Sunday, December 25, 2005

A 'white' Christmas at Paradise Beach in Mexico

PUERTO VALLARTA, NAYARIT, Mexico - Christmas traditions die hard - even ones that are only four years old.

So this year, even though Sabbatical was in the frosty (ok, just cold) climate of San Francisco, we had Christmas Day on the beach at Paradise Village resort shown in the stylish stock photo with this blog.

We were the realllllly white people on the beach, except that there were about 500 more reallllllly white people (mostly Canadians, eh?) there, too. When flew down on America West airlines Christmas Eve, the plane was loaded with folks from Alberta who were well into having a good time. The flight attendants nearly ran out of vodka.

When you haven't been surfing, it's well, hard, so I opted against boogie-boarding the first day, instead I just did a little swimming, quite a bit of sitting in the sun (too much) and more walking around than I have done in weeks.

My knee is killing me, I'm kind of pink, but the day was nearly perfect weather for Christmas - 80 degrees, 10 knots of wind and not a cloud.

Not a cloud.

And dinner? We had thought we would go to Victor's Restaurant (Cafe Tacuba) in Marina Vallarta for dinner, but it got late and we decided to save his special margaritas and fresh seafood for another night.

Instead, we will have a traditional meal - Italian - of pasta and margaritas.

We need to carbo up a little before our first surfing expedition tomorrow morning.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Loose talk about buying a new automobile

Who needs an SUV?
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - There's some loose talk around the house about the need for a larger vehicle - something that can carry more than two people.

Maybe something that can carry a little cargo, too.

But on granddaughter Samantha Rose Allen's 8th birthday in October, we did very nicely transporting her birthday present, at least until we stepped up the speed to about 35 when the wrapping paper shredded, sending ribbons and bows all over La Riviera Drive.

We drove home, regrouped and rewrapped, this time with the bedsheet draped over the whole package and tied it down securely.

After all, why cry over a little shredded paper? If you want to cry, buy a new car and make payments on a $20,000 car loan.

Now that is sad.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sabbatical Christmas card preview on the web

RICHMOND, Calif. - After a uneventful, three-hour motor tour of San Francisco Bay we returned to our slip at Marina Bay Yacht Harbor and had our snapshot taken for a Christmas card - provided we actually get around to ordering some this year.

Oh! And mailing them out, too.

(Hmmm. A three-hour tour, something about that phrase seems to ring familiar.)

The weather was actually DDG (drop-dead-gorgeous) at least for San Francisco in near-winter. The sun was brilliant (I have a little sunburn to show for it) and temperatures in the 60s. If you were sheltered from the wind - which we were in this photo-op pix - the temperature was close to 70 degrees (note the T-shirt).

But, even with this little blast of warmish weather, it won't be too long before we rocket off (ok, jet off) to Puerto Vallarta for a three-week, mid-winter hiatus and some visits to old haunts like La Manzanilla.

Viva Richmond! Viva Mexico!

And to all a good night. Ho, ho!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cold is certainly a relative thing to ponder

VALOIS, N.Y. - The photo with today's blog is actually several weeks old, sent to us from Brett and Denise, who are house sitting the Seneca Lake cottage for the winter.

With a new fireplace insert - and obviously a few cords of wood - they hope to avoid frostbite and report that despite how cold this photos looks, inside is quite cozy.

I thought about this photo today when I was outside hanging Christmas lights on the outside of our Land Park house in Sacramento, the wind brisk and the temperature, oh, probably around 50 degrees.

I was freezing. As in freeze-the-appendages off an Eskimo freezing.

Last night we actually had a frost and for just a minute I thought I might have to scrape the windshield of my truck before I drove it this morning. (I didn't, it was probably 45 by the time I got ready to leave.)

So in New York, when it's above 32, it's practically T-shirt weather, in California it has to hit about 60-plus for me to put the shorts back on. (That will be in early February, I hope.)

But in Florida, my friend Sanders reports that he actually had to resort to a long-sleeved shirt for awhile today.

Mon dieu! Mon dieu!

In the meantime, I'm going to my woodpile in the back room and grab one of those presto log things for the fireplace to make the living room look, well, cozy, now that's it's decorate.

And so, like the song says: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Not much danger for the wild turkeys

Wild turkey
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
BERKELEY, Calif. - The wild turkeys of California (the birds, not the ones in the state legislature or running the universities) are so plentiful that they are becoming suburban pests, the San Francisco Chronicle reports today.

When we lived along the American River, we would walk by several almost every morning. The river walkway is a sanctuary for wild animals and all the foxes, turkeys, coyotes, squirrels and snakes are safe.

Well, the snakes aren't safe if I have a rock in my hand.

It's a classical California Thanksgiving today - cold right now but with the promise of 70 degrees later today. We might even have a barbecued turkey, but that's up to daughter Anne.

At some point, we'll take a stroll back along the river and say hello to our turkey friends (not the ones in the state legislature or running the universities) as a special Thanksgiving treat.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A trip to the doctor for the skin checkup

Elizabeth Taylor
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It had been two years since the last time I wandered into my dermatologist's office for a lookover. The last time he sent me home because, he said, I was too tan.


That was not a problem today, as the tan of summer has long since disappeared, even in the mild weather of fall. No tank tops these days. I'm happy if I get to wear a t-shirt instead of a sweatshirt.

The always affable doctor brought in his magic canister to freeze the pre-cancers, but said this time, for my face, he was prescribing a cream that does pretty much the same thing - including turning your face a beet red for maybe a month.

Ah, the price of beauty!

The best news though, was that everything he saw was pretty run-of-the-mill, 57-year-old pre-cancer stuff. Nothing even remotely malignant.

This came as particularly good news because just yesterday I found out that a colleague at the university was going out on sick leave to have a prostate cancer operation. Sure, they are different cancers but kee-rist, he's the same age as I am.

Today's experience was quite different from two years ago, when a gaggle of medical students - most of them female - came in to observe and do some of the diagnosis and treatment. For that exam, a young woman doctor handed me a gown and told me to shed all my clothes - even my underwear.

When I protested dropping trou, she asked me if I ever sunbathed (or went swimming) in the nude.

I had to tell the truth. I was raised Catholic, after all.

So I got to be poked and prodded by several students, sans any attire. Thank God they didn't find any pre-cancers in any sensitive areas and try to zap them with the liquid nitro or whatever they use.

Ouch, that would hurt.

Today the doc did find three spots on my back that he decided to hit with the freeze bottle, only instead of just touching the trigger, he opened it up like he was trying to put out a grease fire at Greek restaurant. The three areas blistered up the size of silver dollars and still are a little sensitive.

So what is Elizabeth Taylor doing with this blog?

You guessed it, she's had numerous treatments for skin cancer, paying the price for those years as a youngster (as in the photo) when she was a beach goddess.

Not much concern about sun for the next few months in San Francisco Bay. But by June, it will be time to sail up into the Delta where the temperatures are great, the water warm enough to swim in and Elizabeth Taylor wannabees most often are windsurfing.

Summer 2006. Come on down!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

First Sabbatical SF Bay cruise - brrrrrrrrrrr

Sylvia in SF Bay
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY - The first official San Francisco Bay cruise for Sabbatical (back after our five-year hiatus to San Diego and Mexico) was just what you would expect from San Francisco in November.

