Lots of visits with dear friends, some great music, and holiday spirit all around.
Selma hadn’t originally been on our itinerary. But we were so close. And the election was so near. And we were so close. We decided we couldn’t miss the chance to visit, where the march for voting rights began, less than a lifetime ago. It felt too important, and we were so close, to miss that chance. The road from Selma to Montgomery is mostly agricultural. A few cotton fields, some picked, some with cotton still on the stalks. We stopped halfway, in Lowndes, at the interpretative center there. Kenneth enthusiastically showed us the map, pointed out where we were (on the site of Tent City), why that was important, and invited us to watch Never Lose Sight of Freedom, one of the best videos I’ve ever watched. I wish that it was available on the internet, so everyone could watch it. Hearing interviews with the people in the marches, hearing them recollect what happened, hearing what they sacrificed – why would anyone not exercise their right to vote? Because when everyone votes, when everyone’s voice is heard, justice reigns.
So, if you’re in the US, and you’re reading this, and you haven’t already voted, please vote today. We are so close.
Sometimes you think you know about something, until you learn a little more, and it’s only then you realize how much more you have to learn.
I had first learned about the Peace and Justice Memorial in an Oprah magazine article earlier this year. My parents had taken a church sponsored trip to the African American museum in Washington, DC and had heard about it there. Months ago, we planned a trip. And last week, I found myself standing at the door of the museum on a cold, drizzly Thursday morning.
We entered the museum, passed through security, and then became immersed in videos and displays for almost four hours. A map showed the exponential increase of slaves in the south after the international slave trade was abolished in the US in 1808. Numbers of slaves were represented by tall red blocks on the map, state by state. As the years progressed through 1810, 1820, 1830, and onwards, the bars grew taller and taller, with Montgomery, AL being at the center of the trade. We heard stories from slaves being prepared for auction, stories of individuals searching for one last moment with their families. We read a giant timeline that covered the entire room, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with important dates in the history of the US, how whites refused to concede control after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. Instead of slavery, we had wide spread lynchings and mob violence. For another 100 years, African Americans were denied educational opportunities, the right to vote, and the law of the land was “separate but equal.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed
discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.
Why isn’t justice mentioned there? Why doesn’t it mention that discrimination in the legal and criminal justice system should also be outlawed? At first I found that interesting. As I continued through the exhibits, I wondered if it was intentional. Or, if it had perhaps been an oversight, one that future administrations would use to their advantage to continue to enslave people of color, through mass incarceration. One in three black men will be incarcerated during their lifetime. One in seventeen white men will be incarcerated. Statistically that can’t be just. That’s a system with bias.
I read to the end of the detailed timeline and my first thought was, “Good god we are fucked. How does an entire people believe that it’s okay to 1-treat people as property, 2- beat said people, 3-deny those people basic civil rights, 4-beat those people more, and 5-institutionalize violence, all based on race?” It wasn’t the only time during our visit to Montgomery that I did not feel hopeful about the future of our society.
Even with two school groups bustling throughout the museum, the mood was reverent. There was a wall of signs from the Jim Crow era, highlighting “Whites” and “Colored.” A whole wall. It was there, in your face, a system that people in power once thought was okay. There were videos of personal stories of how lynchings affected the story teller’s family. Of family members that were lynched. Of how it was, or was not, spoken of in the family. Of relocation to a new location, out of the deep south. There was a display of large glass jars, the type you might see in an old fashioned apothecary, filled with dirt from sites of lynchings, with the lynched person’s name inscribed on the jar. There were videos of volunteers collecting the dirt samples. There were wall hangings of auction dockets of slaves, listing the names, ages, and traits of the people for sale. There were letters from prisoners. There were small cubicles, replicas of visiting booths in prisons, where you could lift the receiver and hear the words and see the video of people in prison. On the sides of the cubicles, there were the rules listed for prison visits.
- No visits from nieces or nephews.
- All visitors must be on a pre-submitted list, updated every six months.
- No tinted or progressive lenses allowed.
- No clothing of certain colors allowed (khaki, white, there were others that I couldn’t remember).
- All visitors are subject to strip search.
There were more videos, some animated, some in person interviews, covering more history (like this one, from the EJI website). There was an exhibit about how children are more and more being tried as adults in the criminal justice system. There was a video of Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man who served almost 30 years on death row in Alabama. Tears ran down my face, knowing his story was not an exception, and also suspecting I don’t have the capacity for grace that he exhibited. I marvel at men like Mr. Hinton and Nelson Mandela, who have the capacity to forgive. The world is a better place because of them. There was a Civil Rights Wall of Fame, highlighting people who had made an impact in the advancement of civil rights. I wondered whose pictures in our lifetime would be added.
Photos weren’t allowed. I wish they were because it was a lot to take in at once. The EJI website is an amazing resource, and contains similar information as the museum. The museum, though, is an amazing experience. I know that many schools have field trips to Washington DC as part of their curriculum, learning about US history. I wish this site were also added as part of the curriculum. I can only imagine our society would be a better place if every citizen learned this history.
We boarded the shuttle to the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
It continued to be a gray, drizzly day. We walked to the entrance and passed through security once again. I get it. And it makes me sad/angry/ready to scream that we have security screening at memorials. We’re entering a sacred space. Why do people have so much hatred that they target people honoring the dead? I know why, and these were the thoughts I had as we entered, slowly walking up the gravel pathway towards the memorial.
It’s striking from afar. It’s more striking as I walked closer. I was among rows upon rows of rust-colored steel pillars, each with a county name and the names and dates of the lynchings that occurred there. Some columns had one name, others had a dozen. As I walked further into the memorial, the ground sloped downward, yet the pillars remained at the same height, hanging from the ceiling, until I was staring up at them, staring up at the memories of the lynched. The rain fell gently, and as the water ran down the steel pillars at the edge of the memorial, it appeared that tears, or perhaps droplets of blood, rolled down the pillars. Tears slowly ran down my face. How, as a society, were we capable of such violence? How, as a society, are we still capable of such violence, but instead of mobs carrying out the violence it’s officers of our justice system? Along the walls were placards with brief explanations of why the lynchings took place: he looked at a white lady, he voted, he was a successful farmer, she protested her husband’s lynching. I thought of the reasons African Americans were killed unnecessarily in the last few years: he was wearing a hoodie, he reached for his license, he was holding a cellphone that police thought was a gun, he was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, he was sitting in his apartment. The reasons today seem equally ridiculous as those from the past. Turning another corner, the ground slopes further downward, the pillars hang higher, and I saw these words etched on the wall:
For the hanged and beaten.
For the shot, drowned, and burned.
For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized.
For those abandoned by the rule of law.
We will remember.
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
With courage because peace requires bravery.
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle.
With faith because we shall overcome.
I stared at the words and read them over and over. It was a message I needed to see.
I had driven my parents home in their car from Asheville to Winston-Salem after my dad’s heart attack. I figured it would be easy to make the 2 hour journey return home somehow: rent a car, fly, take a bus… options were (almost) endless. I chose to purchase a bus ticket. I’m still not that fond of driving, and riding along, watching the scenery, appealed to me. Greyhound e-ticket on phone, I headed to the bus station at 1 pm on New Year’s Eve.
We got almost to our destination, basically 20 miles away from Asheville, when we saw blue lights flashing ahead of us. The State Troopers had closed the interstate. They said that a freak storm had hit and all the roads were covered in black ice. Multiple accidents had already happened, and they were closing the roads until they could be treated. The bus pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, where the driver announced we’d wait for an hour or so until the roads had been salted and brined. As the 20 or so of us that were on the bus started to disembark, I thought to myself, “What if this is the start of something wonderful? What if we hunker down in the McDonald’s and talk and discover each other’s stories and have a lovely afternoon?” That didn’t happen.
About two hours later, we were back on the road, heading east, back to Winston-Salem. The roads would be closed until later that night, not passable for buses. On the way back to Winston-Salem, the driver said that he was re-routing to Charlotte, where the folks who had tickets for Knoxville, TN, could catch a bus to Atlanta, then on to Knoxville, avoiding the icy mountainous roads we had just left. The folks heading to Asheville could spend the night at the bus station (it was open 24 hours) and catch the first bus to Asheville in the morning at 7 am. If everything went well, we’d be in Asheville by 10 am. I thought to myself, “Not ideal, but not the worse thing in the world either.”
At the Charlotte Greyhound bus station, we stood in line to get re-ticketed. As I approached the counter, the clerk said, “Sorry. We’re sold out.” I looked at him. “What did you say?” “We’re sold out, ma’am. First come, first serve. No more tickets to Asheville.” I looked at him. “What are my options, then?” He clicked onto his keyboard and said, “Well, you can catch the midnight bus to Raleigh (five hours east), then layover there for four hours, then take the Asheville bus from there, which would get you into Asheville at around 10 pm tomorrow night.” I looked at him. “That’s not really an option.” I continued to look at him. “I’m just going to go right over here and have myself a think. Thank you.”
I went and sat down. I had been on a bus or in a McDonald’s for almost nine hours, and I was still over two hours away from my home, the highways were closed, and it was nearing 10:00 pm. Exhaustion swept over me. I booked a hotel room in Charlotte and a Lyft to get me there, and decided that I would be a better decision maker after a good night’s sleep. The Lyft driver who picked me up at the Greyhound station asked me what I was doing there. I explained my predicament. He looked at me and very seriously asked, “Baby girl, why your family hate you?” I paused. “I don’t think my family hates me.” He shook his head slowly. “Soon as you said you was buying a Greyhound ticket, if they cared ‘bout you, they would’ve told you no. When you buy a Greyhound ticket, you never get to where you trying to go.” I told him I wished I had met him earlier in the day.
The hotel I chose was also the hotel that about 100 teenagers had chosen to ring in the new year. I put ear plugs in and wished myself a happy new year.
In the morning, I checked the Department of Transportation websites. The highways were open, and by all accounts, it seemed like they were clear. I thought about my options. I could rent a car, I could buy a one way airplane ticket, or I could book a Lyft. Booking a Lyft was the cheapest option, so I waited as the (what I hoped was AWD) car pulled up to the hotel. He opened the rear door for me to deposit my tote bag. “Before we get comfortable, I need to tell you where I’m going. I’m heading to Asheville. Are you okay with that?” He held up his hand for a high-five and yelled, “Sweet!” The roads were fine, the conversation was delightful, and I walked into my home 24 hours after my journey began, at 1 pm on Monday, New Year’s Day.
At the end of the month I traveled back to the west coast for a dear friend’s birthday and another dear friend’s wedding. The night before I was due to fly, a snowstorm hit Asheville, dumping four inches of snow on the city. For those who have not lived in the south, any amount of snow shuts everything down. As I prepared to go to the airport, I received message after message saying my flight to Atlanta had been delayed, my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco had been rebooked, my flight to Atlanta had been cancelled, I had been rebooked on another flight, etc. I slowly drove to the airport (thank you, AWD). I checked in and the gate agent cheerfully wished me a happy trip to Atlanta. “Thank you, but I’m going to San Francisco.” He looked at his screen worryingly. My flight to San Francisco had been cancelled when my flight to Atlanta got rebooked. He punched some keys and made some phone calls, as I waited and the line behind me grew deeper and deeper. He said that he thought he had booked me on a flight to San Francisco, but they couldn’t confirm it until I physically arrived in Atlanta. That didn’t sound like a great plan, but it was all I had.
In Atlanta, they confirmed my (delayed and delayed) flight to San Francisco. I arrived exhausted, but happy to be there.
We were driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. As we drove further and further up the mountain, the weather became more and more inclement. Emily turned on the windshield wipers, which just made a smeary mess of the spray from the road. She tried to spray windshield wiper fluid on the mess to clean it up, and we discovered we were out. I said, “Oh, I’ve got this!” I rolled down the window, uncapped my water bottle, and attempted to throw fresh water on the windshield. The water came flying back into the car, prompting a ten-minute hysterical laughing fit. Travels were going okay after all.
We met in San Francisco in the late nineties/early naughts. We formed a fast friendship, even when one, then another, then another, then another moved away (then one moved back). We met up in new homes, on vacation, on work trips around the world, keeping in touch via group texts, Facebook, and occasional calls. When we met up it was usually in twos or threes, rarely all four of us in the same place. This year we decided to plan a long weekend away together – all four of us. As we started planning, we aimed for a spot none of us had been and decided on Banff, Canada. From the moment we landed in the airport (“Yes to YYC”) to the moment we left, Canada delighted us. Highlights of the trip included:
- scenics drives along the Trans-Canada Highway
- free admission to Banff National Park (Happy Birthday, Canada!)
- an extraordinary dinner at Three Ravens
- stunning views from our lodge (and it had a fireplace!)
- waffles and bacon for breakfast
- a hike around Lake Louise (I never knew water could be so breathtakingly blue) and up to Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse
- hot tomato soup, crusty bread, and hot chocolate at the Teahouse
- dusting of snow
- a hike in Johnston Canyon to the Lower Falls, Upper Falls, then on to the Ink Pots
- Thanksgiving poutine (turkey and stuffing and gravy over french fries? be still my beating heart…)
- a soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs at dusk
- late night and early morning conversations in jammies
- four fabulous days with three dear friends.
This really was a great idea.
While in Scotland, we wanted to visit the countryside and we wanted to stay in a castle. This is where Google is amazing. If you Google “stay in a castle in Scotland” one of the first results is a website that lists all the castles where you can stay in Scotland (as expected). We chose Glenapp Castle, a couple of hours train ride away from Edinburgh, and watched the scenery get greener and greener and more expansive the farther west we traveled.
The taxi driver picked us up at the tiny train station, and spoke to us about his profession (electrical pole raising), his mother’s summer house (up the cliff), the Ailsa Criag (where curling stones are mined), and the state of the sea. We told him we were from America and he smirked slightly and responded, “I guessed.” We passed a roundabout with a large stone ship that asked, “Whit’s yer hurry?” A good reminder for the upcoming weekend.
We turned down smaller and smaller roads until we reached a gate, followed by another small winding road leading up a hill. And then, around a curve, the castle! With gates! And turrets! And dormer windows! And a fountain! We squealed and asked the driver to stop so that we could take a photo from farther out (not minding the rain that was falling).
We entered a grand hall and were taken on tour: the dinner dining room, the breakfast room, the sitting rooms, the library, the outdoor patios and terraces. Despite the weather, we were ready to explore. We donned Wellies (Wellies!) and raincoats, foregoing umbrellas, and set out to walk the grounds (how proper!).
First stop, the Tea House. Which was as cozy and adorable as it sounds. Low ceilinged, slightly sloping floor, small tables just close enough apart, handmade lace and mismatched tea cups displayed on the walls. After a cuppa, we ventured to the conservatory, breathing in that earthly, humid, floral smell of greenhouses. As someone who is almost always in cities, it’s such a treat to be surrounded by plants. We admired the delicate African violets, breathed in the thick sweet smell of the honeysuckle, and marveled at the incredibly tiny bunches of grapes blooming on vines.
We meandered to the herb garden, greeted by beds of fragrant rosemary, velvety sage, and bursts of purple blooming clover. We strolled to the Azalea pond, marveling at the picture perfect view. It was almost too perfect, the pond, sprinkled with lily pads, lined with flowering azalea bushes in all colors: cotton candy pink, neon magenta, fiery red, heavenly yellow, flaming orange. We sat on the bench and took in the beauty, catching up on goings on since we last saw each other.
We continued exploring, through the dense woods filled with beds of surprisingly intense blue bonnets, across the yard, littered with fallen petals, down narrow paths, not sure where we’d end up. We made our way back to the castle and discovered a croquet lawn. Not entirely sure of the rules (or the object of the game), we made our own, whacking the ball through wickets and high fiving each other when we were successful.
We decided it was time for a glass of wine on the patio. Inside, we selected a vintage, and asked if they could bring it to the patio. There was a split second, just a glimmer of surprise, on his face before he said of course they could do that. We sat in the very brisk dusk, overlooking the sea, as rain spitted from the sky. Not heavy enough to require umbrellas, just enough of a mist to barely wet your skin. We talked about what we would do the next day – a boat trip to Ailsa Craig or a hike along the coastal bluffs? It’s a good thing to be forced to choose between only excellent options.
Over dinner we discussed our options and decided on the 8-mile hike along the coastal bluffs. With each of the six courses we chatted and tried to keep our laughter at an appropriate level in the very hushed, very formal dining room. The conversations of other tables couldn’t be heard. The laughter of ours could. Before one course, I asked our waiter, Hugh, “So who owns this castle?” He motioned for me to keep my voice down and mentioned it was the gentleman in the corner. Hugh shared the history of the castle, including the disappearance of a former owner’s daughter, Elsie Mackay, aka the actress Poppy Wyndham. We asked if there were ghosts, and he indulged us with stories of sightings. We said we hoped that we encountered a ghost during our stay. (we didn’t)
On Sunday we enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast (haggis is delicious) before embarking on our coastal hike. To be in the countryside, nary a soul in site, on a beautiful sunny day, on the coast of western Scotland, is pure heaven. We traipsed through meadows filled with sheep and cows, and spotted shy deer, bunnies, and partridges on the path. We climbed jagged hills strewn with rocks and walked through grassy leas. Mostly, though, we simply enjoyed the stunning beauty of the countryside, already planning when we could return and experience more of lovely Scotland.
“Have you been to Great Britain before?” asked the Immigration Official. “Yes,” I answered. “When was that?” I paused, and thought. “I don’t remember. It’s been at least six or seven years.” “That was a long time ago,” she said. Yes, I thought. It was.
Why had it been so long? I forget how much I love the UK, London in particular. I’m delighted simply to speak to people. I love hearing their accents; I love how polite and proper folks are. The city is so ultimately walkable and museums are free. And fish and chips. And black cabs where the seats fold down and you can ride backwards, seeing all that you’ve passed. And signs, reminding you to be careful: “Mind The Gap” and “Look Left” and “Stand Right.” And Big Ben. And tea served in dainty fine china cups. And beautiful, old train stations, with new trains that run on time. And theater, so much theater. And shop clerks who call you “love.” And cobblestone streets that cause you to take care so you won’t twist an ankle. And poets, sitting along the river Thames, offering to type you a poem on a manual typewriter:
Over there is a
big salty puddle called the Atlantic
in the other direction, another
even bigger puddle, that one we
call the Pacific. The difference is
Pacific folks are handsome and eat
a lot of grapef ruit and avocado
The people of the Atlantic are very
clever but ill formed. They read
the New Yorker a nd the London
review of Books but they don’t unde
stand the word ‘lifestyle’ they
invented that stuff on the Pacific
Rim. Brunch, decking in the garden
barbecues and long walks along the
This, London, is a place for drinking
drinking is not a lifestyle
it’s an occupation.
- My flight arriving on time
- Early check-in at the hotel
- A beautiful sunny day in the 50s (in December!), perfect for walking around the city
- A delicious NY diner breakfast of French Toast, eggs, bacon and sausage
- Walking along the waterfront and seeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance
- Hanging out with the Charging Bull on Wall Street, wreath around its neck
- Honoring the memories of friends who died in the attacks of 9/11
- Watching skaters at Rockefeller Center
Visiting the New York Stock Exchange! I’m on the Board of Directors of Girls in Tech, and in honor of our 10th anniversary, we had been invited to ring the closing bell of the NYSE. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and the few expectations I did have were blown away. The folks at the NYSE were so incredibly gracious and welcoming. They shared the history of the stock exchange, took us on a tour of the building, and encouraged us to enjoy ourselves during the closing bell ceremony. I was shocked that anyone would need encouragement. We were on the floor (and then overlooking it) of the New York Stock Exchange! I was struck by how quiet it was. My impressions of the NYSE are mostly from movies in the 80s, where people yelled as trades were made. The floor had a calm air to it and people were friendly as we walked by. On the podium, we could see the floor in its entirety. We watched, expectantly, as the large digital clock counted to 3:59:45, the signal to ring the closing bell. We clapped and woo hoo-ed and high-fived as the bell was rung. It was a celebration – the end of yet another successful day.
The website said “you need to hike 2.5 miles (one way) from the parking lot to the beach.” That sounded like the perfect afternoon to me. I walked across the parking lot and a Hawai’ian woman in faded capris and an ill-fitting tank top, sweat causing strands of her long dark hair to stick to her face in clumps, said, “Wanna shuttle ride to the beach?” I smiled and said, “No, thanks.” She persisted, “It’s 3 miles. Each way. Over an hour walk.” Music to my ears, I smiled and said, “Thanks, I’ll walk.” I had my day pack, filled with plenty of water, snacks, and a jacket (so not needed in the heat of the afternoon but I’m from San Francisco and old habits die hard).
I walked towards the water, then along the coast. There wasn’t a path per say, just various road-ish ways where vehicles had driven over the years.
I wondered if all the roads led to the beach. They sort of kind of looked like it. But they also looked like they could diverge and I had no idea which one led to where I wanted to be. I also wondered why I didn’t see any other walkers. I made my way to the coastline so that I could be closer to the ocean. The sound of the waves and the mist of salt spray calmed my soul. I sat on the lava and ate an apple, letting the sound and spray wash over me.
As I continued to walk, a pickup truck or two occasionally passed. Each time, the driver leaned out the window, waved, and said, “You need a ride?” I’d smile and say, “No, I’m good” and he’d say, “You sure?” I’d nod and wave as he drove off, a few people bouncing along in the back of the pickup. Red dust rose and I waited until it settled, somewhat, to continue walking. I came over a crest and saw a bevy of pickups parked atop a cliff. There it was, Papakōlea, the green sand beach, tucked away at the bottom of a cliff. I sat at the top of the cliff, relishing the cool wind blowing from the water. I sat, and thought, and sat, and watched, and sat, and was happy.