The highway feels a lot longer on foot

IMG_20180714_194816022_HDR[1]When yet another head-on crash closed Highway 101 just a half mile north of my home in South Beach, Oregon, Saturday, I worried about getting to church to play piano at the evening Mass. There is no other road. Back in May, I sat for hours behind a similar accident. It was miserable, but I had nowhere to go but home. Now, as I listened to the sirens and checked the news, I wondered: Should I try to walk to Newport?

It was a sunny afternoon, ominously quiet without the usual highway noise. Those stuck in line no doubt shut off their engines to save gas. I read on News Lincoln County that one woman was running out of oxygen and put out a 911 call to the fire department. One crash victim was being loaded on a Life Flight helicopter. Another would be transported by ambulance. Photos online showed debris all over the northbound lane. It would take forever to clean it up.

Should I walk? I put on my comfortable shoes and loaded up a bag. But I hesitated. The accident happened at 12:50 p.m. It was 2:30. Emergency responders were working on clearing the road. Tripcheck.com said it would be closed for up to two hours. Maybe the road would be open. My music books were awfully heavy.

In the end, I took a chance on the road being open. When I ventured out in my car at 3:30, traffic was moving. Cars were backed up all the way through Newport to the north and back to Beaver Creek to the south, but I arrived at church on time.

After Mass, I was itching to find out whether I actually could have walked it. After dinner, I tricked Annie by taking the garbage out and then going on down the road. Soon I was on Highway 101, cars whooshing past too close for comfort. The four-foot bike lane felt far too narrow.

The road rapidly becomes a tunnel of trees and cliffs on both sides, mud, grass and dirt along the road littered with coffee cups, cigarette butts, and other debris. I felt conspicuous in my pink shirt walking where people don’t usually walk. I envisioned getting mowed down by a car. I’d make the news as an “elderly woman” with no ID, just a cell phone and a key attached to a whistle.

The road goes uphill and down, in and out of a tsunami zone. On the east side, water trickles under the ferns and fir trees. In an opening on the west, sun rays beamed through the trees on a swampy area filled with blooming purple foxglove. It would have been pretty but for the lethal vehicles flying past me at 60 mph. I decided I would only go as far as the Newport airport.

The road widened out at the turnoff. At 7:30 on a Saturday night, the airport was deserted. Two small planes and an orange Coast Guard helicopter sat on the tarmac beyond the chain link fence. In the light breeze, the windsock pointed due north.

Feeling small in that big area of buildings and runways, I snapped photos and started back, humbled about my earlier plan to walk to town. This was only a little over a mile, and I felt tired. It was four miles to the bridge, six miles to church. I pictured myself sitting on the ground in a puddle of sweat, defeated. Walking on the highway is not like walking the dog in the woods, stopping here and there for her to sniff and pee. It’s a forced march on concrete, expecting to get killed any second.

I couldn’t help thinking about P.D., the main character in my Up Beaver Creek novel. In the story, she and Janie walk much farther than I did. They are younger and in better shape. But there are also no moving cars.

In my imagination, I picture Highway 101 wide open, with couples, singles, and families with kids and dogs safely strolling on a pleasant summer night or making a pilgrimage during the heat of the day to get food and water. People would talk to each other, maybe even sing. Perhaps someone could install a few benches to rest. The trash would get cleaned up once people saw it up close, and the road could become a pleasant gathering place.

But commuting to work would be tough. And what if it was raining or snowing?

Yesterday morning, driving to church, I passed the airport in my car. It took about two minutes, compared to my 45-minute expedition Saturday night.

Could I walk to town in a pinch? I could. It would take an hour and half to two hours, and it wouldn’t be pretty. I’d be sore for a week, but I could do it. When the tsunami comes, it’s quite possible our cars will be useless. We will need to seek alternatives. I’m thinking I need a bicycle or a horse.

I have not been able to find out much about the accident victims, but it was a bad crash. Keep them in your prayers. Please stay safe out there!

