skunks me regularly – don’t know what he practices on!)

Our bedroom – a queen-sized blow up bed, two large glass-fronted cabinets mounted on the walls, both full of Madame Alexander and other collectible and not-so-collectible dolls. All those glass eyes staring at us as we sleep. I’m glad I never saw those Chucky movies.

Freeway-Free down the Left Coast

For the next two days we amble our way down the Left Coast, hugging the coastline, stopping once in a while to admire the sweeping surfline, the white sand dunes, the rock stacks, the redwoods. We spend a night near Florence at Honeyman State Park, one of the largest campgrounds in Oregon, we are told, but still offering fairly secluded hookups for our trailer and, I suppose, a hundred others.

We stop at Bandon to visit our nephew J, who is living a bachelor life in a fixer -upper in the charming seaside town of Bandon. When he has finished the re-hab, he will rent the cottage out as an AirB&B. On the day we visit it is still missing a fence, kitchen counters and appliances, but he assures us that his first renter will find it habitable when he arrives the following week. We can see what a nice seaside pied a terre it isgoing to be – but not quite yet.

J breaks for lunch and takes us for seafood sandwiches at Tony’s Crab Shack, and gives us a brief tour of Bandon’s interesting spots. That orange globe in front of the house facing the ocean? It’s a tsunami escape pod.

We continue down the coast, crossing into California, where the highway swings inland to introduce us to the towering trees of the Redwood Empire. More on this next week!

Freeway-Free in Oregon: Beach Town

Our next day was spent in Astoria and Ft. Stephens, and I have written about Astoria and its wonderful Maritime Museum in an earlier blog. The following day M and I set off early, determined to cruise the Oregon coast quickly, pay a call on our nephew in Bandon halfway down, and make it to our campsite in the redwoods across the California border in good time.

But we were derailed en route by a sign for Mo’s Seafood and Chowder, and M’s memories of her student days in Corvallis when a bowl of Mo’s chowder was the high point of a weekend. There was a branch of Mo’s in Seaside. So we stopped.

Seaside is also a claimant to being a final stop on the Lewis and Clark trail. Certainly their statue to the adventurous explorers is the most elaborate we had seen, with bas-reliefs around the base and a commanding view of the Pacific at the end of Seaside’s main street.

It was a gray, foggy noontide, but as we walked to and from the car we spotted some enduring signs of the beach party culture that would animate Seaside on a sunnier day, and since the bumpercars, the tilt-a-whirl, and the carousel ware all indoors as a concession to Oregon’s variable weather, why not buy a bug-eyed beach toy to invite the sun to play?

Freeway Free in Washington – Mighty Mt. Rainier

Saturday – Day 7 Mt. Rainier National Park

Our camping spots at Cowlitz County Park are only a few dozen miles from Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a lazy Saturday morning, but after a fine breakfast we four pile into the Big Red Truck and head for the mountain. We move happily along past beautiful green meadows with occasional glimpses of Mt. St. Helen with her top blown off.  Roadside stands offer blueberries and cherries.  Then suddenly – brake lights ahead.

Evidently on a beautiful Saturday morning a lot more people than ourselves have thought that an outing to Mt. Rainier was a lovely idea. An hour and half of inching along later, I hop out of the car to buy some cherries from a stand, and see we are at the gates of the park.   Once inside, we move along quickly past signs saying, “Paradise Parking Lot full,” and stop at the National Park Inn, the first place that offers food.  As we turn on the front porch steps the mountain is looming above us, huge and white and clear against the blue sky.  Wow.

We get a table at the Inn almost instantly, Pia the waitress assures us that she will be “right with us, in a flash” and literally runs away.  15 minutes later she reappears, takes our order and sprints off again. So far, so good. But we hadn’t noticed the number of tables waiting for food, and the very limited number of servers.

An hour later, we get our food.  The sandwich is smushed into a basket along with some French fries, the soup is just warm. The fish and chips are “ok”. Short staffing is the issue.  But where are all the teenagers and college kids who should be working in the national park for the summer? 

The gift shop is a restorative stop, and then there is that mountain.  After soaking it in for a short bit, we take the historic trail around the old mineral springs through a drop-dead- lovely fern/cedar/wetlands forest.  We count 21 kinds of wildflowers, dip our fingers in the sulphur springs which were the first attraction near the Mountain, and marvel at the gnarled stumps of toppled cedars (rivaling redwoods, I have to say).

