Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wyoming Sleep: a Christmas memory

The road hums beneath the tires.

Out the hatchback I can see the stars, more and more the longer I look.  I run my finger along the cold glass, feel the lines bump bump bump.  Next to me, Jenny stirs inside her Star Wars sleeping bag.  Her legs are in my space, but even when she's asleep she is the oldest.  On my other side Amy lies motionless and silent.  That only happens when she's asleep.  I don't sleep in cars.

Sitting up, I can see my parents in the front, talking in low, comfortable voices.  They are softly lit by the light of the radio and the dials on the dashboard.  Our headlights shine briefly on each detail of the landscape and then move on to the next.  Watching the snowy edge of the road, I play a game with my eyes.  I can either focus on one shape at a time, jumping from one to the next, or I can relax and watch it all blur together into one long, unending direction as we move forward, forward, forward.  It seems like the road will never end.

Lying down again I hear the hum of the tires and the occasional rhythmic bumping of the road.  I don't sleep in cars.

But the next thing I know Jenny is sitting up next to me, talking in an excited hush with my parents.  I can tell by the pitch of the tires that we are moving more slowly now.  Outside a town melts into sight, factories and bridges, then houses and schools.

A few more turns and then I know where we are.  We tumble out of the car, so cold in our pajamas and coats.  I recognize the creak of the porch door, the slap of the plastic covering the screens.  Now I can smell the wood, the paint, the old toys, home.  Not my home, but the home of my home.  Then they are there, still warm from bed, Grandma soft and Grandpa stiff and coarse.

We sleep on the floor in the living room under homemade afghans and flannel blankets.  The clock tock-tock-tocking in the background, our school pictures arranged on the wall.  Each one freezes a moment along the road.  First grade - flash.  Second grade - flash.  That smiling girl with the crooked teeth and the frilly blouse - is that still me?  How many more pictures will fit on the wall?  The cat curls up in the nativity scene with real hay for the manger and the Christmas tree spreads its fresh scent over us all. 

Tomorrow there will be curly-headed cousins, a tumble of inside jokes and My Little Ponies.  There will be laughing adults and cooking and eating and games.  And then there will be Christmas, with stories and wrapping and toys and music.  And one day I will sit in this room and look back on it all, a long coil of memory compressed back on intself inside these walls, now bare of pictures and the clock ticking tock-tock-tock...

But in this moment I close my eyes and feel the warmth wrap around me and sleep: Wyoming sleep.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Journey Back

A few pictures from my trip in the U-Haul from Boise to San Diego:

My ornamental cabbages get a very pleasing pattern of frost on them in the mornings now. I hope whoever is in the house next spring enjoys all the bulbs I planted. They'll have purple and blue crocuses in the back yard, huge yellow daffodils along the front of the house, and purple and white tulips and irises in the front planter.

The scenery between Boise and Salt Lake City is rather bleak and flat. But there is a certain beauty to it, especially near the end of the day.

Ye Olde ATM
We were amused by this cash machine out in the middle of nowhere, far away even from the convenience store that presumably owns it.

Dad Sketch
My dad on the computer in the hotel room in Las Vegas.  He found ways to keep us connected all along the way.  Laptop computer, wifi internet, iPhone, iPod, digital camera... we had it all.  Too bad the computer couldn't provide cruise control for the truck!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Paradise Lost

When I was planning my escape to Idaho, I had a feeling that some things would become clear to me that I couldn't yet see through the haze of all the work and commitments I had in L.A.  I was excited to find out what I would discover about myself and what it would mean for my future.

Unfortunately, such discoveries are not always pleasant.  Stepping back and looking at my life through clear eyes showed me something I did not want to see, and led me to a path I never intended to take.  There were warning signs before we left L.A., some subtle and some overt, but the excitement of leaving, combined with the emotional toll of saying good-bye to my cherished friends and activities, clouded my vision.

Being far away from friends and family and unencumbered by a regular job put my personal relationship in the spotlight.  We cared deeply about each other and we were both committed to making the relationship work, but we had some recurring issues.  Ultimately I discovered, unfortunately, that there was no acceptable middle ground.  Our differences were fundamental and substantial.  No amount of wishing or trying could take away the underlying fact that we were not right for each other.