Cold, rain, fog and flukey winds.

Happy Veteran's Day, y'all.

Even so, we had a great sail across the Bay and into the Alameda Channel where we spent Friday night at Marina Village, where an earlier Sabbatical was berthed for eight years before Sylvia (shown freezing at the helm), spotted the current ship and said: I want this one.

The highlight of trip (besides hitting 7.9 knots sailing by Angel Island) was an all-too-brief reunion with Don Tiffin, the fellow who built Sabbatical and who still has a tremendous fondness for his creation. Don looked over the boat and gave me some advice on how to fix the bow - crunched slightly from when I managed to bash a fuel dock at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. You don't get that much docking practice in Mexico. Anchoring, yes. Docking, not very often.

Don and his friend Thomas were waiting in the harbor in Alameda for a good weather window to start their trek to Hawaii aboard his new boat, Aquavit. Don eventually will be sailing to Fiji where he spent years aboard Sabbatical, then called Ocean Girl. The seas outside San Francisco Bay were in the 12-15 foot range - too big for any sailboat to take comfortably - even Sabbatical.

Saturday we had to go home, though the weather cleared off and it was about as nice a day as you ever get on the Bay. By the time we got back to our present home port of Richmond, the temperature was in the 70s and it was hard to tie the dock lines.

But in a few weeks we will be heading out for adventure again, this time a three-day foray to San Francisco's South Beach Harbor with granddaughter Samantha Allen aboard, all our rain gear and a good supply of hot chocolate to complement the rum the captain keeps handy for those cold days.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Governor Schwarzenegger manages a grimace

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The governor tried to smile as he talked about all the failing measures from the special election he called - an expensive election called over the objections of many people who said 'Just wait until June, bozo!'

But the smile was more a grimace as his year of reform agenda went down hard, a reflection of many people's opinions that this outsider guy is really an insider guy and more interested in his wealthy donors than the people.

He managed to piss off nearly all of the major constitutencies in the state, save one - the ultra-wealthy. And as so often happens with propositions, if the voters have any doubt, they vote no.

And they did, big time.

The election did one very important thing - it galvanized the people who were attacked by the various propositions and, in a paraphrase of what Arnold says in his Terminator movies - they'll be back.

But when Arnold runs for re-election - and that's not far away - he might not be.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A quiet Saturday and Zorro to the rescue

Zorro to the rescue
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SAN MATEO, Calif. - The Legend of Zorro, the second installment of what will probably turn into a Zorro franchise like Rambo, Star Trek and Rocky, is a fun film, especially if you are looking to escape from responsibilities.

With a Hell week ahead for me, a simple movie about heroics - with some romance thrown in - seemed perfect.

What Hell week? Well, when the voters of California get done on Tuesday and the results are counted, I'll be part of the media throng writing about at least three of the propositions on the ballot. And the deadlines will likely be pretty tight.

But such considerations didn't exist for Antonio Banderas or Catherine Zeta-Jones, who reprise their earlier roles from The Mask of Zorro. They do look older, though the stunts are even more outrageous than in the earlier film.

In this movie, check out their on-screen son, Joaquin, who steals the film and probably will be back as a teenager in the third Zorro movie. Maybe that one will be Zorro Rebels, and turned into a pimple movie to draw teens in.

And Zorro's horse! Good God, even he stole several scenes.

But for now, escape to California on the eve of the Civil War where the bad guys have wooden teeth and the most evil of all is a fellow from France.

Those French...

Monday, October 31, 2005

'Good night, and Good Luck' worth seeing

Edward R Murrow
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - I'm addicted to journalism movies, it's true, but Good Night and Good Luck is worth seeing for anyone who wants to see how much impact one journalist can have.

The movie is the story about Edward R. Murrow, who took on one of the biggest and sleaziest bullies to take the political stage in the U.S., Senator Joe McCarthy.

What made McCarthy sooooo dangerous was he figured out the major weakness of the press at the time - that they would report whatever he said without bothering to check the facts. He was a U.S. Senator, after all.

It took Murrow and a courageous CBS news team to point out that nearly all the people he was indicting as being Communists in fact were not. McCarthy practically defined the word 'smear' when it comes to politics.

While the movie gives some reason for cheer, a quick reading of this morning's newspaper points out how easily the press is still led and how easy it is to divert the collect attention of thousands of media outlets.

More than 2,000 dead in Iraq, liars abounding in the White House and an economy about to crash will all be ignored this week so the nation can argue about a new nutjob nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh, by the way. How are things going in Pakistan?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Start spreading the news, Sabbatical is back

Radar at Golden Gate
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
RICHMOND, Calif. - Sabbatical made her triumphant return to San Francisco Bay Saturday after a 20-hour, green-water-over-the-bow voyage from Monterey with Captains Scott Noble and Mel Johnson aboard.

Captain Noble has been appointed Chief Ship's Engineer after fixing the diesel, solving a water pump problem and standing his watches when he could barely stand (more on that later).

Captain Johnson has been named Chief Navigator, despite the fact that he charted a landfall for Sabbatical near the San Francisco City Zoo in the middle of Golden Gate Park. (He rectified that little navigational error as soon as he discovered it and piloted us in through soupy fog right to Golden Gate Bridge. The radar screen, shown in the photo was a big help.)

About eight hours of the trip was awful, made worse by the fact that we opted for hamburgers and French fries for lunch, a scant 15 minutes before we cast off the lines and lurched out into big seas and wind from Monterey Harbor.

Captain Noble and myself did some serious lurching over the rail during the night as the seas were extremely bouncy and confused. Captain Johnson had wisely taken several doses of a seasickness medication called Bonine and kept his ground beef and potatoes intact.

Given how some of that trip (and the one before from San Diego to Monterey which had its horrible moments) went, the next paragraph might come as a surprise to most readers of From Where I Sit.

We have decided to keep Sabbatical and not sell the ship after all.

That's right. We're keeping her and our plans remain fluid. (That was hard to resist.)

We put Sabbatical up for sale in January in Puerto Vallarta, listed it again in June in San Diego and now that I have spent eight days bashing up the California coast, I decided that I want to spend some time exploring San Francisco Bay, the Delta and the coast here.

We never got a chance to do so in this boat, though we certainly know the waters from our last boat (also named Sabbatical..).

The trip reminded me how special the boat is and it also reminded me how much I love to be out on the water. And if I'm going to be out on the water - particularly the big water, like the ocean - Sabbatical is the hull I want underneath me, plowing the seas.

Our next Sabbatical adventure will not be until a short list of repairs are completed before we take a foray out of our slip. But after that, start looking for postings from San Francisco, Angel Island, Vallejo and Sausalito.

Sabbatical is home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Just what is it about country music?

Gretchen Wilson
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
REDNECK COUNTRY - I was stuck in a boatyard nearly 10 years ago, my boat tied firmly to the dock and the speakers on the outside of the shop office were blaring country music, not my cup of tea at the time.

But after a few days of it - and seeing that even the non-English speakers in the yard were tapping their feet and occasionally breaking into a little Spanish version of line dancing, I started listing more carefully.

