Sunday, September 19, 2010

Torben's Bucket List

Lily says "Hi." She's having a great time sticking her head out the window absorbing all the new smells. She likes to think of herself as the co-pilot's co-pilot. In other words, when the bus is moving she has claimed her place on the passenger front seat...regardless of whether or not I happen to be sitting there. To say we compromise is a joke. She won. My lap is her domain for an unparalleled view of what's to come.
Torben wanted to make sure that I mentioned that we drove through Bakersfield, CA and through the intersection where James Dean was killed. There, mentioned. We drove through it on our way to Vegas.
Vegas. The city I have long resisted. I don’t know why. It scares the shit out of me. Maybe, as a woman who opted for a profession which promotes health and balance the idea of being swarmed within a society that thrives on gambling, prostitution, excessive drinking and a host of other lovely addictions didn’t really tickle my fancy. And as we travel, I am becoming more and more drawn to small towns with a more subdued outlook on commercialism. Ah well, Vegas was a perfectly timed pit stop on our route through the desert, and in the spirit of keeping an open mind, I wagered a gamble and stepped inside “Sin City”.
Whoa! The first thing I noticed while driving into the city was the raging assault on my senses. Music of conflicting genres was blaring from every direction vying for our attention, competing with a plethora of erratically blinking and blinding lights, some of which were so bright they left tracer spots on my retinas, and people of all different color, size and shape aimlessly amusing one another through the never-ending pavement which stretches between giant casino playgrounds. I was surprised to see only a small handful of unlucky degenerates humiliatingly getting handcuffed in front of forty-thousand onlookers. I don’t know why, but I expected more. There wasn’t as much sex as I expected either. I guess I had Hollywood enticed visions of hookers prowling the streets and strip joints displaying their wares every 500 feet. The exposure was minimal…just a few hundred non-English speaking folks- flipping their naked promo fliers and stuffing them under my nose every three feet - annoying, but survivable. For any of you who have not been, the casinos really are impressive. They are so grand in scale that it is hard to fathom the enormity of their size, until you try to walk from one end of the strip to the other. By the way, don’t do it…and ladies, those sexy five inch heels? Do yourself a favor and leave them at home. Dr. Scholls would make a fortune if he set up a merchandise stand on every corner. Anyway, each casino has a theme, so to speak, and even when you are outside approaching one you feel as if you have been transported to a different time or place. From an Egyptian pyramid, to a Parisian stroll, or from a knight’s castle to the liquid streets of Venice. Every fantasy is there and it is hard not to get swept away in the grandeur. It is as if time has become suspended. Life is just as active at 2:00 am as it is 2:00 pm. In fact, I believe the advantage the casinos have is that once inside you have no earthly idea what time it is…thus keeping you, and more importantly, your $ rolling through their slots, tables, restaurants and shops. I’m not really a slot playing kind of girl. I can’t quite catch the thrill of throwing my money away at the slim (1 in 11,000,000) odds that I could make a few bucks. The lottery for that matter is another great mystery to me….but clearly I am in the minority here. And in the spirit of “when in Rome”… I dropped five bucks in a slot machine, won $30, and quickly cashed out. Yipee. Mission accomplished. All total, less than three minutes. But for the truly addicted, fear not about losing your streak…you can continue your obsession whilst seated on your throne in el bano. (Seriously. This interactive gaming thing has gone a bit too far.) If you should come out ahead and want to flaunt that new fortune there are no shortages of high end jewelry shops, clothing boutiques and posh trendy clubs to spend your spoils. The ever thrifty Mr. Madson kept a close eye on me and maneuvered my gaze away from several unneeded but curiously enticing and sparkly splendors. Thankfully, there is more than enough free entertainment to keep one endlessly amused. We walked through the Bellagio and felt a little like Alice in Wonderland with this larger than life display.
We were treated to a great dinner by our friends, the Orlando/Vegas transplants, Tom & Michelle Conroy. It was so refreshing to spend time with a couple who are as compassionate about animals as Torben and I are, maybe more (suckers). I had so much fun I forgot to take pictures. Michelle is a hoot and kept me rolling in stitches all night. As it turns out, we had quite a bit in common. Maybe it’s because we both married older men. Maybe it’s because we both saw the writing on the wall and opted to support said men in leaving the corporate grind and opting for a healthier, happier lifestyle that will keep said men around a lot longer. Cheers to a life well lived and the road less traveled!
