May 31, 2011

Unemployed Conversations: Answering the Phone

Last night, an incoming call registered on my phone from an Unknown number.

"Hello this is Sandi..." I answered.

"Hey," said my friend, whose voice I recognized. "Were you expecting it to be work or something? On a holiday?"

"Well," I said, a little embarrassed. "You never could have been anything."


"I guess it's just my way of pretending something might actually happen in my life."

But, even on Memorial Day, an Unknown caller really could have been anyone:

  • the adjuster on my car insurance claim
  • the casting director from my HSN audition
  • the New York State unemployment rep who promised me federal emergency funds
  • any number of recruiters, potential clients, future employers and past business contacts who don't take such holidays off
  • the man of my dreams
When I first got a cell phone, I never answered it if I didn't know who was calling, for fear it was a telemarketer, drunken encounter, or needy business contact intruding on my weekend.

Ever since I got rid of my home phone and have relied solely on a mobile device (especially with one less bell to answer with the loss of my job and desk and office phone), I fumble desperately to reach my phone whilst driving, sleeping, or eating

I always answer the phone in the same manner, if I don't know who it is: "Hello, this is Sandi."

There's an upturn in my voice, almost a question - "Hello, this is Sandi, who is this?" - almost an expectation, an anticipation of who or what might be entering my life in that moment.

I have no reason to believe that those incoming calls aren't something. 

They might be opportunity calling.

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Open Letter to My Readers

To those who are reading this now,
and to those who have ever read my blog:

I know that all of you don't like all of my blog posts all of the time.

I know that some of you actively dislike some of them but read them anyway.

I know that not all of my blog posts are always nice, pleasant, affable, upbeat, optimistic, humble, cordial, or obedient.

But they are always honest, raw, personal, and true to my mission of seizing every opportunity to live, love, laugh, hurt, feel without limits.

Although Avoiding Regret is a creative outlet and passion project (as well as somewhat of a mantra), the rest of life's endeavors don't always turn out exactly how I'd planned, so I've begun accepting donations to keep it - and myself - going.

If you enjoy what I write, and support what I do, please consider donating a dollar or two.

(Click on the "Support" button in the top right sidebar of any page on

Yours in adventure, exploration and romance,

May 29, 2011

A Reality, Shared

A couple of New York friends were visiting LA, and when we planned to get together, I didn't go immediately to the old standbys of drinks or coffee.

I suggested we go to Griffith Park.

This marks a huge turnaround for me from a few years ago, when it would have been impossible to get me out of bed and out of my apartment before, say, 1 p.m., much less to go do something outdoors.

But now, the city's parks and trails are such a huge part of my life, my LA experience, that they have now practically replaced bars and cafes, the cornerstones of my New York experience.

I pointed Mike to a few options in Griffith Park, including one unhiked trail, and a list of my favorite spots in Griffith Park so far. At the top was Amir's Garden, a place remarkable not only for how hidden it is, but also for its display of non-native plant species - jade, spider ferns, geraniums, various other houseplant varieties - that you're more likely to find in a Californian's backyard rather than amongst wildflowers in the wilderness, or at a local botanical garden or arboretum.

Mike is a plant guy, and an adventurer, so it's not surprising that he picked Amir's Garden to explore.

I think it was my first revisited trail of LA (unless you count the Hastain Trail in Franklin Canyon, which I've hiked during the day and also during a full moon), and although normally I avoid retreading old ground (save for examples like the Salton Sea), I liked the idea of going back to it. There's something about being out on my own in LA that makes me feel like the things I do, the places I visit, the people I meet aren't real unless I can show them to my New York friends. When I do get a visitor, I immediately transform into their tour guide while walking or driving, pointing out landmarks and milestones from our gossip sessions, text messages, and emails, and from my blog posts and social media updates. Sharing those experiences, even if its after-the-fact, gives some credence, or, at least, tangibility to them.

So as we climbed the half mile, relatively steep hike, Mike and Jeff tolerated my docent lecture about looking out for rattlesnakes, observing the mustard plants, gazing down at the Valley below. I wasn't sure I could find it again (especially after discovering the closed Mineral Wells parking area), so when we arrived, I was nearly as surprised as they were to see it.

"Look! There it is!" I said, as though perhaps it wouldn't be there, despite its website I'd visited that morning, the directions I'd emailed myself, and the photographs I'd take of it a couple months before.

And just as surprisingly, they saw it too. We wove through its overgrown paths together, climbing stairs, stepping over irrigation pipes, smelling caper flowers and taking pictures.

We didn't spend long there, because I had one more thing I wanted to show them before they moved onto their evening plans: my apartment.

Turns out that's real too.

