Thursday, December 17, 2009

I REMEMBER...working for UHAUL


..working for UHAUL company and living in San Francisco, CA. and was the general manager of one of the largest truck rental centers on the west coast. The rental center was in the converted Planter's Peanut factory on Bayshore Blvd. It was one of the largest storage facilities in Northern California. There was a small one bedroom apartment for the manager above the front entrance. See the three windows - that was my living room. When my oldest son, Ian was born, the district manager had some of the storage units removed and added a second bedroom. Very cool. He learned to walk and drive his little walker up and down the hallways of the storage units on the second floor.

All in all, it was one of the best ways to live in San Francisco. The "commute" was riding the freight elevator down to the bottom floor. The view unfortunately was the Bayshore Fwy (Hwy 101). My vehicle was provided and all insurance and gas was paid for. The apartment was also provided for and so was health and life insurance. When Ian was born, all expenses were paid. I was required to wear a uniform daily and it was provided (kind of like being in the military). My paycheck was spent on food and dining out. There are an endless number of restaurants in San Francisco, so that you could dine out every night and you could never live long enough to visit them all.

Some of the U-HAUL stores had been robbed and I was fortunate enough to not have that experience. The closest I ever got to being robbed was one Sunday in August. I was working the store alone. Two rough looking guys came into the store wearing full length leather jackets - the cowboy kind that went all the way down to the floor. Did I mention it was August? It was hot and muggy and when I saw these guys come in, it popped into my mind they were hiding guns and were going to rob me. You just didn't dress that way to go rent a truck. Thank God for an imaginative mind and a backlog of police movies I had watched.

Just as these two characters walked up to the counter, I walked over to the mirrored glass behind the counter and knocked on the mirror and announced loudly. "Hey Larry, I just called the cops to come pick up those shotgun shells we found in storage. They should be here any minute".

There was no "Larry".
There were no shotgun shells.
There were no cops on the way.
In fact, I was the only one in the building, except for my family upstairs.

My prospective clients in the long leather coats turned and left, never saying a word. So, fortunately, I didn't have to find out the hard way why they were there that day. They probably just had overdue parking tickets and didn't want to risk the confrontation with the fictitious pending officers of the law. I had seen an episode of "Sky King" (early 50's TV show about a rancher that always caught the bad guys using his airplane "somehow". He also could "throw his voice" (ha) that would make the bad guys think there was someone outside. That was my inspiration for my "fool the bad guys" trick.

The only other time I had an inkling I was to be robbed was when I was a "manager in training" for U-HAUL at a smaller store in Redwood City in the early 1980's. I was working late one night, closing up the store by myself, when two bad looking dudes knocked on the glass door after we were closed, wanting me to open back up and let them turn a trailer in. There was no way I was going to do that and when they started cursing me, that clinched it...they were not going to be let in. I told them to come back the next day (when there was a full staff around). The next day dawns and I see them pull up in front of the store about 10am. I left the counter area and hid in the shadows of a box display, hoping they wouldn't recognize me. They finish their business, complaining about the guy who wouldn't let them check in the previous night, and left. The guy that waited on them comes running over and says, "Wow, did you see those championship rings? Those guys are with the World Champion San Francisco Niners. That was Eric Wright and Keena Turner". Can you say Pro Bowl / NFL Champions?

So, I guess I have a 50% success rate in recognizing bad guys.

"The Catch" 1982 Super Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers 58 sec. left on the clock..

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I REMEMBER...the palm reader & the 3 accidents


....having my palm read when I was in college and how it turned out. But first, let's back up a bit.

I was a pretty good wrestler when I was in college. [Trust me, there is a segue here]. As a result I was fortunate enough to get a "deal" when I went to college. Chico State College in 1965 did not have wrestling scholarships, but I got the next best thing. I got pre-admitted to all the classes I wanted [just gave the coach your class list and it was a done deal]. I got two classes with an automatic "A" Health (taught by the coach) and communications (I was a DJ at the KCSC college radio station] to help keep my grade point up to be eligible for sports. I also got a much sought after job [working at the cafeteria at the college dorms]. This is when the ratio of girls to guys was 3:1...as a bonus, I got paid, too.

So, [here comes the segue], I worked the cafeteria line serving up vegetables and the student that worked next to me was from China. Her parents were fortune tellers and palm readers. She believed in it so much, she refused to "read palms" for her friends, because she didn't want to see what was in store for them and tell them bad news. Anyway, I finally got her to read my palm after I convinced her that I wouldn't take it seriously.

After she looked at my palm, she got quiet and said she changed her mind. With much cajoling, she finally told me what she "saw". First, I would be wealthy in friends, but not in money (at the time it seemed I got a raw deal), but friends and family "appreciate" at a far better rate than dollars over the years, so (if you believe in fortune telling), it worked out OK.

The other, more serious view, was my palm’s "Life Line". Mine has a major break in it, early on in the line and then the second part goes off the side of my hand. Her comment was that there would be a major incident early in my life (remember, this is 1965 and I was 18) and I might not live through it. But, if I did, I would live a long, full life, with enough money to get along, but rich in friends and family.

I didn't think about it until the summer after my senior year. The "Bad News" comes in threes was the catchword for my "interesting break in my life line". In June, some friends (2 guys & 3 girls) and I went for a drive up to Feather River Canyon in my buddy's newly purchased old beater pick-up truck. The girls were in the back and the guys were in the cab. No seat-belts. Coming back down the steep and winding grade, I got the "shotgun" rider's bird’s eye view of the 500' drop off on my side of the cab. As I was sucking up my breath, due to the speed with which we were taking the curves...I heard these comforting words: "S---t, the brakes are out - what should I do"? As we only had two choices, hit the side of the mountain or go over the cliff, we made an extremely hasty unanimous decision to swerve across the oncoming lane on a curve we knew we couldn't make and hit the side of the mountain. Without much discussion, we figured our chances were better with a crash than a lead airplane drop off the side of the mountain.

Oddly, we didn't crash [note: I am writing this tome some 40 some odd years later, so I didn't die, nor did anyone else], but rather, we went up the side of the hill like a motorcycle jump and into the woods on the other side. That newly purchased truck was like a rocket ship out of control. We landed in a dry stream bed, and with all the wheels and both axles gone, gravity had us follow the stream bed like a little slot car.

The driver was still trying to steer, which, looking back on it, was pretty funny as there were no wheels. Note: the three girls were thrown out of the back when we shot up the hill slope. Although bruised and scared, they were alright. Those of us in the cab were OK. The truck died and is probably still there.

