Monday, November 30, 2009

A World Away

I’ve been watching episodes of “Alias” on DVD, which I have been borrowing from my local library.  If you’re familiar with the show, which ran from about 2000-2006, you’re aware that it’s about an agent (Jennifer Garner) who works for the CIA posing as an agent for an intelligence company, which sells information, secrets and weapons internationally for profit.

One the features of the show is that this character, Sydney Bristow, that’s her name, travels all around the world to get her assignments done.  She will be at her home that she shares with roommates near UCLA one moment, then, in the blink of an eye, she will be entering a spy building in Russia. 

Due to Disney’s budget restraints at the time they were making the show, pretty much anything other than exterior setting shots where filmed in or around the Disney lot.  I remember Michael Eisner sending out a bulk email at the time telling the studios employees, including yours truly, that he hoped people wouldn’t mind seeing filming equipment around the Lot each week as their intent was to save money.

In fact, since I tended to work a lot of hours, and a lot of late hours, I was called by Disney security several times, asking me politely to move my Mustang over a few spaces in the lower level parking garage of the Disney parking lot. 

But that aside, last night there was an episode in which Sydney had to go to Helsinki, Finland, in order to retrieve a very important item undercover.  The scene began with an exterior shot; “B” roll as they say in the industry, of a very handsome building with colored lights reflecting off of it and across a tranquil body of water.

When I saw this, it made me pine for the feeling of being in a remote country, where I might see interesting architecture and a different way of living.  It’s been a long time since I traveled abroad due to limited income.  There’s something so exciting and special in setting foot in an exotic land.  Oooh, I miss it!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Windy L.A.

The excessive wind has made LA look so clean in the past two days.  I ran today and could see the Verdugo Hills plopped right in front of me, free of any air pollution.  I would imagine that flying into LA, as a lot of people are undoubtedly doing after the Holiday weekend, is a visual treat.

I remember several years ago driving East on the 10 Freeway from West LA towards downtown just after a strong winter storm had made LA’s air squeaky clean.  I noticed to my left, looking Northward, all of these little hills around mid-town that I had never noticed before. It made the tapestry of the Los Angeles geography more sophisticated than I normally thought of it.

I am looking forward to some more of these windy days to blow through LA soon.  It makes for a totally different feeling here in the Southland.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Machine Has Started

The great machine of the Christmas Shopping season has started.  I knew this was so on Thanksgiving Day when my girlfriend’s sister said that she was going to get up the next morning at 3:00am (3:00am!) to start shopping Black Friday.

Of course you know what this is; the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, is considered the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States because it’s the day when most of the stores slash their prices in half, and open their doors early in the morning to start the Christmas shopping season off with a bang.

But I don’t see how this day could be the busiest day of the shopping season.  Only early-birds shop on this day, and I mean early birds, not in waking up early, but in the sense that there are those people who actually get themselves organized enough to shop ahead of time.  But I don’t think is the norm.

I’m specifically thinking of those days just prior to Christmas when guys like me are in fight or flight mode, trying to get done in a day and a half, what we should have weeks before. For me, this 36-hour period almost always involves a couple of trips to one of the local malls’ department stores.  Usually the second trip is to go back for gifts I forgot all about on the first trip. 

It’s actually kind of fun….KIND of fun, among all of the insanity and fury.  The things I do enjoy seeing are people dressed up in their winter clothes, really focused on their tasks (no time to waste during this period).  I always see lots people trying to figure out what certain gadgets do with puzzled looks on their faces which makes me laugh.  There’s lots of food, holiday décor, and usually good cheer inside the stores.  The lines into the parking lots are another story.

My last minute shopping will also involve a visit to Best Buy since they have a lot of guy stuff like movies, games and electronics.  Fry’s is usually just too insane and complicated to go into during the holidays.

I thought this year would not be such a big shopping bang given how the job market is still dragging.  Yet, today, which was my first day of shopping, my girlfriend and I went to take care of a very simple task; Christmas cards.  It went rather well.  We customized some just for family members since we are out of money.  But still, the whole affair took about three hours when all was said and done.

However, what I noticed in our rounds to Michaels, Target, Staples, and Marshall’s (see, we’re shopping cheap this year) was that people were really out and about today; we could barley move inside Michaels, the art supply store.  Maybe this means that people are making their own stuff this year like we are with our greeting cards.

I saw a man and woman come out of Target with two baskets so full of stuff, presumably gifts, that I had to re-think my sense of our economic condition.  Everywhere we went was busy.  The parking lots were full and we had to walk a good, long way to each store we visited.

So, perhaps this is a sign???... I hope so.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Surely on this Thanksgiving there will be a lot of people writing about being thankful today for the bigger and more meaningful aspects of their lives.  So I thought I would cover 20 of my own, maybe more superficial, yet just as noteworthy items.

I am thankful for…

20. Not having to type "www" in the beginning of URL’s anymore.

19. That cars have outside temperature gauges and "miles remaining on gas" read outs.

18. That “Walk/Don’t Walk” signs in Los Angeles now display a numerical count-down so that you know when the yellow light is coming.

17. The fact that you can watch a whole season of a show in DVD’s without commercials.

16. XM Radio having music channels without commercials (ok, I hate commercials).

15. The fact that banks and lenders are under incredible scrutiny; it’s about time!

14. That I’m not the only one in financial hardship (why be alone in things?).

13. That running requires minimal “gear.” Just running shoes, and possibly shorts depending on if you can out-run the police.

