A few comments and photos from the Golden State …   Leave a comment

Seems I’ve been a bit of a slacker in adding a new post! Although I don’t have too much to say at this point, I have added a few photos that I’ve taken since I’ve been here. (Some of these photos were taken during my trip to Port Townsend, WA during the summer of 2013.)

I will say that so far, Santa Rosa seems to be a pretty good fit for me. For the most part, S.R. is pretty laid back and has a much nicer feel than many of the other California towns I have visited, such as the affluent and pretentious Walnut Creek, and the gritty and politically conservative logging town of Willits (aka, “the pits”). Santa Rosa, located about an hour north of San Francisco, has a population of about 170, 000; its racial composition is approximately 60% Caucasian, 30% (seems a lot more) Hispanic, 5% Asian, 2% native American, 2% African-American and one “token” Samoan.

Although we have been in a serious drought since I arrived in March, 2013, and even though recent summers have been unseasonably hot, I really enjoy northern California’s Mediterranean climate. Typically, evenings here are cool, even during the summer, and winters are chilly and intermittently wet, just the type of climate that coastal redwoods (and I) prefer. Although the summers are usually pretty dry, coastal redwoods are able to get much-needed moisture from the morning fog that typically blankets northern coastal California (as well as the southwestern coast of Oregon). While coastal fogs provide most of their moisture needs during the summer, coastal redwoods receive most of their water needs during the winter from heavy rainfall. Unfortunately, only 5% of the original coastal redwood population that existed before the appearance of Europeans remains! And there’s no doubt that California’s mega-drought has caused severe stress to the surviving coastal redwoods. Since many authorities feel that plants can feel distress, lets just imagine that this distress could be vocalized by the redwoods as it was by the botanical beast, Audrey II, in the “Little Shop of Horrors”. Instead of repeatedly yelling out “Feed me. Feed me”, as Audrey II did, the coastal redwoods would be imploring, “Water me. Water me”.

By the way, the world’s tallest tree, recently recorded at a height of 382′, is a coastal redwood known as Hyperion, and is located within the Redwood National Forest. The tree’s location has (allegedly) been kept “secret” since, according to park botanists,  “even slight root damage from visitors would likely result in its top dying off”.

Today is voting day (although I started this post in March, 2014, I just got around to finishing/posting it!). One of the reasons that I’m here in California is that I’m not assaulted by political ads (on posters and TV stations) from extremist right-wing groups!  (Seems the political left, at least in California, feels that there’s no need to skewer the opposing party!)

Redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve

Coastal redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve

Colonel Armstrong Redwood Tree

Coastal redwood known as “Colonel Armstrong”

Petrified Redwood Displayed at "Petrified Redwood Forest". I initially thought that this site was actually a state or federal park but it's actually privately owned and operated (read: admission fees)

Petrified redwoods displayed at “Petrified Redwood Forest”. I initially thought that this site was a state or federal park but it’s actually a privately owned and operated “attraction” (read: admission fees).

Panorama Photo of Bodega Bay (remember Hitchcock's "The Birds"?)

Panorama photo of Bodega Bay (one of the sites where Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was filmed)

Clam Beach near Arcata, CA

Clam Beach, near Arcata, CA

Elk observed in Elk Meadows, redwood National Park, CA

Elk observed in Elk Meadows, Redwood National Park, CA

Mount Shasta, as observed from I5 rest stop

Mount Shasta, as observed from I-5 rest stop

Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta

Lupines at Hurricane Ridge, Olympia National Park

Lupines at Hurricane Ridge, Olympia National Park

Port Townsend Yacht Club

Port Townsend Yacht Club. Not the kind of place that I would normally frequent but the assemblage of “boats” made for interesting viewing/photography.

Western Flyer, fishing boat used by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row. This boat was submerged in Anacortes and after raising, was transported to boat repair yard in Port Townsend, WA. Unfortunately, boat has yet to be repaired and owner is currently in arrears for boatyard storage.

“Western Flyer”, the fishing boat used by John Steinbeck in his novel, “Cannery Row”. This boat was submerged in Anacortes, CA and after raising, it was transported to boat repair yard in Port Townsend, WA. Unfortunately, this derelict boat has yet to be repaired and owner is currently in arrears for boatyard storage fees.

Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA

Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge

Sundial Bridge. Shadow that is cast is used to tell time of day.

Sundial Bridge. Shadow that is cast is used to tell time of day.

Sundial Bridge. Time of day is displayed by location of shadow on this ground structure.

Sundial Bridge. Time of day is displayed by location of shadow on this ground structure.

Panorama of rolling hills, inland from Santa Rosa

Panorama of rolling hills – east of Sonoma County, CA

Victoria Bay, BC. As seen by ferry that I took from Port Angeles, WA

Victoria Bay, BC,  as seen from ferry that I took from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, BC

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Although I'm not that much of a "tombstone tourist", the S.R. Rural Cemetery is very cool. Besides its historical value, the cemetery is interspersed with lots of trees. It provides a great walking experience as there are lots of oak tree - shaded trails, bordered by graves, to walk along. My sister, Toni, being a great fan of interesting cemeteries, would undoubtably love the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery!

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Although I’m not that much of a “tombstone tourist”, the S.R. Rural Cemetery is very cool. Besides its historical interest, the cemetery is interspersed with lots of trees. It provides a great walking experience as there are lots of oak tree – shaded trails, bordered by historic tombstones, to walk on. My sister, Toni, being a great fan of interesting cemeteries, would undoubtedly love the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery!

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Plaque

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Plaque

Santa Rosa rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Civil War Veteran.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Civil War Veteran Tombstone

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Civil War Veteran

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Civil War Veteran Tombstone

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Couple of Musicians at Practice.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Couple of musicians at practice.

