Where the hell have we been?

Funny thing, blogs.

We started out guns semi-blazing, kind of stoked to share our adventures, unsure of who was actually reading about them. And then the road happened. And a big question kept popping up over and over and over again…

Who the hell are we doing this for?

(Not just the blog, the whole damn trip).

Spoiler: We are doing this trip for us.

With that question quickly answered, we bailed on the blog. Instead, we’ve been keeping a daily journal of our adventures. It’s in a book made out of paper and we use a pen with ink.

But for those lovely folks who have come here to check in on us, here are our statistics since our last post:

States Visited: 18 (including Alaska)
(Total states so far: 29)

Canadian Provinces Visited: 8 (including Newfoundland)
(sorry prairie provinces)

Miles: 17,000 (by road) (24,000 so far)
Bonus: ferries and planes (total ferry time to Newfoundland: 23 hours)

We ended up staying in Canada for much longer than originally planned, and by the end of our visit we were feeling pretty Canadian: casually comparing poutine in Quebec to poutine in New Brunswick, and becoming emotional every time the Bluenose II came back into port in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Time with friends along the Ottawa River also solidified our Canadian-affinity, inspiring us to add a sparkly Canada sticker to our bumper.

We’ve been walking an average of 5.4 miles a day (yearly average), hiking in some amazing national parks and urban jungles. We were among the lucky few to get a complete view of Mt. Denali and saw our first glacier along the Ice Fields Parkway near Jasper, Alberta. And then there was Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons with bears and bison and moose. Detroit is wild and fascinating. We experienced Radiohead in Montreal and Neil Young in St. Louis, and watched and loved Killing Eve and Fauda in the back of the van, parked in campgrounds and parking lots.

We’ve not been on vacation, simply living nomadically.

Since our last post:

Ted has published two huge new books/guides for the SAT and has launched a comprehensive online course. AND has been tutoring from the road!

Matt has completed a rough draft of his novel and has avoided filling the van with antique treasures that he has found at the seemingly endless flea markets and antique shops.

And so we continue. Summer has us exploring the eastern shores and we will continue to plot our path based on “asking the locals” and following our guts–most often towards lobster rolls.

Wishing all of you a happy August, with gentle encouragement to move towards and through the unknown. There’s a lot to see and feel and do out here and there.

Like this…

 

Prince.

This one is dedicated to my friend Dove Rose. I was going to text you about Prince, Dove, and then decided to write that text as a blog post instead.

The day that Prince died—two years ago today—I remember that day so clearly. Driving to work, and the guys on the sports talk station were talking about Prince and what he had meant to them… I knew what that meant. So I switched over to KCRW because I wanted to hear what Jason Bentley, host of Morning Becomes Eclectic, would say.

He was wrecked.

Myself, I cried every day for three weeks. My Prince-loving friends and I connected over that time. I was too sad to reach out to Andria, who always sold me on Prince (and Lyle Lovett, and Chris Isaak, but mostly Prince) when I was in high school. Two of my Facebook friends, Megan and Ian, posted “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days / since you took your love away” exactly 15 days and seven hours after Prince died.

Dove Rose, my beloved friend and fitness teacher, was as wrecked as Jason Bentley and I. For a month, she played Prince exclusively in class. The first class ended with “Sometimes It Snows in April.” We were sitting and meditating. I cried so much that I had to put a blanket over my head and keep it there for five minutes after the song was over.

It was a really, really sad time. Since that time, my feelings have (thankfully) become a lot less acute. But I think they’ve also changed.

I think Prince had a force within him, one that a lot of people would call the force of God. I’m not a believer in the traditional God—but sometimes you see something, feel something that my therapist Jay (a Prince fan too, for the record) would say rings the bell for you.

Well, Prince rang the bell for me. He still does. We listened to “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” last night. Recorded in 1987, it’s as fresh as an April daffodil.

Listen to that, then listen to “Pop Life,” “Controversy,” and “Sign o’ the Times.” Listen to “Kiss.” Listen to how weird that song is, then remember what a gargantuan hit it was. Listen to “Hot Thing,” and the interplay between Prince and Eric Leeds on saxophone.

How does that sound to you?

