Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hiking the Sierra Nevada – Part IV – Mt. Langley


 

It was another season later when Eric and I, both hoping to hike all of the “walk up” peaks above 14,000 feet, decided to hike Mt. Whitney’s neighbor, Mt. Langley.  It’s just short of Mt. Whitney’s height by about five hundred feet, and its approach is almost identical to Mt. Whitney’s, and is about five miles to the South.

We were in pretty good shape from the year before and yet still did an acclamation hike the day before in Bishop's Pass.  Mt. Langley’s trail head is at 10040 feet, and the peak is 14,023, so the total gain is 3,983 feet.  As I recall, the hike is about nine miles in either direction for a total of about 18 miles.

So overall, this hike is significantly easier than Mt. Whitney, or it would appear to be on paper.  However, once we hiked up and got past the timberline and into the base camp area near a lake much like that of Mt. Whitney’s base camp, we found that the trail book we owned didn’t indicate clearly at all how to proceed past the lake.  So we did a rather stupid thing.  


Eric and I scrambled up the face of a very steep, rocky cliff that looked like it lead to the crest line trail.  This took a lot of work and was really frightening.  We were climbing with our hands and feet; no ropes.  We eventually got to the top of where the crest line trail should have been, but once we were up there, the area was much larger than we thought it would be and we couldn’t make out any specific trail.  

There was mostly rock and just a little gravel up on the crest, and so no trails were visible.  After about 20 minutes of searching, it became apparent to us that the only way to summit the mountain properly would be for us to find the correct trail from the base camp lake. It was also getting late in the afternoon, so we decided that we were done for the day.


We started heading back down the precipice.  At one point, I we had to get down a large, shear face of granite that was very exposed.  While ascending, I had suspected that it would give us trouble coming back down.  I went first and did kind of a sliding, jump down to a very thin rock shelf that landed me on my right knee.  I was lucky I didn’t keep going over the edge. I landed so hard on the knee that for a moment I thought I might have fractured one of the bones in that part of my knee.  It really, really hurt, and I was stunned for a few moments.  I will note here that for about three years after this, my knee in that exact spot would hurt during periods of cold or dampness.  So actually I think I did get a small fracture that day.

Eric came down next with some trouble, but not with the awkward landing I had performed.  The rest of the journey down the mountain was fine.

A few weeks later, we came back to Mt. Langley to try our summit bid again.  This time, we had researched the trail leaving base-camp and had discovered that we should have followed the lake clockwise on the Southeastern side, rather than around the Northwestern side.  It was hard to see from where we had been, but there was a small trail that led from the Southern side skirting very close to the lake, then up to the crest.  We were delighted that it was a much easier approach than the scramble up the rock face had been.


We crossed northward along the crest, again, very much like the crest of Mt. Whitney.  And we came to a large dome, also like Mt. Whitney.  This dome was much harder to climb up onto.  We had to head west for a while because the edges of the dome were much steeper.  This took some time, and Eric and I found our own areas to make our climb.  We rejoined once on top of the dome, our heads pounding again, and we made it to the summit in another half hour or so.

Another challenge was now getting back down the edge of the dome.  Eric and I had miscalculated where we had come up, and we started down much sooner than we should have.  It was much too steep, so we had to reverse ourselves and head further west again to find a shallower way off of the dome.  We yet again miscalculated and ended up coming down a part of the dome that was still too steep and unsafe for us.  But we made it.  In hindsight, this trip was much more dangerous than Mt. Whitney, partially because it is not traveled as much and therefore the trails are not worn in clearly.  But we still had a lot of fun.



Our last adventure of the day, or actually the night, happened, as we got closer to the trail head.  We were probably an hour away from it (maybe four miles away), and it was pitch black.  We had our flashlights out to follow the trail.  But as we kept walking, we had thought that we had gone to far and therefore had missed a turn off.  So we headed back up the trail.  We ended up vacillating along the trail for about two hours. 

Eric became extremely anxious, and I felt like I was holding us together for a time saying that we would eventually find our way.  Then I had an idea to just hike straight down to the Owens Valley, forgetting any trails.  Eric, thank God, said he thought it would be a very bad idea to leave the trail, and we’re probably both still here on the planet because of his good sense.

Finally, a couple of people came up the trail from where we were first headed down, and told us that we were still three or four miles up the trail.  We were so relieved.  To this day I’ve always wondered why there were two people hiking toward the mountain that late.

I was supposed to be at work the next day, but we came off of the mountain at about 10:30pm.  So we paid for another night in our hotel, and we got up very early the next day and drove back to the San Fernando Valley.  I told my production manager about our adventure the night before, and I could see I her eyes that she could not connect with it in any way.  

 
  
  
  
  
Eric is NOT peeing here.



  
  
  
  
  


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hiking the Sierra – Part III – Mt. Whitney Weekend Continued


Eric and I woke up in our hotel room in Lone Pine at 4:00am.  The hike was going to be long, and unlike most other folks who might hike up to the lake at 11,000 feet one day, acclimate, and then summit the next, Eric and I were doing it all in one day.  That’s 22 miles of hiking including a gain of 6145 feet from Whitney Portal, which is at 8360 feet, to the summit, which rises to a height of 14,505 feet.  This would definitely be the biggest hike either of us had ever done.