And damn. I got hooked, hooked on the beat and really hooked on the little stories that the songs all seemed to tell.

I haven't given up the 60s rock of course, or even recent stuff. My eight-year-old granddaughter keeps me up on the latest Cheetah Girls and Hillary Duff songs.

But who can resist songs like, "We May Be Lost But We're Makin'Good time," or "Redneck Woman." Redneck Woman is performed by the provocative-looking Gretchen Wilson, probably her best work so far. But she has a voice.

Today I made a CD of largely country songs for my amigos Dan and Lorraine Olsen to take with them to Mexico to play when at anchor along the coast. I included such timeless hits as Too Drunk to Fish, Bubba Shot the Jukebox and Leroy the Redneck Reindeer.

I had to include at least one Christmas classic for the holidays.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A blast from the past, courtesy of a decoy

Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The long non-blogging dry spell might be over, now that I have caught up on other aspects of my life (school, freelance writing, moving the boat around).

And tonight I knew it was time to blog when I was trying to warm up my writing fingers a little before tapping on the keys about a local dentist whose hobby is to carve wooden ducks - using his dental equipment.

I didn't ask him if he needed to sterilize the drill before he started creating mallards, pintails and wood ducks.

I'm not sure I want to know.

What I remember about duck decoys is how lifelike they look in the water. When I was about 15, I blew the heads off several that belonged to my Uncle Gordy Puls. I was sitting in the boat not paying attention and a half dozen live mallards dropped in, right with the decoys, of course. I blasted away, missing the live ducks but doing a fine job of making splinters.

My punishment for destroying the wooden replicas? To clean the dead ducks that he and his son, (young Gordy Puls) bagged that day, and to never, never be allowed near their string of decoys again with a loaded shotgun.

That same day, in the heat of hunting, I managed to jam a shotgun shell in the clip backwards, which gun people tell me is virtually impossible.

I haven't hunted since, except with a slingshot when the seagulls and frigate birds land on the spreaders of Sabbatical, dropping bird crap on the deck.

Enough procrastinating for this evening.

Time for this duck to lift off.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

'Lord of War' is a good movie with a message

'Lord of War' scene
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
LIBERIA, Africa - I didn't travel to Liberia to write this story (the dateline is a little misleading), but the movie has plenty of scenes from there and elsewhere in Africa, scenes that will make you wonder about guns, armies, and what role the U.S. plays in, well, guns and armies in other countries.

I am definitely not a fan of Nicolas Cage, but in this film he pulls off a very difficult acting job with a real aplomb.

Without putting too fine a point on it, don't read any reviews of this movie, just go and be surprised because it is not the movie I thought I was going to see - it was 10 times better.

It's not in the same class as Million Dollar Baby, but worth shelling out the money to see it on the big screen.

The foray to see Lord of War was the first time I had been in a Sacramento movie theater in some time. And I had sticker shock: $19 for the two of us for a 5 p.m. viewing

Nineteen dollars! And there was no shortage of people trying to crowd into the multiplex where we went.

I guess Nicolas Cage has to eat, too.

But $19? Jaysus.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rolling Stone's story about the HST cannon

Rolling Stone cover
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
WOODY CREEK, Colo. - The Sept. 22 issue of Rolling Stone, which has The Rolling Stones themselves on the cover, has a great piece in it about the Hunter S. Thompson memorial service in which his ashes were shot out of a cannon that was taller than the Statue of Liberty.

And in part of the article, HST's mostly likely last written words were printed, written on Feb. 16, scrawled with a black marker and titled Football Season Is Over.

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more that I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun - for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax - This won't hurt.

At the bottom of the page, Hunter drew a happy heart, the kind found on Valentine's Day cards. Four days later he committed suicide by firing his pistol into his mouth.

Suicide is hard to understand in general and in specific I've written more than a few angry words about HST's death. But the note says a lot if you read it carefully. It could be written by any one of hundreds of thousands - maybe millions - of older people who find themselves suddenly incontinent and confused or just tired of struggling with failing bodies and failing brains in a world that seems to be kind of failing itself.

But as a piece of writing, the article by Douglas Brinkley is well worth a look.

I wish I had written the article but even more to have been there to witness blast and the blizzard of ashes.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Star Trek 'Insurrection' and slowing time down

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The last two weeks, or maybe three, have gone by in such a blur of classes, writing assignments, meetings - and all the sundry details of life like cooking and laundry and cleaning - that I was shocked yesterday to see it was Sept. 16. Where did the summer go?

Today, a Saturday, used to be my refuge from such a speedy life, but now seems like the day of the week I use to catch up with the all of those things I need to do, things that race ahead of me like the Roadrunner, just out of reach.

But last night I took the evening off to watch a favorite movie from the Star Trek movie series, one in which the crew of the Enterprise saves the people on a planet where age is meaningly because metaphasic radiation regenerates DNA and people never grow old. They have all the time they want to do whatever they want because they know tomorrow never really comes.

As I sit here with both knees aching, my wrists sore from typing and a slight backache starting to climb up my leg (damn that sciatic nerve), a visit with the Baku people might seem in order, for, say, a couple of hundred years.

The reason I like this particular Star Trek so much is a scene in which the lead actress (played by the lovely and talented Donna Murphy) teaches Captain Picard how to slow time down to enjoy a moment. In the movie, of course, a hummingbird nearby literally flies in slo-motion and the waterfall nearly stops.

But the other reason I like the movie is that it reminds me that you don't have to be taught by Donna Murphy how to do this (though I am in need of a tutor if she's not shooting a film). You need to slow yourself down and enjoy the moment.

As my son Dustin has taken to say recently: 'Breathe, Breathe.'

Kayaking on the American River right behind the house has had that kind of effect, in which suddenly coming up on a flock of geese ghosting across the water or drifting up on a log covered with snapping turtles is almost magical. Better yet might be to simply sit on the riverbank and watch the water flow by.

If I get a chance to sit by the river today - no make that when I go to the river today - I'm going to focus on the water and see if I can't slow time down as Ms. Murphy taught Jean-Luc.

All the school work, writing, getting ready for next week's meetings and other sundry matters will still be waiting for me back at the house.

The trick will be to enjoy that moment and forget the paragraph above this one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A book that makes sense of the new world

The World is Flat
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat ranks right there with The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich), The Search for Excellence (Tom Peters) and maybe The Reckoning (David Halberstam) as books that have, for me, hit the proverbial nail on the head. (Please excuse the cliche, but it fits...)

And it's not because I agree with the politics - it's the sharp analysis. The World is Flat makes sense of a world that is so different from say, 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago.

When you call up an airline to make a reservation (provided you don't go online to make your own reservations) the person you are likely talking with is in Bangalore, India, or maybe Panama. When you give your income tax to your local accountant, he or she, in turn, isn't spending weekends laboring over your Schedule B deductions - someone on the other side of globe is, your income tax data having been digitized and zapped through cyberspace. And don't even think about those people answering phones in the Ukraine with your queries about the problems with your credit card.

Oh my God, Americans are losing jobs?

Well, that's the thing about this book. While some jobs are being lost, others are being gained in a shift that is fairly quickly making the nation-state as we know it irrelevant.

