Explosions of awakening

I saw light through my closed eye lids and thought it was the sun. It was florescent lights at a gas station.

“We’re in Wyoming. You have to drive now. But you’re about to see the most amazing sun rise.”

These were the last words I heard from Nick for hours. I got out of the back of Louis and went to the restroom in a grody bathroom. After scrubbing my hands and splashing some of the questionable water on my face, I purchased a LARGE coffee and banana.

When I slipped into my coveted driver’s seat, Nick was already crashed in the back and Rick was resting his head against the window. I started the vehicle and looked up to see nothing but an open sky that was now a navy blue.

It was 5:30 a.m. There were hardly any cars on the Interstate as I pulled off of the dirt road onto the ramp. A tiny strip of yellow blessed the horizon as a few of the stars danced their finale of the morning.

Rick asked if I wanted to listen to anything in particular, but before I could answer he already had a band in mind.

Explosions in the Sky.

No other band would have completed the moment more perfectly. I drove as the melody lulled the sun from slumber. This was going to be my first sunrise I witnessed on the trip. From the anticipation building in my tummy, I knew it was going to be glorious. It was the same feeling I had at the Grand Canyon. Peaceful excitement. Something from Nothing. An ironic paradox.

I originally planned on running at sunrise in almost every city. I learned quickly that gluttony and indulgence are so much easier to succumb to than energy exertion. Most people would rather do nothing than something too. I fell into that category several times this trip. Several times during my life.

I have all of these expectations. All of these things that I want to do. Life always seems to have another plan for me. Oh this hidden plan. It gets me where I need to go; where I envision I will be. Just never, ever the way I think it will get me there.

It’s like my mind and life like to play tricks on the “me” that witnesses it all. Because I won’t enjoy what’s right in front of me because I always feel like there is something else I should be doing. The things I have already thought about what I want to do.

My mind is the race track. There are always six lanes running at the same time. It seems like different participants at times. One finishes first. One has to finish last. But they all eventually cross the finish line of this grand circular motion.

This is what I realize as Louis climbed a mountain to reveal the entire sun beaming over an open valley. I was elevated to at least 7,000 feet and shared such an intimate moment with the source of light.

It was as though my answers were illuminated for this instant. I knew they existed and will now always be present, even though reality was going to throw a few hurdles across my track. This is why Alison told me to write this all down. She knew I was going to need proof to remember the illumination.

It’s kind of funny. You can always make something from a memory. Even if it didn’t exist in the moment you originally experienced it.

That’s why I take history with a grain of salt. Half of the time, the intention of action is different than most people expect. Plus, it’s just a culmination of several hundreds of thousands of people’s experience and perception.

How will we possibly be able to write the history of now? There are 7 billion people on this planet. The difficulty of keeping things accurate and true could be nearly impossible.

But I digress from my original memory. Off on another track.

I drove in a peaceful state until 7:30 a.m. We were 30 minutes from Fort Collins and I had no energy left. We stopped at a McDonald’s and I reverted to the back seat.

I needed a nap after that mental race.

Portland, day two

I woke up early again and hit the cafe to write. Once Nick made it downstairs, we tried to go walk, but I still wasn’t feeling too well. We parted ways for lunch. I ended up back at the cafe and once we reconvened, I wanted to check out a music store. The baristas had been jammin to TV on the Radio and I was in the mood for some local tunes.

We journeyed a few blocks over to Everyday Music. Picture Empire Records without the chicks. I ended up buying Kasbian, Mika Miko, two albums of local artists, and several singles all for only $35.

Excited with my finds, I went back to the cafe to import music. I was on Facebook for a second chatting with my friend Val. She told me she had a college friend who lived in Portland that I should call. We exchanged information and decided to meet for a drink later that evening.

We decided dinner at Whole Foods would help us regain our health. We were going to rest before we met up with Kate for drinks, but the bar next to the Ace seemed to lull us to its spirits.

There was a whiskey menu that would have impressed Janis Joplin. I tried an Old Fashion, another house specialty and then a mixture which contained Absinthe. I thought I was about to see the green fairy, when Kate finally called to meet up.

She and her friend Becca joined us at the bar. Nick was hammered and began to hit on Becca. I think had he had one less drink, he might have stood a chance.

He wasn’t really much for bar hopping, so I left with Kate.

We had been in the Southwest part of Portland. The city is kind of divided into four quadrants, like D.C. Kate lived in the Northwest part, so we walked there.

