MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

Category: Tales of Travel

The Muddy Mississippi: My Journey to New Orleans

 

karenhathappyGrowing up in a spacious home amidst the woodsy hillsides of Marin County, I had no true understanding of this corner of our country. Sure, I was aware of heated politics and civil unrest that were occurring in ‘The South’ because our family watched the images marches and riots on Walter Cronkite’s evening broadcasts.

As the daughter of a staunch Republican attorney, I nevertheless developed a liberal outlook that embraced pacifism, feminism and equal rights; yet, social justice issues were somewhat hypothetical from my Bay Area baby hippie perspective. However, with my expansive worldview and better than average vocabulary, I was the darling of my high school philosophy and social studies teachers: erudite Jewish educators who loved to quote Eric Fromm and Rollo May. In 1972, these wonderful high school teachers at the new alternative school, Nexus, encouraged me to think big, to write poetry, to take hikes in Point Reyes, to attend a liberal arts college, and even to see the glorious cathedrals in France. But they never even suggested I visit New Orleans.

mississippi-112000_1280

Forty-three years later, I buy a residence not far from the Mississippi: the home is in the southernmost part of Uptown New Orleans very near a wide curve of the River’s crescent – and so the nickname Crescent City. From our front porch, if you just wander across the Rouse’s Market parking lot, hop over a few railroad tracks, cross Clarence Henry Parkway, mosey through a cluster of container yards, you’ll find a bunch of behemoth cranes loading up the freighter ships that travel to the Gulf.

 

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herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Eating Off Your Plate

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Food loving friends and family contributed to my delicious and libationary 2013. Here are some of the highlights of a plentiful year:

Sharing Food.The joy of sharing food together reflects on the quality of the friendship. My daughter, Robyn, jokes that our family has a tendency to eat off of each other’s plates, uninvited. Perhaps that is odd, but the gracious and intentional sharing of food can deepen most relationships. I wrote about sharing a leisurely meal with a dear friend earlier this year in the Redd Meet post.

Sharing my love of New Orleans. The April 2013 trip (it was dear friend Liz’ first time in NOLA) was described in my previous post: Restaurant and Bar Reviews 2013. So much laugher, great music and delectable experiences during her inaugural visit. My second trip (Thanksgiving 2013) had a number of food and drink highlights, many of which I reported on chow.com NOLA board, one of my favorite online places with some of the best overall discussions about food anywhere. Chowhound NOLA is so entertaining and convivial that not one, but two, of my chow correspondents astutely “ambushed” me on the November trip.

Sharing success. My daughter’s dear friend, Carrie also has her own fun and informative blog Consumedbycarrie.com. She also makes an awesome chocolate chess pie!

Sharing skills. I went to our local Sur La Tableto get some new skills. “Wives with Knives” is an enactment-style TV show on ID, but mayhem was not my purpose in taking the basic knifing class. I am seeking additional confidence as a cook because, frankly, I think it will make be a fitter foodie. Although I was not very coordinated in the class, I have been more adventurous in the kitchen and have committed zero crimes with my new Kyocera ceramic chef’s knife.

Sharing hobbies. In 2013, my husband and I we realized we had made a great trade: I become a true baseball fan – hanging in there for an abysmal season – and my husband had opened his mind and stomach to fine food. Here are our a few of our new favorite spots around ATT Park in San Francisco.

Marlowe: http://marlowesf.com/  Wonderful post-game comfort food

Zare Fly Trap: Mediterranean cuisine with modern Persian influence. Delightful pre-game, had a great meal with Mimi this summer. http://www.zareflytrap.com/about_us.html 606 Folsom Street

83 Proof: A wonderful neighborhood bar http://www.83proof.com/ 83 First Street between Mission and Market.

With 2014 adventures in the planning stage, I hope to read the great food writers, get creative in my recipes –- and make sure to grab a few bites off of everyone’s plate!