12. That you can sort and re-sort multiple destinations in GoogleMaps; I just do this for the fun of it sometimes.

11. That you can track how many miles each of my current three pairs of running shoes has via the Internet.

10. That you can buy one song at a time rather than have to buy a whole album just to get one song like the old days.

9. That there is such thing as an iPhone and all of it’s apps, even though I can’t afford one yet.

8. That I can publish a blog anytime I feel like it even though I have zero followers.

7. That I can sell my album, “Watercolors Over The Sea” on iTunes; I'm lovin' the technology!

6. Those extra-long shoe horns; I use one every single day!

5. That there is a liquor store three blocks from my house that makes excellent submarine sandwiches until 2am, seven days a week.

4. That parks provide doggie-poop bags for free.

3. That people really seemed to have stopped smoking.

2. That I can find pretty much anything I'm looking for at either Fry's Electronics or at Staples.

And the number one thing I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving... 

1. That Domino’s Pizza has actually gotten better in the past few years.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Writing One's Life

I was recently invited to a movie premier from a major studio that I used to work for.  After seeing the screening, I had the chance to greet people who were part of my former studio family.  Many of them had scattered to the wind working in any number of businesses and industries, and also, some still were employed in entertainment.

I too have felt undirected as of late, having moved into real estate sales, and yet keeping my creative work going in writing a script.  Yet, from the groundwork that I built over the past 15 years, and looking at those people and experiences I was exposed at the studios, and there are so many of them, I realized that night that I have a strong foundation; one that will make sense to have had should I make something of my projects.

I realized on that premier night I owned it to myself to contribute something to cinema.  In this way, I suddenly feel empowered to “write my own ending;” an ending that will include being creative and making my own mark, however large or small, in the world of entertainment. This seems to be a better choice than just letting life wash over me and ending up doing something that doesn’t really interest me.

And how could I have even considered not following my passion?

Well, working on one’s ultimate goal isn’t as easy as it seems it should be.  There is a lot of drudgery involved, and many less-than-glorious moments on that road.  But it somehow became clear to me that night of the premier that it is all worth doing in the end.

The producers of the film that I saw that night didn’t quit, but rather they kept at it until the end.  I could see that there was an enormous amount of work involved in gathering researching for this documentary.  It just couldn’t have been easy, but they stuck with it and the final outcome was wonderful.  And maybe even more to the point, there was a final outcome.

And so seeing all of my former studio family members me feel like I really do owe it to myself to follow through on the projects I care about, and that I can write my own future by just doing it little by little, day by day.

After all is said and done, that’s how all of the greats did it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Assuming the Computer Position

I find that when I get inside my house from anywhere, even sweaty after a long run, that I naturally default to going over to my computer chair to check on any number of things; my email, my blog, my Facebook account, what the temperature is like in different areas, if there is a storm headed our way (ha ha….it never happens in Southern California unfortunately…they all seem to miss us), and a thousand and one other discoveries on the Internet.

Have you ever just pulled up Wikipedia and started putting anything that comes to mind into the search box.  People have written about everything under the sun.  I recently sent a Wikipedia link to a friend of mine that was literally about the “moon.”  So many things I didn’t know.

Plopping down at my computer is such a natural and comfortable thing to do.  My girlfriend gets upset sometimes because I am so focused on my monitor at times she’s trying to show me how she’s matching an outfit, or something that’s happened during the day.  In other words, she’s trying to communicate with me, and my face is a total blank, like a five year-old seeing Captain Kangaroo for the first time in the 1950’s.

I have to work on this, for when I sit down,  minutes will turn into an hour easily.  I’ll just look for one more bit of info about the new Dodge, or I’ll just grab one more picture, turn it into a jpeg file and Photoshop it for a second.  Then Wham-O!  It’s an hour and a half later, and my girlfriend and my pets think I’ve been sucked beyond the event horizon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

This Age of Hospitals

Recently, I’ve had to make three visits to hospitals for family members.  My father had a melanoma that needed to be extracted, and then go back for a check up.  All was fine with him in the end.

Also, my girlfriend’s step-father had a mild heart attack up in the Bakersfield area and so last Friday, she and I shot up an hour and a half North to see how he was doing in his hospital bed.  They did one of those balloons to expand the blood flow around the area of his blockage, and then they installed a stent.  He’s still in the hospital and recovering well.

I’ve never liked hospitals.  I know a lot of people don’t.  It’s not only that people are being cut open and stitched up in a hospital, which is not appealing to me.  And not only that a lot of sick people are in and around a hospital.  It’s the waiting and waiting that pushes me over the edge.

I have the personality where I like to have a plan, like when I shop for example, get in and get out.  Each of my recent visits has involved an undue amount of waiting.  For my father’s procedure, we were asked to be there at 9am.  And I should add that this is one of the, if not THE best hospital in Southern California.  My father’s procedure didn’t start until 6:10pm and he wasn’t released until 11:50pm.

I’ve gotten good at doing a lot of reading in the waiting rooms of hospitals.  But just how many LA Times articles and how much CNN can a person digest in one sitting?

It seems that the whole affair is already set up in such a systematic way that the process of getting in and out would be fast.  You have patients come in, get prepped, and then you have the doctor going into each of the rooms with his or her patients to get done what needs to be done; kind of a rotating lazy-Susan thing going on.

However, somewhere in there, something gets jumbled up.  My brain was pre-wired at birth to assess how economical processes are.  And for some reason, hospital and doctor’s environments just aren’t.

Maybe some of my frustration is inherent in the fact that right now in my life it seems to be the age of hospitals.  My parents are aged as are my girlfriend’s parents, and so too are my friends’ parents.  So there is a lot of doctor and hospital interaction going on that I see and hear about, and it’s not fun.  But I just wish the experience could be made a bit smoother.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cat Sense

Did you hear that IMB Corp simulated a cat's cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, using a massive supercomputer?* 
It’s incredible.  Time goes by and I hear these little pieces of information on the radio which indicate that massive steps in technology keep occurring.  I know the first thing that popped into my mind was, “Will computers and robots actually get smarter than we are and destroy us a la “Terminator?”’ 