The next month, July, I went to visit a former college roommate in San Jose. He wanted to take me for a ride in his parent's new Camaro before they all left on vacation the next day. Full moon, nice night, he cruised up into the hills for a winding road test of the hot sports car. Still reeling from the accident the previous month, I asked many times for him to slow down and cool it. After the car squealed around yet another sharp turn up in the mountains, I undid my seat belt and started to climb over the front seat into the safety of the back seat. That was the moment that Mike couldn't make the next curve and rolled the Camaro over the cliff. I thought surely I had died and moved on to the afterlife. It was a very surreal scene. The engine was running, emitting a high pitched whine. The inside of the car was full of a smoky dirt cloud with just the light of the full moon shining in. Everything was oddly different, as my former roommate was hanging upside down, suspended by his seat belt. The headlights shone out into a dark night right towards the full moon. We were slowly swaying back and forth. It was creepy. Slowly, I figured it out. We had rolled over the cliff and had landed upside down in a tree growing out of the side of the mountain. My friend undid his seat belt and landed on his head. I laughed. We carefully climbed out of the car window and up the side of the mountain through the bushes, to the road. It was very weird looking down on the moonlit undercarriage of the Camaro, engine running, lights shining out into nothingness, with a 300 foot drop under it. That tree was the only one on the side of the mountain and we had landed right in the middle. This was BCP (before cell phones) so we hiked down the road to the nearest house and my former roommate called his parents to get a tow truck and come get us. Mike’s parents arrived at the same time as the tow truck. Mike’s dad only said “Where’s the other car”? Mike told him there was no other car and I don’t think I heard his dad speak again. When the tow truck got there, he refused to hook it up because he feared if the car fell out of the tree; it would drag him and his tow truck off the cliff. So they had to call another tow truck and use both at the same time to get the Camaro up to the road. Needless to say, Mike and his family didn’t leave on their vacation in their new car the next day. Mike didn’t come back to college that September either.

Two bits of irony followed. The car was totaled except for the driver’s side which looked like it was in show room condition. When the tow truck pulled away back to San Jose, the Camaro came loose from the chains and swerved over to the opposite side of the road and scraped everything off the formerly pristine side, mirrors, door handles, paint, etc. Also, Mike and I, other than a few bruises were unscathed…except for two days later when we found out the hard way that the hillside we climbed up in the dark was covered in poison oak.

That was two. The trifecta was completed (thankfully) the next month, where once again I was a passenger in someone’s car. A friend from college and I had gone to Tahoe to apply for jobs at the ski resort for the next winter season. After a long day playing at the lake, we were driving back to Lodi late one Saturday night. There was a Y in the road coming up and we had to be in the left side of Y. The driver thought she was over too far to the right and moved over one more lane to the left. It was dark and it appeared as if we were just about the only ones on the freeway. Just as we noticed the highway divider chain link fence appear out the passenger side window (meaning we were in the oncoming lane on the wrong side of the freeway) we also noticed the oncoming traffic, three abreast, taking up all the lanes coming right at us. This is all happening at 60 miles an hour in opposing directions. Instinctively, I uttered some situation-appropriate, adults-only, words and raised my arms up over my face. The driver instinctively pulled a hard right, even though the chain-link fence was there. Fortunately, the sixty miles an hour, two-ton Cadillac swerved to the left just as it kissed off our tiny tin-can Volkswagen Bug. It was like throwing a small flat rock at the right angle and at the right speed to skip along the surface of a huge lake, defying gravity and impact. The Volkswagen was destroyed. About 30 yards of highway divider chain link fence never lived to see the dawn. Cheryl went to the hospital with a broken rib and a lacerated liver (seatbelt). Once again, I walked away. I suffered a fractured finger and a gazillion tiny cuts from the implosion of the windshield over my head.

I figured I had survived the odd break in my palm “Lifeline”. Three months. Three major accidents. No one should have lived through any of them. Only the vehicles died. Bob, the passenger, walked.

Fast forward thirty years. I meet Lise and early on we took some picnics, trips and adventures. One day she says, “You always drive. Why don’t you let me drive and you be the passenger.” I couldn’t do it. I never was the passenger again after that summer. If I couldn’t drive, I didn’t go. I have since relaxed with it a bit, especially if I can fall immediately to sleep but mostly. I drive. Note: back in the day, before seat belts and before seat belt laws, the passenger seat was often referred to as the Suicide Seat (the act of doing something that seems contrary to your own best interests and seems likely to lead to a disaster).

Drive My Car - Beatles

Monday, December 14, 2009

I REMEMBER...marbles & tops

.........MARBLES & TOPS. I have been struggling of late to not get left too far behind in the social networking/technology era.

Ah, the simpler days of yore when I was consumed with the desire to only master the playground skills involving marbles and tops.

TOPS:
I did pretty well at that game and soon became the king of the blacktop at lunch time. As I recall (which is a task in itself...but since this is my blog, I will naturally assume I am correct in my remembrances), the initial game was just one of skill and luck. The tops were about the size of a large lemon, wrapped in string and spun with a flick of the wrist. We would draw a circle on the black top with chalk and the game was to throw your top and have it land in the circle and stay there without wandering off, or to draw an X on the ground (blacktop or cement) and try to hit the X.

Somewhere, in probably the first grade (about 1953) someone must have gotten anxious to throw their top into the circle and succeeded in bumping the first top out. OKLAHOMA SCHOOL YARD TOP WARS was created. The next evolution was when the steel point of someone's top hit the other top and took a chuck out of it (it was wood after all). My Top Reputation was made when my top hit the competitor's top dead center of the top's top and split it right down the middle. There was a hush and reverence for what everyone had just witnessed. I was Michael Jordon...except for my era I was Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth rolled into one. I had done the impossible (quite accidentally, but I took it). The blacktop boys spread my fame, far and wide (all the way to the third graders, as I recall). All the top guys revered me (except for the kid whose top I split - who never spoke to me again). It was fabulous...except for one down side. No one would play tops with me anymore. Sometimes you lose when you win. However, with only a slight nod to the obvious pun...it was good to go out on top.

MARBLES:
I also had awesome skills with marbles (not so much with baseball, football, basketball ...there was no such thing as soccer in 1950's Oklahoma). The goal of the game was to knock your opponent's marble out of the circle (and you got to keep it). Soon, I had a sizable empire of marbles and had a difficult time finding an opponent, as I had taken most of their marbles. The Heavens have an uncanny way of evening up lopsided situations, however. My downfall was that there was an unfairly strict rule about having your marbles out during class time. I dropped my pencil one day and as I reached down to pick it up, the unthinkable happened. My marble dynasty was over in an instant as my year's winners swag of marbles spilled out of my coat and covered the classroom floor as Miss (Evil to the Core) Billingsly, stepping around the few hundred marbles scattered before her, gingerly approached my desk, snapping that old wood ruler into the palm of her hand. I can see it as clearly as if it was yesterday (which is interesting, as I can't remember much that happened last week- which I guess only proves that you can always recall the true turning points of your life). The inflexible rule was that you forfeited ALL your marbles to the principal for the rest of the year if they hit the floor. I went from 1st Grade Marble King to Marble Pauper in an instant. My lasting memory is of all my classmate slain opponents grinning from ear to ear as I had to pick up my treasured marbles and deliver them to the principal's office.

Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.-- Shari R. Barr

You Can't Always Get What You Want. But If You Try Some Time, You Just Might Find, You Get What You Need....Mick Jagger


Thursday, October 8, 2009

I REMEMBER...Stonehenge


...traveling to England in the late 70's and going to see Stonehenge. This is a short observation about how really small the world is and a small moment in time for me.

Backing up a bit...

