Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Talpa Gardens

Jeff and Tania have built themselves a beautiful life; a little organic vegetable farm just south of Taos propper, in a neighborhood called Talpa.  He's a painter from Indiana and she's a wonderful cook from Canada, who came here a year ago, speaking almost exclusively her native French, and worked the farm as one of many volunteers Jeff welcomes on his farm.  They soon fell in love, I'm sure in no small part due to her exquisite cooking.

Click Here for a Flickr slide show of some of the Talpa Gardens farm life.

I have stayed here now 6 or so nights, perhaps for 3 or 4 a week and a half ago, and now for 2.  There are two other volunteers here now, also Canadian, but English speaking, Heather and Lindsey, whom I met by chance near the Taos Plaza two days before their arrival here.  I have become good friends with Lindsey, and enjoy her articulate and open conversational style, not to mention her pretty and kind face.  She has noted that it's nice to be around two people in love, Jeff and Tania.  Talpa Gardens is a little paradise. 

The Taos Earthships

The Taos Earthships are completely sustainable houses.  Click Here for  Flickr slide show of the present visitor's center, and the new one still under construction. 

The Earthships are built from recycled materials, nestled and bermed into the ground on all but the south side, with stacks of earth filled tires forming the retaining walls.  The south side has a continuous expanse of glass, directly inside of which are green house planters.  The sun's energy is captured by the glass and stored in the mass of the heavy construction of the floor and the back of the house.  The roof catches rain water, which flows to a large interior cistern for storage.  Water is used in the kitchen and for bathing, and is then reused to water the plants, which clean the air and provide food.  The water then flows to the toilets and ends up in a spetic tank, which has a solar window to help the breakdown proceed.  Photovoltaic panels charge the house batteries.  For cooling, air is pumped through underground ducts where it drops to the ground's natural temperature of about 55 degrees, and then it is then blown into the house. 

The designs are ingenious.  The models built by volunteers working for architect Michael Reynolds, have a hippie-dippy feel to their appearance, but the technology is made freely available to those who want to give it expression in a truer form.  I talked with another local architect, Ken Anderson, who is doing wonderful work along these lines at his firm, Edge

The next day, I found some young people building their own Earthship out on the Mesa, a truly lawless realm of Mad Max characters living in the interstices of Taos.  More on that later...


At the Gorge Bridge east end parking lot, I met Clay.  I made a point of introducing myself because of his bus, which I recognized from a few nights prior at the parking lot near Taos Plaza.  The bus had various love themed declarations painted on in multicolored lettering, pleas and instructions on making the world better.

It was easy to engage Clay in conversation, we had buses in common.  Clay had been traveling for 9 months, I for 6.  We enjoyed showing each other some of the details of our interiors and the solutions we had found for water, power, food, etc.
Clay was also glad to elaborate on his philosophical outlook which included a blend of his own free thinking and a christian upbringing, seasoned with Asian religions as well.  He was concerned with choosing moral actions in a corrupt society, not of the "family values" sort, which he would surely find repugnant artificial impositions of control, but rather issues of fairness and decency, sustainable choices re: leaving a better world for the next generation, and so forth.  I said I was not a religious person, but had many of the same concerns and reached some of the same conclusions as he, and he accepted our commonalities easily.  He suggested I go to "The Rainbow Gathering" on the 4th of July, and he printed a "Declaration of Interdependence" from the 1977 gathering.  It is a color print on heavy paper, so I know it meant something to him to give it to me, and I value it.

I was curious about Clay's life before he took up bus traveling, but felt asking about that would be too intrusive, or maybe I didn't want to get into my own reasons, perhaps fearing I might appear spoiled in comparison.  I asked Clay about the Earthship sustainable houses up the road, and thanked him for letting me take pictures, and outside the bus, he gave me a hearty hug goodbye, and I headed off to see the Earthships...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Taos Gorge

In the middle of the Mesa, the extensive flat lands forming the bottom of the bowl in which Taos occupies only a small corner nestled between the surrounding mountains, one suddenly encounters the Taos Gorge, which remains hidden from view until you are almost upon it.  All at once, the yawning maw opens almost at your feet and your jaw drops.  The Gorge Bridge provides an amazing view, and also provides a lesson on how much flexibility such structures allow, as the bridge vibrates unnervingly below your feet whenever a car passes.

Why does a sign like this seem like an invitation to me?