A Question of Reality
Photo Essay: Amir's Garden in Griffith Park

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Crossed Off the LA Bucket List: M*A*S*H at Malibu Creek State Park (Updated for 2018)

[Last updated 12/23/18 9:08 AM PT—The Woolsey Fire ravaged through Malibu Creek State Park, taking a number of other historical resources in the park with it. The vehicles remain, but the site has sustained some damage.]

"So what places haven't you visited yet in LA?" my hiking partner asked me as we were walking back from the M*A*S*H site in Malibu Creek State Park.

"Oh my God, so many. Everywhere!" I said, thinking there were too many to enumerate.

"Yeah but what's like on your Bucket List?" he persisted.

"Well, this was towards the top of it..."

It's hard to believe I already have a Bucket List for LA, having only been here four months, but given the temporal nature of everything out here, of life - job, lakes, love - it seems like a good idea to get in as much as I can before something happens to change things before I get the chance to do everything.

I'm not used to having a hiking partner, so I agonized over where we should meet, wanting to try somewhere new. The opportunity to see the M*A*S*H site kept nagging at me, because, as I am new in town, I'm still somewhat of a tourist, and still get tickled when I recognize sites from movies, TV and music videos. In a relatively short drive, you can find yourself hanging out in Mayberry, Walnut Grove, Southeast Asia, or on another planet.

It's not the most difficult hike, clocking in at just over four miles and a couple of hours of meandering and gawking, but it sure is pretty, and interesting.

There is actually a creek in Malibu Creek State Park, but most of the year it's dry. We found plenty of water on a windy spring day after a rainy winter.

There's also plenty of shade, with oak-lined paths intermittently scattered on the main trail, Crags Road, along the creek.

There are wide open spaces too, and soon the trail opens up to a landscape that looks familiar: grasslands and bush-dotted mountains, hills, peaks, rocks, none of which look terribly Californian.

But maybe that's because when I'd seen it before, it was during the Korean War.

The trail becomes shady again... you're walking along a rocky path that looks like an old stream bed...

...with all kinds of hidden treasures... pipes...

...California poppies...

...and horses!

The pièce de résistance is the site where much of the outdoor scenes of the M*A*S*H TV series were shot...

...including the opening credits with the helicopters.

The former set has been cleared of decades of brush and overgrowth and somewhat restored to its functioning set condition.

It's well-marked with interpretive signs, historical photographs, maps, and drawings.

There are even some goodies that were left behind, like old vehicles and an ambulance.

The M*A*S*H site is probably what brings most people to Malibu Creek, but there were plenty of other interesting trails that caught my eye on our way out there: Lost Cabin Trail, Forest Trail, Grasslands Trail, Crystal Lake, Rock Pool...

I may be trying to conquer the LA area one park (or canyon, or whatever) at a time, but at some point, I will have pretty much hit them all, and will have to start going back and conquering the other, unhiked trails.

Because for me, the unhiked trails will always appear at the top of my Bucket List—which is, by nature, populated by those things I haven't done yet.

But at what point will I allow myself to designate some favorites, and begin to revisit those?

Update: The shed and the directional sign were particularly hit by the 2018 Woolsey Fire, the latter of which survived but needs repair, according to the Conejo Valley Guide. No word on interpretive signage, but the vehicles survived. While the trail to it is open, there are many hazards resulting from the fire along the way.

May 27, 2011

Offbeat Travels in the Offseason: Carrizo Plain

When I got my last job, one of the first things I told my friends was, "I'm going to need more vacation time."

In three months, I'd already taken three vacation days, nearly 1/3 of my total for the year. And I had lots more places I wanted to go, trips I wanted to take.

When I got laid off, one of the first things I did was book a trip to Carrizo Plain National Monument, a site not far up north that I'd been wanting to visit for at least a year. Situated between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield, I didn't really have much reason to already be up there, so I had to make a special trip.

Rangers only do guided tours of the Monument - including Soda Lake and Painted Rock - through the end of May, so my timing was perfect.

I spent the night in Bakersfield in order to make the 10 a.m. tour, and was so paranoid about being late or missing it altogether that I got up at 6:30 a.m., left by 7:30 a.m., and arrived by 9 a.m., in plenty of time to explore the western shore of Soda Lake and its boardwalk before the tour began.

Carrizo Plain - which was only designated a monument in 2001 - is remarkable as the site was formerly submerged under a prehistoric sea, leaving behind an ephemeral, alkali lake that dries up into a stark white salt flat in the summer time. In the spring, especially after such a wet winter, Soda Lake does have some water in it, but no deeper than a foot, and increasingly receding as the temperatures warm and the summer advances.

Because of its salinity, few species of wildlife can exist in the waters of Soda Lake, except the fairy and brine shrimp that flourish there.

