Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where Were You? 8/25/09

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to attempt to add to the many articles and commentaries that have already come out, following the death of Ted Kennedy. But an interesting thought hit me when I learned of his passing the other night. Which I’ll get to …

The Kennedys, John, Robert, and Ted were all liberal, progressive democrats, who dedicated their lives to making America a better place. Too liberal for some, but their hearts were all in the right place when it came to causes that they felt would improve on some of the inequities in our great country. They’ve been subject to controversy, and Ted in particular had the role of poster child for the conservative right.

But there’s no denying that they gave their all for their country. These were people who didn’t need to work. The Kennedy dynasty is legendary, and their financial resources are obviously substantial. These are yachting and polo people who vacation at the huge family compound in Hyannis port, on Cape Cod. They’re as close to royalty as we get in America.

So it dawned on me the other night that the untimely deaths of the three Kennedy brothers have all warranted the dubiously notable distinction of “where were you when you heard?” These are rare, some are arguably more significant to specific groups or people, and some simply affect all of us. I think most of us remember exactly what we were doing and where we were, when we first got word of so many untimely deaths, as well as significant events over the years.

Actors and musicians seem to catch our attention … Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Mama Cass Elliot, Dennis, then Carl Wilson, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, Gilda Radner, Johnny Carson, Ed McMahaon, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, and Marilyn Monroe all come to mind.

And of course nobody in the world, certainly no American is likely to forget how and where they heard about the 911 attacks on American soil. I was on vacation in Maui, staying at The Whaler at Kaanapali Beach. We got a phone call at about 7 AM from my wife’s boss, who simply told us to turn on the TV. Incredibly, we tuned in just in time to see the now infamous footage of the second plane flying into the twin towers. Our vacation changed significantly, as the only topic on everyone’s mind was that America had been seriously violated, and life would never be the same.

It was a rainy July 20th 1969, and I was working in a gas station at Skyline and Sharp Park Road. I took the liberty of ignoring customers for a few minutes, and turned on the little TV I brought from home to watch the first landing on the moon. One giant step ...

I was on a break at the supermarket where I was working, on the phone with my friend Marie, on August 16th, 1977. She works in the stock market, and the ticker tape in front of her flashed a headline … “Oh my God, Elvis Presley just died,” she said. The pride of Tupelo, Mississippi had left the building for good.

I worked for Bill Graham Presents from 1977 to 1990, and was fortunate to see (and work at) hundreds of rock shows. The best place to be if you like the act is at the front of the stage. You’re obviously in the best “seat” in the house, and it’s usually a matter of keeping people from jumping onto the stage. I was stage left at the Cow Palace on December 1 1980, for what would prove to be a memorable Stevie Wonder show. He finished his main performance, left the stage, and then returned to do his encore. But there was something wrong … Stevie walked up to the mic at center stage and said something like “I have some very bad news … John Lennon was just shot and killed in New York.” He then dedicated his encore song “Happy Birthday,” which he had written for Martin Luther King, to Lennon. There wasn’t a dry eye among the 15,000 fans.

November 22nd 1963 ... I had just walked from wood shop to math class at Ben Franklin Jr. High in Daly City, CA. Our math teacher was crying when we walked in, and we soon found out why. A messenger came around to all of the classes, telling us that school was dismissed for the day … The President had been shot. I walked home to our house at 41 Grandview Ave, to find my mom and several friends from the neighborhood gathered around the little black and white TV, all of them in tears, watching live action from Dallas. John Kennedy represented hope and progress for the country. He was highly regarded, and the family was akin to royalty … John, his lovely wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and children Caroline and John-John.

JFK was shot by a sniper while his motorcade passed through downtown Dallas. America's hopes and dreams were gone in an instant. Everything came to a standstill after the Kennedy assassination. Businesses and schools remained closed for days. People stayed home from work, trips were cancelled, and radio and TV had a single focus; the assassination, the killer, his killer, and then the funeral procession. I can still picture little John Jr. (John-John) saluting, as his slain father’s casket passed by, pulled by a horse-drawn caisson. We’d lost a giant, but history would prove that he was only the first of the three Kennedy brothers who we’d lose in our lifetimes.

