By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Some of you long-time subscribers know that I am unofficially the Sparrow family historian.  Or maybe I’m officially the historian because I’m the only one geeky enough to research this stuff.  I don’t know whether my interest is due to my love of history or simply having too much time on my hands.  Whichever it is, I find out something new whenever I search Ancestry.  Last month I discovered that that the daughter our grandfather had with his first wife turned out to be an international woman of mystery.  More on that another time after I’ve found more information.  And, true to form, what I can’t find in fact I’ll make up.  As the Irish say, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  I’ve actually been studying a lot about the Irish lately because next month I will be going to Ireland for nine days with four friends on a sightseeing and knitting adventure.  I’ve even learned the national anthem of Ireland in hopes that I can whip that out at a local pub.  As I say, I’m trying to learn as much as possible before I go, not only about the country but about our Irish ancestors.


One of our second cousins has done marvelous ancestry work on my dad’s side of the family so I know that we have at least three relatives who came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1800’s.   Digging a little deeper, I found that my great-great grandmother left Tralee in 1854 on the ship Theodore.  It was somewhat of an ill-fated trip since she ended up being murdered by her cook in 1887.  Some of you may recall my blog about that – it’s a long and sordid story.  But moving along…I’m still attempting to find where the other relatives were from and hopefully I’ll stumble upon something before I leave.  Although we can trace most of our heritage back hundreds  of years, we still have some black holes.  Our mother’s mom, for instance, abandoned our grandfather and our mom when she was three so we know very little about her.  She is the Holy Grail of my ancestry work.  A few weeks ago I got to wondering if maybe she was Irish too – in whole or part – so I decided to do the Ancestry/DNA test.

It’s a pretty simple process – you simply spit into a test tube about five times and ship it off.  Of course, even the simplest test sometimes eludes me so I absentmindedly chewed my calcium pills right before I spit into the tube.  I was horrified to see the pinkish swirls in the tube so I rinsed it out and started over again.  Twice.  I won’t receive the results for a few weeks but I’m afraid they may indicate that I’m part Tums.  I told both of my brothers that I had done the test and that I’d share the results with them so we’d all know our ancestry.  But when I told a friend that, she informed me that brothers and sisters can have different genetic ancestry results.  Well, didn’t I just feel like a complete ignoramus.  The last thing I remember reading about genetics was that brothers and sisters are the closest of all relatives because they share two common parents.  So I set out to research and found a great article on the subject written by a Stanford genetic scientist, Dr. Barry Starr, which I will try to summarize.  If you Google him at “Stanford at the Tech” website you may end up spending hours reading his information and easy-to-understand articles.

Dr. Starr concedes that it’s logical to assume that brothers and sisters should have the same ancestry background since they both got half their DNA from mom and half from dad.  But DNA isn’t passed down from generation to generation in a single block. Not every child gets the same 50% of mom’s DNA and 50% of dad’s DNA, unless they are identical twins.  So it’s possible, really probable, for two siblings to have some big differences in their ancestry at the DNA level. Culturally they may each say they are “1/8th Danish” but at the DNA level, one may have no Danish DNA at all.

What I take away from all this is the impression that our DNA make-up is a bit like a roulette wheel – not all the marbles are going to fall into the same categories.  My test may show a large percentage of Northern European ancestry but with some ringers thrown in just to make things interesting while my brothers…well, who knows what might come up for them.  So what does this mean?  It means that my brothers are going to have to cough up the $69 for their own test.  If nothing else it may prove that we’re really full siblings and mom wasn’t fooling around with the milkman.


Hot Air Ballooning – Sunset in Palm Desert

by Bob Sparrow

(After Suzanne’s touching blog last week, I’m again responsible for taking us from the sublime to the ridiculous)

I had never taken a ride in a hot air balloon; no reason, the opportunity had just not presented itself, until last weekend when we were in Palm Desert.

My research uncovered three places in the desert that could facilitate my first balloon ride:

  1. HAVENFUN Hot Air Ballooning in La Quinta
  2. Magical Adventure Balloon Rides also in La Quinta
  3. Balloons Above in Bermuda Dunes

I decided that ‘HAVENFUN’ was not going to be my choice – I want my ballooning people to be very serious about me floating on the breeze thousands of feet above the earth. ‘Magical Adventure’ also didn’t appeal to me as when I think of magic I think of things disappearing and I definitely didn’t want to disappear. So I settled on ‘Balloons Above’ figuring that that is where balloons are supposed to be.