To me, the groove he plays with is so polished and refined that he settles into it naturally, like when you know something so well that you can relax and still deliver it with razor-sharp intensity. It’s music at a level that is, literally, transcendent.

Prince is gone. We won’t get any more records or live shows. We have to live with that. But we also get to live with a catalog that I sincerely think of as a gift to humanity. Listen, enjoy, love. Strive to offer as much to everyone else as Prince did.

My feelings on cairns have recently changed

cairn (noun): still a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop

 

If you read this blog then you know that I hate useless piles of stacked rocks. I kick them over. I have even said that I hate cairns.

I know.

I know.

Well, I voted against cairns before I voted in favor of them. Today, I want to tell you that…

…wait for it…

I love cairns.

Let’s get more specific so we can clear up this difference between cairns-I-love and cairns-I-hate.

I love cairns that are useful.

I love cairns in Utah.

I love cairns that communicate clearly but don’t showboat. If I can see it from 45 feet and it shows me where to go, that cairn does not to be fancy and I love that cairn.

I love the occasional decorative cairn. But it still needs to be useful.

 

I hate pointless cairns.

I hate cairns in Arizona.

I hate cairns whose purpose is to say, “I was here.” No one cares, Katie.

Now, please take this “Is this a cairn?” quiz to see if you have done a good job learning the utterly clear and un-confounding truths of cairndom that I have taught you.

Is this a cairn?

Look at the images below and consider Ted’s criteria to determine whether or not what you see is a cairn.

Being Hopi

Today Matt and I are driving away from the Southwest. Taking some time here was a high priority for him. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve been surprised, awed, and moved, nearly on a daily basis.

We were in Flagstaff, Arizona when we learned of “the map”—AAA’s Indian Country map. We stumbled upon it, like we’ve stumbled upon so many paths during this trip. Walked by an antique store (“Rogue Antiques”… promising name…) and decided to go in. Bought an old ring, Tiger’s Eye set in silver. Chatted with Jonathan Day, owner of the store and a silversmith. And he asked us if we had the map.

The map covers the four corners—Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico—plus a little of Nevada and even some of California. The state names are on there but are unimportant. In detail on the map are the Native American villages, ancient ruins, tribal lands, and National Parks and Monuments—a white guy invention but one inspired by how the tribes took care of the land.

We spent a transformative day and night on the Hopi Reservation. What’s amazing about the Hopi—actually, everything about the Hopi is amazing, so one thing that’s amazing about the Hopi is that they were never displaced by European settlers. That means they still live in villages that have been continuously occupied by Hopi since 1100 AD. Think about that. Hopi settlements in Arizona are 500 years older than Shakespeare, 700 years older than the Constitution. How did the Hopi stay peacefully on one place when nearly every other Indian tribe was displaced, or destroyed? “We’re lucky… we didn’t have anything that they wanted,” Fred explained.

Fred, our guide to Hotevilla, Old Oraibi, Prophecy Rock, and First Mesa, is a young man, 28 years old, with long braids and a complex relationship with Hopi tradition. He’s not technically Hopi but Tehua. The Hopi have long been peaceful, but when they found themselves threatened, they welcomed in the Tehua, who in turn protected the Hopi. The Tehua live on the land you reach first on the ascent to First Mesa—they’re the front line of defense.

Fred is Hopi, though, and without any asterisks or explanations required. The Hopi are an inclusive people. What a wonderful characteristic, one that we’ve sought out and admired on our travels. The Hopi welcome everyone into their villages—each one might be a bringer of rain. All religions are welcome, without bias. Fred explained, “We’ve all seen God—just at different times and in different forms.”

“That means I am Hopi, and you are Hopi,” said Fred. I locked eyes with him, even though I was driving, to make sure what he meant what he said. Then I cried.

Fred is of the Corn clan. Corn is one of the “three sisters”—corn, squash and beans—that have been staples of Hopi agriculture for a thousand years. The Hopi practice “dry farming.” That means they literally grow their crops without any irrigation—just the water from the sky. We are in the Arizona desert, brown and dry as far as you can see, so special practices are required. Corn is planted two feet underground, where the soil is moist. About 20 seeds are planted, the heartiest of which (hopefully) break through the soil, the weakest of those are weeded out, and the strongest (hopefully) produce full ears of corn.

