The 2nd Annual Fiesta-Next-Door

Last year at this time, we marveled at the excess.  The overindulgence.  The magnitude. I'm talking about the birthday party next door at our neighbors', the Mexicans (I'm pretty sure that's their last name because that's what we've always called them).  I don't know exactly, but I think the little girl was two last year.  I could be wrong, but it just seems so--I don't know--ridiculous--to do what I'm about to describe for a one year-old if that's what she was last year.

They were in the process of setting it up last year when my attention was diverted to what was taking place over the fence.  Some sort of white structure was being erected like what you would see over the entrance to a garden.  As the day wore on balloons were affixed to it and everything around it.  Tables, chairs, and all the rest filled the entire backyard.  They even had a giant air-driven, bouncy-structure that they had rented for the event.  (Apparently giant bouncy structures are the symbol of success to those that have immigrated to the United States.)

That was all just innocent (but ominous-looking nevertheless) stuff until it got close to dark and the music started.  The disco-mariachi-squeezebox stuff with vocals that consist of nothing but choruses.  It started before dark, and continued.  I'm not sure how long it continued because I finally had to go to bed (yes, amazingly, I was able to get to sleep).  When we got in the hot tub that evening, I was kind of enjoying the newness and weirdness of it all.  It was kind of like a different flavor of pain.  Instead of the barking dog that had plagued us every day (and still does) we were treated to a little bit of their wacko ethnic eccentricities weirdness culture.  It made for an interesting soak in the hot tub.

Yesterday history repeated itself.

Because it was beautiful weather, we weren't home a lot yesterday so we missed a lot of the preparation, but it was apparent that this was going to be Spoiled Princess Birthday: The Sequel.  We saw the balloons, and when I peeked through the fence (don't all neighbors?) I saw rows of tables and chairs draped with tablecloths.

As daylight started to wane, they found the on switch to their music equipment.  Yeah, it was more of the same Latin lunacy that we were privileged to be a part of (whether we liked it or not) last year.  It played for a couple hours before we actually saw what was going on in the back yard.  Sitting here at our computers we just mainly got to enjoy the thump, thump, thump of the dreaded disco death bass notes.  When we decided to go out for a quick soak in the hot tub I went outside to open it up.

They had taken last year to a slightly higher level.

I went in to get Suzie.  "Come out here and look at this!" I exclaimed.  (I probably looked just like the intro  of the old Beverly Hillbillies show where Jed runs into the cabin to grab Granny.)

Like last year, they had a giant bouncy thing, only this one was a big horse/dragon-looking creature.  Lit by the flickering light of their bonfire it looked pretty interesting bouncing its head up and down.  In addition, they had also had a new feature this year:  A lighted disco ball.  Rays of light were shining interesting patterns through the smoke of their fire and bouncing off the surrounding trees.

It made for an interesting time in the hot tub to say the least.  From our vantage point all we could see was a giant, nodding (from the kids bouncing in it) horse's head with its tongue hanging out, and the shooting rays of the lighted disco ball bouncing around the surrounding area.  We didn't stay out long though.  It wasn't because of the neighbors from south-of-the-border though--it was mosquitoes.

Hopefully they feasted heavily on the revelers next door.

The Fire

I don't know why this just popped into my head the other day.  Sue and I were having a conversation about something or another and there it was... Surfacing from the depths of my memory like a "B" movie submarine with Russian writing on it:

It was the day our house caught fire.

I don't know how much (if at all) any of my brothers and sisters remember about it, but we came that close (holds up a finger caliper that reads about .625 inches) to losing our house one day.

We moved into that house in the summer of '68 so I'm going to say it was probably somewhere around the following year that it took place.  If memory serves me it was in decent weather, so let's say it was spring or thereabouts.

My dad had this little shoestring business he started while we were still living in Algona.  It was called Williams & Son, but I really had nothing at all to do with it.  I think he thought it just sounded way cooler.  It does sound professional--I'll give it that.  His "business" was selling parts & accessories and repairing small single-cylinder Honda motorcycles.  It was never about getting rich, rather, it was about him paying for the needs of our family motorcycles.  He didn't have a business license but through the use of the name and/or letterhead he had found a couple of suppliers that would sell to him at wholesale.  Basically, he made just enough money to help offset some of our own motorcycle expenses.  Anyway, instead of having his business in his garage like normal people, he opted to have it in the basement when we moved into our Auburn house.  That would be fine for the tools, the workshop and all that, but not for the actual repairing of motorcycles.  After all, there were basement steps to navigate, right?

One day he had someones Honda downstairs and had done some sort of repair to it and was attempting to start it.  Right off the bat that doesn't sound too bright does it?  We must have loved the smell of exhaust.  Anyway, I wasn't directly involved in the repair process, but I was down there with him, watching and learning like I usually did.  There was some sort of malfunction (I'm going call it a fuel leak).  He most likely had the spark plug out of the cylinder and plugged into the spark plug wire and was kicking it over and checking for spark.  Well, the spark was there.  So was the gas.

In as instant, it was on fire.  Panic ensues.  I was already on the side of the bike that was opposite the door, and when the POOF of flame happened I shrunk back away even further.  I'm sure I had no idea what to do--A flaming motorcycle in your basement kind of takes you by surprise.  My dad was grabbing stuff and swinging it at the fire which was getting bigger.  Sometime during the first few seconds he brought my mom into the picture and she called the fire department.  It was HUGELY chaotic.  Obviously, I can't remember the actual events as they happened, but I remember them hollering at me to get out of there, so I ran by the burning motorcycle and hot-footed it out the door. Their house (yes, they still live there) has a very low basement ceiling like many houses do, and the fire was reaching the ceiling above it by the time I ran past.

I have no idea if they ever tried any water or anything on the fire.  I would guess not because everything was happening so fast.  There were no fire extinguishers (not many houses did to my knowledge). 

