Fifty Shades of Dave


Photo Jan 29, 3 06 29 PMI don’t know what things are like in your state but in California, a trip to the DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles – is always an adventure.

And after taking my motorcycle exam a few times over the last few years, I thought I was through with my DMV visits. How wrong I was.

Here’s what happened. Ann’s birthday is in March and she got her driver’s license renewal letter in the mail well in advance. With my birthday only weeks away, I had yet to receive anything and time was running out so a call to the DMV was in order. And if you’ve ever tried calling the California DMV you know it’s a real pain to get anywhere. So what did I do?

Got on the Tweeter and asked @CA_DMV my question, naturally. I had an answer and phone number in a matter of hours. Ain’t technology grand?

I called and got through right away – this was their main office in Sacramento, I believe. I told the clerk my situation and she asked for my information so she could see what was going on.

It turns out that there was a hold on my regular Class C license after I failed to convert my motorcycle permit into a full-blown endorsement, meaning I didn’t renew or take the skills exam. And because of that hold, the renewal forms weren’t sent to me.

I told the clerk I wasn’t riding anymore and I wasn’t interested in the endorsement. She then cancelled the hold so that I could go to the DMV and fill out the forms to renew my license.

The problem there: getting an appointment. Ann tried for days to get one at our local office in Long Beach and couldn’t. She’s going to one in Orange County later in the month. She has time still. Me? Not so much.

After the call, I headed back to my work desk and immediately went to the DMV website in the hopes of snagging an appointment before my birthday/expiration date. No chance, I figured.

I ended up getting one a few days later – in Long Beach, no less. I had to text Ann and gloat about it. She replied with nasty Bitmojis.

Monday comes around and I leave work for a bit to take care of this business. I managed to find a parking spot no problem and since I had an appointment, didn’t have to wait with the garlic-eating masses outside who didn’t have an appointment.

When I was called I told the clerk the nature of my business. She gave me the form and I filled it out with only one notable change: my weight. I added a few pounds to it. Hell, I’m honest.

I went back and she double-checked it, then issued me a number to see another clerk. I waited maybe 10 minutes before I was called to another booth.

The clerk who helped me was a younger guy and rather affable, more than most others at the DMV. We chit-chatted as he went over my renewal form. All was going well until he spoke up about one detail.

“Hmm. On the computer, it has your hair listed as gray,” he said, pointing at his monitor with a black Paper Mate pen.

Strange. My current license has my hair as black. Then again when I renewed it I still had black hair. Then it occurred to me that when I went for my motorcycle permit, I must have written in “gray” for my hair color. He continued.

“So which one do you want me to use?” I was writing out a check for the renewal fee at the time. I put the pen down.

“Well, being I plan on letting nature take its course, let’s go with gray. I’m not bald and I’ve no plans to dye it. In fact I just had an inch-and-a-half trimmed off. Shit was past my shoulders.”

He was cool. Casual profanity didn’t phase him.

“Really? No way!”

We then chatted a bit more, mostly about aging, as he continued to process my information. He had to be in his early 30s and I gave him a little advice (as if my being nearly 49 qualifies me to be an expert on growing old).

“Man, just enjoy yourself. Stay young at heart. That alone will keep you going. And when your hair starts turning gray, embrace it and be glad you have it.”

And with that, he thanked me and sent me to the photo booth for my picture. Oh, and I had to take the written exam – again – and then wait about 10 days for my new license.

It arrived a few days ago. And although I’m thinner than I was in my previous license photo, the adjusted weight is definitely closer to reality.

And the hair? Proudly abbreviated as GRY.

Because this head will never see a drop of Just For Men.

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A Summer That Won’t Suck, Outing 3


Yesterday we logged just under 100 miles in our adventure down south to San Clemente. This is when we’re happy to have such a fuel-efficient little vehicle, even if Anthony is starting to have difficulty fitting in the back seat. He’s a tall kid.

