The Search for Identity… My final companion

Tom petty was well into his amazing 40+ year career when he hit his first big identity crisis.  As Warren Zanes documents in his book Petty: The Biography, though the first two albums had solidified Tom and Co.’s byrds-brit-southern sound as solid radio staple, and the singles and touring had brought a modicum of success to both Petty and the members of the Heartbreakers, Petty was faced with one of the harsher realities of success.

He had become a brand.

And as a brand he had to clear up some blurred financial lines, cut a few ties, and draw up a new contract that would both give him more control, as well as reward him for the large part he’d built in creating this engine – an engine that now employed many people and had gotten more than a little… messy.  

He had to break with the heartbreakers.



What he had to grapple with personally though was losing his identity – or at least seeing it change dramatically. The determinedly independent kid from north Florida who wanted to be Elvis – and stick a big middle finger to anyone who said he couldn’t – especially his dad, now had to be wary of becoming one of the things rock musicians, and artists in general, all agree to despise: just another big, bloated company cranking out singles, leaving friends and relationships in their wake. Who would this new person be?  Could he be all things to all people, his fans, the band, his family?


Answer: a little bit yes a little bit no. Though forced to adapt and learn to handle the business side of rock, a person like Tom Petty at his core will never change.

*        *        *

I was reading this particular chapter on a bus from Nashville to Atlanta, on the way to get my car in Maryland and get on with my soul-searching trip.  I’d just written a post on how I was finally happy.  I was flying high, or at least as high as a jobless artist and rambling purpose – seeker can.  I was finally able to let go – like I wanted – of the last four years’ frustrations and stuttered starts, financial dry heaves that though they appeared to be working only really resulted in.. exhaustion.


I was thinking of all this when the bus pulled off in Chattanooga.  Calling it a bus stop would be a stretch, it was really just a patch of sidewalk where the weeds were winning and no businesses dared enter.  It was a quick stop, just enough time for a few people to jump on board.  I’d gone down the stairs to stand up a bit and use the restroom, when a desperate passenger caught my ear. Apparently he hadn’t purchased a ticket in time and the way this bus works they don’t accept cash – you can’t just hop on.  Maybe it keeps the riff raff off, though it’s probably just how they vary pricing and availability.  With just a few minutes to spare before the bus would leave, he pleaded with someone, anyone, to help, offering cash if someone would buy his ticket online and get him on board.

You can probably guess what happened.   Eric said thanks, handed me the cash and sat down.

“C’mon!” I thought,
“I’m reading, I’m into my book,
I’m exploring tom petty’s career and thinking about identity,
I’m feeling close to a breakthrough, I had my own bench seat,
blah blah blah…”

*        *        *

Eric is a nice enough dude, was just trying to get to a concert in Atlanta.  A French metal band.  I thought they were all Norse or Gaelic but it’s been a while.  He works at a bar in Chattanooga and dreams of starting his own someday. He rides bikes, doesn’t own a car, has a hipster beard but clearly had it before it was cool, and yep, you guessed it, has a big, ugly past involving a dad who left the whole family in the lurch.  Not just left but  stopped wanting to be a dad.  A real low life.

highvelocity-bar Atlanta GA

So it was that I found myself inside the JW Marriott in Atlanta Georgia, having dinner with Eric the bicyclist in a packed sports bar on a typical nfl Sunday, surrounded by business travelers and wedding parties, with lots of coors light and shiner bock flowing from the bar.  I wasn’t even one day into leg II, heck I hadn’t even got to my car yet, and there we were, two guys raised on bikes, skateboards, and rebellion, talking about fathers.  When I left him I could tell the tears were coming.

The funny part obviously,
is this isn’t exactly news to any of my long term friends.

*        *        *

So if this is who I am then, why don’t I just embrace it?  Why don’t I seek out these conversations and connections, head out on the road for good, become a modern day Paul or Barnabas, spreading my own gospel of fathers, forgiveness, sunshine, and California?

Alden at Sutter Buttes - Heres to ya
Probably because I’m human.  Because I still need to be reminded of why I’m here, even when it’s staring me in the face, surrounding me on all sides, a penchant for connecting with those in the margins as well as those who just like to hear stories, and are willing to share their own.

Red Cross friends in Jasper, TX 2005
Red Cross friends in Jasper, TX 2005


*        *        *

I arrived in DC the next morning.  An overnight bus ride with a packed population doesn’t exactly result in a wide awake and joyous attitude going into the new day. Nevertheless and not surprisingly, I got talking to a Doctor from Massachusetts who was in town visiting his son, one son is doing well and one son he’s a little concerned about.  We talked for hours over coffee at Ebenezer’s near union station, a place that now feels like home, though I’ve never spent more than a couple days in DC.  

