The drive down Interstate 5 in California, we were told, would be 'fast but boring.' It was certainly faster than negotiating the beautiful coastal route, but we did not find it boring. We passed vast orchards and fields--industrial agriculture in action. Workers were harvesting iceberg lettuce and strawberries; we were sharing the road with trucks bearing loads of boxed produce. There was evidence that the lives of migrant farm workers have improved, at least marginally--portable toilets were available--but delicate crops that cannot be harvested mechanically will always require human hands. There is no doubt it's as back-breaking as ever.
All of this is possible only through irrigation. California's on-going struggle with drought, water rights, and dwindling supplies was embodied in large signs protesting policies and upcoming legislation. We passed more than one orchard of dead trees.
Lunch was at Harris Ranch--a surprising spot. Apparently this is one of the largest ranch/farm operations in California, famed for its beef (and now for its racehorses, as well), an enterprise vast enough to warrant a huge hotel/resort/restaurant complex. We split a Reuben and a salad, took a gander at the store (meats, some produce--asparagus, for instance), and continued on our way, entering high desert and dry mountains.
Our destination was Altadena, one of the many cities ringing the megalopolis of Los Angeles. Fortunately for us, it's the outer ring to the north-east, tucked in next to the San Gabriel Mountains. My former teaching colleague, Susan Shwartz Braig, has lived there for 20 years and counting, with her room-mate Richard, in an amazing 1920's building next to the Altadena Country Club.
Susan is self-employed--an artist, a grant-writer, and designer of jewelry created from DRUGS--primarily chemotherapy pills that, judging by their cost to patients, are more precious than gems. (Find Susan on Facebook, LinkedIn, and more; her Etsy store is DesignerDrugJewelry.) Susan and I met at Amelia Junior High School in SW Ohio in the early 1970's. She was the art teacher; I was the special education teacher. We would up car-pooling and becoming fast friends. She willingly took my students into her art classes (this was the bad old days before inclusion was the norm.) More than that, simply through this limited contact, she was able to gain great insight into my students; what she shared opened my own eyes and made me a better teacher. Susan should have been a stand-up comic, methinks; like many gifted people, she might have followed a variety of career paths. She can make even cancer sound funny.
Susan's battle with breast cancer gave her a lot of insider information about the gaps in America's health-care system and the trickery in health insurance policies. She became an outstanding advocate for change. Check this out (from last October.) You do not need to speak Portuguese to understand what is being expressed.
Today Global TV (Brazil's equivalent to PBS) ran a big story on U.S. Health Care and Obama Care's hurdles. They used my insurance and jewelry story to give it a "human face." Here is the link. Of course, most is in Portuguese:
Susan moved away from Ohio after two years of teaching--living in Wisconsin and then California--but we stayed in touch, I'm glad to say. Over the years Susan had been able to visit us a couple of times, but this was the first time I would be seeing her space, and after a dozen or more years, our first time to see one another again.
I did not do a great job of taking pictures--should have shot the exterior of the exotic building (undergoing much-needed renovation) and the house next door (where another working artist lives amid striking works.) But here are some interior shots:
Isn't it lovely?
The 'Spanish/Moorish' influence in Twenties-Era California architecture is reflected in this two-apartment building. The country club was frequented by Charlie Chaplin and other screen stars.
The jewelry shop is tucked into this nook. The 'ear-ring stand' is fashioned from a crutch.
Arched windows and doorways....
Feel free to steal Richard's clever idea in his choice of kitchen equipment.
AND they're cat people. Two calico kitties share the space. This one is named Soccer.
There was time for delightful meals (Richard is the chef) and a bit of sight-seeing from the car, a little foray into Pasadena's antique shops, some catching up... (and DHubby drove down to Anaheim to meet another high-school friend and fellow debater over lunch)....and then we set out on the drive homeward.