My love affair with America was inflamed today as I sat at the bar of Margie’s Diner on the verge of the 101.

Lit up by determined, crimson letters flashing *Real Food* *Real Food* *Real Food* a man in a stained and faded hunting jacket stirred his coffee for the seventh minute and a waitress licked her lips and winked at me… and my heart skipped a beat.

It was beautiful.

I fell in love with the weirdness and color of it all. I fell in love with the familiarity.

The parts of America that I adore are always reminiscent of old movie sets and 70’s television.

I’m road-tripping, so my heart and eyes are open. I feel full. Full of Real Food and Real Emotions. I finish eating, brave the rain and keep driving. South. The road dips and curves and carries me further along in the shadows of the never-ending parade of Golden Arches and stern-faced Colonels. Fast food nation. Unreal food.

The windshield wipers scratch against the glass.

Soon the McMalls give way to flat plains and the hunched bodies of small-statured, brown-skinned men and women picking strawberries beside a line of port-a-potties, provoking peculiar thoughts about crapping in buckets and other unmentionable tangents from a dirty mind in a clean car.

Some time later the flat plains spit up the bones of a skeletal town where broken windows and boarded up houses wearing black sooty coats of highway exhaust crumble into beds of California Poppies that dance an orange jig in the frozen wind.

And I keep driving.

Past low clouds kissing high hills.

Past vivid green expanses and brown-blue ocean.

Past the blight of oil rigs squatting offshore, looking, despite all their monstrous metal and machinery, like fat, evil toads waiting to pounce.

I see the time, 11:11, and reach for my phone. Then I remember. My heart breaks all over again while I abandon my compulsion, stopping my natural inclination to text the letter “x” to the person I love. He’s gone. No kiss for him. No kiss for me. The shock is unnerving. I swallow my pain and drive on.

11:11 was our time, our kissing time, a time to smile and lean closer, to touch noses, lips. A time to send a message or make a call.

The road blurs. I blink.

My mind drifts and I remember our argument about “x’s” and “o’s” and what meant what, and which was which, and if “x’s” were hugs instead of kisses, and if “o’s” were kisses instead of hugs. I recall the friends and strangers we surveyed in our quest for the answer, the laughter, his pantomime acting, the shaking of heads.

He was wrong of course. And I was right. This was not unusual.

An X is a kiss and an O is a hug.

I realize, quite suddenly, that every time he sent an “x” I was being given a hug, not a kiss. I’m perturbed by this new insight into our communication. I feel oddly cheated and let down. I feel as if a million kisses have been stolen from me. Taken back.

I frown and drive on.

Deep canyon walls and gleaming lakes. The smell of wood fires and red clay roads.

And then I arrive.

Ojai, valley of orange groves and aloe plants, rich with the call of native birds and the sound of feasting coyotes.

What the fuck am I doing here?

Why, I’m here to write, of course.

I turn off the engine and smile.

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ZOE BROCK was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia. She has lived in more cities and on more continents than she can count (truly, she's a model and can't count) and is currently residing in the deep fog of San Francisco. Her true home lies on the dusty plains of Burning Man where she feels safe and challenged and truly alive. Zoë once had a very popular blog on MySpace and writes everything from awful poetry to truly delicious dark satire, and all sorts of sexy things in between. She has appeared on the cover of Elle magazine, inside the pages of Vogue, Cosmo and Marie Claire, to name a few, and is working on her memoir, an expose of 'growing up model'. Zoë is also a certified yoga teacher. Yes, that means she's bendy.

54 responses to “Thought Bubbles From The Road”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    We live in a gorgeous neck of the woods, don’t we? California has so many vibes and cultures- from the sleepy beach towns and their bronzed surfers, to the dusty agricultural communities only a few miles in from the coast that feel like Oklahoma. But you’re so right about that Seventies vibe that makes California feel so… well, California. It’s like you can almost hear the FM radio in the background playing some sun drenched classic rock.

    Then you get to the gut punch of the piece. Certainly not the first such moment in your future, but I’m pretty stoked to see you moving forward and driving on.

    Rock on, sister…

    • Zoe Brock says:

      Thank you brother head banger.

      I love this fair State. She’s a doozy. Living up North is nice but it’s these climes that tickle me and make me feel alive. I was verah surprised California had cold bits, and not too happy to discover I was living in one of them.

      I really dug your interview.

    • Tom Hansen says:

      Yeah but you Californians will never write real dark full-on psycho playaaaa stories like writers from Seattle. Cali doesn’t have the wet, dark, damp, suicide inducing resonant hum of the PNW

    • Tom Hansen says:

      Yeah but Cali doesn’t have the wet, dark, damp, suicide inducing resonant hum of the PNW

  2. Andrew Watt says:

    You write good, with good words and stuff that makes me feel like I’m at the same place that you are writing at, which is heaps good, ya know?