A few years earlier, I had opened a leather and jewelry store in Chico called Lone Eagle Leather. The night of my grand opening, I had an open bar, a lot of friends and a band playing. As a gift to the guys in the band, I made custom leather belts with the name of their band stamped in the back. Store worked great - an awesome time to be in the crafts business, I expanded to a second store, and then a wholesale leathergoods business as well. I had accounts with the Tower Records chain and the CSU college bookstores throughout California. I was a madman and worked far too much and burned out.

Friends threw me a birthday party on my 28th birthday and put 35 candles on it. A subtle hint I should slow down and take a break. Sold the business, bought a houseboat, put my house up for sale and temporarily "moved" to Jamaica. This is another blog, and the mention here is meant only to show some passage of time.

Came back to town, worked as a carpenter and burned out again (hmmmm...is there a pattern here?).

When I was 30, I went to Europe and stayed in England for awhile and managed to make it out to Stonehenge for the day. A rare sunny day (see me in red tank top in one of the photos). So, I am walking up to the stone pillars approaching the crowd already gathered there for a history lecture being given by one of the caretakers. As I walk up , I see at the back of the crowd, a tall guy (see pic of guy in white pants and white shirt at the back of the crowd with his hands on his hips) that stunned me. Here I am many miles and years away from the Grand Opening of Lone Eagle Leather in Chico, California, and there in front of me is one of the band members wearing my custom made belt. Turns out he was traveling with his dad and was only going to be there for a half hour (a tiny moment in time). I never would have seen it if I had been earlier, later, walked slower or had been less observant.

I am fascinated with time. The time we have, the time we don't have and how little moments in time have special value. This was one of those special moments.

Quote of the day:
Time is the coin of life. It’s the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful, lest you let others spend it for you. .....Carl Sandburg

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I REMEMBER...best birthdays




...perhaps one of the best birthdays ever (and it hasn't even happened yet - technically it is this coming Monday). This time last year I was very ill, had just finished chemo and had three more radiation treatments to go. I took a week off work last week before she started 6th grade and spent it with my 11 year old daughter going to movies, bowling, miniature golfing, a day at a waterpark, making tie-dye tee shirts, lunch and breakfast out every day...we were having so much fun that Lise took two days off and we went to San Francisco for two days - stayed right at Fisherman's Wharf, ate great seafood, bought souvenirs - bought a family pass to the Science & History Museum AND THEN we drove up the coast to Windsor - stayed with my sister and went for a Hot Air Balloon Ride capped off with a quiche/chocolate dipped strawberries/champagne brunch in the vineyards of Kendall-Jackson Winery....and just when you think there is no more room for icing...I got my clean PET/Scan results back before we left on the trip and my clean slate CT Scan from the doctor's today.

This time last year I could hardly keep food down. lost a lot of weight and hadn't even hit the hard part yet...didn't get the feeding tube installed until after treatment ended. My blog entry for this date last year:

August 25, 2998
Finished my last chemo today. This is the good news. Was not able to do my radiation today because both machines were down. The bad news. I was disappointed. I go to my regular radiation tomorrow at 3:15, and if the machines are working all week, will do the 4 of the last 5 this week and then the very last one the day after the Labor Day weekend.

Lise was sweet enough to take the whole day off work, and it turns out we were not able to have the radiation in the morning. And the chemo ran late. She had to drive all the way across town to pick Sarah up from school then come back to pick me up.

Having chemo adds more pills to the mix--more than my little daily containers can hold. The next three days will be pills, pills and more pills. I'm sure most of the pills I'm taking cause constipation, so I'm having to take two or three pills to work it in reverse. No pun intended. Just a minor trial in the list of tribulations I'm encountering.

Song of the Day: Start Me Up - The Rolling Stones (Stop Me Up)

Thanks to my sister Sharon and my niece Erica for the never-ending flow of fabulous get-well cards. There was a new twist in the card from my sister today. It was a picture of a "freak cod," a.k.a. Greek god, reminding me that I will always be older than her.

My blog has now gotten a comment from somebody in India. It's now truly an international blog. Ha.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I REMEMBER...going to Istanbul

...going to Istanbul, Turkey in the 70's. This is the place you literally can cross from West to East. There is a poem by Rudyard Kipling called the The Ballad of East and West - Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) where the famous line is penned: "OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"...but it is not true. The bridge over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, provides the solution. The Bosphorus is the 32 km (20-mi)-long strait which joins the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea in Istanbul, and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. I walked across the bridge to just beyond the halfway point to say that I had been to the East, and then came back.

I spent several days there in a youth Hostel (that required by health concerns and common sense to wear your shoes in the communal hostel shower...I have been in slime covered creeks with a more secure footing
). Met lots of young people coming and going to Asia, etc. Istanbul was the jumping off place for travelers to the East. Fantastic stories from some very interesting people.

I was fortunate to see the magical Blue Mosque and
Topkapi Palace ( where you get to see all the world's great artifacts stolen by the Ottoman empire - much like the London Museum to see all the great treasures stolen by the English Empire and The Vatican's collection of great treasures stolen by the Roman Empire). There are many gold covered items, thrones, etc. encrusted with diamonds and emeralds..it is almost unbelievable. The famous gold, diamond and emerald dagger is perhaps one of the most famous blings in history.

My most memorable experience, however was experiencing a real "Tur
kish Bath".... a lavish, marble palace devoted to a steam room, dressing room and open public bath ( this one for Turkish businessmen) - where a huge bald Turk (big mustache - probably about 6'2"- 280 lbs) "bathed you' with a sponge made of some very coarse seaweed or straw and lye soap from head to toe. As I am just 5'7", 140lbs - I was a "compliant" customer...even when the $3 purchased bath experience included having the attendant walk on your back...I could hardly breathe. An incredible experience (living through it was half the pleasure) with only one downside (no, it had nothing to do with Turkish prisons as this was a public bath). I had just traveled to Istanbul from spending a month on a little Greek Island, spending my days drinking wine and developing the best tan I ever had. The 1/2 hour experience of being scrubbed with a wet, rough wad of straw and lye soap by a Turkish linebacker left me with one less layer of skin and produced a baby pink version of my former self. I felt like a boiled rubber band and looked like a baby hairless Chihuahua...but I was cool and could now say - "Been There - Done That".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I REMEMBER...my first motorcycle


...my first MOTORCYCLE I bought...I had paid my parents $500 for one of the family cars when I went off to Chico State College in 1965. About 1967 I had a falling out with my step-dad over my off-campus living arrangements and his ultimatum was to change my lifestyle or the college money would be cut off. It is hard for a 19 year old to change his new found freedom and cool lifestyle...so I opted for the latter and immediately entered the full-time job market (and continued going to school full time). Housing was pretty cheap in those days, but minimum wage was $1.40/hr., so it was a struggle. The family car I referred to earlier was a 1965 Rambler American and not as cool as the image I wanted for myself. A few paychecks later and a trade-in garnered me my cool YAMAHA 125 cc motorcycle and a small(understatement)house in an alley in Chico. Went on to own many bikes including a 350cc Honda off-road bike and my beloved BSA 441 [chocolate and chrome- tear drop tank, butterfly handlebars, extended front forks...just like easy-rider. It weighed more than I did and I had a devil of a time keeping it upright when I came to a stop..ha].