Fred’s sister says that dry farming is the practice of farming on a wing and a prayer. She may be right. I’d bet that Monsanto farms produce, oh, a slightly higher rate of return.

Fred points out that what dry farming requires makes his people stronger. The fields are spread far out over the mesas, and you need to pay careful attention to the crops to keep them alive. And you have to hope (and wait, and pray) for rain. All of this work and careful attention keeps Hopi elders alive and healthy. Keep working, stay attentive, keep hoping. Do this, and maybe we all can be Hopi.

Matt and Fred, First Mesa

Can we go to Luckenbach, Texas?

Matt and I have cultivated a taste for country music. He’s been a Dolly and Willie fan for a long time, and I’m guilty of enjoying some country-fried rock like Beachwood Sparks, but neither of us has gone deeper than that—unless you count Matt’s brief love affair with the contemporary country atrocity “Pontoon” a few years ago.

Two things changed that: driving through Texas, and Mike Judge’s show “Tales from the Tour Bus.” If you haven’t seen the show and you like good stories about bad behavior, I recommend it highly. The show focuses on outlaw country legends like Merle Haggard, George Jones and Tammi Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, and our new adopted favorite, Waylon Jennings.

Up until recently, all I knew about Waylon was that he sang the theme song to “Dukes of Hazzard” and regretted it the rest of his life. What I know now: he’s got a singular style, both in his performance and his songwriting. He hung with Willie through the 70s, the two of them performing and recording together. He partied as hard as he could with whatever was available. He did not give a wild fuck what anyone thought about him.

And he wrote this song called “Luckenbach, Texas,” and I’m thinking about it today. It goes like this: (and if you want to hear it, click this lil’ link below.

 

The only two things in life that make it worth livin’
Is guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women
I don’t need my name in the marquee lights
I got my song and I got you with me tonight
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love
Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we’re livin’
Got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys
Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and
Newbury’s train songs and Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain
Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain

There’s a great story in “Tales from the Tour Bus” about when Waylon and the band played the song for the first time. They were playing an outdoor festival show in Texas. No one outside the band had ever heard it before—it hadn’t been recorded or even played live. Waylon introduces it as a new song. As they play, the band can see the crowd melting into the song, starting to sway from the first chorus. By the second chorus, the crowd was singing along as if it were their favorite song.

On our way out of Austin, we picked up on the fact that we were going to pass about 10 miles from the real Luckenbach, so naturally we decided to stop in. It’s maybe four or five football fields in size, built in a loop, with a barn restaurant serving ribs and funnel cakes in the center, and a beer garden with plenty of seating in front of a music stage on the outside.

In other words, it’s beyond cute. It’s a country music fantasy.

So here’s my question: can you really go to Luckenbach, Texas? And if you can go, can you stay?

I’m not sure you can. I maintain that any place that sells funnel cakes is an illusion—you can go there once, maybe twice a year—not just because fried dough will kill you, but because it’s not how people live.

What Luckenbach legitimately looks like

The successful life we’re living’s got us feudin’ like the Hatfields and McCoys

This is the line that pokes out at me, the one that makes me ask existential questions about even the trip we’re on: does work, as you get older, as you go deeper into it, as you try to get a bigger slice of the pie… does it always get just a little bit shitty? Do you need to be a cutthroat competitor? Do lawyers always get involved?

I think the answer is yes—so long as you want to be a player or make more money. I don’t need or even want to be a player, but I do want to make more money. And at the same time, I want the fantasy, even if I won’t eat the funnel cake.

Most of the rest of humanity seems to be content with the first part of that bargain—to strive for success even as stress and conflict make them miserable. I don’t want to come off as self-righteous (I never want to come off as self-righteous) but I will say that Matt and I are exploring the possibility of being able to stop by and visit Luckenbach on a semi-regular basis. We do have to go back to Houston, or whatever metaphorical city represents work, adult-life, and everything that isn’t Luckenbach. But we try to go to the metaphorical Luckenbach as often as we can. It’s working out just fine so far. It’s not paradise, and I definitively would not say that “ain’t nobody feeling no pain.” But there’s some joy available to us that we otherwise would not know we were missing.

