Saturday, May 02, 2009

Beatlicks Travel: A Long Road to N'Orleans

Beatlick TR: Not in the desert anymore

Next morning the skies are still gloomy. There is so much moisture in the air that neither Joe nor I look like ourselves. Joe’s hair is a mass of curls the size of quarters and my hair is looping out like it has been set on juice cans. Over coffee we debate the route this time. Now I know I can hang with the big dogs on the interstate with safety and confidence, but is that the best route.

Me: I just can’t decide what’s better.

Whatever you say.

I just can’t figure out what’s the best decision.

You’re the one who wants to drive on the interstate.

I just want to make a good decision. Which way is best for the van. I don’t know whether to wear the van out on the interstate and get there faster or wear me out taking the slower roads.

Whatever you say.

Joe, you are bringing absolutely nothing to the table. Don’t come back six hours later telling me you could have turned here, you could have turned there.

But already the noise of the trucks was droning in my ears. We had one more chance to pick up a route to Highway 90. Finally Joe gets out his map and we decide to pick up Highway 14 before we hit Lake Charles.

And I keep my mouth shut as we passed through a few small communities posting 30 mph. But within 20 minutes we were in some beautiful Louisiana low country which looks like Holland with a series of levies and dikes in a big agricultural area. I’m happy and the van purrs along. We enjoy the bucolic scenery as the seagulls begin to proliferate. Joe’s curls build higher and higher upon his head. We’re not in the desert anymore.

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela

Beatlick TR: Broke down in Bayou Vista, LA

Clouds were breaking up and the sun was getting hot as we passed through Patteson, LA, nearing Morgan City. We are beginning to realize we might make New Orleans before dark. In my thoughts I was already shopping at the French Market when I stopped at a red light and couldn’t get the transmission back into gear.

Well it finally happened – breakdown. After all those hours on the road to San Diego almost incapacitated with anxiety, now I have an eerie calm about me when real trouble hits. Somehow I know this will turn out alright if I just keep- my wits about me, keep calm. A few things are going in my favor.

I am directly across the street from a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Thank goodness I didn’t take the interstate. Pamela Hirst, roving reporter, goes into action. First I find a cop in the Wal-Mart parking lot and ask him if he knows of any VW mechanics. No luck but he gets me the number of a nearby transmission shop. Very helpful. The policemen are usually the first ones I approach when I’m in trouble like this, especially in a small town. And he couldn’t have been nicer. “Call the station if you need us,” and Officer Bryant gave me his phone number.

It was 4 p.m. on Saturday. I called the transmission shop knowing it would be closed. It was. So we gave up on accomplishing anything before Monday. Our luck held. We went back to the van and I was actually able to put it into gear. I put the van in reverse, turned the key, and it lurched backwards. I was able to back up to the red light. When the traffic got sparse I was able to put it in first and bolt across the street into the Wal-Mart parking lot. Sanctuary until Monday.

Further questioning of Wal-Mart customers gave me more leads. Someone told me about a mechanic on down Highway 90. “Do we both have to walk there?” Joe asked. Of course not.

So I walked about three miles to the next town of Berwick. I headed out thankful to have something to do. When I got there all I found was a tire store, closed of course. Then I walked across the street to a bar to investigate. Bingo. I left the bar within 20 minutes with the names of the best foreign car mechanic and tow truck driver in Morgan City. I called AAA and learned I wouldn’t have to pay for the tow either, Excellent.

So we settled into the Wal-Mart parking lot for the weekend. We learned quickly about the local flora and fauna. Overhead the parking lot is full of squawking seagulls. Both of us got attacked by red ants when we made the mistake of walking off of the pavement and into the grass and in the drainage ditch right in front of the store I noticed something of a sizeable proportion splashing around as I walked by. Later I saw a nutria, a giant water rat about the size of a beaver, out basking in the lush green grass as all the traffic passed on Highway 90.

Really we had a good time. We finally got to start sleeping in our upper bunk. This doubles our living capacity at night and really makes the van comfortable. In the course of the weekend a few people stopped by. One really old heavy set man in a big expensive truck with a little dog by his side stopped. He wanted to tell me he was looking for a small camper himself.

“My wife has left me and now I have to start all over,” he shrugged.

I mentioned I was broke down and he told me about a nearby mechanic, wanted to drive me over there, but I declined. He wanted to know if I was traveling alone. I guess he didn’t see Joe. I said no. I thanked him for the directions and bid him adieu after he basically divulged his life story to me.

