Crossing the Californacopia Border

Welcome to the Golden State

“Look . . . we have  tasty blueberries, eggs and tomatoes.  Oh, and we got freshhhhhh bread and luscious spread.”   I am giving Malaika and Purdie, two Australian women I met at the Soul Retrieval workshop, a lift to the redwood forests in Northern California.  I wonder to myself why it seems that vegetarians are inclined to speak of fruits and vegetables in an erotic manner.  “Great!,” I reply, wondering how I’m going to pull off a Burger King run with these two in tow.  I now have less than two-and-a-half days to drive 683 miles to San Francisco to meet my mother, who is flying in Monday evening.  Plus, I’d like to spend some time in the redwood forests and maybe stop in Napa.

After packing and repacking, it is impossible to fit the three of us and all our stuff in the car.  “It just won’t work,” I say after trying to cram luggage and several bags of groceries into the back of my Jeep.  “We can make it work,” Malaika says stuffing her didgeridoo in amongst the rest of our stuff.  After a brief, but anxiety filled, ride to Northwest Auto in downtown Portland, I purchase a car top carrier.  I have admired them on other cars since I left New York and finally asked a guy at a stoplight where he got his; he raved about NW Auto, so I decided to check it out.  Plus, Oregon has no sales tax.  The owner of the shop, Thor, installs my Thule SportRack with no additional charge. “I’ve been doing this 20 years,” he says as he easily secures the carrier in less than 20 minutes.

The girls, as I am now calling them, have been circling the car, making use of the new space and rearranging.  All the doors are open, Thor is on the roof and there is one final piece of luggage to be put back in the car – I make the final push through the rear passenger side door and out the back fall the organic blueberries, which spill all over Thor’s shop and the roadway.  Malaika is visibly heartbroken. Thor picks up several and tosses them in the trash: “no use crying. . .“ he comments with a shrug of his shoulders.  Knowing I’ve done bad, I grasp Malaika by her shoulders, look directly into her eyes and promise “I . . . will . . .  get . . .  you . . .  more . . .  blueberries.”  “But they won’t be organic,” she responds with a frown.  Here I take a moment to explain that blueberries have few natural pests and actually don’t need to be organic.  She’s not buying what I’m selling.  I just hope the blueberry incident doesn’t ruin the next two days we’ll spend in the car and camping.

We choose to drive I-5 through most of Oregon, as two Oregonians suggested the route (“101 down the Oregon coast is nice, but it’s slowwwwww”).  There is not much to see on I-5, it could be in any state.  Our only excitement is a burning 18-wheeler at a mega-truck stop; the dark black smoke is visible for miles.  “Close the vents,” instructs Purdie.  “Wouldn’t want to breathe that in,” says Malaika.  I oblige, finding the circulation feature on my ventilation system which I didn’t know was there.  We ride along for a while, breathing circulated air and discussing the dangers of burning tires, pesticides and other things that can destroy us and our environment.

At Grant’s Pass, in southern Oregon we cut over on Highway 199 towards the famous 101 and California.  It’s not long before our excitement, not to mention the heat, builds as the scenery changes dramatically.  Blah, monotonous interstate gives way to small towns, hills and curvy roads.  We’ve hit 100 degrees and the A/C, now coming in fresh, is pumping.  Malaika puts on an Australian reggae band, who will be performing at Burning Man.  It doesn’t take much convincing before I am sure that I will attend The Burn this year (unfortunately I don’t make it for several reasons).  It is nice to have other people in the car besides my co-pilot Sebastian, the stuffed frog I picked up in Sioux City.

Just when the temperature starts to make its decent (now at 99) we see a farm stand.  The gals purchase assorted grass and green things.  I search desperately for hamburger or hotdogs, but find the next best alternative: homemade baked goods!  I end up with one huckleberry danish for myself and one basket of un-organic blueberries for Malaika.  Incidentally, the woman behind the counter agrees with my assessment of blues and natural pests.  I walk away proud to have redeemed myself, at least in my own eyes.

Packing everything into the car I realize that we might have a problem getting across the border with the produce we bought.  Plus, we have green stuff from Portland and I am still nervous about the Canadian pharmacy contraband (400mg Advil and Allegra-D) that I have in my possession.  I return to the strong-looking woman collecting cash at the stand and ask her what to do.  No problem she says, and produces an official stamp, which she slams down on the receipt for our purchases.  I just hope the Aussies have their passports as I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for running women into the state.

