The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Warning: Some content rated R.

Post-It notes, travel guides, an oversized Rand-McNally Road Atlas, assorted other maps, pens, pencils, a highlighter, notepads and a couple of spiral notebooks; my current life in a nutshell, all of it scattered about, on a little desk, a printer stand, the dining table and, to the wife’s displeasure, the surrounding floor.

We started planning this trip over a month ago and it’s not unlike Christmas; one day it’s Thanksgiving and the next thing you know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve and you haven’t bought a damn thing.

In just two days I pick up a rental, a minivan. The rental is because I don’t feel like putting 4800 miles on one of our cars. And 4800 is a conservative estimate. Normally I might just rent a midsize car. The van is for the dog’s comfort. Lexi will be able to stretch out on her dog bed surrounded by luggage, a cooler, my photo gear and all of our other possibles.

Two years ago I wouldn’t have done the rental thing. Two years ago I still had my pearl blue, Dodge Challenger SRT with a 396 Hemi. Sure, the insurance on that car was steep, and 500 horses sucked up premium gas like a disorderly lush, but it was fun to drive and it was just made for a road trip like this. Then again I’d have to wonder; is driving a muscle car with California plates in the South, a state trooper magnet?               

 

 

 

 

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It’s been alleged that COVID is in recession in America, and with that news, along with the arrival of summer and increasing vaccinations, Americans are looking to rid themselves of a side effect of the pandemic; let’s call it hometown-itis.

Whether they contracted the coronavirus or not, most Americans have exhibited symptoms of hometown-itis; alternating feelings of restlessness and hopelessness, outbursts of frustration, general malaise and wild hallucinations that might include standing in front of the local Walmart and imagining it to be the Gucci store in Rome; Rome, Italy – not Rome, Georgia.

There’s only one cure for hometown-itis and that’s travel. Setting aside some lingering COVID qualms, Cora and I have decided to self-medicate with a healthy dose of travel, but with one chief precaution; we’re avoiding airports.

So with air travel off the itinerary, Cora and I, along with our dog Lexi, are travelling in the legendary, old fashioned way. We’re embarking on The Great American Road Trip. The road trip is an American tradition, a paean to this nation’s twin love affair, with the highway and with the internal combustion engine.

When I was a child, the road trip defined travel. It was symbolized by American steel, the big station wagon, powered by a rumbling V-8, and bedecked with faux wood side panels, a roof rack and plenty of chrome. Bench seats, no center console, no cup holders, and only a radio, the scenery and conversation for entertainment. No Hondas or Toyotas thank you. It was a time when cars made in Japan were considered to be unreliable, puny, tinny, toys.

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Warning: Contents of this post rated R.

“Ever heard of rekall? They sell those fake memories,” Said Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the 1990 movie, Total Recall.
In a touch of irony, thirteen years later, Schwarzenegger would be elected Governor of California in a recall election that ousted Governor Gray Davis.

There are times when this Californian feels like he’s being pretty cheeky, in chiding other states for being over the top nutty. And this is one of those times.

The State of California has long been the target of jokes from the other 49, and I can’t deny that the Golden State has produced its share, maybe more than its share, of quirkiness. And if you want to jump from eccentricities to outright abominations, it was California that jump started Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan, eventually unleashing those Frankensteins on the nation and the world.

As election years go, 2021 is rather bland, which, after 2020, should be a blessing to anyone of sane mind. But, California just couldn’t help itself and decided to add some spice by holding a special election to recall Governor Gavin Newsom.

Newsom, a Democrat, has been a burr under the GOP saddle ever since he served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 1990’s. Since then, the Republicans’ irritation level has risen in direct proportion to Newsom’s rise to power. California, however, is deep blue, and the notion of recalling Newsom and replacing him with a Republican has held about as much popular allure as the sport of curling holds in the hot, arid reaches of southwest Texas.

Still, recalling Newsom has been a GOP mission almost since the day he took up residence in the governor’s mansion back in January of 2019. Every once in a while you could walk past a table outside of a mall and see some lonely folks sitting at a table set with pens full of ink and petitions bereft of signatures.

It was COVID, and the governor’s handling of the crisis that added just enough kindling to restart the recall flame. Newsom has had some coronavirus stumbles and I haven’t always been happy with his performance but in the end he’s apparently seen the state through the worst of it.

Not only is the state set to reopen on June 15th, there are scientists (real ones, not Googly ones) who are predicting that by that date California will have achieved herd immunity. That is not a small deal, whether you believe scientists, or the YouTube preacher who invokes god’s will, or the guy down the street who believes that the virus is a Soros plot. It doesn’t matter what you personally believe about the virus, it’s what the people in charge believe, that’s going to affect your day to day life, and in California, under Newsom, day to day life is fast tracking back to normal.

