Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 4: To Sonora and that sky...

What an amazing sky day! There were unseasonal raindrops the day before, which made for a sky full of sailing ships of puffy whites on a sea of cerulean blue with a little burnt umber - oops, that's artist techie talk. I apologize. I'll just say it was mighty purty on my drive to the base of the Sierras yesterday.

I went to Sonora for lunch. A small restaurant called Talulah's spoke to me, whispering "pulled-pork on a roll" and I was captive. It was best-ever in the category, if you're ever in Sonora hankering for roasted pig. I enjoyed conversing with the waiter/graphic designer Mark Lewis who moved to Sonora ten years ago, having lived his formative years in San Francisco. He was a self-described Total Bitch in his twenties, making very bad choices, when he had an epiphany in a vivid dream visitation from his beloved departed grandmother. Grams told him he'd better stop his stupidity and be the better person that she knew he was supposed to be, or else he'd be seeing her sooner rather than later. I got the feeling that EVERYTHING is vivid to Mark, but this ubervivid dream turned the bitch around and he was still here, and he is a better person. He was certainly an attentive waiter.

NOTE TO SELF: Sometimes what you have to say may make a difference to your grandkids, but you may have to be dead before it matters much.

Sonora, like my beloved Ojai, has tourism as a mainstay industry. Although we don't call them 'tourists' or have a 'season' in Ojai, maybe for fear that our local gun-pro hunters might think they can buy a tag and shoot them. Instead, they are 'Visitors'. And having Visitors in Ojai is a good thing, because there is basically no other industry. Every decision made by local government gives a large, drooling nod toward Visitors, for bed tax is what keeps City Hall in the black.

Ojai of Old used to support agriculture in the form of citrus groves, education for education's sake as private schools and public schools were comfortably self-(and State)funded and local(county-wide) industry. Plenty of my schoolmates' fathers were employed as Shell Oil engineers and offshore workers, mining engineers and geologists for for gypsum interests up Hwy. 33 - and, of course, all of the support industry that formed to maintain their families' health and upkeep.

Not anymore. We have Visitors. Sounds ominous to me. They come for Art and Lavender and Food and Ambiance. They want to touch our magic, like going to the happiest place on earth.

So, last evening when my new acquaintance Dave asked me, over sushi and by way of making polite conversation, "If you had a magic wand, what would you change about Ojai?"

That's a tough question. Libbey Bowl is fixed now, so that answer is out... the decision to fix the bowl was one of those drooling nods I spoke of earlier. Shirley, it will bring more visitors to Ojai, but don't call me surely.

My answer was "Industry". If I could wave a retro magic wand and focus the eyes of the various governing councils over my fair valley's last twenty-five or so years, I would have expanded with great care the benevolence that small local industry requires to bloom and thrive. What of 'sustainability' if there is nothing to sustain? It is true that some entrepreneurs chose Ojai for its (what? Spirit? Climate? Attitude?) location as a place to raise a family. They had to bring their own small industry with them. My father was one of them. He often said, as long as UPS delivers, he could take his trade with him and live anywhere. That was 45 years ago. Now tighter and tighter controls by our governing bodies at every level squeeze the little guy until there is no spirit, attitude or money left over for a family to survive.

NOTE TO SELF: Don't rant. It's not nice.

After my road trip/quest, I will return to my beloved valley. I will counsel my grandkids. I will make art, hopefully much of it based on this trip. I will offer it for sale to Visitors and to the world by way of the www. I will look up at our blue sky with the occasional puffy white gondolas and be thankful that UPS delivers. I will accost random Visitors and thank them for coming and will engage them in conversation until they assume I want pocket change from them for my habits - in a way, by offering my art for sale, I guess that part is kinda true. I will rant, politely but determinedly, through my cartoony opinions every Friday in the Ojai Valley News.

And I will put by drinking water and heirloom seeds, and continue to nurture my backyard garden, and dream of local, sustainable industry when the Visitors depart.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cattle Egrets in Baker's Field

I am not certain where Mr. Baker actually had his field, but while I was flying my hand up the central valley past Bakersfield I saw white tall birds standing like statues in many fields. They looked like they were posing for Karate Kid maneuvers. I had always thought they were water birds that somehow got lost from the Pacific flyway when I saw them standing around in soggy Ojai meadows in Spring. I assumed they were looking for fishy-tasting snacks because they appeared to be more suited for estuary visitation.

But I was wrong, at least partially. They devour everything, fingerlings included, but unsuspecting field mice and gophers are favorite foods, too. Any living rodent is acceptable prey. These Egrets are welcome to visit all of the fields surrounding my backyard garden. I will keep my cat in the house, just for good measure, in case they'd like to touch down on Franklin Drive. She is small and probably transportable if a large raptor was wanting housecat for supper. I don't think that a Cattle Egret would stoop so low as that, though. They look so statuesque and royal-like; they wouldn't want recycled Friskies for a meal.

