Category Archives: Around home

Happy 4th of July….sort of

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I – all of us really, I think – are constantly barraged with Trump; he is always on the front page of some newspaper and on the cover of at least one mag a week – this week it’s The Economist – he is almost always the lead story on the Daily Show or John Oliver, CNN has become obsessed with him, and my Facebook friends and enemies are  screaming back and forth like they are in the third grade. Trump is changing our world, our country, in a way that I don’t like and I am reminded of that many times every day. This new normal tempers my usual 4th of July enthusiasm, I am both mad at my country and frightened for it. And it’s not just Trump buffoonery, it’s our Forever Wars, our pious outrage when Russia does to our political system what we feel we have the right to do to anybody we damn well please, it’s our slide into a corrupt oligarchy.

But, from here, where we live, from the edge of Silicon Valley, California, USA, it’s a great Fourth! (and the influence in our day to day lives is really in that order). On Saturday, we went to the San Jose Earthquake~Los Angeles Galaxy Soccer Professional Football Game at Stanford. The tickets were from my Little Brother, Edwin, who now works for the Earthquakes. It was a full house – predominately, but far from entirely, upscale Hispanic – and it felt so American. Really, when you think about it, what is more American than the immigrant experience, all of us are from immigrant stock. Immigrants are what turned a backwater set of colonies into the most powerful country the world has ever seen and today, here, in Silicon Valley, immigrants or the sons of immigrants, are changing our world, they have given us Intel, eBay, Google, and Apple to name a couple. Watching The Earthquakes/Galaxy struggle on a cool summer night also felt typically Californian, another form of the Northern/Southern California rivalry. The game itself was great, LA scored early but The Quakes played a better game finally tieing the game at the 75 minute, and then winning during the Stoppage time.

I was going to continue this post with some pictures of the Redwood City 150 Year Anniversary and Parade, for some reason unfathomable to me, I cannot upload them.  The Parade had all the usual players, The Mounted Sheriff’s Patrol, firetrucks – lots of firetrucks which came early in the Parade –  and our local SWAT Team marching through the streets like an occupying army, but it also had lots of floats and marchers that would not fit in most parts of America. The largest group at the parade, by far, was Falun Dafa, which touts that it is an advanced self-cultivation practice of the Buddha School and the DAR was represented by the Gaspar de Portola Chapter – which, since Portola was the first governor of Baja California having been appointed by the Spanish crown in 1767, is more irony than I can grasp standing up –  for example.

Anyway, while it is still July, I want to say, again, Happy Fourth of July.

Catherine Santos R.I.P.

Catherine A-00973My friend Catherine Santos died late last week. She was 91 and died peaceably, in bed, with her beloved dog lying next to her and her daughter holding her hand. Catherine was a pioneer and smart – and literate, her email address was Hypatia 5 – and funny, very funny. She was tough and kind and always a joy to be around. Oh, and she was very English (despite marrying a Spaniard).

I first met her on my first day at Shapell Homes – I was 31 and had just been hired as a General Superintendent by the guy who would later be my partner, Sam Berland – and she was the lone salesperson on a condo project in Cupertino. I soon learned that she had been my new boss’s secretary at Kaufmann & Broad and Sam had run interference for her when she decided she wanted to be a salesperson rather than a secretary. Now that seems like a no-brainer, but then – about 1968 –  there were no women sales people in what was know as merchant housing; selling new houses was considered a man’s job.

When Catherine got her license, Sam leaned on K&B’s very reluctant sales department to give her a job. At the time, the best salesperson K&B had in Northern California was selling an upgrade project in Foster City which was particularly difficult because the houses were spread around the town in onesies and twosies rather than the usual tract configuration, it was not a place for a novice (which was, of course, the whole point). The salesman, who didn’t want any help, and the tract superintendent were the only people who knew where each individual house was. To show that woman couldn’t sell production houses, the Sales Manager had put Catherine on the hardest job the company had.

