Posted on December 16, 2018
What we’re looking at above is 525 years’s of earthly experience. No small thing.
This year I attended a fund-raiser for an organization arranging for WWII veterans to visit the Washington DC memorials and to tell their stories while they are still here to share them with us.
It occurred to me that the story sharing would be a fitting goal for the somewhat colorfully self-annointed MBOF group—Mission Bay Old Farts. It’s an ad hoc group of us members of the Mission Bay High School Class of 1961. I think the F word was affixed by LTC John Quesenberry, USA, Ret., as an appropriately informal designation for what some might refer to as a bunch of aging beach bums. Anyway, every couple of months varying numbers of us get together for lunches JQ got us started on.
Sadly, JQ, an Army aviator, has “Flown West,” pilotspeak for passing on, and that has figured prominently in this Quixotic quest of mine to have my fellow classmates share their reflections, observations, and stories in their own words from this perspective of three-quarters of a century since our first breaths. Man, that sounds ancient, and I’m pretty nearly clueless as to how I got here. Anyway, I’ve had no idea what each of them would say, and I didn’t help by providing any outline as to what I was looking for, not wanting to skew their thinking into sharing what they thought I wanted to hear. In fact I had no idea even as to what I would say. For all of us, our own voices have come forth on their own wings. At any rate, our early years were a time of great turmoil, then a uniquely halcyon period, followed by more tumult over the decades. These years have had an impact on us, and vice versa.
Herewith, our sharing, in reverse alphabetical order, maiden names for the ladies. I’ve edited these only as to obvious typos or inadvertent misspellings, but the vocabulary, syntax and grammatical construction are all as provided me.
In September 22, 1943 my sister Janet Stephany and I, Janice Stephany, were born in Paradise Valley Hospital. My sister came home first. Due to complications I came home later. We had a older brother Gary Stephany.
We lived on Market Street across from Greenwood Cemetery in which I drove my daughters to see and found out is now a offramp of a freeway. We attended Chollas Elementary lived on a cul de sac and had block parties.
After elementary we attended Pacific Beach Junior High after moving to Pacific Beach. My parents bought a house there for $10,000. My sister and I worked in the school library under the supervision of Mrs. Green during the summers and went to the beach.
Went to Mission Bay High and graduated and was member of the drill team.
After that my sister and I went to work for the Pac Bell Co. We both worked there and bowled at Aztec Bowl. That is where my sister met her future husband. The wedding took place in the back yard and that’s where I met my future husband Gary Thomas.
We were married later on in Las Vegas. We had two beautiful daughters Char and Tina 9 1/2 years apart. Since he was in the Navy he came home earlier than expected. We had what I thought was a happy marriage. We moved to Mississippi and Pennsylvania and came home with my daughters.
I found a job at Industrial Indemnity. No longer there. I joined our volley ball team, ended up with a broken ankle and tibia. My daughters both went to Mission Bay High School.
In the year 2000 I brought in a liver transplant after being on disability for five years waiting. All went well. My church even stood up and applauded according to Tina.
Now I have been retired for a while. I am just taking it easy doing some volunteering, exercise, walking and crocheting and enjoying life.
Joan Purdy Ritter
I was born in San Diego, CA, and a 3rdgeneration native San Diegan. I was born one day before my father left for boot camp during WWII. Thank goodness I was one week early. My dad lost his hearing a couple of days before leaving for Germany. He received a medical discharge, and returned home. He was a San Diego Fireman, but was unable to return to duty, even though some of his hearing had returned. Since a lot of the men in San Diego were away at war, he went to work as a fireman for Convair, and the airport. After several surgeries, his hearing improved. He was with Convair/General Dynamics for 38 years. My father and mother were wonderful parents, and influenced me greatly. We moved to Pacific Beach when I was 7 years old, and I attended Pacific Beach Elementary School. My sister and brother were born a few years later. I had a good childhood, and loved playing outside, roller skating, riding my bicycle, climbing trees, and playing at the recreation center. I even rode my bike down Loring Street hill. Very Scary! I enjoyed high school, my friends, drill team, school clubs and the beach. When I was about 14 years old, I was at the dentist, and he let me assist with the young patients. I knew then that I wanted to be a dental assistant. After high school I attended San Diego City College, and received an AS degree in Dental Assisting, and later an R.D.A. I also met my husband in college, and we were married in Oct. of 1964. My husband became a San Diego Police Officer. We welcomed our first daughter in 1968. In 1974 when our second daughter was 3 years old, my husband was critically injured in the line of duty. Through the grace of God he survived. In 1975 we welcomed our 3rddaughter. In time my husband returned to law enforcement. I have participated in many activities over the years, a Girl Scout leader, taught swimming, softball mom, youth director, Sunday school teacher, taxi driver for 3 busy daughters and their activities. Built loft homes in Mexico with our church, went on a Medical Mission trip to Honduras, where I cleaned over 200 children’s teeth, and taught them how to brush. I also helped in a hospital with very sick children. It was a wonderful experience, but also heart breaking, and something that I will never forget.
Now that retirement is here, and life has slowed down, Ha Ha, it’s our time. We love to travel, and enjoy learning the history of different places and countries. Cruising is our favorite.
We also enjoy our 6 grandchildren, aging from 2 to 24 (3 boys and 3 girls). They are the joys of our lives. Overall, I feel I have lived a wonderful life. I have a great husband, wonderful daughters and son’s-in-law. I thank God every day for my blessings.
A Few Thoughts From Nick, by Nick Pasich
Wow! Time sure has flown by. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was getting ready to attend a dance at the PB Rec featuring the “Ramblers” with “Cookie Taylor” singing songs by “Little Richard”. Gosh, that was all the way back in the 7th grade!!
Well, times have certainly changed. It seems like kids “now a days” have been cheated of the opportunity to have fun like we did. We weren’t “tied down” to cell phones and computers. We had a wonderful time together, whether running through the hills (North PB), going to the beach, RecCenter dances, shooting our 22 rifles and shotguns at Miramar (then it was wide open), roaming together down Garnet Ave, etc.
After graduation from Mission Bay High it was time for more fun. George Negus and I spent a month on Catalina Island. We came back and promptly left for Mazatlan Mexico and I returned home after 3 weeks. Me, Danny M. and Dick B. started working at the Burger Chef to make some money to travel to Alaska. We bought a 1948 Chevrolet panel truck and painted it black and white with an Igloo on the side. We made it as far as Seattle WA. The truck was falling apart, so we sold it. We ran out of money after 3 weeks and returned to PB via freight trains (what an adventure that was).
I began experimenting with various drugs which later became a very controlling part of my life. It started out with using Marijuana and Pills (uppers and downers) and later graduated to Cocaine and Acid.
My good friend Bobby Foster and I joined the Air Force with the main focus of staying out of jail, traveling and learning a trade. I always loved electronics and was able to get training in radio maintenance. I was able to control my drug usage during my Air Force days. The Air Force was great, but I turned down the opportunity to re-enlist.
After my tour in the Air Force, I ended up interviewing with PacBell and taking an aptitude test for electronics knowledge. After the test they called and said they had a job for me and I could start “right away”. I then began a career which lasted over 23 years. I started out as a telephone installer and quickly advanced to a PBX installer and then to a PBX repairman. I then went into management and was responsible for a PBX installation crew. I was on staff for awhile and then went into the Field Services Control Center where I was selected to be a Systems Administrator for a newly developing computerized order system. This involved delving into the UNIX computer world which was just being developed by AT&T. I learned several software programming languages and got “hands on” experience with computer hardware.
I was able to control my drug usage during working hours at PacBell, but after work and weekends was a different matter.
During my early years with PacBell I got married and because of my selfish drug seeking ways, we were divorced after 7 years. A wonderful blessing came from that marriage, my daughter Heather.
The combination of my drug usage and the divorce had a very negative impact on me mentally and I spent a month in the old Vista Hill Hospital in Chula Vista. During my stay at Vista Hill, I met an occupational therapy aid by the name of Barbara. Her and I got along very well and ended up getting married. She had a wonderful daughter, Lenora whom I adopted. Heather and Lenora were very happy to be sisters.
I was still under the bondage of drugs and alcohol and it was starting to take a toll on our marriage. While I was a service order routing supervisor at PacBell my hours were from 12 noon to 9pm. I watched TV before going in to work and one day I ran across a program called the 700 club. It was a Christian program telling of lives being changed by Jesus Christ. The stories were all depicted by a short video enactment. Many of those stories were of people that were in the same situation as me. There was a guy at work, Jerry L., who used to be very heavy into alcohol and he was changed by accepting Jesus into his life. Well, the combination of seeing Jerry’s life changed and all the different stories on the 700 Club, I decided to ask Jesus to change my life also. At the end of each 700 Club program, an opportunity was given to invite Jesus Christ into your life. It was a very simple prayer….
“Jesus, I admit that I’m a sinner and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that you are the Son of God and that you died for my sins on the cross, were buried and rose from the dead on the third day. I ask you right now to come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. Thank you for the gift of eternal life… Amen”.
That was the best decision that I have ever made. The power of God is overwhelming. He removed the desire for drugs and booze. This isn’t something that was done by attending meetings or going to church. It was done supernaturally through the Love and Power of Jesus Christ.
Eventually, the whole family believed and received the Love and Forgiveness of Jesus. Our life’s direction changed forever and it’s all because of Jesus Christ.
Growing up in Pacific Beach by Carol (MacLeod) Mulcahy
When I was born in 1943 my family lived on the Pacific Beach side of Mt. Soledad in San Diego, California. At that time there were 11 homes between our house and the Cross, which sat at the top of Mt. Soledad. My father and mother, Ken and Elaine MacLeod bought Kate O. Sessions estate on Los Altos Road in 1942. After WW ll, he divided the property, selling the big house with an acre and keeping an acre of land on which he built our family home in 1949.
In the 1950’s, living up on the hill, was like living in the country with our dirt roads, nurseries, a dairy and even an egg ranch. Also, a neighbor on Los Altos Road had horses in a corral and a barn, which I would pass by on my walk to Pacific Beach Jr. HS and home again.
I think most kids walked to school in the 1950’s. In kindergarten I walked to Crown Pt. El. from our home on Crown Pt. to the elementary school on Ingraham St. Miss Curtain was our teacher for the half day. There were at least seven other classmates in her class with whom I would go through all 12 grades of school. I also walked to PB El. from 1st grade through 6th grade. By cutting through vacant lots on well worn foot paths, it was less than a mile to either school. It didn’t take much time to get to school because half the distance was down hill. Coming home it took me much longer as I trudged up the short steep hills.
By the time I was 15 I was determined that I would have my own horse in our own back yard. The neighbors had moved their horses out to their ranch in Poway and my father said the zoning now prohibited having horses. I wasn’t sure he was right so I called the City to discover that we could have up to two horses if I could provide a 10,000 sq ft corral which had to be at least 75 ft from any neighbor’s home. Dad agreed with my calculations and gave me a post hole digger and said if I wanted a corral then I could build one! So I set my plum line and started digging. My sister was dating a man that worked the lines for the telephone company and he brought me old 4X4 cross beams with holes about every 20 inches which I intended to use for posts. I acquired old used lead water pipes that would fit through the holes of each 4×4 post. I didn’t have all the material I needed to complete the corral, but I would handle that problem when I came to it! I was digging the last post hole when dad walked down to tell me he would help me assemble the post and pipe corral and buy what was needed to finish my quarter acre horse corral. Before long the corral was finished. All I needed now was a horse!
