I stood in the taxi stand line at the hotel and waited for the bellman to whistle down a cab. It pulled up, Edmond at the wheel: 50s, grey mustache, baseball hat and wire-rimmed glasses. He looked like an older version of my soccer coach from ninth grade, the one who had us stand in a validation circle after each practice, our arms slung around each others' necks, sharing compliments of what we noticed each other do well that day. I told Edmond I needed to go to the bank and gave him the address. He coughed and apologized, "I just ate a sandwich." "Do your thing," I said. "It's cool."

A block or so later he asked me what my favorite Christmas gift was. I hesitated so he said, "Here, I'll tell you mine," and held up a wrist so I could see his watch. He pushed a button on the side, "It lights up!" "Nice!" I said, "Mine is leggings from my husband. They have eyeballs all over them."

"Where are you from?" He asked. "I'm from Montana." We got a little lost and he compared his GPS to his wife, "I think I know everything already but it's always better when I give in and ask for help." We found Chase but had to cross six lanes of traffic to get to the parking lot. Calmly he pulled into a lane of oncoming cars and sat unmoving. When they honked and went around us he told me, "I used to drive an ambulance so I still act like I have flashing lights and a siren." "You're very confident," I said.

On the way home from the bank we talked about marriage, the Grand Canyon, the far-right Republican party, and he drove a good 20 feet atop a center island to avoid waiting to get in the left turn lane. At one point in our conversation, I heard myself say, "I'd freeze to death if I had to choose how I'd die," and I knew Edmond is my current favorite cab driver. He may not obey traffic laws but he really seems to enjoy his work and is strangely engaging.



Albuquerque, NM

Looking for a home, Nashville edition

I thought moving from California would be difficult with the packing, loading the shipping containers, and driving but it turns out that moving to Nashville is harder. Where is our place here? We've been here looking for days and so far it's nowhere. I'm ultra-methodical when looking for a home and stalk Craigslist and property management sites, make phone calls and visit apartments to the detriment of anything else I may have to do. My mind swirls with THE CHOICES! and I mull over and weigh options until finally something makes sense. But the choices in Nashville thus far have been 1. sad 2. more sad and 3. depressing, I'm going to bed. We've found ourselves saying things like, "Well, if we're going to live on a sad street, then I'd rather be on that sad area." The city doesn't make sense yet to a degree that no amount of advice from others, driving for hours on end, and mad Googlemapping has solved. Everything so far has been out of our price range or dismal and I'm entirely confounded.

For years I had ability to attract unique or inexpensive homes - I was a caretaker for an old schoolhouse in Seattle and lived free in the nun's attic quarters, $500 for a room in a rent-controlled condo with brick walls and french doors to a patio in the East Village and at one point I almost lived on a boat - and from 1995 until a few years ago, my rent was almost always between $350 and $500. In Covington, we paid more than that and the place wasn't the perfect location but it had a LOAD of character and I'm a character junkie. I like urban and country, super old or super modern. I like the tall brick buildings of the inner city and log cabins and modular and mid-century. I subscribe to the idea that my surrounding's aesthetic affects my mind and swear that on a cul-de-sac my thoughts feel dead end. My ideas are bigger around tall buildings, trees, or mountains and fluid when I'm on water.

The first house we looked at in Nashville was nice inside but small. The smallness would have been fine if the vinyl siding of the outside wasn't as shabby, the front porch so dingy and the street so sad. "It is winter," we said as we walked down the sidewalk, "We have to imagine what this will look like in six months." But it also wasn't close to anywhere in the city we wanted to be and would have been a drive to everything. It had a yard and a park at the end of the street so Patsy would have been a happy dog but the humans would have been painting our nails black and popping Wellbutrin once they dried. It was cheaper than California but more than Cincinnati and Kentucky. I assumed we would easily shave off several hundred or even a third of our rent price by moving to Tennessee but this may not be true. We saw a place today that I nicknamed the moldy campground and it was only $150 cheaper than our Oceanside apartment. It was that house you went to a party at when you were 19: stained carpet, the walls listing oddly, cabinets that don't shut, extension cords run along the walls, and black in all the corners. It was on a beautiful street and looked great in the photos.

