Category Travel

London Bound!

People often ask where the next big trip will be, and unless I’ve already booked something, I generally don’t have an answer–if I see a flight deal too good to pass up and the timing works out, that’s what’s next. So far, it’s proven easier than having a destination in mind and waiting for a reasonably priced airline ticket. This time happened to be a screaming deal to London with a stopover in Iceland on the way back. I’ve just recently offered myself up as a travel buddy for friends, so I’m open to whatever comes down the pike that way as well. Maybe it’ll be something I wouldn’t have ordinarily gravitated towards–maybe it’ll be awesome!

London flights booked, thus began my usual obsession with not being immediately identified as an American abroad: I had plans for dressing better, speaking more quietly, and trying to cut down on that full on beaming smile I shoot at everyone because apparently that is a Peak American thing to do. I bought a smart new coat, didn’t pack anything with an overt barbeque stain, and practiced a refined, gentle glower. Resting British Face, you might call it.

Then, I booked a tour online and had to do a follow up via phone and the second that British accent wafted out of the earpiece, I realized that I might as well speak to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy, because I wasn’t going to be fooling anyone into thinking I belonged.

Our flight into London Heathrow was delayed for several hours due to that infamous London fog, which was fine. The only downside was that those hours were spent in the plane on the tarmac, but it also meant that I wouldn’t have to wander around London for hours with my luggage before I was able to check in to the flat I’d rented. Getting through customs was easy and figuring out the tube was easy. I’ve got to say, though, as a welcome to the city, the Picadilly line train seats could stand to be a lot more appealing. I don’t know how to say this in a polite way, so here’s the impolite way: they’re gross. Gross. It feels like when you sit down, you’re squishing into every single fart that every Londoner has blasted into it. I know that not every single seat must have a mysterious stain, but when I picture the Picadilly line trains, I see saggy seats with mysterious stains as far as the eye can see. I did, however, appreciate every single time I was informed my train was bound toward Cockfosters, because I have the sense of humor of a twelve year old.

I found a reasonably priced AirBnB in Paddington, which isn’t London’s most exciting neighborhood, but it was close to three tube stations and was also available, unlike 90% of the flats that showed up when I searched with my date range. I panic booked this place, is what I’m saying, as it was one of two available properties and the one that didn’t require me to buy some sort of prepaid electric/gas card to keep the lights on, because that is the last shit on Earth I want to have to figure out when I’m exhausted from traveling. I don’t even like those room key light switches, don’t make me fumble around a strange room in the dark, don’t make me deal with bureaucracy when I know where literally nothing is or what it’s called.

There was a lot of confusion when we arrived to the address listed–the instructions said to go to an office (no address, just ‘the office’), so I popped into the nearest office to the flat and asked if they did AirBnB rentals. They did do rentals, just not our rental, but it took us several very confusing minutes to figure it out. Once we did, I had no choice but to pull out my phone and call (ugh) the renter. Their office was down half a block and across the street, so the odds were slim that I would have found it on my own. It was then that they told me the unit that I rented wasn’t available because of some toilet issues*, but they had another flat nearby to put us in. 

It was a small basement flat, cozy and entirely suitable considering how inexpensive it was and how little time I planned to spend there. The bed really sucked, though–I could feel each individual spring coiling at various places beneath my body, resentful and full of malice. The bed screamed in protest when we got in or out, demanding to either be allowed to murder our backs or be let alone. Over the course of the stay, we developed various nicknames for the bed: Beelzebed, the stab slab, the ouch couch. Even accounting for the bed, the bathroom was the worst part. The sink dripped constantly. The shower head dripped constantly and couldn’t be on the wall when the shower was running or it would twist itself round and blast the entire bathroom with water. The upper walls, ceiling, and grout were all moldy, and after using the shower, I have a good idea as to how they got that way. Still, a flat was better than no flat, and this one came with a compact washer/dryer as well so I was able to pack half the clothing I would have otherwise.

When we arrived, I was essentially dead on my feet, so we rested a bit before heading out to wander around Paddington to find food and buy toiletries to set us up for our stay. The first pub we tried was full to bursting, but luckily, all you need to do to find a pub in London is point in a general direction, take twelve steps, and you’re there. We ate and had a pint at Sawyer’s Arms–Jason opted for fish & chips, and I had a braised beef and bone marrow pie, or rather, we shared the pie, as Jason kept snaking his fork across the table for rogue pie bites. It was very good–rich pastry crust filled with steak and onions, with beef dripping gravy on the side for additional cold weather fortification. Afterward, we bought shampoo and other necessities at Boots–their automatic checkout machines end every transaction with “Thank you for shopping at Boots”, and the small space and relatively long line meant that every step, every gesture, every thought is punctuated by “Thank you for shopping at Boots. Thank you for shopping at Boots. Thank you for shopping at Boots.”

On our way back to the flat, someone stopped me and asked for directions. Bless you, lady. I have no idea where I am, I’m not from around here.

 

*I know you’re thinking “bait and switch” but the original flat was a basement flat as well so I don’t think I ended up any worse off and, frankly, I was just thankful to not have to try and figure out a new place to stay.

The Elk Bugling Tour at NW Trek

I could practically hear the bloodlust in their voices. It was early morning, and I was sitting in a tram at Northwest Trek with Jason and about ten other people, waiting for the elk bugling tour to begin. We were the easily the youngest people there by decades, and also the only ones not wearing camouflage. As the morning mists swirled about the tram, inside, discussions swirled about the various forest animals the other riders had killed and failed to kill and wanted to kill in the future. Perhaps I was misinformed about the nature of this tour–were they going to let us out at the back end of the park, first one back to the gate dragging a carcass wins? Surely not.

But neither was it going to be what I had pictured: a steady train ride through a quiet forest, elk bugles shivering in the distance, while everyone winked at one another about the saucy time they must be having and sipped mimosas. I was wrong about everything, most woefully about the mimosas. 

