Postcards from spring and summer

Sometime this spring, my two youngest grand-daughters had a school project to collect a few postcards from other people in the world. I put out the word to my friends and within days we were blessed by dozens of you, my friends, and friends of friends, taking the time to find a card, write a note to Brooklyn and Peyton, and mail them here to Napa CA USA.

The cards were highlighted on the elementary school library wall. One of their classmates exclaimed to me when I was visiting one day,”They have twenty five hundred postcards!” Not quite.image

Amazing. Love and hugs to all the good people out there.

Special thanks to those of you who then passed the word to your own friends. I’ve read each and every one. My heart is touched.

Apologies for taking so long with this thank you. I was traveling the past month, as soon as school was out, and was not home to picture this.

Once again, my faith in the goodness of strangers has landed smack in my lap. I hope to take time to use your addresses and send you some cards of my own.

This next photo is not near complete. Here are a few of my own postcards I wrote up on the road, had stamped in Canada and then, in an exhausted state of being, forgot to post them before crossing the border to the States.

I’m not near on top of things as the rest of you. I guess I’ll restamp them USA and get them off next week!

IMG_3533

 

It’s the Water!

I never knew I wanted to see Niagara Falls. What was the big deal? Now I know. My recommendation – go there.

After a long and quite eventful day of travel from one country to the other, to “the hat of North America”, Bob and Donna, my couchsurfing hosts and new friends, showed me around their place, giving me the scoop on my sleeping arrangements. I could leave the door open to have the benefit of the air conditioner, and the company of their sweet kitties. “The little black one likes to bite your toes when you sleep, though, just a warning.” It was warm in my room, just the way I like it.

The next morning, Bob was off to his engineering firm, Hamil Machine, designers and manufactures of all kinds of things, including wine barrel racks and conveyer belt automatic wheat grass trimmers. Donna and I went to —IHOP —not IHOB, IHOP. Over easy eggs each of us. I was intrigued by the waitress’s suggestion to order toast for egg dipping, but didn’t ask about it. A couple of days later, on yet another train, I read in my new book, Magpie Murders, that “she was watching her husband dipping a finger of toast in his eggs.” Okay then. Later on, after being home again, my friend pointed out that he dips his toast in his eggs. I’m oblivious.

Traffic was terrible on the second day of Canada Day (this time, Monday, the OFFICIAL day off for Canadians). We decided we’d rather walk and left the car in the IHOP lot. Donna’s sister and daughter met us at the Falls and we all walked and gawked, me the most, at the Falls.

Tickets in hand for three special activities, I went off to do my tourist thing, and they went off on their own, eventually taking a float down some part of the tamer part of a nearby river. Really ice cold water.

The American side of the Falls looked far away and boring. I stayed in Canada. I hopped a bus to walk along the River Walkway, a stretch of river away from the Falls that runs at a class 6 river speed. The power and majesty, the changing colors in the water, the roaring of the river, was as good as it gets. And you know how good that is. I took my time and took it all in, up and down the river and back to the bus through an underground tunnel. I realize it just looks like water, but trust me, the feeling you get as you stand there listening and watching is more than a cold drink of H2O.

Next stop was the Behind the Falls walk, another FAR underground trip, down an elevator and then following along tunnels with lots of other people to stand below and to the side of the Falls. So amazing. Pictures and words can’t tell it all. My crazy writer’s mind wondered if there had ever been a movie made of a disaster in which all the people underground are suddenly thrown into the Falls. The yellow poncho almost made it home with me, but seriously, I had enough to carry around with me. Laptop, books, two kinds of money, snacks and baby wipes.

 

 

Third stop, the Horn Blower. Bob told me later that his company was hired to do some of the reconstruction of the Horn Blower boats when they changed over from the American’s Maid of the Mist.

IMG_3016

The red poncho did indeed keep my camera and my phone and my passport in my wallet nice and dry. Sailing from the dry hot deck to just the outside edge of all that falling water was for lack of a better word, amazing and again, breath-taking. The water splashing over me on that hot day was invigorating. I tell you, it was all I could do to stop saying wow, amazing, oh my gosh, all day long.