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Bodega Bay, CA

Bodega Bay, CA. Good location to observe gray whales during seasonal migration. Breathtakingly beautiful views; just make sure to bring along some warm clothes!

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Posted March 11, 2014 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

What Egyptian Policy?: The Intractable Influence of the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex   Leave a comment

Hard to believe but it appears that I agree (well, not entirely, and certainly not all of the time) with a Republican!

I’m referring to Senator John McCain’s stand on our policies (or lack thereof) towards Egypt and Syria. Both he and I, and hopefully, countless others, find that it’s absolutely appalling that we sit idly by and allow Egypt’s military to kill its Muslim citizens – without even a hint requital. The very least we should do is cut off our yearly $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt. I find it amazing that (seemingly) the primary reason we haven’t cut off these funds is because of the possible economic effects that cutting aid may have on several U.S. military manufacturers that supply weapon systems to Egypt. Seems we are allowing these unscrupulous contractors to provide the bloodthirsty Egyptian military with weapons that they in turn use to kill their very own citizens. Former president Eisenhower had it dead right when he warned us of the emerging power of the military-industrial complex. Can you imagine any of today’s Republicans suggesting that we place restraints on the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. Department of Defense and its horde of military contractors? Apparently, the greedy, insatiable war making industry has evolved to the point where it has a death grip on our country’s policy making.

Denmark is looking better with every passing day!

Posted August 20, 2013 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Nation Under Siege From Within   Leave a comment

 

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Nation under Siege From Within

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Contrary to the previous claims of former president George W. Bush, we didn’t have to look outside the United States for weapons of mass destruction. These weapons have existed and continue to exist in ever-larger numbers and in ever-increasing lethality right here in America: Assault Weapons. And guess what, you can purchase one of these WMDs from a private seller at a gun show without even having to have an FBI background check performed. How crazy is that?

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There can be no doubt that every man, woman and child in this country has been deeply saddened by the recent unspeakable, unfathomable mass murder of twenty precious children and six heroic adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Having said that, I strongly feel that all NRA members and supporters who have felt that it should be legal to possess assault weapons are complicit in this horrific atrocity. This complicity extends to all members of Congress and the Senate who have opposed “meaningful” gun control legislation. Also bearing responsibility for this heinous act was the late mother of the shooter. How could this parent, who should have had the most intimate knowledge of her son’s conflicted mental state, have kept an arsenal of extremely lethal weapons in the same house with her deeply troubled child?

Unfortunately, James Madison did not provide sufficient clarity to the drafting of the Second Amendment. Consequently, its interpretation was left up to the prevalent political ideologies of future Supreme Courts, the most recent of which decided in favor of the gun aficionado community by declaring that the Second Amendment conveys the right to bear arms to private citizens, not just those affiliated with state militias. It should be noted, however, that the latter interpretation was intimated in an earlier Supreme Court decision (U.S. v. Miller, 1932), which suggested to many that gun ownership was linked to service in state militias.

Although the exact intent of the Framers of the Constitution with respect to the Second Amendment is unclear, we can be most certain that they did not intend for firearms to be as ubiquitous and especially – as lethal – as they are in today’s America. Seems that the NRA has hijacked this amendment!

Even when considering the most recent interpretation of the Second Amendment as being the “law of the land”, exercising the “right to bear arms” demands great discretion and responsibility. Although the First Amendment allows freedom of speech, it does not, however, allow unrestricted freedom of speech, e.g. no one can falsely shout fire in a crowded theatre. Consequently, restrictions MUST be placed on the ownership and usage of firearms.

Regarding the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that was implemented in 1994 and expired in 2004, it’s hard to imagine why any civilized country would allow such a ban to lapse. The very name of this weapon accurately describes it utility.

Not only should the ban on purchasing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines be reinstituted, the ban should be extended to prevent the ownership of assault weapons as well. (Perhaps the states or the federal government should institute a gun buyback program [as the Australians have successfully done].

It should also be noted that the original assault weapon ban was not restrictive enough and a new assault weapon ban should include an expanded list of banned weapons and high-capacity magazines. The definition of what constitutes an assault weapon also needs to be redefined so that unscrupulous gun dealers and buyers cannot use “workarounds” to make these weapons even more lethal than they already are.

To be sure, the response to these gun-related mass murders can’t be confined only to the enactment of stricter gun laws. (For one thing, the supply of guns in this country is so vast that even if there were to be a total ban on all guns right now, the existing stockpile of guns is so enormous that the “half-life” of guns that are in circulation today would likely extend for thousands of years.)

Another major factor contributing to gun-related murders, especially to mass murders, is the lack of recognition and treatment of mental disorders. Most of the recent mass murderers have displayed similar character traits and even though these people were generally considered to be troubled, virtually none of them were ever treated and those that were treated obviously did not receive adequate treatment.

Although Congress has passed background check laws for prospective gun buyers, they mysteriously exempted unlicensed private gun sellers who ply their trade in gun shows throughout the country. Assuming that this outrageous loophole in the FBI background checking system is closed, background checks should be performed not only on prospective gun buyers but should also be performed on family members or on anyone else residing in the residence where firearms may be kept. These background checks should include thorough mental evaluations of all parties who may have access to guns.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”. What we need are villages to protect a child. We need our communities to be able to recognize and report mentally unstable behavior. We also need additional training of teachers and school counselors so they can better recognize the signs of problematic behavior among their students.

Although schools cannot and should not be turned into armed fortresses, security should be increased within realistic limits. Our schools should not only be centers of learning, but should also provide a safe haven for our children.