After arriving at that realization, I took a couple of trips that I already had planned, visiting friends and family in Salt Lake City and checking out Portland, Oregon as a possible place to land.  Then I flew to San Diego to be in the comfort of my parents' home for a bit, while I contemplate my next move.

When I started my blog, "Escaping Paradise" was an ironic statement.  I was declaring my rejection of the characteristics that people seem to seek out in Southern California: the endless summer, the party atmosphere, the paparazzi. All these are things that I don't value.  I felt that I could find my own paradise somewhere else, away from the distractions of L.A.  But now I feel like I've accidentally escaped every aspect of paradise, and find myself instead in a very uncomfortable limbo.

I'm not saying that I regret going to Idaho.  For one thing, I'm still too close to it all to hope for any objectivity on the subject.  But I also see that life only moves in one direction, and whatever steps I took in the past have led me to where I am now.  I'm happy to be myself and to be alive here and now, so I have to accept and appreciate the events that carried me here.

When I was in Portland, I spent a contemplative hour or two in the Japanese Gardens.  One of my favorite parts of the gardens was the zigzag path.

I enjoyed following the path along its twisty way, turning a full 90 degrees at each new corner I encountered.  I realized that it would be good to appreciate my life right now in the same way.  I want everything to be straight and clear, to know my destination and see the way to get there.  But if that's not the way it's going to be, why not regard the turns and changes of direction as a fun, scenic path?

And so I round this corner, a sharp 90-degree turn to the right, and look at things from a new perspective... again.  I'm sure there will be another discovery waiting for me, just around the bend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who-daho? Item #1: Randy Fowler

Here it is... the post you've all been waiting for! WE FOUND HIM!

Remember when I mentioned the guy who looked like Rod Stewart, striding around in a 3-piece formal pink suit? Well, we saw him again... and we had a nice long chat with him! It's so nice to be with someone sociable and pleasant like Peter. If it were solely up to me, I would lurk around the corner and pretend to be looking at my phone while snapping a picture of him. (Like I did with Cynthia Nixon... you can see by the look on her face exactly how subtle I managed to be.)

But Peter can easily strike up a conversation with anyone, no matter how aggressively his hair is spiked. So he offered to take my picture with the guy. I said only if we do it really quickly... but Rod Stewart II had a whole life story to tell!

We stayed and talked for a while.  I should have let us stay longer, but I started doing the "honey, let's get outta here" arm pinch after 15 minutes or so.  I guess I'm just uncomfortable talking to strangers... emphasis on the strange.  But he was harmless and rather interesting, with, as it turns out, a good heart to boot.

Mr. Randy Fowler drives a limo for a living.  He has dozens (hundreds?) of custom-made suits, and his clients are invited to request one upon booking their limo ride.  You can take a look at the wide range of options on his colorful website.  (Home page rodslimos.com.  Tonight's the Night.)  Randy used to be a drummer in a band, but one night he found himself in Boise, the only un-incarcerated band member, and thought he might settle down.  He ran a video production business for a while, but when people kept commenting on his rock-n-roll look, he thought he might be able to capitalize on it better in a more public position.  He enjoys his job and feels that the customer service he provides is what sets him aside from other options people might have.  That and the suits.

A biography of Mr. Fowler has been in the works for some time now, but he says progress keeps stalling because publishers want him to talk about his brother.  He says he had a rough childhood and doesn't want to bring his brother into the picture.  We nodded knowingly, but I sort of wondered why he kept mentioning his brother, as if we already knew who he was.  He seemed a bit hesitant to share personal details, so I didn't pry... until we got home.

According to several sources, Randy Fowler's brother is Kevin Spacey.  (Kaiser Soze! The man who killed his own wife and family in cold blood!)  Wikipedia confirms that Kevin Spacey was born Kevin Spacey Fowler, and that he has a brother named Randy.  It also mentions how close-mouthed he is about his private life, which would explain Randy's hesitation to capitalize on his brother's fame.  You can read more details in an interview with Randy at Uncle Boise, an area blog. (Or should I say...another area blog? ;)

Randy spoke at length about his most passionate project, working to prevent child abuse.  Having survived it himself, he feels if he helps even one child to escape a bad situation, he will have done his part.  He often visits schools to speak about the issue, and says he can capture children's attention more easily than others, given his quirky sense of style and rock-n-roll sensibility.  I have heard from other area residents that he drives leukemia patients to the hospital as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation's program.  (I just have to say, though... if I were ever to Make-A-Wish, it wouldn't be for Rod Stewart.  Maybe he could start a sister business?  Sting's Taxis, perhaps?)  In any case, he's clearly working for some good causes, and we were touched by his selfless endeavors.

