Sizzle & Bounce
In this Christmas season, I was inspired to share a story of Hope, a café in Calexico, just across from Mexicali right on the California and Mexico border. I found Hope last Monday on a drive from Palm Springs, CA to Tucson, AZ, where I went a bit out of my way seeking a story. I knew that I had found one when in response to my “so, what’s the story of this cafe?” instead of the typical “you want a what now?” the woman who was working at the counter invited me to sit down and make myself comfortable while she went to go get Manuel (the owner).
What had first struck me upon entering Manuel Guerrero’s café were all the pictures of – and quotes from - Freida Kahlo, so when he emerged from the kitchen, I was looking at Freida when I made my story request, which he took as a question about the artist and her work. “No, no" in interrupted "what’s the story of YOU and Freida?” "ah" he responded “well, I have had a life surrounded by strong women.” Telling me about his mother and his grandmother, Esperanza (Hope) then brought him to THE story – the story of the hummingbird, what the hummingbird means as an omen, how much his grandmother admired the energy of these powerful creatures, and how a visit from one inspired him to realize his lifelong dream of opening a café – a story you can hear Manuel himself telling here.
But for me, the story of Hope is a story of hope – hope in, for, and through community, by way of story. This café was built inside a house so that it would have a feeling of home. A space that would invite you in and make you want to stay for a while, to make you want to bring and share your stories. ”Hay muchas historias en este lugar y tambien queremos que la gente se sienta agusto y que vengan a contar sus historias” http://carlos-melendrez.squarespace.com/2go-salads-calexico
And it does make you feel “a gusto” (at ease)– each of the five rooms in a slightly different way, designed to have their own energy and spirit. The Freida room, with its color and fire celebrating the strength and courage of women, was only the beginning!
At a time when we all can be reminded of the strength that may be found in community, I was pleased to celebrate the gift that Manuel has given to his community by finding the courage to do what makes his heart sing. Hope is a place where writers can spend the day writing, where professors can be with friends whislt grading, where artists can celebrate, share, learn, and teach art. Where local civic leaders host community conversations, and where the community recently gathered to collect donations after the earthquake in Mexico. But most importantly to Guerrero, this can be a place where young folks can just hang out. The café is open late and the menu celebrates the mixing of cultures - try an horchaita (Horchata and chai) drink, or a Café de Olla with your crepe. I had the “Memories” a crepe with Cream Cheese, Nutella, Almonds, Banana and Strawberries, but you can try Cajeta (caramel), calabaza (squash) and with chipotle or even mole sauce.
For those of you who can make the trip (just 2 hours from San Diego) – do it!! May it be just one of many things to savor in this season of hope, at a time when we need it more than ever! Bring your stories!
“I don’t think there’s another feed store in the entire United States where I can get Eggs Benedict, my feed, and a plumbing part in the same store.”
One of the highlights of my recent cross-country road trip was my stop at Three Chicks in Texarkana, Arkansas. I stopped for lunch and because I thought that a café would be a good place to stop and take a work call that I had scheduled for that afternoon, but what I found was a café that is also a feed store, a boutique, gift shop with jams and jellies – clothes of all sizes, a hardware store, and I came to realize that I had actually stopped at a bustling community center of sorts.
The parking lot our front was full, and when I pulled into the back, I knew that I was in a special kind of place because next to the chicken coop there was a miniature chicken village, complete with chicken saloon and a chicken bank. I learned later that this back garden is also where Santa had also recently come to talk to kids about what they want for Christmas.
I arrived in a bit of a road-haze, and already running late for my call and so was focused on looking for a place to plug in my phone and a quiet (possibly dark) corner to take my business call – but realized quickly that this was not a place that met my script for “café.” Everyone was more than happy to let me take my call, but they also wanted to make sure that I was taken care of, and that perhaps I should order my food before I got on the call to make sure that I didn’t have to wait when I was off it, and I didn’t have to worry about whether they would run out of the special in the meantime(they did, and I was so glad to not have missed it). During the call, I kept getting refills on my iced tea. This is a place that cares about people, even harried folks from the big-city who need to take a bit of time to unplug and recognize that they have landed in a very special kind of place.
What finally really and truly broke me out of my trance was how just staggeringly delicious the food was. And this was not just because I had been eating road food for a few days at this point. A creative celebration of spices and flavors, rich ingredients, and the freshest ingredients: anyone who orders an egg dish at this place has some that have come right out of a chicken that morning!! I had an unforgettable tortilla soup (with gruyere cheese?) and chicken salad, with rosemary and a million other things, but chef Julie isn't spilling her secrets!!
And I started to notice that there was a great deal of teaching going on: there were young apprentices being trained to do all sorts of work all around me: taking orders in the restaurant, learning how to do math and not depend on the cash register to make change. I realized when I arrived that there had been someone training a young man to operate the tractor and the hay baler out back where I had parked, and when I went into the boutique afterwards, there was another group of young folks learning how to take inventory, how to interact with customers and help them figure out what they needed, and to recognize an opportunity to add something to the inventory. I met the woman who had set up their social media marketing, who they helped out by giving her a place to live in the home onsite but who they credit with helping them to keep afloat, and then while I was hanging around, a young entrepreneur stopped by to ask for sponsorship for a non-profit she had founded dedicated to taking care of animals.
If you go to their website, you will find one version of their story that tells you about how Angie is the idea-woman (the dreamer), that Dee Dee is the manager, and Julie is the chef. And if you ask them, they will tell you another set of stories that comprise how they found their footing in the business: figuring out how to set up systems to deliver hay to an old lady who was alone and isolated on her farm in a storm, how they have found ways to involve friends and colleagues from the Texarkana country club in the work, and how this is a “God thing” – they feel God working through and for them.
But the story that I found while I was listening was a community thing. And the story that I want to tell about this special place is that this is a group of women who have found a way to take care of their community and that their community, given a chance to connect, leapt at the chance to take care of them in turn. The three chicks recognize strengths and gifts – in working together, they openly acknowledge that they each bring their own and depend on each others’ – but they also help those who surround them to recognize, express, and develop their skills, interests, and abilities as well.
Angie tells her daughter she can be anything, and in a way, their business tells anyone who visits the very same thing!
It’s tremendously hard work, but ultimately there is nothing that is more worth it!
As a linguist, I think it was the Drury “schema” that made me fall in love on my first check-in.
-Have you ever stayed at a Drury before?
-Well, first of all, you arrived just in time for the 5:30 kickback…
(5:30 kickback is "cold drinks and snacks from 5:30-7pm" for the unitiated)
But also, I love their story – I love that they are a family chain, and that you can point to their first location in the midwest, that they are still small enough that you can keep track of all of their locations on one map. Somehow it all just fits nicely in my head, and makes the country feel more accessible, more connected, more inviting!
And along the way, I met other travelers who had similarly made the decision to go out of their way or who had at least had broken up their trip somewhat awkwardly just to be able to stay at a Drury. The 5:30 kick-back was always the reason given for doing so, but I maintain it is equally owing to the inviting community feel and how that lends itself to storytelling, or at least that is the case for me. Case in point: having just arrived to Memphis, I was melting the road out of my neck and shoulders in the hot tub when some fellow Drury guests came into the spa with a “hello, everyone has a story, what’s yours?” - INDEED!!
My hot dog without a bun at kickback makes an available and accessible topic – helping me make - as I call them – my “gluten-friends:” in Memphis a woman who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes and is newly learning how to avoid carbs, and in Las Cruces, a woman who spotted my choice and pointed me towards the corn chips which I had overlooked – explaining to me that she has lots of friends who are gluten free, so she notices things like that!
In Memphis, stories at the kickback were of work and Christmas shopping. In Las Cruces, holiday travel: Folks were coming from or going to Tucson, San Angelo Texas, or northern and southern California – all, coincidentally stops I was taking on my own journey, so we swapped tales of home (and making home) interspersed with advice about best routes, photo ops, and rest stops.
I'm happy to report that I made it home safely for the holidays and am now ready to start a new life on the West Coast, perhaps arriving just a bit more refreshed thanks to a couple of late night swims in a couple of crisp and invigorating swimming pools!
Although today was the third day of my drive, it felt like the first that was "cross country" because I spent the whole day driving west! So in true road-trip fashion, here's a story of two adventures and two meals, a day begun at the world's most beautiful rest stop (pictured below) where I asked for a recommendation of where might be someplace out of the ordinary to stop on my journey accross Tennesee...
There I was advised that Tina Turner's museum in Brownsville was the place to go, and so - armed with a destination - off I went.....eventually. First, passing through Nashville I just couldn't resist stopping for my favorite machaca burrito at Oscar's burrito shop, and then having been back on the road only a short time, I started being beckoned by Loretta Lynne to come pop by for a visit!
But this did not disappoint! I was richly rewarded by detouring from my drive by a sojourn in a tiny coal-town world.
Complete with a saloon, a tiny coal mine and three versions of Loretta Lynne's home: a replica of the house she was born in Butcher Holler, the house that she used to live in, now turned into a museum called The Coal Miner's Daughter, from whose kitchen window you can spy her actual home (no photographs!).
Back on the road, newly delighted and refreshed, I was bound once more for Tina Turner's museum, housed in the one-room school house where she was educated in Nutbush, Tennessee.
You get (at least) two for the price of one at this museum because there you can also tour the house of Sleepy John Estes.
My ultimate destination was a soft bed at the Drury Inn Memphis - actually in Mississippi - where I made it just in time for the five thirty kick back, and fellow guest who greeted me with "what's your story? everyone has one!" indeed. What I found at the Drury was a room full of stories of the road, of family, of Christmas shopping, and tales of the swimming pool, where I decided to take my road-weary bones and end the day by giving them a soak!!
Because I am open to the abundance of the universe, I recently went for a lovely Saturday afternoon walk around the White House with Quentin Roosevelt.
This meticulously researched and beautifully crafted tour, written by Kitty Felde, and produced by Picklepea Walks continues through September 25th 2016. And the best part of the experience was that it took a four block stretch of downtown DC that of course I thought I was already pretty familiar with, and just showed me how much there is to know/notice, for example:
And this is just one of three historical walking tours being performed right now - the White House from the perspective of someone who lived in it (White House as home), from the perspective of someone who worked in it (White House as office), and from the perspective of some who curated it (White House as museum).
Foam, Dinosaurs, and Chicken
I thought I would be able to see it from the road – you could see the real Stonhenge from the road. The directions given on the website gave me to understand that it was a bit out of the way, but I assumed there would be some sort of sign, parking spots, something. In fact, there was nothing at all that would indicate to someone who hadn’t been informed by the internet that there was anything by the side of this particular road except the slightly out-of-place looking car with the California license plates pulled off onto the shoulder bearing the bumper sticker “liberated lady.” Still, that was enough for me to guess that I probably was in the right place. So, I tramped across dirt paths in an otherwise unremarkable filed under a blazing hot sun, following the path that looked a little more well-trodden than the others, until I came around a bend, looked to my left and off on the top of hill....suddenly it's…..Foamhenge.
Ascending the hill, I hear Spinal Tap singing "Stonehenge" in my head. And then suddenly there he is.
Christopher Guest. Or. Not.
As the sign explains, this Merlin statue was molded on the face of Jamie Jordan, a friend of Foamhenge creator Mark Cline, and such a big fan of his work that he asked Mark to use him in it somehow. As the sign goes on to explain, the mold of his face was made from Jaime’s face - 2 days after Jaime died. You start to realize that this Mark Cline might be something of a larger than life personality.
And then you read on another sign that he is, by his own admission “crazy enough to key your car” if you deface his sculpture, and that he could quite possibly be in the woods, watching you even now., if you are even thinking about trying to. And this is where you just have to decide: You are standing on the top of a hill in the Blue Ridge mountains with no one to hear you scream and you can either just surrender yourself to the experience of living in Mark Cline's world - all of it or none of it - or just go home.
I realize that apart from the prohibitions about touching and the story of Merlin, there is in fact very little by the way of interpretive signage to guide the visitor in what to make of this experience. You are engage to do a comparison Foam to Stonehenge in terms of materials, construction, and there is a bit of history about Stonehenge, but nothing about Foamhenge the artist, why he made this, or why - what kind of a tribute this is intended to be, or what its significance is. You get to make your own meaning! I am transported to discovering the “Send Up” - the parodic genre of British humour - Search for the Holy Grail sending up everything that I was learning at that time in my Humanities class, the Life of Brian everything that was my religious upbringing - Spinal Tap the rock-u-menatary, and here my first experience with a mock-u-ment. The online reviews say that this is one of the more photogenic of the tribute henges. What I know is that it makes me smile, and it makes my heart sing that there is someone who would conceive of something like this, devote the time and energy and resources to creating it, and then share it with the world. I was delighted for the invitation to play!
“Mark is amazing!”
Is what I learn down the road, as I purchase my ticket to Mark Cline’s Dinosaur Kindgom II (Dinosaur Kingdom I burned down, you must understand). The cashier is preparing me to the experience that I am about to have inside the park, but I am already having an experience in the parking lot that seems to be designed to make me think I am in the film Jurassic Park because there is a safari across the road and the piped-in sound of dinosaurs roaring behind the enormous tree fence.
“Mark made everything you will see inside, and you just have to make sure to always be looking all around you, and taking in everything, cause its just everywhere!”
With this, I am off, and again, there is but one sign, already in the world of the story explaining that it is the time of the civil war and confederate soldiers figured out a way to unfreeze dinosaurs that they discovered in the nearby Natural Bridge caverns. They will use them to help fight their northern aggressors, but as you are told by the minimal signage “not everything will go according to plan.”
Upon entering the exhibit, the first thing you must do is walk through a spinning “tunnel of love” style covered bridge which is apparently your means of transport back in time. Once through, you learn that you have arrived to the time of the civil war because there is now an Edsel parked by the side of the road. Nothing calls attention to it – you see it in your peripheral vision and take for granted, because this is precisely the kind of thing that would be the most ordinary thing that you might see without noticing on a typical day in your new reality.
Dinosaur Kingdom II is a confusing, fantastic place! Time, space, and realities are jumbled up. And just when you think all is moving towards a picture of co-existence (well, subjugation on the part of the dinosaurs), there is another rebellion, and dinosaur and man, possibly vampire hunter(?) are back at it and fighting again.
From what you now know about Mark Cline, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn that there is no clear narrative resolution as you follow the gravel path (again, there are multiple, you must choose the one that is the most gravely), but that along the way, you are rewarded for noticing. My favorites were the (as I termed them) “hide-o-saurs” just back in the woods tracking you. Not menacing, just taking you in. And when you happened to glance them out of the corner of your eye, they seemed designed to see you noticing them “oh, hi!”
Coming back to the present is also confusing. You travel through the transom of a church, exiting through the sacristy, and something was supposed to have been happening….music playing? Lights blinking? I assume that something was malfunctioning and it wasn’t supposed to be just a high pitched squeal-like alarm accompanying you as you walked down the aisle of a quaint little church, but actually, maybe this is the message. You walk through religion, and then into an outhouse, where a dinosaur terrifies you by breaking into the back as you take your selfie!
In our estimation, the only thing that could properly complement this series of adventures was some southern-style fried chicken from the Chicken Coop! Served to you by a lady who ain't got time for your nonsense in asking if you can photograph her, brought home, still piping hot, crispy, light and absolutely delicious!!! Leftovers for days - and even better cold!!!