Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
The Gypsy Carpenters are dusting off love gone good and love gone bad songs for your listening pleasure. If you happen to be in Baja California Sur you can come on out and hear us play on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, in Todos Santos from 6 to 7:30. That’s next Tuesday.
Today we sat down and worked on our set list and swept away some cobwebs. If you have any requests send them in now. All ideas considered.
Thanks, Harlow Pinson for the great promo shots. Too bad we never look good at the same time.
The other day a blast from the past came to see me. Todd is a helicopter simulator designer, hang glider, tall ship sailor, and contra dancer, and a friend from college years at Georgia Tech. Todd lives in Connecticut. We haven’t made it to the north east in our seven years on the road so when he noticed his work and our work placed us in the same metropolitan area, he got in touch. Back in the day we rock climbed a lot. Todd was the classic climbing bum. He could get straight As in aerospace engineering and virtually live out of his truck and rock climb when he wasn’t in school. Sometimes he kayaked, too. Once we drove back from Yosemite together. Todd had just climbed the face of El Capitan in a multi-day siege while Penny and I had climbed Mount Whitney. Both Todd and I lived on the cheap. Penny flew back to Georgia and I took a free ride back with Todd. I’m pretty sure I promised to keep him good company if he would let me ride for free. Otherwise it was $100 for a one way ticket back with Penny. Todd begrudgingly made room for me. Todd was so wasted from his efforts on the 3,000′ climb that I hardly had to say a word. I remember piping up significantly when we accidentally arrived in Las Vegas, NV instead of Boulder, Colorado. Somewhere in the night we’d missed a turn. The high desert did not have many signs back then.
Meanwhile work continues. Mostly it’s Burt working and me cooking or helping here and there. I was supposed to install the laminate floor in the kitchen while Burt did other things but it turned into a two person job. Every laminate product is different. This Home Depot Ultra something was very recalcitrant. I’d no sooner get one end fitted and the other end of the plank would disengage. Over and over. Burt helpfully said, “I think you need to get more together.” I did not find this statement helpful. I went and googled for ideas. All I could find were people saying, “It was hard at first and then I figured it out.” No clues as to what ‘figured it out’ might mean. Links to videos ended up in dead ends of ‘vodep not available’. Finally Burt tried. No luck. Then both of us tried. And tried and tried. Cussing, stomping, more internet searching. Eventually we developed a two person system of lift, hold, push, lift, hold, push.
Once the floor was installed we started on the cabinets. That went smoothly. No errors in ordering or construction. The granite counter guy came today to measure. The tops should be done in a week. In the interim more light fixtures and painting and new windows. It looks like we will get out of here without much trouble.
This is just a sample of the stuff unwitting Do-it-yourselfers do. Here we have an outlet somebody painted over. Perhaps it was several somebodys. Layers of paint held this ancient outlet in place. It was time to update the outlets for safety and aesthetic reasons. What a pain in the buttinsky for our fully licensed and permitted electrician. Or homeowner. You fill in the blank. Sparky turned off the circuit and then attempted to remove the old outlet. She scored the edges of the old plate to try and cut the paint. It was too thick. Sparky’s boss came by and helped. Eventually the whole thing came out in pieces. If you want your faceplates to match the walls remove them and paint them individually. Reinstall after wall and faceplate paint is completely dry.
Autumn colors are elusive here in the Potomac River bottom. Leaves appear to be browning and falling. There isn’t much to peep at. Some photos below.
The Gypsy Carpenters are in Portal, AZ ahead of schedule. We were planning some more back country explorations but the wonky transmission flared up. Again. Our 2001 Dodge diesel is occasionally difficult to shift. This summer it started balking and we made an appointment at a specialist in Whitefish, Montana. We had a place to park and a car to borrow up there. Then the problem shifting disappeared, the parking place was less welcoming, and the spare car was wrecked by a deer so we cancelled the appointment. We drove a few thousand more miles and no trouble. Heads deeply in the sand. Call us risk-takers.
We high tailed it out of Montana and abandoned plans to fish in Yellowstone because of foul weather. We blasted through the park and made it to a glorious fall scene in Grand Teton National Park. That night we camped near Pinedale, Wyoming. As we approached Vernal, UT I made it clear I wanted to stop at Dinosaur National Monument. Burt was ambivalent. I insisted. We had been before but the quarry exhibit was closed for major repairs (4 years of repairs) and Burt had not seen the most awesome dinosaur display in the world. Well, the LaBrea tarpits come close but they aren’t just dinos. Just then the transmission started to balk. I feared Burt would scuttle the side excursion but he didn’t. Rain was headed our way and it was hard to enjoy the tour wondering why we didn’t get the transmission repaired back in Montana but it was worth the effort. Even Burt was amazed at the in-situ display of 149 million year old fossil bones. Take the trip if you are within 100 miles. That night we limped to a rest area south of Price.