We told him we'd be sure to see him around.  As we walked away, Peter remarked that he could have continued the conversation for quite a while longer.  I felt bad to have cut it short.  We turned around to look where he had been, standing outside a bar smoking his cigarette, but we couldn't see him anywhere.  And like that... he's gone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Those Quirky Boiseites! Item #1: Street names

I know that themed street names are nothing new. Most cities I've lived in have one or two neighborhoods with streets named after trees, colleges, or U.S. Presidents. But the suburbs of Boise seem to be taking this motif-based naming thing to a whole new level. Witness the following examples, just a small sampling from the neighborhoods I'm familiar with so far:


Here's my new hood.  I wonder why they chose these birds in particular. Kildeer? Curlew? I'm just happy I don't live on Grouse. And that I get to turn on Sagehen every day (chirp chirp!)


Who decided that Lancelot Ave. should be longer than King Arthur Dr.?  Maybe Guinevere had something to do with that.  She would know.  She intersects both of them.


Welcome to Candyland. Or maybe it's where Homer's sarcastic Magical Man lives.  I have been to the neighborhood, however, and let me tell you, it's not all that sweet.  Note the proximity to the railroad tracks. 


Does anyone REALLY want to live in Romeo and Juliet's neighborhood? Seems like the traffic from the funeral processions alone would be too much of a hassle.


Grab the shotgun, Myrtle!  We're going to live on Chuckwagon Ave.!


Too bad there's not a dock around here.

And yet, for all the creativity exhibited in the above examples, the names of some of the major streets are mind-numbingly dull.  According to Google maps, Five Mile Road and Ten Mile Road are actually 6 miles apart.  And in my neighborhood, I'm still not sure which cross street is where, because they all sound so similar:


In case it's too small to read, the highlighted roads are Midway Rd., Middleton Rd., and Midland Blvd.  No doubt about it, this is Middle America.

But hey, at least they try to spice it up a bit.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Things I miss about L.A. Item #1: Convenience

Item #1 was going to be variety. I've been disappointed in the limited selection of food at the grocery store. In fact, I'm disappointed in the limited selection of stores I have to choose from. I miss the little boutique shops, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the million different varieties of Pinkberry knockoffs. (Green Apple... Cantaloop... Yogurtland... Yogotango... I could go on and on.) But even some of the chains that seem to exist in every neighborhood in L.A. are absent here. No Trader Joe's? No Whole Foods? No Nordstrom? This is going to be hard.

But then I went to Fred Meyer and found the health food section, and I was amazed to see the wide assortment of wheat-free, dairy-free and meat-free products. I guess even the behemoth companies that are so prevalent here see the advantages of catering to the whims of a very impressionable American populace. Whatever the latest fad diets or convenient scapegoats are, they'll be there with the products you need to stay on the cutting edge of the mass hysteria. So I will at least be able to stock (what I consider to be) essentials, albeit from less inspiring sources.

If we actually lived in Boise City, I think I'd feel a little differently. I took a trip to the Boise Coop recently and as soon as I walked in the door, I could smell that familiar, comforting Health Food Smell. It's sort of a combination of deliciously earthy herbs like dill weed and slightly disturbing dietary supplements like seaweed. I filled my cart to the top with rice crisps, Annie's Homegrown fruit jellies, and several different types of wheat-free bread (this is before the Fred Meyer discovery). Since it's a 40-minute drive, I felt I needed to stock up.

We also spent a little time hobnobbing with the locals yesterday for the "Alive After Five" concert. It's an weekly event during the summer, with live music, local food and drinks. We weren't all that impressed with the singer, Tyrone Wells, whose music hovered dangerously close to self-involved, spoken rant. Nor was the food spectacularly impressive, given the fact that there was only one vendor. It was fun to be around people enjoying themselves, though, and we entertained ourselves by sizing up the Boiseites. Here are some of our observations:

- There are lots of tall people here. Is this a result of the local cuisine? Or is it that tall people feel more comfortable out here where there's more room to breathe? Maybe people just look tall in comparison to all the short actors in L.A. (It's true!)

- We were happily surprised to see several openly gay couples. Even in L.A. (outside of WeHo), it's rare to see same-sex couples holding hands. True, they weren't exactly flaunting it in front of everyone, but they seemed pretty comfortable standing hand-in-hand at the edge of the crowd.

- Ethnic diversity, on the other hand, is harder to find, even in the city. The crowd was very white and very blonde. And all the women seem to have the same hairdo, all in that same streaked white-blonde color.

- Boise has its share of weirdos. We didn't see anyone quite as provocatively-dressed as our neighborhood tranny in L.A., but there was a tall (see?) gentleman striding around who was the spitting image of Rod Stewart in full concert regalia. He wore a frilly pink shirt with stunningly elaborate cuffs under a beautifully-tailored black pinstripe suit. The jacket had long tails like a tux. He also sported a large black ring on every finger and pink, high-heeled cowboy boots.

So variety isn't exactly the right word for what I miss. It's there, but you have to seek it out, especially if you live in a suburb of a suburb, as we do. Speaking of which, check out my pictures on Flickr from a recent walk I took in our neighborhood. After walking a few blocks, the surroundings became completely rural. We're on the edge of civilization! By contrast, I could walk from my apartment in L.A. to any number of stores, bars, and restaurants, both big chains and unique, independent shops. Convenience is a way of life in L.A.

In exchange, we are enjoying the pleasures of easy-to-find locally grown fresh produce. "Buy Local" is a mantra I see everywhere, and it's nice to read on the package where the food originated. Within walking distance of our house there is a ranch market that sells all kinds of local produce (in addition to stuffed olives from California...??), and most people have a vegetable garden that is overflowing at this time of year with squash, tomatoes and corn.

So I guess I'm going to just have to get used to living more slowly, working harder to find the conveniences that used to be steps away, and finding ways to enjoy the journey it takes to get there. That is not, as I have mentioned before, one of my strong points. But this experience is supposed to be about growth and discovery, so I will take the challenge. And I will do my Nordstrom shopping online.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Escaping Armageddon

Kim Meyer suggested this new name for my blog... and I think I'll take her suggestion, for at least as long as Los Angeles is burning.

I have never had to deal with the California wildfires up close. The nearest I've come is when Griffith Park caught on fire back in 2007, which is when I took this background picture from the parking lot at work. We saw the flames on the hillside, but were never personally affected. My sister, Amy, had to evacuate last year when the fire showed up in her San Diego neighborhood. She described her experience eloquently on Weekend America on NPR (click here to listen).

I hope all of you back in Los Angeles are holding up okay. I know how disturbing it is not to have fresh air to breathe, and for those of you who are waiting to hear if you have to flee your homes, I can't even imagine the suspense. My thoughts are with you all.

Southern California is prone to a sobering number of natural disasters. Devastating earthquakes, wildfires, floods and mudslides are all common occurrences - in fact, a year going by without all three would be unusual. In his disturbing Ecology of Fear, Mike Davis even offers convincing evidence that tornadoes could be added to the list of predictable catastrophes in the southland. John McPhee describes the eerie cycle of dry weather, fire, torrential rain, and cataclysmic debris flows in The Control of Nature. (I've quoted this book before, but it really is fascinating!) With startling regularity, McPhee writes, heavy rainstorms are actually drawn to recent burn areas. This ensures maximum devastation since there is little underbrush to deter the flow or even healthy soil capable of absorbing the moisture. The pattern repeats itself time and again, and yet Californians still have no effective way of mitigating or preventing the destruction.

Is this the punishment Southern Californians get in return for their year-round beautiful weather? Or is it always beautiful? Clearly there have to be enough storms large enough to wreak havoc on a regular basis. Maybe it's because we have such a sunny view of things that we don't prepare adequately for the hard times. Southern California has always presented itself as a temperate paradise; to prepare for storms and disasters would be to admit that things aren't always perfect. But once the rain begins, it doesn't take an expert to see how very ill-equipped Angelenos are to handle the elements. Drivers continue their wonted practice of accelerating until an obstruction presents itself in their path. Unfortunately, streets that haven't been wet in a long time are much slicker than anyone expects, and suddenly there are accidents everywhere, turning freeways into parking lots. On the city streets the gutters fill up in less than an hour, and intersections are flooded to dangerous levels. On the other end of the thermometer, when temperatures soar, brownouts dot the city as residents lucky enough to have air conditioning switch them on and leave them on. Those of us who live(d) in older buildings find ourselves sweating it out in 90+ degree temperatures INDOORS. How is it still acceptable to sell or rent a building without a/c? Just as with the rains, it seems there is a collective agreement to forget those few days (weeks!) of the year when we are all severely uncomfortable.

