Mike Sartain

I parked my newly purchased 1995 Triumph Speed Triple outside the biker bar in the early afternoon. A low building with a wide front yard and a sidewalk, you could barely call it a saloon. There were cars and Harley Davidsons parked nearby, owned by bar patrons or independently scattered on the pavement. I walked up the sidewalk and pushed open the door.

Inside was depressingly anticlimactic. The lighting reminded me of a cubicle farm. The tables were empty, but the bar itself almost entirely full. Just like in an old spaghetti western, every face turned towards me with blank expressions, curiosity dimmed by something between distaste and disregard. I got it—I didn’t fit.

In my early thirties, I had fake red braids down my back, and black European racing leathers that looked great on my naked racing bike. This was a Harley place. If I’d wanted to fit, I’d have been wearing jeans and possibly leather but only if the leather was a vest or had tassels. The silence was deafening, and the stares blinding.

I approached the bar. I tried to swagger. I failed.

A seat was open at the left of the bar, so I sat. The bartender studiously ignored me. He was a big guy with a big beard and a belly to match. His hair was a streaky gray and mingled with his beard. Where I so clearly didn’t belong, he epitomised the scene. One of the Harleys outside had to be his.

Everyone else followed his lead. Time slowed down while they pretended I didn’t exist and carried on conversations about anything other than the interruption to their afternoon. I wondered again if my information was correct and if this was the right address. I resisted the urge to check.

After a heavily weighted pause, and slower than a glacier across the North American continent, the bartender casually strolled over to me. His patrons studied the wall behind the bar. Polishing a pint glass and nonchalantly making eye-contact with one of the regulars on the other end of the bar, he drawled, “What can I do for you?” There was a faint smirk on his lips as he finally swung his eyes over to meet mine.

“I’m looking for Mike.” If we were going to play this game, then I was going to put on my best impression of the spaghetti western’s hero. I remained calm, possibly even smug. That was what I was going for, anyway.

The bartender’s eyes sharpened slightly while he continued to polish that glass.

“Who’s asking?” he finally replied.

It was time to lay it out, and hope that he was the guy. He matched the description, but so did at least half the people in the place. So I kept the swagger in my voice and a straight face when I said “Well, there’s a stick horse named Beaker in Amsterdam who sends his regards.” All the way across Wyoming, I’d practiced that line in my helmet. It was the single part of this I was sure I could get right, and I did.

There’s a pause. The bartender’s eyes had already swung back to his audience, and they stayed there while I completed the sentence. His expression was intimidatingly neutral as he set down the glass and towel, stepped forward to the hinged section of bar beside me, threw it open and walked through. Now he stood directly beside me, pinning me with that cool gaze as I sat on my stool.

The silence felt like it could eat me. I could see the bewildered faces of the other patrons behind him.

Those meaty arms flung wide. “GIVE ME A HUG!” he bellowed, and there was nothing to do but walk into them.

Over his shoulder, my confused relief is mirrored by everyone else. And now I knew that this was Mike, who, with his arm still draped on my shoulders, swivelled us around to present me to his friends.

“DON’T WORRY!” he shouted with a laugh, “THIS IS MY GOD-DAUGHTER!”


The afternoon became early evening in the windowless bar, getting to know Mike’s friends and patrons. On this cross-country road-trip, I’d mostly been camping, but hadn’t planned anything yet for the night. One of Mike’s friends became very worried about the idea of staying at Mike’s. He offered his own place, insisting that any time would be fine, even the middle of the night. He made sure I had the address and detailed instructions on how to find it, both from town and from Mike’s. I laughed, but later I understood better, when I left everyone and drove up to Mike’s on my own.

Mike lived way way off the grid, the road up his hill paved until it wasn’t, then gravel until I finally came to a mobile home and some miscellaneous junk and outbuildings. At least 12 non-functioning Harleys littered the property. The entrance to the mobile home led directly into the hallway-style kitchen, and I had to carefully step over the gaping hole in the floor to reach the living room. His guest bed was thoroughly dusted in cigarette ash from a habit of practicing his guitar there while smoking. The bathroom was entirely draped in underwear—apparently where he washed his laundry. There was no official address, no landline telephone, no cellular data access. Mail was best addressed to the bar in town. I considered his friend’s offer but decided to stay. It was definitely cosier than some of the places I’d camped.