I contacted my friend Berna and said, “Hey we’re coming to see you. Tomorrow.” Berna is always sociable and welcoming. We trained for several marathons and ultra-marathons together and once upon a time worked at EPA together. Berna was ready to see us. We spent two nights in Shiprock. We helped Berna attach reflectors to a road sign so her 80 year old Uncle Alex could find the turn into his road more easily. Maybe I shouldn’t freely confess what could be construed as defacement of public property but I admit it. All three of us were in on it. I suggested that 80 years and difficulty seeing at night might be ground to stop night driving. I was voted down. All of us had dinner at a restaurant called Nataani Nez. Nataani Nez was a Bureau of Indian Affairs boss in the 1930s. Alex told us a story about him and how his name means tall boss.
The next day we drove 400 miles looking for piñon pines. Burt is a natural hunter gatherer and Berna’s Navaho family took many expeditions to the mountains to gather piñons. Berna’s mom had died a few years ago and Berna had not been out since her mother’s death. We decided it was time. Too bad we couldn’t find a tree. We covered the entire NW corner of New Mexico. Finally through the use of Facebook and general perseverance we found a productive tree. One tree. After 4 hours in the car we spent 1 1/2 hours on our hands and knees collecting pine nuts. Between the three of us we collected over $200 worth of nuts. Even the dogs got into it. Olive says she prefers acorns to pine nuts. Burt’s driving annoyed Berna and Berna’s driving terrified us so I was voted in to drive us home. Me, the non-driver, was fast enough but safe enough so no one complained. That’s how I earned the name Nataani Nez. Tall boss.
In the midst of this Burt called out trusty Animas mechanic, Darren. Darren has done some major repairs for us and we can’t complain. He was ready to see us as soon as we could get there. With our crosscountry trip coming up we it was time to stop playing like ostriches and get the transmission fixed. We decided to head straight to Portal and get ready for Portal Irish Music Week. Here we are.
This is our first summer free of work in 5 years and 3 weeks in we are loving it. No work deadlines are looming and we can do whatever we want. A very freeing feeling. The first 2 weeks were spent traveling up the west coast and reconnecting with left coast friends and family and making trailer repairs. The last week has been in the Helena area. Helena was home for 30 years for Burt and 20 for me. Connections are diverse and deep. It’s always hard to figure out what to do and who to see. Generally we play it loose and see what happens. This was our first visit in two years. Many connections have naturally faded and some have strengthened despite time and distance. My friend Ed and I think it all depends on a person’s preferred method of touching base. There is texting, facebooking, emailing, phoning , snail mail and more… If you do not share the same preferred manner of communication the lines are quiet. Add to that the demands of jobs and children and who has time to chat?
This visit has had more elements of loss than earlier returns to our former hometown. Some people have noticeably declined and others died. My musical mentors are a generation older than me and the changes there are most noticeable but the loss of my peer, Linda, the sharpest pain. We had Linda’s husband over for dinner with Rosemary and Ed and it was a joy to reconnect. I only cried once when I learned half of Linda’s ashes were spread up on our favorite running trail. Linda and I ran it together the first time when I was 34. That run became a regular part of our lives for many years. From that 7 1/2 mile route we hatched our idea to run a marathon. The ridge trail with its varied terrain and expansive views became the mainstay training run as we added longer and longer weekend runs to our schedule. Frequently the ridge trail was the last bit of a 20+ mile endeavor.
Aside from our grueling and expanding schedule of eating with friends we managed to play tennis and bridge and music AND visit the doctor for checkups. We’ve scheduled some shows for July in Helena with former bandmates Mike and Barb. Announcements coming soon. We also took a tour of the former Asarco lead smelter with Betsy. Betsy and her team have done an astounding job reclaiming this heavily contaminated industrial site. I feel very lucky to see the work I first imagined happening in 1998 nearing its conclusion. I feel even luckier that I didn’t actually have to do most of the work.
