The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

It’s early morning in Barcelona’s Barrio Gòtic, a neighborhood at once trendy and medieval, bright and darkly mysterious. While my wife is back at the hotel sleeping, I’m winding through narrow streets and alleys that were built centuries ago to accommodate carts and pedestrians. I’m looking for a kiss. Not just a kiss, I’m looking for the kiss. I mean why settle for just a kiss.

I know that the kiss I’m hunting is somewhere in Gòtic’s confusing web of alleys and small placas (the Catalan word for plaza). I’m just not certain that I’ll find it. I’m depending on Google Girl to get me to the kiss, but given her recent history of sending me on snipe hunts and roads to dead ends, I’m feeling that my trust is misplaced.

Early morning can be the best time to explore the warren of ancient alleys and streets. But for a few street cleaners, early rising shop owners, and a smattering of tourists, El Gòtic is empty just after sunrise. In the early light, puddles from the previous night’s rain reflect the dark, ancient buildings, adding to the mystique of the old district.

I’ve got some serious misgivings as I follow Google girl’s instructions. “In 190 meters turn right on Placa Dels Pexios.”

In Google girl’s defense, during three weeks in Spain I’ve learned that finding street signs and placa designations can be a challenge, as the signs are often posted (sometimes camouflaged) on the sides of the old buildings. The mistake is an easy fix when you’re walking. Driving past a sought out street can lead to the drive of the damned.

“In thirty meters, turn left towards Carrer dels Capellans.” Stop. Look. Follow – and hope.

“Slight left onto Placa D’ Issidre Nonell.”

“You have arrived.”

Okay, I’ve arrived – at Placa D’ Issidre Nonell. At least so I’ve been told by a Google Girl who, for all I know, has sent me on a wild kiss chase. In front of me, there’s nothing. To my right is the street that I just came from, and to my left a bar, waiting to be opened. I’m just about to call BS on Google Girl yet again as I turn around to gaze on El Peto de Joan Fontcuberta.

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The sixth in a series of occasional posts about tripping along U.S. Highway 395. Please note, this installment differs in tone from the previous chapters in this series.

One of the wonderful things about travel is the opportunity to experience those places that excite in us a sense of wonder. In 2015 I took my wife, Cora, to Yellowstone National Park. I’d been there three times before, and since my  first visit, during my childhood, Yellowstone has been one of my favorite places on Earth. During my last visit, the one with Cora, Yellowstone blessed me with a new joy as I watched Cora’s reaction to that amazing place. In 2021, we took a road trip that brought us to the Grand Canyon. The panorama literally brought us to tears. Devil’s Tower, the Black Hills, a stand of ancient redwoods and Mount McKinley at sunset. The grandeur and beauty of these places touches something in all of us.

And then there are those places that touch us in a different way. These are the sobering places. I remember the afternoon when I stood on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. It was a steamy July afternoon, exactly 135 years after Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Infantry, ammunition and numbers depleted, held off repeated Confederate charges. At Antietam I stood at the Sunken Road where over the course of three hours two armies suffered over 5500 casualties. At the Lorraine Motel in Memphis I stood at the very window where Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he was assassinated. The most profound jolt among the many at the Holocaust Museum is in the final room where the shoes of 4,000 victims are on display. It’s an exhibit that one not only sees, but also smells. Places such as these can be unpleasant and emotionally draining, yet they are vitally important to our understanding of the human story.

Visiting Manzanar

Just eight minutes out of the little town of Independence, California, on Highway 395, those heavy emotions revisit me as we drive beneath a guard tower and through the gates at Manzanar.

A visit begins at the museum where the visitor learns of the early history of the area. While the exhibits cover the period from 1885 to the present, the focus is on the war years and the camp’s history as a concentration camp.

A self-guided walk through the grounds includes visits to two barracks, a mess hall and a women’s latrine.

This is a harsh area of sagebrush, and sand and rock, where temperatures can reach 100 degrees in the summer and drop down into the 20’s in the wintertime.

The hills on the eastern side of the Owens Valley

The Spanish word, Manzanar, means apple orchard, a description that conjures pleasant images of crisp fruit, freshness, sweet fragrance and good health. There is none of that within the confines of what was once a concentration camp, in which American citizens, summarily stripped of their rights, were detained.

Decades before the barbed wire was strung, the rude barracks built and the guard towers erected, this area in the Owens Valley, in the shadow of the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, was an apple farming community. Before that it was cattle country.

A dirt court on the grounds of Manzanar

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This week, Siobhan, author of the site Bend Branches hosts the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge, and she has chosen the topic, glowing moments.

With the exception of three photos, the first and the last two, all of the images for this challenge were taken just before or after sunrise, when the glow is particularly spectacular and the opportunites are fleeting.

The photo below of a bridge over the Fox River in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was taken after sunset. I took this photo in September when (American) football is getting into full swing. The bridge, just like everything else in Green Bay during autumn, is illuminated in the team colors of the Green Bay Packers football team.

Pescadero is located on the Central California Coast, about an hour’s drive (depending of course on traffic) from my home. Here, there is a large wetland where Pescadero Creek drains into the Pacific Ocean. The photo below is of the wetland carpeted with brilliant Pickleweed.

The photo below was taken on my front porch. After a night of rain, drops glow and glisten in the morning sunlight. One dangling drop reflects a brick pillar.

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Whenever my phone vibrates it can be anything, from a message from a Nigerian prince looking for someone to share his fortune with, to breaking news. I was reading on the couch in my office when I picked up the phone to learn that it was the latter and that, in a matter of moments, the crap would be hitting the fan.

