Wednesday, July 25, 2012


This is one of those moments one attempts to hang onto. In my “Field Notes” journal this pm: This soft clement air, slanting golden light of late summer afternoon; reading Natasha's first ball in War and Peace; wine and family…

I’m savoring this go-around with Tolstoy, but the feeling is more like The Ambassadors.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sunrise over Penobscot Bay

Landfall: After wending our largely separate ways here, and after stopping in Billerica and in Nashua to visit our New England aunties, the siblings (these days comprising four households) have assembled at "Penobscot View," a spacious vacation cottage in Lincolnville, Maine. We overlook Penobscot Bay—the property adjoins the water, although the interface cannot properly be styled a beach—and the nearby town of Camden looks as though it will reward investigation. As I post shortly before 6:00 a.m. (3:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time!) Lina and I have just come in from watching the sun rise our second morning here. The last time I attempted to catch the majestic sight of dawn over the sea was sometime in 1969 when after an all-nighter I and a group of wastrel companions, all of us somewhat the worse for youthful experimentation, headed out to Zuma Beach for this spectacle. Since Zuma Beach is just north of Malibu CA, the expedition, unlike this one, could not in the event be counted an entire success.

Further vital news and personalia as they break (although if you think I am going to devote a significant fraction of this vacation week to slaving over a hot blog, you are quite mad).

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's alive! Igor, it's alive!

Two years later, and the sibs are once again gathering in the northeast quadrant of These United States. I had thought to record our hijinks in a brand-new blog, but as I hauled this one out of the shed to make room, it occurred to me to affix the jumper cables, we are. Entries will commence once the family recoalesces on the Right Coast at the end of the week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Journey’s end; an Oakland afternoon

After ten thousand miles and change—Greg, the single participant who can claim to have been with the expedition from Santa Cruz to Sarasota, still had another eighty to go—I returned home at dusk yesterday and passed the night in my own bed, sleepily enfolded by my beloved, for the first time in centuries. Life is good.

Today, sundry errands. In late afternoon I note that the air is dry, and that it’s pleasantly warm in the sun and pleasantly cool in the shade. I've lived in Oakland for a third of a century, and while I have my issues with the 12% - 18% of the population that comprises its permanent criminal underclass (where “I have my issues with” means “I wouldn’t piss down their throats if their hearts were on fire” — the white liberal guilt I had in my baggage back in 1977 was stolen a long time ago), I am still prepared to forgive much in exchange for what I believe to be, most days of the year, the best weather in North America. That I return to a particularly “blue” region of a blue state after overhearing so many hotel conversations from knuckle-dragging Palinista fuckwits—o, do not get me started, my auditors and only friends.

A shout-out here to my brother Greg. This entire undertaking might not have begun had it not been for an idle remark of mine on Facebook a year ago, but it most definitely would not have begun if Greg had not picked up the idea and run with it. Friends, I couldn’t organize a two-car funeral procession. Greg put this entire undertaking together and made it happen. If any of you are still following this blog as it prepares to fold up its tent tonight, I encourage you to vouchsafe him some recognition either on Facebook or in the comments below for the sheer brute competence it required to bring about this ambitious and implausible project.

Above: Greg at Kennebunkport

Heere endyth the Travell Blogge.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An aid to long-distance driving

I neglected to mention last night that as we sped westward from St. Louis over I-70, frankly not one of America’s most photogenic interstate highways, Greg and I were kept engaged by the audiobook version (complete and, ahem, unexpurgated) of Lolita, recited by Jeremy Irons in his trademarked buttery baritone. I would not have thought that Nabokov’s prose would have lent itself to this treatment, but the delivery is superb and the language enchanting. We’d actually begun to listen considerably earlier in the trip, in Virginia or North Carolina, but I had forgotten how, ah, explicit the narrative becomes early on, and by the end of disc three our avuncular ears were burning and we tacitly agreed to save the rest for this stage of the trip. Priggish of us, I know, but still...

So yesterday disc 8 (of ten) wound up at some propitious point (stopping for fuel; pulling into’s a blur) with Humbert, his nymphet snatched from her sickbed by his mysterious double, setting out in search of them. It should make for a nice transit of Nevada’s austere, oddly lovely basin-and-range terrain as we set out on the final leg of our 10,000 mile trip.