My trip was filled here and there with friends and family, and I was also to spend a lot of time – surrounded by people – and alone with my thoughts. That’s where I was those hours on the water, processing the wonders of the world, my own feelings, and listening to the little voice in my heart. The water does that for me.

IMG_9180 2.jpg

I met up again near the Falls with Donna and Bob, my awesome couchsurfing hosts and new friends and we walked into the Niagara Falls streets filled with things you’d see in Coney Island or the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. And more. Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wax Museums, a giant water park in the top of a hotel, miniature race car tracks, dancing in the streets (that was Donna!) and one of the finest burgers I’ve ever had, I think it was at The Works if I remember correctly. I was barely able to finish my meal, but I did. I think Bob had ice cream later. Another shower, another re-packing and I was ready for a good sleep.

Bob was at work the next morning when I awoke. Donna and I thought we’d just eat at home. I had my little packets of oatmeal; I could just throw it in a bowl with some milk and water and microwave it. And then it exploded all over the microwave, so I got to clean up my mess and start over as we downed a few cups of very tasty McCafe coffee she’d French roasted for us, while Donna intermitently sprayed that little black cat with a water bottle each time he braved jumping up onto the table.

Donna dropped me off at the Greyhound station that soon enough delivered me to Toronto where another incredible journey and more amazing and funny people were waiting to meet me.

1+Yq0UO5Q4SmiGyzbtSRJA

 

“Bye Grandma! We’ll miss you!”

Leaving New York, after a short sweet visit with Erin, Chris, Jack, Molly and Ryan, Melissa and little Mac was a bit sad, tinged with so much happiness. I couldn’t get Erin’s first words out of my mind when I arrived a few days earlier in Port Jeff to visit. “I’m so excited to have my hippie Aunt Kathy here!”

Amtrak New York City to Niagara Falls – another beautiful segment on another hot summer day. Take time to overlook the trash, junkyards, industrial zones of American commerce and other eyesores. Doesn’t’ matter which city or country. The #281 (train talk) follows the Hudson River and other water ways much of the journey. No, I don’t know all their names. I can tell you that its incredibly easy for me to sit and watch the scenery go by all day long. Every other look up is a reason to focus my camera, noting the spot on the window that’s the cleanest, with little or no glare to mess up my shot. I try to catch the little things, the curve of the hillside, angles of a barn and a fleeting waterfowl when lucky.

As the heat index went up outside, our train car started heating up on the inside. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but the air conditioning on the trains is usually too much for this Cali girl. It’s COLD in the coach and usually colder in the snack and observation and bar cars. Layered fashionista. In a summer of sandals and flipflops, most of my time is in sneakers and socks.

The car I was seated in started heating up as a result of some malfunction or other. Some fancy piece of equipment I don’t remember the name of. As the car ahead of mine slowly emptied passengers to their destinations along the way, the conductor announced that anyone in our car who wanted to, could move ahead to the next car that was cooler. Most everyone got up – it was rush hour – grabbing their cameras, blankets, electronics and pillows. I got up and moved from a cramped aisle seat with practically no view, to a window seat AND an aisle. Warm, plenty of room to stretch out and no more “it’s too hot” whiners in the wind. 

The real fun began when I arrived in Niagara Falls. The plan was to meet up with Bob and Donna, my new, and amazing Couchsurfing friends. They live in Niagara Falls, Canada. As an aside, all my Couchsurfing friends have proven to be amazing. 

Anyway, I called Bob and told him I was at the Amtrak train station. I could hear the Falls in the distance – sounded like the roar of the ocean. “We’re right here – we don’t see you!” I was looking around and didn’t see them either. One of us eventually asked what side of the border I was on. Laughing ensued. I didn’t know there was an Amtrak feeder station in Niagara Falls CANADA (where they thought I was). I was at the main station in Niagara Falls USA.

