Photo of the Day - 7.22.2009

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:04 pm on Wednesday, July 22, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Travel, Photo of the Day

Cactus and Hardpan in the Arizona Desert
Wild Times in Quartzite - Quartzite, Arizona
Exif: ISO 100; f/8 +⅔; 1/320 sec; 40mm
07.06.2009 ©Michael Raymond 2006 - 2009

Graham Beck and Cave-Aged Gruyère = Happiness

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:33 pm on Tuesday, July 21, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Liquid Diet

How does it feel to be home again? It feels cave-aged Gruyère and scrumpdillyicious Graham Beck good! And how cool is The Debra? This is what she had waiting for me when I got home from work today. Total score. \m/

Wine and Cheese

Mets 6, Nats 2, Michael 10,000 Megabazillion

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:00 pm on Monday, July 20, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Friends, Sports

I went to watch the Nats play the Mets with Jeff W on a perfect summer night with soft air slipping around the upper decks as we sipped Newcastle and he kept score and I rambled on about past injustices and hopes for restoration and how good it felt to be back home in a place we hadn’t really realized had become home after all these years and how peaceful and relaxed it was to hang out with an old friend and just freakin’ be and not worry about this and that and the other and backstory and commas and the correct use of the subjunctive and hopefully, I thought and I think said out loud, this will become a common occurrence, me going to the ballgame with Jeff and the sun slowly set and draped the night sky in my favorite cloak of velvet indigo and the Nats got pounded for their 66th loss of the season as they round second heading for third in what may shape up to be the third most futile season in major league history but we still aren’t as bad as the ‘62 Mets so take that you smarmy obnoxious Mets fans. Salute!

Right Field at the Nats Game
I double-dog dare you to find a better way to spend a summer night that doesn’t involve a Brazilian underwear model

Conference on the Mound
Candlesticks always make a nice gift…

Ok, had to add this comment Sue made to me in chat after she read this post. She and Jefferoo live in Boston, just to put things in context.

Sue: There really is nothing like a baseball game on a beautiful summer night
Sue: with 5-6 beers
Sue: and people yelling “fahhhhk you Jetahhh” behind you
Sue: fenway of course :) :)

(Hope you don’t mind my publishing you, Sue!)

Photo of the Day - 07.12.2009

Posted by: elraymundo at 12:15 pm on Sunday, July 12, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Photo of the Day

Raquel and a Cheeseburger
If You Could Photograph Heaven, It Would Be Raquel Welch in A Bikini and a Five Guys Cheeseburger

Sugar Meadow Drive, Great Falls, Virginia
07.12.2009 ©Michael Raymond 2006 - 2009

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Five

Posted by: elraymundo at 11:40 am on Sunday, July 12, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Ah, driving down the road in the Jeep on a gorgeous, soft-aired summer day with a headful of peace of mind, a bellyful of Five Guys cheeseburger and an earful of Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold. Pure bliss.

Ok, so maybe it’s not everybody’s bliss, but it’s my bliss.

La Raymunda and I did the walkthrough of our new townhouse in Herndon today. Debra arranged the rental while we were still in Southern Calipocalypse and the place is great. 2800 square feet of living space with a two-car garage and hardwood floors. The rent is the same as what we paid in Irvine last summer when we rented before buying the house on Stonehaven Drive. The chief difference is that for the same money we get twice as much livable space. Score!!

Our new place is walking distance from the Metro connection in Herndon and just a couple of minutes from the Dulles Toll Road. The supermarket is also within walking distance, as well as restaurants and shopping. There is a Gold’s gym just down the street so I can start dumping all the weight I put on after eating my way through the last several months of turmoil, and Ned Devine’s Irish Pub is two doors down from the gym so I can refresh after my workout. (Just ignore the obvious incongruity there.)

As for the last stretch of our drive across the country, we did it in one fifteen hour shot, driving from Jackson, Tennessee to Virginia and arriving at the townhouse at just before 1:00am Saturday morning. We parked in the driveway, got out of the Jeep and walked up the front steps in the dark and touched the front door to signify the end of the journey home. Then we headed over to Chris and Cindi’s back in our old neighborhood where we are staying until our stuff arrives later this week. Total miles for the cross-country trip was 2841 miles door-to-door and the route was Yorba Linda, CA -> Flagstaff, AZ -> Santa Fe, NM -> Weatherford, OK -> Jackson, TN -> Herndon, VA. Along the way we saw a giant meteor crater, Petrified Forest National Park, the city of Santa Fe, blew through Oklahoma on powerfully gusting winds, ate cheese dip at Stobey’s in Conway, AR and lit our lips on fire at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. Debra wants to write a guest column about Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, so I won’t say much more than that the place is a Nashville soul food institution and the chicken will burn your lips off. We survived the flames, though, and made it the rest of the way to Virginia.

