Getting (t)Here

I’m getting there. With this book, with this life, with my attitude shift which is often two steps forward and any number greater than that steps back. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It threatens to undo my seams and send my stuffing about the room. But as I always say to my massage clients, “Change hurts whether it’s physical or emotional. Positive change requires a stretch from a smaller place to a bigger place, and even change in the right direction can be uncomfortable.”

Taking my own advice remains on my list of important things to do.

I have a million things I want to say about my arrival in Florida, but first I have to talk about getting here.

My departure from New Mexico was bittersweet. I finished a solid draft of my book, which was what I went there to do, so even though it isn’t ready to print, I have to admit: mission accomplished.

To say that I was blissful upon completion is an understatement for the elation I felt. The event coincided with meeting up with Todd, an old Missoula friend, who I’d only seen once in three months. Despite us both regretting the absence of each other during my time in Taos, I consider it to be a blessing because the man is intoxicating. With the addition of him to my daily life I might not have accomplished the mission and might not have felt the joy of completion and a whole bunch of other things that wouldn’t have made the reunion what it was. Timing is everything and serendipity is beautiful.

Truth be told, I was ready to leave New Mexico several weeks before I did. The spring winds kicked up and I felt like they wanted to blow me out of the state, but I hung in there, hard as it was. Wind is an agitator not only of the earth, but also of the people on it. Wind tends to affect mood negatively, but that depends on the season, the person, and where you’re starting from. Remember what I said about change? Yeah, winds of change. But with over 96,000 words in a single document with chapter numbers and titles and all that, I started to look at the place differently.

My cabin walls no longer seemed to be caving in on me. Dust blew in and out of the cabin and covered me, my stuff and the dog, but I knew I’d only have to clean it once more: on the way out. Nights on the town seemed like a good idea and not something that would derail progress. I started to say “yes” a lot more and I liked the feel of it on my lips. I laughed, I flirted, I soaked off three months of sitting at my writing table into the hot springs.

My conversations transformed. I started to have a different story to tell my friends, neighbors, and Winda, the postmaster, who was sometimes the only person I’d speak to on the longer, lonelier writing stints. Instead of “Still working…” I was able to say with confidence, “I finished!” I realized what I’d known all along: these people were rooting for me. These people who I knew mostly peripherally were on my team, wanted me to succeed, and gave me hugs, smiles, and high-fives.

Many times I felt like a burden to these people because I felt like a burden to myself. Pent up from tapping keys I’d erupt into lengthy conversations about anything just to get some sort of exchange going to help temper the one sided conversation going on between me and the endless pages in front of me. But as my departure loomed I discovered something: I hadn’t been as much of a pain in the ass as I thought I’d been. They told me they’d miss me, that I’d helped them, that I’d been there for them when they needed someone to talk to.

Angie, the caretaker at the farm who soothed my heavy landing, gave me a handmade card (a classy one, not a crayon drawing) and a gorgeous (also handmade by her) mug that fits perfectly in my paw. It’s interesting: I received a mug on arrival from my childhood friend Rich, and a mug upon departure from Angie, a true angel. Is it too cheesy and/or contrived to say that my cup runneth over? Perhaps. Do I care? No way!

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Eric and Elizabeth, the owners of the farm, gave me a lovely send off though I’d only known them for a couple of weeks as they’d been in Ecuador all winter. It doesn’t do them justice to say they’re groovy people, and Eric told me he liked “meeting my energy” and hopes I’ll return to San Cristobal. I stopped on my way out for one more hug from postmaster Winda, who wished me safe travels. “Stay in touch,” she said, “You know where to find me.” I asked her for her P.O. Box number, and she laughed, “Um. That’s not necessary. I can find me.”

I left the day before a snowstorm hit the area and even before I got to Oklahoma I could feel it. I felt it between my teeth and in my eyes in the form of dust blowing around in sixty mph winds. The sky was blue but you could hardly tell.

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The day was righted by a stop at this ridiculously adorable cafe swathed in one of my favorite colors:

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Because I had the encounter with the elk on my way to New Mexico, it felt appropriate to set my sights on Elk City, Oklahoma for my first night on the road on my way out of New Mexico. It was a bad idea, but I didn’t know it until I arrived in town to find that La Quinta, my goto dog friendly hotel, was booked. Apparently Elk City is having an oil boom and I didn’t get the memo.

I ended up at the Motel 6, where they gave me a discount for not being an oil worker. The entire motel smelled and sounded like men away from home, and my room had linoleum floors. A quick finger swipe on the tub determined I would not be taking a bath, and would be wearing flip flops in the shower. Elk City doesn’t believe in good coffee, so I wouldn’t get one of those the next morning until I got to Oklahoma City.

My destination that day was Hot Springs, Arkansas, childhood home of Bill Clinton. I’d always wanted to go to Hot Springs. I attempted it once when my (now ex) husband and I drove cross country in 1999, but a snow storm made us change course. As we sometimes know things that don’t make sense, I knew i’d be back. As soon as I dipped off I-40 and into Arkansas I was in love with the state. No joke.

After three months in dry, arid New Mexico it was love at first sight. My hair, skin, and cuticles seemed to come back to life and I rolled the windows down and inhaled what can only be described as freshness. I’d been disappointed in Oklahoma that I ate a Starbucks egg-white wrap a few miles before seeing the all you can eat fried catfish sign, but all was righted when I found a place that served me pulled pork, beans, coleslaw and catfish. I washed it down with my favorite road trip guilty pleasure: Diet Dr. Pepper on lots of rocks.

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I drove through the Ouachita National Forest (put it our your list) as the sun was going down, and took lots of pictures, but my favorite is of the best travel companion ever doing what he does best: loving life and striking a pose.