There were also options as to when I could take my first balloon ride, sunrise or sunset. I opted for sunset based on the chilling logic that if my balloon went down in a fiery heap that I’d have had one more day on earth.

The ad for the balloon ride read as follows:

See the sunset over Palm Desert from a hot air balloon – up to 3,500 feet in the air. Hot air ballooning at sunset brings a whole slew of new sensations and sites to see. (The sensation I was feeling wasn’t new at all; it was that old sensation of wanting to throw up)

Your pilot for the day is a seasoned veteran who’s flown countless hours and can almost seemingly control the wind. (Our pilot looks like he was seasoned with Jack Daniels last night. Control the wind? He could barely keep his hands from shaking)

Following your journey of about one hour, you’ll land for a Champagne toast – a common ritual of hot air ballooning that commemorates the wonderful flight. (I think our pilot was still recovering from his Champagne toast from his sunrise trip)

Bring a camera to capture every moment (as it could be your last!).

The preparation for a balloon flight is a bit unnerving; the balloon is lying deflated and lifeless on the ground, I was hoping this wouldn’t be what it looks like when we landed, until they bring over what looks like a ‘flamethrower’ and point it at the balloon and fire at it until it fills the balloon with propane.  My research into propane read as follows: Propane is a stable and predictable fuel, but highly volatile. Highly volatile!!!!  I’m amazed that the whole thing doesn’t go up in flames, which to be honest I was secretly hoping for as it would then cancel the ride.

With the balloon fully ‘gassed’ and hoping our pilot wasn’t, I looked at the other people who were climbing into the basket and wondered, ‘Are these the people with whom I will be spending my last minutes on earth?’ My heart was pounding just thinking about floating on the wind in this wicker basket 3,500 feet above the desert floor.

So, what was it really like? I have no idea; although the balloon sites and information above is real, I never got close to a balloon. Balloons have no wings, no motor, no parachutes, you’re being held in the air by what amounts to nothing more than a large fart and you’re at the mercy of the wind.   And the only thing I would know about the pilot with whom I’m entrusting my life to is that he cannot control the wind.  You could take off in Palm Desert and end up in the Sahara Desert for crying out loud!

So I guess the only thing full of hot air was me. Maybe I’ll go someday . . . I’ll keep you posted.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each week I am Dash the Wonder Dog’s Uber driver to work.  The job doesn’t pay much but it has a great perk –  I get to meet a lot of wonderful senior citizens.  I love old people, partly because I’m not too far off myself from soft foods and hearing aids.  Many of the residents in the care center he visits are now well into their 90’s, which means they are part of the much-admired “Greatest Generation”.  I love talking with them about their lives – most of them are so cheerful and love to talk about their life experiences, especially those events that occurred during the “Good War”.  Of course, memories being what they are, I’ve heard a lot of the same stories over the past two years but the recollections are always told with such enthusiasm that it’s easy to be enthralled time and time again.  When Dash first  started his job there were three men who served in WWII.  Last month the last of them, who was my favorite resident, passed away.  Currently, the WWII generation is dying at a rate of 400 per day.  So for today’s post I want to remember the special men Dash and I have met.

General Seth McKee

The oldest, and certainly the most senior of the former military men was Four Star General Seth McKee.  During WWII he held many group and division positions and in November 1944 he assumed command of the 370th Group.  He  served in France, Belgium and Germany, and logged more than 190 hours in 69 combat missions in the P-38 Lightning aircraft.   Over the ensuing years he held increasingly responsible positions until finally, McKee was appointed assistant vice chief of staff, U.S. Air Force. On 1 August 1969 he was named commander in chief of North American Air Defense Command and Continental Air Defense Command (NORAD/CONAD).  So he was quite a guy.  By the time I met him he was 100 years old but was still pretty darn sharp.  I was told that the general had been a dog lover all of his life so I took Dash into his room whenever he was awake.  Shortly before he died I took Dash to visit and put him on the bed.  General McKee petted him and told Dash what a good looking guy he was.   So in addition to being a war hero he liked dogs and thought Dash was handsome – makes him pretty perfect in my book!

Mack Shumate

Mack Shumate made no secret of his WWII service – as soon as you entered his room you couldn’t help but see the huge poster of him and his squadron taken during one of their missions in Europe.  Mack navigated numerous B-24 squadrons during the war and then returned to begin a successful career in the coal industry.  Whenever Dash would visit him, Mack’s aide (a Vietnam vet) would be in the room to attend to his needs.  Usually the aide and I spoke and Mack would give Dash a quick brush of his hand.  But on the final time I saw Mack he was all alone in the room.  I asked if he wanted to pet Dash and he said he did.  Dash laid down and it was the first time I saw Mack really touch him – he had a huge smile on his face the entire time.  He died the next day and I like to think that Dash helped him have one last great experience – petting a dog.

