The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

If the breeze is just right, the aroma hits you just as you’re stepping off Dlouhá Street into Staroměstské náměstí, Prague’s Old Town Square. It’s a savory, intoxicating blend of a wood fire and slowly roasting meat.

The smell is reeling me in. And why not? This smell is built into the human’s sustenance DNA. Oh sure, you might be a militant vegan, but buried somewhere in your genes is the olfactory memory of juicy roast. It’s the original smell of cooking, the aroma that goes back nearly two million years before the abomination called tofurky, when man first married meat, fire, and smoke. And oh what a beautiful marriage it was. I would’ve volunteered to be the best man at that marriage; except that it was well before my time. Hell, I’d have volunteered to be the flower girl.


Scientists call it the Maillard reaction, a response that occurs when heat hits sugars and proteins. Maillard, schmaillard; scientists and doctors have an annoying habit of sucking the air out the balloon of life with their frigid, barren dialects.

This is meat over a fire and it’s the same siren that beckons from a ramshackle looking barbecue joint somewhere in the American south. A little old place with a small mountain of hickory logs stacked against a brick smokehouse. Every now and then a stooped old guy will toddle out to the stack, grab a log or two, and feed a fire that’s slow smoking racks of ribs; meat off the bone deliciousness that will be served up wrapped in butcher paper, and sold out by sometime before sundown. Maillard, my granny’s fanny.

But this is Prague. It’s not Memphis, or Kansas City or some roadhouse outside of bum fuck Mississippi. Why am I smelling barbecue here?


As we walk across the square, past the ebony statue of Jan Hus, who was himself barbecued at the stake in 1415 for having the effrontery to challenge the Catholic Church, and on towards Staroměstská radnice, the looming town hall, the aroma escalates with each step. Past the horse drawn tourist carriages we see a row of kiosks. Some are selling souvenirs, others are selling beer and still others are selling trdelník, the Czech street dessert.

Two of these kiosks have roaring wood fires off to the side, and over each fire are rows of huge hams in varying stages of doneness, rotating on a spit. The ham is called prazska sunka. These meat mongers also offer gigantic sausages, which are sizzling on flat top griddles.

The two are nearly identical except that one offers manhole cover sized potato pancakes as a side order and the other offers something that is more intriguing.

We walk to the second kiosk and stare in hungry wonder at a giant pan that you could bathe a couple of large dogs in. Bubbling in the pan is a street food called halusky, a mixture of potato dumplings, cabbage, spices and bacon. Bacon? Of course, bacon.

Cora and I exchange a glance. Oh hell, yes.

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A temporary return. So, WordPress offers this fantastic service of sending the site owner all of his/her posts in a zip file in the event that the site is going to be closed down. I took advantage of that service only to find that the file is only useful if you want to publish the posts again on a new WordPress site. Not so fantastic after all. Well, it’s going to take some time for me to go through all of my posts and copy and paste them into my own document file. I have until April to finish the copy and paste. I’ve been in Europe for three weeks now and while I’m writing, I’m certainly not doing any copy and paste. That’s for when I’m home watching sports. 


We quit the main room of the Reduta Jazz Club just as the band began its final song. Best to miss one song and skip the line at the coat check. Coat check at the Reduta is mandatory. The place is small and customers are sitting cheek by jowl at small tables. No room and no tolerance for bulky coats or backpacks. As we waited in line to check our coats a man in front of us argued so insistently to be allowed to keep his coat with him that one would have thought he had a kilo of blow hidden in the lining. In the end he harrumphed and walked out.

As we were waiting to get our coats after the show, a woman in front of us snatched her coat from the clerk and remarked, “The music was not so good tonight. I don’t know if I will be back.” Well why did you stay for all three sets? The young man behind the counter offered the woman a disinterested shrug, as if to say, “I just man the counter, man. Got a beef about the music? Talk to the band.”

Contrary to the opinion of the critic, Cora and I found the show to be good, club worthy music. The band isn’t ready for a stadium tour, but how many really are? A mix of New Orleans Jazz, some old jazz standards, and a dusting of blues and pop from “back in the day”; “the day” being the musical genres during and before my childhood. For a time, I enjoyed the music that my parents listened to until “the day” passed and I discovered The Beach Boys and then the bands that came with the so-called British invasion. That was when I entered my teenage years and became a music “critic,” much in the vein of coat check woman, dismissing my parents’ music as “not so good.” When I hit my forties I had an epiphany and realized that I’d been nothing more than a twenty-five years long music snob.


Cora and I step outside into a crisp night where a crowd, mostly young, and mostly smoking, is milling around on the sidewalk on Národní, a major street, busy with cars, buses and trams. This is a different world from Stare Mesto, the old town. where our hotel is located.  Národní is asphalt and modern. It reminds me somewhat of San Francisco’s Market Street, but only in a physical sense. Both are wide boulevards with buses and trams, and both are well lit. That’s about where the similarities end.


In a human sense there’s no comparison. Narodni has life. It has a soul, and vibrancy. There are no discernable threats, no shady looking characters here, nothing to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and put you on alert. Market Street, at almost any hour, is a boulevard in need of a biblical flood; a multitude to wash away its crime, its strange denizens and its overall filth. Businesses on Market aren’t waiting for the flood. Tired of criminals and weirdos, they’re closing shop and moving out. I feel safe walking Narodni at night. An evening walk on Market Street feels like a suicide mission. Prague, like the other European cities I’ve visited, Madrid, Barcelona, and Granada are in full vigor. San Francisco is on a ventilator.

In a few meters we turn onto Na Perštýně; back to narrow, cobblestoned, fourteenth century streets. The old world cobbles are charming but a full day of sightseeing raises hell with your ankles.

The fourteenth century philosopher, theologian and martyr Jan Hus, an icon of Czech history, wouldn’t recognize today’s Na Perštýně. He might appreciate it though. Hus became famous for being an iconoclast. Continue reading

This will be the final post for The Life In My Years. Once I’ve completed copying my posts, I’ll be closing the site for good.

There are a few reasons which I don’t feel the need to go over, but the main one is that I’ve simply lost interest. I’m supposed to be getting on a flight to Europe on the 16th, something that is, as of this writing, in question. I’ve always looked forward to writing about an upcoming trip and the fact that writing about this one carries no appeal tells me that it’s time to move on.

