Monday, February 28, 2005

Where was this photo when I needed it?

28 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (12 feet above sea level) - Last week when I was putting the finishing touches on my video 'Flying Without a Net,' I could've used this photo for sure.

It came to me a few minutes ago in an email from Jim Riordan, the pilot who flew me around in his small plane to make the video -- and so I could write a story for Prosper Magazine, slated to be published right about now.

This scene is the stuff nightmares are made of -- not dreams like the Maltese Falcon.


Sunday, February 27, 2005

He wasn't Hunter S. Thompson, but...

Bill Soberanes
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
26 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - His name was Bill Soberanes and he never missed a deadline until 2003. Not that he didn't come close, not that he didn't get so drunk on occasion that it was amazing his heart held out. But he wrote and wrote and wrote, mostly a column for the tiny Petaluma Argus-Courier, sometimes a feature or two, but always making his deadline.

He's also credited with launching the World Wrist-Wrestling contest which became famous in the 1960s and 1970s when it was picked up by ABC's Wide World of Sports. It's still going on.

I attended several of these extravaganzas - yes, right in Petaluma with the TV cameras rolling and the girls in short-shorts up on stage. And in the middle of the chaos was Bill Soberanes, running around looking as much like one of the famed Petaluma chickens as a semi-famous columnist.

Bill Soberanes was the real deal. He dealt with me (as a very young editor of the newspaper that employed him from 1954 until the day he died) with the same respect he accorded everyone. I'm not sure I always deserved it, or appreciated what he did until fairly recently.

Bill's other claim to fame was getting photographed with celebrities, including Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe and a list so long that it would trigger so many hits from people's search engines it might freeze the internet.

He would ask someone else to take the picture and he would stroll up and put his arm around the famous persona and SNAP, he had a shot of him with Madonna or Pat Brown or Elvis. This was before people had legions of body guards around to prevent this strange man from getting close to people quite easily.

Twice a year there's a meeting of the Petaluma Press Club in his honor at Volpi's in Petaluma, the next one March 10.

There even might be a famous person or two there to have your picture taken with. Just not Bill anymore.


Pizza on the streets of San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The beauty of San Francisco is undeniable, which is why being stuck in a hotel room (or in the downstairs conference rooms, sans windows) is such a shame.

But we escaped a few times from the clutches of the California College Media Association's shindig to get out on the streets of San Francisco. On the left in this photo is a place sporting a big sign that says PIZZA, irresistible and so we had pizza-by-the-slice there and got to practice my Spanish a little more with the fellow slinging the pizzas, meatball subs and salads.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle ( features three pieces about Hunter S. Thompson, the pick of the litter being one written by Ralph Steadman, HST's partner in many a writing crime. There's one spoiler, of course, (and there will be many) an editor at the Chronicle whines that HST was over the hill, pass his prime, yada, yada, yada. If he's written anything to hold a candle to the work of HST, it sure hasn't come to my attention.

He's probably at his peak with an op-ed in his own newspaper.


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Steve Wright gives the blog talk in San Francisco

25 February 2005

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - The students in the session on writing blogs were excited and perplexed all at the same time - just as they are when they first begin publishing in print.
They are unhappy if no one reads them at all, and unhappy if someone reads them and is critical of their work. And students are the most vicious critics of their peers work.
Steve Wright of the San Jose Mercury News offered his view of blogging in the last hour, an odd mix of both free market journalism and 'have-the-lawyers-check-your-work.
The one bit of definitely BAD advice was:just put it up on the web, if it's wrong you can always just take it down.
Let something loose on the internet and it takes on a life of its own, no matter how fast you take it down.


If you have to live in San Francisco, how about?

26 February 2005

SAN FRANCISCO, Van Ness Avenue - If you have to live in San Francisco, well, here is the place to be, 1621 Pine Street.

It's true that it's close to the Holiday Inn and Van Mess, er, excuse me, Van Ness Avenue. But the place is a fabulous piece of architecture. We only saw it from the outside, but with our vantage point across the street, we could see into some of condos.


We took an up-close look last night after a Greek dinner with colleagues from San Francisco State. Retsina is definitely not something to drink too much of. And by ordering only a half liter, there was no headache this morning, only a vague ringing of Greek music in my skull.

Today's agenda includes hearing a presentation about blogging - how convenient. If the presenter isn't too shy, you'll his picture here later today or tomorrow.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Flying Without A Net in San Francisco

25 February 2005

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. Holiday Inn on Van Ness Avenue, 9th Floor - The place I'm writing from -- a Holiday Inn filled with crazed Journalism students from all over the country -- seems somewhat incongruous with the photo.

The photo is a still shot taken from my video, "Flying Without A Net," which I just completed before coming to SF for the weekend and the Associated Collegiate Press convention. It's also the convention of Adm. Fox, the California College Media Association, and this afternoon I have to oversee the judging of Best-of-Show, kind of like the best of show at Westminister, except in this case the newspapers are on top.

Flying Without A Net proved, once again, that simply going out and shooting a bunch of video in a single visit is not enough to do a complete film. It's interesting (Scott Noble, a pilot friend loved the rough cut of it), but without some actor/participants telling the story about what's going on, I have to rely too much on voiceovers and titles. (What the hell is he talking about, you're wondering?)

