Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Right Food

Since my last blog was about eating fast food when it’s convenient, I thought I would continue on about the issue of fast food when one has little means.

The idea of eating fast food is pretty repulsive most of the time.  It’s so processed and has so much fat and sodium, that one seems to guarentee having some future abnormality due to it’s consumption.  Most of the organic food experts say that the best foods for our bodies are vegetables and fruits.  Meats should only be occasionally added to meals, and white meat is much preferred to red meat.

But having grown up with the “American” diet and the belief in the “basic food groups,” the number of which often seeming to change from four to five, and which the farming and dairy promoted, I got a poor sense of what was meant for the human body to eat. 

In fact, it turns out that the very government agencies who were in charge of providing schools with nutritional information were also in charge of promoting our meat and dairy industries.  It would be akin to a chamber of commerce that is responsible for promoting a city’s stores and service, also being in charge of rating those services.

And so it turns out that milk, dairy, cheese, fat, red meat, sugar, and white flour and processed anything, is not good for your body.  To eat healthy is to eat fruits and vegetables with occasional white meat.  Most of our protein can be extrapolated from the plants we eat.

And when you get right down and think about it, when you search yourself for when you have felt best in your life, it’s when you consistently had a good amount of exercise and ate close to what a vegetarian eats.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Quick Fast Food

I don’t particularly like fast food and try to stay away from eating it as much as possible, although at times when one has little money, fast food is cheap and convenient. Today, after not eating all day and spending four and a half hours showing 15 properties to my clients in the Santa Clarita Valley, from Stevenson Ranch and Valencia all the way through to Canyon Country 12 miles away, then driving them all the way back to the first house where they had left their car to ride with me, I was downright hungry!!!

All I could think of doing was punching into my Garmin the words, “McDonald’s” and seeing how close I was to the golden arches. I was 1.4 miles away. I drove down one big street, onto Interstate 5 for one exit, then a quick turn off onto a little street where McDonald’s sat glistening. I ordered a Big Mac Sandwich and a medium soda. Not the food of Olympians I know, but as soon as I ordered, the Big Mac and the soda cup were on my paper matted plastic tray. I filled my cup with ice and Dr. Pepper, took a seat, and downed the burger and soda in just seconds, satiated and contented. That was indeed fast food!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Party Cheer

This year, after the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day parties I attended, I thought about the conversations I was a part of, wondering if they varied in any way from conversations at parties at other times of the year. 

Much of what was talked in my own conversations had to do with entertainment, such as interesting movies, plays and books that were enjoyed.  I was fortunate enough to meet a very kind man who was a long-time television and stage actor, and who had stories about the industry that kept me asking questions, which he endured graciously.

At another party, I talked with a gentleman about the current state of home entertainment.  Both of us, trying to peer over the distant horizon of when each of us might have steady work and money again, imagined the perfect home-entertainment system; Blue Ray, Sony LED flat screen monitor with a surround-sound system in place.  Such fun to dream!

Another person and I talked about speeding tickets; the common places to get them in the areas we drive frequently.  My girlfriend was issued one for speeding not too long ago, and her uncle confided that he’s been prolific in his collection of speeding tickets.  He said that he’s been pulled over twice as much, so he has about a 50% “warning” rate from officers.

His best story was that he had a mid-1970’s Corvette, which he wanted to test.  He drove it up the Grapevine hill (the section that is the steepest from the town of Grapevine to Lebec headed Southbound on Interstate 5), and he was keeping a speed of between 80 and 90 miles per hour.  He leveled off at the top of the hill to see a CHP behind him with lights on.  The CHP officer told him that he had to wait until the top of the hill to catch him because he couldn’t keep up with the Corvette.  There was no warning given on that occasion.

Then, there were conversations about traveling to Europe.  Like me, others have not been able to travel for years and have also missed having that in their lives.  One person I spoke with had traveled to 9 countries in about three weeks throughout Europe using the Eurorail with his buddy. I had enjoyed two glasses of wine by that point, so I don’t recall the details of his trip.  But how fun that must have all been! 

I think the most unexpected fun I had was during a third party I went to just last night.  It was a low-key get-together with food and my girlfriends’ brother’s house.  They had a game on Sony Playstation 2 in which you and one other person pick from a myriad of songs with videos and compete to sing the whole song on key.  The system has a quasi-musical staff indication on the screen along with the song’s video production, and while you sing, you can see the words come up along with your on-going score.  It’s Karaoke, VH1 or GAC, music theory class and singing around the campfire combined.

