Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Memoir”

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?

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.

Tiny Teardrop Trailer Travel 2 – Day 2

Up by eight in our RV Resort near Castle Crags, hoping to beat the heat on a hike up to a waterfall and scenic viewing platform touted as not to be missed on the Camp brochure.  Turns out the trailhead is up the highway a bit, so we lock and load, out by 10:30.  We locate the trailhead, but the parking lot is already full of earlier birds than us, and there is no easy spot for the trailer, so we forego, and head up I-5 for Oregon

We stop in Ashland and lunch with M’s college roommate and her partner. Allison is a retired lawyer and her partner Madge is a retired CPA.  They live in a craftsman bungalow remodeled tastefully and surrounded by a lush garden of fruit and flowers and art objects, a dream of retirement come true.  The conversation is focused on the artistic life of Ashland, the lively drama scene and how it accommodated to the pandemic, and the advantages of bungalow life vs condo life.

Three of us decide to walk to Hither, a cute-as-can-be brunch/lunch spot about a 10 block walk away – the dog needs exercise and so do we. It is HOT.  The trip there is downhill, and we are in no hurry. I stop often to admire some interesting old house or flowers or pretty art thingy, but by the time we get to Hither’s shady outdoor patio we are ready for iced tea/beer/iced coffee. They are out of avocado toast, but herbed scrambled eggs are delicious.

The walk back is even hotter. And more uphill.  We pick the shadier sides of the street, and don’t stop as often.  M and I are sweltering by the time we get back to the house.  Maybe Ashland is not the perfect retirement paradise after all. We worry about the next few days, with 100 degree temps also predicted for our destination.

Brief goodbye’s and on our way again in our air-conditioned cocoon, which we now appreciate even more.  We stop for gas.  Still hot.  We look for the closest Baskin-Robbins. Tucked around a corner we find it after cruising the hot asphalt parking lot from one end to the other.  Thank goodness for the walking option on GPS!  Mint chocolate chip, very berry strawberry, and triple mango swirl do a lot for our attitudes.

And much cooler weather as we arrive at familiar-from-last-trip Schroeder County Park west of Grant’s Pass does even more.  We set up painlessly, put our camp chairs at the edge of a rise which wafts a cool breeze directly up from the river, and relax. Later we go down to the river and wade again, waving at rafters and kayakers as they pass. Then we bring out wine, hummus, cheese, crackers, and veggies to dip, and by the time we have nearly finished the wine we realize we don’t really need to cook dinner.  Bed and books look good.

A Piece of My Mind: How Much Do You Need?

I recently spent time with several different friends who have “downsized”.

One couple is selling their four-bedroom, three bath house with the aim of cashing out the equity, buying a smaller home in a less expensive location, and using the extra cash to follow some lifelong dreams. 

Twenty five years of accumulation now fills the two car garage from floor to ceiling, except for a narrow aisle to allow access to the building inspector. It includes furniture inherited from grandparents, portraits of ancestors, and many beloved books.   They plan to consign the dining-room furniture and donate the sofa, the piano and half the book cases to an NGO, but still worry about how they will fit the things they really love or need into a mere two-bedroom, one bath house with a one-car garage.

A second friend has moved into a two-bedroom one-bath house with a one-car garage after a divorce.  His home is filled with art and artifacts related to his life and interests, and he does have bonus space: a basement stairway leads to a fully equipped wood shop and foundry where he can hone his woodworking and brass-casting skills.  Every corner, every bookcase, every picture (and there are a lot of them) holds a story relating to his life.  It is the perfect home— for one person.  Yes, he has downsized, and wrapped his life around him.

My third set of friends have left a home that  accommodated a family of nine, including two natural and five adopted children, now all grown and gone.  They moved to a three-bedroom 2 bath house. The new house is smaller, but it feels big, as it is perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean with  270 degree views from the living room, study and kitchen. Every wall, every nook, every cupboard is filled with items salvaged, discovered, given, or retrieved – a thousand stories.  It is the home of two people but it feels as though it also comprises a small art gallery and museum.