I remember only one thing that got taken out of the house in the panic:  The long front drawer out of our desk.  I don't know why--I guess it had some important papers in it.  More likely:  He hollered at her to grab and she just grabbed.  Maybe they got more items than that out of the house.  If so I don't remember it.

The fire department came quickly.  Lucky us.  The fire was put out quickly.  It had eaten its way through the floor into the bathroom above, but had been caught in time that a great deal of damage wasn't done.  Maybe my dad did manage to suppress it a little to buy some time before the fire department got there--I don't know.  When it was all put out, I remember the FD hanging two giant doorway fans in the house--one in the back door blowing outward, and one in the front door blowing inward.  The smoke was evacuated pretty quickly, but entire house was thick with smoke for a while so I'm sure there was plenty of cleanup.

We were lucky.  I don't think we had lived there very long at all at that point, and I know for a fact that everything we owned as a family was in that house. Our family was always heavy into taking pictures.  I can't even imagine us losing those hundreds and hundreds (thousands maybe?) of slides and pictures of all of us as we were growing up that we had accumulated.


I'm pretty sure that was the last gas engine of any kind that was ever started within the walls of our house.

I could be wrong though.  Time heals all wounds, and as wounds go, that fire was a shallow one.

Bookmarks in my Memory

Where do you remember being when "moments in history" took place?  I've blogged before about how a song or a smell will "take you back" to when a significant event occurred.  Sometimes it's the opposite--You think of an event and you can remember where you were or what you were doing.

It's funny how things will stick in your memory about the day and time.  Here are a few that I recall that way:

The assassination of President Kennedy was my first recollection of a historical event.  I don't remember the exact event though--probably because I had no idea of what it really meant.  Because I was young I had a different view of it.  The Saturday following his death I sat down on the floor to watch cartoons and guess what?  My cartoon channel didn't have any cartoons on it.  It had some sort of a parade going on, and everybody was watching something going by with a flag-draped over it.  I switched the channel Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! (For you youngsters, that's what TV channel selectors sounded like in 1963.) Every single one of the three networks had the exact same thing on.  As I recall, all of the channels even had the same perspective... like they were all using the same camera.  I remember being real upset that I couldn't watch cartoons on Saturday morning.  As as you probably all know, back then cartoons were GREAT!

When man landed on the moon I was a paperboy.  On that particular day I had a customer that had called me, explaining (or should I say complaining) that they didn't receive their paper that day.  My mom drove me to a store so I could buy a paper and deliver it to them.  We ended up in the store in Auburn that is now what I call the Mexican store, but I believe it was a Thriftway back then.  I think it was somewhere around lunchtime, but I just remember the gal at the checkout counter.  She was listening to the radio, and when the big news came she hollered (literally), "They landed on the moon!  They landed on the moon!"  How could you not remember something as exciting as that?  I'm not sure which was more exciting though... I'm pretty sure without the lady's response it would have been just another average landing on the moon.

When Mt. St. Helens erupted I was still in the Air Force, stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  I really didn't have a lot of information before the actual eruption.  Sure, there was news here and there about it, but you really didn't hear much on the other side of the US.  Remember, this was way pre-internet, so all there was to go on was TV, radio, and newspapers.  Like I said though--Information was spotty.  That is until the eruption.  Then all of a sudden it was HUGE news.  It was everywhere.  The media propped it up so much that it was almost as if half of the state of Washington had been blasted from the earth.  I really mean that's almost what it sounded like over there.  I called my parents and basically got something like, "Huh? Oh yeah--that.  No, it hasn't affected us any here."  What?!  Okay, good.  I could relax.  I must say though--That eruption was noticeable way over there in North Carolina.  I don't remember how many days later (it wasn't many) that the sun was almost a blood red when it came up every morning until it was pretty high in the sky.  I'd say at least until 11am every morning for a week or so.  Pretty impressive.

When the space shuttle Challenger blew itself out of the sky I was driving in my pickup truck and pulled over.  I was working as an outside salesman for Enumclaw Computer Center and I was somewhere out around Buckley when the news came over the radio.  I don't remember how long I sat listening to the news bits on the radio, but I must've been somewhat spellbound.  It was something that's not supposed to happen.  By the time I was able to see it on my TV at home later it still hadn't lessened any in my mind.  I sat and watched the footage and listened to everyone give their stories.  It was a blow to us as a country it seemed to me.  We were supposed to not have failures like that.  We're the USA dammit!  Maybe it hit home a little bit more because my mom went to school with Dick Scobee who was the commander on that flight.  I don't remember if I knew that beforehand or not.  It was pretty devastating.  I remember feeling so sorry for all the students from Christa McAuliffe's classroom.  They were there that day to watch their teacher be the first one to blast into space, but instead saw her evaporate before their eyes.

When the World Trade Center fell I was sitting in my chair in the 17-45 building of Boeing in south Auburn.  I was a planner then and sat in a cubicle with two computers.  The biggest one of the two was a special unit that ran a dedicated software application that we used.  This was a time before Boeing clamped down and restricted any software from being loaded onto any of their machines by one of their employees.  Well, I was one of those guys that had the knowledge and ability to do such a thing, and because of that I was able to dredge up full screen video on my 20" monitor, piped in live from the BBC.  The best anyone else could get was on their little 17-inch screens.  Because of that I had people from all around my cubicle standing there watching as the drama unfolded.  I had the video up when word had just come in that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  We were watching it all, transfixed, shocked, amazed--you name it.  Then we watched in horror as a second plane hit.  Nobody could stop watching.  We all were in total disbelief when they fell.  These were the biggest and best buildings our country had to offer and we sat there and watched as the impossible unfolded before our eyes.  In retrospect, I would have saved myself literally thousands of dollars had I calmly reached over to my browser and told Schwab to sell everything I had.  Nobody was thinking for the moment that day.

