Oceanside pier
Photo: Elise Thompson

Shutting up about flip flops

I think I'm done obsessing on flip flops. Even though I'm weirdly vain about my feet, I've never been a proponent of flip flops. I've worn them rarely because they make me feel like a bro-dawg, or a fraternity brother who plays corn hole in the front yard while blasting Sublime.

I am aware that this makes me a slave to my stereotypes.

So it was funny to me, when Elise, Matthew and I emerged from the blizzard we narrowly escaped on I-44, shivered through the altitudes of the high plains, and arrived in Oceanside to march down to the surf shop together and buy three pairs of flip flops. I then did to Elise what Sunny did to me a few years back and made her get her first pedicure.

"Not to get girly on you or anything, but get your ass in that pedicure chair."


I told Elise the embarrassing story of how I'd never let anyone touch my feet much less pamper them relentlessly for an hour and how I adapted to the attention. I so immediately got used to such star treatment that when it was time to go and the lady got my coat off its hook and pushed it in my direction, I held out my arm. Not to take it from her but to stick my hand through the arm hole because I thought SHE WAS GOING TO DRESS ME, TOO. Like I was helpless, or an infant. Or just a completely entitled bitch.

Elise and I went to a pleasant hole in the wall called Happiness Nails & Spa, screamed and laughed through the ticklish parts and then immersed ourselves in People magazine. In fact, we dried our toes about ten times longer than necessary because we were having so much fun comparing stories. Elise noted that it's a good thing she doesn't usually read gossip magazines. "This is changing me," she said.

Finally we hit the sidewalks, our feet still white and wintry but more festive in the nail region, and here's where I keep find myself talking about flip flops. They have become a symbol. I'm like a butterfly emerging from my cocoon, spreading my wings and my new flip flops. I keep bringing them up in conversation.

On the phone with the utilities company in Kentucky, I gave my change of address and the representative said, "California! You must be enjoying that weather!"

"Yes ma'am," I said. "I'm wearing flip flops as we speak."

In our new favorite restaurant, Swami's, the woman behind the counter introduced herself because we'd been there so repeatedly and I told her we hadn't set up our kitchen yet so were using hers. She asked where we moved from and I told her. "Kentucky!" She said. "I bet this feels warm to you!"

In answer, I kicked my foot up to counter height and said, "Yeah, I had to buy flip flops!"

I received a work email from someone in New York who didn't know I moved and he closed the email "stay warm". I wrote back, answered his questions, and added "As for staying warm, I moved to California. I just bought flip flops and I don't even like flip flops! But suddenly they make sense."

And that's what pushed me over the edge. I really annoyed myself with that one. Who cares? I'm sure he didn't. Suddenly, I don't either.


laughing quietly to myself

About how I'm living on a street named after a fruit, in between two streets with "wind" and "surf" in their names. For real?

Tucumcari tree

Tucumcari, NM

First impressions

I've only been in Oceanside for a week and know that it's probably too soon to make declarations about its character. Anything I write will likely be amended since it's based on only a week's observations but I do have first impressions. Please salt liberally before ingesting.

1. Unpretentious

More than earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires, I fear pretentiousness. I was the first to admit those few months that I lived in LA that there are stellar pockets of the city and many magnificent people, some of whom are my friends. The part of the city's culture, however, that emphasizes celebrity, "beauty", and flashy wealth makes me uncomfortable. When people tell me that their BMW is too ordinary and they need to buy a Porsche - because that kind of mid-life crisis isn't a cliche? How ordinary - I start laughing but I feel like punching them in the head and I feel sad.

I spent a total of three days in Oceanside before I signed a lease. I didn't even really get a strong sense of the place in those days because when I wasn't looking for rent signs or stalking Craigslist, I was visiting apartments or I was on my computer and phone for work. I didn't walk around aimlessly and I didn't thoroughly check out the business district or anywhere besides the neighborhood I wanted to live in. I chose Oceanside because it's not too far from LA and I have a friend here, Marisa.