So I am going to do the unthinkable -- break out a storyboard for the next video so I make sure I get people talking and doing what I need. It's the same thing I resist when doing fiction writing. Who needs to outline the plot? Let the characters take over. That's probably why I have three unfinished novels.

Maybe if the Class of 66 (the group, not the non-fiction book I still haven't finished either) has a reunion in 2006, I can do a video about the reunion.

"Class of 66 - The Movie."

Has a nice ring to it.

In the meantime, I'll put the newspapers on the floor for Best of Show judging.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bending technology to do your bidding

Mexican artwork
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
24 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Only two hours after struggling, sweating, and swearing (see, the illiteration function still works), a photo suddenly appeared to upload to this blog.

Not the best shot I've ever taken, but it shows that the system probably has some ailments today that preclude doing a lot of photo type work.

But that's ok.

Heard news about the death of yet another friend from my Petaluma newspaper days. Jaysus. Who will be the last one standing? Who wants to be the last one standing?

The Mexican artwork here is from a trip into Puerto Vallarta's Zona Romantica just before I left PV to return to Sacramento. I shot a camera full that day, mostly of surf and surf watchers, but never got around to looking closely at some of the more interesting stuff - like this piece of classic art.

But who would you give it to? And would you want it in your house?


The miracles (sometimes) of technology

24 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - All of the devices we rely on (like the photo program I use to upload shots for this blog) are marvelous - when they work.

And when they don't work, well, they wreak havoc on the timestream and what was supposed to be a five-minute job, coupled with the tapping keys for the morning blog turns into a nightmare hour of computer crashing, creative cursing, and complete collapse.

But after an hour, I haven't lost my ability to illiterate. (Gawd..)

The day started with a headbanger of a headache from sitting at this keyboard too much last night, tracking down old amigos who I feared might be communing with Hunter S. Thompson. The wonders of the Internet served me well, but the combination of Two-Buck-Chuck vino, the eyestrain, and the late hours gave me a crasher.

That God for the gift of tea with caffeine.

The Mexico sojourn has been delayed for about a week -- Sabbatical has a full complement crew working hard and it's probably better for El Capitan to stay in Sacramento and work on the stories that have been hanging fire. The respite also spells time to visit Jack London State Park to say hello to the remains of the writer who launched me from adolescence. Picked on by bullies (who don't seem so fearful 40 years later), London's life taught me to turn around and look that kind of person in the eye.

In a conversation this past week, the topic of writers and how tortured many of them seem (or seemed) came up. HST blew his brains out, ditto for Ernest Hemingway. Jack London pushed himself so hard (and drank way too much - see John Barleycorn, his best book) that he died at 40, his body used up.

"I would rather be ashes than dust," London once wrote. "I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot."

Burn baby burn. It's worth taking the chance.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The stuff that dreams are made of

23 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (8:30 a.m.) - Something about the passing of Hunter S. Thompson has addled by brain, coming so close on the heels of the death of my mother-in-law, and a friend and colleague last fall. Another acquaintance was hit - and killed - by truck while she was crossing a San Francisco street walking a neighbor's dog. (What are the odds on that one?)

Death to the left, death to right, death right in front of us.

But when I was rifling through my papers during the last two days, wondering what screed I might write about HST as a tribute of sorts (to sell, amigos, to sell!), I found tons of Humphrey Bogart photos and things, things I had saved for years.

A good friend from my Petaluma newspaper days took me to my first showing of 'Casablanca,' in about 1974. After that, we bought Casablanca books, copies of the film and began trading lines in the newspaper office to the chagrin of the other staff members.

"I was willing to shoot Captain Reynaud and I'm willing to shoot you."

"The Germans know where to find me. I left a note in my apartment."

"The troubles of three people don't amount to hill of beans in this crazy world."

And my favorite, possibly the most romantic line ever spoken in a film:

"We'll always have Paris."

All the Bogart thoughts pulled me out of my funk, even though Bogart himself died young (my age, Jaysus!). But like HST, he lived large, pushing the envelope in his own way, loved sailing and made many memorable films.

The photo with today's blog, from The Maltese Falcon, is one of those classic screen shots.

And the lines from that movie run through my head to:

"When a man's partner gets killed, he does something about it."

And, of course, the tagline at the end of the movie that's turned into a question in Trivial Pursuit:

The question: What is the last line of dialog in The Maltese Falcon?

Most people answer, "The stuff that dreams are made of."

It's a good answer, and should be the last line. It's certainly the one that people remember. But the real last line belongs to Ward Bond (who went on to play the wagonmaster in the TV series, Wagon Train). After Bogart says "The stuff that dreams are made of" Ward Bond says, "Huh?

Take that thought with you if you play the classic version of Trivial Pursuit.

But keep looking for your own Maltese Falcon or Casablanca.

That's where the writing is headed in the coming weeks: about the stuff that dreams are made of.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What do gonzo journalists do now?

22 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The pundits are all pouring on the praise for Hunter S. Thompson, now that he's dead. When he was alive, most of them dismissed him as an alcoholic druggie who was way past his prime.