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I REMEMBER...4th of July & fireworks



the 4th of July [unsafe and insane method] when I was a kid. Not much has changed except that fireworks were cheaper and more spectacular when I was a kid [or it seems in my memory banks]. This year, I took my daughter Sarah [age 10…almost 11] to the fireworks stand to buy fireworks for our 4th celebrations. Every 4th has to have sparklers, regardless of the age of the revelers. When we asked for sparklers, we were told: “Those are illegal, we only have Morning Glories".

Wikipedia: Sparklers, or hand-held fireworks, are a popular part of many Fourth of July celebrations, and a familiar cause of injuries, particularly in little children. More accidents are caused by sparklers than any other fireworks”…internet July 2009.

The main difference that I can see between the two is the metal core on the sparkler vs. a wood core on the Morning Glory and the sparklers lasted longer with a bigger shower of sparks. Today, when you were done with the “sparklers,” you put them into a bucket of water…very safe, very sane. When I was a kid in Oklahoma, with cherry bombs, ladyfingers, bottle rockets, roman candles, real sparklers, etc., we must have practiced the unsafe and insane method. I can’t tell you how many times I stepped barefoot on a fiery hot metal sparkler someone threw into the grass (all small children in Oklahoma, back in the day were not required to wear shoes until school started in September (except for Sunday school).

SIDE NOTE: the freshly tarred road in front of our house was a great playground, running around barefoot and popping hot tar bubbles with your toes. The downside of this Midwest traditional 50’s kid’s activity is that you had to sit still while your mom scrubbed your tarred feet with gasoline or kerosene to get them clean. We didn’t have cell phones or pagers or wear watches to tell time. After dinner, we could play outside until the street lights came on; that was the signal to go home. We loved to watch the bats swoop in and out around the street lights sucking up mosquitoes and bugs. I used to play in the ditch across the street often and even caught a baby cottonmouth water moccasin (rattler) and put it into a glass mason jar and freaked my Mom out…I got strict orders not to do that again.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I REMEMBER...Christmas morning and the fireplace


...some great Christmas morning stories. I unearthed a stash of 8mm tapes from "back in the day" when Sarah (now 10) was a baby and the brothers were in their teens. One of the best stories we relayed in one tape doesn't revolve around presents, but an incident one Christmas morning when the boys were small and we lived in South Natomas.



That was before we got the "permanent - almost life-like, already-has-light-strands-on- it Christmas tree." We had a 1 and 1/2 story living room and as a result, had a huge 12' real pine tree that year. We were cleaning up and took the tree out to the street for refuse pick-up. We had gotten the tree early in the season and it had dried out considerably, leaving a trail of dried pine needles everywhere.

So, this particular Christmas morning, I swept them all up and stuffed them in a big paper grocery bag. The garbage can was already full of paper and boxes and had I had no place to put the pine needles. Then I spied the fireplace. "Why not?" I had been camping before...should be a piece of cake. Obviously, it was a functioning fireplace, the needles were flammable...seemed like a no-brainer. The key phrase here is "no-brain."

Everyone was still in their PJ's and bathrobes, it was a cold wintery December morning outside and I thought it would be exceptionally quick way to warm up the house. I placed the bag in the fireplace, lit the match and stepped back to observe my grand vision of a warm glow from the fireplace.

It was more like a bomb. Two things were very wrong. The paper bag full of highly combustible pitch-coated pine needles exploded like a bomb in a huge fireball. Oh, yes, AND the fireplace flue was closed. Tons of flames and smoke and nowhere to go, except out of the fireplace into the living room. I tried using a metal fireplace poker to open the flue, but only succeeded in burning all the hair off my arm. Smoke filled the house. Ear piercing fire alarms started blasting. Everybody came running into the living room with their hands over their ears and not being able to take it anymore, ran out of the house into the front yard to hang with the neighbors that had come outside to see what was going on.

I finally got the flue open, and after opening all the windows, got the smoke out of the house, the alarm finally shut off, assured the alarm company to not send the fire trucks, got the people back inside and got to listen the post-stupid lecture from everyone about why that was not a good idea. Life's lessons are instant and impressive. I got it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I REMEMBER...dreams, sights, sounds, smells


....sights and sounds that conjure up people and places from the past. I was talking with my daughter Sarah (age 10) about memories and making this blog. She had this really cool observation. She said young people dream of things that will happen in the future and old people dream of things that happened in the past. I like it. That just about sums it up. We talked about memories and how the older you are the more memories you have and how certain sounds, songs and smells can trigger vivid remembrances of past people and experiences. Every time I hear Suzie Q by Creedence Clearwater Revival, I remember working at the Italian Cottage Restaurant in 1968. I was a junior in college, taking 21 units, trying to graduate on time after “not paying attention to my academics” for far too long and working nights. It was the hot song of the day and it played on the radio all the time.

There are smells that can transport me, like a time machine, back 55 years in an instant. When I was a kid, my mom used to take her makeup off using Noxzema skin crème and both my dad and my granddad used Old Spice after-shave lotion. I have a tub of Noxzema I use each morning to wash my face – wakes me up instantly and I go back to when I six years old and kissing my mom good night with her face covered in white crème. I use Old Spice after-shave on the weekends and I am spun back to when I was about seven years old, visiting my grandpa in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. He would let me shave with his double edge razor (with a cardboard blade), using a shaving mug with a big hairy brush to spread the lather on my face and then splash Old Spice on afterwards, as we got dressed for church on Sunday mornings. After church, we would often go on a picnic and fishing on Pennington Creek under the old swinging bridge (actually quite famous and probably the only thing that put Tishomingo on the map) after church while grandma worked on “supper’. It wasn’t dinner, it was supper. Lunch was dinner. That was probably a Midwest or Oklahoma thing. It certainly wasn’t used that way after we moved to California.

Song of the Day: Creedence Clearwater Revival - Suzie Q

Monday, June 15, 2009

I REMEMBER..the guy who couldn't pull up his sox


...an old guy in a wheelchair we met on the street the other day. Lise and Sarah and I were leaving her ballet studio and walking back to our car. Coming toward us was this man in a wheelchair. Disheveled, dressed poorly, and obviously handicapped, he was weaving back and forth trying to get the attention of everyone that was on the same side of the street as he. We thought he might be panhandling. Sarah stepped out of his way and walked behind Lise. He was obviously trying to say something to them. I stepped up to him and said "Can I help you?". A look of thankfulness came across his face, and he said "Yes, thank you. Can you please, please pull my socks up? I can't do it."

He wasn't crazy or a menace. He wasn't panhandling. His old raggedly socks had fallen down his swollen ankles, and all he wanted was for someone to help him pull them up. After I pulled up the socks, he said "Thank you" and rolled away. I am sure I was gone from his thoughts. I, however, couldn't let go of the moment. I had my emotions changed in an instant--from distancing aversion to abject sympathy.

I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet. ~Ancient Persian Saying

At 61+, I am definitely on the backside of my turn on earth, losing my hair, legally blind with 20/1250 corrected lenses in my tri-focals, have a heart condition I have to take meds for every day to keep it beating regularly, have glaucoma and take drops every day to keep from going totally blind, and on the mend from almost a year off including radiation and chemo treatments for tonsil cancer....and I am still 1000 percent better off than this guy. God forbid that I should even take a nanosecond to ever lament my situation after meeting a man that would trade with me in a heartbeat.

