“Why are all the other drivers honking and waving their hands at me?”

“Why are all the other drivers honking and waving their hands at me right now? Why are they tailgating me and flashing their lights? There’s a guy driving close to my bumper now, and he’s mouthing out something but I can’t understand what he’s saying. Why is he so upset? People keep swerving out of my way. What am I doing wrong? Geez. I guess I’d better stop typing this and put my hands back on the steering wheel.” http://cactuseaters.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

French Cactus Eaters

Thanks to Mr. Victor White for contributing this theme-appropriate photo, taken during a visit to Paris. (this is part of reruns, series five. Working on a new post about Amy Stewart and the new Wicked Plants exhibit, but it’s taking me a long, long time. don’t rush me.) http://cactuseaters.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Graduate student takes 40 years to earn his Ph.D.

Sometimes I hear people complain about taking seven or eight years out of their lives to go to graduate school. And then there’s this guy. When he started working toward his Ph.D., Nixon was still in office, the Beatles had only just broken up, Jim Morrison was still alive, and “All in the Family” was the number-one TV program. I think it’s good to remember, in this era of instant gratification, that worthwhile goals can take a long (long!) time… I was so surprised by his story that I decided to write something about it. Here’s my recent posting: Earning an advanced degree can seem to take forever. In the case of one recent UCSC graduate, it almost did. History of Consciousness Program grad Peter Miller received his Ph.D. last week at the Graduate Division commencement ceremony. It took him 40 years. “I’m probably the person who has the record…

Coming soon: The New York Times 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada

This just in. Someone just sent me the Amazon link to the upcoming The New York Times 36 Hours book, published by Taschen and containing updated and expanded versions of two of my travel columns. I’m really excited about this, although it seems (from the Amazon thread) that it won’t be hitting the shelves of your local store until early October or so. http://cactuseaters.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Read this next, anonymous: David Bezmogis, The Free World

A group of Jewish emigrants from Latvia passes some time in Rome while waiting for the next way station in their lives. America, perhaps, or maybe Canada. Doesn’t this sound like the recipe for a truly shmaltzy novel?In lesser hands, it would be, but this work of diaspora fiction is field-stripped of sentimentality. You will wait, patiently, for the stodgy old patriarch, Samuil, to reveal the tenderness within. You keep thinking he’s going to redeem himself with an adorable gesture, or some unsolicited act of generosity. It never happens. You keep waiting for nostalgia, and the novel’s romantic setting, to overwhelm the story. It never does. This must be the least sentimental story about the immigrant experience that I’ve ever read. You get the overwhelming impression that life, for these people, was a real struggle. Every day they face moral compromises. Rome is an in-between place for them in more…

The Atherton Book Club: Packing For Mars and much more

Last year I was proud to be the inaugural author featured in the brand-new Atherton Book Club, otherwise known as Reading In Good Company. Now the book club continues with a whole new lineup of great events. Book Club leader Annie Pena tells me that Mary will be participating via Skype during the June 14 meeting about Roach’s latest book, Packing For Mars.Even if you don’t live on the Peninsula, this is worth the drive. (Mothra/Godzilla photo from Toho Archives.) http://cactuseaters.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

“I’ll just try to eat around it” — (never eat an apricot with a hole in it)

Just got back from a Santa Cruz-area farmer’s market, where I paid $5 a pound for fancy apricots. One of them looked so good that I started eating it in spite of the obvious hole in it. “I’ll just eat around it,” I said to myself. So there I was, chomping away, but when I got to the pit, there was a fat, juicy, disgusting earwig sitting in the middle of that apricot, clacking its mandibles, wiggling its antenna, with a “what the &%$@ are you looking at?” expression on its face. The weird thing is, the bug was so much bigger than the hole it must have crawled into to go inside the apricot in the first place. I guess he hung out there for a while, eating the inside of the apricot and getting so fat that he couldn’t get out again, like the squirrel protagonist in Timmy…

Rise of the Slug: the once-subversive banana slug mascot turns 25 at UCSC

At the bottom of this blog entry, you will find a link to my brief cultural history of the UCSC Banana Slug, published on UCSC’s news page. Just so you know, the slug mascot turns 25 this year. As I mention in my story, the slug is popular now but it used to be a counter-cultural upstart, caught in a rivalry with another animal that wanted to represent UCSC. To find out which animal I’m talking about, you’ll just have to click on that link and read the whole thing. As part of my due diligence for this story, I asked for (and received) permission from Hank Card of the Austin Lounge Lizards to use their unofficial UCSC banana slug fight song in the story. You can hear it in both video clips. By the way, Hank Card was kind enough to give me a bit of background about the…

Things you should never do in the backcountry. Selected Cactuseaters re-runs, part 17

OK, this post is older than the hills, but a couple of people mentioned it to me so here it is a second time. It’s a list of things you should never, ever do during any outdoor excursion. The Cactuseaters List of Backcountry “Don’ts” (the unexpurgated version!) NEVER bring a fondue maker into the woods with you. The bread crumbs, fruit wedges, gas and molten cheese will form a white magma that will spew all over you, leaving fourth-degree burns all over your entire body. NEVER cook a meal while sitting inside your tent, even when it’s raining outside. (Trust me. Your tent will explode.) NEVER forget that “freeze-dried’’ and “chili’’ is a very bad combination. (Trust me. You will explode.) NEVER try to reason with anyone riding an All-Terrain Vehicle — especially if he or she is drunk and holding a 12-gauge Mossberg hunting rifle and wearing a knit…