Saturday, December 11, 2010

I REMEMBER - The Dog, the Van & the Amish Road Trip

It was the late 1970's and I had just finished my substitute teaching stint in Calaveras County, California.  I had a great longing to travel to Europe and  wanted to get to the East Coast to jump off for my European travels.  A couple of teacher friends were enrolled in a cooking school in New Haven, Connecticut for the summer and were going to drive across county to the East Coast a couple of weeks before the school began.  A seemingly innocuous drive across county turned into a road trip of high adventure and a story almost too bizarre to believe.

Driving north and then east through Canada, out little Volkswagen Van puttered along quite nicely.  The scenery was beautiful in June and we camped at many stunning campgrounds along the way, always having to hustle to find a spot as the parks were almost always full.

We traveled along a long lonely stretch of road in Manitoba, Canada right above Montana.  It was a bit before dusk and we pulled into a campground with no ranger in the little kiosk at the entrance. We thought that was odd, but the gate wasn't closed, so in we drove.  There were beautiful camp spots everywhere and nice facilities, but no people.  We picked the nicest spot, started a campfire and began to fix dinner.  Then the invasion began.  At first, there just a few small ones.  Mosquitoes.  Hundreds, then thousands and larger. A swarm. It was horrible.  We built a large circle of green branches, set them on fire and stood in the middle of the smoke and it didn't matter.  We all got into the van and covered up inside of our sleeping bags.  It still  didn't matter.  The mosquitoes, somehow, got into the van with us and into our sleeping bags.  It was hot, humid and miserable.  Half of us were crying.    The other half were cursing and crying.  Finally, we threw all the gear into the van, started up and drove away.  It was 3am.  We were never so happy to leave a beautiful campground.  We opened all the windows and drove out into the night at top speed until all the little winged kamikazes were gone.  This is a quote from a Canadian travel blog : "The Sandilands is probably a good place for you to try camping. Beware in Manitoba we have MOSQUITO'S that can pick up a human being and carry them away."

Upon arrival in New Haven, I decided to postpone my trip to Europe until the following year and instead, I worked for the New Haven Boys club as a counselor for the summer.  Working with a bunch of little East Coast, pre-teen, grand-theft-auto parolees was an experience in itself.  More than once, I was offered the chance to hot-wire the camp van and go for a midnight ride.  I passed.

The summer was finally over and it was time to head back to California.  We took the northern US route this time because the newly ordained chefs wanted to shop for quilts and antiques in the Amish country of Pennsylvania.  I had just picked up a new Labrador puppy in New Haven before we departed west, so the dog and I were relegated to the back of van, which was fine with us.

We arrived in the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside that contained many interesting Amish towns, some with memorable names.  We stopped in Bird-in-Hand, Pa and the chefs bought a lot of quilts and an antique, painted rocking chair.  We loaded up the van with the chair and the dog and me in the back.

Driving along we couldn't resist stopping in one more well-known Amish community:  Intercourse, Pa.  Rumored to have been renamed from the original name Cross Keys, because "the word 'intercourse' was commonly used to describe the 'fellowship' and 'social interaction and support' shared in the community of faith, which was much a part of a rural village like this one."[

So, we are walking around taking pictures of signs and marveling at the number of horse drawn carriages and non-motorized  vehicles in daily use.  When you have a lot of horse drawn vehicles, you also have a lot of horse "plops".  I don't know what it is about dogs and their fascination with the excrement of other animals.  But, true to form,  my dog "Sabu" decided to roll in the little "used hay" piles and then, started eating them.  It was totally gross.  My fellow travelers would not let us back into the van until I found a hose alongside one of the buildings and washed and hosed the dog as best as I could.

The dog, finally acceptable-to-the-nose of my van mates, and I got back into the van and we all headed West.  Apparently, my quickie wash job had not been the best or perhaps the horse-dookey-eating dog's breath didn't leave anything to the imagination, because the driver's complaints about the odor started to mount with each passing mile. I  opened the back windows and told my dog not to breathe through his mouth, but to no avail.

To top it off, the old paint on the newly acquired antique rocker started to flake away and now it wasn't just the horse-poop dog-breath that was a perceived problem, but that my dog was also eating the chair.  The dog and I both could see where this was headed.  We were not too far away from thumbing our way back to California.  We were just unwelcome passengers and we were feeling the heat.

Gross as it was, the coolest thing I have ever seen a dog do, happened.  The driver had started a new rant about the dog, the paint, the odor, his breath, the fact that I had a s**t -eating dog, etc.  It was almost unbearable to me, but the dog had surely reached  the end of his canine patience.