The news person who I first heard this from on KNX 1070 said that luckily, most of the computer scientists working on brain-like problems are familiar with the ‘computers attack mankind scenarios,” and that they are prudent about what they will let the computers do.

I hate to sound paranoid, but are you kidding?  With religious fundamentalists blowing people and things up all over the world, there is inevitably going to be an underground group of people researching how to make robots make mincemeat out of the Western world.  Bank robbers will just use smart robots to do their work.  I am all for technology moving forward as I always write in my blogs, but it’s just a little naïve to think that the misuse of robotic intelligence will always be under control.

From an Associated Press article on the subject, it seems that researchers are trying to give intelligence to computers in order to, for example, visually recognize things that are unclear, and to figure out traffic patterns and help avoid freeways from getting ripe for accidents.  In other words, things that take some interpretation of data. I’m sure that there will be amazing uses in medicine for killing cancer cells and viruses. 

However, I also think that where there is an opportunity for misuse of a new technology, there are some who will go for it.  In my opinion, this is never a reason to stop things from moving forward.  People probably thought that desktop computers and the Internet would be a bad idea back in the 1980’s, and yet, they help us all to a degree that we can’t fully describe.  But I think society is going to really have to keep an eye on those who would like to use such powerful tools to negative ends.

Maybe if we keep working on that computer-cat, we can send him after the bad guys.

*Google News - Associated Press*

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Contrasting Neighborhoods

I was driving a house-hunting couple around Porter Ranch, CA this morning, which is a newer community in the Northwest portion of the San Fernando Valley.  These clients are both teachers; he is fully employed, and she was just laid off but is doing substitute teaching.

We drove around Porter Ranch looking for a home for them to purchase.  They want 3 beds, two baths, a large yard and hopefully a nice view of the valley.  The money they have to spend will get them what they want; I just need to find the right match.

This morning was clear with just a few upper-level clouds which were in the process of being whisked away by a cool, light prevailing wind; perfect weather after another summer of sweltering heat.

Our tour of this area got me thinking about the contrast that this neighborhood has with an inner-city neighborhood such as Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, where there is a lot of overcrowding, trash, graffiti and an undeserved amount of gang-infestation.

Even simple things make the difference such as too many telephone poles and wires spidering all over the place, tiny side yards and no privacy from homes and buildings butted up against each other.

In Porter Ranch, the views of the valley floor surrounded by undeveloped hills are gorgeous especially at Sunset, the streets are clean and you have room to do whatever it is you like to do. 

And yet, ironically, there is something missing.  It’s too quiet at times. There is no variety of culture or interesting sampling of food for that matter.  The area is made up mostly of white, affluent people who, when they aren’t working, drive down to the local shopping areas a couple of times per day.

In the inner city areas such as Boyle Heights, you have a large amount of cultural diversity and plenty of activity such as street fairs and vendors selling tacos and burritos.  The people who live there have priced in their neighborhood.  And yet there is no quiet or peacefulness.  Things are always “on,” good or bad. And honestly, you could get shot there just going to the market.

It’s so strange that these two types of conditions co-exist in the same city.  Boyle Heights is part of the City of Los Angeles as are the sprawling acres of Porter Ranch.  This divergence exists in most large cities, and yet, I wonder how aware the people of one community are of how the other is living.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Trolley Lines

One of my favorite past-times has been to look at the configuration of streets in any older city, but specifically Los Angeles, where I grew up.  I like to guestimate how and why the streets join, fork, meander and reconnect like they do.

This interest has always been within me.  But I think it was awakened by my father, who at one point while driving me when I was young, pointed out a street with a media and told me how it was once a trolley car, or Red Car line.

With this little bet of insight, I started noticing how streets around LA kind of flow and curve into each other in a way that indicates a less-than-well planned grid that many newer cities have.

For you LA peeps, for example, have you ever noticed in the San Fernando Valley, how Chandler Blvd. slides into Van Nuys Blvd (North and South if you look carefully), and then how Van Nuys Blvd. has a portion that curves into Parthenia, and then Parthenia into Sepulveda Blvd. 

How about how San Vicente does such a strange, diagonal alignment throughout Mid-Wilshire through the West Side?  If not, I don’t blame you.  It’s so each to drive by these types of urban features without ever noticing them.  Because my brain is (hay)wired in this way, these types of things pop out at me as if in neon.  I can walk into an old building or a home and instantly tell where an old door or walkway probably was.

My friend and I call this phenomenon, Urban Archeology.  It’s something we coined when we first discovered and then bribed our way into the old Red Car Subway Terminal Building in downtown LA that ended about a mile-long tunnel that started at Glendale Blvd. and 1st Street just Northwest of the downtown area.

There were Red Car Lines as well as other strains of rail transportation all over LA, and most older cities for that matter.  If you have a map of the greater Los Angeles area, you’ll more easily notice how streets make strange little jaunts; it’s the rule, not the exception.

The expanse of the Red Car Lines was enormous going from Long Beach to the most Northern Parts of the San Fernando Valley; from Santa Monica, up to Mount Lowe above Pasadena where you could be let off at a rustic, yet poche hotel at 4000 feet.  You could ride from Redondo Beach to Lake Arrowhead.  It was truly colossal, and yet I doubt that many people younger than about 40 years old (who’s parents didn’t shut up about it all) would be familiar with the Red Car except in a few movies as background features like “The Changling.”

At the time of this writing, I am actually sitting at an intersection  in Burbank where two Red Car lines forked.  The Riverside Drive line and the Alameda Street line, which connected to the Olive Drive line a few blocks to the East.  Many of these “right of ways” are now either streets, or have been turned into other uses.  The section of Chandler Blvd, which still had tracks on it’s median until about four years ago, is now a bike and running path; a very nice one I will add.

