The Great American Road Trip Part 2: West Coast

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

The modern travel way, Olympia, Washington

My epic summer travels continued this month up and down the West Coast. After two weeks in the Midwest, the West Coast felt like familiar territory. I used to live in Portland, Oregon on-and-off between 2000 and 2004 and I’d recently visited Seattle and San Francisco. Unlike my Midwest adventures, I for this trip I relied more on public and mass transit to get around, except in Seattle and Olympia where your flexibility is limited by the public transit options and I find that in Seattle, like LA, people obsess over talking about traffic and parking.

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

The sweet, seductive architecture of SE Portland

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride "Banana Lightening"

My sweet, borrowed PDX ride “Banana Lightening”

While it has a reputation for being a rainy climate, the truth is, summer in the Northwest is glorious. Days are overall sunny with warm days that cool off at night. It’s the perfect temperature to dreamily drink an iced coffee, ride a bike leisurely around the city, meet your friends for a picnic in the park, or sip cocktails on the patio.

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Sharing a table with Meredith at the Portland Zine Symposium!

Zinester mail from @nicolejgeorges xoxo!

Zine symposium mail from Nicole Georges!

The Portland Zine Symposium was a big reason why I chose to be in Portland when I did. It’s really amazing to see a project I helped start 13 years ago continue with such vigor and be taken up by a totally new team of people. I feel like that’s the exact legacy I hoped to create with the symposium and I’m so glad to see it worked out. It was also nice to return as a participant and not have the stress of an organizer.  However, much of Portland reminded me of that heady time in my early 20s when I lived there. I would be biking along a street on my borrowed, bright yellow, vintage folding bike named “Banana Lightening” aka “Banana Question,” and remember a feeling I had in that same place over ten years ago. I felt amazed that I had grown up, but still half way convinced that I was going to encounter my 22-year-old self around any given corner.

I love Olympia!

I love Olympia!

I felt a similar feeling in Olympia, where I hadn’t spent too much time since attending the Yo Yo A Go Go music festival in 1999 when I was 18. Then I was a giddy teenager fresh out of my small town. There I saw acts like Elliot Smith, Quasi and the Need play the historic Capitol Theater and spent time blissfully sleeping on a motel floor with four other indie rock fans and meeting up with my zine pen pals from all over the country.

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Capitol Theater, Olympia, Washington, where indie rock history was made

Olympia now has a strange, sleepy vibe, though it is still home to a very dedicated creative community. The staples I remember like Dumpster Values thrift store, Rainy Day Records, and K Records homebase, are still there, though they have moved. There’s plenty of new, cool places, like the Northern for all ages shows (and good coffee in the morning from a coffee bar called Bar Francis) and Quality Burrito for delicious tacos and cocktails. One of my favorite places to re-visit was The Reef – greasy spoon diner in front, dive bar in back, where the bar tender played KARP on the jukebox in an evening that felt perfectly fitting for Olympia past and present.

An Olympia classic

An Olympia classic

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

Karaoke pandas, Olympia, Washington

My last day in Washington State got a little cloudy, so it was quite a big change when I hopped an Alaska Airlines flight down to hot, sunny and flat Sacramento. It was my fifth time in California in the past year and it felt great to be back in the Golden State. I got to learn about the growing creative community in California’s capitol and present at the sweetest nonprofit, Hello XOXO, a new space dedicated to fostering women’s creativity and entrepreneurship.

Hello XOXO - a nonprofit fostering women's creative community in Sacramento, CA
Hello XOXO – a nonprofit fostering women’s creative community in Sacramento, CA
Decor love at Hello XOXO

Decor love at Hello XOXO

I wasn’t long in Sacramento though, and after just a quick afternoon and evening I headed to Berkeley to browse the selection at Amoeba records, and meet up with my favorite California boys, Torches, who were touring up the West Coast while I was headed down. It was great to compare road notes over sandwiches and mimosas and think about how much we have all grown creatively since meeting about a year and a bit ago.

Tour highlight: lunch with these rock stars @torches_music

Lunch with Torches, also on tour, in Berkeley

After sending the boys off I took the BART into San Francisco, my last tour stop. I love how San Francisco’s hills rise up over the bay, how the fog blows across it in strange wisps, and how the pastel buildings tile up its impossibly steep slopes. That said, by the time I reached San Francisco I was feeling a little tired. I was ready to go home.