 

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

No Moldy Pillows: A Night in San Francisco

My husband and I were looking forward to our San Francisco date night – an early  celebration of my birthday — for a couple of weeks. Focused around my obsession with 1760, a new hot dining spot Polk Street, we wangled a 7:45 dinner reservation, nabbed an inexpensive Union Street hotel, and even scouted out a couple of street fairs featuring a plethora of local SF bands.

 As middle-agers with obligations, there are logistics in getting away from home – even for one night. Accordingly…

..the dog went to the kennel,

I packed an overnight bag,

made an egg-white omelet, and then….

…my dear Bob wobbled down the stairs in the throes of a very sore throat.

After he finished sipping a large mug of hot coffee and attempted to clear stubborn sinuses under a warm shower, he bravely decided to go forward with the Saturday night plans.

After a quick stop at the beauty store (where I got them to glue some fuzzy eyelashes on correctly) we headed straight for the Mission District, a thriving neighborhood that bustled intriguingly on a bright October afternoon. On Valencia Street we stumbled upon Bar Tartine. The bistro had been on my list of “to-dos” for a while, but I assumed we’d just grab a quick taco at the street fair. However, I was hungry, and Bar Tartine’s menu looked friendly and fun. The thoughtful hostess got us in quickly at the tail end of their Saturday brunch — and we were not disappointed.

Over drinks Bob recalls that, during the 1980s, he had success finding cheap apartments in the Mission. This luck scoring great living spaces was one of his prime attractions to San Francisco, and was in stark contract to his experience in Chicago, where, in spite of being a native, he couldn’t quite get launched.

And here we were, in a fancy lunch spot ordering a beet Mimosa and a Prickly Pear punch cocktail.

Well, Bob ordered the latter. My husband is one of the only people I know who picks a cocktail off a menu even when he does not recognize any of the multi-syllable ingredients. He sees the word “punch” and thinks a sweet pear-flavored party drink.  Not so with this prickly pear concoction. As I am quickly drinking my bright, pink, refreshing Mimosa, he grimaces after one gulp of his pale orange brew:

“Tastes like a moldy pillow that’s been in a basement for six months.”

The Bar at Bar Tartine San Francisco

The Bar at Bar Tartine
San Francisco

Because of his cold, and his vivid description, I did not try The Moldy Pillow cocktail—however, as I glanced over Bob’s shoulder, towards the bar, I saw a waitress toss the very same drink down the bar sink.

Nevertheless, Bar Tartine was wonderfully delicious in a welcoming spot in the heart of the Mission.  We split the Everything Sandwich, a hearty two-hander on freshly baked and toasted bread filled with lox, fancy cream cheese (quark), crisp lettuce, capers, fresh tomato and herbs.

Our tiny hotel was on Union Street not far from Van Ness Avenue, a great location for a low-key Russian Hill evening. Free parking in San Francisco is like manna from heaven, and $170 per night price tag is below average. So, although the hotel décor was shabby, and our wall heater inoperable, we rather liked the Pacific Heights Inn for its comfy bed, great location, and generous parking policy. Once in a safe spot in the Inn’s parking lot, our car stayed put until our ride home the next day!

Putting our feet up for a short respite, Bob quietly watches the World Series game while I read my novel about a pirate queen who kidnaps a gourmet chef.  Soon its time to walk the half-mile to 1760 Polk street, passing busy bars filled with baseball fans and Halloween revelers.

1760 has perfect modern ambiance with low-level lighting, plenty of brushed steel and well placed glass and mirrors. The restaurant is busy with a charming intimacy that comes from smooth operations and confident staff. The timing of the entire evening was impeccable, and our lovely Isabella had no trace of the San Francisco over cool wait attitude. She cared as did her fellow servers and bus-people.

1760 subscribes to the small (shared) plate model, and Isabella was quite clear explaining which were the larger and which were the smaller, appetizer-like plates on the menu. After ordering two great cocktails (Bob sanely ordered a mango/rum drink and I had chose the wonderful bourbon-based buck), we opted for two small plates, two large plates and one dessert. Soon an amuse bouche of celery topped with a pungent bleu cheese arrived and was quickly gobbled up.

