X-Country Road Trip

Well, it wasn’t a coast-to-coast road trip, but traveling from Western Massachusetts to Northern New Mexico is a 2,000-mile haul that covers 11 states and three time zones. We did it in three days in our 13-year-old Subaru with umpteen miles.

Since July, Hank has been helping our son, Zack, build his microbrewery — Flood Water Brewing — in Shelburne Falls, Mass. His services as a carpenter were done, so it was time to head home. I flew out to spend the holiday with family and visit friends. I would be Hank’s amiable traveling companion.

My mother kept diaries on the many vacations — think Hawaii, Vegas, California, Portugal etc. — she took with my father, down to the amount they spent on food. She suggested I do the same. Our cross-country trek was not a vacation, however. This was a straight shot to avoid any bad winter weather and get home to Taos as fast as we could. And that’s exactly how it went.

Even so, this cross-country trip is worth a post. Here goes.

basketball museum

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

OUR ROUTE: From Northampton, Massachusetts, we headed south through Connecticut then west along I-80. We dipped down to I-70 and stayed with it until West Kansas where we traveled fine back roads into Colorado then New Mexico. The worst part of the trip traffic-wise was through Scranton.

VEHICLE: We’ve had the Subaru Impreza since mile zero. Now she’s up in the 150,000-mile range. We’ve taken good care of her, and she has done the same for us. She got me through commuting in nasty weather when we lived Back East. She’s been on six cross-country trips. The Subaru has some squeaks, and there was a concern along the way about the oil. Her radio stopped working long ago. And, alas, she’s not one of those cushy cars that muffle road noise, so our conversations were typically short and loud. But each morning, Hank gave the car a pep talk — I even heard him call her Sweetie — and he promised her a trip to the car wash and the mechanic for an oil change when we got back. She is also officially retired from any cross-country road trips.

DRIVER: Hank drove the entire way. I’m not the gutsy highway driver he is. I am the in-town driver, where being gutsy is not necessary or welcomed. Hank drove anywhere from 70 to 80-plus mph — being mindful of cops along the way. I admire his ninja driving skills and stamina. We only stopped for gas and the occasional necessary break.

NAVIGATION: This was my job although I had assistance from the Google maps app on my iPhone, which was especially helpful making our way through heavy traffic in the big cities. The narrator did get a little insistent at times when we stopped somewhere although I realize she was only trying to get us back on track. We also had the Rand McNally map book we used on our first trek to New Mexico 10 years ago. I did enter a few posts with photos on Facebook, but I didn’t get crazy about it.

La Veta Pass

La Veta Pass, Colorado, 9,426 feet

WEATHER: We got out of Massachusetts early Wednesday to avoid a Nor’easter. The weather along the way was clear although windy in parts. The first snow we saw on the ground after Massachusetts was in Colorado.

LANDSCAPE: This time of year, the U.S. is steeped in brownness. Bare trees. Immense farms and ranches with open fields. Windmills. Lots of billboards on the last half of the trip — mostly commercial stuff with the occasional “If you died today would you go to heaven or hell” type of message. I admired the prairie grass in Kansas.

ROAD CONDITIONS: Dry and well-maintained highways for the most part. Lots of trucks.

LICENSE PLATES: My favorite vanity plate was in Connecticut: McLovin. I imagine the owner is a fan of the movie Superbad.


Terrebonne in Lawrence, Kansas

ROAD FOOD: We did bring food and water with us. Nothing fancy. We only stopped for dinner. The worst food was at a Mexican restaurant I won’t name, but it could have been a scene in Breaking Bad. The best food was at Terrebonne in Lawrence, Kansas, where we had po’ boys and wheat beer. It’s a tiny place with funky tables and chairs. Think somebody’s dinette set from the ’50s. The people were friendly and the food, tasty. We were told it was a locals’ place.

MOTELS: We slept two nights on the road, nothing fancy, but nothing crappy. At the first in Springfield, Ohio, I met a guy who was traveling from Maine to Taos with his dog. He and his wife were spending the winter. The second night, we stopped in Lawrence, Kansas. Good rates at the Virginia Inn although unfortunately some trucker parked his rig near our unit so its engine kept cycling.