Mike returned from work long after I turned in for the night, but he was awake before me in the morning. He already had coffee brewing, and nervously asked if I liked bacon. We feasted on black coffee and the biggest mountain of crispy American bacon I’ve ever seen, and nothing else. We ate, we drank coffee, we talked, we laughed, and soon it was afternoon and time for him to go back to work. I wouldn’t make much progress that day, starting so late, but I headed off westward on my Triumph.

—— —

Mike liked salty licorice, so I tried to send him some every year or so after that. Mike was my dad’s best friend in high school and college. Yeah, Mike went to college: Washington State University. Most of my news of Mike after this visit came from my dad’s emails about visits to hunt turkey or elk. According to Dad, he also liked to tell the story of that road trip visit. In his version, his back was to the door when I came in, and when the place went quiet, he turned around to see  me, all “fancy leathers and scarlet hair.” The rest continues unfolds the same.

Mike wasn’t actually my godfather. Officially, my uncle Dave is my godfather, and he’s awesome too—stories I hope not to reminisce for a few more decades. But Mike was definitely my godfather too. He named my childhood stick horse, that my aunt Nita made for me for my 4th birthday. Mike pointed him at my tummy, jabbing at me while yelling, “beaka beaka beaka beek!” I still have Beaker, who is downstairs in the dining room wondering what he’s done to deserve such disregard. And Mike was my godfather because he said so.

Mike Sartain died of a heart attack on Monday 19 September 2019. That day, he called my dad from Cedars Bar in Riverton, Wyoming—that very bar he used to own. I will miss him, even if I barely knew him. RIP Mike. I hope one of your Harleys runs.

Trucks of India

Trucks of India1

Because I am prone to carsickness, I sat in the front seat of the cars we hired, and chatted with the drivers. I fell in love with the trucks of India! They were colorful, with messages to sound the horn, and which side to pass on, and their ownership and make, and even where they’re from.

For instance, around Tiruvannamalai, many trucks had fire on the mountain painted on their back. Around Pondicherry, there were three circles. In other places, rectangles with scenery, or birds, or whatever. I’m convinced this showed where they were from.

I didn’t get many photos of the fronts of trucks, unfortunately, but they were often even more exciting. Enjoy!


India Trip days 19 & 20 – Bangalore and Travel

23 Oct 2017 – 24 Oct 2017. After breakfast and before our treatments, the friendly ginger mama cat who’d been letting us pet her on our front steps tried to come right on in. Our collectors found us cuddling her on the porch. The man who walked me up to the treatment rooms told me that she had six tiny kittens in one of the treatment rooms, less than a week old! This, and she’s been coming to see us most days!

My therapist was Akshantha again (the same lovely woman who I mentioned in an earlier post). I was glad to see her again, especially because I wanted to thank her for her care before we left. But when we were finished with my massage, she asked what sort of treatment Thai massage would do for lower back pain. I described a few things, then once I was dressed, had her lie down. I worked on her for about 20 minutes until she said she really had to get ready for her next person. I was really happy to be able to extend some bodywork in her direction!

I had a last swim at the pool, chatting briefly with the only other white lady at IVAC and waving goodbye to the funny lady from Delhi and her husband. Then I showered and washed my hair three times trying to get all the excess oil out of it before our big travel.

We had a great driver back out of town town, and he even let us stop at McDonald’s to try the local veggie options. I had the McSpicy Paneer. Matt had the McMaharaja burger. Abbie and Derek had the same two options, although there were more local specialties as well.

Another long drive and finally we were in Bangalore, dropping by the housing development (“Oasis”) where Matt’s former colleagues Sarah Jane & Johnny live with their family. It was beautiful.

Sarah Jane made us cocktails which we enjoyed on their terrace, and then we left the kids with the maid and continued on to meet up with Johnny at a very swank brewery restaurant in town.

Our last Indian meal complete, at last we headed to the airport. Matt and I had access to the priority lounge, so I took a shower before our 10-hour flight to Paris. We slept most of the way, transferred in Paris, and were home with our kitties before noon. Altogether, a successful adventure. Thanks for reading!

Bonus supplements to come: trucks of India, and houses!