It also wasn’t a train ride. Northwest Trek has 435 acres of free range land for its grazing herds (bison, elk, moose, bighorn, blacktailed deer, mountain goats), with roads running throughout, accessible by their tram. They call it a tram, but it’s not like any tram I’ve ever ridden–since there’s no guiding rail above or below, I’m not quite certain what makes it a tram. I suppose the fact that a “bus with the windows open” tour doesn’t sound as pleasant as a tram ride has something to do with it. Terminology aside, the series of roads meant we were able to go to the animals wherever they were on the property. Occasionally, one of the keepers would radio in with a hot tip, and off we’d go, careening around corners to find them. As I mentioned, we were primarily there for the rut–the elk breeding season when males challenge one another for control of harems of females. If we were particularly lucky, we’d get to see some sparring behavior as well. 

To encourage the males to sound, the tram driver would play a recording of their bugle. It sounded like a disgusted ghost trapped in a trombone: oooooo-wheeeeeeeeeee-ah! Ew ew ew!  I think the elk at Northwest Trek are on to this tactic, because they did not show much interest in reciprocating with bugles of their own, for a musical ghost throwdown that the ladies couldn’t resist. For further encouragement, people on the tram began using their own special elk calls. Because with the exception of Jason and myself, and I am not exaggerating, everyone on the tram had their own special vocal elk lure. Everyone. From a dying frog in a windstorm to fart sounds through cupped hands, they all had a method to lure the beast’s head into their laps. Not wanting to feel left out, I quickly devised my own. “Hey Carl! Hey Bob! How ya doin?” For some reason, my best efforts went unanswered. We did get some reedy replies eventually, and in the meanwhile, I got to hear a lot of exciting jokes about how the women should know their place, because the general public can just never get enough of those old wifekneeslappers, evidently.

I didn’t lie about the camo, but I assume you thought I did.

NW Trek feeds them on the roads because otherwise why in the hell would they hang out near the road? They wouldn’t. This bighorn is trying to bleat at us through a mouthful of grain and looks uncannily like me whenever I end up at a party around people I don’t know and the only time they ever ask me anything is the second I take a particularly dry bite, followed by internal panicking at how long it’s taking me to chew and swallow and not wanting to keep people waiting (RUDE!) but not wanting to talk with my mouth full (RUDE!) and the horrible compromise is that I take too long to answer and also my mouth is still kind of full so I mumble behind my hand some dumb answer that wasn’t worth waiting for. Why am I not good at networking events? IT’S A MYSTERY.

So I was definitely ready to be off the tram by the time the tour finished and away from these hootin’ hollerin’ presumably gun-toting senior citizens. Fun fact: according to NW Trek’s website, many things are prohibited inside the park, including the aforementioned mimosas, drones, balloons, segways, barbeques, but somehow, firearms are missing, which seems like a big oversight for a business centered around tours of game animals. Just sayin’. 

NW Trek also has a small zoo with natural-ish enclosures along a walking path, featuring animals native to the NW forests. Also along this path are trailside encounters, where keepers handle and answer questions about an animal so people can see them up close. The two I saw were with an opossum and a slug, respectively, and not to brag, but with regards to the latter, I have to say I see slugs up close and at a distance quite frequently as I pick them out of my garden and huck them over the back fence so they can eat the county’s weeds instead of mine. It’s a rare and privileged experience, I know. Be on the lookout for my upcoming memoir, Banana Slugs in the Mist.

I’m stupid about wild animals, because a lifetime of Disney movies has indoctrinated me into believing that if I go walking out into some strange forest and need help, I’ll soon be making some animal friends. I’ve previously discussed how huggable I feel bears to be, and now these freaking wolves at NW trek just look like cute floofy white puppies to me. I took a video of them and realized I was making smoochy sounds to get their attention. The attention of a predator. If I go walking out in some strange forest and need help, I’m doomed. Especially if I try to lure over an elk friend with my newly-learned calls.

Velveteria Los Angeles

Welcome to Velveteria. Formally, the Velveteria Epicenter of Art Fighting Cultural Deprivation, but just plain Velveteria is fine. Though there’s nothing plain about this place, as is evident immediately. 

I was able to ascertain that a tour was in progress when I arrived, so I settled in the lobby and had a look around. “Welcome, come in for a life changing experience without walking on hot coals.” read a hand-written sign. “Admission $10.” Another, located on a tray of souvenir lapel buttons reads “Flair. $2. Choose responsibly.” I did, selecting a tiny button featuring a teacup chihuahua relaxing inside a teacup with its elbow resting jauntily on the edge, a golden halo around its head. 

The lobby’s walls were filled floor to ceiling with paintings of varied technical ability and subject matter. There’s the larger version of that teacup dog. Danny Trejo brandishes a machete that has three tacos carefully balanced atop. Dame Edna in a “The Scream” themed dress, her pose mimicking that of the screamer(s). Beneath them all is a worn light pink velvet couch, strewn with personal items: a tablet, sunglasses, mail, and a “Velveteria” branded pink ball cap. On one wall hung an obscuring bright pink crushed velvet curtain, behind which the museum officially began. 

Eventually, Velveteria owner Carl Baldwin joined me in the lobby to take my money and teach me the finer points of velvet artistry and show me the highlights of his collection. After swiping my card, Carl’s eyes narrowed and he looked at me quizically. “Have we met before?” Sadly, no, I just have one of those generic, vaguely familiar, distinctly Midwestern faces. He treated me like a friend regardless, led me through the velvet curtain, and gave me the grand tour. 

When you hear the term “velvet painting”, no doubt your mind immediately turns to images of sad clowns and Elvises (Elvii?). And undoubtedly, a lot of those exist. Elvis even has his own tiny wing of Velveteria, crooning and pouting around an Elvis tiki statue. Although that style of velvet painting became popularized in the United States in the 1950s, primarily via tourism to Mexico, painting on black velvet has a recorded practice as long ago as the late 1200s, when Marco Polo reported having seen black velvet paintings in India–but surely the practice is older, as it likely didn’t burst into existence for the Marco Polo tourism market. Many countries have a history of including plush fabric in their art, notably, Japan, where artists would shave down the pile to give their paintings a three dimensional quality. Carl proudly showed me one such piece in his collection. The detail is painstaking.

The quality of the art behind the curtain also varies in technical ability, but some appear to have been nigh-equally painstakingly executed. Black velvet tricks the eye: because it’s so pure black, it absorbs the light that strikes it. Paint on it with pure white, and you have a full dynamic range in between to play with. A little dry brush action and suddenly there’s a range of greys. In black velvet painting, you paint on the light and as a result, the subjects can appear luminous, whether they’re Yoda, Batboy, or especially Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and James Dean, racing across the sky on a trio of matched flying unicorns.