California is just about to cross the finish line far in front of the other 49 states and most of the world, but that’s of no consequence to either the troupe of candidates pouring from the recall clown car, or the petitioners who engineered that car.

This campaign is quintessential California politics.  Put in simple terms, a shit show.

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The fish house
The carcass of the Nantucket Restaurant lies at water’s edge on the northwest corner of Crockett.

The Nantucket was a local seafood joint, one of those simple, honest, unpretentious places that offered an easy atmosphere, neighborly service and a good meal at a fair price.  The best thing on the menu was the battered, deep fried captains platter with French fries and the common veggie medley of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

The platter included prawns, scallops, calamari, clam strips and cod, and plenty of it. The fries were pedestrian but the chef managed to get the veggie medley just right, firm and full of color.

Back in the day, a veggie medley was ladled out of an icky smelling vat. The vegetables had lost their color, unless you consider gray a vegetable color, and the texture was somewhere between mealy and mush. At some point in culinary time cooks learned that vegetables were best cooked to a sort of al dente, that broccoli should be bright green and, like other things in life, cauliflower can be more satisfying when it’s stiff rather than limp.

If deep fried wasn’t your deal there was always grilled fish or steak, or one of a variety of seafood pasta dishes. And don’t forget the chowder with a little packet of oyster crackers on the side.

The Nantucket was unpretentious, the everybody knows the waitresses and bartender place, appointed with the maritime kitsch that’s mandatory for a fish house. The dining room was decorated with paintings of ships and ocean scenes and depictions of old salt, seafarers; wizened ancients wearing watch caps or slickers and invariably sucking on a pipe.

We’d sit on the outdoor deck, at picnic tables painted a bright white, and covered with blue and white checked tablecloths. From here we’d watch the ship traffic, oil tankers mostly. The inbound ships headed east to the refineries on Suisun Bay were empty and rode high in the water. Once laden, the ships would lowride back through the Carquinez Strait, through the San Pablo and San Francisco Bays and finally out to sea.

The bright, fresh air of the outside dining deck was interrupted by the smell of frying fish and filled with the sounds of squawking gulls and the slooshing of fishing boats bobbing at the adjacent pier. The restaurant was located yards from the railroad tracks and the occasional freight would shake the restaurant and disturb the peace. But that was okay, it was part of the ambience.

It’s been years since I’ve been at that waterfront. I guess the last time was when I stopped on the way back home from somewhere east of home, to have a martini and a plate of fried calamari.

“We are sad to inform our loyal customers but the Nantucket Restaurant will be closing permanently Sunday, February 17, 2019,” read the restaurant’s farewell message. “Thank you for your continued patronage.”

The lease was up, the owner was 81 and I guess he’d had enough of the restaurant biz.

The site had been home to a restaurant since 1928, the first one named Dowrelio’s. Ninety-one years later there were no takers. The location was a mixture of good and bad; the good being a spot right on the water’s edge, decorated with piers and fishing boats. The bad was that the place wasn’t easy to find; down a dark winding road, past a graveyard of old shipping containers and into a cratered, dirt and graveled parking lot. For the newcomer it could look downright sketchy.

There’s not much left of that section of waterfront that’s worth anything. Even the bright view has vacated the place. In August of 2020 a fire took out the restaurant and most of the piers. What was left of the restaurant has been covered over with a sarcophagus of blue stucco and plywood, graffiti scarred and forlorn.

The remains of The Nantucket Restaurant. The skull marks the place where the hostess greeted diners.

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Crockett, California (known to locals as Sugar City) can be a hard place to figure.

At a glance you might take it for a Rust Belt community of the Midwest, sitting on the shore of one of America’s great rivers.

There’s a factory, the big old brick C&H Sugar refinery that sits on the edge of the Carquinez Strait, there are the old residences, side by side on narrow streets and there’s the small downtown district.

Crockett could be a small factory town in Ohio or, given the waterfront location, a little fishing town in Maine; but it’s neither.  Crockett is San Francisco Bay Area – eclectic, a little Boho, and unlike the heartland, more blue than red.

It’s an afterthought of a place that you only know is there because of C&H.  If it weren’t for that brick refinery that momentarily fills your eastbound windshield before you swing north over the bridge you wouldn’t even know the place exists.

C&H Sugar Refinery, Crockett CA.

The town takes its name from old Judge Joseph Bryant Crockett, a California Supreme Court Justice. Thomas Edwards Sr bought 1800 acres from Crockett in 1866 and started the town with a home and a general store.

In 1906, Crockett became a company town for the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company (C&H), which built a refinery on the bank of the Carquinez Strait. The plant refined raw sugar shipped from Hawaii.

