I should have ridden the toaster to San Jose

Honda_Element WikipicI had so much fun flying to and from San Jose last week that I’m driving when I go back next week.

It’s not the fact that I’m 25,000 feet above the ground and will die if we crash. I don’t understand what keeps the plane in the air, but I put myself in God’s hands and try not to think about it. I love looking down at the landscape below, picking out the landmarks and enjoying the cloud patterns. I love that I can get from one place to another so quickly.

I flew Alaska Airlines from Eugene, Oregon to San Jose, California. Alaska is fine. They do their best. But there’s a lot about the flying experience I could do without.

Flying isn’t what it used to be. I used to enjoy airplane food with all those cute little packages. Now they toss you a bag of Cheetos or pretzels and a glass of something. They don’t let you bring your own food and drink through security, so you have to buy something in the terminal or go without. I hate the luggage restrictions. I’m constantly worried about being caught with something I’m not allowed to have on the plane. I have to pay $25 extra to check a suitcase which will be X-rayed and possibly searched?

The planes that fly short distances are getting so small you can’t walk down the aisle without raising your arms and scooting sideways. You can’t count on free movies or music anymore. Instead you can rent a tablet-type device. People sitting side by side don’t talk to each other. They turn on their phones, tablets or laptops, plug in their earplugs and tune out everything.

And I can’t imagine having sex in the bathroom. This one was so small they didn’t even have a sink, just a plastic bottle of hand sanitizer.

Flying anywhere from the Oregon coast means driving two or three hours to an airport in Eugene or Portland. Add that to the extra time needed for check-in and security, plus getting something to eat and drink, and it’s a whole-day adventure for an hour, forty-minute flight.

Then there’s security. If I’m lucky, I get the older woman who always goes to the same place treatment and can bypass taking off my shoes and jacket and unloading my laptop. It’s unnerving to be getting a half-dressed full-body X-ray in one place while my purse and computer are rolling off the conveyor belt somewhere else.

Things went all right with security this trip. The line in San Jose was long, but I didn’t have the problem I had last time I flew out of there. I was so rattled that when they asked for my ID, I handed them my debit card. Oh-oh, go straight to the problem-passenger line.

No, the trouble started when I decided to eat dinner at the sports bar near Gate 28 in the B terminal. It was 5:30, and the place was jammed. Tattooed waitresses in black kept passing by me instead of finding me a table. When I did get seated at a tiny table for one amid other tiny tables for one, nobody came. I watched the servers bring second and third beers to the guys at nearby tables, but I didn’t even have a glass of water. I was afraid I would run out of time if I tried somewhere else. After 25 minutes, I got up, chased a waitress down and threw a loud hissy fit while people stared at me. I am embarrassed to think about it now, but I got my food and drink in three minutes. It wasn’t very good, but this squeaky wheel got the grease.

When we boarded the plane, I found myself in the aisle seat next to an immense woman whose flubber took up half of my seat as well as all of her own. I felt sorry for her, but I’m not used to being so intimate with a stranger. She didn’t want to talk, just listened to her music and looked at stuff on her phone. Her husband, equally large, sat across the aisle. When the plane finally landed, he immediately stood, placing his rear end in my face. Nobody was moving, but there he was, a wall of man-flesh in blue jeans.

As I mentioned earlier, the aisle was narrow. Our two flight attendants were unusually wide people. They banged my arm every time they passed by. My restless legs went crazy. It was dark in the plane, and my seatmate didn’t enjoy my turning the light on to read, but I had to do something. I couldn’t see out the windows at all.

A little before 10 p.m., we landed. I rolled my suitcase out to the far end of the long-term parking lot, surrounded by groups of people all glad to see each other. I shed a tear when I saw my Honda Element/aka The Toaster waiting patiently to take me home.

It will be me and The Toaster next time.


My father, who broke his upper leg in March, moved to an assisted living facility last week. It’s a pretty place, a former convent with a chapel, crosses etched into the fences, and a lush rose garden. He will stay there while he continues to heal. With luck, the doctor will let him start putting weight on the leg in a couple weeks and then he can work on walking until he can walk himself out of there and go home. He’s healthy otherwise. Today is his 95th birthday, and he’d rather be spending it anywhere but there.

