Archive for August, 2012

Our yard is blessed each year to be frequented by beautiful western tiger swallowtail butterflies. Magnificent specimens who flit, dart, and dodge around and through the spring and summer air in search of nectar. The big bougainvillea beneath one of our backyard palms is a regular stop on their journeys, but they rarely light upon its blossoms for long.

This morning, while feeding the tortoise, I looked up precisely as one flew directly over my head. But it was decidedly less energized than usual. Instead of quickly flapping its wings, they were spread wide and held still allowing it to drift slowly past me on whatever current of air was available up there. As it floated to the bougainvillea and out of sight, I was able to see some of the vibrancy and contrast gone from its distinctive yellow and black wings.

I knew what it meant. That its cycle of life was drawing to a close. Maybe not today. Maybe not next week. But sometime soon.

And I stopped what I was doing at the tortoise hutch, sat back on the pony wall behind me and said goodbye.

Susan and I didn’t get to take a full-blown vacation this year. No two weeks spent in the Far East or, on a 4,500-mile road trip around the western United States. Not even a long weekend anywhere. So when the end of my recently completed first module of training started to draw near she emphasized how much she needed a weekender with Idyllwild as her chosen destination — a place I’d only been to once a looooong time ago (as part of a church group back when I was a churchgoer).

Of course I said of course. She made the arrangements, did the research, and off we went. It was absolutely lovely. We stayed at the rustic Silver Pines Lodge. We ate at a variety of wonderful restaurants. We explored a cornucopia of little shops. We hiked. We liked. We saw more gray squirrels than we ever thought we could. And we greatly enjoyed the all-to-brief opportunity to swap fresh mountain air into our lungs for the city stuff embedded there. There is something about the smell of pines and the wind’s whisper through their boughs that is distinctly medicinal.

There Ranger and me are at right (click it for the bigger picture), somewhere along the popular and ultra-scenic Ernie Maxwell Trail (Ernie is the town’s leading conservationist and the founder of its newspaper: The Town Crier). I have a timelapse of the entire 5.2-mile out-and-back trek as well as some real time clips of us along Strawberry Creek that I might try to upload to YouTube, but in the meantime are our respective photosets can be found here on Flickr:


Twenty rounds at about 10 yards. First half aimed at center mass. Second half aimed at the head. Gotta work on tightening my groupings with the first, and a slightly low sight alignment on the second, but overall there’s improvement in my results.

Weapon: 9mm Glock. Location: Firing Line, Burbank

The public safety training program within which I’m enrolled at Rio Hondo College began its second module yesterday. In the first module the physical aspect of the course was minimized. And initially this module wasn’t going to focus much stronger upon it. But that changed early on in the first module when the schedule for this one was amended — in large part to better prepare us for the third module, in which our endurance and fitness and exposure to real-world experiences will be most regularly tested.

So we got down to brass tacks yesterday, and after a discussion and lecture from our instructors we transitioned from the classroom to the mat room, for the first short version of what’s to be 20 Physical Training (PT) sessions over the course of the module, and what honestly was but a teeny little taste of how much more my ass is going to get kicked.

To quote one of the instructors afterwards, “This was the easiest it’s ever going to be.”

“Easy” and abbreviated as it was, this one kicked my ass, too. It consisted of a variety of warm-up movements and short sprints, followed by 20 regulated pushups (Down and hold. Up and hold. “One Sir!” Down and hold. Up and hold. “Two Sir!”). Those were immediately followed by 10 “downdownupups” (for lack of the proper nomenclature), in which one starts at pushup position, goes down on one elbow then the other elbow so that you’re then at plank position. Then you climb back up to pushup position from one elbow and then the other: Down! Down! Up! Up! “One Sir!”

I managed to do everything well enough not to draw the attention and derision of the instructors (i.e., I put out 100%; aka I didn’t pull a hamstring during the sprints, or vomit, or fall flat on my stomach after the seventeenth pushup or eighth downdownupup crying in fully fatigued agony).

But I certainly drew a scowl shortly afterward back in the classroom as we commenced that evening’s instruction on property crimes.

Getting from PT back to that classroom was bridged by a tight 25 minutes allotted to shower and change from our PT gear into our full Class B uniforms and form up outside. I accomplished that with several minutes to spare but by the time I took my seat in the class I was one dazed (and still hot and sweating) mess. And just in time to be on the receiving end of a question from the instructor.

“Campbell! What is probable cause? Go!”

But I didn’t “Go!” In those moments afterward, I sat there blankly staring out from my desk and wracking my fogged brain and I seriously couldn’t come up with anything resembling a definition or explanation of what’s one of — if not THE — most crucial element of the law enforcement job I hope to one day obtain.

Finally I owned my ignorance and shook my head telling the instructor that at that present moment I was at a total and complete loss for words — which was true. Unacceptable, but true. I swear, if he’d asked “Campbell! What’s your last name? Go!” I would’ve had to fight to keep from looking at my driver license.

Anyway. If they gave prizes for scowls, the one he gave me was award-winning and it was followed rhetorically by “Are you kidding me?”

