Tor is turning 40 this week and I am very pleased about this. When I met him he was 34 and I was 43, and yes, it has taken him some time to more or less catch up to me but he has finally pulled it off. He had a hard time figuring out what he wanted to do for his birthday but finally settled, as one does, on “driving 400 or so miles way the fuck up north to see a cousin I have met once.” He kicked off his week of birthday festivities with a role playing game on Sunday, and we left after that, in late afternoon, to drive north as far as Redding, about three hours, planning to do the next four more scenic hours on Monday morning.
We drove between Nevada City and Marysville in
In Gridley, a flat farm town with lots of stucco bungalows, stood a curious place of business, neither clearly alive nor dead, called “The Kid’s Castle.” It stopped raining. Tor pulled over and showed me two possible routes on his phone. I said either. He picked one which meant we’d need to backtrack a bit. The second we turned around, we found ourselves looking at the most enormous double rainbow. Truly one end of it seemed to be in Chico and the other back in Marysville. The outside rainbow was faint, but the inside one vivid and saturated with color. There was a misty quality only at its very top. The rest of it seemed to have been drawn with a child’s markers.
We parked the car in front of a forest green ranch house, and got out just as a woman was emerging from the house onto her porch. She was in her 60s or 70s and wearing black sweats.
“Would you look at that thing?” she said. “My God.” She lit a cigarette, possibly a Marlboro 100, and added, “Actually we had another one here just like it, on Christmas.”
Tor was taking pictures. My phone was dead, but I suck at taking photos anyway, that’s his job. A car pulled up behind us. I figured they were more people stopping to check out this spectacular event, but it was two grim-faced women in their twenties, with dark hair pulled tightly back from unhappy faces. Eyes at the ground, they headed up the flagstone path to the house. I heard the smoking woman mumble something. One of the women did not respond at all, and the other one said, “Yeah, it’s a rainbow, we saw it.”
We drove north as the sun was setting, just bits of white light through broken clouds. We talked about babysitters we’d had. “I had a mean one and a nice one, ” Tor said. The nice one gave him a mug that says “WORLD’S GREATEST KID,” which he still has, and is the most Tor possession of all of his possessions, and will never get Kondo’d, not ever.
“What was wrong with the other one?”, I asked.
“She didn’t like me,” Tor said.
“Tor, when you talk about someone not liking you, I want to cry,” I said.
Tor said I was weird.
We went to Red Bluff instead of Redding. We pulled over in a Burger King parking lot and found a motel online. At first Red Bluff just looked like a bunch of fast food, I-5, and the Sacramento River. But driving to our motel, we went through an old town center, with a few nice old Victorian buildings, and some early 20th-century solid brick architecture. Our hotel was even less glamorous than we’d already thought it would be, and the neighboring lot appeared to be a porta potty graveyard. The shower dripped, and Tor had to use a lot of physical strength to make it stop.
We found a bar with a cool neon sign. It was homely, poorly lit and quiet, just a bartender with hair dyed a stylish silver blonde, three old dudes, and us. Tor ordered a Jameson and soda and I ordered a See-Through and we were just trying to figure out who the third host of American Idol was—Lionel Richie, Katy Perry
The huge, empty Mexican restaurant we went to next seemed like heaven after where we’d just been. The waitress was pretty and nice and both qualities took on a celestial sheen. We split a carnitas plate and a beer. Tor told me that he’d only had one conversation with his Uncle Peter, the father of the guy we were guy to see. “I was in my 20s, I guess, and I was working in the shop, using a six-inch metal ruler, a Shinwa. Peter asked me if the numbers were stamped or printed. I said I thought they were stamped. He died a few years later.”
The lot next to the motel wasn’t a porta-potty graveyard. It was a place for trucks to pick them up and drop them off. Generators and engines chugged through the night. I whined. Tor located earplugs. I managed to sleep until 5 a.m., and then I got up, wrote this story, and went out to get coffee and take these photos, which are not amazing, or framed perfectly, but should give you a sense of Red Bluff in the morning.
Also, this buddy bear was staying at my motel. Look at this guy.