We should also enlist the services of staff and volunteers to provide greater surveillance of the school grounds. Since many of this country’s school shootings have involved deranged men who were conspicuously dressed (in tactical clothing) and were carrying gun-containing duffel bags, there’s a good chance that any future presence of individuals with the mind-set of these shooters could be detected by properly trained staff and volunteers.

Obviously, reinstating the ban on assault weapons, providing increased recognition and treatment of mentally unstable individuals, and increasing security in public meeting spaces will not put an end to all mass murders; it will, however, most likely reduce the frequency and intensity of these horrific events that have been occurring at an ever alarming frequency and intensity. Lives will be spared and the saving of even one life will certainly be well worth the inability of a few gun enthusiasts to own assault weapons.

America, please do not let the death of these precious twenty children (and the six heroic school staff members) of Sandy Hook Elementary School have been in vain.

remembering-those-that-died

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Posted December 19, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

Sights and Sounds from Port Townsend   Leave a comment

Port Townsend Saturday Market

                 

 

 

Some local Wildflower Groupies:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted July 21, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

Stanley Park, Vancouver … well, almost   1 comment

Believing that Angie and Cliff were to return in the very near future, I decided to explore a few new places in the Pacific northwest area while the opportunity presented itself. I had planned on visiting Bellingham, WA sometime during my house-sitting stay – not only to scout out the town as a potential relocation site – but also to attempt to locate a former Mayo Clinic rehab house acquaintance (Robert B.) that I met  following knee replacement surgery last year. (Residents of the rehab facility are housed together, often up to several weeks on the same floor, and since meals are shared in a common dining hall, many long-lasting friendships are often forged during this time. There’s nothing like the shared agony of joint replacement rehabilitation to form a bond between people!) I had already attempted to contact Robert several times by email and phone but so far, I have yet to receive a response from him!? (and yes, he very willingly gave me his contact info). I mentioned in my last voice mail message to him that I was in the Seattle area and wanted to look him up during an upcoming trip to Bellingham. (My message even stated that if he was unavailable, would he just let me know if his healing was progressing as hoped.)

Since I was planning on being in Bellingham (which is only 2o miles from the Canadian border and about 50 miles from Vancouver), I thought that I might as well continue my journey into British Columbia and visit “world-famous” Stanley Park in Vancouver. Besides the usual touristy attractions, the immense park (1000 “U.S. acres”/400 “Canadian hectares”) contains a fine selection of (replica) totems and an urban forest (containing some massive old growth trees known as monument trees which somehow escaped the loggers’ axes and saws) which I had hoped to explore. Also located in the forest section is a riparian/wetlands feature known as Beaver Lake, which in 2008 was “re-populated” with beaver (one) for the first time in 60 years. It’s amazing how many places (e.g., Bear Creek, Cougar Park, Redwood Cove) are known for the animals/plants that were extirpated from the area.

I had already scouted out (using an internet travel site) a couple of hotels that seemed reasonably affordable and that garnered so-so reviews. (All the hotels with decent reviews were priced upwards of $100 and most were located in downtown Vancouver. I’m not going to shell out that kind of money for a place to sleep for one night! Now if I had a traveling companion, I’d consider forking out $100+ for a room – providing of course, that the tab was split.)

Bellingham & Vancouver bound. The journey to Bellingham from Port Townsend takes about two and a half hours and starts with a 30 minute ferry ride from PT (only ten minutes from “my” house) to Whidbey Island.  The rest of the journey is by car and involves traveling a mostly scenic state highway through the (usually) non-congested roads of Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island for some 60 miles, and then driving I5 for the rest of the trip. The most notable scenic setting I encountered during my trek was Deception Pass, a strait that separates these two islands and which is surrounded by Deception Pass State Park, the most visited state park in Washington. The Deception Pass bridge spans 1500′ and towers some 180′ over the dark azure waters of Skagit Bay below. These views regularly draw throngs of tourists and rightfully so: they are magnificent to behold. (By journey’s end I wish I would have taken the time to stop and join the tourists and local nature lovers as they gazed in awe of the spectacular views presented by the juxtaposition of rocky cliffs, lush-green coniferous forests and sun-glistened deep blue waters.)

The trip itself was uneventful all the way into Vancouver. I didn’t linger in Bellingham as I planned to spend more time there on the return trip back from Vancouver. Of course, driving to Vancouver meant that I had to stop at the Canadian/U.S. border crossing. Here I encountered only a minor delay of 15 to 20 minutes or so, first waiting in a relatively short line of cars, followed by being interviewed for about 20 seconds as to the purpose of my visit and the length of time I planned to be in Canada. And then, I was on my way. So far, so good.

I then decided to check out the two “economy” hotels (priced at ~$75 each) on the outskirts of town before proceeding into the big city of Vancouver. First on this list was the “Economy Inn” in Surrey, some 15 miles from Vancouver. The hotel appeared to be pretty rundown and was quite unsightly. It was in dire need of renovation – preferably starting with complete demolition. (The outside of the hotel looked so bad that I had absolutely no desire to look at the rooms.)  On to my 2nd (and last) hope for decent affordable night’s lodging. The next hotel on the list was a “Superb 7 Motel”, located near the Vancouver International Airport. (I had stayed at a “Superb 7” in Santa Fe, NM a few years back and was quite impressed with the hotel – of course, it was relatively new and in great condition.) Well … all I can say about the Vancouver airport “Superb 7” is that there’s absolutely nothing superb about it! It was located next door to what looked like a run-down homeless shelter and honestly, I couldn’t tell the two apart. Leaning against the railing on the 2nd floor of the “Superb 7” were two guys that looked like some of the extras from the HBO prison series, “OZ”. Passing on this place was a no-brainer! I gunned the Jetta as I drove by and decided that I would not be spending the night in Vancouver.