A Walk In Juarez

Who knew that we would spend time in El Paso? If you did, why didn’t you tell us? Also, why didn’t we know that you could just stroll over to Juarez, Mexico for a lunch of tacos and margaritas?

The bar is called The Kentucky Club, and it opened in 192o, just in time to lure thirsty Americans stuck in prohibition over the border. It’s here where “they say” (who the hell are they?) that the margarita was invented. No matter your margarita-lore beliefs, the margaritas (plural) were some of the best we’ve had.

The delicious tacos were served as a side dish to the margaritas on an amazing bar. It was hand carved in France and shipped to Juarez in 1934.

Fun Fact: In 2010 Juarez was the murder capital of the world. It’s not anymore, so that’s nice. The government made a pretty big sweep of the main street that is just over the border, literally tearing down every bar and bordello where the cartels might carouse. Now, there are cell phone stores, a few knick knack shacks, and other ordinary non-murdery businesses.

The Kentucky Club seems to be one of the few bars to survive the sweep. Well, that and the Holywood club (see below).

Just being real casual crossing the border line.
The Kentucky Club. Very cool vibe. Also, if you look closely, you’ll see a trough at the bottom of the bar. This is where men who didn’t want to give up their space at the bar used to relieve themselves, pee-wise. I’m serious.

 

Here is the margarita that was super delicious. There are some tacos next to it.
So.

Why I hate cairns.

cairn (noun): a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop

I have a passionate hatred of cairns. Well, not all cairns. I actually like cairns. Please excuse the title of the post. It is clickbait. I am fighting for cairn-hating eyeballs.

But: some cairns are good, and some cairns are bad.

Here’s how to make a good cairn, aka a cairn that pleases me:

–Build something that is aesthetically beautiful and/or cleverly balanced.

–Create a marker that is helpful in identifying a path.

–Place a cairn in a devilishly dangerous location that most people (read: me) can’t reach.

Here’s how to create a bad cairn, aka something that pisses me off:

–Stack a bunch of rocks in some bullshit place in the wilderness.

To make this clearer, let’s do a “Who’s Who” of cairns—below are recent photos of both good cairns (aka ‘cairns’) and bad cairns (aka ‘piles of rocks’):

This is a cairn.
This is a pile of rocks.
Cairn!
Clearly a pile of rocks.
I kicked this one over.

Here’s the point. If your cairn’s message is “I was here,” then please: don’t bother. No one cares. Someone (probably Katie) scrawled “KATIE WAS HERE” on a rock at Cathedral Rock in Sedona. NO ONE CARES, Katie.

So, you expert rock stackers—keep stackin’. If you do it in the right place and it looks dope, I support your cairn. If you are stacking rocks just because you can, don’t bother. It’s not going to last long anyway because as soon as I find it, I’m gonna kick it over.

Am I welcome in art town?

We’re in Marfa, Texas. Marfa is an art town. Ask anyone. Go do it. What did they say? “Isn’t that that art town?” Yes it is.

So what is an art town? And really, if we’re going to get heavy about it, what is art?

I actually do not want to discuss that question—not at all. Really my question is, am I a welcome guest at the art party?

Here’s a story. I have a friend, a friend who studied art, who earned an MFA degree in it from one of the really good art schools. We were having a conversation one morning. It happened to be the morning after I’d seen “Einstein at the Beach” revived at the LA Opera. I’m a fan of Philip Glass. I’m not pretentious about it or anything—I just enjoy listening to his music. I gave about a 10-minute rave about our experience seeing the opera—the beauty of the live performance, the repetition of movement, how absolutely glacial the pace was at times, how simultaneously enthralling it was—and I paused to get his reaction. He took two deep breaths. He thought seriously about how to respond then said, “It’s difficult to discuss art with someone who hasn’t received a formal training in it.”

I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do. For most of the time since then (probably four years now), I’ve been super pissed off. Pissed off that I had an authentic and enthusiastic response to a work of art and the response was that my response was not worthy? eligible? for a response, simply because I do not have an MFA.

So here’s my question, and the question for the visitor passing through the art town: who’s allowed to be here? How much can we enjoy it? Do we enjoy it the way that you, art scholar, do, or do we enjoy it in a lesser, less qualified way? Do I have feelings about this? You bet I do. But I want to ask this question in an earnest and neutral way: do you have to be qualified to appreciate art?