It’s sure good to be home

Trip Stats
Total Distance: 2,841.68 miles / 4,573.24 kilometers
Arrival Time: 12:50am Saturday July 7
Overall Average Speed: 58.1mph / 93.5kmh
Moving Average Speed: 65.3mph / 105.1kmh
Maximum Speed: 86.6mph / 139.4kmh
Travel Time: 43 hours 30 minutes

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Four

Posted by: elraymundo at 5:46 am on Friday, July 10, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, American Idol, Family, Jeep

We’ve decided to go from Jackson, Tennessee to Northern Virginia in one shot today. It’ll take about twelve hours of driving, and since the front desk forgot our wake-up call (and I didn’t have an alarm clock as a back up) and we’re running late, this will be brief recap of yesterday’s drive.

Oklahoma was hot! And windy, too. 103 degrees and 100mph winds (it felt like) as we rocketed across the Sooner State. I saw a boot brush outside the front door of our hotel in Weatherford, OK…just one of those small details of place that usually go unnoticed but which go a long way to reminding you where you are on the planet.

Since I-40 passes just alongside El Reno, where my dad grew up, I decided to take Debra quickly past his old house in town. We didn’t have time to visit with relatives but we did find the house on West Rogers street. It’s a small, simple place just off a gravel road and it looked better than I remembered - it’s been re-sided and the old dead tree out back that we used to play on as kids has been torn down. I sat out front in the Jeep talking to Dad and a fellow wandered out onto the front porch, brushing his teeth and obviously wondering who we were. After I hung up I went up to the porch and spoke with him and an elderly woman who turned out to be the mother-in-law of my father’s half-sister’s daughter (the daughter owns the house now, I believe) and I chatted with them about how we were related. Then I snapped a couple of pictures and we went on our way.

Eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas are beautiful drives. The roadside through Arkansas is lined with trees, thick and green, and emerald farm fields dotted with rolled up bundles of hay that look like they were sliced one by one from a giant hay sausage.

Conway, Arkansas is the hometown of recent American Idol winner Kris Allen and Debra thought it would be fun to stop at a local joint in Conway which promised a lifetime supply of its locally famous cheese dip to the singer after his hometown visit during the show. Debra called Lisa in Minneapolis, she Googled “Conway Arkansas cheese dip Kris Allen” and got Stobey’s, we plugged it into the GPS and stopped by for dinner. Conway itself is a pretty cozy town. The main drag downtown, which was very small-town-America, was lined with Kris Allen banners and small shops that were actually open (as opposed to other downtown we’ve driven through where the shops are shuttered due to their being Wal-Marted out of existence). Stobey’s itself is a tiny little place which sits in a residential neighborhood - which reminded us a lot of a larger version of Carruthersville, Missouri, the Mississippi River-side town in the boot heel of Missouri where William grew up - among mature trees and well-kept lawns and where locals came in for dinner and greeted each other by name. Across the roof is a stretched a banner congratulating Kris Allen and their are photos inside with Kris and the Stobey’s staff sitting around a giant cake. One thing we noticed about both Oklahoma and Arkansas - both are very proud of their favorite sons and daughters (e.g. the water tower in Yukon announces not only that you are passing through the hometown of Garth Brooks but also lets you know that the high school team won state championships in ‘72, ‘82 and ‘84 - I might be getting the years wrong, but you get the point - Henryetta lists Troy Aikman’s birthplace among the local attractions on a large blue sign along I-40 and 2005 American Idol winner Carrie Underwood gets her own green freeway sign outside Checotah, Oklahoma). Debra had a spicy (and very good) blackened chicken quesadilla and I ate the restaurant’s signature sandwich, the Stobey (three choices of meat, two choices of cheese, lettuce and tomato with Stobey’s sauce. I had mine on rye. The food was tasty and the cheese dip wasn’t bad either.

