Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to ME!!!

I love my birthday.   In fact, it’s my favorite day of the year.  I can make my birthday last a week, sometimes even a month.  I’ve planned lavish parties and weekends away, been feted by Sig Other with surprise parties and outrageous gifts.  But this year I made no plans.  This year I decided to lay low.  This year belonged to Child One’s graduation from high school, and 18th birthday and departure for college.  It belongs to Child Two as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah.  It belongs to the backyard remodel and to a busy work schedule.  It does not belong, I decided, to me.  And so I planned nothing.  But it turns out that even with no plans, even with no fancy invitation, no perfect plan, no elaborate announcement, my birthday was as good a day as any I could have imagined. 

Beta Dog woke me with plaintive love and urgent snuggling, Alpha Dog, as always, woke up needing to go to the vet.  Sig Other wowed me with the perfect gift, and the day continued with flowers to make a funeral home jealous, cakes and gifts and lovely phone calls. I got emails with hilarious poems and facebook posts from around the globe, a delicious dinner, far too much wine and sweet gifts from the children.  It was, all told, a perfect day.

And now it’s here – the 45th Year.  I’m halfway to ninety and still have yet to find a better name for this blog.  I have no fear of growing older.  No hesitation to share my true age.  No phobia related to the forward march of time.  I quite like it actually.  I revel in my older lady status.  I like being the wise old sage, the broad, the ol’ lady.  Notwithstanding posts about saggy arms and wrinkled skin, I have no complaints about the passage of time.  Thanks to all who made the transition to my next forty-five years a smooth one.  Happy Birthday to me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

We interrupt this roadtrip...

To bring you graduation. 

Child One, clinging desperately to her childhood, donned cap and gown and, in spite of tears and protestations, walked elegantly toward adulthood last night.  Ex-Wife and Sig Other’s work of almost eighteen years, mine of almost nine, culminated with more of a whimper than a bang.  Ceremony was sweet and heartfelt, too long and too short all at once.  The chubby little bouncy girl is now an elegant giraffe in diamonds and heels – all legs and smiles and tears.  We’ve done what we can.  She goes into the world a bright, educated, inquisitive human with purpose.  She is the future – a future focused on justice and ethical behavior and kindness.  The world is unquestionably a better place for having her in it. 

And yet I’m sure I’ve failed dramatically.  I’m sure she does not have the right tools to fend for herself.  I’m sure that with all of the private school education and intellectual athleticism, things very basic and banal have been washed over.  So I sat at graduation, pretending to listen to someone else’s child speak, and made a mental list of all the things I will review with her this summer: how to do laundry, the proper way to make a bed, the best tips for college grocery shopping and what to keep in the little dorm fridge, how much aspirin and vitamin B to take to avoid a hangover (though its unlikely this will be her issue).  I make this list and know she knows all of these things.  But I do it anyway as it soothes me and makes me feel somehow useful.  

Tomorrow we’ll wake at the crack of dawn to get back on the road for the last day of the ALC ride.  But today we are parents of a high school graduate.  Proud and a little melancholy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Road from Paso Robles to Santa Maria. Day Four.

Pismo Beach

Off the beaten path - Guadalupe, CA

Las Alamos, CA - south of Santa Maria

Wildflowers in Los Alamos

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I left my heart...

In King City?  


Oddly, since peeling out early yesterday morning, I’ve been thinking about King City.  One street, peuce hotel room, dusty little King City.  At 6:35am I kissed it goodbye in my rearview mirror.  Couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  But somehow, I can’t stop thinking about it – can’t stop thinking about how I mastered the town in three hours – how delicious the food was at the Guadalajara restaurant on the main drag – how perfect the smell of freshly popped popcorn in the tiny movie theater across the street – how singularly disgusting the restaurant/curio shop was next to the hotel.  Weirdly, I sort of fell in love with the place in less than 24 hours. 