It seems other states are forced to plan for inclement weather, since it affects the entire population for weeks or months on end. Although I haven't been here long enough to observe the full range of nature's challenges, I have noticed a few ways in which Boise seems well prepared for the elements. Peter's parents live in a community in Meridian that doesn't have any gutters next to the sidewalk. Instead, the strip of lawn bordering the street is sloped down in the middle to collect water and irrigate at the same time. (I'm sure Amy, who is a landscape architect, can provide more insight into this technique.) Furthermore, every building I have entered so far has been air conditioned, and we haven't experienced any power outages yet. The summer heat is so intense and so persistent that a less robust power grid would be untenable.

We enjoyed our first thunderstorm the other night. We saw several flashes of lightning and heard the thunder in the distance, and I opened the back door to get a whiff of that lovely pre-rain smell. (It's not as lovely when you're surrounded by cow farms, by the way. More on that later.) Turning back to Peter, I heard a strange noise. "Where's the cat?" I asked him. "I hope she doesn't get caught in the rain!" The family who lived here before us left their pets behind, and they were adopted by the neighbors. But one kitty in particular remembers that this was her original home, and she'd been hanging around that evening. "She's already inside," he told me, and pointed to Her Lounging Highness, already getting comfortable on his pillow. She wasn't a moment too soon, because as soon as I closed the door the rain started coming down and it sounded like the End of Days. Pretty soon our back yard was covered with little marble-sized hailstones. The hail only lasted a few minutes, and the storm eased not long thereafter. But it made me so happy to experience that again, the purple stormy sky and the moody grumblings from above. It's been a long time for me. It never rains in L.A.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

10 good things and 1 bad thing about Idaho so far

Like most people, I have a hard time dealing with change. I can usually see the negative side of a new situation very clearly, and it takes me much longer to appreciate the advantages. I cry whenever I get a new hairstyle. Upon hearing that I have landed a new job, I immediately mourn the loss of my free time. When I move to a new apartment, I zero in immediately on the tiny shower, the loud neighbors, the late-night cockroach parties.

But I'm trying really hard to look at the bright side of this decision to move. After all, it's a choice I made for myself, and I may as well make out of it what I want, right?

So for my first blog post about Idaho, I'm going to challenge myself to be positive. Here's a list of ten things that I'm enjoying about my new home state. And just to indulge myself, I'm going to allow one little complaint at the end. We wouldn't want to go overboard with the whole Pollyanna thing, after all.

10 good things about Idaho

1. The climate is dry.
I really do think this is the top advantage so far. It's hot, but it honestly makes a huge difference that it's not sweltering. Evenings are cool and rosy, and the mornings are crisp. During the day I'm mostly in air conditioned spaces, anyway. But when you're outside, the heat doesn't envelop you like a wet blanket. You can almost avoid feeling it if you sit still enough.

2. It's QUIET.
It's 10:30 pm right now, and all I can hear is the TV in the other room and the occasional dog barking outside. I cannot hear any cars or buses driving by, parties in a nearby bar, helicopters circling endlessly overhead, or neighbors yelling into their cell phones. I realize that the lack of exciting night life could easily be construed by some as a disadvantage, but this is the list of GOOD things. Stay tuned. I'm sure I'll be in the mood to complain someday soon.

3. The colors are brighter.
I don't know if it's the lack of smog (which, by the way, is not as lacking as one might think, but again... that's a story for a later post (I'm really doing well with this optimism thing, aren't I?)), BUT the colors here seem really bright and saturated. It's the same sense I get when I go home to San Diego.... like someone washed my windshield when I didn't realize it was dirty. The lawns all look unrealistically green, and the sky at midday is the most intense blue. It's a lot like Los Angeles during Santa Ana conditions, but without the devil winds putting a wild look in everyone's eye.