Friedman traces in one chapter how his Dell Computer was manufactured - where the parts came from, who assembled it, how more computers come on line.

Would you be surprised to know that Dell Computers - a player in the computer industry but not the biggest - sells 150,000 computers a day? A day! And the system of sales and manufacturing is so sophisticated that if you call this moment and order a unit, all over the world adjustments are made to ensure that when the person calls after you, all the compenents are available for their computer - and the next 149,998 people, too.

In education, we face the biggest challenges because as education leaders have warned for years, much of the rest of the world is way ahead of us in providing solid education - from kindergarten through PhDs.

Perhaps the most telling quote is an African proverb, translated into Mandarin, posted on the factory floor of an American auto parts manufacturer - at its factory in China.

I've read it to my students and asked them to think about it, hard.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sabbatical set to return to San Francisco

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Though I swore that Sabbatical would stay in warmer latitudes, after being separated from the ship since May, it's time to bring her back to San Francisco where we can sail this fall.

Sometime soon we will begin moving Sabbatical north, probably in stages, to also escape the exhorbitant berthing fees that have come to mark San Diego. Parking a boat the size of Sabbatical now costs about $950 per month - and the threat of more rate hikes is in the air as the slip shortage gets worse as more new boats try to find spots.

In San Francisco Bay, we have berthing for about $400. For that, we can don our gloves and hats in the colder weather and still do quite nicely.

What this means, of course, is all the folks who wanted to jump aboard and see what cruising life was like - but couldn't make it to Mexico - get another shot. The ship is for sale, but we expect to get it out of the slip and tool around San Francisco Bay a lot, until some buyer comes along.

Which means we might do a lot of sailing for several years.

I've secured one crew member for the sojourn north, mi amigo Scott Noble, who has his own small business but also is an experienced jet mechanic. So if we have engine trouble along the way, and he goes into the engine room, I get to shout just like Captain James T. Kirk.

"Scotty, I need that engine back online right now."

And he gets to shout back, "I'm doin' the best I can captain."

Should be a fun trip - and it will be nice to have Sabbatical within easy reach again.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Return cruise to the island of Freedonia

Howe Avenue Bridge
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SACRAMENTO RIVER, Calif. - Admiral Fox and I two days ago made our first foray together across the great American River to the tiny island (and declared nation) of Freedonia, about which I wrote in July.

The water in the river is very low right now and at the west end, almost low enough that mainlanders can walk across from the wealthly American River Drive side, holding their backpacks and coolers high above their heads.

Fall is arguably the most pleasant season in Sacramento - reasonable temperatures, little wind and all those damned plants that produce the pollen that jams up my sinuses have gone dormant.

I can breathe, I can breathe!

And today, being Labor Day, the weather has cooperated even more than usual. At 9 a.m., it's barely 70 which means an 85 degree day, perfect for a cruise out to Freedonia again.

The gasoline prices don't affect kayak and boat traffic on the river very much, few people know the place as the jewel that it is. So when we take a picnic out to Freedonia today, it's doubtful we will have any company, unless there are brave waders from the north side of river.

In a few weeks, however, the operators of the Folsom Dam, 20 miles away, will start getting nervous about the impending rains for October and will start letting out water quickly.

But by then, we might have built up our paddling muscles enough to fight whatever current the river throws at us.

We were mid-island on Freedonia hiking two days ago when Admiral Fox causally said, "Wow, wonder if there are any rattlesnakes out here?" (We were both sporting flip-flops and bathing suits...)

No sighted, but we will be on guard today when we visit.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

University's has a new logo and same critics

Sacramento State logo
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The University rolled out a new logo on Thursday with plenty of balloons, free T-shirts and free food - just what you want when you are trying to reshape the image of an organization.

Standing in the audience, I was pretty sure that the new logo would incorporate the Guy West Bridge, a scale version of the Golden Gate Bridge linking campus to the north side of the American River. If the logo did feature the bridge, it would say that the people in charge of this makeover effort were doomed to failure.

But damn, they came up with something that's appealing, recognizable, and even in the rollout ceremonies, showed more savvy about how the world works than the previous administration ever demonstrated.

Many of my colleagues at the university immediately condemned the promotional efforts (which cost around $50,000, including the $31,000 for the actual graphic design work). They said it wasteful to spend the money, accused the university of having less leadership skills than George W. and huffed around campus for the rest of the day spreading gloom.

And under our previous university administration, I would have been saying the same things while I accused and huffed as loudly and publicly as I could.

So it's with some trepidation that I risk my reputation as a critic of anything administrative to say:

I like the new logo. And I think the promotional (and image-changing efforts) are long overdue.

The knee-jerk reactions come pretty easily to me, too, and I've struggled with this new guy in the president's office, not to give him a chance, but to give his ideas a chance. It's easy to get confused and accept ideas only from people you like and dismiss any ideas from people you think are turkeys.

So far, our president had a some bad ideas and some good ideas - but at least he has ideas and wants to move the campus from 1985 to 2005. When the last prez left, I woke up and felt like Rip Van Winkle - except I hadn't just slept peacefully along the Zuider Zee, I had nightmares for the last five years of his tenure.

In the case of this logo/makeover/promotion, I've decided that the relatively small dollars involved (when considering the entire university budget) are likely to bring in money (just in T-shirt and logowear sales at the bookstore alone). And if the student excitement demonstrated Thursday is any indication, the image change has already had a leavening effect, which could spread.

And in my case, specifically?

Well, I got a free T-shirt at the rollout, a sticker for my car window and I feel good about the direction things seem to be going.

Sometimes I'm easy. Not often, but sometimes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Three air flights but only two horror stories

ITHACA, New York - The day started out badly when the cab that was supposed to show up to take me to the Ithaca Airport was 15 minutes late and I only had a one-hour cushion at best to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight. Still, I got there in time, only had a few surly ticket counter people to contend with and got aboard a propjet to fly to Philadelphia.

The flight attendant, however, made up for the benign experience in the terminal by telling me I couldn't use my IPod while we were flying.

No kidding. No IPods, no computers.

And lest you think it was my ponytail, she told the same thing to other folks on the 25-seat aircraft who likewise wanted some tunes for the ride to Philly in the dark.

Why she cared, I'm not sure, because as soon as we were airborne, she curled up on the front two seats and promptly fell asleep until our wheels touched down.

Asleep, as in out cold, as in practically snoring. (If she did snore, you would never have been able to hear it over the roar of the engines anyway.)

Did I report her to the airlines? Nah. I figured one of these early morning runs, the plane will land with a giant thump and down she will go off the seat and into the bulkhead - a tough one to explain to the main office.

In Philadelphia, the counter folks were bored, not rude, and we loaded onto one of the big United Airlines Airbus carriers. It was almost as comfortable as my flight to France several years ago on a British Airways jet.

But the loveliness of that airbus experience was shattered two hours later when I climbed onto a small United Airbus - like the one in the photo - for the last run from Chicago to Sacramento.

Sardines in a can are more comfortable, but what-the-hell, it's only a four-hour flight, right?

Wrong in this case.

We left gate right on time and taxied out onto the runway apron, then abruptly taxied to an area well away from the terminal, prompting more than a few people to wonder if there was some threat - or if the police would show up, sirens blaring, to haul someone off.