We bought the first horse we looked at in Del Mar. Sheba was a 14 year old Morgan/Arabian, red chestnut mare with a white blaze and two white hind socks. She was spirited and known to run away with inexperienced riders or even experienced riders if she could get the bit between her teeth. To correct the problem of her running away, I replaced the bridle and bit with a roping hackamore.
Towards the end of my senior year at Mission Bay HS a classmate, Bill Costello and I started running together as buddies along with his friends Vic Rogers and Kenny Prudhomme. Add my girlfriends to the mix and 1961 was a summer of parties, going to the beach and part time jobs as we waited for college to begin. I introduced Bill and his friends to my two pretty blonde cousins Deena and Gail who had their own horse. Deena lived in Solana Beach and she would ride down and meet me at a cafe on Torrey Pines Road (where UCSD campus is now) then we’d ride up to her house or back to my house.
While together at Deena’s we rode our horses on the beach by going under the railroad tracks and HWY 101 using the trail the thoroughbreds took from Del Mar race track when they exercised their race horses in the salt water, and of course, we raced our horses on the dirt race track when it was closed for the season.
One early morning when Deena was visiting me with her horse Sue, we rode down to the ocean. Bill rode double with Deena. We knew the law: no horses are allowed on San Diego beaches south of La Jolla’s Scripps Pier. It was 8:00 am and the PB beach was mostly empty of bathers. So, being teen-agers, we thought we could get away with a ride on the beach. As we rode our horses out from under the south side of Crystal Pier, a lifeguard yelled at us from his station to get off the beach. Bill waved to the guard to acknowledge we’d heard him, and we turned the horses around to leave the beach. Apparently, the lifeguard mistook Bill’s wave as a “finger salute” and called the cops. When we reached Tourmaline St. exit, a San Diego police Officer was waiting for us and gave all three of us a ticket. We went to court and told our story to the judge. We were stunned when he fined each of us $50! But, thankful when he suspended $45 of each fine.
The summer of 1962, my cousins and I were visiting my grandparents’ ranch in Shelton, Washington when Bill and Kenny surprised all of us by driving up to visit. For two weeks they made themselves at home sleeping in our old unused bunkhouse on the ranch. Well, my grandfather had enough of us girls being distracted from our summer chores. We picked gallons of wild blackberries when visiting in the summer from which we made dozens of jars of jam as well as blackberry pies which were put in the freezer for my grandparents to eat over the winter. Another way we would help my grandfather was to go with him into the woods (he owned 200 acres of prime fir trees) where he would use a winch on the front of the jeep to pull out dead fall trees, and using a chain saw (to this day when I hear a chain saw running I think of Shelton and I can almost smell the scent of evergreen forest) he cut the logs to size for use in the kitchen and living room stoves. Our job was to throw the cut wood into the back bed of an old army jeep truck , deliver loads of wood to the wood shed and then stack it up in cords for my grandparents to use in the coming winter.
Bill and Kenny had moved off the property and set up camp down an abandoned logging road. There they lived out of their car in a small clearing. Bill was hired at the big saw mill in town. Kenny never did find a job in Shelton. Shelton was known as “The Christmas Tree Capitol of the World! At summers end we girls returned to San Diego and college in the fall. It wasn’t long after our return that Bill and Kenny came back too.
Over the next few years our friendships grew deeper among some of us while other friendships faded as we went our separate ways. I sold Sheba to a local man who rode her in several Rose Bowl Parades. I was one semester shy of earning a AA degree in commercial art when I married Jim Young and moved to Durango, Co. I lost track of Kenny, but Bill married and owned a dive shop here in Pacific Beach. Upon my return to San Diego in 1988 I was given the sad news that Bill had had a massive stroke that eventually took his life.
So much has changed since growing up in the 1950s in PB compared to today. In 2018 most children do not walk alone to grade school. Most children don’t work hard to get what they want before it is given to them. Children now have instant communication with their parents or other responsible adults, unlike the freedom we had as children exploring the backcountry on foot or horseback. Still, some things never change: love for our children, love of our parents, love for friends and love of the life God has given us.
Bill’s Letter, by William Horn
My name is William G. Horn. I was born on February 18th, 1943, in my grandfather’s home on the corner of Second and Elm Street in downtown San Diego. World War II was in its fourth year and U.S. Marines had just scored a huge offensive victory in Guadalcanal. My father was in the Army Air Corps and my mother took a job at Convair where she was a real life Rosie the Riveter. We didn’t have much money but we had a happy childhood.
I guess you can say I’m about as Southern California as they come. I spent my early years in South Mission Beach until my family moved to Pacific Beach. I attended Pacific Beach Elementary, Pacific Beach Junior High and Mission Bay High School. When I wasn’t in class, you could find me in and around the water. I was your typical blond-haired, blue-eyed, perpetually tanned beach boy who surfed just about every day at the end of Law Street. It was great fun, didn’t cost any money and there were always plenty of pretty girls hanging out at the beach.
I learned at a young age to appreciate the satisfaction and independence that came with making my own money. At 12 years old, I was offered a seasonal job at Lloyd’s Bike Shop on Garnet Ave. They needed help assembling bikes during the holidays. I loved having my own money to spend, but I also enjoyed saving money and watching my savings grow. I landed a job working as a janitor and every Saturday, I cleaned medical suites in a doctor’s office. I kept that job through high school and college. Over time, I earned enough money to pay for my own flying lessons at Montgomery Field. I also discovered I could make extra cash by offering to wash the airplanes. By the time I was 14 years old, I had earned my pilot’s license.
In high school, I joined the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). I graduated from high school in 1961 and attended San Diego State University where I double-majored in history and accounting. At 19, I had the opportunity to buy the 7-11 convenience store where I had been working while attending school. It was the first of many businesses and properties I would eventually own and manage. I graduated from college in June of 1966 and was drafted by the Army the following week. I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps so I could go to Officers Candidate School (OCS). In January, 1967, I began my military service in OCS on the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. I married my college sweetheart, Kathy, on July 2, 1967. We just celebrated our 50thwedding anniversary.
My years as a Marine Corps Officer were a defining time in my life. The experience made me who I am today. I was exposed to other cultures and countries including Cuba, Japan and Vietnam. I was one of the legendary ‘Boys of ‘67’; a group of Marine Corps officers who trained together, went into combat in Vietnam in 1968, and suffered the most casualties. My class lost 39 officers. One of the greatest honors in my life, and most humbling, was to command 270 Marines in combat for one year during the Vietnam War in 1968. I was 24 years old. When I finally made it home, I was a Captain with decorations that included a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and four Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. Semper Fidelis.
After active duty, I served in the Marine Corps Reserves for seven years. I also welcomed my three children into the world: Julie, Angie and Geoff. In 1975, I started a real estate business, managed property and built houses. In 1985, I travelled to Israel to drill water wells for three years.
In 1989, I was elected to the Escondido Union High School Board. I also served as President of the Escondido Rotary in 1995. At about the same time, I was in a land battle with the County of San Diego. The County wanted my land for a park but I didn’t want to sell it. I sued them and won. I decided I could do a much better job managing County business. I ran for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, representing District 5, and won in 1995. I have been Supervisor for the past 24 years and Chair of the Board five times.
In 2013, I met a young African named Moses who changed the path of my life. He told me how he and his wife have paid for six children from their village in Uganda to go to a Christian school. He described the severe poverty and the large number of orphans in his village. His story moved my heart so deeply that I decided to go see for myself if this was true. I traveled to Uganda in 2015 and after touring the village, I purchased 10 acres to build an elementary school. In 2016, I purchased 19 more acres and built a high school. Currently, I have 735 students enrolled in the elementary school, 150 students attending the high school and 42 Ugandan teachers. I have also built a corn processing plant to help sustain the school and also employ 15 local villagers. My work in Uganda has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.
I currently own and operate a number of apartment buildings, businesses and homes. I am also an avocado and citrus rancher. In 2015, I purchased a hotel in Solvang called the Atterdag Inn. I am in the process of expanding the hotel and adding on a second building with 33 new rooms.
I will officially retire from the County Board of Supervisors in January 2019, after 24 years in office. At 75, I still have a lot to keep me busy with my properties, businesses and work in Africa. I also plan to spend more time with my family, including my 8 grandchildren, and I hope to travel.
From the earliest years in my life, I learned the undeniable value of hard work, saving and investing. It has been the foundation for all of my financial decisions. I am honored to have served this great nation during the Vietnam War and I deeply respect all service members who choose to make that sacrifice. I am proud to be a Marine Corps veteran and to call the United States of America my home. I am also very proud of my years on the County Board of Supervisors and that we are recognized as one of the best run counties in the nation. Finally, I am blessed with the ability to continue my work in Uganda. That, and my family, fill my heart with purpose and joy.
Gayle (Myers) Gordon [Editor’s note—I am using Gayle’s name as it appears in our high school yearbook, “Taroga.” Her maiden name is Myers, but she and Larry Gordon married before graduation. They went on, with Floyd Smith, to build the famous surfing brand of Gordon and Smith. Larry, who was a couple of years ahead of us at Mission Bay, has also passed on, yet another reason for trying to collect and share these missives.]
I remember going to the movies with some of my girlfriends. It was about this country called Vietnam. It was 1959. We all looked at each other and said where is that place?
Little did we know how our early adult lives would be radically changed because of a war that would last over a decade.
In my first year at State College I can remember giving up classes so guys could qualify for their deferral to keep them out of the war so that they could finish college.
The brutality of war on our generation created great discord between generations and our age group suffered in many ways. The increase in types of illegal drugs changed our communities in many ways. Our class of 1961 grew up real fast. [As to] the war in Vietnam, you have to know that our fathers had fought the kind of wars against evil forces that most of America agreed needed to be stopped. There was a universal commitment which the war in Vietnam did not inspire. It was also generational in that our WW2 dads were fighting for freedom all over the globe for all of mankind and Vietnam was a failed war started 20 years before which the French could not win against the communists. So our country was divided. There were demonstrations against the war and riots. Every cause, from drugs to black power, to ignoring and not understanding our returning soldiers or our college kids being drafted right before graduation. It all fed the chaos. I for one will never forget the fall of Saigon. I also will not forget the influx of Vietnamese in San Diego in the 70s. Life for our generation was altered and our class of 1961 was in the front lines from the beginning, and some, through to the end. The thing I learned through it all is that our class hung together. We learned that by drawing on the strength of those who knew us best, we could make it. Friendships are valuable. Friendships that last a lifetime, irreplaceable. We have been blessed, haven’t we? Thank you class of 1961!!
Years later, the week before our High School reunion we had 9/11
It was again a time to come together and to be strengthened
by those we had grown up with. This class of 1961 is still holding together and I thank you all for your steadfast friendship through the journey we have made together.
You are all very special people.