4. Driving is almost pleasant.
I went downtown yesterday and had no trouble navigating anywhere, whether I had the address or not. Everywhere I went, there was a parking space right in front. I used my iPhone to help guide me most of the time, and never worried about getting pulled over, because guess what! It's not against the law here yet! Mwahahahaha. Apparently Idahoans either haven't had enough traffic incidents sparked by cell phone usage, or they really mean it when they say they don't want the government running their lives.

5. People are courteous.
If you see someone on the street, they say hi to you. Even people you don't know! Even kids! If you ask for help, Idahoans will help you readily. Today we were waterskiing and our boat motor kept dying. Several people stopped by to ask if we were okay, or if they could do anything to help. And they really meant it! This guy on a wave runner was about to try to tow our huge, 8-person boat to shore. In contrast, Peter was once broken down on the Sacramento River for hours and not a single person stopped to help.

6. There's lots of space.
Houses are set at a decent distance from one another. This seems to be true across the economic spectrum. Even cheaper houses are relatively large, and they all have a decent amount of yard space. It would be pretty hard to accidentally see your neighbor naked here. Let's just say that is not the case where I've lived in the past.

7. There's an abundance of outdoor activities.
I'm not going to say that I didn't have amazing outdoor opportunities in California. That's one of the things I love so much about L.A. But here in Boise things seem somehow more accessible and MUCH less crowded. In under an hour you can drive over to a local lake to waterski, head up to Bogus Basin for snowboarding or snow skiing, or drive downtown for a lovely bike ride along the greenbelt. In any of these places you'll find others doing the same thing, but not in droves. And so far I haven't seen anyone attempt these sports while wearing miniskirts and kitten-heeled flip-flops.

8. It's more laid-back.
I know Southern California is supposed to be chill. But that was not my experience while I was there. In L.A. everyone seems to be trying to get ahead, shoving others out of the way and never looking back. I may not have enough experience in Boise yet to say this for sure, but people here do seem more patient, less intense, and more aware of the people around them.

9. Idaho has seasons!
I've been warned. I know that snow means more than snowmen and sleigh rides. But somehow, knowing that winter is coming makes it okay that it's so hot right now. It's probably because I spent my formative childhood years in places with four distinct seasons, but I feel so much more connected to the earth when everything around me is changing. I can't wait for fall!

10. Peter is here.
This is all so much easier with a partner. We can look at each other knowingly when someone exclaims at the price of a $25 entree, and we can cry on each other's shoulders when we realize this is our last bag of Trader Joe's Nuts About Raspberries & Chocolate Trek Mix. Of course it also helps that he's so good at fixing things and so willing to jump out of the U-Haul to shout directions at me when I accidentally get on the offramp at a busy intersection in Las Vegas. I hope I can repay him for all of this. If there are cockroach parties at our new house, I won't say a word.

1 bad thing about Idaho
And now, here it is, my one complaint about Idaho so far.

Yes, it's carrot slaw. And yes, it features not only raisins but also mini-marshmallows. They might have this in other locations, but I believe it is a favorite local delicacy. And it is NOT OKAY.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things I will not miss about L.A. Item #1: Smog

When I moved to Los Angeles, I was apprehensive of the smog. Little did I know, at the time, that I had already experienced what could be considered the poorest air quality in the United States. I received my undergraduate degree from the fair Pomona College, a lovely oasis in the midst of an endless suburban sprawl referred to, with a characteristic Californian mixture of fondness and sarcasm, as the "Inland Empire." According to Wikipedia, the Inland Empire rates worst in the U.S. for particulate air pollution standards (although the San Joaquin Valley still comes in last for overall air pollution). I had a friend in college who was obsessed with the smog and kept track of the daily-changing visibility of the nearby mountains. Despite the sometimes annoyingly predictable nature of his running commentary, I have to admit that he had a point. There were times that the neighboring Mt. Baldy, the foothills of which one could reach by an easy bike ride, was not even visible.

