The sign intrigued me. “See your aura! Only $19.95!”
I had wandered into a small outdoor shopping mall in the town of Sedona, Arizona. In between the chocolate store and the Western art gallery was a souvenir shop. The shop was brightly lit and had several crystals hanging in the window, sending the rainbow pattern dancing in the ether.
I was outside looking in. I wanted to know more about my aura and see it too, if possible. Did I have an aura? Nobody has told me about seeing my aura before. Do I have a nice looking aura? Does it look like a halo? Or devil’s horns if I’ve done something bad that day? Does it go through your clothes or does it get stopped? I imagined that if you’re at the beach in your swimsuit then your aura must be shining at full strength. What if you’re snowmobiling and you’re wearing long underwear, a snowmobile suit, and a helmet?
The door banged shut as I entered and rang a little bell near the counter. An attractive woman emerged from behind a curtain. She was in her late 30s, with deeply bronzed Arizona tan, spiky hair, and mysterious tattoos running up one arm. She had a Kokopelli medallion around her neck. A small crystal pyramid was on the counter, next to a newspaper turned to the horoscope section.
“Good afternoon! Welcome to the New Age Nirvana gift shop,” she said cheerfully. “How can I help you?”
I thought briefly about seeing if she could take care of my impending income tax bill with Uncle Sam, or mentioning that her karma had run over my dogma, but thought better of it.
“I saw your sign in the front window about seeing my aura. I’ve never seen mine before. I’m curious.”
“Everyone has an aura displayed to those around them,” she replied. “Your aura affects those around you, especially your soul mate. However, the aura is present only in the fifth dimension. Some people who are completely in tune with the forces of Mother Earth can see it in others. Most people need special equipment to detect it.”
“Can you see auras without the special equipment? Can you see my aura now?” I asked.
“Not right now. I can see auras only when I am practicing a certain secret yoga position and smoking peyote.”
She led me to the back of the store into a small, very dark room. She had me stand with my back to the wall and then she disappeared. A few seconds later I heard her voice behind me, coming through an opening in the wall near my head.
“I am now going to show you your aura,” she whispered. “Please look straight ahead.”
Colorful shapes appeared out of the darkness. All of the colors of the rainbow were flowing outward from a humanoid shape a few feet in front of me. As I moved my head and arms, the rainbow colors moved with me. It was magical.
“I can tell that you have a good aura,” she said. “You must be a good person.”
I’d had enough. I quickly crossed the small room and groped along the wall. I flipped the light switch to find that the room contained a large flat screen TV mounted on the wall opposite from where I had been standing. There was a webcam mounted above the TV. A cable ran from the TV along the floor and disappeared into a hole in the wall to the room behind this one.
The woman burst into the room.
“What are you doing!” she cried. “You’re destroying your aura!”
I’m an American. I like burgers. I like “French” fries. I am a connoisseur of both food items. You can travel all over the United States and find great burgers and fries in every city and state. Some people talk about Argentina steaks and Kobe beef, but in my opinion the USA is the only place for world class hamburgers.
I was on a spring break road trip to Florida with my friend Laurance. We had limited time to hit the beach so we were driving non-stop from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Clearwater Beach, Florida. Our mode of transportation was a 1973 Chevy Malibu. It had a big V-8 that got 12 miles per gallon. It was a dark green metallic color. We called it the Green Dinosaur. It should have been extinct.
We left on a Friday evening. We passed through Chicago late at night and were barreling down the freeway in the middle of Indiana as the night got so late it became early in the morning. It was the time when it’s tough to stay awake. It was 4 am.
I was driving. Laurance was in the passenger seat holding the boom box as he slept. We needed a boom box because the car radio didn’t work very well. We were playing Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. That album doesn’t have much music to stay awake by. We were in the right lane, cruising along at 70 mph. There was no one else on the highway. Why would there be? Even truckers were asleep at rest stops.
