I am not a number. . .

Spent last night at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood–trying not to wonder what they hieroglyphs could possibly say–having a large tub of popcorn for dinner while watching clips from Dr. No, Mission Impossible, the Avengers, the Saint, Wild Wild West, and then most importantly two episodes of The Prisoner on a huge screen. It really does make a difference; for instance, I’d never noticed #6 had a tiger-skin rug in the entrance hall.

On the other hand, there’s yet another disturbance shutting down the subway. You’d think they’d figure out how to keep people from going into the tunnels, so that they don’t instantly think BOMB! and shut down the whole thing, even if you’re far away from that station. . .

;o)

Travel Thursday: Copper Canyon

As always, I got to the train station, this time in Chihuahua, way early, well before the dawn in fact. Of course I had no idea how long it would take to get from the hotel to the train station, so there I sit on the hard concrete, trying not to sleep, and of course having people trying to cut in line as the time comes.
Once on board I found the train itself wasn’t so bad. As the sun began to show its wares over the horizon, the air conditioning took out the humidity completely. . . though of course because it was dawn, it quickly became too cold. But at least the seats were big and comfortable, something that surprised me when I considered all the stuff I’d heard about Mexican trains. Still, this was the tourist train; the regular train, carrying all the locals, left an hour later, and was sure to be much different than this one. Right now I appeared to be the only North American on a trainful of Europeans, mostly Germans; later I found out this wasn’t true, but it didn’t do me any good on the ride.
The steward was blasting norteño, overpowering my headphones, and the train was too shaky to read coherently, let alone write. Worse, the landscape of flatlands with distant bluffs was the most boring I’d seen since Eastern Hungary, even if that promised to change soon, so I just sat there with my head against the window, sometimes sleeping but mostly just staring out at the landscape.
Even when we did get to the beginnings of the canyon, it was nothing compared to the photos I’ve seen, but then those were rumored to be on the other half of the journey. For once I was able to sleep some on transportation, no doubt because of the early start time, but even that was screwed by the presence of first a really loud group of Germans and then an even worse band of Alabamian senior citizens, in all their famous glory. . .
Anyway, not in a good mood by the time we arrived in Divisadero.
If there’s one place in the world that could change that, it should be here. . . right?