We left the same way as Eric and I did, exchanging e-mails and me promising to send links to watch the film about dad, and both Eric and the doctor responding almost identically: 

“great talking to you, good luck and safe travels,
sounds like you’re on an amazing journey.”

Yes, I guess I am.

From Eric in Chattanooga, to Dr. Dobrow in DC, to Len and his wife on the airplane at the halfway point,  to many, many folks along the way, I keep being asked to share my story at unsuspecting times when I think I’m just here for this experience, for me.

Obviously it’s clear I’m not here for just me.. not even close.


*        *        *



As a kid my identity was simple, it was my bike. All day, everyday, my bike was my life. Fixing it, jumping it, customizing it. It was who I was, a troubled kid who had found an outlet.  Ok and channeling the karate kid on the schoolyard was a close second, just to be honest.

*        *        *

As an adult my identity has been a hodgepodge of long term friendships, road trips and adventures, film and photography, endless attempts at stability.  In fact way too many to count.

South Yuba River Waterfall 1999

But I know it’s also connecting people – to each other and to all of our stories and common ties.

Annadel donates
Saving Annadel in 2011
Giving directions in Vicksburg, MS
Dill California shot one
Shooting my first film! Dill, California (2007)


*        *        *

Maybe that’s why questions about my Olmsted family emerged as I planned this trip.  Finding out who dad, grandfather, great grandfather and others were in the past, I’m hoping can offer great insight to the present.


So I continue.  Visiting Cornell University today to research Great Grandfather Faye Deveaux Olmsted, Chief engineer at the Olmsted power plant that I visited way back in June  – at the beginning of this amazing trip – for those following along.

Parking at Cornell University

Cornell Library Rare Books and Research

What will I find?

I don’t know, but I said I needed this, and I think I was onto something..  so forward I go.

Following – what exactly?  An instinct?  A calling?  My heart?

“And isn’t it lonely?”
– said a man in upstate NY

Yes it can get lonely, but not as lonely as I’ve been before.  Something I’m supposed to do is my companion.  Someone I have yet to meet – maybe purpose?  I honestly don’t have a word for it just yet.

Maybe next week.




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So now you’re happy huh? Get ready for the Smackdown

It’s an old rule of storytelling, or at least it’s evident in the storytelling of modern motion pictures: when everything seems to going great…

*         *         *

So I should have known.  I should’ve been aware when I exclaimed from the rooftops “I’m happy again!”  Someone was listening.

“Oh really.. You’re happy?  You’re content?
What’s your name again – It starts with a ‘J’ right?”

Only two days from leaving California, ready and eager to begin chapter two of my trip, to dive in and meet people and keep seeing and keep discovering, I get one of those phone calls.  My car is gone.  Not towed, gone.  Not the car, not the road tripper, but the commuter car, the old but durable and very useful Honda back in California.  In the car were card samples and products, receipts and personal info, but mainly, my guitar.  My Taylor guitar.. yes worth more than the car.  Man.


The next day the company I’d signed a long sought-after licensing deal with sends me a cold email terminating the whole deal – before any products have been made, any royalties have been earned.  Just like that I went from bursting with fruit flavor on the mountain to slipping and sliding through east bay mud at sea level.


My maybe place to stay in NY turned into a no, the campsite I was excited about closed for the season two days early, and though I couldn’t believe it was happening again, some of my retailers were actually asking for more cards – after I’d just spent a month restocking them!

And I had a bus ride from Atlanta to DC to think about it.


*         *         *

And then – and since we’re on a movie track – I remembered Luke.   

We were all so excited – Luke had found his mentor! He’d found yoda. Rigorous training began, new outlooks were presented, new challenges, and of course, new solutions, ones he’d never thought of. 

Like belief. Belief that things aren’t always what they seem, that the impossible doesn’t have to be.

And then, just like that, he must go.  his friends are in trouble.  

The real world wasn’t waiting for his training like some snooty general on a civilized battlefield.

[in a British accent circa 1600]

“Shoot your arrows sir, then I’ll shoot mine!” What’s that – you’re reloading?  We’ll wait.”

No.  Time waits for no man, and all that relief we felt as he’d found his teacher was gone, and though Luke promised to return, Yoda’s face and our own instincts assured us he wouldn’t.  He was desperately needed, and whatever formal training he’d gotten, would be enough. It would have to.