No problem, says Bob, just catch a cab over and we’ll meet you on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Okay, I say. The last cab-van was just pulling away from the station as the sun was setting. 

I sprinted over to the cabby and asked if there was room to join in the ride. He asked where I wanted to go. Inside was family of our – two kids, 8 and 10-ish, Mom and Dad. The mom told me in her fine Australian voice to jump in. As we’re driving to the bridge, the driver asks where we’re staying. Whoops. I didn’t know the address of where I was staying and the border people always ask that. I just knew I was meeting up with Bob and Donna. 

The Mom next to me pipes up – “Grandma! You’re staying with us.” My new family and I are laughing and Dad chimes in with the Hotel name to the driver, saying to his wife, “Jumping right to Grandma is a little rough, isn’t it?” I told him that was exactly the right thing! We were all cracking up. I told them how excited I was to be spending my vacation with them and hoped they’d gotten me a suite of my own. More laughter. After crossing the border and retrieving my passport from the driver, I hopped out and waited for the driver to get my suitcase from the luggage area. The kids in the back seat yelled out, “Bye Grandma, we’ll miss you!”

The driver made out on that 5-minute ride. $25 US dollars from me and another $45 Canadian from my family on their way to the hotel. Never to be seen again.

Bob and Donna and I, through a series of brief phone calls, finally met up and were immediately best of friends. It was Sunday – Canada Day! The three of us chatted it up making our way to the Falls that were lit up in the dark night with red and blue hues  to wait for even more excitement. The roads and sidewalks and lawns of the park were packed with revelers. Noisy and wonderful. Fireworks started out on the American side of the Falls and soon enough were echoed by the Canadians.

What a fine welcome to Canada! So much more to come!

 

Da Train, Da Train!

Woke in the middle of my last night in Richmond, hours before boarding my next rail car, to the distant whistle of a train skipping through town. Now that made me smile. The #94 north to New York from Richmond has just left the station, only an hour behind schedule And this time, for the first time, I have the opportunity to enjoy the Quiet Car. And it’s quiet. Quiet enough for a nap.

The last few days have been full with Cristy and Kelly time, dear friends since the late 70’s. As Cristy likes to tell her Richmond friends, she knew me before she knew Kelly. I was also lucky enough to catch up with two of their four sons. Tom (who was born a day after my own son Russell), his wife and new baby were over for pizza and Pineapple Cake night, and Barry, his wife and their bouncy one year old were over last night for Australian Meat Pie night.

Heading into Richmond a few days ago, I chatted up a couple of Amtrak employees in the snack car. The ass’t conductor, James, introduced me to the conductor, Meredith. I told them I’m a writer, gave them my card and invited them to share stories with me anytime. A while later, I was still sitting in the snack car (where I can usually be found) when James stopped and said he had his favorite story to share with me. He sat down across the table.

“I’ve got a lot of stories, some you just wouldn’t believe. But this here’s my favorite. I was sitting at a table just like this one and a bunch of women boarded and sat across there.” He nodded across the aisle. He got quite chummy with one of them – who gave him his card. She was a “Businesswoman”. He was impressed; he didn’t think a successful businesswoman would ever be interested in HIM. After some conversation about work and life, he quipped to her, “Well, listen here young lady, when we get married, there’ll be no pre-nup!”

A week or so went by, he took that card out of his pocket, figuring, what the hell, all she could do is say no. She gave him the card. So he called her and they set up a date to meet halfway between both the towns they then lived in. “I arrived right on time at the meet place. She never showed.” He was really, really angry. Really angry. After a bit of tracking her down, he reached her on the phone. Still really angry, he says to me.

No cell phones back then. She told him she’d left a message on his message machine. And yes, indeed, she had. It so happened, it was just minutes after he walked out the door. In the message, she apologized, said she had to wait for the masonry guy who was working on her home remodel. He got over his anger. They set a new time. They started seeing each other and three years later, they were married. Twenty years ago. She’s still in business and he’s still on the train.