We lucked out and stayed in a fabulous park in Vegas. It was as ritzy as any hotel. We were a little spoiled with the gated entry and escort to our site, and I luxuryiated (yes, I did just make up that word, and I ought to copyright it) in a private pool for hours while Torben caught up on some lawyerly work. Ahhhh, I guess Vegas isn’t so bad after all. Did I mention Torben won at the craps table?! Enough to pay for our little stay there, not too shabby. We both extend our sincere gratitude to the cute girl from Chicago who threw great dice for an hour and fattened our wallets! Blessings abound little beauty!
Our next port of stay was Flagstaff, Arizona. I was expecting the dull dry desert. I got dry and desert all right, but it was anything but dull. Holy Cow, I was shocked to learn the plethora of things to explore in this area of the country. The Grand Canyon is close (relatively speaking) and I know it may be sac religious to take a trip of this proportion and not go there, but we didn’t, so sue us. We did explore a cliff dwelling town that was inhabited 800 years ago.
We were able to climb inside the dwellings and see what they would have seen from their front door. Pretty awesome I must say.
The lifestyle must have been excruciating. More than half of the year was spent in a drought – so all water had to preserved and protected. Not to mention, they lived on a cliff! Not a hillside, a true honest to goodness-take a wrong step and plummet to your death – cliff! Yet they surprisingly found a way to survive in the heat and make the most of the sparse plants that grew from the rocky soil. Amazing.
We also explored a volcanic lava field and a meteorite crater. I was transfixed by the colors of the lava field and the delicate flowers that grew in the harsh conditions.
The meteorite crater was over 2 ½ miles wide, though interestingly, not much of the initial meteorite was found after the impact, as most of it burnt up on impact. 25 football fields can fit within its basin. To say it is big is a gross underestimation, hard to fathom something that humongous.
It was cool to see, but hot, and dry... and hot... and dry. By the end of the day I felt like one of those stale cracker crumb fallen and neglected under the seat of the car.
Everyone has a bucket list. You know, those things that you say, “someday I’d like to __ “(fill in the blank). A word to the wise: be careful what you wish for, be very very careful. Sunday was Torben’s birthday, and too bad for him; I had actually been listening. Torben has wistfully, and frequently, imagined the sensation of flying like the Red Barron high above the earth in a biplane. (By the way, one very important detail about biplane: it has no roof.) You can see the irony right? A great match for a man with a fear of heights and a woman who has puked on moving rides in every major theme park and transcontinental flight (sorry about the trajectory on last one Mom). I make no qualms about expressing these concerns, but somehow in all my “birthday celebration genius” I chose to ignore these significantly relevant little facts. My thoughts were, “hey, we’re on this once and a lifetime vacation, why not celebrate with a once in a lifetime experience.” I never cease to amaze myself. If I did not know how to laugh with myself, by myself and for myself I would have probably soiled myself when we drove from Flagstaff to Sedona. I was expecting, umm…flat or moderately flat desert like Phoenix, where my sisters have lived and I have s visited on several occasions. Wrongo. My stomach did its summersault when we began this descent:
At the time T still did not know where we were going. He kept guessing and my anxiety kept rising. The second back-flip in my stomach came when we re- ascended to the airport on top of the mountain. By the time we actually made it to the cockpit I was having a totally out of body experience. I think I was actually laughing so hard when we strapped on our shared little seatbelt (is that really supposed to help?) and fashioned our heads into the flight helmets that I had lost all sensation in my legs. That too could have been that the both of us were squeezed into a single seat and told not to touch any of the pedals or the stick waving between our legs as we could inadvertently send ourselves crashing to the ground. Let the nightmare begin.
So much for being a good wife…under the disguise of a birthday gift, I was escorting my husband down the red carpet to our demise. I remember thinking regretfully that our wills were not up to date. It was the death grip on my knee that brought me back to focus. We were airborne and Torben was clinging to me like a wet leaf. After a few minutes we both calmed down and looked around, agape at what we saw. Never, never, never, in all my life have I imagined or witnessed anything so, soo, sooooo…, that I still don’t have the word. Please let these pictures do the talking.