             Bill Hallas


The resident I was most fond of was Bill Hallas.  The first time Dash visited him two things became evident – the love for his wife and his pride in his service.  There were pictures of his wife and family – and dog – scattered around the room but the one that intrigued me was one of him with his wife taken during the war, he in his snappy uniform and her in a beautiful outfit with an overnight case in her hand.  I asked him if it was their wedding picture and he told me “No, it’s when we were on our way to a celebration in Miami honoring returning war veterans.”  That said, he whipped around to his nightstand and handed me a list of his WWII missions.  It was impressive – 50 missions all over Europe.  He said, “It was a good time to be 19 and not know any better.”  His bookcase was overflowing with books about WWII and I never walked in his room that he wasn’t reading one.  He also was sharp as a tack, with a great sense of humor.  Due to a paralyzing stroke on one side he pushed himself backwards in his wheelchair everywhere he went.  A few weeks ago I found that he had pushed himself down to the dining room at 10:30 in the morning.  Lunch wasn’t served until noon so I asked him, “Mr. Hallas, are you down here waiting for lunch?”  “Well,” he said, “I sure hope so or I’ve wasted a lot of energy!”

Over the past two years we’ve talked a lot about the war but he always told me something about his family too.  He was so proud of all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – I could tell he must have been a great dad.  But the real connection between us was that we both loved dogs and we shared a birthday.  Last summer Dash brought him chocolate on “our” birthday and he was thrilled.  Shortly after that he installed a huge aquarium in the facility and dedicated it to his wife, who died several years ago and was a big animal lover.  Last month when we visited him he was not in his room, as usual, but out in the common area staring at the aquarium.  That was the last time we saw him.  The next week I came around the corner into his room only to find it empty except for an attendant making up the bed.  I cried that day and cry still when I think of him.

This generation of men, honed by the Depression and the War, are idols to me.  Common, ordinary guys who thought it important to defend their country.  They became the Citizen Soldiers that won the war, and then returned home to build successful lives and communities. I’m not sure we Baby Boomers ever truly appreciated all that they did, quietly and without fanfare.  I worry that the Millennials, who require safe spaces, may not grow up to be quite as admirable.  I hope they do – in their own way and in their own time.  They need look no further that the “Greatest Generation” for inspiration.


Capping the Night at Dan Tana’s

By Bob Sparrow

The last leg of our journey into La La Land was Dan Tana’s Italian Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, two doors down from the famous nightclub, the Troubadour.  For those not familiar with the Troubadour, any musician who was anybody in the 60s, 70s and 80s performed there.  In 1970 Neil Diamond introduced Elton John there, who performed his first show in the U.S.  John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were ejected from the club for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers.  The list goes on.

Eagles Glen Frey and Don Henley in Dan Tana’s for ’60 Minutes’ interview

OK, back to Dan Tana’s.  Every entertainer that you know has probably eaten there and many would call it their ‘go to’ restaurant.  For the last 50 years it truly has been a favorite watering hole of Hollywood film industry personalities and professionals.  The walls are adorned with pictures of various stars, past and present.  In 1975 Glen Frey of the Eagles saw a young woman who he knew was married to an older man, having an intimate dinner with a younger man and started writing lyrics on a napkin – those lyrics turned into the Eagles hit, Lyin’ Eyes.  

I was hoping as we entered the restaurant that people wanting to have their picture taken with us would not pester us and ruin our evening.  As it turned out, no one did.  We arrived around 7:00 for our 8:00 reservation and the two small dining rooms, both of which are slightly larger than a walk-in closest, were about half full.  The small bar had everyone of its 10 stools occupied.  Within a few minutes Linda was able to wrangle a seat and soon a couple left, which gave us two much-coveted seats at the bar.  The lady that Linda was sitting next to (whose lips had so much cologen in them that I thought they were going to explode any minute) had a seat on the other side of her that she was saving for her boyfriend, who was over at the Troubadour, checking in on a friend.  She told us her boyfriend was in the “music business” (her quotes, not mine) and was talking with his friends, Hall & Oates who were performing there that night.  A man down the bar, who looked like Fonzi’s father, we were told, was a famous ‘voice over’ performer.  What I could pick up from his conversation was that his voice certainly was over, over-bearing.   But overall a very good LA vibe to the place, meaning that there was a sense that everyone was looking at everyone else wondering if they were ‘someone’.   A gentleman just down the bar asked me if I was Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer.  I said no and later when I look up an image of him online, I realized I should have punched the guy.