Brunch seriousness

French “Soul Food” brunch in San Francisco!

Fortunately, if you’ve got a friend in San Francisco, they usually know what you need. In this case, Amy took me to Brenda’s, an amazing French Soul Food influenced brunch joint, and then bought a bottle of champagne that we drank out of plastic cups in a park full of palm trees, lavender plants and cute dogs. It was the perfect end to my travels.

Champagne in the park in the 3-D Nickey Hayden glass

Last day of tour and living the San Francisco park life

Seeing new places, returning to places I love and meeting up with people I love in these places, is one of the most life affirming things one can do, in my opinion. At the same time, I’m happy to have a solid home base in Brooklyn, a place where I can nurture my own creativity and reach out to the world from. Being on tour especially means being on almost every waking minute. It means putting your best foot forward always and being open to possibility and risk while getting what you need to do accomplished. My summer was hardly relaxing or carefree, but it was a hugely absorbing journey that’s left me so grateful for the opportunity I was able to create to talk about my passions and projects and remember what’s valuable to me: community, connection, and creativity. And it’s through that kind of risk taking that we learn and grow.

Who Dares Wins

My new motto on the wall of the Makeshift Society

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The Great American Road Trip Part 1: Midwest

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

Somewhere in Missouri, en route to Tulsa

“Killerfemme, where have you been this summer?” “Where haven’t I been?” I think, at this point. I’ve spent the past three months visiting 17 states and 23 different cities on a book tour to connect with DIY and handmade business owners to promote my first book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! Besides getting to meet rad creative people all over the country, I’m really grateful that Grow gave me a reason to travel to places I hadn’t been since 2002, the last time I took a cross country road trip, like Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. It also took me to places I’d never been before (and hope to go back to) like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Omaha, Nebraska.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

Art changes everything in Minneapolis and everywhere.

In front of Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota

In front of Mickey’s Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. Open 24 hours a day for nearly 70 years!

The lure of the open road has been immortalized in American literature and culture, with John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac being some of the most prominent. Of course, as an angst ridden teenager I was deeply influenced by the later and wrote a whole faux road trip novel at age 15 having barely left Maine or and only visited New York City once. This summer I was really excited to set out in mid-July to “middle America,” or “fly over country” as it is so dismissively called by some ignorant coastal souls. This trip was hardly a drug-fueled whim like those of my beatnik brothers (are you kidding? I was driving! I hardly had a drink!), but a journey with the explicit purpose of promoting Grow. I wrote about what I learned about DIY and craft business on the Grow blog, but of course, one can’t work 24/7. So here I wanted to share some more personal images from the lovely places I visited.

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

Nice neon! Madison, Wisconsin

One of the best parts of the trip was the opportunity to connect with friends I had met through publishing zines and the underground, punk community over a decade ago. Some of them I had figured I’d never see again, but instead, here they were, living full, beautiful, inspiring lives. For me, seeing these women again showed me why the concept of DIY has remained so compelling: when you are committed to making something, adding value to your community, and forging a genuine connection with other creatives, those relationships last.

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby's in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Zine Grrrl reunion at Quimby’s in Chicago: Nicole Wolfersberger, me, and Rebecca Ann Rakstad

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

Ohio river crossing, Cincinnati, Ohio

I shouldn’t have to say it, but the Midwest suffers a bad wrap from those on the coasts, even though so many people living here are from there. It’s a diverse place and full of history. It contains key locations along the Underground Railroad (don’t think that walking across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio didn’t give me chills), to battles fought in “Indian Country”  over questions of slavery versus freedom and Native sovereignty in Kansas and Oklahoma, to current events, as Detroit declared bankruptcy just days after I visited (it’s not my fault!).

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Grow workshopping, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Steakfinger House, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Midwest is also breathtakingly beautiful. Though it may not boast the drama of the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coast, it has a sky that stretches on forever, rolling green fields, and dusty roads that scream, “Take an adventure, America!” While I am a reluctant American, spending two weeks in the Midwest reminded me that I am very much of this country. I appreciate the pioneering and the “Can do, make to” spirit of the people I met in my travels.

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Train crossing on the Oklahoma/Kansas border

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Little Freshie, fresh slushie in 101 degree Kansas City, Missouri

Also, breaking news: Brooklyn, NY and Portland, OR are no longer so original or special. Do you think I had to give up fair trade, cold brew coffee or organic, local produce while I was on the road? Quite the opposite! Cities and small towns all over the US are bursting with local goodness and it’s exciting to feel like “local flavor” actually means something again.

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

Celebrating a tour well done, Omaha, Nebraska

However, I also found myself enjoying some mass produced pleasures, like the fact that you can get 20 different kinds of iced tea for under $2 at a “gourmet” gas station like Quik Trip (thought I just got black, unsweetened tea). I mean, thank you, America, this iced tea kept me awake through some long drives and was delicious to boot. So, if you ever think, “Should I visit Tulsa? Or Omaha?” the answer is emphatically,
“Yes!”

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

Morning, Omaha, Nebraska

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

This tour brought to you by vats of Quik Trip Iced Tea

California All the Way

Sunset over the Pacific, Carpinteria

I’m prone to saying, “I don’t know anything about California.” It’s a bit wrong of me. My Aunt and Uncle live there, I’ve visited multiple times, and I’ve read Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit and all those authors that capture the elusive golden state so eloquently.

Santa Barbara beach

I think it’s not that I don’t know anything about California, but that it is so outside of the realm of the geography and culture that I’m surrounded by that it feels foreign to me. Earlier this fall, while summer was still hanging on, we turned a Labor Day weekend wedding into a chance to explore the California coast. It was also a chance to realize one of my lifelong dreams of driving up the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur.

Santa Barbara beach. Build by Wendy chambray shirt, J Crew shorts, Nolita bag by Les Composantes, Converse sneakers, Jimmy Fairly sunglasses

We flew into Santa Barbara and not one hour after we had landed we were sitting on the beach eating fish tacos and staring at the pacific. It felt completely unreal.

On Santa Barbara beach

My Nolita and sneakers chilling in the Cali sun

California was everything I heard it was: sun and sand, the wild west and wild surf. Wine, oysters, farms, incredible landscapes, and fresh produce that was out of this world. The light, as the name promises, was bold and golden. The pacific was wild, turquoise, vast and cold.

Morning on the beach in Carpinteria

One area that I was glad to discover, which I had absolutely no idea even existed before, was the wine region just a little north and east of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez valley. It’s dry and hilly and fully of quaint small towns and vineyards and good food. It was the perfect place to spend a few days and celebrate our friends’ wedding.

My classic farm wedding wear: Brooklyn Industries dress, Nat et Nin purse, Ellips shoes at Tres Hermanas winery in the Santa Ynez valley

Winery wedding place setting

The morning after the wedding we pulled our heads out of post-celebration fog and drove into the actual fog to take the six hour drive up the coast to San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to drive on the mythic Pacific Coast Highway, which hugs the edge of the American Continent from Los Angeles to Olympia, Washington. I imagined hairpin turns and sweeping pacific views. There were plenty of hairpin turns, but due to the the persistent fog the pacific  resembled a white, endless void to our left as we crept north.

En route on the Pacific Coast Highway

Elephant seals lounging on a beach along the PCH

There’s a perceptible change of culture and geography between southern and northern California. As we drove I saw sandy beaches give way to rocky cliffs and meadows that rolled down to the ocean turn into dense forests full of evergreens. The fog and wind were constants though. We ended up in San Francisco, full of beautiful Victorian architecture, good friends, delicious food and strong drinks. We even waited for two hours to have dinner at the Anchor Oyster Bar, a classic seafood restaurant in the Castro that was worth every minute of those two hours. I felt my life reaching a new stage of completeness after I ate their crab Cesar salad.

Beautiful girls and best friends in San Francisco, Anchor Bar

Oysters at Anchor Oyster Bar

The next day we went even further north on highway 1 to Point Reyes to take in the forests, mountains and beaches. We also wanted to meet some oysters in person and our drive took us on a quest to find Hog Island Oyster Company, which was featured on Eric Ripert’s program Avec Eric.

Oysters fresh from the source at Hog Island Oyster Company

Hog Island Oyster Company is every locavore’s dream. It features an outdoor oyster bar where you can look at the bay where your meal was pulled from that morning, the beautiful view adding to the fresh brininess of the shellfish.

The Hog Island Oyster habitat

From sandy beaches to rocky shores, I feel like I packed a lot of the California coast into a short trip. Though I still can’t quite get my head around the idea of California, I think I can no longer claim to “Know nothing about it.”