Instead of staying overnight in Vancouver, I decided to just visit Stanley Park (SP) and then drive back to Bellingham and spend the night there. Vancouver traffic was quite heavy, even for a Sunday, and I guess I didn’t realize how large and congested this British Columbia city actually is.

After enduring miles and miles of stop and go traffic, I was gradually making my way along Granville St., just about two miles from the park, when I stopped for yet another traffic light. The light changed to green but the car balked and stalled – much to my surprise and alarm. I quickly put the car in park and attempted to restart the engine but nada – the engine wouldn’t turn over. Since I had not previously used the emergency flashers, in a brief state of panic I could not locate them and frantically waved my arm out the window in an effort to warn the stacked-up traffic behind me of my plight. Finally after what seemed like an eternity – but was probably only twenty seconds – I tried the ignition again and the car – much to my relief – started. I then quickly drove to a side street to contemplate my next move.

Being in a strange town and driving somebody else’s car left me feeling uncertain as to my next move (I was also having a little Seattle deja vu). I decided to try driving on some side streets that would hopefully take me close to SP, if not directly to the park. As I resumed my drive towards the park, the car stalled again. What the &%$!!?  Fortunately, it quickly restarted and I was on my way … again.

My journey along the side streets quickly ended as I encountered nothing but dead ends and had to return to the Granville St. path to Stanley Park. Just after resuming my journey on Glanville St., I looked in the general direction of the park and I could see that the traffic ahead was becoming very dense. Not wanting to take a chance on having the Jetta stall in the middle of the congestion, I elected to just park the car and walk the additional mile and a half or so, to SP. Good idea, huh? Unfortunately, it seems that Vancouver is one of those cities that has parking meters blanketing the entire downtown section and – no doubt to the dismay of millions of tourists – the city does not offer free parking on Sundays!

Okay, so they charge for Sunday parking. Surely I could come up with the loot to pay for a few hours of parking! And then I noticed another problem: the parking time limit was two hours! (and you cannot move and “re-park” in another spot). And on top of that, I only had enough change ($1.00) for 40 minutes of parking. Luckily, the meters offered another option: you can use your cell phone to call and charge up to two hours of parking with a credit card. Even if I did this, I didn’t think two hours would be enough time for me to walk the two+ miles (round trip) and also walk though the 1000 acre park. But then I decided that since I had come this far, I would go ahead and pay the ~$3 for two hours of parking, walk briskly to SP, and enjoy as much of the park that I could  in my allotted time.

After calling the designated “parking meter credit-card payment option” number, I was informed that I had to first set up an account which required entering my assigned parking location number, license number, date of birth, draft card number, etc.. Guess I wasn’t really surprised, when about two-thirds of the way through this very cumbersome process, that my cell phone battery died. Indeed! (Although I had experienced some car issues during an earlier trip to Seattle, I was at least able to park the car [Sunday parking in Seattle is free!] and walk to most of the places I wanted to visit.) Yes, I could have gotten more change and tried getting another parking spot closer to Stanley Park, but even if I could have found a parking spot close to the park, I would only have about 90 minutes to spend visiting the park itself, and of course, I would be running the risk of having the Jetta stall again in the more congested downtown area. (Perhaps I’m just too risk averse?) So near … yet so far. Guess Stanley Park will have to wait for another day … and another car. No beaver or totem photos, no monument-tree sightings, nada. After using most of my allotted 40 minutes of parking being reinvigorated at a nearby Starbucks with a slice of banana nut bread and a grande iced tea, I decided it was time to head back to Bellingham.

As I was getting ready to get into my car, I noticed one of Vancouver’s finest – a meter maid, aka as “green hornets” (for the green uniforms they used to wear) – and asked her if she could direct me to a less traveled street, allowing me to bypass most of the congestion I had faced on my way into downtown Vancouver. She paused a bit and then informed me that she had a rough day and that her brain was frazzled from the excessive heat. Excessive heat? It was 73 degrees – yes 73 – in Vancouver. Compared with Charlotte, North Carolina’s, 103 degrees recorded on the same day, Vancouver’s 73 degrees was downright cool. Frazzled? Guess writing out all those parking tickets to unwary tourists can wear a person out.

While I was talking to her, I noticed that she was busy with some kind of electronic hand-held device and for some stupid reason, I thought that perhaps this device displayed a map of the area and that she was looking for alternate routes that I could take. After several seconds passed without her saying anything, I asked her again – assuming that she was silent because she was preoccupied with trying to discover another route. Wrong, wally! She again responded – this time more emphatically than the first – by telling me that her brain was really frazzled and she just couldn’t think straight. Apparently, she had been using this device to check the parking start-time of a car next to mine to determine if they were still within their allotted parking time limit. Unfortunately for the car’s owners, they were about five minutes over their limit. Suddenly, it seemed that the meter maid’s brain became unfrazzled and she was able to start thinking straight again as she quickly wrote up a parking citation and deftly placed it under the over parked car’s wiper blade. (One of the police officers in Duncan [“the city of totems”] had warned me that the meter maids in Vancouver were very aggressive about issuing parking violations … and I might add, they’re not too helpful to tourists.)

Looking forward to a hot shower and a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bug-free bed, I headed south for the border, down Bellingham way (Ay-ay-ay-ay, ay-ay-ay-ay). The Jetta experienced no more stalling spells on the way back and was even able to endure an hour’s wait at the border crossing.

