West Coast Wander, Day 9: Santa Barbara to San Clemente, California

In which we pass many towns ending in Beach.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

I somehow lost my notes for this day of travel, so I had to reconstruct them using our photos and itinerary. I hope I haven’t missed anything crucial. I suppose you’ll never know, but it bugs me.

I slept so well in our lovely cabin that I didn’t even have to be rousted out of bed by Dear Husband. And then to make the day begin on an even more positive note, DH made us breakfast using the last of our eggs. (We have been trying to eat out only once a day, and have made food from our cooler the rest of the time, but we’re reaching the end of our journey and trying to use things up. I hate wasting food.)

So after having eaten the breakfast of champions, we decided to drive around Santa Barbara and enjoy it in the daylight, all the while looking for souvenirs. Because I had to have souvenirs. After all, my name is Barbara, and while I’ve always known I was a saint, no one else does. So t-shirts were required. And postcards of the mission, on which I wrote, “See? I’m a saint and I’m on a mission!”

Just humor me. My friends and family have to.

We would have loved to take a whale watching cruise to Anacapa Island, but, again, time worked against us. Onward.

Instead, we headed to Ventura, California, to check out its many thrift shops on Main Street. While we didn’t buy much, it’s always fun to go back in time in a real vintage thrift shop. And a dog, sound asleep in a baby carriage out front, made me laugh. (I miss my dogs. We are so lucky to have a kind and reliable dog sitter in our good friend Herb.) We did get a vase, which was kind of crazy since it would have to make it home in one piece, but you know…impulse rules.

After that, we wandered in a pretty little park, mostly to use the public restrooms. We noticed there were a lot of homeless people in the area, and that gave me an idea. There really was no way we were going to eat all the food in our cooler. So we filled up a bag with yogurt, spoons, and cheese, and I gave it to the closest group to share around. They needed it and we had it, so why not?

After that we drove along the coast some more, and then stopped to have a picnic lunch in Malibu, on the rocks overlooking the ocean. It was a beautiful day. I have no idea why, but food always seems to taste better when eaten out-of-doors.

We drove past the Getty Villa, but as was the recurring theme this trip, it was closed, as was the Anderson House. This pandemic kills in a variety of ways. We just focused on the beautiful day. We remained on the coast road despite our GPS urging us to take the freeway. We did drive through a lot of stop lights (after they had turned green, of course).

We also passed the Santa Monica pier, and drove through Venice, including the canal neighborhood from whence it got its name. We drove through a lot of towns ending in Beach. I think I was getting tired.

We even saw a living wall of succulents! Okay, California, now you’re just showing off. Have mercy.

Finally, we pulled into San Clemente, to stay in a quirky hotel called Nomads. It’s theme is “Eat. Sleep. Surf.” And you could tell that they mostly cater to surfers. There was even a rack in the room to prop up surfboards, and a fold down bench in an unusually long shower stall where you could wash and wax them.

This was a cool place, though. The bathroom sink was made out of solid wood. I was trying to figure out a way to inconspicuously rip it off the wall and bring it home with me. No luck.

So I comforted myself with pizza from the restaurant two doors down, where we met up with friends. It made me realize I hadn’t spoken to anyone but DH in well over a week. He’s good company, but, you know, it was a fun evening.

When we got back to Nomads, I began to anticipate problems when I noticed that they provide a heaping bowl of ear plugs beside the bed, as well as a sound machine. That’s never a good sign.

And sure enough, it sounded like the surfers upstairs were rolling bowling balls across the floor. Intermittently. All evening long. And when anyone took a shower, the pipes groaned and shuddered in the whole building. It was like being back in my college dormitory all over again. And I didn’t like my college dormitory. At all.

But this was such a cool hotel, in a perfect location, and we were to be there for two glorious nights without having to schlep our luggage from pillar to post, so I just made very good use of those ear plugs enhanced by the sound of electronic ocean waves, and managed to sleep quite well, to my utter shock.

I don’t suppose I should have been all that shocked, though. We were now at the southernmost point in our coastal trip, and had started out within view of Canada, and were now within 75 miles of Mexico. We had covered a lot of ground, and we still had several days to go.

Here’s where you’ll find Part 10.

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An Environmental Reset

An opportunity to think about what we’ve done.

I just read an article that says that now that there are no tourists in Venice, the canals are so clear that you can see the fish in them, and that dolphins have been spotted for the first time in recent memory. How wonderful. I wish I could see that, but unfortunately, our trip to Italy has been cancelled.

And then this article on the NPR website shows that the air pollution in China has all but disappeared, because people aren’t driving, and factories aren’t running. China’s carbon footprint isn’t nearly as footy or printy as it was this time last year. Again, good news.

As someone said on a meme that is going around, it’s almost as if the planet has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.

We are experiencing a rare opportunity to see a cleaner, less crowded world. I hope that really sinks in with people. I hope it makes us all tread more lightly upon the earth. I hope that we learn more from the horrible tragedy of COVID-19 than the need to wash our hands.

Dolphins venice

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When Will We Get the Message?

The alarms keep ringing. No one seems to want to listen.

I just read a bitterly ironic news article entitled “Italian council is flooded immediately after rejecting measures on climate change”.

It seems that the far right members of the council decided that there was no need to fund renewable resources, green busses, and plans to reduce plastics. And then, as if the universe was weighing in on their arrogance, the water came pouring into the council building for the first time in history.

Venice, the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in my life, got hit with more than 6 feet of water. It’s the worst flood there in 60 years, and a lot of its damage will be permanent. My heart breaks for the city, and I wonder what I’ll see when I visit next spring.

So many disasters keep occurring due to our hubris. Mega-storms. Fires. Floods. Droughts. Saltwater intrusion. Sea level rise.

None of this is normal. The alarms keep ringing. But no one seems to want to listen.

It will be horrible karma if we kill off this planet and our last thoughts are that we should have done something, but couldn’t be bothered.

It makes me want to slap a whole lot of people upside the head.

Climate Change

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Mental Walkabout

Once upon a time, I’d visit a different foreign country every two years. Those were the days. Now, 60 percent of my income goes toward mortgage and utilities, and I don’t see myself ever being able to leave the country again. That breaks my heart, because travel is my reason for being.

Because of this, I’ve become really adept at doing mental walkabouts. If I close my eyes, I can remember exactly what it was like to walk amongst the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I can also explore the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of all the amazing places I’ve been. I can transport myself back to the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and sample, once again, the Hungarian Goulash in Budapest.

The one percent may make it financially impossible for me to explore the world anymore, but they can’t take away my memories. Only dementia or death can do that. I’m terrified of dementia. Death, from my perspective, is simply another way to travel. (Not that I’m in any hurry to hop on that plane.)

Until then, I’ll travel in my mind. I’ll ride bicycles along the canals in Utrecht, Holland, and swim in the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. I’ll snack on fresh bread and local cheese in the Swiss Alps. No matter how dire my financial straits become, as the saying goes, I’ll always have Paris.

Me, in Venice, with some feathered friends.

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Obsolete Plot Twists

I was watching an old suspense movie the other day for lack of anything more appealing to do, and I had to laugh because this story would never work in the modern era. This woman was trapped inside her house and a creepy stalker guy was trying to break in. She rushes to the phone to call for help, only to find it dead. “He’s cut the phone lines!” High drama. Much tension. If you’re in an era without cell phones.

It must be a lot more difficult for writers to come up with a viable plot these days. For example, it’s harder to turn a story on a secret in an age where no one seems to keep them anymore. It’s harder to shock a small town with a scandal when we no longer find anything scandalous. And conspiracy theories are a lot harder to pull off in the age of camera phones, surveillance videos, satellite imagery, and twitter.

I saw the movie Summertime recently, in which Katherine Hepburn, “an aging spinster” (Their description, not mine. She was my age when she played the part.) goes off to Venice on holiday and has a steamy romance, much of which you don’t see because they cut away for, I swear to God, fireworks. But the whole premise of this movie is that this highly repressed woman has to go to Europe to let her hair down. It is a lovely romantic story, but it probably will never be remade because nowadays she wouldn’t go to Venice, she’d just go to Match.com. That’s hardly exciting.

I think future generations are missing out on quite a bit. Gone are the days when we will see people being threatened by impatient thugs as they make a call from a phone booth, or cub reporters click clacking away on typewriters, or operators listening in on your conversations (theoretically).

It kind of makes you wonder what’s coming. I’m waiting for the first movie that employs a 3D printer.


“Ja, das ist der Platz”

Standing in line on a dock in Croatia, waiting for the hydrofoil to Venice, I noticed a German tourist with her dog in tow. I hadn’t seen my dogs in weeks and missed them terribly. Using hand signals to break the language barrier, I asked if I could pet her dog. She nodded.

I began scratching his back, and he gave that shudder of pure ecstasy so typical of canines when you hit that sweet spot. You know the one. It made me smile. And the lady said, “Ja, das ist der Platz.“ Even thought I don’t speak German, I knew exactly what she meant. Yes, that’s the place. That phrase trips through my mind now whenever I pet my own dogs.

How wonderful it must be to have something so simple and innocent transport you to nirvana. I want a platz! (And yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Shame on you. But that’s not what I mean.)

Small doggy gets pleasure from scratching behind the ear.

