Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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Hustling for a Home in Carmel

As a massive Kerouac fan, I was excited to visit Big Sur, the setting of Kerouac’s book of the same title. Kerouac’s epic descriptions of crossing Bixby Bridge had me captivated. And even though Kerouac was in the last stages of his surrender to alcohol when he wrote his last book, his appreciation for the natural landscape shined through all his episodes with DTs.

I thought I would make the trip to Big Sur during my time in Seattle. But my months there filled too quickly with hiking day trips, and work and personal trips out of town. As a birthday treat, Jeannine booked us a cabin there and some flights. Although I assumed this would be a trip I would take on my own, it’s clear I thought no one would have interest in joining me rather than a wish for solitude. The number of other Kerouac fans that I’ve known can be counted on one hand. And the intersection between close friends and Kerouac fans yields exactly one.

We flew into San Francisco for a couple of days. Since we have both been there often enough to have exhausted all the typical tourist destinations, we took leisurely strolls across the city looking for some delicious food and enjoyable parks. Food find of note: Tartine is not to be missed.

We declined the entrance fee to the San Francisco Mission, but the outside of the old church was anachronistic in The Mission and worth a look. We were lured away by the people walking by with free Noosa yogurt. Our desire to seek this out was admittedly silly. Unless eaten immediately the yogurt would have gone to waste in our bags without refrigeration for the duration of the afternoon. This low-key vacation was made for following random impulses though, so the Noosa distraction led to a street fair.

The only mildly tourist activities we engaged in were visits to The Beat Museum and Visuvios. The Beat Museum was, well, beat. It was rundown and lacking in much paraphernalia apart from a number of Allen Ginsberg’s photographs that I have seen reproduced numerous times. Yet I was surrounded by a period and culture that has fascinated me for much of my adult life, so I was pleased none the less. With Visuvios just kitty corner to the museum , it felt wrong not to stop in.

The AirBNB place that we stayed in was super. Matt and Jeff were lovely hosts. Give them a look if you are ever travelling there.

San Francisco

This was the view from our Air BNB room. Even with an overcast day it was sublime.

Picture of a do not poop here sign on Vulcan Steps in San Franciso

Vulcan Steps are lovely and should be explored. This is among its gems that appeals to my inner five year old.

Delores Mission. We could have paid 5 bucks to get in here. But I didn't think The Pope needed my money. We bought pastries instead. I still feel good about out choice.

Delores Mission. We could have paid 5 bucks to get in here. But I didn’t think The Pope needed my money. We bought pastries instead. I still feel good about out choice.

This is opulent. The signed on the door say no trespassing. Opulent and off limits.

This is opulent. The signed on the door say no trespassing. Opulent and off limits.

Picture of mission delores basilica

Weird to have that monster right next to the humble Spanish mission.

Abandoned bike locks. The key gets lost or the bike gets incapacitated. Then what?

Abandoned bike locks. The key gets lost or the bike gets incapacitated. Then what?

Picture of a door in The Mission.

But it looks so inviting.

A picture of the women's building in The Mission

El edificios de mujares indeed. A building of women, directly and poorly translated.

The women's building in The Mission

Yep. That’s a woman with a baby in her baby-maker up top. I am a feminist. I’m just not so sure we need to be so explicit about it.

Picture of Delores Park, San Francisco

Delores Park. Yes. It’s lovely.

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz boardwalk is like Coney Island but more bright and sparkly and less used needles and grime.

The Peter Pan Hotel in Santa Cruz

Oh, hey 50’s motel. THEY HAVE TV!! Which of course you need when you vacation at the beach.

The Pacific Ocean of California's Highway 1

Some random beauty from one of the many pull-offs on Highway 1. Seriously, it looks like that about half the time. When you aren’t seeing that you are seeing verdant hills and pastures.

We stayed at a wonderful cabin south of Carmel. It’s a little ramshackle place tucked into the side of a hill, filled with color furniture and fixtures that captivated the child in me. After we hiked up the hill, we were treated to a couple of days in this.

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Cabin south of Carmel, California called The Rainbow House.

The Pacific coast close to Big Sur.

What can I say about Big Sur that the pictures don’t? Nothing except it was everything and nothing that I thought it would be. It was just as intoxicating and raw as Kerouac described it. Like Kerouac I expected this pilgrimage to be a reaffirmation of the ways in which I am alien in this world. What a wonderful surprise that I found this place full of awe and gratitude and shared it profoundly with Jeannine, as though it was always to be so.

Cabin south of Carmel, California called The Rainbow House.

This was right off Highway One. I am standing about five feet off the road.

Bixby Bridge

This is the bridge I have been looking for… for years.


Caught at work.

Since this song… Since Big Sur

Bixby Bridge Highway One California

Bixby is just gorgeous.