*         *         *

So what do you do?

Me ? I took inventory.  Like it or not I still had to either continue the trip or drive home, and my car was waiting for me in Maryland – and with a nice new top after all these years.  I had at least three friends I wanted to see and who were waiting to see me.  I had a business meeting in Brooklyn that I had to try and make.  My business now had clear challenges, and if I wanted to make it this might be as good a crossroad scenario as any.

But most importantly, was I done?  Was I done seeing.  Was I done being on a trip before the 2nd half even got underway?  I didn’t know.  At the bus stop in Chattanooga there was a guy who only had cash and the driver didn’t take cash, so I paid for his spot online and he gladly reimbursed me.  We got talking and since there was a 3 hour break in Atlanta we went to a sports bar at the Marriott and watched football surrounded by an odd but hilarious mix of business travelers, a wedding party, and lots of people drinking too much.  At the end he was in tears hearing about dad’s story, and he shared his own struggles with a dad who was present and then left in his teenage years who he definitely wasn’t planning on forgiving.  I left him with links to watch the film and was encouraged to at least keep paying attention – these types of connections have become more common.


I picked up my car in Maryland.  Income from the work I’d done in August started to come in.  I saw old friend Joe Sell and his wife and newborn in PA.  I made it to an Olmsted legacy event in NJ and found a place to stay for a couple nights, and even tried Airbnb for the first time – on Staten Island no less.  Yes it was rainy.  Yes NY is 1000% different when you’re not being shown around by a local as I had in the past, but still.  The trip had changed, and very quickly, but so does life.

*         *         *

I’m not sure when the trip will end, or when I’ll feel *done,* possibly a little sooner than I’d hoped, but I’m here.  I’m going to show up and be ready.   There’s still more to see.  The car has a nice new snug top, the heater still kicks a**, there’s still a place waiting for me upstate, and the business has challenges but they’re the good kind, the kind that involve how to handle growing demand.

Rahway River Parkfort-wadsworthStaten Island Ferry

Staten Island was a little strange, Fort Wadsworth was really cool, and I’ve never been upstate.  This is what I came for – the unexpected.   And that’s not a bad thing.


YESSS!!! Tight new top in time for part II of the trip! Boo yah!! #1966chrysler #lifeisahighway #mopar #roadtrippin

A video posted by Alden Olmsted (@aldenolms) on

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Road Trip Rule #6:

Road Trip Rule #6
Camping goes suburban in Austin, TX

It sounds simple enough: a friend (on a social media site) says “Wait, you’re in Austin? ____ [old friend] lives there now – You should totally call her!”

Awesome – thanks I will!

Cut to:
A rushed response (old friend’s phone’s about to die)
“Hi Alden yes I know _____ – you can absolutely stay at our place – let me call you in a bit..”

Text received:
‘Hi Alden! Here’s the address
[5** Emily Dr.
Austin, TX]
– I might be a little late’

Two hours later – You have *one* unheard message:
(cutting in and out)
“Hey Alden – So.. do you have a tent? There’s a roommate that I’m trying to kick out – I don’t really live at my place right now – it’s a long story – but she’s really nice – you can stay it’s no problem – sorry my phone’s about to die – good luck on your trip it sounds like an adventure!”

An adventure?  It sure is honey and now you’re part of it.

*author’s note: This post in no way reflects said friend, said old friend, or the city of Austin, TX.  All risks and judgement are the responsibility of the author and the generosity of each friend, esp. the one on whose home lawn I crashed on, is still appreciated and was never in question.

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Ok I’ll just say it – I’m HAPPY (again) !

Or, “how Tim Ferriss and AC/DC may have just saved my life.”

        *       *       *


Why should it feel so strange to say?  It’s not like I’m announcing an affair, or a coming out, or that I’m marrying that one girl that annoys everyone but I don’t care cause we’re in love and…  No.  None of those things.  Just happy.  Optimistic.  Excited.  Hopeful.  Engaged.  Focused.  Ready.

Still, writing those words “I’m happy,” and meaning it, feels somehow superior, like I should be sensitive to those who aren’t.

“But I was one of those who couldn’t say I was truly happy – and very recently I might add..!”


It’s similar to how I felt the first time I drove my 1966 Chrysler convertible after I got it home from Indiana. I felt the stares, I heard the calls, I saw the looks.  I felt like the grand marshall of a parade honoring.. me.

“Look at him driving that thing Harold, he can’t even park, it’s taking up two spots, he’s in our lane, and..”