Cristy and Kelly and their kids lived in Richmond long ago when I did, when Howie and Russell were little tykes. Mollie was born here. It was fun to be back. Cristy and I tearfully recalled the sad, sad day I left to take my little kids out to California to live. It turned out to be a very, very good choice.

The perfect artsy-fartsy couple, Cristy and Kelly have not only created amazing works of art personally, their home is a gallery of collected pieces and work their sons have done. Cristy let me go with her to her own workshop, and she and Kelly took the time to fill me in on most of their collections. Amazing stuff.

While Kelly worked and had his meetings at VCU and other work places the past few days, Cristy and I made time to visit the Napoleon exhibit “Power and Splendor” at the Richmond Museum of Fine Arts Richmond Museum of Fine Arts – Napoleon. Napoleon and his mates and underlings (I guess they were all his underlings) were all about marketing his perceived good looks, strength and power. Struck a contemporary note as well.

We roamed around the Richmond Institute of Contemporary Art. Thought provoking (and weird) stuff in there. We had a grand time of it before a tasty, tasty lunch at Can Can Restaurant, sitting outside in the warm humidity, followed by a short shopping trip in the Love of Chocolate shop, an amazing candy shop with the nicest candy shop owner, who knows the answer to any question you can ask about candy.

 

fullsizeoutput_84b6

 

 

 

Piece o’ cake

It’s so easy to lose track of time, what day it is, the day of the month, when I’m coming and where I’m going. Somewhere. Check my written itinerary for assurance.

The family and friend visits are the cake, the train is the icing. Put it together, a bite at a time, I’m a happy camper.

I started out on the #4 from Albuquerque to Chicago. My first sleeping night to get into my routine. Wait for the sun to go down, grab my sleeping shirts and leggings, my silk overthrow, brush my teeth and try to settle in for some sleep. That first night was terribly fitful, with my legs resting on the legrest, my feet on the foot rest, and I still couldn’t get comfortable. Since that night, I’ve learned to disregard those so-called helps. Much more comfortable, for me, to just keep my shoes on, untied, feet on the floor, get as warm as possible and relax. Amtrak really does believe in air conditioning.

At some time between 9 or 10 pm (I think), the conductor, or conductor assistant, or car attendant walks through, turns down the overhead lights, asks people to use earphones on their devices and keep the noise to a minimum. I’m floored at the conversations some people carry on – health issues, money problems, man problems. Really, the rest of us don’t want to hear that. Unless we’re taking it and writing about it! LIke the conversation this morning with the crew in the snack bar car where I sit most of the days. Big windows, smooth conversation, lots of time to think and while away the hours.

“My wife, she sees these names in my phone and doesn’t know who they are. She asks me about all these women’s names. I tell her, we’re like family here, we’re a big extended family – we have each others’ backs. She doesn’t undertand.”
Nodding and smiles all around.
“We see each other every day. That’s who we are.”
“Does she believe you yet?”
Laughter rings out. And then the singing starts, happy birthday to one of the car attendants!

Last night was my 1st overnight on the train after a few days off visiting my brother Mike and sister-in-law Lynn in Florida. What a great visit we had. Time to sit and catch up with each other, just the three of us. Then an amazing day at Epcot after a brief drive to Orlando. I got to meet some of their hilarious friends, danced with Springsteen Karoake “Dancing in the Dark”, and joined in the singing of David Allan Coe’s You Never Even Call Me By My Name. Look it up. Wait for the last verse!

And on we roll to Richmond Virginia, 9 am until noon (or so – trains do tend to arrive late, but not always) to meet up with Cristy and Kelly, friends since the late 70’s, the wild and crazy political campaign we worked. Or worked around the pinball machines.

Hear the train whistle? the Choo Choo? That’s me.

IMG_8759

A journey of eleven thousand five hundred miles begins with a single step.

When I purchased my Amtrak cross country trip weeks ago, back in May, I was told I could pick up the Rail Pass and boarding tickets at my first boarding, which would be in Lamy NM. OR, I could pick up them up at the San Francisco Transbay Transit (temporary) Terminal. A new (bigger and better?) one will open soon. It seems that just about everything that opens in San Francisco is bigger and better.

Anyway, being aware of just how many things can go wrong in trips like the one I’ve planned, I decided not to wait. I’m flying from SFO to Colorado on Friday. A week later, I’ll be taking a road trip to Chimayo and Lamy NM, before boarding the Southwest Chief, my first “all aboard” of many in the next several weeks.

So yesterday morning, since I was in the City anyway after spending a fun-filled night with my good friends, I made my way to the Transit Terminal.

“Hi, I’d like to pick up my rail pass and tickets.”

The young woman behind the counter smiled. “This isn’t the Amtrak counter. They’re over there.”

I looked behind me, in the direction her head nodded toward. Oh, okay, I was at the Greyhound counter. “All right. Thank you.” A minute later, I was at another counter.

“Hi, I’d like to pick up my rail pass and tickets, please.” Yes, that’s right. I’m usually quite polite.

“I need your I.D.” No chit chat from the young man behind the glass who didn’t bother to look up from his computer screen.

I struggled to yank the damn license out of its plastic sleeve in my wallet before passing it through the little hole under the safety glass. I waited for the guy’s response, looking around the place. Maps on the walls, tiny lego train people and assorted toy train accessories lived on a shelf behind the glass. Racks of tourist come-on brochures and flyers sat along two walls. One or two people straggle in, look around and leave.

“This trip has been canceled.” Michael reports.

“Uh…no. It hasn’t. When I purchased the tickets the charge inadvertantly went through three times and those were canceled, but not the trip,” I said, my stomach beginning to jump up and down in a drum of nerves.

He printed out and passed over to me a bunch of paper showing me the canceled trip. I looked it over and still wasn’t buying it.

“Let me get on this other terminal,” he tells me and moves five feet to his right to another keyboard. I sidestep over to watch and wait.

“I can see what they’ve done,” he says. “They’ve also overcharged you $14.”

“They? I thought you were they. You’re all Amtrak, right?”

“Yeah, but those idiots online are always screwing things up.”

I stood there patiently, thinking back to the time of original purchase, recalling that everything seemed to go so smoothly, and that the guy on the other end of the phone really knew what he was doing. Except for the triple charging of my bank account, of course. But that was blamed on the accounting unit, not the ticket seller. Sure. Yeah. Right then, I could have cared less about the $14. I just wanted the trip to be in my hand.

Many minutes crawl by. A couple more people stroll in and out of the waiting room. I ask my hopefully, savior-to-be, what his name is. It’s Michael.

“Okay,” Michael reports out. “I think I may be able to refund the $14, and restore your trip. But if it doesn’t go through, the whole thing will definitely be canceled and we’ll have to start all over again.”

Visions of no available seats for my trip swarm through my head. “Well, what are the chances you can save it all?”

“I’d say…pretty good,” he slowly drawled out his answer.

“I’ll go with pretty good.” I am a risk-taker, after-all.

Michael did indeed save my day. He figured a way to refund me the $14, print out my Amtrak Rail Pass AND my boarding passes for the next few weeks. He then took it upon himself to happily scrounge around and find each train’s time-table brochure, along with a glossy 8 x 10 inch full color map that he handed over to me. We finished our time together in short order, both of us relieved at the happy ending.

I’ll have to go online and give him a good Yelp. He is obviously not happy about the “temporary” Transbay Terminal closing in the next couple months. He indicated to me that there would be more machines than people working the place. I hope he finds a good spot to continue helping our fellow travelers.

It was after I’d walked out to the car, my hands full of passes, papers and a map that I really don’t plan to drag along with me until mid-July, that I realized I should probably hit the bathroom before my hour and a half drive home.

coq64easSe2uRMDIj%UdQg

It’s paint. Your guess is as good as mine.

 

And then I headed home— to do some laundry, dust the bookshelves and re-pack.

