Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Orr Hot Springs’ creepy crawlies

Orr Hot Springs is a beautiful little hippie retreat near Ukiah in Mendocino County. Little cottages called yurts and creaky old crumbling rooms give the place a rustic feel. The hot springs complex is wedged between a hill of daffodils and a tree-covered cliff, and is the perfect place for nudists to flaunt their flesh and hop into communal tubs and bathroom tubs, soaking up the piped-in waters from the springs. A communal kitchen affords guests a place to store and prepare food, and a common room welcomes guests to gather and play games, play with the cats (stay away if you’re allergic!) or listen to music performed by a local legend.

The water smells a bit like it has high sulfur content. Or at least that’s what I thought it was. It turns out I might have been sitting in a tub full of infectious diseases.

I am scratching. The last time I got a rash all over my body was from Splenda, which pissed me off enough to name my ejournal Splenda Sucks. Now I’m trying to figure out if I need to secure I went to the doctor who told me I have a lovely case of bacterial folliculitis as a result of my time in an unclean tub. Considering my butt started itching within two days of leaving Orr Hot Springs, both the doctor and I are pretty confident that Orr is to blame. Little pimple-like bumps appeared at the base of each hair follicle on my tummy, and in patches on my chest, and under my arm. Add to that itchiness on my scalp and legs, I’m scratching away.

Of course, now I have a wonderful topical antibiotic, and a steroidal spray, priced for those without insurance at $266 a can and $403 a bottle, respectively. Fortunately, with my insurance, and a handy discount card the friendly Dermatologist Sam Ellison gave me, my out-of-pocket expenses were minimized. Now I just need to apply both medications twice each day and hope that my rashes fade as quickly as my desire to ever return to Orr Hot Springs.

My trip to Orr Hot Springs wasn’t especially wonderful. The bed in the old room was the worst I’ve slept in, and just trying to fall asleep was a challenge as I heard every other word that was muttered in the room next door. “Rustic” is a nice term to use, but I think it’s fair to add “uncomfortable” and “not very peaceful.” People were chatty in the group tubs, making it hard to find a quiet, private space. I suppose you can find privacy if you want to bathe in one of their bathrooms, but I can do that at home. In clean water.

Don't tell. Since I’ve acquired this lovely rash, a couple of people advised me to call Orr Hot Springs and tell them that they are spreading disease (and one encouraged me to call the Mendocino County Health Department), but others told me not to do that: that I shouldn’t let them know, because there's nothing the folks at Orr will be able to do about it. A friend of mine, on her way to Orr today, took my warning, but drew from her background in biology and expertise in pathogens to acknowledge getting folliculitis is a risk anyone runs by going to places like Orr. In a discussion I recently had with a few friends who’ve frequented Orr in the past, everyone agreed that the tubs take a long time to drain and people probably don’t wait around for them to drain (and to scrub them), instead plugging tubs back up, keeping the water ripe with dead skin, fecal matter and nasty floaties.

So I will take the advice of my doctor and avoid sitting in dirty water at Orr Hot Springs. I begrudgingly will keep my complaints -- and scratching -- to myself, just like I always do.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Northern Allegheny County offers a transit lover's treat

Driving. I drove more than 300 miles in the last 3 ½ days. I was also in cars and buses, not driving, for maybe another 60 miles. And on airplanes for more than 4,000 miles worth of travel. If a GPS tracking unit had been attached to me and some weird FBI agent was looking at my movements from a distance, he or she would wonder what I was up to. At least one bus driver did.

Of course the flying was linear. I got on a plane in one place and got off in another.

The more than 300 miles was not linear. And much of it was at speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour. My GPS path would look like a bowl of tossed noodles because I didn’t really go anywhere. I just drove all over the northern half of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

I actually drove all over the northern part of the county numerous times, taking turns at intersection after intersection and then retracing my steps down the same streets and the parallel avenues and through parking lots. I wove back and forth over bridges and drove around some blocks two or three times.

Learning the roads. Obviously, there was a purpose to this. In planner lingo, we can call it fieldwork. My objective: to learn as much as I could about the existing transit routes operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, the public transit system serving the greater Pittsburgh area.

I think I’ve got it. In preparation for the fieldwork, I spent a good bit of time reviewing transit schedules and maps, and looking at street views on Google Maps and at birds’ eye views on Microsoft Live Maps. Then I got on the plane to see them for myself.

It was wonderful to take a drive up Troy Hill and already know what to expect before I even got there: where the school was, what the “loop” where the bus turns around would look like, what grocery store I should expect to see before making a right turn. For the routes that I’d had the chance to preview, it was very easy to understand what was going on -- how those buses navigated the narrow roads, ran over the hill crests and the valleys, made tight turns and launched up grades that rival those in my hometown. For the routes I hadn’t had the opportunity to fully explore online, driving around was invaluable.

Some routes are very confusing. Pittsburgh’s street network is more complex that that of almost any other major North American City. For those routes that completely confounded me, I either rode the bus or followed behind in my rented minivan. This morning as I was following a bus operating along Route 11D, about 15 minutes into my excursion, the bus picked up a passenger at one stop and then pulled forward. Then it stopped again. And it sat there for 30 seconds. The next thing I saw was a very angry looking bus driver who walked behind the bus and headed right toward my van.

“What are you doing following me?” she demanded.

I had already rolled down my window in anticipation of this confrontation and greeted her with a smile.

I assured her I was trying to understand the route and complimented her excellent driving ability. She asked for "some sort of ID" and I promised her I wasn’t trying to freak her out.

She said it made her uncomfortable, having me following her everywhere she went.

"I'm really just trying to understand the route. From what I can tell, you're on schedule and doing a great job, " I told her.

Then she warmed a bit and headed back to the bus.

I followed her for another block and then turned to explore a variation the route sometimes follows. When I got back on the main road, she was long gone. I bet she sped the hell out of there or turned down another street so she wouldn't have to have me on her ass.

I wouldn't blame her.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Cheap vodka for oldsters

Old people. I know I have mentioned how old people love drug stores. Let me tell you about a particular pair of very old women at the downtown San Francisco Rite Aid.

These two seem to be in heaven in the aisles of that store, sorting through their pocketbooks for the correct change. Both wear head scarves, like my grandmother wore when I was a child, keeping their hair in place. One is taller, slightly more robust looking than the other, but with ruddy cheeks, dull gray eyes and hair that’s wispy and white, peeking out from under her olive scarf. She wears a faded powder blue raincoat over a dark plain dress. The other, small and thin, with a tremor and dark glasses, looks as fragile and frail as a nursing home patient. Her scarf, clear plastic with a white rim, tied neatly over a matte of chalky hair, covers her small quivering head. She also wears a raincoat, gray over a black frock. If I were to guess their ages, I’d put them soundly in their 90s, but perhaps they are just old looking 80-somethings.

As they waddle through their way through the store, they make their way to the Rite Aid aisle of booze. They spend a long time in the aisle, grasping a wrinkled Rite Aid circular, and then hone in on the vodka special of the week. The taller woman scoots one bottle – I think it is 1 ½ liters – off the shelf and puts it in the quaking hands of the smaller woman. Then she grasps a bottle herself. The two of them continue to scan the bottles, perhaps making sure they got the best price on the largest available bottle of vodka. Then they turn, again the tall one leading the small one, and wander to the register. They fumble for their change and hand wadded up bills to the cashier. The cashier takes their money and wraps their bottles in triple plastic bags. Then she turns to other cashier next to her. She giggles and rolls her eyes.

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