June 5th 1968. One week before my high school graduation. A busload of students from local high schools joined thousands of other volunteers for a day of campaigning in Sacramento. It was essentially a big rally, very positive, and the jubilant crowd was totally behind the younger brother of JFK, former Attorney General, and current U.S. Senator Robert Francis Kennedy. After a long day of traveling to Sacramento and back, the rally, and all the emotions of the day, I recall going to bed pretty early. I was asleep in my downstairs room at 244 Morton Dr. when my mom came in and woke me up with the news … “Bobby Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles.” He was mortally wounded while speaking at the Ambassador Hotel, having just won the California Primary, and died the next morning. Once again, America would be glued to the TV and radio broadcasts for the next several days. There simply wasn’t any other news. Another Kennedy had been assassinated. Bobby had been immersed in some of the biggest movements of our times; Civil rights and liberties, organized crime prosecution, death penalty laws, and played the key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, managing to persuade Russia to turn their boats around and head home, vs. delivering the nuclear arms they had onboard to a waiting Fidel Castro. This was the peak of the cold war, and RFK saw to it that America stood her ground.

Which brings us to August 25th 2009. I’d just finished a three-hour rehearsal with the band, going through our entire set list in preparation for an upcoming event. As is currently quite common, our tech team was doing some sort of a system upgrade, and the second half of the night was mine to monitor. Meaning, I dialed into the conference bridge for an update, vs. listening to any news on the ride home. Upon arriving at home, I turned the computer on and got into my Yahoo home page. Senator Edward Kennedy, dead at 77, was the top line in the News section. The past year of his well-documented battle with brain cancer had finally been lost. He’d been looking frail, stopped going to the Senate, and if seemed like it was pretty much an inevitable event, but it’s still a shock to know that now he’s gone. The last Kennedy, younger brother to John and Bobby, uncle to Caroline and the late John Junior, and of course the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.

Unlike his big brothers, Ted was afforded a long career in politics. Forty-seven years as the senior Senator from Massachusetts, and a legacy that while not perfect in some respects, will always be regarded as significant in so many ways. Ted had many causes over the years, but the one that was always near and dear was the notion of providing healthcare to anyone who needed it. His book "Critical Condition, The Crisis in America's Health Care" was published in 1972, and he never ceased in his goal to improve on the system. He was very involved in Obama's plan, and lobbied for it until his death on Tuesday.

Ted was no stranger to controversy. Well-publicized bouts with alcohol, the women in his life, and the famous accident at Chappaquiddick that took the life of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, were not among his finest moments. But everything seemed to turn positive in his life after marrying Victoria on July 3rd 1992. We've lost the last of the three Kennedy giants, and with the loss of Ted, the Senate and the American political scene will never be the same.

For me, I've added to my list of "where were you" events with another untimely death. I think it's time to concentrate on some of the positive events on the list. Births, weddings, successes, uniquely wonderful feelings ... these are the things that belong on the "where were you" lists for all of us. I will endeavor to dwell on the good events, but there certainly have been some bad ones for our generation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gems and Jules

August 19th. Memorable as my parents' anniversary ... this would have been their 61st, had they both lived to see this day. Childhood sweethearts who met in the 5th and 6th grade respectively (dad was a year older), they literally lived their entire lives together. Today’s also the day I began yet another trip to the house we miss so much in beautiful Bend, Oregon. The big house across the street from the Deschutes River that we pretty much had made to order. We miss it, and it seems almost criminal that it currently sits virtually empty, lacking our belongings and us. No furniture, no Calphalon pot rack above the big kitchen island, no fancy cutlery ready for my daily culinary creations, and most notably … no cats!