I'm sure I could come up with others if I sat here long enough.  Anyone else have something to share?

A Weekend of Gadgetry

I dunno what it is about gadgetry that makes me fall in love with it but I do.  I get new "toys" and I just zero in on them.

Early this last week I was sitting here and saw an ad on Craigslist.  It said, "Moving: Lots of Free stuff to rumage through" and listed Auburn as the city.  (BTW, that's their spelling of rummage. I know because the ad is still up.)  Inside the ad said, "There are magazines, toolbox, clothes, kitchen stuff, flashlights, plant, farm supplies, cat stuff. etc.  Clothes, bedding, Garmin GPS, wiper board, games, stuff. I don't know, just alot of stuff. Just anything I come across as I am packing and moving is going out there."  Well, it listed an address that was only 10 minutes away from us, and the ad had just been posted so we hopped in the car.

What did I get?  A Garmin GPS for my car.  Suzie has had a GPS for a few years now and it's surely come in handy more than once, but I never saw much need for one myself.  Especially considering she has one.  Besides, I'm a guy and we don't need to ask for directions, right?  Okay, the bag the GPS was in also contained its suction mount, power cord to plug in the car lighter, and a couple other cords that didn't go to it.  The power cord had broken plastic where it plugs into the back of the unit so I didn't expect it to work at all.  I was very surprised to find the unit power up when I carefully plugged it in and wiggled it.  I played with it a little bit and determined that it was a perfectly healthy unit that someone had broken the power cord to, so they scrapped it.  It also has a USB plug on the side of it so you can charge it from your computer at home, so I brought it in and plugged it in.  The next morning I let it "lead" me to work and it operated just fine (after I wiggled it enough that it would stay on).  I let it charge on my work computer all day.  I holds a charge just fine.  A little digging on the internet provided me with a manual, a firmware update, and a bunch of fun vehicle icons to install.  I glued a piece of metal onto my dashboard (yes, you read right: glued! Hey, it's an old car, why not?) for the suction cup to mount to and we used it all day Saturday on our drive to photograph lavender fields over in the city of Sequim.  I worked flawlessly.  Because it passed the operational tests, I ordered up a new power cord from eBay for a whopping $8.50.  Sure, it's an older model, but it works great and the price was right (and I like the her British accent).

While we were in Sequim we stopped for lunch, and in the parking lot of the Arby's we ate at was a Goodwill store.  Hey, how could we pass that up?  In there I found another old camera for my collection for only 6 bucks.  It was still in its original leather case and even still had a roll of film in it.  It's a Falcon Model F from 1938 (don't you love the internet?).

Then yesterday (see, I'm not done yet) we were out and stopped at our local Goodwill store and I bought another wireless router for 6 bucks.  No, I didn't need one, but it had the optional high-gain antennas on it.

It was a great weekend.  It was excellent weather both days, and we got to squeeze in driving, photography, sunbathing, and junk store shopping.

Oh, and gadgetry too!

The American Decline

Sorry folks, but once again the curmudgeon in me has come out.  I feel I have to rant a little.  It may be a little fragmented, but that's just how my mind works.  Hey, I'm not writing a thesis here.

I wonder if there's ever a time or generation when someone doesn't say, "I'm not going to bring a child into this world.  It's a mess" or something along those lines.  I've heard it several times over the decades.  No matter what is going on in the world at any particular time, it's going to affect someone in a negative way.  We've all heard the "back in my day..." remark that has been uttered by virtually every parent or grandparent in history.  I'm no statistician but I can't help but wonder how many times in our nation's history that we have had wild roller coaster rides of change and how far the peaks and dips have gone.  Change is inevitable--everybody knows that, but is it just me or have the "changes" seem to have gotten closer together?

I first experienced it when I was working at Boeing.  I was just hired on and people were saying, "You're lucky--Boeing runs in 7-year cycles and you're getting in at the bottom of a new one!"  Only 3 years later Boeing had taken a complete turn.  I was laid off just over the 5-year mark.  During my last year or two I worked there I heard the following line uttered more than once: "This is not your father's Boeing."  The people that had spent their entire working lives with Boeing were even shaking their head at how weirdly unpredictable things were.

Our current system of values has impacted things a lot too.  Remember when people would say you had to own your house?  It was part of the American Dream.  All our lives we were taught that our house was a huge hedge against inflation and the major anchor to our retirement.  People would say to own your own home because real estate values never decrease.  Well guess what?  They decrease!

It used to be that people generally didn't live beyond their means.  The only things they bought on credit were the big-ticket items that were pretty much necessities.  Home, car, refrigerator--that kind of thing.  Now our society buys everything on payments.  They buy cars they can't afford and pay payments on them forever. Why do I say forever?  Because their original loan was for 6 years but nobody ever seems to keep a vehicle long enough to pay it off before trading it in on another car and another payment.  When I was in school I was taught to pay attention to the amortized interest on a loan.  In a nutshell, if you had to pay on a car for longer than 36 months you technically couldn't afford it.  It was just not a good financial decision.  Now people buy cars they can't afford, giant TVs they can't afford, spend way too much money on food because they're buying it 'ready to eat', and all sorts of other insane decisions with their money.  How can somebody that is working at McDonald's be driving a brand new Lexus with fancy aftermarket wheels and tires? They make payments that's how.  In their lives they own nothing.  You know what that translates to?  It boils down to people not buying a home.  All the people that make all these bad choices with money (that don't have a 6-figure income) have one thing in common: They live in apartments.

Apartments used to only really be necessary in big cities where everything was built upwards because of space considerations.  Now apartments are everywhere, and everybody lives in them.  It seems like our way of thinking has stepped to the side.  We're more disposable.  We don't keep something until it stops working--we keep something until the next model comes out with different features.  You know, 'more of this, less of that, a faster something, and missing nothing'. 