In the first month, Catherine sold almost as many houses as the so-called Golden Boy. In the second month, she outsold him. The next month, Catherine was selling three houses for every two sold by her male counterpart. A year later, most of the salespeople at Kaufman & Broad were women, although none were as good as Catherine. The world had changed.

Now she is gone and the world has changed again, it is a little darker place. Rest in Peace, friend Catherine, you’ve earned it.

The definition of Irony

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Aloe plicatilis, from the Western Cape in South Africa, growing in a pot.
Neglected Aloe millii growing in a pot in the shade.

Several years ago, Richard, Tracy, Michele, and I went to a famous succulent garden in Bolinas (garden is maybe misleading, it was three big greenhouses and about a half-acre of planting beds with various species of succulents, mostly Euphorbias and famous is a relative word here, famous in the succulent community). The owner was a doctor and this garden was his hobby and, he explained, most of the plants were planted in the ground because they grew much faster (and they could be heavily fertilized). He more than explained it actually, he was an evangelist on planting specimens in the ground and dragged us around the garden showing us, “Look, this Aloe maculata grows OK in a pot but when I plant it in the ground, it goes crazy, and, look, look at this Euphorbia millii, it won’t even grow in a pot – well, it grows, but just barely – but put it in the ground and it grows everywhere. You’ve got to start growing plants in the ground, they go crazy.” And on and on.

He was a nice guy and interesting but he was obsessed with getting the plants to grow as fast as possible; obsessed with growth. When we left, the doctor gave us a cutting of a delightful little Aloe ciliaris which I put in a pot where it grew very well. When it got large enough, we took cuttings and planted them in the ground. Now, maybe 15 years later, the Aloe ciliaris in the pot is doing great and the cuttings we put in the ground are barely hanging on.

Oh! and the doctor is an oncologist.

A Spring(ish) Easter

Oaks-00387Last week it was cool and sunny, Easter was warmer and drizzling, and the Oaks around our place are loving it. As they are leafing out, their green is psychedelic. It is the time of rebirth; the wettest rebirth in years.

For the first time in at least five years, the reflecting pool at The Water Temple has actual water. Water Temple-00402

A little more than 100 years ago, when San Francisco had a population of way less than half a million, they realized that the lack of water would be a problem for growth. The solution was expensive but straightforward, build a water pipe from the Sierras, starting at the Yosemite of the Tuolumne – they must have figured that, since they had two Yosemites and only needed one, the slightly less dramatic Yosemite of the Tuolumne would make a perfect reservoir – running across the Great Central Valley, to Crystal Springs Lakes on the San Francisco peninsula. The pipeline took over twenty years to build including the 430-foot high O’Shaughnessy Dam and, in the 1930s, the project and pipeline ended with the construction of the Pulgas Water Temple.

In front of the Water Temple, is a several mile straight section of Cañada Road that starts on a hill overlooking the Temple and goes south to Edgewood Road. From the road at the top of the hill, a driver can see the entire straight section, making it a great place for impromptu drag races. When I was about sixteen, some guys started using the straight section for semi-organized night races. Those races lasted for several weeks until they were busted, but not until after in got serious enough that some people were bringing cars in on trailers. The irony is that they weren’t busted by the police or Highway Patrol, they were busted by a mother of one of the spectators. She had heard about it from her son, went up to the Water Temple to see for herself, and then wrote an article in the local newspaper saying that the community needs a real drag strip to keep the kids off of the streets.

Later, I don’t remember how long, with the crusading mother leading the way, the Half Moon Bay Airport became that drag strip. Still later, driving my early 50s International 3/4 ton stake bed truck, I raced a friend there who was driving a late 40s Plymouth Station Wagon. It was a very slow race.

Superbloom Mania

Superbloom-00345I’ve had a nasty winter cold for almost a month but, with antibiotics, I’ve been getting better. We decided to celebrate by driving down to the Carizzo Plain, last Sunday, to see the northernmost Superbloom. Spending 14 hours driving down, luxuriating in the flowers, saving a stranded family, and driving back home pretty much wiped me out but it was well worth it.

