See the new look! Go to http://2zephyr.com/
See the new look! Go to http://2zephyr.com/
Oh boy! A romantic rendezvous!
Just as a change of pace, Kris and I decided to do San Diego this past weekend, but with a twist. She would fly in as part of a trip that would take her from LAX to Atlanta and then back to San Diego for two nights (before heading out to Minneapolis and then back to L.A.). At the same time — Friday — I would take the train down to SD and meet her at the Westin, a reasonably groovy hotel a scant two blocks from the train station (gloriously depicted below) and right near the wharf. Very cool. She did, I did, and it all worked well. Minimal sunburn and zip heartburn.
But the real story here is the magnificent Santa Fe Station, or Depot, or San Diego Union Station, or some approximation of both (or all three). You can check out the history on the Web, but briefly, the station has been a local landmark for almost a century, and I swear you can feel that history as you walk though the waiting area. Over the years many changes have been made to the world outside, including high-rises that loom in every direction. Yet the architecture of the building remains as striking as it must have for all those years. And you can fairly hear the footsteps, the laughter and the shouts of thousands of American soldiers and sailors as they moved to and from one of the nation’s largest military facilities during World War II.
In our own time, of course, only dim echoes are still there, but more than a relic, Santa Fe Depot is the key transit center for the city. Within its shadow, I arrived and departed on the Amtrak for Los Angeles, and both Kris and I made good use of the local MTA to do some touring in other parts of town. Example: You can take one of the “red cars” to any part of the metropolitan area for a buck-twenty-five, one way. Then again if you’re the shiftless type and choose to take advantage of the existing honor system, you can travel for free, and if checked by local authorities, claim that the ticket dispenser was broken. On the way back from Old Town we hung on to our out-bound tickets and hoped for the best.
Among the optimists for high-speed rail, San Diegans would like to see the Santa Fe have a part in a future system. They could certainly do worse.
If we ever needed a laugh, now would be the time. So let’s take a look at one of the great comedians of our times, Jonathan Winters, who left the planet last week, and revel in his amazing abilities.
Over his long career he demonstrated that he could get a side-splitting response with almost any prop, as you’ll see with this clip from YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=For2X31-x-M) — to say nothing of the peerless characters that he created. The clip runs about 15 minutes.
Share it with a friend.
We’re big fans of Huntington Beach, a small city on the very edge of the Pacific, so we get over there — about 25 minutes to our west — as often as the spirit moves us. Parking is easy and the subsequent walk to the beach is a matter of two or three blocks past several dozen restaurants and shops. You live there and your wardrobe can be complete with just one back-up pair of flip-flops. And more, there is almost always something going on in terms of events and celebrations. Given that HB is one of the surfing capitals of the west coast, you can pretty well count on big time competitions four or five times a year. And if you get lucky with your timing you can arrive in time for a kiting festival.
We were, and we did. Recently, we were in town on a Saturday and noticed dozens of kites being flown down on the beach, and resourceful me asked a guy who appeared like he could tell us more. “They’ll all be back tomorrow,” he explained. “Today is a practice day. Tomorrow is when the competition happens.” Good, I thought. Tomorrow we’ll come back armed with our cameras.
I won’t verbalize the obvious here. The brief collection of pictures will give you the idea, the exception being the final two shots: One is of Kris learning to do what she tells me to do on occasion, complemented by what she was guiding through the air. Truly, ya shouda been there.
Did you ever get one of those brochures in the mail for a European river cruise? Around here it’s a once-a-month matter, and for the world I can’t figure out why us? It does sound like fun, yodeling along the Danube on a long, multi-story boat and downing all the strudel you can handle. Book one of the cool suites and it is a plush way to spend a week. But have you seen the prices? Climb aboard at the western border of Austria and paddle all the way to Budapest in Hungary and you’d have to cut a check for upwards of $14,000. Yikes! Meals are free, and I suppose if you have a taste for beef, you get your own cow. But two grand a day?
You can do a river cruise for less. Considerably less. And I have, but many moons ago. Mine was down a portion of the Delaware River, back in a small town where I grew up in the 1950s. It was me and my old pal, Billy Holland, and it was an instance where we recognized an opportunity and made the most of it. There was this fully inflated truck tube that somehow ended up in the back yard. The tube was large, about the height of a standing 12-year-old boy, and for a while served only as an item for lounging on a warm summer day. But, we noted, it would also float, and more, just might work as a raft if some kind of a platform could be devised.
One was, using a framework to which were nailed a few boards and rounded-up inserts from a table. We found clothes lines that could be used to attach the platform to said tube, and then it was off to a small tributary of the Delaware River that slowly ebbed through the town.