What I noticed though in all of my Christmas conversations was that, though the content didn’t vary much from that of other parties, everyone was in energetic and chipper moods.  And that made the holidays a lot of fun.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Last Miinute

Wow, I just went to a popular outdoor mall in the Studio City area here in California, and people were definitely doing their last minute shopping in a panic mode.  As I was pulling into the parking lot, I saw one girl literally stealing another older woman’s parking space. 

This girl had looped her car around to get the space at the head of an isle.  Even the guy who was vacating the space was so upset by her action that he got out of his car and yelled at the girl.  The girl didn’t budge, and so the vacating person just kept his car in the space, hoping the girl would go away, which she didn’t.

Then, another young girl and an elderly woman were standing by their cars, and I heard the young woman get off of her cell phone and say, “Well, I’m not calling the police since they won’t come because nobody was injured” in a very entitled voice, as she swatted at her dachshund to stay in the car.

I saw people honking at each other, making faces at each other, and yet I saw others being quite polite and letting other people go.  It’s definitely last minute shopping-time folks, and it’s crazy out there, so be careful!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Celebrity's Addiction

With the death of Brittany Murphy and the rumors that it’s looking like abuse of controlled substances played a part in her departure, there’s no denying that the mixture of celebrity pressure, and the access to drugs via the money and lifestyle is really a huge problem.  Before her, Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and Heath Ledger all recently died of extremely strong narcotics and other drugs.

One must wonder if it’s just the people who are unable to some degree to cope with the pressures of celebrity, or if it’s a much more common occurrence than one might first think.  It’s possible that a lot of the actors and actresses that we know and love have use or addiction problems, but that they are able to keep a cap on their behavior and or not get caught. 

The question that keeps coming to mind is, why would someone who has reached such a level of success, if even in the past, start to destroy them-selves?  Is it because they do not see themselves as successful as they once did, or is it because they can’t deal with the pressure of what is expected of them?  It is a quandary, but it’s so sad to see young, successful people addicted to medications and drugs, living a life that is obviously much too fast for them.

And yet, we know that when one  becomes a celebrity, they will be exposed to circles of people that the general public would never have access to.   Parties in which drugs and alchohol abuse are the norm.  Each aspiring celebrity knows this and feels they will be able to handle situations in which things are offered to them.  This climate in turn breeds and acceptance of reliance on prescription medications as well.  The sad fact is that many people, once accepted into these circles and circumstances, will have a harder time resisting the offerings made to them.

And so, however it happened, Brittany Murphy was found dead in her bathroom with vomit surrounding her after a week or more of abdominal pains and other physical problems.  I just hope something can be learned from her experience.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Frozen History

I heard Eric Simonson on the radio today.  He the Mallory and Irving Expedition sponsored by Nova and the BBC, which found George Mallory back in 1999.  George Mallory had set out to reach the summit of Mt. Everest back in June of 1924.  He never returned, and it was never known if he was part of the first team to ever reach the summit, before Sir. Edmund Hillary did in May of 1953.

Simonson described how when they set out on the expedition, reaching their goal was like finding a needle in a haystack.  But the snows were down on Mt. Everest in 1999, so when they approached the area where it was thought that Mallory was lost, Simonson found George Mallory within two hours of starting the search for his body.  Mallory just about perfectly preserved, having been frozen under tens of feet of snow most years.

There are three interesting notes about George Mallory’s ascent of the mountain. 

One is that he had told his wife that he was bringing a picture of her with him, which he would place, at the top of the summit.  When his body was found, he didn’t have the picture on his person.   It’s possible that the picture may have gotten lost or separated from Mallory’s’ body.  But it is one indication that he may have reached the summit.

Secondly, Mallory had a camera with him on the climb.  When his body was found, the camera was not with him.  Presumably, he was separated from it during his fall.  It’s thought that he slipped and fell about 700 feet after his rope was severed on some rock where he landed onto the ridge that they found his body on. 

Experts also think that the fall was not severe enough to have killed him; he broke his ankle severely and then succumbed to hypothermia in about twenty minutes.  But if the camera is ever found, Kodak says that with some very special handling, there is a chance they could still develop the prints.  These pictures could prove that Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine reached the summit back in 1924; the first two climbers to have done so in human history.