India trip day 18 – more treatments & a shopping adventure

22 Oct 2017. Last night the doctor came by our room to confirm the appointments for today. Matt was rescheduled for a very early appointment at 07:30, because he had a cooking lesson at 14:30. The doctor suggested that mine be also moved to 07:30. I said no, thank you. 09:00 as planned was just perfect. He repeated it. I said no, I’m happy with 09:00. He finally said, the thing is: 07:30 would be better for their scheduling, or I could do the afternoon. I asked if there was no possibility to keep it the same. He made funny noises and they seemed to mean no. So I agreed, albeit unhappily. Then he said, “Madam, you should say if that won’t be ok for you.” I sat back, laughed at him, and said that I was pretty sure that I just had, but that he had told me there was no other possibility unless I wanted to commit to all day onsite by agreeing to afternoon. He looked surprised, and made some more noise accompanied by the head waggling that if you’ve every been to India, you will be familiar with. Finally I had a thought: what time in the afternoon was possibly? Anytime after 14:00, Madam. Ok, then: I’ll have my treatment while Matt is in his cooking lesson, so that we are both ready to leave for our last day in Mysore after we’re both finished. OK. The doctor wrote it down on my schedule: 14:30. We also discussed a change, since yesterday’s scrub had been too intense for my skin: finer scrub powder.

So imagine our surprise when the doorbell rang at 07:30 and it wasn’t Matt’s therapist, but a woman to collect me. Matt tried to tell her that there was a mistake, but she was very insistent. We showed her the doctor’s scheduling change, and she wanted to call him. She came into the bedroom, where I glowered at her. She picked up the phone, pushed a button, then put it down again and left. I didn’t fall asleep again after Matt left with his therapist. Instead, I read a book until he returned, then we went to breakfast. After breakfast, I went for a swim. Then lunch. Then another swim. Then it was time for my treatment and Matt’s cooking class.

My scrub, even with the finer powder, was too much. The therapist (not my usual wonderful one) agreed that my skin was too sensitive, so we went to reception and changed my last appointment for tomorrow to a regular Abhyanga relaxation massage. Then I went back to my room, took a shower, and Matt and I went into town.

Waiting for the Ova, I made a new best friend.

Derek had gone out early for a shopping day. Abbie had joined him in the late morning when her treatments were done. Matt and I went to a couple of stores and did a little last-minute shopping before joining them at Mysore Palace for the Sunday evening illuminations. We got into place just before they lit up:

And then as I clicked the next picture, all the lights went up to the accompaniment of the crowd’s exclamations.

Loads of people were there to see the lights, and again we were asked into selfies.

When we left, we noticed the lights on all the carriages that we’d seen before. Some of them were really glammed out, with music blaring.

We walked to a restaurant recommended on TripAdvisor, but it had moved. A tuktuk driver took us to the new location, but it was completely lacking ambience, so we walked down the road from there to a rooftop restaurant that was much more our style.

A typical thing that happens sometimes when you ask for something: Abbie and I ordered the same cocktail off the menu. The waiter waggled his head and wrote something down. Matt ordered a different cocktail and Derek ordered a beer. Derek’s beer arrived. A few minutes later, Matt’s cocktail arrived. A few minutes later all the food arrived. We asked about our cocktails. We said the name. The waiter looked shocked, brought us the menu, and asked which one we meant. We pointed at the one we’d ordered, the Tequila Chili. He said, “Tequila Sunrise?” No… this one: Tequila Chili. He looked very upset. Again he asked Tequila Sunrise? Again, no. Tequila Chili. Finally the other waiter said, “we don’t have Tequila Chili. Do you want a Tequila Sunrise?” Ah, no. “Tequila then?” Uh, definitely no. I ordered a beer. Abbie ordered nothing. We’ve learned that they don’t really like telling you a negative answer to a question. They’d rather waggle their heads and walk away and hope it doesn’t come up again. Meanwhile, we’re confused and trying to figure out what we’re supposed to ask to get a clearer answer.

We went back and skipped cocktails tonight, in favor of sleep and packing. Tomorrow is our last day!

