Day 25. Backing Up

We have a day of rest here in Las Cruces, and I spend it soaking up all the current events I can. I’ve been a news junkie all my life; high school debate and a journalism major will do that to you. I’ve been cut off from all but the most intrusive headlines for 24 days now and I need a fix.

The friend we are visiting shares my passion, as does another friend of his I’ve never met but with whom I share a lively email relationship. We three agree to meet for coffee and its fun to get to know this new person in real life.

We spend a satisfying few hours ranting about the sad state of affairs in the world (that is what news junkies most love doing) and sharing our predictions for how our current mess is going to end (that is the other thing news junkies love to do.)

My husband (not a news junkie) agrees to a take-out dinner so we can watch even more news together. Isn’t that sweet…

Leaving our place to get the food, my friend backs up on the long driveway, misjudges and hits a tree. He’s going slow and there is no damage, but he has to laugh at himself. “Just broke one of my rules,” he says. “Never back up more than you have to.”

It’s a such wise insight that I immediately adopt it as my personal rule #25.

Tomorrow we will leave this pretty little casita, and the stunning distant mountain views, and head to Dallas.  For tonight, I’m content to yell at the talking heads on TV as my friend and I debate what’s going on.

This song has seen a resurgence in popularity lately and I’m glad.  It’s a favorite and it fits this day well.

 

 

Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …

Las Cruces is a detour for us, but we have an old friend there and don’t know when we will be this close again. So … we are going to Las Cruces.

Today’s drive is just under five hundred miles and we opt to spend an extra four minutes keeping our day easy by staying on interstate. We’ve seen all the desert mountain scenery we can appreciate over the last few days. We just want to get there.

But first, we stop for breakfast in Trinidad’s finest restaurant. The breakfast tacos are terrific and the owner is wearing a t-shirt I love. He’s nice enough to let me take a picture. You never know when you are going to find something that makes your day.

We’ve allowed plenty of time to get to Las Cruces before dark (lesson learned) and arrive at our casita without incident. It’s a cute little house off a quiet dirt road, but it’s late afternoon in southern New Mexico. The house is hot. Really hot.

Inside it’s actually a single room with a bed and a small kitchen, and it has a room air conditioner stuck high in a window up over an armoire. It’s turned off, of course.

What the casita does not have is a chair or anything else to stand on to reach the controls for the AC.

This is ridiculous.

We try several ill-fated and bad ideas for getting the place cooled down when my husband notices a page of general info left by the owners for guests to read. It includes the usual wifi password and request to do ones own dishes, and one sentence that is key.

“Turn on the AC by flipping the light switch just to the right of the bed.”

Of course.

Well, at least I have found today’s rule of the road. When something makes no sense at all, go ahead and read the directions.

We meet our friend for beers and some of New Mexico’s finest “Mexican” food and as we laugh over old times, something about the night feels very Jimmy Buffet. I’m glad we made the detour.

 

Day 18. I, Human

All week I look for insights about what it means to be human. After all, the theme of this event is I, Robot. Some of the art, the cars, and the camps riff on this idea, and I’m determined to locate bits of wisdom in these creative endeavors.

Why? Even as I finish up my first six novels, putting the finishing touches on the collection and tying it all up with a bow for the new release of my six books, I am working on my Next Big Thing. It will be a sci-fi crime series, I hope, and will play with the idea of robots and humans and their differences.

The Man himself has a faintly robotic look to him this year, and art on AI surrounds me. Yet, day after day the inspiration I seek eludes me.

I’ve also yet to find a good way to spend the hot mid-afternoon hours here, so I try a new approach. This year some of the art cars have agreed to participate in BAIT, a public transportation of sorts. Official stops have been designated along with a half hour range for pickups, and lucky passengers will be transported out to The Man and on to The Temple and back. Maybe I’ll find my kernel of inspiration on the ride.

Only the ride never comes. I show up 5 minutes before the time range starts and wait 10 minutes past it, as the dust kicks up and my wait way out on Avenue L gets increasingly unpleasant. A nearby camp invites me to come inside and chill, but after a few minutes of refuge inside their large tent I worry I won’t see my ride. Right before I give up, I have my epiphany.