*********

Annie is still waiting for her appointment with the surgeon to fix the torn ligament in her knee. She wants to go on long walks in spite of her gimpy leg, but she’s not up to it these days. For me, walking without her is just not the same. Give her a few months, and she’ll be back at it.

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Up Beaver Creek launch draws a crowd

Sue signing books 7818I’m a worrier. As Sunday, July 8, the date of my book launch party for my novel Up Beaver Creek approached, I kept thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I’d get sick. My father would get sick. The notice wouldn’t get in the newspapers. The cake would not be ready. My copies of the book would not come in time. Nobody would come. It has happened before, and I was competing with the county fair, a rally to support justice for immigrants, and summer vacation.

I knew I was doomed when Sheryl from the library called me late Friday to tell me there had been a mistake and the meeting room had been double-booked. Oh no! But I had told everybody, what would I do? Panic! She said she would ask the other, smaller group to use the conference room. Still, as I approached the library yesterday, I prayed. “Please, please, please, God.” By then, I had the cake, I had the books, and I had assurances from friends that they were coming. But still . . .

I entered the library upstairs, said hello to the boy and girl sculpture by the door, waved to a friend, and hurried down the stairs, still praying the other group would not be in the room. What if . . . ?

Breathe out. The room was empty. Librarian Jan was ready for me with a sign-in form and a key to the storage room so I could get out the chairs and the coffee pot. Thank God.

What followed was the book party of my dreams. Friends and strangers poured in. We needed more chairs. They liked my talk. They laughed at my jokes. They praised my writing. They bought my book and lined up for autographs. I even got the flowers I had fantasized about, thanks to sweet friend Ashley. Friends stepped up to help with book sales, setting up chairs, and serving cake, which everyone said was delicious. Thank you, JC Market.

This might sound weird, but it was like getting all the acclaim the deceased might receive at a funeral but being alive to enjoy it. Writing is a lonely business in which rejections far outnumber acceptances for most of us. Bad reviews will come. Sales will slow to a trickle. But I’ll be feeding off the validation of this book launch for a long time.

Last night as Annie and I finished our short limp around the block, a friend called to tell me she had already read 100 pages and was loving the book. Wow. Something I wrote did that?

I’m so blessed. I just keep thanking God.

Up Beaver Creek is available at Amazon.com and should be available for order through your local bookstores via Ingram. (Somebody try it and see if it works.) I need to set up more talks and readings and spread the book far and wide. It will give me more to worry about, but publicity and marketing are part of the writing business these days. Your suggestions are welcome.

Thank you to everyone who helped, especially Pat, Trish, Sandy, Ashley, and Sheryl. You rock.

Remembering San Jose as It Used to Be

IMG_20180626_150901406[1]Sitting in an over air-conditioned Jack in the Box restaurant at the corner of Branham Lane and Almaden Expressway in San Jose the other day, my father sipped his chocolate milkshake and smiled at the irony. When he was a boy, this was the site of the Five Mile House saloon. Across Almaden was Ed Mullins’ general store. His Grandpa Joe and Grandma Louise Fagalde lived across Branham just west of the Guadalupe River. They had a house, a small orchard, a vineyard, horses, a fish pond, and in later years a service station with a little store.

Joe didn’t know much about cars. When my dad would come to visit as a teenager, he’d urge him to drive, saying, “Hey, kid, let’s go for a ride.” But with the help of his sons and niece Irene, they made it work. For my father, growing up in the 1920s and ’30s, it was a magical place where his grandfather spoke several languages, piloted a horse-driven water truck to wet down the dirt roads, had horses so trained they’d obey him like dogs, and a parrot who would call “Hey Joe!” in exactly the same voice as Grandma Louise, driving him nuts.

There was no bridge over the creek, but a graveled crossing, which Joe rebuilt after it washed out every winter.

The two-story house didn’t have electricity when Dad was young. Later, it just had one light bulb hanging in each room. There were no plugs; there was nothing to plug in. They used an outhouse, cooked on a wood stove, and stored food in an ice box, yet they had wonderful family gatherings where somehow the women produced a feast without any modern conveniences.