I started thinking about girls in bikinis on the beach and started to drift. In more ways than one. My head lolled to the right side, my right arm sagged, and the car also drifted to the right side. I was dreaming of the Gulf surf when the sound of a machine gun blasted my brain. Why is someone shooting at me while I am lounging on the beach watching the girls walk by?
It wasn’t a machine gun, but the sound of the tires hitting the strip alongside the highway to wake up sleepy drivers who thought they could drive nonstop to Florida. As the car tilted towards the ditch, my brain became engaged with a sudden burst of adrenaline. Everything moved in slow motion in my mind. Laurance was awakened by the tilt towards the ditch as he crashed hard into the passenger door. He moved to punch me in the shoulder to wake me up. Simultaneously I grabbed the wheel and jerked it hard to the left to avoid the calamity of rolling the Green Dinosaur into the ditch and becoming a supernova fireball as I had seen in every cop show ever made. We careened across two lanes, right into the noise strips on the left side of the highway.
I knew they weren’t machine guns this time. I jerked the wheel back to the right before crashing into the median ditch. We finally straightened out as we flew down the road. It took an hour for my heart rate to calm down.
By 4am the next morning we were in Byron, Georgia. We were hungry so we stopped at a truck stop. Laurance insisted that we would find the best food wherever the most truckers were parked. On one side of the freeway was a modern looking restaurant with bright lights. There were a few trucks in the parking lot. On the other side of the freeway was an old diner. I think it was called The Road Kill Diner. The building was rundown and had a neon sign advertising a local cheap beer that blinked whenever it felt like it. There were a lot of trucks in the parking lot.
“That’s it!” said Laurance. “We have to go to that one. It will definitely have the best food.”
“But the other place looks so much nicer,” I pleaded.
“Come on, live a little. Let’s check it out.” said Laurance. “Do you see the big sign out front that advertises the Best Burgers in America, and below that one the sign for the Byron Special?”
“Yeah, but I’ve never heard of it. I’ve never been down South before.”
We walked into the diner and stepped back in time. We were in the Redneck South. Confederate flags and opossum pelts were hanging on the wall. Framed black and white photos of KKK meetings were visible behind the bar. A jukebox was playing that Charlie Daniels song about the devil and the fiddle at an earsplitting volume. All of the tables were filled with middle aged white men with trucker hats, plaid shirts, dirty jeans and beer bellies. Every other trucker had a wad of chew in his mouth, even as he ate.
The only open seats in the joint were at the bar. A shriveled old waitress came to take our order.
“What it’ll it be, boys?” she asked.
We put in our order and I went to the rest room. Laurance stayed behind to observe. One of the truckers was sitting next to him. He was complaining bitterly to the waitress. He looked like a Yankee.
“I thought this place was supposed to have the best burgers in America? You should take down that sign. This thing is disgusting. The bun is old and moldy. The lettuce is wilted. The ketchup is rancid. The beef is gray and tough, with gristle in it. It has taken me three minutes to chew one bite. I wouldn’t feed this to my dog! I want my money back before I throw up all over your counter.”
The ancient woman didn’t say a word to the man, but gave him his $4 back. The man grabbed his coat and left. As she walked past Laurance to the other end of the bar he heard her mutter under her breath.
“What do you expect when you order the Byron Special? We never said it was beef.”
I came back from the rest room feeling mildly refreshed and amused from reading redneck graffiti. Laurance was laughing so hard that he was in tears.
“What’s so funny at 4am in a truck stop in Byron, Georgia?” I asked.
“Tell you later,” he said.
Our food came. Laurance had a very nice looking plate of scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, and toast. He ate every bite and said it was delicious.
The dark clouds rolled down from the top of the mountains in the interior of the island. The rain pelted the deserted beach. So that’s why it’s so green here. It rains. When on a beach vacation, what is there to do when it rains? Stay indoors and play Parcheesi? Watch reruns of Family Guy or a Star Wars marathon?
