Heading into the pre-dawn darkness out of Tuscon,Arizona I was coughing and hacking up my third lung from the congestion and stomach aliment that had taken hold of my internals and wrecked havoc on my incredible Mexican fiesta the night before. I learned later that same day the hotel had experienced a similar bout of employee infected moments really similar to my own symptoms.
It all kind of made sense now as I was staying just a room to the right of the main hotel storage room and possibly a few stray germs had decided to overstay their welcome and did not officially check out until I laid my head on the pillow and watched a recorded programming of the Wednesday night “American Idol” show.
It was actually kind of fitting in an eerie way that I was going to be battling a congestive respiratory system aliment on the way to my next stop. For I was going to veer a bit off the beaten path of I-10 and wander a bit South to pay homage to a great-great Uncle who some view as a cad, a drunkard or even a man who did not fear death. I was heading to Tombstone, Arizona to visit the place the set my relative John Henry “Doc” Holliday on the map.
Uncle John had begun his exodus towards Tombstone back in 1873, making stops in Dallas where he discovered his dental tools made meager funds compared to a deck of cards. After a few run ins over gambling and a shooting of an innkeeper, he made his way across the painted desert hoping it would ease his suffering or hasten his retreat from life.
At this point of his life at the young age of 30, Uncle John had a “dead man’s” mindset. Not afraid to live, but also not afraid to pull a gun, knife or razor sharp bottle edge to defend his honor, life or his meager winnings.
Some called him a cold hearted man, but when death has you by the lungs and squeezes you, I can understand the need for no monkey business.By the way, Uncle John and I are also distant cousins of Margaret Mitchell, who our friend Jane Heller will tell you wrote a pretty awesome book on the South.
I arrived in the dusty trail town about High Noon, which just seemed fitting. I got out of the car coughing up a storm and went into the General Store for a liquid libation to quench the parch lips and bring me back to earth. Walking around that town got me to thinking if I could survive in a town with law, but fought with iron, steel and gunpowder. I also got a sense I was right at home here..eerily right at home.
Wandered down the side of the dirt street towards the O K Corral possibly the same path Uncle John took with Wyatt Earp and his brothers’ that faithful day. I learned later that day that he was also a southpaw shooter like myself expect with a rifle. That fact sent shivers through me as I am also a better shot with a rifle or shotgun on my right shoulder. More and more I was feeling this place grow on me.
I sat in the corral for about 5 minutes just taking the place in from corner to corner. I then said a prayer for Uncle John and proceeded to the Birdcage. It was weird, but I felt like I had a traveler with me walking right along beside me. A sense of someone guiding me to this watering hole, and by my side as I walked through looking at the exhibits, pondering the lower card rooms and “women’s quarters”.
I could almost feel the pressure and smell of angst in the stale lower room’s air, but I felt comforted at the same time. Again, this place began to take a grip of me. Might have found my own “Big Nose Kate”, but she is a more petite flowing mane damsel named Josie.
I almost stayed for the rest of the day, but I was feeling a bit flushed and needed to get rest and some serious shuteye. I sprinted towards the Texas border like a felon bandito trying out outrun the approaching posse’. I must have gotten to the place my magic, because I do not remember driving for long, or over the extended portion of the “Land of Enchantment” that is New Mexico. I had somehow traveled through 3 states and only remembered Tombstone by nightfall. It was 5 pm and my head hit the pillow for a moment’s rest.
I awoke again at 6 am clutching a hat I had bought in Tombstone. My uncle John might not have been as handsome as the guys who played him such as Cesar Romero, Kirk Douglas, Val Kilmer or even Dennis Quaid, but he was a educated man, a person of astute knowledge and a gambler in more than the game of cards.
As sick as I was that day, there was no keeping me from going to Tombstone. I had to fulfill a quest within myself to see the place that propelled my uncle to legend status. One local even commented how ironic it was that a relative of Doc Holliday would be coughing and wearing a cap with a “TB” on it in the town of Tombstone. Not sure why, but I was proud of that back-handed compliment.