And thirdly, Mallory had his snow goggles in his pocket, which suggests that he was still up on the mountain at nightfall since he would have been subject to snow blindness in the daytime had he not been wearing them

I think it is such a neat thing that his body was found after all of this time.  I remember back in 1999 when I heard the news, I thought to myself how amazing to have found the body of Mallory preserved so well.  It was like looking back into history. 

And hearing Eric Simonson talk both out the discovery and also about what the discovery meant was insightful into the climbing community’s respect for those who have laid down the path before them.  Simonson said that he felt a sense of awe looking at Mallory there in the snow because Mallory was truly a part of Simonson’s and his peers’ history.

Mallory’s famous quote after he had been asked, “Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?  His reply, “Because it’s there.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Stroll

This morning we went hiking.  We were in the Angeles National Forest, the roads through which the transportation department had recently opened after the recent heavy rains that passed through a week or so ago.

The air was clear and crisp, and our drive into the mountains easy and without note.  We drove to a hiking head, just West of the Wrightwood area called Jasper Heights.

The first thing I noticed when we got out of our SUV was that there were little creeks with active water running through them, again, probably due to the recent rains.  I have spent a lot of time in the San Gabriel Mountains, and they are often bone dry.  So it was a treat to see so much greenery right off.

We ascended a small, gentle trail, which skirted the creek for about two miles, then turned inward toward a canyon.  All the while, we were surrounded by a thicket of trees and plants full of singing birds and could see about 10 meters in front and in back of us at any point.

We came upon an old concrete structure, which seemed out of place in the natural environment we were in.  It was in the hillside, which I take to mean was probably an old mine entrance of some sort.  I have seen a lot of abandoned mines in Joshua Tree and the surrounding areas, but this was my first in the Angeles National Forest. 

As we continued on, the trail became steeper and we found ourselves climbing rock that formed steps for the trail.  And after about an hour of hiking, we decided to turn back.

From our vantage point, which I would guess was about 3000 feet, we could see the flats of the Mojave Desert though the trees which had gotten more sparse as we had gained altitude.

Our return down the trail was a bit faster since it was a descent, and we then got into our SUV and found a diner off of the road on the desert side of the mountains.  They fixed us some eggs, pancakes and o.j.  It was a nice way to wake up on a Sunday. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Wireless Homeless

I just saw the funniest thing.  I have to tell you first that my local library like so many these days offers free wireless Internet service when you're in the library.  I don't know how it works on PC's, but for my Mac, my computer just sees the wireless service in my airport wireless menus, I sign in that I'm not doing anything nefarious, and then off I go using the wireless.  I actually don't since I have a broadband card.  But I could, which I think is really cool of the city here to offer to the library patrons.

Anyway, I had just finished returning some items to the library, and as I walking out of the side library doors that open up into a park, I noticed a homeless man sitting near the doors nestled in a protected corner on his make-shift chair, set up with his sodas and other accoutrements, facing the back of his bicycle.  On the back of his bicycle where you'd have one of those racks to carry books, he had instead a solid flat piece of wood. And on top of that, he had a computer. He was sitting there surfing the net using the wireless connection from the library, almost hugging the side of the building to get the reception for his computer.

Since it was something I had not seen before, the wireless homeless, I went to my house and grabbed my camera.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Feature Factor

I was thinking today of some shows I like such as “Alias,” “Fringe,” “House,” and “Burn Notice,” to name a few, and why when I was growing up, television seemed to be so much more watered down.  I think that the answer is that TV has really gotten the what I call the "feature factor."

The feature factor that I speak of is the way in which drama shows on television seem to have much more of a feature film feel to them.  Their stories are more exhilerating, their cinematography is edgier, and in their editing is more sophisticated.

A few years ago, I really wasn’t interested in television much and opted for either renting feature movies on VHS and DVD, or just reading a book.  I found most situation comedies rather formulaic, and most dramas having too much gibber-jabber without enough real action.  I would turn to feature films, such as, “True Romance,” “Usual Suspects,” and “Jackie Brown” to satiate my need for cinematic fun.

