This is my friend Alice. She will be 40 years young just about the time Joe and I follow her down the rabbit hole; and now you also know why she is named Alice. We were conceited enough to think we could select her name ourselves when we first brought her home, calling her Sugar Pie after Sugar Pie DeSanto, the reigning Queen of West Coast R&B and Soul.
Why would we do that, you ask? Because we bought Alice from Ms. DeSanto’s manager Jim and his lovely wife Lo, who purchased it to use as a tour vehicle. They hadn’t used it much in the last five years, so decided it was time to pass the coach on to someone else. We were not only lucky enough to be adopted by Alice, but gained some wonderful new friends as well. We talked music and the old days of the jazz and blues scene for hours; what a great time! Jim included a copy of Ms. DeSanto’s “Sugar Is Salty” CD in the deal, which we will frame for the wall of the coach. We are firm believers in keeping something of the history of a vehicle with it going forward into the future. We are only the third owners of Alice, with Jim and Lo before us, and a northern California GMC dealership owner (also named Jim) before them. It seems that a lot of these coaches were originally purchased by dealers for their family, which says a lot about the quality of the vehicle.
Gosh, where are my manners? I introduced you to Alice but didn’t give you her stats! She is a svelte 26-8-9 (27.9-2.4-2.7 for our European & Canadian friends). That is, she is 26’ long by 8’ wide at the waist by 9’ high at the top of the rooftop air conditioner. She is a stunning honey blonde, which is to say a warm beige color of Imron (aircraft) paint. Her shell is a two piece (the top half fits over the bottom half and seals at the waist) aluminum and fiberglass for lightweight strength without the leaky roof issues so common with modern coaches. Her interior is also beige, with mahogany stained cabinets (which I am warming up with a thin top coat of red oak stain to bring it more in line with the cherry wall panels we installed in the living room area). Since Joe and I are not really beige people, we will liven her up inside with some wonderful retro orange and lime green accents as an homage to the the era she was designed and produced (1977). Alice rocks a front wheel drive system that allows her to sit low for easy entry and puts on her high heel sneakers (an air-bag suspension) to gain height for travel. She is powered by a 455 Oldsmobile engine and a turbo-hydramatic 425 tranny.
Think of her as a big-boned Toronado with an attitude and a lot of class! The best part is, she averages between 10 and 13 mpg, which is kinda awesome for a motorhome. We are still putting some finishing touches on her, but Alice is lookin’ pretty slick!
Now, about the Rabbit Hole. Those of you who know us know that Joe and I have a tendency to run away and join the circus every now and again. To translate, we tend to do things that everyone tells us won’t work out well for us, but somehow they do. For instance, very few people thought we could make a living photographing short track stock car racing, which we did for 12-plus years. We just prefer to make a living doing something we enjoy and which fulfills us, which usually isn’t the typical 9-5 sort of gig (are you humming that song too? I just can’t help it!). So, we are going to go down the rabbit hole with Alice. And like her famous namesake, we think we know what is down there, but we really have no idea. And so we will begin the grand adventure full of hope and enthusiasm, and secure in the knowledge that life is really all about the experience and not the end result anyhow. Here’s to the experience, for all of us!
As the day of our departure on this amazing journey creeps ever closer, I find my head filled with far too many random thoughts to organize efficiently. Part of that dubious blob of gray matter is cluttered with facts and figures; how much cookware will we need, what color towels for the bathroom, what is the best route to take heading south? A smaller portion is jammed full of disconnected answers, which will undoubtedly change another dozen or three times before being acted upon, because that’s kind of how I roll these days. More and more, however, I find my thoughts roaming freely back to my childhood, where this incredible adventure really began.