Southern India day 17 – Treatments & Climbing Chamundi Hill

21 Oct 2017. We had to wake up early for breakfast this morning because 3 of us had 09:00 treatments scheduled. Today mine was the scrub and the pouring oil. The scrub was intense, and I even had to ask them to go more gently at one point, because I thought the skin at my armpits was going to rip right off if they went over it one more time. With the scrub still on my body, they wrapped me up in a towel and let me stew while they performed the oil pouring.

My main therapist was really interesting, and we had time to talk before and after my treatments, as she collected me or walked me back. She’s worked at IVAC for 10 years, and before that she was a nurse at a hospital. On my last day, I asked her why she left nursing, and she said that every day as a nurse there was blood, vomit, and lots of feces and other accidents. At IVAC, in many senses, the job is the same, except less of that.

Derek was sleeping when we all finished our treatments, so I went for a swim. When he woke up, we all got in an Ova car (a bit like Uber) and were dropped off at the bottom of the steps up Chamundi Hill.

People walk the entire way up to the temple at the top as a devotional, and you can buy colored powders at the bottom, which you use to mark every step on the way.

We saw one young woman doing that, and asked if she was doing it for a particular reason or if it was purely devotional. She said she had a particular reason, and we asked if she minded telling us. It turns out her exams are coming up… I hope she put even more effort into her studying!

There were various points along the way when you can alternately be dropped off, but we went the whole way. At the top there were lots of food stalls and market stalls in general. We sampled many things, and walked around the outside of the temple.

When we were done, we started down the road instead of the steps, and eventually caught a bus the rest of the way into town. Abbie and Derek went into town from there to do some shopping, and Matt and I went back out to IVAC. I went for another swim and Matt had an upcoming additional treatment.

Dinner at IVAC was disappointing. No sweets! Apparently, as I learned from another guest – a very funny woman from Delhi – the next day, sweets are not recommended in the evening on an Ayurvedic diet, so they’re only served at lunch (which we’d learned the day before is also kind of boring). She told me about her last stay, which was for weight loss, when she would sneak sweets out from the lunch buffet wrapped in napkins, and eat them in the evening or night in her room – strictly forbidden! She’s hoping she has better willpower this time.

After dinner, we met at our cottage for illicit gin & juice. Derek had kind of warm beer.

Southern India day 16 – Ayurvedic Medi-spa and Mysore

20 Oct 2017. We checked into Indus Valley Ayurvedic Center last night, and this morning were woken by a call to breakfast. I informed them that I would be there before it was closed and to please not call again regarding mealtimes. We found out when we got there that it was just that no one had shown up for breakfast in the first hour, so they worried people didn’t know about it. I guess they called everyone staying here.

After the spread at Vivanta by Taj, breakfast here was pretty disappointing. It’s adequate, and they bring coffee when you ask (instant, sadly), but we’d gotten spoiled.

After breakfast, we went to reception to learn about the treatments on offer, including a consultation with the doctor.

Derek has decided to forego any treatments, so they will be credited to all of us, starting of course with Abbie. We have 4 nights of included Abhyanga massages, which we can supplement or replace with other treatments. Matt is getting Abhyanga mixed with treatments for scalp and neck and shoulders, so his treatment includes compresses and bowls of warm oil applied to his C7 vertebra. Abbie is getting Abhyanga supplemented by some beauty treatments and foot massages. I’m actually getting the simplest but most expensive treatment. I have one day of Abhyanga with head and neck supplemental, then we will switch to scrub treatments. I requested them because I was feeling like a scrub will be nice, but the doctor seems to think I need weight loss as well, and this is part of that treatment. Whatever. He is supplementing them with a treatment where oil is poured continuously on the forehead. It is a calming treatment. I may have come off too excited to try things when we met. He has possibly misdiagnosed me as a Windy type. Oh well. It’s nice to de-stress at the end of a trip anyway, before heading home.

Since our treatments would be in the afternoon, we decided to have lunch onsite and save leaving until afternoon. I had a swim before lunch in the gorgeous pool.

My first treatment was lovely. The massage was done by 2 therapists, and started with a prayer to “the Great Healer.” They sing it, a short mantra. Then I receive a footbath, medicated oil in the ears, and the head, neck & shoulders part while seated. After, I was moved to the table, where both therapists worked in tandem in a relaxing and very very oil-intense massage. It is done pretty rapidly, so it is strangely invigorating and relaxing at the same time.