You can see I left a nice $2 tip

At 8:00 the maître d came over and told us our table was ready, but the bartender, Raffi, was so entertaining that we said that we’d prefer to eat at the bar, which we did.  We discovered a unique feature of the bar, your wine glass is never allowed to be empty. We each ordered a glass of cabernet (their ‘well’ cab is Francis Coppola) and whenever our wine glass got below half full, Raffi would stop buy and fill it up.  I was afraid to ask how he kept track of how much wine we had and much more afraid to ask how much it was going to cost me.  When we asked Raffi what was good on the menu, he said in a dry tone and a straight face, “Nothing, all the food here is bad and the service is worse.”  But the entertainment was great!  That’s why in the photo you see the fairly significant tip for Raffi – he was most appreciative.  Linda and I ordered the Cannelloni and Veal Parmesan, respectively, both were outstanding, the service was great and the price of our multiple glasses of wine turned out to be surprisingly reasonable. When we left around 9:00 the place was totally packed with standing room only in every place one could stand.  I’m sure some of them were ‘somebody’.  It was a great experience! 

I have to say that while I’m not the biggest fan of L.A., it was a very entertaining day; and while we only saw a very small sampling of it, Johnny’s Eastside Market, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, The Grove, Rodeo Drive and Dan Tana’s, they all got me closer to believing that L.A. is, in fact, the ‘entertainment capital’ of the world.




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

My New Year’s resolution this year was to  tune out the news.  As a result, the satellite radio in my car now plays either music or comedy. So far I’ve been much happier and less depressed so I guess the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss” is true.  But that’s a discussion for another time.   Today, apropos to the holiday, I want to share something I learned while listening to the “60’s on 6” program on Sirius XM.  The host asked who the first President of the United States was.  You just know when they ask such an obvious question that the answer will come out of left field.  Sure enough, a couple of minutes later a guy called in and said the answer was John Hanson.  “Yep!”, cried the host.  I just about drove off the road.  I consider myself a pretty good student of history.  I minored in it in college and to this day every other book I read is a history book of some sort.  I’ve never even heard of this Hanson fellow.  The whole thing sounded bogus to me.  What about George?  What about his chopping down the cherry tree and smiling with his wooden teeth?  Was everything I learned in school wrong?  I went in search of the answer.

  Hanson in the late 1760’s

It turns out that there is a contingent who support the notion that Hanson was our first President.  Conveniently, most of those people are his descendants.  For what it’s worth, here’s a bit of history on him and after reading this you can form your own opinion.  In 1661 John Hanson’s grandfather came to America as an indentured servant.  Two generations later John was born in 1721 to what was by then a very wealthy and prominent family.  Little is known about his early life but his career in public service began in 1750, when he was appointed sheriff of Charles County. He then served in the Maryland General Assembly for twelve years before moving to Frederick County where he held a variety of offices, including deputy surveyor, sheriff, and county treasurer.  He was one busy guy and, if nothing else, may have been our first professional politician.  When relations between Great Britain and the colonies soured in 1774, Hanson became one of Frederick County’s leading Patriots.   He was known for his organization skills in gathering supplies to use against the Tories and even paid the rag tag Revolutionary forces out of his own pocket.  Think about that – do you see any of our current elected officials dipping into their own funds?  So we have to assume he was a dedicated guy.

Hanson, painted when he was “president”

In December 1779, the Revolutionary War victorious for the Patriots, the Maryland House of Delegates named Hanson to the Second Continental Congress; he began serving in Congress in Philadelphia in June 1780.  On November 5, 1781, Congress elected Hanson as its president.  And this is where the controversy begins.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States had no executive branch; the president of Congress was a mostly ceremonial position.  The office did require Hanson to serve as neutral discussion moderator, handle official correspondence, and sign documents which sounds to me like he was a high-priced arbitrator.  Apparently Hanson didn’t think much of his duties either because he is said to have found the work tedious and considered resigning after just one week, citing his poor health and family responsibilities.  I think that was the precursor to “resigning to pursue other opportunities” excuse.  Out of a sense of duty Hanson remained in office, and though he obviously was trying to squirm out of the job, the Maryland Assembly reelected him as a delegate on November 28, 1781, and he continued to serve as president until November 4, 1782.  He died 11 days later so maybe he really was sick.