We got some food in us, and then drove in the dark to Whitney Portal, which consists of a parking lot surrounded by trees and trails going out every which way.  The road up to Whitney Portal is also one of the steepest I’ve ever driven.  My Mustang, in the cool of the early morning, was already registering hot on its temperature gage ¾ of the way up the hill.  While driving up, the car is essentially pointed up to the sky.  It is very steep.

We got our backpacks out with plenty of snacks and water (no cans of tuna this time), and started walking up the train.  It is a long trail, let me tell you.  But there is a lot of beautiful forest along the way.  I remember a point, not even a two hours into it, that I looked from the trail we were on, through the forest, and up towards a large granite arm of a mountain above us and thinking that I could just sit there for the day and admire what God had put in front of us.

But we kept moving up and up.  There was a section that had hundreds of railroad ties as steps, which were placed on the trail to keep stability.  They became tiresome and it seemed they would never end.  At some time, maybe three hours into the hike, we got to the timberline. It was right about this time that the air became thin enough to start having to move more slowly.  The natural governor was that if one hiked too fast, one’s head would start to pound and an instant headache would come on.

As I said in an earlier post, Eric is somehow wired to be less sensitive to heights than I.  He’s threshold for getting lightheaded is set higher than mine.  I noticed this just after crossing the timberline.  He had to slow down for me just a little, and as we moved higher on the mountain, this difference became more exaggerated.  I think it’s his Norwegian genetics or something.

After another couple of hours, we made it to the lake.  They call this base camp for Mt. Whitney.  Many of the peaks in this area seem to have a lake bout at this height; 11,500 feet or so.  This is the location where “normal” people would camp the night before the summit in order to acclimatize themselves to the thin air.  And this makes a lot of difference.

Incidentally, the approach to Mt. Langley, which is next door, and which Eric and I peaked on another trip after Mt. Whitney, is almost identical to Mt. Whitney’s approach. 

Eric and I sat by the lake and had some lunch, all the while, watching a few hikers attempting a summit bid from the North side of the lake, which took much more scrambling than Eric and I were up to.  Sitting there, I also imagined a huge boulder breaking loose from the Whitney crest line and falling a few thousand feet into the lake.  What a splash that would have made!

After we were finished eating and resting, we started on our way again.  We passed through what could only be described as a cathedral of granite formations around us, much like a dry version of the Khumbu Icefall in the Himalayas, on our way to the infamous 100 hair pin turns that climb from the lake to the crest line.

Climbing up the hairpin train was absolutely tiring, and it was a little scary at times.  The trail is built into the side of a very steep rise; one that takes you a good 1500 feet in a short time.  And at least in the year we were climbing, there had been some slides, and parts of the trail were worn away.  The rangers had put in steel cables, which you held onto as you crossed these sections.  I tried not to think of the height.

We finally got to the top of the hairpins and onto the crest line. Now, I can tell you at this point, which is around 12,500 feet, the air is really thin.  Much thinner than I had ever experienced.  The crest line takes you in a Northerly direction, and is only slightly rising.  All the same, Eric and I had to walk at about the speed that one would walk on the moon.  Any faster and then head-throbs would persist. 

There was one point during this section where the trail gets very thin, and you can see down on both sides many thousands of feet.  The fall is particularly straight down on the right (Eastern) side.  The one saving grace is that one feels a little secure in that these looks down are placed between large granite rock walls, so one only feels exposed for a few seconds with each passing.  On the left is Kings Canyon, and on the right are sheer, dry rock and the lake below. 

It’s funny because I have somehow become more squeamish of heights, and the thought of passing these areas, or of the hairpin turns now makes me a little dizzy.  I’m not sure if I could do it again, though I think I could if it were in front of me.

The trail then gets to an area that broadens out to an area full of shale.  At this point, we were clearly working toward getting to the final summit bid.  In front of us lay a large, rounded hill, as if the top side of a dome, whose sides are sheared off.  Our goal was to make it to the sheared area, climb up through it, and onto the top of the dome.

This took a long time.  The air was now so thin.  We carefully made our way through the steep rock, with no clearly marked path of how to proceed.  At this point, I thought to myself that though up to now, there had been a somewhat maintained path, we were really on our own at this point and couldn’t allow ourselves to get hurt at 13,500 feet.

We emerged onto the dome, which was much bigger than it looked from afar, and again without any clear trail, we knew we needed to now head East on the dome, as if to move towards the Owens Valley.  This too took a long time.  Our heads throbbed and Eric and I each moved at differing paces.  Sometimes he would end up ahead, and sometimes I would pass him hiking through the shin-high brush with no trail under us.

After another half hour, we finally came into view of a cabin very near the summit.  The cabin houses a metal container about the size of a legal pad, where each person who summits is allowed to sign their name.  Eric and I did so, and then hiked the last 50 feet or so to the summit.  Eric made it before I did and was enjoying the view of the Owens Valley, and probably two other states.  I walked up and said to Eric, “I can’t believe I did this!”  I had tears in my eyes.  I was at the highest point in the contiguous United States, and it was an incredible view.  Not only how far we could see out, but to realized how high up we had climbed.  We were at 14,505 feet.


We stayed there for about a half hour.  The winds were picking up a little since it was now mid-afternoon.  What they say is true about mountain climbing.  To summit is only half of the trip.  There was another 11 miles of hiking in front of us to get back to Whitney Portal. 

