Archive for November, 2006

Regulars or those with some familiarity with this blog or friends and visitors to the house who’ve obliged me when I’ve bid them enter the “museum” of artifacts I’ve collected during various excavations know that the backyard of our house has yielded up everything from a silver-plated teaspoon from the Beverly Hilton to an at-least 42-year-old whisky bottle to a seemingly authentic German army helmet from World War II and a whole bunch of other bric-a-brac.

Well, today I was back at it, trying to upright a broken and severely leaning section of pony wall up in the back and to do so required me to shovel out deep behind it. During the course of the dig, I unearthed a whole bunch of old nails, a blue marble, a small brown glass vial, the arm of a small toy doll, a nice piece of steel that looks like it could be a stirrup but probably isn’t, and some more nails.

Then came this:


[click image to enlarge]

It’s the corner of an 83-year-old license plate — the “23” indicates the year it was issued as back then it was stamped directly on the plate. I was thrilled by this piece because it’s the first example of a find that leaves no doubt as to how old it is.

Of course during the rest of the shoveling I kept a sharp lookout for other pieces, but none were to be found.

L.A. Observed’s esteemed Malibu correspondent Veronique de Turenne has had it up to her hood ornaments with the legions of Lycra-clad Lance wannabe’s who in teeming masses launch forth rides of epic distances up and down her seaside.

Certainly she qualifies her aggravation by expressing not only a personal readiness to yield for cyclists but also an understanding that accommodating two-wheeled modes of transport on Pacific Coast Highway is something that pretty much every makeup-applying, latte-swilling, cellphone-jabbering, screenplay reading (or writing) and diaper-changing automobile operator can do better.

But apparently to her those “Share The Road” signs are a two-way proposition, applying to cars during the work week, and bikes on the weekend:

But on weekends, when pelotons of cyclists take to our little seaside highway, when, by their sheer numbers they form an entity of their own, swollen and amoeba-like, stretching, bulging, breaking and re-forming, riding three and four abreast, tracking the thick white line that marks the shoulder, shouldering their way into the lane of cars next to them, sure drivers will steer clear, then I think the sign speaks to them.

Share the road, you arrogant cyclists. Sure, it’s narrow, sure it’s scenic, sure that’s the Pacific just a few feet away. But the slow, Sunday-driving days of PCH are long gone. You’re riding on a freeway now. That 45 mile-per-hour speed limit sign? Pure fantasy. I’ll slow down for you, steer clear of you, change lanes for you, but my fellow drivers? Will they yield? Do they even see you? Who knows. You quite literally take your life in your hands each time you think your valuable, vulnerable bicycle status means anything at all to the thousands of cars speeding by you on those 10- or 20- or 50-mile rides. So please, ride to the reality, not the dream. [Ride] to the right. Share the road.

As someone who’s done several rides up and down PCH between Santa Monica and Pt. Mugu and beyond, and someone who knows someone who lost their life on the highway while riding (high school classmate Scott Bleifer was killed September 10, 2005), I can personally attest to how entirely correct she is about how dangerous it can be.

But then she has to go letting “the thousands of cars speeding by” off the hook so easily while demanding that the “arrogant” cyclists get the hell out of their careless ways. Even more aggravating is the fact that she expects large groups of riders to somehow stay as far right as possible. At all times.

“Ride the reality, not the dream,” she says.

Clearly she’s not familiar with the reality of CVC 21200: “Bicyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of vehicle drivers.” Or CVC 21202: “Bicycles traveling slower than the normal speed of traffic must ride as close to the right side of the road as practicable except: when passing, preparing for a left turn, to avoid hazards and dangerous conditions or if the lane is too narrow.”

But I don’t want to wield the California Vehicle Code like it’s some sort of scripture. And I’m not saying that de Turenne is wrong in being affronted. Hell, I’ve encountered my fair share of those selfish and pompous roadies and I know of whom she speaks. All I’m saying is two wheels or four wheels we all have a responsibility, and to kissoff the “slow Sunday driving days” and accept that PCH is a de-facto “freeway” for cars to play on and for bikes to cower from may very well be the reality, but that doesn’t make it right. And definitely it’s not right to expect a crowd of bikes to get as far right, as that fails to take into account that there might not be much right to ride on. Some stretches of PCH have wonderful shoulders that offer a beautiful buffer zone between the through traffic. Others, not so much.

So often times, the peloton that muscles its way into the traffic lane is exercising a safer — and entirely legal — manuever. They’re just taking their fair and rightful share.