For the past few months I’ve considered continuing this site through the end of my WordPress subscription which happens in April, but, to what end. It would be a forced march. Once the site is deleted I’ll will likely be closing my WordPress account.

Thank you for reading and commenting over the past few years.

Ciao baby

The twelfth in a series of occasional posts about tripping along U.S. Highway 395.

I’m southbound out of Pendleton, Oregon on Highway 395, a two lane sluice through broad fields of ranchland on either side of this solitary highway. Acres of yellow cheatgrass undulate in a light breeze and a bright morning sun just topping the horizon transforms the landscape into an ocean of shimmering, golden waves.

Highway 395 is billed as one of the loneliest roads in America and out here? Yeah, that’s no lie. Over the course of 30 minutes, not including passes through the towns of Pilot Rock, and Nye, I’ve seen two or three cars and one big rig.

An hour out of Pendleton and I’m gaining altitude towards the summit of Battle Mountain. As the road snakes up the mountain, blonde grass is replaced by the lush green of a pine forest. After topping the 4270 foot summit the highway dips back into undulating ranchland and tall grass.

Ukiah, Oregon, population 159, and the two main features are a panoramic view of the surrounding hills, and the Antlers Inn, which from all appearances is an overnight haven for sportsmen. and aficionados of stuffed, dead animals. The front of the building, guilded with rows of antlers that were shed by local elk, is just a preview of what’s inside; a veritable herd of various dead animals, stuffed and mounted.

According to the gospel of Yelp, The Antlers is, to put it mildly, Spartan. One reviewer described the bed as being an old army cot. No phones, no television, no radio and no private bathroom. I’m reminded of Roger Miller’s old song, King of the Road; “No phone, no pool, no pets. I ain’t got no cigarettes.”

The countryside here is beautiful and the town has a rough hewn charm about it. I’m not a fan of hunting, especially trophy hunting, but I’m not at all averse to being off the grid or shared bathrooms, so as I leave Ukiah behind I’m a bit sorry that I didn’t decide to spend a night here and get a chance to explore and meet the locals. I wish that I’d at least taken some time to slowly cruise the side roads to get a better feel for the place. I feel like I’m in too much of a rush.


Twenty minutes down the road I arrive at Dale. The population of Dale is in the neighborhood of 270, but as I pass through, which only takes a matter of seconds, I can’t really spot anything that resembles a neighborhood. A general store, two pump gas station (one for diesel) and post office, all packed into one building, likely also serves as the informal (formal?) community center.


A Hamms Beer sign in the store’s window wrings out a pang of personal nostalgia. Hamms is an old, weak and watery, old school brew that was shilled on TV by a cartoon bear to a jingle that touted it as “the beer refreshing,” “from the land of sky blue waters.” Mom and dad sipped on Hamms while lounging on the backyard patio, Giants baseball on the radio, and me splashing around in our above ground pool. Memories of the last vestiges of what boomers fantasize as a sort of golden age of suburban life.


Many of my road trips through ranchland like this have been on two lane roads that roll and twist between fields divided into parcels defined by barbed wire fences.

Before barbed wire, most cattle grazed on the wide open range. In 1873, a fellow named Joseph Glidden put a coffee mill to use to make barbs that could be applied to wire fencing. He wound up in a patent dispute with another inventor, Lucien Smith, who invented the first such fencing seven years earlier. Glidden survived the dispute in a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and promptly marketed his invention. Glidden’s improved fence allowed ranchers to confine their stock, thus reducing the threat of cattle rustlers, and freeing them to more securely increase the size of their herds, all leading to an increase in the availability of beef.

Glidden’s invention, which enriched him to the tune of about a million dollars, altered the food economy, while changing the storied narrative of the American West. The “devil’s rope,” as it was called, removed much of the open land that nomadic Native American tribes called home. It also brought about the demise of an American icon – the open range cowboy.

I’m driving through something of a throwback to the days before Glidden’s “devil’s rope.” Out here much of the ranchland is still open range. Moving south from Dale I’m seeing, more and more, signs warning motorists that this is open range country, where you’re as likely as not to run into a cow meandering along the road. Run into one, literally, and you’ll be left on a quiet road with a thousand or so pounds of raw steak and burgers, a hacked off rancher, and the promise of a hefty auto repair bill.


I’m the only one physically in the car but still, I carry two companions. Apprehension, the first of my riders, makes himself known on those occasions when I’m driving those stretches of Highway 395 that live up to its lonely billing. While I knew all of that lonely shit going in, there are times when the remoteness is disconcerting. I’m not one for traffic but I wouldn’t mind seeing more than a car or two an hour.

My wife keeps reminding me, “You’re not that young anymore,” and while that’s true I’m still not ready to assume the role of the geezer who’s content to go to the city park to feed the ducks and then toddle off to the senior center for bingo. It isn’t so much my age that makes me nervous, as the possibility that I’ll get hit with a bout of atrial fibrillation. It’s a condition that strikes me a couple times a year at most. In theory, and usually in practice, my meds will kick my wonky heart back into normal rhythm. When the meds don’t work, it’s off to a hospital to have my heart shocked back into sinus rhythm. I’m dogged by the realization that hospitals are in short supply out here in very, very rural Oregon.


My other companion is exhilaration. There’s nothing complicated about this fellow. He just keeps reminding me that life is short and I should do what I enjoy, while I can, before that time when bingo is the highlight of the day. He reminds me that if I run into a calamity, I’ll figure it out. And who knows, the bingo days may never come.


The road roller coasters from flat as a billiard table grassland, to ripples that turn into rolls. that steepen with an ascent into pine forests, all followed by the inevitable descent to the flats, where the sequence starts all over again.

Road to Frenchglen

Plopped into the middle of the sea of green/gold grassland is Long Creek, population 173, give or take. As I drive into town, I pass an expansive red building, the Long Creek Mercantile. This combination feed store, general store and cafe advertises itself as the home of the “Worst Darn Breakfast.” Translated, that probably means it’s pretty fucking good. I’m tempted to stop for a break but knowing that there’s still 165 miles till I get to Frenchglen, and, being certain that uncertainty might be a certainty, I decide to push on.