Looking across the six busy lanes of Branham Lane now, we could see a two-story retail building which offered manicures, eyelash extensions, computer service, a dentist’s office, and some kind of car repair. The creek was all that remained of the old homestead. The Fagalde property was sold in the 1960s after both grandparents had passed on. Changes were happening all over Santa Clara Valley. The land of orchards and dirt roads on which Dad occasionally road horses between his parents’ place on Dry Creek Road and his grandparents’ home on Branham Lane disappeared. But in his mind, he could still see it.

We had been touring the sites of Dad’s youth. I laughed when I came to the intersection and saw the Jack in the Box. I had been looking for a place to get a burger. Now we could park and really study the place. Afterward, I drove through the parking lot across the street to get a closer look. Dumpsters stood where the outhouse used to be. The creek, where it was not blocked by trees, still had water in it. And the occasional shopping cart.

“You should write a book about it,” my father kept saying. Maybe I will. If not a book, something. When the physical evidence is gone, how can anyone otherwise know what came before, that it wasn’t always a nail salon and a Jack in the Box, that once people ate ice cream at Mullins’ store, stopped for a drink at the Five Mile House, and heard a parrot shout “Hey Joe!” behind the service station?

I’m 30 years younger than my father, but a lot of what I remember in San Jose is gone, too. We have to tell our stories.

******************

Speaking of stories, the launch party for my new novel Up Beaver Creek is next Sunday, July 8 at 2:00 at the Newport, Oregon library. Come hear about the book and help me celebrate its publication. You can buy it now on Amazon.com or order it at your local bookstore.

Your roadside garbage is Annie’s treasure

IMG_20180608_112332585_HDR[1]When Annie and I walk, we have different purposes. I want to exercise, explore and clear my mind of everything happening at my desk. Annie wants to relieve herself and eat, mostly eat. To her, our woodsy roads and trails are a buffet. No doubt she remembers fondly the day she scored half a burrito. Let’s go walking. There might be another one!

Trash abounds, especially on garbage day when stuff gets spilled on its way from the carts to the Thompson’s Sanitary trucks. Some people seem to overestimate the capacity of their carts. On Friday, I watched a crow eating from the garbage overflowing at least a foot above a neighbor’s open cart. Wrappers and scraps lay all over the ground. It’s hard to keep an 80-pound dog from making a party of it.

Bears compound the problem. Not only do they cause Annie to bark into the wee hours, but they dump the trash all over the streets, making it easier for Annie to grab a bite while I drag her away, yelling, “Leave it!” and wondering what she’s chewing on.

Annie 72915I say, “Leave it!” a lot. Up and down the road, we find candy wrappers, McDonald’s leftovers, Starbucks and Dutch Brothers coffee cups, Skoal containers, cigar butts, and cigarette packs, whiskey bottles and beer cans galore. In the endless months when crews had our roads torn up to replace the water pipes, workers ate their lunches beside their trucks and tossed the leftovers into the bushes. Party time for Annie. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hot damn.

People food is not good for dogs (and other animals). Onions, chocolate, and coffee are all toxic. Meat that doesn’t start out toxic becomes so after sitting around for a few days. Not to mention that we’re both always on a diet, with minimal success. I try to keep her from eating her roadside finds, but sometimes she’s faster than I am. She gets her treat before I even see what it was.

Annie can smell food a block away, no exaggeration. As the one who has gotten dragged halfway down the street so she can plunge her head deep into the salal and salmonberries, I can testify that there’s always something there. It could be a sandwich, a candy bar, or the leavings from fishermen cleaning their fish or hunters gutting their deer. How I wish people would not toss their garbage wherever they are, as if it doesn’t matter.

Mother Nature provides its share of edible attractions, too. Annie loves berries, especially blackberries. She knows which ones are ripe and can suck them off the vine without getting stuck in the thorns. And they’re good for her.

