Monthly Archives: March 2014

My 2013 Trip to El Paso, TX (yee-haw)

El Paso, TX

It has always fascinated me that I can drive from California to Texas in 8 hours. But, that is from the Southeast corner of CA to the Westernmost extreme of Texas. From Los Angeles to El Paso is only about 13 hours. I can impress all of my friends by saying, “I drove to Texas for vacation last week”. People assume you drove to Dallas which is 24 hours away, when you only went to the border of New Mexico.

Tailgating is cultural
As West Texans are the spiritual descendants of the Comanches, aggressive behavior seems to run with the territory. The Hispanics there seem to be the passive ones with the lowest crime rate, but the whites over there have quite a reputation! On my 2007 or 2008 trip (forget the year) I was tailgated by four different large pick up trucks, two of which were monster trucks. This visit, I was lucky. I was only tailgated by a small pick up on a mountain road in Franklin Park. He tailgated me for two minutes and then passed me across a double lined road. The speed limit was 45, I was going 50, but he must have had to go to the bathroom badly to justify his behavior.

Patrolling the border
I saw the Border Patrol Museum and a Archeological Museum. It was interesting to learn techniques for monitoring that 1700 mile Southern border with Mexico. But, it would have been a lot more interesting to see video coverage of the high points of the history of the line. No wonder the museum was empty — it lacked pizzazz! The Archeological Museum had a nice nature walk with many types of desert plants. A backhoe unfortunately had cut off the more lengthy part of the walk that went into the desert far behind the museum. It was fun to see how native people had lived in the land long time ago. But, once again, this museum was also not that fascinating and I was the only one there!

Gardens and Rudy’s BBQ
My next intended stop was a botanical garden. When I got there, it was a garden supply store. I had been duped. The internet says it is in a park, but there was a parking lot — hmmm. But, on my way to this non-botanical non-garden, I was lucky to stumble upon Rudy’s Barbeque. I had wanted to sample real Texas BBQ, but didn’t have time to go to the places that the hotel brochures recommended. It was hit or miss, in this case a huge hit! They had a country store, with the red and white checkered country table cloth theme in the entire building and on the shelves as well. You could get snacks, drinks, chips, and “Sissy” BBQ sauce. After trying their regular BBQ sauce side by side with their Sissy sauce, I decided that both were mild, with the Sissy being extra mild. But, both were unique and interesting, similar tasting sauces with a little bit of tang and black pepper notes.

Ordering at Rudy’s
Rudy’s is a place where you stand in line and order at a counter just like a fast food joint, except it looks like a good old fashioned country barn with long rows of picnic tables to eat on. They gave me samples of their various meats. Jalapeno sausage tasted nice. Their turkey was flavorful and juicy (how did they manage that?) Briskey was their most popular cut and for a good reason. I settled for a pulled pork sausage with regular sausage and corn on the side. The mustard and au-jus on the pulled pork was phenominal. I would describe this simple meal as being one of my most pleasantly memorable this year!

Downtown museums
Next, it was off to downtown to see the history and art museums. It was interesting to see how El Paso evolved from being inhabited by native people, to having Spanish rule, and then becoming a critical part of American expansion. El Paso and the Gadsden purchase were a critical part of having a year-round all-weather railroad line that would link coast to coast. I also watched a video about the problems that the Native Americans faced. Their culture was ridiculed by hispanics for centuries which lead to assimilation. Assimilation and intermarriage made it hard for local tribal members to be acceptable as “Indians” to other related trips up in New Mexico that had a similar ancestry and similar culture. In any case, the local tribes were trying to teach their language to their children, but having a hard time since nobody is still fluent in their language. Living in a melting pot has many problems and benefits as well. I guess that is another chapter in American history for better or for worse.

The Border
Mexico is far too dangerous to visit with the climate of the drug war waging on. I visited twice in 1995, but only for a few hours in Tijuana. Driving to downtown El Paso on the 10 takes you within feet of the border. It is basically, you driving on a highway, a small river, and quirky looking multicolored adobe homes awkwardly perched on small hills in Mexico. What I like most about this drive is that you feel like you are in a shantytown in Mexico. You are observing from the inside, even though you are on the other side of a border. I would like to observe that scene more slowly, but it is a place with a lot of tension with border guards all around. I don’t want to arouse their attention.

Back to New Mexico
This trip to El Paso was part of a 9 day trip to the Southwest. I visited many parts of New Mexico, and Arizona on this trip. I drove into El Paso from Las Cruces, NM which is only 45 minutes North of El Paso. After leaving El Paso, I stopped to taste a few wines, read a few books, and have a few tacos in Las Cruces’ historic Mesilla district! Then, it was off to Arizona to spend the night! What a long and exciting day I had!

The Armpit of California

It was back in 2003 and 2004. My buddy and I were hanging out every weekend doing fun stuff. But, seeing the best parts of town, the best malls, eating the best food, and having the best times was getting old. We wanted to try something different. I wrote another blog about how we visited the armpit of Nevada — Battle Mountain. It was just a boring town. There was nothing wrong with it. In my opinion, the whole state of Nevada is an armpit. It is dry, lifeless, people don’t look that healthy, it is immoral, and has no redeeming features except for world-class buffets in Vegas! But, California has a much better armpit! The Salton Sea.

I’m reminded of this trip I took almost ten years ago, because I drove from Yuma to Los Angeles recently. I took what I thought was the most efficient route which passed by the Salton Sea. The lady at the hotel warned me that the trip was at least 4.5 hours under the best conditions. Even with a quick stop for gas and a quick snack at Starbucks and no traffic, I clocked out at almost 5 hours. She was correct!

The Southeast corner of California is the least appealing part of the state. It has not much in the means of a restaurant scene once you leave the Palm Springs area. There is not much culture. It is just desert farming, sand dunes, a few small tribal reservations that don’t have good museums, poverty, and a lot of drug use. The Salton Sea is centrally located in the Southeastern corner of the state. It smells horrible as it is the destination for farm pesticide runoff. It was never a fresh water lake to begin with, but with the pollution, it smells atrocious. The smell of sulfur or rotting eggs permeates the air around this lake.

On our way to the lake, we stopped at a small store. There was a girl who looked like a heroin addict who was dangling her arm out the window. She yelled out to her friend in another car and said, “I love everyone!” I guess it doesn’t matter if you are a drug addict, just as long as you are happy, right? We drove around the lake and found Bombay Beach. Don’t get your hopes up, there is no good Indian food here. But, you can get a cheap place to park your RV for a few months while you relax by the beach.

The lure of this area is that it is the only affordable part of California. You can buy a house for dirt cheap around there. Unfortunately, low prices also attract drug addicts and bad feng-shui!

There are local tribes in that general area as well. They suffer from horrible poverty like many other tribes. There are very few ways to make a living out there. Many do babysitting and sell used clothing to try to get by — I heard. The only big industry out there is farming close to the border, and that is typically monopolized by Mexican immigrants who are highly skilled and hard working. It is hard to compete with them for the type of jobs they are good at!

In any case, we enjoyed our tour of California’s most unattractive region. We decided not to go back there. On another trip we went to the Southern entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, went hiking, and almost got lost after sunset. It is a miracle we got out alive!

NM Road Trip: A stop at Kakawa Cafe!

It was off to Santa Fe. I used my GPS to find this very special chocolate specialty shop. I was wandering around Espanola, NM when I stopped at a gas station. They had a brochure for chocolate specialty shops, and Kakawa was by far the most interesting of the four mentioned since they had Mayan hot chocolate! They had dozens of varieties of solid chocolates, as well as eight varieties of hot chocolate, many of which had a Mayan and Aztec theme. I was curious about this shop because years ago, I coined my own Mayan hot chocolate. I call it Aztec Chai, or Mayan Masala. I used traditional Mayan spices and mixed them with Asian Indian spices and almond milk from Whole Foods to make my own spicy chocolate drink! I was surprised to find out how similar this shop makes their chocolate to how I made it. They even used almond milk as well!

My recipe for Mayan Masala Hot Chocolate
Dark Chocolate powder (preferably organic)
Almond milk (sweetened)
Ground almonds
Chili powder
Ground seeds (optional)
Cardomom (freshly ground)
Vanilla extract

One of Kakawa’s hot chocolate blends was given to warriors before battle. It had lots of chili, but also flower essences, vanilla, and ground seeds in the concoction! This is the Rose Almond Elixir if my memory serves correctly. It is my favorite of their selection. They have another choice that has chai spices which is very similar to what my personal recipe calls for, although I don’t use ginger or black pepper which is often used in chai in India.

I had a nice talk with the folks working there. We talked about the Mayans, history, and other topics. I told them that their hot cocoa was the best I had had in my life! This short visit is one I will pleasantly remember my entire life! But, I asked if they could do something to jazz up the place. Maybe Tuesday nights poetry readings. Wednesday nights amateur comedy. Thursday nights “live” human sacrifices. Maybe you could send out invitation cards with a guest of honor. The manager responded that they had thought about the live sacrifice idea already, but decided against it because they weren’t sure if Obama-care would cover it!

NM Road Trip: A stop at Ojo Caliente

During my last trip to New Mexico, I just wanted to take it easy. I wanted to have a few nice meals and not over do it like I had on previous trips. To see a lot while traveling during the winter, you need to get up early (not my thing) and pack the day with activities that are in a logical geographic sequence. Perhaps the last thing you do would be the farthest so that you can use the evening after dark hours to drive back, so you don’t miss anything during business & daylight hours.

In any case, I wanted to meditate, do emails, and sleep eight hours before I did any tourist activity. That cut many hours out of my day. After including driving time, by the time I got to my first destination, it was 1pm. That left only three hours until the sun started getting very low. The sub freezing temperatures didn’t add to my ventures either!

Ojo Caliente
So, I drove north to see Ojo Caliente Spa. It was almost two hours North of where I was staying in Albuquerque. I stopped by a gas station and sampled a chorizo hot dog (not bad, but not great). They had some flyers there, and one was for local chocolatiers! I took the flyer, and continued to the spa. In another blog entry I will write about my amazing experience having Mayan hot cocoa at Kakawa Chocolatier! The first thing I did was to go to the wine tasting room. I tasted a Black Mesa red wine — a very nice jammy wine with deep tones! Then, I made my way to the spa. There were several pools there. One had arsenic water! I was going to ask if there was old lace in the water too, but I kept that question to myself! Each pool had a different medicinal property. Some pools were warm, while one was a hot tub. What got me was that people were mulling around in 31 degree weather outside in their bathing suits. I told them I would come back on a warmer day!

I went to the dressing room to ask them what types of massages they had. There were facials, foot massages, deep tissue, and many other varieties. Their prices were reasonable, but a little more than what I normally pay for massage in Los Angeles. There were many nice little hikes on the grounds. I hiked up a hill, and then hiked along the river for a while. But, I had other things to do, so I had to get back! Next time I’ll spend an entire day there, and perhaps devote an entire Southwest trip to spa-tasting or spa-testing (spa-hopping?). I’ve never been to a spa before except for 45 minutes in Desert Hot Springs, CA. It was on the way to Arizona and my friend and I thought it would be fun to stop by. But, I have never spent a night at a spa hotel anywhere before. I have no idea what that would be like. It is out in the middle of nowhere if you stay at Ojo Caliente! Will the silence and isolation be a refreshing relief? Or, will it be isolating and restraining?

Most museums are empty, but not this one…

I recently went on a road trip from CA to NM, TX, and AZ. It was interesting to visit various museums along the way. But, I noticed that the art museums, history museums, and other museums of interest were generally empty except for me. There was one very unique museum of soaring which is so unattended that you have to make an appointment to get in to see their collection of gliders. What makes a museum attractive to guests? Is it the presentation? Is it the theme?

The last museum on my trip was the Yuma Territorial Prison museum. This museum was packed. Everybody wanted to see the prison. Art, they can live without. History — who needs it. But, a prison — that’s what everyone wants to see.

The hotel lady asked, “What brings you into town?”
Me: “I’m going to prison”
Lady: “What did you do?”
Me: “I didn’t do anything!”
Lady: “So, why are you going to prison if you didn’t do anything?”
Me: “I want to visit this prison. In fact I want to go so badly, I’m willing to PAY them to have them let me in!”
Lady: “Most people want to get out of prison, but you want to go to prison!”
Me: “Only for a quick tour!”

So, I saw the gift shop, and paid my six bucks!
“You mean I have to pay to go to prison?”
“How much do I got to pay?
“Six bucks!”
“Six dollars? To go to jail? … Oh, all right… here’s ur six bucks!”

I watched an enactment of a shoot-out that happened more than 100 years ago. Two ladies were deprived of their rights to walk alone at night, and nothing was being done about their safety. The Sheriff’s assistant robbed them, and they were upset. So, they go into an argument with the mayor, shot him, and then shot the Sheriff and his assistant. The blanks they used were too loud and I got a ringing in my ears. I with they could warn you before they shoot their guns!

Next, it was through the Sally-port and into the main exhibits. I saw all of the memorabilia, and information about many of the inmates. One girl shot her brother because he objected to her dancing at local saloons. Another guy was locked in the “Dark Room” for 120 days. He never caused any problem after that. There were prisoners of all descriptions and all backgrounds including Navajos, Apaches, Mexicans, Anglos, and even Mormans who were arrested for practicing their religious beliefs. What’s wrong with having multiple wives? With all of the guys being killed in gun battles, someone has to marry the leftover damsels in distress, right?

The prison was next to the historic railroad bridge. This railroad is super busy with trains crossing every few minutes. That railroad line historically was the only year-round line of transportation coast to coast. The reason for the Gadsden purchase was to have a reliable route of transportation from East to West in the depth of Winter! Additionally, Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of America supplying 95% of Americas lettuce during winter months! I never new that before my visit!

Next, I visited the cells. They were just brick and concrete buildings with iron ribbons grating the large domed doors. It had an open-aired design so that people wouldn’t suffocate during the summer. How did these hombres survive in 120 heat in the summer? Were they offered enough water? I would dehydrate really fast under those conditions. They had sewer rats running around the filth in those days. What I saw was the “cleaned up” version of that prison. Later on, the cells were used to house hobos during the depression. It was conveniently close to the railroad which is why it was popular. Please note that this prison was only used to house inmates for a few decades in the 1800’s, and after that was a homeless shelter, and then a museum!

My last stop in the cells was to the dark cell. A 20 foot corridor led to a very dark room. In the old days the door was shut, so no light got in. What a horrible punishment! If you have ever been to a cave before and turned the lights out, it is like that!

Last, I watched a video about the history of the prison. After that, it was taco time. I had some very nice Barbacoa and Carnitas with freshly made thick tortilla chips and salsa. Yum. Yuma is a great place for good Mexican food, and don’t miss the Chinese buffet at Lin’s if you like great Mongolian BBQ, ribs, dumplings and other Chinese fare!

Do not disburb means do not disturb

Do not disturb means do not disturb!

Have you ever gone to a hotel, put the do not disturb sign up, and got disturbed anyway? It seems that maids either can’t read, won’t read, or don’t read! Do not disturb means do not disturb! It is not rocket science to understand this sign!

I am a regular guest at various Comfort Inn & Suites and Best Western branches. It seems that each hotel is individually managed, and these managers regularly compromise the integrity of the branding of the mother company. Every time you are rude or stupid towards a customer, the mother company loses credibility. Comfort Inn used to be my favorite brand, but now I realize that their management system is very laisez-faire. The branches can do what they like for the most and there is no consistency in their behavior. Basically, they will disturb you if they feel like it!

There are different types of hotel guests. There are early birds who complain that there is no breakfast available at 5am. Then, there are the normal types who check out between 7am and 9:30am. Then, there are weirdos like me who like to meditate after breakfast, and perhaps check out at 11:30am or noon.

If a maid sees a do not disturb sign and think you are checked out, or should be checked out, do they bother to check? No, they disregard the sign. What is the point of having such a sign if you don’t abide by it?

Additionally, some hotels have confusing double sided signs. If you put it on with the do not disturb sign pointing outwards, but the time it goes around the door handle it reads “please make up my room immediately.”

It seems that maids function more as invaders than service providers. They don’t care about your comfort or peace of mind. They want to get into the room that you paid for and tear it apart as fast as possible whether you like it or not. God forbid you go to breakfast without putting the sign up — your room will be torn to shreds by the time you get back. There doesn’t seem to be any respect at economy hotels.

If economy hotels were smarted (they would be luxury hotels, but putting that point aside) they would ask the customer when they plan on checking out the next day. They would ask if and when they would like maid service. Instead of protecting yourself from unwanted rapping on your door from invaders, they could function as people who work on your behalf, instead of in spite of you!

The worst is when the maid makes that ticking sign with a plastic card on your door. You ask her to come back in an hour. Then, the phone rings with a pestulent front desk lady harrassing you.

Then, you ask her for more time. Then, in 20 more minutes while you are naked in the shower, the maid returns and attempts to enter your room without your consent. Some hotel chains have no respect for their guests!

If you feel the need to disturb someone, hand the situation over to a competent manager and let them deal with it. Offering a little hospitality and leeway go a long way in hotel branding!

Thanks for reading my article and once again — do not disturb!