As one drives down the Coast Highway from Oceanside into Carlsbad and from there to Encinitas, there is a definite swing towards the upscale. When I want a wine bar, I'll go to Carlsbad. In Oceanside, there's karaoke at Larry's Beach Club and good cheap tacos. Even the fanciest restaurant we've been to so far, Harney's Sushi, made me feel like I could wear my ripped jeans if I felt like it.

2. Diverse

The first thing Jocardo said to me when I called him in December and said, "Holy shit, I'm moving to a beach community," was "Oh lord, are there any people of color?" Jocardo visited me when I lived in Olympia and Seattle and was not impressed with their white enclave-ness. In Oceanside, I'm finding that there are all kinds of people.

My favorite moment so far has been eating breakfast, watching a Hare Krishna on the corner deep in conversation with a Marine. Camp Pendleton Marine base is here so there is a heavy presence of military supply stores, guys in fatigues on motorcycles, and kids on the phone saying, "I'll call you at twenty-two hundred." In equal balance are the surfers hanging their wet suits out to dry on the front porches and dotting the water, waiting for the next wave to break. There are also skaters and thugs and tourists and hippies, Latinos, Samoans, you name it. Our next door neighbor has a license plate from Jalisco, Mexico.

I've been theorizing that the Marine base has kept a working class element to Oceanside that exists less in neighboring communities.

3. Accessible

My favorite thing about living in New York was walking everywhere. I'd walk the thirty blocks home from work if it was a nice day out and I loved the conversations I had with myself, the conversations I had with strangers on the street, and the music I played to the beat of my feet hitting the sidewalk. The hardest thing for me living in Kentucky was how often I used the car to get anything done and the fact that I even needed a car at all. I didn't live in the suburbs or the country and I could see the downtown Cincinnati skyline from my kitchen window but nothing felt like an inviting walk away. Part of this was definitely my fault, I could have jumped on my bicycle but I just didn't.

Oceanside is larger than it feels; it sprawls inland towards the mountains but in my seaside neighborhood near the old downtown streets, most everything is walkable. In the last week I've walked to the movie theater, the coffeeshop, the farmer's market, the library, the beach, the harbor, the liquor store, the bank, and out to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because we haven't gone grocery shopping yet. A large grocery seems to be only thing that isn't close to walk to.

People on bicycles are in abundance and I've seen signs for a bike path that rides north and east. And as soon as we get our motorcycle licenses and plates for the mopeds, I'm firing up the Cobra and re-watching Top Gun so I can re-enact some of Tom Cruise's motorcycle scenes that were filmed here. I'll just be going a lot slower, like 25 mph.

4. Friendly

It startled me at first, how friendly everyone is. I think I'd gotten used to being in my own head, minding my own business, and in Oceanside just about everyone I've encountered has been open and chatty. The weather must contribute to this attitude. Something about being out at night with just a hoodie and beanie to keep you warm and not scurrying like a hamster to get from point a to b, slipping on ice, and freezing your fucking ass off makes people nicer.

6. Palm trees

Shortly before I left Cincinnati, I went to Mandy's house. After we put her kids to bed, we filled our glasses with rum and coke and retired to the basement with a bag of tortilla chips to talk. I confessed two things to Mandy that were worrying me about moving close to the beach. I don't like shells and I don't like palm trees. I like rocky beaches and I even collect rocks and have been toting them around the country for a decade now but shells give me the creeps. And I distinctly remember a good number of palm trees up and down the Oceanside stretch of the Coast Highway. What to do?

Once we got here, my anti-palm feelings intensified. Last Saturday, I spent hours walking around with Elise and I couldn't help myself, I critiqued each street out loud, "Now this is okay, these trees are amazing, look at those..." I don't know the names but I'm calling them banyan, eucalyptus, and pine. Then we'd get to a stretch of palms, especially the ones that are super tall and skinny that go up for miles with just a tuft of fronds at the top and I was disgusted, "Ugh, they're so ugly. I don't think they're real trees. They're so trashy."

