Amaxophobia Part 2

April 13

This post will make more sense if you read Amaxophobia Part 1 first.

The visit to the eye place was fine. A little shopping around Fred Meyer afterward was OK too. Here’s what wasn’t fine: I so rarely get out of the office on my own that I’d had a whole plan, after I got my eye exam, to wander around a little and explore. Only now, there was no way at all that I could face doing that. It was dark outside, still rainy (of course) and the traffic was as thick as ever. All I could think was how much I wanted to be away from it and home.

So I got in my car and touched the “Home” icon on my GPS. It instructed me, once again, to get on The Dreaded I-5. As I sat in the traffic inching its way onto the highway, the GPS popped up with a blue screen and a choice: There was traffic ahead. Did I want to stay on this route or try an alternate route? I figured I’d stay on this route since I couldn’t see an easy way out of the traffic to get on a different one anyhow.

That’s when I discovered that I couldn’t reach the GPS and keep my foot on the brake pedal at the same time. My new-to-me car had an aerodymanic profile that includes a long windshield angled low, so that when I suction-cupped the GPS near the bottom of the windshield so it wouldn’t obstruct my vision, I had also put it too far away for my short arms to easily reach. Until I made a selection, the blue screen would remain, which meant I no longer had a map to guide me. In a calmer state I would have remembered that whether or not I could see the map, the GPS would still give me vocal instructions and I would still make my way home. But all I could think was that I was alone in the dark in the rain in heavy traffic and effectively blind as to where to go.

Eventually, thankfully, the traffic got so bad that it came to a complete halt, which gave me the few moments I needed to squirm my way up to the windshield and touch the icon for “Current Route.” The map reappeared. Half an hour later I pulled up outside our white farmhouse and before I even got out of the car, I pulled the GPS off the windshield and replaced it where I could reach it.

Then I went inside in a high dudgeon. I’d have railed to Bill if he’d been home but he was out somewhere, probably playing music. So I did something I nearly never do–all by myself I poured myself a small scotch. I stood in the living room, with the lights still off, drinking my scotch and looking out the window and thinking: All I wanted was a damned eye exam! It would have been the simplest thing in the world to drive down to Kingston and go to Vision Excel on 9w. If only we were still back there.

But here’s the thing. Yes there’s nasty, nasty traffic here, but Washington drivers are also different from the drivers on the East Coast, and in a good way. In retrospect, one thing that added to my general sense of unease on the drive to and from the eye exam was the complete lack of aggression on the road. No honking. Washington drivers almost never use their horns. They don’t tailgate or flash their lights at you, except to warn of a nearby cop. Eventually, I came to think of it this way: Washington drivers don’t think it’s their job to tell other drivers how to drive.

That makes them different from New York drivers–even Bill. If Bill finds himself driving behind someone going down a country road at five miles less than the speed limit, he’ll complain bitterly to me in the passenger seat, but also might find himself tailgating and maybe flashing his lights. And if someone is going slow in the left lane, rather than pass on the right he’ll communicate in every way he can that the driver ahead of him should pull the hell over.

Back in New York I had become accustomed to this sort of instruction (to use a kind term for it) from my fellow drivers. Washington drivers may go around you if there’s room to do it. But most of them won’t pressure you if they think you’re going too fast, or too slow, or waiting too long to make a turn, or whatever it may be. This live-and-let-live approach to life goes way beyond just driving. I think it’s a legacy of the pioneer West, as opposed to the colonial East.

They also look out for other drivers in ways New Yorkers don’t. The merging lanes onto Route 9 from Second Street near our house seem impossibly–dangerously–short to me. But that’s because, in my mind, I’m imagining how New York drivers would barrel by them, not giving entering drivers much space to join the road, making things awkward for everyone.

Washington drivers always, always let other drivers in. To a fault. The first time I merged onto Route 9, I saw a car coming up behind me and slowed way down, assuming it would fly past and then I’d merge onto the road. Only it didn’t fly past as I waited, going slower and slower. Finally I heard the rare sound of a horn and looked in my mirror to discover that the other driver had slowed to a crawl and was patiently waiting for me to enter the road.

What a weird experience.