The West Branch, or the “Little Delaware” as it is called locally, is one of two sources that rise inauspiciously in the middle of New York state, gain more prominence as they roll southward and eventually combine to form the major river that passes by Philadelphia and on to Delaware Bay and the Atlantic.
Generally speaking, the Little Delaware begs the description of a bona fide “river,” given that its depth exceeds six or seven feet only in the most obscure places, and for the most part is on the order of four or five feet. Certainly that was the case when Mr. Holland and I decided to supplement the fiction of Mark Twain. Along with hand-made paddles and the “deck,” we rolled the tube down the backyard of a friend on to the edge of the river. Then we tied the deck to the tube and launched our raft into the water, climbed aboard and set off to the middle of the stream. Basically, there was no current to speak of, so progress was made by paddling and prodding our craft along.
We made the local paper – the Delaware-Republican – that week, with references to Tom Sawyer et al. At nearly any point of our short voyage we could have stepped off the raft and pulled it to shore, and in the end, we did. But for the most part we stayed on board, Billy having announced after we set forth that he could not swim. Oh. That one excursion was our last.
Still, reservations were no problem, the travelers in the next cabin were never a nuisance, and we sailed exactly on time. Oh sure, the food wasn’t much, but then neither of us got seasick, and the weather was great. We declined the invitation to go on a tour of the local village.
Before I moved to Orange County four years ago, I really had no idea that there was so much money floating around here, except perhaps in my neighborhood. I mean our little hacienda is sweet and comfortable, but it hardly suggests that we’re part of the one percent.
On the other hand, when I take my daily drive up to the gym where I religiously endeavor to keep the pounds and the advancing years at bay, I’m constantly — and I do mean every day — amazed at the bucks on four wheels. Back in the San Fernando Valley you’d see the occasional Mercedes or BMW, but down here the majority of cars is way up on the pricing scale. Case in point: this morning I parked Kermit beside a McLaren sports car (as if there are any other kind). Double wow. Making sure the owner was not then advancing to his steed, I did the quick once around, being careful not to drool. When I got home I checked out the price on-line…$239,000! Or roughly the cost for a fleet of Honda Accords. Ten of America’s favorite car. One for every garage on our side of the street.
So, just as you’d ask the driver of this one — or any of the Ferraris or Accura NSXs or Jags or Maseratis that frequent the gym parking lot — where in a city of this size are you going to find a road where you can stretch the beauty out? Just how many traffic citations can you bear? And, of course, what you’d also like to ask the owner: How on earth can you afford to buy something like this, to say nothing of keeping it alive and happy? A car that shares a price setting with a lot of houses? And speaking of that, does it sleep in a pristine garage with a carpeted floor?
Well, who knows? Does it matter, apart from the person who carries the pink slip? The story goes that people who can afford and have such a beast don’t sweat the practicalities. It’s more of being able to handle such a price tag and easily winning the envy games among your friends. I like to think the value of a car that hits nearly a quarter-million dollars is akin to being in the possession of a rolling work of art that only has to sit in silence in the garage. You come out just before going to bed and give it a kiss on the hood and smile, maybe just a little smugly.
A bit jealous? Well sure. Any gear-head would be. The stuff of dreams. But still, there’s that business of care and feeding, which, for the thoroughbreds of the automotive world, can be significant. Among other things, if you’re not very handy with a wrench, there’s the constant problem of finding someone who is and has a friendly disposition toward the exotic under your responsibility. Just getting your car washed can be pricey: I talked to the owner of a Ferrari in said parking lot recently and he said he has a guy come by his house to do the job. Never a trip to the local car wash. Scratches? Don’t even think about it, especially if the perp remains anonymous. And fillling up the tank? Well at least “regular” is not an issue.
Cool cars. And I’d never refuse an opportunity to take the McLaren for a spin — figuratively speaking. But selling the house to get one in the garage? Very doubtful. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to just once say, with obvious pride, “Oh, you mean that one? The one that looks like it could fly? Oh sure. That’s mine.”
A couple of days ago, my brother Billy e-mailed me an article from classic auto racing Motor Sport magazine that detailed the actions in the 1955 Mille Miglia — from the point of view of the winning team. One of the members of the team was a veteran writer, who for the race served as the navigator.
Let me explain.
The “Mille Miglia” — or “thousand mile” — race was run annually in Italy back in mid-century involving a course that went from Brescia, a northern city on the “boot,” down one side to Rome, and then back up the other to finish at the starting point. It was a true road race, using public highways throughout, including railroad crossings, even blazing passages through the middle of small towns. On the day of the race you were well advised to take great care with family outings.