When people and animals are going to throw up, they usually give warning and go through some "I think I am going to be sick" motions.  Not on this day.  My dog, who normally stayed away from the driver on this trip, as there was an obvious dislike for each other in the air, calmly proceeded to walk up to the front of the van and vomit hot horse crap down the back of the driver's neck.

A few minutes later, standing along the side of the road with my dog and pack, with my thumb out and a freshly made sign that said "California", I felt that I had the unique privilege of witnessing, perhaps the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life, before or since.  I swear I saw that dog turn and look at me and smile, as expletives I hadn't since my sports days in the locker room, filled the inside of the now "freshly spewed upon" van.

The dog and I made a relatively event-less trip back home to California and entertained each driver thereafter, with easily the best tale they had ever heard.  The dog shared with me later, that perhaps, he did nibble just a bit on the antique rocker.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I REMEMBER - Chico State College and the pigeons

When I had first started thinking about college and where I should go, I set up a meeting with my high school career counselor.  Being seventeen, I was seeking independence from home and my parents, as my top priority.  Career, college, life...everything else was secondary.

When I met with my counselor, he asked "What do you want to do"? and 'had I thought about what college to attend'.  I told him it had to be in California for in-state fees (my parent's criteria) and it had to be at least one hour away from Rancho Cordova (my criteria - not living at home anymore, close enough for me to get home when I wanted to and yet, too far away for my parents to just drop in anytime they wanted).

I applied at several colleges.  My grades were good, my SAT's were good, so I got accepted at a few places and took them into my counselor's office to discuss. We narrowed it down to UC Davis, Cal State, San Luis Obispo, and Chico State College. We talked about the merits of each:  UC Davis was a good university and close to home, so I could save money from dorm fees and live at home.  San Luis Obispo was a good school, close to the beach and was only a few hours away.  Chico State College was a good school, one hour away, rated the number one party school in America in Playboy magazine and had an enrollment of 3 to 1, women to men.

It was a tough decision, but at the end, I chose Chico State.

My first day enrolling for classes was easy and yet, traumatic.  I had done my research on available classes, filled my schedule card early and was taking a break under one of the huge Valley Oak trees that is a hallmark of the Chico State campus.  I was reading over the class descriptions when I was approached by a very friendly and attractive coed, with an arm full of books.  She asked if she could sit down in the shade (early September in Chico - close to 100 degrees outside).  I gladly invited her to share the shade and thought to myself: "This has to be the best school in the universe. Here it is - the first day of school and I might end up with a girlfriend".  We talked about where we were from, blah, blah, blah and the whole time I am thinking how lucky I was and how great it was to be on top of the world, as I was, at that moment.

Then, the moment ended. 

The challenge of sitting under the shade of a large tree, is that birds also like to sit on the limbs of shady trees.  The young woman and I were hitting it off magnificently and had closed our personal space to about two feet, when a large pigeon pooped on my head, my nose and down the inside of my glasses.  I was stunned. At first I thought it was rain - but at 100 degrees on a cloudless day, that couldn't be it.  A second later, I realized my budding romantic moment had just been crapped on.

My new friend had maintained a respectful silence for that same long one second also.  Then, unable to hold it in any longer, she burst out laughing, so hard she fell over.

I turned beet-red and tried to clean the bird doo off my nose, head and glasses with my shirt sleeve.  It didn't work.  It smeared and got worse. I am sure I looked like I had Indian war-paint on, in gooey black and white streaks, from my nose to my chin.  I couldn't see because the inside of my glasses lenses were streaked with the same greasy pigeon droppings. 

I thought my new friend was going to choke to death.  She couldn't get her breath.  Tears of laughter and big air-sucking sounds were bursting forth from her face. I took it somewhat personally, as I had not yet fully refined my now finely honed, self-depreciation skills.

I got angry.

She grabbed her books and ran away, laughing hysterically.

I had just lost my first college relationship in record time (from beginning to end in under seven minutes). I didn't even get her name. I was hoping she didn't remember mine, as I am sure I was the topic of conversation in her dorm that night or probably all week.  That was 46 years ago.  She is probably somewhere, writing a blog about it, right now.

The day wasn't totally crappy as I got a brand-new  3-ring binder out of the deal.  She had dropped one as she ran away and didn't stop to retrieve  it. I eventually gave the binder to my roommate.  Too many memories.