But I’ve noticed in my returning to television for what was to be a self-imposed trial basis, that the shows are much more exciting these days.  The drama shows are very topical, often having to do with terrorism and international crime syndicates.  Remember if you will, just a few years ago, that there were a lot of character-driven cops shows like “Hill Street Blues,” which my dad LOVED,  “West Wing,” and “Cagney & Lacey.” They had some action sequences, but most of the show was talking and boring b-plots.  Blah! Give me some intense minute-by-minute mind-blowing action!

And back when I was a teen, there were also a lot of the grand Aaron Spelling shows throughout the years with “Dynansty,” and “Dallas” being two of the biggies from a ways back. They were shows about status and back-stabbing, but soooo slooow!!!  God, speed it up!!!   I just wasn’t into those, as popular as they were.

When it comes to dramas, I’ve always been interested in material where something can really, really go wrong; where the day can end with everything being totally destroyed.  I think the “ticking time-bomb” mechanism works well with me in that respect.  And it seems that in the past five to ten years, the television people have really cranked it up.

As technology has improved for both cinematography and editing, so has the television drama.  These quasi-technicians and artists have been given a lot more room to broaden their craft and ability in doing their work.  The improvement we’ve seen in television stories in the past few years has come as a result of there being much more competition among the broadcasters.  The three main networks were joined by a fourth a few years back, and simultaneously, the cable channels flourished and needed a lot more content.  This allowed for independent producers (the television counterparts of Quentin Tarantino) to come in and offer their goods with cheaper production costs, and more exciting and inventive scripts.  This has been a very healthy process for the industry because it's force the big cats, the networks, to take more day to day risks.

All of this has increased the quality of the story in addition to the improvements in the arts of shooting and editing the shows.  A show which is as cheaply shot as “Burn Notice” on the USA Network, but which keeps it’s audience riveted in it’s cheesey storey line, can smoke the competition that would have otherwise put on a “safer” family show.  “Alias” and “Fringe” are examples of shows that would not have been on a major network in their current form just ten years prior.  They would have either been much more extravagant, more watered down in their content, or likely both.

I am really happy about these changes.  I love watching television these days and not wanting to take a bathroom break for fear of missing something crucial.  And there is no greater glory than hunkering down on a rainy day with a warm blanket, some snacks and ripping through a whole season of “24” without any commercials.  It doesn’t get much better than that!  My self-imposed television trial is over, and I will be sticking with it for a while as soon as I can pay my cable bill again.

Footnote:  I have to mention here that almost all of the shows I currently like, I was first turned onto by the lady who cuts my hair.  She has a 100% success rate in show suggestions for me.  She charges a lot for my haircuts, so I’m not giving her any bonuses for her television advice; just a satisfied smile.


Here are a couple of cool quotes, neither of which is exact since I cannot recall their sources from long ago.

About Helping People
“You’ll likely have much more impact by helping a few people consistently in your life, than trying to help the masses.”

About Running
“Sometimes my wife and I will get into an argument, and to relieve some of the stress, I will go out for a run by myself.

After 15 minutes of running, I forget what we were arguing about.
After 30 minutes of running, I forget that we were arguing at all.
And after an hour of running, I forget I have a wife.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009


For years, I had imagined what it would be like to see the old cabin.  The place where pa and I got up every morning at sunrise to clear our land, plow rows into the fields and plant seeds that would grow to that year’s crop of corn or wheat.  Nestled up against the foothills, we worked about twenty acres, most of which was good for planting. 

We had two dogs when I was growing up; one a white Lab, and the other an English boxer.  The boxer could never keep up with the lab, but always put his heart into trying.  I remember, when I wasn’t working, walking the perimeter of our land and just pondering throughts for hours.  Our property wasn’t defined by fences, but like our neighbors, we knew where ours ended and theirs picked up.

There was a row of old Oak trees on the Eastern side of our property, and on the West, it rather sank into furrows that were like little canyons.  We didn’t need to go in that direction because there was nowhere to plant anything there.  On the Northern side was the only dirt road that lead into our area with a train track that occasionally hauled oil out of the areas East, and the foothills were to the South.  And that’s where the cabin was.

The cabin was all of but three rooms.  The main room, you entered up steps, which were chiseled out of rock, which my father’s grandfather had made by hand, and you came into what were both our living room and our kitchen.  The kitchen took up one little corner of the room; a small, wood burning stove, and a small wood table with our eating chairs around it.