What I don't get is that Nashville has tons of artistic and musical residents, not all of whom can be rich. WHERE ARE YOU PEOPLE LIVING? I think it's more affordable to buy a house here than rent but we're not trying to buy a house. I've had people tell me that I need to live in East Nashville, or Sylvan Park, or Green Hills. We drive around and it looks great but nothing is for rent or it's boarded up or it's malls and tract housing at which point my brain's synapses quietly power down. One area, Germantown, I was warned against because it's supposedly not walkable to anything. We found it today and it was near a grocery, several cafes, and a farmer's market. I loved the buildings but everything was $1,800 or $2,000 a month. There is one Germantown house with a warehouse and watertower at the end of the street. Downtown is in the distance and modern row houses are around the corner. It was the warehouse and watertower that got me, though. In a potentially suburban setting, I actually find signs of industrialization comforting. The rent is less than $1,000 a month and we're going to see it tomorrow. Assuming we like the inside, the catch is that the current tenant doesn't know when she's moving out. "It could easily be by February," says the listing agent, "I'll be the first to know!"


Things I learned on the latest road trip

- I need to buy several of these emergency seat belt cutter glass breaker LED light tools. Thanks Jim.

- My iPod on shuffle likes Sade waaaay more than I do.

- The Motel 6 chain has undergone a transformation in Arizona and New Mexico: laminate wood floors have replaced old carpets, new color-blocked bedspreads instead of stained flower prints, modern finishes, flat screen TVs, and all still under $50 a night. The same has not happened to the Oklahoma and Missouri Motel 6; those still smell like nursing homes.

- I used to love Mad Libs when I was a kid (The astronaut took off in a rocket hot dog, hahahhahahha!) but they are not funny now. In fact, after doing two Mad Libs I fell into a depression and we had to throw them away.

- I'm going to miss Oceanside and kept thinking about the dinner at Harney Sushi on our last night in town and everyone who came to it: Miguel, Mark, Marisa, Troy, Julie, Sam, Monique, Monica, Jacques, Job, Lauren, Alex, Pablo, Fabian. So awesome.

- Still, I'm REALLY excited to come home and got slaphappy right around Florence, KY. And Nashville is only 275 miles from Cincinnati.

Going west

Scene from this time last year when we drove 2,220 miles in the other direction

New Mexico
Photo: Elise Thompson


Going east

We're taking our time getting from Oceanside to Cincinnati. We drove from Flagstaff to Albuquerque yesterday, to the edge of the blizzard and the point that New Mexico shut down I-40 overnight. Check out of Motel 6 late today to let the storm move east and with luck will make it to Oklahoma City tonight.

ps Why do we keep moving during winter?


"Oh my god, are there people in there?" We were driving east on I-40 just past Barstow, CA and to the right of the highway down an embankment was a smoking car turned upside down, a man running towards it. I slowed down as quickly as I could and pulled over to the shoulder. Matthew jumped out of the passenger door and began running. I backed the car along the shoulder, grabbed our phones, locked the doors and ran as well. I slid down the brush and gravel hill and when I got closer heard the man ask Matthew if he had a knife. Matthew pulled his Kershaw out of his pocket and handed it to him. I saw a woman's legs and heard her screaming. A boy of eight or nine was out of the car, standing about ten feet away, shaking and staring at the car, now on fire. Matthew and the man cut seat belts and pulled the baby and little girl through the windows. I put my arm over the boy's shoulder and across his chest and felt his heart racing. "They're getting out honey, it'll be okay."

Their mom was finally cut free and pulled out. A truck driver arrived with a fire extinguisher and the fire in the front and back of the car was doused. The family was banged up and cut and the mom was stumbling and wailing, "What happened? What happened?" She held her baby and looked at the car in shock and cried. She had no idea how her car had sailed off the highway and down the hill but a driver behind them saw the car swerve left, then right, and then was gone. The mom must have fallen asleep. She was moving to Chicago, driving her kids alone, and didn't get very far. Other cars stopped and more people helped with ice packs and water and pulled the family's suitcases over for the kids to sit on. They wrapped the kids in blankets and talked to them. Someone with OnStar called down the hill to tell us that the police and ambulance knew where we were and were on the way.