Our favorite dish was next: Dungeness crab “siracha.” This artful salad of very fresh crab, tiny dots of siracha around the plate, with nuances of celery and yuzu fruit is a perfect starter, so perfect we nearly re-ordered prior to dessert.  Next out (timing was perfect) was Crispy Octopus and Squash Ravioli and both were excellent.

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

 I had my second bourbon Buck.

Knowing we wanted to finish this lovely evening off with the right sweet, we went back to the menu for warm pears and goat cheese friseé salad alongside a Milk Chocolate Ganache plated with hickory ice cream, bourbon caramel, and marshmallow. We certainly had enough food but 1760’s sweet finale was a complimentary Brown Butter Sponge Cake, apple-bourbon gelato and cheesecake mousse birthday dessert.

Our evening finished up at The Royal Oak bar for a nightcap. The Addams Family Values movie was playing on the big screen TV, and all around the young locals were dressed up as pirates and Wookies. Even the Pope was there.

Bob & A Pope

Bob & A Pope

 Glad the festivities culminated a few days prior to my birthday: with an ill husband, a rushed work project going sour, and the age of 57 hard for me to grasp, the rest of my birthday week has felt quite like a Moldy Pillow.

 

 

Tourism indicators up in New Orleans and Sonoma County

 

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

As an informal ambassador for both New Orleans and Sonoma County, I’m happy to pass along positive tourism news for both sweet spots.

According to Don Ames at Gulf Coast radio station WWL, Fall convention business is booming in New Orleans:

“We’re 60 percent up, compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. For the next three month, … just in CVB-booked conventions, about 130,000 people coming from all over the world for major medical conventions and this is going to bring about 153 million dollars into the City of New Orleans,” says Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Kelly Schulz.

(Although not a convention attendee, I am happy to report that I’m a generous hospitality industry consumer during my regular visits to the Crescent City.)

For more on New Orleans’ healthy tourism business, check out http://bit.ly/GJFKx1

In news closer to my home, Sonoma County tourism is also hopping. Writing in the North Bay Business Journal, Eric Gneckow reports that Horizon Air — the sole commercial carrier at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County airport, has hit a significant milestone with the number of flight operations returning to levels not seen since before the financial downturn.For more, click here http://bit.ly/GPAHLO

Sonoma County vineyards

Cycling Back Through Nice

Cycling Back Through Nice

In the tiny Cote d’Azur town of Agay, the tired brown brick hut that was once the rail station is shuttered, and the single plastic overhang on the far side of the rails doesn’t offer much shelter as a soft rain begins. Bullet trains race past the platform. My husband and I find cover alongside well-dressed strangers, both of us hoping we haven’t missed the coastal train bound for Cannes, Antibes, and Nice. A little before eleven o’clock in the morning, second class tickets in hand, we embark the #3 TER (Transport Express Regional) train, settle in with a late-morning picnic of baguette and prosciutto, and watch out our window as the red ravine landscapes give way to famous port-filled colonies.

Red mountains above Agay, France

Red mountains above Agay, France

This is our second visit to Nice, and as the train nears the central station, I’m struck by the city’s urbanity: freeways, indistinguishable chain hotels, and gray apartment buildings congregate on the city’s outskirts before the train veers north and enters the downtown station. I know that Nice is France’s fifth largest city, and the country’s second most popular city for tourists, but this second entrance is startling, for I recall a very different arrival back in 1998: we arrived from Venice on a summer night train, with two teenagers– his son, my daughter. That first journey was only one year after I married Bob and our family was just forming, and still fragile.