I have often commented on how fabulous my life has been, and in many ways it is even better now that I have re-focused on my extra turn as a cancer survivor. I am happy every day...just to be here. Every day is Another Day in Paradise. I know people that are in the prime of their life, excellent health, making far more money than I will ever see...and are obviously very unhappy. This one executive I know just returned from a two-week vacation in Hawaii. I popped my head into his office and asked how his vacation was and without even looking up, he scowled and said, "I don't want to talk about my vacation." He never looked up at me or asked how I was doing... just kept on working at his computer and nothing more was said. It was a bit awkward, so I just turned and left. I thought to myself how fortunate I was and how obviously miserable he was.

I am even more thankful for my life today. I can pull up my own socks.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I REMEMBER - The backyard ribbon cutting





...getting the house on Calla Lily Way and although the front yard was landscaped and with a sprinkler system, the backyard was elegantly styled with a small concrete pad and hard packed clay dirt (kind of like concrete, but dustier). After vowing a no-lawn existence, we have toiled in the soil for years and are finally coming to a finalized resolution to the original plan created on the back of an old envelope. Fountain, trees, garden, patio, pergola, playhouse, shaded deck, shaded bench etc. later, we are having a professional put in a sprinkler system (mine spring a leak somewhere and lost all the pressure) tomorrow and are getting bids on finishing the patio extension and a sidewalk through the gardens (no more weeding the path). We had tea on the back deck today under the shade of our 25' tall faux pear. Nice. Lise has no vacation time built up in her new job, so the finishing of the back yard is our vacation. I remember that when we finished building the back redwood deck, we even had a ribbon cutting celebration ceremony...ha.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I REMEMBER..."Big Red" - My Volkswagon Bus



...my Volkswagon Bus - "Big Red." I loved that van. It was an all-purpose vehicle. I hauled plywood, tools, people, furniture, and went camping in it. It was my first NEW vehicle, and I drove it to Mazatlan, Mexico, the first week I owned it. I had the first 1,000 mile check-up at a Volkswagon factory in Mexico. Stayed in a little hut on the beach south of Mazatlan for quite awhile. Fished every day; had a great time.

Back in Chico, California (99 miles north of Sacramento - I graduated CSUC in 1969), I had various jobs from running the Italian Cottage Restaurant, working at Kramore Inn, etc. Most of the time I had my own business as a carpenter and a leather worker. Leather worker stories (Lone Eagle Leather) later. While I was a carpenter, I worked on a great three-story Victorian (built for a college student by her parents - nice), helped build the Redwood Forest retail store in a downtown mall, remodeled Ron's S.F. Flowers flower shop, Sundance Records record store, Bird in Hand Gallery, a couple of homes, a big 6,000 square foot mansion and caretakers quarters/barn in Woodside, CA (lovingly referred to as the home to Horses & Porches) and worked on my 40-foot houseboat in Walnut Grove, California (yet another story). I hauled my table saws and tools and lumber in Big Red. Never had a problem.

Side bar: I once bought a quarter ton of walnut slab scraps from a gun stock manufacturer in Chico. I hauled that pile of walnut from house to house, storage to storage for years, thinking I would someday make valuable things out of it (clocks, I think, was the original idea). All of that was accomplished with Big Red. After close to five years of hauling that wood around, I eventually used it as firewood in my fireplace...ha.

Went camping often to the north coast of California in the Ft. Bragg area many times and slept in Big Red when it was foggy and cold. Caught many a good fish--but never a cold. Picture of successful fishing trip attached.

Before I was a carpenter, I had many fun and successful years as a leather worker in Chico. I used Big Red to go to San Francisco and Berkeley for leather supplies and Haight Ashbury trips (used as a very loose term here). More stories to come later about those days, if I can remember them. (My sister, Sharon, says that if you can remember the 60's, you weren't really there.) Anyway, I bought a radial arm saw to manufacture belt racks from redwood to help convince retail store owners to carry my line of leather belts and so got hooked on carpentry. Leather evolved into wood. Big Red was perfect for both ventures.

All things have a beginning and an end. Good times and bad. The one thing you can always count on is that whether times are good or bad, they will eventually end. The beginning of Big Red's life I took him to Mexico for quite an adventure and throughout the leather and woodworking years, I never had a problem.

I was commuting between Chico and Walnut Grove (on Snodgrass Slough in the Sacramento River Delta) on a regular basis. I co-owned a house in Chico with friend Bob Crowe. I learned the hard way about the downside of living in and remodeling a house simultaneously. We had every room torn up and half finished for a very long time. Sheetrock dust and sawdust was in everything. By the time we eventually finished it, we had turned it into a rental and eventually sold it to break even on the investment.

On weekends, I would travel to Walnut Grove to work on the houseboat (was thinking I would become a houseboat builder and write a book about it--and travel to Amsterdam to check out the world famous houseboat community there...never did...but it was a temporarily good dream). I traveled back to Chico one fateful weekend and (thank God) unloaded all my tools at the house and set off through the middle of downtown Chico, headed to the lumberyard. The cool thing about Volkswagen buses is that they had a notoriously good Porsche engine block and except for an occasional minor flaw, ran forever and a day with no problems. The minor flaw was that the fuel line would occasionally become detached while in motion and spew fuel all over the hot engine block, causing a weird little "POOF" explosion, just loud enough to get your attention...followed by a lot of fire and an exceedingly large amount of smoke in, say, two seconds. Fortunately for me, I was traveling down Main Street, Chico, at about ten miles an hour, when it was Big Red's final moment. I slammed on the brakes, jumped out, and ran from store to store on Main Street, looking for a fire extinguisher. By the time I found one, poor old Red was engulfed totally in flames. Even the tires were on fire. Someone had called the fire department, and when the firetruck eventually pulled up, it was too late for Red. As they arrived, a rather memorable last hurray for Red happened. There was an electrical short and Big Red started up and started lurching down the street, full of smoke and flames everywhere. The firemen thought someone was still inside, trying to drive away. They were dragging the hose and running alongside, spraying it with foam and water. One fireman ran up and whacked the driver side window with an axe to see if someone was driving. As the fresh air hit the now broken window area, a small firestorm replaced the smoke and finished off old Red right there on the spot. Melted to the ground in the middle of Main Street. Note: I did not need the pictures someone took to convince the insurance company that it was to be declared a total loss. Rest in Peace, Big Red.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I REMEMBER - Cancer 1 Year Later




...one year ago today I was in Vancouver on my last vacation for awhile. I had been diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer and had started my first Blog; Robert Welton: Another Day in Paradise. "On May 29, 2008 I was diagnosed with Tonsil Cancer. I created this blog to share my thoughts and sequence of events for family, friends and others that are experiencing the same "Inconvenience in Life." I have been blessed with a great life full of wonderful experiences, a caring family, a fabulous wife, outstanding children, good friends, and satisfying careers. Each day is truly: Another Day in Paradise."