Friday is just two sleeps and a wakey away.

fullsizeoutput_7c96

 

 

I’ve been to Hollywood. I’ve been to Redwood.

But I’ve never been to Canada.

A sweet aroma seeps in through my window with jasmine and honeysuckle blooming in the breeze. My next big adventure is just around the corner – plane, trains, buses and automobiles. I’ve got to fit a boat in there somewhere. I think I know where.

West coast to east coast and return via, mostly, Amtrak and Canada Rail.

The whole thing started with three very special reasons. One daughter. Two brothers. Looking forward (of course!) to my daughter’s BS in Nursing graduation celebration after a short plane hop to Denver, spending a bit of time with Mom’s 93-year old cousin in Gunnison CO, joining up with the famly exploring Estes Rocky Mountain National Park outside Denver, all followed by a brief road trip to the tiny town of Chimayo, New Mexico.

Then it’s “All Aboard!” from Lamy, NM to visit family and friends on the east coast. Seeing Niagara Falls and Canada for the first time. Walking through Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Getting to know new “couchsurfing.com” friends along the way. Having just helped my own family and neighbors put together a big 4th of July block party, I’ll be enjoying the 4th on a train ride in the country to the north of us.

One little easy-peasy trip led to a whole string of things to do and 5-7 weeks of visiting friends and family. Places to go. People to see. Connections to miss.

All I have to do now is make the list. Or lists.

Ten Things to do before I leave the homestead.

  1. Finish reading the last twenty pages of Romancing the Pirate, Michelle Beattie, and take it back to the library. LOL. I know. I do have a wide variety of reading materials.
  2. Upload my grandmother’s journal, written thirty years ago in the summer of 1938 when she was off on her own solo train trip from San Francisco to Alaska. I’m planning on reading it with a drink in one hand in the observation car as the rest of the world rolls by.
  3. Make a list of what I want in that traveling backpack of mine. Laptop, misc. electronics, lotions, potions, sundries and something to wear.
  4. Put a hold on the daily newspaper & provide the new nurse in the family with instructions on how-to-care-for-my-orchids (Raylan & Ava). Yes, they have names.
  5. Do my spring cleaning. It’s not summer yet, but it will be when I return. Cobwebs, be gone.
  6. Settle on my itinerary once and for all. Or not.
  7. Count my blessings.
  8. Sort out what I want in my wallet. Passport.
  9. Finish Writers Club tasks to hand off to the team.
  10. Offer up my cottage to a couple of friends and family to stay in if they wish to visit the valley and need a place to crash.

 

What did I forget? What ten things would be on your list?

 

 

fullsizeoutput_76dc.jpeg

Dear Governor,

You didn’t know Jorge. He was just one of thousands of mentally ill patients living in one of your state mental health hospitals.

I wonder sometimes how his sister, his only surviving relative, is doing. I wonder if she knows the truth about how and why he died.

Jorge didn’t die from his heart disease, COPD, diabetes or long term dialysis treatments due to kidney failure. That’s how we all expected him to die. Fifty-five years old, in and out of hospitals much of his life, he was sure to die earlier than a healthy person his age.

Then he landed in one of your state mental hospitals. A few years after being admitted, his paranoia, his delusions and his lack of impulse control were somewhat improved. All we did to help him was of no help on his last day on earth. His last transport out of the hospital was in a body bag.

We told the patients, his peers on the ward, a couple of days later. Some already knew about it and some didn’t care. Some said “good riddance.” At the time of Jorge’s death, employees felt their own PTSD flare up again with increased respiratory rate, heart palpitations, and tears sneaking out during the unit de-briefing or later, in break room conversations.

Jorge’s dead because another patient killed him in the middle of the night when the unit was understaffed. He’s dead because your hospital refused to hire staff at appropriate patient levels based on the violent tendencies of many of our patients.

We know that the patient who killed Jorge will not be held responsible because of his own mental illness. Both men were mentally ill, both hospitalized for care and treatment. The hospital administration, and you—where the buck stops—is accountable for Jorge’s death. My colleagues know that. The doctors, the nurses, the janitorial staff all know it.