The story I read in Rolling Stone's October issue about the Bush campaign proved otherwise.

I've gotten some interesting emails from former students who remember how I used to make them write one brief paper in Literary Journalism in gonzo style - a freewheeling, inject-yourself-in-the-story madness that many students found very difficult to even conceive of.

All those years of high school English comp drilled most creativity out of their skulls so that by the time I saw them in a college classroom, all they worried about was writing something so vanilla, so bland that it wouldn't offend anyone - but it would get them an A.

Didn't work in my class. You had to go all out, take the risks and take the fall. That's what HST did all his life.

So for those people who thing that the gonzo journalism died with HST, forget it. Read the blogs on the internet, check the 'alternative' magazines, watch the Daily Show. Hunter S. Thompson's wild ride continues, wherever he might be today.

In the photo with this blog, HST was quoted as saying, "You can't go looking for the American Dream in a Volkswagen."

His point? Didn't have one, didn't need one.

That was HST.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Say goodbye to Hunter S. Thompson

21 February 2005

WOODY CREEK, Colorado - There's mourning in the streets in Woody Creek today for the town's most famous resident and someone who an entire generation of journalists will miss tremendously, Hunter S. Thompson.

Ironically, just before learning of Thompson's death, I watched an hour-long program with David Halberstam and Ben Bradlee talking about journalism's golden age - the late 1960s and all of the 1970s, the very time I was a fulltime journalist and David Halberstam and Ben Bradlee were two of the stars I used to guide myself by.

But the third star in the my observations was Hunter S. Thompson, whose wild ramblings were always amusing and frequently accurate. He provided the maniac balance to the objective journalism we all practiced soooooo carefully. And in his rants more truth sometimes came out than through all the careful sentences of people like Halberstam and Bradlee's Washington Post newsroom.

When I first taught Literary Journalism in 1989, Thompson was on the top of my list as a writer for the students to study. His madcap techniques always caught the imagination of the students, though their attempts at imitation were always difficult to read. My colleague, Bill Dorman, wouldn't use Thompson when he taught the class. Thompson was too looney and not enough journalist Bill would argue.

True, but still lovable, right up to the end.

I lost track of Hunter S. Thompson's writing in the last few years, but he was even on the campaign trail watching the Bush-Kerry debacle, and showing that his writing and observation skills were just as keen as they were when he was skewering Richard Nixon. In a campaign piece I ran across on the web today, Thompson says that he would vote for Richard Nixon over George Bush.

Hunter S. Thompson's work also encouraged me to begin work on a book about growing up in Lakewood, New York - The Class of 66. Perhaps in his honor (though he would puke at that expression), I should crank up on Grey Goose and bang out the last chapters of that book, libel laws and simple good taste be damned.

Here's to you Hunter.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Recurring nightmares about bees attacking

20 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (In the movie studio) - After spending several hours re-editing 'Sailing With Bees,' my mini-documentary about the nightmare we had last season with bees in the mast, I dreamed about the little critters last night, not surprising I suppose.

The photo with the blog today is of David (the bee killer, not the painter who has worked on the boat) atop the mast of Sabbatical, spraying water through a fire hose down. And, as you might expect, a lot of that water ended up INSIDE the boat, mixed with soap that apparently kills the bees. As the movie shows, however, it doesn't kill all of them.

I learned a lot about bees through that experience, not the least of which is that I am mildly allergic to their sting. A few weeks ago, just before I left to return here to Sacramento, I got stung and my finger swelled up so much I couldn't bend it.


The original Sailing With Bees was put together last summer, but the new version has special effects, better titles and credits, and the soundtrack of the 'rockumentary' is even more fast paced. (Sounds like the director is kind of proud of this, eh?)

When the income tax is finished today, I'm back on the final editing so I can burn the movie onto a DVD to take to Puerto Vallarta. And maybe once I'm done with it, I won't be buzzed in my dreams anymore.


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Sting rays and making movies sans actors

19 February 2005 (6 a.m.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The movie 'Whales of Banderas Bay' is edited and put into the archives after a lot of cutting and pasting of scenes. After making a half-dozen of these short videos, I'm finally learning some of the techniques to make them more visually interesting (as well as how to add sound beyond the rock music I have soooo much fun putting in).

But these films need actors, characters anyway, which is very difficult when most of the people I end up filming are so camera shy they practically dive under the covers when the camera gets sent their way. Or in this case, dive off the boat.

Not-so-shy are the creatures of the natural world, such as this ray (a STING ray, I believe) which was swimming in the channel at Paradise Village Marina the day we motored out to do the shooting for Whales of Banderas Bay aboard the motor vessel Mi Amor with Captain George and First Mate Winnie.

Sting rays can be nasty things in the shallow water when they are mating, I'm told. The only other place I've ever seen a sting ray in Mexico was Tenacatita Bay when Captain Sanders Lamont and I were there last season. We wandered into a small school of them when we were launching the dinghy and did the Sanibel Shuffle to warn them of our approach.

This ray was about two feet across and posed nicely for the video camera, though his bit part in Whales of Banderas Bay was cut out in the final version.

Maybe Disney will make a video about rays, though they don't have the same sex appeal as little colorful fish.

