Smilin’ Jack


smilin_20jack_smallIf you grew up in the South Bay like I did (Wilmington in particular), your Halloween just wasn’t complete until you and your family paid a visit to Smilin’ Jack (see image).

It’s a tradition that has taken place for the last 60 years and the local residents love it. So what exactly happens when you go and visit what’s touted as the World’s Largest Jack-O’-Lantern?

It’s pretty simple. You head on down to the ConocoPhillips refinery, sit in what could become one heck of a long line of cars, and wait as they begin to roll into the refinery parking lot.

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Here’s when you have time to reminisce about your past visits to see Jack. Like all the times I recall Dad taking me during the short 7 years we had together, or the time me and Ann were the last car in line – they literally closed the gate behind us – and the volunteers threw what seemed to be a million bags of caramel corn into my car. Good times for sure.

Caramel corn? What? That’s right – everybody you see in front of me in the picture above is waiting in line for bags of caramel corn, the most delicious caramel corn I’ve had in my life. Maybe it’s just because it’s a long-standing tradition and my childhood memories come flowing back to me with each visit, maybe it’s because I always feel comfortable haunting my old hometown of Wilmington. Either way, it’s my opinion that this caramel corn is simply awesome.

As you continue to wait your turn, Smilin’ Jack becomes clearer until finally, you reach your destination and get your goodies with Jack overlooking the festivities.

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Costumed volunteers happily handed us bags of the delicious treat and I even scored a 76 antenna ball which was definitely a first. What shocked me was that the bags weren’t thrown in the car as they had been in the past, which was part of the fun of going. But I’ll settle for the memory of taking Anthony for the first time and look forward to many, many more visits. It’s a silly tradition yet very sentimental for me to take him and tell him stories about Dad, growing up in that area, showing him the hospital where I was born, etc.

And besides…

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…what kid would say NO to this? And if I don’t get a chance to say it tomorrow, I’ll do it now. I wish you all a very happy and safe Halloween. Watch out for the kids and drive safely! We’re looking forward to a fun, cool evening of trick-or-treating 🙂

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Sideways


Author’s note: this post in no way endorses any presidential candidate. Frankly, I don’t trust either party at this point but you can bet I will be voting in November.

Have you ever seen something that was so atrocious that it drove you the brink of insanity and you wouldn’t rest until you finally righted the wrong, thereby making the world – or at least yours – a better place to live?

I did. And it happened today.

Ann showed me the following image that was posted by one of her friends who uses Facebook as their platform to pontificate their thoughts about the upcoming election, particularly about Mitt Romney. (This was the reason I was given by a former Facebooker who felt my political posts, when I did post them, were getting out of hand and was the reason I was “unfriended” by them. Oh well.)

At any rate, here’s the image in question.

Sure, fine. I get that the person who generated this image does not think very highly of Mitt Romney. That’s obvious.

But for shit’s sake, who taught them how to use Photoshop? Was it too hard to figure out how to distort the text and give it proper perspective or was this their homage to M.C. Escher? I’m thinking the former. The text on that chalkboard almost hurts your eyes to look at for any extended period of time and could quite possibly give you the bends.

But I digress. I may not be too fond of either candidate myself, but allow me to say this.

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I feel better. And I do apologize for the use of Comic Sans.

Space Shuttle Endeavour in Inglewood


It was about three weeks ago when I wrote a post about the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s tour of southern California and until yesterday, it was stationed at LAX where it was waiting to be removed from the transport jet and onto another vehicle for its final destination: the California Science Center.

For its ground travel, locals were discouraged from gathering to see the shuttle because it needed plenty of room to travel. We were lead to believe that it wasn’t going to be a parade; this was serious business.

But the pictures on the local news pretty much told the story: nobody was going to let this historic moment pass them by and I was one of them. Once I saw it was in Inglewood this morning I rushed the family out the door, stopped for some donuts, and headed out to see what we could see.

And the following shows just that. Enjoy!

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So far I’ve seen it in the air and on the ground, and the family is looking forward to see it on display at the end of the month. It’s been an amazing trip and a lot of fun to watch.

Wordless Wednesday: Monte


Taken with my LG Optimus Elite and edited with PicSay Pro.

2012 Long Beach Marathon Bike Tour


CAM01752Under normal circumstances, getting me to wake up at any unreasonable hour of the morning usually requires tons of pestering by anything or anybody. That or it takes being cajoled with the promise of donut holes for breakfast.

But there is one day of the year when waking up at 3:30 am is not only easy, it’s a welcomed change.

And rising long before the sun is exactly what I did on Sunday morning when I participated in the Long Beach Marathon Bike Tour, my third year in a row of doing so. Not only did I wake up before my alarm went off, I was ready to go even before then. That’s how much I enjoy this 26.2 mile ride around the city.

To give you an idea, here’s how my day was planned:

  • 3:30 am: Wake up and have some breakfast
  • 4:00 am: Strap bike to rack, drive to train station
  • 4:30 am: Take train to downtown Long Beach
  • 5:00 am: Arrive at last stop, walk/ride to venue
  • 6:00 am: Start of Bike Tour

With the exception of catching the train at 4:30 (it was later than that), that’s pretty much how it all went down. Well, and the delayed start of the tour which was around 6:20 am. No big deal.

After arriving and roaming around a bit I found my place at the starting line and at that point it was still pretty empty. This was one of the first shots I took with my phone, looking toward the starting gate.

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Here’s one I took in the same direction shortly before we started…

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…and looking behind me.

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From what I had heard, there were over 2,600 participants riding the streets this year and as you can tell, it sure seemed like it! Helmets and lights as far as the eye could see. It was amazing.

Long story short, the tour of the city was just how I remembered it the two previous years but I seem to be forgetting about those inclines. I believe that’s why my time was about 5 minutes slower than last year’s total. That or I’m just getting older and the muscles are telling me “NO!” But in the end, I did finish in one piece and earned yet another medal for the wall.

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This year’s tour, however, seemed to take on a new meaning than the previous years.

As you know, the main reasons I continue to do these events is to stay in shape, prove to myself I can, and remind myself to never be the way I used to be: 300 pounds and lazy.

And as some readers may know, my connection with Dad remains strong despite his passing in 1976. If anything, the one thing I remember about Dad is his constant need to keep me happy and smiling, something these events also do. As a result, at the end of each one when I get my medal, I give it a quick kiss and silently dedicate it to Dad because I know he would be proud to see me finish – and smiling.

This year really emphasized that.

At the Health Expo the day before the event, and for the first time that I can recall since doing the tour, the folks at JetBlue had a banner on which runners, family members, etc. could write their notes of encouragement or in some cases political messages (look closely for “OBAMA 2012”). The sign, reading “1 MORE MILE – You’re nonstoppable” was to be placed at, of course, Mile 25.2.

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My message was simple. I found one of the few places left on the banner and wrote what my heart told me to.

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And when I saw that banner at Mile 25.2 it was as if Dad was standing right there cheering for me. It was all I needed to push myself through the final mile since I seemed to have difficulty with the previous 5 or so (cramping mainly).

When I walked across the finish line – cyclists must dismount before doing so – and toward the volunteer who handed me my medal, my eyes were starting to well up. I knew Dad was there more than previous tours. I thanked the volunteer for my medal, glanced at it for a second, gave the medal a little peck then thrust it skyward and said, “For you, Dad.”

Somewhere I know he’s smiling back at me.

With the sentimental stuff out of the way, let’s move on to a few not-so-serious memories from the event and Health Expo.

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It’s not uncommon for people to wear costumes to these events but take a look at this guy dressed in a Robin costume. I saw him before the bike tour outside the Health Expo. I hope he finds Batman.

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The mural covering the Long Beach Convention Center was done by famed artist Robert Wyland in 1992.

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The VW display had these blank bibs in which you could write a message. I chose to inspire people and get some free advertising at the same time.

Also at the VW display was a photo booth that was powered by two stationary bikes connected to generators. Pretty cool. The problem was that when we entered the booth, I soon realized that Anthony was too short and couldn’t be seen by the camera. I had to lift him a little bit to get him in the picture.

Unfortunately that didn’t work, either.

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I wasn’t aware that there would be this giant ad at the bottom and the monitor inside the booth does not compensate for that so all you see is his forehead. Kind of reminds me of that scene from Sixteen Candles.

Fortunately, the booth was moved outside for the marathon and bike tour so I was able to get at least one good shot emailed to me.

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After that, I relaxed and cheered on the runners for a bit.

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All in all, another excellent day in Shoreline Village and beyond. So will I return for my fourth tour in 2013? You bet I will. And this time I will be coming home with two medals.

That’s right. For 2013’s event, I have decided to ride in the Bike Tour and run the Forrest Gump “Run Forrest Run” 5k which takes place at 8:30 am, just enough time to transition out of cycling mode and into running. It’ll be a kind of duathlon which is something I’ve been wanting to try. So watch out. Next year I will be wearing two bibs and ready for more action.

The 2012 Long Beach Marathon Bike Tour was once again memorable and continues to be one of the most organized events I’ve done. From registration to finish line it cannot be easier and before I forget, I have to take a moment to thank the volunteers. If not for them, this event would simply not take place. They do an amazing job and give up a lot of their personal time in the process so they need to be recognized, which I did plenty of along the way by pointing, clapping and thanking them as I passed them.

Thanks a million to all volunteers. You rocked!

Another special thanks to all of the spectators along the route who had their cowbells, signs and from what I heard, donut holes for runners. They are also some of the event’s unsung heroes because what they do is important if you are struggling mentally or physically.

As one sign read, “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.”

Indeed it is. See you in 2013, Long Beach!