“OK, I have an idea.” I said. “Let’s drive up the west coast of the island. That’s supposed to be the hot and dry side of the island, away from the trade winds. I know where there is a beach at the end of the road. Maybe it’s not raining there.”
“Will we have to go to the end of the road or walk to the end of the beach?” asked my daughter.
“Absolutely!” I said.
I have been known to have to get to the top or end of something when traveling. I had to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Notre Dame. I had to get to the end of the beach on Cayman Brac, the end of the volcanic trail on Maui, a round trip from the Lincoln Memorial to the US Capital and back. I wouldn’t call it an obsession, merely a desire to achieve something, even it if it involves climbing or walking or while on vacation. Why go 90% of the way there without reaching the top or the end? It would be unfinished business I would dwell on when I am old and sitting in a rocking chair at the rest home.
We piled into the Jeep. It had the appearance of a rugged SUV, without having four wheel drive or actually being rugged. We set off from Poipu on the south side of Kauai, Hawaii and wound our way through the small coastal towns. We stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation, bought some coffee beans, and stretched our legs.
By lunchtime we were in the tiny town of Hanapepe and the rain had stopped. After quickly surveying the one block stretch of the old town and eating, we got back on the main road. The road that goes to the end of the island.
There is no road that goes completely around Kauai. The Na Pali cliffs make it impossible. The road along the north shore of Kauai stops at Ke’e Beach. The road along the west shore stops near Polihale State Beach. The end of the road. That was our goal today.
We had gone there once before years ago when the children were small. I remembered leaving the paved road and driving on red dirt roads for several miles through isolated farmland until even the dirt road ended. After walking through the woods we emerged onto a large beach that stretched as far as the eye could see to the left. To the right in the distance were the Na Pali cliffs. The place was deserted. We had the beach to ourselves.
After playing on the beach for a while I started my trek. I had to get to the end of the beach and touch the rock cliffs at the start of the Na Pali coastline. The place where the Pacific Ocean meets the rock face and you can walk no more. I walked for a half hour and finally touched the cliff. It was a magnificent sight to see the waves crash into the cliff face. I had done it. And I had to do it again.
We got to the end of the paved road to find several cars waiting on the side of the road. We wondered what was going on because it seemed like an odd place to be waiting. There was nothing around but empty fields. We stopped next to the first car and I lowered the window.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” I asked the driver of a small sub-compact rental car.
“We’re not sure we can get through,” said the man, as he motioned to the left.
There was now a red lake where there is normally a red dirt road leading to the beach. The lake was of unknown depth, but sure to have a bottom of extremely squishy red mud. The lake was 50 yards across and reached the fields on either side of the road. The road appeared to be clear beyond the lake. There was a sign at the corner that warned of dangerous flooding in the area and that continuing down the road was prohibited during rains.
“Let’s do it Dad! We can make it through there,” yelled the three risk-seeking young adults crowding the back seat. The voice of reason responded.
“This is the spot on the island where the map clearly states that going beyond this point voids the rental car contract. We’re miles from the nearest town and tow truck. The tow charge would be outrageous. We have five cell phones and no service. It’s after 3pm. If we get stuck it is going to be a very long way to walk. It will get dark. We may have to sleep overnight in the Jeep and eat left over Doritos for breakfast. I will get a backache and then be cranky for the rest of the trip.”
“Oh, come on Dad, where is your sense of adventure?”
Logic and prudence told me to turn around right there and head back to civilization. However, I did want to make it to the end of the road and the end of the beach. What accomplishment was ever truly achieved by turning back early? The scales of risk and reward tipped back in forth in my brain.
“OK, here is what we are going to do. We are going to send out a scout party. Peter, you walk out there and find out how deep it is.”
This is the person who never missed a mud puddle as a child. Peter gladly jumped out of the Jeep and ran over to the lake as a small crowd of bystanders gathered from their rental cars.