Blah blah blah. Basically I'm a tree racist. I'm working on it.


Have a nice day

We were saying goodbye to Alan and Peggy on New Year's Eve when Peggy mentioned driving across the California border. "Make sure you don't have any fruits, vegetables, or plants with you," she said. "They're really strict about that." I whipped my head around to scream at Matthew with my eyes, "The bonsais!" and right then had a faint memory from 1997.

I drove with Halle from Olympia to San Francisco that summer and I vaguely remembered large signs posted barring produce from entering the state. That wasn't a big deal then but now, in 2011, the bonsais are most definitely a big deal. Matthew has been raising his trees since he was in seventh grade and I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say he'd go all Sally Field in Not Without My Daughter if they tried to confiscate the trees at the border.

We read on a website about California rules and regulations that trees need paperwork to prove they are healthy in order to enter the state. It seemed like a long shot that we'd be able to get someone to inspect the trees on such short notice but it had to be easier than fleeing to Turkey and befriending smugglers so we gave it a shot. And surprise of all surprises, it was easy.

An entomologist from the University of Kentucky drove 100 miles up from Lexington to stand in our living room, glance at the bark and lift up the leaves to look for pests. Seemingly happy and free of charge! He was terribly good-natured about it. He seemed thrilled, in fact. He showed up early and pretty much talked my ear off. He either loves his job or was just psyched to have a field trip; either way I was grateful for the papers he filled out in triplicate and signed off on.

The other news we learned from the website about California was that animals are suspect. If we didn't want to risk Patsy being confiscated at the border, we needed a health certificate from our vet saying that she doesn't have rabies. Alright, I get it. These are agricultural and public health concerns but what about humans? What if I'm a sociopath and serial killer? California doesn't want a note from my therapist? A vial of saliva to run my DNA, check my police record? Sure?

A few miles out from the inspection station between Arizona and California, I rifled through my bag for the folder with the dog papers and plant papers and pulled them out. I actually felt nervous enough that when we stopped and the woman in a uniform asked us where we were from, I kind of forgot and my mind went blank. Matthew and Elise answered.


"Northern Kentucky."

"Have a nice day," she said and turned away.

So pleasant, that nice response. I was sorely disappointed.


Blue Highways

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon was recommended to me almost two years ago and it's been sitting in my room unread since then. I read the back cover over and over and it sounded good but for whatever reason I didn't want to read more.

Packing up the bedroom for the move, I pulled it out again and put it aside thinking I might want to read in the car. As a kid on road trips, I always brought multiple books, Mad Libs, travel bingo and was still bored after ten minutes. These days I can stare at the passing landscape for hours on end, content to let my mind wander, so I didn't open Blue Highways until I was in bed two nights ago. And the twenty or so pages I managed to read before passing out were good. So good. I soaked in the words, willing myself to slow down and absorb them as much as possible.

...a man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make and remake him.

Etymology: curious, related to cure, once meant "carefully observant." Maybe a tonic of curiosity would counter my numbing sense that life inevitably creeps toward the absurd...Maybe the road could provide a therapy through observation of the ordinary and obvious, a means whereby the outer eye opens and inner eye. STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, the old railroad crossing signs warned. Whitman calls it "the profound lesson of reception."

Do new things make for new ways of seeing?


Holbrook, AZ

We hit a low point in the roadtrip on Wednesday night. I’d actually had a couple of low points already, when it was -6 degrees in Missouri and I slammed my finger in the door and when I got a ticket from a New Mexico state trooper for rolling through a stop sign in the middle of nowhere.

I’d gotten off the highway to switch drivers since I have poor depth perception in the dark. I turned into a dimly lit parking lot next to the highway and was surprised by red lights suddenly flashing through the rear window. The only light for miles were a few neon signs glowing from a bar’s windows, otherwise it was pitch dark. So no, I didn’t see a stop sign but hey I can fly back to Gallup to contest the ticket!