A number of vendors collect in the parking lot at the east end of the bridge.  Aeriel's long hair caught my eye, and she sold me a tiny stone turtle for my Tourtoise's rear view mirror.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bandelier, New Mexico

A magical place, it's hard to tell where the eerie volcanic forms end and the man made dwellings begin.  I was there 10 days ago, in the early morning.  Some day I'd like to shoot there again at sunset, when the angle of the sun setting in the west will be even better on the cliffs which angle away on the left.  Maybe next bus trip...

Click here for a Flickr slide show of a few more shots

I'm in Taos, New Mexico, now, far behind in my postings.  There were Jeff and Tania's organic vegetable farm and their party with guitars around a camp fire, me playing vibes in Taos Plaza which was great in itself, but also got me a restaurant gig, a party at Lori's house, where she showed a video she made of her 9,000 mile motorcycle trip from LA to Panama backpacking and camping the whole way (I thought bus travel was tough!), the preacher who lives in his car, the drum lady...

Today I learned that there were only 4 building permits issued in Taos so far this year.

Tomorrow, I will go see the "Earthships", perhaps the Taos Inn Bar tomorrow night, I hope Taos Pueblo on Wednesday, and then I'll drive the Enchanted Circle Thursday and Friday.  Plus I have a to-do list of a dozen logistical chores, and calls to make to job leads.

I'll post when I can,,,

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On again, off again...

As I was pulling out of Santa Fe, I got a call from my sister.  I had been helping her and her husband to decide which of two paths to take with the piece of property in Durham in which they own an interest.  My sister told me they wanted to seriously consider the riskier option, to break off their own chunk, rather than go along with a larger group to develop the whole property together.  This would be for me, the culmination of a week's worth of intense scuttling to coordinate a real estate appraiser, and a real estate lawyer to help me develop both scenarios in sufficient detail for M & B to make an informed decision, and to be ready to go either way by the deadline on on the 7th.  It would also be the conclusion of my own preparations to possibly move there to coordinate the project, a consideration that was decisive as to when I started this trip who's first destination was Durham with the intention of getting to know what kind of life that area had to offer me.  It would also be the conclusion of family chatting now and then over the course of 15 years, about what we would do with the land; would I be the developer, would I design some spec houses?

And now, having thought I had taken care of the final info for them to make a decision (after leaping off my sick bed) which I thought would probably be to take the safer course of going with the group, as I now was driving to Bandelier, with plans to meet Cheyenne, African Children's activist, and then Tania and Jeff, organic farmers, and then Lori, world traveler and house builder, all in Taos in the following days... I am called upon to take one more look at the option of breaking off their chunk..

Rather than go back to Marie and Winter's, where I might face all sorts of social distraction, and rather than pressing on to Bandelier where I would face unknown challenges, I instead doubled back to the woodsy RV park I'd visited a few weeks ago, especially because I knew I would have an electrical hook up with which I could run my computer continuously and give my "house battery" a good sustained charge before heading north.

The picture above shows the inside of the bus after my emergency charrette, which I started at 3 a.m. so that I could get a good idea about how the subdivision could work, before making coordination calls at 6, which would be 8:00 a.m. back east, giving the consultants the most time I could to also leap into action doing their work....

There is a ton more to this story, but the glorious sunshine of Taos beckons, and also a chance to play in Taos plaza, where I hope Bonnie, whom I met yesterday, a stunningly beautiful woman with a long grey pony tail, who made me flush and nearly stammer as I attempted to be charming, might come to here me play...

To be continued...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Hey, 98.6, its good to have you back again!"

Feeling much better this morning.  A little achy in my back, but feeling stronger and pretty clear.  I think I will press on to Bandelier later.  There are so many departures and goodbyes in traveling, I will miss Marie and Winter, and the three mountain climbers here from Europe now, Couch Surfing their ways through the west.

In Taos, I will stay with Cheyenne, who has traveled extensively and has organized relief work for children in Africa, and then Tania and Jeff, who have a large organic farm.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I think its the Flu

Not feeling much better today.  Most of the nausea is gone, but my body and joints ache, I'm very tired and woozy, and I have some mucus in my breathing, some sore throat, and mild chills.  I think it's the Flu.  Crap.  I had a Flu shot.  I'm embarrassed with my hosts, having been here since Friday, I have some consulting to do which is time sensitive and for which I must clear my head, and I'm supposed to be in Taos in a couple of days.

I'm not going hiking at Bandelier today, that's for sure...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ugghhh, I ate something bad...

This morning I sent out a few resumes and made calls to two good contacts.  Still waiting to hear back from one, and another from last Thursday, but today I talked to the President of the Santa Fe AIA, to get the lay of the land.  Great conversation with a fellow New Yorker transplanted here 12 years ago, but a terrible assessment of the situation.  There is very little work here, it's all "historical" meaning adobe, and by my description of my interests, I'd be more likely to find "a match" in Colorado, perhaps Denver or Boulder or Loveland, or Fort Collins, but the unemployment rate for architects in Denver is at 35%!  And of course, architects younger than I am were the big layoff's and will be the first rehires...  ugh...

Then, I got sick from something I ate.  It came on over a period of maybe two hours, and I ended up very woozy and went back to bed, then induced vomiting, and in the middle, I did a little consulting phone work for the North Carolina project... lovely day.  Actually, it was all interesting, except for the sick part.  I feel a little better now and hope to be ok tomorrow and go see Bandelier National Monument, cliff dwellings a half an hour from here, to hike and photo with another Couch Surfer who arrived last night, Adrien Hausmmann, from Switzerland.

Oil Spill in the Gulf

I immediately remembered visiting Peanut and his son Cele, in Bridge City, at the beginning of May.  These two Gulf fishermen are among thousands who were struggling before the recent spill, and who I imagine now will most likely be wiped out.

This organization is coordinating some of the volunteer effort:

This organization is coordinating donations:

(Or you can contribute to my Diesel to Vegetable Oil Fund at the upper right of this site.  It's for the environment too :-)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Puppet Parade

Click here for a Flickr slide show of the Santa Fe Puppet Parade mentioned in the post below

Santa Fe continued..

I am at Marie and Winter's house, a 3 bedroom adobe among a group of varied dwellings clustered around a sandy drive, where I am parked, just a few miles south of the historic down town.  These two lovely young women like to take in travelers through Couch Surfing, a great web site via which travelers from all over the world share their homes with each other.  Last night, my first here, the girls hosted Atlas, a documentary film maker, David and Felix, blokes from England on a whirlwind 6 week tour of the states before they settle into conventional life in London, and three local transplants to Santa Fe, Gaby with an open a, as in ah, here four years since coming from Arkansas, Hoku, a native of the area, and G-G, also a native who's parents are local artists.  Hoku attempted some card tricks.  I picked a card, but suspected a force via a slip cut (magician's lingo for a technique with which I have familiarity from my own teenage wizardry), and when instructed to return the card and shuffle with Hoku's back turned, I instead slipped the card into my shirt pocket.  Atlas saw me and we silently giggled over our instantaneous conspiracy.  Hoku of course could not find my card, and I felt terrible and mugged a bit as I took it from my shirt pocket.  Hoku then, somewhat hesitantly, attempted another miracle, and this time I resolved to cooperate and exude wonder and bafflement, except Hoku lost track of what he was doing and the trick petered out with no conclusion...  I felt foiled at my attempt to help him out, so I asked for another, anticipating that the third would be charmed.  Hoku forged ahead bravely, and somehow I selected the same card as before, and I marveled at that out loud, but he seemed as bewildered at that coincidence as I was.  Finally, he brought this last trick to a conclusion and we all laughed and smiled, with some awkwardness lingering in the air.  Soon, I played a few rounds of darts with G-G, only managing to get one or two into the target and not the wall, and Hoku stepped in and threw pretty good shots in rapid succession, which seemed to put him back in good standing with G-G.  Boys are weird.
Marie and Winter work a few jobs each, at pizza places, plant nurseries, and so forth, to make ends meet.  Marie, the older at about 30, and with a resemblance to Jennifer Anniston, holds the lease for the place and is the driving force in the group, without seeming matriarchal.  Winter, in her early twenties, with large brown eyes and the kind of lower lip over which wars were waged in earlier times, is exploring her powers and also learning to paint.  She also plays drums; her kit is set up in the living room.
I also met a neighbor in the compound, Sherry, who restores tapestries.  We had a drink at 8 or so, I showed her my blog, she showed me the line up for the Kentucky Derby, which she and her brother soon started discussing at length on the phone, and I went back to the party at Marie and Winter's.
Morning now.  I made eggs, sent out some Couch Surfing requests for Taos, and I'm going with Winter to the Puppet Parade here in Santa Fe.