Friday, September 26, 2008

Where did that week go?

Well, hello again! I didn't realize more than a week had gone by since my last post. I'm afraid I won't have any weekend wonders for you any time soon. It's just a busy time of the semester for me. I am getting crafting in - a new beanie (FO), and two tops finally back in progress now that I have all my materials again. I'll try to take some pictures this weekend and get them back to you, but I've got three short papers, a take home exam, and a set of revisions due early next week, so it may be longer than I'd like.
If you live in Tucson, I'm the crocheting girl on the number 9 bus. :)
Hope all is well for you!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Air Guitar

My husband always picks on me when I play air guitar. My form is off, he says, so badly that I look like I’m playing the air mandolin. A song by The Who or anything with decent rhythm guitar or back beat can’t come on the radio without my hands dropping compulsively into strumming the air strings. And I can’t strum without him giggling, snorting behind his hands.

I get the compulsion itself from my father. I’ve realized at the age of twenty-nine that I drum my fingers on the steering wheel just as he did, and it makes me feel closer to him when I catch myself at it, since he’s been gone more than six years now. This is a contrast to the first time I saw my mother’s hands when looking at my own. Something about the way I pulled a credit card from my wallet and passed it with a flick of my wrist to the cashier (before the days of “just swipe it through there, sweetie”) was undeniably an inheritance from my mom, and it startled me badly, aging me instantly and making me wonder what other habits I’d adopted from them.

Today, however, I wonder if I didn’t get my air guitar technique from my fellow U of Arizona students in my time as an undergrad here, or perhaps even from something in the water in Tucson. It may become an epidemic in the iPod era. My evidence?

1. Between classes, I was walking behind a young man who I thought, at first, had a twitch or a disease. His left hand was held in a light fist at his hip, his fingers pressing alternately into his palm. Then his path turned and I could see his right hand, strumming away at his other hip where his iPod hung in a holster from his pocket. Ah, a bass player, I realized, watching his rhythm, though it would be physically impossible to hold any guitar the way his hands were held.

2. In the computer lab this morning was an older man, staring intently at the screen, typing intently at the keyboard in bursts, and intently strumming the air in front of his bellybutton between thoughts in time to the music that kept him bouncing in his seat for almost an hour.

3. I crossed paths with a young man today who was undeniably scratching an air record floating in front of him. I can’t say he did it unabashedly, but he did it again after we made eye contact, one, then two scritcha-scritchas and his hand went into his pocket.

So, it’s not just me, honey, if that makes it any better.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Los Angeles, Part Three, Conclusion

Los Angeles, Part Three, The Conclusion

Three days later, midmorning, my mom and I pull away, running a little behind schedule, headed out for the second part of our journey. I’m frustrated by this point, of course, wishing for more time with my husband, impatient with my mother, as I always get after a couple of days.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania or perhaps Ohio, we come around a gentle curve in the divided highway to be greeted by flares, cones, and “Accident Ahead” signs. I slow, wondering aloud what kind of accident warrants this high level of warning. My first thought – train wreck – I dismiss instantly as terribly unlikely. There aren’t many cars on the road, but we all slow and bottleneck in the next quarter-mile, coming upon the accident at fifteen or twenty miles an hour.

On the right, a twenty- or thirty-foot length of guardrail is missing, the empty space and churned up dirt bracketed by metal so twisted my mother points mutely. Immediately after is a tow truck with the cab of a semi truck on its flat bed, except the cab is on its side and the axles are gone, simply stripped away, the bottom of the cab exposed and looking strangely scraped clean. The container is next, blocking the entire right lane and angled such that I wonder if there was another vehicle – perhaps what made the hole in the rail? – that the truck hit head on. The container, too, is on its side, its front axles broken and the tires mangled.

My mom counts the emergency vehicles aloud and wonders at the height of the drop off while I turn my head to the left.

Did he spin? I wonder. He might have jack-knifed.

And then I see them. My breath catches in my throat. Just off the left shoulder, where the cops are carefully directing my lane of traffic, are two furrows in the grass. The car ahead of me drives toward black-as-night tire tracks perpendicular to our flow and I follow them with my eyes into those troughs, which arch out into the swale, across it, briefly disappearing as little more than flattened streaks of grass, reappearing on the far side, seventy or eighty feet away as trenches in the mud at a forty-five degree angle to the oncoming traffic. On that side, I think I can see more rubber on the road.

“Look, Mom. Just look,” I interrupt.

We drive for a minute or two in silence, and I imagine my mom is thinking similar thoughts to my own – I hope no one was hurt, but how could such a thing happen without injury? Or worse. – but what I say aloud is, “If we’d left on time, we might have been caught in that.”

