May. 30th, 2016

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The clouds marshal at the frontier, hanging like mountains over the forested plain. An indistinct haze of white & grey that is struck through by distant lightning silent & amplified in the immense distance & the declining heat. I am back. Returned. I drive & drive and think - I'm always home - and think - I could keep going, I could go on for a lot longer - and then I go home.

Last Saturday I left home and went to California - all of that, you remember? From last time? Software conference in Anaheim. On day 2 of the conference - when it really got underway - Bernie Sanders came to speak at the nearby convention center. I saw him in his car being driven away, right past me. That was something. Afterward we went to Disneyland.

For real, disneyland. That was a thing to do. For a huge gift shop it was fun as heck. I rode the Small World ride and sang and tried to be in the projected spirit of the place. It wasn't hard to try. I had a nice time. A nice time. That was what? Tuesday night? I guess so. Tuesday. I'm skipping the conference parts, I'll have to write about them in my report. I'll write about them in my report.

It's a small world after all. It's a small world. At the famous restaurant in LA the waiter has rented movies from me. That's what happens. It's a small world after all.

The next day the police are thick on the ground and prepped for revolution, not rioters, revolution. Snipers on the roof, helicopters all night. Donald Trump is at the venue. It's very disruptive. I get ahold of an offensive poster being handed out by the heroic souls assembled to disseminate their hatred of the man. The hotel has many warning messages, all but shuts down the conference, - don't go outside - we're told. Over and over. The police are thick on the ground and in the air, the helicopters circle all night commanding everyone to disperse. It's a signal moment - it's a thing very deeply of 2016.

I find that I don't want to engage with anyone on that day - there's a very real chance that I'll meet someone who supports Don Trump and then... I mean, I don't want to talk to someone who's on that side. What do I have to say? Fuck you? Fuck You.

Meanwhile it's all over the television - I'm told. Me? I've been in a couple of scrums that could be fairly called riots. I mean, couches were set aflame, cars overturned - I got teargassed? May day man. This thing in California is not a riot, it's barely a protest. I've got nothing to say. If Tamir is killed, yes, block the highway, protest, that makes sense to me. If a guy is a dick? I don't get it. Who are you talking to when you say that guy's a dick? The power structure in the world all think so already. There's no target that makes any sense. Anyway - I was there for it. I saw it.

That's Wednesday.

Thursday I check out of the hotel and have until 11:30 to board my plane. I'm shit as a tourist. I get a driver to take me to Forest View in Glenville to see the tombs of the fantasists. Baum and Kane - those are the targets. I get to pay my respects at the Grave of Lyman Frank Baum - the American Wizard and my permanent favorite. That gets done and I'm gratified & glad. I lug my bags around and find that the cemetery is far, far too big for me to negotiate piled up with luggage. I resolve to walk around in Los Angles a while.

The reason people don't do this? Mountains - short answer - final answer - mountains. It's hot & pretty and the neighborhoods are beautiful and there are mountains to climb and descend and shit is it tiring. Shit. I walk through a neighborhood called Atwater Village to downtown - it's Fucking Exhausting. Obviously I need a cold drink - this is the way of that neighborhood - which is weird &... just weird. So there's a fancy boutique and outside the sandwichboard says - "Beyonce Shops Here" next to that is the most rundown grocery you've ever seen - selling mainly lotto tickets & votive candles & run by a pair of centenarians. I don't know what is going on in this neighborhood - all my signifiers are out of whack. There's like 5 hair places - that means depressed - shitty grocery - likewise = depressed. Then fancy stores open by appointment only with million dollar merchandise? And a psychic- usually the signal for a very poor spot but then the psychic's car is a Maserati? And you know it's the psychic's because it's in a spot clearly labelled Psychic Parking - like I say - all my signifiers are confounded. What is this place?

Downtown is more sensible- Joe Friday! I like the LA cop-shop based purely on my recognition of it from Dragnet. From there - the trains. First to the airport to finally check my bags - and then back on the trains. I take the Green line to it's ends and wander around a little at each stop - Downey is seemingly a small-town hicksville? El Segundo is nothing but jet fighter factories?