My first order of business upon returning to Bellingham was to locate a decent hotel and it didn’t take long to find just exactly one. I discovered a Quality Inn, located just a few minutes from the interstate in a nice quiet, yet restaurant-accessible spot. Compared with the two “hotels” that I looked at on the outskirts of Vancouver, the QI looked to me like the Taj Majal. Although the cheapest rate I could negotiate was $85 (about $20 more than I would normally pay for lodging), I was not in the mood to try to locate a cheaper hotel and besides, I felt that I deserved to be pampered – at least for a night, anyway.  The room was terrific: the AC worked great, the TV offered HBO and the bed was comfy and bug-free. For dinner, I enjoyed a great meal at an excellent Thai restaurant located close by. The waiter even treated me to a refill of my Thai ice tea! All was well.

What about Bob? After departing QI, I decided to engage in a little detective work and see if I could locate Robert (the guy I met at the Mayo rehab house). Just what I was going to do when I found his address was another story, particularly in light of the fact that he never responded to any of my many attempts to reach him. (It has crossed my mind that perhaps he was “incapable” of returning my messages but if that was the case, I should not have continued to receive his phone voice mail greeting.) Although he only gave me his cell number, I Googled his name and, based on his phone number, I was easily able to determine his address.

Turns out – not surprisingly – that the address I obtained was quite a ways out-of-town. Finally, after about 30 minutes of driving, most of which was spent creeping along about three miles of serpentine back roads, I located his house. Now what? After driving by his house a couple of times, I concluded that somebody had to be home as the front door was open and I could hear sounds coming from inside.  Still not feeling sure that I should be here, I screwed up my courage and pulled the car in front of the house. Just as I was about to reach for the car door handle, a very large dog suddenly appeared and started barking vociferously.

It didn’t take but a millisecond for the dog’s unwelcoming behavior to make up my mind for me. Since Robert had never responded in any way to my attempts to contact him, I really had no business being there and his(?) dog’s unreceptive greeting made that all too clear. At least I knew I had some pretty good private investigator skills. Falling short in my efforts to personally meet Robert, I decided to head to Seattle where I planned to do some apartment investigations.

Aunt Edna’s (“Family Vacation”) most recent resting place. (Coming soon to a garage sale near you.)

Apartment searching in the Emerald City. Although I really love Port Townsend, I still have some reservations about its lack of medical specialists, especially in the GI field and have been considering the possibility of living in Seattle – although not in the downtown section. Besides the extreme congestion, expensive apartments and frequent late-night random drive-by shootings (sometimes I enjoy going out for evening strolls), I need to be close to some wooded walking trails and the only walking to be done in downtown Seattle is on side walks.

I wanted to personally check out a few apartments (that looked promising on the internet) in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle. (And although I was a bit concerned about driving the car in more congested stop and go traffic, the Jetta has been acting fine since Vancouver.) I was informed by my Port Townsend dentist that Bellevue was a lot like Seattle and even though I knew it was a Seattle suburb, I had hoped that it wasn’t as built up and congested. Assuming that he might be right – at least about the downtown section of Bellevue – I decided to check out a couple of apartments on the outskirts of town. 

Apartment rent in Seattle and its surrounding suburbs is quite high. Rents generally range from $900 for a studio up to $3,000 and more for the more spacious and luxurious apartments – the ones that only people such as Microsoft employees can afford. (From what I understand, Microsoft employs about 41,000 people in the Seattle area and the median starting salary is nearly $87,000. I have also read that about 12,000 current and former Microsoft employees are millionaires. That said, when you also consider the salaries that other companies such as Amazon and Boeing pay, it’s not hard to understand the exorbitant rents that most of these apartment complexes can charge. Being a retired biologist/environmentalist and not being a major (or even minor) Microsoft stockholder, I of course, am looking for rent on the lowest rung of Seattle’s rental rate ladder.

I was able to check out two apartment complexes but was unable to personally inspect any apartments in either one as neither actually had a current vacancy. The cheapest apartment at the first complex I visited was a 238 sq. ft. studio, renting for $950, while the least expensive unit at the second complex was $1000 – but at least this unit was nearly double the size, at 500 sq. ft. Both of these complexes had to be at least thirty years old and were definitely showing some age. I can’t say I was too impressed with either and decided I would check out some other units in a less congested setting at a later time. (As I was leaving the area, I did notice a complex that looked pretty nice but later discovered that the cheapest studio at this place was $1450 a month!)

After my brief fruitless foray into Seattle apartment shopping, I decided that I had enough of city congestion for one day and decided to treat myself to a trip to Mt. Rainier, located approximately 90 minutes (in theory, anyway) south of Seattle. I had hoped to be able to visit Rainier’s aptly named Paradise area [renown for its wildflower displays] and take in the spectacular blooming show that occurs for a very brief time during the mid summer months. Normally, this wildflower spectacle occurs in mid to late July but this year, late snows have resulted in a late spring and consequently, the wildflower blooming peak [according to the park rangers] is not expected until mid to late August. So, even though the flowers wouldn’t be putting on their vivid color display, I still thought it would be great to visit the park and enjoy its magnificent vistas.  Although Mt. Rainier loomed some two hours in the distance, I was looking forward to the visit – if not the trip.

Insanely impenetrable I5: I expected some heavy traffic during the interstate portion of my drive to Mt. Rainier but I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced. (I later discovered that Seattle has the 4th worse [and moving up] traffic in the country!) I’m not sure what was causing the bumper to bumper traffic (although I did notice one post – accident scene inside the emergency lane) but the drive south on I405 was exxxxxxcruciating slow. My new Garmin gps unit warned me of traffic congestion ahead but I was quite aware of that fact well before it was displayed on the gps!  And of course, I was also worrying about how the Jetta would behave in all of this stop and go traffic.