After 5 non-stop days of play (thanks Ed and Rosemary for the constant doggie daycare) we headed to the greater Yellowstone area to retrieve our rowboat from Sue and Jay’s river house. The Sea King rides again. We are headed to Montana’s northwest territories and her many streams and lakes. Fish will be eaten. Jen and Robin will be visited. Pinochle will be played. A few nails might be nailed. But first Yellowstone….
We escaped LA with a heat wave on our heels. While we were stranded and the menfolk strenuously worked all day it was only in the 70s. It is currently over 100 in the LA basin. Lucky for us we are now in the still refreshing Bay Area. I am very grateful we avoided that nonsense. Sadly we cannot run fast enough far enough. The heat wave is predicted to catch us at Burt’s dad’s house Wednesday. Plans to cross the great basin in Nevada later this week may have to be reconsidered or at least include overnight stops with electricity so we can run AC.
Our hosts, Marla and Bruce, have taken great care of us. They even provided the first music party of the season. Lots of music friends came by and a free form jam was had. When not working out the kinks in our fingers we’ve found time to play bridge and tennis. This bridge things is turning into a boon of good friends and contacts. We love our musician friends but most of them are in our economic bracket. Bridge now, that’s a whole ‘nother story. This week I found us a game that inadvertently turned out to be in the richest town in Marin County. Marin County is the richest county in California. Burt and I have had a running joke about hanging up our tool belts and becoming grifters. Bridge just might be the gateway. Superficially people seemed just like us. There were ten tables in the game. People were dressed casually and there was no obvious signs of wealth beyond the fact that people could spend hours playing a game. We comported ourselves well and we came in second to last. I was nervous going in but the sameness of the game quickly erased my fears of the unknown. Our Todos Santos teacher (Norm) and club friends had trained us well. There’s very little chit chat in Bridge. Four people sit at a table and play cards. In this game half the time people didn’t even introduce themselves. Other people were friendly but brisk. I think there were places in the 70s like this for sex.
After the game we mingled a bit and the woman that we contacted to ask if we could sit in inquired about our life of travels. Peggy is her name. She was very welcoming. When she learned we were builders she asked if we had time to look at her house. She had some ideas she was considering and she wanted to know what we thought. No surprise here, we made time to look at her job. It was carpentry therapists to the rescue. She didn’t really need anything done but she wanted to talk about her ideas. Burt and I gave her our opinions: Save your money and go to Europe. Since we aren’t working this season and she was just browsing it was a lovely social visit and we have a new friend. Meanwhile we now also have a new potential client (she’ll probably forgo Europe and remodel eventually) with a fenced yard and a flat parking spot that lives across the street from open space. We promised we’d tell her if we came to town next year to work.
It was standing room only at the Pescadero music class yesterday. There are no chairs unless we bring them so it’s always standing room only. We actually have no room or bathroom, either. Despite our lack of facilities we have a great time. The wall makes it easy for me to trap the kids. Eleven chamacos showed up to stretch their vocal chords yesterday. They range in age from 3 to 13. Mostly girls. My rough Spanish and general hugeness (physical and metaphysical) seems to keep them all slightly intimidated and that’s a good thing.
To give you an example of what we’re up against culturally here are the kids names:
There are no typos. How am I supposed to remember these names? I have them in my phone and I study them every day but it’s like learning latin names for plants. It will not stick. I can’t remember people’s names when they are names I’m familiar with. I might not win this particular battle. Meanwhile Burt and I are somewhat famous. Our names are on posters around town advertising the kid’s music classes. One kid called me by name from across the way yesterday. It’s shocking to hear my own name yelled out. The caller was Elvier, student numero uno. He was the first kid to show up at the very first class. I can remember him because he’s one of the rare boys and I remember Elvis-notElvis-Elvier.
Every class I try to sneak in little lessons on self esteem and working together. My motto is if you can’t use your voice you can’t succeed. So we make funny noises and dance around and get loud and not so musical. Confidence, cooperation…Fun. The Hokey Pokey is what it is all about.
Finally, finally, finally. You’d think we were trying to get to the moon for how many times we’ve tried to get to San Vicente to see the pottery. After 5 years and and least 5 misses we succeeded in finding San Vicente and the pottery. Burt and I and the Olvis canine team made a day of it. We decided to do a birding adventure. That way if we missed the pottery again we’d still accomplish something. Team Clay Bird left the Pescadero area at 10:30. The odometer was checked and the time noted on our bird list. First stop, the Pescadero presa. The presa is a small earthen dam just below our house. There’s a large puddle of water behind it. At the start of our tour we found coots, gadwells, ruddy ducks and assorted songbirds, most notably the friendly blue-gray gnatcathcher. We also detected a faint stench of decay.
Back on the highway we saw the usual flotilla of Turkey Vultures. I presume they were trying to pinpoint the stanch at the dam. we stopped at a couple of shady spots and added the cara cara above and some kestrels and more gnatcatchers. The cara cara was grooming. These dramatically plumed birds of prey appreciate carrion. I assume they must have to adhere to strict grooming protocols to keep tidy. Some say the signature cara cara toupee is the bird version of Donald Trump’s coif. I’m not so sure about the resemblance to the Donald but I do like the looks of the cara cara.
After two and a half hours we made it to San Vicente. The road had recently been graded so the going was fairly smooth. San Vicente is way up high in the Sierra de la Laguna. From up there we could see the fog layer far out over the Pacific Ocean. Our years of wandering have paid off and we finally recognize catcus cues and important road forks. Signage is faded and hard to find. The map is just wrong. Now saying we arrived in San Vicente might lead a reader to believe we found a town. We found a horse, a mini-church (seating for 20), a school, and one home. That home had a potter with pottery. Rumors of ostriches remain unsubstantiated.
Ramona, the potter, works in her home. Currently she says it’s too cold to work (its over 80 degrees). When it warms up and if God is willing (her words) she will start back at it. Ramona appears to be approaching retirement. I picked out a bowl and Burt bought a coffee cup. I wouldn’t be surprised if arthritis is slowing her down. From Ramona’s place we continued a short way towards the back road we had looked for a couple for weeks ago. Ramona’s husband Marcos told us the road no longer goes through to San Jacinto. Getting lost two week ago spared us hours in the dark on a road that would have eventually dead-ended. At an arroyo about a half mile past Ramona’s we turned around.
Our return route took us to Candelaria. The road to Candelaria is smooth and two laned dirt. It was a freaky Baja superhighway. No traffic. Below us were palm oases and a lush arroyo. We stopped and counted some more birds. I saw an unidentifiable sandpiper. Darn shorebirds. What PITAs. Eventually we found Candelaria. Imagine or surprise to find paved roads and street lights and fresh paint and a tidy community. There was a real church, school, government buildings…There was more pavement and sidewalks than in our own town yet this town was in the middle of nowhere. Home of a bigwig politician? A cartel strong hold? With no answers Burt and I tried to find our way off the pavement and back onto the dirt for our adventure home. This was harder than it sounds. The pavement had a way of degrading all the dirt roads into town. Nothing looked like a viable road except the main route we used to come into town. Trial and error found us heading downhill towards the Pacific. In a few miles we entered the El Migriño arroyo. This arroyo is famous for offroading and dune buggy adventures. We also no now there are no roads where dune buggies and quads play. We had a ten mile deep sand tour in the Exploder. Frequent comments were: Does it look better over there? No. Yes, yes, no, go, go, go…don’t STOP…Over there over there…no here…no….Oh F*#K…It just doesn’t matter. It’s all bad. It was all bad but it was also all good enough. Burt surfed the Exploder through washboard covered sand dunes and we made it out. The key was to maintain speed but not drive so fast that you wrecked. One time I heard the engine bouncing on a separate cycle than the chassis of the vehicle. I think it might have detached from the frame. Olive and Elvis are in therapy.
Seven hours and seventy one miles resulted in 21 bird species found and the purchase of a bowl and coffee cup. Afterwards we found out that the ostriches and the ‘famous’ potter lived just a little further beyond where we turned around. Add that to things we didn’t need to know. Some people might say we still failed to find the pottery of San Vicente. I’m perfectly satisfied and also willing to go back for another trip. Mostly so I can add ostriches to our bird list.
Venue hosts can be kind of lame. Never in Mexico has a host made us a poster. In the US only Mitch and Loni at Portal Peak Lodge have made us posters. Host Sharon at Mi Pueblito in Todos Santos was all over this. She made the poster and paid to have them printed. At her request I sent her 4 photos to choose from. She selected this powerhouse image instead of one of the three ‘nice’ ones where we looked all pretty and smiley. Sharon ignored the safe images and picked the one that is all emotion. I could not be happier. This particular moment was not our best musically but it was one of our best moments as performance artists. My heart was failing and my voice was ragged but Burt had my back and the room was pounding on their tables. And it was in Portal, Arizona center of our US fan base. I think this bodes for a good Friday night at Mi Pueblito. We start at 6. I hope to see you there. The food is great and reasonably priced. Las margaritas son tan fuerte.