A few minutes out of Long Creek is Fox, a few scattered buildings, a white church and some ranches scattered about the region. The closure of the town’s post office twenty years ago essentially marked the demise of Fox’s viability as a town.

Two minutes down the road from Fox, there’s even less of Beech Creek.

Mount Vernon is about thirty minutes down the road, and apprehension is screaming in my ear. I’m verbally asking myself what’s changed over the course of just one year, when I’d covered over 8000 miles, on a solo road trip through the Midwest. I keep talking to myself. “Fuck this, maybe I am getting too old for this sort of thing. Maybe Cora’s right. Hell, I’ll be 69 a week from now. Maybe I should take bus trips like a family friend likes to do.”

I answer myself, “Fuck it. I’m here. It’s not like I’m going to be able to take an off ramp for the Bay Area. Hell, the off ramps here are few and far between and whatever off ramps there are simply lead to a more desolate form of desolation.”


I’ve arrived in Mount Vernon and I can safely say that this isn’t the city in New York State, nor is it George Washington’s home in Virginia. This Mount Vernon is smack in the center of Oregon’s John Day Valley and was named after settler David W. Jenkins’ black stallion in 1877. The stallion’s stable, a stone building surrounded by a fence, is still standing just outside of town, a shrine of sorts. I wonder if, after sauntering to that stable in the sky, old Mount Vernon (the horse), was stuffed, and now stands ignominiously in some nearby podunk museum.

Mount Vernon is an all-American small town, all festooned with American flags; cloth ones, vinyl ones, new ones, tattered ones, flags painted on the sides of buildings and gigantic flags mounted on the beds of gigantic pickups. No doubt, I’m in the US of A.


Out here there’s no dearth of reminders that I’m in mega MAGA country. In an area where there’s an American flag on damn near every other building, I’m seeing an almost equal amount of MAGA signage and more than a sprinkling of fuck Biden signs.

The prevailing politics of northeastern Oregon. Let’s Go Brandon is MAGA-speak for fuck Biden

I suppose it’s a good thing that my Black Lives Matter t-shirt is sitting in a drawer at home – libtard bastard that I am.


The highway heads due east towards John Day. There’s an interesting history to this junction town. People were drawn to the area when gold was discovered in 1867. Many of the early residents came from China, mostly bachelors (female immigrants were not allowed) who were seeking work and riches in the mines.

One of the town’s earliest buildings, a trading post and stage stop, was erected in 1864, and its primary customer base was from the Chinese community. By 1871, under Chinese ownership, the building was known as Kam Wah Chung & Co. John Day’s growing community was made up largely of Chinese residing in a section called Tiger Town. Kam Wah Chung & Co saw its boom times during the late 1880’s when it was bought by three Chinese immigrants, Lung On,Ye Nem, and an herbalist, Ing Hay, who went by the nickname “Doc”.

For years, Kam Wah Chung & Co served the community as a general store, an apothecary, a doctor’s office, a boarding house for migrant workers, and a community center. The mercantile part of the business died with the passing of Lung On in December 1940. “Doc” Hay continued the apothecary until 1948, when he was forced to retire and live out his years in a Portland nursing home.

Slated for demolition, the Chung Wah building was saved by the John Day Historical Society, which acquired the building in 1968, and later transformed it into a museum.

Once largely Chinese, the ensuing decades saw the community’s makeup change to one that is now 88.4% white. The Asian community makes up 1.84% of the population.

I follow the signs in town that lead to the Kam Wah Chung museum which is home to the largest intact collection of Chinese medicine and formulas. Tours are offered but the place is all booked up when I arrive. Fuck me.


Back on the road.

From John Day, the highway resumes its southerly course. Just outside of aptly named Canyon City, I’m driving through a canyon in the Malheur National Forest. The shoulders that loom over the winding road are denuded of a once lush forest. A wildfire turned a once abundant woodland into scarred slopes of blackened toothpicks. The road straightens out and I pass the charred corpse of a horse trailer.

Malheur isn’t a stranger to wildfires. It’s a devastating kinship that will last into the unforeseeable future.

The sun casts eerie shadows on a scorched hill in Malheur NF


Malheur NF Oregon

Past the burned area, I’m back in ranchland. Farm and ranch equipment that appear to be on their last legs, yet still serviceable, litter the open fields. They aren’t burned out or rusted out. They’re just there. Do they belong to someone? Did they wear out their usefulness? Why? Do we toss out machinery just as we toss out old Hamms beer cans?


I take a short break just south of Seneca, where autumn is in its full green and orange glory, a palette against a background of dark hills. But for the occasional roar and swoosh of a passing big rig, the road here is quiet. My apprehensions have been pushed aside by the pleasant, peaceful hush.

Before the town of Burns, I wonder just how Poison Creek, which I just passed, got its name.

Burns is the last real outpost of civilization before I veer off 395 to Frenchglen. The car needs gas and I have to piss like a racehorse. Sam’s Service is a little white building, painted with blue trim. The place looks worn, but the gas is cheap and, damn me, I gotta pee. A couple pumps, a working service bay, a Coke machine, a minimal store and a stocky Paiute gas jockey behind the counter.
“Fill it?”
“Gotta bathroom?”
“Round back.” He hands me a key.

The bathroom? Not the Ritz and that’s for damned sure, but. I just need to take a leak. The door sticks. When I get in, lo and behold there’s a condom dispenser. Not that I’m in need of a rubber. I just thought those dispensers went out with rotary phones. Business done and I have a short panic attack when the stubborn door seems to have me locked in. A good yank – out. The gas jockey cashes me out, and I’m back on the road. The car is full and I’m comfortably drained.

Burns is my cutoff. Highway 395 heads west but I’m going south on Route 205 to Frenchglen, an hour away. During my research, Frenchglen looked intriguing.

There are basically two places to sleep in Frenchglen, the historic old hotel, or the backseat of your car. I opt for the former. When I made my reservation, the proprietor asked if I wanted to reserve a spot at the community dinner. Otherwise, she warned, it’s a long ass drive to a restaurant.

I reserved.


