Tag Archives: California

Firefighter (Tracy, California)

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I had a house sitting gig in Tracy, California in late October of last year. I stayed in a comfortable house, watched a lot of Food Network and Cooking Chanel shows, hung out with two adorable little dogs, and worked on my blog and my book.  One morning, I spent a few hours in downtown Tracy.

One of the interesting things I saw downtown was a sculpture of a firefighter on the side of the fire station on Central Avenue.

Firefighter sculpture, Tracy, CA

There wasn’t any information about the artist included with the statue. It wasn’t until I did a Google search and read a 2003 article from the Lodi News-Sentinel that I learned a couple of things about the statue.

The artist who created this piece is Lawrence Noble, “an honorary firefighter with two San Bernardino County fire departments…[who’s] spent the past 15 years of his career specializing in large public sculptures, often of firefighters.”

According to the article, “Tracy reserve firefighter Terry Langley commissioned the sculpture on behalf of his nonprofit group Hometown Heritage…” The statue was originally carved in clay, then cast in bronze.

In the same article, Noble says, “The firefighters of Tracy are very, very lucky, because they’ve never lost someone in the line of duty… “What I chose to portray was just an honest day’s work, and the pride a single firefighter would take in doing the best job he could.”

This firefighter is a working class hero, much like the Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam. I like this guy. If you ever find yourself in Tracy, you can visit him too.

 

Golden State Green

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I’d heard the stories from other travelers. Seemed like most everyone had a story about being handed weed while flying a sign. Seemed like everyone had a story like that except me.

Maybe I looked too middle age and normal. Maybe I just didn’t look like someone who wanted marijunan. In any case, although I’d flown signs for two years in a dozen states, no one handed me weed until I went to California. Money, yes, and food–once an entire cake–and hand sanitizer and a toothbrush, all were given to me as I stood on corners and held my sign, but no one thought to give me pot until I made it to the Golden State.

I was in Ukiah the first time it happened. Mr. Carolina and I had just spent a few days with the Viking and Mick and Karl, his three friends I’d recently met in Santa Barbara. We’d made some new friends and seen some beautiful California mountain land, and now we were back on the quest to return a pipe to Sweet L’s dad and then drink from the headwaters of the Sacramento River. After we said our farewells to our friends, we headed down from the mountain and into civilization where we hoped to get fuel for the van and for our bellies too.

We pulled into a gas station next to the Wal-Mart and stood behind the van. Mr. Carolina held my two-gallon gas jug and I held our “out of gas” sign. A few different people handed ua a few crumpled dollars, and we thanked each person sincerely.

Mr. Carolina had wandered away when the man approached me. He didn’t look like a hippie or a Rastafarian , or a sterotypical stoner. He just looked like a normal guy.

Here you go, he said to me, holding out his hand. This might help.

I reached out to receive what he was offereing. He placed quite a large chunck of hash in my hand. I quickly closed my fingers to conceal it.

You can probably sell that for $60 or $70, the man told me while I thanked him very much.

I knew we weren’t going to sell it. First, I’m not in the drug sales business, because it seems like quite a risk. Secondly, who was I going to sell the hash to? I didn’t know anyone in town, and I wasn’t going to walk through the Wal-Mart parking lot and approaching strangers and saying, Psst! Want to buy some hash? while suspiciously shifting my eyes from side to side. Third, while I wasn’t going to smoke the hash, I knew Mr. Carolina would.

Mr. Carolina lived with pain. He’d been in a terrible car accident some years before. He suffered from a brain injury and what he called a “broke neck.” His spinal cord obviously hadn’t been severed, but I suppose one or more vertebra had been damaged. He told me about coming out of a coma and trying to pull out the catheter draining urine from his body before he realized where he was and remembering what had happened. He told me about pissing blood when the catheter was removed. He’d had multiple surgeries since the accident, and he’d lived with pain since then. I suspect he suffered more pain than he ever let me know.