Image: Travis Juntara via Creative Commons

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Welcome Home!

Hawthorne

I hadn’t been in the Hawthorne Pub in many months, and things had changed. It was still tiny, the downstairs of what had once been an ordinary house, with a not-too-big room in the front with tables and a stage for performers. Further back was an even smaller room, called, for some reason, the Whistle Punk Tap Room, where there was a bar with taps and wines. No hard liquor at the Hawthorne.

The walls were still dark wood with random rock-and-roll art artifacts mounted on them, including a poster for Lost Dogma, the band where Ted, the owner, was the bass player. But the wall between the tap room and the performance room had in large part been removed and fixtures everywhere had been redone and spiffed up, the work of our soon-to-be good friend Kyle.

It was our second night in Snohomish County, the night of Bill’s gig that we had raced across the country to make. And the place was packed. “When Bill has a gig, everybody plays!” I’d once heard him tell some musician friends. And indeed, after he started out with his familiar tunes and “Gear Shift,” his signature tune that demonstrates his agility with a pick and a slide, he began inviting them onto the stage,  to join him.

I sat, spouse of the star, at a table right up front, jammed in with Joe, Bill’s new good friend, a keyboard, guitar player, and one of the few singers I’ve encountered on a par with Bill. Joe and Bill together are a duo called Cool & Groovy (Bill’s “Cool” and Joe’s “Groovy,” the theory goes). Bruce, ASJA’s webmaster and our first friend in Seattle sat on my other side with his friend. The stage got more and more crowded as musicians came and, less often, went. “Welcome home!” they told Bill, one after another. “Welcome home!”

I sat there smiling. He was so happy, and I was happy for him. But also a little envious. He was so at home here, and already had so many friends. When would I make my own friends? And when would this place start feeling like home?

Toward the end of the evening, Bill decided to try something out he’d been fooling with behind the wheel for the last couple of days of our trip, a jazzy little jingle he’d made up just for the Hawthorne:

Come to the Hawthorne if you like good music,

Come to the Hawthorne if you like good food.

Come to the Hawthorne for local beer, wine, and cider–

Nothing’s finer than a night out at the…Hawthorne!

There were two verses and a bridge and Bill had worked it all out while driving–vocally. Unfortunately, although he’s extraordinarily good at both driving and playing guitar, even Bill couldn’t do both those things at once so he hadn’t worked out the guitar part to go with it. This, from what I’ve observed, is the opposite of how he usually writes songs, which begin on the guitar and have a vocal line and lyrics added afterward.

But Bill is a fearless performer and lives (both musically and in life) by his ability to improvise. So he went for it. He summoned Rod, who plays bass for about half the bands in Snohomish to the stage. Now, Rod had never heard this little tune and he was about to provide its only accompaniment, but being another fearless performer, he was game.

Only now, where was the Hawthorne’s owner Ted? Tapping a keg, it turns out, an operation that takes a little while and can’t be stopped in the middle. There was a bit of awkward shuffling around but eventually Ted appeared, looking harried and carrying a very large wrench.

“We don’t got it,” Bill said. “But we’re going to do it anyway.” And he launched into “Come to the Hawthorne” with Rod following along pretty decently on his bass.

By the end of the evening, Bill was glowing and all his friends had crowded on and off the stage. Near the end, he played with Jeff, a sort of musical Swiss army knife who plays guitar, drums, and harmonica. They did Railroad Earth’s “Bird in a House,” a song that I love and didn’t know anyone else knew about. Then Bill finished off with a couple of his songs.

We climbed happily into our van bed with our cats that night. This was it. It was exactly what we’d come here for, ripping up our Woodstock life and driving more than 3,000 miles with our cats cooped up and our trailer in tow. Just this.

Goodbye to Friends who Don’t Know I’m Their Friend

bear

On a summer day in 1997, I was sitting in my office simultaneously working and chatting online with Bill, who was in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He had a new job at a tech startup there so ours was, temporarily, a commuter relationship. I glanced idly out the window, then did a double-take. A medium-sized bear was ambling across the yard.

“BEAR!!” I typed in Bill’s chat box. And then, “BRB [be right back] gotta go see.”

I know I typed that second sentence. I have a clear and distinct memory of typing it. But Bill swears that at his end what he saw was “BEAR!!” and then…nothing for several minutes.

Meantime I was opening the door and looking cautiously outside. When my cat squeezed past me I said, “Be careful Simon! There’s a bear.” That was enough to spook the bear and it ran away. So I went back to my desk and resumed chatting with Bill, who was about to call to make sure I was all right.

There probably wasn’t much to worry about. The black bears in the Northeast are famously wimpy. Even though they’re around us all the time, so much so that keeping garbage cans outdoors is problematic, a nature writer friend tells me there are only four known instances in all of history of one attacking a human.

I love living in a place where a bear might wander by. I love that a giant black snake took up residence in my compost pile (once I looked it up and ascertained it wasn’t poisonous). Deer argue over our field. Hawks float overhead screaming their triple scream. We can’t see them, but we know we have a neighborhood full of barred owls because we hear them at night, asking each other “Who cooks for you?” over and over.

In early spring, the sound of peepers and trilling toads fills the night and I go out with a flashlight and rubber boots and stand around the wet part of the field till I home in on one so I can watch it peeping. Their troats expand and turn transluscent, like bubble gum bubbles.

All summer I mix sugar water for the hummingbirds that build nests in our trees — most likely because they’ve learned our house is a dependable source of sugar water. Knowing they’re nesting there, I make a point of keeping the feeders cleaned and filled. “They commit, so I have to commit,” is how I explain it. Later in the season, adolescent hummers come by and I love knowing that our yard is the only place they’ve ever lived. I like to think they’ll return in the spring with their new mates.

In the winter, it’s a similar story with the songbirds. I hang a feeder with a giant squirrel baffle from a tree outside the living room window and tufted titmice and chickadees stuff themselves all season. Finches, with their powerful beaks, park on the feeder perches, breaking up the seeds and eating them right there. Occasionally a piliated woodpecker, too lazy to hunt for grubs, hangs on the feeder chasing all the other birds away. A flashy cardinal couple wanders by, eating spilled seeds on the ground rather than the feeder. And of course there are always the squirrels who make their way past my baffle by means so varied and devious we had to use a webcam to find out how they did it.

Around here, we’re only supposed to feed songbirds from December 1 to April 1, because of the aforementioned bears. And the hummingbirds are only around from May to October or so.  Which means there’s a month or two during late fall and spring when I’m feeding no one. It always seems a little lonely; it’s almost as if these wild things were my extra pets. Only now I’m about to stop feeding them forever. If we make our target departure date of September 1, I won’t even see this crop of hummers through the whole season.

I guess it’s fitting that this summer was only the second time in more than 20 years that I saw a bear in our yard. I was, again, sitting in my office, only this time it was about 1:30 a.m. The motion sensor light on our garage came on, and as always I peered out the window, trying to see what had set it off. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I wouldn’t have spotted the slightly blacker shape of a bear against the night. Right behind it was the exact same shape in miniature—the smallest cub I’ve ever seen. The cub did not gambole around but walked in lockstep right behind what I assume was its mother.

I was alone in the house; Bill was spending a month in Washington, playing gigs and preparing for our move. This time, I ran for my smartphone, both so I could take a video and send a text to Bill: “Bear followed by tiny cub just walked into garage!!”

Bill was performing and didn’t see my message, and by the time I got back to the window, I couldn’t see the bears either. The next day I made a lot of loud banging noises around and in the garage to see if they’d stayed. It seems they’d left right away. There was nothing in our garage to tempt them.

This is just random coincidence, but my pattern-loving human brain wants to parse it, to tease out some meaning. My final summer in the Hudson Valley, where I always thought I’d raise a child, where I tried and failed to bring that child to term, a mother bear with an almost-newborn cub strolls by to bid me farewell. I’m saying goodbye too, not only to this home and these woods, but also the life I once thought I’d have here.

I’m going on an adventure that would never have been possible if I had indeed become a parent. For everything lost, something else is gained. But I will miss these wild creatures who feel like they’re somehow mine. A small part of me wants to believe that in their way, they’ll miss me too.

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Image: Chris Miller. 

To RV or Not to RV?

