Monday, January 28, 2019

El Paso 2019: A Cemetery ... Prairie Dog?

El Paso, Concordia Cemetery. January 2019.

My friend, Kate, on a Grand Tour of the Southwest, stopped to visit me in El Paso.

After lunch at historic L&J Cafe, we walked through adjacent Concordia Cemetery.

It delighted me to see a prairie dog-like creature bounding to the entryway of his hidey-hole.

A cheeky little thing, he appeared nonchalant about my presence, affording me several photo opps.

El Paso, Concordia Cemetery. January 2019.

Do you see him?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

El Paso 2019 to Columbus NM: Highway 9: Red Sparklies

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

My friend, Kate, visited me in El Paso for several days.

On her last morning, we took our respective vehicles from El Paso to Columbus, New Mexico, via Highway 9. We planned to walk over to Puerto Palomas, Mexico (earlier years' posts on same here  and here), have a margarita, an early lunch, and then go our separate ways - she to Green Valley, Arizona, and me back to El Paso.

As with Columbus, New Mexico, there's not much ever happening on Highway 9, except somehow, there's always something.

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

For example, I saw two roadrunners on the highway. It cheers me to see these large, muscular birds sprint across a road and into brush.

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

On this day, going west, a winter-bare tree dazzled my eyes with red, flashing sparkly light. Oooooh. Shiny. What is this? Why? Who? How lovely!

A video here:

Kate was behind me, and we had a tight schedule to keep, so I zoomed past, but with the internal vow to investigate on my return trip.

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

Is it a selfie if one photographs oneself reflected in a tree ornament? If so, guilty as charged. Oh, and some sly views of my new vehicular mate.

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

El Paso to Columbus NM-Highway 9 red sparklies. January 2019.

A couple of stories on Highway 9: 

Monday, January 21, 2019

El Paso 2019: Mexican Fusion

El Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

On Sunday, couple-friends of mine, “Laura” and “Wayne,” picked me up so we could go to Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino to listen to mariachi bands.

Laura and Wayne met at one of the hiking meetups in the area a few years ago. They got married last year! Shortly before I moved away from El Paso in 2017, they took me and a mutual friend to White Sands for an evening hike. What a gift that was.

At Sunland, the three of us watched little girls and boys practice their burgeoning dance skills to the mariachi beats.

Mariachi at Sunland Park, El Paso, Texas (sort of). January 2019.

While chatting with Laura and Wayne, nursing a drink, there were so many visual tapas to savor: the mariachi band within, and outside: mountains, the race track with running horses, an ambulance that followed the horses on an outside track, a lagoon with a fountain, and a sapphire sky.

For dinner, Laura and Wayne took me to a Mexican ramen restaurant – a fusion of Mexican and Japanese cuisine. Scrumptious. Come in!

My first gif! The opening door to teeny Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

The restaurant, called El Cuartito (the little room), is aptly named, as it is in a tiny room with a small bar; the entire place might seat 10 people.

El Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

El Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

Do I remember the name of the ramen I had? No, but you can look at the before and almost after below:

El Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

El Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

El Cuartito, El Paso, Texas. January 2019.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

To El Paso Again (2019): Texas Ladies' Room Art Exhibit Continued

I-10 Texas rest area artwork, buffalo soldier. January 2019.

Between my transitional temporary home in South Louisiana to my next transitional temporary home in El Paso, my bladder offered me more opportunities for artistic stops at Texas rest areas.

On I-10, somewhere between Houston and El Paso, a buffalo soldier greeted me in the ladies' room.

In other Texas rest area stops:

I-10 Texas rest area artwork, buffalo soldier. January 2019.

I have deep appreciation for government agents who understand how art and beauty expand the quality of life of those they serve.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Rootless: A New Vehicular Mate, Part 2

Relevant posts:

After the long prequel in Part 1, I'll get to the point in this here Part 2: I bought a 2012 Prius v

About the 'v'

The 'v' is no mistake. It's lowercase 'v' and stands for, hell, I don't know, maybe the 'v' sound for how Germans, Russians, Ukrainians and others like to pronounce 'w,' which would be for 'wagon,' which is what my new-to-me Prius is.

It does not stand for the Roman numeral five. Which would be uppercase 'V,' anyway.