Yes, Jorge had a mean and nasty mouth on him, I’ll give him that. He could rile the calmest person in the room. That was his M.O. He was stingy. He was funny, flirty, kind at times, and very sad. He also played a wicked game of chess.

And now he’s dead.

5781190084_60c398a037_b

 

 

Micrófono Abierto Bilingüe con Chocolate

I moved from San Francisco to Napa CA in 2009 to take a new job. I wasn’t looking forward to living in what I thought of as a white-bread community. I soon realized how ignorant I was. I chose a working class neighborhood in which to make my home and eventually became active in the writing community.

Early in 2017, I sat in a roomful of well-meaning, mostly gringo artists at the Napa Valley State of the Arts event. I listened as the panelists discussed the fact that our local diverse communities were not in the room. One brave Latino photographer spoke up. “If you want to include them, you need to go to them. They are not going to come to you.” I wondered how to do that. I spoke to Izrael a few times during the next twelve months, and never really felt like I did much to help.

A year later, still wondering, I ran into him at the 2018 State of the Arts. I sat in on a small panel discussion, again, on diversity challenges, with mostly caucasians in the room. One out of three panelists was a young man I’d met earlier in the year. Intelligent, outspoken and passionate, Xulio had moved here as a kid many years ago with his family from Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s a social justice worker and a poet.

I’m the current president of Napa Valley Writers, and we were going to be hosting a first for our Valentine’s Day meeting just weeks later: Open Mic with Chocolate. I sat in front of the panel with an idea brewing, perhaps a way to bring our diverse communities together on one day of love – an Open Mic with Chocolate – Bilingual edition.

I spoke with Xulio at the panel’s conclusion and we met the next day. We were excited with our new plan. He reached out to his wide-spread ties in the local global south and native performing arts communities. We coordinated a bilingual public service announcement on local radio, distributed Spanish-English flyers, and promoted the event to our publicity contacts.

A few minutes before the Valentine’s Day event was to start, the room was practically empty and I worried. Fifteen minutes later, the place was packed with some of the usual crowd and many more people I hadn’t met, or seen, before.

Twenty-five people, forty percent of the attendees, young and old, read or performed their work in poetry, prose, and song from their hearts in many flavors of love – for the land, for the people, for a lover, for change. My collaborator was emcee, and at the opening, Xulio informed the gathering that we chose not to ask that every piece be translated. We wanted to hear with our hearts the understanding that was there for each of us.

ValDay'18

Not being a Spanish or native speaker myself, I could occasionally pick out a few words like madre and amore. I thought of how so many others feel every day in the English language world of this America. My heart caught in my throat. We provided something very special that night. Everyone there was filled with compassion, togetherness, and the desire to move this one event forward into something more.

 

Speakers and listeners both touched their hearts with open hands with a feeling of gratitude and many of us had tears. Of course I’m still aware of our divisions, but at least once, together, we’ve experienced a bit of a bridge. The room pulsed with energy. One of our writers group members commented that it was the highlight of the year.

The Vintage high school girls’ Spanish and English words in poem and performance brought down the house as they spoke of the prejudices and injustices their families live with on a daily basis – and what they are doing to change it. The elder Mexican poet read from his journal to a pin-drop quiet audience, receiving a thunderous applause at the close. Charlie, native woman and elder, spoke and chanted, reminding us of our memories and our spirit that has been lost and is now being found again. Xulio’s performance dazzled. My Latino friend, who advised me that I had to go to them, spoke to me with misty eyes that matched mine.

Change is coming, I felt it that night and I feel it now.

 

(Thanks to the Napa Valley Register for running a version of this piece as a commentary in the Sunday 3/4/2018 edition)

One 10-foot Bronze Pirate, please. Hold the Anchovies. 