Los Angeles County is not all that much better. It's our pollution, after all, blown by the friendly ocean breezes, that causes our eastern suburbs to sink so low on the pollution scales. Apparently the geography is much to blame. It's something about the way the mountains trap the pollutants we create instead of letting them wash away harmlessly over the desert. John McPhee describes it thus in his fascinating chapter on Los Angeles in The Control of Nature: "Early in the day, it is for the most part the natural sea fog. As you watch it from above through the morning and into the afternoon, it turns yellow, and then ochre, and then brown, and sometimes nearly black -- like butter darkening in a skillet." It's not until you get out of it that you can appreciate the full magnitude of its impact. If you arrive in Los Angeles by airplane, you can see it, like a yellow blanket, covering the city. It makes you want to hold your breath as you descend into LAX. I've also observed it from the Angeles Crest mountains, returning from a camping trip. It's hard to believe that you are voluntarily returning to such an obviously unhealthy atmosphere. I've also seen it from only 26 miles across the sea. When Peter and I took a weekend trip to Catalina Island, we could barely see the mainland for all the "atmosphere." Is this really the air we choose to breathe on a daily basis?

One day Peter drove me to work. As we exited the freeway in Burbank, I exclaimed at how beautiful the mountains looked. "Beautiful?" he asked. "How can mountains look beautiful?" I struggled to express how inspiring it was to see the details of the canyons and valleys, the contrast of the morning light with the remaining shadows of the previous night. What I realized was that I hardly ever saw the mountains from this point of view. I resolved to prove my point, and packed my camera in my purse. Every day for two weeks or so, I snapped a picture at the same intersection. You can see the results below. Peter's point was that a mountain is a mountain, regardless of how many particulates hang between you and the geographical feature in question. But my point was that you can't enjoy the beauty of the scenery if you can't see it at all. Here are some of the pictures I took, with the clearest ones at the end. I'm sure you will have to admit, as Peter did, that after seeing nothing but a vague smudge in the distance every day, a sprawling mountain vista is a startling, and pleasing, surprise.


This is why smog is one of the undeniable features of Los Angeles that I have to say I will not miss. I'm hoping to feel pain as my lungs get accustomed to the crisp Idahoan mountain air. I expect to see the adjacent mountains in Boise, even when I'm not snowboarding down their pristine slopes. And if I can't see them, then it better be either the middle of the night or a really loud thunderstorm.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let the Funemployment Begin

I'm going about this all wrong.

What I should have done was find a new job while I was still employed, then give my notice. I'd probably give myself a week or two of cushion in between in order to pack up, say goodbye to my friends, and move to wherever my new job was. Then I'd start my fabulous new life with my better-paying, more socially conscious, and lower hours-per-week job.

Unfortunately things have a way of not going the way they're supposed to. It's hard to look for a new job when you're working full-time at one job and part-time at several side jobs. (It's hard to do anything when you get home, actually. Not that you can't look for a new job while you're actually at work, but it's pretty easy to spot craigslist on someone's monitor from across the room.) And then there's this recession. All of a sudden people are much less interested in spending money on frivolous things. The entertainment industry is squeaking by all right, but for those of us who make the promos for the product lines inspired by the shows spun off from the sequels based on the original films, job security is a thing of the past.

So what happened? Before I had a chance to shock my bosses with my grand exit plan, they asked me to leave. Times are tight, work is slow, and hey, didn't you want to work in feature films, anyway? Uh, no... but thanks for asking. Suddenly I had endless free time stretching before me. What do people DO with their lives when they aren't at work?

As you might imagine, I haven't had any trouble filling my time. I now do my laundry before it reaches what Peter likes to call landslide proportions. I'm watching DVDs of shows that I never had time to watch before, and suddenly I get all those inside jokes I kept hearing at work. (That's what she said.) I'm falling back into my comfortable routine of staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning and sleeping in until 10 or 11. I'm exercising again and rediscovering that wonderful feeling you get when you come home all hot and sticky, wash it all off in the shower, and emerge clean, strong and emotionally buoyant. I'm cooking more. (I'm trying to enjoy it, but I guess that's a talent I just didn't get. Like long car trips, I'm much more interested in the final destination than the journey.)

And the big plan? I'm going to take a year off. Peter and I are going to move to Boise, Idaho and try enjoying life for a while. The overachiever side of me feels like this is a waste of time and money, that I should be striving and saving and pushing forward. But what am I pushing toward? What have I been saving money for, if not to spend on things I enjoy? I'm still young, I don't have children, and it occurs to me that I can actually choose for myself where and how I want to live. So during this year I'm going to look around, test out the pace of life in other cities, and make an informed decision about where I'm going to aim next.

It's the wrong path by all my previous standards. But for the wrong choice, it sure feels right.