Snufkin Goes West ...

The 1998 TAFF Travels of Maureen Kincaid Speller
Issue 4: 25 September 1998 -- Home

Redwood City: I met Allyn Cadogan when she visited the UK in 1986; in twelve years, she hasn't changed a bit. Disconcertingly, she claims I haven't either. In a now familiar motif, we head out of town, get lost in Sonoma but eventually find our way to the small but perfectly-formed Grinding Rock State Park, pitch our tent and head out to eat, discovering possibly the finest restaurant in which I've ever eaten in my life. I begin to understand why Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra were going to Jackson. What with this and the Rosebud Cafe, it's going to be very difficult to leave.

Columbia: When gold-mining, take the biggest high-pressure hose you can find, wash away every piece of ground without a building on it, strain liquid through a sieve and remove gold. Repeat operation when rest of town accidentally burns down (which these places did with monotonous regularity). Wash spoil into river and send it down to silt up San Francisco Bay. Having said that, Columbia is a genuine, if over-prettified, survival from gold-mining days, and the Victorian hotel we visit is a particular joy to behold.

Volcano: The Indian gathering is almost certainly not what you're imagining. Not a tourist event as such, the people are nevertheless very welcoming to a stray passing Brit. I watch the dancing in the round house on Saturday night, spend time talking with other stall-holders and the docents at the museum, eat Indian tacos and generally have a great time. At night, the sky is so clear that I can see the Milky Way.

Yosemite: On Sunday Allen Baum and Donya White collect me from Volcano and we hit the road to Yosemite Valley. There aren't words enough to describe the scenery as we drive up an incredibly steep road over the mountains, and the sight of the old road clinging to the other hillside is not comforting. The view from the Rim of the World is breathtaking, marred only by the fizzing of the huge power lines overhead. We stop off to admire humongous redwoods and then drive into Yosemite Valley itself in time to watch the sun set over Half Dome, which is shrouded in mist. I've never been anywhere before where I needed to lock my deodorant away in case the bears come for it. And they will. Never mind Yogi Bear, Yosemite bears know what a cooler looks like, can smell food a mile off, and will rip a car open without a thought. Trust me; I've seen the video. The clerk at the campsite tells me that if I go down to the carpark at 10:30 PM I can see bears, but I wimp out. However, I do see a coyote in the parking lot and that's enough wildlife for me, thank you. And I see huge mountains, beautiful lakes, and do not die in my ascent of the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, even though it felt like it at the time. I make many fervent promises to get fitter when I get home. And the squirrels mug me for food.

Palo Alto: Mary Kay Kare drives me round in a cool little red sports car. She takes me to the Winchester Mystery House -- built by Sarah Winchester, who was convinced she was haunted by all the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles. She was mad, no two ways about it, but the house is a remarkable testimony to one woman's fears, and fascinatingly bizarre, though possibly not what poor Sarah intended. Karen Shaffer nobly indulges my 'thing' about sea otters by taking me to Monterey Aquarium. En route, I suddenly realise it's located on the model for John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, so another literary pilgrimage is carried out. Sea otters are furry... and cute... and "think of them as big fuzzy two-year-olds," says the aquarist. The rest of Monterey Aquarium is also well worth visiting. Karen confesses to an urge to eat seafood. I know what she means. Crisis on the home front. Donya drags me out of bed to read an urgent e-mail from Paul. He can't get the petrol cap open on the car. I e-mail instructions, make phone calls, and finally all is well, but not before half of Bay Area fandom has heard the story.

Oakland: Doug Faunt and I become cross-border raccoon smugglers. Raccoons aren't as cute and furry as you think... well, they are, but not when they've broken into your kitchen, trashed it and eaten all the cat food. So Doug has been systematically trapping a family, in between apologising that I won't see any of them. As luck would have it, he traps the last the night I arrive, and we head for the hills, or at least to Marin County, to release the ungrateful little beggar the next morning. The criminal motif continues when he also takes me to Alcatraz, and shanghais me onto the scow schooner Alma for a day's sailing where, in another rather familiar motif, we are buzzed by the Blue Angels display aerobatic team. I assure you you've not lived until your boat has been buzzed by a small aircraft which flips on to its back as it passes over. Or possibly, you're grateful you have lived. In between times, I potter around San Francisco, visiting the Castro, Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown and City Lights Bookshop, riding a cable car (it's like a slow-motion roller-coaster) and patronise the local Oakland coffee shop with a vengeance. Buying the air ticket to LA -- substitute Southwest for Sun Country -- at Oakland airport, I actually see my luggage loaded onto my plane, which is a comfort. Hope it's there when I get off. I really do see the San Andreas Fault from the air, just as everyone said I would.

Los Angeles: I meet Ulrika O'Brien at Orange County Airport at the luggage carousel. For various reasons, I spend portions of the next few days at Orange County Airport, watching with mounting horror the amazing amount of uncollected baggage just left on the carousels. At the end of the day, someone comes along and collects it on a trolley... and probably sends it to Reykjavik. Los Angeles is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to Los Angeles. There is a good reason why most people have several cars. However, it looks very pretty from 4,000 feet up a mountain at one in the morning. "Are you the DUFF delegate?" asks someone at the LASFS meeting. Now, I can understand Paul being mistaken for Terry Frost... Terry makes suitably salacious comments when told about this unique double mistake. A confusion in dates means that I don't actually get to Las Vegas, more's the pity, but fly back to NY a few days early.