The loose thought running around in my head is about making a real documentary - with a script and everything. But that's for later in the morning when I've had at least another two cups of tea.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Sabbatical, fresh paint and Moby Dick

18 February 2005

PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico - The painters are cleaning up the debris and doing some touch up, but the 34,000 pesos, ten-day-job that grew to 19 days is almost done.

And son Dustin, who took the photo posted here, says the barge looks beautiful up close. It looks pretty good from this angle, too.

The best part of this project, for me, is that I saw it in pictures from 1500 miles away, not having to breathe fiberglass dust, inhale paint fumes or live aboard the boat with all the ports covered up with paper. It must have been like living inside a subway (the train, not the sandwich).

Like any such fix-up project, now that the cabin top is done, the rust on the anchor needs to be dealt with. And then there's the anchor chain, and then there's a spot on the hull that needs some sanding and painting and, and, and...

But from 1500 miles, those projects seem, well, distant and will either be done by my amigo Don (who supervised the entire project) or Dustin, who is getting another boat ready for a sojourn to Zihuatenejo next week. Or maybe some of them will be done by me when I make my return to the land of boogie boarding Feb. 27.

Here in Sacramento, where the rain comes down in sheets, the fog off the river is rising and the overall look of the city makes San Diego "June Gloom" look balmy, the writing continues endlessly and, sometime this weekend, dammit, we will unlock the movie studio and get to work on one of the three rockumentaries in progress.

'Whales of Banderas Bay' is first in line, as soon as I figure out how to incorporate the footage I found from the 1956 classic starring Gregory Peck - Moby Dick.

"If God ever wanted to be a fish, he'd be a whale."


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Covering all the journalistic bases

17 February 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (7:19 a.m.) - Oh, to be out shooting video and photos in shorts and a t-shirt again.

The shot with today's blog is from last year's Zihuatenejo SailFest, where I was the official photographer and also took hours of video of the events. I learned two things through that experience: cameras are damned heavy to carry and you can't take notes and be a photographer, too.

The first lesson I learned years ago when I carried a SLR Pentax to anti-war demonstrations, partly to take pictures, partly as a piece of self-defense equipment in case an unruly protestor took a dislike to a journalist being at the scene. One of my first reporting assignments was covering the funeral of a Hell's Angel. Some of them suggested that I should do something with my camera that is (I believe) anatomically impossible, so I shot quickly and left even more quickly.

But what brings this all to mind is that on assignment two days ago, I neglected to bring my still camera. Big mistake. While I'm only providing the text for the magazine article, having some photos of the people I interviewed at the Folsom Lake College campus (where I spent an hour wandering about) would have been a big help to give me some visuals as I wrote up the story.

So today, as I trundle off to the University for some academic/political duties, the camera will be back in my hand.

But before those duties later, I'm going to scan some of the photos and videos of Zihuatenejo to remember what it was like to sport around in a warm climate with two cameras and a reporter's notebook in my hand - while wearing shorts and a T-shirt.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A little paint does wonders for a boat

New deck paint is on!
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
PARADISE VILLAGE MARINA, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico - Well it wasn't just a little paint, it was a LOT of paint - 34,000 pesos worth of labor and paint - but the Great Painting Project is almost over, Dustin Fox reports from Paradise Village Marina, where he jumped aboard Sabbatical Monday. He leaves at the end of the week for a trip to Zihuatenejo aboard a boat called Sea Bee. No kidding.

He sent the photo accompanying this blog to show evidence that the money was well spent.

It sure looks good in the photos. No more Scotch Brite sponges to clean anymore, that's for sure.

In the meantime, in Sacramento, we are scrambling to meet our various writing deadlines for a half-dozen projects, including a short-turnaround assignment about a performing arts complex. What do I know about performing arts? More than I did a few days ago.

While the photo shows how beautiful the weather is in Puerto Vallarta, it has been raining steady here in Sacramento all day, the drumming of the rain from the roof beginning to make me stir crazy. A walk in the rain is always a possibility, but unlikely.

But the boat looks great, doesn't it?

More photos to follow.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The things you see while traveling

15 February 2005 - 8 a.m. PST

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - I told someone last week about one of neatest little towns I have seen in my travels, a town in the middle of (HANG ON, KIDS) Iowa.

Iowa? Jaysus! Isn't that one of those places that everyone struggles to run away from at the first chance they get? Isn't it, like, in the Midwest?

Yup and yup.

But it was arguably the friendliest place I've been in many years. The clock's all stopped there sometime in the early 1960s. I could've moved there in a heartbeat. Well, except for winters that last 9 months.

We stopped in this place two summers ago when we did a cross-country drive in a red Miata convertible and because the interstate highways were sooooo freakin' crazy in the little car, we got off whenever we could and took the two-lane roads. That's where the small towns are where there are bars with names like 'Ed's' and motels with signs like 'The Welcome Inn.'

Last summer, in a quick trip to Detroit to visit son Jason and amigos Jim and Pam Carr, we passed through Niagara Falls (Remember the Three Stooges routine:'Niagara Falls! Slowly I turn, step by step...'). At the falls we saw this chewed-on Hershey Bar a block from the bridge to get over the Niagara River. It helped that we were stuck in the daily massive traffic jam (with the photo taking).

