Saturday, November 3, 2007


May be we are the original Thelma and Louise and the inspiration for Ridley Scott...This is Pat and I , Pat my friend and soul sister in Seattle !! And we set out on our rather ambitious seven day drive to California and back in the summer of 2006. Both of us had time we badly needed to take off from work and I was totally won over by Pat's idea that we take the week off and combine it with the misison of "Bring Pablo back home from summer camp and give the rest of the boys a good time while doing that " Ambitious and brave considering "the boys" were Tomas , Alex and Matias , Pablo's brothers and Pat's sons ! Those poor guys !! imagine on a Road Trip with Mom and Mom's friend - they must have surley thought "whose idea of fun was THIS ??"

..but then again we never had a sky blue Thunderbird like Scott's girls ; not even this peach one I found parked in a bylane in Seattle that summer, though every morning as I passed it on my morning walk I did try to devise plans of just running away with it ...but i digress. To go back to the Thelma and Louise saga - we had not killed anyone and no police detective was behind us though one of their tribe did catch up with us but that comes much later in the story .

And we never drove our wheels off the edge into waters of anykind -oh no we stayed put and faced our challenges .

Our challenges , our charges , four young energetic, demanding, absolutely adorable young men all of eight years to fourteen years ; Pat's four sons !! I have already introduced them of course to you but let me also add that they are, each one of them, my dearest friends -I have known them for over five years now and in these five years they have , every summer, made me so welcome in their home , sharing home and hearth and bathrooms, mealtimes and late night cereal snacks and shopping trips and day trips to the mountains , their camp tents and everything a family does togehter in the summer - I simply adore them !

Very reluctanly we let go all dreams of the Peach Thunderbird and packed our selves and our charges and food and games and movies and books and bags - sleeping and otherwise into the sturdiest of all wheels - a Suburban with room for all of us and any excess baggage any of us carried too , waved good bye to Gramma ( I can still see the look of sheer peace on Gramma's face knowing she would not be seeing us f0r the next ten days ) and we were like California Ahoy !! Here we come all the way down NH 101 from the grey and misty North West to sunny skies and blue seas - Surfing USA playing in our minds!!!

Hit the Road Pat said I who was chief Navigator -this will tell you either how brave Pat is or how desparate -me navigating the drive down to California , someone who has never driven a car in the US and has never even held one of those Rand Mc somehting or the other in her hands . But there is always a first time so we did indeed hit the road . When I was not wondering at the incredible blue of the sky I was speechless at the gorgeous roads and wondering where all the other traffic was - anyone who has driven down a road in Bombay - you cannot miss the other guys joslting for space just cheek by jowl with the bumper or mud guard of the neighbouring car so will you just look at this picture ?? I became a brave and confident navigator knowing we would have no problem in locating our various destinations and pit stops en route to where ever I was taking Pat and the boys - I realised all you need to know to drive in this country is to know how to read - and not just the map in this picture below

The signs all the way along the freeway are amazing . Exits and underpasses and rest areas - you keep your eyes open and alert and you cannot make a mistkae - soon I was like Oh I can do this for the rest of my life !! Well there was the ocassional sign I missed and the ocassional times I nodded off to sleep but we did not get to any place we should not have and got to most of the places we should have !! The problem was the gaping / gawking tourist in me that kept taking over from Ms Navigator . Pat of course had the gun to my head so woe betide me if i goofed up time and again !!! But then Pat , don't you love the pictures ???

Having been in Seattle almost every summer the last few years I had grown to love Mt Rainier and the incredible manner in which it seems to loom over the city - no clear summer day was complete unless one had caught a glimpse of the towering peak. Completely magical !!

Now as we drove past Tacoma and then Portland Oregon well on our way South there loomed ahead of us Mt Shastha , not as big of course but as beautiful with the white fluffy clouds floating around its peak and the ever greens adding the picture post card effect to the scenic view. Every few minutes ahead and every bend in the road meant views even better than the last

Before we knew it the Suburban was eating the miles and soon we had left behind us the mountanious (well almost mountainous ) terrain and the road ahead was flat - I will never forget how what at first seemed like fluffy clouds on the horizon turned out to be some kind of huge fire the closer to which we got the more ominous and frightenning it seemd . Creeping almost right on top of us till we realsied we were going to go past it un affected. On our way back we weren't so lucky - a similar fire managed to keep us in the midst of stalled traffic for hours and forced us to take a detour which put Ms Navigator to work but more on that later...we were well on our way now !!