It’s a happy birthday in the new ride.. The Russian River and Penny Island in the background

And yet why shouldn’t I have felt good about that moment?  I earned it after all.  I took the bus to a crappy job every day and saved pennies and moved back in with mom and took on a second job at night and found my dream car and put my money towards something I thought was exactly what I needed and it was.

If the road fits...
If the road fits… Polaroid Emulsion peel 1999

What a sorry state of affairs and lies that we’ve bought into.. feeling strange about just saying I’m happy.  Finally happy.  Yes really.  Happy.



*       *       *

Since I like beginnings and roots and talking about beginnings and roots let’s start at the beginning.



Even just reading the word you’re probably doing it right now.  

“But it’s just muscles and cheeks and.. “ 

No, smiling is more, a real smile comes from inside, something that your heart tells your mind to tell your face to do and your mind says – “what do you think – I haven’t been paying attention?? I know he’s happy!”

A smile might mean the date was really really good, or you’re riding a motorcycle for the first time, or you’re beginning a project or journey that’s long dreamt of.  Or something simple like hearing the voice of an old friend on the phone.  

*       *       *

I haven’t been this happy, or at least on the verge of real happiness, for maybe 5 years. Wait – no it would be been before taking care of my dad- wait, maybe before I left for Hollywood – was it – yes, it was – day one of shooting my first film ten years ago.  TEN years??


Am I saying I haven’t been happy for ten years?

I guess not truly happy, no.. 

Dill California shot one
Day one shooting Dill, California

Hold on I need to let this sink in a bit.


This might be more than one post can contain.

Ten years really? 

I know I’ve had good moments in there, good days, even good weeks.. a few successes and a few triumphs I’m sure.  I’ve met some great friends, took care of my dad, made a few films, started a small business, dated a couple girls that were.. well to be honest a little bit of trouble, but as a friend once said, “you’re the guy who walks into a party, sees the hottest girl there who’s and she’s wearing a shirt that says ‘trouble,’ that’s who you go for.”  

That’s not true!


Fine maybe it’s a little true.  Stupid friends.


But ten years?  Sheesh that’s a lot of work for not much payoff, and –

!! Ding-ding-ding-ding!! That’s it!  Lots of work and effort that just didn’t pay off.  That’s it!  At least not as much as the effort required.  It’s been like working 40 hours and getting a check for 20. Things just weren’t adding up.  Did I let my ambitions slide a little, set my goals and dreams to low, trying for “just enough,” rather than shooting for more than I needed?  I don’t know.  And right now, I actually don’t care.

See what I mean – probably too much for one post.


*       *       *

So what about Tim Ferriss and AC/DC?

First Tim.  My back and forth life of the last four years has had many “sand pit” moments ala Winnie – the – Pooh.  Moments that had happened before but I knew one of these times had to lead to a breakthrough.  This past January, though I’d seen the title and flipped through it a bit (and though I actually like working more than 4 hours), I finally picked up Tim Ferriss’s seminal lifestyle and entrepreneurs’ bible “The Four-Hour Work Week.”


I think it was a timing thing.  I’d read articles and parts of books for years that are supposed to alter one’s patterns or bad business habits to lead to a new life, but Mr. Ferris does a good job of not letting you off the hook with just words.  He forces you to think about every single thing that you’ve let get in the way, and lays out a very clear path that will use your talents to build an income that can lead to an entirely different life.  I finally got real about my postcards and photography business.  So what if a postcard only wholesales for $.50, and a notecard at $2.  If I were selling a few thousand of them each month, and if I could automate the packaging and order fulfillment, multiplied by however many new designs I can crank out, well.. that could be real income.  More importantly, it’s a model that only needs me to continue to create – something I love and want to do anyway.

Setting out specific goals and therefore a specific path, finally had me focused on the right thing – and focusing on only that one thing – for the first time in many years.


I will readily admit I’ve had a less than great opinion of Australian rockers AC/DC for years.  Not that I didn’t think them talented or legitimate rockers, they were just never ‘my thing.’  Three chords, choruses repeated endlessly, 40 years of simple songs about booze and girls, blah blah blah…  Not my thing.

Around the time I was just diving into Tim’s book, I was listening to a lot of music through song shuffling apps.. you’ve heard of them, one of them is kind of iffy but usually hits the spot, and anyway I was listening to things like John Mayer, Jack Johnson, even a little country like Maren Morris.  All talented.  All good.