The New York Times was breaking the news that a Manhattan Grand Jury had indicted former President Trump for some alleged skullduggery that took place in a hush money payment to a porn star over an alleged episode of some rolling in the hay between Trump and the porn-ette. To be clear, a straight hush money payment is not against the law, but to cook the books in order to hush up the hush money is.

My first reaction? “Good.” Finally someone was charging this corrupt scofflaw with something, even though this case is a minor league one compared to the ongoing investigations by a federal special prosecutor and Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County Georgia. I fantasized seeing Trump, cuffed and wearing a jumpsuit that coordinates with his spray on tan, getting thrown in a cell with a 400 pound serial killer sporting a “Born to Lose” tattoo across his neck.

By the next day my fantasy had lost its luster. Certainly it’s a good thing to know that a former president is not above the law. Unfortunately this equal portioning of justice is coming at a high price.

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“We’re not gonna fix it.” ~ Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN)

That was the gist of Tim Burchett’s response to the killing of three, nine year old children and three members of the staff at The Covenant School, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Given that there have been more mass shootings in America in the year 2023, than the number of days, and given that mass shootings have become a sort of ho-hum, what else is new kind of event, I’ll give Burchett some credit for telling it like it is. Not gonna fix it.

I tell my wife more or less the same thing every time there’s a mass shooting and she says, “They really have to do something about these guns.”

My response to her is always , “They won’t. This is how it is and this is how it’s going to be. The NRA owns the cowards in the Republican Party.”

Yep, I agree with Burchett, but not for the same reasons that he put forth. After, “We’re not gonna fix it,” I hopped off the Burchett bullshit train.

Burchett elaborated by making a nonsensical comparison of school shootings to suicidal Japanese soldiers in World War II. “It’s a horrible, horrible situation, and we’re not going to fix it,” Burchett said. “Criminals are gonna be criminals. And my daddy fought in the second world war, fought in the Pacific, fought the Japanese, and he told me, he said, ‘Buddy,’ he said, ‘if somebody wants to take you out, and doesn’t mind losing their life, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it.’”

Does that tell anyone how bad it’s gotten when a sitting member of Congress compares a World War to an epidemic of school shootings? It’s an absurd flight of fancy that flies in the face of reason and in fact flies in the face of history.

What Burchett left out in his World War II analogy was the inconvenient fact that American soldiers, in the face of a fanatical enemy, took on the horror, the punishment and the casualties and did something about it. They didn’t throw up a white flag and say, ‘nothing we can do about it.’ If America and its brave soldiers had shared Burchett’s can’t do attitude we’d all be speaking Japanese right about now.

It’s quite possible that Burchett’s “daddy” might be looking down and shaking his head in disgust over his son’s cowardice and defeatism.

Why don’t we just take Burchett’s attitude at face value, stop making laws and repeal every law on every book? Despite laws, people commit murder, they steal, they vandalize and they sure as shit speed and text while driving. Think of the possibilities if we follow Burchett’s lead. Think of all of the policing costs, court costs and costs of incarceration we could save. What a bonanza!

Ah, but Burchett wasn’t done. He opined that we, as a nation need to pray on it, “I think you got to change people’s hearts. You know, as a Christian, as we talk about in the church, and I’ve said this many times, I think we really need a revival in this country” Well, glory, fucking, hallelujah, there you go, it’s that simple. Let’s have a good old fashioned national evangelical tent show and God will make it all go away.

I’m starting to be of the opinion that maybe there should be a religious test given to people who run for office. No, not in the sense that’s popular with the right wing, that in order to run for office one should be an upright, God fearing Christian. I’m of the opposite opinion that if you want to run for office and you think this country “needs a revival,” then maybe you should be disqualified from office. I firmly believe that next to guns and fascism, religion, and specifically Christianity, is one of the greatest threats to America. It’s clear that in America, the three, fascism, guns and Christianity, often travel hand in hand in hand.

During his interview Burchett had a tone deaf moment, because, that’s what Republican politicians do. Burchett was asked, “What else should be done to protect people like your little girl from being safe in school?”

“Well, we homeschool her,” he responded with a shrug. “But you know, that’s our decision. Some people don’t have that option and frankly, some people don’t need to do it. I mean, they don’t have to. It just suited our needs much better.”

Translated that means, ‘Oh, the little woman has to work? Sucks for you then. Buy the kiddos some body armor.’

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

Bridgeport is our home base for three days and two nights. We’re keeping it simple. In a town as small as Bridgeport, with few businesses, and some of those closed for the season, the choices are nominal. So keep it simple, baby.

Dinner on the first night is leftovers that we brought from the previous night’s dinner at home. Cora and I aren’t about throwing away food so we packed it in the cooler to be heated up in the microwave. There’s a small communal dining area with a microwave in the Cain House where we’re staying. We heat up the leftovers and suddenly it doesn’t smell quite as good as it did the first time. In fact, it might be as rank as nuked leftover fish (something that’s a mortal sin in the workplace lunchroom). Luckily we’re the only ones in the dining room when the stink bomb goes off. I imagine the next guest in will be wondering who stashed a dead body in the dining room.

There are two drive-in fat vats in Bridgeport. A place called The Barn, is burgers, Mexican and the usual selection of dairy desserts. Jolly Kone is burgers and dairy.

There are a couple of sit down places in Bridgeport, The Rhino Bar and Grill, and The Bridgeport Inn. Like I said, we’re keeping it simple so we stick with The Barn both nights.

The Bridgeport Inn advertises itself, in a neon ECV sign, as a Clamper hangout. What exactly is a clamper? That’s a good question, and I’m not certain that I’m qualified to explain. I’m not certain that anyone is qualified to explain, unless that person is a bona fide Clamper. I mention the Clampers because out here in Gold Rush Country, the Clampers are something of an institution.

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“ … your position and power in life do not matter: no one is above the law … “ ~ South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson following the conviction of Alex Murdaugh.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” ~ Donald J. Trump, January 23, 2016.


If the two statements above seem to you to be at odds with each other, well, you’re right.

Can’t go a week without hearing some version of the former statement, “Nobody is above the law.” It’s usually delivered with a self satisfied harrumph and can come from just about any mouth; politician, pundit, law enforcement official, or just the average citizen. Van Jones said it. Gloria Allred said it. John Yang, Leon Jaworski and, ironically enough, Andrew Cuomo said it.

We’ll come back to the quotes a bit later, but first, let’s get to Donald Trump’s recent bloviation, delivered on Saturday via his chicken shit media platform, Truth Social (“truth” is a seldom found commodity on that platform).

In a statement delivered all in caps (because that’s how Donnie rolls), Trump said that he will be arrested (correction: ARRESTED) on Tuesday by the New York D.A. over his alleged hush money payment to porn star, Stormy Daniels. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Trump ended his statement by urging his followers to take to the streets and protest. We saw this movie on January 6th, 2021 and it didn’t end well. In fact, it hasn’t ended. January 6th is the never ending story without apparent resolution.

But Trump wasn’t done. Feeling the need to pour more gasoline on the fire he went back on Truth Social, and posted, “WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”

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Dateline 5:30 AM in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Mother Nature is crying a river – an atmospheric river.


Cry Me A River. The song is a classic. The original version sung by Julie London, that is.

“Now you say you’re lonely
You cry the long night through
Well, you can cry me a river
Cry me a river
I cried a river over you”

You have to be a geezer, or on the cusp of geezerdom, to remember your parents listening to Julie’s soulful, dusky rendition of the torch song written by Arthur Hamilton in 1953. Or maybe you’re an aficionado of the torch song genre; Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Rosemary Clooney, Bessie Smith.

You can listen to Cry Me A River anywhere; your car, your home, the backyard cookout.

But do you want to get the full effect? It’s near closing time in the wood paneled hotel tavern. It’s dim lighting; a few weak lamps, and candles in red globular candle holders, flames flickering wearily as if they wish to be done with their night’s labor. You’re seated on a stool, upholstered in red leatherette. The place is empty, but for the couple at the corner table, and they’re just staggering out of their seats. They’re headed upstairs to do the dirty boogie. He’s a traveling salesman, cheatin’ on his wife. Her? She spends her evenings in that dank bar, huntin’ traveling salesmen. Now it’s just you and the bartender. He’s at the other end of the bar, polishing the mahogany surface before closing out the till. There’s a squint in his left eye from the curly-Q of smoke drifting up from the butt of an unfiltered Camel dangling from his mouth. He glances at you impatiently from time to time. You’re boozy, swaying your head to the melody while you stare down into the bottomless well of your third gin martini. Your collar is loose, tie all a kilter. Your fedora is pushed back on your head. Haven’t shaved in a couple days. You want a cigarette, but you smoked your last an hour ago. The song ends, the joint goes as quiet as a church on Monday morning. You drain your glass and your head bobs down, chin resting on your chest. The bartender looks over. In his Bronx accent that’s sharp as a straight razor, he shouts, “Hey Mac, I’m gettin’ ready to close up.”
You look outside through a veil of cigarette smoke and the tavern’s thick glass window at the dank rain soaked streets. Street lights reflecting off the puddles. The streets are as desolate as your heart. A Yellow Cab splashes through a puddle and disappears into the dark of the city.
“C’mon Frank, my baby just left me. One more. For the road. For her.”
“Alright, but that’s the last. I’ll tell you what, Mac. Since you’re havin’ hard luck, I’ll make it a double. On me. But finish it up quick – ya hear”

That’s how you listen to Cry Me A River.

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This week John, of Journeys with Johnbo, leads the Lens Artists Photo Challenge with his topic, The Road Most Often Taken. John is speaking metaphorically. He writes, “I want you to think of your favorite type or style of photography as the road you’ve chosen to take most often.”

Quite honestly I’ve been all over the photographic map. Landscape used to be my go to. And then I visited the S.F. Botanical Garden and got hooked on plants (photographically speaking). Then it was urban photography and architecture. Or was it oceanscapes? Then I got buried in cemeteries. My road has more forks than my kitchen drawer.

My current passion is monochrome. Now, whenever I go out and shoot, I do so in color. But I also stop to consider what a shot might look like in black and white or sepia. I might compose a shot a bit differently if I think there’s promise in editing in monochrome. Cemeteries, old buildings, people and relics? I almost always shoot with monochrome in mind.

Places and things left to the whims of time fascinate me. When I’m traveling, I’m always looking out for an old barn, a building in some stage of dilapidation. I’m drawn to the detritus of the ages.

During a road trip in the autumn of 2021, I left Hannibal, Missouri, headed for Springfield, Illinois. I stopped for breakfast in Louisiana, Missouri, on the bank of the Mississippi River. Near the riverbank are the remains of an old ice house. Built in 1924, it burned down eight months before I passed thru town.

Louisiana, Missouri

Just outside of Virginia City, Nevada (those old enough to remember the old western, Bonanza, will remember Virginia City, and old Sheriff Roy Coffee) are the remains of an old wagon.

Virginia City NV

Last fall, my wife and I traveled to Bodie, California, a ghost town in the true sense of the term. I posted about Bodie recently. Below are a saloon (on the left) and a barber shop (note the barber pole design on the far right).