The first policewoman arrived and one of the bystanders filled her in on the kids' contusions and abrasions. I wished I were a nurse and knew words like contusion and was doing more than just rubbing the mom's legs and reminding her that her babies were safe. When more police showed up we felt in the way so we thanked the men we were standing with and went back to our car. As I drove away, I couldn't turn the music back on and I couldn't stop thinking about those children. They were so quiet; their mom was the only one making any noise. Were they okay? Was more wrong with them that we couldn't see? I couldn't stop thinking about how much worse it could have been: it might have happened on a less busy road with no witnesses. It could have happened after dark. The car could have gone to the left and into oncoming traffic. They could have not been wearing seat belts. The fire might have kept burning. Matthew might not have had a knife in his pocket. They could have easily lost their lives.

"Thank god you had your knife." They were stuck in there. "I'm a believer, I have to learn to use my knife now." #46 on my life list is to learn to open and close my switchblade properly. I put that on the list out of embarrassment, because I've had it for over a year and still feel like I'm going to injure myself every time I pick it up. I think it's funny to laugh at Matthew when he whips his knife out of his pocket to open a lollipop or a banana but I suddenly get it. Also, the AAA first aid kit I keep in the trunk is useless. I dabbed the baby's bloody nose with the tiny square of gauze in the kit and that was that. We already have two flashlights in the car and I keep a small one in my shoulder bag. I want to get more gauze, ace bandages, rubbing alcohol and blankets for the trunk. Maybe a glass breaker? Basically I want to become a first responder because I tend to take things too far. I hope the family is okay.


Henna #4

I just had my fourth run-in with Lush henna and the first was in April so I'm looking at doing this process on my hair every two months until I say eff it and go grey. HMMMM. That is a bit more often than I'd like but I'm still digging the outcome, all natural looking and earthy and non-toxic, so be it. This time I mixed half a bar of caca rouge (red), half a caca brun (dark brown), and a whole caca marron (chesnut). I'm getting better at the application - boiling, grating, mixing, slopping - though it still looks, and always will I suspect, like a baby escaped its diaper and crapped all over the counter. I have now instituted a "dance once it's on" step and when the caca has been combed through and has started to harden into a helmut, I do a few moves to celebrate before getting to the business of hanging out in a shower cap for seven hours.

Laughing quietly to myself

About how I asked for the internet password at the coffeehouse and the barista leaned in and said, "WATERMELON...ALL CAPS..." as slow and deliberate as if we were CIA agents. I've never heard watermelon sound so ominous.


#51 Be a mentor to a high school student

In October I talked to Sunny about her job as an art teacher in a new (to her) school and mine as a tour manager. How weird is it, I said, that I didn't study business or music but I've learned how to work in the music business. She said that more than anyone she knows I'm not defined by my work and that I just apply my personality to whatever job I'm doing and figure it out.

I had to think about this because I feel very defined by my work. It's true, though, that while I sometimes think I'd like to take an audio class, I'm far more comfortable with staging, sound, and the geekier financial aspects of music management than I would have ever imagined back when I worked in books; I credit my parents and Montessori for making me so damn flexible. Sunny said it doesn't matter if I'm self-taught, I'm still an expert and should do the Ask an Expert program at her school.

At Sunny's public school in Chicago, seniors are matched up with "experts" to help them with their senior project, the main thesis question and the direction of research they are taking. I stalled for a minute due to doubts as to whether I reeeeeally know enough to call myself an expert but OKAY. If we are talking about research, I'm in. I love research like I love long walks on the beach at sunset. No wait, like soup. I love research like a good bowl of soup. Long walks on the beach at sunset are just okay.

