Thursday, September 24, 2015

Run for the hills!

 I returned from California only to find that Philadelphia had lost. it's. mind. 


Pope frenzy everywhere. The amount of work that had been done in August was astounding. Streets that had been cracked and pot-holed for years, were suddenly paved and wonderfully smooth. I actually couldn't drive them anymore because I didn't have potholes and manhole covers to avoid! 

Perfectly, beautifully, smooth, paved Market St. at 21st:
I know this bit of road very well since Trader Joe's is on the next block. Under the bus is a manhole cover that used to be a good 4 inches below street level. Not anymore!

And while the smooth streets certainly are nice, there are plenty of other things that make you want to roll your eyeballs. Can you can spot what's wrong with this picture:
That would be the white F-1 ticket location sign strapped right in front of the traffic signal which in this photo happens to be red - not off. But drivers can't see that! I took the photo while in my car. Who is doing quality control here? 

As September progressed there were other things that just made you wonder how this was all going to work out. All of the hype and talk about security started to sound like a real nightmare. Everything in Center City is going to be closed except all of the food businesses. Then there are traffic boxes where only emergency vehicles can be and if you drive out you will not be let back in until after the weekend. And finally over the weekend the traffic box will be expanded to a 38 block swatch. From the Delaware River to 38th St. in West Philadelphia. At some point almost all of I-76 will be closed from Conshohoken to the Walt Whitman Bridge. This is a good 30 miles of highway and a main artery to Philadelphia. We are expecting millions of people to come - how in the heck are they going to GET here? After all of the hype and crazy planning I do hope the millions of people come, but on the other hand I wouldn't be surprised if they'd been scared away.  My good friend Melanie called me the minute she found out the Pope was coming to reserve a bed with me - back in January. She decided to come last weekend instead. It wasn't clear that she'd be able to get to me on the Friday before with all the road closures so she didn't want to risk it. 

While it sounds like all of this would be the ultimate nightmare for any resident of Philadelphia, I have actually been enjoying it. Yes, some people are heading for the hills. But I for one am glad to be staying here and I want to go in and see the festivities. We spent the morning listening to NPR in the lab and there was a nice discussion about what the Pope's philosophy on the environment is. I am really starting to like this guy! I'm not Catholic - but after listening to the radio shows and hearing his humble message to Congress, I want to hear him speak! Now I'm sad I don't have tickets to any of the events on the Parkway. I'd even go to the mass on Sunday - just to see it. Tomorrow I'm going to look and see if I can find tickets somewhere. 

As the date comes ever closer, I have been watching the developments with amused interest. I want see how everything works out. I also think someone in charge started realizing they were scaring people away and they needed to change tack. In the last few weeks signs have popped up all over: 
 There are smaller posters appearing in shop and restaurant windows and I think people are genuinely excited for the Pope to visit. Here are a few of the favorite things I've seen: 

I'm not sure what this is exactly.  

These banners went up around City Hall and on Broad St. some time last week.


On Monday we started seeing people with clear backpacks and bright green name tags walking around everywhere. They were here for the beginning of the week-long festivities the World Meeting of Families. I started to get this wonderful happy feeling. All of these people coming to Philadelphia. You could see they were happy to be here and the natives were being nice to them! So many people kindly redirecting tourists to where they wanted or needed to go. I had to take the bus to teach on Tuesday. But because of all the closures the bus had to go a very strange round-about route. But there were several groups of tourists on the bus and it was heartwarming to see all the locals helping them and reassuring them that they would get where they needed to go. (My designated tourists wanted to get to the Rocky Statue at the Art Museum.)