Traveling - fast enough to get places but slow enough to see things - is pure joy, something I finally appreciate. That's the beauty of sailing along the Mexican coast, too. The villages are all neat and the ocean always provides something interesting, like a green flash, dolphins or the occasional bad weather.

The name of that town in Iowa? Well, I'm afraid it's buried in my journal.

You have to find it for yourself.


Monday, February 14, 2005

Expanding the aquatic ecosystem

On Goldfish Pond
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
14 February 2005, 2 p.m.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., La Riviera Drive - With the addition of six gold fish, the pond project is now nearly complete.

All that's left it to find a small toy sailboat to float above the heads of the fish and we will declare it a masterpiece.

Granddaughter Samantha and I went to a Petsmart store and shopped for fish, finding one tank where the fish were 12 cents each. That's correct, 12 cents! It seems these little critters are considered 'feed' for other fish, the ones that cost like, $5.99. So while I feel bad that some of these fish are quite likely to either not make the transition from the store to the pond, or be eaten by a neighborhood cat, at least this way they have a slim chance to survive.

A chance for what? Well, Samantha has already fed them twice, so they won't starve and now that the pond has fish, I'll keep the waterfall pump running so there's air.

Food and air. What else could they need, they already live in fresh water.

It will be interesting to see if they attract cats and possibly the raccoons we have heard about from neighbors. In the meantime, the rain falling right now makes nice sound accompanying the waterfall.

Hmmm... Perhaps we need a turtle in there, too.


Cruising's Holy Grail - the 'green flash'

14 February 2005

ZIHUATENEJO, Mexico - When the sun sets on the ocean and the cocktail glasses are clinking, everyone stares at the horizon (if it's clear) in hopes of seeing the green flash.

For years I thought it was sort of a 'snipe hunt' for new cruisers. People would sit in the cockpit, scorching their retinas while staring the golden orb for the last few minutes before it hit the horizon. Then they would suddenly say, 'Did you see it? Did you see it?'

Well, I have see it several times in recent years, and one of the times was right after this photo was taken in Z-town.

What is the green flash?

It's been explained to me that the phenom is caused by refraction of light rays with blue and green being the ones most easily visible. The flash is really the light rays from the already-set sun, bending over the horizon. Early birds can catch a morning green flash, though in the boating/cruising community I haven't heard of anyone whose seen the morning version. The evening cocktails might contribute a little to the group sightings, I think.

Close to the equator, the green flash is very quick, maybe a second or two. Near the poles, it can last a lot longer.

I'll stick close to the equator, thank you very much.

And when I get back to Mexico in a few weeks, I'll take the video camera out on the water to seek the green flash.

Everybody needs a goal.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

The backyard pond in winter - waiting for fish

13 February 2005

Procrastinating about all the writing, income tax, cleaning, and general life organizing I needed to do, I spent several hours Saturday installing a new water pump in the small pond in the backyard of the condo.

Successfully installing, I should add.

Now the water trickles down the rocks in a mini-waterfall (very mini) but makes a nice gurgling sound guaranteed to help you sleep and cause you to get up several times during the night to find the bathroom. The birds seem to like the moving water and this morning doves are sipping near the rocks while eating the birdseed I have scattered around.

Monday, with granddaughter Samantha, we will get some goldfish to add to the eco-system and see how long they last with the raccoons that live along the river, right over the back fence.

After a sunny day Saturday -- a top-down day in the Miata -- the overcast gloom has returned and more normal weather has returned.

But the pond is trickling.


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Spring days and cigarettes

Out my back window
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
SACRAMENTO, Calif., La Riviera Drive -- It's a long way from Mexico, but standing on my back deck, watching fishing boats drift down the American River, is a good reminder that spring is here.

In most parts of the country the weather we have had for the past two days (and predicted for today) would be damn near summer. It's supposed to be close to 70 again and the sun is already streaming into the kitchen.

Not half-bad, as they say in the midwest.

In the meantime, after three weeks of battling with a nasty cold I picked up in Mexico, it appears the cold is almost a memory. Probably the infusion of large doses of Charles Shaw wine (Two-Buck-Chuck) and the legendary meatloaf from a local supermarket.

I did receive some bad news today -- a classmate from high school passed away suddenly. She would have been 56 (56!!!!!!). According to my friend who emailed me about her death, my late classmate was looking good last summer, sucking on her asthma inhaler, but still smoking cigarettes.

Smoking cigarettes.


Time to take a nice walk along that river scene accompanying today's blog and thank God, Mother Nature, the Great Spirit and the Universe in general for another good day.


Friday, February 11, 2005

Emergency flight to San Diego

11 February 2005

I'm still a little punchy this morning after flying to San Diego Thursday to help perform an emergency extraction -- getting son Dustin out of his apartment and on his way to Mexico.

After days and days of packing and planning, his 'get-out-of-the-apartment' time loomed (9 a.m. this morning) and he was swamped with half-filled boxes, bags of garbage and a dozen details that needed tending.

Send in the cavalry! Or, in this case, Dad, to give a hand.