But there's plenty of wildlife surrounding the lake, across the plain - tule elk, kangaroo rats, kit foxes, migratory birds, raptors, pronghorn antelope...

...and burrowing owls. I'm not sure if these burrow but they were not happy to see me and didn't mind screeching about it.

There are plenty of rattlesnakes too, as we saw first hand when a juvenile rattler was slithering its way up one of my fellow tourist's pant leg, unbeknownst to her.

"There. is. a. snake. right. on. you...." I said.


I repeated it.

My heart was pounding so hard as she shook it off and stepped away that I didn't think to get a picture.

"I am so glad you saw that..." our cute ranger from Indiana said, explaining it was his last day on the job and did not want a snakebite to mark the end of his career.

As much as Carrizo Plain is a "best kept secret" of California, situated in the southeastern corner of San Luis Obispo County near the border of Kern County, west of Bakersfield, most of the people who go do so for the wildflowers and not the wildlife.

I, of course, arrived at the end of wildflower season, when tours were reduced from 50 participants to 5. I was there for Soda Lake.

And Painted Rock.

Painted Rock is a rock outcropping, one of the many interesting geologic features of the Carrizo Plain, whose alcove features pictographs from the Chumash Indians, who consider it a sacred site. Unfortunately the cave paintings (not really in a cave) were heavily damaged by graffiti in the 20th Century, so the site is off-limits to visitors without a ranger or a permit. Out of respect for the sacred site, this is the only photo I can publish, from inside the alcove looking out towards the lake.

The Plain is also an important site along the San Andreas Fault, which you often can't really see on the earth's surface. But at Wallace Creek, past the eastern shore of the lake, you can see the effects of it.

This creek used to be straight. It now bends severely as a result of the shifting plates.

As dry and hot as the Plain gets in the summer, the lake with its stark white, cracked surface, it's not a desert. It's actually grasslands in a Mediterranean climate, and that made it ripe for cattle ranchers and farmers, who tilled grain and other crops. There are some relics from the area's agricultural history scattered about as well.

I hit all of the major sites along the Carrizo Plain, but still, as I drove away, I thought to myself, "I have to go back." I want to see the lake when it truly is a dry lake. I want to camp there (though I've never actually been camping) and look at the stars. I want to take a proper hike and not just a quick climb to an overlook or a nature trail.

I want to show it to somebody who would have never found it on their own.

It's a place of surprising survivalism, where creatures adapt to inhabitable and inhospitable surroundings. The rare plantlife that can survive with such highly salty conditions - the iodine bush, for instance - somehow find their way there. And stay.

And although the lake is shallow and temporary enough to still be considered a dry lake (not fed by any existing river or stream, only by rainfall), it still manages to come back, regularly.

Even when it appears to be gone, some water is still there, under the cracked surface...

See also: Salton Sea

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May 26, 2011

This Kind of Fool

When I was a senior in high school, a guy I'd gone on one date with asked me to the prom.

I said yes.

But I didn't tell anybody about it.

Because I was pretty sure something would happen to make it fall through.

And then it did fall through.

And I didn't go to the prom. Again.

I've spent most of my life expecting the worst: not counting on anything, not letting myself look forward to anything, just in case someone changed their mind, got sick, or got struck down by some other act of God.

That's why, whenever I actually let myself get comfortable, settle into something, enjoy it, or rely on it, I feel like a fool when it falls through.

Which it inevitably does.

In the three months that I worked at my last job, I was reticent to give out my business cards to anyone I met, for fear I wouldn't be reachable at that email address or phone number for very long. Nevertheless, I settled into my desk, surrounding myself with enough pictures, postcards, figurines, and collectibles to fill two boxes when I had to return to retrieve my stuff after being laid off. I'd stopped looking for a job, because I thought I had one. I'd signed a year-long lease on an apartment, now full of all of this furniture, and a three-year lease on a brand new car that one dealership told me I couldn't afford.

Maybe I should have listened.

I'm a fool to think anything can last.

I'm a fool to think anyone would want to keep me.

I'm a fool to think I'm different than anybody else.

I'm a fool to think anything is different than anything else.

I'm a fool to think anyone might actually mean what they say.

Wouldn't it be better to go into any new situation - job, relationship, neighborhood, etc. - knowing it's only going to last three months, and making the most of it while you're there, while you can?

You could choose to not enter the short-term situation ahead of time, because it's not forever, but why? Why not work if you can work, love if you can love, and enjoy it while it lasts? Then maybe its ultimate and inevitable demise wouldn't be so heartbreaking, because you expected it all along, and savored every moment as they slowly slipped away from you.

Isn't that better than pretending it's going to last a year or two, or four, or forever, and then it ending before it's really even had a chance to begin?

Or, even worse, never letting it begin in the first place?