UPDATED (11.15.06): Well, evidently de Turenne’s fielded mostly negative reaction from cyclists to her original post and follows-up here under the headline “They Hate Me, They Really Hate Me.” I don’t get the sense from he response that she’s read mine, but hope that if she has that it isn’t one she’s including with the haters. Disagree-er, yes, and an attempt to do so respectfully. No hate here.

So a few weeks ago in hopes of getting it transcribed in time for this past weekend’s Veterans Day, I went diving through the archives of my Pasadena Weekly days and wouldn’t you know they’re just about complete except I’m missing the issue that had one thing I was looking for: a feature article I wrote back in 1999 on Retired Marine Corps General and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Louis H. Wilson and his wife Jane, who I had the pleasure to meet and interview.

How it all came about is a matter of luck and nice timing. For whatever reason I was in attendance at the re-dedication of an armed forces reserve center in Pasadena and during the ceremony’s speeches and such reference was made in passing to Wilson, who was in attendance, and his illustrious much-decorated career with the Marines.

So with that Veterans Day approaching I figured an interview with him might make a good piece for the corresponding issue and so I put a call in to the media contact who put me in touch with the General’s wife directly and who were gracious enough to invite me to their San Marino home for a couple hours trying to get him to do more than modestly and curtly recount not only his bravery in the face of the horrific action he saw in Guam that led him to be given the Medal of Honor, but also his career that culminated with him being the 26th Marine Corp. commandant and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed by President Gerald Ford.

I wasn’t very successful. In fact the most animated he got was when I made reference to him being a Medal of Honor “winner.” I knew my mistake immediately but before I could offer up a correction he did it for me. “Medal of winner holder,” he emphasized.

And yes I had the distinct honor of holding the actual medal.

The day the article ran I wrote the General a letter of gratitude and thanks:

November 11, 1999

General Louis H. Wilson
San Marino, Calif.

Dear General Wilson:

I want to again thank you for the privilege of allowing me into your home to interview you for the article that appears in today’s issue of the Pasadena Weekly. You’ll find enclosed two copies of the newspaper, along with the material and photographs you provided me. The story appears on page six. If you need more copies, just say the word and they’ll be on their way to you.

I’ve been asked to relay greetings and best wishes to you and your wife from Walter Neely of Millsaps College and from Charlton and Marie Roby of Jackson, Miss., who requested I send them copies of the feature as well.

I hope the article meets with the approval of you and Mrs. Wilson. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough room to tell a more complete story of your service after World War II and your time as Commandant — but such a limit on space is a reality of newspapers.

General, I can say without reservation that meeting you was a distinct and profound honor. While I can picture you modestly shaking your head at such a comment, I regard the opportunity you provided for me to write about you and your wife as one of the most memorable of my career in journalism — and my life.

You have my prayers for your improved health and my best wishes for a very happy anniversary.

Very truly yours,
William Campbell

Anyway, as luck would have it I chanced upon a tearsheet of the article this morning. So in honor of Gen. Wilson (who died last year in his home state of Mississippi at age 85), his wife and all veterans, I make the seven-year-old feature available here, albeit a couple days later than I’d hoped.

Never let it be said I’m quick on the draw. As if any further proof is needed for how glacially I can move around the internest, 30 days ago — as in One Score & Ten More; as in a full lunar cycle; as in a month! — my favorite Pittsburgh-based grad student Carolyn Kellogg who L.A. and I miss very much tag-your-it’d me over at her blog Pinky’s Paperhaus on a literary-type meme and because I’m lame I only found out about it this morning.

Am I too late? Nevah!

1. One book that changed your life?

One? One’s tough. But had I but one single solitary story to pick I’d have to go with Allan Eckert’s The Silent Sky: The Incredible Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. It widened my very narrow highschool-aged worldview to unblinkingly understand how careless and destructive man is as a species. It made me ashamed to be human. It made me the animal champion I am today.

But I can’t leave this question without mentioning the effects John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Richard Adams’ Watership Down had on me as a writer. The third chapter of the former was pivotal in my education as a reader and writer. The latter was the assigned book for my seventh grade English class at Le Conte Junior High and I had no idea what it was about nor had I ever attempted so big a book. I remember looking at the cover after buying my copy at the much-missed Pickwick Books on Hollywood Boulevard and I was puzzled by the illustration of the rabbit on the cover. From the title I’d thought it was about the sinking of a boat. But I was hooked at Page One of the expansive and epic allegory. Not only did I become a life-long lover of books from that, but it totally made me want to write.

2. One book that you have read more than once?

Agh, all this “one” stuff: Stephen King’s The Shining (and Pat Conroy’s Lords of Discipline and Stuart Woods’ Chiefs).

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

One’s enough in this case. I’d go with the Bible. I’ve never read all of it and to be in a predicament such as that seems a prime opportunity to immerse myself, so to speak.

4. One book that made you cry?

Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell (but that’s more of a long short story, really). It goes without saying that the above-mentioned The Silent Sky, and anyone who reads Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and A.M. Rosenthal’s Thirty-Eight Witnesses and doesn’t physically mourn the respective murders of Nancy Clutter and Kitty Genovese is way too hard-hearted.

5. One book that made you laugh?

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces — and I cried at the end of it too because when I finished it I knew I’d read all there is from him.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Howsabout two: The Impeachment of George W. Bush and Bloodless Coup: Darrell Issa, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Theft of California

7. One book you wish had never been written?

Pretty much any celebrity “memoir” from an entertainer or sports figure under 30 years of age.

8. One book you are reading currently?

I’m not very successful in the present endeavor but I’m attempting to read Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice in large part because my wife read it and looooooooved it.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In the past 10 years I can’t say how many times I’ve picked it up, read the first couple pages of the prologue and put it back down. One of these years.

10. Pass it on.

I’m gonna ping my wife Susan and her mom Jeannie and then leave it up to anyone else reading this who wants to add their perspective either in the comments or on their own blog.

A visit to Death Valley this time of year had become a tradition of sorts with me. Well, if not a tradition then at least a streak, with last year’s Veterans Day weekend trip being the “three-peat.” But the string of consecutive November visits to one of my favorite places on earth was drawn to a close when I told Susan about a month ago I was of a mind to forego the annual trek.

Overall, I’ve been back to the magnificent place six additional times since my inaugural visit in February of 2002. And it’s my hope I’ll be back dozens of times to come, but at this time… nah. I’ll just have to live without it. Yes, I can point to our new pup and our trip to Myrtle Beach for Thanksgiving with Susan’s folks as contributing factors leading to the decision, but the truth is I don’t deserve the escape. There are more important matters to attend to. And frankly I’m not so sure how much of an escape it would be. For while the desert can certainly sooth you so can it amplify whatever frequency you’re modulating, and right now there’s no denying I’m broadcasting on a band that’s gotta lotta static.

The original plan had been to keep it simple. Spend today and tonight at Eureka Dunes then pack up Saturday and trek over to Saline Springs for the rest of that day and night before coming home Sunday. Oh well, maybe next year.

But at least I can take some consolation in the fact that the whole of 2006 won’t have gone by without getting me some DV. At least that streak/tradition of annual visits was kept alive at five with the visit Susan and I and my friend Rachel made there for a truly monumental weekend in May. Not only did I hike to the top of the park’s 11,049-foot Telescope Peak, but on the next day — my 42nd Birthday — I got on my mountain bike and with Susan and Rachel bringing up the rear flew downhill 17 miles from the 8,133-foot elevation of the Mahogany Flat campground all the way to the Panamint Valley floor:


I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the milestone. And I wouldn’t think of going back until I’m ready to celebrate again.

Download a PDF (1.3 Mb) of my October 2002
Orange Coast magazine travel feature on Death Valley.

During the first season of Lost, I gave up only several episodes into it. Man did it open strong and really grab hold of me, but then the show got all heavy into flashback-fever and teasing us with strange monsters that would quickly drop off the scriptwriter’s radar and, well (sorry)… it lost me.

Typically when a show can’t keep me interested, seldom is it that I’ll come back, but something happened with Season Two and I was all over it — much to the dismay of my wife who, like me, had shrugged it off after the first year and, unlike me, had absolutely no interest in going back. Can’t peg exactly why I returned to the island, certainly I became more engrossed with some of the characters and something about it was able to tap into my long-dormant Twilight Zone lover and get that groove going.
Even with all the repeats and backstories and such I just ate it up yum the second time around. Looked forward to it every Wednesday through to its eventual cliffhanger finale and couldn’t wait until season three, which arrived a few weeks ago. And while it didn’t bang-zoom grab me and shake me up outta the gate like I’d been hoping, I didn’t notice much loss of momentum with the ensuing episodes and I was ready to settle in and ride it out in whatever direction it would take me.