We saw art in the art town today. Specifically we visited Donald Judd’s home studio, aka ‘The Block.’ Donald Judd is the guy who moved to Marfa and began to turn it into an art town. We saw where he lived and worked, a place of reverence among art people. Are we art people? Anyway, we saw that space and then saw the space of the foundation he founded, Chinati.

There, we saw 100 aluminum boxes, all with the same length, width, and height, but each with a unique structure that captures the light and reflects it differently, capturing color through the open space, creating vacuums and voids and open light spaces. I was captivated. The two massive rooms housing the boxes were the two most beautiful rooms I’ve seen in my life.

So. I feel confident that I am allowed to enjoy these places, but under what capacity? What label? Am I a fortunate heathen, a Philistine with a smidge of taste who bumbled his way into true beauty? Am I a privileged white person who gets to indulge in aesthetics because of my class and race? Am I a true art aficionado who sees works like this because I’m so “in the know”? Am I actually an art person of unidentified and therefore hypocritical pretensions?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I just dig it. Maybe the labels are horseshit. Maybe I hope they are. I like the work, I think it’s beautiful, and I think that anyone who appreciates aesthetics should go see it too.

15 untitled works in concrete by Donald Judd. And a really great new Facebook photo for Matt if Matt still had a Facebook.
Cute. Kinda on the nose, but cute.
I had to take this photo illicitly while the tour guide stepped out of the room…posting it for Sherri, who had already picked these colors out.
There is something about this that puts a smile on your face.
Dawn to Dusk by Robert Irwin.
Just a pretty panorama of 15 untitled works in concrete. Click on it to see it big.
The star of the show for me: 100 untitled works in mill aluminum by Judd.
Some more questions—some good ones—about art.

A month in New Orleans in sum, as told by the health app and a credit card statement

We’ve got some time and distance between us and our month in New Orleans, but our credit card statement just arrived and brought us right back. So I did some data collection from that statement, the Health app on my phone, and some foggy recollection.

Please enjoy.

 

Health and Wellness

Distance walked: 133.0 miles
Distance biked: also a lot of miles
Calories consumed: 1 goddamn zillion

 

Restaurants eaten at:

Summary Stats:
Number of restaurants eaten at: 38-ish?
Best restaurant in New Orleans: impossible question. Never answer a question this stupid. If you see the Buddha in the road, kill it!
Total cost of restaurant meals: decline to state
Calories consumed: 1 goddamn zillion

Restaurants we ate at in New Orleans:

Coop’s (x10)
Felix’s (x3)
Bywater Bakery (x a bunch)
Drago’s (x2)
Willie Mae’s Scotch House (x2)
Brennan’s
Commander’s Palace
Pizza Delicious (x a bunch)
Bacchanal (x3)
Paladar 511 (x2)
Jock-I-Mo’s
Harbor Seafood
Feelings
The Joint
Kingfish
Frady’s
Markey’s Bar (x several)
Poke-chan
Spotted Cat Food & Spirits
St. Roch Market
Toup’s Meatery
Parkway Tavern
Two Tony’s
Three Muses
Cochon Butcher
Dat Dog (x3)
Port of Call
Buffa’s (x3)
Louisiana Products
Verti Mart
Muriel’s
Oceana (x2)
R’evolution*
Central Grocery
Cafe du Monde (x a bunch)
Sylvain
Compere Lapin**
Paloma Cafe
Satsuma

*Note: This is the restaurant with the greatest gap between quality of name (which is terrible) and food/experience (which is incredible).

**Note: This is the restaurant with the greatest gap between location on the list (near the bottom) and quality of food/experience (near the top).

 

Cocktails drunk:

Vieux Carre
Sazerac
Creole***
Pimm’s Cup
Old Fashioned
Manhattan
Redhook
Bywater
Other Hip Place Names
Jack and Coke
Jack and Soda
Probably a bunch of others. What, do you think we were keeping a notebook? We were drinking, not conducting anthropological research.

***Note: do you want the best cocktail in America? Sit at the bar at French 75 and ask Chris H. to make you a Creole.