Velveteria has around 450 paintings on display from a collection greater than 3,000, and many of these paintings have a story. There are vintage works, there are commissioned works, there are pieces left behind from the black velvet painting classes at the shop. Many are for sale, but not all: the true rarities remain part of Velveteria’s permanent collection, such as the paintings that incorporate cutouts that are lit from behind with lamp bulbs. As in the lobby, every inch of wall real estate is accounted for, floor to ceiling, including the hallways and the restroom, where a devilish Anthony Bourdain smokes a cigarette and perches on the porcelain throne, while Oprah looms overhead with a sign proclaiming this room “Oprah’s Think Tank”. Another room is dedicated to black light paintings. Yet another is wholly cheesecake velvet, tantalizing behind a gauzy curtain which acts as a filmy négligée for the subjects within. 

You’ve likely heard more than a few jokes about velvet art being the lowest art form–if you’re in LA, swing by the Velveteria and challenge that notion.

Happy Place Los Angeles

In early December, someone shared a link on Facebook to the new Los Angeles pop-up museum, Happy Place. It was one of those made-for-Insta places where the whole point of the thing was to get whimsical photos to share on social media, with the tagline “find your happy place” and for some reason, it sucked me right in. Jason had been encouraging me to take some trips on my own, and this is the sort of thing he would more tolerate than enjoy, so it seemed like a good opportunity to dip my toes into the water of solo travel. I bought a ticket for one of the only dates in January on which they had a ticket available, found a cheap flight for a day trip to LA, and prepared to find my happy place. 

So, of course, not long before my trip, I got an email from Happy Place “reminding” me that the museum would be closed on the date on which I’d bought my ticket. What?! I checked my inbox to see if I’d missed any earlier messages: nope. Nice, guys. Thanks for the awesome communication. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY. Later that day, I received another email stating that after “tireless work trying to gain the necessary approvals to get re-opened, it is clear at this time that the needed steps will not be complete until after the holiday season at the earliest.” In other words, they’d been shut down by the city. Great. Great. Evidently their person in charge of the permitting process was just as capable at their job as the one assigned to email. 

Well, I was not about to let some bullshitty “museum” I never should have purchased a ticket for in the first place ruin my day trip, and thus I visited Los Angeles determined to find my own happy place. I did do some preliminary research (I don’t know if I’m capable of full spontaneity) and determined that if I wasn’t going to rent a car, taking the flyaway bus was my best option. While I waited for my bus, a number of other buses and shuttles came and went, including some shabby vans supposedly bound for Disneyland but looked like a one way ride to Murderville. One of them had “Mickey sent me” written on the side, which didn’t so much evoke the warm umbrella of Disney so much as the stranger who pulls up next to your elementary school, rolls down his window, and says your mom sent him to come get you. Nope, not today, buddy. Especially if you don’t have candy OR puppies.

Waiting with me was an elderly woman, who asked me about my plans and told me all about her granddaughter, who she said is first clarinet for the John Williams orchestra, and that he’s a delight to work for. Cool, right? Before I could ask her a million more questions, her bus arrived, and she thanked me for the conversation. No, thank YOU, ma’am. 

My fly away bus finally arrived, and I took the one headed to Hollywood. Not because I particularly wanted to go to Hollywood (I’ve been. A few times.) but because it was the sort-of closest stop that would put me within walking distance of the places I wanted to start my day. So of course immediately after arrival, I put off my other plans and had pie for breakfast at The Pie Hole. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all. 

I had a nitro cold brew and a warm strawberry lavender hand pie. The crust on the hand pie is just meh, but the other flavors were on point, and I was glad to have some food in my belly before I proceeded on foot to my next destination, which was about an hour walk away. I briefly considered hanging around Hollywood until the Museum of Death opened, but since the day was about pleasing myself and not the harsh realities of life, I decided to give it a pass this time. And last time. And maybe I’ll just keep passing even though people keep recommending it to me. Either way, I knew that having a bunch of strawberry goo churning around in my insides while looking at gore wasn’t going to do me any favors. 

While out on my walk, I was stopped by a queen and asked if I had a dollar to spare for breakfast, saying she’d had a rough holiday. I told her I could do better than a dollar and gave her enough for breakfast. She pulled me in for a hug, told me I’d made her day, and that if I ever needed anything and saw her around the neighborhood, her name was Jasmine. 

Here’s some stuff I saw on my walk:

I have to assume that the reason it’s a gym for actors is that there is no gym equipment so one has to be adept at pretending one is getting a good workout.

I finally made it to my first destination: The Never Open Store. This place has notoriously unusual hours and equally notoriously unusual things for sale, but was, when I arrived, not open, with no indication that it would be opening soon, as the hands on the clock on their door were conspicuously missing. I’m not saying I needed an opium jar, but it would’ve been nice to have a look. 

Around the back side of the Never Open Store were a lot of different pieces of street art. I walked around the back of the block and circled around, because there was another place I wanted to visit, directly across the street: Gallery 1988. There were a few prints I was debating online and I was hoping to have an opportunity to look at them in person before I made a decision. Unfortunately, I caught them between shows and they, too, were closed. Siiiiigh. So I was thankful that I knew my next destination, about another mile away, was definitely open.

If there’s not, you’re in the wrong place.

I dig this bush a lot, it looks like it moved out of an ocean bed into someone’s front lawn. I’m thinking it’s a foxtail fern

That destination was ScentBar Hollywood. No one could have predicted when I was kid that I would grow up to be a complete and utter perfume hoor, considering I used to get a migraine whenever anyone with heavily-applied scent would walk by. Either I’ve built up a tolerance, or the choking oriental cloud style of the 80s has fallen out of favor, but I haven’t experienced a scent trigger for ages. It’s fun to dabble in scent, and there’s so much to try in the world of niche perfumes and oils. I’ve been buying little samples from LuckyScent for years, because the descriptions almost always suck me in, but I’m not always thrilled by the scents themselves, and who wants to splurge big bucks on a bottle of scent that they don’t like? ScentBar is one of LuckyScent’s physical locations, and I was excited to have this opportunity to go in and sniff ALL the perfumes I’d been intrigued by online and some I’d never considered. ScentBar also offers up to four samples free of charge, so in addition to a small bottle of scent I’d been eyeing for a while, I was able to walk out with four new things to try: Hummingbird (the floralest floral to ever floral), Kismet (recommended to me as an ambery vanilla that doesn’t read too gourmand), Confessions of a Garden Gnome (green and playful), and La Danza Delle Libellule, which is honestly something I never would have reached for based on its notes (apple? fruity? Naaaaaah) but I fell in love with at one sniff, because it smells like a warm secret garden where everything good lives. Which just goes to show me that I don’t always know what I’ll like, so I shouldn’t write things off before trying them.

