Category Archives: Local events

We went to a World Superbike Race and it was sensationfull


When I first read about the motorcycle races at Laguna Seca and pitched it to Michele, my eyes read FIM Superbike World Championship but my mind read MotoGP World Championship. I really had no idea what the difference was, I now know: Superbikes are like racing Corvettes or Ferrari street cars, MotoGP is like Formula 1, cars built only for racing. In terms of speed, they are much closer than, say, a Ferrari street car and a Ferrari F1 car.

We got to Laguna Seca around noon, in time to wander through the Paddock and get lunch before the race at 2 o’clock. Between twelve and two is also the hottest time of the day and there is not much shade in the Paddock as we looked at various open garages, sweat rolling down our faces, we tried to guess at what we were looking at. There we stood, looking at stunning motorcycles with no real idea of what they were. At first, when it said Factory Team,  I assumed we were looking at genuine Superbikes, but when we wandered over to an area where the Superbikes actually were, they are completely hidden from view. MotoRaces-01767I told Michele, “I have no idea what’s going on and, yet, I am strangely comfortable.” Michele pointed out that I have been coming here for years and it is the place itself that feels comfortable. Thinking about it and doing a little Googling later, I realize that the first race I saw here was November 1957 and I still remember it. Sammy Weiss beat Jack McAfee, both in silver Porsche 550 Spyders; it was one of the best races I have ever seen. But in those days, I knew who the drivers were and I could recognize a Porsche 550 at a thousand paces, here I didn’t even know what engine size each class of motorcycles had, let alone their brand without reading the label, and I didn’t know one driver’s name (at one point, Michele said “I can tell who the best drivers are.”, me “Oh, how?”, “They are the ones with the longest autograph lines.”).

As a disclaimer, I love hot motorcycles, the kind that used to be called, derogatorily by Harley people, at least, Riceburners (even though a lot of the best are Italian). The kind of almost racing bikes that we see on the street, driven by a young kid almost laying down on top of the bike, weaving in and out of traffic. The kind of bikes, like a MV Agusta Brutale 800, that are exquisite pieces of sculpture. If I had the money and space, I would have one in my living room in plex box as a piece of sculpture. MotoRaces MV-02325

In the Paddock, there were almost a hundred exquisite pieces of sculpture, each lovingly handmade, each way more delectable than a Brutale 800 street bike. Some of them were obviously well cared for by wealthy teams and some were just with a guy and his dreams. MotoRaces RC-01743 MotoRaces Suk-01708MotoRaces lg-01789

Over lunch, we talked about watching the race. Since we had no idea what was happening anyway, I suggested that we go for maximum sensation by getting close to the track rather than going for the overview. At two o’clock the first race started…

Watching Grandson Auggie and thinking about the Warriors

Basketball 1 (1 of 1)
A bounce pass to Grandson Auggie who is in the open with an open lane to the basket.

“Thanks for making basketball fun again.”a grim immigration agent at the Canada-US Border when Steph Curry went through after playing in Toronto, as reported in a slightly fawning, but stellar, article in this week’s Sports Illustrated.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Grandson Aggie’s basketball game (well, one of his games). I’ve read that several people have complained that the Warriors are teaching young players bad habits, I don’t think so. To me it seems like Auggie and his friends are running up and down the court, passing back and forth, shooting when they are close to the basket – and the basket is much further away when you are under four feet tall – and having fun. Being kids, they probably didn’t have to learn to have fun by watching basketball on TV, but they might have, because if the Warriors exude anything, it is Having Fun.

I know exactly how that immigration fella, in the quote at the top, felt. The Warriors are on a terrific roll and almost everybody around here is watching; Michele and I sure are. Watching the Warriors is engrossing, nail-biting at times, almost always wildly satisfying, and great fun. Basketball is probably the most athletic mainstream sport anyway, and it can be as graceful as ballet, but it is also a sport that rewards sharing. It turns out that it is fun to watch people having fun sharing.

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Grandson Auggie getting ready to shoot.

The Warriors are taking the fun and the sharing to a new place. As the article in Sports Illustrated points out, they are playing with Joy, just the Joy of playing (and winning). There was a time when I looked down on jocks but I am pretty much over that now. I probably started getting over it watching a pitcher in a tight game, in front of a huge crowd, let go of everything but the task at hand. That ability to concentrate, to stay present, astounds me.  Over and over again. With the Warriors, and Steph Curry in particular, it is the ability to be present in Chaos.

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and Grandson Auggie shoots for two.

To be present in Chaos and pass the ball to somebody with a better chance at a basket even if that person is behind you, is a lesson that the Warriors teach every game. That not bogarting the ball, that not shooting yourself if somebody has a better shot, is a great lesson to be teaching young players. Having fun is an even better lesson, even if it is not needed.