My Take on my History, by Tom Close
The sea and I have shared a pas de deux for longer than I have memory, surely hearing the sea’s ceaseless sounds while still in the womb, born to and raised in my home at 703 Zanzibar Court abutting the concrete boardwalk in north Mission Beach. I remember evenings as a toddler staring from my upper bunk at effervescent ocean reflections dancing on the ceiling of the bedroom I shared with my brother Ted. There were times when winter storm waves broke over the seawall and deposited kelp and sand along the boardwalk, down the court sidewalk and in our front yard. Our unofficial front yard was the beach itself, and my folks devised the use of loudly tweeting a coach’s whistle so we could hear over the sound of the waves when they called us home for meals or to end our day of outdoors play. Mission Bay used to be mudflats we could walk across towards Crown Point during minus tides, prior to the hoses and pipes crossing Mission Boulevard to transfer sand to the ocean beach when the bay was dredged to form the aquatic playground it is now. There were times when the Marines made training landings on the sand, coming ashore in olive drab Ducks at the foot of Pacific Beach Drive. We had a Flatty sailboat that Ted and I would sail. And when we started surfing in elementary school, it took three or four of us kids to collectively carry a twelve-foot varnished balsa and redwood plank borrowed from neighbor Ed Stotler (an early San Diego lifeguard, later police detective) into the water. We went to The Army/Navy Surplus down by police headquarters (near today’s Seaport Village) and bought WWII Kapok-wrapped Navy rafts, harvesting the balsa within and gluing together pieces to form the blanks from which we hand-shaped our first boards. This was before polyurethane foam, before wetsuits. I remember surfing in the winter in just trunks until we were so cold that we literally couldn’t stop our teeth from chattering. We’d come in and build a fire on the beach, hovering close enough to warm up, then head back into the water and start the next cycle. In summer we’d surf from first light until about 10 AM, when we’d come in and consume an enormous breakfast, then head back into the waves until 2-3 PM when we’d have lunch, then back out until darkness, followed by dinner and collapsing exhausted in sleep. Every day, except those days we were free-diving for abalone, which we’d thin slice, batter and bread-crumb, then sauté in a pan over an open fire on the beach along with corn on the cob and baked potato cooked in the coals. And, in adulthood, I’ve added SCUBA to my aquatic repertoire. I’m a water guy, through and through.
Living with the ocean has taught me reverence and humility. I love nature, which I deem a God-given gift. I learned early that I could not overcome the ocean, but could get along with her if I attuned myself to her moods and forces, accepting that I’m a small part of a much bigger picture. This is probably foundational to my religious beliefs now. I do not see this earth and the forces and processes of life as a cosmic accident. I don’t understand all the details of nature’s blueprint, but I have no doubt that there is a design and a Designer. This isn’t to say that I’m oblivious to Darwin’s theory, but consider the described process as just one of God’s chosen tools. And His time frame isn’t ours.
I imagine most of my fellow graduates of Mission Bay High School, Class of 1961, share with me the sense of appreciation about our time and place as youngsters growing up. Born in the midst of WWII, to bring us into the world, our parents must nonetheless have felt a sense of hope in spite of the immense political forces at play. My folks were both high school teachers—my mom, Rea, of business courses and my dad, Frank, of music. Dad was always a musician and an oil painter. He was too young to serve in WWI and too old for WWII, but he made up for it by being in charge of musical entertainment at the Armed Forces YMCA on Broadway in downtown San Diego. Mom took a child-rearing break from her business work and teaching of business courses, to which she returned as I matriculated to junior high school. This is what our parents did, finding ways to contribute and hold down the home front—no small feat with my sister Andrea, brother Ted and I.
We grew up in a time of richly abundant love and the unquestioned presumption that we could accomplish anything to which we set our hearts and minds. That’s not just our family background, but a sign of the times, our country having fought the righteous fight and prevailed against forces of profound evil. This time of great expectations and opportunity buoyed us when we were youngsters like the proverbial incoming tide.
Nowadays you hear youths complain about being unappreciated, misunderstood, or abused by their family while growing up. I haven’t a clue what that could be like. I had great parents and questioning their love and guidance would never have made the least sense had anyone asked. Their abiding love and have-our-back guidance was an a priori given. These were not times of affluence, at least if affluence is defined by today’s instant gratification consumer indulgence. More than once I went to school with cardboard between my foot and holes in my shoe sole because it wouldn’t be until payday that we could afford the cobbler’s repair. Socks were darned. Hand-me-downs from Ted were just part and parcel. But never did I feel poor.
I was a member of a self-reliant family, and began work in elementary school working odd jobs in the neighborhood, and biking my dawn paper route delivering the San Diego Union. I think a personal vignette may illuminate the positive vibe of this period of my youth. Weekdays I folded papers in the carport at home, stuffed them into canvas bags and climbed up a wooden stair that I’d hand crafted to allow me to get high enough to place that heavy saddlebag over the rack on the back of my bike, then head out for my deliveries. For reasons I can’t remember, the baled stacks of the big Sunday edition were delivered for me at a real estate office a half mile away on Mission Blvd. I’d be there on the sidewalk by myself before dawn folding the papers into the saddlebags and then off for delivery. Before dawn? Elementary school boy? Hooey, my fingers ache now just thinking about how cold they were on some of those bone-chilling winter mornings. Can you imagine kids doing this now, or their parents being okay with it? And, of course, there was the going door to door each month to collect for that month’s already-delivered subscription, the accounting for which I had to keep track of, and with any non-payment coming out of my pocket. I believe these themes of self-reliance and a strong work ethic were a result of coming out of the WWII crucible, and also a byproduct of parents who had lived through the great depression—need to do, can do. At any rate, it shaped our lives as a family, as kids growing up, and to this day, as adults.
I’d wager that most of my contemporaries remember their first day in elementary school? I can still feel my mom’s hand holding mine as we walked between the chain link fence and the northwest building of Mission Beach Elementary, rounding the corner and into the kindergarten classroom. Next up, Pacific Beach Junior High, with shop classes, band, and English with the famously strict Mr. Shepherd.
I now see that I didn’t immerse myself as fully in the high school experience as I now wish that I had. I’m a bit of a lone wolf, and a shy one at that, plus the ocean and surfing exerted that siren call. Furthermore, looking back, I apparently took graduation from high school as just another day in the life. I belatedly decided, probably with gentle urging by my parents, to apply to college, doing so as near as I can remember just in time for the ‘61 fall semester registration at San Diego State. I really have no recollection of planning this out, nothing like the concerted efforts of students and families today, spending years in aligning the planets for the perfect school, driven by a clear idea of major study emphasis. I stumbled in and found time to study while catching waves, working in various jobs to earn spending money. I took five years to graduate, but with enough semester hours for a baccalaureate and a master’s degree, a byproduct of changing my major three times—zoology, chemistry and philosophy.
The pure luck stumble methodology seems to have been a theme. When majoring in chemistry, I needed to check off a general education requirement, and decided psychology sounded about right. In those days, class registration was in the library with volunteers at tables taking hand-written cards from student applicants. The line in front of psychology was inordinately long, and I am inordinately impatient. I looked in the catalog and discovered that philosophy, which had no line, on the adjoining “P” table, also provided the GA credit I needed. Just like that. When I wandered into my first philosophy class, professor Harry Ruja, PhD, was physically uninspiring, with thick glasses tilting at a 20-degree list to starboard, probably a result of his one gimpy leg several inches shorter than the other. Physically underwhelming, but when he opened his mind, I found that thinking of the nature of things had an unparalleled beauty and majesty. I never knew it growing up, but I was dark loamy soil for philosophy. My view of life to this day runs along these lines—to both my great appreciation and angst. Not a switch I can turn off, for good or bad.
What do you do with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and Chemistry? Here’s another chapter in the stumble history. In college I worked in a men’s store in Ocean Beach and at Christmas time, needing additional help, the store hired a Navy submariner who had free time while his boat (submarines are boats, not ships) was in dry dock at nearby Ballast Point. He had enough free time to take flying lessons, and a day came when he asked me if I would like to come along on a cross-country training flight with his instructor, delivering a chief petty officer to LAX to catch a plane home for the holidays. Immediately bitten by the bug, I started lessons during the following semester break, and continued building hours and getting first my private, then commercial license. While a senior at San Diego State, Ted saw an add for interviews by United Airlines in the old Jim’s Air offices atop the original Lindbergh terminal on Pacific Highway. He told me I should give it a go, but I demurred, not confident that I was what they had in mind. Ted was both bigger and faster than me, and when he said he’d kick my ass if I didn’t go, I acceded to diplomatic agreement. I guess they liked what they saw. I am one of those unbelievably fortunate people having spent my entire adult working life pinching myself daily to make sure I wasn’t dreaming the dream vs. actually living it.
So here I am at a story juncture not to miss sharing. As you can see there’s more than a little good luck in my paddling through life. I’ve no doubt that a fair amount of that was stage managing and marionette string pulling from the Big Fellow upstairs. My dad grew up in the western plains of Colorado and graduated university there, then added advanced music degrees from USC. My mom graduated from Cal with her emphasis in business subjects. When dad was a young boy, his father took him a few miles over yonder to a farmer’s field from which a biplane was sortieing with barnstorming flights for the locals. When they arrived at the field, the “official” pilot had gone into town, but the mechanic taking care of the plane shyly allowed as how he was also a pilot and could take my young dad up if they wanted. Sure enough, and up they went. Years later, in 1927, while working at the music store in Greely, the store’s sound system interrupted the normal radio programing to announce that Charles Lindbergh had just landed in Paris, which pretty much stopped dad in his tracks, because that was the mechanic/pilot who had taken him up barnstorming. It gets better. The Spirit of Saint Louis was made at Ryan Aeronautical at the aerodrome subsequently renamed Lindbergh Field. My mom worked in the business office while the plane was being built there. Ryan’s hangar was just a stone’s throw across the approach end of runway 27 from where I had that interview Ted insisted on. Kismet?
Flying, it turns out, is remarkably similar to surfing. Both are driven by fluid dynamics, the physics for both being essentially the same, not to mention the almost infinite variety both the sea and the sky can provide from gentle to powerful. If you like variety in life, and an appreciation of developing nuanced and agile footwork in dealing with nature’s curveballs, then one couldn’t find a more rewarding career path. I have to say, it was a privilege to be able to take all those passengers to their appointed rounds—newlyweds, grandparents, worker bees, sports teams, soul-liberated bodies to their final resting place, military types, vacationers, old, young, you name it. I’ll share s few highlights along my aviation way. As a new copilot at United Airlines I had to take command of a flight when the captain became subtly incapacitated, which we learned later was due to blocked carotid arteries. I chose to divert for an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare field. The subtlety of his symptoms was so equivocal, I had to wonder whether I was ending his career if he was truly ill, or mine, if he was not. He received treatment and medically retired, and later humbled me, coming to my home with his wife to give thanks for what I had done to get him on the ground for treatment, while assuring our passengers’ safety. My love of the palpable joy of flight was such that I built my own single seat aerobatic aircraft in which I competed for several years. For a few years I was a Check Airman at United, and at one point received an award as the Los Angeles Captain of the Year. During my time on the B747, I enjoyed multiple years of doing human factors research flying for NASA. Present day, I contribute, serving as an Angel Flight West command pilot taking people to and from distant locations for medical care that they cannot accomplish by car. In sum, I have enjoyed a lifetime of meaningful work held in favorable societal esteem.
And, of course there’s the visceral joy of flight. You know how fun it is to stick your hand out the car window and flip your wrist to have your hand fly like a wing up and down? The stuff of kids’ glee, and I got that for the kid within every day at work—the connection with nature’s thrumming forces, palpably alive in my fingers on the control yoke, my feet on the rudder pedals. And oh, there have been so many magical moments aloft—a B767 night flight to Paris passing north of Hudson Bay, and out my left side window, comet Hyakutake and it’s glowing iridescent tail doing a dance of the veils peeking in and out of a translucent curtain of the northern lights. Cathy and Torrey were aboard, and somehow seeing that show, knowing they were safely back in the cabin made it all the more special. Then there was the time descending into Sydney, New South Wales, the first hint of dawn’s light filling in from behind my left shoulder, arcing into a left turn over the Opera House, Circular Quay, and the filigree of the Harbor Bridge, then heading for a landing on Runway 16 Right, banking playfully left and right either side of the southerly course to dance clear of dawn-lit towering cumulus in mirthful abandon. I can and do savor a lifetime of work and exhilaration being one in the same—putting their stamp on me, and vice versa.