I can't help but mourn these unmet promises, these unvested interests, these fleeting dalliances. Had I known these too-brief encounters would be my only shot, my only turn at bat, I would have tried to do more, while I had the chance...

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May 24, 2011

California Conversations: In the Booth

A couple of weeks ago, an old high school friend txted me that he was going to be in Anaheim for work, and wanted to take me to dinner.

"It's not fancy," I said, "But can we meet at Bob's Big Boy Broiler?"

It turned out to be the best thing, not only because it's situated midway between Downtown LA and Anaheim in Downey, CA, but because we were able to seat ourselves in a big white booth and talk for two and a half hours.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to my love life, or lack thereof, and my friend scoffed when I told him flatly, "It just ain't happenin'."

He tried to convince me that I could find love, have a relationship, get married, make babies, etc., even though I've spent 35 years doing the exact opposite of that, fielding rejection after rejection, so many that they started to sound like different actors all auditioning for the same role, reading the same script, only with slightly varied interpretations of character and motivation.

A while later, our evening seemed to be wrapping up after he'd had enough beer and I enough Diet Coke. "How about a coffee?" I said.

"Are you kidding? I'm an insomniac! I'm not drinking coffee now!" he exclaimed.

"Exactly! You're not going to sleep anyway..."

"See? This coming from the girl who's given up on life. You want me to give up on sleeping!"

"No," I said. "I see this as a great opportunity. If you're not going to sleep, then the entire night is open for whatever may come your way!"

My friend just shook his head, and didn't order a coffee.

I don't think he slept, though I'm sure he tried.

If I spent all of my time trying to find love, a husband, a baby daddy, refusing to do anything alone, I'd never have become the person I am today, a nearly completely different person than I was five years ago: hiker, adventurer, explorer.

But if we were still in that booth, my friend would ask me, "How am I ever going to sleep, if I keep drinking coffee at night?"

Because he believes it's possible, one day, he will sleep.

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May 23, 2011

Above the Clouds

There are those things that make you feel above the clouds, and then there are those opportunities that literally take you above the clouds.

On a May Gray Sunday morning, not quite hung over from a depressing and unfulfilling Saturday night, I was awakened by a text message: "Go on adventure today? Amazing place in mountains."

I replied, "Yes. My hair is dirty and my neck is sunburned. I'm yours."

I couldn't imagine a better way to wake up, after a night of fitful dreams, coming home early feeling old and unwanted and pathetic and hopeless.

An hour later, only 16 hours after having returned from the Carrizo Plain National Monument, I was back in my car, headed back up north, this time into the Angeles National Forest on the Angeles Crest Highway rather than through it on the 5.

We stopped at the Mt. Wilson Observatory, a place I've wanted to visit for at least a year. After we parked the car, we walked out to the precipice of the grounds, and looked down at the clouds. My hiking buddy pointed outwards to the thick carpet of white and said, "LA is down there."

"Somewhere..." I said.

I couldn't quite believe that I'd found such a kindred spirit to take me into the mountains, show me places he loved, and teach me the trails.

I found myself apologizing for being a hiking novice (comparatively), feet accidentally plunging into stream off slippery rocks, even when he'd rearranged them to create a path on which for me to cross.

I didn't take a lot of pictures.

We didn't talk much.

He didn't slow down for me. He didn't ask me how I was. 

But he never left me behind. 

Our heart rates increased together, our breathing became labored together, and when we reached the end of our trail, we sat on rocks together and ate oranges together.

After all the solitude I've sought, and after all the trails I've hiked alone, out of necessity and defeat, I would not have spent my day any other way.

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May 18, 2011

Photo Essay: Griffith Park's Old Zoo

It's been at least a year since I've wanted to try to find the old zoo grounds in Griffith Park, one of my favorite places in LA.

As amazing as Griffith Park is, I haven't been able to find any good maps of its many hiking trails, and the trails themselves are rarely marked. So each visit has been kind of an adventure, juggling hiking guide books, hand-drawn maps, blog post printouts, and this time, my Blackberry to try to find the right way.

This time, it was actually relatively easy to find the Old Zoo, now that I knew where to look.

And boy, was it creepy.

The Los Angeles Zoo was formerly located off a trail near the Merry Go Round parking lot from 1912 to 1965. Its 1930s structures were deemed no longer appropriate for humanely housing animals, and the zoo moved about two miles north, still within the park. Many of the original structures - cages, grottos, buildings - and their foundations still remain, and have been preserved as not only a reminder of the past, but also a quirky place to picnic.

For more glimpses into Griffith Park, see:
Bee Rock
Amir's Garden
Bronson Caves
Bird Sanctuary to Mount Hollywood
Mount Lee to the Hollywood Sign
Observatory Trail

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