Then one day a John Mayer song – one of the lighter, fluffier songs like maybe Heartbreak Warfare, got repeated on shuffle, and I guess I’d had it.  The LA sun was shining in the room might has well have been shining through a plexiglass biosphere in a dystopian future..  I found an 80’s rock playlist and turned it up.  Just as with Tim’s book it must have been timing, it’s not like I haven’t been listening to 80’s rock since.. well since the 80’s – but somehow this time was different.  The guitars, the drums, the screaming vocals, the energy – these songs were cutting straight through to my soul like life-giving rain cutting through some classic San Fernando Valley smog.  Not a nice ray of light mind you but a real jolt – a jolt like an old mechanical ride at the fair that you think is probably safe but let’s face it who really knows.   It was like, well like this:

!!!  Are you kidding?!  Who can hear a song like Thunderstruck and not get fired up?!  I don’t mean fired up to work out for an extra ten minutes or to order an extra espresso shot at your local hipster coffee joint – I mean fired up enough to get rid of the bull sh*t in your life and focus on only what matters.

“Wait are you saying this loud rock and roll is responsible for real change in your life?  More than just a passing energy boost – like actual life re-focusing?  C’mon isn’t that stretching things a bit?”


Listen to it again.  Turn it up.  Yes – that’s what I got and that’s what I needed.  After all that’s what I got when it first came out – I guess I just forgot.  Or I got a little soft.   Doesn’t matter.  I needed that jolt and I needed it bad.

Music can do that.  Electric guitars can do that.

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” – Proverbs 25:11


*      *       *

In other news, some amazing things have been happening these last few weeks.  The Interpretive display in Mendocino is finally in the ground, telling of how my dad and his inspired followers saved Jug Handle from development in the early 1970’s –

A long-overdue interpretive display for dad
A long-overdue interpretive display for dad

.. A new sign and real brochures from California State Parks were finally created…

Jug Handle State Reserve is now a National Natural Landmark - wow!
Jug Handle State Reserve is now a National Natural Landmark – wow!

…the Pygmy Forest received formal recognition by Congress –

The Pygmy Forest finally getting some National love
The Pygmy Forest finally getting some National love

And the children’s book I illustrated FINALLY is for sale IN Yosemite Valley!

Elmer in Yosemite - finally for sale IN Yosemite!
Elmer in Yosemite – finally for sale IN Yosemite!

A great couple of weeks indeed.

*       *       *

I know what you’re thinking…

“Sure you’re happy dude, the card business is finally growing, your children’s book is selling in Yosemite, your dad’s memorial kiosk got installed in Mendocino, you’re happy because of circumstances again…”

I don’t blame you for thinking that, after all I’ve thought it too but here’s the best part –

I wrote the title to this post before any of those things had happened.  Before I touched down in California almost five weeks ago.


“Hope that is seen is not hope.
For how can one hope for what one already sees?”
– Romans 8:24

“I find I’m so excited I barely sit still or hold a thought in my head…”

My personal Shawshank moment

Looks like I needed to remember to step out of the boat, to remember that though it’s risky it’s what life is all about.  It’s about trusting my instincts, trusting my creator, trusting my heart.  Sure following my heart has gotten me hurt on occasion, but it’s also made me take chances, made me climb mountains, made me grow beyond my current skills, it’s made me shoot for the moon and sleep under the stars, made me start a bmx bike company at 19, made me fly to Indiana for an old convertible, made me return to college to finish what I started, made me talk to an attractive girl cold, made me leave a note and a flower on her car, and made me fall in love.   Not bad choices in hindsight.

And it’s my birthday!  I’m usually not the happiest on my birthday, but let’s keep this new ‘tude going – it’s wasted time to think of what could be or should have been, it’s time to make the most of today.  Big dreams, big cars, good friends, honesty, sincerity, laughter, love.

Lovin’ life, lovin’ you ~ Chuck and Cindy


Happy.  About time.

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Road trip update: Dude where’s your car?

Dude Where's my Car?

Please enjoy this break in our regularly scheduled programming, as we bring you an update on the status of the trip and updates on our subject.

The trip

  • The trip is still 100% on, still 100% amazing, and it’s over 100% obvious now that this is exactly what I needed – at least right now.   My art business of hand-drawn cards and photography is finally growing beyond my reach.  I was forced to fly back and restock my stores – a good problem – and may have also found a representative to manage my line going forward – regardless of where I’m at.
Hollywood cards in stock and for sale on the Warner Bros. lot!
Hollywood cards in stock and for sale on the Warner Bros. lot!

The car

  • The old boat is fine – actually better than fine.  After running amazingly for over 6,000 miles, the only thing that was lacking was the fact that during more than a couple significant storms, it was as if the water was knocking and the convertible top was saying “hello – come on in.”  So I left the car at Joe’s Upholstery in Frederick Maryland and high – tailed it the the airport for a 5-week break in the action and the soul searching.

The breakthroughs

  • After pestering Aramark aka Yosemite Hospitality LLC about carrying the children’s book I illustrated they finally got around to it.  The Story of Elmer in Yosemite is finally for sale in the Village Market in Yosemite Valley, and may possibly get a nice mention in the Sacramento Bee this coming Labor Day.
  • The kiosk I helped design and build will be installed this coming Thursday, September 9th, about my father’s efforts to save the Pygmy Forest and Jug Handle beach in the early 70’s.  In a perfect match of timing, the National Park Service will be visiting to dedicate the Pygmy Forest as a National Natural Landmark.  Awesome awesome awesome.

The lingering question

  • Where will I live?  When will I stop driving?   Somehow, with the above accomplishments and happenings, these questions just don’t seem to matter much.  Not just yet.
Heaven on earth.. Monument Valley Arizona and Utah
Heaven on earth.. Monument Valley Arizona and Utah
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Storms of life: hard to film, harder to describe

That was NUTS.  Did I really just survive that?!  SHOOT – Why didn’t I FILM IT??!!!  I could’ve mounted the camera right behind the seat and…  Oh that’s right, I was busy hoping I wouldn’t float away.

The storms' a comin'
The view west from Hwy. 65.. storm’s a comin’

The worst storm of my entire life – at least while in an automobile, was in Waterproof, Louisiana.  I’m not making that up.  The town is called Waterproof.  Unfortunately my convertible top was anything but.


The view before:

And during…

Wipers having no effect in Louisiana

Looking at these pictures now, from a comfortable coffee shop in sunny California, even myself I’m thinking “it probably wasn’t that bad, was I wimping out? I’ve been through storms before that were…”

No.  It was bad.  Really bad.  The wipers were having almost no effect.  The wind was pushing the car east towards the corn fields.  The road was not even visible.  Then the water started coming in.  First through the back corners – the gaping gaps between the window and top – then through the front by the latches, and the sides, dripping on my knees, my shoulders, all over.  Then because it was a two-lane road the semi-trucks literally buried me in a Maverick’s – style big wave smash of water every time I got a little comfortable.  The only picture I got (above) was after it had calmed down and by then there was an equal amount of water inside the car as outside.

Oh how I was cursing the man who said he’d put on a new top before I left on my trip then flaked out and never ordered it.  Curse. Curse. Curse.

*     *     *


Waterproof tower waterproof town flood

From the shot above it’s clear Waterproof has a history of this level of nonsense.  I’m sure the jokes are non stop and have made their way onto t-shirts, postcards, and hats.  Not trucker hats but real hats.  Hats that double as jackets.

Waterproof parka
According to the National Weather Service for my storm from June, one could expect “severe thunderstorms from North Dakota to Louisiana, with some locations receiving between 3″-6″ of rain, hail, and strong wind gusts.”  So no – I wasn’t imagining it.


*     *     *


Let’s give it one more shot – from Northern North Carolina…

Nope. Just not that impressive.

It sure sounds like a thick dose of self-help-blah-blah- but it might be just actually true – the storms of our lives are impossible to describe.  It’s why support groups exist.  “Oh you went through ___ ? No way – so did I.”  At least someone, somewhere, can somewhat relate.

The friends of mine who visited my father’s house-scourging project will forever have a different opinion and memory than those who didn’t.  It just couldn’t be described.  3,000+ records.  Books and old VHS tapes on every – EVERY inch of shelf space.  Not all junk though – cool stuff, framed butterflies, dried plants, amazing maps and posters, old books about American Indians, John Muir, Olmsted history, and more.  The “more” in fact is probably what can’t be described.  You just had to see it. Seventeen old stand-up record players.  A garage full of 100-year old Singer sewing machines.  An old cash register we couldn’t lift – how did he get it in there??  No idea.. let alone why.


*     *     *

So what – do we only hang out with those who can relate to us and all of our ups and downs?  Maybe.  If the storm / wound/ scar is very fresh maybe we don’t hang out with anyone at all.  If you’ve dealt with cancer in your family, or with losing a close friend, it’s not all doom and gloom but it’s also a losing case to try to explain it to someone who just can’t understand – just like you before you went through it.