He’d been on prescribed pharmaceutical pain pills for a while. He’d been a “bad drunk” too, he said. Now he used marijuana, when he could get it, to manage his pain. The chunk of hash in my hand would get him through the next few days.

When he came back to the van, I opened my hand and showed Mr. Carolina what was hidden inside. He had a big smile on his face when I handed it over to him.

The second time it happened was in Bakersfield. Mr. Carolina and I had picked up two traveling kids at a truck stop in Santa Nella, and now we were trying to get them to Oklahoma City.

Please don’t leave me in Bakersfield, the Okie kept pleading with me, although I’d never threatened him with such a fate. I don’t know what sort of disaster he’d experienced the last time he was in the city, but he was really nervous about being left there.

We pulled into the strip mall housing a Wal-Mart and about a dozen fast food joints, hoping the Universe would provide us with money for dinner that night and enough gasoline to get us out of town in the morning. Lil C siad he wanted to fly his sign at the parking lot’s main exit. I said that was fine with me, but told him I’d make more money than he would, and I planned to share whatever I was given. He said I should go ahead and take the main exit.

I’d been standing next to the stop sign for a while, and people had been blessing me with dollars when an older man wearing his hair in a ponytail pulled up. I saw him rooting around, trying to find something. He rolled down the window on the front passenger side and reached across the seat. I stepped over and leaned in to take what he was offering.

Do you smoke weed? he asked.

Even though I personally didn’t, I knew the boys would, so I said yes. The man handed me two skinny joints, and I thanked him very much.

Sure enough, the boys were happy when I returned to the van with enough money for dinner and gas to get us out of town, as well as two joints for them to pass around before we slept.

 

Waterfall Comparison

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When I returned to the area where I’d lived and worked the last two camping season (mid May through mid October), we went the long way. We were trying to catch up with The Big Boss Man so I could introduce The Man to him while The Man was freshly shaved and wearing clean clothes. We thought The Big Boss Man would be at the campground where he sleeps, so we took the most direct route there.

In the mountains, even the most direct route is not necessarily so direct. The “direct” route to The Big Boss Man’s campground is twisting, turning, winding–one switchback after another. Even Google Maps says it takes 45 minutes to go 25 miles on that part of the mountain. Because the road is so difficult, I seldom go that way to Babylon.

Going that way did allow us to see a waterfall I’d seen before. In years past, the water flowing over the rocks had been a thin trickle. Still, the falls was exciting because it was right there, right off the road, easy to pull up to and take photos of.

This is the photo I took of the falls in May 2015:

I could tell it had been a wet winter because when we saw the falls in late June 2017, the water was rushing and splasing over the rocks.

Stop the van! The Man yelled, and I did so he could jump out a take a photo of the waterfall. I wasn’t

This photo shows my feet cooling in the pool.

thrilled to be stopped on a curvy mountain road, but he was fast with his photo shoot (and thankfully,

there’s not much traffic on that stretch of highway).

I took my photos a week or so later when we stopped there again (this time in a proper turnout) on our

way to visit a tree. I not only photographed the falls, I stood in the little pool at the bottom. The water was so cold and refreshed not only my feet, but all of me.

This photo from July 2017 shows the difference a season with a good amount of snow can make to a waterfall:

I took the photos in this post.

Dispatch from the Woods

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The Man and I weren’t doing so well in Northern New Mexico. The invisible biting bugs were horrible, really tearing us up. The intense heat, unusual in the mountains, was making our days, but particularly our nights, difficult to bear. Living in the van together day after day was making us edgy and irritable. Something had to give.

Our lives changed with a call from my boss from the last two summers. The store that was supposed to open last season was finally(!) about to open, and he needed two more people to staff it. He wanted to hire me and The Man. We’d have a free place to set up camp for the summer, and he’d work us each 40 hours a week. Could we be there in six days? We said Yes! and hit the road to California.