After taking 45 minutes to drive some 10 miles, the journey shifted to a state highway (SR167). Finally, I’m off the interstate! The drive from here on should be much better – or so I thought! Unfortunately, as I turned onto SR167, traffic conditions looked virtually the same as they did while I was on the interstate: absolute gridlock! Certainly this can’t go on much longer, I thought. And sure enough, it did! Checking my trusty Garmin gps for possible detours, I took the 1st recommended available option – only to discover that everyone else apparently had the same idea. After another 30 minutes or so, I was back on SR167. Just after returning to the state highway, my increasingly questionably-acting Garmin indicated that there was a road closure ahead and to take the next exit as a detour.

Off I went again. Only to be sent back on SR167 just a mile or so down the road. I didn’t notice any signs of  a road closure and was really beginning to wonder about the accuracy of the Garmin. After spending nearly two hours on the road and only advancing about 30 miles, I decided that I didn’t want to spend anymore time in bumper-to-bumper gridlock  and elected to call it a day and postpone my trip to Rainier. Had I known that the mountain wildflowers were peaking, I’m sure I would have found a way to get to Mt. Rainier – even if it meant taking an off ramp to the closest brew pub and waiting out the bottleneck over a bottle of Big Lebrewski (named after the movie with a similar name.) Looks like my visit to Paradise will have to wait – probably until next year. I can only hope that when I do return, “they haven’t paved paradise and put in a parking lot”  – from Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Cab”. (Don’t laugh, many Republicans have vowed to privatize  National Parks!) For now anyway, paradise is a city called Port Townsend.

Posted July 11, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

Take me out to the ballgame …   1 comment

I had been thinking about attending one of the Seattle Mariners’ ballgames for some time but was holding off until there was a good weather forecast. Although Safeco Field, the Mariner’s home ballpark, has a retractable stadium roof, I wanted to attend a game under sunny conditions, not only because watching a baseball game under warm sunny skies is much more enjoyable, but also because the lighting would be better – or so I think – for photography. I had planned on attending an earlier game but the weather forecast for the game I was considering predicted rain so I decided to wait for a better forecast. Turns out that the day the weather gurus predicted to be rainy was instead, a beautiful, mostly sunny day. Obviously, the weather here in the Pacific northwest does not take its orders from the weather forecasters and indeed, can be quite fickle.

After the blown weather forecast, I just decided to ignore the weather predictions and pick a date that suited my fancy. After discovering that the Boston Red Sox were coming to town and were scheduled to play the Mariners in a weekend series, I decided that I would purchase a ticket for a Sunday matinée game – that is, until I checked out the ticket prices! Seems the Mariners, like many other clubs, have adopted a ticket selling policy known as “dynamic” pricing. (In other words, the club is “dying” to squeeze as much money as they possibly can from ticket buyers.) According to the club’s official website, dynamic pricing is a flexible pricing plan, where the cost of tickets is based on many factors, including “opponent, team record, etc”. Weather is also supposed to be a factor in the pricing although I don’t see how weather can enter into the equation due to its unpredictability!? In any event, the opponent relates directly to the “attractiveness” of the game and seeing as how the Red Sox were the opponents in this upcoming series, these games were deemed to be quite attractive – to the degree that the cheapest ticket I could find was in the neighborhood of $100! No way, Jose! Fortunately, the relatively “unattractive” Oakland Athletics were coming to town for an earlier midweek series and I was able to purchase a comparable ticket for $50 (seating similar to that of the “cheapest” $100 ticket for the Red Sox game). Considering the cost of the ticket, transportation, parking and a bag of ballpark peanuts, the total cost of the Wednesday matinée game with the Athletics was close to $100. I had thought about buying a draft beer at the stadium, but at $8 a cup, I opted for a bottle of Aquafina (H2O, that is), at a mere $4.50. (Pricing beer at those prices is definitely one way to keep the fans from getting drunk & rowdy! Apparently, some of the Phillies and Giants fans must be smuggling in beer or making their own brew inside the stadium.)

Seattle Shoreline, Space Needle on Left

Luckily, the game day weather was fantastic: temps around 70 degrees and mostly sunny skies. A baseball fan’s nirvana. Not so good for the players however, as sunny skies can be an outfielder’s nightmare when it comes to judging towering fly balls. (Just ask Jose Canseco, who formerly played with the Athletics – he once had an ordinary fly ball bounce off the top of his head.) After a very pleasant ride on the ferry to Seattle as a “walk-on”, I started my walking journey (a distance of a little over a mile) to Safeco Field. Getting caught up in the throng of people departing the ferry, I ended up a block past my intended route and consequently, my walk led me pass a downtown mission; considering that the game was a matinée event, I happened past the mission just as they were serving lunch. There was a considerable line of homeless folks extending down the sidewalk outside the mission waiting for a free meal, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for these people. Here I am shelling out nearly $100 just to see a baseball game and most of these people can’t afford a cheap meal. There appears to be a sizable homeless population in Seattle and the city appears to “tolerate” them pretty well and to some degree, the city even sustains their existence, as they provide shelter and social services for those that seek it. Unfortunately, many homeless people prefer to “live” on the streets and many refuse social services. (It should be noted that about a third of all homeless people apparently suffer from some kind of mental illness.) And although these missions provide free food on a regular basis, it’s hard to walk the streets of Seattle on any given day without being approached by numerous panhandlers. (And yes, I know that many of the panhandlers aren’t begging for money with which to buy food. Even though I may know otherwise, I usually carry a few dollars worth of pocket change with me during my walks so that I can selectively dole out a few coins to those who really appear needy and who don’t come off as being aggressive.) By now I’m quite sure that you are  wishing that I had taken another route to the stadium!