A couple of things that keep me awake at night
  • The car has more mileage on it than I would have preferred. 
  • The cost to replace an aged-out, dead Prius battery is flipping expensive! I'm taking a gamble that the battery in my Prius has a lot more life in it. 
  • Normal buyer's remorse - what as-yet-unknown car problems lurk under the hood, just waiting to leap onto my savings! Did I pay too much? Should I have done this instead? Or that? 

The key thing

This is the first car I've owned that doesn't have an actual key that you use to open a door or turn an ignition.

Instead, I've got this squat, hard lump of a thing that I still have to carry around with me everywhere I go, but I don't have to actually pull it out of my purse or pocket. The latter situation requires me to un-learn a muscle memory. And the thing requires batteries. And we all know what batteries do.

Surprise misses

I actually have to manually move my front seats forward, whereas my 1995 Camry had electric forwarding/reversing. I wasn't expecting this backward step. Not a big deal - just a surprise.

There is no place in the front cabin to hang a trash bag. Nope. No knob, nowhere. It's even a thing for discussion. This is kind of a big deal; it will be annoying until I find a graceful solution.

The Prius' ground clearance is disappointingly low, albeit slightly greater than the Camry. This took me aback at first, as there are countless resources on camping and even living in Prii (yes, that seems to be the usual plural form). A friend helped me push past this disappointment, however, when he pointed out that most cars have similar ground clearances as the Prius. So it was a good reality check for me.

The storage pockets in the front doors are stingy, even though each has a round-out specially designed for a water bottle. There's not good space in the doors for maps or gloves.

There's no drop-down storage cup for loose change, which I had in my Camry. Instead, there's a slide-in thing for cards. The slide-in card thing is good for parking-garage tickets, toll booth tickets, and maybe c-store/grocery store loyalty cards. Maybe an auto insurance card. But I'd rather have the change holder.

Oooh, too soon to tell, but transferring my worldly goods from my Camry to the Prius .... it's possible my Camry had more cargo space than the Prius does. If so, that's a disappointment. I've got additional gear (suitcases, etc.) in my temporary lodgings, so I won't have the full story til I'm fully moved out of my current home stay.

Learning curve

There is a learning curve to driving a Prius. More to come on this, I reckon.


  • The generous size of the two glove compartments. 
  • Roomy storage console between the two front seats. 
  • Front-seat passenger has their own cupholder. 
  • The drop-down pocket in the roof for glasses.
  • The flat-bottom cargo space in the back that I'll be able to use to sleep in the car when camping! Can't wait! 
  • The possibility of having heat or a/c while camping! 
  • Fun accessories to buy, like window screens for camping!

Cautious enthusiasm

I am ready to be enthusiastically in love with my new car. For the moment, however, I am cautiously, quietly, fingers-crossed maybe-it-will-be-so-great mode.

I barely know how to turn on the radio yet.


The color of my Prius is OK. The same held true for my Camry. The benefit of the ho-hum color is that my car looks just like 75% of the cars on a parking lot, therefore it doesn't capture untoward attention. The downside is that I don't feel a rush of esthetic pleasure when I approach it.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Rootless: A New Vehicular Mate, Part 1

Having said goodbye to my 1995 Camry, yesterday I brought home my new vehicular mate.

This marriage didn't happen under ideal circumstances. 

One: I was on the road, on the first leg of an extended travel itinerary to my next year's stay out west. This meant:
  • I didn't have the luxury of time to look at all of the area's inventory among dealers and private sellers; 
  • Once I left the area, I'd lose easy access to the seller to rectify any problems that cropped up shortly after I bought the vehicle; 
  • There was an uncomfortable squishiness about knowing/deciding in which state - and how - to title and register the new car - yikes

Two: It had been close to 20 years since I'd bought a car! I was a born-again virgin.

Three: I entered into the marketplace alone, a different experience than I had when buying my used Camry. So no personal advocate, "bad cop," or doubt-soother.

Four: And to speak plainly about it: I didn't bring a dick with me, my own or someone else's. I didn't have a man with me. And, yes, I think that still matters in the car-purchasing world.