At the end of my first year on the line, flying the DC6 (does anyone remember what that was?) I got that infamous “Greetings, your country needs you” missive—a two year draftee hiatus for the U.S. Army, including an all-expense paid year’s visit to the Republic of Vietnam. The stumble factored in here, as well. I was made an OJT (On the Job Training) weatherman right out of basic training, stationed at Libby Army Airfield at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, southeast of Tucson. I guess the Army figured that if I used the weather in flying I could probably figure out how to collect and disseminate it for others. From there I got orders to the 3/18thArtillery Battalion in I Corps, the northern portion of South Vietnam, with postings outside Chu Lai and a bunch of firebases known only as hill XXX, where XXX was the hilltop elevation in meters. I was supposed to send up weather balloons to determine winds aloft, for refining the projectiles’ trajectory. However the Army just called the Air Force for the data. Not knowing what to do with me, and our battalion unable to get medics, officially trained ones “attrition”-dedicated to the infantry, the surgeon in charge started me on OJT for that gig for my year in country. I survived the year, and came home with all the body and mental parts with which I deployed.
Vietnam was a seminal pivot point in our country’s history, and there are a couple of observations I choose to share from my perspective. Fair to say the conflict was low in the popularity ratings, and large swaths of draft age males were unabashedly of the mind that we had no strategic national interest in being there, and the Domino Theory was pure nonsense. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to get the call, and take a leave of absence from my life, marriage, and career, but citizenship isn’t free, and this was a time to pay for all the advantages our country had provided me. I was called. I went. Some will hold that it was an unwinnable war, and I’d agree at least from the perspective of too much meddling by the policy-makers inside the DC beltway, wet fingers held overhead in the political wind. But as to the Domino Theory, I had a bit of an epiphany years later on a United layover in Singapore, unaffected by political correctness or U.S. media-think. I stumbled on a regional history museum in that strategically important spot at the tip of the Malay peninsula, astraddle the shipping lanes between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, vital to the transport of petroleum and goods. The museum’s carefully researched and conveyed history left no doubt that in the period, the Chinese and Russians were doing their level best to turn all of southeast Asia into a communist redoubt that would have made today’s meddling among the Spratly Islands comparative small potatoes.
That’s big picture, but I also had a much more personal moment in the winter of 1991. Captain of a regular passenger flight into Spokane, Washington, we had on board a dozen or so soldiers in desert camouflage returning from the arbitrarily ceased 100-hour Desert Storm stomping of Saddam Hussein. We arrived at the gate, and I stood by the cockpit door saying goodbye as our passengers deplaned, and a special goodbye and thanks to the troops. Then I walked the jetway into the terminal, and found the gate area swarming with loved ones and dignitaries, balloons and welcome home signs, a band playing patriotic music, flags, flowers, ribbons and garlands, the whole shebang of worthy and heart-felt appreciation. In that split second I was viscerally slammed with the comparative remembrance of my return home from Vietnam. I had arrived back stateside at Fort Lewis, to be mustered out of the Army, a process that took nearly a full day, and which was completed at about midnight local time. A jeep drove me to SeaTac airport and dropped me, in uniform, unceremoniously in front of the terminal. There would be no flights until the morning, so I was forced to sleep on the floor in the gate area shown for the first flight in the morning, on which I’d be trying to get a space available seat home to San Diego. I wasn’t spit upon nor did people scream “baby killer” in my face, but it was a disdainful unappreciative finish to serving my country just the same. Fortunately these days, society is waking up to the short shrift we Vietnam vets were given at the time. Watching that welcome home in Spokane was a humbling, bittersweet gut-punch I hadn’t seen coming, and I’ll not soon forget.
Life resumed, moving up through the fleet at United until FAA-mandatory retirement at age 60. That’s blatant arbitrary age discrimination by the very government that sues companies for age discrimination. Go figure. Now, as then, I have a wonderful and supportive wife, three terrific daughters (Alicia, Paisley and Torrey) and three fabulous grandkids (Izabella, Emma and Matty). Cathy and the kids extend my timeline beyond the day to day. They’ve put up with, and helped reshape my quirky ways. As a family we’ve done a lot of travelling of the world, to all of the continents except Antarctica, which is on the bucket list with enough other spots to fill out my days. Like others my age, I’ve got 400,000 rough road miles on a 100,000 mile human chassis warranty, so the parts are wearing out, but I’m still fit enough to board and body surf, and hike and bike, dive and fly. Hanging in there in spite of the rust and creaks.
For several years now, I have embraced digital photography, both with stills and with time-lapse video clips. It appears that my dad’s right hemisphere apple has fallen not far from the tree. I should add that while art creation seems a byproduct of my dad’s genes and influence, the choice of photography as the medium surely reflects on my maternal Uncle Cap, an engineer and life-long still and movie photographer. Many’s the time he helped me snap away, then delve in the darkroom to bring forth the images. Anyway, I find the creative process essential to my being and integral to my appreciation of life, with great satisfaction received from sharing beauty with others. This is very much in keeping with dad’s views. It may sound too high falutin’, but he felt, and I agree, that beauty, which is all around us, is God’s gift to us mortals. To the degree that we embrace it, we embrace Him, and to the degree that we try to render our own creations of our hands, hearts and minds, we both give flight to our soul and in our small way render homage to Him as our creator. Creativity is letting free his breath within us. Sorry, too much for some perhaps, but that’s where I’m coming from, and it’s right there with my philosophical and theological inclinations trying to make out, and make of, the Grand Blueprint’s details.
While my dad’s seed was creative, my mom’s was practical and analytical. It’s the basis for my fiscally responsible side, the side that says if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right and doing until finished. And keeping an attentive eye on the technicalities reaps benefits as a pilot, knowing in depth the aircraft systems, the operational procedures, the weather details, and so on. In short I’m a happy amalgam of both parents.
I’m a child of God, though I’m a little blasé with the elements of liturgy. Nor am I a serious student of the bible or a proselytizer, but I have enjoyed modest studies of the historical perspective of the biblical stories conveyed in the gospel. Through the natural world, I daily feel God’s pulse in His creation. While I embrace the admonitions to revere Him and to treat others as I would wish to be treated, I’m the poster boy for brokenness. As the saying goes, Christians aren’t perfect, only forgiven. Good thing for me. Under the heading of “Walking the Walk,” we Del Mar Closes put time and effort and resources into outreach, volunteering around our community, building houses for the poor in Mexico, working alongside the Mixtec indigeños of mountainous Oaxaca, supporting a young boy trying to steer clear of gang violence in El Salvador, contributing time, funds and skills for Angel Flight passengers and so on. The hope is that this glorifies God and makes a difference in the world one family at a time, Jesus’ heavenly rubber meeting the earthly road.
I’ve gone on long enough, while barely scratching the surface, yet I am compelled to add one more observation from this three quarter’s of a century vantage point. I’m a patriotic guy, who can be stirred to tears by our flag, the nobility of soldiers or first responders, or ordinary Joes or Janes who have sacrificed themselves for others. From this perspective, our country troubles me greatly these days. Identity politics, and ideological extremism don’t look like anything I saw growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties, and it ill-serves our country and the world. In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, I kept thinking “Is this the best we can do?” Sadly, at present it seems so. Self-interest and a me-first mentality have us sliding rapidly to a has-been event horizon for this greatest country on earth in which I grew up. I’d dearly love to hand over to my grandkids a functioning government and civility within society where it’s okay to politely disagree and rationally address common issues for the betterment of all. I don’t know the answer, but what I’m seeing at present isn’t it.
Lastly, I miss John Quesenberry. John inspired the MBOF (Mission Bay Old Farts) group of us 61’ers that meet now and then for lunch and cammaraderie, and his spirit lives on in it. John’s passing is personal motivation for my seeking my classmates’ telling of their stories while we’re still here to share our voices. I salute you, JQ. Save a place at the table for me.
As ever, Tom.
Posted on October 17, 2018
I’m beguiled by nature, and the more colorful, the better. Southern California does have seasons, all be they more subtle than other regions of this country. Autumnal light annually speaks to Cathy and me, and again this year we acceded to it its siren call. Our plan was to drive north some 330 miles, up the Owens Valley to Big Pine, thence turn northeast and climb up into California’s White Mountains near the western boundary with Nevada to visit a strand of Bristlecone Pines in what is known as Patriarch Grove. Once finished with our homage to those ancient conifers, we set upon forays into the Sierra Madre west of Bishop for this year’s dose of raucous fall foliage.
Bristlecone Pines are the oldest living things on earth. The trees in Patriarch Grove are generally thought to be nearly 5,000 years in age. If you think in religious terms, one can’t help but be humbled. These magnificent specimens, nature’s prophets, if you will, were ancient before the time of Abraham, let alone Moses or Christ. And still they live. For me, to see them, to walk amongst them, is as if I’m in a magnificent cathedral, compelled to humble quietude, to a gulping reverence of their stately eminence gris. And in my own aging arthritic progression, they call to me as kindred spirits of our gnarled twisted corpuses. Brokenness is Beautiful?
The first part of our mission was to seek solitude with the patriarchs in the grove, a fairly challenging thing to do, given the remoteness, and the harshness of the environment. From tiny Big Pine it’s first about 23 miles climbing steeply via a paved narrow twisting single lane mountain road, and then another dozen miles by a very rough and slow-going dirt road to the scree-covered, altogether lunar site. The grove is above 11,000 feet, above what would be the tree line for many species, with these extraordinary specimens growing out of rocky alkaline soil unfit for most trees, but clearly inhabiting their own unique biological niche. As you can see, they are quite literally half dead and half alive, with the dead part giving itself that the remainder may yet live off the minuscule nutrients, the tree structure twisting in response to the harsh winds over the millennia.
Shh. Camping is not allowed at the grove, yet we were alone in that remote location, and chose to stay the night camped in the back of the van. Shh. I set out the camera atop its tripod, facing south, attached the intervalometer programmed with appropriate delays and intervals and began the capture of over 3,000 single frames to be sewn together for a “day into darkness into dawn” time-lapse, linked below. The timing was every two seconds in the light, then 25 second exposures every thirty seconds in the dark of night, with my hiking camera also pressed into service for still frames in their own right. The image above, is of the camera set up and shooting the subject bristlecone, the intervalometer hanging down next to a tripod leg. Light, camera, action!
The deep nighttime darkness of their natural habitat provides a heavenly vault upon which we twenty-first century travelers can gaze as if we were shepherds of biblical yore. Perchance to revere the ancient ones and a sky’s billions’ of years attestation to creation? To drink up the spilled celestial smear of the Milky Way closeted with those twisted souls who have watched over this for us these past five millennia? The stuff of dreams, of an unfathomable appreciation. Cosmology entwined with biology. Heady stuff.
Looking skyward was to figuratively stand upon a bicycle wheel hub and gaze radially upward at the “cloud” of Milky Way that arced in a continuous rim from northern to southern horizon. Lap it up.