Dustin is heading to Mexico (as I write this, I hope already on his way) to live for awhile in the sunshine. I can relate. But getting out of the apartment he shared for three years proved to be pretty daunting for a person working alone. And he is taking his tools and enough parts and hardware to open a marine store in Puerto Vallarta. Maybe he is going to open a marine store.

But we hauled boxes, dumped trash, walked through the checklist and still had time to go to the Southwestern Yacht Club for dinner and two glasses of vino blanco before I boarded my second Southwest Airlines flight of the day to come home to Sacramento.

On the way in, I took the photo with this blog, the San Diego skyline, from the window of the plane. You come in tight to the downtown just before you hit the tarmac at Lindbergh field. And this time, I was a little more cagey about my use of the camera.

Vaya con Dios, Doostin. (That's how they say his name in Mexico.)


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Getting old is NOT for sissies

10 February 2005

The passing of my mother-in-law Louise Schwartz has reminded me of something I either read -- or was told -- several times in the last few years: getting old is NOT for sissies. As the old age ailments stack up, the pain level, the infirmity, the damned indignity all coalesce and suddenly there you are sitting virtually immobile, (unless you get assistance), uncomfortable (if not really hurting) and wondering what-the-hell happened to the 25-year-old inside of you who was immortal.

In the last few years, Louise kept kicking right to the end, even taking a trip to Florida to visit her son Dan and daughter-in-law Diane. Coming back, her health woes caught up with her like a fast-moving freight train and she was looking down the barrel of permanently moving into what we used to call an old folks' home. Now it's called assisted living.

But even at that, she was working on breaking out (with her sister-in-law, Fran) and moving back to her small apartment that overlooked Seneca Lake.

Louise's brother Erwin (pictured with this blog) spends his days at what we used to call a nursing home that's part of the big hospital, bound pretty much to a little golf cart sort of thing that lets him get around. I won't go into all the maladies he's dealing with, but after a lifetime of being a physically active fellow, the lack of mobility and pain are tough for his family to witness.

His mind, however, is as sharp as can be and this trip Sylvia and I quizzed him about family history, finding out, among other things, that the Beardslee clan arrived in America in 1635. Erwin still loves to spin tales and his memory of things that happened when he and Louise were children is amazing.

We sat with Erwin and three other fellows while they had their 'dinners' -- institutional fare including the required jello substance. (Do you know what jello is made from? Best not to know.) Erwin's table mates had difficulty speaking; one slid his false teeth in and out because they were hurting, he said. Another has severe Parkinson's disease and struggled to chomp on a piece of pizza that was smuggled in by a friend.

But when we got ready to leave I remembered a movie with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster called 'Tough Guys,' in which Lancaster -- at an assisted living facility -- confronts the nurses and the orderlies and says, 'We wants steaks, we want chops, we want real food.'

I recited that line to the table of four, adding that they might demand 'real pizza' which would be a little easier on their teeth.

I got a hearty laugh from all four of them, proving that while their bodies might be infirm, their minds are still working just fine.

And it also shows, they're no sissies.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Even bloggers take a day off, sometimes

9 Feb. 2005

After returning from New York and working all day Tuesday on writing deadlines, today (Wednesday) was almost a total 'do nothing' day. But now with recharged batteries, there are several new writing projects to do, several others to start, and best of all, a few days to get working on the two movies under development at 21st Century Fox: The Whales of Banderas Bay and Flying Without a Net.

A third movie is on the drawing boards, with a some footage already done: Banderas Bay Boogie.

Tomorrow this blog will probably get back to commenting on politics and education. Today there was a story out of Virginia about the legislature wanting to make it illegal for anyone's pants to droop and show their underwear. (No, I did not make it up... check out this link:

They would have to lock up half the teenagers in California.

Hasta manana...


Monday, February 07, 2005

Flying those 'not-always-friendly' skies

7 February 2005

IN THE AIR OVER PENN STATE, 33,000 FEET -- I never wish evil on anyone. Hmmm. Well, that might be an exaggeration. But after dealing with United Airline's ticket counter people in Philadelphia, I'm contemplating enrolling in a short course in Voodoo and snagging some United plastic stir straws and napkins as memorabilia to make straw dolls for future ceremonies.

We were attempting to get back to Sacramento a few hours early and had spied a flight from Philly to Denver with a connector from Denver to Sacramento that would get us on the group 45 minutes early. That might not seem like such a big deal, but given the amount of writing ahead (for me) and class prep ahead (for Sylvia), the extra time would mean an easier evening before we dove into the morass Tuesday morning.

But, United Airlines had lost me. Not my bags. Me.

Never mind that I had flown last Thursday from Sacramento to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to Elmira and then from Elmira back to Philadelphia only a few moments before standing in front of the counter. An obnoxious (the kindest word I can summon) youngish woman at the ticket counter staring at her computer screen said, 'Fitzgerald doesn't have a ticket.' I pointed out that I was the Fitzgerald in question, and that, in fact, I did have a ticket. But she said 'No, I can't find you in the system. Are you sure you have a ticket?'