The rest of the room had a bed for my sister Kendra and me, two more chairs, and a black potbelly heater.  That’s what kept us warm during the barren winter months.  Another room was a very small bathroom, which had a toilet with a cistern, and a washbasin.  And finally, there was pa and ma’s bedroom, just big enough for a small bed and one old wooden dresser to put things into.

My memories of this place are mostly fond.  I didn’t get into much trouble and I worked hard with pa most days raising and harvesting the crops while ma and my sister sewed clothes for us and prepared our meals.  We didn’t have a lot of folks pass through our way except for the Holidays when pa’s friends from the old country sometimes tracked him down and shared some whiskey or bourbon with him and had a good old time.  I liked seeing my pa happy.

Ma and pa put up with a lot of my fussing with my sister.  She and I used to get into it a little just to pass the time; teasing each other, hiding each other’s things.  All good fun, but I can see now that at a time when the family was barely making enough to live on, pa must have wanted me to get more serious on things from time to time.

When I got of age and went into the U.S. Army and then onto get some schooling in, and started my own family seven-hundred miles from where I grew up.  And now, with both ma and pa being gone, and laying my eyes on our old land, it makes me a little sad.  There is now a proper farmhouse on the property, farther North than where the cabin still sits.  But the cabin is now in disrepair and vacant.  Its roof’s slats are falling off one by one, and there are weeds and other various wild things growing and living in it now. 

And it all seems to appear to have been such a “small” life.  Everything we did together was in and around this little cabin under a huge blue sky, and with the hills looking at us from above. With all that I have seen and all the people I have known since then, well, it makes this little twenty acres we had seem so insignificant on the face of it.  But in my heart I know better.  It was the most significant time in our lives.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roy Disney - In Memorium

I just heard that Roy Disney died this morning.  He was a really nice man.  Every time I interacted with him at Disney, he was kind, fatherly and encouraged the best quality in his people.

I worked with him on Fantasia 2000, which was his baby. We were in a kind of bubble which was protected by Roy, giving us the opportunity to work on the segments of Fantaisia without as much production pressure as that of the other films in progress at the time.

I continued to work with him later on some shorts which were meant for a third Fantaisia which never materialized as a full feature film.  Shorts such as Lorenzo, Destino, My Peoples, Little Match Girl, and a few more were finished and sent to various DVD releases as supplemental material.

One time when I was working on Fantaisia, he happened to see me near my desk and asked me if I wanted to see his new CD player which was in the middle console of his Fararri, the license plates of which were , “Pyewacket,” also the name of his sailboat.  I went with him outside to check out the CD player, not surprised at all by the high quality of the unit, but amazed by the invitation of having been given this invitation by him as if I was one of his buddies. 

He was involved in the films, sometimes hands on, and sometimes in the background.  He made visits to the studio every week or two to see how our progress went.

I met his wife at the time, Patty, on several occasions.  She was also very nice and cordial, treating me as a friend.

One funny story I have, which is not a first hand account, but since I knew the people involved, I can tell it with certainty.  After the night that either Lorenzo or Destino was nominated for best short animated film, Roy, Patty and some people I was working with at the time (the director, producer and visual effects supervisor) get into his limo and went through In and Out Burger.  When I heard this the next day from one of them, it really made me laugh and appreciate how he was really one of us, and yet he was a Disney.

I am very proud to be able to say that I worked with Roy Disney.


I’ve always thought it would be a neat thing to have access to everyone’s genealogy.  There were a lot of computer programs that came out a few years ago allowing you, the user to create your own family tree.  That was a nice start, but the information was limited to your own knowledge.

Now there appear to be sites where you input your own information, and it is connected with the genealogies of other people’s families, thus, filling in information that you didn’t know.

I haven’t tried any of these yet, and so I am writing this post prematurely, but it seems like we’re no headed in the right direction.

I know there are some who will feel that they don’t want any of their own information shared for whatever reasons they have, but I think that eventually the information will not only serve to satisfy curiosity, but can be of help medically as well.

In Iceland, they literally have their 35 or so generations mapped out exactly from when the first 12 priests came from Norway to settle the Island.  This has served the medical field in an interesting way.  It means that any anomalies in people can be traced back to their beginnings, and how diseases and other ailments were passed down, and how often they show up in following generations.