Given the elevation and the season, we knew it would be cold up there, but I’d made multiple checks on the weather forecasts which indicated clear skies to drifting high cirrus clouds without precipitation. Years ago at an FAA flight instructor meeting, where the guest speaker was a weatherman, colleague Rick Lanphier, a Navy Chief in his day job, took the “Any questions?” bait by the speaker. Slowly uncoiling to standing up all six feet five inches of his bulky frame, he boomed out “YEAH, DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY WINDOWS WHERE YOU WORK?” Rick would be shaking his head were he with us at the Patriarch Grove, when clear skies turned into a snow storm blowing in at 02:30, lasting until after first light. I had to parka up, and trudge, slipping and sliding, the 150 yards from Odyssey van sleeping bag to find the snow-coated camera in the drifting flakes and fog, shut down the shoot and put the gadgets away with fingers dispossessed of feeling. Cold? Boy howdy. It was a sleepless night as I worried about being snowed in on those dozen miles of rough, now snow-covered dirt road. No chains, no 4WD, no cell coverage, fleeting images of the Donner party hovering in my subconscious periphery.
The early light revealed nature’s revelry, and a fantasy landscape, magical beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped to have scheduled for the shoot.
Intriguingly, snow covered the landscape, but appears not to stick to the bristlecones. One of their longevity secrets?
Before 9 we were done with the T-L and began our slow descent from the mountain. By the time we’d lost a thousand feet we were dropping below the snow. Still farther down we were treated to a nice view of the lower portion of the White Mountains, and a snippet of the Owens Valley, with the Sierras in the distance all sporting their own white ridge tops.
That Saturday was a recovery day, getting checked in at a lodging in Bishop, about 15 miles north of Big Pine via Highway 395, getting some rest after the sleepless night, and rendezvousing with middle daughter, Paisley, and her pup Lizzy, playmate to Sawyer. At the end of this day, the weather that had been predicted materialized with more snow and gusty winds.
The following morning and the rest of our time there was picture postcard perfect great hiking weather. Clear skies, early morning temperatures in the upper forties, and middays in the upper sixties to low seventies. Proceeding westward up valleys into the Sierra Madre, the roads were like something out of Arizona Highways, and of course drawing out numerous leaf-peepers, although as you can see, we could find unpeopled stretches as well.
Our purpose was to put trailheads behind us, hiking into the mountains in search of exercise and agreeable vistas of golden Aspens in nearly peak color, especially after the snowfall. It was on the hiking trails where we could find solitude and more extravagant beauty.
The lower portions of the trails, if 9,000 feet can be called low, were mostly snow-free…
…while climbing higher was on snowy, leaf-strewn trails.
This day’s hike was about a four mile roundtrip with a climb of almost exactly 1,000 feet, leading to Grass Lake.
We came for the color, and nature did not disappoint.
If you’re from my generation, you may remember the disinfectant merthiolate, now banned as it contained mercury? What I recall about it was its vibrant umber color. As you may know, while these Aspen groves are full of individually trunked trees, they are actually all part of the same plant and root structure. The groves spread underground, propagating countless individual tree trunks.
The next day’s hike was closer to five miles with a 1,700 foot climb, leading to Long Lake.
The lakes drain down valley with numerous streams.
A fallen log crossed this gurgling steam and two happy dogs fearlessly took advantage of it to explore, with Paisley in pursuit.
There are placid streams as well, bordered by dense and shaded Aspen groves. Walking in the groves is a calming experience, though the closeness of the trunks calls for care in movement and foot placement. It’s natural to look up, and be rewarded.
The more complete name is Quaking Aspen. Each leaf is individual, at the end of a long delicate stem, attached to slender branch ends, the branches swaying, and the leaves shimmering and quaking in the breezes.
Another autumn, surprises added to the mix. Home safe and color-sated. It’s in the can. A wrap.
As ever, Tom
Posted on August 3, 2018
Some backstory is needed for this. On Wednesday my airplane owner partner, Mason, slammed at his SwimLabs business, asked if I could help by returning a tech consultant named Al that he’d brought down from the Bay Area. Let’s see, a fair weather day, and my professional aviation chops are needed to fly to San Francisco? Oh, twist my arm.
This provided another opportunity—I brought along Anke Boschman, the UCSD foreign exchange student from the Netherlands whom we hosted when she came in-country a few months back. She’ll be heading back to Europe soon, so this was a chance to show her a bit of the Golden State, and what U.S. general aviation looks like. And she could help keep an eye peeled for other airplanes in this state’s busy airspace.
Al was down as a tech geek, but he’s doing graduate work in paleontology, studying mass extinction events, only one of about a dozen of which is the famous dinosaur version. Anke is doing graduate research developing models in her fields of bio fluid dynamics and structural engineering, all with an eye to improving human heart valve transplants. Talk about a couple of brainiacs. While engaging them aloft, I tried not to drool while blurting high-end aviation stuff like “we try to keep the pointy end pointed over there by that whats-its.” The en route conversation was entertaining, with me occupying the bottom of the totem pole.
We were able to make the flight up and back operated visually, which provided the possibility of what is known very technically as the San Francisco Bay Tour. Right. Our landing destination, in avoidance of the bazillion dollar landing fees at SFO, was the San Carlos (KSQL) aerodrome 8 nautical miles SE of San Francisco International. The control boundaries of the two aerodromes abut, which is a key element in this adventure. When the weather allows, and SFO’s traffic levels permit, the San Francisco tower controllers are known to allow overflight through their airspace in passage to The City (as San Franciscans love to say), and then over the bay, where a turn can be effected to pass the Golden Gate Bridge, then sashay down the coastline SE-bound to return to wherever (Carlsbad Palomar airport in north county San Diego).
Another piece of the puzzle needs explanation. Very busy commercial airports like San Francisco, have designated from their centerpoint what is known as Class B (Bravo, in pilotspeak) airspace. To describe Class B airspace it is commonplace to say it is like an upside down wedding cake, with the topmost and smallest diameter part of the inverted cake resting on the center of the (SFO, in this case) airport surface and going up to 10,000′ MSL. The next layers below on what would be a real upright cake, are above in the Class B, with a floor of maybe 1,500′ and the top at 10,000′. This layer would begin a few miles out from the hub centered over the airport. The next layer farther out might begin at 3,000′ and go to 10,000′, and so on. Picture that inverted layer cake, and you’ll get the idea. All of this allows aircraft descending to the aerodrome or climbing out from it to stay in protected “B” airspace both vertically and laterally. Naturally this only works if the airliners stay within the cake material and the other folks stay out of it. Unfortunately, each successive layer isn’t completely round, but composed of all sorts of arbitrarily shaped cake pieces, with equally irregular floor altitudes. Lots of convolutions, and none of this is depicted with yellow tape lines aloft, so considerable three-dimensional awareness, a good aviation chart, and an über accurate flight management system (aircraft computerized navigational system) are essential to staying clear of the wedding cake’s innards. Guess I forgot to mention that thou shalt not enter Class B airspace without ATC’s blessing, lest one sees their airman certificate snatched from thine grubby fingers?
So how this particular event played out was during taxi out, my requesting of the ATC tower at San Carlos if they would ping SFO tower for their blessing to transit in furtherance of our lark? They came back with a transponder code, the SFO tower frequency I should expect to use, and the admonition to not get into the SE portion of the KSFO surface-based Class B 1 nm beyond the departure end of SQL’s runway 30 without first getting SFO’s authorization on said frequency. Our takeoff would be bore-sighted on SFO, and I’d have literally seconds to switch from SQL’s tower frequency and make contact on SFO’s busy frequency to receive clearance to enter their “B”. No pressure, right?
The picture above is from about 90 seconds after liftoff. Quite the view. I had just leveled at 1200 feet, westbound, and you’re looking due north at SFO’s runways 01L and 01R. These are their preferred takeoff runways for most operations, with the cross runways (28L and 28R) used for landings and heavy-weight international takeoffs. A little background to any delays you may have had in SFO flights before. The prevailing winds at SFO are out of the west, favoring runways 28, but still allowing takeoffs on the 01s. But when the surface wind from the west exceeds 14 knots, if memory serves, they go to all operations on just the runways 28. SFO then becomes a two runway airport vs. four. We pilot bums referred to it as the “Rule of Two” for delay expectations—two clouds, or two runways, expect delays. You’re now cognoscenti.
This picture shows the cockpit display of the flight management system (FMS) while underway, moments after the picture above was taken. I created the flight plan after engine start, immediately before taxiing out to the runway, based on chart study the day before that this routing would produce the desired sightseeing and stay compliant with airspace restrictions. Anyway, at this point in the air, ATC took pity on me and allowed me to climb from 1200′ MSL to 1800′ MSL to miss some gathering low marine layer stratus clouds pouring over the hills from the west. This altitude would create challenges of sticking my no longer so furry head hairs into the floor of the next layer of overhanging Class B as I exited the surface-based “B” heading away from KSFO, but I had ATC’s authorization, so there. In the right hand screen, the FMS flight plan shows that I’ve departed the SFO01 waypoint (one I created within the computer that was 240 degrees and 2 nm from the center of the airport, in keeping with the ATC admonition to stay south of the Bayshore, i.e., 101 freeway, as I passed KSFO). I’ve just made a slight right turn abeam of where Candlestick Park used to was, and am now headed towards Alcatraz island, which course will take me directly overhead the city center. Oh, yeah, SFO tower also asked if I had the jet rolling on its takeoff from runway 28L? “Good, keep that aircraft in sight.” Towerspeak for midair collisions being very bad form. If you look carefully in the inset map in that screen, you can see the SFO peninsula and a graphic depiction of this short leg of the course as a magenta line (the active leg) to the waypoint I’ve created and called SAU01, which is the SAUsolito navaid 095 degree bearing at 5 nautical miles. Lying under that fix is Alcatraz, where I’ll make a turn westbound to proceed to my next waypoint SAU02 (Sausolito/173 bearing/3 nm fix), a five nautical mile leg that will cross me right over the Golden Gate bridge, and shown in the inset map as a white course slightly south of due west in that North Up map. Then a turn to the south to fly down the west coast of the San Francisco peninsula.
Northbound toward The City and the bay. The low clouds our operating flight rules required me to avoid by specified distances.
Federal aviation regulations also specify criteria for missing buildings and what not. A bit of a dance to comply with that and cloud separation requirements while staying out of the overhanging Class “B” and taking in the sights. No rest for the wicked.
Does this make me the Birdman of Alcatraz?
An over my left shoulder last glance at The City.
Well, yes, this is certainly my highlight of the bay tour.
This particular shot really appeals to me. Reflections on the left wing. And check out the circular rainbow and center dark shadow spot of the light refracting around the plane and projected on the wispy clouds at the lower center of the frame.
We’re turning down the coast in the picture above, and as we roll out, there’s the western end of Golden Gate Park.
Heading down the west edge of the peninsula, the shore disappeared in the marine layer, so we missed out on seeing the Mavericks surf spot and Halfmoon Bay. The Monterey bay was open, but the coastline was obscured. Monterey’s airport was in the clear, but the community was covered with clouds. Anke got a nice view of Point Lobos, and maybe she’ll share a frame or two of that. The Hunter-Ligget Military Operations Areas were cold (er, inactive in humanspeak) and the R2513 Restricted Area was cold at our 7,500′ cruising altitude. This allowed me to fly the Big Sur portion so that the shore was mostly on Anke’s sightseeing side of the plane.