It is three pm and we must be back at the camp by 8:45.  We drive up to paradise, stopping here and there for more Mountain views, now beginning to be enhanced by wisps of peek-a-boo clouds. We get to paradise.  the parking lot is indeed full, with folks circling and circling. We abort and take the wonderfully scenic other road back down to Hwy 12 and our camp-. Dinner tonight by Miche and me – veggies burritos.  Yum. Chris has two. 

Freeway Free in Washington: Camping by the Cowlitz

Off to Cowlitz Falls County Park.  This park is maintained on behalf of the public by the Lewis County Public Utilities District. There are actually no falls here, as the river has been dammed for hydroelectric power, and the only access to the river, the boat ramp, was destroyed in a flood and is being repaired. Aside from the misleading name, this is a lovely quiet place with lot of shade, lots of woodsy trails between sites and restrooms, a sunny meadow with a volleyball net, a horseshoe pit (equipment for both available from the ranger) and a playground.

We set up in adjoining camp spaces, our tiny teardrop next to C&C’s Trailer Mahal. Instant conversation starters with folks strolling through the camp.

Then, just to make sure we meet everyone, we walk the dog, an adorable little white mop of a thing. Nothing like a cute dog to make instant friends along the trail.

The next morning we are just finishing a tremendous breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast (Thanks to C&C’s full kitchen) when our nephew P arrives with his wife T and five lively children. 

Fortunately Cowlitz [no]Falls has lots of distractions to offer. A walk to the river.  Fallen trees to climb. Back at the camp, Grandma C has provided plenty of hot dogs, sodas, chips, and watermelon, while Auntie M has a box of trailer games. Five-year-old G is surprisingly deft at removing blocks from the Zenga tower!

I’d forgotten how exhausting family gatherings can be for us empty nesters. M and I tumble into our trailer while C&C are still admiring the moon over a last glass of wine.

Tiny Trailer Travel 2 in 2022 – Day 3: Stayin’Alive up the 5

After the heat of our second day, the cool of the next morning at Schroeder County Park finds me up early. I find a small hotel soap cake in my dop kit and take a shower, even washing my hair with the soap.  Feels wonderful.  M wakes, sees my wet hair, and follows my example. Breakfast again of strawberries, blueberries, granola, yogurt.  We both feel great.  What could be nicer, with the river sparkling, the air fresh, and the heat wave broken!

Locked, loaded, and leaving by 10 ,  we are proud of the improvement in our getaway time. We think we have an easy 3.5 hour drive up to our brother’s house straight up I-5 in Washington state, so we are open to a scenic detour. M calls friend in Corvallis to invite them to meet us in Corvallis’s central park for lunch – M is eager to show her old haunts, and the detour would be pretty.  but the friends are on their way from Corvallis down to Winters along with another couple that M knows well, and are on I-5 headed the other way.  We rendezvous at a Wendy’s in Eugene and the five friends are soon in full catchup mode, with lots of exclaiming, explaining, and suggesting.  I feel like a hat rack, but it’s ok.  I use the loo.

On our way again.  We stop for lunch at another rest stop.  We stop for gas and check the GPS. Hmmm.  What was a 3.5 hour drive at 10 AM is now, at 2, after driving 2 hours all told, still a 3.5 hour drive.  What had been a clear blue shot through Portland is now blood red.

It takes us two hours to get through Portland. We are delayed a bit by M’s fear of the electric connection coming loose again, so we pull off on Swan Island, home of rail yards, lovely homes, and lot of homeless encampments. Vagrancy and loitering used to be crimes, but certainly there should be a better alternative to jail time than these ugly shambles.

A homeless campsite on Swan Island’s Lindbergh’s Beach. (KATU)

Once we clear the Columbia it’s an easy half-hour to Kid Brother’s house. We get a warm welcome, a bedroom for each of us and a tour of the latest quilts, wall hangings, glitter dot pix, and other crafty things which KB’s wife has put together since our last visit. .the fully de-frosted salmon in our cooler provides the centerpiece for a fine meal, with side dishes from KBW’s well-stocked fridge, and wine from KB’s well-stocked cellar.

KB plans to retire in March of 2023, and he and WBW are planning some long long trips in their long long trailer. There are sights to see north of the border, relatives to visit in Idaho and Montana and Texas and California. When vagrancy comes packaged in a 30-foot trailer, it becomes a lot more glamourous.

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