I had to go see and feel for myself what Tombstone was all about. What I came away with was a new found respect for the men of that era and a confirmation that Uncle John, no matter what you think of him ethically will always be a legend and hero in my mind.
My second day in the trek across America really opened my eyes to a few things. Sure I have heard the smog jokes, and even seen a bit of smoky haze associated with daytime “live” shot out of Los Angeles, but today I got a full video shot of what it is like and how it ruins the scenery that is the painted desert between L A and Palm Springs.
If you are joining this journey late, I got a job offer of a lifetime to transport a vehicle across the country from bay-2-bay (San Fran to Tampa) with all expenses paid and I jumped at it like a sugar craved kid towards those intoxicating candy canes at Christmas time. But let’s get back to the trek…Alright?
I had heard the constant bickering and foul-mouthed comments on the freeway system, but possibly I just hit it on a good day ( a Wednesday). But as soon as I got to the Pasadena exit, a thick and gray haze began to en gulp the entire roadway. I have seen the smog residue in Florida on a breeze less day, but our crossing sea breezes tend to clean the area of this environmental hazard pretty much by lunch time in the Summer.
Maybe it is just my Florida lungs, but I decided I needed the whole enchilada and convinced myself for the art form I had to take in a multitude of deep lung exercises to see just how it would effect me if I decided to job in the gray matter. I had a bit of difficulty taking in deep breathes, and somehow my throat stayed a bit raspy until I popped open another Diet Dr Pepper and coated my tonsils with the elixir.
I guess it is true that sometimes you could physically take a knife and carve out of piece of this gray pea soup. Another of life’s urban legends kicks me in the respiratory system.
The next sight to hit my eyes after exiting Los Angeles on the I-10 corridor which would become my constant traveling companion was the sight that reminded me more of a modern Netherlands than Tinsel-town. Rising above the haze and traffic were these towering electric producing wind turbines, basically configured into a wind farm to harvest any wind power from a multitude of directions.
Not just large towering skyscraper windmills, but also small units getting that level of breeze just kissing the surface of the Cali landscape. I really wish somewhere in Florida could invest money and constructive resources to produce such a harvest of our nightly sea breeze crop, and think of the extra power a hurricane would produce on the short term. But it is great to see green technology in a region that also has some environmental woes.
Then I begin the trek into what some called the painted desert portion of my trip. I had previously been warned that the L A to Tucson road trip could be a boring trip of countless hills and valleys with only sagebrush and sand for miles. So maybe I was predestined for the worse, and got the thrill of seeing the sediment rock formations and the compressed materials etching out intricate patterns in the rocks.
Of swirling miniature dust storms picking up trash, sand and even the lone tumbleweed and whirling it round and round within its wind-aided tentacles. But then again, I am an optimist. I actually loved this portion of the trip. Seeing the land that so many fought for day and night, that millions of settlers hoping for a new life, financial rewards or even a change of scenery.
I even tried to catch up with one of those souls seeking a change of Scenery, but Ex-Rays LHP Scott Kazmir had left the Anaheim Angels Phoenix Spring Training site before I got there. Going through Phoenix, I got the feeling why people lived there. But then again, it was Spring time, not the pounding heat of late July or August.
But the real fun hit me in Tuscon. First off, I got to the hotel and got a rare chance to sit by the pool and catch up on a few missed shows on my laptop loving the luxury of the moment. I had made reservations for later that night at the oldest Mexican restaurant in town, El Charro, and was excited by the reviews and accolades given to this authentic established local fare.
I got the “Carne Seca Plate” which gave me 1/4 pound of awesome Sonoran Sun dried Angus beef shredded and flash grilled with green chiles, onions and special spices. It was served with guacamole, homemade Pico de Charro salsa, arroz and frijoles refritos or Charoos and a choice of flour or corn tortillas.