We woke up late. Raylan and I decided it was a fine day to go over to the ocean, and headed west to Dillon Beach. As we rounded the last corner down to the sand, just on the south side of the road, we were surprised to find a 10-foot tall pirate statue. He was majestic! His left arm held high, he wields a sword like he means it.

After a lovely time in the warm sun and sea air, we drove back up to the Pirate, and got out of the car, intending to learn about him. We found what looks like the remains of two cannon mounts and not one word about the Pirate! There was evidence that at one time, possibly, two plaques had been set. They were gone as well.

So began the hunt. Driving along, we took turns googling pirate Dillon Beach, pirate Tomales Bay, pirate origin, Dillon Beach. Nothing. We learned online that George Dillon founded Dillon Beach in 1958. Plenty of webpages talked about pirates up and down the coast, but no-one could tell us the name of this particular pirate. Some webpage even declared there had only been one California pirate, a Frenchman by the name of Hippolyte de Bouchard, who raided the Presidio of Monterey in 1818. We were stumped and couldn’t believe that there had been only one pirate in all of California.

One post said it was a statue to commemorate George Dillon. We figured there had to be more to it than that. We drove by the Tomales Regional History Center, which was closed for the day. We decided to call them later.

We put the search on the back burner, realizing we were hungry and a good pizza was in order. Not just a good pizza – we wanted a great pizza. Yelping Petaluma on the phone, we chose Hector’s Pizza.

We almost drove off after seeing the storefront shop. Yelp gave Hector’s four and a half stars, though, so we went for it.

We were shown to our table by Daniella. Raylan asked where the bathroom was. Seconds after going through the door, he rushed back out, grabbing my hand. “You’ve gotta see this!”

In the corner of the hallway leading to the bathrooms, was a second magnificent version of our pirate!

We read a little history about Hec the Pirate. Born in Italy, he took off as a young man to pirate and sail the seas, ending up jailed in America. He and his pirate friends Luc, Jean Lafitte’s grandson, and Bluebeard, Blackbeard’s nephew, escaped a North Carolina Prison in a bloody battle in 1845. They fought their way onto a ship sitting in the harbor, complete with crew, and took off, sailing south around Florida and onward toward California’s west coast.

They pirated their hearts out, battled here and there, and by the time the ship, the Painter, arrived in northern California, they were low on rations – and spirit. Luc and Bluebeard had both died recently in a fight near San Diego. Hec was on his own with a straggly crew in his pocket.

On March 1st, 1848, the ship threw anchor in Tomales Bay, at Dillon Beach. The men were tired of marauding and pirating. They crawled into their little dinghies and made their way to shore. There were a few settlers there, a small camp of Indians, and luckily for everyone, they worked together and created friendships among themselves.

Of course, you may remember, 1848 was also the start of the Gold Rush. It turns out, Hec wanted in on it. He and a few of his crew, and a couple Indians, traveled up to the mountains and by god, they struck it rich. They couldn’t believe their luck. They didn’t wait around to see what would happen next, either.

They made their way back to Dillon Beach for the summer, and traveled inland in the fall for supplies in a little town of Petaluma . New businesses were starting up to supply the surge of incoming residents north of San Francisco. Hec and his friends wanted in on that, too.

The consummate leader, Hec looked around and settled on opening a restaurant. He remembered fondly the dinner pies that his grandmother had made almost every day of his young life. He opened his first Pizza shop and lived over that little hole in the wall, never marrying, until one day, while throwing a pizza into the oven, he had a heart attack and died right there on the spot.

Hec the pirate!

We asked Hector, the current owner about Hec and the statue and the story. He confirmed it all. That statue in the bathroom hallway was the original Hec statue. Somebody copied it later and sculpted it at the beach, complete with the details of Hec’s life as a pirate. Hector told us though, a few of Hec’s descendants stole the plaques. They wanted to keep Hec’s life to themselves.

It was so funny.

Back to the Hector’s in Petaluma. You can’t find better pizza – and caesar salad – than what we found at Hector’s. Even the menus have a fine rendition of Hec the Pirate on the back cover.

I’m giving Hector five stars.