I wanted to write a dispatch from the road, but we stayed in the Worst Motel 6 Ever in Barstow, CA, and the internet was down. I was too tired to find either another hotel or a coffee shop with free WiFi.

Crossing the Mojave Desert in a vehicle with no air conditioner was no joke. Part of our problem was not leaving Flagstaff until 1pm. I’d wanted to leave earlier, but it was afternoon by the time we packed up camp; drove to town; bought water, ice, and a few groceries; bought a solar shower, privacy tent, and tarp at  Wal-Mart; went through a bunch of rigmarole to find out Wal-Mart was out of Blue Rhino propane tanks and couldn’t exchange our empty one for a full one; went to a herb shop downtown so The Man could buy loose tea, and (finally!) filled up the gas tank.

It was hot when we stopped in Kingman, AZ to do the propane tank exchange. The Man and Jerico stood in the shade under one of the few parking lot trees while I went inside to pay for the new tank. The Wal-Mart employee who came out to make the switch expressed concern for Jerico’s paws on the hot asphalt.

Back on the road, we soon passed into California. At the agriculture checkpoint, there was a big digital sign like banks have announcing the time and temperature. 119 degrees! It had been a long time since I’d been in triple digit temperatures.

The Man grabbed our squirt bottle full of water (hippie air conditioning, he calls it) and sprayed me down while I drove. He also discovered that opening the windows let in air hotter than the air in the van. Over the next few hours, we did a lot of opening and closing windows trying to catch a breeze or let hot air out, trying to get comfortable. Surprise! There was no way to get comfortable in a van without air conditioning in the Mojave Desert that June day.

I stopped at the first Dairy Queen I saw and got us both Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzards. I couldn’t drive and eat, so The Man took the wheel. The ice cream didn’t last nearly long enough, and we were back to using the squirt bottle.

Late in the afternoon, the sun moved down the horizon, and the temperature dropped to hot but bearable. Still, as much as I hated to do it, we got a motel room in Barstow. Maybe I could have gotten a little sleep in the sunbaked van had I been alone, but there was no way two adults and a dog could have been comfortable sleeping in there. Even if the van had cooled after baking in the sun all day (which it hadn’t), the body heat of three mammals in the enclosed space would have been unbearable. Even with the windows open, there wouldn’t have been enough air flow to keep us cool.

The air conditioner at the Motel 6 was not up to the challenge of the summer night. Although the air conditioner was on when we opened the door, we were not met with the chilly wonderfulness I’d been hoping for. The room was stuffy, and I had a difficult time deciding if it was cooler inside or out.

The a/c wasn’t a wall unit like in almost every other motel I’ve been in. All we had was a vent above the bathroom door and an ersatz thermostat on the wall. All we could really control were the settings “heat,” “cool,” and “fan.” If I stood in just the right spot a few feet from the bathroom door and stretched my arms over my head, I could feel a bit of cool air blowing out, but it was no match for the desert heat.

I slept poorly all night, although the warm room probably wasn’t as uncomfortable as the hot van would have been.

The Man and I were both awake by five the next morning. We each has another shower and got our things together. The morning air was cool, but we were hot again before we finally made it up the mountain.

When we finally made it to our destination, the tall green trees and the cool mountain air were a wonderful contrast to the drab heat of the desert. My memory hadn’t exaggerated how lovely my home of the last two summers is. I’m glad this place will be my home for the rest of this summer and hopefully into the fall.

If you’re reading this, it’s because the mercantile (the Forest Service doesn’t like the word “store”) has WiFi, and the employees are allowed to utilize it. That’s a definite step up from years past.

This photo I took shows the mercantile/visitor center where The Man and I work.

Special thanks to The Man for getting my computer to connect to the WiFi at the mercantile.

 

 

The Opera

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I was well into my 40s, and I’d never experienced the opera. It’s not like I’d purposefully avoided; I’d just never had an opportunity to attend.