Really amazing stuff, and remember, the event that the story described was held back when Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States. And it was important that the navigator was completely prepared to advise the driver of every twist and turn in the course, oftentimes mere seconds before that sharp right-hand turn came up. After some deadly accidents in 1957 it was all over but the history. These days, the only European race that could be considered comparable — and isn’t, really — is the Le Mans race in the south of France in the spring, perhaps because of its marathon character and the participation of different classes of cars.
In a way, the story took me back, given that the winner was one Stirling Moss, an English driver of particular skill and success. Ten years later I saw Moss in the flesh at Watkins Glen in upstate New York where I witnessed big time racing for the first time. The occasion was the United States Formula 1 Gran Prix, which, over the succeeding years, has been renewed in this country off and on at several different tracks. Last year, the U.S. race, one of 20 F1 races that are held all over the world, was at a new track in Austin. Back at the Glen, Moss was not a driver, but he certainly did hold forth as an easily recognized personality; his hairless head — save eyebrows — was exactly like the pictures I had seen.
Those who did make up the grid were a who’s who of motor racing royalty at the time: among them, Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney and the Scotsman, Jackie Stewart, who continues to be a presence in the sport. Also in the running was Richie Ginther, who drove a white car that was powered via an engine from a then fairly unknown Japanese company called Honda.
But the Mille Miglia of more than a half-century ago is gone and nothing like it remains. The Long Beach Gran Prix, which is scheduled for April 21st, will be run on a temporary course made up of city streets, but it will be a closed circuit for race weekend. And the desert marathons are hardly the same thing. Over the decades since brutal Ferrari’s and Mercedes roared down country roads in Italy at, yes, speeds of 170 miles per hour, no country has countenanced, let alone sponsored, such an endeavor. Which is a shame for an aspiring gear head like me. I can absolutely envision a gaggle of Audi prototypes going at it with Ferrari’s, Porches and ‘Vettes et al as they haul ass up challenging roads from, say, San Diego, through the outskirts of L.A., and on up to the edges of San Francisco.
Or not. But it did happen once, long ago, as all of Italy looked on and cheered.
It threw me, until I had a chance to fire up my computer and see what the man was talking about.
Remember the line? It was from the President’s address yesterday: “…that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
And I was sitting there, trying to get a fix on who or what was “Stonewall,” and what it had in relation to Seneca Falls and Selma, which I knew were landmarks for women’s rights and black rights, respectively.
So as I say, I looked it up.
Gay rights. Stonewall — the Stonewall Inn down in Greenwich Village — was where the entire gay movement came out of a very large closet. Where a crowd of 200 gay people who were being arrested because they were gay exploded into a violent crowd of 2,000 which struck back with a vengeance. It’s quite a story. And I had no idea.
In a single sentence the President referenced the three major civil rights issues of the nation and the progress that’s been made in the past century — at least, so far. Yet movement on the last two has only occurred in the last forty years, and even that has been incremental, at best.
Back when I was a kid growing up in a small town — in the northeast, no less — the two black families lived at the outskirts of the village and we were advised that all was fine so long as “they” knew their place — whatever that was. I assumed they would be aware of that, and if not, they would be properly informed of the details. I only recall seeing one boy from one the families who was perhaps five or six years older than me. He decided at one point to play basketball for the high school, showed for a single game in uniform, complained of racial intolerance — I was told — and quit. By contrast, the team bus was driven by a black man and everyone thought that was just fine.
Even the northeast, in those times, was hardly a paragon of tolerance. And as people began to work the voting rights efforts in the south, there was virtually no discussion in the college classrooms that I sat in. It was, here and there, a news item, nothing more. African-Americans — when you heard the term — were dismissed as pushy and unreasonable. I was all of 27 before the light bulb came on with real finality.
Equality for gay people — we called them homosexuals, or worse, “homos” in the 1950s and 1960s — has taken even longer. Whether their road has been tougher depends on who you talk to; I once made the mistake of weighing the differences to a black friend who made a vigorous effort to set me straight (no pun intended). The difficulty there is the presumption of choice, where — we now know — there is none.
I like to think that over the years we as a people have agreed to grow up, that our oh-so-generous feelings of tolerance has been replaced by adult acceptance of each other the way we are, nothing more and nothing less. Interesting that after more than two centuries we still have to work at qualifying for the notion of being a melting pot.