Saloon and barbershop

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

From Sonora Junction, Highway 395 heads due east before dipping to the south and finally cutting back east to enter Bridgeport. Crane your view to the right and you see the picture of green, brown and yellow grazing land backdropped by the Sawtooth Range of the Sierra Nevada. You could be looking at a location for a western movie.

Grazing cattle with the Sawtooth Range as a backdrop

It’s two lanes into Bridgeport but once in the town proper the street widens to accommodate angle parking. The parking signs instruct drivers to back into the parking spots. It’s odd. For me anyway. Apparently odd for others as well, as cars are parked at some very creative angles.

Downtown Bridgeport is slightly more than three straight, albeit long, blocks of 395 before the highway leaves town and curves to the south. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss a few motels, a hotel, a drive-in burger joint cheek by jowl with a Mexican drive-in, a meat market, a deli/food store with little in the way of selection unless you’re into the three food groups, beer, hooch and snacks. One filling station and convenience store and a little shop hawking Native American artifacts. There’s a bakery and there’s Ken’s Sporting Goods where you’ll find your hunting rifle, fishing gear and some advice on where to put that gear to use. If you’re looking for a soccer ball, well, you might find one about 80 miles north in Carson City, Nevada. Oh, and on a snowy day in winter, you’re out of luck – road’s closed.

Below, two views of the Bridgeport Valley


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Posted in concert with this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge.

The subject for this week’s Lens Artist Challenge is “Alone Time.” Host, Ann-Christine, begins her piece, “Alone time means time spent by an individual or a couple apart from others.”

Some people choose nature to find their alone time. I do. Some take a drive. I’ve certainly done that; an 8,000 mile solo road trip through the Midwest should qualify. Mostly though, I find my alone time in my own home, in a small downstairs bedroom that currently serves as my office, but, for over more than two decades has served many purposes and the people who have called it, even if only briefly, their own space.

This office – I’ve made it my own space while keeping reminders of what it’s been over the years. I’ve decorated the room, or fouled it, depending on your point of view, with mementoes of my life and the lives of my family.

Ann-Christine writes, “It (your solitary place) is often used to ground oneself, or to do something creative.”
My office is where I work, where I write (where I’m writing this very piece), where I edit and where I think. Sometimes it’s where I listen to music or take a nap.

For over thirteen years, it was my son’s room. He moved in when he was five. It was the place where you went to scream in pain after stepping on a Lego blog. It wasn’t just his room. Phantom, our first Gordon Setter, slept with our son until Matt went to college. To this day I don’t know how that kid and that big dog managed to share a single bed. I mean, let’s face it, dogs normally sleep curled in a warm, compact ball. That is, until they get invited to the bed, in which case they manage to sprawl into what seems triple their size.

When Matt moved out it became a spare bedroom and went mostly unused. By and by, our friend Scott moved into the room and stayed while he was between jobs. That was only for a few months until he found a job in Medford, Oregon. Over the next few years he used the room as a home base every October when he came down to the Bay Area for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, in San Francisco.

It was my dearest friend Ivy’s (not her real name) room while she was going through a personal crisis. She called that room her home until the night she left to take her own life. Luckily, she was found by the Oakland police who spotted her car. She’d left us a short note which I’ve kept to this day. It’s a reminder.

Medford wasn’t kind to Scott. From what I know of Medford, the only good things about it are full service gas and the Harry and David’s gourmet food outlet. Scott moved back in to look for another job. After a while he moved on and the room became my grandson Jackson’s.

My daughter Jessica, Jackson and sister Luciana (Lucy), just moved out last summer. Broke my heart. Many of the things that Jackson left behind, a Steph Curry piggy bank, his soccer medals and a painting he did, still remain.

This is where my son did his homework, where Scott read voraciously, where Jackson did his homework and, I’m so proud to say, read Maus — because he wanted to. This is where I come to read.

Held in place by a petrified rock I got in a gift shop at the Painted Desert and Jackson’s old piggy bank, six special books sit on a shelf by themselves:
The Constitution of The United States
The copy of Maus that my grandson Jackson read.
My dad’s copy of Here Is Your War, by Ernie Pyle. My father was a veteran of WWII, and his favorite correspondent was Ernie Pyle.
Dad’s copy of The Pickwick Papers (1943).
Dad’s copy of This Is My Best (1943), an anthology of writers that includes, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Sandburg, James Thurber, William Carlos Williams, Robinson Jeffers and over 80 others.
A personalized autographed copy of Over Time by Frank Deford.

Growing up, and later, during my early adult years, Deford was my favorite sports writer. Every week I would wait for my copy of Sports Illustrated to arrive so I could read his column. There’s an importance to the date of the autograph. Cora and I went to see a talk by Mr. Deford at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. As he was speaking and later chatting and autographing copies of his book, a few miles away at the ballpark, Giants pitcher Matt Cain was throwing a perfect game. Driving home we listened to the innings go by as Cain mowed down every batter he faced. We got home just in time to see the final pitch.

How fitting was it that on the night that I met my favorite sportswriter, just a few miles away, the hometown pitcher was accomplishing what every pitcher dreams of but very, very few realize.


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

Between Knight’s Ferry and Chinese Camp is 21 miles of rolling ranchland. Out here the land is split into parcels, each section defined by the brainchild of an Illinois farmer named Joseph Glidden. Glidden’s invention would forever put its stamp on the American West and at the same time, make Glidden a millionaire.