Maybe though the storms can have an unintended effect – to wash off not just the dirt, but the cynicism.  The hard edge of life that builds up like the red dirt of Alabama on an old screen door.  Because when you come through a serious storm you’re usually at least one notch down.  Seeing your own mortality can do that.  Seeing a cliff you almost went off, a river you almost washed away in, existing in a car that’s dripping gallons of water on the inside yet somehow still keeps running…  You come out – at least I did – grateful.  Heart pumping faster.  Clearer vision.  Maybe even with a feeling that it’s time to call someone you care about.  Family, friends, “hey – uh, I wasn’t sure there for a bit but.. well anyway how are you doing?”

Tough to go through, tough to describe.

Maybe we don’t need to.  Maybe the change in attitude, the huge hug you give those you care about, the edge off of your road rage or phone manner will say enough.  Pushed to the edge is probably a good thing once in awhile.

*     *     *

But hey, your storms are your own – this is how I felt after mine..

My personal Shawshank moment White Lake, NC Floating on White Lake, NC


Happy Tuesday, it’s good to be here.


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The Neutral Zone: A break in the action

I see it in their eyes. I can read it on their faces before they even speak. Concern met with a slight disdain for the sheer irresponsibility of my not having an answer to their question

“Yeah but when are you coming back?”

Orange Beach, AL
Orange Beach, AL

It’s not like I have no idea, it’s just that the question needs some clarification. By “coming back” do they mean from this particular trip or from this transition chapter that I’m four years into and thought would be well over by now?

For all i know I may never come back.  And where is “back” anyway?

“I’ll take questions that don’t have clear answers for $1000 Bob” –

*     *     *

Everything I hoped would happen on this trip 
is happening – I’ve explored and slept in and driven through soul-stirring landscapes of awe and grandeur from California to Utah, from Zion park to Monument Valley, through the forests of northern New Mexico, the swimming holes and hill country of Texas, the parishes and swamps of Louisiana, the history (and sudden monsoons) of Mississippi, the sugar white beaches of Alabama’s gulf shores, the BBQ and music history of Nashville, and the down home natural beauty of the smoky mountains.  

In a 50 year old car that has no business running so well.

French Broad River, TN

I’ve been gone almost two months.


And yet I still feel like if I could just think for a bit, it would all get figured out.

“But how can you say you still need time or space to think?! You didn’t have time to
think in the vastness of Monument Valley?  On the long road from Reno to Bonneville? Or across Texas?  For crying out loud you should’ve been able to write your autobiography driving across Texas!”

That’s what I’m saying, yes.

I need more time.  Or maybe not. Shoot what do I know anymore anyway?

 *     *     *

I realize I’ve been hoping – for longer than just this trip – for a silver bullet – a clear and quick “aha” moment. One that I’ll look back on and say “of course!  How didn’t I see that?”  But what I’m probably going to get will be more like a barge carving methodically through ice and sludge in the Arctic, delivering the answer like a snail mail letter to scientists in a hut at the last stop on earth. 

It might take a while.

If life is a journey, not a destination, (yes I did just quote Steven Tyler), why do we think a major answer like purpose or calling from God and or the universe will appear instantaneously like a stuffed gopher popping out of his hole in the whack-a-mole game at the arcade?

Because we’re patient as long as it’s not *too* long.  I mean, “c’mon, Bobby I’ve got work to do!”

Corey and Corey2

(random 80’s teen movie references are always welcome)

Plenty of articles have been written – heck I’m reading a decent book right now called, of all things, “transitions.”  And it’s actually pretty good. 

Transitions by William Bridges

It talks about the endings, how important they are, and not much about the new beginnings because, I’m guessing, they’re new – that’s the point. The author doesn’t know what my new beginnings will look like just as I don’t either.

The interesting chapter I’m in now, and no I didn’t plan it like this, is called the neutral zone. That space when it feels like *nothing* is happening.  And I mean NOTHING.


Uh, ok yes I can relate. 

Nothing happen'n in Monument Valley
Nothing happen’n in Monument Valley

The author’s advice – you may guess – is that it’s ok. I know I know, everything’s “ok” from someone growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, but no – he’s not just saying its ok, but that it’s actually necessary. You have to go through a fallow time if you want to really leave whatever you were leaving behind.  

And yes, yes I do want to leave it behind.  

Tony and Alden :: Zion Narrows

So what now?  

Am I seriously no further along than when I started this journey?  Other than being 5,000 miles away from friends and family and the predictable weather of Northern California?

Well if it’s truly a process – this neutral time, this vapor paradox life, then yes, I’m actually much further along, in fact, I’d say I’m in the thick of the nothingness right now. 