The roads are full of smashed mice, squirrels, snakes and frogs that didn’t make it across the road. Also feces. These, my dogs like to roll in. Inevitably, she does her drop and roll just as someone drives by. I stand embarrassed, chanting, “Get up, get up, get up,” as she rolls on her back, feet in the air, rubbing herself in ecstasy. Then she rises, smiling, weeds sticking out of her collar, and we go on.

This week we may have company on our walks. A neighbor called this morning to warm me that her next door neighbor captured a bear on his outdoor camera while the guy next door to him said the bear walked right through his front yard at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Annie spent several nights last week barking at what we suspect are bears. Do bears like burritos?

Maybe we’ll trade the trails for the beach today.

Please put your trash in the garbage can. Don’t toss it wherever you are. It could kill my dog.

***

Watch this clever segue: Bears, elk, cougars and other critters are common sights up Beaver Creek Road, the setting for my new novel, Up Beaver Creek, on sale now at Amazon.com. Read it and find how how P.D. and her friends cope with Mother Nature, especially when the tsunami comes.

 

 

Up Beaver Creek has been published

Up_Beaver_Creek_Cover_for_Kindle (1)My new novel is available now at Amazon.com. It’s not fully fledged yet. My official launch party is not until July 8. But you can buy it now. (I’ll excuse you for a minute if you want to go do that.) No, it’s not in the bookstores yet. Or the library. I don’t have copies to sell you. They’ve been shipped but haven’t arrived. But all that will happen within the next month.

I’ll be honest. I have published this through my own Blue Hydrangea Productions company via Amazon’s CreateSpace. I didn’t want to publish my own books anymore. It’s a lot of work. But the book needed to come out. Plenty of famous authors have self-published (Stephen King, Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, e.e. cummings). Besides, people need to read about the imaginary tsunami before the real one happens.

Tsunami? Yes, in Up Beaver Creek, the long-awaited tidal wave hits the Oregon coast. Read the book to see what happens and hope your neighbors are as well prepared as P.D.’s are.

This book is fiction. The people are invented, but the setting is real. As everyone living on the Oregon coast knows, the big earthquake and tsunami are coming.

Up Beaver Creek is P.D.’s story. She’ll never tell you what the initials stand for. Nor does she want to be called Cissy, her old nickname before her husband Tom died, before she launched herself at 42 into a new life with a new name, a new look, and a new determination to realize her dream of being a professional musician. Am I writing about myself? No. I’m a widow and a musician, but I am not P.D. I wish I were that bad-ass. I would never do the things that P.D. does.

“P.D.” is a state of mind, a tougher, wiser, upbeat attitude that makes the former Cissy work out at the gym, cuss, and try things she would have been afraid to do before. She will not whine or give up.

For a long time, I called the book “Being P.D.,” but the general reaction was “huh?” So I changed the title.

My book launch party is scheduled for Sunday, July 8 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Public Library. There will be readings, discussion, books to buy, and a big cake. I might even give some books away. So come join us.

I welcome opportunities to read and talk about this book and all of my books. For a full list, visit my book page at suelick.com. We can discuss starting over as a widow, living on your own, what to do and not to do when the tsunami hits, how to get books published, and other topics. If you would like a guest post for your blog, I’m interested.

For information about any of this, email me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, click on my web page at suelick.com, or visit my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/suelick. You can also find lots of information at my Amazon author page.

As always, I welcome your comments here.

My Guitar Doesn’t Fit in My Purse

IMG_20180528_110544855_HDR[1]Most women carry a purse. I carry a guitar. I have been playing for more than 50 years, starting with a Blue Chip Stamp Store La Valenciana guitar in a cardboard case, working up to the Martin I play now.

I lugged my first guitar over a mile on foot to Blackford High School and by bus to West Valley College. I have carried the others to work, on trips, and to countless gigs. I have lifted them in and out of my car so many times the edges of my cases and the edges of the car have corresponding scrapes.