A lot has happened since then - with Radiation and Chemo and a very difficult recovery period. I have much to be thankful for. Life is almost back to the "normal" that was a year ago. I am 20 lbs. lighter and have a significantly altered view of our most precious commodity...time [
the interval between events].

I have everything I ever wanted and have been everywhere I ever wanted to go and experienced just about all a person could hope for. The statement that one "can only go as high as they have been low" is relative to my life, in that I have had my share of lows, but also an abnormal amount of "highs". This Cancer experience was a new low, but has produced some extraordinary highs and inner observations. I sincerely appreciate the wealth I have amassed in family and friends, especially my wife Lise and my sister Sharon.

My bank account of Love is overflowing...and that is the best part of this latest bit of education in life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I REMEMBER- Jamaica Part 2


....my trip to Jamaica again. This us an update to the post from before. Finally found some photos to back up the claims made in the "bathrooms around the world" post.

Posted here is a picture of the couple I stayed with and their boat that they bought with a gift from Stephen from the Kramore Inn in Chico (see photo and story from a few days ago). Stephen turned me on to the spot in Strawberry Field, Jamaica, and to the couple I stayed with.

Herein is a picture of the infamous outdoor toilet in the jungle of Negril (see, I bet you didn't believe me).

The third picture is the banana orchard bathroom spot I referred to in the Jamaica post, and last, but not least, is a view from my room in the two-room hut (made from driftwood and Coca-Cola signs) that I shared with the couple in the first picture.

It is a million-dollar view for $0. A nice place on the cliff, overlooking the ocean, fresh fruit for the picking just outside their door, gorgeous weather ,and a view to die for out their window.

This was truly a family that had virtually nothing to their names but in actuality had everything.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I REMEMBER- Grandma Grace Stories Part 1


...talking to my Mom [Grace Margaret Chiles (Whitlock) Welton] after her first emergency trip to the hospital emergency room when she had serious problems breathing. She called it her "Dress Rehearsal" and how lucky she was to have the opportunity to focus on the last part of her life and attend to the business of getting things in order. She still didn't get every thing done, but got pretty close. She had a chance to say how much she loved the important people in her life and did a pretty fair job of tying up loose ends and categorizing things for Sharon (my sister) and me to handle after she was gone. Things were pretty well organized and easy to find ( after many, many weekends of closet and garage cleaning with help from her children) and she had lots of directions written down for us to follow (teachers are like that you know)....kind of like leaving lesson plans and homework for us. She considered herself blessed with the opportunity to have time between the "dress rehearsal" and the "final show". Not everyone gets that precious gift of time. So many people pass away "before their time" and leave unfinished business and unrequited relationships...people they never got around to saying "I love you" to and "I appreciated knowing you", etc.

I find myself going through a similar phase now. I shrugged off being diagnosed with Glaucoma a few years back. Later, I discovered I had heart valve issues and having to start a permanent regimen of pills to keep the a-fib in check was just a minor inconvenience (other than having to give up caffeine). My outlook was that my body parts warranties were just expiring along with my receding hairline and defective hearing and found it somewhat humorous, but it didn't slow me down. After this latest bout with Tonsil Cancer, I am somewhat close to admitting I just might be in the last portion of my turn on earth. Not morose, just insightful observation. I fully expect to live another 20 plus healthy years. I hope so, as I have a lot of loose ends to clean up.

I had far too much fun for one person to experience the first 3/4 of my life and although there are some regrets, I wouldn't trade much away for the fantastic experiences I have had. I went everywhere, did everything (some things more than twice), and accumulated a lot of "stuff" along with my memories and stories. I was in the "acquisition" mode for most of my life. I think mostly it was the satisfaction of "acquiring" vs. real need that has caused my bulge in excess things....like cook books I loved when I bought them, but never read beyond one or two recipes. I was probably in one of my "blonde" moments and succumbed to the fact that it was pretty and shiny with a delicious looking cover. I am now considering selling-giving away all my cookbooks and getting a small laptop to keep in the kitchen and tune it into the food network or cooking .com.

I am consolidating all my photos and slides to jpgs and becoming a good philanthropist with Goodwill. I am tossing my slides, creating photo and cd albums for my kids and of course, this Blog - living forever on the internet and perhaps even in print. This Blog is a big part of my commitment to divest myself of stuff I can't take with me. I am hoping for a long experience of enjoying the "Zen" portion of my life...such as a single orchid and 3 stones vs crates of crap in my closets.

I found a box of my mom's things last weekend. In it was my mom's pre-internet version of the "Blog". She was a writer. Not much ever got written down, but when she did, it was beautiful and touched your heart. She had so much to share ( and used her turn to teach), but the budding writer never burst forth as she had imagined.

I found two of her spiral notebooks in a box. The first one said " Grandma Stories! It was a journal she wrote to chronicle her life stories for the grandkids (six at the time - pre Sarah Grace Loeffler Welton). There was about a half a page of some story about being a little girl on her daddy's farm. I think she was going to tell the story about her pet raccoon and the sugar cube her older brothers gave it to wash before eating. I loved that story, and although I loved my uncles, I was upset with the way they teased her pet raccoon.

I am not sure though, as the story stopped in mid sentence. She was probably interrupted or distracted by someone selling Girl Scout cookies at the front door; the notebook was put down somewhere in her "office" and never found again until last weekend. I chuckled and picked up the second notebook. It too was a spiral 8 1/2" by 11" and almost identical to the first. This one also said "Grandma Stories" on the cover. She must have given up finding the first one and just started over.

This time, she had written a two page prologue about who, what, when, where, why, and how she was going to accomplish this wonderful gift of her life's experiences. The next page was a cover page that stated in big colorful bold marker pen..."Grandma's Stories". The next 95 pages were blank.

I am now committed to writing my "Robert Welton Remembers Blog" as regularly as I can, with the time I have left (twenty years just about do it if I write fast and stick to it). I have already gotten past my "prologue".

Friday, June 5, 2009

I REMEMBER- Kramore Inn Creperie in Chico


...working in Chico restaurants (part 2). After working at the Italian Cottage for quite a while, I grew my hair down to there, bought a bigger motorcycle and headed to the “City” (San Francisco) to make my fame and fortune…many stories connected here, but later for those.

I eventually came back to Chico and got a job as a waiter and cook at a very cool crepe restaurant called the Kramore Inn. The restaurant morphed into being pronounced: “Cray –Moor Inn” (very sophisticated sounding for economic development reasons)…but in the beginning, owners Steven and David, were goofing one night, trying to come up with a name for their budding restaurant idea, and as they made fabulous food you just couldn’t stop eating…they came up with “Cram More In”.
 
Great little restaurant, where I learned the fine art of being a good waiter. Crackers and banana slices immediately to families with small children, before they even order. Quiet dinner, bigger tip.

Young women tipped the best, sometimes with a slip of paper and a phone number. Young men didn’t tip at all (slobs) and even more insulting, was a table of old ladies…all had to have a separate check, after endless haggling over who ordered what. Then they would each leave a quarter or even less, in small change.

I learned how to cook well, how to make an impressive crepe dinner (all young men should learn how to do this, as it works wonders on a “have dinner at your house” date night).