AN HOUR LATER

copper canyon

THIS IS SIMPLY AMAZING.
Here I sit on the balcony of my hotel room, with the entire canyon seemingly before me. I firmly believe I could never get tired of this view.
I stayed like that for what seemed like hours, the only downside the wind whipping in my eyes, occasionally gasping, until finally I whispered, “Too much” and tried to engage my brain again.
A couple of pinnacles that give the impression of being towers were probably only 2km away as the crow flies, but it feels like I could lean over the balcony and touch them. The first bluff to the right is probably half that. The plateau a little left of center is about 5km.
Far across the canyon to the left, I’m sure I can see for a good 100km, and at least 1km straight down, leaning over the railing. Despite there being more land across the way, this felt like the end of the world.
Looking closer now, between those two pinnacles, possibly a shadow but what fun would that be, looked to be a cave entrance. Wanna bet I wanted to go exploring? As luck would have it, a walking tour was about to begin, taking us first all the way to the top on the other side of the tracks, till the promontory containing the hotel itself looked tiny. Can’t believe my legs weren’t hurting yet, but hopefully that was a good omen and I’d have plenty of things to see before they inevitably let me down.
As always, looking straight down didn’t help my sense of balance, or any other sense. At this height, it got cold in a hurry, and I was in t-shirt and shorts. The guide said that at the bottom of the canyon it was tropical enough to grow bananas and there was a tour that went down there, but since that was six hours down, sleep over, then twelve hours back up the next day. . . nah, don’t think so. . .
The wind at the top was barely there, but once we started dropping it rushed loudly by us. Luckily we were never on any path where it could toss us off the side, but it was still a bit of a struggle. At one point we reached a spot where it seemed like the canyon was 360 degrees around us, possibly the only time I’ve ever wished I had a fisheye lens.
For a few minutes we walked through a meadow with no view of canyon, and with a couple of buildings, one of them being the schoolhouse, but there was no one home or no reason to stop by, and soon enough we were back in the pretty land. From way up there I’d spotted a dot of red far below with my telephoto, and I was amazed to find, first of all, that we climbed down that far, but also because that red dot turned out to be a local woman weaving, and consequently selling, baskets, which I love. First I turned to take in the steep rocky path we’d descended, still amazed by how easily it had seemed. Then I noticed the hotel and saw there were caves below it too, which would satisfy my spelunking curiosity if we got to see them. . . whch we did eventually, but other than a few petroglyphs that looked rather modern compared to most I’ve seen, no big deal.
Then I turned to see what I could buy. The kid with her, about two years old, didn’t make it easy, clad in a dress that for some reason reminded me of Hungary. Of course she posed for a picture–for a price–and smiled shyly.
The guide, who was one of those guys who ran marathons through the canyon to bring messages to all the distant towns, told us about the Tarahumara gods, particularly Raienari, the sun god, protector of men, and Mecha, the moon goddess, protector of women. Kinda disappointing to find a mythology so. . . typical, but on the other hand it’s really interesting how so many cultures went the same way with that, back to the Ancient Greeks and many others.
Finally back from the incredible hike, I took stock and found myself tired but not as bad as I’d feared. It certainly could have been worse, but the scenery couldn’t have been better. Unfortunately those Suthin’ oldies were staying here too, and being incredibly obnoxious. Seems like they were the only ones here, though I did find a pair of calm Canadian couples to have dinner with and talk to in the lounge, when the Alabamians didn’t butt in with their incredibly lame jokes. One of the Canadians was an emergency room doctor, his wife a nurse–they often took cruises for free, with him being the ship doctor—and I actually visited them in Vancouver a few years later. The other couple was from Edmonton, and I got to talk to the gruff-looking but genial bearded gent about Rush for a while, especially their ballads; he’s one of the few people I’ve met who even knew they existed.
Back on the balcony of my room, the last rays of sun shining on my face, I sat there looking out while listening to Mannheim Steamroller’s Red Wine. For a change I had quiet neighbors, not the loud Alabamians, so nothing kept me from enjoying the soaring of the hawks, the blowing of the wind–now that it couldn’t push me over–and to make the cliché complete, I’m reading Walden. . .
But finally I put the book down, and reached for my notebook instead of my camera. My powers of observation are strong, but this would likely tax my writing skill. Definitely out of this world to be looking out at all these green ridges, like waves, or a labyrinth, verdant splendor bathed in the warm sun, and have Mannheim’s version of Stille Nacht come into the headphones, followed by Enya’s Sun in the Stream–though I doubt there’s any place remotely like this in Ireland. My music player seems to be in tune with the setting, choosing just the right songs: a piece of Vivaldi’s Spring is encored by Mannheim’s Interlude I, with the sounds of nature in the background echoing the ones in real life.
I almost missed it when it got dark, but suddenly there were SO MANY STARS. I’ve been out in the countryside plenty of times, away from the big city lights, so I’m well aware that you can see a lot more of the night sky out there than in the city, but this was as far beyond that as the countryside is to the city. For the first time in my life I can make out the nebulous cloud that is the Andromeda galaxy. The Big Dipper has never been more defined; Venus is amazingly bright. The Southern Cross, Orion–the sky seems crowded.
Until I look down, to the front, and see nothing before me but an ominous pitch-black void, with only one single small light that’s probably a campfire. So eerie. . .
Looking back up to recapture the joy, not only do I see stars, but also what appear to be lines connecting stars, as if there was a lattice of spider webs in the background. I would get lost counting them before getting to 100, wondering if I’d already ticked that one off. The sky seemed as crowded as a subway.
The air feels so clean. . . and cold. But it’s an honest cold. The night was so clear that, even with the screen door closed on the balcony, I could see the tiny points of light that signified weak stars, and the big ones shone enough to allow me to read a newspaper someone had left. It was so bright, in fact, that when I got up in the middle of the night to hit the head, I didn’t have to turn on the light in this unfamiliar place.
I slept very well.
Yet as incredible as the first sight was, it was that much more amazing at dawn, and we all know I’m not a dawn kinda guy. At 6:58 the light meter on the camera–on tripod–told me there wasn’t enough light; at 7:00 there was. An amazing low-level fog–or probably dust particles–lifted up from the canyon floor, illuminated by the beginning rays. I’ve never seen the sun so small, so distant. It’s almost like the hotel staff arranged it that way, to give the impression—again–you were at the edge of the world.
While at night it had been, for lack of a tighter definition, cosmic, during the day it was all about being in tune with nature. I didn’t have a thesaurus, so I had to do my best: breathtaking, majestic, mystical, spiritual, glorious, primeval, unspoiled, tranquil, haunting, soul-stirring. . . grandeur. In this place, all the clichés meet and, instead of clashing, mesh into harmony.
And most of all, the power of silence. . .
It was damned chilly this early; not only could I see my breath, but it formed around my head until it coalesced into a cloud. But I barely felt it; as many had observed, when I’m playing with my camera I’m as giddy as a schoolboy. {Time out while we remember the person who said that, Ilsa the gorgeous bad-girl blonde in Indiana Jones 3. . . and we’re back.}
Was invited to do a morning hike with the bearded Canadian, but as I checked my body I regretfully realized I was too sore for another jaunt. In fact, I spent most of the morning after breakfast just sitting there and taking in the view some more, though occasionally I wandered around to take shots from different angles. But soon enough it was time to walk the ten paces back to the railway platform. Part of me felt sad to be leaving so soon, but on the other hand I was feeling so overwhelmed that I knew it had to be done. Copper Canyon is too big to take it all in, plus it doesn’t have as many handy viewpoints and lookouts as the Grand one further north. . . plus it’s green, not orange. If I ever come back, I should be able to better handle it, but for now I could take in no more.
As I waited for the train, locals began setting up their wares, as there are some people who take the train straight through without getting off to enjoy the scenery for more than ten minutes. I spent some time haggling with a little Indian girl, about four years old, selling some craft works. I thought some of those carved keychains would be fun to give as gifts, and I was particularly amused that one was shaped like a dolphin, all the way up here in the remote mountains; never saw a TV out here, but maybe they took a trip to Mazatlan. She wanted me to buy 2 for 10, but when I told her I’d take 3 for 12 she went to ask her mom, who okay’ed the deal, and I kept the dolphin for myself.
And of course, as I took a last view from the balcony as the train is coming to take me away, all my earlier feelings left and I was sad to have to leave. I would hate to think that I will never in my life see another sight like this. . . but if I don’t, I’ll come back here.
The train to Los Mochis was so much better, much more beautiful landscapes, though I’m surprised I could consider any of it beautiful after the canyon. Slowly the train dropped out of the Western Sierra Madre, through the only pass across the country between the desert to the north and the Mazatlan-Durango road that I had described understatedly as beautiful but gut-wrenching. Some of these vistas, so different from either the flatlands or the snow-capped majesty of the Rockies, made my jaw gape. There were times when the canyons fell off to both sides of the train, and others where the rock walls rose around us as high as you could see. Some of the rock formations reminded me of the area of the Elbe river south of Dresden, but they seemed a lot scarier on a train.
Finally tired of the observation bubble, I went out to the space between cars, where the top part of the loading door was open so people could look out; safety standards had never been a priority in Mexico. Plenty of waterfalls, but I particularly remember looking out the side of the train to see what appeared to be a toy town at the bottom of a ravine, and just behind it a trellis over a rushing river. . . and then I realized we were going to be traveling down there and got my cameras ready, one fast for the river and the other wide for the town.
Which turned out to not be homes–not in the traditional sense, anyway–but discarded boxcars. Ha! Shoulda taken more shots from up top.

It was quite an odyssey getting back to El Lay, especially being in the middle of drug country, but that’s a story for another time. No need to mood-whiplash you after such a beautiful journey. . .

;o)

Travel Thursday: Taking a model to the County Fair, part 2

Back on the fairway, or whatever it was called, Tiphanee was drawn to a small crowd and dragged me along, glad she was tall enough to see over most people. Oh my gosh! Horsies! This time she didn’t even bother to grab my arm to follow. Of course I would. . .
By the time I got there, she was already mounting up. My camera was going to love this, so I got ready, but first she waved me over. Leaning way down till she could just about lick my ear, she whispered, “I so much need something between my legs right now, and I know you’re too shy. . .”
“Sorry if I inspired that feeling!” I managed as she rode away. It wasn’t easy.
She turned in the saddle to stick out her tongue, which I of course shot while trying not to have the same thoughts I’d had while she was licking the ice cream, then showed the guy who worked there she didn’t need any help galloping around a little rodeo ring.
I couldn’t remember ever being so impatient waiting for film to rewind, or changing rolls so fast. I shot five full rolls, 36x, in less than ten minutes, which might have been normal for a fashion photographer but not for me, and certainly not in these dusty circumstances with no assistants to help out.
“She is an eater of film, devouring the stuff like there is no tomorrow. . .”
I grinned and wondered when to spring that line on her.
Of course I didn’t want her to know any of that right now, lest her ego keep inflating until it was unstoppable, so I took some shots of a horse dressed as a unicorn as she arrived and dropped off the horse with an experienced plop. She didn’t say anything about her not being the subject, so she must have seen me shooting while she was riding. Shucks.

She came up to me and promptly stepped on his foot, quickly jumping back. “Sorry! I keep forgetting about my embarrassing shoes.”
“Don’t you mean feet?” I asked innocently, but it didn’t help, so I added, “Does shoe size in women have a correlation the way it does for men?” I was glancing at her chest as he said it.
Instead of bothering with that, she made sure of her footing and tried again. “What joy!” she squealed, wrapping her arms around my neck and hugging tight. “That made my day. Now let’s go find something that’ll bring you as much pleasure!”
A moment later she gasped and covered her mouth, but other than a grin I didn’t help out; her words were enough.

She did not expect to find my pleasure so fast, especially after her verbal error, double especially since there were no arcades with air hockey around. Still, it kinda figured. . .
She never thought she could be enthralled by chess, but she felt the excitement as she watched me play, silently cheering me on to demolish the sucker dumb enough to invite me to sit down with a smug grin. There being only one chair, I sat her down on my lap, though facing sideways so I could see the board; she was pretty tall. She did her best not to distract me, in fact giggled and tried to distract the opponent.
Not that I needed the help.
Interesting that she was the one distracted, by my arm around her waist. . .
Finally she tried to concentrate on the game. She saw I was up, the opponent having only a rook left, along with assorted pawns. She’d noticed when I had mutually annihilated the queens–no way to treat a lady, in her opinion–and then had used my bishops and knights to thin out the opponent’s ranks. I had both my rooks, a knight, and a bishop left, and now I started the end game.
First I maneuvered my knight to attack the black rook, who moved away to look for an angle to attack; pure desperation, she grinned. And then I moved my bishop to check the king, and she noticed the other guy wincing. What was so bad? she wondered. The guy could move the king out of the way. . .
Said guy did move out of the way, and then she saw my plan. With the king out of the line of fire, the bishop was right on line to eat the rook. And with his bishop out of the way after devouring the rook, the black king was now in check from one of my rooks. Brilliant! She kissed me on the cheek in congratulations.
Despondent, the opponent moved his king down to his own starting line, not noticing that my other rook, which hadn’t been moved yet, had a free ride all the way to that end. Checkmate in twenty-one.
Tiphanee jumped to her feet without upsetting the board–she wanted to take a photo–and shouted “Yippee! Did we bet anything?”
“Actually, he wanted YOU to be the stakes, though he didn’t make it clear exactly what he was expecting. Besides the fact that I’d get jealous, I let him know there wasn’t enough stuff in the world for him to equal the bet.”
“That’s sweet, in a Neanderthal sorta way,” she laughed.

Back on the main drag, we ambled freely amidst the animated throng, absently cataloguing the attractions and trying to ignore the multitude of semi-clever advertisements. Sometimes, though, we came across some too out-there to ignore.
“Highest, Fastest, Most Exhilarating, Adrenaline-Pumping Ride in the World!!!!!”
“After all those capitals,” she muttered, “multiple exclamations just seem brazen.”
“The thinking man’s model,” I sighed, and she laughed and placed her cheek against mine. I’d shaved this morning, but the already-growing stubble gave her skin a buzz.
Oh, very funny! she admonished herself, then cried, “I wanna ride the whirly thing!”
“Go ahead, if you must,” I muttered. “I’ll just stay here and miss you.”
She smirked, wondering if she should try to persuade me to join her.
“Don’t,” I read her mind again. “You might think it’s romantic to fool around on those things, but you won’t find it so when I throw up all over you. And not because I’d throw up on purpose because you forced me onto it–”
“I get ya,” she cut me off quickly, not needing a description. “I’m enjoying finding out about you, and now I know you’re either squeamish or vertiginous, if there is such a word. I won’t ever ask again.”
“You’re as wonderful as I suspected. And vertiginous is too a real word.”
The big bombshell was secretly pleased, but played it cool, grabbing my hand to continue the walk. Inside her head, things were not cool, not in that sense, anyway. Fortunately or unfortunately, she wasn’t allowed the chance to let the feeling linger as we came to a tent that was completely undescriptive.
“That’s their plan,” I murmured. “They grab you by the curiosity.”
Before she could reply that such a thing might hurt, we’d walked into the orbit of the girl in the tent.
“We’ve got the best stand in the whole fair!” she proclaimed.
“Explain the logic underlying that conclusion.” I’d listened to a Monty Python CD the other night.
“Huh?”
“Why do you say that?” Tiphanee translated.
“Hey, I just say what I’m told!” Rapidly trying to change the subject, and forgetting she was supposed to be selling the contents of the tent, the teen tried, “How long have you guys worked on this routine?”
We grinned at each other, and then to everyone’s surprise it was me who actually said, “It’s our fifth wedding anniversary, and we wanted to relive the honeymoon, so here we are.”
The crowd clapped politely, not knowing it was a joke, some women muttering that romance was dead and guys admiring Tiph for not just her looks but also for being a cheap date.
“Can you really imagine us after five years of marriage?” she sighed.
“Easily. I should feel even better than I do now.”
“You feel good now?” she laughed.
“And I always will, as long as you keep giving me these flashes of feeling-good-ness.”
An eyebrow went up. “Feeling good-ness?”
Shrug. “I’m a poet.”
“I don’t think Poe would have approved of that.”
“How ‘bout Shelley?”
She shuddered at the mention of her other fave, but kept it clean. “The sentiment, yes, but not the syntax.”
I held off on the usual sin tax joke. “Shelley had a chance to re-write. How good was he off the top of his head?”
“Well, he did get a married woman to run off with him.”
“And that’s good?”
She heard what she thought was a danger sign in my voice. “Not in itself, no. I’m just commenting on the power of his poetry persuasion.”
“Wow, what a handle you have on alliteration.”
“Finally figured it out, after five years of marriage?” She tried to keep it light.
“Think about us five years from now, thinking back to this moment. . .”
“Yeah. . .” she sighed, then tried to cover it up by sniffing the air delicately. “I smell popcorn. . . I hope.”
I frowned and sniffed, then smiled. “Nope, that’s just me. Shower wasn’t working this morning, and that mist thing just didn’t hit the spot.”
Grinning, she leaned over and licked my cheek, this time not noticing the aforementioned stubble. “Mmmmm. . .”
“Salty?”
“Something like that,” she murmured. “Be it popcorn or sweat, I don’t care. . .”
“Well, I doubt it’s the elephant car, since that’s more sugar than salt.” I pointed.
She didn’t have to ask what an elephant car was, not with her weakness for fried dough. Hot and crispy, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, it was her biggest indulgence at events like this.
“These were invented in Spain, They’re called churros. You’re supposed to dunk them in chocolate.”
For a moment she seemed sad that I’d already been familiar with them, but that was quickly overwhelmed by the thought of chocolate, even the hot type, in this weather.
I was able to read it all, every little thought, on her face. This was more than innocent, I mused; at times she was almost doll-like. Amazing she could look so cute even while looking so completely beautiful.
Devastating beauty. . .
Yeah, that’s it. Leave it at that before it gets completely overwhelming.

We had somehow managed to circumnavigate the grounds and were next to the parking lot when she stopped suddenly and turned to face me, her hands grasping mine. “So what exactly are you looking for in this relationship?” Then she winced at the way that sounded, so typically female. . .
I grinned. “I don’t have expectations. Might jinx it.” She laughed at that. “All I can tell you is. . . I would love the chance to fall in love with you.”
She gulped, obviously wondering when I’d had the chance to peek in her diary. “That’s actually your first thought? Do you know how unusual that is in a guy?”
“Do you know how unusual it is to find a woman who appreciates it?”
She knew she wasn‘t thinking clearly, in some kind of dream-coming-true haze. “So you don’t want to have sex with me,” she concluded, though even in her fog she knew that couldn‘t be right.
Snort. I pushed her–gently–against the convenient fence next to us, this time with my hands holding hers against the mesh above her head. Luckily she didn’t seem to notice the light bondage, and right now my eyes were too busy staring into hers to see what the position did to her upper body. “Of course I want to have sex with you! It’s just that sex isn’t ALL I want to have with you.”
Well, that was the best of both worlds, she mused, then realized she was thinking too much.

And then I was kissing her. . .
Luckily it wasn’t nighttime at the fair, when fireworks would have soundtracked this moment. Because that’s not how it is, she realized when I drew back and we were staring into each other’s eyes again. This was more like a waterfall, though not a Niagara. This was a. . . a gentle mist cascading over her head–our heads, she hastily corrected, sure in her heart I was feeling the same exact thing. Not as ephemeral as the Cooling Zone, but not enough to be a fog either. . .
And then I was kissing her again, and all thought went away. She tried to catalogue the feelings without describing them, but even that didn’t work. Her mind was drifting away, and she let her body go along for the ride. My boy sure knows how to kiss, she sighed in her head, or maybe it really is love that’s making it so good.
Later she would write in her diary that her mind would have kept floating on to Nirvana had they not been so rudely interrupted. . .
“Ain’t ya gonna kiss me too?” cackled the girl from the mystery tent.
Snorting, as much to shake the romantic cobwebs out of my head as to show her what I’d thought of her proclamation, I exclaimed, “And risk catching something?”
She squealed in a perfect blend of surprise, horror, and amusement, well enough to make Tiphanee wish she’d brought a camcorder.
Since the moment had already been ruined, the two girls started gabbing, leaving me to announce, “I’m going to see if the Boy Sprouts have killed anyone in the hatchet-throwing contest.”
“He’s good,” she murmured, then flushed at the grin on the girl’s face.

;o)

Travel Thursday: Taking a Model to the Fair, part 1

Having taken my photography style to heart, Tiphanee had decided to wear jeans and a t-shirt, along with her most comfortable sneakers. Maybe she hadn’t been shot this way since Daddy took her to Disneyland, but she felt that was about to change and become the best photos ever to grace her portfolio.
I hope she remembered my words the first time she was in the studio: “I like shooting models who’re actually smiling, having fun. Hugging animals and mascots and all that stuff.” She was pretty much known for the pouty, disinterested look that everyone told her was what made models famous. That made modeling boring. It was time for a change.
“It’s like stepping into an oven!” she wailed. “You’re used to this heat, I’m not. A little consideration, huh? I’ve never been in 120-degree heat before.”
I pointed to the thermometer placed next to the ticket booth. “Only 105. The 120s are on the other side of the snowy mountains. And there‘s no humidity, like there would be off the Chesapeake.”
She wanted to kick the thermometer. “That does not help.”
So I whistled Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Oddly enough, she recognized it. “I’m trying,” she sighed, “but I don’t see it.”
“Lots and lots of ice cream.”
Slowly a smile creeped onto her lovely features as I bought the tickets. “I’m buying the first round,” she pronounced. “Do us both a favor and don’t choose vanilla.”
“Only if they have orange.”
Trying to hide her dismay, she quickly remembered the time I’d been interviewing another model while she changed clothes. The girl, not knowing Tiph could overhear, informed me that she’d dumped her boyfriend because of his dandruff.
I’d sniffed, “You’re so shallow I’ve stepped in deeper puddles!”
Back in the right-now, I had to ask. “Which joke are you remembering?”
“Deeper puddles.”
“Yeah, I have to admit that’s one of my faves.”
After a quick glance around she asked, “So what do we see first? Or do we just wander?”
“I’m for wandering. Eventually we’ll find out what new and unspeakable uses they’ve come up with for Spam.”
She pointed to a building with a sign that said “Extreme skating,” but I blanched and shook my head. She obviously wondered what that was about, by her look, but only filed it away as yet another in the hundreds of things she wanted to ask me.
Then she forgot all about that when she saw the next exhibit. “Petting zoo!” she squealed. “C’mon, let’s play with some animals!”
“You missed a word,” I informed her, looking like I was suffocating in my attempt not to laugh at her.
So she checked closer; now that she was able to look around the building that had blocked a complete view of the sign, she saw it read “PLANT petting zoo.”
That stopped her, and she turned to me with her face one big “Huh?”
I shrugged. “Go find out, little girl. You go play and I’ll catch up once I THINK I know what it’s about.”
She laughed and skipped away from me and into the exhibit.
Nope, not even close, I saw when I entered.
Since she was stopping to pet every single fruit, vegetable, or anything else that grew out of the ground, it didn’t take me long to catch up. She was debating exactly what something called “ilex” felt like when I joined her.
She smiled at me. “I’d never seen Brussels sprouts except neatly trimmed and sitting in a basket,” she murmured.
“I’ve never seen them, period.”
“Never figured you for a vegetarian.”
“Any lamb’s ear?”
She brightened and looked around, then did mournful; with her, verbal answers were hardly ever necessary.
Finally we left the so-called zoo, which was no doubt just as well. Just outside, a group of old-looking people–based on their faces, the only visible part–were singing golden oldies while dressed as vegetables.
“Go, corn!” I shouted, but was instantly censored.
After making me happy by deciding to skip the daily demonstration of feng shui, Tiphanee suddenly declared, “Hey, ice cream?”
“Right! Chocolate?”
“What else?”
“One black cocaine and one snowball, coming up!”
“Black cocaine?”
“What else would you call chocolate?”
When I came back, I wasn’t surprised to see her fending off yet another come on, though the guy didn’t seem aware his date was fuming right behind them. As always I was amazed that such a blatant babe could pull off demure.
And then she totally screwed that up by asking me perkily, after a few glorious licks of the ice cream, “Would you believe me if I told you I was a virgin?”
I didn‘t bother to wonder why. “I believe everything you say.”
“Smooth,” she sighed, thinking I’d gotten out of it rather well. “But do you think I’m a virgin?”
“No.”
Hmm, this should be fun. “Why not?”
“A beautiful woman with an incredible body is gonna get a lot of offers, and it only takes one.”
“Well put!” she laughed.
Not wanting to go any deeper into this discussion, especially not here and in this weather, I changed the subject in a big damn hurry. “According to this thing they gave me, there are 27,000 entries in all the competitions here. And that’s without counting 6,300 livestock entries.”
“How many competitions are there?” Tiphanee wondered. “I’ll bet even I could find one to enter.”
“This would be the place. Where else can you enter your quilt or jam or jelly?”
“I can do quilts,” she replied wistfully, “but I wouldn’t have it ready for NEXT year!”
“Salsas and tamales are most popular contests.”
“Did a lot of that in Maryland,” she replied, a little nastily. Then she noticed her ice cream had melted on her hand and decided her vocal chords could use the rest.
I absent-mindedly watched her licking her hand like a cat, gaping as the pink tongue curled around, scooping up drops and flicking them back into her mouth. I gawked even more as her mouth and lips worked, imagining her . .
I started walking away before my control broke; I felt as if I could take her on the wooden bench right there in broad daylight, regardless of dangerous weather and envious eyes; I couldn’t wait to get this vixen back to my place. . .
We moved on for a while in silence, me watching her ass as she bent over to play the ring toss, until she saw the shooting range. Time to give him a chance to win something for me. No, better idea! I’ll shoot first, so he can watch ME!
I just hope feeling his eyes on my bod won’t make me shoot too badly.
Badly must have been a relative term, because not one of her shots came close. I did mutter something about her almost hitting the next sitting duck over by accident, but not loud enough to mess up the gal’s concentration and possibly make it worse.
Though it couldn’t get much worse. . .
And then the next shot missed so bad she hit one of the teddy bear prizes, taking its eye out.
The man in charge of the booth prudently moved farther away.
“And that was my last shot, too,” she groused.
“Notice that I did not do the usual guy thing,” I announced as I picked up another rifle, not taking the chance that her shooting was so bad due to mechanical error. “It would have been so easy to move behind you and put my arms around you and pretend to show you what you’re doing wrong–”
“I woulda missed worse!” she laughed.
Figuring she’d gotten the point, I aimed at the first target that caught my eye, going from bigger to smaller, just as a warm-up. I didn’t realize I’d used up all my ten, but the guy manning the place let me go on until I missed, mostly because a crowd had formed behind us, gasping after each shot, and he figured some guys would want to challenge whatever record I set.
As I aimed my next shot, I realized this was exactly what I needed to calm myself down. The intense concentration necessary for this activity not only made me forget my thoughts about her, but also regulated my heartbeat and breath rate. I was back under control, and I would prove it by not missing one target, then claiming the reward and presenting it to her with the biggest shit-eating grin I could manage.
And I knew which reward it had to be. . .
By the time I brought down the smallest target available–looked like a nail, of all things–Tiph was cheering wildly, egging the crowd into the reaction as well. The arcade man opened his arms expansively, signifying I could choose any of the prizes available.
Before Tiphanee could begin to look, I chose the bear she’s maimed during her shooting spree. “You owe it to him.”
She looked at the arcade man. “For what, damaging the prize?”
“No! You owe it to the bear.”
She looked down at the stuffed animal with the punctured eye, then smiled and hugged it to her bosom. The crowd burst into another round of cheers.