He slowly walked out into the lake. He went only a few feet in and lost his flip-flops in the mud. The water rose up to his knees and then back down to his shins before he emerged barefoot on the other side. He then repeated the journey back to the car.
“It’s not very deep. We have a Jeep, come on!”
I looked at my wife. She gave me The Look. Not the Look that said what are you thinking, you crazy man, let’s go back to the condo while we still can, but the Look that said let’s go for it, don’t be such a worrier, let’s do something exciting that we’ll talk about to our grandchildren someday in the far off future, and besides, you always have to get to the end.
Trying to preserve my masculinity and without thinking any further I turned the Jeep to head into the lake and punched the peddle to the floor. We hit the lake with a giant splash as the red water flooded over the windshield and front of the car. My passengers screamed like they were in the front car of the rollercoaster at Six Flags. I quickly turned the windshield wipers on in order to see as the tires started to bog down in the mud. The Jeep tossed back and forth as I gave it more gas to keep our forward momentum going. We were crashing through the waves with red mud splattering everywhere when the right rear tire caught some gravel and propelled us down the right edge of the road and out of the lake. We had made it.
Everyone cheered and I looked back to see three young adults making a video of our wild ride on their cell phones. Next stop, YouTube!
“That wasn’t so bad.” I said. “Let’s keep going.”
The road looked clear ahead as we got underway. We drove on red dirt and gravel for a couple of hundred yards until we got to a bend in the road. Around the bend the conditions changed again. For as far as we could see the road was under water. I had to be the responsible party.
“There is no way we are going to make it all the way through that lake. It is too long. We have to turn around.”
Without debate I made a three point U turn and gunned the Jeep back down the way we had come. We successfully barreled through the lake again back to the main road. The bystanders gawked at the red mud completely covering our vehicle.
I made some progress that day. We had fun and didn’t get stuck, but for once I didn’t make it to the end of the road. It was ok.
The turtle slowly grazed among the rocks along the shoreline. It was a big sea turtle, with a shell about three feet long. It was mostly submerged. Once in a while it would come up for a breath, look around at the sunburned tourists lying on the beach, and duck back down to continue its late afternoon snack. The beachgoers walked by, oblivious to its presence only three feet offshore in two feet of water.
I had snorkeled in the waters all around the sandbar at Poipu Beach that day, searching for turtles. A guy I talked to in the pool at the condo complex told me that there were typically a dozen turtles in that area. I saw lots of fish while I was snorkeling, but no turtles.
Snorkeling in Kauai is a little different than in the Caribbean. The water visibility is much lower. The water is full of bubbles from the powerful surf and it mixes with the sand and red dirt runoff from the recent storm. In the Caribbean, most fish that one sees are small. The locals have caught and eaten a lot of the larger specimens. However, here in Kauai I saw many larger fish very close to shore.
There were Naso Tangs more than one foot long. I saw several Humuhumunukunukua’ua’a (the Hawaiian state fish and my personal favorite) that were also approximately one foot long. Pairs of Moorish Idols glided along the rocks, pecking away at algae. A very large Unicorn Fish boldly sailed within a few feet of my head. I think he was wondering what I was doing on his surf and turf.
After a long time fighting the surf to get to the outer edges of the reef, I gave up and collapsed in a heap on the beach. It was time to take a nap. The soft strains of Hawaiian ukelele music from a stereo at a local family’s picnic lulled me into sleep.
Later, parked on the beach, I scanned the ocean for any sign of whale activity. Just when my eyes started to get tired, I saw a whale spout. It was almost to the horizon line and at the very edge of my long range vision. After a few seconds I saw a whale rise up out of the ocean and then crash back down.
As the sun was starting its daily descent to the horizon, I wandered the beach where the ocean meets the sand. As I walked, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to see the turtle catching a breath five feet away from me. It winked at me, and then dived to rejoin its family.