There was absolutely no doubt in my as a child growing up in the (then) small seaside resort town of Santa Cruz, CA, that I was going to be a cowboy. Not just any cowboy, but one of the hard ridin’ fast shootin’ cowboys out of the western novels I devoured from cover to cover one after another. Even my teachers asked if I liked anything other than “horse books”! O.K, so plan A didn’t really work out, but the hours I spent engrossed in Zane Grey’s world awakened a love of the American southwest in my young imagination that never waned. When my Mother subscribed to Arizona Highways Magazine soon after, my fate was sealed. There was magic in those images; a magic that could be shared with others, and I wanted to be able to make others feel the way those artists made me feel! And so, from the time I was eight years old and got my first instamatic camera for Christmas I knew I would be a photographer. And when we went to Arizona the following summer, accompanied by my future husband Joe and his family, I knew where I would center my photographic world. I also knew I would try to avoid the desert in summer...especially during record breaking heat spells like we experienced that year! I’m talking triple-digit, melting all the way down to your flip-flops HEAT! With no air conditioning. First desert travelling lesson learned: adapt your schedule to the seasons. Check.
So for the next few years I studied the legendary photographers I so admired. The Muenches, Barry Goldwater, Chuck & Esther Abbott, Jerry Jacka, and so many more. They were names heard often in my house. Another name heard often in my childhood home was that of my uncle, professional photographer and writer F.A. (Fran) Barnes. Uncle Fran was a technical writer in the aerospace industry during its formative years in California. He became disillusioned with that and retired at an early age. He put his photographic hobby and professional writing experience to use in the career of his dreams, as a travel writer. He did this, along with my Aunt Terby and their young daughter, from a 32’ trailer towed by a beefy truck carrying a small boat, dirt bikes, bicycles and a dune buggy. This incredible vehicular gateway to adventure was a cover story for Trailer Life Magazine in the late 60’s. He went on to become Utah Associate Editor for Desert Magazine, as well as a contributing editor for the old Off Road magazine( now Four Wheeler, I believe…). They enjoyed this nomadic lifestyle for many years, with winters in Mexico or the southwestern desert and summers in the northern Rockies. This seasonal swing brought them many times though the Canyonlands section of the Colorado Plateau, and they fell in love with the red rocks and golden fall colors around Moab, UT, where they eventually settled. Fran continued writing and photographing for books and articles from their home base and Terby went to work for the National Park Service. When Fran’s book publisher eventually retired, he took the plunge and began self-publishing long before it was a readily available online service, becoming publisher and editor of his own company, Canyon Country Publications. Terby worked right along with him, typing, proofreading and handling distribution for their successful and growing business until Fran's death in 2003, whereupon she became sole publisher and editor until her passing five years later.Together, they published over 60 books and maps, and innumerable articles and papers. A few years ago, the Museum of Moab dedicated the Fran and Terby Barnes Gallery, where they have a collection of over 50,000 of Fran’s images donated by the family in 2008. I know, it seems like I’ve really wandered off subject here, but my point is that I have some really big shoes to fill, and an incredible example of exactly how to do it! Not just an example, but a helping hand, as I spent most of the summer of my 16th year working and travelling with my uncle and aunt, as well as receiving my first (and second) “real” camera and my b/w darkroom from them as well. This made it possible to grow as a photographer in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I was loosely planning to move there after graduation to work in the publishing company, but fell into a camera store job that summer, and went on to work at a photo lab for 17 years after that (where I had the privilege of getting to know the wonderful Esther Abbott, whose work I had admired for so many years!). I was learning so much from the wonderful people I met there, that somehow the move never happened.
While part of me will always regret what might have been, I honestly wouldn’t trade it for what is. The universe has a way of gently (or sometimes not so gently) placing you where you are meant to be, so you can do what you are meant to do. Joe and I are meant to do just what we are planning; both of us have been preparing for it our whole lives, without really knowing it. He with his background in cinematography and music, me with my photography and journalism, and both of us with our gypsy dreams and love of travel, especially in the desert country. The desert was Joe’s escape from the insanity of working in Hollywood...a way to remind himself that a real world existed outside of the false facades of the movie industry. The thought of warm nights and starry summer skies takes me back to a point in my life, somewhere between childhood and the real world, where the path was still clear and simple and exciting. That is what this journey is all about; a way to recapture the excitement and mystery of that time in our lives when peace and fulfillment was as simple as a night sky ablaze with stars, and we want to take as many of you with us as possible. C’mon, let’s go!!!