My computer guy friend and I were IMing one day, and he mentioned the opera. He attended. He enjoyed it. I might enjoy it too, he said. He offered to treat me to a performance of the San Francisco Opera next time I was in town. I was excited to take him up on his offer, but I didn’t make it to San Fran for over a year.

When I started planning my visit with Bay Area friends in 2016, I contacted my computer guy and asked him if we were still on for the opera. He said yes.

My short visit to San Francisco coincided with a Sunday matinee of The Makropulos Case starring Nadja Michael. I’d never heard of this opera, but when I did a Google search, I found information on San Francisco Opera webpage (https://sfopera.com/discover-opera/201617-season/the-makropulos-case/).

The seductive diva Emilia Marty has broken hearts for over 300 years and yet she doesn’t look a day past 30. Now that the magical elixir granting her eternal youth is wearing off, can she seduce her way to immortality?

Music by Leoš Janáček | Libretto by Leoš Janáček

Sung in Czech with English supertitles

The story sounded interesting enough for me want to see the show.

I was concerned because don’t people dress up for the opera? I asked my computer guy. I’m not exactly toting around an opera worthy wardrobe in my van, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if I had to dress fancy.

My computer guy didn’t seem worried about the opera dress code. Hwwever, he is a man who–for the last couple of decades–has partially based his acceptances of job offers on whether or not he’d be allowed to wear shorts to the office.

Are you going to wear long pants to the opera? I asked him, and he said he supposed he could.

The afternoon of the performance came. I wore a long, straight black skirt and a colorful 100% cotton top. My computer guy friend wore full length black  pants and a dark shirt. We may not have looked fancy, but we looked respectable, much like everyone else in the audience. I was relieved to see no one else at the matinee wearing evening clothes. (I guess by definition, “evening clothes” are not worn at two o’clock in the afternoon.)

The day of my first opera attendance was also the occassion of my first ride with an Uber driver. Before we left his apartment in the Mission, I asked my computer guy if we would be riding the bus so I would have adequate bus fare if necessary. He said no, so I assumed we’d be walking. When we got out to the corner of his block, he raised his phone above his head.

What are you doing? I asked.

Hailing our ride, he told me.

I was a bit confused when the car that pulled up had no markings distinguishing it as a taxi.

I set up a ride with Uber, he said.

Oh, yes, Uber, I thought. I’d heard of such a thing.

The driver was friendly and polite; the three of us chatted about the opera. The car was exceptionally clean, and I felt safe for the duration of our short ride.

My computer guy had the driver drop us off so we could walk through the lovely Memorial Court. After we climbed the steps into the War Memorial Opera House, we picked up our tickets at the box office and found our seats under the balcony.

The War Memorial Opera House is a beautiful building, inside and out. According to http://www.sfwmpac.org/history,

The cornerstones of the War Memorial Opera House and Veterans Building were laid on November 11, 1931. These two buildings and the Memorial Court between them formed the original San Francisco War Memorial.

The War Memorial Opera House has been home to the San Francisco Opera since it opened on October 15, 1932. Despite the nation’s severe depression, Puccini’s Tosca, conducted by Mr. Gaetano Merola, saw its original schedule of nine performances quickly sell out and three additional performances added, due to the incredible anticipation of opening season in the new house.

The Opera House is also home to the San Francisco Ballet, and served as home to the San Francisco Symphony until Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall opened in September 1980.

We only had a short while to flip through our programs before the performance began. Of course, I don’t understand Czech, so I was glad for the subtitles projected throughout theater.

I must have stayed up too late the night before, because my head was nodding and I could barely keep my eyes open by the time intermission rolled around. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the performance; I was enjoying it–but damn!–I felt sleepy. While my computer guy went off to stretch his legs during intermission, I took myself a power nap. Staying awake was easier during the second half of the show.

We walked back to my computer guy’s apartment after the performance, and it was a lovely afternoon to stroll through the city. As we walked, we discussed what we’d just seen.