There is some breast cancer in Iceland, and I believe it was Decode, a cancer research company, that was able to trace the gene back to one of the original settlers of the island. 

Iceland has been extremely diligent about keeping generational information on record.  I believe the government keeps track of this information.

I would love it if I could look up anyone’s background and see what his or her family story was.  I find this so interesting because inevitably someone in all of our histories came to the United States and settled to make a better life for himself and his family.  Our history here is really not that long and should be manageable in a big enough genealogy database.  The problem is that in a nation where people are even afraid to return their census information for fear of being deported, it would be a challenge to get everyone to participate.

I wish there were one centralized place on the Internet where everyone put his or her genealogical information.  It seems to me that Wikipedia could be a good source for having something like this since everyone goes to that site for information anyways.  If any of the three people reading this blog happen to know of a good one, leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Girl Around the World

Have you heard of Abby Sunderland?  You may have read about her brother, Zac, who broke the record for being the youngest person to ever sail around the world by himself.  He just returned to the U.S. this past July after sailing for 13 months.

Well, his sixteen-year-old sister has decided to do it in seven months, unassisted and without stopping on land.  I heard her interviewed on KFI 640 AM on the John and Ken Show today and found her attitude so interesting.

When asked if she wanted to break her brother’s record, she answered yes, but not with a feeling of competition, but out of just wanting to do something special.  I got the sense that everyone in her family supports each other in their endeavors.  And when she was questioned on what would happen if she needed assistance or had to make a stop on land for some reason, she said it wouldn’t bother her.  Her goal is to break some records, but she’s going to enjoy the trip either way and she's certainly not going to risk her life for a record.

She described how she plans to sleep in twenty minute spurts throughout her voyage, both day and night, and how her 40 foot sailboat, "Wild Eyes," has an auto-pilot, radar and some other sensor which will tell her if she’s going off course or nearing any other vessels in the open ocean.

It made me think about myself at age sixteen.  I just could not and would not have wanted to do this.  I would have been scared of feeling alone and afraid of the unknown.  Yet, when asked if she is nervous about her trip, which is to commence at the end of December, she said that she is indeed nervous, but that it’s part of the adventure.

She grew up (or shall I saw, is growing up) in Thousand Oaks, California.  And there seems to be something in her family about going out and just doing things, extending one's experiences, and not limiting oneself.  It sounds like a very healthy environment to come from.

I wish her the best on her adventure.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beach Clubs, Pier Rides and Canals

Hmmm, now where could I be referring to?  Well, either Coney Island, or Santa Monica and Venice of old.

There are some really cool things about Santa Monica and Venice of yester-year.  For instance, there used to be big beach clubs with outdoor and indoor pools, bathhouses, and were the kinds of places that had their own food, towel and umbrella service on the sand. 

There are still a few of these left, but they are now very exclusive.  One in particular is the Jonathan Club, which unfortunately was also known for discrimination.

But the clubs I am speaking of were right next to the Santa Monica Pier.  The parking lot that sits to the North of the base of the pier was a huge pool and bathhouse.  Then South of the pier were three big beach clubs in a row.

I lived in the most Northern of these, which was called The Sea Castle by the time I lived in it.  But, like most of those buildings, it had numerous names throughout its history.

There were changing and showering rooms under the building that you would get to via elevator.  Then, when you were ready for the sand, you’d simply climb up a set of broad stairs that let out onto the sand on the West side of the strand.  All of the hotels had this feature.

Another interesting tid-bit was that the surf came a lot closer to the strand back then.  You can see this in photographs and drawings of the time.  Sand has built up over the years since making Santa Monica Pier one of the longest land-piers in existence.

Muscle beach existed just South of the Santa Monica Pier.  It later moved to the strand in Venice hear Windward Circle.

Santa Monica Pier used to have a long jetty, which paralleled the beach protecting boats, which anchored near the pier.  Several storms have torn most of this jetty down.  But when you stand on the North side of the pier, you can still see the water hitting something just below the surface; those are the rocks that still remain.

In about 1984, there was a huge storm that ate up the whole West end of the pier.  I happened to be driving by during that specific storm and remember breakers which must have been 15 feet; just massive.  The entire time I was living at the Sea Castle, the end of the pier was fenced off, and the Venice Pier was also shut because it had eroded so badly.