We had four, when we lived here. Annabelle the old lady kitty, who valiantly made the trip back to the Bay Area with us, only to finally give in to her 18 years of driving us crazy shortly after we moved back. Cody, the giant 28 pound Maine Coon managed to pick up diabetes after we moved to Bend, lasted a couple years, but ended up leaving us just before we moved. Our two “pound kitties” Penny and Abigail are going strong, both now pushing 12. Strange not having to close doors behind me, clean the sandbox, make sure the food and water’s out, etc. The only living things in the house this weekend are yours truly, and a couple tiny spiders I ran across hiding in corners of the rooms. I generally don’t like spiders inside, but the house is so empty, I let them be. Critter company.

Great ride up on Wednesday. Made it in eight hours flat, which is equal to my best time ever. I left a foggy overcast morning in the City, and by the time I hit Fairfield it was in the 80’s. Redding was about 103, and Lake Shasta was 107. Sunroof open, air conditioning on, great day for a little 500-mile cruise. The only other time I’ve done this in eight hours was when I was initially moving the four cats up, 3 days prior to Risa, and 4 days before the movers would arrive with our 18,500 pounds of “stuff.” How did we possibly amass nearly ten TONS of STUFF? George Carlin once did a whole stand up bit about our need as a society to keep moving to bigger and bigger houses, because we keep getting more and more stuff, and need more room to store it. Interesting concept, generally pretty true.

I’m rarely more than 10 MPH over the speed limit, so the only variables are how many stops I make along the way, and of course how many trucks I get stuck behind. On this trip, it was two “comfort” stops, owing to the five 12-ounce diet Cokes I drank, plus the obligatory 10 minute stop for a smoked turkey on a Dutch crunch roll from Granzella’s Deli in Williams, CA. I’ve written about this place before, but suffice it to say that it’s (1) the law, that you have to stop here for a sandwich when you’re passing through, and (2) it’s not any great secret … this place is packed from opening ‘til closing, every day. And there’s NO other reason to stop in Williams other than for gas and/or Granzella’s. Great spot, not to be missed.
I’ve written extensively about this trip, so I won’t bore you with it again. But a couple things stood out; I think the stretch of high plains just outside of Weed, as you head toward Klamath Falls, is one of the prettiest places on the planet. It’s almost like something you’d see on Mars … varying heights of small peaks for miles and miles in every direction, ultimately becoming the Cascades in all their splendor. And to the right, you’re right at the base of Mt. Shasta, which is absolutely breathtaking year-round. A little further along and there’s a stretch of about ten miles where you parallel irrigation creeks on both sides of the road. This is a particularly beautiful stretch, and it’s not uncommon to see an eagle, a great blue heron, and always an array of ducks and egrets. A bird watcher’s delight, to be sure.

Upper Klamath Lake (and there is no “lower” to the best of my knowledge), took on a particularly serene look on this day. This is a huge lake, very shallow so there’s rarely any watercraft on it, and it varies from eerily mysterious and ominous looking, to the way it looked today, which was spectacular. Not a ripple anywhere ... totally calm, blue, and almost inviting.

The trek up Highway 97 was uneventful, save for one odd thought. It’s inevitable that you’ll be stuck behind a truck from time to time, and you get to know where the passing lanes are and look forward to them with glee. For several miles, I found myself behind a huge truck that was hauling what seemed to be a million bales of hay. Obviously, hay is dry, and it’s going to blow off to some extent when it’s in transit at 55 miles per hour. But as I watched this truck’s hay blowing off the truck at a fairly good clip for mile after mile, I wondered just how much he’d lose on any given trip? I wonder if this is “shrinkage” that the farmers count on. Will he lose the equivalent of a bale in an afternoon? Maybe several bales. If you’re the buyer, are you going to get less hay if you get one of the outer bales that are losing bits and pieces all day long? I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this is just another random thought that crept into my head during my 500-mile journey north. The mind’s a wonderful thing.