(The YouTube below is only three minutes, check it out to see what fun, exuberant fun!, look like. BTW, Curry is number 30.)


Racism and Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith (1 of 1)An examination of traffic stops and arrests in Greensboro, N.C., uncovered wide racial differences in measure after measure of police conduct. Sharon LaFraniere, Andrew W. Lehren, and Susan Beachy in The New York Times 10/25/2015

Last Wednesday, we saw Anna Deavere Smith at the Stanford Chapel. I would probably only know her as the National Security Advisor on West Wing, if it hadn’t been for a fortuitous blind ticket buy about twenty years ago. We were in L A for my former partner’s widow’s 85th birthday and we decided to see if we could see a play – L A being a hotbed for great, small, local, theater companies – and we ended up in small theater watching  Anna Deavere Smith put on a performance about the Rodney King Riots, called Twilight: Los Angeles 1992,  in which she played all the parts.

To back up, what Anna Deavere Smith did was to interview various people that were involved in the riots, from young black men who broke windows and stole TVs, to a Korean shop owner who was robbed, to LAPD chief Daryl Gates and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. She then tells each part of the story, using the interviewees’ own words and attitude. We were blown away.

Now Smith is an Artist in Residence at Stanford and, last Wednesday, she put on a show that was billed as Letter from Birmingham City Jail. Of course, the center of the show was her reading of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail but what I found most moving was the first reading, Glass All Over My Clothes, which came from an interview with Charlayne Hunter Gault who was one of the first two African-American students to enroll in the University of Georgia. Gault told about how carefully she had packed, wanting her clothes to be just perfect – she had gone to Wayne State, in Detroit, for a year and a half and she thought her clothes looked very look cool and hip – and how a riot of white kids threw bricks through her dorm window, the only window with a light on because every other girl in the dorm had quietly been told to turn their lights off. Anna Deavere Smith embodied the nineteen year old Charlayne Hunter Gault’s feelings of isolation and fear just perfectly.

That feeling of isolation and fear, of not being an equal American – projected large by Anna Deavere Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates in his writings and the drumbeat of cops killing young black men- are the reality of how we treat our fellow citizens. I might have never thrown a rock through a young girl’s dorm window, but in a Letter from Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King reminds me that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice. I have never thrown a rock through a young girl’s dorm window nor did I even know it was happening in 1957 but, I didn’t know and didn’t care only because I was looking the other way.

As an aside: a couple of days ago, I read a book review of KL: A History of The Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann. The KL are not the Nazi Death Camps that we know through the holocaust, but slave labor camps and Wachsmann writes that even though they were not death camps, the mortality rate was about 50% annually. He goes on to say that the only comparable mortality rate was in prisons in the Southern United States after the Civil War in which about 50% of the black prisoners died annually (after about 1880, the death rate dropped to only about 15% annually).  I did not know that appalling fact. The only place that compares with Nazi slave labor camps is the United States, sixty years earlier. End aside.

As much as I want to exonerate the US or only blame people south of the Mason-Dixon Line for the way we have treated black people and, of course, by extension, exonerate myself, with Social Media that exoneration is now impossible. It’s not just slavery or Jim Crow in the South but redlining in the north, it’s California with a 6.6% black population having a black prison population of 29%. In reality, we have been disenfranchising, disempowering, marginalizing, and demonizing, black people since our country was formed. Formed on that grand principle that that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, by men who put the three fifths clause in the Constitution, by men who were more devoted to order than to justice.

The subtitle of  the Letter from Birmingham City Jail is The Negro Is Your Brother and the last performance of Anna Deavere Smith was a story told by John Lewis. Lewis was on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, on Bloody Sunday and he was beaten by a what? civilian volunteer beater? bully? idiot? asshole? take your pick. Lewis goes on to say that the guy approached him about ten years ago, hat in hand. He apologized and asked for forgiveness and, of course, John Lewis forgave him. Lewis went on to say that they have met four times since and now they call each other Brother.

In Twilight: Los Angeles, Anna Deavere Smith quotes Cornel West on Optimism versus Hope, Optimism Is when you look out the window and think things are going well and Hope is when you look out the window and you go, “It doesn’t look good at all, but I’m going to go beyond what I see to give people visions of what could be.”  Looking at how we treat people of color, especially Americans of African heritage, Hope is as good as it is going to get.  Anna Deavere Smith (1 of 1)

Looking for the elusive Pagani in a world of excess

Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-6Last Wednesday and Thursday, Michele and I were stuck in – what seemed like – an endless traffic jam. It was great.

To back up, a couple of weeks ago, Michele suggested we go down to the Monterey Peninsula to see a small car show – small as in only 45 cars, not small as in tiny cars; that would be The Little Car Show +, an entirely different show  – The Mission Classic, in the middle of the week. Not just any week, The Monterey Car Extravaganza Week, the annual get together of cars and car people which has become the biggest car week in the automotive universe. The Week is intense and getting more so every year. There are art shows, tours, nine different car shows, nineteen different car auctions, four days of vintage car racing, and an entire week of lustful car watching much of it while sitting in a traffic jam with other car nuts. It is the only time I don’t mind being stuck in traffic because there is sure to be a couple of interesting cars stuck nearby.

Michele’s suggestion was prompted by her reading that a Pagani Huayra would be at the Mission Classic and, knowing that the Pagani Huayra has become my Holy Grail, she proposed we spend a couple of days on the Monterey Peninsula, looking for it. I have not spent a night during The Week, in years. I used to during the seventies and eighties, but now I will run down for one day, usually with Malcolm and usually at the races . Michele has gone down a couple of times for the races but she has never spent the night, so it was a shock to both of us just how immersed one gets just driving around.

The bigger shock, although not entirely unexpected, was just how much money is involved. When I asked Michele what her first impression was, she said How many rich people there are in one place. Sure, car people come in all wealth brackets – a kid driving a $8,000 1964 Corvair lives in a different world than the old man driving a $1, 500,000 Ferrari LaFerrari, but the Ferrari people – and even more so, the Lamborghini people – take up more psychic space.Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-3 We drive around, seeing cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, just casually parked, with the people walking by on car overload, not even noticing. Monterey 15 (1 of 1) Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-2To increase their exposure Ferrari has even taken over a historic gas station/gift shop at Carmel Highlands, to make it a Ferrari dealership/gift shop/owner oasis. retreat. Inside Ferrari Owners could relax with great wines and food – including the best prosciutto I have ever had and an excellent cappuccino – safely gated off from the hoi polli.Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-5Monterey 15 (1 of 1)-4Outside the Owner Oasis, people – prequalified and almost all men type people – were lined up to take a test drive in one of several Ferrari models. It was hard not to think of the one percent and not in an entirely positive way. Them that’s got shall get, the great Billie Holiday sang, So the Bible said and it still is news. I get the feeling that it was not news here. Here, at the ad hoc Ferrari place, everybody gets the free lunch.

To be contin






After four years, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is free to leave China

Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-2Until I saw Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz show, I knew him more as a dissenter than as an artist. I am not normally a fan of message art – for lack of a better term – but this show was a surprise.

To back up, last April, we went to Alcatraz – for the first time, Alcatraz being one of the many, many, Bay Area attractions that we would see if we were tourists here, but have never gotten around to seeing because we live here – to see an Ai Weiwei installation. I’ve struggled whether to call it a show, protest, art installation, art show, or what, because it is really all of that.

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist who was jailed and released but then confined to China for his art, well, actually for his activism. His show at Alcatraz was put on, in absentia, by the For-Site Foundation, a nonprofit that commissions artwork in public places, and the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy which run  Alcatraz now that it has been decommissioned.

It was a beautiful spring day in San Francisco and on the Bay when we went to the show and it was easy to feel superior about an art installation – to settle on one descriptor – that is being put on in the United States by a guy who is deprived of his freedom in China. But the show, itself, put a lie to that. After all, the installation was at Alcatraz, one of the most notorious prisons in the world, and the thick walls and ever present bars constantly reminded us that the United States is the World Champion of putting people in prison.     Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-4Walking around the island with its view of San Francisco, tantalizing close, seemed so pleasant. However, once inside the cellblock, the view shrunk to an unobtainable dream. We are free and can leave on the next ferry and the inside-out fortress still felt oppressive. Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-5 Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-6For me, the most powerful part of the installation was…well, here is the description from Weiwei’s website:

This sound installation occupies a series of twelve cells in A Block. Inside each cell, visitors are invited to sit and listen to spoken words, poetry, and music by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works made under conditions of incarceration. 

Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)I listened to part of Study for String Orchestra which was written in Auschwitz by Pavel Haas Terezín, an unknown to me, Jewish composer. The music is disturbingly and beautifully upbeat  and, sitting in the empty cell, I wondered how anybody could keep themselves together in those conditions. A couple of cells over, I listened to Pussy Riot’s Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away, and then Martin Luther King, Jr’s plaintive call for an end to the war in Vietnam, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.  

Outside the cell, people were talking, some even laughing, and it was frustratingly hard to hear King’s speech. Sitting in that oppressive cell, with the paint peeling off of thick concrete walls and hard steel bars, prison felt real, less abstract. It is not just being locked up, prison is about having our humanity taken away. Prison is about having control of our own life taken away, it is about living without privacy or power or influence; even over ourselves. That is the point.

Michele and I both left the prison subdued. The size of the infrastructure required to sustain that kind of brutality is horrifying. I suspect that a visit to Alcatraz would always be disturbing but Ai Weiwei’s installation has given the passive ruins a new life.