Like most company towns, Crockett’s economy and community relied on the local plant, in this case, C&H.

Sugar City’s boom time came during the mid-twentieth century. By the 1960’s profits from the refinery fell and with it the town’s fortunes; boom was turning to bust.

Starting in 1993, the refinery went through three ownership changes and now belongs to American Sugar Refining. Hawaiian sugar is no longer shipped to Crockett. The plant now refines sugar shipped in from Australia, the Philippines and Nicaragua. Continue reading

Quite some time has passed since the last edition of the COVID Chronicles. Does that mean that we’re almost over it? From where I’m sitting, here in carefree California, it’s almost like we’re ready to emerge from the deep, dark COVID woods.

Some catching up and a little perspective might be in order.

We’ve been doing so well in California that the news media doesn’t report deaths anymore. In California, the deceased are old news. Just a week ago today there were a mere 22 deaths in the Golden State. A small number but still, smaller consolation for the 22 deceased and their families; no consolation at all actually.

On a personal level I’m going through an inner COVID conflict. There’s the optimistic me and then there’s an alter ego; the hold on to your butt me.

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“The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

I was a junior in high school when Earth Day was established.

A group of us went to one of the local San Mateo County beaches and picked up trash.

It was along about that time that an oil spill took place off the coast. Well, a group of us went out to help clean up. There were no hazmat suits or rigid regulations to follow. We just went out and scooped up glops of oil.

Since then there’ve been lots and lots of glops, millions, I’d guess, along with scores of other disrespects towards our Mother.

I suppose that I could take up this space with admonitions and a general ass chewing directed at humankind but there’s plenty of that already going around today.

Instead I’ll just celebrate Mother with photos (some new and some recycled; no pun intended).

“I see Earth! It is so beautiful!” – Yuri Gagarin, Soviet Cosmonaut

Mount Tallac & morning clouds.

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“Waves are the voices of tides. Tides are life.”  ~ Tamora Pierce

Take me to the beach. Just don’t let it be a crowded one; not a Santa Cruz, where hordes descend for thrill rides and corn dogs on the boardwalk or to build sand castles or play a game of Frisbee. I don’t need to see string bikinis, or middle aged spread in a Speedo (Really, really I don’t).

Take me to a secluded beach – and leave. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that I’m picky about my beachmates. My companions of choice are my author of the moment, a notebook and the gulls.

I don’t need conversation. I’m content to hear the voice of the sea; though the ocean can be an insistent raconteur. Try as I might to read, write or just laze in the warmth, the waves always demand attention, and once they have it, it’s hard to turn away. The waves are charmers. As much as you will yourself to turn away the enchantment compels you to watch the next and the next.

A wave at Gray Whale Cove, Montara CA. at 1/13th of a second.

Above and below, Note the turmoil of the wave and the seeming serenity behind.

Shore birds float placidly behind a crashing wave. It almost seems as if the water is cascading from a table. Gray Whale Cove, Montara, CA.

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Groundhog Day is a movie in which Bill Murray plays a TV weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again
There were a few moments of irony during Vice President Kamala Harris’s appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, this morning. The Vice President paused in the midst of the ceremony, in order to make a few brief remarks about a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. A shooting that left eight dead and several wounded. In the end the shooter killed himself, because, well, why go off script? That’s what usually happens, I guess. Hard to keep track these days isn’t it?
Why the irony? Because Japan has almost 0 (zero, ZERO, Z-E-R-O) gun deaths per year while American deaths get tallied up at pinball machine rates. Follow the link to see the comparison. One can only imagine what Prime Minister Suga and his retinue are saying behind closed doors about America shooting itself to death and not wanting to do a damn thing about it.

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“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Everything has a price.
I’m not giving away anything really tangible here.
Everything has a cost. In this case the cost is your time. I hope that it’s time well spent.”

I have a corrupt canine free to the first bidder. A felonious, evildoer who’s been scoffing our law against digging.

There! That one, the white one, wearing the partial mask as if to hide her identity.

Jasmine the tomato digger

She wears the look of innocence but don’t be fooled.

First she tried to dig up one of the tomato plants and then, once caught, she tried to piss on it (thankfully the tomato cage prevented a direct hit).

She’s also been caught trying to burrow under the fence.

Okay, so we’re not giving her away. Our son would kick up a bit of a row if he found we’d given his dog away. The squat little criminal is Jasmine and her partner in crime is Abby.

Jasmine and Abby.

Abby’s not a criminal so much as a pretender. She thought she was a hunter when she saw a bird flitting over the swimming pool. Was she expecting a dry landing when she lunged?

Abby doing the one flap down trick with her ears.

Well, now we know that Abby knows how to swim.

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