Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan
  • Haunted Stealth Alpacas

    Lee’s been working hard on the website, going back over the old postings and updating the links, adding stuff from our boxes and boxes of albums and loose photos. But here and there she decides she needs a new picture, so we took off for Lompoc to fill in some of the gaps. You can see that day’s work at the VarleyYarn titled “The Great Mardi Gras Temperance Disaster.” On the way back we ... Read more »

  • The Shrub That Ate a House

    The sleepy little town of Sierra Madre is off the beaten trail, wedged as it is between Arcadia, Monrovia, and Pasadena, at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. But not so very long ago it was at the center of a struggle for the very survival of humanity. I detailed this story a while back in my review of the four movie versions of Jack Finney’s book The Body Snatchers. You may recall ... Read more »

  • St. Francis Dam

    William Mulholland was a colorful character. He was responsible for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, opened in 1913, which stole water from the Owens Valley, 233 miles to the north. It flows downhill all the way so it takes no power to operate. It’s a giant siphon. It’s very doubtful that the city of Los Angeles would exist today except as a mid-sized desert town without the Aqueduct. By 1928 LA ... Read more »

  • Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Sheehan and the Robinsons

    Oh my, oh my. Where to begin? I guess with the news that CSN and this time, Y, were going on tour this summer. The “Freedom of Speech 2006 Tour.” I checked and sure enough, they would be coming to Los Angeles, to Hollywood, my new home town, and playing the 31st of July at the fabulous Hollywood Bowl. At least, I’d heard it was fabulous, and it looked fabulous in the movies ... Read more »

  • Yea, though we drive through the Valley of Death

    Right after Christmas last year we drove home from Las Vegas and detoured north to Death Valley. We went to Scotty’s Castle, and on the way there a coyote flagged us down and tried to hit us up for scraps. We explained to him that the road signs clearly stated that we were not to feed the wildlife. He didn’t take this happily. Coyotes, eh? What can you do? We like deserts, to drive through, ... Read more »

  • He Beat It

    We were there. We braved the mobs and possible riots if he was found guilty, and all because of you, my friends and fans. Because we care about you, we fulfilled our pledge to monitor the proceedings in nearby Santa Maria and give you the inside (well, actually, the outside) scoop. We were there when he was arraigned, when he did the moonwalk on top of the SUV. (Well, technically, we only ... Read more »

  • Westercon

    Sometime in June Charles Brown, the editor of Locus, wrote to inform me that The John Varley Reader had won the Locus Award 2005 Best Collection. (It was a close thing, I didn’t get the most 1st place votes, but with the system he uses I ended up winning with overall votes. I’m pretty proud of it, considering the competition: collections by Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, and Kage Baker, some ... Read more »

  • We’re Back

    When we pulled into the driveway I noted the mileage for the whole trip: 4645.4. That’s a lot of miles. It was a circular route, of course … and I got to wondering just how long it actually was, if you stretched it out more or less straight. Mapquest to the rescue! I tried a few routes from opposite corners of America. “Key West to Fairbanks, Alaska: 5039 miles” Blaine to Key West, ... Read more »

  • We meet Ronald Reagan

    We needed a break, and saw that the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was paying a call at Santa Barbara this weekend. The RR is the newest of the Nimitz-class nucular aircraft carriers. (Sorry, we have to call them nucular until that asshole in the White House is gone.) And Sunday is the day they set up Arlington West on the beach. So I thought it would be an interesting tension, all those crosses ... Read more »

  • Crosby, Stills, Nash and Watts

    David Crosby kindly comped us to a couple tickets to the Crosby, Stills, & Nash concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, the fourth or fifth-to-last appearance on their 2005 American tour. So on September 10 we got up bright and early and motored on down 101 to Hollywood, where we’d booked a room at our old standby, the Motel 6. It was a little hard to find it; 99% of Motel 6s are ... Read more »

  • Travels with Steinbeck

    With Red Lightning finished and off to the editors, Lee and I decided to take a little day trip up to Salinas. We’d been through it before and not been much impressed, but what can you tell from the freeway? We knew there was something called the Steinbeck Center there, and we’d been meaning to visit. The weather in the valley north of us had been over 100 degrees the last few days and we ... Read more »

  • Neverland – “Shame on him who thinks this evil”

    On December 5th I told you all that, since we live 15 miles north of Santa Maria, we planned to cover the Michael Jackson hullabaloo from gavel to gavel, to give you an insider’s perspective that you can’t get on CNN or Entertainment Tonight. To defray costs we reluctantly decided to offer this wonderful opportunity on a subscription basis, three easy payments of $19.95. We didn’t expect to ... Read more »

  • There is no gravity! The Earth sucks!