By me some peanuts and crackerjacks … Finally, after what seemed like a never-ending walk, I was able to successfully navigate my way to Safeco Field. And once I was inside the ballpark’s comforting confines, I was able to easily find my way to my seat. (My seat selection was not only based on price, but I also wanted a seat that was easily accessible for my still-healing replacement left knee.) The seat was located along the 3rd base line, not too far from the left field foul line. Turns out my seat was located in a shaded area, under an overhang, but still provided a good view of the playing field – not the cheapest seat in the ballpark, but not in the primo category either. (After sitting there for several minutes, apparently appearing as if I was freezing, one of the ushers came up and asked if I would like to have a seat in the sun: I quickly accepted his generous offering.) As I was making my way to my seat, I bought a bag of ballpark peanuts, and ever so briefly paused at the $8-a-cup beer stand. I then realized that I would need something to drink (naturally, you can’t bring beverages with you into the stadium), so I shelled out $4.50 for the most expensive bottle of water I have ever purchased.

Inside Safeco Field

Safeco Field is a beautiful ballpark. The park has a really nice  feel to it and virtually every seat has a good view of the game. And of course, it has a retractable roof, which of course means that rain or not, the game goes on. As I’m sure most people would agree, baseball is really meant to be played in an open stadium! Although it certainly does rain a lot in the Seattle area, most of it occurs during the winter months and most of the rain that does fall is light and intermittent. Consequently, I would imagine that the stadium roof is left open during most of the games, especially those played during July and August, Seattle’s “dry season”. Prior to playing at Safeco Field, the Mariners played at the multi-purpose Kingdome stadium, which was also home to the Seahawks (football), Sounders (soccer), and the Supersonics (basketball – since relocated to Oklahoma City). Because of a deteriorating Kingdome stadium as well as deteriorating attendance, the Mariners were very close to being relocated back in 1995. However, a late season comeback and a post season run reinvigorated its fan base and the owners decided to stay put and (with the city’s financial assistance), built a new stadium (Safeco Field). Safeco has a current seating capacity of about 45,000 and I would estimate that about 15,000 showed up for the game I saw.

Mariners vs. Athletics, Game Action

The Mariners haven’t had a decent record since 2001, when they won a league tying 116 games (a title surprisingly shared with the Chicago Cubs, albeit the 1906 team). Their most notable former players were Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson. Currently, Ichiro Suzuki (joined the team in 2001 and is still playing) is the lone superstar of the team. (Due to the uniqueness of his first name (at least here in the U.S.) and his celebrity status, Ichiro is known by his first name.) As of the writing of this post, the Mariners’ team batting average (.197) at home is not only the lowest batting average of any team in baseball at the present, but apparently is the lowest in baseball for more than 90 years.  The Mariners once had an infielder named Mario Mendoza, whose hitting was so bad (for most of his career, his average hovered around .200) that the baseball community started calling a batting average of .200, the “Mendoza line”. During the five games prior to this writing, the Mariners had just 25 hits in five games and scored only five runs during those five games! While most Mariner fans no doubt wish that their team were more competitive, I get the impression that – unlike Phillies or Yankee fans – Mariner fans are contented with the team just being competitive. Somehow I can’t imagine the fans here booing a player after he has had a bad performance.

Ichiro, a future Hall-of-Famer, is a throw back to an earlier era when spraying the ball to all fields and focusing on just getting on base were considered great skills. Ichiro, at 5’9″ and 160 lbs. (soaking wet), is an anomaly in today’s game. Born a natural right-hander, his father taught him to bat left-handed since from that position he could begin his at-bat two steps closer to 1st base. He also practiced the fundamentals of baseball 360 days a year, three to four hours at time, since the age of nine. His father said that he practiced in temperatures so cold that “his hands were too numb to grip the bat”. His dad once told him that the only way to succeed was to suffer and to persevere. Ichiro has said that he does not watch movies as he feels that doing so would diminish his sharpness of vision. Talk about dedication to the game! (Watching him hit reminds me (in a good way, mind you) of the best women’s left-handed fast-pitch hitters when they drag bunt or slap-hit: it seems like they are half way to 1st base by the time their bat makes contact with the ball.) Ichiro won the major league batting title with a .350 average during his first year (2001) of playing for the Mariners and has led the league in singles for most of his career. Not only is he a proficient offensive player, but he is remarkably gifted as a defensive player as well, and has won the Golden Glove for each of his first ten years in the big leagues. Needless to say, Ichiro has quite a fan base here in Seattle and is idolized by most (if not all) of the many Japanese that live here.

The Mariners’ Ichiro at Bat

For its one-two-three strikes and you’re out …   I wish I could say that the game I watched was an exciting event, but ’twas not the case. Oakland won the rather humdrum event by a score of two to one. The good news for the Mariners was that the Athletics had only two hits – the bad news was that both of these were home runs. While the Mariners had twice as many hits (four), only one of them scored a run. Unfortunately, Ichiro went hitless and struck out twice, both times with men in scoring positions. With his slap-hitting, drag-bunting style, you wouldn’t think someone of Ichiro’s skills would strike out twice, but getting some wood on a baseball that is being hurled at you at 95 miles an hour can not be an easy feat. One of the other Mariner players, Justin Smoak, who happens to be a fan favorite (apparently due in no small part to his home run power), is dawdling dangerously close to the dreaded “Mendoza Line”. Justin was also hitless and his batting average at the end of the game dropped to a tepid .202. Kevin Millwood, who was pitching a fine game, giving up only a first inning home run, left the game in the 3rd inning with a re-injured groin muscle. (Millwood had to leave a game earlier in the year against the Dodgers in the sixth inning – a game in which he was throwing a no-hitter – because of the same injury. Incidentally, the Mariner relief staff finished that game without allowing any hits, going on to complete their first combined no-hitter since 2003.)