It is loudly quiet up there. Let me explain, the hum of the engine and the rush of passing wind is deafening, but not distracting, so it makes kind of a white noise effect that your brain kind of drowns out, but it there is no way to talk to one another, so the thoughts in your head predominate. We tried a few comical attempts at arm gestures in our miniature cockpit, but even my theatrical interpretation of needing a barf bag after a particularly strong thermal wind pocket lifted and dropped us wasn’t understood by my copilot. And anything more than a subtle arm wave threatened to flip over the contents of the plane. A strange sensation developed: solitude. I didn’t recognize it at first, but it came on like a wave and spread like a smile. Alone, soaring above the earth, with a view only the eagles know, it moved me, and not just in my stomach. The views on the horizon were legendary. Apart from what I saw, I had absolutely no connection with the world down below and for that small moment, I ceased to care. When the pilot circled the peaks and dove between the canyon pass walls I felt so free from myself and from everything in life that is both constraining and restraining. It was a moment of spiritual surrender, one that warrants the savoring of a long deep breath: AUM, as they say in yoga, is the deepest form of gratitude and connection to our creator. (I offer this breath in retrospect, because at that time my breath was nowhere to be found.) It was a once in a lifetime, and I am glad my earth-bound husband dreamed it and so glad my pepcid-eating self actually listened.
While in Flagstaff we tried another first: Himalayan food. Not too bad actually, with a little Indian flare. To top off the night we visited the Lowell Observatory, which was famous for discovering…(wait for it…) PLUTO! There were several mega-sized telescopes set up and we were encouraged to look at a galaxy-an entire galaxy, some billion light years away. (Billion light years away? I have trouble grasping this, but let’s just say it’s really, really far.) In addition the brightest star in the sky was actually not a star, but rather, Jupiter. And we were able to view four of her moons. Awesome! My personal favorite was the center of a star. Imagine Disney 3D fireworks on steroids: the center of a star is so multidimensional with sparking bursts of light in every direction and depth-cosmically cool! I felt as if our world was as big as a pin head. Relevance is entirely based on perspective, and I LOVE getting mine altered!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Short lived trip through Cali

Ok, I knew all that gloating about our cool weather escapades would come back to bite me, and it has. We are working our way through the scalding heat of the desert. Is that the sweet sound of satisfaction I hear in your laugh? I feel like my feet are frying inside my shoes. My poor dogs are tap dancing across the dusty rocks, in an effort to avoid sizzling their paws and are taking the quickest potty stops in history. I used to be worried they could get loose and run off. Now it’s a mad race back to the cool A/C of the motor home, they beat me every time.
Since our journey was a little delayed by our extended “vacation” in Alabama at the outset of the trip we knew that somewhere we would have to cut the journey a little short. We fell in love with South Dakota, Montana & Oregon, and on those I can confidently say we did not skimp. But, the land of Cali got passed over like a platter of brussel sprouts at a Thanksgiving dinner. Our search for Bigfoot came up empty handed, much to my prediction, my husband’s dissatisfaction. We attempted to stay for a while north of San Francisco – which I have always wanted to visit. But it was not meant to be.
Ever have those days where more things go sour than sweet? That was our San Francisco adventure. The RV park claimed to be “Big Rig friendly”, in truth it was more like a sardine box for Mini Coopers. I stood in the road waving my arms like I was landing a plan as Torben attempted to maneuver the rolling mother ship down the narrow and unforgiving streets. We hooked a picnic table and oh so unpleasantly scratched/dented/fubared a side panel. You can practically hear my husband cursing can’t you?
For those of you who know about his frustration scale; he was at a full F.F.S. For the rest of you, over the years myself and others have charted Torben’s irritability by the level of words he chooses to use and put together. (Forewarning: Adult language ahead!) A mild annoyance, like a mosquito bite you can’t reach, will warrant an eye roll and a single curse word [shit]. Waiting in a long unpleasant line earns a more extended phrase [It’s not rocket science you stupid bastard], while Gator games really torque it up a notch [stupid cock-sucker & crazy son-of-a-bitch]. The winner of the prize cursing competition is always traffic. It helps my husband profess the most provocative combination of words that would make even the most die hard Harley rider suck in a breath. I don’t believe he coined the phrase, but believe me, he has made it his own [Oh, For Fuck’s Sake!]. He’s not a rude or offensive person by nature, but when the limits of his patience are within sight it is best to have a set of ear plugs handy. So as you can imagine I was cringing and thinking of what to tell him as I was the first to survey the damage done to the motor home. The people in the park were watching like a receiving line and got great humor out of watching me mouth the words I thought he would use and hearing his rants on cue. Shining moment for the Madsons, we represent well.