Five: In my perfect world, my Camry would have lasted me until the point when I'd decide to live outside the US for a year. This would mean I could defer the purchase of any new vehicle indefinitely.

On the other hand: 

One: I had a past relationship with the dealership I chose to buy my car from. My experiences with the dealership had been positive. Based on my travel patterns in recent years, it is likely I'll return to the area in the future. Furthermore, I have friends who live in the same community as this dealership. I shared this information with the dealership. Consequently, I felt some reassurance that the dealership would deal honorably with me.

Two: In the past 12 months, knowing my Camry's life with me was entering its twilight years, I'd done some research into my next vehicle. My main criteria were:
  • Camping-friendly. In other words, I could sleep comfortably in the vehicle.
  • Good gas mileage. 
  • Hybrid engine - for mileage, but also for interior climate control while camping.
  • Generous cupholders! 
  • Large-capacity cargo space for my annual relocations.
  • Higher ground clearance than the Camry, thus reducing the worries about undercarriage scrapings, etc.
  • Reliability, of course.
  • Affordability.

I dreamed of a Ford Transit for a future life as a full-timer, but ..... maybe some day.

Grounded in more immediate realities, a Prius wagon topped my short list, which also included wagons or SUVs such as Subaru or Toyota RAVs.

So I didn't start my vehicle search totally at ground zero.

Three: Notwithstanding Point Five in the bummer section above, an envie to re-do a road trip to Alaska in the summer of 2020 has been ticking in the back of my mind. To make that happen, I knew I wouldn't be able to do it in my Camry. (Note: My daughter and I took a road trip to Alaska in the early 90s.)

Four: Notwithstanding - again - Point Five in the bummer section, I've come to enjoy my recent pattern of living for a month out of the US as an intermission between two US-based resident years. (See Antigua here and Mexico City here, for example.) Therefore, I felt OK about investing in a car at this time.

Next up: Rootless: A New Vehicular Mate, Part 2

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Flashback: Border Crossings: Vakhtangisi

I'm headed out west again, to El Paso-Juarez.

Border crossings, and almost-border crossings, are on my mind. On so many of our minds.

For me, I've been lucky. I am just a tourist. I can go over and I can come back, go over and come back.  I don't take this for granted.

Below is a flashback to a favorite almost-border crossing, experienced with my TLG friend and colleague, Sandy, originally published in March 2012: Nothing There Tour #1: Vakhtangisi.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nothing There Tour #1: Vakhtangisi

Using a clever ruse, we photographed this man, who may have actually been to Azerbaijan, in order to take a clandestine photo of Azerbaijan, over there on the right, said country apparently not liking to be photographed, or Georgians not liking that it be photographed. 

This is the inaugural post for the Nothing There Tour, where I check out a place that has seemingly nothing to see, and either confirm or deny said nothingness.

Last weekend, colleague Sandy and I contemplated our choices for a day trip. At first we planned to go to Mtatsminda, a location overlooking Tbilisi, for its views and .... yawn ... some other stuff, like a church and a famous cemetery .... and we were game, but we felt lukewarm about it.

Then I remembered my pledge to myself to visit Gardabani. I loved telling Georgians that I planned to go to Gardabani because they always responded exactly the same way: "Gardabani?! Whyyyy?! There's nothing therrrre?!"

Would Sandy be interested in going to Gardabani? Why yes, she would!

Gardabani has a large Azeri-Georgian population and it's very close to the Azerbaijan border. Some villages are right on the border. The police mentioned Jandari as one example; Nely cited Vakhtangisi.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Houses. 2012

Sandy and I caught a Vakhtangisi-bound marshrutka (#13) at Old Bazaar in Old Rustavi. (Tbilisi also has marshrutkas going to the Gardabani area, which depart from Tbilisi's Didube station.) The fare to Vakhtangisi is 1 lari, 50 tetri.

As we chugged out of Rustavi, we passed two prisons, one for men and the other for women; factories, both active and defunct; and some sort of energy plant with structures that looked like nuclear power plants. We passed through Gardabani, a pleasant-looking town. We knew we'd stop there on the way back from our Vakhtnagisi tour.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. House. 2012

The border crossing

About 45 minutes later, we arrived in Vakhtangisi, the end of the road.