Sig Other and I talked about this briefly – why it is that such a place should harbor such fondness.  Why I will drive back to Bradley, CA (population 120) to take photographs later today before heading out for the next stop.  Perhaps, we mused, it’s because places like Bradley and King City pretend to be nothing other than what they are – small, a little depressed, a little proud.  King City is authentic to its true self.  And that is what I liked about it.

I feel the same about big cities.  I’ve always been comfortable and happy in big cities – particularly a prideful, boasting, self-adoring city.  I adore London (which is advantageous as am there every other month or so).  And my love affair with Manhattan – loud, crazy, dirty, beautiful, bustling Manhattan - may never end, in spite of an acute awareness that the movie business fell out of love long ago and made its way west, abandoning the apple to Wall Street and its sycophantic cousins. 

I was, however, born with an aversion to suburbs – indecisive sprawls putting on airs of the big city but grasping for small town quaintness.  This is truly a case of nature vs nurture.  I was born in a suburb, raised in suburbs, had nothing horrific happen to me in suburbs.  My siblings don’t share my aversion.  Nor does my mother.  But I loathe them.  Loathe the middle-ness of it all, hovering someplace between the bustle and crackling energy of any big city and the quiet melody of true small town life. 

And yet I live – have lived for almost 25 years – in the greatest sprawl in the country.  I’ve never been in love with Los Angeles – not like Sig Other.  Sig Other LOVES Los Angeles – it is his home, his passion, his city.  I live there because I must.  My work is there.  My home is there.  I have found great things about my city – great food and culture and tucked away corners, great friends and hidden treasures and ways to get around traffic when I truly must. But deep down, if I could live anywhere, if Sig Other would pick up and leave with me, I wouldn’t choose LA.  I wouldn’t choose to live smack in the middle of indecisive sprawl.  I’d choose the city.  I’d choose the country.  I’d choose a place that sings in bold colors and proudly wears its identity whether great or small.  

And so I come back to thinking about King City as I head out on Day Four of the ride.  I’m in a sort of suburb now – a city grasping to hang on to its small town roots but losing the battle to housing developments and shopping malls.  And I’ll make my way to the next town – one caught between two worlds as this one is.  But I think I’ll take the back roads – think I’ll cling to the rural routes and keep the illusion a little longer that I’m on a road trip to a thousand King Cities and Bradleys and such…

Oh Mary!

5:02am on Day Four.  Sig Other is a bit sore and achy in anticipation of yet another century – the ride from Paso Robles to Santa Maria has two long, sloggy hills at the very beginning.  He layers well - the sun is well hidden behind a bank of coastal sludge and will likely remain so. He prepares for the day and I hear him mutter under his breath.  I lean in to hear him, worried that perhaps he’s getting run down from the ride or is in pain and not admitting it – worried I’ll hear about an aching back or pulled muscle.  But what I hear is this: “that bitch better leave me a lone today.”

I know what “bitch” he means. He means the rider who thinks his friend Mark is his lover and feels that Mark somehow dissed him. I know this because yesterday, when I met Sig Other on the road for lunch, I overheard the following:

 “That queen is after you, my friend.”  “I know.  She is way into my shit.” “Oh yeah, girl.  You know she is.”  “If she comes after me…”

Its true that Sig Other has always had a gift for acclimating – you can take him anywhere – cocktail party, football game, museum or campground and whether he is actually comfortable or not, he will find a way to speak the vernacular, to fit right in, to become the hit of the party.  So I’m not SURPRISED really that he’s found both friends and enemies on the ride.  But it’s a little weird to hear your 6’4” tough Israeli husband refer to another man as “her” or “that bitch” or “Mary.”  It's a little weird to hear other men refer to your husband as "girl" and watch them flirt with him.  It's a little weird to hear them offer to loan him an outfit for red tutu day tomorrow.  Or maybe it's not.  Maybe it’s just another day on the road…

Day Three - King City to Paso Robles

The day began at 4:30am in great haste to depart King City for greener pastures.  Long day meant late posts so apologies for posting images from Day Three on Day Four...  More to come.