(Image credit: prosensepet.com)

Hold on to your Highest Point

I’m having a really, really bad few days. They come, they go. The older you get, the more you realize it’s not the end of the world. The pendulum always swings back the other direction eventually.

So, on days like this, when my boss shows his true a**hole colors, the man in my life has no concept of the term emotional support, the dogs are misbehaving, I’m sliding closer and closer to the abyss of homelessness and my landlord doesn’t seem to want me to live where I live anymore, I think of my highest point, and hold on to it as tightly as I can. That’s what I recommend for everyone.

I’m particularly lucky in that I happen to have one of my highest points on film.


That’s me, in San Marco Square in Venice, Italy, 2006. It took me years of sacrifice and determination to get there, and yet there I stand, about to be pooped on by pigeons, despite all financial odds. I made that happen. No one helped. And no one can take that from me.

When you are standing in a dark valley of despair, it’s nice to be able to look up at a high pinnacle, illuminated by sunlight, and see yourself standing there as well.

Thoughts from a Drug-Addled Brain

Since I’m still sick as a dog, I’ve been spending a great deal of time sleeping, and having some really strange Nyquil-induced dreams. One included waterspouts on the Grand Canal in Venice. In another, I was having to open my drawbridge for a herd of giraffes that were walking on top of the river. (Actually, it’s called a “tower” of giraffes, apparently, but if I had just said that with no explanation, would you have known what I was talking about?) It was very stressful because they weren’t slowing down, and I wasn’t sure I’d have the bridge open in time. But you’ll be relieved to know that I did get it open, their fuzzy little horns missing the underside of the bridge by mere inches. I think Dali would be proud of me.


The thing is, I’m sure there are people out there who would say they could interpret these dreams for me. There are dozens of books and websites on dream interpretation. You can find out, for example, that if you dream of your gall bladder it means you need to get rid of negative energy. If I ever dream of my gall bladder I’ll be sure to let you know if that “scans” for me.

Whatever. Honestly, where do they get this stuff? As far as I know no one has found a Rosetta Stone to our subconscious. And if they did, one would assume that each culture would have a different “language”. The lions in my dreams, for example, must mean something entirely different than those dreamed of by a bushman of the Kalahari. So when someone attempts to interpret my dreams with even the slightest degree of certainty, I tend to look at them askance. The truth is, for every unequivocal dream interpretation, there had to be somebody, somewhere, pulling this stuff out of his or her behind.

And let’s not forget that there are always mitigating circumstances with our dreams. I’m sure my chugging Nyquil has added a whole new layer of confusion to my brain, so how can you interpret the dreams I had last night the same way you would on a night when I was healthy and unmedicated? It can even boil down to what you ate before going to sleep. I agree with Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

Trying to figure out your dreams can be fun and it will certainly make you think. But if you honestly believe that there’s a dream dictionary out there that will answer all your questions, keep dreaming.

My Gift to Myself

For many years now I have been setting aside 45 dollars a month to give myself a gift when I turn 50. Just a sort of thank you for having been on the planet for that long, for having survived with at least a modicum of sanity and good health, for having taken care of myself. By then I think I will have earned it.

When the time comes, I plan to take all that money and spend three weeks in Italy. First I’d like to rent a villa on the Amalfi Coast, and explore Pompeii and Naples. I plan to sit in the sun and do nothing at all. Just watch people, become a regular at a cafe, if only for a few days, eat good food, and bask like a lizard on a hot rock. I want Italy to soak into my skin.

Next, I will go to Rome, and not do as the Romans do, because I’m sure they don’t spend their time seeing all the sights and focusing on the history that surrounds them every day. I will be the typical tourist in Rome, and make no apologies for it. I want to see the coliseum, sit on the Spanish steps, eat entirely too much gelato, and tour the Vatican City.

After that, it will be on to Florence. Ah, Firenze! There, I will focus on the architecture. I want to take photographs, and maybe even draw what I see. I have no drawing experience. I’m sure these drawings will be horrible. But I will take them home and frame them because there could be no better souvenir than a horrible drawing that takes you right back to the very moment it was drawn every time you look at it.

But the bulk of my money will be spent, I’m sure, in Venice. I want to live there like a woman of the upper classes. I want a room with a view of the Grand Canal. I want to wear beautiful flowing clothing that I buy in the city. I want to eat at the finest restaurants. My focus there will be art. I will walk slowly through the galleries and savor the creativity. I want to slowly luxuriate in all the best and most beautiful things in life.

One cannot plan these things, of course, but if I’m not in a relationship at that time, I’d like to fall in love–just for a day or two, and preferably with someone who would be facing the same language barrier that I am. Communication has a nasty habit of ruining the fantasy. I simply want to be enveloped in an Italian aura, and then go home and have people remark that occasionally I get a smile on my face that no one but me will understand.

I’m looking forward to turning 50.