The rest of this line, which goes from Lankershim Blvd. to the West to Ethel Avenue, then hikes at a diagonal to Victory Blvd where it shoots due West all the way to Woodland Hills, is now an express bus system; part of the Metro line.

However, the fate of most of these rights of ways hasn’t been as useful in my opinion.  Many have been blacktopped over (Sepulveda around Pico and also Olympic areas where you can see a little track just bubbling up in certain spots), sold off by the railroad companies who ultimately owned many of them, or were sold by the local city municipalities and developed into other real estate uses.

Santa Monica Blvd. was full of connections in and out of it’s main line. 

I remember as a kid, we used to drive down Beverly Glen Blvd. past Santa Monica in which you would drive under a train bridge; this was the old Red Line.  That bridge and the associated track have been removed.

There was also a very interesting section of track, which was a diagonal short cut that brought you from the Hollywood Line down to the Santa Monica Line.  It’s been removed, but if you look carefully, you will see that it’s now an odd, diagonal alley that runs southwest from Hollywood Blvd. and La Brea to Santa Monica and Fairfax Avenue.  If you Google-map it, you can make out this feature.  Often, patterns that are hard to see in close detail from the ground are more apparent from the air or from satellite photos.

The portion of a line that ran from about where the Marina Del Rey freeway (90) ends at Lincoln Blvd and into Venice Beach via a line that was just West of what is now Abbot Kenny Blvd (formerly Washington Place) is now almost completely condo’s and apartment buildings.

The reason I find this unfortunate is that at a time when we are finally realizing that we need a good transportation system established in Los Angeles County, we have already sold off most of the pre-existing rail infrastructure that could have served us so well.  Retrofitting it now is next to impossible. So new rights of way need to be purchased and developed for any future transportation expansion.

They say that the automobile lobbies ultimately forced the shut down of what was left of the Pacific Electric Red Car lines in the mid 1960’s by pushing legislation that would cripple the Red Car in bits and pieces, such as giving autos the right of way at intersections where autos and the Red Car were competing for light signals.  But I think that it was more the result of a general lack of insight into what our cities needed in the future, as they would grow in population.

Maybe indeed it was the glory of being able to be in your own vehicle in such as large place such as Los Angeles that was irresistible.  But driving is no longer a viable mode of transportation from about 7:30am to 7:30pm weekdays here in Los Angeles.  There are just too many people.  And now that we’ve done away with the transportation system we once had, we have to start all over again at a much larger expense.

It’s too bad the Pacific Electric Red Car and all of its cousins aren’t still around.  It seems like they would have been fun to ride in.

(Fred and buddy inside Subway Terminal Building circa 1987)

Pacific Electric Railway - Wikipedia

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Job Creation

I just heard on the radio that China is putting in 10,000 miles of high-speed rail line.  The host of the radio program I was listening to poked fun at the fact that when Los Angeles recently added 1.8 miles of extended Metro rail line, the city had a huge celebration.  And by the way, China is completing this project within a two-year time-span.  It would take two years here in the U.S. just to get through the environmental studies for such a project.

The difference in the two nations worries me.  We just bailed out GM and most of the major banking, lending and investment institutions with billions of dollars, and for what?  To maintain an infrastructure that was already there and failing.  When all is said and done, we’ll have nothing new.  We haven’t created anything with that money that makes new jobs or provides something new we can all benefit from.

What’s also maddening is that the banks, having been bailed out, won’t pass any of that help to their own customers, most of whom have huge dept that the banks and lenders are being charged 20-plus percent interest.  These mafia-esk interest charges are not being reduced, but instead, the banks are going ahead with foreclosing on people’s homes, forcing them into bankruptcy and destroying their credit scores.  What about the banks’ credit scores?  All is forgiven to them I guess.  The greed just goes on and on.

Meanwhile, in China, working people have ambition and hope, and the country’s gross national product is growing exponentially, and they are creating useful infrastructure and services for society, and most importantly, more jobs for people with the money.  They are investing in themselves.

The U.S. did this once.  During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt set forth with all of those public work projects, which gave people jobs and made America stronger.  But what happened?  Why aren’t we doing this now?

We need real stimulation and growth today more than ever!

FDR's WPA (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

High School Girlfriend

I am still proud to say that I had a high-school girlfriend.  That is, someone I cared about and who cared about me.

High school is such an awkward time.  I don’t have to tell you; we’ve all been through it in our own variations and iterations.  My high school was a large public school located in the San Fernando Valley between two much older high schools.  Mine was a school that had been built more recently to serve the overflow of students from the other two.  So it had some good features such as not as many burned out kids. 

Because of its location, it served an adjacent affluent community, which had a lot of children of entertainers.  Not as many as my private elementary school had mind you, but still we had a fair amount of them.  The result was that of the three high schools kind of lined on the same longitude, ours had the highest scores, the least amount of fighting and had a more relaxed environment than the other two.

Now I should tell you that after leaving my private elementary in 4th grade and entering the public school system, it took me a while to get used to the new environment that housed many more students than the private school system, and also didn’t coddle their students nearly as much.  I guess that’s part of what you pay for in a private school.

I actually hated my middle school. The teachers were bored and uninterested in teaching, and it’s that awkward time when everyone is going through puberty.  The one great memory I have of middle school is that I ran the mile in 5:23 and made it onto the “Miler Board” along with Chuck and Mitch Gaylord who both later went to the Olympics in gymnastics.  So I felt that I had made it into good company.

The other good thing about my middle school is that what was supposed to be my third (9th grade) year there was pushed into my high school.  For some reason, the school district decided to make the high school a four-year event, and that suited me just fine since I wanted out of my middle school as soon as possible.

One other point I will bring up about my middle school was that during assemblies, there would often be representatives of the school’s student government there.  And a few times, I remember thinking to myself, “Boy, that Trish is a cute girl.”  But that was that, and now we’ll fast forward a couple of years.

Now I am in 10th grade in high school, am a few months away from getting my driver’s license at the tender age of 16, and am in a much happier environment.  We would get a break after our 2nd period called, “Nutrition.”  It was about 20 minutes of recess in which most of the students would grab a snack and congregate in various places.  My area tended to be at the edge of where the “soches” (smart social students) hung out, and where the “stoner” people hung out.  I guess I was trying to maintain a foot in each worthy community.  The soches had popularity and good grades, and the stoners had great music and a more bohemian lifestyle.  And to the end of my school career, this is where I remained.

But back to this specific Nutrition recess I was talking about.  Someone, I think it was a girl with a great, great ass named Jerry, came up and told me that her good friend Trish really thought I was cute.  I was stunned.  She and I hadn’t talked at all in those two years that I could remember, but I guessed that this was just how it went. 

She was really sweet and we found we had a lot in common.  She was Jewish (see my blog, The Only Jewish Kid in the Valley), kind of reserved like I, studied hard (she was a bit more into the soche side that I), and to boot, she also had a really pretty best friend named Kim.  And, in addition to that, she was a cheerleader and a good friend with one of THE most popular girls in school. I talked to her over maybe three Nutritions and lunches, and then I asked her to “go” with me (go steady).  I remember asking her, “Will you go with me?”  I heard myself say it as if I was an observer; I must have been nervous.  She answered, “Nope,” and then started laughing and said yes, making me feel comfortable.

So right away, I had a really sweet, easy-going girlfriend who brought along this built in pretty girlie network.  I remember shortly after we got together and I didn’t have my license yet, she took me in her dad’s convertible back Trans-Am (a la Smokey and the Bandit) along with that really popular girl I spoke of named Hali.  Both of them were in the front seats while I was in the back being chauffeured home in this flawless muscle car with the wind in my hair.  I’ll never forget that day.

Her dad turned out to be one of my very favorite people on this planet.  An ex-Coast Guard person (he was too short to get into the Navy), he loved to tinker with his boat in the back yard, have parties, play pool, have people swim in his pool and just made me a member of their family.  Trish had one brother and one sister.  She had lost her older brother to a motorcycle accident a few years earlier, and I think this pain remained under the surface in the family for all the time that I knew them.  But they were a much more easy-going and functioning family than mine was, so I was there all the time.

Their family invited me on their annual water-skiing trips to Bass Lake.  These were heavenly vacations in the summertime with us swinging on ropes from trees and jumping into the lake, and playing games in the cabin at night.  Kim was always there as well.  We had so much fun.  Kim’s family also included me on trips down to San Clemente.  Everyone was so generous.

I worked as a busboy at Swensen’s ice cream where I devoured all of the servers’ mistakes into my unyielding 14 year-old body with no weight-gaining consequences.  Later, I was a box boy at Hughes Market.  After my night shifts I would sometimes sneak over to Trish’s window, knock on it, and we’d talk on each side of the window for an hour while my balls were freezing in the wintertime.

Trish and I went out for just short of two years, which in high school terms, is a long time.  I think her parents were getting a little nervous that she hadn’t really dated anyone else, and her parents were actually high-school sweethearts.  So to Trish's mom, it was a bit more serious.  Her mom had called my mother and discussed the subject on the phone; how she wanted Trish to be able to date more than only one person in high school.  My mother only told me of this conversation after Trish and I were no longer together.  Trish ended up breaking up with me, and she dated a beefy guy from drama club, which killed me.  The worst moment for me in all of this was one time when I drove by her house after we had broken up, and she was kissing this guy goodnight.  I wondered if I had really needed to do that to myself and wished I had not happened on the scene just then.

But the thing that remains with me is how important the relationship was for me.  My time with her built up on confidence greatly.  Being in high-school presents one with a lot of social challenges and pressures, and having someone who cared for me and being able to have a significant relationship at that age was important and life changing for my self-esteem, for my social networking and status, and created all of the incredible memories I got from being with her and her family.  To this day, I am still thankful that I had a high-school girlfriend.

Just as a footnote, Trish and I still keep in contact.  She’s always been interested in caring for animals on reserves and in zoos.  She now trains dogs of all sorts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Radio Waves

I was finished up a drive last night and parked my car in my garage and had just tuned into an interesting program on the radio.  I wanted to rush inside the house so that I could continue listening via the Internet since I don’t have a radio in my front room.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t made note of which radio station the program had been on.  I listen to a lot of talk-radio, so it could have been on any of six stations that I frequent.  And since a host I was not familiar with was moderating the program , I really had no idea where to search.  And because booting up any “Listen Live” Internet radio station takes a good two minutes when things are said and done, I didn’t want to waste any time with searching six stations via the Internet.

Feeling lazy and realizing I was now close to my front door, I didn’t want to run back to the car again.  Then, I took a moment I just thought of what the broadcast “sounded” like.  If you listen to a lot of radio, and AM radio in particular, each station has a kind of “sound.”  I suppose it’s similar to how I described studios orchestras back in the day having a specific sound in my blog called, “Herbert Stothart’s Score,” dated 10/25/09.

I’m guessing that many people might not hear the differences between stations, but because I am constantly in my car wanting to hear what is going on in the world and what people think about it all, I can tell pretty quickly which station I am listening to without having the call letters announced and given that I don’t have huge hints such a host I already know.  I’m not an idiot savant or anything (well, maybe the former occasionally); it just comes with doing a lot of listening in my same car.  Yet, I’ll bet a different car could throw me off for a while.

But for instance, KNX 1070 and KABC 790 have a generally similar sound to me, though KNX’s is slightly more muffled and KABC’s is a bit more treble-pushed and clearer by a hair or two.  KFI 640 has a slightly thuddier, deeper sound that is not at all crisp to my ear. 