Edit: We reflected before the end of our trip that Jeremy Irons’ reading was a critical element. Both of us agreed that an audiobook Lolita would not have worked with David Sedaris as Humbert.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hunka hunka burnin’ blog

Every narrative arc must eventually descend (unless it stops in mid-air like Deadwood), and so the Great 2010 Careaga/Fleming Family Roadtrip and Traveling Circus speeds to a close—but not without a recapitulation. We would not, unlike the producers of Deadwood, do that to our loyal if far tinier audience. As so often before, your correspondent pleads fatigue (we have just driven from St. Louis to Ely NV in 36 hours, and are a tad tuckered) and begs your indulgence for the infelicities and incoherencies that will necessarily pop up in this tale

Friday 6 August - Huntsville

Within half an hour of our arrival Cousin Midge made us welcome with the delivery of a couple of extraordinary fruit baskets, cunningly made up to look like flower arrangements and consisting of grapes, melons, apples, pineapples, kiwi fruit, mangoes and strawberries. We fell upon these immediately—I fortunately remembered to take a single photograph before more than a few pieces of the brothers’ basket was consumed—and noshed on the leftovers from our ice chest during the drive to St. Louis the following day. In the evening Midge took us all out for some authentic Southern BBQ. The sauce was to die for and the portions were generous—so generous, indeed, that I could’t finish my slab of ribs, and sent the last third home with Midge’s son Joey, a decision I selfishly repented of the following day. After dinner we swapped family stories, and I’m afraid some of our more outlandish Careaga antics might have startled our Fleming cousin, but of course the star of these anecdotes remains our ferocious grandmother Dana, who still gets herself talked about seventeen years after her departure from this life, and who has left an impression so vivid that I confidently predict that Fleming descendants yet unborn will still be talking about her at mid-century.

Saturday 7 August - Adieu to Dixie; o’erarching ambitions

From Huntsville we drove up I-24 through Tennessee (reasonably lush and scenic) and into Kentucky (less lush and scenic until we left the Interstate), actually transiting both states without once stopping the car (save, of course, by way of observing lawful signs and signals). Although we technically left the precincts of the old CSA behind us when we crossed over from Tennessee, we had the sense (could it have been from the signs directing us to the “Jefferson Davis Memorial?”) that if the state of Kentucky remained nominally part of the Union during the War of Southern Obstreperousness, its heart wasn’t really in it. At Rand’s happy inspiration we took a side-trip through the rather quaintly-named “Land Between the Lakes,” a peninsula bisected north-south by a very scenic byway called—wait for it—“The Trace.” We were half expecting to see a goddamn hobbit race across the road.

Reaching St. Louis by mid-afternoon we navigated toward the city’s most conspicuous landmark (fairly easy to find by eyeball, which is fortunate because Eleanor tried to take us through a baseball stadium that had not been built back when she took geography) so that Kinsey could photograph and ascend the Gateway Arch. Parking was secured nearby and out of the sun. I might mention here that while St. Louis was indeed warm and humid by our Left Coast standards, the day’s weather once again fell short in sheer oppressive loathsomeness of what the previous day’s predictions had led us to dread. To my dismay, entry to the facility involved the kind of “security theatre” we associate with airports and courthouses. Being unwilling to have my third tiny Swiss Army knife confiscated in as many years, I grumpily told my comrades to go on in and meet me afterward, but Kinsey prevailed upon me to return to the car and leave my keychain there. She even accompanied me, which is good because in her capacious bag she turned out to be carrying a ten-inch Bowie knife, a blackjack, half a kilo of Semtex, a compact grenade launcher and a pint of raw ether. We returned from the parking garage after ten minutes with a lighter step and lighter spirits as we cleared the checkpoint without any unpleasant scenes.

I actually liked the informative 40-minute film documentary on the origins of the arch a bit more than I enjoyed the actual ascent. It was quite an engineering feat (and rather cheeky of architect Saarinen to throw out the design and leave it to others to figure out how to actually build the damn thing), and watching the old footage of its construction brought me back to an earlier stage of my career when I knew a great deal more about the steel industry than I remember now. By god, we had a manufacturing sector in those days, and an economy that stood on a foundation rather less evanescent than the recent model of selling each other houses with imaginary money borrowed from China. How on earth did things get so screwed up in a few decades?

Sunday 8 August - One, two, three, many Careagas!

Following a much-needed stop at a coffeemonger and another, also much-needed, at a laundromat, we set out from our motel in Fenton, a St. Louis suburb that bills itself as the “City of Parks”—industrial and business parks, to judge from the precinct in which we overnighted—for the reunion with our Careaga and Careaga-derived cousins, rather by way of bookending the Fleming period of the trip last month. Along the way, and still in Fenton, we stopped on the site of a Catholic orphanage where our father, as a plump-faced and bereft tyke of six, was parked for a year following the unexpected death of his young mother at the end of 1927. The orphanage is long gone, but a church now stands on the spot, which was, we gather, out in the sticks eighty years ago, but has now been surrounded by the town. We took plenty of photos for der Alte.

Following Cousin Pam’s lucid directions we found the celebration without difficulty and arrived on time. Cousin Pam and her husband, Jack Weber (a raconteur and a gentleman) have a lovely house on a ridge overlooking an unspoiled valley outside of town. We liked the “ridge” part because the sultriness of the day was significantly ameliorated by an intermittent breeze throughout the afternoon. It turns out that our visit was by way of being a seed crystal that drew relatives from all over the state, some of whom had not actually got together for some years. We didn’t realize we possessed that kind of box office draw. Jeanne and Greg both learned some family history (Pam and Cousin Linda are both by way of being custodians of the saga) and scrutinized photos and documents. I had meant to do some of the same, but lost track of time over the course of the afternoon chatting up Jack W, who had some quite captivating stories to tell, and rather let the afternoon get away from me. To my other cousins: I’m sorry I let slip the opportunity to talk to you at greater length, but as Bogie might have said had he lived in the present century, we’ll always have Facebook.

Monday 9 August - And now we are two

Up at 5:30 for breakfast at the hotel (this time wisely skipping the house specialty, sawdust quiche) so that Jeanne and Kinsey could be delivered to the airport in time to do their star turns at TSA’s Security Theatre before returning to Folsom, where Jeanne was expected back at work and Kinsey is shortly to begin school (in which undertaking I am confident she will so distinguish herself that among the faculty her term papers will come to be known as “Kinsey Reports”). Greg and I then turned our eyes west to our night’s destination in…Denver. There was, however, one large obstacle.


We will sum up our impressions of “The Sunflower State” (at least as seen from a speeding car on I-70) in the form of a series of proposed mottos for the state license plate:
KANSAS: 430 Miles of Nothing in Particular

KANSAS: Between You and Where You Want To Be

KANSAS: In Your Way

Heavily caffeinated, and alternating turns at the wheel, we raced across the state and into eastern Colorado, or “Greater Kansas,” as we dubbed it. As we approached Denver the skies darkened and, as they had already done a dozen or more times during the driving portions of our vacation, opened up with a great downpour. This time, though…

I opened the window a few inches and stuck my hand out. “My God!” I exclaimed. “There‘s cool air out there!” It was true. For the first time in two weeks rain was falling on us that was actually less warm than human fluids. We were back in the West.

A few minutes later—we’d decided by this time to press on to Golden, the other side of Denver, so that we’d be spared the worst of the morning traffic—a van two lanes away began sliding out of control, almost colliding with another van, which fishtailed as it braked and as the first went into a full spin. Fortunately both vehicles stopped (the first one by now pointed bass-ackward on the freeway) without striking one another or anyone else, although I can’t speak for what may have happened after they disappeared in the murk and rain behind us. Although neither car was ever closer than twenty yards to us, a collision between them would likely have set off a nasty game of rush-hour billiards from the unpredictable consequences of which we might not have been exempt.

In Golden that night (safe and sound) Greg retired early and Rand paid a visit to his cherished friends Frances and Morris R, who plied him with wine, hummus, cheese, salmon and edifying conversation. He thanks them for improvising such gracious hospitality on inexcusably short notice, and is confident they understand he’d do the same for them.

Tuesday 10 August - Monuments and memories

We made a side trip to the implausibly tiny and remote Colorado community of Glade Park, where a high school friend I hadn’t seen in over thirty years owns the general store. Access is via the “Colorado National Monument," a federally-run scenic attraction featuring some rather breathtaking geology (so breathtaking, indeed, that the feds have within living memory attempted to make the residents pay seven dollars a pop for the privilege of driving to their own homes. The government lost that one in court). It was a pleasant if necessarily abbreviated visit, the one disappointment being that friend TJ no longer makes her legendary beef jerky, regarding which I had formed the most exalted expectations. Retracing our route to the park entrance, we then drove through nearby Grand Junction, a rather ugly, formless, sprawling slurb, spent the next few hours crossing Utah before reaching the garden spot that is eastern Nevada (actually almost lush compared to its neighbor) and our final night’s fraternal lodging here in Ely, where I type in the motel room while Greg, in the casino across the street, is (I devoutly hope) making back our expenditures to date. And so to bed.

Above: Wonderful “Edible Arrangements” fruit basket, only slightly gnawed upon at this point
Cousins Jeanne and Midge post-BBQ, Huntsville
Greg and Jack Weber on Pam & Jack’s ridgetop grounds
Rand and TJ in the Glade Park Store, a century-old business

Friday, August 6, 2010

Weather; scenery; things to eat

We beat our estimated ETA for Huntsville by an hour—because we forgot we’d be crossing back to Central Time at the state line. To propitiate the cosmic weather dudes (who did not altogether forsake us in Atlanta, showing up in the latter afternoon with some serviceable breezes to ameliorate the heat) we are again hiding in our rooms for a few hours until we rendezvous with Cousin Midge this evening.

Northern Alabama is prettier than expected, and our route has taken us through what I gather are some of the higher elevations in the state. Billboards seem far scarcer, at least between towns, than they were in Georgia. With Jeanne at the helm we rolled through a couple of dramatic squalls in the last hour before Huntsville, including about five minutes of rain so vehement and blinding that we’d have gratefully pulled off the road had there been some practical place to do so. That front appears to have missed the city, regarding which we have yet to form an impression save that it is on the warm and humid side.

We betook ourselves to the streets of Atlanta yesterday evening, wandering about in the “Centennial Park” from the 1996 Olympics, where a musical fountain played the 1812 Overture and the theme from Chariots of Fire to the slack-jawed astonishment of onlookers, and then to “Atlanta Underground,” which we earnestly exhort our readers to miss on their next visit, and where we had in a “sports bar” possibly the least distinguished meal of the expedition to date, and I’m including fast food joints here. Sated, or at least put off the whole idea of solid food for a while, we headed back toward our stark but inexpensive digs, traversing along the way a pretty tree-lined block designated “historic” and featuring three or four promising-looking eateries, all of them closed.

This morning Greg found us a quite serviceable breakfast place, “Rise and Dine,” at some distance from the Motel 6, which was pleasant because the drive took us through several green and stately residential precincts. All this was amply documented by Kinsey, who has now taken over 2700 pictures since the seventeenth.

In the previous entry I neglected to mention, speaking of fast food joints, that somewhere outside of Macon yesterday we stopped at a “Chick-fil-A” for poultry-premised sandwiches, and while I was discarding the styrofoam integument I noticed a sign—could it have been an actual plaque?—commending the restaurant (which, I should mention, also has a sign in the window proudly proclaiming that none of the chain’s outlets conduct business on the Lord’s Day) for its courage—its courage—in arranging for its exterior electric signage to flash the message “Happy Birthday Jesus” on Christmas day. “Wow!” I exclaimed, perhaps a shade too loudly, “What kinda brass ones does it take to come right out and say ‘Happy Birthday Jesus’ in central Georgia? And in, you know, in public and all?” I was prepared to enlarge on the subject, but by this time Greg had already pumped up the air pistol, hit me with a thorazine-tipped dart and hustled me out to the car.

Above: Never on Sunday. A Chick-Fil-A poultry-derived sandwich