After ScentBar, it was time for lunch, and there was no place I wanted to eat lunch more than Trejo’s Tacos. I once received a book as a gift that was essentially making fun of actors’ headshots–very “look at how stupid this person is, wanting to be a star”. It was deeply cruel, and I remember seeing Danny Trejo’s photo inside, so literally every time I see him in a movie or a show I am completely stoked for him. I’m also stoked that he was able to take his new fame and turn it into six thriving restaurants. 

When I arrived, I ordered a jackfruit taco, a carnitas taco, the street corn appetizer, and a strawberry lemon agua fresca, and I took a seat outside, because being able to eat outside in January is peak Happy Place. 

The street corn was charred grilled corn with a chipotle cream and popcorn, and it was totally bomb. The popcorn was a surprising element but it worked. The standout, however, was by far the jackfruit taco. I’d heard that cooked jackfruit takes on a texture like pulled pork, and that it soaks up the flavor of everything around it, much like tofu, but I don’t know that I believed it. Well baby, I’m a believer now. The cooked jackfuit was shockingly meatlike. Juicy, flavorful, delicious. I vastly preferred it to the carnitas taco–the pork was a tad dry and had me looking around for salsa or hot sauce. The jackfruit taco needed nothing because it was everything. EVERYTHING.

This was across the street from Trejo’s Tacos, I wonder how many of these pink signs to God there are throughout the city?

After lunch, I made my way to Velveteria, a museum dedicated to black velvet paintings, located in Chinatown. This place deserves its own post, and it’s going to have one later this week. Watch for it! In brief: it’s weird and great and everything I hoped it would be.

From Chinatown, I made my way to Culver City, primarily because I wanted to be closer to the airport as my time grew short. I had fun just walking around, checking out some more street art, peeping in some more shop windows, and eventually ending up at Coolhaus, a super premium ice cream shop. I’d tried one of their frozen ice cream sandwiches from their grocery store line and was really unimpressed, but I also think it’s difficult to translate that fresh ice cream sandwich experience into a prepack, so I wanted to give the original a try. Verdict? Much, much tastier, particularly their ice cream. I tried their brown butter french toast ice cream (aces) and their churro cookie dough (even better), but their cookies leave something to be desired, and overall, I still think The Baked Bear is a better place to get your ice cream sandwich fix. 

I’m certain I saw a piece by the same artist in Iceland!

And then it was time to head back to the airport, where I finished the excellent book I was reading and met an aspiring novelist who bought me a drink and regaled me with the tales of her past twenty-two days in Mazatlan.

There’s no denying that I was pretty ticked off when my reason for purchasing nonrefundable airline tickets was going to be closed, but ultimately, I’m glad, because I’m certain that I had a much better time carving out my own happy place than I would have had there. I also learned that I do well traveling by myself, and that if I have a problem, I can figure it out. I also learned that people talk to me a lot more when I’m alone, which I’m generally down with, because I’m interested in people. Overall, I’m declaring this experiment a success and am looking forward to booking more impulse flights!

Hiking Point Defiance Park

This December, we bought Jason a new (used) car, because you could hear his old junktrap Saturn squealing down the street from a block away, its bumper held on with a bit of string, the oil puddle in the garage growing into a horrible pond. It was ridiculous, and we were both determined to get him into something that was less likely to heave a sigh and collapse in the middle of the freeway. Ultimately, we bought a Mini Cooper. It had some flaws in the chrome pieces surrounding the headlight and taillight, and since it was certified and the trim should have been pristine, they gave us a thirty day IOU to replace them.

When replacement day rolled around, they gave me a new Mini to tool around in until the work was done, and since it was a gorgeous day, I decided to go to Point Defiance Park and walk around. 

I parked near Owen beach and climbed the staircase back up to five mile loop road, backtracking to the rhododendron garden. I started wandering the trails and found myself on this absolutely magical moss pathway: 

How is it even possible that this didn’t lead to a witches’ hut?

While the branches here don’t sigh as heavily with mosses as the ones at the Olympic National Rainforest, it’s a close thing. Even in the winter, with dead leaves carpeting the ground, this place is verdant and full of life. Very few other people, however, so I almost shrieked a couple of times when someone I had been unaware of suddenly passed me by because I had been looking too intently at my camera and too deep in podcast land to sense their presence. I might as well wear a sign on my back that says “Murder me“. 

What a neat mushroom!

Olympic mountain range

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Speaking of getting murdered out in the woods somewhere, I misinterpreted the map and ended up getting a little lost. Not, like, “oh shit I need some survival skills alone out in the wilderness for 72 hours” kind of lost but more like “this road keeps splitting and somehow every fork is marked with the fort going one way and the zoo going another but I never arrive at either”. If I only had access to those signs, it could have turned into the former kind of lost situation, but thankfully T-Mobile’s coverage has improved since I switched to them and I was able to use GPS to figure out that I was nowhere near where I thought I was. 

Once I had that information, I was able to orient myself back on the path toward Owen beach, and took myself out for a celebratory “I didn’t get myself killed out in the woods” lunch at Duke’s Chowder House. This wild salmon with goat cheese and blueberries was so good, and while I’m still iffy about mixing cheese and seafood (probably from hearing it my whole life and not because I’ve had a particularly heinous cheese seafood experience), the tangy goat cheese paired beautifully with the flaky, rich salmon, the balsamic blueberries a burst of earthy summer on a cold winter’s day. A window seat with a beautiful view of the sound was the cherry on top. 

I can’t believe how long I’ve lived in this area and had never been to this park before. I’ll have to make it a point to go back during the other seasons to see how it changes–maybe I can twist Mini’s arm into giving me a loaner for oil changes.