The biggest difference between this trip and earlier trips is that the main roads leading to the Carizzo Plain were packed. Superbloom2-00321Superbloom3a-00326Superbloom3-00318

When we got to the Carizzo Plain itself, it was even more crowded. We decided to leave the main road and cross the valley to an area that had great flowers the last time we were here but is off the beaten track. Superbloom4-00339We drove down a crowded Soda Lake Road and then turned onto Panorama, driving by a Road Closed sign.  I want to put in a disclaimer of sorts, we drove past the sign because 1) I had read the road was passable in a trusted flower report, 2) we know the area, 3) we have a lot of experience driving in drying but still wet playas, and 4) we were driving slowly. As expected, the road was very passable, requiring thoughtful driving only as we drove through the saturated low point of the valley (OK, graben if you want to be technical).  On the other side, as we were heading to one of our favorite places in the Carizzo area, Superbloom6-00352we were waved down by a lone, slightly frantic, Chinese guy. He explained, in a very thick accent, that he had come here with his family and his van got stuck in the mud at the low point (both of the road and his experience, I guess). The problem was that he had left the main road, the already slightly dicey main road, and was following an unused powerline maintenance road that was obviously – to Michele and me, at least – not passable. Apparently, he wasn’t actually following the roads, he was following his GPS. In his mind, it was his GPS that betrayed him not that he had made a stupid mistake. This is not a stupid person, he had come from China to work for Intel in Sacramento but he had greatly underestimated how fast things can turn to shit off-road.

We took him, who I am going to call Mr. Wei even though that is probably not his name, back to his stuck van. It was a drive of a couple miles down a road that I would not have normally tried, where his family was waiting, in the mud, in the bright sun, understandably frightened. The road got increasingly soft as we slowly dropped down into the flat flood plain and we stopped a couple hundred feet before the stuck van, and it was really stuck, nose down in the muck. It was obvious that they – the very chagrined father, his mother visiting from China, his wife Ting, and, his daughter with a name like Victoria, – had tried mightily to dislodge the van but with zero success. As an aside, when we first got to the van, I thought the daughter was the wife’ younger sister. It reminded me that, when we were underage, we used to go to a Chinese grocery to buy cigarettes on the theory that they had no idea how old we were. The subtle clues that we use to determine age don’t seem to transfer between Asians and Europeans. To my very inexperienced eye, Asian women seem to jump between three age categories, children, young women, and old crones, without any identifiable transition period. To my eye, the mother and daughter were sisters, a couple of years apart and I would sell cigarettes to either one. End aside.Superbloom5-00349

After wasting about an hour on trying to get the van out, we loaded the family into our Hyundai, which seemed to be doing pretty well in its first off-road experience, and backtracked to the Visitor Center which had just closed. There were lots of people and cars around, but no phones, or cell service, and we were reluctant to just drop the family. But there were two big Ranger Trucks, fully rigged 4 wheel drive Ford 350s perfectly suited to pulling the van out – to be exact – and I wandered around trying to find their owners. I finally found the rangers who told me that it was against government regulations for them to help and we should drive about ten miles up to yonder hill that had cell phone reception where we could call a tow truck and also, by the way, only Westside Towing would come out here. Apparently, the two fully equipped ranger trucks were only for decoration. I can sort of understand that, Mr. Wei was not the first guy to get stuck, I’m sure, and pulling people out of the mud was not the Rangers’ job (of course, why have those very expensive, very capable, trucks, then?). The good news is that there was another Chinese guy with a dead battery and Westside Towing was on their way over with a new battery. We all agreed that Mr. Wei and family would wait for the tow truck and we would leave. A little after five, we finally drove down Panorama Road across the valley and over to the Trembler Range. Superbloom7-00362Superbloom8-00363As the day ended, we had seen much less of the Monument than we had hoped, but we still had a five-hour drive ahead of us (well, five hours including a stop in Paso for guacamole, short rib tacos, a mezcal cocktail for Michele, and a glass of red wine for me). We got home just in time to go to bed.Superbloom9-00378