It was a steamy August night, on an express overnight train chugging through tiny countries that still had kings. I awoke early, exhausted from a sleep interrupted by Italian porters who roused Bob and I repeatedly to check our documents as our children slept. (Predictably, we hadn’t loaded enough lire on our family rail pass, but after handing over all the bills we had, we were allowed back to our sleeping car.) Disheveled and groggy, I snuck out of our compartment, and tiptoed down the corridor to the vestibule window to find one of those transcendental travel sights: an ochre-hued Mediterranean sunrise illuminated sandstone apartment buildings perched between the narrow sea cliffs and the rail tracks. I lingered there alone, as the train crawled slowly toward the edges of Nice, and caught intimate glimpses of lush backyard patios, and men in yellow hard-hats getting ready to start the work day.

On that long-ago trip, Nice welcomed us with butter-pastry mornings, afternoons watching pretty sunbathers while their children negotiated the waves, long evenings trying out exotic gelato flavors, and warm nights at the quirky Hotel Canada, a divey apartment-style hotel, just two blocks from the city’s rocky beach. Nice seemed to me manageable, family-friendly and quite middle class.

I am hoping to recapture the achingly beautiful memories of that summertime “grand tour” when our teens were obedient, and still curious about grown-up beverages like coffee and red wine. All these years later— our young adult children now off on their own exotic travels — Bob and I arrive in the same Nice Ville train depot, but this time the platform looks cavernous and unwelcoming. We each drag our bags through squeaky metal turnstiles, the rooftop rattling as the storm begins to intensify.

It is only noon and already we are arguing about the best way to get to our hotel.

Approaching an empty taxi, we interrupt the driver’s lunch break — he holds a fragrant plate of rice and lamb — asking hesitantly if he can take us the scant mile to our hotel. With the grace of an expert, our driver guides us through a harrowing twenty-minute trip, a scene of streets brimming with rainwater, erratic streetlights, and shopkeepers shuttering their doors. Paul tells us this is a particularly violent September storm. At the hotel, drenched tourists who were huddling in the doorway jump out to grab his cab, but our driver firmly turns them away to go home for the day, “You are my last customers, it’s not safe!” he tells us as I hand him our Euros, and Bob wrestles our still-damp luggage onto the curb.

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sazerac cocktail

Transformation NOLA-style

Renowned writers have long explored the decadence and idiosyncrasy of the Big Easy. I won’t try to compete with decades of great prose and poetry, but will offer my list of personal transformations since falling in love with the city New Orleans. Here are ten ways that the Crescent City changed the life of this native northern Californian:

 

1.  Appreciation of Jazz and its history. I may not understand it, but I like Jazz — especially if brass and young people are involved. 

 

2. Now prominent in my living room bar is a bottle of artisan-distilled Rye whiskey. My rye love started with the Sazerac Cocktail. If you have not experienced a Sazerac, get thee to New Orleans!

 

sazerac cocktail

sazerac cocktail

 

3. I am  now staunchly spoiled when it comes to wait-staff hospitality, and am exceedingly impatient with what I now call “California-style indifference” in any restaurant.

 

4. Consider myself a foodie. Thanks to an extroverted couple from San Diego— who were also lost waiting for a streetcar at Riverwalk, we discovered a sampling of New Orleans favorites— like Casamento’s and August— on our first visit. Now I am a shameless food follower and have even been called a great ambassador by local chowhounds.

 

5. Addicted to accumulating airline and hotel miles and points. Since my darling daughter now lives in New Orleans, I have a great excuse to travel. Deep discounts and free nights make it much more fun. 

 

6. Cocktails.  Thanks to a hint from the locals,  I don’t even look at a food menu until I’ve ordered a cocktail!

 

7. Sundresses. I think they are a must in the summer, but the sundress becomes more appealing for a middle-aged women when a charming young man, walking an Uptown neighborhood street, says: “That dress is perfect for today!”

 

8. Da Track. The thought of spending Thanksgiving day at the horse races would have upset my life balance before NOLA. Da Track is a New Orleans tradition:  a spicy mix of old timers and young hipsters coming together in their best hats and finery on Thanksgiving afternoon. Looks like I will be there for 2013, too.