I love meeting people from South Louisiana in other parts of the country. It’s like you’ve known them for years. We never skipped a beat and Kate was more than hospitable. After a beer, she hailed a cab for me and we planned to meet up for lunch the next day before we were to leave for Eugene.

I had a life-encouraging talk with my cab driver on the way back to the Ace, which I will write about next because it deserves its own entry.

I was starting to fall in love with Portland. I loved myself there. I didn’t care for my allergies, but it was a place I could see myself as a dweller, a liver.

Portland, Oregon

I awoke from my sleep at around 10a.m. I was so psyched to check out the neighborhood during sunlit hours, that I didn’t want to wait. Ben had told me I had to grab some coffee at Stumptown, which is connected to the Ace. Nick was still dead to the world, so I dressed and headed downstairs.

The whole lounge was buzzing with twenty-somethings. They were dressed funky and reading books and newspapers while sipping on coffee or tea.

I rounded the corner into the brew house and I felt alive from the aroma alone. The baristas were all male and all very good looking. All hail the Pacific Northwest! Literate, attractive people.

I sipped my dark roast while read parts of Hitchhiker’s Guide of the Galaxy. I hadn’t read but a page before a gentleman to my right told me that was one of his favorite books. We chatted for a few minutes then Nick texted me to see where I was.

I walked upstairs to meet him while I thought about how amazing it was to meet someone over a book. At that point I knew I didn’t want to return home and leave this kind of lifestyle behind…and it had only been a few hours.

We ended up walking past a Northface outdoors store on our way to find some grub. I spotted a pair of shoes that I had been coveting since Flagstaff. I tried them on and was about to pass, but the clerk tells me that there is no sales tax in Oregon.

What?

I love Oregon. You don’t have touch gas spouts or pay sales tax. And the coffee is amazing.

I walked out of the store with my yellow shoes and we found a local brew restaurant called Rogue’s.

It was now Nick’s turn to revel. He ordered beer-battered mahi-mahi fish and chips while he sipped an emperial stout. I hadn’t seen him that happy since Kimber without the “ly”-our Hooter’s waitress on Memorial Day.

We were about to head back to the hotel when we spotted Powell’s, a bookstore. We knew it was huge, but we didn’t realize its magnitude.

It conquers an entire city block and rests at 160,000 square feet, with four stories and hundreds of shelves to open the mind.

I lost my breath. We meandered through Philosophy, local authors, Religion, Psychology, and Tarot cards. After two hours we knew we had to leave otherwise we would have spent the next few days there.

We showered (separately, of course) and then left to find some fresh seafood for dinner. Someone suggested we go to Jake’s Crawfish. At first we snubbed our noses at the name, but then we figured we had nothing to lose.

We sat at the back bar and had our own personal bartender. We sipped wine, I had clam chowder for the first time-both New England and Manhattan. Nick and I then split the seafood platter and then I had a chocolate martini for dessert.

We tried to walk around for a bit, but my allergies kicked into high gear. We retired to the hotel early. We heard the livliness of the bar next door for hours, but decided saving our energy was a smarter plan.

Through the Redwoods to Eureka!

The Redwoods are big. It’s almost a redundant statement because anyone who has been there knows it’s an understatement…just like the Grand Canyon.

My friend Sarah had written on my Facebook page that driving through the Redwoods Forest is a humbling experience. She was right on several levels.

To witness vast, living nature makes you feel like a single spec of existence. You realize how tiny you are in an infinite universe. Plus, it feels so still and all-knowing. It made me realize how often I run in unnecessary circles and waste potential energy by replacing productivity with worry.

We drove through scenic California mountains and ventured through one of the tackiest, yet must-see, tourist spots: a Redwood tree you can drive through. It’s $5 to go through the park, which is located in a 700 population village.

I bought some Redwood incense from the gift shop, along with a Viewfinder for my godchild Ellah. It had pictures from major American signature spots, most of which I saw on this trip. Plus, I had one of those small, blue, optical gadgets as a child and I used to look at Disney stories on it. Who needs modern HD, when an imagination and still frames can get you that simply excited?

Nick had the idea to set up Louis with the doors open and us jam out Remy’s song. After a short debate, we decided to film it as well. He grabbed his djembe and I played guitar and sang. Random cars drove by and waved as if we were rock stars. Or maybe they just admired that we were living life.

We drove through more terrain for hours until we reached Eureka. It was one of the last cities in California. We ate at Hana’s sushi restaurant. I cannot even describe how fresh the fish was. I know I live on the Gulf Coast, but I feel like I’ve been lied to. The Rainbow Roll had the most delicious salmon and tuna. I washed it down with Happy Hour saki and then we hit the road again.

We didn’t realize we still had another six or so hours to Portland.

We were slightly discouraged until we saw the Pacific Ocean. Nick was driving at the moment and pulled off the exit. My nerves started to intensify as we parked. At first I walked slowly onto the sand to take in the open view. The sun was starting to set, there were people tossing frisbees to their dogs, and a few couples were snuggling on the sand.

I inhaled the salty, fresh air and was about to sigh a refreshing exhale when Nick took off running and said “Beat ya to the ocean.”

We were a half mile away from water and I took off in a sprint. The young chap didn’t stand a chance.

The water was colder than a snow-cone on a hot summer’s day. I’ve heard the Pacific was cold, but compared to the Gulf it’s Arctic.

I waded in the water, reveling in my small victory, searching for stones to take back to my other godchild Malorie. I triumphed in my search and even discovered a crab claw to bring back for my fellow Cancer, Aaron.

For a split second, we thought about camping out on the beach, but my buddy Ben had scored us a room at the Ace Hotel in Portland and I didn’t want his ambition to be a waste.

So on we drove through windy roads. I have to admit, I did get queesy quite often. I had to lay back in the passenger seat and close my eyes in order to deter the puking sensation.

We finally crossed the Oregon border after darkness prevailed throughout the sky. We pulled up to a gas station in order to fill the tank and were astonished to find a guy walk up to our car and ask how much we wanted to purchase. Nick told him not to worry about it, but then we were told it was illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon.

What?

I thought we had left the weird laws in Oklahoma.

Evidently, it’s supposed to create more jobs and it stops drive-0ffs.

We snacked on popcorn as we made the trek to downtown Portland. We didn’t arrive until 3 a.m. I thought the streets seemed pretty bare considering the size of the city.

We walked into this freshly renovated, rather trendy building. It was classically chic and very purposefully put together. We were handed a real, old-school skeleton key and told our room was on the second floor.

I had so much adrenaline rushing through me as I creaked up the stairs. Ben, one of my dearest friends, works at the Ace in NYC. He was originally supposed to take part of this roadtrip with me. As I peaked around the lounge and hallways, I felt his presence.

It had been months since I had seen my pal, but as I opened the door to my room, I felt like he had set the stage for me. Everything was clean, precise and unique. The detail to how the magazines, brochures, and products were placed made you feel how the staff cared about the experience of this hotel. It had Ben written all over it.

I felt so connected to him at that moment, that while Nick passed out, I stayed up and wrote an email to him. I then began to type uncontrollably. I had only been in Portland for a few hours, but there was an energy here that awakened a part of my soul.

By the time I closed my Mac, the sun was coming up. I nestled myself into a ball and hugged my pillow as I fell asleep with a smile across my face. This wasn’t a sweet dream. This was a sweet reality.

Memorial Day at Hooters

Actually, the day began with a run followed by us curling on the couch to watch Bedtime Stories. Then we went to the Myriad Botanical Gardens for a picnic in downtown OKC. I found the softest grass on earth here. If the ground wouldn’t have been damp, we would have laid directly on it. The place was serene and even had little bunnies hopping about. We sat for hours and just relaxed and talked about Lost and other important life events.

Ryan, my old managing editor for the Vermilion, was passing through OKC with his pal Allen that evening. They had watched the Rangers (unfortunately) lose to the Yankees in Arlington. Allen is in the Navy and is re-stationing in Washington state, so the two are taking a very similar track as us. We decided we were going to meet up for a beer that evening.

Nick cooked dinner for everyone while Kayla and I tried to buy some wine. Evidently there are more Oklahoma laws we were unaware of: they don’t sell alcohol on holidays.

WHAT!?!?!?!?!

We went to three different liquor stores and they were ALL closed. Yet again, I sound like a lush. But damn. It’s a holiday. That’s the time you normally want to stay home and have a drink or something.

Kayla was telling me just how conservative this state is: tattoos just became legal a year ago. It’s not like you would get arrested for having a tattoo, but there weren’t any tattoo parlors in the state. You couldn’t give or get ’em.

By the time Ryan and Allen got in, the only place to go was Hooter’s. Yay. Nick and I went join them and we watched a UFC fight and The Nuggets destroy The Lakers. I had a Blue Moon while the guys ate and talked sports. We thought it was pretty funny that they had “Cajun” shrimp on the menu. Ryan ordered it so we could decipher its authenticity. On a scale of 1 to 10, Ryan issued a 5.

I thought it was interesting because Nick had cooked pasta that evening and we had used bottled Alfredo, which turned out to be pretty good. But he’s Sicilian and made the comment that it would be like a Cajun person buying boxed Zattarin’s jambalaya. So not long after that, we had poser-shrimp. It was appropriate.

IMGA0028

Anyways, after we ate, we went back to the Hampton Inn and played music for a few hours. It was the most random thing to have had happen yet on the trip and it excites me for what is to come. Especially since we changed route.

Subject to Change

Sunday morning began with service at the OKC Unitarian church. The only masses I normally attend are in Catholic churches and this was definitely a different type of ceremony. The church itself is quaint and old. The walls were stark white and absolutely bare, unlike my normal affiliation with statues and crucifixes.

The order of the service included: silent meditations, hymns, affirmation, doxology, sharing welcome, musical response, readings, offertory, anthem, meditation, sermon, recessional hymn, benediction, then choral response. It was such a culmination of so many different religious sanctions. The term universal is used appropriately.

The affirmation read: “Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.”

The reading was of Buddhist origin and the sermon was by a guest Reverend, Richard Allen and called “The Myth of who you are.”

I have to say, I can’t even begin to describe how different it was from my religious upbringing. I thought I would really, really have liked it. The congregation was filled with very happy people, who were surprisingly much older than I anticipated. The songs, hymns, and readings were all filled with words I understood and agreed with wholeheartedly. But there was this feeling that was missing.

I haven’t claimed a religion in years. I’ve attended mass at times with my family, but I was torn at my own belief structure. I am very in tune with my own spirituality and strive to live in the present moment, but I do not like labels because I feel they divide more than bring together.

I thought a Unitarian setting would be just what I had been looking for. Instead, I found I missed Jesus. Christianity has gotten such a bad reputation from corrupt officials and forced conversion. It robs the religion of the true peace that Jesus taught and created.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Kayla’s neighbor Mike. He said how he had met so many people from Louisiana who were so nice but he just couldn’t get over our corrupt government politics. It sucks to be guilty by association and stereotype. But isn’t that how our world works right now? We judge before we understand?

We have grown so cynical because of human nature that we can’t even believe that there is actual real goodness that exists. It is here that I have to admit I see the truth. My parents are those good people. They live that truth. It is one of the reasons I am so conflicted on a daily basis. I have this world that tells me that what I know is not possible. Yet, I just want to take them to Rayne to see my family and prove them wrong.

Sorry to rant for a moment. I guess I am just coming to a few self realizations early in the trip. And it’s only day three. My life, like our route, is subject to change.

That’s right. After a walk through the Paseo, Nick and I reevaluated our route and decided to go through New Mexico instead of Colorado. We were going to make a counter-clockwise trip, but after realizing our time frame, we opted to take a more adventurous journey through the desert.

I have to admit, it was partly because of Beth’s encouragement. Plus, our friend Ben is near Santa Fe at a hostel. He said I will fall in love when I get there, so I have to find out, right?

It’s a better plan anyway because now we will be traveling in a clockwise sequence. According to Native tradition, when they dance around a fire, it has to be clockwise to bring luck. I guess it’s working with the laws of the natural universe. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong. I’ve been dancing in counter-clockwise circles.

We ended the night with Elephant Revival playing the Summer Breeze concert series in Norman, home of the Oklahoma University Sooners. Remy danced like a beautiful little flower child alone in front of hundreds of people. The series reminded me of Downtown Alive! at home, where bands play free shows on Friday afternoons in Lafayette.

After the internal, emotional twister I experienced that morning, the soothing voices of the group calmed me. It was a perfect way to end a day of reflection.

“Let the truth be known tonight. Don’t go let yourself hide. Go and sing to the mountain. Go and sing to the moon. Go and sing just about everything. Because everything is you.” -Sing to the Mountain, Elephant Revival

Bricktown/The Paseo

We spent early Saturday afternoon on the porch after a long-winded run. I can’t get over the dryness of this place. You don’t really sweat while you are working out, but once you stop, Niagra Falls comes out of your pores. The weather here is like the Joker too. In the matter of five minutes, the sky shifted like a menopausal woman’s mood. The sky cried hard for 30 minutes or so and then it was done.