The last plane he flew on was an Army Air Corps plane during World War II.

[Photo courtesy Wikipedia]




In search of heat in South Beach


I have turned into one of those women who is always freezing, whose fingers are icy when you shake hands, who wear three times as many layers of clothing as seems logical. It’s not my age, and I certainly haven’t gotten skinny. No, the pellet stove, the main source of heat at my house in the woods, is defunct again. On the Thursday before Christmas, it developed this habit of starting to light a little fire in the pot and then moaning to a stop. No more fire. No heat.

I cleaned it, scraping out a layer of pellets burned into  rock. Surely that would fix it. Nope. Little fire, moan, darkness. I hit reset 10 times that day. No go. I called the stove guy. Got the machine because a hundred other people are having stove problems around here.

The poor stove had been working overtime for weeks, with temperatures staying in the 30s much of the time. Threats of snow and ice had not materialized here yet but Portland and places not far inland were going crazy, with cars sliding all over in the big freeze. Schools and businesses were closed. A friend in Eugene had no power for six days. Not a good time for a dead pellet stove.

I love small towns for their lack of traffic and crowds and the way everybody knows everybody. I love that I can walk into the post office and Valerie grabs my package from the stack because she knows who I am. I can walk into my favorite restaurant and they know I want iced tea with no lemon. I can park my car by the pallets of pellets at Copeland Lumber, and a guy will start loading them into the Element before I even go in to pay. They know I’m getting 15 bags, 600 pounds of processed wood. It’s all good.

But this no-heat business stinks. You see, we have no gas out here in South Beach, unless you install a big expensive tank, and most of the houses were built without electric heating systems. We have baseboard heaters in some rooms, little “Cadet” heaters installed in some walls, but mostly we heat our homes with wood in the form of logs or pellets. Chimneys sprout from every roof, most with metal caps that swing around in the wind.

We used to have two woodstove shops in town. One went out of business. The other is trying to take up the slack, but there are too many stoves out here, and one must wait for an opening to get service. I was lucky the guy made it out here last Wednesday, after only six days and a chilly Christmas. He took one look and declared that I need a new thermocouple, a little piece that sticks out above the burn pot and enables the stove to light and stay lit. He would have to order one. It would not be here before New Year’s. Looking around at my assortment of plug-in heaters, he sympathized. “Well, you have some heat.”

Yes, enough to stay alive but not enough to be comfortable. Plus I have knocked out the circuit breaker six times so far. My electrical system cannot take the added stress of a plug-in heater plus almost anything else in the kitchen. If I want to use the microwave or toaster oven, I need to go without heat for a while. At least now I know exactly what to do when suddenly everything goes dark and silent. It’s number thirteen on the circuit board. My electrician dad says I can’t keep doing this; it’s dangerous. He says you get 20 amps on most circuits. The heater takes 12.5. That doesn’t leave much for extras, and if the refrigerator cycles on, it’s over. Maybe I don’t need the microwave.

The picture above was taken at 10:21 a.m. The sun was shining outside, and the three-foot-tall electric heater I bought with Christmas money two years ago had been on full blast all night. It wasn’t going to get much warmer.

People who live in snow country are thinking I’m a wimp. It’s not like it’s 30 below. I do have sources of heat. Remember the bedroom I moved out of a couple months ago? I have moved back in because that bed has an electric blanket, and I can’t afford to buy one for the other, larger bed. It also has a baseboard heater that I use reluctantly because it’s too close to the sheets. In addition, it has space on the floor for Annie, who can no longer jump up onto the bed and has decided she is not going to freeze alone.

The master bedroom, pretty though it is, is just too cold. In fact, when I was cleaning out Fred’s clothes after he died, most of his neckties had mold on them. It’s that cold and damp back there.

I have a baseboard heater in my office, too, but I only feel it if I’m sitting right here typing and only on my legs. My hands feel like iced bones with a thin covering of skin.

This morning, the frost-crisped lawn and leaves are edged in white. The sidewalk and driveway sparkle with flecks of ice. My phone weather app claims it’s 35 degrees now but feels like 26. I know it’s worse elsewhere. On the radio, the guy said it was below zero in Bend, Oregon. I’m not going to Bend or anywhere east. I’m from San Jose. I don’t do snow and ice.

