Category Archives: Around home

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

Blowing up mailboxes

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When I was a kid, a teenager, we blew up a guy’s mailbox several times. I don’t remember the reason, if there was a reason, but it couldn’t have been much of one. But were just beginning to realize our powerlessness as teenagers, on allowances, in a world of rules not of our making.

A couple of years ago now, we were turning right onto 4th Street in San Francisco and a homeless man cut across the street in front of us. He walked as slow as possible, just dawdling across the street while, eventually, four lanes of traffic were stopped, all of us watching him through angry eyes.

The New Yorker has an article about the White House Pressroom in the Trump era. Part of the article is about an infuriating a troll named Lucian Wintrich who is now an accredited reporter complete with a “make America Great Again” hat. According to the article, Wintrich blogs and posts posts like “BuzzFeed Admits Liberal ‘Fake News’ No Longer Works — Points To Gateway Pundits as  News Of Future” after BuzzFeed ran a story  accusing the GateWay Pundit, among other right-wing blogs, of using “alternate facts. Wintrich seems to be smart and he is surely smartass but he seems to be more interested in mocking the news rather than reporting it.

I think the three antidotes above have, as their common denominator, a theme of powerless men trying to exercise the only power they can muster.

A thought on getting a new camera

Yosemite-00079I got a new camera the other day and I am having a harder time, than I expected, adjusting to it; physically, mentally, and, most surprisingly, emotionally. Physically, the camera is much smaller than my antique Canon 5D – which is why I bought it in the first place- and there is not as much real estate on which to put dials so it takes two steps to get to many things I want, like exposure compensation, and my fingers don’t fall on the dials the way I would like. The zoom ring is manual on both cameras but they zoom by rotating the lens in opposite directions. I know that but I don’t remember it when I am looking through the viewfinder. But all of that fades in comparison to the emotional adjustment. Carrying a full-frame SLR around, especially with a tripod, puts one in the Serious Photographer League. Now there are no more head nods from other Serious Photographers and we pass on the trail in Yosemite. That was unexpected and bothers me more than I liked to admit.

The upside is that it is a way more capable tool.



We have a new transportation appliance

IMG_9075It is a Hyundai Tucson and it is a dreaded SUV. it is also one of the very few cars that I’ve owned in which my relationship is passionless. Actually, when I think about it, this Hyundai is the first vehicle l have ever bought from my left brain. We ended up with the Tucson for three reasons, it is one of the few small SUVs that has a differential lock so it should be at least sort of off road capable, we rented a Hyundai on a drive to Albuquerque and it was surprisingly quiet and comfortable, and most importantly, it comes with free service for 75,000 miles – including a brake job and the 60,000 major service – and Hyundai has a 10 year 100,000 miles warranty.

My justification for buying such a practical car – if soulless, using the term very broadly – is that buying this vehicle will be like an arranged marriage in which the bride and groom learn to love each other after the marriage.  And I think it may already be happening. Yesterday, we were driving over a narrow road that had the right shoulder covered in packed snow, I stopped with the two right wheels on the snow and the two left wheels on dry pavement and floored it. The Tucson drove away quicker than I expected with no wheel spin, channeling all the power to the wheels on dry road. That is sort of astounding and it is all done electronically.

Hyundai has taken on the same philosophy as Samsung, trying to get a jump on the competition by betting the house on an emerging technology. Samsung was making cheap TVs, limping along in the world of Cathode Ray Tubes that everybody knew how to make cheaply. They got out of the CRT business and took a flier on the, then, very esoteric and expensive flat screen technology. Now they are the leading manufacturer of flat screen TVs and monitors. With Hyundai, it is the world of auto-related electronics. The car – and I’m using car in the most general sense – drives OK, but it is not outstanding; this is not a car I would take out to drive the Pacific Coast Highway for fun, but it is quiet, comfortable, and fast enough. What is outstanding are the peripherical electronics like door handles that light up when we get close to the car or a tailgate that opens automatically when we stand next to the back of the locked car. I think that it is the electronics that also control the traction.

As an aside, I was reading a couple of days ago, that smartPhones take such good pictures, not because of the lenses, but because the software is getting so good at interpreting the raw data (much like our brain interpreting raw data from the eyes). The reason the software is so effective is because the cost of development can be written off against the sale of a huge number of smartPhones. High-end digital cameras never sell at the same rate resulting in the software, used to fine tune the picture, being much cruder. We are  nearing the time when smartPhones will take better pictures than profesional grade SLRs. End aside.

Ending here seems slightly incomplete but there is not any more to say. In the meanwhile, we are planning our first big  trip…to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Hopefully, the Tucson will work perfectly.


Living the Good Life in the rain

hidden-figuresWe got hit by the big storm over last weekend and, as often happens in our neighborhood, a tree was blown over, taking out the power to three homes. But, to safely work on the power outage, PG&E shut down the whole neighborhood. Sitting in the dark, with no heat, did not seem like the best way to pass a Sunday, even though it was in the 50s outside, so we decamped and went out to a late lunch at La Viga, my favorite upscale Mexican restaurant.

After the distraction of a seafood stew for lunch, we still had a Christmas tree to take down and wanted to go home and get busy. In our new interconnected world, all we had to do was check the PG&E website to get all the details of the power outage and its repair which is handy and would have been even handier if they said we had power. But we still didn’t (although it was on the schedule). We decided to go see a movie because…what else are you going to do on a rainy Sunday. Hidden Figures was on our short list and was just at the right time, so Hidden Figures is was. We were not disappointed.

Hidden Figures is sort of an old-fashioned movie, the kind with a happy ending – wherein the white bosses redeem themselves – that you know is coming. Getting to the ending, however, is a rough journey. The movie centers on three black woman Katherine G. Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, and Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monae, who worked for NASA  as computers in an era when engineers often did the conceptional engineering but the complex and tedious math was done by people called “computers”.

This happy ending is one of those happy endings that leave the audience teary-eyed and it left me a little ashamed and embarrassed as a white privileged male. While this is an uplifting movie about three “colored” women, like any movie about people of color in the 50s and 60s, it is really about race, prejudice, institutionalized segregation, and our ugly past that has only somewhat been diluted in the ensuing years. There are very few white heroes in this movie – duh! – with the notable exception of John Glenn, and the story the movie tells about the interaction between Glenn and “the smart one” is, according to all accounts I can find online, true.

The opening sequence is about the fear that every black person has of the very police whose sworn duty is to protect them. This is 1961 or 1962 in the Jim Crow South and prejudice is institutionalized but that fear of the police, if one is black, sadly is still just common sense anywhere in the United States. Towards the end of the film, one of the white women supervisors, in talking to a black woman who should be a supervisor, says “I have nothing against you” and the black woman answers, “And I believe you believe that”. If all this makes Hidden Figures seem like a downer, it isn’t. The movie is fun, interesting, and touching while feeling very real. I highly recommend it, it is one of the best movies we have seen in the last year.

After the movie, the rain continued and we still had no power so we had a light dinner and returned to the multiplex to see Passengers with Chris Pratt and Jeniffer Lawrence. Passengers is gorgeous, a couple of the special effects are especially good, and Jennifer Lawrence is transcendent but, in the end, it was not what I had hoped.

As an aside, Michele says that I always think Jenifer Lawrence is transcendent which is pretty true, but, in Passengers, her acting is luminous, even for her. End aside.

After Passengers we still didn’t have power so we just went home and climbed into bed. We woke the next morning to a warm house with power, only slightly inconvenienced.