Category Archives: Travel

Roadside: The Tomb of Hi Jolly, Quartzsite, Arizona

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In the 19th century the U.S. Army decided to test out using camels in the deserts of the American southwest. If it worked in the deserts of the Middle East, why not in America? Well, the experiment didn’t quite play out the way the Army hoped and the U.S. Camel Corp shuttered. Lead camel driver Hadji Ali (who came to be known as Hi Jolly) was brought in to work with the camels while the project was running, but decided to stick around after the experiment tanked. He became a pretty beloved local and after his death a pyramid topped with a metal camel was erected in his honor in Quartzsite, AZ.

While driving between Los Angeles and Phoenix last week the Tomb of Hi Jolly was a must-visit. It’s located in a small cemetery off the 10. We hit the town just as the last sunlight was dipping over the horizon, so it took us awhile to figure out where the cemetery was located. If you get off the 10 and follow internet directions to go west, it’s likely you won’t see the sign pointing in the direction of the cemetery. As far as we could tell in the dark there is only a sign facing the road when you’re headed east down Main St. (just a tip if you venture out that way to pay your respects).

Flashlight in hand, we headed into the cemetery. I was a little bummed to not get to see much of the rest of the place, but there is a bit of a spooky bonus for wandering around a strange cemetery at dusk. The Tomb was pretty much as expected, but it was still satisfying to visit. Thanks Hadji Ali for your services – what a strange, strange life it must’ve been to be a Middle Easterner living out in this place in the 19th century.

As a bonus we stopped to pee at a gas station where one of my companions pointed out a little jewelry stand across Main St. It was the only store that looked open at that hour and we decided what the heck, let’s go check it out. My two friends picked up some jewelry souvenirs and a bonus story from the shopkeeper. He’d come out to Quartzsite decades ago, on his way to Oregon from Pennsylvania. A woman in a bar captured his interest and he stuck around, living a very different life than the one he probably would’ve had in Oregon, but no less worthwhile. Neat guy.

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Roadside: Charlie Brown Farms, Littlerock, California

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Charlie Brown Farms is pretty much a grocery store and a restaurant with ok food. I was pretty impressed they had a vegan chili (I guess it’s close enough to the Los Angeles health cult aura to merit throwing a few bones to the health conscious metropolitans passing through town.). I can’t judge a desert place on their vegan chili (I’ve had way better – thank you Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels, TX for setting the veggie chili bar impossibly high), but my friend got the ribs and rated them only ok, so I’m gonna say food is not the reason to come here. They had a fun selection of honey, molasses, snacks, candies, and sodas, so I don’t regret the stop, but the charm is just not there. They had some small dinos hanging out by the parking lot, but nothing to write home about.

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Roadside: Randsburg General Store, Randsburg, California

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On a trip up to Red Rocks Canyon State Park (the California one), me and my hiking buddy stopped at Randsburg, CA. Randsburg is a bit more touristy than Goodsprings, NV, but it was still a heck of a lot more engaging than Calico. At the Randsburg General Store we got to sit at a 100+ year old counter in tiny little bar chairs constructed for the size of the average American circa 1900. The diner style food was only average but their lime phosphate was legit and it was fun talking to the cashier/server/waitress about her life out in the desert.

Roadside: Goodsprings, Nevada

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On the same Vegas trip that we visited Calico, we also stopped in Goodsprings, NV for lunch – now that was a cool town! People still live there and there is a great restaurant/bar with all the old timey saloon atmosphere you could hope for. The bartender was great to chat with and the food was pretty good. I had an Irish coffee because I wasn’t driving and I was still in Vegas weekend mode. It was more Irish than coffee, but I’m not complaining. Plus, if you’ve ever played Fallout: New Vegas, you might recognize Goodsprings as the town where your character first wakes up. The saloon and general store in the game were modeled on their real life counterparts, and it’s a lot of fun to geek out and pretend to be in a postapocalyptic wasteland.

Roadside: Calico Ghost Town, Calico, California

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Everytime I drove between Southern California and Las Vegas I wistfully looked at the signs advertising Calico Ghost Town and wished we had time to stop and take a peek. Last Vegas trip my dreams became reality! It was sort of a disappointing reality. It was July and well over 100 degrees, which was sort of exciting to experience in a masochistic way. The little shops and town were cute, but they looked more touristy than ghosty (I know, I’m writing about my love for tackiness and I complain it’s too touristy?!). I don’t regret the stop, but I probably won’t be back.