NC State Line Collage

Sheer profundity I know.


But I am.  I gotta give myself some credit after all.  I knew what I needed, or at least something that I hadn’t had in over 10 years, and that I knew was important.  I planned it and took a leap of faith and here we are.  Charlotte. In July. Sticky. Cockroaches. Painting a house.


Me and my Ukulele

Welcome to my neutral zone.

And unless I want to stay in it forever I guess I’d better experience it, live in it, not rush it, not force my way through it.  Just be.

Shoot. I might actually be learning something.

Now where did that cockroach I thought I stepped on disappear to?

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Road Trip Rule #5:

Explore your roots - Olmsted Power Plant in Provo
Visiting my Great-Grandfather’s power plant in Provo, UT

Everyone’s got ’em.  Even if you’re adopted and just meeting up with your birth mother at a McDonald’s in Montana at age 20 it’s still important.

::     ::     ::

My dad had often talked of the power plant in Provo, but I guess with all my Olmsted history: Central Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, California State Parks Survey, and literally hundreds more, I just didn’t grasp that it was my actual Great Grandfather, Fay Deveaux Olmsted, who was chief engineer of a power plant in the Provo River Canyon that was just recently decommissioned – in September of 2015.  At only 26 years of age he happened into the position by being intelligent and available when the builders of the plant, the already proven Nunn Brothers, were busy working on the East coast with George Westinghouse.

Paul and Lucien Nunn had already made significant names for themselves when they created the world’s first Alternating Current Power Plant, just a few miles away in Telluride, Colorado, and had convinced Mr. Westinghouse to work with them again, dangling a reputed pouch of gold, in fact $50,000 worth.

Unfortunately for “Fred” as he was called, my Great Grandfather contracted tuberculosis and died just a few months before the plant opened, at age 28.  Brothers Paul and Lucien named the plant in his honor.

Olmsted Power Plant Campus, Provo UT
Olmsted Power Plant Campus, Provo UT
Alden with Nancy and Daryl
Behind the scenes tour with Nancy Calkins and Daryl Devey
AC Current stamp
Original Turbine Generator at Olmsted Power Plant, Provo UT
Standing in awe at my Great Grandfather's power plant in Provo, UT
Standing in awe at my Great Grandfather’s power plant in Provo, UT

What makes this more than just a power plant is one factor that my father also shared: education.  The Olmsted Plant had dormitories and a complete program in place to house and school young engineering students, send them off to get a formal degree, and then many times to hire them back later in an effective cycle of book learning + hands on learning = extremely knowledgeable workers.  Also interesting to me was hearing how water was diverted from the Provo river and transported in channels cut into the mountain, oddly similar to the defunct water channels that my dad found in the late 1970’s that he would use to build the first wheelchair nature trail in the U.S., the Independence Trail in Nevada City.

I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised anymore when things come full circle.


*     *     *

As we sat on the banks of the Provo river, ate our lunch and dipped in the chilly (but oh so refreshing) water, I ruminated on one feat of Fay D. Olmsted that the power plant tour didn’t cover: he also had a son.  Had he not had my grandfather Jack, pictured below, who went on to win a Rhodes’ fellowship, play briefly on the courts at Wimbledon, become a professor at UCLA and part founder of UC Riverside, and of course, become a father himself to Johnny and Billy then I wouldn’t even..  well, you know.

Jack Olmsted in 1909, Alden Olmsted in 2016
Jack Olmsted in 1909, Alden Olmsted in 2016


Maybe settling on a career isn’t the only thing I’m here to do.


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Road Trip Rule #4:

2,780 miles = Calif. to Charlotte.
4,780 miles = the route I took instead.

Monument Valley, AZ
Monument Valley, AZ

I used to be all about speed.  All about efficiency.  Now – it’s not that I don’t still love a well oiled plan or car or vacation or business model, I do, but you gotta know when to plan a trip, and when to take an adventure.   It would have been 2800 miles direct to Charlotte, my odometer when I arrived showed a tad more: 4,780 in fact – about 1500 more than even I’d estimated.  But so what?  I’ve been wanting to see Monument Valley for years.  Same with Zion.  Same with the Blue Hole.  Same with..  well you get the picture.  Of course I didn’t have to do everything on this one trip, but if life is in fact a highway, then I’m gonna ride it.  All night long.

And yes I think after almost 5,000 miles I’ll use a few cliches.  Bring it in boys it’s about who wants it more.  Let’s do this.

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