I intend to stop at the Sunset Valley Cemetery. I’m fascinated by old graveyards and Sunset Valley shows up, just barely, on the internet. Google Girl tells me I’m there but – nothing. I scan the horizon but all I see is a ranch off to the left. Fuck me. Continuing on the road, I take a quick glance in the side mirror and see that I’ve passed a little arch that looks to be graveyard-ish. I turn around and as I approach the arch, a closer look reveals a tiny, overgrown cemetery. A dirt road leads to the ranch I’d seen when I originally passed. and what looks to be a route to the graveyard. I stop at a turnout where a barbed wire gate leads to the cemetery and rangeland. From where I’m standing, I can see the cemetery but the gate is rickety. I give it a little tug and it feels as if the whole thing is going to fall at my feet. Fuck it. I’m not going to be the guy who let some rancher’s herd slip out onto the highway. Besides that, from a distance, this little cemetery has the look of a private family graveyard, possibly belonging to whoever lives in the ranch house down the road. Yeah, I’m not going to intrude.


The land here is stark, barren and uniquely, and hauntingly beautiful. Miles back, I couldn’t see anything but trees. Out here, the view stretches out forever. Every now and then I pass a dirt road that leads to… Who knows?

This is old land, a place once populated by the Paiute and Bannock tribes. It’s a land that saw the passage of pioneers and is now home to hardy folk who raise cattle and cherish solitude. I couldn’t live here. Too many empty miles between the things I want and need.


This is a land with a violent history. The year 1878 saw the last of the local Indian wars, when members of the Paiute and Bannock tribes banded at the foot of the nearby Steens Mountain. Battles ensued, further north at Murderers Creek, and later at the mouth of Cummings Creek, and again, in the Fox Valley. In the end, the indigenous tribes were vanquished and scattered to nearby reservations. Because that’s how it worked in America – from sea to shining sea.


The highway winds through more open range. I can sense that Frenchglen is close. Off to my left the land is flat as a board till it hits the high country that’s topped by Steens Mountain. Just to my right, the land rises to bluffs that loom over the road. I’m dog tired, and I’d like to haul ass and get to my destination, but the road is a series of turns and that flat land to the left is dotted with cattle, some just skirting the highway’s edge.

Rounding a corner I screech to a halt when I come up on a bull meandering down the road as if he owns it, and, given our current stand off, he does. The bull turns and looks at me with what seems like a “what the fuck are you looking at” expression.

What are you lookin at?

Knowing he has the upper hand he continues to amble down the road while I follow, slowly and at a distance, all the while keeping my eye in the rearview mirror for a car that might round a blind curve and drive up my tailpipe. Finally the bull wanders onto the nearby field. A few more bends in the road and there it is – Frenchglen.

Road to Frenchglen. On my right, the road rises up to looming bluffs

On my left is open range

The eleventh in a series of occasional posts about tripping along U.S. Highway 395.

It’s seven in the morning and it’s toasty inside The Rainbow Cafe in Pendleton, Oregon. Outside it’s, as my daddy used to say, colder than a well digger’s ass. That is, the temp is somewhere south of 30 degrees. I’ve never dug a well, and to the best of my knowledge, dad never did either, so we’re taking the well digger at his word.

Seated at the counter of the Rainbow it’s easy to feel the congeniality that’s a constant in small town coffee shops and diners. It’s a warmth that registers on no thermometer other than the one that resides in the human soul.

The room is filled with chatter and clatter; friends talking and laughing and the sounds of utensils on white china, all to the backdrop of goodness sizzling on a flattop. Comforting aromas fill the room. A nutty scent of coffee, a spicy, fennel tinged whiff of frying sausage, and the sweetness of maple syrup brighten the morning before the sun has cracked the horizon.

The front door creaks open, and there’s a barely discernible pause in the chatter as everyone turns to see another acquaintance walk in. A few hellos and how are you doings, all aided with some good natured joking as the newcomer heads for a seat. The waitress greets the man by name, and before he’s even seated she’s meeting him with a china white mug of coffee that trails a contrail of steam. She asks him if he’s “gonna have the usual.”

The Rainbow has been at the same location on Main since 1883, and bills itself as the oldest bar in Oregon. Like any claim of oldest or first, (Oldest steakhouse, first hamburger, original hotdog) this claim is a subject of debate between the Rainbow, and the Pioneer Saloon and Restaurant, somewhere down south in Paisley, Oregon. It’s doubtful that the argument will be solved over a sit down and some shots and beers. These types of claims, born from myth or time twisted facts, die hard.


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Anyone born before 1996 most certainly knows where they were and what they were doing 22 years ago, this day.

My wife and I were getting dressed for work. I was at the bathroom sink when my wife called me over to the television. On weekday mornings we kept the little TV in the bedroom on, as we got ready, so that we could monitor the traffic reports. An accident on the Bay Bridge, even before six in the morning, could gridlock the entire Highway 80 corridor for miles, and late into the morning. We weren’t so much interested in the news. What could possibly be happening at six in the morning (even on the East Coast, three hours ahead)? How much havoc could Congress wreak at the beginning of the day?

Almost immediately, Cora called me over to the television. I stood in front of the TV to see a replay of an airliner hitting a skyscraper. I had no idea that it was the Trade Center. I blew it off as a freak accident and continued getting myself together. A few minutes later I heard Cora, “Oh my God.”

It was 6:03 and a second plane had hit another skyscraper and we were frozen, frozen with the rest of the nation and much of the world. And like the rest of the nation, we knew that we were at war. With whom, we didn’t yet know.

As we continued to get ready for work we wondered if we should even be going to work. Sure some people are essential; first responders, teachers, doctors, medical staff. Cora and I? Just office schlubs.

I went to work that day, as did Cora. I remember listening to the news all the way through the drive. Our son, who was at Santa Clara University, called me as I was rounding the turn on Highway 80 into Berkeley. He asked me if I’d seen the news and I responded that, yes, I had. We talked until I got off the freeway in Emeryville.

Much of the remainder of the day was, and still is, a blur. As the morning wore on, my coworkers and I were largely in the dark about what was transpiring. We spent much of our time on the phone with friends, family, vendors and customers, passing information, both real and pure speculation. Many of those contacts drifted from their offices as places of business shut down for the day. At some point, Cora, who was working at Clif Bar, in nearby Berkeley, called to say that they were closing for the day.