First night in town, and I couldn’t resist a cruise through the Downtown area, even though I’d just spent eight hours traversing the 512 miles from the Bay Area. I didn’t know what I wanted for dinner until it hit me, about half way up Bond Street; Olde Towne Pizza. I grew up with Toto’s pizza in Daly City. A Toto’s #2 (salami, sausage, mushroom) was the only way to go. Always. Bend doesn’t have a Toto’s, but Olde Towne is definitely the best in town. I arrived at 8:50, and it looked like they were about to close. They were. Initially they said I could only get slices, but the pizza cook said if it was a “to go” order, he’d be happy to make it. After all, they didn’t officially close for another ten minutes! This guy hand-tossed a perfect crust, applied all the fresh ingredients, and basically approached it like it was his first pizza of the day. And I can only assume that he’d probably been tossing crusts for the past eight hours. I appreciate good customer service. I cook most nights, and I totally love being cooked for (as do ALL chefs, by the way). This guy went out of his way, the rest of the staff was all friendly, and the experience is exactly what makes me return to this place over and over. My medium size mushroom and salami pizza lasted me for three days of varying combinations of dinner, lunch, and yes … breakfast on one morning.

This trip was predicated by a few house chores that I needed to get going before the rain, snow, and winter elements took hold. Winters here can be anywhere from mild to ridiculous, and they’re totally unpredictable. After four years of snow and sun, the front outside of the house needs painting. I was thinking that it would only be the “trim,” but a gentleman who knows this stuff way better than I do, that it needs some serious attention, convinced me. So we’re getting the full treatment on the front fascia … power wash, caulking, scraping, priming, and of course painting.

Chores done, today I get to go for a ride and explore the high desert of Central Oregon. I began the day by heading south, up and over the freeway and out Knott Road. This is the ride I used to take twice a day, while “commuting” (this has taken on a whole new meaning, being back in the Bay Area!) to work and back. One of the landmarks I’d pass every day was two llamas, a white and tan one, and his constant companion, a brown one. And I have no idea if they’re boy llamas, girl llamas, or whatever. But they’re always within a few feet of one another, somewhere in this big open field. Inseparable buddies that spend every day together in a big open field, which I assume is their private turf. But it’s an interesting constant … they’re always there … day, night, rain, snow, or 90 degree heat like today. On this day, I found them about 10 feet apart, under a shade tree, one standing, one lying down. Together, as always. Buds.

This day also took me to the lodge and ski lift area at Mt. Bachelor. Very different scene in the summer, when the lot’s only got a handful of cars … tourists who ride the lift to the peak and back. Today’s an 80-degree day in the big parking lot that’s commonly in the teens or less throughout most of the winter. Mt. Bachelor features some of the best skiing in the western U.S., and it does a great business all winter. But summer’s different.

Two other chores for this trip were to check on some water that seemed to not be draining along side of the house, and to pick out some trees for the yard. We’d originally planned to copy our next door neighbors and plant some aspens, but we discovered that like the beautiful poplar that ate our backyard in Gilroy, they tend to send out roots for miles in every direction. I took a ride to Redmond with our gardener Alonso, and with the help of a very knowledgeable nursery worker, we decided on a slightly different aspen that doesn’t send out roots, and a non fruit bearing pear tree, which is going to provide shade, look gorgeous, and give us some beautiful flowering branches in the spring. The yard’s looking gorgeous. All the little plants and bushes I put in a couple years ago, are growing and thriving. I find it an honor to provide a place for the bees to congregate, as they’re currently doing in the back corner of the yard, on one of the little flowering bushes that I took a wild guess on two summers ago. My maple tree is in full summer bloom, and looks phenomenally healthy. The lawn’s impeccable, no cracks on the patio, both the barbeques are working fine … life is beautiful in the backyard.