I take the Blue line all the ways it goes - the spot I get - and this, after I'm in a state. A state.

Let me talk about my state. All the while, the trains are nice, the buses are pleasant, the city is pretty, it is Nice, there's not piles of litter & it's sunny and bright, there are mountains & palm trees - the most ideal decorative tree - and it's got a general sense of being a very big, very rich city & I start to despair of my own small-poor city. How it kind of sucks there and the train stations at my house don't strongly resemble video-game levels, and how there aren't escalators to the highways, and how the public art at all of these places is so fancy, and everywhere - I'm getting depressed.

And then, there at the end - the blue line and Watts. Watts has the public art that you'd definitely recognize from the West Park RTA station - the same, identical. At the Rosa Parks station people are freestyling, there's a hapless lady trying to get signatories for some civic ballot issue, people are grocery shopping well into the evening and everyone is smoking blunts - I have a sense of ease & understanding - this is the neighborhood that makes sense to me. I get it. LA is really & truly wonderful though - that's my experience of it. Beautiful and pleasant & rich - amenities & perks - like, good for you living in this place. Have a paved river. Have the most bizarre transit system with escalators & freeway running trains. I had a long good day just wandering & seeing. I think most of the buildings you're supposed to see too - the Geary concert hall, the copshop, the... Yeah. Buildings. Who cares about buildings when you're in the earthly paradise? Why bother? You can just go outside, it's going to be perfect there. And it was. I wasn't ready to leave when it was time.

Fly back to cleveland overnight. The flight has the saddest babies ever and I land in CLV unrested. Go to the car rental desk, rent a car, drive to my mother's house - she's not ready, but is leaving soon, I pick up my dry cleaning since, like a star she picked it up for me, and then I go home. At the bank it turns out that I've been made the victim of some kind of fraud so I have only the dollars I have on me to carry me through and nothing to do about it until Tuesday - so - there it is - adventure in a state of desperate living.

Get ready - pack again, go to get A from school after packing her bag and then and then...

Shit I drive to Pennsylvania.

I'm tweaked and crazy by the time we're in bloomsburg and the shit econo-lodge in the parking lot of an abandoned mall in central PA and the terrible food, the scary mountain driving in the dark, the sleeplessness - they all get to me, I get mad about Pennsylvania.

Agatha is irrepressible and new. So new at travels. She's mystified by the abandoned mall, in love with the patterns of weeds growing through the cracks in the asphalt. Just being at the hotel, irrespective of its dinginess is fun for her - I think the CRT TV is the one thing that she really objects to. We walk around the ersatz town and then crash.

In the morning donuts & coffee & family cure us all. Uncles and Aunts - far off rarely seen Uncles & Aunts - they're present at the downscale continental breakfast, replete with styrofoam. The obsolete kind. So weird. We rally, meet for lunch, are convivial, run into other out-of-towner Egyptians and are all just delighted. It's hot as the devil Saturday in the mountains of central PA.

I go with my parents to drive around the town & discover the part off the highway which is a perfectly serviceable little town with all kinds of charm. Honey-Merchants in the town square, Skateboarders & fancy-enough coffee shops. It's a fine little burg and I'm salved some more.

In time for the wedding - which is in another terrestrial paradise. The Groom's family home - perched on a mountain, his father's farm. Lemonade on the wrap around porch - lines in the sky and the horizon - mountains, green & blue like stacked horizons. The Mountains. We all look off into that endless distance of great green banks piled up under the relentelessly dazzling blue sky, the arc of which is perfectly described by the billowing few clouds. We sit through the marriage. I point out the magic of the preacher making people married just by saying it - a relic of an ancient magical tradition. Magic, done. It's a nice wedding. Quite a bit too religious for me - but the bride and the groom both have pastors for fathers so what are you gonna do? It's beautiful to see, to look at. Bracingly so. We are hot and baking under the sun, the record high of all time. We watch the sky and wait for the shade of a cloud - which we can watch being painted on the valleys below, a patch of dark & relative cool that slides up the landscape.