Yesterday is when I think it really hit us - this is happening. I was walking down Broad St, past a block of port-a-potties. And I wasn't the only one taking pictures! 
When I got to work I bumped into our facilities guys and we talked a bit about the visit. Tyrone pulled out his phone and showed me a picture - a "selfie" with himself and the Pope!! It looked SO real, but it was actually a cardboard cut out of the Pope. And I think that's when I knew, this is really going to be amazing.   
We've been given tomorrow and Monday off for all of the festivities. So today was my last chance to know I could walk around freely. I took advantage to walk around the restricted areas a bit. Everyone is on the Pope bandwagon. My favorite coffee shop, Cake and the Beanstalk is serving the Pope-kin Spice Latte: 
A Chinese Noodle Bar, Cheu, is obviously Pope-approved:
The new Wawa (like a 7-11) got the construction finished extra early to be open for the Papal visit. Also, more portapotties and one of our favorite Philadelphia locals. The gentleman standing on the far right of the image on the subway vents can be seen in a few locations around Philadelphia. He wears very loose silk shirts and stands on the grates and lets the air make his shirts billow around him. He always looks so serene.
There are mobile showers called "No Sweat" parked in front of one of the Jefferson Medical school buildings: 
and exactly who are these for? 

I decided I better go to Trader Joe's before I went home for the weekend. I wasn't sure if it would be accessible the rest of the weekend! On my way I walked over to the Knotted Grotto art installation at the Cathedral.  
And after reading the article I realize I didn't do it correctly! So I have to go back and untie two prayers and move them. 
But look - 
Look at all of those strips of white. Everyone one of them has a prayer written on them by someone who has visited the grotto.  

Then it was time to head to Trader Joe's before it got too late. On the way I passed more preparations for all of the people coming to the mass.
I also passed a truck and crew from the US Postal Service who were removing the blue mailboxes for the weekend. All to be put back by Monday. 
I think the Pope has brought out the best in us. We (Philadelphia residents) have all been talking about this with each other. Everywhere you go - someone starts: are you going to see the Pope? And either they are staying - oh heck yeah! Or, oh no - they are gettin' out of town! Either way the conversation is good. Perfect strangers are bonding over our wonder at all of the preparations for this event.

I stopped to take this picture on the corner of 20th and JFK Blvd. A second later a woman on a bicycle skidded to a stop next to me and said, "Oh yeah, I totally need a picture of that!"

 She then proceeded to tell me she had see the pallets of toilet paper being delivered to another spot. And she said, "No way was it enough!"
Ha! We shall see.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Tahoe to LA

Part 2 
And now the thrilling conclusion to my week in Tahoe. 
The hike I did on Thursday to Ellis Peak wiped me out. My knees were very unhappy and so I thought it best to give them a break. So on Friday, I putzed around in the morning, went for a lovely, slow bike ride, and sat by Lake Tahoe reading in the afternoon.  

Saturday I went for another hike with Denise. This was a really nice hike from Tahoe City along the valley corridor that is Hwy 89 to Squaw Valley. The day was very hazy and smokey, we assumed from all the fires, so I didn't take many photos. After what I'm guessing now was five miles where we could see right down onto the turn off to Olympic Village, we stopped and had lunch. We were joined by a bunch of big ants and this little guy, who kept watching us.
Finally he plopped himself on this rock right in front of us and began nibbling on some sort of nut as if to say - "hey ladies - HINT HINT."  We didn't take the hint.

We had been chit-chatting all the way up and I didn't register how far we'd come. It didn't feel like five miles, but by the time we got back down it sure felt like we had done a good 10mile round trip. The trail was really nice, lots of different vegetation and every so often it would take you to the rim of the valley. You could look down and east to the Lake, or straight down onto the Truckee River.
After our exhausting hike we needed fuel. We stopped at a lovely new-agey health food store and Denise treated us to kale chips, ground cherries, heirloom cherry tomatoes, chocolate and grapefruit sodas. We devoured all of it at the Lake which was gorgeous. Then it was back 'home' to pack all of the stuff and get ready to leave at 6am.

Sunday Morning
 I didn't quite manage to get out the door at 6am. That was a little ambitious. But by 7 I was on my way.  I stopped at the Lake for one last look and caught this beautiful sunrise through the smokey haze. My conclusion about Tahoe? I enjoyed it. It is not as rugged a wilderness as I'm used to, but maybe this time that was okay. My first impression of it being pampered wilderness didn't change, but I got used to it. I enjoyed the hiking and sitting by the lake in the afternoons. It was a good vacation, the kind I needed, a real break from my life.

The drive home was another adventure.
I stopped in beautiful downtown Carson City NV for coffee and gas and in Carson City I geeked out on all of the fabulous typography!

It is full of all wonderful examples of huge slab serif fonts and retro stuff like the san serif "casino" above, and a few others in the next few pictures. 
Ya just don't see this stuff on east coast establishments. 
And I love it! Check out this font on this garage:
That is Hobo (or a font based on Hobo) - a super retro font from the 30's. My question is - is this original to the business? or did they hire a brilliant graphic designer. I so hope it's the first one.

Then I started the long long drive down 395 back to Los Angeles. I don't think I've mentioned my rental car? It was a Chevy Spark.
This thing is so cute and tiny, it will fit in your pocket! The sound system is fantastic. It works on blue tooth with your phone! So in the back waters of California where the second you leave a large town (population 500 or so) and you have zippo phone service, you can still play all your tunes and any anything else you have on your phone! It's great! I love listening to books on tape on long drives like this and on the way home I was listening to Amy Poehler's, Yes Please! 
If I thought things had been hazy in Tahoe the day before, it was nothing compared to this drive. I've never seen it so murky. I took a side tour to Mammoth Lakes to see Horseshoe lake, then headed down to Tom's Place to do a short hike out of Mosquito Flats. Its one I always do and debated about not doing. But since I was as close as I'd be for a long time, in spite of the bad air quality, I did a little part of it.  Then it was off to Bishop, where I arrived around 3pm on a Sunday and had to stand in line at Schatt's Bakery for almost 45 minutes for my sandwich - sheesh! That's how popular this place is. 

Now, remember that cute and tiny car? Ahem, I should have gotten gas in Bishop ($4.35/gal). Then I should have gotten gas in Independence, or Lone Pine, or even Olancha! Nope. I did not. I thought I could make it to Mojave.
I was mistaken.
That cute little car has a cute little gas tank that only holds 9 gallons. That is not enough to get you from Carson City NV to Mojave, CA with a few side trips.
At about 6pm on Sunday evening 16 miles of north of Mojave (also where Edward's Air Force Base is - where the space shuttle used to land), my little car ran out of gas. In the middle of nowhere.
Yup - that's it! A paved driveway to a cattle grate, three stop signs and dirt roads from there.  
Here's the view from the front seat.
I literally just coasted into this spot. It's kind of amazing that this is exactly where I ran out of gas. Things happen for a reason.
My next worry was cell phone service. And believe it or not, not only did I have service, but my car decided to make the phone call for me because it was still linked to the blue tooth on my phone. Ha! That was a strange experience. Thank goodness for AAA. It took a while for the operator to locate me though. I mean I had nothing at all to give her except that the last sign I had seen said I was 16 miles away from Mojave and I was on Hwy 14. She asked me if I was by the airport - and you know, thank goodness I knew what she was talking about. You can actually see all of the planes from the highway and so I knew I hadn't gotten there yet. After I hung up with her I spotted a call box. I walked over to get the number and called them back and gave it to them. That eased my mind as it would give them an exact location.

While I waited the 45 minutes for AAA to come, I rolled down all the windows, watched the sun set, and sweated. It was really hot.
Looking into the landscape reminded me of Maxfield Parrish.  
  Maybe this is how he would have painted the California Landscape had he ever had the opportunity.

AAA came earlier than expected (yay!) and while there was a little moment of panic where the guy couldn't find the right spout in order to pour the gas into the tank, it finally all worked out and I was on my way again. Filled up in Mojave and scooted home. Wow. What an adventure. I have never, and I mean never, run out of gas before. I don't think I need to do it again. 