In 1874, Glidden was issued a patent for his version of a wire fence that was fitted with barbs along its length. Glidden’s version was an improvement on the first such fence invented by Michael Kelly, called the “thorny fence.” You can’t travel a mile through western ranchland without seeing that predominant fixture, the barbed wire fence.

The land out here seems perpetually brown and dry. At least that’s how it’s always presented itself to me. I’ve never traveled this area in the spring when maybe, just maybe, the hills are wearing a fresh coat of green.

Just past the Arthur Michael Vineyard, Highway 120 veers to the southeast. We pass by the Diestel Turkey Ranch to our right and then Sierra Pacific Industries to our left before arriving at the junction with Red Hill Road. It’s a lonely corner occupied by the Chinese Camp Store and Tavern. In front of the store are an old mining cart filled with white rocks and some racks over which are draped some Native American blankets.

I take Red Hill Road for a few blocks until we hit downtown, or what constituted downtown over a century ago. Main Street is a small collection of old, deserted buildings, many bearing the iron doors and shutters that are common in the Gold Country. What was once a business district is now nature’s reclamation project as many of the dilapidated structures are overrun with weeds and vines. Outside of this forlorn and neglected block are a few scattered houses, most of them ramshackle, some of them occupied.

Chinese Camp isn’t a ghost town in the classic sense, but it’s about as close to one as a town can be. The good news is that Chinese Camp still has a post office, because once the Postal Service bugs out, you can pretty much issue the town its last rites. The bad news is that the population has seen a decline of 16% to 146. Maybe for the residents that isn’t bad news. A walk around the small community reveals that there is little or nothing to recommend it. To cherish a life in Chinese Camp is to cherish desolation. In its prime, Chinese Camp was a booming Gold Rush center with a population of 5,000 Chinese. Today there are 13 Asian residents, and they may or may not be of Chinese descent.


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“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game.” ~Jacques Barzun

Major League Baseball’s spring training is open for business. With all due disrespect to Punxsutawney Phil, that know it all buck toothed rodent, the news that pitchers are lobbing baseballs to catchers and batters are getting in their hacks down in the Arizona heat is the real signal, as true as the calendar on the wall, that spring is just around the bend (even for those who still wake up in the morning and groan over the sight of snow in the driveway).

It’s the rite of spring, when baseball fans begin the season with eternal, if often irrational, hope that their team will be vying for the World Series, months later when the first snow is just weeks away.

Peanuts, hotdogs, beer, a souvenir for the kids, and the hope of catching a ball that drifts into the stands on a warm, sunny afternoon. The season starts in earnest on March 30.

And I have zero fucks to give.

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

To explore Highway 395, you first have to get to 395. We’ll be picking up 395 at Sonora Junction, at the terminus of Highway 108, just east of a twisting descent from the Sonora Pass.

We’re eastbound cutting across the width of California’s Central Valley from San Jose, where we left our dog Lexi in our son’s care.

California’s Central Valley. Driving its length, from north to south, can be drudgery, a slog that carries you past miles upon miles of orchards, vineyards and farmland. What might start as a pleasant bucolic drive can quickly become mind numbing. There’s little of the allure you find in Midwest farm country, where the miles of cornfields and soybean fields are interrupted by small town charm, occasional road houses, and barns adorned with colorful quilt designs. Highway 5 along the length of the valley is a protracted scream of unsightly agri-business.

The eastbound drive, the one we’re taking, can be a pleasant one. That is, once the clutter, the traffic and the commercial crap of the Bay Area has been left behind. The problem is, the clutter, the traffic and the commercial crap are all making their way east, spreading like a concrete and steel fungus.

From San Jose, we negotiate a web of South Bay freeways. Highway 101 to 680 to 580.

Eastbound 580 passes through the Livermore Valley. It’s wine country but you wouldn’t know it from the highway. From 580 you only get hints of a wine region; signs that point to wineries off on the far slopes, or a quick glimpse of a vineyard now and then. What you mostly see is a procession of shopping malls, auto malls, tract houses and some gaudy mcmansions scattered around the distant hills. And cars. Plenty of cars. This is the main artery from the outer banks of the East Bay to Silicon Valley. Hit it at a bad time and you’ll wish you’d brought with you the two P’s – patience and provisions. Add a hot August, 90 degree, Friday afternoon getaway day and you’re truly fucked.

Cora and I are getting away on a Saturday morning. There’s no traffic and we breeze past the overdeveloped, commercial ugliness and up and over the Diablo Range and the miles and miles of wind turbines that stand like battalions of aliens, escaped from the imagination of H.G. Wells.

Our first stop on the trip is in Tracy, just east of Livermore and the Diablo Range.

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The boy turned 13. Thirteen begs a question. Is he still a boy?

For a time, back when he was two or three, he would insist that he was a boy. Whenever Cora or I presented him with the proposition that he was a person he responded with a reasoning, “I’m not a person, I’m a boy.”

Maybe he already knew what we all know. Boys can be sweet, if a little mischievous. People can suck. Well, he’s not a boy anymore. He’s a teenager.

He’s a teenager with a shock of hair that cascades to just above a pair of expressive, and ridiculously gorgeous, green eyes. Friendly eyes, look of wonder eyes. Whenever he visits the house, his grandmother, known far and wide, or at least in family circles, as Mama Cora, offers (threatens?) to cut (butcher?) that marvelous cascade of hair. His tousled mop and I say that with affection and, in my baldness, a healthy dose of jealousy, could be something of a distraction when playing AAU basketball. He’d tug on it or push it back or off to the side or keep giving his head a shake. Finally the parents enforced a no playing with the hair during games rule and got him a headband – which from time to time gets lost or forgotten.