Like with any new house, the yard started out as a big dirt lot, with a little 10 by 10 “patio.” I have two huge barbeques, a smoker, big patio table that seats six, lounge chairs, etc. First up, a much bigger patio. I opted for 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide. Big enough to enjoy all the yard toys do some summer entertaining, but still leaving lots of room for lawn, plants, a gravel walkway, and trees. I initially planted two trees; a maple, which is thriving and gorgeous, and another one I can’t remember, which lasted one season and never came back in bloom. But today, we added three new trees, which Alonso did a great job placing along the fence, and in the far end of the yard. Two aspens and a beautiful Aristocrat Pear have joined the rest of the foliage in the yard. Since the bees love the purple bushes so much, I wonder if we’ll attract a partridge to the pear tree this winter?

While Alonso was struggling with the rocks and volcanic ground in his tree-planting endeavor, I cruised up to Terrebonne where my friend Bob had entered his truck in the annual “Cruz In” car show. Awesome cars! Hot rods, old classics, real old classics, muscle cars, an incredible looking Bentley, customized pickups, and a completely hand built motorcycle that was really very cool.

Another local gem was my choice for lunch on Thursday and again on Saturday. It’s called Soba, and it’s as close as you’re going to get to a pho-like Asian soup in Bend. I’ve tried other things on the menu, and everything’s good … the Mandarin Chicken Salad in particular, is always a winner. But I usually opt for the Asian Noodle Soup, which you can “customize” to your likes; Vegetarian, won ton, chicken, or any combination, and your choice of noodles. Wednesday’s soup at the Soba in Sisters was with won ton, Saturday’s at the Bend restaurant was with chicken, and both were ordered with soba buckwheat noodles. Like the pho that we all love so much in the Bay Area, it’s a tasty, healthy and filling meal for about six bucks.

I had an ulterior motive for being in downtown Bend on Saturday … no trip is complete without hitting up Powell’s for some great candy. My co-workers look forward to me taking these trips, because they know the department candy bowl will be restocked on Monday morning. I managed to escape with thirty-two dollars worth of candy this time. Last trip ran me over fifty, as I recall. Avid readers and friends know that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but there’s a couple that get me every time … I’m a sucker for Charleston Chews (bought vanilla and chocolate bars and a box of individual sized), Rocky Roads, and the best candy bar ever made … U-No’s. Also picked up some Necco Wafers, Mallo Cups, Abba-Zabbas, and a favorite from my childhood … Flicks. These were “movie candies” when I was growing up. Saturday afternoon matinees at the Serra Theater always included a round tube of Flicks. We used to drop them in our Cokes, and when you got to the bottom of the drink you’d have a bunch of semi-frozen chocolate Flicks. I relayed this story to the young guy at the counter at Powell’s, and he looked at me like I was nuts. Trust me … I wasn’t the only one who did this. Works great with Milk Duds and Chocolate Raisins too.

Saturday night was a special dinner gathering. It’s always a treat to see any combination of our best friends up here, and this evening’s gathering at a new restaurant called “Jules” included Bob and Chris, Chuck and Barb, and John and Cathy Connelly. Jules is a recent addition to Wall Street, occupying a spot that used to be a wine and cheese bar, next to the newly revamped 900 Wall. Jules features mostly Mediterranean foods, lots of “small plates,” and a couple of specials. Tonight’s included a quail entrée, and a sockeye salmon, but I opted for the chicken kebab with rice pilaf. Great entrée, which followed several killer appetizers of hummus, babaganoush, pita slices, and a bread/olive oil/crushed almond dip that was incredible. Highly recommended, great new downtown spot.

Sunday morning meant once again saying goodbye to Bend (which interestingly was originally called “Farewell Bend” until the early 1900’s), and 512 miles back to the Bay Area. Next trip’s in late September, then possibly not until the Spring of 2010. The Siskiyou are generally no fun to drive in the winter, and a preponderance of ice from K.Falls north makes for a long slippery trek. But this was a good trip. Got everything done that needed doing, had a great time at the house, saw lots of friends, and got a chance to relax a bit. Amazing how I’ve grown to enjoy this ride. It’s partially because I’m driving up to the house we like so much, but it’s also a great chance to reflect on the beautiful scenery of Northern California and Central Oregon. And it always seems to give me a new topic for this blog!