She hadn’t complained about the weather in a while, but that was because she hadn’t come across a mist shower till now. Squealing, she tossed her teddies back at me before jumping in. In all fairness, I would have caught both of them–I can juggle, as well as having been a goalie and wide receiver–had I not had the camera in the other hand. All things considered, I was glad I’d been able to catch the one-eyed one, since he’d been through a lot already. The one she’d gotten in the ring toss earlier had looked unhappy all day anyway.
I stuffed them and the camera into my backpack, since I wanted to get a little wet too, as well as make a wet t-shirt contest joke. But of course it was just a mist, not enough to make cotton transparent or even to slick back her hair, which I’d been hoping to see as well. Oh well, dream only postponed, not lost.
“Just be ready,” I told her a few seconds later. “The minute you step out of it, it’s over. I know from experience. It’s like you were never in it at all. In fact, you’ll probably feel worse.”
“Stop being such a spoilsport. Enjoy life while you can.”
“Okay. My eyes thank you.”
She grinned.
Now wandering aimlessly, we came to the huge animal section of the fair. Since she’d been wanting to pet some creatures when she’d come across the plant petting zoo, she felt it was her duty to do so now. She didn’t even care if I was still behind her, though shots of her being cute were exactly what I’d said I wanted.
She came across a young blonde–she approximated about fourteen, according to how big her cousin was–shearing a lamb, or probably a ewe. Whatever; she was no farmer.
Not knowing my camera was ready, she took out her own, for she noticed the inherent humor in a girl shearing sheep while dressed in a Brit Spears cut-off t-shirt. The girl looked up and smiled at Tiph. “Wanna help?”
She stepped up and tried to pat the animal on the head, but it reared back. “Usually I would, but your buddy doesn’t look like she wants me to.”
“She’s not used to all the hubbub. Animals get really stressed out in places like these.”
“So you do this for fun? Or do you actually live on a farm?”
The girl hooted. “I live in Orange County! This is just a project my mom got me into.” She ticked on her fingers. “Mom says I’ll learn social skills, marketing, how to speak in public. . . and it keeps me out of the mall.” She made a face at that one.
“Do your friends make fun of you?”
Shrug. “Most of them think it’s pretty cool. They come over to help. Some tease, but who needs ‘em?”
The self-proclaimed nerd model nodded. “Exactly!”
“Oops, one of them is trying to escape! Here, hold her right here.” She dashed away, leaving Tiph helpless and struggling with the sheep, then really flush when she heard me laugh. She knew the camera was pointed right at her. . .
Luckily the girl wasn’t bothered by the heat, or was more likely used to it, and came back quickly, allowing Tiph to made as graceful an exit as she could while filching a towel from my backpack to get all the tufts of wool off her arms and shirt.

To be continued. . .

;o)

It’s a RUSH Soundtrack Day

Luckily there’s so many Rush songs I like that I can go a long time without repeating, but right now there’s four that I’m listening to as I finally relax a little.
Since I already posted “The Garden” earlier this year, here’s “Bravado,” “Halo Effect,” and “The Pass.”

;o)