Before too long a VW bug pulled up in the next lane. I waited a few hours for that guy to show up but he didn’t know a mechanic, did his own work, and went to Baton Rouge if he really needed help. Oh well. I passed the time sprucing up the van, giving it the message I hadn’t given up on it, doing the Sunday crossword puzzle, and organizing our gear.

When in situations like this I never rest until I know I have done absolutely everything I can to be my own best advocate. So I pressed on. In a while I asked Joe if he wanted to enjoy the Sunday afternoon sunset and take a walk in the neighborhood to see if we could find that mechanic. I could get the number maybe off a door or a sign. Somehow I had the feeling that just the right person was out there for me, I just had to find him or her. In these cases it’s always best to deal with a real VW person. Most commercial shops and parts departments aren’t set up to deal with VW issues. We pressed on.

The old man’s directions were a bit sketchy so I asked more questions of the neighbors washing their cars, putting out the garbage cans, and watering lawns. We finally arrived at a big garage in the neighborhood, no signs, a lot of cars outside – and lo and behold – a mechanic sitting in the doorway reading a parts magazine. I approached him.

His name was Randy. His garage was filled with dune buggies, little race cars, and motorcycles. He said this was his hobby shop, he wasn’t a business, but he was willing to help me. I had found my man.

Randy is a monster truck mechanic. He has traveled all over America working the car show circuit and recently retired. He was well familiar with VWs being an old hippie. He put us in his truck and we drove off to a parts store, no luck, it had just closed, but he went back to the van and checked out the situation.

I need a clutch cable. So for now we are currently parked at Randy’s garage in Bayou Vista, LA. If we don’t get a cable from the O’Reilly parts store, and that is looking unlikely, then Michael is going to send us one UPS. So for now we have a good place to park, food and drink is within walking distance, and we are thanking our luck stars. It’s all good. We’ll get to New Orleans maybe by next week. The Jazz Fest is still going on.

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela

Date: Apr 30, 2009 4:27 PM
In the last five days I have been through some right of passage in the tiny town of Bayou Vista, LA. I am never going to spend another moment frightened or worried about breaking down. I have fallen into loving arms here in this town and we are so humbled by our fortuitous experience and the obvious unforeseen forces which guide us.

My van broke down within five blocks of Randy Jenkins, who has traveled America as a mechanic on the monster truck circuit. He also works on Nitro Harley motorcycles and his son was one of the top "pilots" not racers in the country.

I needed a clutch cable and I decided to take the path of least resistance, allow Randy and his neighbors to take us under their wing, and just wait for Michael, my mechanic in Organ, NM, to send me a cable. As it turned out it would have taken just as long for O'Reilly's, an auto parts store next to Wal-Mart, to get me the part. As it turned out the auto parts store would have cost me $80 and I don't know if that included overnight air freight or not. Michael mailed me the cable for less that $30.

Randy set us up at his shop where we urban camped for five days. His neighbor Tim invited us to his house everyday to eat, shower, and pass the time. Last night we enjoyed a crawfish boil. Randy's girlfriend Wendy was one of the first female crane and big rig operators here around and about Morgan City. She was a real trailblazer in her day. She and I went blackberry picking along the RR tracks yesterday. They were our dessert last night after all the sausage, crawfish, corn, potatoes, and red onions.

Randy got us back on the road this morning and took NO MONEY. I just can't believe the warmth and generosity of these people. We insisted on at least providing them with one good meal, as we did. But they have given us so much more than we gave. From now on I will see breakdowns as opportunities.

It took less than two hours to get to NO. I am hooking up with my old girlfriend I used to live with down here. She drove down from Atlanta and I'm gonna call her cell as soon as I finish this report. We are urban camped at the Nix Library on Carrollton Ave. We parked here on our first VW tour right after my momma died. It's like coming home. Hope we can get away with it again. Looks good.

Happy Trails to all
Beatlick Pamela

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beatlick Travel: Lightning Storm in Houston

Ooh that smell. Can't you smell that smell? Wet pavement on the open road. How long has it been?

Well down Highway 90 my navigator Beatlick Joe Speer signals turns to roads that are getting smaller and smaller. I'm getting tireder and tireder.

"Isn't there a more direct route than this?" I ask. Then switching into alpha bitch mode: It's been three days, 700 miles, and we're not making any progress.

"Well, I thought you wanted to go to Palacias, Texas, and get BBQ.

"I only said that because you wanted to take the coastal route. Besides I already got BBQ." (I couldn't wait and grabbed the first opportunity for some of that great dry Texas BBQ, so unlike the wet sloppy kind back in Tennessee.)

Neither one of us was taking responsibility for the route we were on. And again, not having consulted the map, I had no conception of the extra time and miles it would take to retrace our old path along the Texas coastline. Needless to say we never made it to the coast.

Fortunately we were serendipitously close to Highway 59 heading due east and a straight shot to Houston. We nipped at each other for a few more miles until we took a break at a beautiful picnic area.

I passed an hour doing my yoga exercises, Joe chilled in the van, and we were both in much better moods when we headed out again in the late afternoon, planning on about three more hours on the road and stop on the east side of Houston, hopefully missing some heavy traffic.

The rain had been teasing us all day long and picked up about the same time we hit the 12-lane 210 bypass around Houston. Six lanes one-way of course. We head in. The van is driving effortlessly and we are snug enough. The rain intensifies as night comes on and the sky starts to fill with maxi-bursts of lightning that illuminate the entire curve of the horizon; the lightning bolts must be at least 30 miles long.

I am taking it all in stride and we just start to joke about it, how much worse could the driving conditions be? That’s when the windstorms began. It was like a race car arcade game where you are trying to stay in the lane, but the road is so wet you can’t see the markers; all the tail lights of the cars are twinkling, competing with the lightning bolts overhead; and the big rigs roar past leaving a wake of water as they swoosh by.

By the time we got to the opposite side of Houston, pulling up a long incline, I think we hit a small tornado. I felt like I was “Three Years Before the Mast” heading around Cape Horn in a gale storm. But my little van was giving its all. I had all the power I needed, thank God, to accelerate evenly with traffic, but the spray and the sheer density of the rain sheets finally turned everything opaque, the color of cement. I couldn’t even pull over because we were along a construction corridor and orange cones blocked my path.

I should have pulled over anywhere, but I was waiting for the most opportune pull off. It didn’t come Cars were beginning to line the sides of the highway now as I slowed down, still hardly able to make out anything between the psychedelic light show in the sky, all the red taillights on the road, and the vast amounts of water that were drowning out my vision.

And just at that moment when I saw a sign for an old weigh station turn off one mile ahead, another gush of water from a passing rig submerged me and the engine stalled. I stomped the accelerator and the engine held. All this time an eerie calm is over me. After all the anxiety I felt driving out in the mountains anticipating the danger that never happened, here in this truly dangerous situation I am calm, determined.

The weigh station exit came up at last and I was finally able to pull over. I puttered along in first gear finding nowhere to turn in because the lane was packed with other vehicles, at least 50 or 60. We were almost back onto the highway when I found one tiny space in between two big rigs. I pull in. I have been driving for 14 hours.

This was the night we were anticipating sleeping uptop in the van. But no chance of that now. Unfortunately I had already placed the bedding up there so in the gales we had to lift the camper top and pull out our damp down comforters. But only a little damp. They would work.

We fixed up the bed to look out the side window. The rain and traffic are a real show out there and my body is vibrating so intensely that there is no way I will go to sleep for quite some time, so I just snuggled in to watch the light show. I tell Joe, “I feel like I have been struck by lightning. I feel electric.”

The rain beats down relentlessly, the water gushes past the window horizontally, and the lightning bolts appear like bursts of bomb shells. It’s WWII out there. The noise of the rain, the trucks, the lightning crashes all pass through me. My body resonates. I am safe, I am warm, I am anointed!

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela

A Story About the War

by Chris Mansel

I was writing a play, about a man who went blind
in the middle of a war. He crossed the lines over and
over till he was shot through the back.

He slept until the bullet dislodged itself and he awoke
and he could see again. He climbed a mountain and there
he saw a single dove fly into a stone and not come out.
He stood there until a bullet dropped from his hands and
rolled down the mountain and into a stream. The next day
the dove brought the bullet back to him. The dove dropped
the bullet into his hand and started to bleed. The man closed
his eyes and flew away.

He flew over the soldiers dying on the battlefield, he flew over
the wounded, and the peaceful skies. As he dipped his wing feathers
dropped from his mouth, and a quiet fell over the land. His eyes rolled
into his head and the peace he felt was disturbed when he landed amidst
a battle. His body was insulted by the machinery of war and there was
hardly anything left.

The next morning a solid red dove came to pick at his remains.

Chris Mansel (

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beatlick Travel Report: Las Cruces to Marathon TX

Beatlick Travel Report: Aguirre Springs

With a conflicted heart I am pointing my van east toward Tennessee. My little house back there is minus tenants still and my sister called me in tears over the condition it was in. So to honor the home I inherited from my mother I will go back and take care of some business. Hopefully it won’t take too long, but I’m not worried about it, whatever it takes.

So out of Albuquerque we headed south back to Las Cruces to get our 3,000 mile checkup.

The tune up worked out perfectly with Beatlick Joe’s long held fantasy of hiking Baylor Pass. We delivered the van to Michael and he drove us out to Baylor Canyon, not far from his house, and we just hiked back to our camp. It’s a sort of iconic, right-of-passage kind of hike for Las Crucens and the trail parallels Augustine Pass on Highway 70 as it heads east to White Sand Missile Range. Having heard so many people talk about it over the six years we’ve lived in Las Cruces somehow I gathered that it was a really long hike. So I planned in my mind for all day.

We set out fully bundled up in leather jackets, gloves, scarves, and warm caps. The wind was intense and clouds were already gathering when we set out at 11 a.m. The Organ Mountains are young with sharp, jagged promontories juxtapositioned erratically alongside each other. As one ascends the more barren western slope all of the plains in full view below spread, spread wide, to reveal the curve of the earth.

You can see the highway far below, ribboning its way south towards the El Paso. The endless horizon is edged in the aubergine purple haze of distant mountain ranges that must have looked insurmountable to early settlers.

Nearing the crest the beauty of the mountains becomes even more evident as more details emerge. Ancient lichen formations appear as French Impressionistic daubs of pastel. I saw green, chartreuse, orange, and brown lichen. Tiny little mountain wildflowers trembled at our feet bravely facing tiny little faces to the sun, so delicate.

Just like Heidi we began to shed clothes as we kept going higher. I brought an empty backpack just so we could stash the heavy jackets and sweaters if need be. On the path I didn’t see much life beyond the plant life save a few doodlebugs, some ants, and one little songbird. I didn’t see it but I heard it. By the time we actually arrived at Baylor Pass I was back into all of my gear, the wind was brutal and cold, sucking up the warmth out of the atmosphere. The gusts challenged us to stand much less linger at the top of the pass but we had to take the time to look first west then east, just to comprehend the enormity of the view.

The land gently lolled down eastwardly towards the White Sands Missile Range and on to another endless mountain range opposite the western one. It’s hard to imagine seeing any more land mass at one time except from an airplane. The winds slackened off on the opposite side and we nestled up against some warm rocks reflecting the warmth of the strengthening sun.

We were astonished to arrive back at our campground in three hours. The trek was no wheres near as formidable as we had imagined and we felt so happy and accomplished to have made it so comparatively effortlessly.

Our tent has proven to be so enjoyable. The winds are severe on this weekend. Michael found this tent for us as well. It’s sturdy canvas, bright yellow with a deep blue roof, and a happy little striped front flap. It was custom made for VW vans, but it can be all zipped up and stand alone as well. The 8’x10’ interior seems spacious to us. I took the mattress off of our upstairs bunk to create the bedding. We have this portable feather bed given to us by friends in Las Cruces who worried we wouldn’t be warm enough on the road. It’s just one big enormous sack of down feathers. Not tufted at all. You shake it out and fluff it so that it billows down onto the mattress like a big marshmallow. When we lay on it at night it seems to expand like yeast, oozing away from us to seep towards my candle altar. I am constantly pulling it back like the tide, but it is soooo warm. In the morning we see all the tiny little feathers in our hair and one our clothes. They cheerfully float around all inside the tent. With two more down comforters on top of us, it’s cozy!

We have our sleeping arrangements and backpacks on one side of the tent; two chairs and a table, the camp stove, pots and pans, on the other. I keep a red plastic tray in front of the zip up door at night laden with candles, lanterns, and an oil lamp, all lit up until they glow and emulate the warmth of a little home hearth. I love it. The wind howls, the tent quivers with the strain but holds firmly, and we sleep like babies in the womb.

Happy Trails, Beatlick Pamela 4.20.09

Beatlick TR: A Ukrainian Easter

My mechanic Michael Elliott is my greatest enabler. Without him we would never be realizing our dream. He’s not just a mechanic; he has an aura, an awareness of spirit that makes us trust him completely. When we arrived at his house we found him as usual with a lot full of vans. I “have lust in my heart” as Jimmy Carter phrased it, for the teal blue 79 Westphalia. But that one’s out of my price range and besides I do love my van with all its flaws because I know Michael built the engine and did all the hard work on that particular van with us in mind. So there is a connection there.

He also has a 1967 blue-and-white VW bus, another 1968 one, and a red 1969 Westphalia, “Westie” as they are called. When I was looking for my van we couldn’t even find one for sale. These buses offer a freedom most folks can appreciate these days. He can be contacted a

Michael also found the tent attachment that goes to our van. When we come to Organ for a tune up we just set up the tent and camp for a few days in Aguirre Springs campground while Michael works on our vehicle. He also invited us to a really special Easter celebration at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We have gone there before with him, it’s a beautiful small chapel and I was eager to give some thanks. So we all planned for the unique service.

First - it was a week later than most services. It started on a Saturday night at 10 p.m., with three, count them three, hours of chanting and singing; all along with incense being swung all about, a candle ceremony, and contemplative walk outside and around the chapel.

At 1 a.m. there was a feast and celebration. Baskets of bread, wine, sausages, cakes, you name it, were all spread out. I started out with the celebratory shot of apple brandy someone was passing around from the “old country.” Just like white lightnin’. The people there were so interesting, from Russia, the Ukraine, England, and multiple places in between. There were two priests and a monk. These guys were so approachable, so ordinary, they created such an ambiance of humor and acceptance that it becomes quite evident why this tiny little church is growing. We three had a ball.

Then Michael went out to the parking lot and climbed into his van, we followed and got into ours, and there we slept in the church parking lot. Next morning we headed over to the WalMart parking lot.

The van drives like a dream, stronger than it has ever been before. I've got to take care of some details in Las Cruces like renewing my tags and paying up my car insurance before we can take off. That gives us a perfect opportunity to go to the El Palacio reading before heading east.

Our route back to Tennessee will be a southerly one, following Highway 90 through south Texas, way south. Then we are going to head to the New Orleans Jazz Festival. I'm going to revisit the old mansion turned into a hostel, that I used to live in and help run down in the Bywater District of the Ninth Ward.

Happy Trails, Beatlick Pamela 4.20.09

Beatlick TR: Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX

We pulled out of Las Cruces with aching hearts as we said goodbye to so many good friends, made the poetry reading at El Palacio on Tuesday night, and hit the road on Wednesday.

It was a great drive picking up Highway 90 out of Van Horn. I saw a red-headed buzzard, something I've never seen before, and a herd of some weird looking antelope/deer sort of creatures. There were so many in a herd, about 30, that I wonder if someone is raising them like cattle. Don't know.

We made it to Marathon, about 250 miles, in six hours or so. The Gage Hotel there is a great place, a former mansion of some cattle baron, now a swank yet still rustic hotel. What is so great is you can go into the lobby, hang a quick right past the receptionist, and enjoy the TV room with those great overstuffed leather couches and chairs, with a hugh wagon wheel type chandelier overhead. Cable TV. When you get lucky there is no one in there and it's a great place to watch TV. We caught some late night antics last night between Jon Stewart and Keith Oberman.

We took a walk past the old mansions in the area and came upon this really original place called Eve's Garden and B&B. I quote from there website:

Eve’s Garden is an organic Bed and Breakfast and Ecology Resource Center, located in the beautiful high mountain desert of West Texas, at the gateway to Big Bend National Park, in Marathon, Texas. Eve’s Garden is a research level organic gardening demonstration site and an urban hacienda, combining to provide a comfortable Bed and Breakfast environment and a conversational forum to address issues regarding the ecology we live in.

Every effort has been made to combine elements of “art”, “architecture”, and “ecology” in the layout and construction of this unusually progressive piece of work. A large amount of recycled content, strawbale buildings, paper adobe/fiber cement buildings, high Mexican contemporary color treatments, and a focus on locally produced food, conspire to create an aura of thoughtfulness.

“Thoughtfulness” — this is our goal — to motivate our guests to pursue the projects they have in their minds, and recognize that they can make a difference.

Well the site and lot are certainly different. It looks like a movie set with all these podlike structures like so many big mushrooms in various stages of completion, and painted garishly in bright colors to look like crayola mosques. In the back of the lot are enormous stacks of drying concrete blocks, building materials, cement mixers, and about a dozen projects going on simultaneously. It's quite a site in this tiny little town.

The van is running like a dream, the strongest it's ever been. I just can't believe my good fortune. I'll have to do 250 miles every day to get to the Jazz Fest in New Orleans. That might not happen, but the trip will be great regardless. I am going to report on my return to the old mansion I used to work in when it was renovated into a hostel. It was in the Ninth Ward, the Bywater diststrict, near the canal.

I'm told the Bywater area didn't get hit as bad as the Ninth Ward on the other side of the canal. We'll find out. There is a tease of rain in the air and clouds today. Can't remember the last time I got rained on. And I don't think I'm going to be cold anymore. We slept on top of the covers last night at our urban campsite across from the Gage Hotel.

Happy Trails, Beatlick Pamela 4.23.09