I've learned this about the school, North Lawndale College Prep:

85% of graduates are the first from their families to go to college

Last year the school received over 1200 applications for 240 openings and all of the students, most of them from the West Side, were picked from a blind lottery

NLCP receives about $1,500 less per student from public sources than traditional Chicago public high schools so they still struggle with a funding gap

NLCP has led all charter and traditional Chicago Public high schools in percentage of graduates in college the fall after their graduation for the past two years

70% of graduates have gone on to 4-year colleges and 30% to 2-year colleges since 2005 and 25% of college graduates are in or have completed graduate school

I was matched up with my student, a young woman dancer who asked, "Does performing arts improve student academic success, social skills, and college readiness?"

We were paired because music is a performing art but I still had a moment. I was exposed to every performing art growing up but didn't make them mine. After elementary school, I wasn't in plays, I quit the piano, I sucked at guitar, I sang off key in church, my dancing consisted of flopping around during reggae shows and I chose the academic high school where I could bury my nose in books rather than the School for Creative and Performing Arts. I AM GOING TO FAIL THIS GIRL.

I got out of my fear by pulling from all the examples I have surrounding me of what performing arts does for people's lives and turned to research to check up on the status of the arts in education these days. We ended up having a conversation on the phone since I wasn't in Chicago to go to the school and meet La'Keithia in person. We both explained where we were coming from, asked a lot of questions, and I hope I helped lead her down paths she hadn't considered and supported the direction she had started to take.

I learned a lot too.

American business leaders want an innovative work force yet arts education is not recognized as key to the solution.

Arts education strengthens cognitive development, innovative and creative thinking, critical reflection, communication skills, enhances social adaptability, cultural awareness and enables kids to have tolerance and acceptance, appreciation of others.

Art gives kids who are not book learners a way to express their own intelligence.

Art opens up new opportunities, gives kids something positive to do who may not have a lot of other choices. I'm talking about secretly talented gang bangers here.

Unlike curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts people use judgment over rules. There are many ways to see and interpret the world.

The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said.

Studies show that involvement in the arts helps kids increase test scores and promotes academic achievement.

The arts offer a way for people to tell their stories, use their imagination, become active learners and imagination and expression are at the center of the learning process

The arts in school symbolizes to the young what adults think is important.



Laughing quietly to myself

About how I called home to see what Matthew was doing and he was sewing a button on a shirt and watching Roseanne.


GPS fail

For the record, "liquor store" is not a searchable category on the GPS.

Words I've programmed into my phone so I don't get auto-corrected

Bumpit - I overheard a comedian say, when asked how he was wearing his hair for an awards show, that he was doing a combover with a Bumpit.

Yons - If the Western Pennsylvania "yuns" and the southern "y'all" mated, they would have this illegitimate word child.

Sho, and its relative, nuff.

Purdy - You sho look it. Yeah, you.

Muts - How Matthew and I say "much". I should probably be embarrassed now.

Fanger - Finger. Not vampire related.

Dang - My phone kept correcting this to "wang".

Waaaaow - Wow. See Flavor Flav.

Mernin - When you wake up.




#96 Buy from local and independent artists and businesses

#96 on my life list is to buy from local and independent artists and businesses. This is something I do quite a bit of already so I guess my intention is to find more local and independents to support and to expand the network of people I know are making cool shrit (Shrit, I recently learned, is what they say in Georgia to avoid saying the s-word!). Here's a short list of people and places who are making things I covet, the list I want to add to this year. This is sort of in honor of holiday gifts since it's December and all but I think it's just as fun and sometimes more meaningful to give when there's no occasion except that you felt like it so this is a year-round endorsement, suckas.

- Sock Dreams Portland, OR
I recommend Sock Dreams to someone approximately four times a week during the colder months, every time I get a comment on my arm warmers. I once led myself and Monica on a high speed chase through the one-way streets and many confusing bridges of Portland in order to visit the Sock Dreams store before it closed instead of just buying online. We barely made it, the girl behind the counter was cool, and now I'm just as happy to keep buying online since they make sure your bundle of socks, arm warmers, leg warmers are sent out and sitting on your porch within a couple of days.

- Queen Bee Creations - Rebecca Pearcy. Portland, OR
I've bought vinyl bags and wallets from Queen Bee over the last ten years (at least), most recently a wallet at the Portland Airport. It's black, red, and blue, my favorite colors. It snaps shut and is easy to use, it doesn't show any sign of wear after a year, and it's big enough to hold all my shrit. I have a lot of shrit.