So we left the summit, said our goodbyes to the cabin and started back down.  This too involved work, especially getting off of the dome down the steep, rocky grade.  But as we descended, our heads gradually throbbed less, the light grew darker, and we found ourselves in the dark for the last few miles to Whitney Portal with our flashlights and making loud noises to warn off any bears.

We also drove all the way back to the San Fernando Valley that day.  I had to be at work Monday.  I remember getting home around 11pm to my bed in Burbank, completely astonished that we had that same day hiked from Whitney Portal to the summit of Mt. Whitney and back down.  And I was tired!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hiking the Sierra Nevada – Part II – Mt. Whitney Weekend


A few weeks had passed, and now it was time for Eric and I to meet again and hike Mt. Whitney.  Eric was working away at a wine store in Berkeley, and I was in the midst of production on Fantasia 2000 in Burbank.  We had just moved our offices to the old Skunkworks building near the Burbank Airport, and everything, including my office, was new and never before inhabited.

Our plan was to meet in Lone Pine on Saturday, do an acclimation hike, and then summit Mt. Whitney on Sunday.  My routine at Disney Feature Animation was to work my ass off all week, and try my hardest to get through reports on Friday nights, no matter how late, so that I could have Saturdays and Sundays off.  This didn’t always work because at the time I was the supervisor for several departments; Animation, Clean Up, Sweatbox, Final Color, and I also acted as substitute supervisor in Editorial.  This meant many, many reports due at the end of the week.

But on this Friday, I had to finish by the end of the night.  When I finished my work around 10:30pm, I got into my Mustang, which was already packed with my hiking gear, and headed North up the 14 and the 295 to Loan Pine, arriving at our hotel sometime around 2am to find Eric already asleep.

 We woke up bright and early Saturday morning (I didn’t need much sleep back in those days), ate some breakfast and headed to the base of Kearsarge Pass, a hike that would take us to around 11,000 feet.  It was a clear, crisp early fall morning, which was the best time of year to hike these peaks since the summer had melted as much snow as possible throughout the summertime.

This hike took us through beautiful woods and skirted the sides of large outcrops.  As we got to the timberline, there was mostly shale, and the trail became harder as we had to work harder to get foot traction.  The last half-mile being very difficult.   

The air became very thin and Eric and I had to rest quite a bit.  Eric was not as affected by the high altitude, and so he was doing more waiting for me than the inverse; he’s just wired that way.  During this last phase of the hike, we were on the side of a very steep slope, in which the trail was cut into, overlooking what looked like a mini volcano lake a good thousand or so feet below.

As we made it to the summit and looked over the other side, we peered into what looked like the whole of Kings Canyon.  The panorama was magnificent; blue lakes and green forests at varying levels.  We stayed up there for a good hour taking in the views.  I ran into three other Disney people while we were up there.  The coincidence was stupefying; 11,000 feet up on some tiny trail a few hundred miles away from Burbank, and there are some of my co-workers.

Eric and I then headed down.   It was so much easier going back and nice to take in the views we had had our back to on the way up.  We arrived back off of the mountain late afternoon and got some dinner and went to sleep for the very long day ahead of us.



 
 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hiking The Sierra Nevada – Part I – A Preparation Hike


Thoughts of the Owens valley have brought me to writing about hiking the Sierra Nevada range.  How did wanting to climb mountains start?  It was a brief three to four-year period in which I did a lot of climbing in addition to my marathon training.

Two years after Frank Wells, the Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, died in a helicopter crash, I heard about his having attempted to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents with his friend, Dick Bass.  The same day that I heard about this, I happened to be looking for some reference material in the Walt Disney Imagineering library for some of the animators, when staring out at me from a shelf I was passing were not one, but two copies of, “Seven Summits,” the book that chronicled Frank and Dick’s mountain climbing adventures.

I read the book and became inspired to climb mountains. In each of Frank’s anecdotes, there was the pattern of planning, struggle, and the joy of success at making it to the top of a mountain.  This excited me.  This pattern of planning, struggle and then finally achievement was familiar to me from my running, and yet it felt like a new challenge when applied to great heights.

At about the same time, my friend Eric had just climbed a mountain the Cascade Range.  I loved the picture of him standing on the summit in his climbing jacket and mirrored glasses like an unstoppable force piercing the sapphire sky behind him.  I wanted to experience that as well.

So Eric and I agreed that we would hike up Mount Whitney together.  We went to the Sports Chalet in Altadena and I got myself some K2 climbing boots.  Our plan was to do a couple of long preparation hikes.  We were both in shape, but I wanted to get used to carrying a pack with me, something I obviously didn’t do while running.  While at the sports store, we bought some stove fuel for camping and a few other accessories.

We decided to do a ten-mile hike into Sykes Hot Springs in Big Sur.  Eric, at the time, was living in Berkley, CA, and I in Burbank, so we met at the locations.  Surprisingly, we arrived at about the same time. I was still very new to doing long hikes, and Eric kids me to this day about the fact that I had brought something like 12 pounds of cans of tuna in my backpack.  I wanted tuna, and so as we hiked the ten or so miles to the hot springs and campsite, there were the muffled sounds of packed tuna cans knocking each other.