So good for the President for bringing that once more to the fore. We need the periodic reminders of where we all come from, minus, as he also said, the ease of name-calling. We need to be reminded that such is the way this whole thing works.
A couple of days ago there was a story on the news that detailed the sell-off of large portions of NASA’s facilities in Florida. According to the story, if you’d like to mount your own space agency and roar into space from the launch pads there on the beach of the Atlantic — and of course have the funds to do so — you can place your own bid, winner, I guess, taking all.
As an old rocket boy myself, I found it truly sad. As I’ve written in the past, the ultimate success of the manned space flight program was a series of voyages to the moon, but in the decades since that epic program made front page news, humans have never gone farther. The follow-up has been a collection of circles around the globe, with no new steps to go on to the other planets. But even at that, the Kennedy Space Center was one exciting place to be and the technology on display and in action was something to see.
I got lucky enough to be standing less than two miles from the pad on several occasions to watch those brutes lift slowly into the sky and finally fade from view with a roar that was un-earthly on its own account. But it’s all gone now, all of it, with the silent towers rusting away, eventual victims of the salt air. Indeed, you can drive south from the launch pads that were used for the Space Shuttle missions and cruise past the old stands that were used for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and get a sense of the fate that awaits their successors.
It’s something of a complicated issue as to just why public interest evaporated so completely. I’ve never been convinced it was the money. In the final years, the NASA budget hovered around 15 billion dollars annually, which as compared to the grander aspects of the federal budget was pocket change. Working some of the promotion for Boeing on behalf of NASA, we used to characterize tax-payer contributions at about one-and-a-half cents on the dollar. Before that, back in the days of the race to the moon, the spigot was pretty much open: we simply had to set foot on the lunar surface before the Rooskies.
We completed 17 missions and then it was over, largely due to political indifference, and the struggle for an equally dramatic motivation ensued. Promises were made and not really kept; and oversized aspirations quickly became lost in now public indifference (why on the earth would anyone want to look at the moons of Uranus?).
There is interest on the part of private enterprises like SpaceX, holed up in a warehouse down the freeway from the airport, and they have seen some progress in the launch of rockets from a small facility at Cape Canaveral, a couple of which have reached low earth orbit. But even they admit that practical use is on the order of a decade away.
So at the languishing Kennedy Space Center, prospects for a new tenant are dubious. Very dubious. The problem being money. Large piles of money. The kinds of cash that only a government can scare up. Like the Russian government. Like the Chinese government. By the time the Space Shuttle reached its final launches, the price for putting the bird into orbit had run to over $400 million per mission, counting hardware and the support facilities — remembering that the orbiters and all involved parts were re-usable.
Any serious takers? None has been heard from yet, at least none with pockets that are anywhere deep enough to put up a sign. Call the Kennedy Space Center a remarkable place where history was made, but with a future that may be a matter of decay.
As I said, sad. Perhaps another time, another place, a new or continuing dream. Just one caution: The next time, please pick a place that is not the electrical storm capital of the world!
When President Obama took Gov.Chris Christie for a chopper ride over New Jersey to view the aftermath of Sandy, both men said there would be no politics discussed. But given that Christie has made it his key focus in the last year to lose no opportunity to launch a few zingers at Obama, you have to wonder what they talked about as the New Jersey beach — what’s left of it — drifted below them. Especially since Christie has been so effusive in his praise of the Commander-in-Chief over the last couple of days.
But this much is certain: All of the forecasts for a real doosey to hit the northeast were on the money. Then again, New Yorkers are a tough bunch and they will rebound. And what’s really encouraging is the amount of help they’ve been getting from politicians who have not been acting the part. I cannot recall a time when bitterly opposed people have been in such accord, and it does make you wonder how much could be accomplished if our leaders could just get along on a more regular basis.
The past year has been exhausting, to the point where normalcy is now one guy finding fault with the other each and every day, where something called the truth is hopelessly buried beneath a barrage of rhetoric, and where the slightest wrong choice of words is seized upon. Gone is the day where one can say, “Let me re-phrase that,” and given the chance to clarify a position.
There’s no question that there are smart people out there who can lead effectively, but even they fall victim to a public that has an appetite for clear winners and clear losers, in a manner that brings to mind the crowd lust for horrific crashes and injuries in a car race, as opposed to demonstrations of skill.
So it was refreshing today to see demonstrations of the latter. Today, for the first time in recent memory, we witnessed a genuine interest in the public good, backed up with real assurances of worthwhile action — on the heels of great beginnings. Today, there was no looking for someone to blame; there was an honest reaching out for assent. Today, at least in this one time of obvious need, the adults took charge, and it was definitely cool.