I also learned the hard way why you don’t ever chip frozen ice off the freezer elements with an ice pick. I had sleepless nights for awhile after stabbing to death the house freezer in the middle of lunch rush and standing by helplessly as Freon spewed out through the stab wound to the coils.

A few days wages covered the repair and paid for the hard-knock lesson.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I REMEMBER-Working in Chico Restaurants & The Music Scene


...working in restaurants while living in Chico [part one]. I had worked in the school cafeteria (Bradley Hall) while a student at Chico State College (1965-1969). I had been "recruited" by the wrestling coach (Doc Peterson) and our 'scholarship' was that he would get us a job, get us all the classes we wanted in advance, without having to stand in line and apply and at least 2 classes we could get an "A" in, to keep our GPA up so we wouldn't be kicked off the team for academic issues.

My job was working in the cafeteria (for about $4.75/hr) and my two gimme classes were sex education that Doc Peterson taught and a communications class where I was actually the DJ on the school radio station ( I now do very well with 60's music trivia contests).

Those classes could be another story, but today it is about working in restaurants in Chico. My first job outside the cafeteria was working for Pizon's Pizza on Nord Ave. where the owner taught us to make intentionally bad coffee, so students wouldn't hang out and take up the tables and lose potential dinner customers. He also watered down the pizza sauce so much, you had to hustle it out to the customer before it separated into red water and tomatoes.

The San Francisco hippie scene was in full swing with the greatest (soon to be classic) rock music and a host of young bands you may have heard of ( Jefferson Airplane - Hot Tuna, King Krimson, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Janis Joplin, Santana, Savoy Brown, The Band, Golden Earring, Delanie-Bonnie & Friends (Eric Clapton), Country Joe & the Fish, Laura Nyro, Sly & the Family Stone, Joy of Cooking, Fleetwood Mac, Guess Who, Seals & Croft, Chicago, Beautiful Day, Albert King, B.B. King, Canned Heat, Cold Blood, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Miles, Dino Valenti, Al Kooper & Friends, Mike Bloomfield, Creedence Clearwater, Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, Frumious Bandersnatch, Sha-Na-Na, Kinks, Taj Mahal, Greatful Dead, Humble Pie, Chambers Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad, Fat Mattress, Noel Redding) and a host of others. As I purge myself of excess, I continue to run across some very cool rememberances of the past. Just found a handfull of playbills from Bill Graham Presents from the late 60's and early 70's - Winterland, Fillmore West, etc. Tickets to see the greatest bands ever were about $3 and on Tues nights from 9pm to 2am was "Sounds of the City" - Auditions, Jams and Guest Performers - only $1.

Anyway, as I said, this is a story about restaurants in Chico (part one)...so I was off to the "City" (often referred to as "Frisco") to live the good life during the Summer of Love (1967) on weekends and even grew (gasp) a mustache and hung out in the Fillmore and in the Haight Ashbury. The owner of the bad coffee, watered down spaghetti sauce, Pizon's Pizza, became paranoid that I would bring back "hippie diseases" in my mustache from the city of sin and infect his restaurant, so it was my job or the mustache. The mustache won.

As I was only 20, I went to the only place that would serve me beer to bemoan my unemployment, The Italian Cottage Restaurant. Very cool place, sawdust on the floor, good pizza, good coffee and good pizza sauce.

They had a job open for night manager, and as I was having a beer while filling out the application...I put down that I was 21. As interim manager, my job was to answer the phones when applicants called about the manager's job. Strangely, none of them seemed to be qualified and I got the job. I managed that restaurant for quite a while and had to forgo an eventual 21st birthday celebration at work, as I had to tell everyone I was turning 22. Every night after work, everyone would head to the "Silver Room Bar," in downtown Chico and I couldn't go, so I wouldn't get carded and expose my tender age. Once, the owner, age 35, got carded at the liquor store buying more wine for the restaurant. He didn't have his ID, so he came back to the restaurant, got me, and took me back to the liquor store to buy the wine. I was terrified I would lose my job, until I discovered I was born for sales and never stopped talking until we were out the door with the wine- never got asked for my ID.

Side bar: a kindly pregnant waitress at the Italian Cottage lent out her birth control prescription to a young couple I knew, as they were too young and too intimidated to get their own. The pharmacy was in "White Front", an early forerunner of stores like Sam's Club. It would have worked, except for the couple's reluctance to pick up the prescription when their name was called over the store loud speaker system. As the waitress's name was Vera Dee Balls ( I am not making this up), the prescription was called out with initials and last name: "V D Balls, your birth control pills are ready." They just left the store and never came back.

Now that my fading memory is jogged a bit - coming soon: partying with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna in Asbury Park, New Jersey and my trip to Woodstock West - the Altamont Free Concert...but not now, as I said before, this about my jobs in restaurants in Chico (part one).

Today's song: Super Jam - Santana, Greatful Dead & Jefferson Airplane


Sunday, May 31, 2009

I REMEMBER-Mother's Day Tradition


...little traditions that have come to pass over various holidays. We have our Christmas totally on Christmas morning. Whereas, for various reasons, some families have their celebration on Christmas Eve or at least partially on Christmas Eve. Ours has always been on Christmas morning. When I was a single Dad, the boys always were at their Mom's house on Christmas Eve and then brought to me late that night to wake up at my house on Christmas morning.

On Father's Day, I always barbecue ribs and we go bowling [Bob's BBQ and Bowling day].

On Mother's Day, we go on a picnic up to the American River Canyon outside of Placerville. We always go to the same spot. There always seems to be one spot left to park along side the road, next to the trail to walk down to the river [we say it is due to excellent Karma]. We have been going there for many years, starting when Sarah was so small, I had to carry her up and down the steep path, balancing myself with the picnic basket.

We had a favorite particular spot under a big Valley Oak, until it was washed away one winter. We had to move to a different spot about 100 feet away, but still just as nice. Sarah and I go to the deli and procure delicious treats that Lise doesn't know about until we pop open the picnic basket once we are there. The picnic basket is always a bit too heavy on the way down, but after we eat it all, it is not so bad coming back up.

We have a whole slate of great pictures, at the same spot on the river, just about one year apart. As Lise and I will be forever young (thanks, Bob Dylan), the great part is noting Sarah in each set, being one year older.

Song of the Day: Forever Young...Bob Dylan

Monday, May 11, 2009

I REMEMBER - My Sons & the Fraternity House



...that when my boys were small and we were a fraternity house...they were always being ornery, as all boys are meant to be. They always got lectures [extended lectures] from their Dad [me] as Dads are meant to do.

My oldest, Ian, finally figured it out and instead of arguing with me, right after the beginning of one of my finest extended lectures, would cut me off and say- "You're right Dad, it won't happen again"[it always did, but that isn't the point]. That would put a halt to the perfectly logical argument I had prepared, hoping, that at the end, he would say just that...but he would beat me to the point and I was done.

His two brothers, Nick and Dustin hadn't figured it out yet, and my career as a lecturer was able to continue. Older brothers have a certain responsibility and whether they like it or not, they burn [literally, sometimes] the path their younger siblings follow.