His basketball shoes are a size 12 (that is, unless he’s grown another half size since the last time I’ve seen him). He towers over Mama Cora, an admittedly low, barely five foot, bar, and he’s topped his mom.

“Seems like ages ago,” as the trite old saying goes, when I could cradle him in one arm. Well, trite old sayings are trite for a reason – they neatly and conveniently convey a point. It wasn’t ages ago. Just a mere thirteen years. That’s not so much when you’re gnawing on the last year of your sixth decade. Just thirteen years ago, my daughter Jessica gave birth to her first child, Jackson, our second grandchild (the first being my son’s Sophia).

I’ll admit it, Jack has always been the one of my four grandchildren, who I’m partial to. Some grandparents won’t admit to partiality, but they’re just bullshitting. Everyone has a favorite.

In my own defense, you could say that I came by my partiality honestly. You see, three months after Jack was born, I was laid off from my job. It wasn’t a bad thing really, nor was it completely unexpected as it occurred during the Bush Recession. Everybody was getting laid off in that company. I wouldn’t doubt that there was a clandestine pool among the managers, none of whom were issued walking papers, by the way, over who would get axed in any given week. It was death by a thousand cuts and I got slashed on May 10th. No tears. Just a quick call to Cora telling her, “I’m glad that’s over with.”

At the time, we were all living under the same roof until Jessica and her husband could get on their feet. With Cora and Jessica gainfully employed and my son in law at the firefighting academy, I was designated daycare. I was pulling two severance checks a month along with unemployment, so it was a good gig.

Every afternoon, I took Jack to a little outdoor coffee joint to read and sip coffee while Jack slept or played in his stroller. It didn’t hurt that Jack was, as the saying goes, “a chick magnet.” Young moms would come by and ooh and ahh at Jack’s striking blue eyes and big toothless smile, often stopping to sit and talk for a bit. Like I said, it was a good gig. Sure I know what you might be thinking, but it sure beat listening to some retired old mossback rail about liberals, while an unfiltered shmag dangled from his mouth.

Jack and I bonded for four months until I started work again in September. Maybe that bond was manifested one evening when baby Jack went on a crying jag, one of those sustained bawls with no apparent reason behind it, other than being pissed off at the world and everyone in it. He didn’t want any pureed carrots (who the hell does?), and he wasn’t about to be consoled by anyone or anything until I recalled a little trick that my father came up with when my son started a crying fit. Dad would pick Matthew up and walk him around the house, stopping at every picture and painting until Matt’s curiosity distracted him from whatever was bothering him. On a hunch, I picked up Jack and walked out to the backyard, pointing out flowers and bees and bugs until pretty soon Jack’s crying turned to sniffles and snuffles and a little finger reaching out to touch a leaf or a petal.

Kyle started work with a fire department in Marin County, and the family moved to their own place, a strange little place in an equally strange area of nearby El Sobrante. El Sobrante is a little community with an undisciplined border that could’ve been drawn by a couple of Republicans on a bender. It looks less like a town boundary and more like a lost piece to a jigsaw puzzle. El Sob, as it’s sometimes called, has everything from shacks in sketchy areas with tortured, twisting roads to custom-built homes. It was time for Cora and I to deal with the whole empty nest thing again. A year and two months after Jack was born, Jessica gave birth to Luciana (Lucy).

When El Sobrante’s quirkiness became unendurable, Jessica and Kyle bought a house in a quiet, residential neighborhood in Pinole, just one town over.

Things don’t always work out, and so, after Kyle and Jessica split up, she moved to an apartment complex in Richmond. She stayed there for about a year until she moved back home. The idea was to allow Jessica to be a single mom without some of the single mom stress and also to allow her to save enough money to buy a home of her own, no small feat in the overpriced Bay Area.

The kids attended the same elementary school and played soccer on the same fields as my daughter had years before. They grew up on Mama’s adobo and Papa’s meatloaf and groused about anything green on their plates (they learned, early on, how to surgically dissect their foods, deftly removing any offending bits of peppers or mushrooms).

Maybe the bond with Jack was manifested in a little horse made of beads that he gave me when he was five or six. I tacked it on the wall above my bed until it started to unravel a bit. I wasn’t about to throw it away, so I set it aside in my nightstand drawer where it still sits to this day.

Over the years I’ve taken Jack to school and to practices. I watched him take a stab at baseball. It never caught on, likely because his coach for two seasons was a mean SOB named Arnold. He was short on praise and teaching, and long on punishment and berating and was probably responsible for ruining the sport of baseball for countless dozens of kids. (I heard recently that, after a number of complaints, he was bounced from the coaching ranks).

My daughter often calls her son, “a good egg,” and he is that. He has an uncanny ability to read someone’s mood. When his mom is feeling down about something he’s quick with a hug and a consoling word. When his five year old cousin buzzes around him like a fly, repeating, “Jackson, play with me,” Jack will let out a sigh and play with the little boy.

Jack may be a “good egg,” but even the best egg can turn out a runny yolk sometimes. There was a period when Jack’s table decorum would embarrass a Visigoth freebooter, causing all eyes at the table to glare in his direction. Don’t like the asparagus? Just give it a few chews and then spit out a green glob in front of everyone. I guess you could say he was pragmatic about it. I mean, what the hell, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. He has a habit of wiping his hands on his clothes. It started with the shirt, but he found that it’s more clandestine to surreptitiously give a quick swipe on a pant leg. Hell, what’s wrong with that? It’s environmentally friendly – saves on paper.