The hike in was very pretty, yet with a little less forest that I had expected around Big Sur.  Most of the greenery around us was waist to shoulder-high bush with the occasional tree.  It took us most of the morning and afternoon to get to the campsite, and the rhythm of hiking is always funny to me.  At first, you are excited with your hiking partner about starting out and there is a lot of talk.  After a bit though, once you realize how much lay ahead, the conversations evaporates into long periods of thought and meditation.

We got into camp in the afternoon and set up our tents next to a river, then found our way to the hot springs and chilled out for a good long time.  That evening, we built a fire next to our tent.  While I was in my running tights and acting like a shaman around the fire, Eric snapped a pic of me.  Later, when we were going to sleep, I felt something on the backside of my shoulder.  I turned on the flashlight and asked Eric to tell me what it was.  When he told me that it was a large tick, I went screaming out of the tent like a madman until I could calm down and get it off me.

The next morning, we hiked around a little to loosen our legs within about a mile of our campsite.  The purpose of this hike was to get some legs on that could handle a backpack for long periods of time, and to harden up the two city boys.  So we headed out mid-morning and made it back to the car where we parted ways, he back to Berkeley, and I back to beautiful downtown Burbank.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Random Radio



I was driving over to the local liquor store to get my girlfriend a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and thought about how the pre-programmed radio stations in my car are chaotically set with no apparent logic.  As I like to think of myself as a very organized and orderly person, I had to ask, “What exactly is my radio pre-setting plan?”

So, after I got the Pepsi from the store, I sat in my car for a moment and checked each of my pre-sets, both FM and AM, to see what all was on my radio.

Starting from the left on the first FM band, there is currently the following:

93.1 – Jack FM – classic rock.  This makes sense since I grew up on rock music, and the station plays a healthy potpourri of 70’s and 80’s rock.

95.5 – KLOS – classic rock.  Again, some logic here, although I actually don’t listen to this station very often anymore.  It was one of the mainstays of Los Angeles rock during my teen years along with a few others…does anyone remember KMET 94.7?  But somehow, I find that there isn’t quite the fun mixture that Jack FM offers.  I think I seek a bit more variety in my listening these days.

102.7 – KIIS – pop and current Billboard play list.  It’s very rare that I have this station on.  The reason it inhabits a space is that for about five months, I was working short-sales with a guy in Redondo Beach and I was having to commute from Burbank to his office early mornings.  I had gotten into watching American Idol and so had developed the habit of listening to Ryan Seacrest as one of my radio-jumping alternatives during drive-time.

107.1 KUZZ - This is not a station in LA.  It’s a country station in Bakersfield that I programmed in since I drive through the area frequently and want something to listen to since I’m not paying for XM Radio service at the moment.  As you cross deep into that Tehachapi Range, you lose most of the LA stations, so I need to have something ready for the listening.

97.1 – Amp Radio – top 20.  I input this station after having gotten used to listening to it in my real estate office just to have a new format in the car.  But I soon discovered that the same songs being rotated over and over are not fresh.

105.1 KKGO - Go Country – I listen to the station the most, being a country music consumer.  Just your typical country station playing mostly newer hits with some older gems mixed in.

My second FM band has the same station in all five slots.

87.7 – which here in LA is a sporadically broken signal of Latino music and talk.  This is the station that the radio defaults to when the battery has been disconnected, which means, until tonight, I had completely forgotten that I had a second FM band.  I must automatically flip through it on the way to the AM band.

AM band.  I must disclose here with the full knowledge that I am admitting to some nerdiness that I listen to a lot of AM radio; more than any human being person should.  Again, left to right:

1070 – KNX News Radio.  I continually OD on this station being the news junkie that I am.  Just can’t get enough traffic and weather reports in one hour.  I must know where the latest traffic breaks and round robins are taking place.  If you ever hear, “And Tipster Fred called in to say that there is a stall in the number three lane of the Southbound 5 just past Osborne,” it was probably me.  I have a special affinity for the station since, as a USC student and seeing the first few flames breaking windows on top of the First Interstate building in about 1987, which turned into a huge fire, I was interviewed at length in the field by Diane Thompson.  I still have the tape somewhere.

790 – KABC – I have this programmed in mostly because I like Doug McIntyre’s talk show, which is a mixture of politics, entertainment savvy and acoustic jazz appreciation (they guy is obsessed with Jack Sheldon, which one can understand if you’ve ever heard him play live…genius).  I also like John Phillips’ show in which he displays endless cheesy cynicism for any and every topic.  The other shows on this station are too conservative for me, so I move on.

640 – KFI – I have to have my fix of “Leo the Tech Guy” middays Saturdays and Sundays.  He talks about all of the latest technology having to do with computers, cell phones and camera.  Such fun!!!  Also, late at night if I can’t get to sleep, when Doug McIntyre and Phil Hendrie have signed off, there is always George Noory or Art Bell interviewing the latest conspiracy theorists.  This usually puts me to sleep.

570 – ESPN Radio – I just added this station into my AM band this past week after the Superbowl.  I was relishing hearing how Porter stole Manning’s pass over and over.  Yet, I was not enjoying hearing the overzealous commentators bag on how old The Who looked and sounded during half time show.  But, the good with the bad.

1150 – KTLK – The only reason I know about this station is because Phil Hendrie is on it, and he makes me laugh.  I know I’ve just lost the faith of any intellectual reading this, but I truly believe that this guy is a genius.  The timing in his ability to instantly switch voices and personas in mid-conversational stream is truly amazing to me.  Plus, the people he pretends to have on the air as guests always build up to the sheer preposterous with the utmost artistic crafting by Hendrie.

740 – KCBS San Francisco – Further proof that I am a news junkie.  I have this station in place because when I am in the San Joaquin Valley, I can’t be without a stream of news for long without developing hives.  I am always amazed how the signal “bounce” off of the ionosphere gets to my car radio pretty much in tact from over 300 miles away.

So, with this exercise in my car tonight, it occurred to me that my AM stations are actually pretty well planned in terms of content and usage moving from left to right.  And it's also clear to me that I stack my highest usage stations from left to right in my pre-sets.  However, my FM stations do not show such organization or thought. 

So I suppose I need to write out what FM stations I actually do want to listen to, and then take five minutes one day and pre-set them in a logical fashion.  It may seem petty, but really, with how much one uses their car radio in Los Angeles, one would think that a solid radio pre-setting plan is an essential element of every motorist's driving preparedness.  The radio is our closest friend, especially since cell phone usage is illegal while driving in the great State of California.

So I pledge that this week I will get rid of the crap from my FM band (goodbye KIIS and Amp, your power is being zapped), I will add some public radio, and I will determine a logical pre-set order to them from left to right.  See, if I had just done this tonight, instead of writing about it...  well, I’m not that organized.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Owens Valley



If you live in California and have done some traveling, you’ve probably gone through the Owns Valley at some point to get to Mammoth, Lone Pine, and Yosemite from the backside.  It stretches up Highway 395 in California on the east of the Sierra Mountains, or more accurately, the 395 sits inside the Owens Valley.  There are some long miles to be had there though.  For instance, you might stop at a gas station somewhere equivalent to the city of Ridgecrest, and then after that, you are in for hours of potentially dull driving.

I have been through the valley many times; my friend Eric and I used to hike the Sierras from the East side.  We climbed peaks such as Mt. Whitney, Mt. Langley, Corsage Pass, and Bishop’s Pass and scrambled through a lot of that Ansel Adams country.  To me, the Owens Valley was always a sort of dead-looking basin which contrasted with the gorgeous Sierras above it.  But the last few times I went through the valley, I started to see interesting patterns in the mountains; long, jagged shoulders or rock the color of black lava, which stretched farther than one would intuitively expect a mountain range to flow.

I also noticed deep riffs in the floor of the valley along the freeway at times, which made me suspect some significant geological events to have taken place in the Owens Valley.  Parts of it look downright primordial. I’ve now come to realize that the Valley itself is just as interesting as the mountains.
 
The Owens Valley is a graben; a down-dropped block of land between two vertical faults.  This graben was formed by a long series of earthquakes, such as the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake, that moves the graben down and helped raise the Sierra Nevada up.  The graben is in fact much larger than the dept of the valley suggests; gravity studies suggest that 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock mostly fills the graben and that a very steep escarpment is buried under the western length of the valley.  The topmost part of this escarpment is exposed at Alabama Hills. *

Also, from 1942 to 1945, during World War II, the first Japanese American Interment camp operated in the valley at Manzanar near Independence, California.  They have tours of the place, which I plan to go to at some point in the future.

When I drive through the Owners Valley, I also think about what the valley looked like when it was full of water; when it was a flowing river before the California water struggles between local residents and the City of Los Angeles resulted in diversion of the river. But mostly, when I drive though it, I enjoy how vast and wild it looks.  It reminds me that there is still a lot of space out there.
__________________
*Wikipedia.org


 

  

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beach-Bus Mornings


Just before we were all driving, various buddies of mine and I would take the bus to the beach from the San Fernando Valley in the summertime.  I first learned that I could get myself from the Valley to the beach via public transit at age 14 when a slightly older kid, across the street, Ritchie, asked me to tag along with him to “San Mo”(Santa Monica).  This meant utter independence to any pre-driving kid who lived in the valley.  The ocean was about twenty miles away, and in an epiphany, we could all be at the beach of our own accord in about an hour and a half.

I remember these mornings well.  School was out, my dad was usually getting ready for his late drive to work, and mom was doing whatever.  My friends and I would often have slept over at one of our family’s houses.  We’d wake up at 6:00am, get our towels, our suntan lotion, a small carrying bag or backpack of some sort, and most importantly, our Boogie Boards.

Boogie Boards were allowed on RTD busses back then. They just had to be somewhat clean of sand, and you had to be able to stow them in the tight space between your knees and the seat in front of you.  So we’d all hike down the street to the nearest bus stop in the dry warmth of the morning under either a piercing blue sky, or other times, under a heavy gray overcast marine layer depending on if June Gloom had set in.  The Gloom only lasted a month and generally burned off by midday, so we were usually in for a great beach day.

We would wait at the bus stop for maybe 15 minutes, talking too loud and completely oblivious to sleeping residents in our anticipating the excitement of the day.  One time, my friends David, Tim and I had an LAPD officer drive up to us and write down our names for disturbing the peace at 6:30am.  Just minutes before, we had been hanging from a street sign and kicking our feet every which way and yelling like cannibals.  So our run-in with the authorities was probably well deserved.

The bus ride was done in three sections.  One bus, the 81 or the 35, moved us West across the floor of the San Fernando Valley towards the Sepulveda Pass.  We got off at Van Nuys Blvd.  After another 15 or 20 minutes, we hopped on the 183, which took us South over the Sepulveda Pass and let us out in Westwood on Wilshire Blvd.  Our last leg was to take the 34 along Wilshire Blvd to the Pacific Ocean to the aptly named, Pacific Ocean Park bluffs, which overlooked the Pacific Coast Highway and the endless blue.

The rides and the layovers were always interesting.  There generally were a handful of maids on these buses going to clean houses, and there was always a colorful derelict or two along the way who would curse us youngsters after some of us had done some provoking to pass the time.  But most fondly, there was the music. 

In those days, ghetto blasters had just started to come out.  Not the really huge kind that these would evolve into just a few years later, but essentially, they were foot-long stereo tape players.  And each ride to the beach had the stoner group way in the back of the bus with their tape-player turning out some Zeppelin, some Who, or some Rush.  There was one very pretty girl from my high-school named Kristina, who tended to be among this crowd; I always looked forward to running into her.

The stoners would do whatever they wanted back then.  They’d sing with the music, they’d ridicule others on the bus, they’d harass the bus-driver, and they often would be kicked off of the bus.  Our bus was once stopped in Westwood by the LAPD officers.  Two cops got onto the bus, passed me where I usually sat in the middle rows, and went back to see who was smoking pot.  The officers were chewing bubble gum; I supposed to make them even more sensitive to the smell of pot through the contrast of the sweet-smelling gum.  They took two or three kids off of the bus and arrested them.  I was glad I was more of a momma’s boy than these kids and I would get to my destination as planned.


Upon arrival at Pacific Ocean Park, we would proceed to walk among the roots of big trees towards the bluffs.  To this day, when I think of stepping over these roots and coming upon the vast Pacific blue, I still hear the phrase of the song, “Stairway to Heaven” by Zeppelin.  It goes:

There’s a Feeling I Get When I Look to the West
And My Spirit is crying for Leaving.

This moment of arriving at the beach was always very special for me.  The water and the air cleansed my soul.

We would walk cross cement pedestrian bridge, which crossed Pacific Coast Highway, and then proceed to set up camp at one of two spots.  The location of groups of people on the beach were designated by the baby-blue colored L.A. County Lifeguard towers.  They were set apart by about an eighth of a mile from one-another. We would either walk to towers eight and nine, or to tower four.  Tower four was a bit more of a walk North and became popular later because of its exclusivity on the beach.  


Our summer boogie-boarding beach routine was pretty predictable from there.  My friends and I would tip toe into the water and try to acclimate to the horrifyingly freezing temperature of 69 degrees.  We would all go back up and get our boogie boards, and then head into the water.   Of all of my friends, I was the most squeamish about the cold water.  I always SCREAMED my head off as I entered into the waves.  My friend Tim, who would be out surfing an instant after entering the ocean, never failed to laugh hysterically at my shrieks muffled by the crashing waves.

Then, depending on who I was with that day, after a longer-than-healthy time in the water, when our lips were blue, and we were exhausted, we would either munch on some snacks we had brought, or we would get stoned and then munch on the snacks.

This was followed by an hour and half of baking in the sun to a point that couldn’t have been healthy for our young skin.  We poured coconut baby oil on and flopped from our fronts to our backs like pancakes on a griddle in order to ensure a deep tan for our return to our respective schools in September. 

To cool off, I would sometimes swim way out a good 100 years from the shore like Roger Daltry crossing the river in the end of "Tommy," and then I'd head back to shore.  This was followed by another two or three hours of boogie boarding, scoping the pretty girls from Beverly High and then finally, it was lunchtime.  At the edge of the sand near PCH, there were snack stands where one could get burgers, chips and sodas.  We did this every lunchtime.  We’d get in line, wait and chat with one-another, feeling good about our physiques and then head back to the sand with our food to enjoy our summertime bliss.

After a very short post-meal rest, we would head back into the water to risk stomach cramps and become waterlogged again.  Many of us had perfected Boogie Boarding to an art.  This included getting tubed in the waves, getting on our knees on the board, and even something we called, “drop knee.” (one knee down on the board with the other foot planted flat on the surface).  Our boards were equipped with leashes and skegs, which helped keep us stuck to the wave, and we wore fins and fin-socks to propel us forward and keep our feet from getting cut up respectively.

And there were wipe-outs.  Every once in a while, a rogue set of waves would come into shore, and as we tried mastering these beasts, we’d become heavily involved in their turbulent and completely disorientating whitewash.  One of the hardest laughs I’ve ever had in my life was when my friend Nick took a spill on a huge wave, emerged from the ocean foam solid as a rock on his feet, and then he threw-up...as in "puked," from the impact of the wipe-out he had just had.  He was then immediately okay, and it was back to boogie boarding for him again.  We were insatiable.


But eventually the shadows would lengthen, the wind would pick up, wisps of fog would start move in, and the sun would turn a deep orange on the horizon; we knew we had to pack up and start heading back for our hour and a half-long RTD ride back home.  We would re-experience all of the bus adventures again in the opposite direction, though this time with a bit more fatigue and less patience, until we’d arrive back in our respective homes, where our parents were ending their day from work.  We’d then call each other on the phone to make plans for the next day and do it all over again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Triangles Revisited

Excerpt from a project I am working on:


Suddenly having two parents presented a lot of issues.  Not right away, but once all of the excitement and chaos of having joining the family, traveled a great deal and meeting people finally gradually wore off. 

