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.

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Happy Halloween!


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We just got in from a fun night of trick-or-treating. We saw some cool decorations like this, Anthony and his friend got quite a haul, and a guy a few blocks over was having his annual neighborhood party where he feeds whoever shows up.

And to top it off, it started to rain just as we walked in the door.

Not a bad night at all!

Posted from my HTC one M7 with the WordPress app

2013: My Year In Review


Since this is a personal blog, I figured that instead of writing a year-end review about other things, it would be better suited for me to give a year-end review of things that actually happened in my life. It’s much easier to do something like this now since chances are I captured those moments with my phone, giving me photographic proof of the events.

With all of that out of the way, here’s a month-by-month photo essay of how things went with me and the family in 2013, some of which was never mentioned here on the blog. Take a virtual trip of the things we did, places we saw, events that brought us happiness, triumph, and even sadness.

Got your scrollin’ finger ready? Good! Here we go!

Continue reading

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 🙂

Busy Weekend


Alright, here’s a quick summary.

Friday night we took Anthony out trick-or-treating around the neighborhood with the local kiddies. We shared some goodies at a neighbor’s house when it was all said and done, and I couldn’t help but notice the lack of people out this year. Maybe it’s because this Hallowe’en was on a Friday and they all went out partying but in either case, we made it home with all sorts of booty, which Ann and I are still “testing” if you know what I mean.

Saturday saw us in Los Angeles, or Olvera Street to be exact. I had never gone to see any of the Dia de los Muertos decorations so I figured since the day falls on a Saturday this year, we’re gonna check it out. We did and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. We ate some fantastic Mexican food, ate some Pan de Muerte, and bought Anthony some Mexican Jumping Beans. He was also more than entertained on the train ride to Union Station, which is directly across the street from Olvera Street. Then we saw some dude lying next a trash can in a pool of his own vomit. (I love L.A.!) Pictures can be seen here, but not of Vomit Man.

Sunday we stayed home and had lunch with my mom and Ann’s parents.

And after that we cleaned up the backyard and nearly burned down the house. It’s a long story I’d rather not get into, so I’ll leave it there.

So…how did yours go?