The boys were perfect - they were already through two of the DVDs and had still not tired of watchng Pirates of the Carribean. Soon we got a chance to stretch our legs at the gas station , clean the grime off the windscreen ( this picture I showed to Ashok who drives my car in Bombay and he was shocked that in Amreeka you have to clean the windshield yourself ??!! Why , no one to do it there or what? Not only that Ashok but there is no one to fill the tank too - you park the car , get out , fill the tank, pay by card to the machine and you are on your way !!

Our first night's stop was Eugene , a picturesque little college town housing the University of Oregon . The boys were delighted with the pool at the first of the Green Tree Inns we stopped at and soon their hot, tired bodies were splashing in the cool waters while Pat and I decided to walk in the campus. Strolling through those tree lined streets and looking at the Universtity buildings , some amazing architecture indeed , my pet ambition was brought back to my mind with a kind of aching longing -to go to school in an American University and study American History ; maybe I still will do that one of these days who knows ? What say Pat? The summer evening was cool, long and delicious and as heady as any drink that would answer to that description and our wandering around brought us into the sports stadium where the trials were being held for an inter University sports meet. The raw but controlled energy of the sprinters , the gorgeous , fit physiques of the athletes, their faces and bodies shining in the setting sun's golden light ; it seemd as though some gleaming Greek Gods had come down to earth to display their skills ! The next morning we were back for one more glimpse of the beautiful campus and were in time to catch a student lovingly water the young recently planted trees in a mechanical contraption - up at 6am to earn some extra , much needed green backs !!!
After breaking fast on hot, warm muffins and "make your own" waffles smothered in butter and drowned in honey (Matias my teacher ) we were off -the next stop being Corning (no, said Pat when I looked at her with eyes widenning in recognition , NOT the Corning of the Corning Ware dishes ) Corning in the midlde of miles and miles of Olive trees planted with precision , the dull muted gold of their foliage perfectly setting off the uninterrupted porcelain of the blue sky - I had to get in a metaphor to do with ceramics - dishes or no dishes !!!

I wish I had a picture of the sun set that greeted us as we took the exit turn from the freeway into Corning - your's truly, photo queen was stunned into unbeleiving imobility -huge, orange and flaming , the ball of fire was sitting on the deceptively close horizon taking its own time going down under. The sky was awash with hues of pinks and mauves , orange and vermillion and scarlet I am sure i will never see again -only Mother Nature can carry those colours all of them togehter with such elan and elegance !!! Fooood !!! screamed our churned up insides after all those hours on the road and to our delight we discovered a quaint Mexican joint with the crispest Nachos I have eaten and the best Guacomole ever this side of the Hard Rock Cafe in Montreal (yes !! beleive me)

And when we came out it was pitch dark and a huge silver moon was out - she must have been just waiting for the showy sun to set to begin her night of charm ...the picture below does no justice though we walked the parking lot trying to get one that would do just that - see if you can spot the moon rising behind the motel windows !!

The Corning experience would not be complete if there was no mention of the Olive Pit - advertised on all intersections of the freeway on huge hoardings " The Olive Pit" had us dying of curiosity - what was this magical place promising all kInds of enticing exotic wares we wondered ? Was it a casino? was it a boxing ring ? was it a pub ? We discovered to a mild sense of disappointment that it was none of the above but a kind of coffee shop cum general stores which except for the coffee which thankfully came from coffee beans sold wares all derived from , yes you guessed it - OLIVES !!! Earrings , beads , spoons and other innovative odds and ends or bric a brac made from golden olive wood besides olives to taste and buy in little jars . There was this young handsome lad whose eyes were as warm and golden as the bead necklace he sold me and who was sharp enough to catch me huming in recognition the song that was playing on the juke box - Wham's Wake me up before you Go Go !! And oh how it dated me when he said , you know this song? not many people remember this old number !! Jitter Bug that was the number yes

So then it was back on the road again to our destination for the next two nights - Reedley -where Pablo was ! The boys could not beleive they would be seeing their brother by the end of this new day but it was a long wait as we drove almost all day to get there - the unbroken route getting no relief from miles and miles of olive trees slowly giivng way to the fruits the

sunny California plains are famous for .

