A Hearse in the Wyoming Night

hearse cropped

I was 18 and I was in Berkeley California when I got the opportunity to travel halfway across the country in a hearse.

I was a new follower of The Grateful Dead and the hearse idea was symbolic and appropriate. What Deadhead wouldn’t jump on such an opportunity?

The hearse was old – a 1963 Cadillac Hearse – so she needed a mechanic. A good one. Someone who would always be there no matter what happened or where.

Steve hired Bob. Bob was a hardcore Punk Rocker, also from Berkeley, and he knew his way around carburetors, gaskets, filters and everything else required to keep an old car moving. While this seemed like an unlikely pairing it worked rather well. Bob was able to fix every problem that cropped up and, mostly, he had fun doing it.

Many years later I bumped into Bob at a party. He introduced me to a friend of his who kind of sneered and actually said something along the lines of – “You KNOW a hippie chick?!”

Bob was delighted and recounted the tale of the time he rode cross country as a hearse mechanic. His Punk Rocker friend was horrified!

“You did DEAD TOUR?!?! That’s SO lame.”

And I had the very memorable and enjoyable experience of listening in while this hard core Punk told his friend all the reasons why Dead Tour was not at all lame – in fact , it was about one of the coolest things. EVER.

“Dude! The parties! The drugs! The dancing! The CHICKS!”

I’m not so sure his friend was convinced but I loved hearing his perspectives and his glowing endorsement of the way we liked to do things.


It was very late one September night. I was asleep in the back of the hearse with 3 or 5 other hippies and Bob when they world started to sway. When I opened my eyes we were swerving all over the road as I tried to think who was driving – do they have control? What’s going on? The hearse rolled to a stop.

From the front seat – “Bob. Wake up man.”

Grumbles and growls as Bob crawled out from piles of blankets to assess the situation while the rest of us pulled the covers deeper over our heads.

We’d had a blowout and now we had a flat tire. This was Bob’s responsibility and we were all pleased it wasn’t our job as we snuggled down into the blanket warmth, grateful that we didn’t have to get up. It was obviously cold out there.

US night lghts

Mmmmm. Not my problem.

Ah but then. Bob told us we all had to get out while he changed the tire.

Guess we hadn’t thought of that.

It was 2 or 3 am and who knows where the hell we were. None too cheerful about having to crawl out into the cold, we tripped over each other and ourselves and fell into the night.


And look up.


Yeah, not very eloquent but I think we said it collectively.

We were somewhere in Wyoming along Interstate 80. And we were 50 miles from any town in any direction.

And the STARS!


milky way

So close you could almost reach out and touch them.  Stretching from horizon to horizon and looking like you could take a short hike over to see where they’re standing.

Seriously. Have you ever seen that?

Have you ever seen the Milky Way?

Do you even know what it looks like?

There are not a lot of chances to see it on the East Coast. There’s just too much ground light.

Here, in Vail, AZ, I’m about 20 miles southeast of Tucson and it may well be the darkest sky I’ve seen in decades. The sky is so filled with stars here that Orion – who stands proud and alone in my Connecticut front yard – is almost lost among his celestial companions.

And you know what???

milky way faint

I can see the Milky Way!

I can SEE it!

That slash of brightness across the night sky.

It’s a bit faint here. and it has been so long since I’ve seen it that I had to ask to be sure – IS that the Milky Way?

It’s not the brightest it can be. It’s not what ancient peoples saw when they looked up. It’s still tainted by ground light somewhat.

But you know what – It’s THERE and I can see it!

And if you have never had the pleasure – I implore you – at some point in your life – and the sooner the better – get thine ass somewhere crazy-dark and look!

Seriously Look!

LOOK at the sky!!!!!!!

 milky way apod

(Most Milky Way images from Astronomy Picture of the Day.)


The Pass of the Oaks

Almost exactly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on Highway 101 is Paso Robles. Separated from the Pacific ocean by the Santa Lucia mountain range (and about 30 minutes) Paso’s downtown lies at the southern end of the Salinas River Valley. To the east, rolling hills and horses make for a picture perfect Central California town.

Looking to find some idea of the history of this appealing town I see that it became famous in its earliest days for its Hot Springs. Early travelers on the Camino Real made this a popular trail stop. The town’s first two hotels – in 1864 and then the newer better resort in 1891 both featured the healing waters prominently. Strange that I saw no mention of that while I was there – but true, too, that I wasn’t there nearly long enough and I already can’t wait to go back. Specifically, the reason I went historical hunting is because of a factoid mentioned by my hosts while I was in town. They said Jesse James’ family had something to do with the land in the area. Turns out Jesse’s Uncle Drury bought some of the first land here owned by white folk and was instrumental in planning and planting the town center.

El Paso de Robles, with about 30,000 people, has the most lovely winter weather. I hear it’s blazing hot in the summer, but the climate, hot or not come August, sustains a great lot of worthy agriculture ranging from Almonds and other tree nuts, to Olives and Grapes. Ah Grapes!

There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 wineries in Paso! Three hundred! We went wine tasting and while picking five locations to visit, passed by countless others with tasting rooms ranging in size from massive to positively tiny.

Paso is famous mostly for red wines – the grapes quite like the hot dry days and the crisp cool nights. Some wineries we visited practiced “dry farming” which means the vines aren’t watered with anything more than what falls naturally from the sky. Impressive.

Alright, alright. Y’all have proved you don’t like wordy posts so I’ll shut up now.


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(There’s a Wine Fest in Paso in March – would people think I was crazy if I turned around and went back west for that?)