In town, we went by a surprising event: men drumming and playing some kind of flute; a young girl riding in a flower-festooned, horse-drawn cart, holding a plate of fruit, many people gathered inside a schoolyard. What strange ritual this?

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

But our minds were on the border. When the marshrutka stopped, the first thing we did when we debarked was head to Azerbaijan. To get to Azerbaijan from Georgia, you have to get a letter of invitation from someone in Azerbaijan, submit your passports to some authority in advance, and pay some bucks. We didn't have any of those things. Except our passports. We'd brought them with us, just in case. Just in case what, we didn't know. But just in case.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Houses. 2012

We approached the border police officers. We smiled brightly.


Two or three uniformed police looked back, bemused. Then a non-uniformed gentleman walked over; he must have been the supervisor.  

"We just want to put a foot in Azerbaijan. Can we do that"?


"Can we just touch our hand on the Azerbaijan side"?

"No. Who are you? Are you tourists"?

"We're English teachers from America and Canada. Could you step in Azerbaijan and reach out to us and we'll hold your hand so we will be in Azerbaijan through you"?


"Can we take a photo of Azerbaijan"?



"Can you pick up a rock from Azerbaijan and bring it over to the Georgian side and we could touch it"?


"Is there a toilet"?

"Yes." And one of the men pointed to a small, stand-alone building. Just the size of an outhouse.

We walked over. There was a ditch filled with water which flowed behind the outhouse. I opened the door. It was nice! Heated! Western toilet! Very clean! In fact, here is a photo of the bathroom that is on the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Toilet in Vakhtangisi, Georgia, on Azerbaijan border. 2012

I used the toilet. Then Sandy used the toilet.

There was a woman standing outside when we'd both finished. Friendly smile from her. I pointed to the ditch and asked which way the water flowed. Toward Azerbaijan? Yes.

Very well, then. Mission accomplished, no visa required.

As we walked away from the border toilet, some men approached us. Don't know about what. Taxi, maybe. We took their picture.

Then we took a photo of Azerbaijan.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Georgia-Azerbaijan border. 2012.


Now it was time to go check out those strange goings-on at the school. We walked down the street. There is only the one in the village.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Houses. 2012

Every once in awhile, a lone car screamed down the street at warp speed, all the better to prove the driver's manhood, we supposed. Stoopids. We wondered how many pedestrians have been injured by such recklessness. 

Sandy and I walked into the school yard. Joyful! We heard music and saw young girls dancing. The horse and buggy, covered in fabric and flowers, was over on one side, fathers taking photos of their young daughters in the buggy.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

Over on the right was a colorful picnic table filled with fruits, nuts, and breads. Men sat there, drinking tea from small, shapely glasses.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Bayrami 2012.

We looked on the school porch where there were girls directing each other in traditional dances, performed to tunes provided by a local DJ.

Sandy and I got up on the stage and danced, too.

What was all this about? It was bayrami (or more accurately, Novrus Bayram), an Azerbaijan (and others, too) holiday that welcomes spring. It was so ... splendid ... to be in this village on this day.  

We met the school's English teacher, Nata, along with some of the other teachers, who all live in Rustavi. Unfortunately, the school in Vakhtangisi doesn't have a TLG teacher.

We left smiling, with colored eggs, different kinds of nuts, and oranges stuffed into our bags.

We began to walk - for however long we felt like it - to Gardabani. We were 18 km from Rustavi.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. 2012.

 We passed Vakhtangisi's internet cafe.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. Internet cafe.

Outside the village, we passed sheep.

Vakhtangisi, Georgia. 2012

We followed a couple of bulls and their tender. Suddenly, they veered to the left when they spied some cows. Then tender chased after them. 

Vakhtangisi, Georgia.2012

We walked for a long while. When we reached the town of Kesalo, a car pulled up alongside. It was filled with the school teachers who live in Rustavi - we squished in and they dropped us off in Gardabani.

We loved our trip to Vakhtangisi.

Verdict: There is something there! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Goodbye, Dear Old

Hwy 380 outside Carrizozo, New Mexico - Valley of Fire vista. October 2012.

Last week, it came time to say goodbye to a stalwart friend. 