I also visited a younger friend whose business is taking properties that scream “Scrape me!” and turning them into attractive AirBnB one-month rentals for young professionals.  His prospective renters need an attractive and functional bathroom; a kitchen with a stove, oven, sink and microwave, and the minimal necessary pots, pans, and utensils;  a bedroom with good reading lights and a comfortable bed for two people;and a sitting/eating space near the kitchen with a large screen TV and internet access.

I made these visits with my sister who owns a small teardrop-shaped trailer which includes a king-sized bed, lots of storage nooks under the mattress and above the bed space, a small TV screen and DVD player, heat and AC, and a kitchen with a two-burner stove, a microwave, and a battery-powered chest refrigerator.  We traveled comfortably for 11 days. I had enough clothing to keep comfortable from the cold foggy shores of Washington state to the searing summer heat of California’s Central Valley.

A one-bedroom Air BnB or a traile, give you a simplified life, but a life with no sentiment, no memories, no past. 

So how much of your past do you want to bring along when you “downsize”?  How many memories do you think you will need?

A Piece of My Mind: Civic Duty

I get the post card.  I am on call for jury duty for a week. The new procedure is to sign in at noon and 5 pm to find out whether I am on call to appear the next morning or afternoon.

For four days I dodge the bullet.  I manage a blood donation, a Book Club meeting, and a friend’s Anniversary Party, and then the notice appears:  “Your report date is 4/22/22.” Following is other information about where to park, where to report, how to check in.

I make it easily to the parking garage, up two floors to the pedestrian bridge, and then the signage ran out.  I start for the nearest building – nope, that’s the jail.  In the other direction – yes, the Superior Court.  Through the bag scan and the metal detector, up to the second floor, where i wait in line for the sign-in kiosks, directed by a friendly young man evidently used to handling clueless questions from silver haired ladies.

I balk at the sign in kiosk, clearly labeled “Step 2” and “Step 3”. 

“Where’s Step One?”

The young man shakes his head. “We’re re-vamping the system.  Gotta change those signs.”  I scan my juror postcard, he kindly takes my parking ticket for validation (saving himself several other clueless questions, I’m sure.)

Into the jury room, full of people scanning their cell phones or filling out forms. What are these forms?  Did I miss something? I ask. No, that’s for after you’ve been assigned to a jury.  The form looks like it goes on forever.  And only one chair in the entire room has a desk arm.

I am on Panel 47B. An announcement comes. 47B is called to the third floor.

We are seated in the courtroom.  We rise for the judge, a young-ish woman with brown hair flowing over her robe.  We rise to swear to do our best.  The defendant and his attorney rise and take off their masks to greet the prospective jurors. They both sport conservative suits and ties.  The defendant, a large, square shouldered guy, smiles at us – he has perfect teeth.  A charmer.  The DA also rises maskless, a woman in an un-challenging beige suit.

The judge read the charges against the defendant:  six counts of sexual aggression, forcible rape, sodomy….

I haven’t thought about it for years.  When I was eleven years old, my father out of town, my mother at a meeting, she arranged for me to go to and from my dancing class via taxi. The driver had dark curly hair and a pock-marked face. Molestation is the word we have for it now. No rape, but still mystifying and terrifying to my young self. 

The judge said “This trial will probably last for five weeks. If you can plead a hardship, you may be excused.”  She read the reasons which would justify hardship. Being uncomfortable with the subject matter is no excuse.

Happily, my husband and I have a long-deferred travel planned, which is non-refundable.  I have been allowed a deferral until mid-summer. I’m hoping that my civic duty at that time will involve only some financial malfeasance, and will evoke no nightmares.

Freeway Free in CA: Travels with @rchy

My sister M has christened her teardrop trailer “@rchy” a triple pun referencing its curvilinear shape, the name of the manufacturer (t@g) and its resemblance to a classic VW bug, hence the association with Don Marquis’ classic literary cockroach.  The Subaru Forester which tows the trailer is, of course, “Mehitabel”.

For my Christmas present this year M promised me two expeditions with @rchy, one short, to a local state park, and one longer, to visit our brother in the Northwest. We set a tentative date in March, and then let it drift, until M went online in January and discovered that there were  NO open campsites anywhere within 100 miles of us in the month of March.  It seem that everyone in California at the same time got sick of staying indoors fearing Covid-19 and decided that outdoor camping is the logical healthy alternative – outdoors, campsites socially distanced – suddenly this is the hot thing to do.