From Conway we barreled through Arkansas, dipped down as we approached the Mississippi River with insects smashing into our windshield with such speed, volume and ferocity that I thought I was in the battle of Zion from The Matrix, then crossed the wide wide wide river into Memphis. We continued on to Jackson and that’s where I’ll leave off for now, because Debra has finished drying her hair, the time is getting on, and we have a long drive ahead of us to get home.

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Three

Posted by: elraymundo at 8:31 pm on Wednesday, July 8, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Jokes, Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

This evening we found the humidity we’d been missing in the perfect climate in Southern Calistupida: it’s in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Something else we found in Weatherford: the proceeds from the sale of the house! Well, the money isn’t actually in Weatherford, but we are and that’s where we looked online to see if the money had been deposited into our account. And hoo-Lawdy there it was. We’ve got our money! Life is good. High-fives all around, my fellow babies!

*****

I may have to rethink my position on Amarillo, Texas. In this post, which I wrote as we crossed the country last June (2008), I described the Texas panhandle as the place “where God ran out of ideas.” That thread evoked an impassioned response from a native of Amarillo who staunchly defended the city. (Check it out - it’s definitely worth reading.) Today, we passed through the area again and to be quite honest it was nowhere near as bad as I recalled it from last year. The weather was nice today - perhaps that was the difference maker. Both Debra and I remember the weather last year as we crossed the Texas panhandle as horizon-to-horizon iron-grey clouds with a fierce, blinding glare from reflected sunlight and high winds that blew crap all over the roads and buffeted the Jeep every which way. Today we had blue skies, 104 degree temperatures and some wind, but nothing insane like it was last year. And as we drove through Amarillo we both commented about it not being such a bad place after all. So, Mr. Amarillo Dude, please accept my apologies. :smile:

I do think, though, that it’s possible Amarillo may have more roadside signs per square inch than anywhere else on earth. Except maybe Vegas.

*****

To the guy we met at the filling station in Tecumcari who lost his wallet in Oklahoma - I hope you made it to Phoenix ok. If we had to do it over again we would have just filled the tank all the way. But I hope we were able to help some and that the nectarine was tasty.

*****

The landscape changes in a hurry once you turn south off I-25 east of Santa Fe and head toward I-40 (assuming you get past the road construction that was underway on every road in New Mexico). The rolling green mountains (not the craggy, granite-y stuff of the Rockies farther north) quickly gave way to scrub lands just north of Santa Rosa, which then flattened out as we turned east and stayed pretty much flat and sagebrush-y until we got to the easternmost part of the Texas panhandle, where the land broke into gently folded canyons cloaked in green. That part was quite pretty. Once we hit Oklahoma the greenery broke into patches of the red clay which Oklahoma is famous for. And somewhere along the line we picked up the humidity. Training sessions for Virginia, I guess.

*****

The enchiladas at Johnny’s Comet II New Mexican restaurant were just as fantastic this time around as they were last year. We both ordered one red, one green. If you’re ever passing through New Mexico on I-40 and hit Santa Rosa, you owe it to yourself to try the enchiladas at Comet II. The restaurant is just off the interstate on Historic Route 66 and the food is affordable and simply out of this world. Service is friendly and fast, too. Sandy, thanks again for the tip!

*****

There is an indelicate joke which goes like this:

Q: What’s the last thing to go through a fly’s mind when it hits your windshield?

A: It’s asshole.

Judging from the looks of the Jeep’s grill and the constant squeegeeing of the windshield I’ve had to do over the last three days, there is a veritable galaxy of sphincters stuck to my vehicle.

*****

Last but not least, Soly and Jovan, thank you sooooo much for your hospitality! It was great to see you both and thank you for putting us up and taking us out downtown and for sharing the fig bodywash. Best I’ve smelled in years. :)

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Two

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:59 am on Wednesday, July 8, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

In the early afternoon on Tuesday, on I-40 just west of Gallup, New Mexico, we finally exhaled.

That’s when Genelle called with the news that our house sale had finally recorded. The loan had funded, the title transferred and we were no longer responsible for the property. The last hook this idiotic year had in our lives was gone.