The day continued to improve as we bid adieu to that park and searched for another,not that easy to find a place to park our home, unfortunately. We actually drove the bus over the Golden Gate Bridge, got a glimpse at Alcatraz and San Quentin in the Bay, drove through a white-out of fog, then learned we needed to pay a toll. No problem, if you’re a car. If you happen to be a bus, they charge you per axle, we have five, and we usually don’t carry much cash. I send a heart-felt apology to the poor cars behind us who had to wait 20 minutes until I searched and scrounged up enough change to pay that toll. Patience still thinning, but the day’s not over yet….
Into downtown San Francisco…was this our planned route? I didn’t think so, given the large sum of traffic, ill-timed stop lights, hilly streets and pedestrians. Driving this bus isn’t the most difficult thing, stopping it is. And there was one stubborn bicyclist who almost became road putty. He refused to leave the street. He wasn’t riding, just straddling his bike and defiantly shaking his head as we barreled through the intersection. I’m convinced he had a suicide wish. Marvelously, Torben shifted lanes without taking out any other cars and the stupid bastard (*see above) survived. So, that was about the extent of our trip in California. We’re about 60 miles outside of Nevada.
We actually did do a little sightseeing in between cursings. We took an obligatory drive out to Pebble Beach, a place my father and all fellow golf enthusiasts refer to as “sacred ground”, and drove down Highway 1, through Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Scary roads on peaks that plummet into the sea. Sea lions that bark and stink to high heaven. Lovely. Glad we did it. Totally could have skipped the traffic en route.
Torben is my connoisseur of quirky things and has a book on haunted hikes/places to visit (have I mentioned it?). We were advised to tour the Winchester Mystery House. Weird does not begin to describe it. Sarah Winchester, widow to the rifle company giant and sole recipient of his estate built her house on over 160 acres of land, that’s about 80,000 square feet. She was apparently haunted by the unhappy ghosts of the people who died facing down the barrels of the lethal Winchester rifles. Her psychic told her the only way to have peace was to build a house that confused the spirits. So she did, for 30-some years, non-stop, 24 hours a day. There are over 100 rooms, three elevators, 42 fireplaces, and of course, 13 bathrooms. Thirteen was her magic number and can be seen in the number of candelabras on the chandeliers, in stained glass gems, etc., 13 is everywhere. Records state that the moment she finished one room, she would tear it down only to rebuild so that it would unknown to the spirits. She slept in a different room every night, much to the confusion of her servants. There are staircases that go to the ceiling, windows on the floor, closet doors that open to brick walls, secret passages, doors with knobs only on one side and a host of other oddities. There is also a room to nowhere that literally drops thirty feet out into the garden. She was very meticulous about the work and money was not a problem for her, so the wood work carvings, the stained glass, the molding on the ceilings were exquisite. Theodore Roosevelt heard of her construction and attempted to visit her estate, but he “did not have an appointment” and she refused to let him in the front door, instead she scolded him and told him to use the rear door, like all of her servants. Not surprisingly, he was a little offended and left without ever stepping foot inside. Aside from being more than a little disturbed, she was also brilliant and engineered running water and irrigation, electricity and an indoor buggy wash, which was unheard of at the turn of the century. The next time you go to wash your car and use the sprayer/wand that rotates from the ceiling, say a word of gratitude toward Sarah Winchester and her ingenuity, and perhaps a prayer that her soul may finally rest in peace, clearly she found none while living.
Well, that’s all she wrote folks. A little gift of brevity in contrast to the last enduring epic I posted…. Until next time….We’re headed to VEGAS baby! I’ll write again when we hit the jackpot or lose all our money, whichever comes first. Any bets?