Fortunately, M is tech savvy, and found an app which would alert her to any cancellations at her desired locations in the desired time frame.  So in the third week of March we found ourselves outward bound for Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground – not our first choice destination, but within easy striking distance of my house as a base.

Of course, my Personal Travel Agent was quite discomfited at being left out of this ladies’ outing (@rchy only sleeps two) but he made himself as useful as possible by suggesting menus, precooking our dinner for the first night, and providing maps, hiking suggestions, and special cooking utensils.

If Martha Stewart were camping…

We pulled into our camp site just after 2PM, the earliest we could check in. It took less than an hour to set up camp, complete with a carpeted “kitchen” with two work surfaces and a storage cupboard, a carpeted “living room” with mini-fireplace, chairs, and snack table,and a “dining room” with tablecloth, matching dinnerware, and a candle.  M does not believe in roughing it.

Besides the many advantages of having your tent, clothing storage, and kitchen all self-contained in one aluminum cocoon, @rchy offers the additional benefit of being a social magnet. There were at least three other t@g trailers within a few campsites of ours, and fellow t@ggers needed no encouragement to give a tour of the modifications and special storage features each had added to their tow-along pet.

We had been a bit wary of Pfeiffer Big Sur for camping as several years ago a major wildfire had burned through the park, closing many trails and destroying many vistas. But the latest news from the site had assured us that trails were open and recovery from the fires is well under way.

Coming next: Freeway Free in our Hiking Boots!

Freeway Free at Lake Tahoe: Besides Skiing…

Hiking boots still damp [See two posts ago] we decided ice skating would be the best option for an afternoon. . C started phoning.  One place had a disconnected phone – probably not an option.  We decided to check out the outdoor rink at Heavenly Village. 

HV is a skier’s Disneyland.  The gondolas leave from the middle of a pseudo alpine village with outdoor musicians, an ice-covered fountain, and various boutique shoppes and eateries.  But the rink was dinky – smaller than the San Jose rink beneath the palms.  so we tried Edgewood Lodge – sorry, not open to public. then the inside south Tahoe city Ice rink – reserved for hockey team practice and lessons except for Th-Sun. c thinks she might go on Friday when she is here alone – she brought her skates!

We were inspired, though, by the sign showing where those gondolas ended up – far up the mountain and on the other side of the ridge was the true Heavenly Valley. So we drove up the Kingman Grade (N-207) to HeavenlySki Resort. The gondola that goes up from the Village on US50 ends at a cluster of condos and cabins surrounding a take off point for several busy ski runs. This is literally another side of the Tahoe area, invisible from the Lake.  We were hoping for some impressive lake views, but too many trees.

Nowhere to walk in the resort unless you were carrying skis over your shoulder on the way to one of the lifts, so we descended the Kingman Grade again, parked next to HWY 50, and took a walk along the South Tahoe bike way, then went down to the snow-covered beach and made our way back to our car.  As we returned the sky turned blazing peach and pink and purple, celebrating our explorations.  You can always count on Lake Tahoe to take your breath away, one way or another.



A Piece of My Mind: Hallowed Ground?

Louisiana Monument

A Millennial friend of mine, touring the Gettysburg battlefield, asked “Why are there all these memorials glorifying people who fought for such a terrible cause?”  It was a question I had never considered despite many visits to the battlefield. 

Yes, Gettysburg is a historical site. Yes, the statues and memorials mark where generals actually stood and watched the battle, where particular battalions fought, and what contribution they made to the course of the battle.  Some of the Confederate monuments, such as the one designed by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mr. Rushmore, have artistic merit in themselves. But some are cringe-worthy.

The scripture on the Mississippi monument, for example:

            On this ground our brave sires fought for their righteous cause; In glory they sleep who give to it their lives

Who can read this today without gritting their teeth?