The next day we drive as far as Texas, and sometime midafternoon we see another accident. I’m driving again, and on the far side of the wide grassy median there are two semis, both on their sides. The broken-neck look of the first makes it obvious it jack-knifed, but its angle on the road is what makes me curious.

“Do you think he spun?” I ask. “Or came over from this side?”

Mom has no answer to that. “Look at the blue one’s grill. It hit head on, whatever happened.”

A sick feeling fills the back of my throat. I’m wondering about these drivers, giving voice to my concern, but I’m also thinking, “Third time’s a charm,” and wondering if we’ll be part of the next one.


For the first time all trip, I fall asleep for about thirty miles as we’re leaving New Mexico. This is remarkable because I’m notorious for falling asleep when I’m a passenger in the car. When my folks would drive down to get me in college – a ninety-mile trip home – I would be out before we hit the cit limits. I rarely get sleepy driving, but put me in the passenger seat, and I’ll start yawning. (Back seat? I’m out.)

Mom pulls over at the first rest stop in Arizona, the welcome center, to ask what path I want to take to Mesa. I vote for cutting through Winslow and take over the driving again. As we’re pulling out, my mom says casually, “Oh, you missed another semi-truck accident. Wasn’t too bad though.”

I was so relieved to find out we weren’t involved, I don’t remember anything she said about it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Los Angeles, Part Two

Los Angeles, Part Two

The embodiment of biker culture is striding toward us across the parking lot, only fifteen feet away now, with an eager smile on his face. We barely say yes before he launches into the task, giving tips, asking about what’s wrong with the battery, insisting it’s the battery, not the alternator, clipping cables and wiping things, and so forth.

I look him over as he works. Forty-ish, unshaved but not quite bearded, freckled and sun-soaked skin, bandana, denim vest with a logo nearly the size of his broad back celebrating his membership of a Christian biker group (Riding for Jesus, or something to that effect), ragged tee shirt, worn, worn jeans and genuine biker boots that look like they’ve kissed asphalt a time or three. Everything about him is used. Grizzly. But not dirty, really. I love it.

I wonder aloud how I should go about replacing the battery if it’s not going to hold a charge, musing about where the next big city will be on our path.

He turns to me and asks which way we’re headed. For the first time I make full eye contact with this Good Samaritan and the sight takes my breath. His irises are like green ice – sharp, jagged crystals of color, and an intensity of intelligence and kindness that strikes me briefly dumb. I’m not sure what I say, but it must be something semi-coherent and accurate, because my mother doesn’t interrupt to correct me. He nods wisely, and I’m staring at his eyes, unable to look away, even after he does.

“Then what I would suggest is staying on this road,” he gestures, “and heading about twelve miles down.” He gives us directions to two auto parts stores, one of which he recommends more highly, where they will replace the battery for us. In the middle of his directions, which I’m concentrating on remembering, easing over my shock now, he makes eye contact with my mom. I see his smile, and I see her expression, eyes briefly startled, blinking, blinking, not breaking eye contact.

Soon enough the car is running, though without enough energy to run the air conditioner. I have to turn off all other electrical systems to roll up the windows. I remember thanking him two or three times, and we’re on the road again.

The kids at the auto parts store are heavily pierced, and girls outnumber guys two-to-one, which briefly surprises me since we’re in the rural Carolinas. But they handle the battery replacement smoothly, even trying to help me reset my radio, which no longer functions without a dealer code because the battery ran too low.

Many hours later, we’ve stopped for food just outside Pennsylvania, somewhere around two a.m. and maybe three or four hours from Buffalo. At this point, we’ve put air in the tire three more times, and I’m praying (metaphorically) it will last just a few hundred more miles. We’re talking about the car troubles and expressing thanks that it wasn’t worse – despite the lost time – when my mom mentions again how fortunate it was the group of young men happened to be outside the hotel.

“Angels were watching over us,” she says idly. “If you hadn’t forgotten the pillow and the car had died somewhere else, like a rest stop, we might not have gotten help so easily.”

I have to admit that she’s right about that, though internally I’m not thinking the young men were particularly angelic. Yet the second she said the word, the first thing I thought of was the biker’s eyes. Knowing the answer, I ask if she noticed.

She nods, and I suspect we’re wearing identical expressions of stupefaction as we try to describe – to each other – how intense they were, how compelling.

“Did you notice he just sort of, disappeared?” I ask. “I turned to make sure you knew which way we were going, then turned back to thank him one more time and wish him a good weekend—”

She’s nodding and nodding. “And he was gone. I noticed it, too. He was there over your shoulder, and then he wasn’t anywhere.”