Our Lunch Break was extended as Alex brought out the foot ball and we stretched and excercised stiff limbs . The ball game was exhilarating and all of us unwound -soon we were ready for the last lap and it was Reedly here we come !!

Already thoughts of walking by the beautiful, peaceful river I had espied as we turned into the motel were crowding my mind ...

Tired but oh so thrilled to know we would finally meet up with Pablo the next day we readied for bed - Pat , Super Mom and Super Driver was looking forward to a good night's rest and I was happy to , after a hot shower slip into my night gown and curl up with the book I was reading - a word about my night wear which was a bright bold red, voluminous and flowing kaftan which even though the boys had gotten used to (what with my floating about the house back in Edmonds in it on my various forays into the bathroom or kitchen ) sent Pat into paroxyms of laughter every time I wore it which was every night - I love my red night dress yes.

So while this mild banter was going on there is this sharp , insistent knocking on the door and a deep voice saying Police !! Open up!! Oh My God what had we done was the first thought that flitted through our Thelma and Louise minds - we had not been speeding , we had not jumped lights , we definitley were not DUI ( Intoxicated by the summer night's heady atmosphere yes ) and oh my God was the red night gown a no no in Reedley?

Openning the door just a whit Pat , trying to look as nonchalant as a frightened mother hen who had her brood to protect and a mad Indian woman in red to boot could look , said yes ? what is the matter Officer ? Did you drive down in a big blue Suburban just now Ma'am ? Can we look at it ? Where is it parked? Yes ! yes? yes of course ; the affirmatives tripped off Pat's tongue nervously . Good , came the reply in the deep , censorious tone of the law enforcement officer -there has been a hit and run involving a car such as yours according to eye witnesses ma'am and we need to do our duty ....Huh??? The last exclamation was brought on by my having wandered into the range of his vision , a blur of protective bright red folds coming to the rescue of Pat , holding the angelic looking Matias by the hand and a who? me ? hit and run? in this red robe ?? To this day Pat is sure the apparition I made let us off the hook ( of course the fact that they found no impact marks on the vehicle too I guess ) AND OF COURSE WE HIT NO ONE if you don't consider the assalut on the sartorial senses of the Officer poor man maintians Pat still !!

While Pat and the boys made their way to the camp site ( beautiful with weeping willows and green lawns and happy tired children catching up after eight weeks with threir parents and siblings , I took my i pod and laptop to sit by the side of the river and catch up with some work and e mails - I might be on a road trip with Pat and the boys and on a week's well earned vacation but there was no break from my India work so feeling very virtous I settled with a plate of Nachos and salsa and a chlled beer to yes beleive me - work. There is photographic evidence ; see my lap top? of course the guy is an optical illuiosn !!!!!

And Mom as pleased as Punch but arms akimbo , was ready to begin the trip back home - painstakingly planned , Pat had a fantastic route for us to take back - up the Sierra Nevadas to Yosemite National Park and then down and back to edmonds - Seattle by the coast line.

I had grown up reading Yosemite Sam comic books and here I was actually going to the National Park -nothing, no other memory and no number of years passing from now , or any other sight I might see will ever diminish the awe I felt and the sense of wonder at the majestic grandeur of nature that unfolded in front of our eyes !!

No not even the glowering looks of the four boys seen in the picture below

These were four very unhappy bored guys eager to get to the next pit stop , tired and resless and quite impatient with these two women doing "touristy" things !! One more photograph and I think we would have been lynched .
But I had some advice for Pat - keep this picture carefully , I told her and show it to them when they have their own children and are all ready to take them on a much looked forward to road trip !!

But to make up for this the boys did get their share of excitement when on our way back down the Sierra Nevadas we were forced to stop by bush fires !!! This time we were not able to just drive by but witness to some heavy duty fire fighting by helicopters above us and the inevitable traffic pile ups around us .