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It wasn’t the way I planned it, but we pulled into the town of Hot Springs at dark. I drove the strip before finding the historic hotel I’d already picked out because it’s downtown and dog friendly plus has the added bonus of a restaurant with a dog friendly patio. I wasn’t hungry (obviously) and the place didn’t strike me when I pulled up, so I drove up the road to make a u-turn but instead stumbled on the Happy Hollow Motel, which looked like my kind of place. Serendipity: I love it.

This was it the next morning:

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I rang the doorbell for the owner and he checked me in—fifty bucks!—and gave me a basket of goodies including a few kitkats and leftover-from-Easter malted eggs. While I inhaled those, Lucky played mayor in the parking lot of the motel we’d be staying in for exactly twelve hours.

He found David Sydnor sitting on his porch. It took David and I about three exchanges before we discovered that we’d both spent the last three months writing books, me in my cabin, he at the Happy Hollow. I promptly took a seat and we talked for a good long time. I wanted to walk Lucky around town, but David and I had a few things to talk about first.

He runs a carriage company in Memphis and claims to have “the only barn where you can find diamonds and manure.” His claim to fame is his intricately decorated Mardi Gras carriage, which is one of the main characters in his book, his favorite grey horse another one.

He told me a true story about how one of the crystals fell off the carriage and landed in the lap of a nine-year-old girl who was going in for a serious surgery the next day. He told her the crystal bead was an angel tear, and when she went in for surgery she refused to let it out of her hand. The doctor obliged and broke protocol, wrapping surgical tape around the girl’s hand, securing the crystal to her palm.

After the surgery her first question was, “Where’s my angel tear?” They unwrapped her hand and the crystal was gone. The story goes that the angel tear went to heaven and the little girl got to stay. With my jaw dropped and eyes wide, David excused himself and came back with a red crystal in his hand for me. “It’s my last one,” he said, “and I want you to have it to keep you safe while you travel.” I strung it on dental floss and hung it off my rearview mirror next to my Northern Lights crystals from my deceased friend Corey’s mom, the crystals that I’m certain kept me safer than not when I t-boned the elk in the middle-of-nowhere Colorado.

Here’s David with the binder that contains his book, pictures of his horse (I can’t remember her name!) and the famous carriage.

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Pumped up from my time with David, I explored downtown Hot Springs and it didn’t disappoint. Lucky and I walked for almost two hours, while I chatted with Charlotte and got caught up after my winter of being mostly sans telephone. The town is beautifully illuminated at night, and it felt good to move through the humidity in shorts and a t-shirt. I didn’t get to go inside anywhere, but walked by the Gangster Museum of America, several old bathhouses and dozens of shops and eateries from another era. I spied my favorites—hear no evil, see no evil, smell no evil—in a store window and went back the next day to buy them for the Florida house without knowing how perfectly they’d match my mother’s color scheme.

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Bad weather was coming, so I didn’t have time for a soak before heading off to Memphis, but I filled up my water bottles at the spring. And again, I’ll be back. I just know it.

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It’s a good thing I stocked up on water, because let’s just say my time in Memphis wasn’t focused on hydration. We whooped it up. Bridges, my long lost soul sister, drove over from Alabama and we stayed at her parents’ house which recently sold. Things are getting packed up, and I’m quite likely their last house guest. Honored doesn’t do it justice, nor does it do justice to the hospitality I was shown by Bridges and two of her longtime friends, Marla and Monte Claire.

Bridges greeted me the way any good Southerner will—with a cold beer and a spell on the porch—then we had to move my car around back. No room for Bridges in the front seat? No problem! Lucky made room….I love the joy in this photo.

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We got ready for dinner, and I joked about being “under coifed” for the south. No problem! Bridges just happened to have a “bump it” (among many other necessary things) in her purse and hooked me up. Anyone can take a trip to Memphis, but not every Yankee can get shown around by three natives. We didn’t cruise Beale Street—apparently that’s for tourists and kids—but hung out in midtown and had what Bridges had promised me a month earlier: a “bigtime.”

Monte Claire’s sincere interest in my book broke me open, and Marla told me I was “a blast,” which given a couple of drinks on both ends and her accent I mistook for a moment as “blessed,” which threw us into hysterics. Goodness gracious, Memphis lived up to it’s reputation as one helluva fun town. {thank you, ladies…}

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And a solo shot of the demure and mysterious Marla:

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We capped off the night in a taxi that Bridges had make a stop at Crystal, her favorite late night greasy spoon. Crystal is one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time, but the next morning not so much. Just to confirm there’s not a lot of shame in my game, here’s me getting down with a burger in the back of the cab.

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Our driver had the patience and goodwill to take me on a middle-of-the-night tour of downtown, which Bridges and I repeated in the morning, which included drive-bys of the Orpheum, Sun Studios, and a pit stop at Gus’s Fried Chicken, my last request before driving into what would turn out to be a day of solid rain and near misses with tornados.

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I was sad to say goodbye to Memphis when we were just getting started, but I know I’ll be back. It’s a gorgeous town with an incredible pulse. It looks like this:

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I can’t promise you a “bigtime,” but really, you should do yourself a favor and visit that historic, gracious, beautiful city.

There’s not much to say about the rest of the day except that I was glad to be driving a Subaru with new tires as I hydroplaned my way through the South and into the panhandle of Florida. I used my earbuds and talked on the phone much of the way to good friends who entertained me with stories so I could focus on something other than my fear of being swept up in a tornado.

I hit Florida soil that night where I ate my first Waffle House meal, and the next day arrived in Naples where I’ll be hanging my hat through most of June. There’s only one fair way to describe my first few weeks in Florida, and that is to say that it’s been one awesome reunion and surprise after another.

But that’s another blog post….thanks, as always, for showing up and being a part of my journey. Big love to those of you I know, and those of you I don’t know yet.

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