I include this image below and as comparison to the one above, to give you an idea of what a sophisticated flight management system flight deck cockpit display our plane possesses. The right screen, known as a Multi-Function Display (MFD) shows the flight plan with its waypoints and their ETAs and fuel status, a moving map with the aircraft position shown on it, and engine instruments on the left margin. This screen can be configured in all sorts of ways to provide useful information to the pilot. The left screen is known as the Primary Flight Display (PFD) which shows a computer-generated view of what you see out the windscreen when you remember to look. (See the picture above of the real world version thereof.) It also conveys the aircraft attitude in relation to pitch and roll, the airspeed, altitude, compass heading, and course guidance. And here, the PFD is also displaying what is called “Synthetic Vision,” i.e., a computer generated display of the actual terrain ahead and below from the worldwide navigational database and the very accurately known GPS position constantly updating in real time. The sort of thing that cruise missiles use to hug valleys below hilltops as they race undetected to their targets. Modern cockpits with displays like this are often referred to as “Glass Cockpits,” with the reference being to the LCD screens of the displays. Long-time pilots of conventional analog displays of 6 instruments showing some of this (called six-pack instrumentation, as well as Jurassic cockpits, or rope-start cockpits) take awhile learning how to use and interpret all the information available in the “glass” flight management system avionics. Once you learn to use them, the tendency is not to go back to old school instrumentation. Young pilots love the computer game similarities, geezers less so. The big difference is that when flying this sort of system a big part of the pilot’s operational mental band-width becomes information management. A negative by-product also tends to be a degradation of basic airmanship skills, and a tendency to get one’s situational awareness of the outside world sucked into the black hole of the avionics. Both of those are avoidable with practice and conscious effort. Years ago at United I developed a seminar introducing glass concepts to pilots transitioning from steam-gauge to glass. What I do instructionally these days is largely helping owner pilots get the most out of their aircraft, its systems and themselves.
At one point I positioned the plane to steal a glance down on Highway 1.
Okay, here’s a bit of egg-on-my face mea culpa. A few miles south of here, we came upon the Hearst Castle. As we were closing in on it, positioning the airplane so it would be on Anke’s (right) side of the cockpit, I waxed on about William Randolph Hearst’s publishing empire, the massive wealth he aggrandized, Citizen Kane, Orson Wells, “Rosebud” and even Wells’ speaking part in the War of the Worlds radio drama. I had set a course track that would put the castle nearly under the plane on the right side, planning to initiate a steep right bank to do a turn about a point on the castle below for viewing purposes. I couldn’t see it as it was under the right hand floor boards, but, Anke, looking down, allowed as how now was the time to make the turn. Hand-flying with my left hand, I rolled us into the right bank and using my right hand, fired off five quick consecutive frames with the camera held at arm’s length shooting across the cockpit and down the right wing. Splendid. Until when I downloaded the images on our return, I discovered five consecutive completely black frames. Yep, rookie mistake, having forgotten to first take off the lens cap. Obviously my mental bandwidth was still up over the Big Sur coast in an FMS black hole! Duh.
A modest while later we approached the Los Angeles basin from the general direction of Thousand Oaks. Back in the day we whimsically referred to it as “Thousand Pilots” given how many of my LAX-based brethren lived in the enclave. At this point it was getting late in the day, and colors were warming wonderfully.
After passing Los Angeles and Orange county it was time to begin descent for our landing at Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar airport where our trusty time machine is hangared. I’m proud to say that I’m old enough to have known Jerry McClellan and his son, Jayce. Jerry was a Cherokee Six owner pilot, a true gentleman and a tireless booster of Carlsbad and the value to north-coastal San Diego county of then sleepy KCRQ.
You may have heard that sunsets and sunrises find favor with me? Here’s how our business day ends as we descend and maneuver for the KCRQ traffic pattern and line up for the landing.
We rolled on takeoff from KCRQ at 14:12 local time. Two hours and a quarter to San Carlos. Maybe :30 on the ground including refueling, getting the bay tour clearance and building the FMS flight plan to stay legal with the airspace convolutions, and about two hours forty minutes on the return with the extra miles of the tour, and modest headwinds in the bargain. Touchdown exactly at the 19:48 sunset. Just the sort of mission at which general aviation excels, with some wondrous bells and whistles thrown in.
I’m a fortunate person, and I try not to forget it. T
Posted on July 28, 2018
Jutting into the North Atlantic like a proper Gallic nose from the west of France, due south of the Cornwall/Devon peninsula of England, Bretagne or Brittany, has been under the sway of both the Gauls and the Celts over the centuries, depending on what political, ecclesiastical or marauder ascendancies were extant in either location. Now, decidedly French, one nonetheless sees both French and Bretagne languages, even linguistic remnants from Roman days.
Over just a couple of last minute days, Cathy and I pulled to fruition a self-guided inn-to-inn walking trip offered by UK-based Inntravel of the Breton north granite coast, often called the Rose Granite Coast because of the hue of much of the boulder-strewn region’s gigantic stones. The shore can be rugged, but dotted with gentle sandy beaches and reedy estuaries, while the terre barely inland, is lushly green and flower-strewn.
Inntravel (https://www.inntravel.co.uk/holidays/walking-holidays) arranged for the lodgings, connecting surface transportation (trains and taxis), and would gladly have provided air reservations if we’d wanted to go full fare positive space vs. using United passes. They provide detailed 1 km grid maps and textual directions. The text conveys guidance where the rubber meets the trail, with the map giving the big picture of each day’s walking, which for us, was six days of around 15-17 km each. Inntravel calls themselves the “Slow Holiday” people, as in forget frenetic-paced sightseeing. Just us traveling—no group—generally hitting the trails after breakfast at the crack of 10 AM, and we were feet up/shoes off by 3 PM. No rushing—just savoring the views, the vibe, the picnics and the occasional path-side bar or café treat and libation. We stayed in three separate lodgings, so at each there were both out and back loop walks, and off to the next inn several towns or villages over yonder jaunts. We took a day pack and a provided picnic lunch, and our luggage taxied ahead to the next lodging where it awaited us in our rooms on check in.
Our route mostly followed the GR34 pathway. Grande Randonnée, or “Big Hike” are walking trails throughout France, with the 34 covering all of coastal Brittany. In the map above you can see the GR34 depicted as a red line generally following the coast, and indeed, we were often walking along the shore, scampering about seaside boulders and even on low tide beaches. The map and text are for our day four of walking, 16.5 km estimated as a 5 hour walk. The GR trails are marked with small painted red and white horizontal lines on walls, tree trunks, power poles, and such, with the white line sometimes shown as an elbow to indicate a change of direction at that point. We mostly stayed on route, with the occasional side trip for sightseeing, bush watering, or correcting navigational errors. Ahem.
No, I do not possess a selfie-pole. The picture was taken by daughter, Torrey, using my i-Phone camera. The planets really aligned in so many ways for and on this trip. Having used Inntravel years ago for a walking trip in Normandy, Cathy gets e-mail delivered teasers, including one about this route. Having this time off between SDSU semesters, she dove into research and found seat space on United in both directions between California and Paris, and that the United arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport was timed perfectly to clear customs and catch the high speed TGV from within the terminal directly to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. We selected a delightful boutique hotel near the Centre Ville there, easily reached as the second stop on their metro accessed within the gare (train station). We found Rennes, a city of 200,000, approachably sized for strolling about and taking in the sights, ideal for jet-lag adjustment, and from which we could subsequently take the train up to the northern Breton coast to begin our GR34 sojourn. Meanwhile up in London, Torrey had a matching gap in her meeting with professors/Master’s dissertation research/beginning a job allowing her to join us. She caught the Eurostar from St. Pancras station to Lille, and then her own TGV to Rennes, arriving a few hours after us.
European street markets are favorites for local color, and delicious tidbits. Perhaps a few olives?
…or peppers, apricots or roses?
You’ll recall that I grow weak-kneed over color? Including visual local color…
…and the aural variety. I should mention we were in Rennes during Bastille Day celebrations? Transat en ville translates roughly as deck chairs in the city. Free. Have a seat, tune in, drop out.
I was positively giddy over this, and both my musician dad and John Phillip Sousa are doubtless smiling still.
Foot tapping works up an appetite. Al fresco lunch on the town, Rennes. A beginning theme here—Brittany is a gastronome’s delight.
The next day we caught connecting trains from Rennes to Guingamp then Paimpol, where the prearranged taxi awaited to deliver us to our lodging at Manoir d’Hotes Troezel Bian in Kerbors http://www.troezelbian.com/the-manor/. Bian translates as small, which fits, considering the four guest rooms in the eighteenth century stone inn run by Tony and Armelle Sebilleau. The inn’s stone walls are about four feet thick, and as throughout Brittany, the roof is steeply pitched slate. Tony provided me a bike and directions for a 1-2 mile cruise through the rural countryside to the water’s edge whilst m’ladies settled in. Prior to dinner, we repaired to an umbrellaed outdoor table for cold libations while the dropping evening sun imbued the grounds in rich warm color.
The evening’s dinner of turkey, new potatoes and greens fresh from the garden followed in the dining room next to the stone fireplace. Wine? But of course.
As I say, rural. No lights to disturb a long exposure view of the Milky Way. You camera technogeeks should know this was shot without tripod or remote trigger release, the hand-held camera jammed steady for 10 seconds against the frame of the wide open window in our room. The dazzling fruit of an old guy’s nocturnal potty calls.
And so began our walking journey, Tony showing us quaint St. Georges church in nearby Pleubian, en route to dropping us off on the point of land beside the Sillon de Talbert nature reserve. Another theme—the sea, its fruits, its ships, sailors, and fishermen are integral to the region.
A ship model between the candles and the stained glass, a most natural Breton depiction.
Then underway. Putting one foot before the other for the next several hours made easier by the views in all quadrants. Thrust into the North Atlantic, Brittany is known for being cold and wet, although July possesses its most temperate climate and the least rain. Our trip was bookended with hot spells before and after in both Del Mar and London, so we were ever so pleased with skies like this and temperatures overnight of the low 60s, and mid-afternoon in the low 70s (Fahrenheit) with light winds. One of our days had partial clouds with a forecast of possible rain, which did not materialize. The only precipitation was rain after midnight on our last night preceding our train journey back to Paris for the return flight home. The weather’s here, wish you were fine.
Flowers. Flowers everywhere. Songbirds as well. Yum.
All of these are of the GR34 trail. We did occasionally see other walkers, but this accurately conveys the crowd the majority of the time.
Our second day’s walk brought us to the the Hotel Aigue Marine in Tréguier https://www.aiguemarine-hotel.com. Aigue Marine is French for Aqua Marine, stones that early Breton sailors often took with them to sea as a superstition talisman. My least favorite lodging, but only because it was, well, a hotel instead of a manor. Maybe 50 rooms and all the usual niceties like pool, workout room, sitting garden and bar and restaurant. The owners and staff were gracious and helpful, and Tréguier is a delightful small community. Okay I also have to say that the Aigue Marine’s restaurant is Michelin-starred. That’s a foodie big deal anywhere, and the food, service and presentation here were in keeping with the award.
The impressive Tréguier cathedral.
Within the interior grounds we were treated to handsome gothic architecture, and so much more.
The covered walkway around the periphery of the garden allowed peaceful repose both temporary and eternal. The walkway treated us to a wonderful art exhibit in keeping with the region’s ecclesiastical and maritime history.
From alongside the sculpture atop the sarcophagus you can see that the linen painting on the adjoining wall is a stylish recreation of the stone pose of the church figure entombed therein.
Along the same walkway several of these boxed pieces stopped me in my tracks. This first is an homage to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who as the author of Night Flight, Wind Sand and Stars, and The Little Prince, is probably already known to you. Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, poet, journalist, pilot and philosopher, which speaks as to why he resonates with me. Themes in his writing often turned on sacrificing oneself to causes in which one believes, in some, pilot protagonists musing mystically on life. Already an established commercial pilot before WWII, flying in Africa and South America, when war broke out he joined the French Air Force. When France capitulated to German occupation, he flew for the Free French Air Force. It was on a FFAF reconnaissance flight in a Lockheed P38 Lightning sortied out of North Africa, that he was lost at sea over the Mediterranean near France’s southern coastline in July of 1944, presumably in support of the allied advance to liberate Europe following D-Day the previous month. One of his quotes is “What gives meaning to life gives meaning to death,” which is much in keeping with what little I remember of French philosophy during the last century. Personally I’d invert the thought, so perhaps some day he and I can discuss the nuances.