We agreed the diva, Nadja Michael, was a lovely woman with a great voice and a commanding stage presence. I highly recommend seeing any show she stars in.

My computer guy didn’t enjoy this performance as much as other operas he’d seen. First, he thought sitting under the balcony had detracted from the sound quality. Second, he thought some of the performers were not giving their all since the show was near the end of its run. Finally, much of the opera consisted basically of sung dialog rather than full-on operatic singing.

I enjoyed the opera, I really did, but I wish we’d have been able to see something more traditional and well, famous. In any case, I really appreciate live performance and will choose live performance over a recording any day.

As I told my computer guy friend, I’m glad I was able to attend the performance. (I’m so grateful he bought me a ticket!) I enjoyed going to the opera house (and wish I had taken photos!) and experiencing the performance, but it’s not like opera is my thing now. It’s not as if I’m going to follow the opera like Deadheads followed the Grateful Dead, but I will attend the opera again if a free ticket is involved.

 

 

 

Do You Grow?

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It was in the last days of my second season as a camp host when I went to the group campground to check in the astronomy club staying there for the weekend. When I asked around, I was told the person who’d made the reservation had not yet arrived. A nice guy in my age group offered to sign the permit, so I wrote down his address and other pertinent information.

I meant to give him a fire permit too, so using their camp stoves would be legal, but I realized hours later that I’d forgotten to do so.

The next morning when I went back to the group campground, I had the fire permit ready for the same guy to sign. I’d simply copied the man’s address from the camping permit onto the fire permit. When I found the man and asked him to sign the permit, he jokingly asked if I’d memorized his address.

I explained I’d copied his address from the camping permit. Then he asked if I planned to visit.

I began to wonder if the man was flirting with me. Men never flirt with me, so I’m not sure I could recognize flirting if it actually happened. His being in my age group made flirting more probable, but I decided he was just being friendly.

I told him I couldn’t visit because I didn’t even know where his town was.

It’s in Santa Cruz County, he told me. We have a big organic farm. You could park your van on our farm.

(I don’t know exactly who the other people included in his “we” were.)

I made a bland comment about it must be nice to live on a farm. Then I  said, Do you grow…?

I meant to end the sentence with something clever, but nothing clever came to mind. (That’s what I get for I opening my mouth with no plan on how to end what I’ve already started to say.) Instead of ending the sentence with something at least reasonable, if not clever (beets? pumpkins?) I simply let the sentence hang there unfinished.

Then I realized, Santa Cruz County and Do you grow? when taken together have a definite marijuana connotation. What if he thought I was asking if they grew weed on the organic farm?

I’d never ask a stranger if he grew pot. It seems like a rude question, even in California, seeing how marijuana is federally illegal and all. It’s none of my business if someone is growing weed. It’s safer for everyone to keep marijuana cultivation on a need to know basis, and I don’t need to know!

I’m not sure if the man recognized my awkwardness. He started talking about the zucchini he and whoever else lives on the farm grows. He told me all about the big, big zucchini.

Any flirting that may have been going on was entirely incompetent.

 

The Grand Theatre (Tracy, CA)

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When I was out walking the self-guided tour of the historic buildings of downtown Tracy, CA, the coolest place I saw was the Grand Theatre.

img_7412According to the walking tour brochure,

The Grand Theatre was built in 1923 by German born John Droge to present vaudeville acts and then-silent motion pictures. The first “talkies” were show in 1929. Remodeled in 1940 in an Art Deco style, the movie house continued until 1977. In 2007 the city restored the theater complex and it was reopened as The Grand Theatre Center for the Arts.

According to the theatre’s website (http://atthegrand.org/AboutUs),

The classical Grand Theatre, designed by architect Albert W. Cornelius, opened on August 11, 1923 as a premiere vaudeville half-house in the area.