Since that time, both have been restored.  The Santa Monica Pier has some fun rides and is always active on a Friday night.  There’s a roller coaster, a very high Ferris wheel, and more rides meant to jostle one’s brain around.

What’s really interesting is that there used to be several more piers along this coast.  There was the Pacific Ocean Pier (POP Pier), which was totally full of rides of all kinds.  Then there was a pier just adjacent to Windward Circle.  There still stands a breakwater that is parallel to the sand at that location.  This breakwater used to protect this stout pier.

And then, of course, the canals.  Abbott Kinney, who was some sort of entrepreneur and financier, developed the Venice Canals to be like its namesake in Italy.  There is now one Grand Canal, which runs from Marina Del Rey and feeds four fingers just North of Washington.  There is also a canal that runs parallel to the Grand Canal on the East side of the fingers. 

However, originally the canals were much more extensive.  They ran around Windward Circle and North East of that location; all connected together.  There is a comparison picture in one of two books I will tell you about soon.  This picture shows the canals back then, and those same houses along the canal now sitting on asphalt streets.

There was also a miniature train that ran around Windward Circle and back east and around some portion of the canal area.  That train was long since taken out and now resides in Los Gatos, CA.

There are two wonderful books on this topic.  The “Santa Monica Pier” and “Venice of America: Coney Island of the West.”  Jeffrey Stanton wrote both.  I believe that both books were out of print, but that the Venice book may now be available again, with the Santa Monica book still being out of print.  I have copies of each, and they are among my favorite possessions.


    Jeffrey's Website            Jeffrey Stanton (at right)

Just a note that you can find the books on Amazon, but be careful and ask the person selling the books to make sure they are the full sized (about 12 inch wide x 9 inch high ) books.  There are some smaller sized versions of the books out there, but you want the original large sized, First Edition books.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

So Quiet

Things seem so quiet, and they are indeed.  I was recently on the Walt Disney Lot for lunch with a friend.  We ate in the main commissary, outdoors since it was a sunny day.  I was surprised at how few people were walking around Mickey Lane and Dopey Drive, some of the main studio streets nearest the commissary and employee shops.

It was a testament as to how many people have been let go from Walt Disney.  They started the process of cutting jobs way back in 2001, when I was working on Treasure Planet.  I remember the first round of layoffs involved a lot of our Layout Artists. These were artists who has spent years going to art school and studying the masters of illustration, life-drawing and composition, who were now being let go in two weeks. 

I specifically remember a layout artist named Jeff who was a very tall, broad guy with long hair and who had a woodsy way about him.  He was a tough man, and a straight shooter, and someone you’d want to watch a good ball game with.  He was a fine artist proven by the fact that the head of our layout department relied on him very heavily on a day-to-day basis.  And yet, he was one of the casualties.  I could see the pain in his face after he was told. I wasn’t in the meeting, but he walked through the hallway back to his office, and I knew him well enough to know how much he hurt just then.  It was really tough for me to witness.

It looks like the studio has cut jobs all over the place, because I literally checked my thinking cap to verify that it was a Friday, and not a weekend that I was there.  I know what Fridays were like on the Lot just a few years before; the bustling of employees to get some food, then hit the Disney employee center for tickets and upcoming events and to retrieve their laundry, then to do a quick check of the Disney consumer products side with high-quality Disney sweat shirts, plush toys, costumes and other goodies.  And on this day, it was dead.

Now we’re in the Christmas season.  The malls have a lot of people in them, but not to the extent of recent years.  Shoppers don’t surround the kiosks selling impulse items with three or so workers working the kiosk, and the food courts aren’t completely insane.  We should be thankful because it makes the experience easier.  But it’s also a sad sign of how deep the economic problems still lay in California.

As I write this, I am waiting (again) to show property to a potential buyer in Canyon Country, a newly developed area about twenty minutes North of Los Angeles.  And all around me are for sale signs, many of which have hanging riders attached that say either, “bank owned,” or “short pay” (short sale).

It’s such a hard time for everyone.  My friend says now is the time to feel good about being self-sufficient.  That’s a great attitude, and I wish I had more of it.  My family’s priority right now is to get the rent paid, get the water and power bill paid, feed ourselves, buy some gasoline for our autos, and hopefully keep the cell phones on.  Anything beyond that is a luxury we have to do without.