Finally the pilot came on - after about 15 minutes - saying we were going back to the terminal to check out a grinding noise from the front wheels of the plane.

A grinding noise!

And, like every car I have ever owned, when we got back to the terminal and two very bored United mechanics came out to take a look, well, there was no noise to be heard, even as they rocked the plane and banged with what sounded like claw hammers.

"The mechanics think everything is fine, so we'll taxi out again and see what happens," the captain announced an hour later.

See what happens?

What happened that time was we made two huge circuits around the Chicago's O'Hare airport, testing the brakes and the front wheels, which were apparently quiet.

And so nearly two hours after we were supposed to take off, we did, roaring off into the sky, my seatmates already complaining of serious leg cramps and as cranky as children who have been in a playpen too long.

Mercifully enough, the flight attendants on the flight didn't have any problem with people using IPods or computers and so I rocked across the country, listening to some music I intend to put in the next Fox-Fitzgerald rockumentary: Kate & Steve, a Hectored Romance.

Almost exactly four hours later, the smoggy skyline of Sacramento heaved into view as we made our approach, my seatmates reminding me that the reason we were late (and I was going to miss my first class of the afternoon) was because of a grinding noise in the front wheels.

A grinding noise.

And so as we dropped down, the north winds buffeting us from side to side, I noticed that the flight attendants were buckled in very tight in their little seats, exhibiting none of the cavalier behavior most attendants do when their plane lands.

We landed with a decided thump, but no terrible screeching noise or sudden lurches were evident. And it was at that moment that I remembered that the United Airlines mechanics were forced to take a wage cut in their last contract negotations, a fact I was glad I had forgotten when we were in Chicago listening to them bang on things like they worked for Jiffy Lube. (Nothing like a pay cut to make people responsible for things like maintenance want to do a really good job.)

Still, I'm comforted to be home safe - and the earliest air flight in my future is probably Christmas when it would be nice to get out Sacramento's fog and to the warmth of Mexico.

But given what's happening to fuel prices, even that trip is probably in jeopardy.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The great Hobie disaster & summer's over

Hobie Cat up and over
Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
VALOIS, New York - The very last time I went downhill snow skiing in California, I decided that after a whole day of hitting the slopes to take one last run down the intermediate slope.

One last run.

That last run ended with me head-first in a huge snowbank well off the course, with just my skis and ankles showing, my sunglasses mangled. The ski patrol girls were very kind and pulled me out and got me down the hill.

I wore a back brace for, oh, about a month after that adventure.

So yesterday, when I shoved my borrowed Hobie Cat off the beach and out into 10 knots of wind, I knew it was the last run of the season, but I wanted just one last run.

One last run.

The wind, which had been brisk, as sailors say, got very brisk in only a few minutes and the mainsail, always a sticky darned thing, would not go all the way up the mast no matter how hard I tugged. And while I tugged, the Hobie was racing downlake like a rocket, away from dock where Admiral Fox was going to come down to, carrying the beer and drinks and cooler for the one last run of the sailing season.

One last run.

I didn't flip the Hobie, though when I was forced to gybe the boat in about 20 knots of wind, I went up on one pontoon and probably looked a little like the photo with today's entry. Then I sailed straight for the nearest shore - two miles away - and ran that Hobie Cat up on the beach like a Jamaican surfer.

After about a half-hour of trying to figure out how-the-hell I was going to get the boat turned around, the sail up and back up the lake to my dock, (where the Admiral was waiting), I was reminded of why I married a 'lake girl.'

While I sat with waves washing over the Hobie, I spotted a red aluminum skiff making its way towards me, bouncing high in the waves and sending spray up 10 feet.

A rescue boat! And it was Admiral Fox, who had pushed our 16-foot tin can off the shore, cranked the 18-HP Evinrude and came down to help when I didn't come back. She also had seen me racing towards the shore and the sudden stop at the beach.

The rescue effort, like all rescue efforts, wasn't simple though, and the Admiral ended up towing me back to the dock, sails removed, a long, sloppy, wet affair. And today I'm sporting bandaids all over my fingers from the blisters and enough black and blue marks on my legs to look like I was playing field hockey, sans shin guards.

But, by God, I got that one last run.

And although I swear today I learned my lesson about pushing the limits, I can't swear that next summer I won't do same thing.

But no downhill skiing this winter, for sure. My twisted knee (from doing the Twist July 3) will keep me off the slopes, I'm sure.

At least I think so today.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Selling healthy food at schools not enough

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The state's lawmakers are all aghast at the latest state report on child obesity that says - gasp - kids are ballooning up even more than they were just a few years ago.

The San Francisco Chronicle carried a good story this morning that details it out.

  • Our kids are GROWING

  • So, why do lawmakers care if the kids are carrying around extra pounds? It's the potential health care costs down the road. If they're 20 pounds overweight at 12 years old, you can bet they will be closer to 40 pounds at 24. That all translates into diabetes and heart trouble and knee problems and, and, and...

    As is noted lightly in the story, selling kids bottles of Evian and giving them celery sticks at school for snacks will hardly fix anything. Just as we found with teaching honesty and ethics, schools are a tiny sliver of what kids see and deal with. Parents - and probably TV and other media - are a helluva lot more important.

    But the battle of bulge for kids, I think, has a lot more to do with the sedentary lifestyles that the parents and kids are comfortable with. Most public schools have cut out rigorous physical education. And beyond that, when children come home from school, they are unlikely to go grab a basketball and shoot a few hoops, or zoom around on their bicycles (though certainly some do).

    No, they are more likely to plop in front of the television - or computer - while they wait for mom and dad to come home with the extra-large-jumbo-cheese-pepperoni pizza for dinner and the free gallon of soda that comes with every double order of bread sticks.

    Even if the parents understand the need for the kids to, well, just run around, the constant drumbeat about how unsafe the world is just outside that door is hardly an incentive to doing what my mother did - boot us out the door (even in the snowstorm) to go play.

    The California Legislature can spin around and talk about the evils of Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut for the next 10 legislative sessions. But until MTV makes celery sticks seem sexy and parents trade soccer balls for the latest version of Grand Theft Auto, the pounds will probably just keep on packing on.

    In the meantime, pass the breadsticks, will you?

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    Going hi-tech with a radio for the boat

    Boat radio
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    VALOIS, New York - I almost tossed out an old AM-FM radio with a box of stuff destined for the Salvation Army. There's tons of such prized possessions in the house, the collection of a lifetime of my mother-in-law.

    But I rescued the radio, when I realized that you don't need an fancy stereo sometimes, just tunes.

    And it reminded me that I had a radio quite similar when I was tooling around Lake Chautauqua in my ski boat 40 years ago.

    Forty years... Could that be true?

    We were at the mercy of the local DJs in those days. Whatever they chose to play (or were paid to play, remember payola?) we listened to, thought was cool and went careening down the lake with the radio turned up as loud as could be.

    Our outboard engines were loud and we blew out more than one radio speaker.

    I haven't figured out yet how to strap the little radio onto the Hobie Cat for what is likely to be the last sailing adventure of this season. But given that the radio was destined to be given away, we won't be risking all that much if it get a splash of water. A bigger trick will be finding an all-oldies station among the forest of country music that seems to be the most popular around here in the hills of upstate.