I picked both types of tortillas and also asked for a side of green and red chile ( did not want to offend the cook). Washed down all this authentic goodness with an intoxicating in-house sangria that took my socks, shoes and maybe even my little toe away. Oh, did I mention this is the oldest Mexican restaurant operating in the United States?
I was in Tuscon heaven. The bar at the hotel also had Karaoke tonight, and a coupon for 2 free drinks for moi. I went into the lounge and ordered an adult beverage, met some University of Arizona grad students, sang a few cover songs then my stomach began to do back flips on me. I was starting to sweat in the 47 degree temperatures and was told I looked a little flushed.
I could tell from the pain it was not the food I had just joyfully ingested, but something had crept up on me, possibly the bold Florida bravado of not wearing a coat during the 40-odd degree days in San Francisco and Victorville,California. I went into the room and even as it was 55 degrees in there, I was sweating like I had just run a marathon. But this couldn’t happen, I am on a schedule, and sickness was not on the agenda.
Believe me, I did not take any pictures of the next 8 hours….It was not good. I found out later that morning that the whole hotel staff and some guests had also fallen to an unknown virus that seemed to hang on for about 2 days, then finally disappear. This was not good, I had to be in Fort Stockton, Texas by nightfall on the next day.
For some reason during a feverish haze I had visions of the movie “Soylent Green” running through my mind…..What was in that green mole’ again?
To say this mystery ailment was about to put cramps into my schedule,stomach and wallet were understatements. Guess you’ll have to check back later for the latest to see what transpired next……(story cliffhanger moved used by so many of the serial Westerns I watched in black and white as a kid).
I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” as a teenager and was totally fascinated with the simple idea of a group of people possibly starting at a point in this country and tracing their steps back to their own senses of reality in their current hometowns. So when I got the opportunity for a job where I would fly to another location and possibly do a trans-continental trip….with pay, you know I took it without regret.
So last Sunday I got on a silver bird and flew to that city that the rock ballad group Journey calls home, and set my adventure into motion. But before I could get to that “city by the bayyyyy“, I had to make a drop into Dallas/Fort Worth to change birds. I guess the seagull that got om Tampa to Dallas had other plans on this Sabbath Day.
In this city that boasts how big things are, the strangest thing happened. I found the most adventurous ride of my life outside of the premise of an amusement park, or Disney’s Space Mountain. Who knew besides the thousands of Super Bowl fans who flocked in on birds of their own that this airports tram system was such an E-ticket ride.
Seriously, it bucked, chucked and possibly threw me off all in the span of a few air side terminals. It was the most fun I have ever had outside the amusement arena, and I truly loved it. After that even the Shuttle driver with the hot brake foot and the bad rear shocks on his van seemed like a petty imitation, or worse, a disappointment. But I finally arrived in the 1970’s era looking SFO airport and was onto my first adventure.
Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio Network Pre-game host read a Facebook plant by me and exploded with places and things I had to do while camped out in the “other” bay area. From going to the old haunts of the San Francisco Seals, to standing outside AT&T Park banging to be let in,I was in a city that showed me respect, manners and even a bit of oddity.
I even hit a few establishments mentioned by Herrera and hoisted a few to the loss of Jayne Russell and Duck Snider last night. I even think I saw celebrity chef Chris Constantine slurping a back bacon ice cream cone, but San Fran is full of those chef types. So this morning as the rest of the city was just waking from a long night’s catnap, I ventured in my mobile of choice back to my Florida nirvana hoping for the Kerouac moment.
The day started with me missing my cut-off towards the South and I accidentally went approximately 9 miles die North of intended turn target and got to learn the great freeway entrance stop light adventure. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you there is a guy in a maroon Kia Soul who is still cursing my existence.. Seems in California, this light is for EACH auto, not the whole line…..I wish I had a Oregon tag on the car, then he could blame Portland.