We stayed.

Not because we were dedicated, but because Dick Cotter, the owner of our company, a miserly, old skinflint, didn’t see the need. It surprised me, but at the same time I figured, ‘fucking par for the course.’ America was under attack, the biggest since Pearl Harbor, and he was afraid he might miss out on a dime of profit if he shut down for the day.

This was a day when people who could’ve been, should’ve been, with their families. We stayed all day long. Stayed and spent most of our time trying to glean whatever information we could.
“The Pentagon was hit,” came a report.

“People are jumping,” came another.

My son called to tell me that the South Tower had collapsed.

I guess it was my wife who called to tell me that the North Tower had collapsed.

And still we stayed. Stayed and shuffled our feet in place in the parking lot, looking up in the sky in vain, trying to catch a glimpse of the occasional fighter jet that screamed overhead, while we exchanged hunches and rumors. Someone heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was a target. Or maybe the Bay Bridge. What about the TransAmerica Pyramid? The Air Force was going to start preemptively shooting down airliners. Supposition mixed with uncertainty, mixed with fear, mixed with anger, mixed with the disbelief that we were not being told to go home.

Eventually we drifted out of the office as our eight hours were completed. One thing that stays with me about that day is that Cotter never relented. Sat in his office, like the old curmudgeon he was, probably forcing himself to remain oblivious to the tragedy that was occurring on the other side of the nation, all the while worrying if the events of that day might affect the bottom line.


The people of a nation clung to each other. We wept when we saw, either in real time or in replay after replay, the horrors of that day. And when we didn’t weep, we raged, wanting that eye for an eye.

Ten days later, we wept again, but for a different reason. The tears were a cathartic release as baseball returned to New York.  Every American was a Mets fan and every fan rose in awe and jubilation when Mike Piazza hit another, “shot heard round the world,” homering in the eighth inning to seal a win for the New York Mets. Baseball came to apply a salve to our collective wound.

As the events of September 11th were made clear, the best of what America can be strode to the forefront. We were all of one mind and one goal. We were one America that the world stood in solidarity behind.

Of course the worst also showed up, uninvited, as it is wont to do. Anyone who vaguely looked like they came from the Middle East was subject to verbal and physical abuse. Women wore hijabs at their own risk. Conspiracy theorists crawled out from under wet rocks, putting forth theories that the 9/11 attacks were part of an ‘inside job.’ Well, why not? In the internet age a conspiracy, no matter how abhorrently false and hurtful, is a good way to gain attention and fluff up your bank account.

We went to war in Afghanistan seeking justice and much of the nation was behind that.

And then?

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This week, Anne, author of the site, Slow Shutter Speed is leading the Lens Artists Photo Challenge with the topic, Monochrome. Love it.

For most of my photographic life, I’ve stuck with color photography. Why black and white when you can see life and things as they are. Oh, what a fool I was. A few years back, I started playing with monochrome photography, which is commonly viewed as black and white, but can include different shades of one single color.

My original inspiration was Ansel Adams but I’ve since discovered other monochrome masters such as Alexandre Manuel and Hengki Koentjoro, whose work is absolutely stunning.

Over the past year or so I’ve gone through my archives, selected some images and edited them into monochrome.

While suitable for any subject there are some subjects that almost beg for monochrome.

Time and place
Images of places and things that are from an era before the widespread use of color or, for that matter, photography.

Below, American Civil War cannons gape at an open field at Pea Ridge Battlefield in Arkansas. The preserved Civil War battlefields all look serene and bucolic. To understand the horror that took place on these now peaceful fields, requires putting to work, the imagination and some knowledge of the events of the time.

Civil War Battlefield, Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Below. A simple barn built in the early to mid-twentieth century by Thomas Alma Moulton and his sons is one of the most photographed structures in America. At the crack of a sub 30 degree morning I joined a phalanx of other photographers to capture an image of this historic barn.

Moon over the Moulton Barn, Grand Teton NP. The barn was built in the early 20th century

Below. In 1877, the town of Bodie, California rose near the golden riches of a nearby mine. Like many mining towns, Bodie experienced a meteoric boom before cratering in a bust once the mines were played out. The town is incredibly well preserved.

Old sawmill, Bodie, California

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Suburbia. But for a few short years of life in San Francisco, I’ve lived in its suburbs for most of my life. That’s where I still live and will probably remain until I’m planted.

The city? People love it or hate it. The country? It’s either Shangri-la or backwards, antiquated, and too conservative. Suburbia? What exactly is it? I guess, that in theory, it’s the place you go to that takes you away from the crime, congestion and filth of the city while maintaining proximity to metropolitan pleasures.

When I lived in The City, I always thought that suburbia was, between the city, the country and the suburbs, the least desirable of places. As a city dweller I was one of the geographical narcissists who thought that San Francisco was the center of everything.

At the same time I looked at the country as having a sort of bucolic, hard working, honesty about it. The country was where you found true Americana.

Suburbia? I considered it to be the plastic land of phosphorescent, loud malls where vapid people dined on fast food, and on weekends, invaded my city.

Cordelia. Not the most sustaining choice for food. 

As a suburbanite, I’m not the geographical narcissist anymore, at least I don’t think I am. True, I would move back to San Francisco in a heartbeat, if I could afford it. I’ve recovered from my one time desire to move to the country. But the suburbs? I’m still not sure that it’s not the least desirable of the three.

Suburbia has its critics. “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.” ~ Bill Vaughan
“Suburbia is too close to the country to have anything real to do and too close to the city to admit you have nothing real to do.” ~ Sloane Crosley

And its fans. “I have always found the suburbs very beautiful – the light, the change of seasons and so on. I am not so interested in the political dimensions of these things. I didn’t have any witticisms to land on suburbia. I was really just interested in how beautiful it was. I felt it was like a dreamscape and once I understood that was how I needed to approach it the dream started to expand in unusual ways.” ~ Bill Henson

I can’t quite put suburbia into words but over the past few months I’ve tried to put both views of suburbia into images.