Today, we headed the opposite direction and hit a few places we hadn’t been to in a long, long time.

First on the list: the historic Original Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, which was and still is a place where Hollywood luminaries spend their day. It’s not like I would recognize any of today’s stars but it’s cool knowing that folks like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and The Beatles strolled through there.

And remember when I said we hadn’t been there in a long time? Here’s a shot of Anthony I took the last time we were there. I was testing out a film camera I had recently acquired.

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He doesn’t even remember being there. Honestly, I’m not quite sure it was even in 2009 but I do know it was a long, long time ago when you compare it to the picture I took today:

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A little difference, no?

At any rate, we had planned to arrive at their opening time of 9am. Amazingly, we did just that. If fact we were so early that we parked in the regular parking lot and not the structure at The Grove, a stretch of stores located next to Farmers Market. There aren’t many there that interest me and it’s nowhere nearly as interesting.

Farmers Market, on the other hand, is a photographer’s dream.

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There is color and interesting subject matter everywhere you look. In addition, it’s a place where the art of the hand-painted sign comes alive.

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I love typography and art, so seeing all of these signs is always a real treat. And if the sign wasn’t painted by hand, it looked like it was a remnant of a time when there was still a sense of pride in sign-making, even if machines were starting to have an impact.

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Look at that sign. Those letters look like something from the credits of Gilligan’s Island and they might just serve you drinks in a coconut with a straw. I absolutely love this stuff.

Then, of course, there’s the food.

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We bought a handful of meringue cookies from Normadie Bakery along with a fresh baguette. It was about the cheapest transaction we had while there because most of the other stores are pretty expensive. You know, tourism and all.

Pizza, seafood, Chinese…you name it, they have it. In the end, we opted for Mexican from a place called Loteria Grill. I almost had to – their booth is decorated with the likenesses of cards from the famous game, some of which I’d never seen.

And the food wasn’t too bad, either. Did someone say chicken tacos?

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We stayed just long enough to do a bit of shopping, take an abundance of photos (sorry, my fault), enjoy our lunch, and just be a part of what’s made Los Angeles famous since 1934. But it was getting hot so we decided to move on.

I had asked the family if there was anything in particular they wanted to see in the Hollywood area. They didn’t so with me being familiar with the area, I just went in whichever direction I thought would be interesting.

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Taken by Ann, this shot is of the Jim Henson Company lot. Before that, it was home to A&M Records which was co-founded by Herb Alpert. And while the list or artists who called A&M their label was impressive, this lot was also home to Charlie Chaplin Studios before that. If walls could talk, indeed. (Granted, Chaplin’s films were silent…)

As we meandered our way through Hollywood, the family caught a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and even though we were still way down the hill, they’d never seen it that close. I had to change that.

I kept driving and pointing out places such as Hollywood High School which has its share of famous alumni. Then I got to Beechwood Drive and made a left. That’s the main way to get up there.

And the streets are super-narrow and filled with tourists and people walking/hiking. That’s fine. I knew where I was going.

Once I got to Ledgewood, I made a right and took it as far as I could go which has been a dead end for years. You could once park and take pictures but residents put an end to that a long time ago, so I made a left and wound my way around to a decent vantage point.

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Taken from Lake Hollywood Park, this is about as close as anyone can get (legally at least). And what, you didn’t know there was a lake up in those hills? Silly you.

This was about it for the day. I still had to head over and help Mom move some stuff around her place since they are remodeling her apartment complex. So we hopped on the 101 and headed back home – but I made one more stop.

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Located in Downey, CA, this here is the oldest operating McDonald’s in the country. It was dangerously close to being demolished after the Northridge earthquake but fortunately, was saved. They have menu items most other locations don’t have and their food seems to be better. Must be that oh-too-cool retro vibe.

So by the time we got home, we had logged about another 90 miles in this, A Summer That Won’t Suck.

And so far, every single one has been worth the effort.

Apocalypse Then


Living in southern California in the late ’80s was weird.