The reception is modest & pleasant. They're so young. My cousin & her husband. I shake my head. I have to. The preacher preaches, in the service. He points out that in Genesis the first thing that god regards as not being good, as being incorrect is that the man is alone - and so he makes the woman. It's bad that the man is alone. So he fashions the woman for the man right?

I point this out to Agatha and am tickled to notice it. - The man can't be alone, it's bad, but it's just swell that god's alone. So which one do you identify with? Which one are you closer to? It's bad that the man is alone, it's dandy to be alone if you're god though. So what's the thing to think in this godlike age? Of transcontinental traverses and Maserati psychics & riots at disneyland?

The reception is modest & pleasant. We dance a bit and go after Agatha absconds with the many many tiny succulent plants which are the party-favors. She loves the succulent plants. Tomorrow, I tell her, we'll do our own adventure.

At the hotel they've brochures for all the things you might do in the area. A couple of these are for Caves. Tourist caves. She's looking at these with undisguised interest and I tell her that all along my plan was to take her to a cave - the Laurel Caverns - which I'd been told were great by a coworker. I decide - we decide - to spend our day (by now yesterday, but only just) visiting caves.

My parents, well, my father in a lucid seeming moment is confoundingly demented and promises that my mother aunt & uncle - who all came together - would join as the first cave. It's a strange drive through winding mountain roads past amish buggies. Barn after barn - huge valleys in the central part of PA and mountains girding them all about- it's a kind of earthly paradise. The woods are lovely, impenetrable, the hills are rising tides of green, massive waves undulating in geologic time.

The first cave is an underground river. My people beat me and A there and when we join them my father is laughing and yelling at me in Arabic. "What the fuck did you bring me here for!"

"I really didn't think you'd like it!"

"What am I doing!"

Me and A hang with uncle Milad & Tante Liza and my mother and my father laughs at himself and his misguided daring. "What am I even doing!" He's adorable. They have a good laugh and leave me and Agatha to it - we ride a boat through the underground stream - on the other side see a bald eagle snatch a trout and have a few long looks at muskrats and elk. The cave is a good cave, watered & weird, it is depth & heavy chill after a long hot day. It is grey-cold stone in the green-blue wilderness.

The next cave is too far out of the way - if we're going to make it to our ultimate goal. So we skip a cave - can't make it to three - we make it to two. The Laurel Cavern is much more touristy - has much less veneer of science than the cave at Penn's Woods. It's...

Here I pause to assess and realize that I am not going to become a cave reviewer, I'm not going to be a cave blogger. It's a pretty great cavern and our experience there is straight up delightful. Cave exploration, and strange lights in the deeps & impenatrable darkness & imagining, with a fearful kind of realization the spookiness of goblin attacks, the inevitability of mountain kings.

After that I just drive. I decide on Pittsburgh. On the front end of our journey into PA I was badly displeased by the dingy nowhere freeway exit town. In the middle I was profoundly delighted by the splendid countryside, beautiful sky and... Caves. Toward the end I was really, really done with paying tolls.

We make Pittsburgh closing on sundown. You shold come to Pittsburgh through the mountainous neighborhoods outside, east & south - we stop for ice-cream in what I guess is a neighborhood? But is also a mountain - it's a confusing place - I can't get a sense of it - is this a part of the city? Is it a little mountain community alone? What are the affiliations? What are the passages through & past? Where even are we? You're wondering if your GPS is just lying to you and then you drive through a mile long tunnel - which I guess could be the third cave - and then you're in it - a big city between all the rivers - a maze of bridges. Downtown is downtown, you drive it like any other big city - through and past all the uncountable bridges - back to the mountains and west. West out of the mountains - toward the waiting thunderstorm singing along to the radio.

We make it home in a thunderstorm and I feel like I'm always home. I'm here now, in my kitchen, writing it all up, feeling no affiliation, feeling like I could do it again, I could keep going and never, never stop.


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