Travel Thursday: Redondo Beach is for the Dogs

Though not necessarily travel, it still took me a while to get to a part of Los Angeles I hardly ever go to–I think longer than it takes to get to San Diego!–so I’m counting it for Travel Thursday.
The day started quite typically as I forgot my water bottle and had to get a semi-giant one at Union Station. And of course they’re selling them 2 for $2, but I didn’t need two. Inventory problems, much?
Nothing much happened on public transportation from Pasadena to Redondo Beach, for which we should all be grateful. The driver of the PCH bus, rather than let the computerized voice signal the next stop, is jazzy singing them, loud enough for those in back to hear, and probably in the following cars. Too bad Carnelian doesn’t have a stop, just so I could tell Catherine Asaro, though he did Diamond, which is part of the title in another of her books. And where was he last year, when I missed my stop to the volleyball festival?
Anyhoo, I’m early on purpose this time, and spend a good half hour with the wi-fi at the McD’s across the street from both the police station and the high school, which I later find out is the biggest HS campus in at least the state. Blitz must have had so much fun checking that out, but more on that later. Here at the McD’s there’s an Air Force guy with plenty of chevrons whom I saw later at the cop shop, other cops, and Marines, including one in dress who didn’t look old enough to shave.
So even though my ridealong doesn’t start till two, I’m there close to 1:30, only to have Officer Richie out doing something else, leaving me with almost an hour’s wait; a guy can only look at all the law enforcement patches on the wall so many times. . . plus the reflection from the glass doors screws up the photography of them. But finally he’s here and gathers me up to show me the way to the back, where the cars are, and then another part of the building, where cops are lounging. Finally we’re ready to go, as he introduces me to Blitz, who looks like a mix between a German shepherd and a Belgian (never learned to spell the rest of that) but turns out to be Czech, though he takes his orders in German.
Some getting to know you as we drive along city streets; unfortunately we’ve got the northeast beat today, far away from the beaches and such. Our first stop is a dreary spot where last week a suspect had fired shots into the air and then run to this homeless encampment along the freeway. Somewhere along that chase he’d dropped or hidden the gun, so doggie Blitz is out to look for it in the shrubbery; Officer Richie grins, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if the civilian ridealong found it?”
Yes, it would be; I had that thought myself. So of course we didn’t find it, but I got to go off road in my new boots for the first time, and I didn’t step on anything I shouldn’t have. Blitz did in fact do some business during the search, and Officer Richie picked up after him, but again more on that later.
As it turned out, the day would be mostly riding along to see if anything turns up, or wait for calls. Soon enough we see the big fire truck flashing its lights past us, so we follow it to a trailer park–where it can’t get in, have to wait for smaller one–and we’re doing traffic control on the big street outside it. Luckily that didn’t last, and then we drive through a small alley to a Ferrari repair place, with some of the big toys outside for perusal. According to Officer Richie, hardly anyone knows there’s $20 million worth of cars here, including one vehicle of which there are only three in the whole world. . . and now more people than before know, although I doubt it’s too many. Good thing I’m not a car geek, who knows what I woulda done. . .
After more driving along there’s a call from Kohl’s at the mall, and since we’re close we go for backup, but by the time we get there it’s all over, and since the back seat is taken up by a dog this car doesn’t do prisoner transport. After that there’s a report of a suspicious woman peeking through driveways and glaring at those around her, which hardly seems like a big deal but it’s a slow day, so we go. Nothing comes of it, though we stop at the little park so some kids can pet Blitz and get some stickers. While doing that a not-bad-looking older blonde comes over to me and. . . hands me a flier for a missing cat. Sigh. . .
After a quick talk with a bank guard about a report of something happening–only to discover it was the same thing he’d worked traffic control for a previous day–we pull into a little substation in the back of a strip mall, where we spend some time perusing the giant city map on the wall. . . we all know I love maps, right? When we go out to get back on patrol, Officer Richie finds that he’d left the bag of poop on the front grill and had been driving it around the whole time! Biggest laugh of the day. . .
There’s a report of a loose dog, so being the canine–or K9–experts we get the call, only to find the dog had merely gotten out while the owner was taking out the trash and had already been corralled. As we’re about to leave the owner says “Naughty boy!” to which I reply, “You talkin’ to me?”
With a park nearby and the only kids there leaving–more petting–Officer Richie uses the opportunity for exercise and training. I would have needed my special Long Beach Grand Prix–it’s next weekend!–photo gear to catch how fast Blitz was going after his toy.
The rest of the time was taken up in blocking the right lane on a busy street to protect a lady who’d run out of gas. We had one call during that, but it got cancelled before we get there, so he drives through a desert garden at the adult school to get back to protecting the no-gas lady. But with the guy who’s supposed to help her stuck in traffic–she really shouldn’t say “I’m gonna kill him!” in front of a cop–we take off so Officer Richie can drop me off at the Green Line station after a fond farewell to Blitz.
The Green Line was so packed I couldn’t get off at my regular stop, so I keep going to my backup plan, where I find the bus has just passed and it’s an hour’s wait. Fortunately there’s another McD’s with wifi close by, and while I’m worried about having to sit on a bus for over an hour after drinking a big soda, I figure I can always get off at the In-N-Out should I need a restroom, despite having another hour’s wait for the next one.
On the bus is an old guy making balloon animals, even taking requests. When he sees one guy on his way to a date he fashions a pretty awesome balloon rose, saying, “If this gets you laid. . .”

The main canine

The main canine

Too close to freeway!

Too close to freeway!

Petting time!

Petting time!

Yummy!

Yummy!

Ya gotta listen

Ya gotta listen

You tease!

You tease!

Good boy!

Good boy!

 

;o)