KTLK 1150 has a grainy sound, and the dead give-away with this station is that even though they broadcast from Burbank, wherever you are in LA County, you don’t get a totally clear signal.  Their reception always seems to be vulnerable to the smallest power-wire you might drive under.  KFWB 980 has the muddiest sound of all of them.  It’s like someone at the station just completely turned down any treble, so all that you are hearing are the low tones.

I could be completely wrong about this, but I sometimes suspect that even the wave frequency that each AM radio station has determines it’s clarity and better yet, it’s longevity.  Like those stations towards the bottom of the dial such as KFI 640 AM and 550 KUZZ have longer waves that will travel much farther.

My girlfriend and I were driving at the very top of highway 29 in California late one night about four years ago, just arriving at Clear Lake, which is way up past San Francisco’s wine country area, and we were listing with pretty good clarity to Phil Hendrie who was on KFI at the time.  I’m sure we were getting the bounce off of the ionosphere a few times or whatever.

My girlfriend had never heard of Phil Hendrie at the time, and Phil was supposedly interviewing an old African-American woman who has been the former live-in nurse to President Roosevelt.  She used to tease him and make him crawl to her by pretending she was going to trash his prized golf clubs.  My girlfriend couldn’t believe what she was hearing while all the time I knew it was Phil Hendrie’s put-on antics.  Phil does a strange show, but I always get a chuckle out of it.

Well, back to last night.  When I got in my house, I asked myself, which station did that program “sound” like.  I answered, “KFI 640,” because it had that thud-like sound to it.  I  launched the Listen Live function and indeed found myself listening to the same program I had left in the car.  So there is something to this.

It reminds me of those American WWII soldiers who were radio transmission interceptors.  They would listen hour upon hour to Japanese frequencies.  Even though they did not understand Japanese, they could single out a specific Japanese communicator by the sound and cadence of his voice.  Sometimes, just the information that this specific Japanese soldier was still transmitting gave the Americans information that a certain part of the Japanese force was still in tact which was an advantage for us; something like that.

It’s all part of the expertise that people get in anything they do a lot.  A good salesman can tell pretty quickly if you really have the potential to buy, or are just looking around with no intention of going any further.  He or she just has a sixth sense for subliminal cues you give out as a serious shopper or a lookie-loo. He knows to either stick with you or move onto the next customer just because he's done it so long.

That stuff always interests me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I was driving up a long road in a very nice neighborhood today after having shown a million-plus house, and I came upon a woman walking a bushy medium-sized dog.  She looked like she was walking fast to get her exercise for the day.  Directly behind her was a lanky fifteen-ish year-old looking teen, who assume was her son, walking with his nose in a book.

I was first surprised that he could be walking that fast, not run into his mom, and be reading at the same time.  But then upon further thought, I wondered what the story was behind this.

Did his mother tell him he had to walk the dog today, over and over enough times, and when he didn’t respond, she finally grabbed the leash and told him that he at the very least had to come with her?

I then thought about myself at that age.  All that I was interested in were bikes, cars and cute girls.  I never read much of my own volition with the exception of school-work.  I just would not have been seen walking down a street in daylight with a book up to my face.

I’m not judging him.  I’m guessing he’s further ahead even at this point of winning a Nobel Price than I.  I’m just saying in comparing our respective 15 year-old lives, these are completely different animals.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Long-Haul Trucking

I was wondering what it must be like to work as a long-hauler. Driving a big rig 18-wheeler across country all the time.

First, how do you even start the process?  I guess you go to trucking school and then learn about all of the laws of driving a big rig in various states minus Alaska and Hawaii, I am supposing.  You find out when and where you can pass other trucks, how long you can drive a load before you have to hang it up for the night.  Maybe how to manage the driving logs you have to maintain for the scales you pass through.

Here in California, I see those white CHP cars all the time that pretty much focus on trucks.  They are not unmarked CHP units, but then not far from it either.  They usually have the CHP logo on the side doors and on the back truck, and from your rear-view mirror, you can usually spot them by that huge bumper guard on the front of their vehicle, and then also the huge radio antenna sticking up like a ship’s mast. 

OK, so that means truckers have to keep it under a certain speed at all times and under certain conditions, and maybe they have to have the state’s sticker on their door showing that they are allowed to haul through whatever area they are in.  Those all seem pretty obvious.

But how does the trucker learn all of the nuances such as picking the right route.  It seems that it would be only through experience that one would start to learn the best ways through various parts of the country during certain times of the year.  Like, how to avoid having to put on snow chains when heading to points North East.  Or how to get as few scales in a route so that you can keep rolling as much as possible.

Do you start with a day-hauling job, say from LA to San Bernardino for a while until you understand trucking better, or can you just start right away on long-hauling jobs?  I think if I were starting, I’d prefer the latter; more scenery. 

How do you even get a big rig?  Is it like taxis where at first, you lease a rig and then maybe later when you can scrounge up enough money, then you buy your own Peterbuilt with a sleeper cab?  Something about that seems neat.  Everything you need enclosed in your little sleeper cab; your DVD player, your XM Radio, shower, little wet bar, microwave.

Do some truckers have girlfriends (or boyfriends) tucked away in different cities and states they go to that they see now and then?  And we all know from the Citizen’s Band craze in the 70’s that there is a whole subculture of lingo that is used in the trucking world., although I wonder how much of it is actually done on CB anymore.

It seems like it would be cool to see so many parts of the country in just a short number of days.  But does it all get monotonous after a while, and you just wish you were in your own bed again?  Those truck stops look so busy, full of bad food and gadgets and a whole lot of people waiting for their shower number to be called.  But again, it’s a world to itself.

