One hot and dusty August, I drove to California. It was 1994, I drove alone, not quite happy but willing to pretend otherwise. Why was I doing this? Where was I really going? What did it all mean? Acres of trellised vines lined the highway; the sun’s strength made the vineyards of Marin County quiver. My destination: Napa Valley Writer’s Festival. Ahead of me a long line of cars snaked through the fields, their drivers came to taste the local wines. I sang along to Iris Dement with the window rolled down.
I attended two dozen or more readings in less than a week. Each night I drove to another vineyard, gathered with other young poets, marveled at the estates (my favorite was the Franciscan Monastery), and drank the free wine. Still, the readings, given by distinguished American poets, bored me. I couldn’t shake my need to act 16, drive fast and blast music, shifting into 5th gear on the highway above San Francisco, as the hot wind blew though my hair. I spent much of my time at readings doodling on a tablet of yellow legal paper. I ached to find a something other than what I was hearing–but what? California seemed dry. In in a county spilling with wine, I didn’t feel intoxicated.
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