The Bestest Beach Weekend for the Bestest Boy

In late September, I knew my time with Napoleon was coming to an end. His dementia was starting to take a toll–he was withdrawing from us, he lost interest in toys and playtime, he would get lost in the house, he would pace the hall at night. It was hard to watch him slipping away from us, and after a lot of talking and crying, we made the decision to euthanize him at home before things progressed to the point where he was having more bad days than good. It was a hard choice, and I questioned my decision nigh-relentlessly. 

But before that, we decided to take him on a weekend trip. He was in heaven the last time we took him to the ocean, so we decided to go to the beach, so we could walk him out on the sand as much as he wanted to. We stayed at the Hallmark Resort Cannon Beach, because I had a wonderful experience with them last year in Newport, and remembered that they had this second location and were dog-friendly.  We arrived late in the evening on Friday, and this was waiting on check-in:

Awwwwww!

Napoleon was a bit agitated that night–it could be that it was an unfamiliar place, it could be the dementia, but I’m pretty sure it was that he knew we were at the flippin’ ocean and hadn’t gone out to it yet, gigantic staircase and pitch darkness be damned. So we were up at the crack of dawn for our first beach walk. 

We rushed down the stairs and finally, finally, we were at the beach. Which we immediately charged across to solve The Problem Of A Rock With A Moat Around It, at least until we got distracted by a bird.

I don’t believe I was aware that Jason was recording this but now I’m glad he did.

Damn, I love the Oregon coast. 

After we tuckered Napodog out with a morning walk after his all nighter ocean anticipatory vigil, we packed him in the car and headed to Tillamook for a grilled cheese and some ice cream, some of which we shared with the pup and some which we did not, because the goal was to give him an exciting, happy experience, not churn his guts like so much rich creamery butter. He had many admirers on the Tillamook patio seating area, which helped to assuage his sense of hurt justice that somehow his cute face did not warrant an entire grilled cheese sandwich plus everyone else’s sandwiches as well.

After filling ourselves full-to-bursting, we headed back in the direction of our hotel on a different route, one that went through Rockaway Beach. I remembered from on our previous trip up 101, we were going to route through Rockaway Beach and stop at Pronto Pup, purportedly the inventors of the corn dog. That trip, however, we rerouted to save time after Tillamook since driving on the coast loses its appeal at night, and thus never made it to that stretch of road. This time we were gonna stop, no matter how full. Jason and I rode their mechanical corn dog, and then sat out in the sunshine with our dog, waiting for our other dog to be ready. 

The corn dog was excellent, and I have no problem crowning it as the best corn dog I have ever eaten, and I have eaten many an encased meat that has been battered and then deep fried. Still groaning from too much ice cream, however, a bite was all I tried. Napoleon had no such issues and also found it to be an excellent corn dog, though I’m not personally certain of his ranking system since I once saw this dog poop out an unused tampon and furthermore once engaged in a week long battle to acquire a corn cob he’d stolen from the trash and ate and threw up repeatedly, immediately eating it to begin the cycle again. “Leap towards the vomit with your bare hands” is probably not going to be the party game sensation of 2018, or ever. 

Napoleon also made friends at Pronto Pup, with several people coming by to pet him and tell him what a good boy he was. I was still having some trouble with my decision and was always struck by the weird impulse to tell people that our time with him was ending soon. I honestly can’t remember if I told anyone or if I managed to squelch it down to that place where all of my dumb impulses live, but I have to assume that it was coming from a place where I wanted them to appreciate even more what a good boy he was–how soft, how nice, how smart. I do remember that several of the people who approached us and asked to pet him mentioned that they’d lost dogs recently and my heart broke for them*. 

From Rockaway Beach, we drove back to the hotel and walked from there into the cute downtown area of Cannon Beach. We did some window shopping and some actual shopping, and we opted to walk back to the hotel via the beach–the mist had burned off since our morning walk and it had turned into a truly gorgeous day.  

His little paw prints are glowing as he walks toward the light and I definitely cut some onions while going through these photos.

After our walk back, we rested again in the hotel room until closer to sunset, when we headed back down to the beach. (So. many. stairs.) Our hotel was right across the beach from Haystack Rock, and a fair amount of people had gathered to watch the sunset, which is actually pretty special. We live in this world with so much entertainment and yet we gather with strangers to watch something that’s happened every single day of our lives and will never stop being beautiful. 

There’s this little gap at the base of Haystack rock, and at sunset, the light flashing and flickering inside gives the appearance of the wall being painted in gold. Napoleon, for his part, was way more interested in the activity on the beach than any glowy cave. 

Eventually we retreated to the beach chairs and watched the last of the sun slip over the horizon. Unfortunately, watching that late sunset meant that our options for patio dining (which was a must, given the presence of the pup) were zilch, so I popped over to the local hardware store (no, really) to grab some take out to eat in our room. I was met on my walk back by Jason and Napoleon, who had come out to find me after that little dog bean pitched a fit at not being able to have eyes on both of us at once. We watched a surprising number of movies over the course of our stay: Goonies (of course), Hotel Transylvania 2, and Ratatouille. Stuff that was kind of easy to just chill out and cuddle with one’s pup on the bed after a bunch of beach play time. 

The following day was a half beach day/ half drive home day, and we made the most of it, starting with another early morning beach walk to check out the tide pools and enjoy one another’s company. The beach cooperated by giving us an absolutely gorgeous morning, bright and cool, and wholly unlike the misty morning previous. 

When we decided it was time to wrap up beach time, and headed to Sleepy Monk to grab some coffee and breakfast before we hit the road. The line there is kind of ridiculous–you have to step to the side to wait for your drinks and food, but people just keep cramming into the building, forcing you to interrupt someone’s conversation about yoga three times as you elbow your way through to get your goods. Their coffee and pastries are totally great, though, and I dig their druidic vibe. I especially dig the teeny goat on top of their coffee sleeves. 

After properly fueling our machines with caffeine, we hopped in the car and promptly saw this Bigfoot themed steakhouse with what appears to be a werewolf with one hooked flipper arm chained up outside. When viewed from the proper angle, it looks like the Bigfoot on the side of the road and the prime rib sign merge to become Bigfoot’s, uh, prime rib. If you know what I mean, and if you read this blog, you do. 

Ostensibly this is a photo of the lady Bigfoot, but look a little more closely at the background to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot’s Prime Rib.

We also found this great big chair in Seaside, Oregon. 

Our route home took us through Astoria so as to visit their Sunday farmer’s market. I don’t have any pics because walking through a crowded market that’s almost universally not looking where they’re walking with a small dog, and furthermore not paying attention myself by fiddling with my camera is a great way to get someone’s tiny paw stepped on. It hasn’t changed a lot since the last time I visited–even if some of the vendors are not the same, there was someone there in that particular category, be they sign makers, leather workers, or popcorn vendors, so the overall flavor remains the same.  Napoleon met his first goat and stepped back in shock, trying to figure out what was going on with this strange dog. The goat didn’t have much of an opinion either way.

At some point on the way home, we stopped at a restaurant that advertised their famous pie, because Jason is a legendary pie hound, and while he went inside to buy a slab, I walked around with Napodog outside and saw this bird carving, while so. many. vultures. wheeled around in the sky. I don’t know what that’s saying about the restaurant’s food or their mainly elderly clientele, but I do know that Jason thought their pie was nowhere near as good as mine. I do make a mean slice

And, since it was such a beautiful day and we had plenty of time to spare, we stopped in Winlock to finally see the world’s largest egg, something that I had been driving past in a hurry to something else for the last decade. It was, indeed, a sizeable egg. 

The rooster’s not talkin’. 

 

A special treats and walk filled week later, the veterinarian made the visit to our house, and even though I had been second guessing my decision up until the time she walked in the door, I have no regrets. I called my buddy up onto my lap, and after he was administered the painkillers, it sealed the deal for me. I felt him relax in my arms, pain free, and that was not something I’d felt from him in a long time. It eased some of my hurt to feel him not hurting, and I handed him over to Jason so he could feel the same. He was in Jason’s arms when the final shot was administered, and we petted him and told him how much we loved him as he passed. I keep reiterating what a difficult decision it was, because it was difficult to voluntarily part myself from him forever, when he’s been the little light of my life for so long, my constant, unquestioning, loving companion. But at the same time, I know it was the right choice. To be at home instead of afraid in the cold, sterile vet’s office. To be lavished with love until his very last breath. To still know us, mentally, so that we could comfort him at the end, to keep his last days from being confusing and scary. When I think about it in that way, I know that I made the best choice I could.

That’s not to say that the loss of Napoleon hasn’t been crushing. It’s been months and I still step around the dog dish that isn’t there when going to the patio door. I feel happy and then sad whenever something causes his nametag to jingle against his urn, as though he’s here for just a second and then gone again. About once a year, I’d get one of those new super soft blankets from costco, and the old one would be given to Napoleon and derisively referred to as “the dog blanket” because no matter how many times I washed it, the smell of dog was just too ground in, so they’d line his beds and make them extra plush and cozy. In the aftermath, we kept some things that belonged to him, and a dog blanket. On days I especially missed him, I’d go and sniff the blanket, and it was like my stinky buddy was back. Recently, I was having a rough day and crept off to the closet and its stinky contents, only to discover that the smell I believed to be permanent entirely gone, and this, too, was like losing a bit of him all over again. I have waves of grief wash over me when I drive past our dog park, when I see those noseprint smudges on my car window that I know I will eventually have to wash away.

I miss my buddy. I’m glad we had this trip together. I hope that if there’s an afterlife, it’s full of so, so many beach critters to sniff. 

 

 

*The first time I pet a dog, post-Napoleon, I almost burst into tears. Thanks to everyone who allows me to pet their dogs for much longer than is socially acceptable for a stranger to do so.

This Didn’t Deserve Its Own Post: Ohio Edition

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about Ohio. Six weeks of Ohio is long enough, right?

CINCINNATI

Spotted this cool book fountain outside of Cincinnati’s public library, the water flowing over the books symbolizing the free flow of information and ideas thanks to the printed word. Neat, huh?

Metrobot is back outside the Contemporary Arts Center after more than a five year absence, during which time it was refinished and beefed up to include a scrolling LED and a tummy screen. Even with the more modern upgrades it still feels charmingly retro, thanks to the 10¢ pay phone embedded in its leg. 

Near the metrobot, Cincinnati also features an outdoor chandelier, which is unfortunately outdone by…

CLEVELAND

Cleveland’s outdoor chandelier, which happens to be the largest outdoor chandelier in the world. 

If a city happens to build an even larger outdoor chandelier, Cleveland’s can be called The World’s Largest Outdoor Chandelier Adjacent To A Building That Looks Like The Headquarters Of A Batman Villain . 

Cleveland also has the world’s largest rubber stamp. It has the word “FREE” on it, embodying the desire of anyone in Cleveland. A large desire to be free. Free from this place, free from life, whatever. and it was commissioned  by Standard Oil of Ohio. Between commission and delivery, the company decided that, actually, they didn’t want this thing, so they dumped it on the city as a tax deductible gift of public art. The city demurred until the company, now Amoco, agreed to pay for all transportation, installation, and upkeep costs. That is how much they didn’t want it. Imagine listing something large and bulky in your home in the Craigslist “free” section and being so desperate to get rid of it that not only do you offer to deliver it, but also to pay for any future maintenance on it, forever. Cleveland knows that free stamps ain’t free. 

I got hollered at in Cleveland by a driver who told me I was gonna get run over — while I was crossing at a crosswalk with the pedestrian signal lit. Uh, are the laws different there? Or are we just to assume that anyone behind the wheel of a car in Cleveland is going to floor it through intersections and careen around corners regardless of traffic signals due to the sheer desperation of trying to be free of Cleveland? 

COLUMBUS

In Columbus’ brewery district, there’s a large statue of Gambrinus, the mythological king of beer. What I would have never guessed about it is that it’s actually been in Columbus for a hundred years. Gambrinus originally stood in front of the August Wagner brewery, and when the brewery closed, the statue was purchased and preserved by the local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, and placed in its current location. Gambrinus survived Prohibition, he survived the brewery demolishing, no wonder he raises his glass in a perpetual toast!