Being rootless and, therefore, a minimalist by necessity, I don't have a lot of stuff. And I don't think I have much emotional attachment to the bulk of the stuff I do have. There are exceptions, however, due to sentimental memories associated with an item, or by the longevity of our relationship.

Here, I said goodbye to a crossover bag that had accompanied me to so many festivals and travels.

My "festival" bag.

Here, I said goodbye to an airbed. To my accumulation of Mardi Gras beads. To my cherished, red chairbed.

My red chairbed in New Mexico and Louisiana.

Here I said goodbye to my Nokia brick phone (and its symbolic content of human connections, literal and figurative) given to me in Caucasus Georgia.

My Nokia "brick" in Caucasus Georgia. 2011-2012.

But today my goodbye is big. Really, really big. 

I've had to say goodbye to my car, my 1995 Toyota Camry.

The car I bought when it was already more than 10 years old. The car I bought when I lived a whole different life than I do now, a rooted one, when I had a:
  • Mate;
  • House; and a
  • "Regular" job. 
I bought the car with a little more than 80,000 miles on it. I'm releasing it with more than 240,000 miles on the odometer.

It was a comfortable car. Because it was an older vehicle, I had no worries about someone singling it out for nefarious doings. I loved all things about this car except for three - the:
  • Stingy cupholder that was far too particular about what it allowed in its space;
  • Low ground clearance, which made it not-so-handy on uneven roads (well, sort of roads); and
  • Expensive sensitivity of the driver's side door handle. (I think I bought THREE replacements.)

I saw the world in its side mirror.

Sunset view from my side mirror, I-10 from Texas to Louisiana. September 2017.

 And through the rear mirror.

View of Monument Valley through my rear window. November 2008.

  • I ate breakfast, lunch, or dinners in it. I snacked in it.
  • I spilled stuff in it. 

  • I slept in it.
  • I camped with it.
  • I got lost in it.
  • I found my way in it.

  • I meditated in it, solved all of the world's problems in it, imagined futures in it, re-imagined pasts in it. 
  • I sang in it, swore vile epithets in it, cried in it, laughed in it, worried in it, yelled at the universe in it, and asked it questions it could not answer.

  • I parked in it, crept in it, sped in it.

  • I laughed with others in it, argued with others in it, and enjoyed companionable silences with others in it.

  • I saw suns rise and suns set in it.

  • I saw innumerable dead creatures on the roads from it.

  • I drove by hundreds of past death scenes in it, memorialized by descansos, crosses, signs, flowers.

I loaded, unloaded, loaded, unloaded, loaded, and unloaded the Camry.

My car packed for year in El Paso. August 2016.

My car packed for year in El Paso. August 2016.

Goodbye, dear old.

A slide show:

In Memorium to A Car

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Word of the Year 2019: Action

Mural about the Mine-Mill Strike by the Local 890 and the 209. Bayard, New Mexico

2018 was my first venture into a "having a word of the year" as a guide for living. That word was courage.

For 2019 the word is action

A subset of words underneath action includes:
  • Effectiveness
  • Focus
  • Discipline
  • Risk 
  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Mission

... and courage.

But I can also borrow from the 12-step world and use this: 
  • Awareness
  • Acceptance
  • Action

 ... and courage.

Why "action" this year? 

I've spent a lot of years learning shit, finding and collating pages of that Rule Book to Life that most of us are born with, but some of us - like me - are not.

I've found the learning sometimes on a positive path, sometimes on a terribly painful path, sometimes on a scary-good path, sometimes on a scary-bad path. At a certain point, it's time to integrate one's learning and apply it with intention. The year 2019 seems to be that time.

Last year, I came across a factoid - true or mythical, dunno - that proposed:
In social media, we humans fall into a false sense of having Done Something when we  like or share or follow a page or meme that allies us with or against a cause. When we relax into the belief of having Done Something, we tend not to take any follow-up, real-life action that involves time, money, or putting one's ass out there on a street, in a building, on a border, on the air, in a newspaper. All too often, the societal result is like the adage: The dogs bark, but the caravan keeps on moving.

This idea nettles me.

In recent years, I witnessed women, men, girls, and boys who stepped out from the safety of the crowd to assert plainly - in words and deeds - that our society must act on the just beliefs it espouses. I wish to emulate them.