Little Boxes
In 1962, folk singer Malvina Reynolds wrote an unflattering anthem about suburbia in the song Little Boxes which poked fun at Daly City, CA.
“Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same”

Daly City, CA

“And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school”

Daly City

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The tenth in a series of occasional posts about tripping along U.S. Highway 395.

Antelope, Oregon marks the terminus of State Route 293 and the junction with State Route 218, which takes me back to U.S. 97 and the one time, “Wool Capital of the World.” Route 218 is just as isolated as 293 which brought me to Antelope. The isolation doesn’t make it unattractive.

This is Oregon’s grassland, where ranching and wheat share top billing. I’m navigating past a sea of grain. Yellow-gold reaches out for miles and an occasional breeze whips up rolling amber waves – just like the song goes. At a junction I come upon a wooden gateway that frames the shimmering body. It’s desolate out here, but not unnerving. I’ve been on secluded roads and felt uneasy. This isn’t like that. This might be out in the middle of nowhere, but it doesn’t feel that way. I’m in middle Oregon’s sea of tranquility.



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John, author of the site Journeys with Johnbo, leads this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge with the topic, Faces in a Crowd. (Note: Some of my images in this post have appeared previously).

“Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?” ~ Pablo Picasso.

I vote, none. The photo, the mirror and the canvas each express a brief moment in time, and there is no single moment that can reveal the experiences that have been carved into the face.

Union Square, San Francisco, California.
The man in the photo below was sipping his coffee, while watching the world around him. This fellow has the look of one of San Francisco’s many street people. But, who knows, maybe he’s a retiree who decided to let go, be a little eccentric. He might just be spending a day at the park before going home to his million dollar San Francisco flat. In any event, he’s somebody’s son, maybe a father and a grandfather. There are stories in that face.

Chinatown, San Francisco, California. “The man is at the window,” said Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider.
I was walking around Chinatown, one of my favorite places to visit with a camera, when I looked up and saw this man lost in thought.

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I was staring down into the well of my martini, twirling the toothpick that speared the olive. I’d shut out the sounds around me; the ballgame on the TV, the usual bar chatter and the clatter of utensils on plates. Focused on the wakes in the crystal aromatic liquid, I asked myself the questions. “What is it that haunts you?” “What are the ghosts that visit you during those times when you least expect it?”

The questions caused me to pull a notebook and pen out of my orange book bag. I didn’t have to pause for thought as the list of demons flowed abundantly.

A voice briefly cut through my fog of concentration. I looked up, “Pardon me?” I asked.

“Do you want to order food?” The bartender almost seemed impatient with my absorption.

“Oh yeah. Sorry. Garlic fries.”

I refer to the list every now and then. The paper is spotted with grease from the fries. Every now and then I pull out that list and add to it. It’s frightening how easily it grows and never shrinks. One of the early entries to my list was the specter of incompetence.


The plumber got up from his knees and set down his wrench. After hiking up his pants, to make that distracting crack disappear, he set about explaining how he was going to fix my leaking pipe. As he spoke, he noticed me pressing my hand against my cheek. “You got a toothache?” he asked. “You know, I can fix that. I have my dental tools back in my truck.” He turned the subject to dentistry. He talked – I listened. Fifteen minutes later, I was convinced that he was the only one who could fix my problem. An hour later, less three teeth, none of them the problematic one, I was howling in pain, and searching the internet for a dentist who could put my mouth back together.

Bad shit happens when you hire someone who isn’t equipped to do the job.


Most of us try our level best to make judicious decisions when shopping for goods and services. We stress over a search for an auto mechanic who we can rely on, who won’t throw a lot of automotive word salad at us, with the sole purpose of emptying our bank accounts. We might spend months in search of a caterer who won’t turn our upcoming event into a reenactment of a Three Stooges episode. Hell, we even spend an hour or more on Yelp, searching for a place to get a decent burrito.

So why is it that once in the voting booth some people pull the lever in favor of an unqualified, shrill, imbecile as their representative in Congress?

A poll taken by Pew Research in April of this year gave Congress an approval rating of 26%. We’ve hired them and now we don’t like them. By and large, people compare Congress to a sandbox filled with quarrelsome two year olds, where cooperation is a curiosity, and immaturity commonplace. Why is that? Well, some of it is due to the fact that a good many people don’t trust politicians – period. Some of it is due to people being happy with their own representative, but not the representative from the next district over. And then there are the voters who just want to stick it to the system. “I want someone who’ll shake things up.” Isn’t that how we got the 45th President?

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The ninth in a series of occasional posts about tripping along U.S. Highway 395. Note: This post rated R. 

It’s six o’clock in the morning and the day didn’t begin as planned – I overslept. Next stop is Pendleton in Northern Oregon. It’s a six and a half hour drive, and I’d hoped to get out earlier. That’s six and a half hours, straight through with no stops and no detours, except to fuel up the car and the inner man.

I don’t do road trips that way anymore. I used to, until it dawned on me just how much you can miss when your final destination is the only destination. I’ve learned since, that the destination of a road trip is not a place on the map that you reach at the end of a day’s drive. The destination is not a single place at all. It’s all the places, experiences and people that you encounter from the starting point all the way to the terminus. The destination is the quirky signs along the road. It’s the museums that celebrate things like Spam, barbed wire, Jell-O, and Tabasco; things that you never realized were worthy of a museum. The destination can be a small-town, somewhere out in the boonies, ice cream shop that’s gained national acclaim through word of mouth because the milkshakes there are so fucking, awesomely delicious.

For so many years, my final destination was the only destination, and it makes me wonder just how much I’ve missed.


Today’s drive will take me north, with a slight skew to the east, up U.S. Highway 97 to where it ends at Biggs Junction on the southern shore of the Columbia River, the border with Washington State. From Biggs Junction I make a hard right onto Interstate 84 to Pendleton and my rendezvous with U.S. Highway 395, which, in a sense, is the real start of this road trip; an exploration of one of America’s loneliest highways.