It’s not long before we are at the border and, after taking pictures at the “Welcome to California” sign, we are stopped by the California State Agriculture Check.  My heart starts to beat faster as two young agents, who are clearly Californian, approach the car.  Both are more-or-less blonde, fair skinned and blue-eyed, and chipper.

“Hi there! You’re a long way from home, huh?” the male agent says noting my NY plates.

“Yes,” I start to sweat.  What if he makes us pull out all the shit we have packed into my car: I imagine the worse case: the two Australians, me and all our green bootleg sprawled out on the side of the road while decent, law-abiding families pull through Ag Check unencumbered.

“I’m from Australia!”, exclaims Malaika from the front seat.

“And me too,” says Purdie from the back.  I assume this is some sort of “I’m sure there is SOMETHING we can work out officer” ploy, so I run with it.

“Do you have any fruits or vegetables?”

“Oh, yes” the girls say excitedly.

“In the back” I say.  My heart now stops and I am feeling like Lily Tomlin in 9 to 5 after she’s been pulled over with a dead body in her trunk.

I watching as the lips on the guard struggle to make a frown, when Malaika thrusts the receipt with official stamp past my face to the young man.

Examining the stamp, he says, with a smile, “That makes it easy!”

At this moment, I swear I see one of those cartoon glints flash off his brilliant white teeth as he winks to the ladies and says ”Welcome to California.”  I think he has been waiting all day to say that.  He offers us a map of the state and waives us through.  My hearts starts to beat again.

The Aussies and I give high fives all around.  We pulled it off just like when Obi Wan Kenobi got Luke and gang past the  Storm Troupers.  The force is strong in us!  Now, I am no longer looking for BK, but instead believe I need a Blizzard from DQ!  The excitement of the day has caused me to sink to new lows in my food cravings.

Places I Love: Voodoo Doughnuts . . . um Portland!

City of Bridges, Rivers and Highways

I have just under 24 hours to explore Portland, OR.  Having never spent any real time here, I am curious to check out the city, its bike paths, restaurants and Powell Books.  I call my college classmate and former San Francisco roommate, Dave, and tell him I am in town.  He meets me on bike at the hip n’ cool Jupiter Hotel, where I stay for the night, and we head out on the town.

Our first stop is a local watering hole: Crush.  It’s not long before it feels like old times.  We catch up on the last 15 years of our lives; career, love, family and more.  There is a great sense of satisfaction I feel in our exchange – it is good to share life stories with a chum.  We move over to the trendy Accanto restaurant in the neighborhood of Belmont and continue our repartee.  It is great fun.

Downtown Portland, OR

Our night cap takes us on a walk to downtown Portland and Voodoo Doughnuts, where at 12:30AM there is a line of about 40 people waiting for doughnuts.  I order a caramel round and Dave gets the bacon maple bar.  We walk and eat; I notice the vibrancy of the city – Portland is alive and loud in the early morning.  Perched on our outdoor bench at the secret bar Central, we watch trendy, young club-goers, drag queens, homeless men and women and people in search of late night eats fill the streets with activity.  I head back to the hotel and climb into bed around 1AM.  I dream of sweat rings of fried cakes and seriously consider a Voodoo run at 3 AM (they open 24/7), but sleep gets the better of me.

The next day, after a most delicious brunch at Wild Abandon, Dave and I find ourselves in line at Voodoo again; this time at the alternate location, which is bright pink and architecturally resembles a former IHOP.  It has the atmosphere of a carnival – black velvet paintings of Kenny Loggins, pinball machines, tourists and locals, and the grande dame: a four tiered, glass-enclosed doughnut case.  My eyes start to spin like a cartoon character as I consider which deep-fried ball of delight I will devour.  A closer look reveals a vegan top shelf.

The Voodoo Doughnut (yum!)

I settle on the signature doughnut – a raspberry filled, chocolate covered bar, complete with short arms and a pretzel stick used for performing black magic rituals.  “Bite the head off!,” Dave instructs me.  I do, then eat the entire body, growling as if I am King Kong or some other giant animal.  Before leaving, I decide to take a couple dozen sinkers me to the Soul Retrieval workshop I am about attend in SE Oregon – I figure that retrieving souls is hard work and people would appreciate the sustenance.  Plus, it allows me to eat two more doughnuts in the car ride to the retreat center.

I leave Portland feeling full from the dunkers and happy to have reconnected with an old friend.