We’d held our breath for almost four months, from the day in mid-March when I lost my job and we knew we had to sell. Given the way the rest of the year had gone, we only wanted to get rid of the financial obligation before some other shoe dropped and screwed us further. Two offers fell through on the same day, less than a week after the house went up for sale, and the final offer - the one that closed yesterday afternoon - was riddled with delays. Final close, for example, was seven days after the contracted date of June 30. But with that one phone call we felt the burden of the house slip away. We high-fived in the Jeep, laughed and whooped and celebrated as we drove, knowing that now we can really truly get on with our lives.

*****

I smell like figs this morning.

We left Flagstaff late yesterday, not getting out until 10:00am, and after stops at Meteor Crater and Petrified Forest National Park we ended up on the short end of time and decided to take the Interstate to Santa Fe to have dinner with Soledad and Jovan instead of making the long, scenic drive across the top of the state to Taos. I’m glad we did, not only because it was great to catch up with Soledad and to meet her man, Jovan, but because Santa Fe is coooooool.

Soledad took us downtown, where we ended up at The Cowgirl BBQ on Guadalupe Street, drinking margaritas and mojitos and eating appetizers for dinner to celebrate our house closing. The downtown area is built around a central square like many of the South American cities we’ve seen, and the architecture is consistently southwestern, which was great because it gave the downtown area a well-defined sense of place. Cowgirls starts with an open courtyard, jammed with tables and backed by a bar, with an indoor dining area off to the side. The crowd was eclectic and funky - lots of dreadlocks and biker leathers and some mohawks and body piercings - and when I asked Soledad if the crowd was locals or tourists she said, “Both. But if they look a little strange then they’re locals.” The city is filled with art galleries and performing arts centers and seemed very walkable and I was surprised when Soledad told me only 80,000 people live in Santa Fe. I guess I got used to much bigger populations in the LA area, where someplace like Fullerton has over 100,000 residents. Anyway, I’m making a mental note to keep Santa Fe in mind if and when we ever decide to move again.

Oh, one other thing. Soledad and Jovan’s shower: awesome. Great water pressure, heats up quickly, and well-stocked with shampoo and other shower stuff, which is why I smell like figs this morning.

*****

My iPod died as we left Meteor Crater. This did not please me. I reset the stupid thing over and over and all I could manage to get from it was a frowning iPod icon with a message in tiny font telling me to visit Apple’s site on the web. The Debra tried to get me to de-grump by playing ABBA on her iPod - her logic being that no one can be grumpy while listening to ABBA. (I bet Jeff Watson could, though.) So we rolled across the desert listening to Dancing Queen. Miraculously, the iPod started working again at a gas station in Gallup. Unlike a previous well-known resurrection, it only took three hours, not three days, for my iPod to come back to life. And I’m glad that it did. It made celebrating that phone call from Genelle much more fun.

*****

Meteor Crater is HUGE. You can see the rim of the crater as you approach from the north. It looks like a low ridgeline off to the left, but it is actually where the rock and sediment settled after being thrown into the air when a massive meteor impacted 50,000 years ago. The place is privately owned and cost fifteen bucks a pop to get in, but it’s well-maintained and the visitors center has a museum, with a small movie theater and several displays describing meteor impacts, how and why they occur, and the incredible amount of energy and devastation they release when they kiss the earth. The crater itself is 4000 feet across and the sediments around the bowl of the crater were flipped upside-down by the impact: the really-old-stuff is on top, near the rim, and the less-really-old-stuff is near the crater’s floor.

We took a spin through Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert after leaving Meteor Crater. Since we were there at midday the light was no good, but it was worth the drive - especially for the roadside views of Painted Desert, which stretched northward in tumbled red hills and canyons. If you’re into rocks, there are plenty of petrified trees scattered all over the park, with a huge collection at Crystal Forest. Apparently the area used to be low-lying wetlands and when trees fell there, they were instantly immersed and minerals seeped into the wood and what you had left afterward was a petrified tree. I’m no geologist, so having seen one petrified tree I had pretty much seen them all, but it really is interesting stuff if you can catch a ranger talk and explanation of the petrification process.