I spent a few more days with the family before heading home on Wednesday. This included a trip to urgent care (to look at a really nasty rash on my leg that I have no idea how I got), my favorite art store, Liam time and In-n-Out.
Liam's first In-n-Out:
He was just too wiggly to show off the onesey I made him: "When I grown up I will read books" 

Everybody sleeping.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lake Tahoe, California

Part 1. 
I've been trying to post for almost a week and a half now. Between just having fun, my adorable nephew, traveling and finally, facing reality (returning home), I just haven't managed to find time to sit down and do this. But now - Sunday evening makes this a priority.  This is part 1 because this is just the first half of my week in Tahoe. I hope it won't be another week and a half before I post the other half. There's too much else going on.

I decided to drive from LA to Lake Tahoe. I'm so glad I did for a number of reasons. First of all, I love that part of California. It is so isolated. There is really just the one road back there. In fact, there is a radio commercial at the moment that mentions one of the towns on the road. It's a car insurance add and the guy asks what would happen if he hits a tree in Lone Pine. ha! That's pretty funny - but maybe you have to be there - at anyrate...
I love that area of California. It's hot. and dry. and desolate. and if you run out of gas - good luck.
The second reason I'm so glad I drove is because I got to visit (very briefly) someone I used to babysit! Aline is now living in Mammoth Lakes with a three-year-old of her own and it was so SO fun to catch up with her. It was the perfect midday break from driving. Her daughter is absolutely adorable. The visit was prompted by a different visit with her mom and the rest of her family whom I haven't seen in ages either and that was a wonderful catch up as well.

But Aline said, "are you sure the road is open?" I hadn't even thought of that. There was a huge fire at Lee Vining, which is where you make the left to go to Yosemite. The road to Yosemite was indeed closed, but thank goodness 395 was not. I'm not sure what I would have done if it was. There really aren't a lot of options back there.
I got some amazing views of the fires. Wow. 

I made a pit stop at Mono Lake because I love it too.  It was very smokey and hazy, of course. 
I had originally wanted to spend the week at June Lake (also on 395) and hike in my favorite area. But it's probably a good thing I didn't. The air quality there was not good at all. Things happen for a reason I guess. 
I arrived at my time share late in the evening after having driven through Carson City, NV and around the north of the lake. I've never been to Lake Tahoe so this was all new to me. 

After an orientation meeting with the staff of the time share, I set out to find 1. an espresso maker at a thrift store and 2. a hiking book for the Lake Tahoe area. I was successful on both accounts. (See, 'cause,  the time share only had a drip coffee maker which made the most vile brew and I wasn't going to make it through the week without the espresso maker. $3!)
In the afternoon I went down to the lake.  I found a quieter beach down the road from Tahoe City. I was surprised by the rocky "shore." I thought it would be uncomfortable - but it was much nicer than any sandy beach.  The water was beautiful and clear.  I dipped my toes into the water and then settled down to read the hiking book and another book Ann loaned me - Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh. What a beautiful book and the perfect place to enjoy it. I ended up coming down to the same spot every afternoon and reading.  The rocks held the warmth of the sun, but the beach was in shadow and it was a perfect combination. Warm but no sunburn! 

Tuesday I was supposed to go on a hike organized by the time share, but that fell through. I had signed up with a woman I'd met at the front desk the night before, who had told me how fabulous everything was :). There were supposed to be 12 people on the hike, but it turned out to be just the two of us. Since the plans changed we decided to hike to Base Camp via Shirley Lake.  To get to the trail head you just walk out the back of the lodge. That's it. Then good luck. The place is crawling with people who have created a lot more trails than the real one.  I'm glad we asked the Recreation guy about it and he said just follow the blue marks. OK. Well that's fine but ya gotta find 'em first. 