    I'll bet my new amigos out on the lake two days ago - the May-September couple - could have used just such a radio to smooth their waters.

    Friday, August 19, 2005

    A wild day on the Hobie Cat? Well, not quite

    VALOIS, New York - After wrestling with the intracacies of a California Appellate Court case for the morning,(and trying to write 500 coherent words for a legal audience) I took to the lake yesterday afternoon aboard my borrowed Hobie Cat, out seeking adventure.

    I would like to report that I spent the afternoon racing the two young ladies aboard the Hobie in the photo here, my boat tearing up the lake just they are.

    But, well, this is real life pilgrims.

    In real life, you get the boat stuck in a weed patch rigging the sails, lose your life jacket overboard, forget the beer cooler on the end of the dock and watch your Teva sandals fly off into the lake - and drift directly back into said weed patch.

    Still, once the overboard items were retrieved (and the beer cooler safely stored aboard - can't get dehydrated), the Hobie soared back and forth across the lake for two hours until God played one of her little sailor tricks and shut down the wind machine.

    Shut the wind machine down as in zero knots.

    A Hobie Cat will move in wind so light you can't feel it on the back of your sweaty neck. But even that kind of breeze was hidden as I bobbed around on a glassy surface.

    A small Snipe-like sailboat got marooned about the same time about 50 yards from me, with a May-September romancing couple aboard, the September half of which (the guy, of course) had his life jacket cinched so tight his face was red as a beet. His May companion was cheery and quite a bit cooler in the black bikini she was sporting. We exchanged sailor talk for awhile though September was probably praying for wind just to get rid of me.

    Whoever's prayers were answered, a zephyr of wind came up just as I had drifted close enough to their vessel to offer the other crew my last cold beer, which they turned down.

    Well, September turned it down and earned a look from May that made me wince to witness it. When I last looked back at them, May was diving off the boat and might have been swimming towards land.

    That teasing bit of wind lasted just long enough to get me within a half mile of my dock, when some kind teenagers (Is that an oxymoron?) came by in a ski boat and towed me the last bit into shore, fouling their propellor in the weed patch - their reward being good Samaritans, apparently.

    No good deed goes unpunished, right?

    The wind is up big time this morning and the temptation is almost overwhelming to shove the boat off the ramp again and head out for adventure, with more beer, a paddle, and a cell phone to call for assistance this time from one of the cousins should I get stuck, sans wind again.

    Almost overwhelming, pilgrims.


    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    Out of a cannon will go Hunter S. Thompson

    WOODY CREEK, Colo. - I'm still more than a little angry at Hunter S. Thompson for his suicide. The man was so talented and his voice still so clear - maybe more clear than in the 60s & 70s & 80s when it was supposed to have been fogged by his legendary bouts with alcohol and drugs.

    Those legends were largely self-created, part of the myth that made the guy so attractive to other writers. How much of it was ever really true, few people know - except maybe people like author & artist Ralph Steadman who will be in attendance Saturday when, as he wished, Hunter's ashes will be blown out of a 150-foot tall cannon/scuplture at Owl Creek Farm where he lived since the late 1960s.

    What HST did for young writers is the stuff of legend, if only to goad them to push outward from whatever strictures their particular school system strangled them with when learning to write. I'm not complaining about students being dragooned into learning to spell or punctuate properly. Hell, it's a gripe of mine that will surface like the Loch Ness Monster in a couple of weeks when I'm back in the classroom. Misspelled words drive me bonkers.

    No, the strangling I'm talking about is the kind that stifles ideas in favor of form, cuts out strong language and puts in euphemisms, and substitutes mechanics for originality.

    That paragraph sounds just like the kind of mouthful of academic crap, by the way, that would probably make HST throwup, though he was a meticulous writer and very careful in what he put down on paper. He hid that side of himself pretty well, preferring the public to think of him as a maniac. It sold more books, though selling books wasn't his goal. He wanted to be heard.

    And that's why I'm still pissed off. (There, Hunter, that more the language you would prefer.) I'm totally pissed off because your voice is silent, but still had a lot to say.

    And I'm totally pissed off at myself, that in the last few years of your life, I ignored what you were writing because I listened to the critics who said you were washed up and irrelevant and I didn't read what you were publishing.

    They were wrong. I was wrong. You were doing some of your best work.

    We'll have our own little salute to HST at Seneca Lake Saturday - I'm not exactly sure what just yet - though it probably won't involve any cannons.

    Can't guarantee it though. There's more than a few cannons lying about and more than enough madmen & lunatics running about this place with gunpowder and the know-how to touch a cannon off. If a cannon can't be found, maybe a 21-shotgun salute. Every pickup truck seems to have at least one weapon handy for discharging.

    Vaya con dios, HST.


    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    Off the sailboat races and off to the blenders

    HECTOR, New York - Saturday was the annual Peachy Dandy party on Hazlitt's Beach, which featured a sailboat race that wasn't quite as exciting as the one in the photo (a file shot of some Snipes in a late fall race. Note the crew attire).

    But it was fun, even if we did tie for dead last. (So much for our racing prowess...)

    Seneca Lake, which has featured nothing but hot sunny weather for the past month, and generally had great sailing winds, decided to bring up some thunderstorms, make the wind clock around about four times and finally just quit entirely as we were 100 feet from the finish line.

    We still might have made it if we hadn't been hauling around a ton of seaweed wrapped around the keel and rudder - a fact we discovered when we tied to boat to the dock.

    But the real purpose of the party was to celebrate the annual peach harvest with a rum concoction called a Peachy Dandy, a lime juice, rum and sliced peach drink whizzed through a blender.

    Had Jimmy Buffet been a fan of these, Margaritaville might not be his signature song. Good Lord they are tasty.

    It's very quiet around Casa Valois this morning. No talk of peaches, dancing, sailing and definitely not a word of discussion about who should have figured out about the seaweed.

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    Spraying for mosquitos the traditional way

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The mosquitos will not win this round in California and West Nile Fever will likely disappear, at least until next summer, when the descendants of the ones not killed this year rise up out of swamps with a fierce resistance to whatever poisons are being sprayed.

    But the spraying that has been going on in Sacramento County has awakened a long-dormant environmental conscience in the community, a conscience with lots of memories of the DDT mess and what happens whenever you fool with Mother Nature.

    The insectide being sprayed kills a lot more than mosquitos, of course, and while I'm content to see a few of the spiders that live in my backyard go to that big silky web in the sky, I wonder what will happen when the fly population (also as risk from the raining poison) makes its spectacular comeback and the spiders (who have a much slower rate of reproduction) are still just getting around to mating.

    Well, I suppose that will bring out the legions of private pesticide control people to spray for flies, which will kill more spiders, too, which will... well, you get it. Capitalism! It works...

    In California, planes are zooming overhead at night and people are huddling inside their homes, windows closed, air conditioners turned off to avoid an insectide that the mosquito control people say poses no danger to humans. But, they say, as a precaution you should huddle inside, keeps windows closed and don't run airconditioners.