SITES WE PASSED: We were not tourists this time, but I was amused by the sign for the world’s largest wind chimes in Casey, Illinois. Jim Bolin, owner of a pipeline and tank maintenance firm called Bolin Enterprises, gets credit for the chimes, plus the world’s largest golf tee and knitting needles. What’s next? World’s largest chopsticks? However, there was no convincing Hank to stop. We passed signs for many historic sites and, of course, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

WILD ANIMALS: Hawks were the most popular bird species on this trip. (Unfortunately, we spotted several dead ones along the highway, likely victims of speeding tractor-trailers.) In southern Colorado, which is open range country, we saw immense herds of elk foraging through the snow for grass plus wild horses. I was glad we were traveling in daylight.

HOME AGAIN: We arrived just after six on Friday, thankful our little car made it. And when the motor was cool enough, Hank place rubber mats on the engine and containers of mothballs to deter the rabbits from chewing the Subaru’s wires. Yup, we were back home in Taos.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Shelves containing salsa and other seasonings at Terrebonne.

ONE MORE THING: I resume writing about my upcoming novel The Sweet Spot with the next post.

books, hippies, Travel

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Well, I suppose it is if you consider smoking pot, dropping acid, and protesting a senseless war as crimes. Throw in skipping class for no good reason. But on a recent road trip Back East I visited my alma mater Bridgewater State University, the inspired setting for my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What.


Front of the auditorium at Boyden Hall. The lit mag was located in the mezzanine, where the window is open.

I hadn’t been back since I graduated in 1972. Then, Bridgewater State College was a cluster of traditional brick buildings, except for a newly opened dorm. The college, now officially a university, has grown immensely with new buildings. The old ones have been repurposed. Its academic offerings likewise have expanded. A commuter rail, which I took, links the school to Boston.

But that’s not why I went. I was on a research mission in that I wanted to see the buildings and places I used in my novel.

A caveat: Peace, Love, and You Know What is a piece of fiction. It is not a memoir. Like other authors, I used what I experienced and had my way with it. That included the college, which I call Westbridge State in the novel.

221 summer street copy

This is 221 Summer Street, aka 221 Winter Street in the book.

On a fine May day, I walked to 221 Summer Street, the inspiration for the crash pad, 221 Winter Street, in the novel. From the amount of mailboxes I suspect it is still rented to students, but the building is far better maintained, at least from the exterior. So is the apartment house on Broad Street, the infamous Brown House where I once partied and later lived. Like a lot of buildings, it had new siding. Alas, the cinder block apartment complex AKA the Roach Motel was torn down long ago, I was told.

I visited Carver’s Pond, used in the book for the softball game between the rival Winter Street and Roach Motel hippie tribes. As a student, I sought refuge here even in the winter. Now it’s a park with walking trails.

newspaper office

The former newspaper office now used as a closet.

The campus was empty since graduation was held earlier that month. As I wrote, many of the older buildings, including the dorm where I lived two years, have new lives. I managed to sneak into the auditorium. The closet of an office, once a ticket-box, used for the student newspaper is indeed now a closet. I couldn’t get access to the mezzanine where the lit magazine was located. (I was once the editor.) The commuter lounge, a frequent gathering place, was long gone. I smile thinking about the times my group hung around that building, up to no good, according to the school’s administration.


The restaurant was called Buddy’s when I went to school. It was inspiration for Ray’s in the book.

I headed downtown, which surprisingly hasn’t fared as well as campus, with empty storefronts and funky businesses. The coffee shop — Buddy’s when I was there, Ray’s in the book — still exists. It’s now called My Sister and I. The interior has been changed to give more seating. My friends and I spent countless hours there drinking bad coffee and talking. I ate lunch for old times sake.

I did stop at the alum office. The friendly women working there showed me the yearbooks from the time I was in school. I started with the one from 1970. The first page I opened had the photo you see above.

I remember the moment. I was walking with my boyfriend Bobby when someone yelled from a moving car and took our photo. I thought it was true love, but it ended months later, his choice. Like Lenora, one of the main characters in Peace, Love, and You Know What, I fell hard in love and suffered when things didn’t work out.

Here is a scene from the book. Mack and Tim are talking about a three-day graduation bash they are going to hold at their crummy apartment.

“Make sure Lenora hears about it,” Tim said.

Mack’s lips curled beneath his red mustache.

“A party without Lenora? Our queen? No way. Hey, Tim, maybe you should do the asking.” His grin got bigger. “She should be over that last guy by now. What’s his name? Tadd?”

“No, it was Brad,” Tim said.

“Brad. What kind of a name is Brad? Sometimes I wonder about Lenora’s choice in guys. At least he’s gone.” Mack’s brow pinched. “Doesn’t it take Lenora six weeks to get over a guy? I believe it’s time to finally make your move, Tim. She’s outta here next week.”

Tim sighed. Lenora’s last relationship was a close one. Things were getting heavy with the guy, a friend of Joey’s hiding out from some trouble in California. But Lenora’s romances lasted three months tops, the guys drawn by her open heart, soaking in her love as if it were sunlight, until it drove them away. Tim held her while she cried enough times to know the story. Her ex-boyfriends said they were living in the here and now. They reminded her about the war in Vietnam. Her response? War was all the more reason to be in love. They didn’t see it her way. She took the breakups hard, sobbing in her room, playing dreary folk songs like Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and snarling at the lines. She stopped eating, got real skinny, drank, and smoked too much pot, embarrassing herself a little in public. She wrote sad or hateful poetry until she came to her senses or lost interest.

Yup, that about sums it up. By the way, the alum office wants a hard copy of the book when it comes out. I did warn them it’s a bit raunchy.

UPDATE: Oh, so close on the paperback edition. Until then, here is the link to the Kindle version:*Version*=1&*entries*=0

family, friends, Taos, Travel, Writing

New Year’s Revolution

2015 was a very good year. It was a creative year — and that is important to me.

Was it a happy year? Yes, except for the passing of my father in September. He will be missed by so many, especially his family. By my measure, Dad, who was almost 93, had a life richer than most. I am grateful we were there to be there with him at the end. Here is the eulogy I wrote:

During 2015 I kept writing and rewriting. New projects include the Los Primos bilingual series for young readers written with my collaborator Teresa Dovalpage, the fourth in the Twin Jinn series and a YA novel. I spent time with the novels I finished a while ago — I suppose they’re not done until they are published — to make them better with what I know now.

In a post I wrote a year ago, I noted I wanted to connect readers to my books. Ah, but as I’ve discovered, there is writing and the business of writing. I let my agent go after four years and am in the midst of other publishing opportunities. (More about that in the near future.)

I launched this website, an improved one for my Twin Jinn series and a Facebook author page

I found new authors to love. And I got to do more public interviews with authors, including Anne Hillerman and the fellows for the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

As for travel, we saw family — including the debut performance in Boston of our son Nate’s band — and friends around the country. We camped and hiked this fall in Rocky Mountain National Park, where the elk were bugling. (I’ve already made reservations to camp at Yellowstone in August.)

Other blessings: Hank’s companionship, a meaningful job, caring friends, and good health. A productive garden — we just finished the last of the carrots, kale and chard stored in the fridge. We still have beets.

So what’s ahead? I will keep writing and rewriting. I aim to move more and sit less. I will visit family and friends. I will grow our food and flowers.

And, I will embrace the change 2016 will bring me.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s our son, Zack, at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, one of three we visited with his friend Suzie during their Christmas visit.


Thinking about Paris

As the French president said, “C’est une horreur.” The recent attack on innocent people in Paris is indeed sheer horror. In response, many of my friends have posted photos and memories of the city. They’ve opted for the French flag super-imposed over their profile photos on Facebook. I have my own memories, but I will offer this one.

joan in paris copy

A photo of me in Paris.

I was in the city a long time ago, with the man who would later be my first husband. We were hitching that summer around Europe and for a time ended up in Paris. We were macrobiotic then, an admittedly strict regime of brown rice and vegetables that worked because we were also low on money.