Then I get to the end of this week’s episode —which was about as soap opera-y as it’s ever been — and I’m waiting to see the preview of next week’s but instead ABC announces not only that its yanking the rug out from under my feet but that it’s throwing it into next year. Sitting there expecting to hear the narrator intoning “Next week on Lost…” instead my disbelieving ears are left trying to comprehend “When Lost returns in February with all new episodes…”

Excuse me… February? As in three months from now? As in 2007? As in what the hell are they thinking?

Maybe this isn’t the first time a network’s thrown such a void into the middle of a show’s season, and no doubt as the TV watching world moves closer to its return to the airwaves ABC will be hyping it huge,. But I’m sorry, you drive a wedge in like that and come February I stand a good chance of having, shall we say, a severely diminished enthusiasm.

So in the meantime and in Lost’s place ABC wants me to give a deja vu drama called Day Break a break. From the looks of the previews I’m not all that impressed. It comes off as Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day played as Keifer Sutherland’s 24.

Sounds lost to me.

I applied for a job yesterday, one I’d reeaaaaaaalllllly like to have. So I did the application process up right. Really gave it my all:

  • Started a cover letter from scratch and tailored it
  • Dusted off some old tearsheets, scanned ’em in and made them into nice professional PDFs
  • Polished my resume

Proofed everything three times and then another three times. Fixed the spelling of my last name that I found on the sixth pass (whew!), then read everything over one more time before I hit the contact person twice. First I sent an email with everything attached — even included a link to a relevant online project that’s been hanging around the internest for about 18 months. At the close of the brief attachment-laden introductory email I concluded by advising that hardcopies would be following by regular mail. Because a back-up plan can’t hurt since — however rarely — attachments don’t open.

Then I printed everything out with the resume going on that special thick special resume paper I’ve had longer than my dog Shadow. I whipped out a mailing label and fixed it along with more than enough stamps to the nvelope I’d put everything in nice and neat and got it to the mailbox in time for the last pick-up of the day between going to ge my baby and taking us to get our flu shots.

In my inbox when we got home was a reply from the contact. Were my dreams to be done so quickly? Had the position already been filled? Was I so uniquely not qualified that it warranted a rejection so fast? No. Instead it read “Thank you Will. “I look forward to reviewing your documents.”

As cautious as I am about things of this matter, I can’t help but admit and appreciate that as a good preliminary indicator. Hell just hearing something from the other end is a plus. Even if it’s “thanks but no thanks.” In the past few weeks my decidedly unfocused resume blasting and praying has yielded not much more than a few nibbles and a whole bunch of cricket chirping. I send my stuff out and I hear nothing back. It’s become the understandable and expected standard operating procedure.

And maybe I will end up driving a bus.

Or maybe I’ll get this job. See of all the gigs that I’ve attempted to obtain, I see me and the organization offering it as a wonderful fit. Making me want it all the more.

But then again I wanted that one in El Segundo and got pushed aside. I wanted the one in Long Beach but they said maybe some other time. Why should I get my hopes up again about this one?

And the answer is I shouldn’t — not simply because I might not get it but because it will physically and emotionally hurt if my inflated expectations and lofted hopes are shot down. Taking a break this afternoon from one of my little backyard projects I came in and got a drink and couldn’t help but wonder if the contact had already read my stuff. I wondered if that person had put me on the keeper pile or already thrown me away. And I got honestly depressed at the thought of the latter… that I might not be good enough or don’t have what they were looking for… or didn’t have what they felt it would take.

But I am and I do and I did my best to communicate that.

And that’s when the little voice told me I had to let it go. “Don’t hurt yourself, man” it said.

But I would so rock this gig. It’s not even about the money. Instead it’s for a company I respect and a job that would allow me to do something I think is important and fulfilling!

“And that’s all good,” the voice soothed, “but you’re at a tender place now man. Every rejection — every silence returned, every email not answered or call ignored — your head’s not in the proper place and your taking each one way too hard and personal.”

Well, it sucks!

“Of course it does. Looking for a job blows.”

Especially if you’ve been doing it for a year and your broke — which is why when something like this comes along it’s like a reward for all the anxiety.

“But you still gotta let it go. Trust that you’ve done the best you can and that they will recognize it and get a move on to the next application.”

But —.

“But nothing. You’ll hear from them if it’s right. But in the meantime, do you think pining around waiting for the inbox to ping or the phone to ring will do anything good for you?”

Well… no.

Right. It’s out of your hands now, so are you gonna get a move on and be pleasantly surprised when they do tap you or dig a bunker and get depressed if they don’t.

Oh all right…