Roadside: Berdoll Pecan Farm, Cedar Creek, Texas

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Pecans are awesome. You know what is more awesome than pecans? A giant squirrel hawking pecans! My entire motivation for going to Berdoll Pecan Farm in Cedar Creek, TX was to take a picture with Pearl. She was a sweetie, and their pecans were delicious (their bathroom also has collages of squirrel pictures – winwinwin). I bought a bag of Texas Trail Mix, which consisted of four different types/flavors of pecans. I also tried their tasty pecan coffee. I wish I’d bought a bag of beans to go instead of just the cup of coffee.

Roadside dinos seem to be a little more traditional as far as giant fake roadside creatures go,  but give me a squirrel over a dino any day.

Roadside: Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota

High kitsch. There is something about a tacky roadside attraction in the middle of nowhere that is part of what makes America great. You drive out on a road trip to see what beautiful natural formations Earth cooked up and then you take in the constructed dives and palaces of humanity.

I enjoy visiting iconic locations like Mount Rushmore or the Eiffel Tower, but there is nothing quite like a dusty or colorfully gaudy roadside attraction held together by remanents of memory and local gumption.

I’m gonna do a week of roadside attractions and history exploitation, starting with:

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Wall Drug is probably the king of campy tacky tourist delights. Not my favorite, but fun to visit for a “ride” on a jackalope. When you drive west through South Dakota on I-90 you can’t miss the dozens and dozens of billboards that count down your arrival to this giant strip of tourist-oriented stores. I think the exciting anticipation the billboards ramp up is more exciting than the place itself, which is a statement that can probably be applied to most general things in life.

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That Time Georgia and I Had a Fling.

Me and Los Angeles are still in a pretty healthy relationship with one another, though I did go try to cheat on LA last December. I had a wintertime romance with a small college town in Georgia, but even the small college town knew it wasn’t the right place for me.

One of my must-dos on any trip is to look at old things and/or attempt to purchase old things. I’m like a less ballsy American Pickers (in that I don’t knock on the doors of strangers living in rural areas with large barns – that sounds like the beginning of a slasher film). I love antique stores, especially the warehouse kind with lots of little stalls with all sorts of odds and ends.

While having my wintertime fling with small town Georgia I drove out into the country to one of the nearest antique emporiums to see what unusual old Georgian junk I could buy that would fit in a carry on bag and get through airport security scanners. As I scanned row after row of homey needlepoint kitchen towels, yawn inducing repro tin signs, and old empty food jars, I came across an original fruit crate label that asked to be taken home and nailed to my bedroom wall.

Yay! It was the perfect size souvenir and TSA approved. I looked at the fine print on the label to see what part of Georgia this fruit came from……and found out that this was a label for grapes grown in Los Angeles. Exactly where I’d flown 5-ish hours from. I think it was a sign.

I haven’t entirely sworn off rural Georgia (or rural anywhere else), but I realized I needed a little more time with my underdog metropolis before I was ready to look for other pastures (or skyscrapers). There are other more complicated reasons beyond a piece of 90 year old paper, but sharing that info is for the future when I have greater distance and perspective on things.

Since moving to my current abode it’s been the longest time I’ve spent anywhere since I was a high school kid, which is both sort of nice (who really likes the physical aspect of moving?) and sort of antsy inducing (where to next? go! go! go!).

I’ve been keeping my antsy at bay with little trips here and there. Last weekend I drove out to Tucson and Phoenix and got to try a date shake, see part of the Romance and Sex Life of the Date film, visit the final resting pyramid of 19th century U.S. Camel Corp member Hi Jolly (aka Hadji Ali), and attend a fan reunion festival for a 1960s/1970s Western television show for work.  All and all a pretty good miniadventure and proof that there’s still plenty to see in the southwest.

Somewhere Over-the-Rhine-bow

Likely Cincinnati (check out the "Queen City" label on the inside of the overhang).  I think the second kid from the left is probably my great grandpa, but I'm not 100%.

Probably Cincinnati (check out the “Queen City” label on the inside of the overhang). I think the second kid from the left is possibly my great grandpa, but I’m not 100%.

It’s been a number of months and I’m still struggling to write down my impressions of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.  I mostly feel a murky sense of awe at the beautiful architecture and a mix of shame and distress over what kind of living conditions many of the people in the neighborhood deal with on a day to day basis.

In the places we encounter we all bring something to the table.  I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost six years now.  It is both the richest and poorest place I’ve lived in.  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was taught that the Bay was beautiful, but LA was a dump.  I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and now that I’ve been in LA for awhile I feel a sense of ownership and pride and think I can finally call this sprawling metropolis my home and my city.

Downtown Los Angeles has its Skid Row.  It’s a blurry line between bars with $12+ cocktails and industrial streets lined with tents and makeshift shelters.  Well-dressed and high-heeled foodies and cocktail connosseurs cross paths with dishelved individuals who often seem to be aimlessly wandering the streets.  Sometimes you get asked for change, sometimes someone from the tent side of town will try to start a conversation with you (that usually doesn’t make much sense), but as long as you mind your own business the vast majority of encounters with Skid Row residents are passive.

Los Angeles gets such a bad rap for its gang issues, its race riots, its Skid Row.  I’d seen parts of Skid Row enough times at all hours of night and day, so I didn’t think seeing a neglected downtown core in another major city would be any kind of shock, but I think that’s the only word I can use.

I know Cincinnati is a Rust Belt city.  I know Cincinnati has an important significance in the history of my Dad’s dad’s side of the family.  I know when I visited suburban Cincinnati in 2006 all my relatives told me not to go downtown (they all now live in the suburban neighborhoods outside of downtown – no one lives in the city anymore).  Of course that made me want to go even more.

When adult people are slumped over motionless in doorways, it’s easier to distance yourself; to make it a “us” and “them” situation.  We all compartmentalize to some extent as a mental survival mechanism.  The world is full of many things both inside and outside of our control and we place our thoughts and feelings in the bins they need to go in so that we can keep functioning within the narrow scope of our individual lives.

A mystery person (probably a relative) in a photograph taken at a studio at 7th and Vine St. in Cincinnati

A mystery person (probably a relative) in a photograph taken near Over-the-Rhine at Young & Carl photo studio at 7th and Vine St. in Cincinnati (Family Photo Reunion says this studio was in operation at this location between 1895 and 1915)

For months now I’ve placed Over-the-Rhine in its historical bin – a curious look into a past place where my ancestors existed.  Neighborhood neglect has been both a blessing and a curse as many structures still exist, but many are also slowly crumbling away.  Taking a walking tour was a great chance to get to walk the streets my ancestors walked and to see the buildings they saw.  Place is a powerful component of the past.  Getting to see the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood with my own two eyes and feet seemed like the next best thing to climbing in a time machine.  But a very current place exists among the structures of a past time.  While the buildings were neglected and forgotten, so too were the communities that came to live in Over-the-Rhine.

I think that was the biggest shock of the decayed downtown core.  Most of the LA Skid Row individuals I’ve encountered are adults, while walking around Over-the-Rhine felt more like seeing the inside of a multigenerational community existing in spite of human and structural threats.  A group of little kids waved at us from an upper story window, while a gangly woman with a beaten face walked over to a man in a doorway, and a buff weightlifter parked his car along the sidewalk to blast some tunes while he hefted big metal dumbbells on the strip of concrete between sidewalk and asphalt.  This place is alive; people really live here.  (And I don’t mean to knock LA’s Skid Row as a place where people don’t live – it just has a much more transient feel to it, unlike the very rooted feeling of Over-the-Rhine.)

At the beginning of this I mentioned “shame” as one of the feelings percolating in my mind.  I’ve written about the idea of the legacy of historical shame in the past (Legacy Guilt), and I think I’ve come around to a good psychological place on personal genealogical issues.  Despite this, I am still working on finding some level of acceptance in confronting bigger picture injustices that were created by past discrimination and neglect and are perpetuated today.  Like dealing with my personal family history, the bigger family history of humanity (and American humanity in particular) is something that I can’t change.

Maybe at least increasing awareness is a good step in the right direction.  It definitely opened my eyes and made me want to know more, to see more, to understand more.  My inner optimist fell in love with the neighborhood and I feel hopeful that there is some sort of possible middle ground for Over-the-Rhine, where it can keep its roots but become a structurally and culturally safer place for the community to grow.

There are changes and movers and shakers working on the neighborhood, though there is always a fine line between saving buildings and bringing in money and pushing out those that live in the neighborhood.  Can gentrification be a positive for everyone involved?

People

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York Water District

Training ended last Friday with a field trip themed “mountain people, pond people, and dead people.” We crashed our way through the woods to see graves that were hidden in the woods off the beaten path, and then we went up to the local mountain (which is barely more than a glorified hill) to check out the view. The Water District in York (where we hiked in the woods) is now preserved land, but 100-150 years ago it was an area populated by families. No one lives there now, but there is evidence of the past in the form of gravestones and cellar stones.

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