So when we arrived in Paris, we tried to get a job in one of the several macrobiotic restaurants there. (We were living in a small hotel and cooking food over a camp stove along the Seine. Yes, we were a bit fanatical.) We kept striking out until we arrived at a macrobiotic restaurant run by a Vietnamese man. He told us he didn’t need workers but we could live for free in an apartment a couple of floors above the restaurant.

It was a tiny place, which had a kitchen, with a bidet, and some furniture. We shared the toilet in the hallway — a filthy closet where you stood to do your business.

That’s where we stayed the weeks we were in Paris. By day we visited all of the city’s quarters, museums and historical spots. We met interesting people. Another group of travelers in the same predicament joined us in the apartment. (When we later met up with them by accident in London, they returned the favor. But that’s another lucky traveler story.) One night we dug into our money and ate at the restaurant.

I marvel still at the generosity of the Parisian who gave us a place to stay and asked for nothing in return. I wish the city and its people peace.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the view on my neighborhood walk. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains with a bit of snow at the top are in the background. If I squint, I can make believe the sage is an ocean.

Nature, Travel

The Wild Life

The signs were everywhere in and near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Watch out for wildlife in the road. Elk viewing area here. Have you bear-proofed your campsite?

We camped at Rocky four nights. And yes, I did see elk, deer plus a number of birds that can live at such high altitudes, but no bear. I also heard a pack of coyotes near the campground. But this is what else I brought back.

Male elk in the pasture at our campgrounds.

Male elk in the pasture at our campgrounds.

MARVELOUS SINGERS. Day and night we heard the call of male elks, trying their best to lure females into their harem, as described in park literature. They’ve come down from feasting on green stuff high in the mountains to mate. The male elks toss back their racks and bugle. I fell asleep listening to them.

GAGA OVER WILD ANIMALS. People will stop their vehicle, often some big-ass pickup, in the middle of the road when they see elk. The drivers of the shuttles that haul hikers from one trail to another say it’s not the elks but the humans who create traffic problems in the fall.

FRIENDLY PLACE. The park may not have that wow-factor of say Grand Canyon, Arches and other red-stoned parks, but the mountains are powerful. The rangers were friendly. So were our fellow campers. One camper gifted us his leftover bottles of water, which we in turn gifted what was left to neighbors when we were packing up. The couple’s daughter later came over with two peaches as a thank you.


Rocky Mountain National Park

HIKERS PARK. One shuttle driver called Rocky a hiker’s park. The park service keeps it as natural as possible. We got caught up in it, hiking nearly five miles the first day, and then took it easier the next two, although the last was at an elevation well over 9,000 feet.

SMARTER IS WARMER. Last November we camped in our tent at three national parks — Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches — and nearly froze at night. Those sleeping bags were supposed to be good to zero degrees. Ha. But this time we were better prepared. The nights at Rocky did get down into the 30s one night, but our system of using double sleeping bags kept us warm.

LIGHTER IS BETTER. We used to hike a lot back East but at a much lower elevation. The boots I used then felt like blocks of cement on my feet at Rocky. I also envied the retractable hiking poles of fellow hikers. Guess what I am buying next?

SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE BEAR. As warned by the rangers, we had to keep everything except our tent and sleeping bags inside our car and covered so the bears wouldn’t be tempted. We also had to lock our car because bears have figured out how to open doors. Two cars had their interiors totally trashed this summer.

SIGNS OF HUMAN LIFE. Numerous signs and messages caught my eye such as the one announcing the atheists of Boulder were responsible for keeping a section of roadway clean in that city. Then there was silly tourist stuff in Estes Park. I could buy a sign that said: Hippie Parking Only — All Others Will Be Stoned. But I didn’t. Then there were t-shirts with such sayings as “DUDE, I THINK THIS WHOLE TOWN IS HIGH, Elevation 7,522.” Nah, I didn’t buy that one either.

PHOTO AT THE TOP: That’s our lunch spot at Nymph Lake.