Exactly why they are called Cattle Egrets, I don't know, for even though they are reportedly voracious, I don't think they eat cow.

My Road Trip/Quest, day 3: Be Here Now... and make the most of it

Right here, in my easy-on-easy-off freeway access motel room complex is a MickeyD's, Del Taco and a Denny's - what more could a fat girl want from life??? Actually, I was overjoyed to discover the location of Trader Joe's, so McDonald's can remain a thing of my sordid past. This is where I am blooming at the moment. Much of Day 3 was spent as an ordinary work day, in touch with my workspace in Cyburbia by laptop. I updated websites and continued illustrations that were in the works before I left home - still have plenty to do. Work continues=Life is Good=I have purpose=Maybe someone will pay me eventually.

I am noticing a difference in attitude here in the central valley among the people I have encountered doing their jobs. There is an old-fashioned American-style graciousness that I have noticed has been lacking recently in Southern California, even in the small town of Ojai. People greet you when you walk in their door, even in the corporate places like FedEx. They don't do that in the Ventura FedEx office. Folks say hello in passing, just like in the "old" days in Ojai. Sure, there are just as many people engrossed in their laptops and phones, but they actually look up and nod or say hello once in awhile - it is spooky as much as it is remarkable.

My friend muses that it has to do with population density and the stress resulting from that condition - think Rat Race. I feel it has more to do with the infection of Los Angelization, which grows uglier all the time. Simple courtesy gets shrugged at, with suspicion, "Why are you being nice, what are you expecting from me?" We have forgotten how to interact with kindness.

I am appreciating the difference.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Road Trip/Quest, day 2: You gotta have friends...

My friend gave me a car. Mine is in the shop getting a new radiator and head gasket. This puts my Road Trip on hiatus for a few days, but the value of my Quest remains strong - I think what I am evaluating is "Contentment"... what is it that makes people feel content with the life they find themselves leading?

I shared time with a young man who works 24/7 on call, 6 days a week, for Auto Club Towing. He told me a lot about his life, his work history, his wife, his 2 year old son who wears him out and his 13 year old stepdaughter who is very good kid. After our conversation, he summed it up by saying, "It's hard work but I'm lucky, I have a job and a family I love." I had to agree. He has plans and goals, too, that sounded attainable to me, and I wished him even more good luck.

I'm driving a Toyota 4Runner. My friend is a kind generous man who loves his dogs like they are his kids, with all their quirks and shedding. It seems to be his nature to help people. He seems to be content in his effort to help others. It is a reoccurring theme in conversation with him. Lonely 90-year-old neighbor ladies depend upon his kind attention in exchange for pie. In his workday, he helps people who are trying to survive financially and ultimately give back to help others. So an old acquaintance from high school days shows up on his virtual doorstep in need of transport, and he gives her his car. What a guy!

I have to assume he wants it back before I leave town, though. At some point my own Toyota will be running like new. Sort of.

At least now I know what kind of car I want when I grow up.

How to fly your hand

When I was a little kid there were family trips in the old Plymouth station wagon. Sitting in the back seat with one or more brothers, and the windows rolled down in summer heat because car air conditioning wasn't invented yet - at least not in any affordable family vehicle - we had to invent distractions to entertain ourselves. I was fascinated by the aerodynamics of flying my hand.

So driving up the grapevine of Hwy 5 I had the heater turned up full blast, windows down. I figured that with an old car that has spent its whole working life in Ojai, there probably was plenty of cement in the old radiator. Slow and steady, it crested the grade. The temp gauge stayed centered. But the rest of the day in California valley heat took its toll... NOTE TO SELF: Don't use the air conditioner in Madera.

Back to the hand flying: I actually saw other people doing it, too, and not just 6 year old girls.

My Road Trip/Quest, day 1: Lookin' for adventure...

... and whatever comes my way, yeah I got to go make it happen...First day of my Road Trip/Quest started out with great promise! And I am relaxing in my Modesto motel, very comfortably furnished, free wifi, yay! Dinner with Glywn, wonderful to catch up on 40+ years of being friends. It was the part BETWEEN the promising beginning and the Modesto destination that became a challenge - my car overheated and I broke it in Madera. Poor little Camry. Blown head gasket? Or worse?? I got to spend time with a nice young feller who drives tow truck for AAA... learned all about growing up in Los Banos and moving on up to Madera. Whew!

Thank you, Glywn, for riding to my rescue.

I wanted adventure, I must remind myself... I'm getting it!