He can be forgetful; a jacket, schoolwork, soccer cleats, water bottle, school I.D. Drives his mom nuts. When he started middle school, there were a few times when he’d be halfway to school and then call me up to tell me that he’d forgotten his computer or his I.D or a book. Whatever he’d forgotten, I’d drive it down to him and reassure him that I wouldn’t rat him out. I thought I was fooling my daughter, but she knew that I was covering for Jack and so one morning I got the, stop covering for Jackson, he’s gotta learn the hard way lecture. She was right, of course, but that didn’t stop me from covering for Jackson.

A little less than a year ago, April, it was, the two of us went on a night tour of Alcatraz. Before going to the boat, we went to Molinaris, an old school deli in North Beach. You know an old school deli, right? It’s got the salamis hanging from the ceiling and display cases filled with meats and cheeses and Italian delights like ravioli and lasagna and focaccia. The rear counter has a bin heaping with crusty sandwich rolls and somewhere in back, meatballs and sausages are simmering in a thick red gravy. The shelves are stocked with canned tomatoes and sauces and wines and sweets from Italy. The smell is, well, it’s the smell of an old school deli. It’s a unique, delicious smell that can’t be described. You just have to experience it for yourself and once you know the smell, you’ll never forget it. Kinda like being initiated into an exclusive club. Jack didn’t know what an old school deli was until he walked in and his eyes got as big as a pair of medium pizzas. A woman working the counter noticed Jack’s amazement and asked him, “Wanna work here some day?”

When we got to Alcatraz, I couldn’t keep up. Lost him once. Thank god for cell phones. Couldn’t imagine the conversation with my daughter.
“How was Alcatraz?”
“Good. I lost your son though.”
“Where is he?”
“Somewhere on the Rock. Don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere.”

The next day Jack and I played one on one basketball. Didn’t matter that I was a good half a foot taller, I couldn’t stay between him and the basket. He’d fake left and then go right – right past me to the basket. After fifteen minutes, I thought I was going to die. I was grateful when he sank the winning bucket.

By that time, Jessica was house hunting and I knew the days were numbered. They were biding time until the school year ended and then they would move to their new house. By the end of June, they were in their new house in Suisun, 25 minutes or so away. “It’s not like we’re that far away,” said Jessica. And they’re not far away. Still, it’s not the same. How could it be? It’s an emptier house now. The vibrancy of youth moved up the interstate.

I turned Jack’s room into an office but I kept some of the things he didn’t want to take with him. There’s a Steph Curry piggy bank, a baseball trophy and a few soccer and basketball medals. Like many boys, he was enchanted by space and the universe. One Christmas, Jess gave him an astronaut desk lamp. He didn’t want to take it with him and I was glad to keep it. There’s still a galaxy of stars stuck to the ceiling and the planets of the solar system stuck to the closet doors. The room is neater but it misses the boy who used to live and play in it.

I worry about my grandchildren, all of them. I worry about the world that’s being left to them. We have so-called adults in Congress clutching their pearls over a national debt that we’re “leaving for our grandchildren,” as they like to put it. They lose their minds over the petty things of the present while ignoring the greater perils of the future. If they were honest they’d admit that they don’t really give a shit about anybody’s grandchildren.

I wonder sometimes which of my grandchildren’s milestones I’ll be around to see – and be lucid enough to appreciate. I never thought I’d be a great-grandfather (at least one who’s still above ground) until I did the math and realized that Sophia will hit her thirties in fifteen years. Soph at fifteen – damn. I’ll be 85 then. My own kids will be middle aged –damn. Jack’s only three years behind Soph, and Lucy’s just a year behind Jack. Maybe I’ll see a gaggle of great-grandchildren. And Zack? He’s five. I suppose maybe I’ll hang around long enough to see him graduate college.
Eighty-five seems doable. Anything over 85 is a crapshoot. Who am I kidding? Anything from here on out is a crapshoot.

The boy turned 13 on the same weekend that San Francisco held its annual Lunar New Year Parade. Lunar New Year always brings to mind the time we went to the New Year celebration with Jessica, and the kids who were at that time still very little. Jack wanted a balloon in the worst way and he was overjoyed when he got one. When we got back to the car, he accidentally let go of the balloon before the door closed. Jack was inconsolable. It broke my heart and it still does every Lunar New Year.

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

Highway 395. From the Canadian border to the Mojave Desert in California, it makes its way through thick green forests, flinty high desert country, and oceans of cheatgrass. It rolls past golden yellow wheat fields, blinding, bleached alkali lakes, the rugged, white capped eastern spine of the Sierra Nevada, and an ancient azure pool. It runs over a mighty river, beneath craggy bluffs, and in and out of metros, small towns and forgotten specks on the map. It travels past the old west, the real and celluloid versions, and within view of a nation’s shame. Long stretches of the highway are described as the loneliest in America.

What’s not to like about U.S. Route 395? Even that loneliest road part. Maybe that’s the best part; the part that calls out to anyone who wants to escape cities, suburbs, tourist traps and mobs of moms, dads and the kiddos cruising in the Winnebago.

I didn’t know U.S. 395 existed until some thirty years ago, though I’d briefly, and unknowingly, crossed its path while driving through Reno. It was just a dangling thread in the national web of highways.

I might still be oblivious to that wondrous ribbon if a rainstorm hadn’t interrupted a family camping trip to Lassen National Park, in Northern California.

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My take on Len-Artist Challenge, A One Lens Walk

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area – maybe even the world.

I try to visit Chinatown a couple times a month. When I was young, single, living in The City and didn’t know better I visited multiple times a week, usually stopping at a little bar on Ross Alley, called the Rickshaw Lounge. It was across the alley from Danny’s Dynasty. Both joints were divey (Danny’s looked downright dangerous) and the alley itself had an air of assault and battery to it.