While we fumbled for the itinerary (printed out by another less-than-friendly clerk in Sacramento), the young Philly clerk fumed and muttered to her female colleague that she hated people who 'didn't have tickets.' (Her attitude might have been tied to her declining looks. At one time, she might have even been a prom queen with a cover-girl beauty. But now she had the hard edge of a woman who could sit in a bar all night and hardly get a glance or hello, except from the bartender.)

After working the keyboard (and avoiding all eye contact) she slapped two documents on the counter in front of us and said, 'There you go, I put you on standby to Denver and standby to Sacramento.'

STANDBY! Jaysus H. Christ.

Granted these were frequent-traveler tickets, but STANDBY!

Sylvia calmed ME down (a definite role reversal) by pointing out that at least on the first leg, we were assured of seats because the flight wasn't at all full. And in Denver, if needed, she could pull out her admiral's angry attitude and probably get us a first class gig for the rest of the way to Sacramento.


So as we cruise across the plains headed to the mile-high city, I'm working on getting my blood pressure back to normal and the attention of the flight attendant to get another glass of overpriced wine. We have, let's see, more than 3 hours of flight time to Denver and the movie machine is broken and it could be a looooooong way.

Not much to see, just a blanket of white clouds. Not at all like the first leg of the trip from Elmira to Philadelphia where I saw one of my many alma maters (Villanova, three long (but memorable) semesters) and took the shot accompanying this blog -- the twin towers of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, still belching out steam and, we hope, with its control rods firmly in place after its near meltdown years ago.

Fly faster, fly faster!


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Keeping your cool in upstate New York

6 February 2005

WATKINS GLEN, NY -- It actually was sort of balmy Friday afternoon here in upstate New York where temperatures hit in the 40s, briefly, just before the memorial service for Sylvia's mother.

And at the memorial service, instead of putting the cold drinks in the refrigerator, some of the beverages (mostly a case of Labatt's Blue beer) got stuck in the snowbank outside of Seneca View, an assisted living facility where the family gathered so that Sylvia's mom's brother Erwin could attend.

While we could walk in and out of the side door to the beer cooler, people who are residents of the facility cannot. Every few minutes one of them would try to make a break for the outside (it was sunny after all) and their wristbands would set off an audible alarm that made the voice of The Woman from Alaska (see the blog from Feb. 2) seem almost tame.

We had hoped to leave today, but the airlines are being quite uncooperative. So we will spend one more day & night here, probably going up the lake house and taking in the winter sights of Seneca Lake. The sun is out and while I shudder to think what the temperature is, it is about a clear a sky as I have seen in years.

Back to Sacramento tomorrow, Mexico in about three weeks...


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Life at the Seneca Clipper Inn

5 February 2005

WATKINS GLEN, NY -- The temperature outside this morning is a balmy 25 degrees but predicted to go up to maybe 40 with 50 degrees on Sunday.

I brought a heat wave from California apparently as it was a high of 9 degrees for several days prior to our arrival.

Family and friends are going to gather today for a memorial service for Sylvia's mom. While she was failing in health, everyone expected her to live for at least several more years so her passing is a shock.

One thing everyone has agreed. We will all clean out our houses when we get home. Louise was a schoolteacher and an artist and there is sooooo much raw materials for artwork, pencils, paper, magazine articles and notes on projects that you would think we were packing up the Pentagon, not the apartment of a little old lady.

Next summer -- July 4th weekend, we hope -- the family will have a big hoopla celebration of Louise's life at the Lake House ending with the spreading of her ashes in Seneca Lake, a place she loved.

In between boxes and loads of stuff, I've been working here at the Seneca Clipper Inn, which actually is a very neat place. While I'm bundled up like an Eskimo, people outside are walking around in light sweaters, because of the warm (to them) temperatures.



Thursday, February 03, 2005

What's that on the airplane wing? Duct tape?

Duct tape wing patch?
Originally uploaded by Brite light photos.
3 February 2005

SOMEWHERE OVER KANSAS, 33,000 FEET -- The plane is comfortable enough, and I would be very much at ease, except for the duct tape.

Duct tape?

Yes, duct tape. I saw duct tape on the part of the wing that slides in and out (flaps?) just before we took off from San Francisco on a flight back to Philadelphia (and ultimately Elmira, N.Y. and Watkins Glen). We are on our way for sad duty -- Sylvia's mother died suddenly and we are going to take care of arrangements, have a memorial service and then return in a few days.

But about the duct tape. And yes, dammit, I have used miles of duct tape in my life and I am telling you I saw duct tape on the wing of this United Airlines flight from SFO to Philly.

Duct tape. Jaysus H.

We were pulling away from Gate 69 when I spotted the six-inch duct tape patch on the wing, a patch I'm not sure I will be able to get a photo of because the airlines are absolutely wacky about 'approved electronic devices' being on during take offs and landings. When I flew America West from Mexico to San Diego two days ago, I nearly had my camera confiscated because I was taking photos during our landing at Lindbergh Field. The flight attendants on that run were both about 19-years-old, sported bad hairdos (and even worse complexions), and obviously were enamored with the power of being in charge of the 20 passengers on a plane with 84 seats. My usually witty repartee didn't work on either of them earlier in the flight before I started my photo shoot. And then when they saw me shooting photos I became an apparent security risk. They hovered by me while I put the camera back in my bag.