Anyway, look carefully at this artistic piece, wood-boxed and glass topped. Once you get in the groove you can see him standing there looking right, in his leather flying helmet, oxygen mask and hose, his forearms cradling…the little prince? Above his head is the classic plan-form of the P38. All of this is done in tiny glass pieces and carefully shaped sand, backlit from underneath.
And here’s another, representing the loss of the Titanic. This particular piece seems lifted directly from the imagery of the hull resting on the sea floor as conveyed by filmmaker and deep-sea explorer James Cameron, with the luscious colors reminiscent of his magical film Avatar.
There were several of these boxed glass and sand art pieces, all of similar size around seven feet long and 30 inches wide. Each conveyed an homage to individuals or groups whose lives were lost in or on the sea. Others included those who died storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who disappeared aboard a flying boat embarked upon a rescue mission for an airship. There was one unfocused, other than paying respects to children lost in oceanic accidents. And one, referencing the January 15, 2004 capsizing and sinking of the French trawler Bugaled Breizh (Children of Brittany in the Breton language) to the southwest of Lizard Point, Cornwall, England. Scribed into the sand of the piece are the exact 49 42 34 North, 05 10 45 West latitude and longitude and the time of sinking at 12:25 Greenwich Mean Time. You can put those lat/lons into Google Earth and see the location. Did you know that you can e-search “shipwrecks on (in this case) 15 January and will get a list of all shipwrecks on that date over the centuries?
Some backstory. The creator is glass sculpture artist Jean Divry, a resident of nearby Paimpol in Bretagne, and his works conveyed at the cathedral all relate to the strong influence of man and the sea we saw in so many ways during our time there. I tried to engage the gatekeeper woman who sold the 1.5 Euro exhibit entry tickets to learn more about what we were seeing. It was a thing of painful beauty to see her try to reach out with her limited English to edify us about the artist and the art. She and I created a whole new language of facial expressions, eyebrow accents and raised shoulder and arm grammar. What a sweet woman, so intent on conveying the magic of art and shared experience.
The walk back to the hotel was typical of the sorts of small communities we meandered.
Our next day’s walk was billed as two choices—long and longer. We selected choice one. The hike began with a drop-off by taxi near Castel Meur (pictured at the very outset of this missive) at a tiny spit of land called le Goufree on the peninsular thumb of Pointe du Chateau. It takes another fold of the map to sort this one out, sorry. There were plenty of other rocky sights, heading southbound along the eastern periphery of this thumb bordering the Jaudy river.
Our choice of abbreviated hike required a pre-arranged taxi to pick us up at a tiny cafe on the equally tiny harbor at La Roche Jaune (The Yellow Rock). We arranged pickup for 3:45 at a café, suggested by our driver, which we heard him say was called “Le Café Biscuit.” I even repeated it to make sure I had it right. Talk about being a stranger in a strange land? The actual name was “Le Café Pesked,” with Biscuit, or Pesked—whatever!—referring to something about fish or the sea in Breton. What a hoot. That’s what 20,000+ hours of jet engine noise does to your hearing. Don’t know about the yellow rock, but the cafe walls are bright yellow, red, and orange. Did I mention that I go gaga over color? Yep, that’s a local lobster trap over the door, and is there anything more sensible after five hours of walking than a two-scoop bowl of glacée (ice cream) and a cold local brewski? Why it’s called a holiday.
The next morning our taxi delivered us to the starting point of the day’s hike on to our final lodging. I was wowed by the lovely quaintness of Port Blanc…
…and all of the water activities for the children on this summer morning. The scene reminded me of my own youth and even young adulthood with activities at Santa Clara Point in Mission Beach. It’s this starting point that is referenced in the textual directions at the outset of this post, both images taken while on said promenade.
After a longish day of walking including a picnic sitting on granite next to the water, we finally arrived at the yacht harbor announcing the beginning of Perros-Guirec and our lodging at the Manoir du Sphinx http://www.lemanoirdusphinx.bzh. Funny name, right? It’s perched on a bluff directly above a rock and sand shore, with the map conveying that spot as Sphinx point. I couldn’t see the similarity, but what’s in a name? Anyway, before we left the harbor and trudged the final kilometers to the manor, at a local café we elected a Breton delicacy pick-me-up, a pomme et glacée galette (sliced baked apple and ice cream held in a buckwheat crepe) washed down by icy local beers. I was the thirstier, why do you ask?
To say that the manor has a commanding view is a bit of an understatement. This is a panorama of about 150 degrees taken from the fully openable window of our room (21) which jutted out several feet from the face of the building like our own personal aerie. This was taken at low tide, and herein is another Breton worthy-mention. The biggest tidal differences correspond to full and new moons, and in Del Mar those might be as much as an 8 foot difference. This picture was taken when the moon was half full, or a period of modest tidal change, and yet with the local bathymetry, the tidal swings were in the neighborhood of 23 feet. During high tide, those rocks below were fully covered, with the water up against the greenery of the manor’s lower garden. At the far right of the frame you can just make out the curving shoreline of a gorgeous sand beach—Plage de Trestignel. Cathy and I both cavorted in the water there, albeit in short doses given the 62F water temperature. You can make out the bird sanctuary of Les Sept Iles (Seven Islands) offshore.
After getting situated and gawking at the view, it was time for dinner. Brittany is known for its seafood. I hope you came hungry. Oh yes, another Michelin-starred restaurant.
It turns out that the nighttime views from our room were equally astounding. That would be the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) in the lower left, the right lip of its pan pointing, as always, at the brightness of Polaris to the right of center near the top of the frame. Known also as the pole star, it is a delight to navigators, as it defines one’s latitude in the northern hemisphere—it’s on the horizon when at the equator, and directly overhead at the north pole. Here in north coastal Brittany at nearly 49 degrees north, it’s a tad above halfway betwixt the horizontal and vertical. You’ll notice that each of the bright stars in the frame are tiny sideways teardrops, reflecting the amount of movement by our rotating earth during the ten second exposure. More on that anon. Love those dark nighttime skies.
On our second of three days in Perros-Guirec we stayed and visited local sights and scenes. We strolled some ten minutes to the centre ville (city center) where we caught a local bus towards Ploumanac’h, getting off at the Chapelle Notre Dame de la Clarté, named for the patron saint of sailors. It’s prominence was supposed to have been a targeting reference for pre-D Day bombers attempting to take out a nearby German radar. Breton foggy weather blanketed the peninsula and saved the church, leaving its blessing of sailing ships and pipes intact.
Following a wooded path, and then meandering through byways, we eventually arrived at the lovely sheltered harbor of Ploumanac’h where we took sustenance before resuming our walk to return to the manor a couple of hours later. An observation on the French way—we arrived at an outdoor café here at 11:45, but were declined service because it was not yet 12:00. Waiters were ready, the tables set, it just was not midday. This wasn’t delivered with down the nose insult, more a perplexed confusion over how anyone could wish it otherwise. We continued our walk another quarter hour and spent our Euros at another restaurant adjoining a lovely plage a kilometer farther on.
And so we come to 20 July, 2018, which began with an auspicious sunrise at “Oh-Dawn-Early” on this 33rd anniversary of our marriage.
Another taxi ride to what was billed as possibly the most scenic stage of our journey, beginning on Ile Renote, actually a peninsula by means of a narrow stretch of connecting land at the island’s southwest extremity. Ol’ What’s Her Name taking in the view.
And what a view it was.
By now we are starting to get this Rose Granite thing.
This fantasy-land stretch treated us to luscious low light and solitude. That’s the duck under and twist through trail here.
There were gargantuan apparitions like this leaping bear, its left wing shot through.
And tranquil spots to feel the air, absorb the vibe, and perhaps take a water break? Double entendre.
You can’t overstate the raw beauty of the region. This particular stretch drew modest crowds, which is to say we actually saw other walkers. To give us space, we took our picnic lunch ensconced on boulders we had to scramble to, gazing toward this maritime navigational light.
GR34 ambling on the right.
We returned to the manor, and went for a swim at Plage de Trestrignel, then dressed and repaired to the lounge for champagne and on to the restaurant for our anniversary dinner. Our three course meal began with a gazpacho appetizer accompanied by a glass of Sauterne. That grin is because she’s unwrapping a velvet-bagged lovely silver and glass bauble I slyly acquired days before at an artisan’s studio next to Tréguier cathedral.
Atlantic cod, Breton style. No newspaper. A bottle of red the sommelier recommended if we were keen on red in spite of fish. We were. An inspired choice.
For the sweet tooth. Citron something or other.
Observations on the Breton dining experience. Breakfasts were of the continental variety, with plenty of cheese, meat, cereals, rolls and buttery croissants adequate for the day’s walking. Our prepared picnic lunches were not what you’d think of as picnic lunches. Salads, yes. Potato salad, no. Dinners were set your watch by it, begun at 19:30. And people arrived pretty much on time, creating a single—not staggered—seating for supper. This translates to modestly slammed servers forcing a leisurely dining time. Method to their madness? The Breton way, a byproduct of which was that we were usually finished by 9:45 PM, about :25 before sunset. At the Sphinx we invariably took ourselves out to “our” sunset viewing bench in the garden below chambre 21.
Nice light for 10 PM. Have I mentioned the flowers?
Bench view to the west. Three separate shots to convey a point.
You’ll recall the minute sideways teardrops of stars in the Big Dipper time exposure? These three sunset frames convey the same in their own way—look carefully how the setting sun shifts appreciably right during the sixty seconds duration from the first to the last frame. This big blue marble in space revolves at a rapid pace, like life itself. Our time in Bretagne was a slow travel antidote to the daily rush. No news of presidential taunt tweets, just time spent renewing love for a good woman and enjoying rose-colored stones and sunsets.
Au Revoir, T
Posted on April 5, 2018
Spring Break for Cathy at SDSU. Torrey at Middlesex University, didn’t really have an official break, but had a week without going-to-class requirements, just projects to keep moving toward fruition in her Master’s studies in Digital Marketing. Sufficient planetary alignment to jump across the pond for a rendezvous in England. We arrived the day after the vernal equinox, equally early enough and late enough for England to show both climate and seasonal faces—the first hints of buds, in spite of residual snow on the ground from the previous week’s white blanketing.
Principal reasons for me to go were to see and visit with Torrey, who is living in London’s Islington borough at this point nearly half way through her studies, to recon her local digs and meet her university chums, with a side dish of all three of us exploring the southwest English peninsula of Devon and Cornwall.
Her flat is in a secure apartment complex dedicated to foreign exchange students, a studio apartment showing her inimitable style in personalizing her living space. The neighborhood is oh so British, with tea rooms and pubs, and all the usual residential amenities.
Our first three days were dedicated to London cruising and jet-lag adjustment. We renewed our skills negotiating both the Underground and London’s ubiquitous double-decker busses. Torrey, the resourceful young adult, arranged for two sim cards for our mobile phones so that we could call and text in the UK, and turned us onto the Citymapper app for our phones that enables knowing and using every sort of public transport, including bus route numbers and tube maps with schedules to the nearest :01. Essential stuff in a realm divorced from harnessing oneself to the automobile.