“The parking lot wasn’t that full either. And I didn’t see any bikes…” I’m realizing this as I say it, becoming more unsettled by the second, but in a strangely serene way. Bothered by the strangeness yet unable to be truly concerned about it despite myself.

Our food arrives and we dig in. Stomachs beginning to be sated, we start talking again, and my mom turns the conversation back to the biker, glad he came along, but remarking on the oddness of his disappearance.

“You know, that happened to me again tonight.”

I wrinkle my nose. “Meaning?”

“When we stopped so you could air the tire, but we didn’t need gas yet? A guy came up to the truck and got my attention through the passenger window. He was a Black man, very dark, but he was wearing a white shirt, and white pants, too, I think, maybe painter’s pants. He asked me for a light, but it was like he was really going to ask if I needed help, someone to help me drive, until he saw the boxes in the passenger seat and changed his mind.”

I’m surprised at this. “I didn’t see anybody.”

She shrugs again. “He was there at the window, and I passed him a lighter out the window and he asked if I was alone. I pointed to you and explained. When he looked at you, I walked around the front of the cab to smoke with him, but he was gone.”

I tilt my head as I swallow my coffee. “There wasn’t anywhere to go,” I remember. Where we had stopped was a gas station with the air pump and vacuum more than seventy-five feet from the station, at the base of an undeveloped slope on the edge of the property.

“I know,” she admits. “I thought you’d think I was crazy if I asked if you saw him.”


I tell my husband all this as we fall asleep in bed the next night, and he expresses aloud his gratitude that we seemed to have someone watching over us, whoever it was. I fall asleep wishing I could paint or draw, because I can’t get those green eyes out of my head – so pale – and I normally can’t picture faces, even my family’s with much accuracy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Los Angeles, Part One

Pronounce that title as if you speak Spanish for me. Go ahead, say it out loud. The G is like an H – a throaty sound. Out loud, I dare you.

For those of you who actually said it aloud, good for you. More so if you’re in a place of work. For those of you who said it aloud in a computer lab, ssshh.

My mother believes in angels. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; I just wanted to get it out there.

Specifically, she believes she has parking angels, giving her an uncanny ability to find a good space. I inherited my father’s gene for parking far from an entrance because I like to walk, so I’ve never really needed parking angels. Less so now that I have no car, but I digress.

Recently, I drove from Charleston, South Carolina to Buffalo, New York in a car with five cats and a dog while my mother drove our moving truck. If I ever needed proof she loves me, I don’t any more. Once we got to Buffalo, where we left my car (ours – mine and my husband’s) and moved my things to a more comfortable but more expensive SUV for the longer leg of the trip – Buffalo to Tucson, Arizona. All in all, we did somewhere around fifty hours of driving in about five days, plus rest stops, food, and fuel ups.

When we set out, our first stop was the gas station to top off my tank and put air in my rear left tire, which had grown squishy in the month since my husband had left the country. The car had a complete tune up, including new front brakes, around the time he left, a month before this road trip, so I wasn’t at all concerned about car trouble. Mom and I made it to our hotel for the night, still in South Carolina because of our ridiculously late start, which I don’t have time to explain here, and I don’t want to anyway because it makes me look bad.

We woke early, went through the madness of orchestrating the cats back into carriers and getting everyone in the car. We drove to a nearby gas station, to top off, yes, but mainly to put air in the tire, which was already low again – eight hours later. We realized at the pump that I’d left my good pillow in the hotel room, so I drove back, the car being more maneuverable that the truck, with the plan that I would come back to her and we’d get on the highway together. I parked by the hotel office in the shade, for the sake of the animals, ran inside, explained myself, and ran to the room – door opened by housekeeping but not yet cleaned – and grabbed my pillow.

Relieved, I hopped back into the car and started the engine. Or tried to. Lights flashed, something clicked, and generally, nothing that was supposed to happen happened. After offering up a number of positive and (or) pleading thoughts to the universe, I tried a couple more times, and then called my mom who drove to meet me. I unloaded the cats and dog – because of the heat – while she asked for advice inside. The hotel staff’s only suggestion? Flag down a cab. One of the local companies does jumps for a small fee. Let me just say this wouldn’t likely have worked, given our location.

When she came outside, I noticed a group of young men hovering nearby, military haircuts like beacons.

“Ask them, would you,” I gesture and beseech my mom, loaded down myself with carriers, “if they’ve got jumper cables?”

Turns out these young men are all Army, stationed nearby, on their way somewhere, waiting for their sergeant, and one was a mechanic before he joined up. Two others obviously wish they were, so they launch themselves into my car while another calls the sergeant, who is on his way and, yes, has jumper cables with him.

I notice with a smile that they all have fresh matching tattoos of their unit number gracing their bodies in different places, an upper arm here, a shaved calf there, so I ask them about their service. I’m the wife of an enlisted man – I know how to play this. They appreciate the requests and my admiration. I mention, offhand, that my husband served for nearly nine years. They smile – kindred! – and ask which branch of the armed forces he was in.

“Marine Corps,” I say.

The two nearest me actually bow their heads briefly, as if recognizing a tribal elder in disguise, and one says, without hesitation,

“God bless him.”

This is the first information they pass on to their sergeant when he arrives ten minutes later. “Battery’s dead. Her husband was a Marine.” He jumps it, we let it run, and he advises me to drive for a while before I turn it off.

I nod. “I’ve got a full tank and over two hundred and forty miles to go before we change highways, so that shouldn’t be a problem.” I thank them as they begin loading their van, and by the time Mom and I load up the animals, they are gone.

One hundred and sixty five miles later, we stop for lunch. Surely nearly three hours has been long enough to charge the battery if that was the only problem, but I roll the windows down a little before cutting the engine, just in case, because I have to leave the animals here while we grab food. I turn of the engine, hop out, and try to lock the doors with the key tag. No dice. There’s no charge on the battery at all – even this small task is impossible.

We eat quickly, my mom going immediately to the truck stop shop to buy jumper cables while I go to the car to prep for the jump, though neither of us have done this in ages, if ever. My mother says something about the good fortune of “those military boys” being around this morning when a voice calls over my shoulder.

“You ladies need a hand?”

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Weekend Wonder #11 - Traveling Crochet

These are the completed flags I am contributing to the Peace Project by Sheena Pennell. If you've never heard of it, I suggest you check it out. For those not familiar, these are the flags of Sweden and Norway.

Sweden, above, was the simpler construction. I did the whole thing in hdc stitches, dropping the yellow yarn to hang behind and carefully carrying the blue across. This was easy - so much easier than I expected that I finished it in the first half of the second (and longest) leg of my flight. I hadn't packed anything else in my carry-on but my journal, so needless to say I got a lot of writing done. Those of you who craft while traveling may be thinking, did you sneak scissors on board? How? Nope, I just left excess yarn and trimmed it away when I wove the ends in. A little wasteful, but not too bad.

Norway, below, was the more difficult. I divided the white yarn and used two skeins of the red, though that proved to be far more than I needed. I worked on this while Mr. Man drove on our recent Labor Day trip and on the flight back, weaving the ends in after I returned. Fortunately, he liked the way it looked so much he "commissioned" an iPod case with this design. (His family is Scandinavian.)

Next time, if I do one of these flags this big or bigger, I'll do it with granny squares or a similar technique in order to make it reversible. Would make a fun afghan project, IMO, and easy to do using the grid in Photoshop of similar software.

Both were done in Encore acrylic/wool blend except for the yellow, which is a Lion Brand wool.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

No More Travelling ... Please

I'd like to say I'm glad to be back after recovering from my hectic trip, but I'm not really recovered. For those new to the story, my husband and I just moved from Charleston, SC to Buffalo, NY and Tucson, AZ respectively. There were some things we needed to do in Charleston that unfortunately included needing to drive a carload of stuff from Charleston to NY, so that's how we spend Labor Day weekend. I flew to NY Wednesday, we drove down Thursday, did what we needed to do Friday, and drove back Saturday.

You'd think this meant that I got to spend quality time with my husband on Sunday, but instead we just slept. We were exhausted. He made me breakfast in bed (BONUS POINTS), then we went back to sleep. We got up, ate a late lunch/early dinner, and packed up a big suitcase of my stuff to take back to Tucson. The only fun thing we did was go see Hellboy 2 at a second-run theater. And that was cool, don't get me wrong, but since I'd already seen it, that alone was not worth the travel.

Fortunately, both the flying and driving were uneventful. I came back Monday, had one class Tuesday to prepare for and go to, and I spent yesterday napping and recovering. I'm physically almost all better, but I'm still tired and having that lovely slope of grad school work rising in front of me is not helping. I'm also trying to live without the expense of Internet at home and it's a bummer for getting work done. My profs don't seem to understand I'd like to be able to download the reading for next week's class now.

Please. So I don't have to walk back into campus again tomorrow in the hope that it's there.


Anyway, my goal for the weekend is to go check out the nearest bookstores and coffee shops for free wifi. And homework. And writing. Which is good (not sarcastically good, just good).

On the crafting front, I'm drafting the flag post next! I'm likely making myself a beanie because my current WIPs are all packed in NY (or maybe en route if my husband remembered to ship them today...). I promise also that the tale of our guardian angels is coming soon!