We did pretty well including the massive scramble up the granite facing.  This is a look back the way we came.

At Shirley Lake we took a break. It was gorgeous.   

Then on to the top!  

And we made it! 
I'm not sure what I expected to find at the top, but what we did find wasn't it. 
At the top is not only, a restaurant - try two, and a swimming pool, and an ice skating rink - which in the summer is a rollerskating rink, and TONS of people. The people? all paid $39 to ride the gondola up to the top and hang out in a swimming pool. $39! (The trip down is free - so since we hiked up - free ride down! - more on that in a sec.)  
Even though hike was short - about 2.5 miles - maybe 3 - it was steep steep steep! We climbed at least 1400 feet. I needed a treat.
I bought myself the most expensive ice cream sandwich ever. $7. But it was so good. It was homemade on a giant chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream spooned inside.

And it came with a rather nice view.
Denise, my new hiking buddy, had ordered some veggie shish kebabs and we devoured our treats. Then it was time to catch the gondola down. What an experience. Wow are you high up in the air!
This is a shot from the gondola looking down on the time share. The building is the beige upside down L thingy. The dark spots are the parking lots.
And what took us the better part of the day to ascend, took 20 minutes to descend.
Conclusion? Tahoe is pampered wilderness. Seriously. People go there to be out in the wild, the fresh air, blah blah blah, but they also go there because they can do that in a swimming pool with a restaurant after riding to the top of the wilderness with modern technology. Scoff Scoff. On the other hand, at least they are outside and enjoying it. Still - the rugged outdoors? it is not.


Hike to the Five Lakes Basin.  This was the organized hike by the Lodge and we had an interesting time to say the least. We saw a lot of nature and our guide pointed out several interesting plants including elderberry, gooseberry, manzanita, and other things I'm forgetting now.  

The five lakes don't actually have names - they collectively are called The Five Lakes. This is another one of those hikes where so many people have wandered around that there are a lot of trails which might be legitimate, but aren't.   
God bless our sweet, young, and cute guide, but he was slow. Denise and I could have done that hike in about 3 hours. Instead it took five. I'm not sure why he was so slow.  We were certainly trying to push him to go faster, but who knows? 

Thursday I struck off on my own.  I wanted to do a hike that was recommended to me by the guy at the sporting goods store where I found my hiking book. He said Ellis Peak was gorgeous and not that heavily traveled. And he was right. The hike is not easy.  It is straight up for about a mile, maybe a little less, but really - I mean straight up.
As you hike you get a few views through the trees of the lake. 
At the top of the first mile you find yourself out on this ridge. 
 And in the early morning sunlight, it was gorgeous.
The views are almost 360°
It was interesting being in such foreign landscape. I didn't know what anything was or  what the major landmarks were. That lake back there? No idea. (It's not Tahoe - that is behind me.)

After the trek on the ridge, you hike down into a Lodge Pole Pine forest. The moss is covering the trees.
My favorite color!   
 With a little under a quarter of a mile to the top you have the option to go to Ellis Lake.  I decided I needed to see the lake too. It was a perfect place to eat a sandwich. The surface of the lake was covered with dragon flies. I don't think I've ever seen so many.  From here you also have a perfect view of where you are going. That ridge right in the middle of the photo, that's Ellis Peak.  
The last part of the hike is also seriously straight up. At least its shorter than the beginning.  Once you've finally made it to the top you really do have 360° view of the world.  It was beautifully clear and so much to look at. I didn't know which direction to look in.  

I could see the lake where I'd stopped for lunch.
I had a complete view of the lake. It is a big lake.  

I was also able to see the tiny speck in the distance that was the gondola house of where we'd hiked on Tuesday. 

Now that I've written this, I realize that there isn't that much more to the trip and I should just post all of it! But for some reason I can't load any more images to this blog post. Maybe I've reached the maximum capacity. So I'll finish for now, and hopefully write the conclusion of this thrilling trip in the next few days.