Torrey and three of her four favorite classmates joined us for dinner at the trendy COPPA Club just off central London’s bustling New Oxford Street, and a short walk from our Thistle Hotel near the Holborn Underground station, a stone’s throw from the British Museum.
From left to right, front row: Emilia and Alessandra—both from Norway—Judith, from Spain by way of England, and Torrey. Back row, the geezer, himself, and ol’ What’s Her Name. Unavailable this particular evening was Trang, from Viet Nam. I’m conveying this to share just how diverse and cosmopolitan London and Torrey’s university are. Of course some would say that this diversity is the seed bed of Brexit, but I’ll leave that for others to sort out.
St. Paul’s dome in the first image, above, is the iconic view I remembered from past visits to London, but lo and behold, there’s actually a front entrance to the cathedral, overseen by the statue of Queen Anne. The church has been here, rebuilt several times, for over 1400 years.
We departed, southbound, walking across the Thames on the Millennium Footbridge, a steel suspension bridge dedicated by Queen Elizabeth on my birthday in 2000. I failed to receive a special invitation to attend the ceremonies. But the bridge is easy on the eye with great views from it, and of it.
Exiting the bridge on the south bank places you in one of London’s many art districts—directly in front of the Tate Modern art gallery, and a very short stroll to Shakespeare’s Old Globe. Continuing the stroll eastward, we soon came to our intended destination of Borough Market—a foodie’s nirvana, and sadly, the site of a terrorist attack last year, which had begun overhead on London Bridge.
Teeming with locals and tourists, Borough Market delights the eye in colors and shapes, the nose in fragrances of every imaginable food from a world of cultural appetites, and the palate as you sit in tables amongst the food stalls letting your dietary imagination run boundless. Everything is freshly caught or picked and arrayed kaleidoscopically in sensory overload. Cheese from England and Switzerland, fresh fruit from the countryside, or just flown in from distant climes, freshly grilled duck confit on a bed of greens, partaken with chilled Prosecco. Decadence, defined.
Following lunch at Borough Market we used the tube to get to the V & A, the Victoria and Albert Museum, south of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. That would be Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert. The Victoria whose name establishes Victorian England’s inclusive descriptor for place and time in the nineteenth century. Like our Smithsonian, England’s major museums are free, although for certain exhibits there may be a fee. Such was the case with a newly opened exhibit on Ocean Liners and their place in the 19th and early 20th centuries as both mode of intercontinental travel, and definers of chic elegance for those with means, not to mention proud examples of national technological and style prowess for sea-faring countries’ governments and businesses.
The exhibit showcases liner paraphernalia from the time when ocean crossing was the stuff of curving staircases to grand salons, intentionally designed to showcase the beautiful people in elegant attire descending to the evening’s revelry. An exhibit of hull riveting, and over the top gowns, custom travel cases, engineering marvels like gyro stabilizers and hydrodynamic hulls, deck chairs, a bit of Titanic flotsam and so on. A quite fascinating flashback to a time before torn jean short shorts became today’s de rigueur attire for a certain segment of cattle car airline travelers. All of this, nourishing to me, whose dad had his own music combo performing on numerous ocean liners to alluring distant ports of call during the time between the world wars. His still lovely accordion and its well-scuffed travel case plastered with destination travel stickers are prized mementos here at Chez Close. Well, for heaven’s sake, as long as I’m walking down a stream-of-consciousness memory lane, you should know that the first airplane ride I had as a young whipper-snapper was in an old fabric-covered Piper taildragger owned and flown by the gent who had been my dad’s trumpeter in that world-hopping combo. He flew down from Corona Del Mar, used an unpaved strip somewhere around the eastern edge of Mission Bay, and took me up for a local flight. Art, airplanes? The apple fallen not far from the tree. I thank the V&A for this, shall we say, flight of fancy?
London, the melting pot, sadly has had more than its share of recent terrorist attacks. The second evening of our visit was the one year remembrance of last March’s auto and stabbing attack on Westminster Bridge, commemorated by this lit attestation on Westminster’s government buildings. Londoners, are decidedly shoulder to shoulder in their verrrry British undeterred stiff upper lip carrying-on. These are the people who survived the Blitz, after all.
Our plan was to explore another part of England not previously visited, and settled on the southwest peninsula of Devon and Cornwall, which we reached by train from Paddington Station, with a change at Exeter, and arrival at Barnstaple.
We picked up our rental stick shift Ford Focus there, and proceeded to our home away, a three bedroom residence in Ilfracombe, a small city on the northern Devon shoreline. Ilfracombe, pronounced Ilfra-coom, where combe is a bay not coincident to an emptying river, is quaint and walkable small. This northern shore of the southwest peninsula is approximately 25 miles south, across the Bridgewater Bay extension of the Atlantic, from the southern coast of Wales, which is visible across the water. There are quaint shops, pubs, even a Michelin-starred restaurant. We shopped for groceries and took breakfast in our place, but dined out for lunch and dinner.
Each day we headed out with only vague ideas about what we wished to do, so long as it allowed absorbing the local vibe and getting some fresh air and exercise on the countless walking and hiking paths. For pilots, aviating there is half the fun, but driving in Devon was stressful, punctuated by decidedly scary moments. I was okay with the manual shift, but the typical roads were quite literally 1 car wide, with occasional bow-outs such as you can see on the left, below, to enable two vehicles to pass in opposite directions. The problem is that hedgerows are universal, higher than the auto height, which with constantly twisting rural roads means that you don’t seen another vehicle coming until you are nose to nose. The natural response for a gringo is to dodge right, which is precisely the wrong thing to do in England, then there’s the necessary instinctive downshifting, and my neural pathways and muscle memory were all for my right hand to shift, not the left. To say that there was vehicular tension is a touch of understatement. We survived and didn’t wreck the vehicle, but good fortune had much to do with that.
Our destinations varied from tiny hamlets to just trailheads around Ilfracombe and Exmoor Forest, the trails through forests and up and down coastal headlands.
Clouds and sun, dry, or intermittent rain showers, calm or windy, temperatures in the upper forties to low fifties…all in the same day. There was snow on the north sides of the hedgerows, residual from the prior week. In a word—”seasonal”—for late March.
Villages with hundreds, if not thousands of years of history. A trailhead just past this bubbling brook.
Along the trail…
…and trailside views, Spring breaking through
Taking a moment to recharge while savoring the view
Trails that drop down to the sea, climb back up the hills above
Buffeted by winds, cool temperatures perfect for hiking, and muscles mumbling “enough already,” the trails would return us to our starting point in or near small country villages.
Hike behind us, we routinely settled into a bit of mid-afternoon lunch R&R in a local public house, a pub not owned by a beverage company, and thus able to surf all varieties and labels of adult libations. Many such establishments had been doing business as far back as the 1200s. Each facility has its own vibe and eclectic decorations, a crackling fire, yummy hearty fare from the kitchen and pints of local draft craft beers, wines and spirits. Indulge yourself, you just earned it.
On this particular day we had hiked somewhere between six and eight miles before repairing to the King’s Arms for lunch, “rehydration,” and revelry. The friendly woman serving us mentioned a trail accessed from just out the door leading to Putsborough beach, a local favorite surfing beach. Lest we settle into an afternoon food coma we departed for another hike of 4 miles or so, with the expansive sand beach our turn around point. There was a young people’s surf school just about to paddle out into the ill-formed waves and 45F water temperature. I didn’t notice anyone trunking it! Looking at a map, it’s hard to imagine how that north shore of the Devon/Cornwall coast could have much in the way of waves, but it is an active surf locale, with surf shops, schools and clubs much as we see here in SoCal. Who knew?
The neighborhood pub is a staple of English life. Nowadays it is smoke-free, thank goodness, but it continues its long tradition as a central meeting place for locals and passersby. I think Cathy has hit upon a viable explanation of pubs’ prominence—the homes often have modestly sized living rooms, such that having your mates over for a visit can be problematic. So why not meet at the pub just a short walk away? They are rendezvous sites and sights for the whole spectrum of the community—kids, parents, grandparents, singles, the well-heeled and the reprobates. Think Cheers Bar with a touch of “wi-fi available” modernity’s nose under the tent flap of a centuries’ year old established-there history.
Speaking of which, after a strong wind-buffeted hike on another cliff trail above rock-crashing surf near Croyde to Baggy Point, as we ensconced ourselves with a ploughman’s lunch and a pint of Ureka IPA next to warm sun streaming in a window of The Thatch, Torrey received a text message school assignment on obscure patent issues. Throughly Modern Milly, she completed her research and finished her assignment on her mobile phone while enjoying lunch and the vibe. Multi-tasking, anyone?
On our last night in Devon, we walked into town, me tired enough to wonder why I wasn’t driving, but concluding the fresh air was much better than negotiating the left side of those twisty tiny streets. On our walk back from a lovely small café the gauzy cloud cover overhead spread the curtains just enough for this Holy Week view of ancient stones and ancient moon.
The next day we drove to Barnstaple and caught the train back to London. Dinner that evening at the Museum Pub around the corner from our hotel, and across the street from the British Museum. Morning tube ride via the Picadilly line and two seats on a United 787 to home and Sawyer. Yes, he was wiggly glad to see us, and thanks to Nitza for dog-sitting while we were away.
Posted on December 7, 2017
From my vantage point God has made me a quirky sort, and as per the proverbial expression that He clearly has a sense of humor, must find whimsical pleasure in the sort of things that float my boat. This morning my pump was primed when I ambled upstairs, sleepy-headed, and gazed out at the Pacific, with the 3/4 moon high in the western firmament and that before-sunrise sky and sea color that you local early risers know we can experience on clear dawns this time of year. A bluish sky high up, turning to a wonderful pinkish magenta farther down, all of which is reflected in the glassy early sea surface. My dad, a painter, used to remark about the bizarre color pigments he needed to capture the light of various scenes delivered from his palette to the canvas. Nowadays, I very much can say “Amen” to that. This morning I called Cathy’s attention to the color in a “quick, hurry, come look” exhortation in keeping with the little kid within me. Then our canine Sancho Panza chum Sawyer drug himself off our bed downstairs and came up to enquire if it wasn’t time for him to take me for my morning walk?
Finishing up our stroll on the cliff trail, wandering back, I was relishing the beauty of pristinely formed waves, the tops of which looked like they’d been cleaved with a straight edge and Exacto blade, feathering spindrift blowing off the pitching lips in the offshore wind, tiny barrels of aquamarine as glistening punctuation marks to swells having come across the sea from thousands of miles away. And there on the reef break where we often surf, a lone pelican afloat, sitting in the water right where the usual surfer lineup spot is. This morning’s small two-foot size had not tempted any humans out, but there Señor Pelican was, probably digesting a just-swallowed fish caught from their typical near vertical plunge into the water. Materializing from the west a one-wave larger “set” A-frame peak rose up. I thought surely it would pitch over and pummel him. But no—he waited, and at the last second as the pitching swell went critical, he launched, a single push of his webbed feet and effortless extension of his wings, and he was airborne, deep in the peak and gliding effortlessly along the the updraft being forced up the wave face by physics. Ridge soaring in the oceanic way so marvelously accomplished by the lowly pelican, a creature only a mother could love on the ground, and a thing of forever beauty in the air. Surfers and glider pilots of the world, eat your hearts out. This guy clearly planned and pulled off his no-stroke takeoff, no doubt hooting with stoke at the pure fun of it.
Now, isn’t this a wonderful way to start your day? Forget the shopping malls, and the workaday challenges. This is where the glory is. And I bet my maker is upstairs, twinkle in his eye at having made me to see and share this sort of thing. Lucky us.
Posted on September 24, 2017