Guitars in their cases are big and impossible to hide. Nobody says anything about the computer in my other hand, but everywhere I go, someone has to comment about the guitar. “Hey, are you going to play for us?” “You got a gun in there?” “Do you know how to play that thing?” Men keep wanting to help me carry it. I’m fine on my own, thank you very much. It’s funny how men think women can carry babies and toddlers but not guitars, which don’t weigh as much and rarely drool.

People comment on my case a lot these days. The edges have worn completely off. I have patched them with red and zebra-striped duct tape, which is also wearing off. It looks bad, but a wise friend tells me a guitar in a trashy looking case is less likely to be stolen. I have thought about buying a new case, but this one is still perfect inside, its plush red lining offering a safe home for the guitar.

I have used “gig bags,” those plastic or leather guitar bags you can strap on like a backpack, but I’m a klutz. I keep banging them into things, which is not good for the guitar. Also, the zippers keep breaking. The hard case weighs more than the guitar, but it’s safe in there.

When I’m on the road, I may not open my case for days, but the guitar is always first out and last in. A guitar is like a dog or a baby. You can’t leave it in the car if the weather is warm. Or cold. Extreme temperatures can ruin an acoustic guitar. The wood warps, the glue melts, and the strings pop off. The guitar dies.

Back in March, I traveled to Tucson for a writing workshop. The motel was a disaster. A Mexican guy saw me dragging my guitar upstairs as I changed rooms, leaving the one with the non-functioning toilet. “What are you going to play for us?” he called. I was so tired and so pissed, I said, “Anything you want” as I continued to my corner room with my view of the wall.

On the last day of the workshop, I had to check out of my room early. The weather was too warm to leave my guitar in the car, so I carried it around all day. Everywhere I went, people wanted to know if I was going to play for them. Mostly I said something noncommittal like “maybe.” If I were carrying a book, they wouldn’t demand that I read it in front of them, but with a guitar, they somehow think I should entertain them. You might say that I should share my musical gift. I agree. But if I don’t prepare and practice privately, you’ll wish I hadn’t. Now if you want to jam, with the understanding that we’ll both make lots of mistakes, I’m ready.

Sometimes, I just want to play my guitar in the real sense of the word “play,” to amuse myself, to remember why I love the guitar so much I would carry it for miles while people make comments. Thank God I don’t play the cello.

***

My novel Up Beaver Creek will be available at Amazon.com this Friday! I’ll post more about that in a few days. I can’t wait to share P.D.’s story with you.

Crash brings everything to a sudden halt

IMG_20180520_181911600_HDR[1]You never know when God will holler “Stop!” He did it in spades yesterday afternoon when a head-on collision brought everything to a halt on Highway 101 just before the turnoff to my house in South Beach.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, great beach weather, with lots of tourists making local traffic thicker than usual. For me, it was a regular Sunday. I led the choir at church in the morning, had lunch and mowed the front lawn in the middle of the day, and returned to Newport for a Willamette Writers coast branch meeting.

The meeting with writer “Tex” Thompson was great. We left at 4:15, happy and full of ideas. At the meeting, I had drunk a big cup of lemon-ginger tea. Despite my hummingbird bladder, I decided I could wait for the bathroom till I got home. After all, it’s only a 15 minute drive, 12 if all the traffic lights are green. My friend Wiley and I talked about how we might walk our dogs or mow more lawns when we got home. Plenty of daylight left.

Just south of the Yaquina Bridge, traffic came to a halt. Not good. I checked Newslincolncounty.com on my cell phone. The crash was near 98th Street, my exit. Probable fatality. People in a car in a ditch. Life Flight called. We weren’t moving any time soon.

We sat in our cars, trucks and RVs, filling the air with exhaust fumes. We took our vehicles out of gear and eased our feet off the brakes. We turned off our engines, stunned by the silence. Once in a while, we turned our engines back on to move forward a car length as people pulled out of line, turned around and headed back to Newport via the empty northbound lane. Impatience? An appointment? A full bladder like mine? On that section of 101, with one lane in each direction, ocean on one side, hillside on the other, there is no place to go, no possible detour.