After I signed my ticket and got in the passenger seat, I started researching places for us to stay in Winslow, AZ. There were several options that looked okay but the more reviews I read that mentioned prostitution rings in the parking lots and blood stains on the walls made us reconsider and we decided to go to Holbrook, AZ instead.

Distance-wise it made sense to drive to Flagstaff but we were going to the Two Guns ghost town in the morning and wanted a place east of there to stop. Holbrook it would be. We checked into the Holbrook Motel 6 and read online reviews about local restaurants but just confused ourselves so thought we’d drive around and stop for whatever looked good.

The restaurant was called Mr. Maesta's. It had an old-school Route 66 vibe and a sign that proclaimed the BEST FOOD IN TOWN! We chose it over Mexican, Italian, and Denny's because we wanted the BEST. The walls were covered with 1950's and 1960's memorabilia and there were bicycles, wagons, and apropos of nothing, an ironing board hanging from the ceiling. Matthew got a sketchy feeling as soon as we walked in but I waved it aside. He thought it was maybe the old man sitting behind the counter without a shirt on. That, and the fact that the place was empty. And that the waitress looked surprised to see us.

I really, really wanted a salad because I'd been eating road food for three days and Christmas cookies for two weeks. I thought a taco salad was a safe bet but I didn't bet on a burnt taco shell filled with just ground beef. There were a few shreds of cheddar cheese strewn over the top, pale wilting lettuce around the edges of the burnt shell and a plop of guacamole that had already gone brown.

Matthew and Elise didn't fare much better with their gristly tacos and stuffed tuna tomatoes and at one point Elise said something about her tomato that made me laugh so hard I started crying. I cried and laughed and they laughed and we couldn't stop. "It's like we're high," Elise said. "We don't even know what's so funny."

Two guys came in and sat at a table and we wanted to warn them to run but we were laughing too hard.

"You guys, I, um, I just peed my pants."


Route 66 Motel

The Historic Route 66 Motel is the place to stay in Tucumcari, NM.

It's between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque and it's cheap - our room for three adults and a dog was $46. The beds are new and so comfortable you'll want to try to steal them when you check out. They have free internet and continental breakfast and the whole joint has been preserved in its original 1967 style.

And the owners are nice! Go here if you're tooling down I-40.


Before leaving town I stopped by Dennis' house to meet his pet squirrel, Applejack.

Dennis' friend found Applejack when he was a baby and injured, bleeding from his ear, and brought him home. Dennis built a habitat for him in his house, large enough that he can get inside and play with him, and is currently planning an addition so that he has even more room.

They're pretty cute together.

Get me OUT of this car

Too much stuff

So last weekend. I spent most of it cursing the stuff I now own while at the same time wrapping it all up in cocoons of bubble wrap to make sure none of it breaks on the road. One night I dreamed that the bubble wrap roles were spinning down the street like tumbleweed and I imagined how many hundred of feet it would span if it were unrolled along the main drag in Oceanside. I think it was 700 feet.

All I've ever moved before are duffel bags and suitcases filled with books, clothes, and mementos. Now, even though we gave away two couches, two desks, a chair and a ton of smaller things, we filled three 6' x 7' x 8' U-Pack containers entirely with casserole dishes. How did THAT happen? Oh yeah, the registry. Curses.

U-pack dropped off the containers on Friday, we packed and moved over the weekend with lots of help - thank you parents, Kevin, Evan, Mary Beth and Jeremy - and drove off on Monday after picking up Elise and wedging her into the backseat of the Honda Fit with the dog and the bonsai trees. We meet our stuff in California on Friday and I'm going to spend the next few days Googling casserole recipes so I can make something to eat as soon as we unpack.



People have been asking me lately how I feel about this move: what I'm going to miss, what I'm looking forward to, and what I've learned in these last two years at home. I haven't answered any of the questions quickly or in full and especially feel, with regards to what I've learned, that it's going to take some distance to realize everything. The most immediate answer, however, to what I'll miss is family especially - sob! - my brother.