I spent the night at a Super 8 Motel, located next door to a Pilot Travel Center. Before going to sleep, I put down my reading and listened to the sounds of the big rigs at the travel center; the rumble of idling diesels punctuated at times by the hiss of air brakes. These are sounds that keep some awake, and prompt them to post complaints on travel websites. “I couldn’t sleep for the sound of big rigs all night long.” Well, maybe you should’ve realized that you’re parking your head a few hundred feet where long haul drivers are parking their rigs. Me? I enjoy those sounds. They remind me that I’m embarked on the adventure of a road trip. They’re sounds that lull me to sleep.

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Banner Photo: Dorris, California

The eighth in a series of occasional posts about tripping along U.S. Highway 395.

Eugene Charles Valla spent four years of his young life hanging onto the edge of his boyhood dream. Valla was 21 years old in 1947, when he was signed to a minor league contract with the New York Yankees organization. His dad, also named Eugene, was a fleet footed outfielder who spent eight seasons in the minor leagues, most with the San Francisco Seals. Minor league balls was in the genes.

Gene (later known by his nickname, “Duke”) spent two seasons with the Ventura (California) Yankees, followed by a split season with the Kansas City Blues and the Newark Bears, before he was shipped back to Kansas City. Valla learned the grind of minor league ball. He played for love and a pittance. He rode buses to play against teams with odd sounding names in cities that longed for the majors, just as their players did; the Toledo Mud Hens, Indianapolis Indians, St. Paul Saints, and Louisville Colonels.

“Duke” never wowed the Yankees enough to get a taste of the big club. He was 25 years old when he appeared in only 20 games for his hometown team, the San Francisco Seals, and then found himself out of baseball for good.

Gene Valla would later assume ownership of his father’s business, The Blue Gum Restaurant and Lodge, just south of Artois, California. Valla died in 2009.


I’m stopped outside of The Blue Gum Restaurant. By accounts it was a popular place in its day. Now it has the sad look of a place that will never see another paying customer, and will continue to deteriorate until a “mysteriously set” fire puts it out of its misery.  A passerby called the new owners, or maybe they’re just squatters, “a bunch of Jesus freaks.” I stopped to wander around out of morbid curiosity, drawn less by the building and more by the “Jesus freaks” signs. One of the signs announcing that Jesus is Coming Soon is placed next to a No Trespassing sign. I can’t help but wonder if no trespassing applies to Jesus as well as the rest of us. In any case, I did note the irony. I mean, isn’t Christianity supposed to be a welcoming thing?

After wandering around I head back to the car. I’m not about getting into it with some pissy, and possibly armed, “Jesus freaks”.




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Banner photo: Detail of a mural in Oakland, painted in the aftermath of the slaying of George Floyd

Tim Scott said it. Nikki Haley said it. Both are running for president and both are out on the campaign trail road testing the lie that’s become a GOP shibboleth. That these two are people of color is what causes my eyes to bug out and my head to shake.

“America is not a racist country,” they said.

Taken at face value, that statement is a myth.

In the interest of transparency, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have said essentially the same thing. It is after all, the realpolitik thing to do.

That said, there are differences. While Biden, Harris and other Democrats might say that America is not a racist country, they recognize that racism exists in America and they are quick to call out its instances. Republicans, on the other hand, not only consistently refuse to call out racism, some have been busy little bigots in their promotion of policies that are clearly racist.

From the Democrats, ‘America is not racist’, is a statement describing values and hope tempered by the reality of existence. From Republican mouths, ‘America is not racist’ is fantasy and campaign hooey.

There are examples aplenty but one need only focus on two recent events to prove that the GOP is doing everything but making the white sheet its party uniform to demonstrate that it has a race problem.


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Banner photo: Shipshewana, Indiana

Dan, author of the site, Departing in Five Minutes, leads this week’s Lens Artists Challenge, and he’s selected the topic, Unbound: Escaping Your Confines And Seeing The World. Once again, I’m combining the Lens Artist Challenge with my Monthly Monochrome series.

Dan writes, “From a day trip to a road trip to a great escape to a far away place, you have the thrill of a new experience.”

For me the much of the thrill is in leaving the planned itinerary to see where an offramp goes and what an unintended detour leads to.


Mabry Mill, Virginia
In 2015, Cora and I took a trip to Washington D.C. to see the San Francisco Giants play the Washington Nationals. We extended our stay in the nation’s capital and then took a road trip through Virginia. On the way towards Richmond, our final destination before flying home, I detoured to see the Mabry Mill.

Edwin Boston Mabry began construction on the mill in 1903. It started as a blacksmith and wheelwright shop and then, in 1905, became a gristmill. Five years later, Mabry had installed a double-bladed jigsaw, a wood lathe and a tongue and groover, converting his operation into a combined gristmill and sawmill.

In 1938, the National Park Service acquired the mill and by 1942, the mill was completely restored. Since then, the Mabry Mill has become one of the most photographed structures in America.

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“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.”
― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
It’s a constant migration. Every hour of every day of every year. A single year’s migration consists of more than 200 million travelers on over 2 million flights. Short hops and long hauls, they pass through podunk airfields and airports that are self contained cities. Not unlike the Arctic Tern, the travelers are moved by an instinct. Unlike other species that migrate for food or reproductive instincts, the travelers are driven by an impulse to see new things and new places and to meet new people.
It all seems so chaotic. Imagine if a giant hand were to peel the roof off of San Francisco International Airport. From an airliner’s eye view, the observer might think he was looking down on an ant colony. A horde scurrying in all directions, each individual with his or her own mission.
Cora and I were gliding on a moving walkway in the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, one of those city sized airports. The long steel belts can seem like a Godsend after you’ve unfurled yourself from a cramped airline seat and are faced with a trek from one end of a boundless terminal to the other end. That’s when they work. If you’ve caught a walkway that’s worn out from hauling the migration then you pack it and hack it. We’d just deplaned from San Francisco (SFO) and were headed for another terminal far, far away to catch a flight to Madrid.
As we were swept along with the mass, moving without moving, I watched a hollow eyed multitude, confused and harried, being hauled unconsciously along the steel belt and I thought of parts on an assembly line. They dragged bags, kids and the elders who couldn’t keep up, and wore polar expressions of anticipation and exhaustion.
As I glided along in my own stupor, it occurred to me that there was something Orwellian about this airport migration. Directed by LED status boards and the instructions of a spiritless omnipresent voice from unseen loudspeakers, the weary travelers reminded me of automatons; silent, weary, eyes front, unflinching and unquestioning, conveyed from one unknown point to another.
The moment we enter the airport we give ourselves and our persons over to various agents, guards, attendants, handlers, assistants and machines. From one line to another and through detectors and into a scanner that sees through our clothes but, ‘not to worry,’ we’re assured, the scanner doesn’t reveal the goodies.
When was it that the excitement, the glamor and the romance of the airport turned into a temporary layover in purgatory? Was it when armed nuts demanded that planes be diverted to Cuba? Was it Bin Laden or that other nut who tried smuggling a bomb in his shoe? Maybe it was when the airlines decided that stock prices count more than the comfort of the flying public. I mean, what’s the traveling public gonna do about it? Take the bus? I guess it’s some measure of all of it.