The facility received a major remodel during its heyday between 1939 and 1941 (under the Allen’s ownership), garnered with bold new art deco features including a sculptural marquee designed by Alexander Cantin and futuristic mural by Anthony (Antoon) Heinsbergen. Between the mid-40’s and 1977, it functioned as an eclectic movie house with occasional live performances.

This municipal interdisciplinary arts center is the only one of its kind in the state of California offering professional and community-based fine arts programming through arts education, exhibitions, performances and rentals of all kinds, in a single complex, and is one of only small network of similar facilities in America.

The 37,000+ square foot facility opened in September of 2007, hosts 50,000 patrons a year and is currently celebrating its 10th Anniversary Season. The Center is owned and operated by the City of Tracy and managed by the Cultural Arts Division in the City Manager’s Office.

img_7400I went inside to have a look around, and was surprised to find free Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) activities underway. I grabbed a free piece of pan dulce and exited the building.

There were some cool murals on the theatre’s 7th Street wall. They caught my attention, and I stopped to give them a good look.

The murals are part of the Tracy Mural Project. According to the project’s website (http://atthegrand.org/TracyMuralProject),

The Downtown Tracy Mural Project began in the summer of 2015 in conjunction with the Tracy Artwalk.  The Project invites local and regional artists to create murals and street art at 7th Street and in Jackson Alley on the walls of the Grand.  This innovative project features temporary murals owned by the City of Tracy. They remain on display from weeks to years, rotating as new works are presented.  The public appreciation of these projects has led to futhur interest to create murals at other locations in downtown Tracy.img_7397

Several themes have been explored in a variety of media, ranging from spray paint to wheatpaste, energizing the streetscape and celebrating the arts in our community.  We are open to any ideas which add interest and excitement to the downtown district!

I really liked the robots decorating the wall during my visit.

I also liked the mural featuring the wolf and the crow. The mural was painted by Ilena Finocchi. According to Finocchi’s website (http://www.ilenaf.com/ilenaf.com/Pub_Art/Pages/Tracy_CA_Mural.html),

In nature, the wolf and the crow can be frequently found in each other’s company. They have been linked together in play and in foraging for food. The crows fly ahead of the wolf pack to locate food, and the grateful wolves leave behind food for the crows. This symbiotic relationship between the two species is mutually beneficial.

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    In developing the Grand, citizens and civic leaders looked more than a decade into the future to see the community’s needs and goals. They, much like the crow, flew years ahead and decided that reviving the arts at the Grand was the cultural nourishment that Tracy needed. They raised money and awareness to rebuild and reopen the Grand as the creative hub for the City of Tracy. The wolves soon followed and the Grand reopened with support of the community.

    Since opening, there have been many hard working crow-like staff members who have had the foresight to keep the Grand evolving with the changing needs of the wolf-like hungry community. The mural is a way for me as an artist to assume the role of the crow and through the art let the community know about the dedication and hard work of the staff at the Grand. The Grand has become a positive and powerful force in the community, not only in participation in the arts, but also as a cultural jewel to draw new businesses and corporations into town.

    The mural is a celebration of the long road of hard work and the driving force of the arts and its positive impact on the community.

The other cool mural is “Planet of the Apes” Kenney Mencher.

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According to the Tracy Press (http://www.goldenstatenewspapers.com/tracy_press/news/more-music-murals-for-artwalk/article_2350e088-2e8a-11e6-94fe-e3e964b2ff82.html),

Mencher, who is the Grand’s artist in residence this summer [2016], will create a streetscape with a “Planet of the Apes” theme on Seventh Street. Wilson said the piece will provide a photo opportunity for visitors to pose on a bench with the mural wrapping around them.

From what I surmise, Mencher painted the robots too.

The Tracy Press also reported in the aforementioned article,

The murals are designed to be temporary projects, lasting from a few weeks to a few years.

I’ve grown to think of murals (especially murals approved by a municipality) as permanent. As the Merry Pranksters proclaimed, art is not eternal. Apparently the murals in Tracy prove this idea to be true.

I took all of the photos in this post.