Sometimes, when he did stuff that was cool [to his brothers, not necessarily to me] they would be his pack of lemmings and try their versions of whatever it was he was doing. Sometimes, when he was doing something stupid and not cool and got in trouble for it, his brothers [it is easy to appear smart when your sibling is getting in trouble for being stupid...just ask my sister, Sharon] would learn a good lesson by NOT repeating his actions.

All parents know that when there are three teen/pre-teen boys in the same room with each other and there is no noise, something [usually bad] is going on. Stumbling upon one of these moments, I overheard [back in the day when I could still hear] my oldest son giving advice to his younger brothers: "Listen to me, do you really like Dad yelling at you? He just goes on and on and when you fight back, he just starts all over again. All you have to do is say 'O.K. Dad-I won't do it again' and he will have to shut up". At that moment I was stunned and a bit proud of him as an ally in the family responsibility program....until he continued...."you don't have to stop doing it, you just tell him you won't and he will stop the lecture".

They all turned out to be good guys and I am absolutely confident it was a result of the 100+ decibel wisdom I imparted to them before they figured out how to push my mute button.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I REMEMBER-Sacramento River Rats Hockey



...my experiences as President of the Roller Hockey International, Sacramento River Rats.

I was happily performing my duties as a sales manager for the Raley's Senior PGA Gold Rush Golf Tournament in El Dorado Hills, California (side note: part of the job was to drive Chi Chi Rodriguez around in a golf cart to sign autographs...but that is another blog) when I was enticed away to run the professional RHI Sacramento River Rats roller hockey team.

I was doing well economically with the PGA gig, so when approached, I said no thank you. Next, the CEO asked what it would take to make the move, and I told them a certain dollar figure, President of the team, stock in the team and a three-year personally guaranteed contract from the owners. (That last part turned out to be very cool. I had seen on an ESPN report that Steve Young had a personal contract with the owners of some NFL wannabe league, and when it folded, he kept on getting his money.) I had replied with this ridiculous counter-offer to end the conversation and have them stop, as I truly loved what I was doing. So, if you actually read the opening sentence you can see how that went.

The principal owner of the team and CEO of the RHI League was Larry King, ex-husband of Billy Jean King and owner of the Virginia Slims Tennis tournament (and others) . Very honorable guy, and when the RHI league folded (lost contract with ESPN) a few years later, he honored the contract and paid me for my last year in the deal. He actually gave me his BMW 740i to drive for a few months until he sold one of his tennis tournaments and paid me off. Very nice.

Three main stories that stand out:

1. July 1996, Arco Arena (home of the NBA Sacramento Kings), Sacramento, California. It is hotter than hell outside, easily past 100 degrees. It is Fan Appreciation night for the Sacramento River Rats as Arco Arena was our home stadium. A rolling power "Brown Out" in most of northern California and all the power is lost just before the puck is dropped. Emergency lighting pops on, but there is no Jumbo Tron video, no electricity to the beer vendors and no power to the automatic flushers in the restrooms. 

Quite a visual: A pro hockey game and no beer (probably just as well, seeing as how the toilets didn't flush). I think we played against the LA Blades and we needed the win to stay alive in the playoff hunt. So, as necessity is truly the mother of invention (there is my Mother's Day [tomorrow] tribute), we started our indoor inflatable miniature dirigible to fly around dropping numbered ping pong balls into the crowd, to be redeemed for prizes, snagged some flashlights so the players could get dressed in the darkened locker rooms, pulled a police cruiser (always on duty next to the ambulance--kind of required attendance at hockey games) down one of the aisles to park up against the glass, put the sports announcer on the roof with the police loudspeaker (yes, the power was out to our announcing system as well), placed a couple of guys behind the nets with bright red long underwear and started the game.

The announcing was actually pretty good through the police cruiser system, and when a goal was scored, the cop would turn on his siren and red lights would flash and the guy behind the just-scored net would stand on a chair and wave the red underwear (no net lights operational). I think we won, but don't actually remember. It was such a carnival.

2. June 18, 1997, Cal Expo Arena, Sacramento, California. We dropped our expensive lease with Arco Arena and opted to build a controversial outdoor hockey arena at a rarely used rodeo arena on the California State Fairgrounds. It actually was pretty cool (figuratively, not temperature wise) and this was opening night. It was a great crowd, lots of press and VIPs from around the RHI League to see how this new phenomenon would work out. We worked 24/7 the last week , but could not get it finished enough to satisfy the building inspector, so he closed us down and drove away. My very thankless job was to go out into the middle of the arena and announce (once again, this is a hockey crowd) to everyone that the game was called, a forfeit to the San Jose Rhinos, and give everyone a refund and send them home before the puck even dropped. I must have aged about 10 years in that last hour--probably the toughest thing I have ever had to do. I definitely recalled how I had given up hanging out with Gene Littler and Chi Chi Rodriguez in the Senior PGA Miller Beer Tent to have this shining moment.

3. July 1997, Cal Expo Arena, Sacramento, California. The Sacramento River Rats are playing, ironically, once again against the LA Blades RHI team (owned by Jeannie Buss, daughter of Jerry Buss, owner of the NBA Los Angeles Lakers). There has always been a Sacramento vs. LA rivalry in the NBA, and it quickly spread to the RHI and our two teams. Picture this: A nice warm, summer night in Sacramento at the new Cal Expo Outdoor Arena (yes, we finally got approval from the building department and were finally getting our season under way). The roller hockey playing surface was constructed of smooth plastic squares made by Sport Court, and ours was colored deep blue. The stadium was a hop and skip from the Sacramento River and a short flight for about 5,000 giant June Bugs this particular night, who were looking for a pond to land in. They descended onto the arena like a plague from the Bible, covering the court, the fans and, of course, down the blouse of LA Blades owner, Jeannie Buss, who was in town to check out the new outdoor stadium. It was quite the scene, with some hysteria, cursing and partial wardrobe malfunctions. It was just about the funniest thing I have ever seen and somehow Jeannie did not appreciate the humor of the situation...mumbling something about our "freaking" hick town.

That short two-year stint (1996 and 1997) as Sacramento River Rats president ended after our attempt to sell stock in the team fell short of its goal, and with the loss of the ESPN contract, the team and the RHI League took a year off and then folded. I had drastically cut the expenses and tripled the revenue from the previous season, but it was too little, too late. The stock sale was an interesting experiment and got me in the newspaper in a more positive light than in the sports columns that followed a team loss. Even with the addition of goalie, Manon Rheaume, model pretty, two time world champion goalie for Team Canada, Olympic Silver Medalist for Team Canada, first woman to play in a professional hockey game, etc. couldn't drive enough revenue to cover the losses.

After many years working in professional sports with the Canadian Football League Sacramento Gold Miners, the Sr. PGAGold Rush Classic and the RHI Sacramento River Rats, I was done with the ups and downs of pro sports. When your team is winning, the stands are full, sponsors are happy, and "We will Rock You" is on the sound system, it is truly an incredible high. When you are 0-10, fans are dropping like flies along with the sponsors, owners are losing millions, it can be a living hell.

I miss the highs, but do not miss the lows (unless you count the scourge of the June Bugs...then maybe...).

Song of the Day: Queen - We Will Rock You.