Mississippi monument

“I read that most of these Confederate monuments were put up in the 30’s at the height of the Jim Crow era, funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy,” my Millennial continued.  “What kind of euphemistic name is that?  If they called themselves “Daughters of Slaveholders”, would they have been allowed to put up monuments in a national park?  Does Germany put up battlefield monuments funded by Daughters of Nazis?”

My Millenial friend went on to wonder “Why is the monument to General Lee the largest on the battlefield?  He was supposed to have been such a great strategist, yet he sent his army to attack a stronger force in a fortified position uphill.  I’m told the professors at West Point use Lee at Gettysburg as a textbook example of what not to do strategically.

“Why does he get a giant statue when he basically did what Tennyson condemned in “Charge of the Light Brigade,” sending his forces into withering artillery fire in the Valley of Death?  Only there were a lot more than six hundred who died for his hubris. And Longsteeet – the only general who had the guts to stand up to Lee and tell him the charge was a bad idea – he only gets a 1/4 life- size statue hidden away from the street in a thicket.”

Virginia Monument

I tried to answer.  “Lee was supposed to be the best general in the Army at the time.  He was offered the leadership of the Union Army and agonized over turning it down. His uncle signed the Declaration of Independence. He symbolized the agony of having to decide between Country and State loyalties.”

“Yes, I know he graduated at the top of his class from West Point,” countered my Millennial. “But what did he learn, except to believe his own hype? He betrayed the oath he took at West Point when he defected to the Secessionists.   Yes, he was descended from Revolutionary War aristocracy.  But he was a still a slave holder, and defended slavery.

My millennial friend went on to ask “Why set aside all this land to commemorate warfare and dying?  The National Military Cemetery and the monument to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address up on Cemetery Ridge say everything one would want to say about the men and boys who died to eliminate slavery in the US and to keep the country together.  The cemetery is what Lincoln called “hallowed ground”, not the battlefield.   These Matthew Brady photos of dead soldiers at Devil’s Den, and the informative signs about the Bloody Angle and the Slaughter Pen –  it’s like a theme park for carnage.”

Confederate sharp shooter at Devil’s Den

We continued along Confederate Avenue, then drove across the valley to the sites of the Union lines from Little Round Top down to Cemetery Ridge.  I was trying to think of a good counter to my Millennial friend.  I’m still working on it.

A Piece of My Mind: The Oreo Epidemic

You’ve seen them, popping up like mushrooms all over our community.  My husband and I call them “Oreo houses”.  They are typically new construction, often built on spec, with  the “For Sale” sign going up as soon as the lollipop trees are in the ground.  They are painted stark white, almost always with matte black trim, the color scheme of an Oreo cookie.  

Often the Oreo house will have board and batten siding, so that the shadows of the battens relieve the starkness of the white.  The roof is usually gray metal.  Sometimes the Oreo house will have touches of natural wood – maybe the garage door and the front door.  Sometimes a facing of gray rock adds additional texture.   

When I first spotted an Oreo house, maybe back at the beginning of the pandemic, I thought it a strange color scheme.  Don’t they know that stark white will show every speck of dirt?  And every trail of rust or moss from a downspout?  And that the white paint will yellow in the sun? The black trim was such a harsh contrast.  And the black front door – so unwelcoming.  I shrugged mentally and thought “Each to his own taste. No more unusual than the lavender house with pink trim up on Los Altos Avenue, or the purple house with the stainless steel door on El Monte.”   

But then I saw another one.  And another. Now almost every residential street in town has at least one Oreo house. Furthermore, the decor seems to be contagious. Traditional ranch houses from the 50’s suddenly have their used brick painted over in stark white, with matte black shutters and window trim.  Even the handsome 1920’s Prairie School home with its outbuildings taking up a double lot down from the high school has, between one of my trips to downtown and another, been painted stark white. 

 The venerable historic train station (now a restaurant) has changed its adobe /redwood color scheme colors to Oreo. And at the south end of town, the contagion has swept across an entire shopping center. 

As many of our children are being forced to emigrate to more affordable housing in Texas and Idaho, are these ghostly white houses an omen of our future as a ghost town? 

There is hope.  An otherwise completely Oreo house on one of our main streets sports a bright blue roof instead of the common gray or black. If I could only spot one with a red door….  

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