I picked Neill up from his house last night and one of his caregivers, Mike, was standing at the door when I came in. He took a photo of us with his camera.

We went to my favorite Mexican restaurant where Neill politely removed his seizure helmet, his gloves, and promptly inhaled an entire basket of tortilla chips. He was cracking me up by how he was parroting me to the server. When I asked for extra napkins and said thanks, Neill followed up quickly, "FANKS!" When I asked for water, Neill repeated, "WATER!" The server was cool and referred to Neill a few times as sir.

Also, a large group of servers gathered on the other side of our booth to have a heated discussion in rapid Spanish involving the word peleando. Because my Spanish is rusty, I couldn't figure out if they were talking about someone getting the shit beaten out of them or scoring a goal. I still don't know. Regardless, Neill stared at them with a huge smile on his face, a chip in his hand frozen halfway to his mouth, and looked like he was totally on the verge of laughing at them.

In the car I told Neill that I'm moving and that I'm not going to see him for awhile. I told him that it made me sad and he looked straight at me and said, "Boo-hoo." What a punk.

When we got back to his house, I hung out for a bit and dragged out the goodbyes. At one point, I kissed Neill on his cheek and he let me until suddenly he pulled away and we both started laughing. Mike caught that on camera too.

I stalled some more, played with his plastic alligator and snake and admired the toy police truck he got for Christmas. When I was driving home, Mike sent me one last photo, of Neill in his chair, photo of us in his hand. Mike said he keeps this photo on the table next to his chair at all times. I'll miss you, buddy.

She calls this look Farmer Chic

Renee Harris
Vandalia and Hamilton Ave
Cincinnati, OH


Jellico Creek General Store

McCreary County, KY


I'm bummed I don't have time to order a pair of PajamaJeans® before we drive to California. Because I'd like nothing more than to be stylish, sexy, soft, and comfortable during the 2200 mile long drive.


Happy anniversary!

Oh, I am so happy to be part of a couple who got married in Vegas and has lasted a YEAR. And if you think I'm being facetious, you should have seen the other people in line to get their marriage licenses. Yeee-ow! I've never felt so legit.

A year ago, we drove from Utah to Las Vegas. I was working at a concert on New Year's Eve and we weren't planning to get married even though we'd cracked a couple of jokes about it.

After the New Year's show at Mandalay Bay, where a "beach" was constructed outside and the performers onstage sang in summer clothes for the TV and pretended like they weren't cold even though all of us backstage had on puffy coats, Matthew and I had drinks with the band.

At one point I was forcibly bullied into drinking a lemon drop shot, the main reason I'd recently puked on Sara's daughter's dollhouse, and Matthew fell down a grand sweeping staircase at the casino. Full on ass over heel somersaults. Basically, for the first ever, I went to Vegas and actually acted like I was in Vegas. When we got back to the hotel room, I sent Allison a text, "If we got married by Elvis tomorrow, would you be our witness?"

She said yes.

And we did too.

We called the Graceland Chapel in the morning on Jan 1 and they had times open at 8:45 and 10:15 pm that night. We chose 8:45. We also chose red roses and to have a DVD recorded of the ceremony. We had to get our license and be at the chapel on time since they schedule weddings every 15 minutes. If you're late, you're out of luck. Elvis sang "Love Me Tender" as he walked me down the aisle. He was a really cool dude.

It wasn't until Elvis handed me off to Matthew and the minister took over that it all started to sink in for me. This is serious. And real. What you can't see in this photo is how my whole body is trembling.

It all went by quickly, mainly because the entire event was just over four minutes long. We exchanged rings, pledged our love, I kissed Matthew all over his face, making him look ridiculous since I was wearing red lipstick, and Elvis jumped back up to sing "Viva Las Vegas". Our four guests also jumped out of their seat to clap and dance. That was fun.

After the paparazzi-style photo shoot, they pushed us out the side door, ushered a new couple in through the front and that was that. We're legal! And are standing on the sidewalk looking at the bail bonds sign across the street and need a cab. And tequila.