 

9. Hurricane alerts. My daughter may be composed during storm warnings, but her worried mother is on Twitter, Hurricane watch, Weather Channel and the NOAA website at any inkling of Gulf storms.

 

10.  Joie de vivre. I enjoy the pleasures in life more passionately knowing that in our vast nation there is a place as magical and unique as the City of New Orleans.

 

To my new friends in New Orleans, to my dear daughter who may never leave, and to all the friends I hope to meet on my journeys, I share some BB King:

 

“I don’t care if you’re young or old

Get together, let the good times roll.”

  

Karen D’Or

July 2013

 

Maurepas Lunch

New Orleans Food and Drink Marathon

SoBou Delights

SoBou Delights

I posted this trip report on Chowhound after my most recent visit to New Orleans, and a local chowhounder commented that I was a great ambassador for his City. Here is the full report; I take my eating and drinking seriously!

     It was her first night in New Orleans. We arrived late but not too late to mosey over to Irv Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the elegant Royal Sonesta hotel. I had a delightful house version of the Dark n Stormy, Dear Friend had a bright pink Passionfruit cocktail. We were too tired to venture much farther so opted for Desire Bistro and Oyster Bar, next door, for salads and sweet potato fries — which arrived as cold as the salads. A glorified coffee shop. My earlier Dark N Stormy was prophetic as it started sprinkling, followed later that night by a scary April T-storm.

French Quarter Fest 2013

French Quarter Fest 2013

     The sun came out for Sunday morning, the last day of French Quarter Fest (FQF) 2013. We started at Cafe Beignet for hot beignets, cafe au lait, and the Royal Street location did not disappoint. Met Dear Daughter and her friends for FQF music and a leisurely food graze which included: crab sliders from Something Else cafe (hit the spot!), Abita Amber, Tropical Daiquiris from Organic Banana and a highly-anticipated early dinner at Killer Po Boys. We each chose a different Po Boy filling: pork, shrimp, veggie and beef. Not the raves I expected from companions, however I liked my veggie/coulis version and felt Killer’s lived up to the hype.

     DF and I went to the famed Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone to find that  lightning from the prior night’s t-storm halted electricity so: a) the carousel was motionless, b) glasses were not cold, and c) no air conditioning. They closed the bar at 8 pm. DF took a sip of my sazerac; sadly it was warm. However, Monday was fantastic! Took the Confederacy of Cruisers “History of Drinking” tour with Lara the bartendress from R Bar. She led us all around the quarter on cruiser bikes with clipped-on moveable drink holders on drizzly Monday morning. First, she prepares island style (unblended) daiquiris before launching a multi-stop 3-hour French Quarter bike tour with stops for full size: 1) Finnegan’s Easy for local beer, 2) Napolean’s House for classic Pimm’s cups, stop 3) Roosevelt Hotel for Sazerac or Ramos Gin Fizz and 4) Erin Rose for frozen (or hot) Irish Coffees. At several other stops she tells the history of New Orleans relationship with alcohol. Rain was coming down as we cycled down Bourbon back to the Marigny, drinks in tow.
     A great morning followed by lunch at Maurepas Foods. After the tour we couldn’t conceive of a Maurepas cocktails, however hitting the spot were their Strawberry Salad, Arugula salad, Braised Broccoli — along with cheesy bread and their top-notch grits. Service was fantastic and everyone loved their dishes which warmed us up after the soggy bike ride.
Maurepas Lunch

     That night DF & I tried to get into Mr. B’s Bar: mobbed. Carousel was still out of power. Thank goodness we found French 75 which we loved. Why had I not been there before? Lovely bar and great drinks. DF enjoyed The Baroness cocktail x 2, and I had the very creative Caibiscus — a blend of a caipirinha with hibiscus tea. Chris Hannah is a legend and lives up to his reputation as a superb bartender.