I was very much not, and very much ashamed.

Of course, if the instructor called me on the phone right now and asked me to define probable cause after my good night’s sleep and breakfast with me sitting in my comfy chair and not a pushup or downdownupup in sight, I’d be able to tell him that probable cause is the facts and circumstances that present themselves, allowing an officer to conclude that a crime is or has been committed. Or I could say that probable cause is what must exist for an arrest or search to be made without a warrant.

But that’s not how things work in this career I’ve set my sights on, and what happened yesterday is something of a mirror image or microcosm of what very well may happen in the field. It’s totally conceivable that I might endure a period of intense physical exertion followed near immediately by a debriefing, and I most certainly won’t have the luxuries of rest and food in between.

And that’s the gut-check lesson learned in between the physical and academic lessons taught last night. There’s no time-out in this game. I’ve got to man up, get my mind right and get to that physical and mental ready-state — and quick.


The above screen cap (click it for the bigger picture) is brought to you from the greatest television show in the history of my television viewership: Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan. Specifically, this is a moment from Season 2, Episode 9, which coincidentally is how far I’ve caught up thank the good lord for Netflix.

Now that I’m finally making up for lost viewing, I feel very guilty having not watched a single epic episode broadcast in real time on AMC. Concurrently I feel a little guilty watching it commercial-free and if not supporting at least acknowledging whoever it is that has sponsored this brilliance week in and week out since 2008. Better late than ever though, yo?

But I digress away from telling you a little bit more about the context of that moment. Suffice it to say, that RV out there on the horizon is the rolling meth lab of the show’s proantagonists Walter White aka “Heisenberg” and Jesse Pinkman. Let me digress some more: The incomparable Bryan Cranston plays Walter — as he’s known to his family and friends and students in the high school chemistry class he teaches by day. He’s known by Heisenberg, his nom du guerre, by various nefarious types and law enforcement — including the DEA (with which his brother-in-law is an agent for added complication). But his fake name is about all they know about him. Walter’s sidekick Jesse is played by the amazing Aaron Paul, and is a small-time drug dealer loser. Together they form the most dynamically dysfunctional drug-dealing duo for whom you’ll ever root.

Why is it that all-around good guy family man Walter suddenly “broke bad” (hence the title), hooked up on the hushhush with Jesse and turned into a cook of the best crystal meth ever, thanks to his skills as a chemist? Well it pretty much centers on his diagnosis with advanced lung cancer and a desire before he checks out to do an aboutface after 50 years of living and take control of his life in order to provide a big fluffy soft money cushion for his pregnant wife Skyler, and his cerebral palsy-afflicted teen son Walt, Jr.

Anything else you want to know, go find out for yourself (and that includes getting Netflix and starting from the beginning). Because now I want to quit digressing and talk about that moment pictured above from Season 2, Episode 9, titled “4 Days Out.”

The moment comes at a dire time for Waltar and Jesse who are inside that RV. Walt ordered a four-day-long marathon of a cook (hence the epi’s title) after seeing an image from his most recent CT scan and assuming the worst about the malignant mass in his chest. So the two of them loaded up the Winnebago and motored a million miles out into the New Mexico desert to crank out a metric tonne of the stuff —  It was literally do and die, for Mr. White, so to speak.

They succeed in producing roughly $1.25 million worth, and that’s the good news (and yes, it’s slightly odd still for me to refer to the manufacture of so mega an amount of illicit drugs as “good news,” but that’s the inherent charm of the show). The bad news is a mistake got made by Jesse that allowed the motorhome’s battery to die. Then, the poor kid blows up the generator that would have jumpstarted their wagon — and to make matters worse uses their drinking water supply to douse the flames. An increasingly desperate Jesse finally convinces Walter — who’s coughing up blood at this point — to let him use his cell to call for someone to come get them, but that goes bust when the cell phone dies as they learn their rescuer is motoring down the wrong million-mile-long dirt road and doesn’t find them. The two spend untold hours trying to handcrank the exploded generator and trickle charge the RV battery but when that fails, all seems lost.

Thus we arrive at this desolate scene on the morning after with the RV bracketed by the endless desert landscape and unreachable blue horizon. The camera pans laterally and stealthily reveals the corpse of the coyote masked by the brush in the immediate foreground, and I got chills as the animal’s remains crept across the bottom of the screen. Paused it there and stared at such amazing cinematography. Such ridiculous creativity. They didn’t put a dead jackrabbit or an antelope there. They put the desert’s top predator — this country’s ultimate survivor.

Speaking of which, is there an Emmy category for television cinematography… er, televisiography? If not, there should be, because of this show — each episode of which is beautifully lousy with cinematic magnificence.