*****

Debra had a nice moment yesterday. We were driving between Gallup and Albuquerque when she looked backward out her window and suddenly asked me to stop. I took the next exit, for a town called McCartys, and she pointed to a mission built against the north face of a cliff on the south side of the interstate. The church was Mission Santa Maria and I drove along a frontage road until we were directly across from the building with a field between us. “I saw that church seventeen years ago when I came through her with Wendelin,” said The Debra, “and I always wanted to take a picture of it, but I couldn’t then.” She had been watching for the church ever since we crossed the state line and she just happened to look back at the right moment and see it settled on the hillside against the cliff. The light was perfect - it was late afternoon - so I drove among the roads of the ghost town until we got to the base of the hill. Debra happily took pictures and then we returned to I-40 and continued east.

*****

We have a long drive today through eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle and into Oklahoma. It doesn’t look like we’ll get an early start since the beautiful wife is still asleep. I’m sort of hoping we can catch one of Oklahoma’s famous late-afternoon thunderstorms.

Road Tripping USA #3, Day One

Posted by: elraymundo at 9:51 pm on Monday, July 6, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

I wanted to flip California the bird with both barrels as we crossed the state line into Arizona today. I hoped there would be a “Thanks for Visiting California” sign where we could stop for a photo op, but no such sign existed. My backup plan was to turn around after we crossed into Arizona and drive back across the state line and give the “Welcome to California” sign both fingers, but the Colorado River got in the way and once I was in Arizona I really didn’t feel much like going back into the Golden State. So we drove on through Blythe and across the Colorado and into Arizona, where we stopped for lunch at a Carl’s Jr in Quartzite and watched the outside world melt in 113° heat while we ate our hamburgers.

Quartzite, it seemed, was having a pleasantly cool day. It was 114° on Interstate 10 just outside Rancho Mirage, where we said goodbye to Debra’s parents.

Cactus and Hardpan in the Arizona Desert
View from the Carl’s Jr. Parking Lot - Quartzite, Arizona

Our target for tonight was Flagstaff, which is where we are, shacking up in a Travelodge just off Interstate 40. I’ve never seen so many motels jammed into one area. There are so many that they actually have duplicates from the same chain on the same road. The only thing we can figure is that all the motels accommodate tourists heading for the Grand Canyon, which isn’t far away from here. Either that or they host a lot of conventions in Flagstaff.

We thought it would be fun - and a pleasant change from the monotony of I-10, to take smaller highways up to Flagstaff. We exited California, leaving the dreary, nearly barren moonscape of that part of the Mojave Desert behind and then detoured onto a series of highways in Arizona, which split off I-10 and meander generally northeast toward Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. (The route was 60 to Aquila, 71 to Congress and 89 on up to where it intersects with I-40.)

Amber Hills Motel in Hope, Arizona
Amber Hills Motel - Hope, Arizona

Roadsign outside Hope, Arizona
Exiting Town - Hope, Arizona
(Hope is unincorporated and doesn’t show up on Google Maps - but here is a link to it’s location.)

Debra got carsick on an especially twisty section of Highway 89 just southwest of Prescott, so we nixed the original plan to drive backroads to Sedona and instead kept on 89 north to I-40. The series of highways took us from the desert floor, with its sparse, low-growing vegetation dotting the surrounding hills, making them look like low-res pics of distant mountains full of digital noise, up through crumbled cliffs that looked like they were made of Oreo cookies (without the cream fillings) and up through craggy rock outcroppings and mountains blanketed with fir trees. The temperature dropped fifteen degrees and by the time we hit Interstate 40 the air was clean, clear and warm. The drive into Flagstaff was gorgeous, with the roadsides flanked with alpine trees and a fat, luscious moon rising slowly…nearly full…through a thick stripe of violet sky, over which was layered pale pastel layers of pink and orange and red.

The plan tomorrow is to try - against all odds - to get an early start and stop by the massive meteor crater between Flagstaff and Winslow, then drive through the Petrified Forest. From there we’ll most likely head north on Highway 191 through the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, from which we’ll pick up Highway 160 headed east until we hit Highway 64, which will take us to Shiprock and northern New Mexico. With some luck we’ll end up in Taos for the night. And then we’ll have a full state - Arizona - between us and the stupidity of California.

Oh, we came up with a name for our experience in California. Actually, Debra thought of it and it’s a classic. Ready? Here it is:

The Anaheimville Horror.

Ghost House

Posted by: elraymundo at 7:48 am on Monday, July 6, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Family, Self-Spotting, Ah, Memories

The strangest thing happened when Debra and I pulled out of the driveway of our house in Yorba Linda. The house was sold, the movers had gone with our stuff and we were leaving the state of California to move back to Virginia. And we felt nothing. And I mean nothing. No sadness, no remorse, no relief…not even a sensation that we had lived there for the most tumultuous year of our lives.