Didn’t know better? I sometimes closed that place down, particularly when I was dating Hyung Suk, one of the hostesses who worked there. It must’ve been nice to be young and have the vigor, or bad sense, to leave a bar at 2 in the morning when you have to get up 4 hours later to get ready for work.

That was during the 1970’s, when 2 rival Chinatown gangs, the Wah Ching and the Joe Boys were feeling their oats. In 1977, 5 members of the Joe Boys shot up the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Washington Street just around the corner from Ross Alley.

I guess my love conquered all, even common sense.

The Golden Dragon is gone now, replaced by another restaurant. The dives are also gone, replaced by …  It’s hard to say what replaced the bars. There’s no indication of a saloon ever having been on that alley. Now housing a florist, a fortune cookie shop, a gospel center, and a neon bedecked boba shop, Ross is hardly foreboding anymore.

The Chinatown alleys are fascinating places. I cut through them often to avoid the crowds on the main streets, or well, just because. The old mystique is of opium dens, brothels, and gambling parlors.

Indeed you can still walk through an alley at night and hear the clattering tiles and animated voices that mark a Mahjong game.


I usually carry three lenses with me when I walk through Chinatown; a wide angle, a 70 – 300 mm zoom, and the usual go to, an 18 – 135mm zoom.

All of the photos in this post were taken through the 18 – 135.

St. Louis Street is a dark little dead end alley. It’s home to the Waiyang Benevolent Association, Leung’s White Crane Dragon & Lion Dance Association, and two or three other businesses which I might be able to name if I could read Chinese characters.

Saint Louis Alley, Chinatown, San Francisco

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“Beg to report sir, the good ship California is taking on water and is listing to port.”


“It’s raining, it’s pouring,
The old man is snoring …”

It’s been raining and pouring but this old man hasn’t been snoring. He’s a light sleeper, even lighter when anything that isn’t tied down is blowing around the backyard and up and down the block, while sheets of water are slapping the pool cover.
It takes a dark and quiet night for this old man to snore, while the trite old, “dark and stormy night,” has me staring sleeplessly up at the ceiling, hoping it won’t leak.
My phobias don’t include snakes or great white sharks. My phobia is over the need to contact the State Farm adjuster because Mother Nature decided to pee in the living room.
Any man, woman or child, young or old who’s been able to snore through California’s atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones of the past two weeks has got to have been on intravenous melatonin.
I have to wonder how the people just to our east, over on Carson Street are faring. Years ago three homes on that street were condemned when part of the hill looming above, oozed into yards, kitchens and family rooms. The hill still looms. If this old man was living in one of the still standing houses he’d be spending the night downing shots of bourbon while staring out the back window.

Wading room only at the city park

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“Out with the old and in with the new,” goes the old New Year’s saying. The year 2022 decided that it would not go gracefully. I watched 2022’s final stormy afternoon from inside Peet’s Coffee at the local supermarket mall.

The Bay Area was shooting the rapids, metaphorically speaking, of an atmospheric river. Atmospheric river. It’s the weatherperson’s currently in vogue term for what used to be called a gully washer, or a rainstorm, or raining cats and dogs. At the risk of sounding old and out of vogue, I think I prefer the latter terms.

“Out with the old and in with the new.”

Out with torrent and in with atmospheric river.

The vernacular goes through constant change. Words and terms are out and replacements are in. Sometimes the changes are necessary and other times change just guts our language of creativity, color and verve. It turns rich dialectical brioche into sterile, insipid, stale white bread.

Well meaning people make it their job, sometimes with unmitigated presumption, to legislate changes. They sit around a conference room table and sap the energy out of communication. Maybe they aren’t well meaning at all. Maybe they just figure they need something to justify being on the payroll.
“We’ve run out of things to do,” said Stewart.
Miles thought for a moment. “I’ve got it! Let’s sterilize the English language.”

To whatever end, some folks at Stanford University figured they would begin the New Year on a forward-thinking note by unveiling its brand new language guide which aims to “eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and biased … language in Stanford websites and code.”

That’s not an ignoble goal but the end result had Stanford, as the old saying goes, “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Given Stanford’s new guidelines, tossing babies is not a good look, linguistically speaking.

As a writer, or someone who just occasionally plays at writing, I peeked at portions of the guide and was aghast. At some point one has to decide if a change is appropriate correction or ham handed mutilation.

The changes outlined in the new guide include replacing the term “Karen” with “demanding or entitled White woman,” and prisoner with “person who is/was incarcerated.” A homeless person should be referred to as “a person without housing,” as if that’s going to bestow some measure of creature comforts on someone who is, like, you know, without housing.
“I appreciate the new moniker — I guess,” said the person without housing. “But a dry place in which to lay my head would be more helpful.”

The old saying “beating a dead horse” is, according Stanford’s language police, now verboten, as it “normalizes violence against animals.” My dad often used that term and I can’t recall a single moment when it triggered in me some deep seated urge to grab a stick and hunt down a deceased equine in the suburbs of the Bay Area. Oh, and by the way, trigger is also a no-no.

I get it, some words and terms have rightly been put to rest and there are certainly others that should be on the chopping block (Chopping block is probably on Stanford’s taboo term list as it might normalize violence against vegetables. One doesn’t chop an onion. The recipe calls for one cup of an onion converted into smaller pieces).

It seems to me that the Stanford folks went a smidge too far. It’s just another of those instances that has other Americans (American is another forbidden word by the way) looking at the Bay Area as a haven for “fornicating people who lack substantial education,” known in the old lingo as “fucking idiots.”

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