It was during that time when we experienced a sudden infestation of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly or Medfly as it was lovingly referred to by the local media. (This pen name obviously paved the way for celebrity couple names like Bennifer and Brangelina.)

Eventually, the infestation was tracked down to a person/organization calling themselves The Breeders.

But that wasn’t the weird part of all this.

Because we were apparently overrun with Medflies, they had to be eradicated by whichever way the Department of Agriculture saw fit. In this case, they enlisted the service of some cropdusters whose tanks were loaded up with a mixture corn syrup and Malathion, an insecticide that is considered to be relatively harmless.

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The helicopters would fly over at night on a regular schedule, the exact period escaping me at the moment, although I think it was every two weeks. On spraying nights, there would be about three of them lined up and making the rounds, dropping their chemical mix upon the city.

It was recommended that you not go outside during spraying. You also had to cover your car or garage it so that it would not sustain any damage from the mixture, which was sticky and thick as you might expect it to be.

I remember watching them spray. I would stand at my bedroom window and wait for the distant rumble of the helicopters turn into a thunderous drone as they passed over the house. It reminded me of Apocalypse Now.

Now I don’t want to get my tin-foil hat out of the closet but it kind of makes you think.

These days you can’t even buy certain medications over the counter. Back in the ’80s, we were being exposed to insecticide and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

Weird.

 

So About Tonight…


I do just about everything I can to keep Dad’s memory alive, whether it’s getting a tattoo in his honor or taking Anthony places that he used to take me. My hometown, restaurants, whatever. It’s just always a treat to walk into someplace with him and stand in the very same spot where Dad held my hand as a child. It’s how I feel Dad’s presence and his bond with me, even 39 years after his passing.

Tonight I decided to take Anthony to one of those places: an oil refinery. Yes, it sounds ridiculously stupid but allow me to explain.

Every year for Halloween as they have done for the last 60+ years, the ConocoPhillips (formerly Union 76) refinery sends out a crew of skilled artisans to paint – yes, paint – the face of a jack-o’-lantern on one of their tanks: the big orange gourd-shaped tank. Once the transformation is complete, the tank takes on the persona of Smilin’ Jack and the locals love him.

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There he sits amongst the rest of the tanks all bright and orange and lit up at night for that one time of the year when he demands the spotlight. He deserves it.

But what is it about Smilin’ Jack? Is he just a decorated tanker?

Oh no. It goes beyond that.

Locals will tell you the reason they visit him: caramel corn. Yes, when Smilin’ Jack returns it also means that on October 30 and 31, his minions at the refinery will set up shop in the parking lot and watch lines of cars file through. When they arrive, they will bombard visitors with bag after bag of caramel corn and other goodies.

This is why they go and this is why Dad used to love taking us – “us” meaning every kid in the neighborhood stuffed into a Pontiac station wagon. Seeing us smiling like Jack was his reward.

It’s silly and it’s fun, and it’s something that reminds me of Dad. And in case you’re wondering what it’s like to be assaulted with bags of caramel corn, watch this video.

While it may not look like we got a lot of bags, let’s be clear of one thing: we did.

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I think I counted 15 bags of it, not including the one Anthony and I shared on the ride home.

Speaking of the ride home, I surprised Anthony my making one totally random stop.

“Hey,” I said looking over at him. “You want a hot dog?”

We had already eaten dinner. I ate too much at the Halloween party at work. My weight is going up. Why not? And so we did.

There was really only one choice: Wienerschnitzel (or Der Wienerschnitzel  if you’ve been going there as long as I have). But this isn’t just any old Der Wienerschnitzel location; this is the original one that opened back in 1961 and as such, has been designated as a historic landmark.

Wellll, maybe not but there is a plaque that recognizes it as the first location. And I don’t know what it is about this location but everything just tastes better there.

Anyway, we stopped and bought a bag of dogs just the way Dad used to in that Pontiac station wagon. I’m sure he would have had a blast hanging out with us tonight. I miss him.

Then once we had our bag of hot-dog goodness, we made our way home. Me and Anthony chatted along the way with him bringing up the concept of Heaven and Hell. (Keep in mind that Anthony was never baptized into any religion; we want him to make his own choice down the road). It was an interesting conversation considering he’s merely 11 years old and has sort of made up his own mind about whether they exist or not.

My stance is simple: I don’t know. I don’t think that as humans, we were ever meant to know. But despite that, sometimes it’s nice to think that there is such a place where all good souls gather to spend eternity with their loved ones by their side. On the other hand, I find it selfishly unfair that Dad was taken from us far too early and that whomever thought this was a “divine plan” is a real heartless bastard.

Anyway. We continued our talk as we sat in traffic. There was a Kia Soul in front of us as we waited for the red light to change.

Tonight was all about Dad and some of the things we did together. And I know he’s around, even if I can’t completely commit myself to believing in Heaven, Hell, or otherwise.

And as if I needed more reminders of it tonight, the bumper sticker on this Kia Soul sealed the deal.

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I know it’s hard to see but the text running along the top was a blur with through my 46-year-old eyes that seem to be getting worse with every page I proofread at work. But the big word in the middle is “KOREA.”

The small text at the bottom reads “I SERVED.”

Dad served in Korea. This wasn’t the only time he reminded me.

Goodnight, everyone. And thanks, Dad.

Run the Runway


Okay folks, first things first. My wrist is feeling a whole lot better which means I can use a computer keyboard to write again. Granted, I would prefer to be in my corner of the den with my laptop but ah, it shuffled off this mortal coil months ago.

Secondly, my new glasses arrived today and I can see much better. Call that a two-fer. They will come in especially handy when…well, I’ll talk about that when (and if) it happens. So with all of that out of the way, let’s go.

I was at a loss as to what I should write about but in reality dang it, I had plenty going on but just got lazy. I let my social media sharing tell the brief story instead of giving a full report here. Case in point: the Run the Runway event on March 31, 2015.

The event was just as its name implied: you ran on a runway. It may not sound exciting if you aren’t a runner but you didn’t have to be one. Participants could walk or even skip if they so desired.

The whole point of this event was to celebrate the Grand Re-Opening of Runway R25 at Long Beach Airport which had gone thought a major renovation. And let’s face it: should you ever find yourself running the length of a runway, there’s a good chance you’ll either be pursued by authorities or be run over by an incoming plane.

But not at this event, which is why I thought it would be fun to attend. When else would I get this chance? Without being shot at or splattered?

The run itself was not very long. From the Start/Finish line to where the airport fire truck was parked only measured a half-mile and once you reached that point, you had to run back to the Start/Finish line. A solid mile for fun on a totally flat course – for free. Not bad. But even at free, there was still a line where participants – limited to 1,200 invitees – had to turn in their waivers and get their free t-shirt.

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There were also a few cool planes on display, including this one that flies to beautiful Catalina Island (a mere 26 miles away).

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And yes, there was even a sheriff helicopter that I soon discovered didn’t have a lot interior room. (This, by the way, will probably be the only time I’m ever in ANY helicopter. I’m not good at heights or small, enclosed areas.)

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Then there’s the runway itself, all shiny and pretty. Just imagine how it looks now only a few weeks later.

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It’s also not every day that you can get some interesting camera angles on a runway.

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Waiting for the event to start. This is when you get in some stretching and your preferred exercise tracking app ready.

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Once everything was cleared and the horn blasted, we all took off and being it was only a mile, it was almost over as soon as it began. I finished at my usual mile pace of 10 minutes which is by no means fast but definitely steady. There were no medals, only a commemorative shirt to take home and the bragging rights that come along with running across a tarmac with 1,200 other people.

All in all it was definitely a memorable event and one that we won’t likely see again in the near future. Thanks to all involved for making it spectacular!

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I’m smiling here, but I had to work the midnight shift later that night. Ugh.