This is totally stupid.

I mean it. It makes no sense. I am standing in the middle of a desert so inhospitable that no life form except microbes lives here. It is hot and miserable. The food is lousy and I have no appetite. The liquor all gives me a headache. It’s crowded and noisy and the sounds never stop. The porta-potties stink and I’ve no where to brush my teeth and I can’t even get a damn art car to stop for me even though the sign says it should have been here by now.

What’s worse? I paid $400 to do this. I drove nearly 3000 miles, spent at least another $1000 on supplies, and used up most of my free time for the last month getting my shit together to be out here. And  ….. here comes the epiphany. I’m glad I did it. I’m enjoying myself. Worse yet, I’m thinking about coming back here and doing this again. Seriously…

Do you think you could program a machine to do that?

I contend that the odd assortment of things that are bring joy here aren’t quite the same for any two people, and are radically different for many. There is no one answer, or twelve answers, about why this works. Somewhere in the quasi-random process called evolution which created us as a species, and the equally bizarre series of events that shaped each of us as individuals, are little beads of capacity for joy that can’t be understood or duplicated. In fact, there is no logical need to understand or duplicate them.

Design a machine to behave logically, Or randomly or some combination thereof. Design it to seek joy when its needs are fulfilled, and take a stab at defining those needs. Design it any way you like. I contend that no thought-out effort results in a significant number of your models choosing to go to Burning Man once, much less to return.

Being here doesn’t make sense. It’s a human thing, machines. You wouldn’t understand.

I finish my thoughts, give up on BAIT, and head back towards my camp. I notice one camp has erected a small café, complete with a Maitre ‘d out front, and I decide to get some lunch. He seats me, presenting my menu with great flourish, and I see several other customers stifling grins. What’s going on?

“Take your time, dear” a lady sitting next to me says.

“I know I couldn’t make up my mind,” adds another.

I open the menu. It says “Cappuccino.”

That’s it.

“I think I’ll have a cappuccino,” I tell the waiter.

“Excellent choice,” he says.

The good news is it is excellent cappuccino.

Over the five full days I am at Burning Man, I end up working three four-hour shifts as an assistant stage manager at the Center Camp, and I enjoy myself immensely. On the first of these shifts I discover that if an act doesn’t show up, it’s our job to find someone in the audience to perform. The show must go on.

On my second shift, I discover that if the audience will not produce an act, we must. When I arrive, the previous three acts have all been no shows, and the entire stage crew has been up there for hours doing everything they can think of. Shifts are staggered, so I am greeted by a sound technician and the head stage manager having an on stage debate about what the worst processed foods are. Four or five sleepy burners sip coffee and watch with mild interest while the rest of the stage crew looks at their watches.

It seems only right to provide some relief, so I offer to take the mic and share the story of my day. As I launch into my tirade about how stupid it is to be here, a few more coffee drinkers wander over. By the time I’m arguing no one could program a machine to make an informed non-random choice to attend Burning Man and furthermore, there is no reason one would ever want to, I’ve amassed a couple of dozen listeners and I’m even getting comments from the audience. Not bad for my first time on stage.

Today’s rule of the road?

It doesn’t have to make sense, at least not if you’re human.

Today’s song?

Not one I’d normally pick, but it’s a shout out to the person who invited me here in the first place. Years ago he and friends designed and built a camp with a large shade structure and a viewing platform to climb up to. The supplies have been passed along to others, but he still enjoys going back to visit. They called it the ICU Baby camp. I understand this song is still played there often…

 

 

 

Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be

Participating, as opposed to standing around gawking, is valued here, so as I planned this trip I sought out a place where I could contribute to make the magic happen. It’s Monday morning. The dust is resting and the sky is blue here at Burning Man and I’m off for my first shift as an assistant stage manager for the Center Cafe.

I like the idea of this stage, where only original material is performed twenty-four hours a day. Years of writing self-published science fiction has left me with a huge soft spot for artists of all types who summon up their inner muse and then unveil those fragile creations in front of a potentially hostile world.