But beyond the overarching genius of making me unabashedly cheer for and like two characters who are doing so patently horrible a thing, here’s why this single scene makes Breaking Bad the Best Show I’ve Ever Watched. Because they didn’t have to do it. This establishing shot could have just been the dead RV in this deadsea of badland and it would have been a visual 10. It didn’t have to include that coyote down there in the corner, but it did. This episode’s makers went to the proverbial 11 by taking this compelling image and adding this doomsday symbol — not blatantly, but quietly camouflaged in the scrub. The devil is in the show’s details just as sure as its embedded in Mr. Walter White. And I’m along for the gloriously disturbing wild ride always ready to be blown away and always surprised.

And now a word about how I got hooked on the show. A promo for the current season a few weeks ago led me to record the premiere episode to the DVR, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, the playback was all fouled up. The audio was all skippy and jerky. So I deleted it and  decided to go to its beginning via Netflix and see if it was worth playing catch-up. And now in my complete addiction I realize that the TV godz fouled up the recording I’d made for that very reason. Start from the start, they commanded. Bless them.

In the grand scheme of things, at an episode watched every couple/three days, it won’t be long until I’ve made my way through the backlog and I’ll be sitting before the TV each week, gobbling up the amazement with my eyes in real time, and finally properly recognizing those who are making this television magic possible.

What you’re looking at above (click it for the bigger picture) is not something you see everyday, nor the kind of life/death animal action many urban humans get to find themselves so close to. It’s a still from some really bad video I captured, depicting the last moment of a rather epic backyard fig tree battle between one of our rather unfriendly neighborhood squirrels and one of our ever-amazing neighborhood Cooper’s hawks.

It unfolded before my eyes when I stepped out into the backyard to sweep the patio of its freshly dropped batch of fig leaves and looked up into its boughs to find nothing less than the hawk sitting about eight feet above my head and in no hurry to leave, primarily because there was said squirrel — otherwise oblivious of the imminent threat — only a few feet away in same tree munching on an unripened fig.

Before I could finish saying “Holy smokes! I’ve never been this close to a Cooper’s hawk!” the predator dove at the squirrel into the densest part of the tree, and its prey skittered out of the way of the lunge.

A bit of a stand-off then ensued with the hawk only a few feet from the squirrel in the relative safety of the thicket of limbs and leaves who promptly went back to munching another unripened fig as if nothing had happened. I took the opportunity to run inside and get my camera and by the time I got back, not much time elapsed before the raptor made another unsuccessful attempt, followed by a final flapping and flourishing and also-failed attempt to sink its talons into its would-be meal, wherein it then flew off out of view in search of more easily attainable eats. The squirrel promptly went back to eating and as if on cue as I focused the camera on it, dropped a little poop pellet that could perhaps represent its thoughts of the ordeal it appeared to have already forgotten about.

The video below has its moments, but is mostly of the tree because it’s a bitch trying to eyeball the action while simultaneously trying to point the camera in the right place. Plus the density of the foliage made it difficult it locate and/or center either critter in the frame:


Originally posted at

One of the oldest spans across the Los Angeles River, the 7th Street Bridge dates back to 1910 when the at-grade version included two-sets of trolley tracks. It quickly became one of the most congested ways across the river and by the late 1920s it was decided that rather than demolish the entire structure, a second level would be built on top giving it a double-decker appearance and allowing traffic to move freely without being impeded by any freight trains traveling  through.

Ever since I first noticed that open but inaccessible lower level of the 7th Street Bridge about eight years ago, I’ve wondered what it’s like inside, and my curiosity only increased a couple years ago when LA River advocate Joe Linton found a way in and wrote about it on his blog LA Creek Freak. It again was piqued a few months ago when the news hit that there are plans in the very early stages to convert the space to an open-air market.

During a visit paid to the bridge last summer while on one of my riverbed rides, I couldn’t figure out how Linton got up there, and I had pretty much reconciled that the space was to remain off limits to me — until a couple weeks ago, when an acquaintance of Linton’s contacted me out of the blue and said she knew how he got in and would I be game to try. Of course I would, I said.

And so it is that I strapped my GoPro cam to my chest and this timelapse came to be. But it almost didn’t. When “Squeaky” and I first showed up, we found railroad ties leaned up below a grate-covered opening from which dangled a rope, but the grating looked locked. Back at our bikes and preparing to leave, a gentleman approached the opening and in a matter of a few seconds had clambered up the tie, pushed open the grate and made his way in. Squeaky quickly hustled over and struck up a conversation with him and asked if it was OK if we came up and looked around. He was hesitant, but said he wouldn’t mind. Squeaky went up first, but the bike shoes I was wearing wouldn’t allow me to get up the steeply angled tie so I had to improvise and add another “step” with another large tie that reduced the angle.

And in I went to enjoy one of the most unique urban explorations Los Angeles has yet to offer me.

Probably the coolest find inside: A construction worker stylistically carved his mark (DM No. 1 – 1927 – Chicago) into the concrete during construction of the second level.

If you want to skip ahead to the point where Squeaky climbs up, it’s at about 4:40. I reconfigure the ramp and make my ascent just after the 5:00 mark. But from wherever you check it out, this timelapse of us wandering around gives a pretty unique picture of what the space is like in there.

The flat version below of a 360-degree panorama I made from inside can be interactively rotated through here: