February 2005

Well, I'm feeling a little better. Probably well enough to struggle through the day tomorrow. Nothing like a day of doing nothing to bring you back to life.

I watched movies all day. Nice work if you can get it – I wonder how I can do that every day? I know… retire!

I wish. Just 20 more years!


Well, I'm sick again. I guess once a year isn't so bad. I've been fighting off a mild head cold for three days and today it really turned a lot worse.

I forsee long naps in my future.

I had never been to that part of the California coast: Vandenberg Air Force Base. Now I have.

Well, that's about it. Thanks for reading.

For some reason (perhaps it's because I was flying into Santa Barbara instead of a big airport like LAX) I flew the entire trip on “regional jets”, i.e., little more than puddle-jumpers. It was noisier and cozier than I like to see it but I got there.

I drove north on 101 where it meets highway 1 and took that to Lompoc where my hotel was. The entire time I was there, it rained on me. Sometimes it was periods of showers interspersed with periods of sun and sometimes it was a downpour all day. I don't recall it raining like that for the entire time I lived in the bay area but that was in the middle of a long drought so perhaps rain is normal this time of year. I was traveling with a coworker who was new to me but who I got to know; we found some common ground and got along very well.

We showed up at Vandenberg on our first day running a few minutes late. I am never late but that morning, I had misplaced the rental car agreement that was necessary for me to drive onto base. By the time I retrieved it, we were half an hour late for our meetings. Normally that would be no big deal since meetings of government reps and contractors are legendary for wasting time. But not at Vandenberg. My presentation was about halfway down the agenda and I figured I'd be 11:00 at the earliest. Well, we walked in, sat down, and then *boom* there was my first slide up! I tried to walk up there and do it with aplomb – like I meant for it to happen that way. I did OK but I don't think I came off as Dr. Expert or anything. My partner tells me that I didn't embarrass myself.

We tried some of the local restaurants which were pretty good. I've learned from others to avoid Chili's and what-not since you don't get any flavor for the local area that way. I've been to some really good mom-and-pop type places and so have learned to look for them. I also found some excellent stores. I stopped at a music store to inquire about the rental of a guitar to occupy my spare time. They didn't persue this particular business model but the guy who worked there was so interesting to talk to that I spent over an hour just playing the various guitars and yakking. It was the time of day when almost no customers come in so neither of us felt bad about it. I even bought something just because it was a pleasant visit and it was in one of those old renovated downtown buildings.

I ran across another similar shop in the form of a bookstore down the block from the music store. Again, I spent a long time chatting with the proprietor. I only broke it off when my cell phone went off and it was Mel calling to chat. So I chatted with her as I strolled up and down the street in the cool weather.

I had three days like this. It all went pretty smoothly. We got done early enough that I could have gotten home early if I had been able to get a flight out. But no. I was briefly dissappointed until I realized that I was stuck for a day in one of the prettiest parts of the United States during one of the prettiest times of year. The rain was no barrier to enjoying anything. So I decided it was time for a road trip. My partner had already left earlier due to a family committment so I was on my own. I went a bought a car-charger for the cellphone and headed due east on highway 246 towards Buellton. The hills of central California are really pretty this time of year and I rolled the windows down and took in the scenery and fresh air of the wine country – except when it rained.

I stumbled onto the little town of Solvang which is like Eureka Springs, Arkansas with better parking. I never knew that there was a little town up there in the hills that had re-built itself in the image of an old Danish village and filled the place with bakeries, bookstores, and whatnot. I bought handmade chocolates at one shop and had fish and chips at another. I visited the motorcycle museum. All in all, I spent several hours there wandering around the streets.

I left reluctantly but it had started to rain on me pretty hard so I kept going east until I ran out of road and then went north towards Los Olivos and on to Santa Maria. By that time my new car charger had blown a fuse for some reason so that plus the late afternoon hour made me turn south back towards Lompoc where I had them fix my charger. I also spent some time laying on my bed in the hotel looking out at the rain while reading my ever-present paperback. I had chosen “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac but kind of lost interest in it after awhile and switched to a Patrick O'Brian seafaring adventure.

I had to wake up super early to make my 6:30 am flight out of Santa Barbara so I was up by 3:30 or so. It was raining quite hard as I drove out into the murk. Highway 1 was closed due to earlier mudslides so I had to take the alternate route through Buellton. I finally found my way into Santa Barbara in the dark and rain but, amazingly, could not find a gas station to refill the rental car. After stopping to ask at a Motel 6, I finally found one. But the little convenience didn't have much to eat except donuts. Donuts don't do much for me as breakfast but I made do. I got some good coffee though and then spilled it on myself. But I smelled pretty good after that.

I got to the rental car place and discovered that Santa Barbara is *not* the city that never sleeps. The rental car place wasn't opening until much later so I dropped the keys into the box and hoped for the best. The lot was about 100 yards from the terminal building and it was raining harder than ever. Somehow, I managed to spill hot coffee on my hand and step in a puddle. One wet foot and the whole day to go! I went on into the terminal building. It was filled with wet, sleepy people and a few extremely upset toddlers. They had been woken up before their time and thrown into a strange situation and were not happy about it.

We boarded the plane, all us wet, sleepy adults and the crabby toddlers and then we sat. I had noticed that in the terminal building that most of the passengers possessed abnormally large suitcases. I personally heard three people get told they were going to have to pay extra to ship all their stuff. As a result, we discovered that the plane was overweight. With the short runway, heavy rain, and all that crap, we were not allowed to take off and the crew were trying to figure out what to do. In the end, they pulled off to the side of a taxiway and sat there burning off fuel until the weight was in limits. I thought we would never leave. I looked out the window and saw some ducks swimming in the water next to the taxiway and noticed they were going faster than we were. Finally we took off – using every single inch of runway.

The pilot told us that we would make up the time and I think he did it at DFW airport by not slowing down from the moment his wheels touched down until we stopped at the gate. Normally, a stop at DFW is plagued by much taxiing and waiting but not this time. He exited the runway without apparently applying the brakes; we all leaned into the turn like you do when you're in a car that takes a curve too fast. The wheels didn't squeal but they must have been close. There was none of the usual orderly procession along the taxiways – we headed in a straight line to the gate and came to an abrupt stop.

So we made it. During all this time, the onboard toddlers had been yelling at the top of their lungs with protest but finally they were released from their enforced captivity. It was over. I didn't care; I had brought earplugs and so was happily reading away and taking the occasional photo out the window.

My flight to Tulsa was much less eventful and finally my puddle-dampened foot was beginning to dry.

So it was in interesting week. I made dozens of photos. Perhaps one day I'll do something with them. But not tonight.

I'm off to the west coast for a meeting at the big space launch complex out there. Should be interesting. I hope I didn't forget anything.

This a late-night weekend and I'm feeling it right now. It's gonna be a struggle to stay awake today.

Friday night, they had this “thing” at our church for kids of Erin's age. They stayed out all night whooping it up all over town but mostly at the Incredible Pizza Company. Erin came staggering home at 6:00am (in other words, Mel and to get up at 5:30 am to go get her) and fell immediately asleep and slept until approximately 3:00 pm. She laid around the rest of the day without ever changing from her bathrobe. In other words her day was shot.

Evan had decided at the last minute to go to the formal dance and so Mel and I changed our plans. We decided that since she had to get up and go get Erin, that we'd just head back out and have our Valentines day on Saturday. To this end, we started shopping at about 8:30. It is well known that I am at the bottom of the sartorial splendor spectrum and my wardrobe had reached the point of despair. I was looking like a homeless guy so I finally agreed it was time to go shopping. We shopped for guy stuff and then went to the movies at 10:00 am. We say “Hitch” which I recommend to anyone for a quick laugh.

Then we had lunch at a new restaurant that I had heard about and went shopping some more. That took us up to about 4:00 pm at which point I staggered home with a bunch of new clothes. As I hung up each new item, I threw an old item in the trash. From this way of wearing clothes it would seem to make sense for me to buy expensive stuff since I pretty much wear it out but I didn't; I just went with the usual. Rather than shop at the Expensive Preppie Store, I shopped at the SubUrban Reasonable Price store and it worked out OK.

Then it was time to get Evan rigged up in his rented monkey suit which he found quite amusing. Totally generic pants are a great invention but require some time and intelligence to master the adjustments of. Ditto the bow tie. But in the end, he looked extremely handsome which most skinny people do in a tux. Thank goodness the boy has no weight problems – I guess we did something right after all. Off he went with one of his buddies. Melissa had smelled something on the wind, so to speak, and so when she got a call from a friend to help chaperone, she jumped at the chance. And, sure enough, it seems there was a special someone that he spent more time than usual talking to.

All this was of course after he had decided to go with some friends out to dinner. So it appeared to me that he showed up with one girl (just a friend) and spent time with another but apparently, nobody thought ill of that. Times have changed. Or perhaps they just don't know the rules yet. Could be either one.

Anyway, they didn't get home until after midnight and he apparently had a really good time. Some sneaky digital photos made it to my inbox Sunday that reveal the identity of the mystery girl. No point in going into details of that here though. Privacy-wise, I'm skating on thin ice as it is.

So, that was two late nights. Like idiots we decided to get up and go to early church so as to give Evan time to get back home and do his homework so we could get to our next late-night thing which is the entire point of this message and that is: the rock concert.

This was at the venerable (and famous) Cain's Ballroom. The Cain's has hosted some really big-name entertainment in it's long history (usually right before they became famous) but it's really small – more of a saloon/dancehall really (hence the name) and so it can be tricky to get tickets but we had ours early. It's history boasts such bands as The Sex Pistols, Van Halen, The Police, Talking Heads, and of course going back many years, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hank Williams, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, etc.

RelientK is a goofy band that Evan and his buddies like. I like them too because their music sounds kind of like GreenDay with satirical lyrics but with no bad language. There were lots of folks from various churches that I recognized. I sat on the bleachers near the back with lots of other parents but I did have the good taste not to openly mock the mood of the evening by working crossword puzzles like the Mom next to me. You just want to say “Geez lady, at least pretend to be interested in what your kids are doing”.

We got there early and stood in line with one billion other 14-16 year olds. Right away cellphones started going off and quickly everyone figured out where everyone else they knew was. Then they started arranged line-cutting so they could all travel in a pack. This turns out to have been unnecessary since, by the time they had all this worked out, the doors were open. It seems that one particular young lady was trying to get something going with one of Evan's buddies who travelled with us. This added a bit of mystery to the evening but that spark never really started any fires. Lucky for me since I was the only adult in the bunch of them and would not have appreciated having to turn into a parent in front of all his friends.

Evan has been to concerts before but not at a “real” place like the Cain's and was really excited, as were they all. There were actually four bands there so we got our money's worth. The fact that I had earplugs seems to have left the wrong impression; most parents thought I just didn't like the music. The fact is that loud music hurts my ears and this way, I enjoyed it more. I'm sure I enjoyed it way more than any of them did.

Then there was the crowd-surfing.

Evan quickly made his way to the front where the viewing was best. I assume he was with his pack but I lost track of him when the place filled up. I saw many kids get lifted up and passed along the audience and once even saw Evan himself surfing the crowd which amazed me. I had to rub my eyes to make sure it was him since that is quite out of character for him. He later claims that it was against his wishes but who really knows for sure? Still, he and his whole posse came out of the concert as hyperactive and chatty as I had ever seen any of them. They were pumped up to a frenzy of energy and so it was a good investment of time in spite of the fact that we didn't get home until midnight and now I feel like death warmed over.

I ran into a large number of people I know (some of whom looked enviously at my earplugs). It was like a reunion of sorts. Thank goodness for cellphones – I think everybody in the place was talking to everybody else on the phones in order to figure out where each other was and get back together after crowd-surfing to another location. For some reason, it got to be like that scene in TheBluesBrothers movie when the crowd was tossing beer bottles at the band except last night, they were throwing water bottles up on stage. Nobody seemed to care. In one case, the lead singer/guitarist caught a shirt thrown at him and tossed it aside without missing a beat on his guitar. Security guards would pick up wayward bottles and squirt the water back into the crowd. Needless to say, when the boys left, they were sopping wet with bottled water and sweat. Yuck.

Not surprisingly, on the way home the cellphones began to erupt again and plans were hastily arranged to meet up somewhere for something to eat. And so the evening ended with a sizable group of 9th graders whooping it up alone in a McDonald's with two tired-looking parents (Me and one other), and a couple of employees that looked like they're rather be anywhere on earth than behind the counter at the McDonald's. I really think that they guy that served me would just as soon have been in a Turkish prison than where he was – at least to judge from the look on his face.

As I write this, I find myself getting all emotional. Lately I've been spending a great deal of my spare time working on my old home videos and have, in the past few days, seen photos and videos of Evan as a newborn, no bigger than a loaf of bread and then in the same day, seeing him as a teenager crowd surfing at a rock concert. This paints such a vivid picture in my mind of the passage of time that it's nearly overwhelming. We fretted over every little thing when he was born and now, 14 years, later, we're still fretting – just about different things. I'm not even mentioning the photos of Erin as an infant compared with the middle-schooler curling her hair and practicing with makeup. Then I go look in the mirror, see those grey hairs and that pudgy middle and just say: “Damn”.

So it was an exciting, fun weekend for some and a sleep-deprived full-speed endurance test for others. That's parenthood for you. You may as well go along and enjoy the music.

I've now converted all our old home video (some VHS, some 8mm, some Hi8 tape, and some 8mm film from my childhood) to DVD and it comes to about 20 hours. Now comes the massive undertaking of editing it down to just a few minutes of watchable stuff. I'm not sure I'm up to it.

For one thing, my software sucks. But the bigger issue is that it's just such a massive project. I hope that once I get going, I'll get more efficient. When I think of all the effort my Dad must have gone to when he was doing all this with little snippets of film and glue, my mind just boggles.

I actually wrote this last week but what the heck…

The big event this week was the grand opening of The Guitar Center: the WalMart of guitar stores. I wanted to go to the grand opening because they had some killer deals on some things. Unfortunately, over 1000 people showed up. Maybe it was the free concert next door in the former-“Quilted Bear” craft shop but now empty storefront. Maybe it was the ultra cheap goodies. Maybe it was the searchlight in the parking lot (Naahhh! Couldn't be that.) Still, I stayed in line because as time went on, lots of middle-aged parents began to leave, dragging their teenaged sons with them so, for me, the line went fast enough. I actually got one of the free T-shirts. I got it for Evan but it's an XXL and so looks like a bathrobe on him so I guess I'll just have to wear it. I got in on the guitar strings that were buy2-get10free. 12 sets of guitar strings for $17. That would normally cost over $100. I got a pack of CD-Rs for $5. They were out of the home recording studio software though.

It wasn't so bad standing in line since everybody else was a kindred spirit. I learned of some bands I had never heard of, some places to go to hear some good music; there seems to be a larger than expected contingent of blues music fans and bands in Tulsa. There were lots of smokers though.

Evan and I went back on Sunday when the crowds were somewhat less but it was still noisy. The Guitar Center is all set up to attract 15-year-old boys who can come in, pick up a guitar that they can't afford, jack into a big amp, and whale away at it with the four chords he knows. That leads to a boistrous atmosphere where, if you were actually in the market for a nice guitar, you couldn't hear it well enough to make a choice. I think I'll go there for inspiration and then buy from a local guy with an old-fashioned store where you can hear the instrument you're thinking of buying.

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