Mariners’ Relief Pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma

Although the game was not as exciting and run-filled (a score of 15-14 in the Mariners’ favor would have been nice) as I would have liked, I still enjoyed the experience. The weather was fantastic, I was able to see the best baseball players (especially Ichiro) in the world in action and I was able to drink the best water in the world (at $4.50 a bottle, it had to be the best!).

Minor rant alert: Many fans apparently feel that it is OK to sit wherever they like, without having the proper tickets. Apparently, many fans buy the cheap-seat tickets (probably $15 -$25 for this game) and then just plop down in a more primo (more expensive) seat. I would say that at least 70%-80% of the people who were taking seats near where I was sitting did not have tickets for those seats. Fortunately, the ushers were on top of things and were constantly checking ticket stubs. Although some may think that it should be perfectly OK to take a seat as long as it’s unoccupied – especially after the game has started – I would respond by saying that I paid for that $50 seat and I expect those sitting in the same group, to do likewise. I have no problem with asking the usher if you can change seats but ONLY after asking.

When I wrote of the rigorous practice and dedication that Ichiro has devoted towards improving himself as a baseball player, and especially of his father’s admonition that the only way to succeed was to suffer and persevere, it brings to my mind a similar mindset (yet under very different circumstances) that a young little league teammate (Jorden) of my grandson has demonstrated towards an adversary that is dramatically unlike what baseball players and most other people in this world face. Jorden was diagnosed with a rare, very aggressive disease earlier this year and has been waging an exceptionally courageous and determined battle against this extremely potent illness. In spite of tremendous pain and discomfort, he has undergone extensive chemotherapy and just recently, he has had major abdominal surgery, and he has done all this with a measure of resilience, determination and optimism that is incomprehensible to most of us. And although Jorden has experienced some setbacks along the way, he has been able to bounce back – just as a successful professional athlete is able to bounce back from a bad performance – although in Jordan’s case, I’m referring to bouncing back from a bad experience. Fortunately, Jorden has a very loving and supporting family, as well as a legion of friends and supporters. He also has a keen love of baseball and his story has touched the heart of some major league baseball players, especially that of Johnny Damon and Javier Bracamonte, who visited Jorden at his home in Orlando. Mr. Damon now plays for the Cleveland Indians and during a recent game with the Astros in Houston – where Jorden had his abdominal tumor removal surgery – he invited Jorden to attend the game as his guest. (All professional athletes should give back to their community in the manner of Johnny Damon.) Although I believe that the quality of his medical care, the mental toughness that he possesses, and the love and support of family and friends are mostly responsible for his successful battles against his dreadful disease, the game of baseball has provided a much-needed diversion for him. Keep up the good fight and keep the hopes alive, Jorden!

Posted June 29, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

Victoria, … and the Quest for Totems   3 comments

 

Access to Victoria, BC (Canada, eh), is by ferry and I had initially planned on doing a passenger-only transit and then renting a compact car for a couple of days so I could drive up to Duncan (“the city of  totems”) in my search for suitable totems to photograph. However, taking the ferry as a walk-on meant I would have to carry my backpack stuffed with clothes, laptop, etc., and then walk a few blocks to the rental car office. Unfortunately, my back was still aching from my Seattle adventure a few days earlier, so I decided to take the trusty VW Jetta with me (which meant shelling out ~$125 round trip(!) and having to endure long waits during customs inspections). Victoria is a really neat city but like most other really cool places, it is jammed with tourists, particularly in the summer months. Apparently, prior to my arrival the weather had been mostly winter-like with lots of overcast skies and cool temps. (I have no problem at all with the cool temps but I do require some occasional sunshine, especially when it comes to photography.) As you can tell by the photograph of the Empress Hotel, the weather was sunny, nary a cloud in sight.

Empress Hotel, Where I Would Have Liked to Stay …

… Accent Inn, Where I Did Stay

Victoria Parliament Building

Duncan, “The City of Totems”

After reading about Duncan, BC, being renown for its vast number of native American totems, I conjured up an image of a somewhat remote native American community teeming with really cool totems set amongst a forest of trees. But as is often the case, preconceived mental images often are vastly different from reality. Turns out that Duncan indeed has lots of totems. Unfortunately – for me, anyways – the totems are interspersed throughout the downtown section of a small mostly Caucasian city. Instead of being surrounded by trees in a lush natural setting, the totems are surrounded by banks, billboards and barber shops. Even if I was so inclined to photograph any of these totems, I would have to run the risk of being run over by a pizza delivery car.

However, I did have some luck locating some totems to photograph as the town is also home to a native American cultural center that “houses” a few totems and provides guided totem tours – for a fee, of course. My thanks to John (the tour guide’s Anglo name) for a most informative tour!

Duncan Native Cultural Center Totem

Duncan Native CC Totem

On the day I was to take the ferry back to Port Angeles, I decided to visit the most excellent Royal BC Museum of Natural History in Victoria. Not only was the museum showcasing an excellent dinosaur exhibit at the time, but they also possessed a remarkable collection of … native totems! Only problem was that, although it was permissible to take pictures, you could not use a flash. Fortunately, I had brought my car and inside my car was my trusty compact tripod. Of course, just after I started taking some photos, a museum security guard came up and informed me that tripods were not allowed. You can take photos, but not with flash, and not with a tripod. That pretty well rules out taking decent photos as the museum lights were (understandably) considerably dimmed. Fortunately for me, I had already taken several photos before being told to pack up my tripod – which by the way was very compact and non-obtrusive. The museum had  an excellent selection of totems and although they were not framed by a natural setting, they were still magnificent to observe and the lighting was actually quite complimentary and made for good photography – that is, as long as you were able to smuggle in a tripod.

BC Museum Totem

BC Museum Totem

BC Museum Totem

Posted June 25, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized