September 23, 2016

A narrative forms at the edge of the Rocky Mountains

STERLING, Colorado - What I had planned for this cross-country trip - and how it has turned out - not surprisingly have been so different, that if I compared the two side-by-side on a sheet of paper, I doubt I would find a resemblance.

Still, just like John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, 'we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."

And so it has been since leaving Valois and then launching from Hewlett, NY where in August 1970 my first sojourn west began in a blue 1964 VW bus.

It's dangerous to attempt analysis based on part on just bits of data. And that's what I have, bits of data: conversations with people at restaurants, highway rest stops, gas pumps, motel lobbies and even a car repair shop. People do like to talk.

Just say hello and ask how their day is going. Then stand back.

When the Little Red Nissan had to get its fan belt tightened a notch or two after driving through broiling temperatures, I chatted for the better part of an hour with a fellow who delivers private cars back and forth across the country. I say chatted. Actually, I was his audience. I don't know what he takes to keep him awake for driving 16 hours per day. But it was coursing through his veins when he offered up a monologue that even had the Nissan dealership clerks and car sales people stopping to listen.

As my days on the road were rolling around in my sleeping brain last night, the thread of a narrative about this trip emerged in the middle of the night. My hotel neighbors to the south decided to have a family brawl (likely over which Fox News channel to watch). I saw them in the lobby earlier but couldn't place their Southern U.S accents. But it was twangy strong at 2 a.m.

Then the family with young children staying in the room above decided to practice the Bristol Stomp - or something similar about the same time.

Awake and wondering if the plaster on the ceiling might start snowing on my head, I began to see the outline of a story.

If only I had written it down concisely when it was so clear.

Perhaps it will come back to me as I roll into the Rockies in a few hours, heading for Vail and Edwards, Colorado to visit son Jason. The air and altitude might jar my memory while I try to forget the voices of Lurleen and Lester arguing in the room next door last night.

I do remember some of the actual dialogue - but I'll save those colorful colloquial phrases for another time.

By the way, do you think "Id-jit" might mean idiot? Hmm...

September 21, 2016

From NYC to Nebraska to Infinity and Beyond!

ASHLAND, Nebraska - OK, the Infiinity and Beyond might be a bit of a stretch. But being well west of the Mississippi in the Heartland it feels different - and the same, too.

I am holed up for one more day at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park in a lodge overlooking the Platte River. Quite a view, quite a park, too. And the little town of Ashland, three miles away, is so Mayberry, that the people even talk like the characters from that TV show. The cops, however, stop people for running stop signs. No Barney Fifes running the gendarme shop in this town of 2,700.

After leaving NYC and my stop in Bloomsburg, Penn. I barreled the rest of the way dodging rainstorms with stops in Fremont, Ohio and Rochelle Illinois before getting here.

Thursday and Friday I expect to be in Western Nebraska at a place called Lake Ogallala, a place we stopped at in 1970. It's the place where I swore I would never use a gasoline lantern again. That story is for another day.

And then to the mountains, Vail and Edwards, Colorado to be exact, to visit with son Jason

Below are four photos: The view from the lodge deck where I am writing this, the temperature yesterday in downtown Ashland, a photo special for Scott Adams and Brett Beardslee, and one last shot from a Mexican restaurant in Rochelle, Illinois as evidence life on the road can be filling. 

Very filling.

And there I had probably the best margarita I have imbibed in a loooooooong time.

September 16, 2016

First a trip to Roscoe, then New York City

WOODMERE, New York - The trip leaving Hector for Long Island to visit my sister Anne and her husband Joe (with a stop in Roscoe, NY to talk with author Karen Schneller-MacDonald about a new column project) started late. No surprise there. The cottage had to be cleaned and closed up, the truck packed, and, and, and.

And then, unwisely I followed the directions of my GPS to drive through Ithaca. 

Anyone who lives in Hector knows that driving through Ithaca (on Rt. 79) early in the morning is flirting with madness.