As I mentioned earlier, I had felt outcast in situations in which my biological father spent time with my mother or had sex with other women.  Having been left in the same room with my parents having sex, or left out in the apartment hallway when my father was with another women had an effect on me.  My being partially aware of what I was seeing made me feel excluded from the one parent, who I had any real connection to.  It was insensitive of him, of course, not to have left me with a friend or neighbor during these times.  This feeling of exclusion was laid over the already painful reality that my mother would have very little to do with me.

When I went to live with my new parents, and some time had passed, there became some interesting dynamics in which I tried to split my parents’ to get at least one of them on my side.  Having their attention and support was very important to me, and since my parents were new at child-rearing themselves and had a lot of issues to work out between them, I likely found the opportunity to work situations in which they would fight, and one would side with me.  That dynamic of having one parent on my side was most familiar to me.  I can’t say that I deliberate did this, as in, “Ok, now I’m going to work this into a collapsed triangle.”  But I do know in my heart that I was less comfortable with the prospect of the two people I was close to in having a strong bond in front of me.  In my mind, it meant I was outside of that bond and unsafe.

My parents have talked about a time shortly after I was adopted in which I became close very quickly with my father, Bill.  My mother said that he and I had a “love affair” for a while.  He was able to answer all of my questions since he was a man of science, engineering and journalism.  My mother felt excluded for a while until a couple of years passed, and then I suddenly tried to shut my father out, seeking my mother’s attention and support.  These patterns were painful not only for me but for my newly adopted parents as well. 

I remember a time when I was ignoring my father, probably for the better part of a week, and, while I was in my room, I heard him say to my mother, “He won’t talk to me.  He’s forcing me out of the house.”  I thought to myself that I had pushed things beyond a limit that I shouldn’t have.  Much later, I told this story to my therapist.  His reaction was that, indeed I was testing my own control and power in our family, but that my father should have been better equipped in himself to have been able to sit me down and confront the way I was behaving, instead of going to my mother about the problem.

My parents went into couples counseling when I was about age six, and as my mother remembers it, I was invited to the first session with them.  The therapist asked me what I thought was wrong, and I apparently said that it was between my parents, not me.  There was probably some truth to the fact that my parents had to start working out some of the differences in their own values and expectations in their marriage.  Doing that would strengthen their child-rearing methods as well.

I also felt this trouble with triangles with friends of mine.  I had a close friend named Christian on the block, and he had a good friend named Danny.  I remember feeling jealous of Christian’s and Danny’s friendship in those early years, again, with the presumption that their friendship somehow detracted from my friendship with Christian.  I really believe that all of this goes back to my complete reliance on my biological father.  Anytime his attention was diverted from me, it was detrimental to me because I had no other fallback.  It felt like a survival issue to keep his attention on me, and in the same way, as I stated earlier, he wanted to feel needed by me so much that he would hide from me to see if I would get scared without him.  All of this was jumbled up in a way that has had an impact on me for many years.  I think I became aware of the reaction to triangles in myself when I was in the back seat passenger in a car in high school.   My friend Tim and I had picked up our mutual friend, Kim, and we three were all driving down Ventura Blvd to go get some pizza.  Tim and Kim were in the front seat, and I was in the back seat.  I started to feel jealous about Tim and Kim joking around with each other and felt excluded in the back seat.  I realized shortly after this that it was a similar feeling to what I had experienced growing up.  I remember being surprised that I could still react this way at 16 years old.

In all, my parents had a somewhat more relaxed way of setting rules for me.  I had a bedtime, I had to study, and I had to do my set of chores.  But compared to other people in other places, I was given a pretty long leash at times and allowed to have a certain amount of independence.  For instance, both of my parents worked, so I had a key to get into the house after my carpool let me off.  I could play in the neighborhood and go about a half-mile in any direction without my parents being too worried about me.  I think the assumption that I was ok also had to do with where we lived.  The specific area of the Hollywood Hills that we lived in back in the early 1970’s was pretty new and remote and felt safe. 

As I’ve grown up, and especially since I’ve seen my parents succumb to their respective dementias, I have noticed that my mother did not like attention being diverted away from her.  A family friend told me that when I found my sister, she did not like it at all, and those times when I’ve taken my father out for lunch, just the two of us, she has asked what we talked about and inside, I could see that she didn’t like the time spent away from her.  So in a sense, my mother in particular was a perfect compliment to my trouble with triangles.  She reinforced the discomfort I already felt with threesome situations. 

I believe this, in my mother, came from her own cold mother’s being overcritical of her and rejecting her throughout the time my mother’s mother was alive.  This left in my mother a deep hole that she was always seeking to fill externally.  She wanted people’s attention on her, and as she got older and became more child-like with her dementia, she became intolerant of the natural flow and dynamics of conversations, which at some point, naturally weren’t focused on her.

While in their 80’s, my girlfriend and I would have dinner with my parents.  My mother might talk a while, transitioning from topic to topic, and then when there was a lull, and my father came up with a topic, he could only get a paragraph of speech in, and then my mother would say, “Ok, my turn to talk now. You’ve been talking too much.”  It would have been easy for someone on the outside to think that she just wanted to have a word in, but this behavior in her was the magnified residue of a feeling of lacking in value that she always tried to conquer in herself.