295799422_a02e151ca1_oBill and I are moving to the Seattle area. We know that much. And we have a target, if challenging, departure date: September 1.

Pretty much everything else is up for debate. Beginning with where, exactly, we’re moving to. “Do you have a place?” friends and colleagues asked at the ASJA conference last week. Well no. We’re planning to start out by renting and you can’t rent a place in May if you don’t plan to move in till September. We’ve looked at plenty of rental listings and rentals from the outside and even a few on the inside, and that’s about all we can do.

Besides, we don’t quite agree on where to rent. About 45 minutes from the city proper is a town named Snohomish that we both like a lot, and even if we didn’t, it would be tempting for its name alone. It’s a gem of a small town, as Bill calls it, with bars where he’s been getting gigs. Our very good friends Drew and Cindy live just a few miles away. There’s a nice Thai restaurant, a lovely used bookstore, a gorgeous yoga studio, and, this being the PNW (Pacfic Northwest, for the uninitiated), several great coffee shops. And a theater where a lot of his musical pals play every Friday night.

Not only that, unlike most of the towns around there, Snohomish has buildings that date back to the 20s and 30s. That’s a big plus for me. I’ve spent my whole life in places where history was all around. In Ulster County, stone walls built by farmers a century ago still run through the woods. Moving west I’m likely to go through Old Stuff Withdrawal.

Snohomish v. Seattle

All signs would seem to point to Snohomish. Except. That will put me a 45-minute drive outside a vibrant, happening city. How often will I actually go to Seattle? Will I really get to know it? This concern mystifies never-been-urban Bill. Woodstock is a small town, he says. You love living there.

I do love it but only because I already thoroughly know Manhattan. If not, I might find it frustrating. This is a sentiment he cannot understand no matter how many times I try to explain. He grew up in a small city 70 miles from New York and that’s about as close as he ever wants to get to it.

We talked about living in the city but the more that seemed like a reality, the more Bill couldn’t bear the idea. We talked about living in Snohomish, but the more that seemed like a reality, the more it felt to me like stepping onto a path in which nearly everything would be pre-decided for us. I’m moving 3,000 miles for your music career and you can’t live in the neighborhood I choose? I say. Snohomish is where the places I play and the musicians I play with are, he retorts. You’re moving 3,000 miles for my music career, but making it harder for me to play.

Then there’s the question of how we get there. With three cats to whom we’re absurdly devoted, we can’t fly. Maybe they’d be OK riding in a car for ten days, maybe not. But stuff has to come with us too. To Bill, this all adds up to one solution: “RV.” Or maybe “RV—at long last!” He’s been suggesting an RV trip almost since we first met. I’ve been resisting the idea for just that long. Now, with an entire continent to drive across, especially with three cats, the RV solution is sounding more logical, and he’s planning a lovely-sounding itinerary through several national parks, and studiously shopping the used RV market with my somewhat uncertain blessing.

But then he upped the ante: “Let’s live in an RV park when we get there,” he suggested, mainly because they’re inexpensive and, let’s face it, he loves the idea of RV living. My feelings about living in an RV park are similar to his about living in the middle of the city. “Maybe you should live in an RV park and I’ll go find an apartment in town!” I snapped at him.

The following morning, he burst into my office with excitement. “I think I’ve found a solution!” he told me. “We’ll have an RV in an RV park and a studio apartment in the city.”

“I said that.”

“But you were joking,” he said. (That’s a lot nicer way to put it than “being snotty” which might be closer to the truth.) “I’m serious. I’m looking at the rents of studio apartments. We could get one, and rent a space in an RV park, for less than we’d spend on a one- or two-bedroom apartment.”

So he’s found some good deals on real estate sites, but will they turn out to be places one would actually want to live? I don’t know. Will we really be able to berth an RV as inexpensively as he thinks? No clue there either. Is this just another wild idea that will evaporate in the harsh light of reality? Could be.

But this is the kind of reason I married the man. Faced with a complete disconnect of our desires, he mentally jumps the track and thinks up a solution that gives each of us what we really want.

And so, at least for now, this is our plan.

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Image: Bruce Fingerhood (Image is for illustrative purposes only. We don’t have one yet…)