It was.

Plus a dump truck belching blue and black smoke managed to block my path for most of the hills.

Santa Crappo.

But except for another GPS induced diversion, I landed safely in Roscoe, only an hour late.

The details of our lunch meeting are for another time. But I was not paying attention to detail when I left the Roscoe Bistro (not the iconic Roscoe Diner, just up the street). That lack of attention became sickningly apparent when I went to a service station to gas up and discovered I had left my backpack at the Bistro.

The backpack - the one with the iPad on which I am drafting this, my checkbook, calendars and assorted electronic devices and cables.

Santa Crappo, redux.

That part of this saga had a happy ending. I raced back (it was only five minutes away) and my backpack was sitting on the floor, right where I left it, patiently waiting.

Now at my sister's on Long Island, I'm waiting for the NYC traffic to clear so I can head west across the city, through New Jersey and probably land somewhere in Pennsylvania for the night. 

And for today's trip, the backpack will ride on the seat right next me.

September 8, 2016

To go West, sometimes you must go East first

35, 000 FEET, OVER NEVADA - By some miracle, the normal sardine-can crush on the American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia was less so today with probably 1/3 of the seats vacant - including the center seat next to me.

And that means my seat mate (a quiet sort with a decidedly Spanish accent) and I are sharing the table and seat space, spreading out our papers, books, glasses, sweaters, hats and all the other crap that you normally keep sitting in your lap (or on the floor) on a full flight.

The crap pile will be joined by several bottles of breakfast wine in moments.

The SF Airport was its usual chaotic, frenzied place. And for the first time, there were a number of service dogs going through, too. (It's odd to hear a dog howl, bark or growl on a plane, but the low pooch-generated moan from six rows behind me seems almost soothing compared to the incessant metal creaking of this over-the-hill aircraft.)

Very early in the morning, with my pre-printed TSA pre-check boarding pass in my hand, I expected to bypass the lunacy and breeze to my gate.

Expectations are a REALLY a bad thing to cling to when going through airport security. 

With the TSA pre-check, as you transit the x-Ray/metal detector, you keep your shoes on, and simply have to take all metal things out of your pockets and put them on the conveyor with your bags ... ALL metal. And so I did - wallet (with chain) glasses, sunglasses, change, car keys... But I set off the alarm as if I was carrying something from Clive Bundy's collection of automatic weapons

So I searched and searched, eventually finding more change, a tiny flashlight - and I took off my belt. 

Problem solved! 


By now, the young TSA guy working the metal detector started getting a little nervous - like maybe I was related to Clive Bundy. And I got more and more agitated. Kee-rist, I had sipped only a single cup of tea and my caffeine level was dropping like Crestwood's stock. I needed to get to the gleaming Starbuck's I could see just on the other side of security.

Then I found the fancy case I keep my glasses in. My NEW glasses - the glasses that came in a new - apparently metal - case.

As my amiga Laura McCartney says in such situations, "Santo Crappo."

No worries now - I just got handed a cup of lukewarm tea by a hacking, wheezing flight attendant who says he's allergic to dogs.

But the wine cart will be by shortly, he promised.

June 12, 2016

An musical afternoon with the band Laila Belle in Hector

TWO GOATS BREWERY, Hector, NY - With the wind howling a steady 25 knots and a slight bite of cold air with it, taking refuge at Two Goats seemed like a great idea Sunday afternoon.

Plus, the up-and-coming Trumansburg, NY band Laila Belle was on stage at Two Goats for a three-hour gig.

Laila Belle band
I've followed this group since they cut their premier CD and today got to meet lead singer Amy Puryear. And even though they have been very active in the area I haven't made it to a single performance.

Until today.

The music was toe-tapping great. And Amy's voice rang true even over the sound of the chatter in the crowded saloon, filled with people enjoying the soft sounds of Laila Belle's country music.