When I arrive, I find a universe that is gentler and more accepting than I hoped. Staff and performers hug, compliment and encourage. Some acts are polished and great fun to watch. Others are raw creations, not ready for prime time elsewhere. Yet, they are cheered on by this coffee-sipping audience that seems to understand the fragility of nascent artistry .

I receive quick and generous praise from everyone for being a warm, helpful and happy human. How odd. Is this worthy of praise?

Then it occurs to me. Back in the default world, I often work at being less helpful than I want to be. Less warm, less encouraging. I make an effort to smile less. I’ve had decades of signals from others that my natural behavior is at best odd and at worst downright annoying.

Here? I’m not doing that. And they seem to like it. A lot. Wow.

After four joy-filled hours of finding kind words for everyone that crosses my path, I’m high as a kite. I’m being myself and it is more fun than I’ve had in a long while.

Burning Man is considered by many who don’t know much about it to be a yearly drunken and drugged-out Bacchanalia involving sex, nudity and general bad behavior. Yes, I suppose there is some of that, though I’ve encountered little to none.  Camp mates tell me most of the hard partying I’ve heard of will happen late in week when non-participants pour in. The little that is happening now? You really have to go looking to find it.

Thanks to people I’m close to, I already know of other sides to this event. There is the self-reliance of erecting what is essentially a tent city for 80,000 in a place where the alkaline soil is so damaging that there is zero plant and animal life. That’s right: no cacti, no lichen, no ants, no scorpions, no bugs. Nothing lives here, except for a lone type of microbe in the soil. And 80,000 people for one week every year.

There is also a sense of community. We help each other; we give gifts of words, actions and things. As I leave the Center Cafe I wander around, stumbling on the sizable AA area set up to encourage burners who need to avoid altered states. I stop at the mobility camp, providing aid to burners likely to find life here even more challenging.

I can see the temple in the distance. Each year it is designed by a different artist. Over the course of the week it will be filled with notes and photos and memorabilia from those who have died this past year, along with musings and memories that are meaningful to this year’s participants. Sunday night, after the man has burned and the weekend crowds are gone, the temple will be set aflame. I’m already fascinated by this and I pause outside the tent of the temple guardians. Maybe one year that will be me ….

I climb a platform to look over this rapidly growing tent city. I found it a little presumptuous when I entered on Saturday and was given the traditional greeting for this event. Welcome home.

This isn’t my home, I thought then. But now, I can see how in some way it just might be.

Today’s rule of the road? It is a bad idea to pretend to be meaner or more miserable than you are, just to make meaner and more miserable people like you.

Today’s song? I had a few ideas for this one, but I finally settled on Jewel performing with a live orchestra. Give this video a few seconds, she does appear and I’ll think you enjoy what you see.

 

 

 

 

Day 12. I Want to Scream.

This is the day when I’m tired of driving, and exhausted by road construction and the desolation. I don’t want to listen to any of my music any more. I can’t get comfortable. Every little town looks like the one in this picture. Nothing sounds good for lunch, so I don’t even bother to stop. I recognize I’m getting cranky.

Then I hit a one lane stretch of road, and just miss being part of the group on my side that gets to go through. I wait for 25 minutes, with my left arm hanging out the south-facing drivers side baking in the sun and turning red as I simmer. It’s time to get off the road.

I’m lucky this is my last day of driving until day 19. Tomorrow my journey makes a drastic change as I head into the wild for six days of camping. I’ll be out of my car and off the grid, and will resume posting my rules of the road and my song of the day once I’m back.

Today’s rule of the road? Sometimes you are cranky. It’s alright. That’s when you focus on something else instead.

I let my mind wander to tomorrow and wrote this in my head as I was baking in the noon sun, wondering when my lane would be allowed to go forward.

Listen. Hear that sound? It’s your heart beating, happy to be alive and hoping for an adventure. Go with it. Take that last step and start your journey.

Once my car was moving again, I found the music that spoke to the restlessness in my soul. It was classical, the most up tempo and passionate classical pieces I could find. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was great, and this version by a UK group called Sky captured every nuance of my desire to JUST SCREAM. I played it a few times and felt far better.

 

 

Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada

I have a six hour drive ahead of me today as I head west out of Moab on I70 to Ely Nevada. The first two hours are sheer joy. Red cliffs are all around, traffic moves well, and the morning is cool. I drive with the windows down, singing along with my music and wondering why I get to lead such a fun life.

Of course, this doesn’t last.

Everything changes shortly after I turn on to state highway 50. As I descend out of the mountains, the temperature rises 20 degrees and the scenery turns to endless scraggly sage. I enter one of the weirdest stretches of road I have ever traveled upon.

I grew up in Western Kansas and most people consider it pretty desolate there, but it is an overpopulated mass of humanity compared to this part of western Utah. For long stretches, I do not see another car or a building of any kind. I have no phone service. The sun blares down and I go to AC.

I pat my dashboard. Not a good place to breakdown, I whisper to my trusty FJ Cruiser. Fortunately, she understands and agrees.

Then I hit the road construction. Or rather, the road construction signs. They insist I slow down to 35 mph, so of course I do. I creep along looking for either people or machinery. Neither appears. The asphalt looks new, and some stretches are missing a center line, but that’s the only sign of roadwork. I let my speed creep back up. If going 35 mph feels slow on a normal highway, it feels like sitting still out here.

I’m just about back up to 65 mph when I see another sign. This one wants me to go 45. Okay, I play along. Again, no workers, no machinery, no other cars going my direction and only a rare one going the other way. I feel silly driving 45. After a while, I creep back up again.

This goes on four or five more times, with each lowered speed limit slightly different, and never a sign saying it is okay to resume normal speed. It has ceased to be amusing when I begin to round the crest of a small hill and notice the top of a vehicle off the right. Surely not, I think. But just in case, I slow down to 40 mph.

Yup. It’s a big ol’ sheriff’s truck, setting smack dab in the absolute middle of nowhere hidden by the only hill for miles. As I go by, he steps out of the vehicle and points something at me, a speed detection device I assume. By then I’m doing 34 mph and giving him the finger in my head.

Doesn’t this man have anything better to do?

No, he doesn’t. Before long I notice him at a distance in my rear view mirror. I slow down. He slows down. I speed up. He speeds up. I’m contemplating all sorts of crazy reactions when Rule 11 solidifies in my mind.

Avoid unnecessary trouble. Just avoid it.

Is trouble ever necessary? Yes, I tell myself. There are fights that need to be fought, causes that should be championed. But … doing something stupid because of one lone sheriff determined to collect a fine is not a cause worth messing up a perfectly fine day for.

It’s about twenty miles to the Nevada border. I can do this. I slow down to 40 mph and creep along. A mile from the border, he pulls a u-turn and heads back into Utah to find someone else to pick on.

Just inside Nevada there is this wonderful little establishment surrounded by miles of nothing, selling gas and a offering a dim room full of singing, blinking slot machines. I use the restroom and consider playing a machine as a thank you for the facilities, then opt for treating myself to a ginger ale instead.

“Have a nice day,” the young man chirps.

“I will. I’m so glad to have made it to Nevada.”

He nods like he understands and I think maybe he does. It could be the sort of thing he hears from half a dozen or so people every day ….

My travels end well with a nice meal in Ely at a place called Cell Block Steakhouse. Each table is it’s own little jail cell. Cute, huh? Maybe not so much so after the day I had. Yet, it could have ended far worse.

Seeking a song for the day, my mind went straight to this, my favorite song ever  about a man trying to avoid trouble. It makes me laugh every time I hear it, and I especially like this recent live version.

 

 

 

Review: Murder Gone Missing

Why am I reviewing a crime novel like Murder Gone Missing? Well, even though y1 is a fantasy, it is also a murder mystery, and I have a soft spot for zany crime novels with an unusual premise. This is my third recent review here and I hope to do more. See the end of this post for details about my review policy.

 

My Review Summary: Lida Sideris has written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries. My personal rating is 3.7/5. My full review appears later in this post.

About this book: Newly minted lawyer Corrie Locke has taken a vow of abstinence. From PI work, that is. Until her best friend Michael finds his bully of a boss stabbed in the back after confronting him earlier that day. Michael panics, accidentally tampering with the crime scene…which could lead the cops to Michael instead of the real culprit. He turns to Corrie to track down the killer. She doesn’t need much coaxing. Her late great PI dad taught her the ropes…and left her his cache of illegal weaponry.

They return to the scene of the crime, but the body’s missing. Racing against time, Corrie dredges a prestigious Los Angeles college in pursuit of clues. All she finds are false leads. Armed with attitude and romantic feelings toward Michael, Corrie dives into a school of suspects to find the slippery fugitive. Will she clear Michael’s name before he’s arrested for murder?

About the author: Lida Sideris is the author of the Southern California Mystery series, the latest of which, MURDER GONE MISSING, was published by Level Best Books. She writes soft-boiled mysteries and was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America scholarship award. To learn more about Lida, please visit www.LidaSideris.com or find her on Instagram,  on Twitter@lidasideris or at https://www.facebook.com/lidasideris

Giveaway:  Lida Sideris be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more and register to win.

My full review: (See my summary at the start of this post.)

What I liked best:

  1. This is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged.
  2. The author paints descriptions with an artistic flair, and a hint of crime noir satire. Passages like “Fog crept around the hilly street, clasping hands with the darkness” abound. Better yet, she does it deftly enough that they don’t slow the story down.
  3. The protagonist Corrie Locke may steal high-fashion items from her mother, but she is a tough and capable detective with a good heart.
  4. One of my favorite scenes is when main character Corrie admits she has been antagonistic to another character for so long that she doesn’t even remember why she is doing it. The bit of self-awareness is in stark contrast to the sometimes unjustified sharp banter, and it did much to win over my sympathy for Corrie.
  5. The author does a noteworthy job of ending chapters in such a way that the reader just has to keep going.

What I liked least:

  1. At least one other novel preceded this one, and I never felt quite up to speed on the interpersonal relationships between Corrie and her two potential love interests.
  2. In places the book reminded me a little too much of the famous Janet Evanovich series, upon which it appears to be modeled. (One spunky woman PI and two gorgeous men.) For example, Corrie’s sidekick Veeda talks entirely too much like Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.
  3. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone. In its least effective places, the book becomes a series of flippant one-liners in need of a little emotional honesty.

The power of what I liked well exceeds what I didn’t, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a mystery with touches of humor and just a hit of romance.

Purchase this book at Amazon.

The excerpt I liked best:

I moved toward the pick-up and stopped behind Squalley’s Honda. The flat had been fixed, but the dent in the bumper hadn’t been touched. So why was the car still hitched to Ian’s truck? “Veera, keep a sharp eye out.”

“I only do sharp.” She scanned the grounds. “You think the body’s still in that trunk?”

I pulled out an extra slim screwdriver and paperclip from my purse. “No, but there should be some sign that the body was in there.” I hoped. I shoved the ends of the paperclip and screwdriver into the keyhole.

After a good amount of twisting and pumping, the trunk clicked and lifted slightly. “Bingo.” I peered inside.

“What do you see?” Veera edged toward me. She leaned in to peek in the trunk. “Oh my.”

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.

Read more reviews at:

July 10: Sharing Links and Wisdom
July 10: Andi’s Book Reviews
July 10: Mixed Book Bag
July 17: Notes From a Romantic’s Heart

If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning the gift certificate.

If you are interested in a review from me:

My protagonist in y1 is shape-shifting gay male who solves a murder for his employer, so I am predisposed to stories featuring LGBT heroes (or others who find joy in life by being true to who they are in spite of obstacles) or stories featuring interesting shape shifters, or any soft-boiled crime novel with an unusual premise.

I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review BDSM erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review, contact me at Zane (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

A personal note: I am a writer myself and therefore come to all reviews with biases born not only of my personal preferences but also of my own writing style. Also, I received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.