Till now navigating and being chief guide had really not been such a problem as we had stuck very prudently to the routes as per the road trip but now here was my chance to prove myself - Our next destination where we were to stop for the night was Manteca but now we had no notion how to get there what with all the accesses shut off - we turned around as everyone else was doing and went on following them till one by one all the cars ahead of us took confident turns and all the cars behind us over took us with even more confidence took thier turns as well. It was obvious no one was going to Manteca . I owed it to Pat who had been champion all along singlehandedly handling all the driving to read the map well and keep my eyes peeled for directions. The boys were tired and hungry and signs of their misery were evident . The empty water bottles had started flyimng all over the car . Ahead of us lay beautiful country , undulating fields of soft , warm golden grass swaying in the breeze but all we needed was to see signs of Manteca. Another reason we needed to find the blessed place in a hurry was because my sister in law was meeting us there for dinner ; she was already en route there from Dublin ( no NOT the Irish one but the Dublin near San Francisco where she worked and lived in) Pat can still not get over how at every possible location in the US I seem to have family ! Oh the omnipresent Indian Diaspora I tell her , that is all.
Well, to cut a long story short we did reach Manteca eventually and in time for dinner with dear Jai and her Mom and Jai, long time resident of the US charmed the boys into their happy moods once again over hot burghers and chips .

Now came the last lap of our marathon effort - on to Eureka / Arcata on the coast across some of the most breathtaking mountain roads with Pat surpassing all past driving achievements . Even the boys were stunned into gaping and gawking at the beauty around us. We drove up higher and higher with the ground to our left sometimes and suddenly to our right dropping down to a rushing river curving all along the climb till we reached the quaintest one store , one road, one sign post little town ever - Douglas City here we come !!!!!

This old store and its olde world facade begged for us to stop a while and savour the cool crisp air and the true blue sky above us and of course the thisty ones went in for soda and other kinds of succour !! the Sign on the store front caught my eye ....look at the picture here and I will tell you what it says for it is not very clear

DOUGLAS CITY - Elevation 1650 M or L
DOUGLAS CITY - Population 60 G or T

I called out to Pat and said hey, look must be a nice little place , of course a couple of digits have faded from the sign board - do you think it must be only 6000 the population ? Please dear reader remember I come from a city where at least that many people travel in the local train to work with me every day so I could not understand why Pat should double up with laughter at my query ? Anyway I still had another question for the boys - what on earth did M or L and G or T mean ? Tomas looked at me with pitying eyes - and with all the patience he could summon said More or Less Viji and Give or Take -there are about 60 people living here give or take a couple here and there . I was stumped . I don't think my dropped jaw came back into position till we reached Arteca and Eureka !!!! where did the blue skies go???
It looked like we were back in foggy Edmonds !!!
Blue skies and warm air was replaced by the mists that came rolling in from the sea as we descended and by the time we reached the motel we were freezing !! This was typical weather here we were told ; the sun stayed behind the mountains . The warm and cosy motel made up for the cold grey outside and the boys simply adored the heated pool and before one could say Eureka they were in it !!

The next morning saw us on the road again but not before we explored the lovely little town of Arcata -famed home of the hippies and of course the beach to fly the kites Pat had packed.

We took the road that went up the hills into the The Redwood forest and that was breathtaking - just look at the picture and you need no words !!!

We drove all of the late afternoon to the last night's stop at Grant's Pass after that and then it was back home . Oh the welcoming sight of Mt Rainier made us realise how much we had missed home but California you were something else !!!


Gardenia said...

Viji, this piece speaks of your love of life, your love of travel, and sheer enjoyment of it all - of all the country you travelled, of your travelling companions and the close bond you share with them, the road halts, the not-so-little-red dress...! Way to go!

kallu said...

Ditto to Gardenia-Gowri. Its more about a zest for life.
Wandered here via your sisters' blogs. And found an equally interesting person.

Darlene said...

You really do look like Thelma and Louise. I would not mess with the two of you. :-)
Love your descriptions, especially the encounter with law enforcement!