I may have to start following Amy and her band around, the same way I like to keep tabs on Scott Adams and Brett Beardslee as they make their musical rounds. Always a good time wherever those guys are playing.

And now it seems like Laila Belle, too.

Here's a short video same of what the appreciative crowd at Two Goats heard today.

March 25, 2016

Popping up on the energy industry's political radar

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Since publishing The Fracking War in 2014, followed by Fracking Justice last year, I wondered how long it would take the energy industry to discover that there were a couple of novels out there that take a very dim view of their activities.

Then this morning's email (and Twitter feed) came with a notice that an outfit called Energy In Depth is now following me on Twitter.

They found me!!!

If Energy In Depth sounds familiar, it should. This national natural gas industry-funded website has been putting out propaganda for years, most of it not only purposefully misleading, but downright nasty in a personal way. It's associated with Marcellus Drilling News, another industry-based web publication. MDN goes off the deep end - rhetorically speaking - on a daily basis. (Here's a sentence from today's MND: "The EPA is a lawless organization, out of control and drunk on its own power."

At first, I was puzzled by by EID's sudden interest in following me on Twitter. Then I remembered I had a lengthy email back-and-forth with the editor of the Marcellus Drilling News (Jim Willis) over a piece he published.

In that piece he said this:

"Everything in fracking fluid is stuff you find under your kitchen sink 
or in your bathroom medicine cabinet."


I emailed him back, pointing out that I didn't have benzene or toulene under my sink (or in any medicine chests) and that led to an exchange that ended with these two emails:

Marcellus Drilling News:
"Look, I know you're a radical anti-driller. 
Why do you subscribe when you disagree with what I write? 
Feel free to unsubscribe at any time. 
 I'm not interested in promoting your fictional book. - JIM"

Michael Fitzgerald:
"I disagree with the label radical anti-driller, Jim. I just want drilling done safely. 
And statements like you made about frack fluid ingredients all being found 
underneath a kitchen sink - or in a medicine chest? 
Come on. If that was really true, there would not be so much secrecy. 
 And the Halliburton loophole, would not be necessary. 
Keep pumping those stories out there pardner."

Why did I encourage him to keep pumping out his sometimes off-the-wall stories? Well, it's great fodder for future novels... Great stuff!

And for the record, I don't subscribe. I get a free daily feed of his "stories."

March 9, 2016

'Ninteen Minutes', a novel by Jodi Picoult that's full of surprises

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Somehow Jodi Picoult's 2007 novel, Nineteen Minutes slipped past my reading radar.

I honestly don't know how that happened. Ms. Picoult's books are usually in my hands shortly after they are released.

But this book fairly jumped off the shelf into my hands at the Point Richmond Public Library a few rainy days ago.

Yes, it's been raining here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Really!

In Nineteen Minutes, there's not much weather to speak of. But there is a hail of bullets at a high school (nearly 200 rounds), dead and injured students, enough bullying to give almost anyone nightmares, and a thriller/mystery plot told in flashbacks and flash forwards.

When you read Nineteen Minutes, "flashbacks and flash forwards" will make a lot more sense.

Jodi Picoult
Like all of Jodi Picoult's novels the research that went into it shows on nearly every page. She captures the essence of teenage life in American high schools, the angst of teens and parents alike, the flaws in the judicial system and the way-too cavalier manner in which we deal with bullies.

If you were seriously bullied as a child, this book may be disturbing. On the other hand, it will also be compelling.

Nineteen Minutes is absolutely recommended reading. And if your library doesn't have it, you can get it through Amazon quite quickly.

January 21, 2016

'M Train' by Patti Smith takes you on a ride

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - National Book Award winner Patti Smith takes readers on a journey around the globe in her 2015 book, M Train.

Written in a series of vignettes and remembrances, M Train walks the reader through Smith's life in New York, trips to Spain, Japan and elsewhere.