When we bought the house we thought we’d live in it forever. It was going to be the TeamRaymond Ancestral Home. We were going  to landscape the big hill in the back yard with terraces and fruit trees and hibiscus and sweet-smelling jasmine. We dreamed up plans to expand the pool, add Italian villa-style arches and patio tiles and columns with water that cascaded out of them and splashed back into the pool. Over time it would become a back yard oasis of the kind often seen in southern California - our place to sit and relax and return to from our travels. We were going to make the inside like the riads we saw and fell in love with in Morocco. I found kits to arch the doorways and sites selling beautiful mosaic tiles. Debra had the kitchen of her dreams (or so she thought) and was going to spend her time testing and developing recipes for her chef in Washington, DC and cooking fabulous, delicious meals for us - something she loved to do. We fought for this house, saved it from burning down in November during the Triangle Complex wildfires by spraying flames with a garden hose. And, since they lived less than three miles away, we were going to get the chance to watch our niece and nephew grow up and we could be the cool aunt and uncle with the swimming pool.

Then it all fell apart.

The job I was promised was pulled out from under me in March. We never got settled into the house and though it was a beautiful house it never became a home. The boxes in the garage were never unpacked. The walls were never repainted. We didn’t even get the 20 years worth of wall scuffs and carpet stains from the previous owners cleaned up because we never knew when I was going to have to go back on some insane 24×7 schedule at the data center, or when it would blow up again and I would be gone for 36 or 26 or 22 hours. And once my job was taken from me we pretty much lost any home improvement steam we had remaining after the endless slog that November to March had been.

I know others have had worse times than Debra and I did. Our health was and remains good. :::taps the wooden window shutters with his fingers::: We’ve escaped with a nest egg to begin rebuilding with. I have a good job, and we both have good friends, waiting in Virginia. But five months of constant turmoil (wildfires, mudslides, lightning strikes, power outages, job upheaval, job loss, etc) really took it out of us and once it became obvious that carrying the house with no guarantee of future income was too great a risk for us to take, well, all those dreams and ideas we had for the Ancestral Home died.

We had some bizarre conversations in the two days prior to leaving. Neighbors whom we had not seen or heard from since we hosted a neighborhood party back in December called and came over to wish us well and tell us how sad they were that we were leaving. It was touching and heartfelt, but we both wondered, “Where were you the last six months?” One of the things we liked about the house on Stonehaven Drive was its privacy. We discovered that privacy also meant isolation - until a SOLD sign goes up in the front yard, then suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork.

After the year we’ve had I didn’t expect the same emotion when we left Yorba Linda that we felt when we left Great Falls, Virginia. As badly as we both wanted to leave Virginia and try something new, it was still really, really hard to go. Especially for Debra. I figured there would be some sort of emotion when we left Stonehaven Drive. Maybe it would be relief or elation or sadness or bitterness - but there was nothing. I simply pointed the Jeep down the hill and we left. No emotion, no tears. (For Debra, the tears will come today when we leave Rancho Mirage and her family behind. Being near family - both hers and mine - has been the one bright, shining star in our time here.) Already our memory of the house is like the house itself: vacant.

It’s been less than forty-eight hours since we left the Ancestral Home and neither of us feels like we ever lived there. 5145 Stonehaven Drive has become a ghost house. It’s an overused expression, but it really does feel like a dream, like the whole year didn’t really happen and that we’re just out here visiting family and getting ready to head back home. (Although heading east with a Jeep packed with odd items like bath mats, a telephone and laundry basket hooks kind of illustrates the fact that this is not an ordinary return from vacation.) For both of us this dreamlike memory of the house is a very strange, very surreal, sensation. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, wearing a cardigan sweater and feeling very much at home again in my old sitcom.

Anyway, we leave the desert today and we’re heading for Flagstaff, Arizona. We plan to spend the night there then continue across the top of New Mexico - supposedly a gorgeous drive - and stay in Taos the next night, stopping to see the massive meteor crater in Winslow and the Petrified Forest National Park along the way. After Taos we’ll drop down to Amarillo and head east along I-40 until we hit I-81. From there it’s a pretty straight shot to northern Virginia and back home.

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