    In North Carolina, where the photo with today's blog comes from, a small-town mayor drives her tractor up and down the streets with a donated spray rig to get rid of those pesky skeeters.

    No hiding inside for her.


    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    Back home from the wilds of New York City

    HEWLETT, New York - I took a quick almost-swim in the Atlantic Ocean Monday off Long Island's Long Beach, part of a whirlwind 48-hour sojourn to New York City, for a drop-off-some books-and-return-to-the-lake tour that has my driving muscles tied in knots, my back sore and my butt, well, forget about that.

    But when I got back and checked my email (187, thanks y'all), I had this cartoon passed along from a friend (as well as some other good ones) that I will be emailing.

    The cartoon made me laugh, and happy that the most dangerous wildlife in Seneca Lake are the zebra mussels, which stay on the bottom and pose no threat unless you step on one in bare feet.

    We had dinner in New York City at a posh restaurant. (Sorry, the name of the place escapes me, but the young lady who showed us to our table was Elise and had a wonderful European accent if that helps.) I wore long pants - the first time in weeks - and real shoes, not running shoes. But, being a real class act, I did not wear dress socks with the shoes. (Ok, they were not REAL shoes, they are boat shoes.) An act of defiance? Nope, just forgot my socks and it was too late to find a sock shoppe by the time we arrived at Central Park west to go to dinner.

    But these country cousins are back at the computer with deadlines looming for Friday and next week.

    Which is why I'm writing this, instead of tomes about education, stem cell litigation, and a profile of a Sacramento restaurateur.

    I have my priorities.

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    Two reasons the country is in a bad mood

    WASHINGTON D.C. - So the big news is that Robert Novak, the tough guy who let Judith Miller go to jail without bothering to comment on her plight, got his knickers in a twist on a CNN talk show, muttered "bullshit" and walked off the set.

    He's been suspended, which is a nice was of saying fired. CNN should have dumped the cranky old guy a long time ago.

    Bye-bye, Bob. Maybe you can get a guest shot with Tucker Carlson on his new MSNBC program, a program which is so hideous, they are using it at Guantanamo to torture suspected terrorists.

    Tucker, you might remember, got his head handed to him by Daily Show host Jon Stewart one night in a verbal exchange and got bounced from CNN, taking his bow ties with him.

    Novak, (on the right, in case you have trouble telling old-white-male conservatives apart), and his buddy Karl Rove, (who seems to have grown some chin in this photo), have demonstrated that they really believe there are no rules that apply to them, but are quick to ensure that there are plenty of rules for the rest of the country - rules than ensure the rich get richer and the poor, well what's your point?

    Novak can go shill for Tucker Carlson or go on some right-wing nut job program somewhere. Fox News will probably scoop him up so they can balance out all those liberal commentators they have been flooding the airwaves with.

    But what about Rove? Where will his pudgy butt go when Dubya leaves office? (I have a countdown calendar on my computer looking toward for that fine day.) Maybe Karl will become a commentator, too, joining with Novak.

    And if they add Tucker Carlson, well, it would be almost as amusing and Curly, Larry & Moe.

    But who could watch it and keep their dinner intact?

    Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Poison Ivy? Who's afraid of Poison Ivy?

    VALOIS, New York - The admiral wanted a fire pit, and she wanted it overlooking the lake and that led me to one spot, a nearly flat, 10-by-20 ledge with a cliff that drops 60 feet straight down, but it has a beautiful view of Seneca Lake.

    The brush had grown up over the years, some it actually small trees, so with an assortment of implements of destruction I attacked it for two days, sawing, hacking and pulling.

    And it was just about the time this photo was taken that I realized that all that sawing, hacking and pulling was right in the middle of a patch of poison ivy.

    Yup...just like the song...which I have had stuck in my head for several days now.

    At that point, there wasn't much to do except saw, hack and pull, hoping that my resistance to that creepy vine was high enough to ward off an attack.

    I sit typing right now sans symptoms, extremely lucky that I'm not on massive doses of benadryl and typing by braille.

    The area is clear, a fire pit dug and last night we had our first fire-by-lakeside, which almost turned into forest-fire-by-lakeside when the dry wood I had stacked sent sparks 50 feet into the air and the dry tree branches nearby.

    That's two bullets I dodged with the fire pit project.

    The third - having someone step off the cliff and drop to the rocks below in the dark - I plan to handle by building a railing, after I clear just a little more brush to set the posts.

    You guessed it...

    The area where the posts need to go is covered with poison ivy, too.

    But who's afraid of a little Poison Ivy?

    Wednesday, August 03, 2005

    Time for the next water toy - the Hobie Cat

    HECTOR, New York - The Hobie Cat at cousin Roger's beach hasn't hit the water in two seasons but this afternoon, provided the thunderstorms circling us don't hit, we will launch the vessel and do some lake sailing.

    If we get the boat up on one pontoon, as in the photo, listen carefully for the screaming.

    We spent most of Tuesday afternoon rerigging the boat, manufacturing a makeshift plug from a broom handle and trying to find all the pieces for the rigging and sails. It's amazing how quickly everything gets lost when you put something like an 18-foot sailboat away for the winter season, and then don't use it again for a couple of years.

    This Hobie has a long tradition of winning sailboat races on Seneca Lake and in years past has ferried me back and forth across the lake many times.

    In about a week we will be entering it in an informal little racing affair, an annual party at a beach a mile away, the entry fee a bottle of rum. The rum is consumed at a beach party that starts when the race does and goes on until the rum runs out.

    Race day, we will get the boat up on one pontoon, I bet, as long as we don't spill any rum.

    Sunday, July 31, 2005

    You meet the nicest iguanas in Mexico

    YELAPA, Mexico - It was only six months ago that this shot was taken, but it seems like an eternity.

    At that time, Sabbatical was still in Puerto Vallarta and we took a tour boat ride along with several friends - including Dan Olsen who shot this photo - to the village of Yelapa, about which I think I wrote at the time.

    Now, Sabbatical is in San Diego with a big For Sale sign on it, son Dustin is living in Puerto Vallarta fulltime, and I'm sitting in Valois New York, looking out at Seneca Lake, trying to calculate exactly how much beer to carry on today's boating expedition (about three miles down the lake) and if we have enough gasoline to make it down and back to cousin Ruth's dock.

    When I posed with the iguana, it was a good thing I had already consumed several bottles of Pacifico (my favorite Mexico beer) because those critters cling to your shoulder with their claws. The claws aren't sharp, but damn, there is power in them and it reminded me of having full-grown parrots on my shoulder. Having any animal with big teeth (or a sharp beak) really close to my ears and nose is not my idea of having a good time.

    But I'm smiling in the photo... (Thanks, Pacifico.)

    There are no iguanas in upstate New York, not even much in the reptile family, except for rattlesnakes about which I was warned about this past week. "Timber rattlers six feet long," I was told by the fellow of picks up our trash every Friday and who loves to jaw for a half-hour when he stops.

    He's deathly afraid of snakes and carries a .357 magnum revolver in his truck in case he encounters any snakes in his daily routine.

    I would love to walk out some Friday morning with a four-foot long iguana on my shoulder just to see his reaction. Well, as long as he couldn't reach his gun, anyway.