State park in King City - just before rideout.  6:15am

Lunch on the road.  BBQ in Bradley, CA.  Population 120.

Road between Bradley and Paso Robles

Paso farm.

Post ride visit to the beach.

Seagulls at San Simeon

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Princess Plan

AIDS Lifecycle riders fall into two basic categories: those who are on the regular program who check their bikes, eat meals with the group and sleep in camp in tents like this:

Tents sleep two people each – tent mates are assigned at check-in unless you’re traveling as a couple or with a friend.  You pack your own gear, are responsible for set up each day after the ride and break down each morning before ride out.  Shower facilities are portable trucks that travel from camp to camp.

And then there's the Princess Plan.  The Princess Plan allows riders who are a little more, um, persnickety, to stay in the hotel of their choice along the route.  Obviously at additional cost and slight additional hassle as the P-Plan requires someone willing to pick you up from camp, take you to your hotel, drive you back in the morning, etc.  In some cases, riders use taxis.  In some, they have friends in each town who are thrilled to see them and support their efforts.  And in Sig Other’s case, there’s me - his personal soigner.

The Princess Plan started perfect enough.  No complaints from rider OR soigner about the bed at the Four Seasons.  Santa Cruz proved equally pleasant though in a sort of funky beach motel sort of way:

And then came King City.

This is the stop I’d been dreading all ride – the stop I knew would be challenging both in terms of accommodations and cuisine.  I was prepared for Deliverance.  But somehow, even the anticipation of a dingy fleabag motel could not prepare me for the smell – the smell of disinfectant on musty carpet and lit up by fluorescence.  There is no smell like the smell of a cheap motel.  No color like the green of a shiny cotton bedspread under buzzing ceiling lights that turn on and off with motion detector timers.  And no sound like the sound of a room facing the highway with only a gas station between to cut the hum of cars speeding by, headed for destinations better than this. 

Somehow, the Princess Plan landed me in the middle of a Sam Shepard play – sort of sweaty and dirty and not at all sexy though I do have a craving for long pull off a frosty bottle of beer and a sudden urge to suck mightily on a cigarette.  Perhaps Sig Other can skip the showers and throw on a wife-beater and a pair of torn Levis to complete the picture.

Welcome to King City.  Welcome to the Princess Plan.  What I would give to be in camp, cozy in a sleeping bag, sharing a tent with a snoring stranger…

Day Two Continued - Salinas to King City

Farm outside of Salinas

Road to King City - slightly off the beaten path

Tonight's entertainment

Day Two - Santa Cruz to King City

Santa Cruz Pier at dawn.

Santa Cruz coastline

Santa Cruz - Natural Bridges State Beach

6:23am - Camp before rideout

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day One - San Francisco to Santa Cruz

Boardwalk - Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Pier

On the road...

Sig Other Rides Out...

There is a preponderance of homosexuals here...

Our regularly scheduled program of introspection and musings regarding step-parenting and middle-aged sex is interrupted in honor of the tenth annual AIDS/Lifecycle ride and my chronicling thereof.  Sig Other announced several months ago that he would be embarking on this weeklong adventure and it never occurred to me at the time that either a) it would actually come about or b) I’d be roped in.  But suddenly there we were, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco – standing in line after line to prepare Sig Other for the 545-mile ride. I will not be joining on two wheels.  Rather, I will follow on four – playing unofficial “soigner” on Sig Other’s ride.  We walk toward registration and Sig Other notes with some surprise, “there is a preponderance of homosexuals here.”  Yes, I remind him.  This is, after all, an AIDS ride.