Krewe of Barkus Great Dane

From No Cal to NOLA

It all changed when my daughter and her wild-eyed cat, Lucy, moved from Sonoma County to New Orleans last year. I became a foodie, I got hooked on accumulating hotel points and airline miles, and I even went to  “Da Track” on Thanksgiving day. My new love affair with vibrant, enchanting New Orleans — so very different from sedate, bucolic Sonoma County — woke up a slightly more tawdry, “laissez le bon temps” side of this native Californian.

With my expatriate child happily employed as a first grade teacher in New Orleans’ historic Tréme neighborhood, we explore great dining spots outside French Quarter. We venture out to many neighborhoods, and continue to find surprising gems: Bywater BBQ meccas; Marigny storefront spots with non-stop music; “Da Track” at the fairgrounds Mid-City – the place to be on Thanksgiving Day!

Ahh the bistros! Whether it’s French, American or New Louisianan, New Orleans know how to treat visitors right in a bistro setting; we enjoy Uptown’s Coquette, Patois, and Lillette. Not only are their dishes delicious, but each spot pulls off signature cocktails, upbeat service, and their own special take on beignets or bread pudding.

For my first February visit, I arrive well before Fat Tuesday hoping to avoid craziness.

Barkus Great Dane

Barkus Great Dane

I quickly learn that Mardi Gras is not a day but I season. So, I catch plenty of parades, and beads. Hint: when New Orleans gets the occasional cold rain and wind folks on the floats throw ENTIRE bags, not strands, of beads. No disrobing required: just plenty of wet, cold, bag-of-bead projectiles to be had.

Thankfully, in Armstrong Park on a warm Sunday afternoon, we find the annual Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade, a zany costume showcase of NOLA’s dogs… and their owners. 

Thank goodness we have portable camp chairs with drink holders: we warm up in the Louisiana sunshine, drink Bloody Marys, and watched the greyhounds, the sheepdogs, the poodles, and my favorite – the Great Dane with “jester” paws.

The Barkus krewe has a good heart. The newly-crowned Queen Maggie is stunning rescued retriever whose was left alone for two weeks after her owner passed away. Queen Maggie is success story from a city that has come back from the brink. I’ll return for Mystic Krewe of Barkus next year with the hopes of seeing more of New Orleans’ triumphs.

 

Olivet Road Vineyard

The Olivet Wine Road

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series North Bay Everyday

Olivet Road VineyardI drive past Santa Rosa’s Olivet Road too fast, too often. The road is easy to miss bookmarked between two high-speed Sonoma County routes. Now this rural connector street has become my chance to slow down and enjoy a destination neighborhood: not long ago local vintners formed The Olivet Wine Road; hotshot Sonoma County cyclists use the street as a picturesque route to exit town, and nearby is one of Santa Rosa’s juiciest restaurants, Zazu Restaurant and Farm, is on the corner.

It’s Sunday and I am hungry, of course. Thankfully, Zazu Restaurant and Farm, just west of Olivet Road, opens at 9 am. Although Zazu’s fried donuts or Dutch baby pancakes are great excuses for carbo-loading, at this “playful Americana and rustic Northern Italian inspired” converted railroad car, and nationally famous sustainable farm, local meat is revered. In fact, Zazu’s owners (Duskie Estes and John Stewart) were crowned king and queen of pork at the 2011 Aspen Food Festival. I add a side order of black pig bacon to experience Sonoma County homegrown pork.