But my trouble with triangles, of which I am much more aware, still causes me hesitation in some situations, but I recognize it for what it is and where it came from now.  As an adult, I know the occasional feeling of exclusion is not something that is being done to me, but rather, is a bubbling up for a primordial experience I had consistently when I was very young.  And so, rather than giving into the anxiety triangles could cause, I embrace it with understanding.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Time to Organize and Reflect in my Head

-->
This is a rough excerpt from the intro to a book I am writing:  

As I have aged, I have found that there are times in one’s life when they are very production, busy with work, making a lot of income, and have no time for anything but looking forward to the next project or crisis they have to handle.  Then, there are other times, when things are slower, when one is perhaps looking for work or changing careers and trying to pin-point what the next area of focus and passion will be for the next few years.

I have personally been through this phase twice; a phase of slower, more introspective and artistic hiatus from the rushing world of being immersed in an occupation.  The first was about five years after graduating USC.  I had been living with a girlfriend for about three years and had decided to change careers from work in the field of psychology to entertainment.  During this time, I was the most prolific in my own writing of music that I had ever been.  I also took time to find out more about my biological father’s family and even to visit a few of the people who were still alive at the time.  Shortly after this, I started working at the Walt Disney Company and became the busiest person I’d ever been.  This was in stark contrast to the quasi-bohemian life I had been living in my loft in the Venice Canals, writing music in the middle of the day while looking for work.

This time I am presently in as I write this is very similar to that time many years ago.  I am "working" at working, trying to sell some real estate here and there, writing a script with an animator at Disney, and finding that as busy as I still am, that I now have time to reflect back on where I have been.  When I do look back, I find that I have a story to tell.  From the most humble roots of being born to a Filipino immigrant father and a mother I didn’t have much contact with, I somehow ended up working at the most well-known movie studio in the world.  And not only that, but I started working there at a time when they had just resurrected the feature animation department, the jewel of the whole company.  During the period that I was working at the Disney Studios and doing my job well there, it was my high water mark.

The time and experience between these two lives; the very poor boy growing up in the "hood" in Los Angeles, to the twenty-something year-old man, who had gone to USC, took piano lessons, and had met several billionaires by age thirty; this is a journey that I want to write about.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Familiar Patterns


I have been noticing recently how so many people’s stories are the same or very similar to each other in some way.  I was talking to a young woman today who told me about how and why she came to the U.S., and it was a story I had heard a hundred times before.  She had gotten her education in her home country, where she had learned to speak English, then came to the U.S. to do some further study and then perhaps look for work.

It’s not just the foreigner’s anecdote that is so familiar.  I’ve been hearing stories from people about their economic suffering, their experiences with having had a specific interest or hobby earlier in their lives that they grew out of.  And it’s not just their overall stories, but even minute details that are so similar from person to person.  It’s like there’s a collective experience that is had in many areas, and I’ve been let in on a lot of these recently.

Maybe it’s partially due to getting older.  At age 20, people's experiences would seem fresh, but then more than double those years on the planet, and it’s harder to find the unique story.  I suppose a seasoned reporter would experience the same thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Desolation


I have a dear friend who lives in another country, and who is going through such a hard time right now.   Their economy has also been greatly affected, and as a result, she is suffering due to the complete lack of opportunity, and the inability to draw any meaning from her past work and studies and convert that experience into a job. 

Times are so tough.  It’s especially painful when for example, one is not making any money and is unable to support their own family or their needs, and yet throughout the day, one sees other people working and driving nice cars.  People, who were otherwise doing mundane tasks in the jobs during the better times, are probably very happy to have those jobs now just to keep an even keel in the water through this difficult period of time.

But then there is desperation. When you can’t pay your rent or have enough food.  It’s never happened in my life before, and albeit, I did happen to quit working at the studios and go into real estate at just the beginning of the three-year precipice that has led to where I am today.  So, my timing was extra terrible.  But so many are impacted now.  I am still in my home, and working each day to try to make something happen, and that's the only thing one can do.

I feel for my friend, who seems to be at her wit's end right now and doesn’t know in which direction she should step.

I keep telling myself and others that life is full of contrasts.  At some point in the future, I will look back and say, “Boy, that was a really tough time in so many ways.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Get Off the F'ing Phone!!!


 

I was running last night through Burbank, about to cross Magnolia on a pedestrian green when a guy in his pick up truck skidded to a halt into the cross-walk while talking on his cell phone.  He was clearly distracted while talking on it.  He was a pasty, chubby-faced, messy-haired, 40’ish man, who looked like an animator or artist to me.

He looked at me like he was embarrassed by what he had done.  Since his windows were first closed, I pantomimed a cell phone to him with anger.  He rolled down his window and said in a high-pitched voice, “I apologized man.”  I countered at him, “That wouldn’t make a difference if I were dead.”

He then said,”I said I was sorry, what more do you want?” while he STILL had his cell phone by his ear.  I shouted at him loud enough for people in their houses five houses deep from the intersection to hear “I want you to get off your fucking cell phone!!!”  He followed this up with cell to ear with, “Oh, nice language.” 

He obviously wasn’t getting it.