But then what about the long hours on the road?  I mean you must be at the mercy of some shipping coordinator who wants you at the drop off two days ago, and so you’re logging in too many hours.  Can you enjoy a movie in your cab, or eating at that greasy spoon off of the main route?  Or, given how the economy is especially today, are truckers massively competing with one-another and working too many hours and driving with anxiety to make their drop off for fear of being fired from future jobs?

One thing I know from the miles I drive (I drive literally more than anyone I know) is that wherever I am on various routes, there are big rig long-hauler truckers all around all the time.  There must be some interesting stories behind all of that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Outlier

I was watching an interview with Quentin Taratino on Charlie Rose not long ago and really enjoyed the hour-long conversation that they two had together. I am thankful that there is a show on television where someone you might be interested in gets to sit down and answer questions in full without having to lose their train of thought due to commercial and promotional interruptions.

Charlie asked Quentin questions about “Inglorious Bastards,” the director’s latest film, and then moved on to more general inquiries about the larger subject of film-making. And I was delighted to hear what Quentin had to say about his process.

But before I go any further, I should disclose to you that I am a big fan of Quentin’s films because they feel authentic to me, the reason for which I understand better from his interview with Charlie.

Charlie asked him how he goes about writing a movie, how long it takes, and what the challenges are. Quentin first clarified that he is a writer/director, which is a different animal than those who just direct. A regular director looks over many scripts, books and project outlines to find the on that interests him or her, and that which they feel would make a good film.

Quentin says this differs a lot from a writer/director, of which there are few, who start with a blank piece of paper in front of them and start to write, then re-write, then re-write, and on. He says of this process that it is one of the most grueling that a human can go through, and yet, it’s also the most rewarding. For when the script it written, it’s really his baby. It wouldn’t have existed if his parents didn’t give birth to him.

Another rewarding bi-product of a writer/director’s wares is that they are able to develop a strong voice with remains in the project from beginning to end, and in fact, will maintain a flavor throughout all of the projects they write and direct through their lives.

A regular director, having taken the written work of someone else, does not tend to have a strong a voice, and will likely lose their own voice through their career.

The other thing I enjoyed in the interview was Charlie’s question about why Quentin loves films so much. Quentin said that, unlike other art forms such as writing, music, live theater, a film brings multiple disciplines together in a way that magically takes the viewer to a different place, and that it’s more intense than any of those single art forms alone. He also likes the feeling of watching a good film and being in the caring hand of a brilliant director.

It was clear to me watching the interview that he is able to do his craft so well because of his passion, which already existed at a young age when he worked at Video Archive, a movie rental store in Manhattan Beach, California. The woman who cuts my hair in that town, “Pat,” says that way back in the day she and her friends were aware of Quentin’s knowledge about movies, and they would call him at the store and recite pieces of dialogue from which Quentin would quickly identify the film.

You mix the passion, the encyclopedic knowledge and the opportunities that Quentin had together, and you get what Malcom Gladwell would call a true "Outlier."

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Sierras Part II of II (A Reunion)

I sent the following letter to the local Three Rivers newspaper:

My girlfriend and I traveled to Three Rivers just this past month for Valentines Day Weekend to spend some time in majestic Sequoia National Park together.  My parents used to bring me to Sequoia when I was very young.  I was adopted when I was five years old, and one of the first things my parents and I did together as a family was to visit the Park.  It was a place where I could see snow for the first time and experience some tranquility after quite an ordeal of having lost my biological father; my only parent at the time.

My new parents and I stayed at the Sequoia Lodge.  I remember all of the cabins being brown with a sort of brighter then natural green trim around the windows and doors.  There was also a big lodge with a cafeteria where I asked my father repeatedly for quarters so that I could choose, “Theme From Shaft” on the jukebox inside.  And I loved to look at the toys in the gift shop, most of which were themed with trees and deer.  I still have a thermometer with a fawn on my bookshelf; other than missing his ears, he’s still pretty much in tact.

My parents thought I should learn to ski.  Back in 1970, Wolverton was manicured for skiing with rope tows on the small ski hills.  They arranged for my ski lessons, and I was assigned to a beautiful blonde ski instructor named Karin, a schoolteacher in Three Rivers for most of the year.  She was very sweet with me and taught me to ski without using poles, I suppose, so that I could internalize balance more solidly.  Karin used to ski backwards ahead of me where she seemed completely at ease on the snow, and she always had a firm hold around me going up the rope tows. 

My parents reminded me recently that I liked her so much that I was always excited to start my ski lessons, and that on one occasion I asked my parents if I could use my souvenir money to buy Karin a gift ring from the lodge.

This past month when my girlfriend and I were in town, I couldn’t drive through Three Rivers without thinking of Karin.  Something about her has always stayed with me; her kindness, her patience with me, and someone I felt I had all to myself to play with on the bunny hill.  She made me feel fearless on the slopes, and my mother tells me with a tinge of envy that in a very short period with Karin, I was a more confident skier than my mother was.

During a time when I had just gone through a tremendous and frightening change in my life, I was fortunate enough to meet a very special and kind person who let me take things at my speed and learn to gain my own sense of control.  I still ski and love to play in the snow, and each time I do, I think of Karin with great fondness.

Within two hours, I received an email back from one of the newspaper editors who said that she knew the woman I was describing and that it wasn’t the Karen who had recently passed away, but rather another Karin who was alive and well and living in a nearby town.  This editor knew this as a result of the picture I had included in my article.  She herself had taken ski lessons as a young girl from Karin.

I was ecstatic to hear this news.  The end of the piece I had written described my sadness of hearing of her passing and was no longer appropriate, so the editor asked me to re-write my letter and promised to publish it in the next issue of the newspaper.  She knew that Karin was a subscriber and thought it would be a great surprise for her to just happen to read the article in the paper.  The letter you just read above was this modified version.

