Sunday, February 19, 2012

Home Sweet Home

So I just finished my conference and am back in Los Angeles. I have never missed my city quite so much before. L.A. gets a bad rap sometimes – the traffic, the smog, the overcrowding, but a week in the mountains can really put things in perspective.

Yes, in L.A. it does take an hour to go 10 miles, but let me tell you what you’re getting in that hour and 10 miles – 7 gas stations, 12 Starbucks, countless people-watching opportunities, KROQ, the thrill of a near-death experience as idiots try to “beat” the traffic, and the to chance unleash all your frustrations from the day by screaming profanities at all those around you without consequence.

Now, let me tell you what you get in 7 hours and nearly 400 miles in the Mohave Desert and Sierra Nevadas – the opportunity to pee on the side of the road while young children in passing cars point and laugh at you because not a single rest stop is open, a good workout and the fear of being picked off by a serial killer as you walk 30 miles in heels to get gas because your tank isn’t large enough to make the long stretch between tiny towns, fuzzy radio stations that only offer weather conditions and a rundown of Pickel Elementary’s lunch menu, and the joy of paying a dollar more per gallon of gas than you would in Los Angeles while you use the single gas pump, which is duct-taped together, and an old-timey prospector watches you.

To say the journey was unpleasant is an understatement.

As I made my through the winding mountain roads, I was also struck by all the crossing signs. Nothing crosses in L.A. except for people and construction equipment, but I’m familiar with the classic deer crossing signs I grew up with in Minnesota. These, however, were not for deer. Rather I was warned of possible moose, elk, cow, and my personal favorite, cowboy-on-a-horse crossings. I suppose if the cows are crossing, it only makes sense the cowboy wouldn’t be far behind. Inexplicably, there were no signs for the less friendly beasts that seemed to cross the roads as well, such as bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes. I guess they’re not real concerned about us hitting those guys. In L.A., the only wildlife I have to deal with are the roaming gangs of Chihuahuas that patrol the streets and occasional cock fighting ring.

Once I reached the mountain chalet, a breathtaking 7,000 miles up… and I mean breathtaking in the literal sense, as in, we’re so high up there isn’t enough oxygen for us all to breathe… I discovered the worst thing possible. No cell service and no Internet. How does one survive!? Whose idiotic plan was this? Oh, but it gets so much worse. Ready? You should sit down for this. There was no alcohol. Let that soak in a minute. 50 or so doctors in the middle of nowhere with no phones, no Internet and no alcohol. It was beyond my worst nightmare. Do you have any idea what it’s like to sit through a presentation on genital herpes sober!? I almost lost my lunch!

So there I was, stuck for a week with the dullest people on Earth in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. By day three I was ready to bolt, but a colleague convinced me to take a mid-morning hike with her. Why not, right?

Here’s why not. It was two degrees and snowing. And when you hike in the mountains, apparently it’s customary to go higher. I mean, if you can’t breathe at 7,000 feet, 9,000 feet probably feels great, right? At least the lack of oxygen gave me a much-needed buzz.

Because we knew nothing about hiking or the mountains, we went with a group organized by the chalet. As you may have guessed, I’m not really a group person. I did my best to silently sulk along behind the crowd and engage in conversation only when absolutely necessary, but these mountain folks were relentless! “Where are you from? What do you do? What’s your family like? I have two cats, their names are Mittens and Tabby. I love to scrapbook, do you scrapbook? Isn’t nature the best? I love to hike,” and on and on and on. In L.A., despite living on top of each other in cramped little lots with a smattering of grass if you’re lucky, we have the common decency to ignore each other. I have never once asked a neighbor for a cup of sugar, that’s what El Super is for. And though I buy a tamale or some menudo from that guy on my corner at least once a week, I very politely refrain from making small talk as I assume he’d rather get back to his phone call…. Also, I don’t think he speaks English. My point is, idle chatter and the insistence that we all be extra friendly to each other confuses and frightens me. By the end of the hike I had wet feet and ridiculous tan lines from where my hat came down and my scarf came up.     

When Saturday finally rolled around, I woke up early and hit the road hard. I cruised past the lookout points without so much as a glance as I made my way back to my home sweet home. A beautiful land where, instead of the unsettling sounds of nature, I’m surrounded by the comforting sounds of helicopter rotors, police sirens and barking pit bulls. Instead of pine and dirt, I get to smell food trucks and hot asphalt. A land free of snow and winter, where lemon and orange trees grow year round and gardeners work for a couple bucks an hour. Los Angeles.

As I drove down the mountain and watched the thermometer climb from 12 degrees to 75, I knew I was getting close. When a petite woman swerved around me wildly while flipping me the bird during a 1pm traffic jam, I began to feel giddy. And when I heard an actor come on the radio and begin waxing on about politics and foreign policy, I called my hubby to let him know I was nearly home.     

For those not familiar with California liquor laws, we sell it here 24/7 and we sell it everywhere – gas stations, grocery stores, Target. Jealous, Minnesota? So I swung into 7/11 and picked up a bottle of chardonnay and a frozen pizza before driving the last few miles home. As I rounded my pothole-filled street, I was met with the sound of Mariachi music from my neighbor’s never-ending fiesta and the smell of tanning oil. I gave a quick wave to the man who sells me my tamales… maybe I did learn something up there… and pulled into my driveway.

Mat and the babies met me at the door. They were all smiles and hugs as I threw off all my layers and flopped down onto the couch in exhaustion. I spent the rest of the evening snuggled up with with my family regaling them with tales of the sadistic mountains until we all fell asleep under the beautiful orange glow of Los Angeles. 

Dr. Em


  1. Tsk! Tsk! Em, those nice people were trying to be friends with you; they wanted to get to know you. I'm always saying you need to smile more ans bask in the awesomeness that is being with other people! Don't you ever go to the fiesta next door? I know all my neighbors and it doesn't matter that we can only get liquor Monday - Saturday 11 am - 10 pm at city owned liquor stores. When you venture out of your house you realize there's always friend ready with a bottle of wine or a shot of tequila.

    Then there's the issue of your total lack of appreciation for the wonders of nature. Nature gives us life and energy! If you had just stopped your grouching for a moment you would have heard the mountains speaking to you. The wilderness sings if only you listen to it.

    Em, I am so sad for you and what you're missing. When you come to visit this summer I will take you up to the cabin and we can meditate in the clearing. Then you will understand the magic.


    1. Nature gives me hives and the unsettling notion that I'm being judged by the animals around me. People also give me hives. People don't actually give you shots of tequila do they? If that's the case, screw your hippie shack in the woods, I want to vacation in your front yard. Let the daytime drinking commence!

      Dr. Em

  2. The animals don't judge...they embrace. Except for the ferret, stay away from the ferret. And if people give you hives, just take some allergy medicine, that's what I do when I'm going to be around cats. I have some very good recommendations. Seriously you need to open up to your neighbors, you could gain so much joy from knowing you are a part of a community. Plus it's a great way to tackle big projects! This weekend we were all over at Susan and Bill's house to help refinish their floors. Sure they could have hired someone but then the floor would not have absorbed our positive energy. Next week we begin planning our St Patty's Day progressive dinner.

    There's tequila in the woods too, silly. It helps the meditation process.


  3. So, you're telling me to open up to my neighbors so that I can take part in manual labor? I don't do manual labor. They make contractors for that.

    Dr. Em

  4. Oh, my heart hurts for's not about the work. It's about being part of the Earth and joining with her people.