    Thursday, July 28, 2005

    Maybe it's time to make a redneck hot tub...

    A Redneck hot tub?
    Originally uploaded by Brite Lights photos.
    MINOT, South Dakota - Hot hot can it be in South Dakota?

    Hot enough, apparently, that Mike Blackburn and his son, Jim, filled up their pickup and popped a couple of cold ones, getting their photo posted all over the nation thanks to the Associated Press.

    But what a fabulous idea. I've always wanted a mobile hot tub, but never realized it was as close as the bed of my Nissan pickup truck. True, I would have to figure out a way to keep the water from draining out as fast as I put it in, but it looks like Mike and Jim just used a tarp for a liner and away they went.

    Or technically, away they filled, I guess.

    In New York, the temperatures dropped dramatically in the last 24 hours with some thunderstorms blowing out the humidity, making it a very nice 80 degrees, just warm enough to take out the Bud Boat (more on that another time) for a spin to see how the tuned-up engine runs.

    It runs fantastic and it means we can now zoom up and down the shoreline in search of wildlife and docks that sport real hot tubs, not the ones you see in South Dakota in the back of pickup trucks.

    Still, for Sacramento, that pickup truck tub idea might be just the ticket, though I'm not sure my condominium association would approve.

    But I'll be the four coeds who live across the driveway would probably consider jumping in, if for no other reason than to tick off the rulemakers in the association.

    More on that later, too, if we put it to the test.

    But for now, Mike and Jim, enjoy that beer and moment of fame.

    Flying Jet Blue - with the Fox Nut Network

    VALOIS, New York - One of the wonders of flying Jet Blue is the cable television right in the seatback in front of you.

    There you can watch all those cable channels you never watch at home, and tons of infomercials on some channels I had never heard of until my recent red-eye sojourn, a 5.5 hour jaunt from Sacramento to JFK.

    Now they offer two 'premium' movies, also, which cost an additional $5 each, but they make it easy by having a credit card slot right next to the screen for you to enter a card.

    I didn't watch the TV at first, I sloshed down a glass of wine, had a chocolate biscotti for a snack and tried to sleep for the first couple of hours.

    But damn, the seat I was in was uncomfortable, particularly the cushion area. After twisting and turning like a toddler - and getting some hard stares from the poor woman sitting next to me - I asked a very bored flight attendant for three of those little pillows they give you to rest your head on.

    I rested my tired butt on the pillows instead and fell asleep again.

    When I woke up, most of the people on the plane were watching the Fox Nut Network. (Oops, sorry. It is the esteemed Fox News Network, fair and balanced you know.) The nut network was running live copter shots of a car chase in Los Angeles, with the announcer breathlessly giving details like, "He's turning left, he's turning right. Now he's going straight."

    What would viewers have done without this highbrow commentary?

    The chase was definitely a real chase, because instead of a fiery crash at the end and a shootout, the fellow driving a white sedan (What kind of crook does a high speed chase in a white four-door sedan for Godsakes?), well, he just stopped his car, walked over the sidewalk and laid down, putting his hands behind his head - before the police even got out of their cruisers.

    Of course, the announcer sounded like the police had just apprehended a member of the Bin Laden family, when I'll bet the poor guy had been drinking and didn't want yet another DUI. That or he had a bunch of parking tickets. It was Los Angeles after all.

    It was a fitting end to the flight and great introduction to the JFK airport where uniformed police with guns seem to outnumber the travelers and the waitresses in the coffee shops chewed gum in 4/4 time, ignoring all customers, except for the cops.

    But the upside was the vast variety of donuts on sale - four different sizes of maple bars alone.

    Jumbo Maple Surprise anyone?

    Monday, July 25, 2005

    Tie-dye was the order of the day at funeral

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - When Daniel D. Allen died last week, (a shirt-tail relative of mine by marriage), his family immediately scrambled to find some of the proper attire for his funeral - in this case hippie outfits as befitting who he was, and how he had enjoyed a relatively short life. He was a surfer, too, and I suppose to really honor him, we should have strapped some boards on the tops of our cars during the funeral procession.

    Uncle Danny (as he was called by my son-in-law Steve, my daughter Anne and granddaughter Samantha) died at 51 years old, after years of encroaching paralysis and the inability to communicate easily, the victim of a brain tumor discovered when he was just 18.

    To see the family decked out in tie-dye was touching, even more so because the service included full military honors: a bugler playing taps and the carefully folded flag being presented to his mother who has taken care of Danny all these years.

    Relatives came from all over the state for the service and some higher power was keeping an eye on things because temperatures at the graveside funeral barely topped 90 degrees after weeks of triple digits that would have fried everyone. As it was, it was cool under the trees at the Folsom cemetery, not far from the shores of Folsom Lake itself.

    That's two memorial/funerals in two months in which I was more than just a casual bystander. I had real ties to real people. Danny I had seen one month before, at a Father's Day party at his brother Dave's house.

    And months before that, I attended a campus service for a teaching colleague who died young last year.

    If whoever controls such things is listening or reading (What, you think God doesn't read? What does She do? Watch Maury Povich for the news?) then please, a personal favor. No more memorial services for awhile. I don't ask for a complete holiday here, but I have enough trouble with dehydration without trying to calculate for water loss through tears.

    R.I.P. Danny Allen. And I hope where you are, Surf's up, dude!

    Saturday, July 23, 2005

    We claim this island and name it Freedonia

    FREEDONIA, American River, California - After a couple of cold saloon beers today, it seemed like just the right thing - go kayaking in 100-degree heat. A trip on a jet ski might have been more fun, but, well, I have a kayak and so it was off to an island that I can see from the deck of my condo right in the middle of the river.

    The island, like all islands, can only be reached by boat, or swimming, I suppose. (Is this one of those NO DUH moments?) The current is way too swift for most swimmers so the island gets very little traffic even on busy weekends like today where the launch ramp was covered with people swimming and chattering in Spanish, and on the rocks the rednecks were throwing their girlfriends into the water fully clothed.

    So I took a little detour out and away from the chattering, swimming, girlfriend-throwing groups to the far east end of the island from which I can actually see the deck of my condo, just to the right of kayak paddle in the photo.

    There's a tiny, sandy/gravel beach and because few people head out, no trash or human debris at all. No even the dog droppings that seem to mark the beaches where foot access is easy and stepping in dog crap even easier.

    I haven't kayaked much in the past two weeks - too damned hot on the water and too damned much writing - thought there might be one more expedition Sunday before I head back to New York Monday night on the Jet Blue red eye to JFK.

    But for now, I can report that the island of Freedonia is secure, free of enemy activity, virtually litter free (I picked up my beer bottles) and ready for the next kayak trip across the vast expanse of the rapidly flowing American River.

    Unless, of course, I can grab a ride on a nice wet ride on a jet ski or a small sailboat out at Folsom Lake.

    In case the name Freedonia rings a bell, I took it from the famous Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup. There's also a Freedonia headquartered in Houston, Texas. Ugh...

    Here's a link to the Marx Brothers movie:
  • Duck Soup

  • And here's a link to the non-California, non Marx Brothers' Freedonia:
  • Another Freedonia?

  • All Hail Freedonia! (The one in the photo...)