Finally I got my bearing straight and began to head towards the smog-congested mountain tops that had kissed my morning “hello” over the last few days. I was excited for a closer look to see if this region actually had snow, or some one had spray-paint tagged the summits. But before I reached those ice cream shaped domes of snow, I went past the most beautiful sight so far on this trip.
No, it was not Sandra Bullock or Anne Hathaway, it was a water-filled retention lake that was being kissed by a line of clouds, simple breathtaking. I of course could not get a photo of this since the road had no shoulder, and my trusty camera was still in the trunk.
But soon I was in a valley where the air had the pleasant aroma of almonds, with trees a bloom with buds of pinks and off-white. It was at this time I made my first encounter with two Indian ( not Native American) gentleman in a Shell station perched high upon a hill over looking a possible 100 mile stretch of budding plants and bee boxes.
They then told me about the region and its “exports”, which also included a grand one pound bag of Habenero-dusted pistachios that they presented to me as a gift. I decided to also splurge on a pound of glorious almonds with the chances of having an accident with a chocolate bar sometime in the evening ( has not happened yet). But I left that Shell station in the heavens and continued on my odyssey.
I must had traveled 2 hundred miles before a crop duster seemed to want to “buzz my tower” as the vibrations of the small one-seat plane shook the car as he leveled to deliver a crushing blow of chemicals to the unfortunate pests invading this field. But it was cool to see that the grand old art of applying pesticides from the air was still vogue.
But I had a mountain to climb. And even as my new car ( which had 31 miles on it that a.m. tried to make it up the massive mount, I could see trucks and auto pulling trailers engine’s begin to wheeze, cough and sputter as they tackled this grand rocky monument. I was amazed at the snow still kissing the top tier of the mountain, but also mesmerized by the sheer size of the cutting into the mountain needed to bring such a highway to life.
I finally got to the top and took my exit towards the city of Lancaster and again gazed in wonder as the field at Clear channel Stadium, where the Lancaster Jethawks play was so green, while the rest of the city had that rustic clay look and feel to its turf. Was great to view that ballpark in all its green glory before setting out into the semi-desert ringed by more majestic snow-capped mountains.
Slowly I made my way past the odd blue-hued sage brush and dust that seemed to rise into the air and form a wall around the car towards the town of Victorville, California. But first I had to traverse a road that was plagued by “flooded” signs with massive puddles of rain runoff still sticking to the sides of the road just out of the reach of the tall cactus trees wanting a tasty aqua break.
As I got near my hotel, a High School came into view and there on the side of the corner was the biggest Ray-hawk motif I had ever seen. The kid had to have pounds of product in that Mohawk to even get it to not sway in the slight cross breeze. Again, the dastardly camera had been left out of reach and when the light turned green, a car behind me impatiently wanted me to move or die….not sure which?
I checked into my room, popped onto the Internet, took care of some mail, giggled a bit at a television show I missed, but recorded and set about downloading the days actions into my mind again. The Indian’s generosity, the purely nirvana scene of water and clouds meeting, then the oddity of snow and desert in the same photo. But I got one last surprise as I ventured into a store called Vallarta and found a Hispanic paradise that Florida really needs to invest in.
I got some awesome spicy Menudo and a few other Mexican-based dishes for dinner and set about on the quest for a food comma to put me to bed for another grand journey in the morning. With a belly full of hotel furnished waffles and great California OJ, I will leave this town that reminds me of Mexico City ( but without the crime) and head into the reaches of Arizona.
Tomorrow night it will be Tucson, and I can’t wait to see what the karma Gods have in store for me tomorrow……I hope Kerouac is jealous up there about this trip, because I am fulfilling my own “journey to enlightenment” here. But with gas in the boondocks of Cali topping the $ 4 mark. this m ight be the only time in my life to take such a trip…..unless you have 6 Lotto number for me?