My perception of our country's way of living is can be described in just one word: superficial.  Nobody seems to have any real roots or conviction any more. No plan, no goal, no desire to exceed with hard work and dedication.  An analogy would be when someone removes all the trees from a hillside and plants a lot of flowers to cover it instead because they look so much prettier.  When a good rain comes along the whole thing will wash away and disappear because there were no solid roots to hold it in place.  Through our country's last couple of years of events and their ripple effects people have lost homes, cars, and anything that they might have owned.  Why?  Because everyone was overextended.  The people that owned all their possessions are the ones that did things right.  They didn't spend more than they could afford to.  They didn't get totally washed away.

Ask someone young what their retirement plan is and you'll probably hear one of two answers:
(1) I'm hoping to win the lottery.
(2) I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
I'm no economic major.  I just know I worked hard and I tried to do what I could to save for retirement.  Every job I've had has begun with me putting 15% of my pretax income going into a 401k plan, and that's not easy to do.  Now I'm much older and I've lived to see my money worth squat.  At least I have some money left.  Lots of people have lost all their savings.

There is an old saying: "History repeats itself."  For the most part I'm sure that's true, but until it actually happens and creates a comparison with a past event you really don't know how long that's going to take do you?  Portions of what we are going through have happened before in history, but not the scope of things as they are now.  I wonder how many times people have uttered, "This USED to be a great country."  I'll bet that's one thing that has repeated itself since the beginning.  I find myself bitter, confused, frustrated, and all sorts of other things.  These are supposed to be the years when our life plans start falling into place.  There is a certain level of predictability that a person hopes for as they are going through life.  Short of some kind of medical crisis you should be able to know how your future is going to play out.  You should at least have covered all the bases that you can cover realistically.  At least that's how it used to be.  A certain level of personal responsibility would help, but apparently schools and parents aren't teaching that important tidbit much any longer.

People in this country have changed a lot in the last 5 decades.  As much as I'd like to say there is a simple fix, there isn't.  It's a collective mentality that everyone growing up has these days.  Bling and living for the moment are all that seems to matter.

The future?  I am less comfortable with it now than I ever was.  The only sure thing is that there is no sure thing.

Cranial Cobwebs

I get frustrated at my lack of mental prowess sometimes, and so does Suzie.  That prompted me to think about it (which is kind of an oxymoron), and when I thought about it a poem started taking shape.

After the headache went away I was left with this residue:

Cranial Cobwebs

The cobwebs in my aging brain
are continually conspiring
to make it such a monumental strain
to dredge thoughts I'm requiring.

Maybe it's the years of use
that have taken a heavy toll,
or maybe I've run out of space
in my cranial dust bowl?

At one time it was easy to see
the corners of my mental room
but now it's dark and dimly lit
and filled with hazy gloom.

Although my head seems packed
with murkiness and sludge
it still seems plenty able
to dish out opinions or to judge.

I have to focus hard on things
to do them well enough,
but that's another problem
because focusing is tough.

I can remember things like
who sang what and when,
the characters of movies
and other roles they're in.

I remember all the trivial stuff;
it easily comes to me,
but ask what I must do today
and blank I'll likely be.

There is short term memory
and long term so they say, but
I really wish that I could recall
the stuff I need today.

Sue gets frustrated at my lack
of remembering certain tasks.
Like what to do or what to buy
the first time that she asks.

I feel so badly when I fail--
it's not for lack of trying,
and when I say I don't recall
it's not that I am lying.

If I could really concentrate
I'd probably be okay
but that ability, like I said,
was lost along the way.

Perhaps I burnt too many cells
with fun like drugs and booze,
but what if I stayed pure and good
and still had missing screws?

Rick Williams

My First Car

I don't remember exactly how old I was at the time.  I'm going to say I was about 15.

I was nearing the end of my paper route when my mom came driving up.  She rolled down the window.
"Your dad wants to know if you have 35 bucks," She asked.
I was a wondering what this was all about.  "Yeah," I probably said. (Pretty deep so far isn't it?)
"Go straight home when you're finished.  Your dad has something for you," she (might have) said.

I'm pretty sure she hunted me down because my parents were very knowledgeable of my habits.  I was always the lone explorer.  When my paper route was complete, there was no telling what time I would actually get home.  I might find myself pedaling all over town pursuing any number of things that might capture my interest or attention.  My only rule was to make it home for dinner.  That was very important.  When I was 15 I think I consumed what my grocery-buying parents probably considered to be about 100,000 calories worth of food.

I finished up my route and hurried home like I was supposed to.  If memory serves me, I really had no idea what was going on.  I just remember it was a "positive" comment as opposed to one that had ominous overtones.  I don't remember anyone ever driving to find me and telling me to get home because I was in trouble.  I'm pretty sure I would remember that.

I don't remember exactly what transpired.  (If I would have had a blog I would have written it down for you so I wouldn't forget it.)  I don't remember if my dad was still home after delivering this "surprise" or not.  At that time he was working at one of our local businesses called Fitz Auto Rebuild.  He was the parts manager, but he also moonlighted as a tow truck driver for extra cash.  The bottom line is, I got home and there it was.  My first car.  A 1964 Chevy Impala SS.

Never mind that it had no engine, transmission, or drive shaft in it.  That didn't matter.  What mattered is the fact that I paid my dad $35 for it and I owned my first car!  Let me explain the condition of this car.  I already explained that it was missing what most people would consider to be very important parts:  The running gear.  To a 15-year-old, that was nothing.  The car itself really was in very, very nice shape.  At that time, a 64 Chevy Impala was not all that old, but also not all that desirable.  It was a full-size car after all--what you would consider a "boat".  It was well before the Hispanics started picking them up for lowriders several decades later.  It had a "less than desirable" factory paint color though.  It was, uh... "Band-Aid colored".  You know the color--Kind of like tan with the slightest tinge of some pink or something in it.  Except for that, it was nice.  No cracked or broken glass, only one dent over the left front wheel, and one little dent way at the back on the same side--Even the interior was nice.  Actually, the interior was practically like new--carpet included.  But like the outside, it too was "that color".  The SS had some nice trim features going for it.  Brushed aluminum trim, bucket seats, 2-door hardtop--It was sporty for a big boat of a car.

I loved that car.  I cherished it.  Now things had changed.  Instead of doing whatever I could to stay away from my home as much as I could, I found myself staying home as much as I could and working on it all the time.  My parents had probably not seen this much of me since we had first moved to Auburn and I started exploring the city on my bicycle.  I would take parts of it off, clean, polish, or paint them, then put them back.  I went over every inch of that car before a suitable donor finally showed up with the missing running gear pieces to make the car whole.

One day my dad again came home with a car on the hook, only this time it was a freebie.  I know it was a  blue 1962 Chevy 4-door, but I don't remember the exact model.  I believe it was a Belair, which is a lesser optioned model than an Impala.  The reason it was free was because it had no title of ownership.  It was an impounded abandoned vehicle, so it would be going to the junkyard after it went through the proper channels.  But hey--there was no reason it had to have all of its parts before it went to its final resting place, right?  It surrendered a decent-running 283 V8, a 3-speed manual transmission, and all the other missing parts I needed.  The good thing about having a whole car to draw from is the abundance of bolts, brackets, and all that kind of stuff.  It was all there.  It also contained a bonus item my dad didn't even notice.  The car had been dragged out of some mud bog or something so the whole bottom half of the car (halfway up the doors) was light brown from dried mud.  Imagine my surprise when we found 4 chrome wheels under all that mud!

With everything transplanted and operational, my new car was only missing one thing:  A shifter.  My 64 SS had originally come equipped with an automatic transmission, and there on the floor hump was the hole and placement brackets for its original center console and shifter.  Because I put in a 3-speed manual transmission, I needed a floor shifter for it.  That was one part I had to buy new.  When I installed it, the placement of the new shifter made it necessary for me to enlarge the existing hole in the hump--turning it into more of an "L" shape.  I remember making a patch of black vinyl and some kind of aluminum trim to cover the shifter boot and hole.

I was really feeling good.  Here I was--about to turn 16--and I already had my first car ready to go!  I had been driving it from the back alley behind our house to the front driveway (our house was only the second one from the corner so it was a short trip), which, up to that point was my maximum traveling distance.  I used washing it as my excuse to drive between the front and the back of the house as often as possible.  When my 16th birthday arrived, imagine my shock when I found out I couldn't drive it until I was 17!  My world had caved in on me.  I was crushed.  It was totally our insurance company to blame for this unforeseen wrinkle in my world.  It seems that they wouldn't insure a 16-year-old driver in a family if there were more than 3 cars including the new driver's car.  Well, because I come from a family of car people, gearheads, or whatever you want to call them, we had 7 vehicles in the family at that time.  So what did I do?  I got my dad's old Honda S-90 street legal and rode that the entire year I was 16.  It wasn't easy.  It can get pretty cold in winter you know.  I remember carefully keeping my wheels in the "safe zones" where car tires had kept the pavement relatively clear of icy snow buildup on my way to work in the winter.  Lucky I didn't have to go far.

That was a long year.  A whole year of owning a car you can look at but can't drive.  I would go out and sit in it, play the radio, work on stuff, clean stuff--whatever I could do.  I remember one Saturday I pulled the engine back out just to clean and paint it, then put it back in.  That's how wrapped around this car I was.  Owning a car you couldn't drive was hard to do.

I remember at one point in later years my mom confided that they really weren't too keen on me having a driver's license to begin with because of my wandering nature.  They knew I liked to be alone a lot and they figured they'd never see me again.  I guess I can understand that.

I'll never forget the day I turned 17 and watched my house disappearing in the rear view mirror of my car for the first time.  It was a very strange and exciting feeling!

San Francisco Road Trip: My Perceptions of San Francisco

I had some preconceived notions about San Francisco before we even left home on this extended weekend whirlwind road trip.  I kept hearing about how expensive things are... Most notably: Parking.  Well, sure--it was expensive, but it seemed to be a lot less of a problem to find parking there.  There seemed to always be a spot somewhere near where we were looking.  We parked free all but one time.  Beat that, Seattle!

Living in the Pacific Northwest has taught me well about traffic.  I spent a decade of my life driving a food delivery truck in our traffic, so I'm very familiar with it.  With that in mind, I didn't find San Francisco to be the least intimidating.  I did, however, find a few of the hills intimidating.  Even the famously worn (but stalwart) Neon had to grunt going up a couple of them.  Although Seattle has a couple hills that are very steep (one or two of them leading east from Pike Place Market come to mind), let me tell you--San Francisco has those beat hands down.  There was a section of road that was almost mind-blowing steep.  1st gear and don't take your foot off the gas, and when you crest the top at the stop sign, make sure your front wheels are over the crown and turn it into a rolling stop!  Whew!

The architecture of San Francisco is very, very evident everywhere you go.  It seemed like almost all the buildings were either so close together that they were almost touching, or they were all one building but had differentiating designs and colors to separate them--They were all that close.  It made for a lot of interesting variety as you drive down the streets.  Lots and lots of bright colors, accents, pinstripes, ornate moldings, and anything else you can think of that would make someone's home unique in some way.  They all had the same protruding window designs, and all had teeny garages if they had them at all.  While that works for cars of 100 years ago and cars of today, I have to wonder what they did during the 40's through 70's when cars where so big.  There is no place in that city where you can park your grandfather's 1958 Bulgemobile.  Maybe they all drove Volkswagens or something similar.  I think that after driving around in San Francisco for a few days, if I ever saw similar building design anywhere else in the country I'd say, "Hey, that's San Francisco style."  I've got it down.

The people of San Fran are fit.  I've never seen so many people walking, running, and riding bicycles as I did there.  If you went to a beachfront area, there were wide, concrete pathways that carried a steady stream of runners.  Ditto the harbor areas.  Everywhere there seemed to be a multitude of wide, safe-from-automotive-interference walkways, and they were well used.  There were lots of tourists doing the "bike thing" too, but they were easily distinguishable from the locals by the fact that they were, (1) slow, (2) they traveled in groups, and (3) slow.

Suzie already dwelt on the many modes of transportation that are available to people of that city in her blog post.  There are so many things to move you around the city.  The cable cars for the hilly terrain of course, and trolleys for flat surface streets.  Trolleys are probably all over the U.S. in various cities, but I really enjoyed the retro look of the trolleys in San Francisco.  They looked old and had that cool, retro style.  The ordinary things like buses, cars, bicycles, trolleys, and taxis are a no-brainer, but when you throw in the unique stuff it gets a little more interesting for sure.  I'm talking about the Segways and the Go-Cars, both of which Suz already mentioned.  For tours, we saw luxury motor coaches, open-top single and double-decker buses, a Model A Touring car, and even Ducks like they have in Seattle.  There are also cops on horseback.  One thing about the cable cars that I was interested to find out:  You don't really think about it, but the cables are running under the street, and they are running all the time whether or not you can even see a cable car from where you are standing.  When you're standing on the street over one of the grooves in the pavement, you can hear it turning down below you.  It kind of makes you wonder about scope of pulleys and gadgetry required to make them operate.  In addition, ponder the fact that they have been operating for 138 years on the same basic concept and design!

I'm not one to dwell on the gay stereotype that is associated with San Francisco, but I admit--I analyzed stuff while I was there.  I saw same-sex couples everywhere.  There was nothing flamboyant about them.  As a matter-of-fact the general populace seemed way more "normal" looking than a lot of people around here are.  There was one picture I wished I would have been able to snap with my camera, but it was one of those fleeting moments that you won't get if your camera wasn't already pointed.  It was just a very plain-looking ordinary guy wearing a black leather jacket that said "" on the back of it in white letters.  I don't know--It just seemed to fit the city.

I liked San Francisco.  I wouldn't make another special trip there, but if I were headed anywhere near the area on I-5 I think I would definitely detour myself back over there.  I like a lot of what that city has to offer.  Like many people, I'm one that tends to "romance" a city.  Everything is just so close together and accessible.  You can walk almost anywhere you need to go.  It just looked to me to be a very friendly place.

For a U.S. city...

The San Francisco Road Trip: Part Next

Already I've forgotten some of the details of San Francisco and it's only been a few days!  That, dear readers, is why you should always get your thoughts down as soon as possible when you're experiencing something foreign or new.  I won't bother as much with specifics because Suzie did an admirable job already in her blog posts.  I probably have my details out of order too, but I don't really care.  I mean, if I don't know and I was there, how is anyone else going to know different if they weren't there right?   Anyway, here goes:

As we headed south into San Francisco I wasn't the least bit surprised to round the last curve and find the Golden Gate bridge shrouded in fog.  Isn't that how it's portrayed in virtually every movie, TV show, and book known to man?

The first thing we experienced was The Exploratorium.  It was just a timing/street-choice thing.  Basically, we just practically turned right into it after crossing the bridge, almost without really realizing it.  I had never heard of it but Sue had.  I guess it's a lot like Seattle's Pacific Science Center but I'm not sure because we didn't go into it.  Sure, we stopped, but we stopped for the outside of the place.  It was photographically very interesting!

We cruised all over town, kind of "getting lost on purpose" and enjoying the sights of the city.  It was a beautiful day for it, so why not?  We wanted to see lots of little things and had a sort of list of them.  There was some frustration fairly early on when I started getting low on gas and couldn't find a gas station, but once that was taken care of I had an "ahhh" moment and was back into exploration mode.  Suz is an excellent copilot and navigator to have on such excursions.  She gets a little angry at teeny, teeny print on maps though, and rightfully so.

One of the first places we checked out was Lombard Street, also known as the "crookedest street in the USA".  That was pretty interesting.  Basically, your reward for making it straight up the back side of that hill (I could have also probably approached the top by driving from either side of course, but I was new there and didn't know that) was the privilege of slowly easing down the switchback street while crowds of tourists looked on and snapped pictures.  I could hear the hushed tones as the crowd muttered, "Look, there it is--The famously worn Neon!" Who knows, I'm probably on a few people's cameras by just being there.  I let Sue out at the top and she worked her way down the steps that run along either side, snapping pictures as she went.  By the time I arrived at the bottom, there she was snapping a picture of me.  You can see it on her blog.

While we did our initial wandering of the city we encountered a lot of stuff we just got fleeting glimpses of.  Things like the famous cable cars that go up and down Nob Hill, and the famous Transamerica building, the Golden Gate Bridge (even though we drove on it, we didn't get to see it without fog enveloping half of it).  One thing we missed (and we were right there) was Chinatown.  Oh well, Vancouver B.C. has a good one and it's much closer.

One of the places on my list was to see the famous 60's landmark of the peace-love generation: Haight-Ashbury, so we hunted that down.  We stopped and smoked a joint with Ben and Jerry at their place on the corner.  Okay, okay--duh, of course we didn't do that.  I did see people posing in front of that famous landmark for pictures though.  It was the place where life was happening man.  At one time anyway... Jeez... Over 50 years ago!  Suddenly I feel old.

The "Painted Ladies" is a strange moniker that someone has attached to a particular group of 4 houses that sit directly across the street from a park called Alamo Square.  While they are very nice, there are plenty of places throughout the city that are nicer.  I think what make these four famous to the tourists is the fact that you can stand on a grassy hill of the park and see the city behind them.  While we were there at the wrong time of day for a good shot sun-wise, it was still a good photographic opportunity.  It's a pretty nice view spot.

While we did cruise around the city quite a bit, our main thing for Friday was our tour to Alcatraz Island.  We had tickets to the 2:40 sailing on Friday already bought before we even left home.  I can't help but wonder:  Did we do Alcatraz incorrectly?  We went not for Alcatraz and what it was as a historic prison, but for what it offered photography-wise.  How weird is that?  All around us we were dodging people in a zombie-like state while they hovered around audio tour "hotspots" with a glazed over look in their eyes.  Much like people that drive while talking on their cell phones, the headphoned tourists at Alcatraz noticed nothing around them except for the audio that was streaming through their ears.  We did our best to work ourselves into places devoid of humans whenever possible.  We were there for about 3 hours, dragging ourselves and our cameras and tripods around.  We were both very glad we had the tripods even though they were something extra to carry, because without them we wouldn't have gotten the quality of indoor shots that we did.  The whole place was very interesting to us even without any of the factual stuff the audio tour was spewing.  So did we miss anything?  Maybe... If the audio tour was punctuated with sound bites and exciting music to drive points home.  The thing is, we can read and learn about it any time.  We got PICTURES of it... And lots of good ones too!  When we finally finished I was surprised to learn what time it was.  The car was parked in a metered area and the max we could put on it was 4 hours.  My worry-wart tendencies kicked in as "zero hour" passed and we still hadn't gotten on the boat yet.  Lucky it was a short trip back to the city shore because we got to the car almost 20 minutes expired but no parking ticket.  Whew.  You can see how easy Alcatraz is to see from the Fisherman's Wharf area just by looking at the picture of the wooden ship near the bottom of this blog.  That's Alcatraz behind it.

After our visit to "The Rock" we drove around some more and found ourselves a motel, opting for one near the south end of San Fran for money reasons.  It was almost half of what the tourist areas were getting and it was still nice.  We just had to drive a little ways to get to it.  We had a nice dinner at our kind of place just two doors away from the motel.  What is our kind of place?  A quality burger or sandwich shop with beer on tap.  That's us.  We be simple folk.

We took a quick trip after dark up to a scenic viewing area called Twin Peaks, but weather wasn't cooperating with us for good shots of the city.  While it wasn't foggy, it was hazy enough to be a bother.  It looked like an awesome "don't miss" spot to shoot from to see the city from above.

Our last day in San Fran had us spending our time in Golden Gate Park and in the vicinity of the cable cars, Fisherman's Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square.  We spent plenty of time scoping out shots of cable cars and got to see them going right past us going up the hill and coming down both.  I told Sue at one point while I had my camera trained on the the top of the hill that what we need now is to have Steve McQueen come flying over the crest in a dark green Mustang.  We had a good final few hours being tourists.  Taking pictures of wooden ships in the harbor, bicyclists, street cars, and sleeping bums.  That's what photography is about baby!

The drive home?  Long.  We stayed in the same town we stayed at on our way down:  Roseburg, Oregon.  This time, however, we stayed at a Quality Inn instead of a Motel 6.  It was very nice.  I think it's safe to say it was one of the best breakfasts I've ever gotten at a motel.  That's a good thing to finish up the last leg of a great road trip with.

Next:  My Perceptions of San Francisco

The San Francisco Road Trip: Part One

So here we are:  Back at home.  We just finished an arduous journey by Neon to the famous foggy city of San Francisco, California.  It was a fun trip!  The famously worn (but stalwart) Neon got us there and back with excellent gas mileage too.  After getting home, we had driven 1,843 miles.  If I throw out the one tank where I only got 33mpg the 35-36mpg average was great.  We actually got two fill-ups that were over 38mpg!

We were just going to blast down to 'Frisco on Interstate 5 so we could get there as quick as possible.  That would allow us to have the maximum amount of time to spend there in the city.  When I started thinking about it, I thought a partial coastal route would be "photographically-necessary" because of how we are both umbilically linked to our cameras.  That's exactly what we did.  I-5 took us to Grants Pass, Oregon, at which time we detoured "off the beaten path" and headed toward Crescent City, California.  After seeing how cool Grants Pass looked as we drove through, we made a note to ourselves that we would have to explore this interesting-looking town full of Americana (which means cheesy motels lit with neon lights, and other cool stuff like that) some day in the future.

Highway 199 took us on a nice drive toward the California coast, at which point we caught Highway 101 in Crescent City.   Not far south of Crescent City we passed the tall statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox standing guard over the entrance of the famous tourist trap called Trees of Mystery.  No, we didn't stop or even slow down.  We have both been enthralled by that stop at previous points in our lives--Although much younger times.  I did note as I drove by that Babe the Blue Ox was anatomically correct.  Maybe the rare sun was lighting things up just right.  Besides that, Crescent City is the place where we stopped at the Battery Point lighthouse.  That was our first real photo stop on our trip.  It was pretty interesting and provided a lot of great photographic possibilities, but I was a little annoyed at the commercialism.  It had pay "tours" to the top of the lighthouse (probably a whopping 25 feet up--like an attic in the house) and had someone actually living there.  It was weird in that aspect I guess.  It was just a little too perfect...   Because of its location, you can only get to it during low tide, which we unknowingly timed perfectly.  Pretty cool stop though.  Nice pictures.

We did our usual "Oooo... STOP!" (followed by screeching tires) photography as we wound our way down the coast.  What that means is, practically every place that we could pull over off the road we did.  We got some awesome stuff though, so our style works.  At least it works for us.  We were humbled many, many times by the Redwood trees as we drove among them (the first being before we even got to Crescent City) and still hadn't stopped to take any pictures of them.  Finally, we had a moment of clarity (meaning Sue told me firmly and with authority) and decided that we had to stop the next time we saw any and get some pictures of them.  We detoured off a road onto The Avenue of the Giants.  Let me tell you--Until you see Redwood trees in person, you can't really comprehend how really massive they are.  Pictures just don't do them justice.  What helps is when you put people into a picture, or even better:  Drive your car through one of them.  That's exactly what we did.  Tourist trap-ish or not, we paid the 5 bucks to drive the famously worn (but stalwart) Neon through the hole that someone (obviously not an environmentalist) had carved through a sturdy, old Redwood.  Called the Chandelier Tree, it is supposedly about 2400 years old.  How do they know?  They counted the rings as they looked up through their sunroof while driving through.  Duh.  Check Suzie's blog to see that picture.

Near the town of Leggett we turned off of Highway 101 onto the lesser traveled Highway 1.  This is where the real scenery started.  Now not only was the drive picturesque, it was also twisty and remote. It was also riddled with special-effects fog here and there.

In addition to the first one we saw in Crescent City, we still had two other lighthouses on our list.  The next one we hit was the one called Point Cabrillo.  The sun was getting low in the sky and we still had a lot of ground to cover so we had to hurry.  This one was located about a half mile down a grassy path so we were walking with purpose (almost running).  Hey, it was in the interest of photography!  It was a cool spot and well worth the trek.  The next (and last) lighthouse was called Point Arena.  We were really running out of time when we got to this one.  By the time we got there it was basically sunset.  The lighting conditions were not great, but again, it was a cool stop.  Lighthouses are all different in some way or another--be it location, size, time of day, lighting, etc., but they all offer something photographic.

We made little detours here and there to investigate stuff like we always do of course.  A good example would be the town of Mendocino (which was near Point Cabrillo).  Very interesting.  A very remote location (for a thriving town) and perched above cliffs overlooking the Pacific ocean, it kind of had an "old west" look to it as well as being kind of upscale-feeling.  It looked like a rich person's resort town.  A town where, if you had money, you could escape to on weekends.  Like New Yorkers do with The Hamptons.  The town of Fort Bragg was very interesting too.  It was probably very "touristy" and fake, but it looked like it would be an interesting place to wander around in and take pictures.  Maybe next time.

We seriously underestimated the amount of time it would take us to navigate the circuitous Highway 1 when we planned our trip.  In some areas it was second gear driving at 25mph tops.  Even the way I drive wasn't enough to carry us completely out of that area by the time it was time to stop for a motel.  That's another thing--there were no amenities to speak of anywhere on Highway 1.  By the time we gave up and went for the fastest way out and back to civilization (meaning Highway 101 in this case) it was late.  By the time we did finally find a suitable motel to camp out at, we were in Novato, only a a little over a half hour north of the Golden Gate bridge.  By the time we got into a motel room it was somewhere around 11pm.  I believe when all was done we had driven over 500 miles of curvy, tedious, beautiful roads... And it only took us about 15 hours.  But the motel had great internet.

Next: Uh... The next part!


Isn't it funny how a song can transport you back in time?  Whenever I hear "California Dreaming" by the Mamas & Papas or "Somebody to Love" by Jefferson Airplane I'm instantly transported back to the days of hippiedom.

I listened to the radio all the time when I was a teenager, and music was--in many ways--my link between life in Auburn and the outside world.  The outside world was where I felt everything was happening, and my humble life was where I felt nothing was happening.  Probably like many people, during my teenage years I always had a strong feeling that I was missing something somewhere--a sort of restlessness.  Maybe it was that I'm the oldest of my brothers and sisters and really didn't have a role model or a direction in life then--I don't know.  I just know I wanted to be somewhere other than where I was.  I think it was that restlessness that prompted me to join the Air Force (financially it was really my only ticket out) like I did.  I was kept under tight rein at home and was not able to grow my hair long.  By the time I actually could grow my hair out, hardly anybody was doing it any more.  Again, I missed it...

I soaked up everything about that generation that I was exposed to.  I remember once in 7th grade, I was choosing a book from the Scholastic list that we had to pick from.  I looked and looked, but nothing caught my interest (and I was a voracious reader back then!) until my eyes fell upon a pictorial book of Woodstock.  I instantly bought it.  I wanted so bad to had been able to go to Woodstock!  Another thing I read and reread was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.  As a matter of fact, I still have it--in hardback.  That book is another of my favorite things of the 1960s.

Growing up in the 60's was profound in many ways.  I was too young to take part in the hippie movement that was sweeping the nation but not too young to marvel at it.  Everywhere around me were changes of every possible kind you could imagine, as well as many you couldn't imagine.  Things like hair styles, clothing styles, colors, music, peace signs, black light posters, incense--and all of it was "counter" to what the country was up to that point.  The people of my parents' age or older seethed at what the young people of the country were doing to "their" country.  Like pretty much any teenage rebellion issue I think it was part spite and part self-exploration. 

It was a time when all of our media input came from very few sources.  If it was television, it was limited down to a handful of networks that our antennas could receive.  If it was radio, it was AM.  Although FM was starting to come into widespread use, it was still a largely AM world as far as popular music was concerned.  Newspapers were very similar to the ones that still exist, but there were very few influential magazines at that time.

The mantra was "anti" then.  The people of the hippie generation took great delight in being their own person.  They liked to take whatever advice or recommendations that their parents or other authoritative figures gave them and purposely ignoring it and doing their own thing. There was a power in the collective.  They knew that they were the largest demographic of people in the history of the world and they knew they could accomplish great things by banding together and demanding it.  In one decade the country went from one extreme to the other.  The decade of the sixties was responsible for more changes than any other decade in history.

All it takes is to hear my favorite songs from that era and I'm transported right back to it.