We had lunch at Hot Chicken Takeover and it was great and I loved it. Sweet cheesus, the mac & cheese was awesome, the chicken sandwich made me weep tears of joy and tears of pain, and I couldn’t eat it all even though I really, really wanted to. Don’t forget to grab your free sweet tea and spice-combatting house made ranch to drizzle on that sandwich! What’s also super cool about this place is that they hire job seekers with criminal records, because American society often fails people who have had dealings with the justice system. If there’s no legitimate work available for those with criminal records, how can we be shocked by recidivism? I’m glad they’re helping give people opportunities to succeed, and this philosophy certainly seems to have not impeded Hot Chicken Takeover in any way, as they’ve rapidly expanded to three locations. None near me though. Bah!

I love Fiona the chunky lil hippo and I will do anything she tells me to, including buying her special limited edition ice cream. In this case, however, I’ve gotta say that not listening to her is the better option, because the supreme ice cream at Graeter’s is their black raspberry chocolate chip, with its thick soft hunks of shaved chocolate rippling through its rich black raspberry ice cream base. Especially in a pretzel cone. Yum. So good I’d consider having a case of it shipped to me but so good that I really, really don’t want a case of it shipped to me. I’m better off without the unholy knowledge of how fast I could rip through twelve pints of outstanding ice cream.

This is the photo I’m going to give to the landscape designer I desperately need to hire this year. If my back patio looked like this, I would spend so many more summer afternoons/evenings out reading. The Book Loft in Columbus is an excellent labyrinthine bookstore–they were having a Bruce Campbell signing the night I visited. I had a good time winding my way through the sections–in one of the rooms, I found a woman sitting on the floor lightheartedly groaning to her friend about how they never should’ve come because she’s going to spend far too much money. I bought a new title and took photos of the ones that I thought might make me face some scrutiny from my shopping companions so I’d remember to look them up later.

Not far from the Book Loft is this house featuring this teeny tiny door for the Littles family, complete with a doormat and teeny tiny topiaries. 

Neither of us were worthy to pull the sword from the stone in front of a dentist’s office in Columbus, which is fine, because if I’ve got to be queen of something, I’d rather it be something more exciting than a dentist’s office. Plus no matter how benevolently I ruled, I’d still be portrayed as an evil monarch because of all the black I wear and the fact that dental drills strike fear into the hearts of literally everyone. Nobody is ever going to call the queen of root canals a good gal. You see how much thought I gave this as I was approaching the sword, preparing to give my speech declining the monarchy. Freedom ain’t free.

 

 

And that’s it for Ohio! The stuff that didn’t make the cut really didn’t deserve its own post. 

Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Ping Pong Paddle in Columbus, OH

No, it’s not right there on the roadside–you’ve got to go inside Pins Mechanical Company to see the world’s largest ping pong paddle, which is totally fine because Pins turns out to be an awesome bar where it doesn’t feel totally weird to get day drunk. In addition to this almost 12′ x7′ behemoth that could crush a smart car like a ping pong ball, Pins has a wide selection of pinball games, duckpin bowling, and has outdoor jenga games capable of reaching such heights that the shorter among us have to climb on a stool to take their turn. In brief, this place is totally cool and I’d definitely come here again. 

Spotted on US 33 in Columbus, OH

Newport, Ohio, the Basketiest Place In The World

I have never seen a basketier place than Newport, Ohio. I do not believe a basketier place exists in this entire world. Legend holds* that the basketweavers guild summoned the devil long ago to ensure that when the world goes to hell, it will be in a handbasket and not some other, more useful mode of transportation. If indeed that is the case, Newport is the place from whence those baskets will proceed before beginning their initial descent.

Allow me to make my case. Within a small radius, this portion of Ohio contains:

  • The world’s largest basket that is also a building
  • The world’s largest basket that’s an actual large basket
  • The world’s largest apple basket that’s an actual large basket but not as large as the world’s largest basket and also holds large fake apples 
  • Approximately one shitload of basket stores

All these landmarks stemmed from one company: Longaberger. Back in the days before the internet when you had to leave your house and put on pants to buy goods, companies found another way to sell: get suckers to host house parties where their product lines would be shown to the unsuspecting guests of the hosts who would then feel a sense of obligation to purchase something, anything before they left. And if they were really pliable, they’d be signed up to host a party themselves the following month so as to loop in a whole new set of unsuspecting social acquaintances. I have some familiarity with this model, as when I was a kid, all kinds of product parties were held in my home while my brother and I were forced upstairs and threatened not to make a single goddamn sound while my parents’ friends were coerced into purchasing tupperware, pampered chef, mary kay, and more. Longaberger also followed this model, though I don’t believe they ever made an appearance at my house**–I can’t be certain, because, again, I was upstairs trying to stay silent as the grave while fervently hoping my parents’ friends wouldn’t eat all the cheese puffs***. 

 

The World’s Largest Basket That Is Also A Building

This building was Longaberger’s former headquarters: 7 stories, 180,000 square feet, or 160 times larger than its “medium market basket” inspiration. This building was vacated in 2016 and very recently sold, though no plans have been specified as to the new buyer’s intentions with the property: to restore it, to raze it, or to stick some giant apples in it as a middle finger to that apple basket down the road, reducing it in stature to the world’s second largest apple basket. It would be a shame to raze it as the building is quite impressive/distinctive: instead of being just another building off in the distance somewhere, it’s a giant basket looming on the horizon, which is delightful. As no one was around, we engaged in some light front lawn trespassing, which I will justify as being way less egregious than the literal dozens of dog turds someone allowed to let lay from their pack of dogs I have to assume they let loose on the lawn.

The World’s Largest Basket That’s An Actual Large Basket

It’s hard to sell this basket as the World’s Largest Basket as its label proclaims, given that we already know that basket building down the road is significantly larger and vastly more impressive, but just remember that when playing the game of world’s largest anything, it’s all about semantics. It’s why there’s an endless debate for what “counts” when determining things like the world’s largest building, because it’s more polite for architects to argue about that than unzip their pants and whip it on the table. So this is the world’s largest basket, in that it’s an actual woven basket and not just made to look like a basket. It’s also the former former Longaberger headquarters, because I’m assuming each new headquarters is christened by smashing a bottle of champagne on an adjacent giant basket. No word on whether they use it to store the world’s largest picnic supplies, but I certainly hope so. 