When we hit the tarmac in Philadelphia, I'll pull out the camera but keep it well hidden to see if I can get the duct tape captured for viewing in this blog. It will be about sunset so it's hard to say how well it will show up.

The shock of going from 84 degrees with 90 percent humidity in Mexico to 60 degrees with 50 percent humidity in Sacramento will now be compounded by nights of about 9 degrees and God-knows how much humidity. I'll be staying inside at a $40 per night motel for a good portion of our four days in Watkins Glen, much of it pounding on this keyboard or down the street at one of the many pubs that serve excellent brews.

Writers have to watch out for dehydration.

In upstate New York in the dead of winter, $40 actually buys you a pretty nice room, I'm promised, cable TV with premium stations and even a wireless Internet connection in the room.

Look for a photo or two of the Seneca Clipper Inn Saturday -- provided, of course, that this promised Internet connection materializes.

The pilot just said it's a balmy 36 degrees in Philadelphia. Cold enough to keep the duct taping sticking we can hope.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Back in the USSA

2 February 2005

LA RIVIERA DRIVE, SACRAMENTO, Calif. – My theory was that I could get to the airport late in Puerto Vallarta. I was flying on a Tuesday, for chrissakes. How many people could be bailing out of this place on a Tuesday? As luck had it, I arrived a couple of hours before my flight – not one hour as I had planned — and when I got out of the taxi, the check-in line was out the door and down the sidewalk, a hot sidewalk because the sun had come out and the 95 percent humidity kicked in with a vengeance.

Uh-oh, I thought.

But after muscling through the center of the line (‘Con permiso, por favor’), I found out that the incredible line was several hundred people who were going to be sardined into a Continental Airlines Jet and that their line had taken on a life of its own while two harried ticket counter workers dealt with all the various problems people seem to have leaving Mexico — primarily losing their tourist visa. Veteran Mexico hands will tell you that it’s no big deal to show up at the ticket counter sans visa. (B.S. Ask them how many times THEY have done it, before you believe that.) Tuesday, inevitably, there was a family with four pouting teenage girls in tow, none of whom seemed to have remembered to keep their tourist visas. It was obvious, however, that they had found boutiques, jewelry stores, booze vendors, and hair braiders without problem. And now they didn’t want to be bothered with even getting their passports out of their bloated suitcases to comply with the repeated polite requests of a very overwhelmed female Mexican clerk whose smile was beginning to show slight cracks around the corner of her mouth.

I left as the father of this entourage was clearly ready forget he was still in laid-back manana land and do a very-American , very-Dad, blow-your-hair-back tirade at the four teenagers. The family was on a flight to Chicago, in case you read about some domestic disturbance in the windy city.

The amount of alcohol and food that’s available in the Puerto Vallarta airport is astounding. From the vantage point where I sat while waiting for my 4 p.m. flight, I could see three bars, four duty-free shops and two restaurants. And they were all packed with people getting their last little bit of Mexican food or touch jingled before they took off. The smoke in the terminal was thick from the cigarettes, both from the bars and restaurants and in the waiting area. No designated smoke spots in this country. If you don’t like the smoke, go outside. Oops, can’t do that at an airport until you want to wander through security over and over.

With more than an hour before my flight, the question wasn’t whether to have a beer. The first-beer-of-the-day issue had been settled at the Vallarta Yacht Club while I had lunch with Don Tiffin to go over last-minute details about some of the work he is supervising in my absence. No, the question was whether to go to one of the three Corner Bars, which, of course, are not located in any corner at all, but along a promenade. I found out that in one regard they are very American. You cannot sit at one of these places without ordering an overpriced drink (another very American carryover).

I settled on the Corner Bar (But which one, you ask, which one?).

The one with the least amount of people, which seemed to be most inviting and least threatening to a somewhat claustrophobic someone who was going to crammed into a metal tube and hurtled through the sky at 550 miles per hour. But I didn’t count on ‘the woman from Alaska.’

It might be that her voice was damaged seriously when her parents pushed her out of the cabin onto the tundra to play in the dead of winter. Perhaps this day it was the row of empty tequila shooter glasses, or the endless chain of Camel cigarettes that hung from her lips. But it was clear when I sat down why no one, except for a baleful soul I took to be her husband, was within 20 feet of her at this Corner Bar.

I dubbed her Air Raid Agnes – a nod to those wonderful British air raid sirens you sometimes hear in the movies made about World War II. They start very low and build and build and start screeching to a crescendo. Except that Agnes could hold her crescendo for minutes at a time while her jaw moved around like a car hood with bad hinges and her husband kept signaling the bartender for another round. The bartender, a tiny fellow with a Cantiflas mustache, kept ducking into the little room behind the bar to bring out…well, nothing really that I could see. He was just ducking.

I had escaped the sound of six people grinding off fiberglass from the cabin top of Sabbatical earlier in the day and decided that I should avoid any further damage to my ears before takeoff. But just as decided to seek another not-in-the-corner Corner Bar, the call came over the loudspeaker: America West passengers for San Diego report to gate 6A.

I could still hear the siren wailing as I got to the gate.