Unlike other more upscale wine districts, no long ornate driveways, wine-country spas, or billboard-size signs point out the Olivet wineries; the wineries and tasting rooms are interspersed with weathered ranch-style homes – keeping Olivet a hidden niche of the Russian River appellation. Olivet’s curb appeal has not changed much in 25 years: a mixed-used zone close to greater Santa Rosa where apparently the wine growers and their neighbors have figured out how to balance commercial and residential needs.  Turning onto Olivet off Guerneville Road, the first stop is De Loach Vineyards, now owned by the Boisset family of France, who purchased De Loach in November 2003. Next up is Inman Family Wines, organically farmed and a pioneer sustainable practices, Inman is famous for small-lot Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and upscale rose. Hook and Ladder is across the way, staffed by three generations of the De Loach family, which has been making wines in the region for over four decades. As a last stop, try Harvest Moon, renowned for sweet wines: late Harvest Gewürztraminer and ice wines are a lovely dessert to end the Olivet adventure.

Olivet Road is best considered a detour, not a bypass. Located just west of bustling Santa Rosa it is easy to miss on the way to the bigger name wine destinations, or quaint towns. Here the crunch of gravel beneath the tires makes me slow down, the pungent old-grapey smell makes me inhale longer, and the sight of small working ranches reminds me of traditional Sonoma County country life. Long-time landowners and new entrepreneurs are joining to re-energize this often-ignored side road into a fine detour for dawdlers.


Hellgate 1999

Camping With Sheryl Crow

Dancing in a stodgy music hall usually filled with symphony-lovers, I’m reminded of the summers Sheryl Crow went camping with us. Although she says this is her first time in Santa Rosa, I know she traveled with us to dusty, obscure backwater campgrounds we found— often by chance— at the end of a hot day in a cramped car.

Sheryl, with her mighty soprano pop notes and husky red-wine lower range, was a great traveling companion. Four very strong personalities were trying to make sense of this new “blended” family, and its clumsy, rustic camping traditions. Sheryl’s music would surprise us, telling stories of Las Vegas and Santa Monica Boulevard.

She brought along sleazy characters all longing for escape, or love, or both.

1994 was the year Bob and I moved in together, and was our first year camping together as a family. We went to Alpine County, new territory. It was Sheryl’s breakout year with Tuesday Night Music Club. I recall Bob telling our children –Travis was 9, Robyn 10 – that the “Leaving Las Vegas,” and “All I Wanna Do” stories were not Sheryl’s literal life experiences, but rather her ability to become the fictional narrators of the songs. I was so very grateful he explained this, because I, too, was befuddled about the lifestyle of our favorite songstress.

But whether she was a dancer from Nevada or a barfly in LA, it didn’t matter. She knew, and still knows, how to weave her fragility, her strength, her independence, and her unending longing for love through a masterful blend of blues, folk, pop and rock’n’roll songs.

In 1997, Sheryl accompanied us to a rainy Stanislaus campground with “Change (Would Do You Good).” We followed her advice, headed out of the rain north into Yosemite, singing: “Every Day is a Winding Road.” It was great trip. We fished, rubber-rafted the river, and hiked to the uppermost Mariposa Grove of redwoods. The summer flu cut the trip short, but Sheryl got us home with ”Sweet Rosalyn.”

Hellgate 1999

Hellgate 1999

In 1999, on a trip to Hellgate campground, she brought us “The Difficult Kind” from The Globe Sessions (which sadly she did not perform at her concert). Sheryl’s deep throaty sadness in the foreground, and dramatic back-up harmonies behind tell a heart-wrenching story of love gone sour; I insisted we play it over and over and over again.

I memorized the melody and Robyn, with her magnificent voice and an uncanny ear, picked up the harmony. The song became our daily anthem making the journey difficult for our tolerant male traveling companions. For those were pre-iPod road trips; music experiences had to be shared in a more communal and participatory way. We listened and sang together. It was better that way.

But good news: Sheryl seems very happy and relaxed. She is supposed to be a perfectionist, so the small Santa Rosa venue helped her feel “she could do what she wanted” and even “mess up.” As she performed, she paid particular attention to a couple of ten-year-old fans in the front row. I hope those youngsters have the chance to take her camping.

But mostly, selfishly, I hope that — before my children move far away and get too busy — we can take Sheryl Crow on a road trip, again, someday.

© 2009 Karen D’Or

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