In just a couple of days, I received a voicemail on my phone from Karin, my former ski instructor.  Upon calling her back and catching up, she asked my girlfriend and I to come up to her cabin in Shaver Lake and Ski at Sierra Summit (formerly, China Peak). 

So we drove up there and met her at the ski lodge.  I was so surprised.  After all of these years, she was still beautiful and in better fitness than either my girlfriend or me.  She was still a very active skier as was her thiry-something year old daughter, and they skied circles around us.  I remember at one point, the four of us were skiing down a run and I happened to look at a spectacular view of Huntington Lake, and when I looked back, Karin was well down the hill.

After skiing, we went with Karen, her daughter, and her granddaughter down to the docks around Shaver Lake.  It was cold, and a little dark.  Something I thought was so endearing was how Karen’s daughter was spending time with her daughter, showing her how to bait a simple stick for fishing on the lake.  The little girl didn’t have a rod.  I really mean it was a stick.  So it seemed miraculous that she caught a fish with it.  The look on other fisherman’s faces that did have rods was hilarious.

We stopped for dinner in a little Italian restaurant in the town of Shaver Lake and enjoyed a couple of hours of catching up.  There were a lot of locals dining this evening and I got a flavor of their lives.  Good working folks who enjoyed the recreation that the mountains afford them.

We retired to Karin’s cabin with her.  Her husband had to work these few days from their house near Three Rivers, so it was just Karin, me and my girlfriend.  What a relaxing evening it was.  I did more catching up with Karin including showing her pictures from the time my parents and I used to go to Sequoia, and Karin remembered my parents.

It was a very satisfying and enjoyable weekend, and Karin couldn’t have been more alive and vibrant.

The Sierras Part I of II (A Cozy Weekend)

I wasn’t writing a blog at the time, so let me describe a weekend that my girlfriend and I had about nine months ago.

After surviving up that that point, and still remains, a very difficult financial period in our lives, we decided to have an inexpensive few days away from the big city for Valentine’s Day Weekend.  We drove up to Three Rivers, California, which is a little town of about 2000 people, whose namesake describes its location near the junction of the North, Middle, and South Forks of the Kaweah River.*

But it’s probably better know as one of the gateways into the Sequoia National Forest.  It’s a town that my parents and I used to pass through on our vacations.

My girlfriend and I stayed in a little motel right on the banks of the river and had a direct view of the waters rushing around huge boulders that populate the Kaweah.  Our room was simple; two double beds (one for our luggage which took a day to unpack as is usually the case), and a full bath.  We also had a big glass sliding door that let us out directly onto the river.  Falling asleep to the sound of the currents was soothing.

There was a light rain most of the time we were there, and people expected a second big storm to hit about the day we would be ending our three-day stay.  We had just missed an unexpected and heavy snowstorm the week before our arrival which left fresh, deep powder at the 4000 foot elevations and higher.

One of the things we do when we arrive to some new location is to check out all of the eateries that we’ll be using while we’re there.  Maybe a form of nesting.  We found one local pizza hangout with wood floors, which always feels more authentic to me for some reason.  Is there, deep in my genome memory, an archetype pizza shoppe with distressed barn wood floors?  I’ll never know myself well enough to answer this.

 It was a fun pizza place.  They had a very large flat screen monitor showing sports, and there were a lot of high schoolers and parents eating together, maybe for their post-game meals.  It was the perfect place to have found on a Friday night.

The next day we drove up into Sequoia National Forrest and retraced the steps to the various places my parents and I would frequent; Sequoia National Forrest Lodge, an open area where the chalets we used to stay in were located, the old ski area at Wolverton, which is now an open toboggan and saucer run area.  No more skiing and no more lifts.

I believe I was told that about twenty years ago, they started to discourage having huge crowds up there because the car exhaust was having an effect on the giant sequoia trees.  Those trees are absolutely magnificent.  Usually when you visit a place, things look smaller.  In this case, I had no recollection of those trees being that large.

We walked around the Wolverton snow playing area for a while as I showed Brenda where I learned to ski at age five, where the rope tows where and the warming & food hut.

We found a place to eat that night down the road from our motel, which served both American and Mexican food, which was perfect since I felt like the former, and she felt like the latter.  With thoughts about my former ski instructor, and a recollection that she lived in the town we were staying in, or at least taught at a school there at the time, I started asking around to people I met if they knew of this pretty, blonde woman who taught me to ski in Wolverton in 1970 and 1971 whose first name was Karin.

That night, I had two independent people tell me that they knew who I was talking about, and that she and her husband had moved to Oregon maybe 15 years back, and that she had died of cancer only two years earlier.  That made me sad; the idea that if I had come through the area just a few years ago, I could have re-united with Karin.

Most of the people we met in Three Rivers were very nice and easy-going.  As I recall, many worked either in the National Park, or down in the San Joaquin Valley.  There weren’t a lot of jobs right in Three Rivers.  What you see is what you get there; motels, eateries and gift shops.  There is a great candy and chocolate confectionery right on there main road.  I should add that there is only one main road through Three Rivers.

Another place we found to eat at on Sunday morning, the day we were leaving, was a little mom and pop breakfast place on the side of the road away from the river, about three mile South of where our motel was.  It was great food and was another watering hole for the locals; I could tell from the things they were talking about; subjects only locals talk about.

It was a nice stay.  Very simple, very private in the sense that my girlfriend and I were able to spend time together without many distractions and enjoy the scenery and the sound of water rushing by.

Upon return home, I found an old picture of Karin and I during one of my ski lessons.  I decided to write the local paper in Three Rivers about my visit to the town, about my memories of Karin the ski instructor, and about my sadness in hearing of her passing. But things are not always as they seem...

(To be continued in Part II of II)

*Wikipedia's Three Rivers Page

Karin & Fred, 1970