Thanks go to Allyn Cadogan, Karl and Kelly Mosgofian for the pow-wow, to Allen Baum and Donya White for Yosemite and a great party, to Doug Faunt and Lyn Paleo for coffee, craft magazines, cats and raccoons, to Al and the crew of Alma, to Ulrika and Hal O'Brien for cacti, Regency dancing and the complete LA experience, to Bruce and Elayne Pelz for another fine party. Also, to Greg Ketter back in Minneapolis for shipping my soft toys home for me along with the books: truly a prince among book dealers (and I forgot to thank him last time; shame on me). Thanks to Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer for publishing SGW while I've been on the road, and doing an excellent job of keeping up with me and keeping everyone else informed of my whereabouts. Thank you as well to everyone who has supported TAFF and enabled me to make this trip.

And lastly, thank you to Paul Kincaid, for love and support, and putting up with everything for the last two months.

Snufkin Goes West ... was written by Maureen Kincaid Speller in Los Angeles, just before heading back to New York and, ultimately, Folkestone. Editing, layout, printing and distribution by Claire Brialey & Mark Plummer/Fishlifter Press. Further copies are available from 14 Northway Road, Croydon, Surrey CR0 6JE (SAE appreciated). By the time you see this, the Maureen should have landed so you can ask her all about it.

Next issue: ah, that'd be a TAFF report, that would....

Epilogue 1: Snufkin Goes East ... Everyone falls around laughing when I say I'm flying to New York with Tower Air; too late, I find out why, though Moshe Feder and Alyson Abramowitz finally rescue me, late at night, from Tower's secret terminal at JFK. The saving grace of the flight through hell is the glorious view of Manhattan after dark as the plane skims low across the bottom of the island. NYC is the only place I have revisited and it's great to be 'home'. They've even laid on a ticker-tape parade for me, although I have to share it with the Yankees baseball team. It's amazing how much a party girl can fit into a day in New York: shopping, a meal, a Broadway show, second-hand CD shops, hanging around in a gay piano bar in Greenwich Village at 3 AM and a ride home on the subway. More sedately, Moshe and I visit museums, Central Park, Winnie-the-Pooh, the New York Public Library and a genuine Texas barbecue place, and I plunder J&Rs for CDs and Barnes & Noble for books. I *love* New York and the feeling is mutual; so much so that when I try to leave, the plane breaks down and leaves me sitting on the tarmac for two hours before we are 'deplaned' and left to hang around in the terminal, waiting for the world's smallest airport shuttle bus to take us to a hotel. After an hour's wait, I finally jump in a taxi and go back to Moshe's house; he is only mildly surprised to see me. Thursday morning: the driver who is taking me to the airport for the second time swears that if he has to pick me up a third time, he's not going to do it. I feel a touch jinxed myself, but this time I get on the plane, it takes off, and I settle back to enjoy the flight (this time the classical radio channel is playing something worthwhile).

Epilogue 2: Snufkin Comes Home ... London after dark is beautiful. I can see the M25 ringing the conurbation and, as the plane banks in a holding pattern, I can see the South Coast and know that Folkestone is out there somewhere. Finally, we land; I grab my stuff and get off the plane as fast as I can go. Down endless corridors, and more endless corridors, I pass through Immigration, arrive at baggage reclaim just in time to see the Big Bag whizz by and swiftly retrieve it before staggering through the Green Channel, hoping to god they don't stop to ask about the complete CD works of John Eliot Gardiner in my luggage, round another corner, and there at last is Paul, looking much as ever. I'm too damn exhausted to think about bursting into tears so we kiss over the barrier and then I drag myself into Arrivals where Mark and Claire are hovering discreetly in the background. Claire nobly drives us to Folkestone (Paul doesn't drive after dark); when we arrive, there is a four-cat deputation on the doorstep. Alas, they all remember exactly who I am, and want to tell me all about how awful it has been. Claire and Mark beat a swift retreat, Paul makes tea, and I verify that yes, a cat did piss on my computer monitor, and no, it doesn't work any more. Welcome home. I retire to bed to experience the joys of jetlag.

A final set of thanks to New York fans for hospitality; in particular, Moshe Feder, Lise Eisenberg and Vikki Rosenzweig, as well as Alyson Abramowitz (temporarily in town from the Bay Area) and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Not forgetting Claire Brialey, chauffeuse extraordinaire, for ensuring I made the last part of the journey safely; and, of course, Paul, for being so patient for an extra twelve hours.

Note: copies of the complete Snufkin Goes West..., together with splendid cover artwork by Sue Mason, are available from Claire Brialey or Mark Plummer (address in text above). Please remember that this is a set of notes from the road; it is not intended as a TAFF report, which should be along some time later. We certainly wouldn't want to deter you from buying the actual report, but why not get both? The complete SGW ... costs: UK: £1.50 cash or cheques payable to 'Maureen Speller'; US $3 cash or cheque payable to 'Roger Robinson'; Australia A$5 cash only. All monies over and above postage to TAFF so feel free to give more if you wish.

Claire and Mark