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My good friend Marc David is a journalist, author, avid runner (he has an outlandish, blows my mind, years long streak of consecutive running days without a day off), cross-country coach, teacher’s aid and traveler.  When he learned that The New York Times killed its venerable sports section and shipped the body parts to its online site, The Athletic, Marc wrote the piece below. It’s a short poignant reminiscence about his years as a sports writer, the death of The New York Times sports section and the demise of sport journalism in general. 


When I think of the New York Times, I think of a sports department teeming with legends. I think of Red Smith, Dave Anderson, Michael Katz, Roy S. Johnson, William Rhoden, George Vecsey.

I think of a young sports writer in the 1970s approaching Red Smith at a National League playoff game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and introducing himself. “Mr. Smith. My name is Marc. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your articles. It is great to meet you.”

Today, the Times sports department is a thing of the past, swallowed whole by The Athletic. The Times purchased The Athletic eighteen months ago, so it is not as if those perusing the seminal newspaper’s website will go sports-less … they will be guided to another website. Still, this is the latest blow to the written word and another in a long line of counter-punches that have rocked the newspaper industry since many readers chose the Internet to get their (sports) news.

It is a sign of the times. Thirty-six years ago, I had to make a choice of taking a sports editor position at a small Caribbean daily or becoming a copy editor at the Arizona Republic. I opted for the former. Today, even if I was 36 years younger and infinitely more talented, I doubt whether any newspaper offers would come my way.

Most of us have learned to adjust. It’s a brave new world we live in today. I still write sports articles occasionally for newspapers. However, I no longer consider myself a newspaper journalist. I gave that up 11 years ago.

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Philo is the host for this week’s Lens Artist Challenge and he chose the topic, Simplicity.

Simplicity isn’t necessarily such a simple thing, so I decided to take my cues from the host. In his post Mr. Philo suggests making a single subject the star.

Valve wheel on a vintage locomotive

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s the most quoted sentence from the Declaration of Independence, the document that America celebrates every July fourth.

When he penned those exalted words, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the idea that “all men are created equal,” Thomas Jefferson didn’t have everyone in mind. Unalienable rights were reserved for free white men. During his lifetime, Jefferson owned over 600 enslaved people, whose “Life,” from cradle to grave, was not their own, who had no “Liberty,” and were given no opportunity for the “pursuit of Happiness.”

And while Jefferson may have put the words “all men are created equal,” to parchment, there’s evidence that Jefferson saw little humanity in the people he enslaved. Eighteen years after the Declaration, in a letter to Madame Plumard de Bellanger, Jefferson imparted some investment advice meant for a family friend, counseling the friend to invest “every farthing in lands and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”

Jefferson’s apologists often turn to his public statements, calling slavery, “against the laws of nature,” “a hideous blot,” and “a moral depravity.” The problem with that is, talking a good game counts for nothing; not for those who lived in servitude nor for the historical record. Slavery may have been against nature’s laws but it certainly fit in nicely with 18th century Virginia’s laws of agrarian economics, and Jefferson was not above taking full advantage of those laws.

The Black man’s humanity didn’t come 11 years later when racism was baked into The Constitution with the three-fifths clause, stipulating that, for the purpose of representation, three out of every five enslaved people were counted towards the population of the slave holding states. It wasn’t lost on the southern states that counting a Black person as three-fifths of a man gave the southern, slave holding states, a huge leg up in the Electoral College (Five of the first seven presidents were southern slavers).


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If I were asked to describe the face of Spain in two words I would offer, “joyful,” and “lighthearted.”

During three weeks of traveling throughout the country, whether it was in the metropolis of Barcelona or stopping for an hour in little Plasencia, I rarely saw anger or gloom or pessimism.

Okay, sure, there was that very first night in Spain and the sulky waiter at La Casa del Abuelo in Madrid. From seating, to the first portion of our meal he had the demeanor of a man who’d just sipped a bad batch of Tempranillo. It made us wonder if we’d stumbled into a nation of surly waiters. As it turned out, he’d apparently drawn the short straw and had to tend to the tourists; the greenhorns who didn’t know that in Spain, one doesn’t go to dinner at eight. He was a one man receptionist, bartender, maitre’d, waiter, cashier and busser. As reinforcements arrived, the man’s frown was turning upside down and by the time we left he was a happy chappy, bidding us a cheery “Gracias,” and offering a wave, as we left.

That half hour or so was the outlier. Everywhere we went we felt like we were in the presence of friends.


El Mercado San Agustín was a five minute walk from our hotel in Granada. One Saturday morning, just as the market was waking up, we wandered around the many kiosks and purveyors. Though there were few customers, the place was already bustling. As the early shift busied itself with opening, more workers streamed in. It would, like every day at the market, be a busy day.

We were standing around figuring out what to do when a young woman motioned us over and asked us if we were looking for desayuno (breakfast). She had a bright, engaging smile.
“Si,” I answered, in a tone that must have sounded a bit uncertain. What was she trying to sell us?
Almost as if by legerdemain, a menu appeared in her hand and she began pointing out the different offerings. Her smile and her joy were infectious and we followed her to a table as if she were some culinary pied piper.

As Cora and I ate our breakfast I was struck by the camaraderie and cheer. There was work to be done and the day would be long and busy, but I saw no sign of discontent or grousing. Everyone seemed happy to be there and pleased with the company of their coworkers. Shouted hellos between kiosks, gossiping with regular customers and greetings for newcomers.

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