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    Man, I miss the States right now. There’s just something about it; the way that scenes from TV and movies and radio serials just spring up, fully-formed and utterly real, along the road.

    I love that you’re back with such vigor. Have a wonderful time in Ojai.

    • Zoe Brock says:

      thank you. I am having a wonderful time. I’ve got a roaring fire behind me and I’ve already written another TNB post. Extremist, anyone?!

      This retreat is amazing. lots of freaks and fuzzy folks with laptops and notepads going heads down, bums up.

      If only I could forget Stupid for more than four minutes at a time I’d actually be joyful!

      Miss and love you, Smuthson. Hurry home now, y’hear?

  4. Dawn says:

    Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, down in your heart.
    Down in your heart to stay.

    That’s a part of a song I knew as a kid. It’s what I get when I read what you write.

  5. love it, so good to have you and your words back……

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Another post! It’s like Christmas!
    You have a lovely eye and a lovely heart and although it may be breaking, it is so strong and so full of life.
    Gorgeous descriptions, Z. You make me feel as if I am there in the passenger seat, taking in new sights and sounds and vistas. Thanks for the virtual road trip.
    And although it isn’t the same -I’m sending you many x’s. An X for every letter, every word, every breath and every future X.
    xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx
    xxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxx
    xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxx
    xxxx xxxx xxxxx
    xxxxxxxxx xx
    xxxx xxx
    xxx x

    • Zoe Brock says:

      you’re about to get really sick of me, I’ve already written tomorrows!

      thank you for the kisses, my dear. I can almost feel them and they are so needed and wanted and appreciated.

      gratitude abounds, both for your wellbeing and for the capacity my lungs have to just keep breathing.

      It’s like magic. x

  7. Mikadie says:

    ahhh my dearest lovely Zoe….I see all too clearly (as should you) that the universe has bigger plans for you.
    To set the rest of us on fire. To remind us of our losses and our gains. to inspire us to remember everything. to cry when we are sad, to laugh when we are happy. To remember, even the not so great bits .
    For there is “divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance. To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you. – Elie Wiesel”

    I like that BUT I think you say it even better xxxxx Kisses and Hugs

    • Zoe Brock says:

      thanks babe.

      I’ve set a few fires this weekend… all in huge old hearths or contained fire pits, but my hair does smell like smoke and my fingers have a few new burns. I do love me a fire.

      And I do love to be an open book, so thank you for validating me. Really.

      I’m down with the whole learning and evolving and fucking growing… I JUST WANTED TO DO IT WITH HIM! I’ve been here. I can be alone. I can feel hurt and keep going, but Christ on a Stick I love that man and think we’re perfect for each other.

      It’s just so stupid and senseless to hear that you are loved but that someone can’t be bothered to keep working. Perhaps it was all a huge lie.

      I miss you. Your sarong does too.

      • Mikadie says:

        think it’s probably the tragedy of a generation this lack of desire to fight and keep safe that and those you love most. I know for me personally keeping my marriage and our family together sometimes requires monumental effort on both our parts and it sure as hell aint easy but I press on with a semi blind faith that it is the right thing to do because no-one ever said it would be easy. who are we kidding to think otherwise.
        I dont think you can ever know if you are making or have made the right decision perhaps not until you are on your deathbed and then who knows?

        I’m so sorry for the pain and loss you are feeling quite simply it sux. But what I said before remains true you are blazing a trail and perhaps this man is just not worthy of you… God knows if he cant be bothered one has to wonder. I know you’ve been down this road before, most of us have at some stage, but you are making the right choices by using your pain to forge something new. The process hurts but the journey will make you stronger and the way I see it the only lie was the one that, that man has told himself in order to leave you.

        Kiss that sarong for me. I miss you too.

  8. dwoz says:

    I hate it when a piece of writing, in a moment of naive (or perhaps not so naive at all) self indulgence, lands itself in the middle of your life and breaks it.

    You’re right, semantics aren’t just semantics, words mean something. Or, are supposed to, anyway.

    Thanks for this. A much needed whack on the head with a 16 lb perspective hammer.

    • Zoe Brock says:

      thanks dwoz.

      are you saying I’m self indulgent?

      I agree, words mean everything, and so does the intent behind them and the way they are expressed.

      and on some occasions the opposite is also true.

      smiling. z

  9. nicholas the beast says:

    How do you pronounce ojai ? lying here trying it a few different ways in my head , is it an indian name ?
    ill have to google it .Cheer up sausage , go and get laid and get over him , try a strip joint ! thye have them in Cali dont they ? and X means a kiss heres a few for you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and heres the hugs ooooooooooooooooo

    • Zoe Brock says:

      Oh hi!

      there’s no J sound in spanish, but it’s always fun to hear tourists try and pronounce street names in LA and fail abysmally.

      Thanks for the pirate advice but I can’t get under a man to get over the one that hurt me. Not my style. This shall pass, one hopes, in time. I’d go to a strip joint though!

      kisses and hugs, and a tonguey for good measure.

  10. Slade Ham says:

    I don’t have a lot to add. Actually, that’s a lie – I have a LOT to add but I won’t. This is your journey.

    But writing and fire are two of the greatest healers in the world. Fire is probably the best weapon ever. It is hypnotic and meditative and almost spiritual… plus if you ever find out that there was more bullshit to a certain situation than you thought, it works wonders on all the old tangible memories and reminders too. I’ve definitely torched my share of old cards and photos.

    But I’m glad you’re writing. It’s really beautiful.

    Smile 🙂

    • Zoe Brock says:

      You don’t have to censor yourself but thanks for respecting my journey. It’s important to step aside and let people go through their own shit, even if it’s frustrating fro the outside.

      thanks for liking.

      burn baby burn

  11. Willy says:

    Keep them coming! I love them x

  12. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    As I write this I’m road tripping from north to south Texas, trapped in the same place in traffic for the last hour and a half. All I can see are eighteen wheelers and a gray sky. I’d rather be stuck in California somewhere, but at least I have your gorgeous words to sort-of put me there as I wait – even with that painful 11 o’clock reminder. I hope it won’t be long until something wondrous claims that 11 o’clock spot instead.

  13. Brad Listi says:

    I think the world needs new letter codes, signifying different (and more lurid) acts of physical affection. ‘XO’ is great and all, but what might ‘YZ’ stand for? ‘QR’? ‘MN’?

    • dwoz says:

      It’s one of the great tragedies of the world that computer typefaces no longer have ligatures.

      Ligatures would be the new frontier in personal interaction letter codes.

  14. It’s not often you come across something both as smart and as life-positive as this. I’m the kind who likes to point out the great lines, but your piece flows so well and offers so many insights in such a short amount of time that I don’t know where to start. Maybe with “California Poppies that dance an orange jig in the frozen wind”

    However you look at it, a really sensational piece. Thank you.

  15. Matt says:

    There’s a certain feeling about California that brought me home after I’d been away for a few years, which you’ve wrought in crystal here. Well done.

    I’ve found that few things clear the head better the blowing wind of the open road. Which sounds a lot like a crap Sheryl Crow song lyric, but what the hell. Keep on cruisin’, Brock.

  16. When I am in California I feel like I’m living a memory of the summer of 1975, of surfer boys and bonfires and alabaster shells strung on a cord around my neck… thanks for this Zoe.

  17. angela says:


    I realize, quite suddenly, that every time he sent an “x” I was being given a hug, not a kiss. I’m perturbed by this new insight into our communication. I feel oddly cheated and let down. I feel as if a million kisses have been stolen from me. Taken back.

    reminds me a lot of my relationship with my ex. he and his mother were very superstitious and thought the black fish i gave him one christmas brought them doom. but actually later i found out that a black fish in Asian culture is needed to ABSORB bad luck, in balance with gold fish which bring good luck.

    when i discovered that, i felt so betrayed after so many years of thinking something i had done, even inadvertently, was considered an evil omen.

    anyway, looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  18. This latest roadtrip has suggested to me that the act of driving, with the view from the windscreen of rolling American country like the movies I never knew I loved, is my meditation. I have been home for 24 hours now and yet, in spite of the tiredness and body-clock-jarring, I feel quite refreshed.

    I thought that Ojai vibed quite nicely in that Sunday manner, even on a Friday.

    Also, ain’t nothin’ wrong with a hug, but I’ve never felt that written o really does it for me.

    Loves and kisses and (((hugs))).


  19. Adele says:

    I love this:) Thank you.

  20. gabe says:

    wait a minute… did boo get this from u or did u get it from her? when she was in maui 2-3 years ago she told me she had the same debate with her lover. messed with my head…. it has always been x=kiss. btw, i fell in love nye this year, kissed her at 1:11 am. the next day had another moment at 11:11 in morning her… on 1/11 we got into a commitment… this was it, signed, sealed, done, and I was tickled by the auspiciousness all around. two weeks later, the whole thing was crap. thanks for the good read!

    • Zoe Brock says:

      love you beautiful Gabe. sorry to hear you got your ass kicked by cupid. That little guy really is a nasty freak at times.

      I think you’re wonderful.

      I have had the same conversation with Boo… when we were seeking answers it was hilarious to find out someone else went through the same argument.

      xoxo miss you! BM?

  21. JJ says:

    Man, a roadtrip sounds pretty awesome right about now. Super-jealous. I feel like I haven’t seen daylight in months.

    Also, I’d give anything to be able to write as well as you, Zoe. Glad you’re back at it.

    • Zoe Brock says:


      Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s fantastic to see you in here!! I’m sorry about the daylight thing… make sure to take vitamin D3 supplements!!!! love xx

  22. Richard Cox says:

    This post makes me want to watch Smokey and the Bandit. Again.

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