And through it all, Smith is either gulping coffee - or looking for a cup, somewhere. Anywhere.

Patti Smith's talents as a writer, performer and visual artist span decades. And in M Train, she moves around in time, using her life to paint a portrait of the world through her very unusual lens. She carries an old Polaroid camera through much of the book, shooting photos, then meticulously peeling off the back to reveal the created image. If that image seems odd, you never owed a Polaroid.

Patti Smith
Besides the coffee habit, Smith manages to lose things here and there - a notebook on a plane, a favorite coat, even once her camera. She is quite sanguine about these losses often faintly linking them to the death of her husband Fred. Fred is a specter in the book, but friendly one.

Perhaps the most rewarding parts of M Train come in the form of snippets of languid language  peppered with occasional aphorisms, all waiting to be discovered.

My favorite? "Not all dreams need to be realized..."

M Train is a dreamy book that triggers emotions and memories. Highly recommended, especially for writers.

December 21, 2015

A hero makes mistakes in 'The Crossing' by Michael Connelly

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Michael Connelly's popular detective series featuring Detective Harry Bosch keeps up the tradition of suspense and fast action in Connelly's latest novel, The Crossing.

In this best-seller,  (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) Detective Bosch is retired and in a dilemma over whether to work as investigator to help clear a man wrongly accused of murder. He's in a dilemma because he has spent his entire career fighting against slimey defense attorneys.

In this case, however, he's related to the attorney (who doesn't seem slimey at all).

The story is fast-paced with plenty of the action you want to see in a detective novel.

In this book however, the mistakes made by the detective seem more glaring than in most such novels. And these mistakes actually make the Bosch character much more believable.

Harry Bosch is kind of a prickly character, too, but still lovable. An Amazon TV show is worth watching if you need to put a video image to the book.

The TV Harry Bosch
The Crossing is recommended reading.

If you are out west, the book is available at the Point Richmond Public Library. But I suspect my home library in Watkins Glen, NY has a copy (or two!) also.

December 13, 2015

Latest 'Jack Reacher' novel is another big winner

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - My friend John Miles in New York is a huge Jack Reacher novel fan.

I believe he has read all the novels in the Reacher series.

If you are not a follower of author Lee Child's work, the character Jack Reacher has been dishing out justice for 20 books. Twenty! And my amigo John has read every one of them.

And so when I got done reading Reacher Novel No. 20 - titled Make Me - I emailed him right away to tell him how impressed I was with the book. He congratulated me on finally getting around to reading a Reacher novel, then told me to go back to the very first Jack Reacher tome, Killing Floor.

If the Jack Reacher name seems familiar, it could be because of the 2012 movie by the same name or the movie about to come out this month, titled Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Both star veteran actor Tom Cruise, who actually bears a slight resemblance to novel author Lee Childs.

Author Lee Childs
The Reacher character is complex with a military police background. He's a drifter. He's dangerous. And he has a strong sense of right and wrong.

At one point in Make Me, after a blazing gunfight, a gangster-murderer who has tried to kill Reacher is gurgling in his own blood, dying on the floor. If he lives, he will put Reacher, a former female FBI agent and a family in danger. When Reacher goes to finish off the bad guy on the floor, the FBI agent stops him.

"You can't do that," the former FBI agent says.
"What," Reacher says. "It was ok to murder him the first time, but not the second time?"
"It's wrong," the former FBI agent said again.
"It was right the first time, when he was a piece of shit who was about to rape you at gunpoint. Did he change? Did he suddenly become some kind of saintly martyr we should rush straight to the hospital. When did that part happen?"

You might think you can imagine what happened. You would be wrong.

This most recent Jack Reacher novel comes highly recommended. In the coming weeks, I'll be reading more of them (provided the Point Richmond library cooperates).

I will let you know if they measure up - or are even better than Make Me.
Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the 2012 film, 'Jack Reacher' Yes, a fight is breaking out...