After treatments, we went into town for the bazaar. Many things were closed, as it was the big celebration night for Deepavali (yep, same as Diwali – different region, slightly different name). Still, we got some of the things off our lists, and enjoyed the wander.

For dinner, we went to a silly cave-themed restaurant in a hotel. They were decorated for Halloween. The food was good, though.

Alcoholic beverages are forbidden here, so we bought juice and gin and beer, and had a little party on our terrace when we got back after dinner.

Southern India day 15 – a spice farm then travel to Mysore

19 Oct 2017. Another morning, a last swim and breakfast. We hopped in a taxi with all our luggage, and went to visit Savoi Plantation, actually not a plantation, but more of a family owned traditional multi-crop farm. The name for this sort of farm is a kulagar.

It was a really nice visit. They greeted us with some snacks and a delicious spiced hibiscus drink. We played with the puppies, who were actually very shy. (photo courtesy Abbie)

Eventually, our host came out to talk to us. He led us around, telling funny stories and cutting off bits of things for us to try along the way. I never knew what a nutmeg fruit looked like, for example.

There were betelnuts drying in a hut. He explained the different types of paan, how it’s used to settle the stomach and aid digestion, but how it can also be mixed with tobacco and then you have to spit it out after chewing.

I was really interested to learn how there are two different methods of grafting mango trees. One results in a tree that produces every other year, but then it produces tens of thousands and lives for a very long time. The other produces every year, but only thousands of fruits per tree, and only lives a much shorter lifetime. It is prudent to have both types of tree on a working plantation.

Anyway, it was indeed a fascinating tour, and I would recommend it. http://www.savoiplantation.com They are also on Facebook.

Our tour ended with a delicious and huge meal. We could barely make a dent in it. Goan cuisine is spicier than others we’ve had so far, and delicious. The spiciest dish was the crab, and I was shaking as I crammed mouthful after mouthful into my mouth, trying to get all the meat out of the shells.

We also tried cashew liqueur, special to this region. It was pretty good, strong like grappa.

Lunch put away as best we could, we bought a few spices and got back into the taxi for the ride to the airport, to fly back to Bangalore then taxi to Mysore.

The drive to Mysore was long and very scary. Our driver was aggressive in a way that made some sense while still in Bangalore traffic, but became dangerous on the night roads outside the city. I was sure he was trying to kill the motorcyclists, as he’d always swerve as close to them as possible when passing them, even if he’d been in the other lane, with no one else passing or being passed. We gave him a bad review and I was literally shaking when we finally got out at our destination.

Indus Valley Ayurvedic Center had unfortunately mostly closed down for the night when we arrived. They have 24-hour desk, but the restaurant had closed at 21:00 and they hadn’t received my message that we were running late. When they saw that we were going to make do with cookies, they relented and brought us some fruit. We snacked and then retired to our separate cottages for the night.

Southern India day 14 – Old Goa

18 Oct 2017. After our return to bed and subsequent late proper morning, we eventually got up and out the door around lunchtime, taking a taxi to Old Goa to see the various Christian churches and ruins.

I like that when you introduce the Trinity to a pantheistic culture, you get the God Pe (the Father).

Another thing to note was that Indians, accustomed to taking off shoes before entering Hindu temples, removed them before entering cathedrals as well. They didn’t need to. And in one of the churches, I was harshly instructed to remove my hat. I wanted to tell them that in fact, that was not a requirement for women in Catholic churches, but whatever. I was inside, thus negating my need for it anyway.

I enjoyed the coolness of the interiors while Abbie prowled for historically relevant art (didn’t find any) and Matt and Derek just prowled.

We had lunch in a tiny little place specializing in Chinese fusion (Abbie loves it for its spiciness). Eventually, we took a cab home via the Christian Art Museum.

Back at the hotel, we were back at the pool. I had a long chat with a nice woman, originally from Sri Lanka, who’d grown up in London, lived in Australia (where her husband is from), and currently teaches in Hyderabad. She had a G&T disguised in a water bottle. We chatted until Abbie showed up, and then Abbie and I swam (again, for me) before dinner. We ate at a small place not far from the hotel, and picked up some tiny bottles of gin to take with us to our next destination.