I’m looking forward to when this period is passed, and maybe my friend is right.  Maybe I’ll feel good about having gotten through it like Barry Manilow sings in, “I made it through the rain.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Raining Cats and Dogs

I was thinking of different phrases today while driving in the rain.  Phrases which are strange when you think about it.  One such is, “Raining cats and dogs.”  Then there’s, “Flying off the handle,” and “Make no bones about it.” Really visually strange sayings when you give them some thought.

There are so many of these in our language that we’ve just grown up with, but we seldom question their origins.

I found a website where they go into a bit of research into phrases; it looks like it’s from the UK.  I looked up some, and it’s really very interesting.  Like what are the possible originals of, “The whole nine yards,” or “Dressed to the nines.”

Check out some of the expressions you can think of via the link below, and click on the “Meanings and Origins” button:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bopping Around Europe

I saw some pictures yesterday of friends of mine who were going around Europe with their back packs in the late 1990's.  They went to London, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and then up into Sweden and Norway (I’ve been to London and Norway myself, but not to those other countries).

It looked like a lot of fun.  It must have been summertime by the way the light was in the photos, and I could tell that the trip was pretty well planned by how many sites they got to see in the number of days they were on the trip.  I’m sure that traveling was a bit easier and not as worrisome as it is in our post-911 world.

It made me think of the time I would have done this myself. It would have been just about the time I went to work at the group-homes (see the post two days ago).  I was either motivated or pressured to work right away after graduating university, so the beginning of my traveling and exploration ended up being a decade later. 

It was in 1996 that my production manager told me I needed to go to London to carry a ¾” videotape to a CGI conference that would take place over a few days.  Ironically, someone had just before this told me to get a passport because companies like Disney at the time were known for sending employees around the world for things.

So my first steps outside of the U.S. were at Heathrow Airport.  I was sent with three other employees; David, a visual effects supervisor, Beth, another assistant production manager like me, and Kathleen, an operations person.  Upon arrival, the one person with us who had traveled abroad the most, David, told us all to try to stay up all the rest of that day, and then go to sleep that night.

This, I found out, was impossible for me.  As soon as I got to my hotel room, I went to sleep on my bed for a few hours.  Upon waking up and finding the others roaming around the hotel, David saw me and said, “Oh, you couldn’t stay awake, could you?” By then it was around dinnertime, so we all went and got something to eat nearby; I forget where.

And really, the whole thing was preposterous.  My job, as I said, was just to bring the tape to this conference every day.  It was basically just a free trip to London.  I was on the production, “Fantasia 2000.”  There were others from Disney and who were from another production, “Dinosaur,” who were also there.  Each of the, maybe three days I was supposed to be there, once I brought the CG tape back to the hotel after the conference, I was free to explore.

David, Beth, Kathleen and I went to see the changing of the guard, the Palace, Big Ben, and a lot of other sites.  We found a pub not far from the hotel which was near Hyde Park, and went underground to see get drinks.  We got pretty smashed that night and walked back to the hotel.

Even more ridiculous was that when our three days were up, and the conference was over, we all called our higher up’s at Disney and asked if we could just stay the rest of the week and through the weekend, making it an even week.  I remember about a half hour of having to wait for calls back from Disney with a decision.  But in the end, the decision was that we could stay and that Disney would re-arrange our departure flights for the end of the seven days.

We went to visit an animation studio called Richard Purdum Studios.  Again, David lead us since he had been there before and knew his way around.  It was a small studio where Richard, the director and owner, had his own drawing studio upstairs in what all I can describe as a bird perch.  He had a glass dome office that looked out onto the city; it was really beautiful.

A few nights later, I found myself sitting with David, Beth, Kathleen, some producers who happened to join in for the evening, and Roy Disney and his wife.  There I was, only two years at Disney sitting at dinner with Roy Disney in London.  I almost had to pinch myself.

Knowing what I know about Disney and the economic situation now, this would never happen.  In fact, with the exception of when Disney flew me to Montana with a director and animator about a year later, few people except executives and directors were sent on trips after about year 1998.

Looking back, I still would have liked to have done the Euro-backpacking thing about ten years earlier when one doesn’t have to worry about such things as jobs and income; when the parents just send one off to see the far sides of the Earth.