Patchology: Saddleback Butte

As the Summer turns to fall, the shores turn chill and the hillsides to tinder, the eyes of the camper (and Scoutmaster) turn toward the desert. October through March is prime camping time in California’s arid regions. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.

One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites are mostly primitive, but there are toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.

I have been twice, and only on the last trip – in early 2020 – was I in the kind of shape to take on the crest of the Butte. It’s about a 1,200′ rise in about 4 miles, but the altitude is enough to tucker someone in poor shape, and the last 100 feet is a scramble not far from some fairly sheer cliffs. Summiting this modest promontory was more satisfying that I had imagined it would be, and vistas from Palmdale to east to Victorville and Edwards south to the ridges behind Wrigtwood on a bright and clear day were a huge payoff. I only regret not having taking better pictures.

I rewarded myself and my scouts with the above patch, purchased from the park gift shop in a trailer at the north end of the park, just as I had watched my predecessor do on our last trip.

This will go on a brag rag of some sort, either a blanket or a shirt. Either way, it is a favorite. I hope to go back soon: the campground is a delight and worth the drive.

Patchology: Hometown Heroes

I grew up watching Emergency! from age seven to fourteen, alternating throughout between a simple buff and wanting to be a firefighter. It seems I have chosen the former path, and as a part of that collect patches of fire departments that are relevant to me.

This shoulder patch, worn by the Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics in the show, naturally belongs at the top of my collection, since it commemorates when my fascination with firefighting began.

Mugology: The Pie Hole

There are few problems finding a great burrito, an excellent burger, or a decent pizza in LA: just ask a local and they’ll point you in the right direction. Good savory pies, though, are another matter.

I bought this mug to remind myself that the nearest veggie pie is just a few blocks from Vroman’s bookstore – or the DTLA Arts district.

The reverse says “Happiness: one cup at a time.”

Highway Six, Unvisited

Old US 6, north of Los Angeles

Hovering near the top of my bucket list are a series of road trips I want to take that retrace the old US highway system. I even have a dream about writing a guidebook on the subject.

Of course, traveling Route 66 is on there, but there are at least a dozen overlooked byways that failed to inspire popular songs yet cut America into revealing cross-sections. One of those journeys is US Route 6, the Grand Army of the Republic Highway running from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA.

Almost as much as any of our heritage roads, Route 6 captured my imagination. The short stretch of the old highway that I have driven so far – from San Fernando, California to Palmdale, California – evoked an epiphany. If you want to drive through America, do it on an Interstate. But if you want to drive to America, do it on a road less – or no longer much – traveled. The history, culture, and beauty wantonly bypassed by the brilliant but artless Interstate system begs for rediscovery, appreciation, and chronicling. Plus, the food is better, and the people more real.

Planning has begun. More as it evolves.

Entering Phase V

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to be a scholar. I wanted to read, to study, to write, to live a life of the mind like the professors and authors I admired. I wanted to teach, to learn, and to be a part of the grand conversations that form the intellectual fabric of our civilization.

Yet I was plagued by the unemployment rate among twentysomethings with doctorates, by the fact that at the end of ten years of higher education lay no reasonable assurance of a job, just the prospect of being another fish in a pool of Doctors of Philosophy fighting over adjunct professorships in obscure colleges. Overeducated and underemployed, I would spend years seeking a place in academia, overeducated and underemployed, and perhaps for life.

It would be nice to say that I cast all of these fears aside, knuckled down, pushed ahead with my dream, and built a respectable career as an historian/political scientist. But it would be a lie. Lacking the requisite confidence and courage, I ran away from my dream.

So I cooked up a new one: I would go into business. It was the early 1980s, after all, and our heroes were boardroom cowboys. I carried a briefcase, I read the Wall Street Journal, I was a 6’7″ version of Alex P. Keaton.  I went to a decent business school, got a job with the firm of an old family friend, hooked myself into China as its economic boom began, and held on for dear life.

And here I am, 37 years later, and every day, the dreams I left behind come back with greater urgency. My wife and son can tell. They sit me down and remind me that life is short. They tell me I don’t need to put off my dreams any longer. And I can no longer hide from the truth in their words.  It is time time for the dreams to rise again.

We all look at our lives in different ways. I see mine have gone in four phases. First I was a child, then a student, then I built a career, then I built a family. Now it is phase five. Now I chase my dreams. In 16 days the to-do list gets set aside, and I begin living my life by my bucket list.

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