Bixby bridge

Kerouac marvels at this bridge in Big Sur. He talks about the sheer power of nature, and how he felt insignificant against it.

Bixby bridge

I understand what he means exactly. But where he felt insignificant, I feel comforted that we humans aren’t so powerful after all.

Bixby Bridge

That time when you are trying to figure out how the timer works on your camera.

Bixby bridge

That time when you give up on making the timer work on your camera.

Bixby bridge

I wouldn’t have made it here without this one.

Big Sur, Pacific Ocean

The Pacific just passed Bixby Bridge in Big Sur.

View from Nepenthe in Big Sur

The Pacific from the deck of Nepenthe. I don’t know what voodoo they worked on their burger. I just know it was heavenly.

pfeiffer beach big sur california

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California. The pictures adequately show the raw beauty of the beach. It doesn’t show that the winds were driving sand up off the beach and blasting my face with it. My face was very soft after the sand and salt scrub.

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California. That kid was brave. It was very cold.

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California

Pfeiffer Beach Big Sur California


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100 Books by 40: ON THE ROAD Scroll Edition

Natalie Merchant is responsible for what I’ve become. Compulsive listening to 10,000 Maniacs caused neurons to fire with recognition at the sight of Jack Kerouac in the book store at the beginning of my last year of high school. The unremarkable walk out of Walden Books in the crisp October afternoon sun in 1993 seemed like any other, just as an inconsistency in metal rails is just as much until a train comes barreling down on them.

While it was never my dream to get married and have children, I also didn’t see any alternatives to that future. There was only one road to the future. Everyone I knew planned to navigate it.

When my friends would enthuse about their future families, a tiny quiver in a dank, seldom-visited corner of my brain would induce sweaty palms and a dry mouth. I had dutifully obtained a high school boyfriend thinking that it would unlock my vision of my future self, mom, wife. I felt sure making all the preordained choices would silence that troubling quiver.

And then this happened:

“… they rushed down the street together digging everything in the early way they had which has later now become so much sadder and perceptive.. but then they danced down the street like dingledodies and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing.. but burn, burn, burn like roman candles across the night.” Jack Kerouac On the Road (Scroll Edition)

Like a blaring alarm clock that jolts the sleeper upright, waking came to me abrupt and complete. Inhabiting On the Road opened me to the pursuit of truth. The power inherent in chance encounters. The heartbreak and beauty in seeking authenticity in a world saturated with facades and costumes. I saw in On the Road the quiver grow to a rattling. The train jumped the tracks.

The book describes late 1940’s America with love and smoldering intensity. Every crevasse and sewer grate from New York to San Francisco is found with a quiet beauty in its disarray. They roar across the country looking to drink every real experience in every moment stealing real connections from the jaws of 1950’s conformity.

Since I took the other road in 1993 that led me to move away from home and come out, I read On the Road again in the early 2000’s. So, I selected The Original Scroll edition for this reading. This edition was written in 1948, whereas the published version of On the Road was rewritten several times before it finally hit the shelves in 1957. The versions are different in that the punctuation typically used in quotations is eschewed and the names of the characters haven’t been changed. Sal is Jack in The Original Scroll edition. These are the most obvious differences. There are other minor differences that will only be obvious to the most obsessive fan.

My third reading of this finds me at thirty-nine. It finds me coming to the realization that I love experiences over things. It finds me shedding my furniture. It finds me putting down all the things I’ve collected over the years. It finds me single with a string of failed relationships behind me all collateral damage in part due to my incessant searching for more. It finds me throwing clothes, guitars, and cat into my car in three weeks to move across the country. It finds me hungry for authenticity. It finds me going on the road.

I don’t know what Seattle will hold for me. I do know that I need to face this down. I do know that I will make a pilgrimage to this bridge in Big Sur while I am out West. And I know like Jack Kerouac and Ben Gibbard, I will be reminded that it’s about the journey and not the destination. And I know that I couldn’t have better muses to carry me on this journey than Jack and Neil.

“Bixby Canyon Bridge” – Death Cab for Cutie

I descended a dusty gravel ridge
Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge
Until I eventually arrived
At the place where your soul had died

Barefoot in the shallow creek
I grabbed some stones from underneath
And waited for you to speak to me

In the silence it became so very clear
That you had long ago disappeared
I cursed myself for being surprised
That this didn’t play like it did in my mind

All the way from San Francisco
As I chased the end of your road
‘Cause I’ve still got miles to go

And I want to know my fate
If I keep up this way

And it’s hard to want to stay awake
When everyone you meet, they all seem to be asleep
And you wonder if you’re missing a dream

You can’t see a dream
You can’t see a dream
You just can’t see a dream

A dream [x12]

And then it started getting dark
I trudged back to where the car was parked
No closer to any kind of truth
As I must assume was the case with you