- The Commission Project, Art by Paul Ferney San Francisco & Paris
I found Paul Ferney on Mighty Girl and think a small commissioned painting from a photograph is just about the best present possible.

- Cats in Clothes - Heather Mattoon
I'm not even a cat person but I can totally get behind Cats in Clothes. My friend has a cat who looks like Vincent ("Vincent plays football, or soccer for Americans, he is European. He takes acting classes and loves his hoodie.") Oh, we laughed. I tried to find out more about Heather Mattoon but the About the Artist section on the website appears to be in Latin so we are going to have to let the cats speak for themselves.

- Pyrrha - Wade Papin and Danielle Wilmore
Wax seal jewelry handmade in Vancouver from reclaimed and recycled 14k gold and sterling silver. I bought Matthew a wax seal necklace of a bee in the Los Angeles Pyrrha store this time last year. I let him wear it for awhile but have had it around my neck every day since June so I guess I'm taking the "reclaim" part of Pyrrha's mission statement a bit too literally.

- Blackett Body Basics Seattle, WA
My girl, the notorious powerhouse Laura Blackett. Handmade all-natural body products that she whips up in between the raising of three children and the other dozen projects that she has planned each day.

- Art & Invention Gallery Nashville, TN
I found Art & Invention over the summer and have been back three times when I've been in Nashville. I've found handmade wedding presents, birthday presents, and no reason at all presents here. My second time back the door was locked so I was peeking through the window. The owner was inside painting the walls but she opened the door, excused the mess, and welcomed me in to walk around and then counted out the change by hand for the artwork I bought since the register was off. That is some seriously friendly Bob Roncker-level of customer service.

- Our own RACECAR
Independent music label by Matthew Cooper, Evan Sharfe, and Cody Norenberg based in Oceanside, CA soon to be Nashville, Cincinnati, and Weimar, Germany.

- Buy Olympia
A small business in Portland, OR that started in 1999 in Olympia, WA to help their friends sell handmade goods online. Art, paper goods, books, journals, clothes, jewelry, household, bags, belts, etc. I think I found Buy Olympia when I was interning for Seal Press and writing a resource section for a book back in my Seattle days.

- Fab.com
Halle invited me to Fab.com a few months ago. Fab.com is based on good design and big discounts. A page of daily shops appear in your inbox each day, many by artisans and small businesses. They can be crazy expensive or crazy inexpensive but they are all good deals for what they are and they make it waaaay too easy. Sometimes I have to tell myself, "You will not look at Fab.com today, you are too emotionally vulnerable to be trusted around all those designers." Get thee invited to Fab.com. Psst, I can invite you so just ask.



A big round of applause for Gary for sharing this with me. You're the best, Penderson.


Big Sur Thanksgiving

I'm in Vegas where it's all cowboys, country music, and miniskirts but two weeks ago I was in Big Sur for Thanksgiving. I usually come to Vegas for work and end up laughing at myself because in sharp contrast to the drunken bros yelling in the hallway and sparkly gals in bandage dresses, I'm sitting in my room wearing a flannel and working on my Amex receipts.

The couple of times I came to Vegas and acted like I was in Vegas - (1) when I got married at the Graceland Chapel and (2) for Sunny's 30th birthday when Shane made me get a lap dance from a local female art student who also happened to be a stripper and I was legitimately shocked upon leaving the club to realize that the sun would be coming up soon - it was fun. But, even then, three days of hanging out on the strip saw me crawling to a poolside lounge chair where I laid fully clothed and immobile, wanting nothing more than to return to New York where the stimulus felt less manufactured.

After I was married here, four life-changing minutes after being single, we stood outside the chapel waiting for a cab and I stared at the neon signs in the window of a bail bonds joint. There was so much good: we were hitched! Lovely people witnessed! The Elvis who gave me away was super cool! But Vegas, you are not for me.

Big Sur on the other hand? Thanksgiving dinner of $30 of snacks from the Ragged Point mini mart was just right, especially the Flamin' Hots.