This large basket, however, is not a monolith, for if you open your eyes and look around you,  you’ll see:

Approximately One Shitload Of Basket Stores

 

I spy with my little eye: The Basket Guy, Smore Baskets, Retired Baskets Etc., Baskets and More, The Retired Basket Shoppe, and Basket of Dreams. How many basket specific stores does one town need****? How much basket business can one giant basket bring to an area? I had spent the morning looking at and feeling good feelings about baskets (I am EXACTLY the sort of person drawn in by the World’s Largest Anything) and yet no part of me wanted to bring a basket home, so who are these hordes of basket buyers? Also, what’s up with all these retired baskets? Are they retired in that they will no longer be performing basket labors? Are they the stores where old basket designs go to when their makers can no longer care for them? Are they retired limited edition basket designs and if so should they be used exclusively to store retired limited edition beanie babies? How does a town have this many basket stores and not change its name to Basketville with a mandatory pet shop named The Hounds of Basketville? Confused and yearning for a simpler time, I popped back in the car and headed toward something that would make sense. 

The World’s Largest Apple Basket That’s An Actual Large Basket But Not As Large As The World’s Largest Basket And Also Holds Large Fake Apples

 

This 20 foot tall baskety behemoth (also woven) stands on the grounds of the NEW Longaberger headquarters, lending credence to my idea that each new headquarters must involve the construction of a world’s largest basket that somehow doesn’t also remove the others from world’s largest status. I’m personally hoping for The World’s Largest Basket of Puppies next.

How could anywhere possibly be basketier?

 

 

 

*No it doesn’t, I made that part up.

**They made an appearance at Jason’s childhood home, however. When we got back from our basket extravaganza, his mom pulled out a Longaberger basket that she had been coerced into buying at a party years ago.

***They almost always did. Nowadays,  you don’t even get the cheese puffs, just an invitation to a facebook “party” from someone you haven’t spoken to since high school asking you to buy their nail stickers, essential oils, and life-changing juice, and the supposed benefit is that you can shop from your living room. Yeah, it turns out that with the internet, I can buy pretty much any product I want from my living room, obligation free. If you want to twist my arm into buying something I don’t want, you’re going to have to  have an actual party.

****I know that the Gilmore Girls’ fictional home town of Star’s Hollow is located in Connecticut, but the town that Longaberger built feels like the real Star’s Hollow to me if only because it seems like exactly the sort of place where a significant number of the townspeople would go apeshit over a charity picnic basket auction.

Cleveland Rocks?

Sometimes I will arrive somewhere and think “Yeah, that fits in precisely with the stereotypes I hold about this area.” Cleveland, Ohio, is one such place. Cleveland looks like a city that someone forgot about and left in the rain to rust. Cleveland looks like it’s already living out a post-apocalyptic scenario where half the population is dead and the other half spends their time making bullets and then spraying them wildly. Cleveland looks like it could give your eyeballs tetanus. It comes as no surprise that their football team is called the Browns, because a compelling argument could be made that the entire city is a turd. Cleveland looks exactly like the kind of place where a river would accidentally light itself on fire. Repeatedly. The air in Cleveland in August feels as though one has somehow been trapped inside a jock strap that’s been worn for three straight days. I was already in a truly piss-poor mood when I arrived in Cleveland, and Cleveland did not improve it.

But The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…that’s an icon. It’s one of the few museums outside of the Louvre to come up routinely in the news*. Like the Louvre, its architecture prominently features a large glass pyramid. There are probably Illuminati conspiracies about both. But only one of these two is a world class museum…and unsurprisingly, it’s not the one in Cleveland.

Upon entry and ticket purchase, you descend into the basement of the pyramid, which is actually a little clever–starting in the basement like any number of bands. I also would have had a similar appreciation if the museum started in a garage adjacent to the pyramid.

At the start, there is a room dedicated to some artifacts from the most recent year’s inductees, which eventually get shuffled further back into the “Legends of Rock & Roll” area if they have room so if you’re a lesser-known legend I’m guessing your stuff is bound for a closet somewhere. There’s also some stuff from just about everyone you’d expect to see there: a room dedicated to Elvis, a room split between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and a number of special exhibits, including one on John Cougar Mellencamp.

There was also a bunch of stuff from musicians not inducted into the hall of fame, including an entire room on Cleveland musicians, which I found to be a curious choice. There are currently more than 300 inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and until an angry museum employee informs me otherwise, I am telling you that it doesn’t seem to me that all of those artists were represented on this, the main floor of the hall of fame in which they are supposedly being honored. Isn’t having to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to be included in it the entire point of the place?

They also had a horse with cannon turret titties.

Oooh, I have bad news for you, Ed.

According to their own rules, Katy shouldn’t be here until 2026 at the earliest.

Because the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is built in a giant pyramid, a lot of valuable real estate is lost on every floor ascended. And they made the least out of the space, with the second largest floor taken up entirely by ticket sales, a cafe, and an outrageously large gift shop.

As you proceed up the pyramid, you can wait for a booth to be available so you can listen to some one hit wonders (again, not Hall of Famer material), look at a genuine empty Rolling Stone office (Oh boy, I’ve never seen a real office before! Look, a chair!) and some covers of Rolling Stone magazines, and then, almost as an afterthought, the actual list of inductees on some half-assed plaques on one of the floors. It’s not like we have the technology available to give each visitor a broader look at the work of the inductees, the reasoning behind why they were chosen, and how they influenced music. Nope. We’re clearly still in the static list on paper phase of humanity. The inductees are such an afterthought that at the time of posting, their placement in the museum that, again, supposedly exists to honor them isn’t even mentioned in their online visitor’s exhibit guide.

The inductees actually get a better display on shit sold in the gift shop than they do in the actual museum, which is straight fucking ridiculous.

This may as well be another exhibit–hey kids, this is what a CD store used to look like back when physical media was a thing!

Our group split up on entering the hall of fame. We ran into Jason’s uncle halfway up the pyramid and asked him what he was taking photos of. “Crap, mostly.”

Couldn’t agree with you more, man.

 

 

 

*Now that I know how much this place sucks, going forward I could do without the yearly breathless discussions about the nominees/inductees/and why so and so continues to be slighted. It’s a subjective list, and literally anyone could start a new museum and call it The Musician’s Lodge of Awesome and set up their own arbitrary system of inclusion. But the glass pyramid thing is a little oversaturated, so maybe pick a different shape for your statement entrance. And if you’re gonna exist to mostly be a gift shop, do everyone a favor and just call it The Musician’s Lodge of Souvenirs.