We finished the night in the hotel bar, where we each had one cocktail before bed. I didn’t get a picture because Abbie’s and Derek’s came right away, and they drank them and went to bed before Matt’s and mine eventually came, 45 minutes later. Ours were complimentary after such a delay.

Southern India day 13 – Narkasur!

17 Oct 2017. What a wonderful place. I woke up in time for a swim before breakfast. Derek was already up there, and Abbie was in the gym. Matt rested in bed. Then the spread for breakfast was amazing! Indian food, western food, and all kinds of things to order. We were in heaven.

After breakfast, we collected our laundry. After the past few days, all of us were completely out of clean clothes. We decided that the hotel prices were too high, so we researched other places. It was great, because the walk gave us the opportunity to walk past areas where groups were working on their Narkasur effigies.

The best explanation of this festival that I found is here: http://www.goaholidayhomes.com/information/narka-chaturdashi-celebrations-in-goa.html

If you don’t want to read it, basically, on the day before Diwali begins, which is the festival of lights, the demon Narkasur is defeated which brings the return of goodness and light. So throughout Goa, neighborhoods and clubs and other groups create effigies of Narkasur. On the last night before Diwali begins (it’s a several-day thing, although the main event for THAT is day 3), all the puppets are ready and people cruise around Panaji (the largest concentration of them) to see them. At dawn, they burn them in the streets. This is what I had found out about and what we were here to see. It turned out we’d just gotten lucky in our hotel shuffle. Our hotel was closest to all of them.

So we walked to the laundry. And found that its prices were as high as the hotel. Oh well. By now we were near Miramar Beach, so while Derek got a haircut, the rest of us wandered over to play in the surf. After he joined us, we walked up and down the beach along the water.

Finally, we headed back to the hotel along another route full of Narkasurs in progress. I don’t think we ever had lunch.

Back at the hotel there was another rest time. I think I may have gone up to the pool again. At 18:30 the hotel had a Narkasur/Diwali reception, with lots of snacks and an open bar. We enjoyed it immensely, then headed out to enjoy the party.

Derek didn’t enjoy all the techno so much, so he headed back early, while the rest of us danced from party to party around the neighborhood, talking with lots of people.

We went back for a rest around 01:00, so that we could wake up early and see the burning.

I’m going to add the morning here, rather than the next day. We left the hotel at 05:30 and had already missed some burnings. One of the biggest parties we’d been at the night before wasn’t planning on burning until the police forced them to, so we moved on.

We eventually found the one we’d watched get assembled in the first place. We were in time to see it entirely dismantled then burnt. It was fascinating! Derek left to go back to bed when it was finished, but the rest of us watched a few more.

Matt got interviewed.

Then we had breakfast, turned on the Do Not Disturb light outside our doors, and went to sleep. The staff were all very pleased we’d gone out to see the Narkasurs.

Southern India day 12 – a very very long day with a very pleasant ending

16 Oct 2017. Due to a planned increase in the cost of petrol/gas/benzine (what you prefer to call it), all taxis and tuktuks and buses and other hired transportation options were going on strike today from 06:00. That meant that we humble adventurers were awake at 04:00 in order to be ready for a 04:30 taxi. Needless to say, we made it in time for our flight. We spent some time in the premium lounge (free food, wifi & airco) for a fee, then went through security and hung out near the gate.

We arrived at Goa airport around noon, and took an arranged taxi to our intended hotel. Unfortunately, they had not notified us that their pool was closed for renovations. I called Booking.com and arranged for it to be canceled. They arranged another hotel for us.

I’m not going to put you through the description of our day. The second hotel was far from suitable, on so many levels, so I had to call Booking again to get it canceled. Then we arranged our own hotel. We threw money at the problem and stayed at the luxurious Vivanta by Taj, one of a chain of luxury resorts.

Everything about it was wonderful. The welcome, the pool, the restaurant, the staff, the room, the breakfast, the fitness room, you name it. I can’t recommend it enough. Also, it had an added bonus of being even closer to the entire reason for our trip to Goa. I’ll get to that in the next post. Anyway, once we’d checked in, we spent some time at the pool with beer, then cleaned up and went to dinner in one of the in-house restaurants. It was perfect.