Next time I go house-hunting, my first question will be: What kind of heat does it have?

Meanwhile, my neighbor across the street walks around his house in shorts as smoke billows out his chimney. It’s actually hot in his double-wide. Maybe it’s time to go borrow a cup of sugar.

May you be warm and healthy in the new year, and may the world come to its senses.

Motel roulette: you never know what lurks behind those doors

IMG_20150529_082338657[1]Motels are a gamble. I was in Eugene, preparing to attend a series of events at the University of Oregon related to my winning a prize in an essay contest. I had made reservations online from the comfy Best Western in Yreka that I wrote about last week. The new place was a little beyond my budget, but hey, it was the last two nights of my vacation. I figured I’d drive all day, check in, go for a swim, eat a quick microwaved dinner, and go to a reading at The Duck Store.

I check in. Ask for a downstairs room. Ask why the second night costs seventy dollars more than the first night (not mentioned online), get told there’s an Eagles rock concert in the auditorium across the street on Thursday night. Are you here for the concert? What concert? I’m here for an essay contest. My fee is nonrefundable at this point, so I get my card key. I notice the big sign saying the pool is closed. Oh, we’re waiting for a part, don’t know when it will arrive. Swell.

I move all my stuff in. Notice the security lock does not work. Notice there are no shampoos, and there’s no Kleenex. Iron all my wrinkled clothes and hang them in the closet. Notice the clock is not illuminated, and the light next to it does not work. Crawl around plugging things in. Set the clock. Unpack my instant Chinese food and stick it in the microwave. Set it for two minutes and push the button. The microwave goes on, but shuts off after two seconds. What? I reset it, push start, it shuts off after two seconds. After about six tries and one fist punch to the front of the microwave, I throw a big Portagee fit. No pool, no lock, no clock, no micro. I tell the Stepford Wife at the front desk that this room is F-d, and I want a refund. She calmly offers me an “upgrade” to a river view room upstairs.

Now, I travel with a lot of stuff, three or four loads worth, guitar, computer, clothes, food. I had spread my stuff all over my room, and I needed to be at the reading in less than an hour. You know those whirling dervish cartoon characters? That’s how I looked grabbing clothes, books, and papers, stuffing them all into bags and hauling them up the fourteen concrete steps to my new room, where the river was dark and sludgy, the refrigerator didn’t work, the air conditioning was iffy, and the toilet didn’t always flush. But I didn’t have time for another fit. I ate a few bites of my dinner, walked myself a new blister getting across the campus and arrived at the reading sweaty and stressed. Wine? Oh yes.

On the second day, my card key would stop working, a guy would be power-washing the sidewalk outside my room in the morning when I was trying to write, and the entrance would be blocked off so I couldn’t drive to anywhere near my room the night of the concert. But I did have a nicer view, including a few ducks and geese, and I got to inhale some complimentary marijuana smoke from the Eagles fans a few balconies away.

It wasn’t all bad. The pool got repaired, the Wi-Fi rocked, and the continental breakfast included a pancake machine, first one I ever saw. It was nice looking at the river, especially after my experience in Red Bluff where another river room offered a view of rocks and dirt, that section of the river dried out in California’s drought. And Sam’s sports bar next door was fabulous.

But you never know. That’s why I dream of buying a camper someday and taking my room with me. It might not offer a free continental breakfast, but at least I’ll know where I’m sleeping every night and if something doesn’t work, I can fix it.

I arrived in Eugene after a week with my dad in San Jose, a good trip, lots of bonding for both of us. We also made another visit to Kaiser Hospital, this time to replace his pacemaker. It went well. Dad is fine, but it killed me to say goodbye. Always does.

I hit Eugene on the way home to collect my prize for winning third place in Oregon Quarterly’s Northwest Perspectives essay contest for a piece called “When the Lights Go Out.” The prize included not only cash, but a master class with contest judge and fabulous author Lidia Yuknavitch and a chance to read our works to an audience at the university. Then we got taken to dinner at the posh Excelsior restaurant. Crab raviolis!

I felt like a princess by the end of the festivities. Twenty-four hours later, I was home mowing my lawn, but I have my memories. And at the moment, everything in my house works. Plus I have Annie. Home is not a gamble.

%d bloggers like this: