The Phoenix One Journals Stories from the dawn of RoadTrip America
Life Aboard a Rolling Billboard
If someone had told me five years ago that one day I'd be living inside a billboard, I would have said, "You're crazy." It's not that I haven't enjoyed residing in a number of unusual domiciles during the course of my life. I've lived in a barn, a school, a convent, a wilderness preserve. I've even prided myself on avoiding the ordinary. But a billboard? No way. But here I am, and there's no denying that I am indeed living inside a major sign.
What it means in practical terms is that nary a day goes by that Mark and I don't meet a dozen new people. Another dozen or so new acquaintances come to us via RoadTrip America®, and Marvin the Road Dog is magnetic, too. We lead a hand-shaking, tail-wagging kind of life, the perfect medium for odyssey.
In Los Angeles in May, we met Susan Whitcomb at BookExpo America, the mega-convention that draws the world's book publishers, sellers, authors, agents and anyone else involved with creating books and selling rights. Susan is the author of Resume Magic, a cutting-edge manual no job-seeker should be without. When we told her we were embarking on a national tour for Roads from the Ashes, "Are you coming to Fresno?" she asked. And a new leg of our journey was born.
I'd been through Fresno before, but, having been on my way to somewhere else, I'd never bothered to stop and look closely at the hub of the San Joaquin Valley. Somehow I'd never noticed that Fresno is a city of trees. Great trees, tall tress, old trees, redwoods in parking lots, oaks in backyards, deodars lining streets. It's a lovely city of shady streets, a place Norman Rockwell should have visited for inspiration.
Before we arrived, Susan told us by e-mail about a Fresno wonder, the Forestiere Underground Gardens. We visited before we left for points north. Click here for the remarkable story of this unusual subterranean dwelling and its unique creator.
The reason so many people drive right through Fresno without pause is that it sits at the foot of the Sierras. Both Sequoia and Yosemite are little more than a stone's throw away. We didn't have the time to meander through the redwood groves and glacial valleys, but we came close. RoadTrip America® brought us a message from the town of Coarsegold, a tiny hamlet on the road to Yosemite.
Geri Thomas, Mark & Megan
Geri Thomas, a member of the Escapees RV Club, invited us to stay a night at a cooperative park in the Sierra foothills. It was founded in 1990 by a small cadre of Escapees who pooled resources to buy an oak-studded parcel of land on an old stagecoach road. Using their own hands, skills and resources, they created Park Sierra, which the owners/residents call their "dream come true." We weren't surprised to find that the same dream appeals to lots of people. Park Sierra has a long waiting list.
Geri introduced us to several of Park Sierra's residents, including Lou Stoetzer and Judy Farrow, who, after retiring from successful careers as psychologists, spent a year traveling with the Big Apple Circus as teachers of the troupe's school-age members.
Jane Albin, one of Park Sierra's original owner-creators, gave us a tour of the park, which includes forty undisturbed acres and a stream known to be a good place to pan for gold. "But I've never done it," she said. "I like to pan for the gold in people." A story-teller and author, Jane is a gold mine herself of California lore and history.
We're on the road again, heading north. Just yesterday, a man in a sports car tailed us for twenty miles, waving a cellular telephone. At last, we pulled in together at a rest stop. "I've seen your Web site!" he called, jumping out of his car. "I just wanted to say hello!" Relieved that we weren't on fire or about to lose a wheel, we shook hands and invited our new acquaintance inside the Phoenix to have a look and meet Marvin.
That's life inside a billboard. I guess you could call it panning for friends.
June 27, 1999