    7 AM, 4/19/04. We stumble out of bed. I eat a banana, Lee turns on the coffee machine, we check our email and turn on CNN. More dead people in Iraq. We shower. Then, instead of making breakfast, we pile into the car and pick up our usual road breakfast at Mickey Dee’s and head down California Route 1 to Vandenberg AFB. It’s 35 miles from our front door, but I’m not sure how long the trip will ... Read more »

  • 21 Missions – Part 1

    During late ’02 and most of ’03 we set ourselves the project of visiting all of the 21 Alta California missions. We were centrally located just about halfway between San Diego, the first and southernmost, and Sonoma, the last and northernmost of them. We’re not religious, but I’ve always enjoyed churches architecturally and as places of contemplation. And we’re history buffs, we like to visit ... Read more »

  • 21 Missions – Part 2

    8) SAN JUAN BAUTISTA. (John the Baptist) Another great one. We have visited it twice. The town itself is pretty nice, much of it quite old (for California), and preserving what they claim is the only authentic Spanish plaza in California. This is one of two missions made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo. If you watch the movie and then visit it today, you will see almost no changes in ... Read more »

  • 21 Missions – Part 3

    15) SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO. What can you say about Capistrano? Lots of things, not all of them good. It’s the only mission we’ve been to that has TWO shrines. One is called Serra’s Church, and is really an oversized chapel that was built when the Great Stone Church came crashing down. The other is to Rene Leon. Rene … who? Why, the dude who wrote that silly little song about the swallows. You ... Read more »

  • The Launch Diary: AURA Satellite

    MONDAY NIGHT. Actually, Tuesday morning, 1:30 AM. We get up and wander around. I’m awake, not having actually slept. Lee brews her coffee. What with one thing and another, we get out the door at about 2:10. There is a low cloud layer. Very low: the searchlight from the nearby private airport sweeps by every 30 seconds, a solid beam of light. Very soon we are driving up to the mesa, through ... Read more »

  • Spaceship One

    What if you could be in Kitty Hawk in 1903? Would you go? How about Paris in 1927 to be there when Lindbergh landed? Or Baikonur in 1961, or the Cape in 1969? Would you go if you had to get up at 2:30 AM? That’s what I’d been asking myself all weekend, when I learned that Burt Rutan and Paul Allen’s Spaceship One would be making the second flight to win the Ansari X Prize of ten million ... Read more »

  • Seven Weddings and a Funeral

    The old Indian stood on a gravel lane between two parking lots, looking at the liquor store. It was dusk in Holbrook, Arizona. It was getting hard to see. He seemed to have shrunk in his clothes, and he hardly moved. He was wearing a battered old hat. You couldn’t really tell how old he was, but he wasn’t young. We had stopped in Holbrook a few hours before after another 800-mile day of ... Read more »

  • The Great Mardi Gras Temperance Disaster

    The town of Lompoc (Lom-POKE, not –POCK) was founded in 1874 as a temperance colony. Efforts to keep it dry were tough right from the first, though. No sooner did the good women of the People’s Union League tear down one saloon than another sprang up to replace it. They were led by Mrs. J.B. Pierce, a west coast Carrie Nation, not shy about using axe handles and torches in the battle against ... Read more »

  • Life in the SLO Lane

    In March of 2000 we abandoned our huge, wonderful apartment above the Monte Carlo with the view of downtown Portland and moved into quarters small enough that Amnesty International would howl if Saddam Hussein imprisoned two Iraqis in it: i.e., a 35-foot travel trailer. It seemed a good idea at the time. Actually, it still seems like a good idea, except that things didn’t get moving as ... Read more »

  • 3499.9 Miles in Ten Days: Part 1

    We figured six, maybe seven states before the trip was over: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah!, Nevada, California, and maybe Wyoming if we took a little jog to the east through Yellowstone. The big reason for the trip was simply that we really needed a trip, going a bit stir crazy out here in the trailer. But we also planned to pass through the Bay Area and possibly scout out a good parking ... Read more »

  • Part 2: The Loneliest Place in America

    We stayed one night at the Diamond D motel in Delta, Utah. Small as it was, it was the largest town for maybe a hundred miles. It had wide, wide streets. In most of the years since 1776, when some Spanish friars became the first white men ever to visit what the maps call the Sevier Desert, the land hadn’t been worth much, so why be stingy when surveying for streets? We had to cross the long, ... Read more »

  • Notes from the 13th Floor

    A few months ago Lee’s Mom, Helen, told us she’d like to take us to Hawaii again, as she did three years ago. That time we went to Maui, this time it would be Oahu and Kauai. I knew nothing about Kauai, but Oahu … Where do you start? How much can you see in four days on Oahu? Lee’s brother, Tim, was also going, and they made all the arrangements. Lee and I decided to rent a car on Oahu, and ... Read more »

  • Bickleton

    So we pulled into the little town of Bickleton, Washington, in mid-afternoon and decided to go into the one bar in town and ask directions. And who should be in there but the lousy cop who gave me a speeding ticket half an hour before. That’s right, a speeding ticket. I was buzzing along at a safe, sane 78 mph without another car in sight when he popped up ahead of me, coming over one ... Read more »