According to Kayla and Polly (her sister-in-law), this is Tornado Alley. Everyone has to be prepared at any moment for unexpected, destructive weather change. Polly said just the other day she was driving on a highway outside of Stillwater and she thought she saw something out of her peripheral vision. When she got home and turned on the news, she discovered there was a tornado alert and that was the ghostly appearance from the corner of her eye.

Once the drizzling subsided, the adults decided to head to Bricktown to grab a beverage. The name adequately describes the section of town, because every building is made of red bricks. Nick met up with a girl he had met at an architecture conference in New Orleans while Kayla, Parry and I went to Tapwerks, a bar with over one hundred beers on tap. For $5, I had a Left Hand Milk Stout, a 16 oz. dark beer that reads at 5.2%. It was pretty tasty.

While I was standing at the bar, I lamely asked if I had to drink it with my left hand, which made me bring up the Buffalo game. A girl who was seated to my left turned abruptly and asked where I had heard of the game because she had never met anyone who knew about it. Evidently she learned of it from a guy in California.

The Buffalo game is a lifelong pact of members. Once you are in the club, you make a deal to never drink with your dominant hand. If a member catches you drinking with your dominant hand, they call Buffalo and you have to drink your entire beverage. To be honest, I hadn’t played the game in over four years because it was a thing with my ex-boyfriend and his group of friends. It may sound like a silly game, but it keeps you on your toes while you are in a social setting with your friends.

I had this one rival and I loved nothing more than to watch him throughout the night for the single moment when he had just gotten a full drink and hold it in his right hand and I would come out of nowhere and yell “BUFFALO!” The only drawback is that he would do the same to me, but it was all in good fun.

Beer

While at Tapwerks, we saw a local band called Giants of Enon. I can’t find their web page, but these guys were a great trio: guitar, bass and drums. The vocalist sounded quite similar to the lead of Kings of Leon, but their sound was a little more edgy. They had a good stage presence and their originals had promise. We watched a set and then decided to head to the Paseo art district to watch a band from the Ozarks.

I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter.

We went to a little restaurant called Galileo’s to watch this band Elephant Revival. Kayla’s friend Beth had been ranting of their amazingness for a whole day and something about her aura made me trust her instinct. (For future personal reference, I must remember this exact instinctual feeling).

The band was on break when we arrived, so Beth and I started to talk about my traveling plans while I sipped on a Boulevard-a local brew. She asked where we were going next and I replied with Fort Collins. She asked if we were going to go through New Mexico to Santa Fe. I told her we hadn’t really planned that route. She then listed about 20 reasons why I should go through New Mexico. “They don’t call it the land of enchantment for nothing,” she said with light in her eyes.

Before I could reply to her debate, the voice of creation sang to my soul. Literally, all of our heads turned to the right of the stage as this young girl began to sing with the most sultry, pure voice I had heard live…ever.

Elephant Revival is a five-person ensemble from Colorado: two females, three males. One of the females plays violin, the other a djembe (jimbay) and washboard. One of the gents plays a standing bass, while the other two swap between the banjo and guitar. All of them have distinct voices and when they harmonize, it just makes you close your eyes so you can feel the union.

They all share the spotlight cooperatively. They each contribute to the songwriting and respectfully introduce one another’s works. Their song, Currach, will bring a tear to even the most macho of men. My two favorite songs were “Ring around the moon” and “Sing to the mountain”. I’m trying to figure out how to post them on this blog so I can share this with you.

Nick showed up when they were almost through and of course fell in love with the angelic singer…and our punk-rock waitress. However, we soon found out our waitress was interested in me instead of him.

That’s right. I was hit on-openly-for the first time by a girl. She was wearing this small fannypack and I commented on it and without thinking, touched it. Then apologized for not asking and she replied “Oh that’s okay, you can touch my fannypack as much as you want.”

Let’s just say she then explained what fannypacking means in Europe and then said a few more lines to me that I can’t write about because my mother is probably going to read this. When she walked away all we could do was laugh because I was highly embarassed. Maybe it was my hairy legs that turned her on. Either way, it was fanny-tastic and Nick was jealous.