Sig Other is not homophobic.  But he is filter free.  Five minutes in and already he is wandering around the Cow Palace saying things like, “this is SO gay” and “there are a lot of gays here.” Generally, Sig Other likes to think of himself as living in a “post gay world” – a world in which labels are unnecessary and equal rights prevail for all.  Of course, that is NOT the world we live in.  And in our world, our gay friends are denied basic rights – the right to get married, etc.  So Sig Other is riding in support of a cure for a disease that, without activism, would have otherwise gone unexplored.   Sig Other was aggressive and successful in his fundraising – he’s in the top 10 percent of donors on the ride.  He cares about justice and ethical behavior and feels a responsibility to do tzedakah.  But what he LOVES is riding.  What he loves is the bond between bikers, the obsession of the road.  I remind him, as he wanders and makes his comments, that in fact he would have been just as happy riding in support of virulent toe fungus were that a cause he could raise money for.  But as this is for AIDS, he should be aware that there will in fact be a number of gay people present and not all will share my deep appreciation of his filter-free style.

As much as Sig Other loves riding, he has an equal and opposite response to large groups – large groups make him a bit queasy.  Large groups of people ordered from one area to another, standing in lines and shuffling about make him feel that he’s reliving a scene out of Schindler’s List.  He bore up well through the first hour or so of registration - 2500 people going from medical check to e-ticket to the waiting area for the orientation/safety video.  I, on the other hand, was starting to feel like one of the cows for which the palace (a misnomer if ever there was one) was named.  We waited on cold concrete in what looks like a cavernous metal barn, were herded from one line to the next, from waiting area into the video room.  Doors closed, we were seated, asked to turn off our cell phones and told that if we left the room for any reason during the video we’d forfeit the bright orange wristbands proving we’d seen the video and have to start over from the beginning.  That’s when Sig Other leaned over to me and whispered, “See - this is when they turn the gas on.” 

Sig Other rode out first thing this morning.  With his friends Mark and Max and 2500 others.  I’ll meet them at their first stop in Santa Cruz later today.  More then…

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Berries and cream please.

Child One did not like me when we first met.  Child Two takes every opportunity to remind me of this.  It gives him great pleasure.  “Maybe,” Child One said to me last night, ”it was because you tried to serve me strawberries with balsamic and basil instead of sugar and whipped cream.  I was only ten.  Who serves a ten year old their strawberries with balsamic?”  I remind her then she was not exactly a typical ten year old and already had a remarkably sophisticated palate.  She considers a moment, agrees and says perhaps she’ll try it again soon.

This observation did not come out of nowhere.  We had come home late from a movie, both starving, and I’d whipped up a quick dinner of scrambled eggs with shaved ricotta salata and sautéed baby zucchini with fresh sage.  For dessert, she grabbed a nectarine from the fruit bowl and asked if I thought it would be good.  “Better,” I said, “with a drizzle of thick balsamic and some chopped mint.”  That’s when she wrinkled her sweet nose and reminded me of the berries.

Once or twice, when the reminder comes that Child One did not, in fact, like me when we first met, I suggest that perhaps her not liking me had nothing to do with me.  She did not like the girlfriend that came before me (nor did I for that matter), or the one before that.  I suggest that perhaps ANY girlfriend who would come into her father’s life would not be received with open arms – that the girlfriend would be a threat to her own relationship with her father and a threat to the possibility that Sig Other and Ex Wife would reunite.  Child One dismisses this without a thought, “No,” she says, “I didn’t like you but that’s not why.  Maybe because you were bossy and I was afraid of you.”  She pauses there.  I agree with her.  I tell her I agree with her.  And then she continues, “But now I’m sort of bossy too and I love you so much!”  We laugh and leave it at that.

But I know – I will always know – why Child One didn’t like me.  I know and will always know why, even now that she truly does love me, she will remember those first years as difficult and fraught.  No child wants a third parent.  No girl child wants a woman to threaten her special relationship with daddy.  No boy child wants a woman to take his mother’s place.  These delicate relationships – the tenuous spiderweb dance we do as blended families – take constant attention – constant observation – which child is comfortable – which is feeling insecure – which is taking advantage, and which simply does not like balsamic on her strawberries and would prefer a simple serving with sugar and cream…