Time clicked by. An hour. Two hours. I was so close to home I could have walked if I had somewhere to put my car. I told myself repeatedly that my inconvenience was nothing compared to that of the people involved in the accident. One person was dead, maybe more. The others were badly hurt. Life had changed forever for them while eventually I would get home, eat dinner, and watch American Idol.

Meanwhile, I had time to study the houses, trees, and signs I usually whoosh by at 60 miles an hour. I got glimpses of late-afternoon sun sparkling on the blue ocean. Roadside rhododendrons bloomed in every color. My God, I thought, it’s beautiful here. Not so much for the accident victims. For them, it will always be: This is where it happened.

A few northbound cars trickled by. Police cars and ambulances passed. An “incident response” truck flashed a sign that said “Highway closed one to two hours.”

People got out of their cars to stretch. One guy ahead of me launched a drone. It looked like a white box with legs. It hovered above the car for a while before he brought it back down. Two teenage girls walked back and forth chatting as if this was a parade.

I thought about leaving my car long enough to go knock on somebody’s door and beg to use their bathroom. But what if the line started moving?

It’s illegal in Oregon to do anything with your cell phone in your car, but we weren’t moving, and all the cops were busy. I kept checking my phone for more information. I answered a text. I read a few emails. I took pictures and started making notes for this blog. This was a perfect opportunity to meditate, but I’m not good at sitting still.

When cars are on the highway with no brake lights, they’re usually in motion. Now it was like the video got frozen with a bad Wi-Fi signal.

Last year in California, I waited four hours on the 205 freeway near Tracy while a truck vs. bus collision blocked the road. I hated sitting there surrounded by eighteen-wheelers, with no way out. People died there, too, while I suffered only a full bladder and bollixed schedule.

Everything we count on is so fragile. We all know—in our minds—that if something happens to the bridges that box in our part of the coast, we will be stuck. If an accident, a mudslide, or a gathering of wild elk blocks the road, we’re stuck. I had water, three leftover brownies, blankets and a good book in the car, but I never planned to get stuck between the library and home for hours. Nobody ever plans these things.

I had left the lawnmower out, assuming I’d mow the back lawn. I had left my computer on, figuring I wouldn’t be gone long. I had told my dog I’d be “right back.”

Every time the cars moved forward a little, I felt myself becoming furious at the one guy ahead who didn’t move, which meant I didn’t get to move. It was only a few feet, but I wanted to move those few feet. Move, idiot! I was losing my sense of humor.

Finally movement. 82nd Street. The airport. Cones, flaggers, a tow truck and a smashed car, a pile of what looked like clothes on the pavement, 95th Street, oh my God, 98th. I got in the left-turn lane and contemplated the solid line of northbound cars blocking my way. A man in a red car got out of line to make room for me to turn. And then there was my street, wide open, my neighbor’s house, my neighbor’s dog, my house, my dog. 6:40 p.m. Praise God and hurry to the bathroom.

Oregon state police reported  the following:

Preliminary investigation revealed that a blue 2007 Toyota Corolla, driven by Shane Larson, age 44, of Tillamook, and also occupied by Tyann Walker, age 32, from Beaver, was traveling northbound when the vehicle crossed into the southbound lane of travel on a relatively straight section of the highway.  The vehicle struck a southbound silver 2014 Buick Verano head on.  The Buick Verano was driven by Sean Compton, age 50, from Springfield.  Following the initial collision, the Toyota Corolla traveled over an embankment west of the roadway and rolled onto its top.  The Buick Verano spun across the northbound lane and came to rest with the rear of the vehicle against the guardrail facing west.  

Larson and Compton were transported by ambulance to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport.  Larson was later transported by Life Flight helicopter to Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis due to the extent of his injuries. 

Walker suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased at the scene.        

Please pray for all involved in this horrible end to a day at the beach. Be careful out there, never assume things will go as planned, be grateful when they do, and don’t drink anything and drive.