Hanson bronze in Statuary Hall

In 1898, Douglas H. Thomas, a descendant of Hanson, wrote a biography promoting Hanson as the first true President of the United States. Thomas became the driving force behind the selection of Hanson as one of the two people who would represent Maryland in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C.  His statue was completed in 1903 and can still be seen today in the Senate connecting corridor.  His selection as one of the two bronzes to represent Maryland has been controversial from the start, with many contemporary historians citing others who were more deserving.  As recently as 2011, Maryland lawmakers have considered replacing Hanson’s statue in Statuary Hall with one of Harriet Tubman.  In any event, the argument as to whether Hanson was the first President was further promulgated in a 1932 biography of Hanson by journalist Seymour Wemyss Smith.  Again, historians dismissed Smith’s viewpoint because his research was less than stellar.

The most compelling argument as to why we consider George Washington, not John Hanson, our first President is that Washington was the first to have true executive powers under the Constitution.  That seems like a sensible argument to me.  The one thing that became clear in my reading is that John Hanson’s reputation has been commemorated far more than most of his contemporaries, other than the Founding Fathers.  In 1972, he was depicted on a 6-cent US postal card, which featured his name and portrait next to the word “Patriot”.   In 1981, Hanson was featured on a 20-cent US postage stamp. U.S. Route 50 between Washington D.C. and Annapolis is named the John Hanson Highway in his honor. There are also middle schools located in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Waldorf, Maryland, named after him. A former savings bank named for him until it went under during the savings and loan crisis.  And maybe that is the fitting end for his legacy given that most serious researchers consider his elevation to the “first President of the United States” to be based on an old hoax.


A Day (and Night) in LA

by Bob Sparrow

Downtown Los Angeles

Although it is currently ‘Awards Season’ (code for ‘Let’s pat ourselves on the back until everyone gets an award’ season) here in ‘Tinsel Town’, our trip was not to rub shoulders with the hypocritical privileged, but rather to explore some of the ethnic enclaves that thrive in the mega metropolis.

First stop, Little Italy – I had Googled it and discovered that there really wasn’t much left of what used to be Little Italy, but the article went on to say that if you went to the Eastside Market, Italian Deli in that area that you might run into owner, Johnny Angiuli, who could tell you about the good old days when Little Italy was thriving. After less than an hour drive from our home, through downtown LA, we parked across the street from the deli and the minute we open the car door we could smell the great Italian aromas wafting through the store’s open front door . We walked in and wandered around looking at the nostalgic pictures on the wall. I approached the counter and asked a young man behind it if we were standing in what remains of Little Italy. He laughed and said, “Yeah this is about it, but when my father first came here it was a thriving Italian community.” I asked, “Is your father Johnny?” He said yes and pointed to an elderly gentleman sitting down in the corner of the store, then said, “I can bring him over here if you’d like.” I happily agreed.

Johnny & son

Johnny came over and introduced himself and welcomed us to the deli, then started telling us his story. He said he was born in a small Italian town a couple hours south of Naples called Adelphia and added that it was a great place for kids to grow up. He came to America in 1959 and started working in the Eastside Market and ultimately became its owner. He said, “Times were very different then, Italians were very much discriminated against, it was even taboo for an Italian person to marry a white person, so we kind of stuck with ourselves here in this little community.”  He was a most gracious man who got our exploration of LA off to a great start.

Next stop, Chinatown – It was a short drive from the Eastside Market to the new Chinatown. Having been to Chinatown in San Francisco several times, we were expecting something like that, and in fact the old Chinatown was something like that, but due to ‘Tong’ warfare (fights between Chinese gangs), gambling houses and opium dens, the area decayed and was ultimately destroyed for the building of Union Station, LA’s railroad hub. So a new Chinatown was developed which was a little more spread out, but now a few blocks along Broadway could be considered the heart of the new Chinatown. We wandered the shops and found a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant to grab a very tasty Kung Pao Chicken and House Fried Rice lunch.

Next stop, Little Tokyo – Just across the freeway from Chinatown is Little Tokyo. In 1941 there were about 30,000 Japanese Americans living in Little Tokyo, but in December of that year, the Japanese were rounded up and incarcerated in internment camps. African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos moved in the area and took over their homes; because of their skin color the area became known as Bronzeville. After the war, many Japanese moved back and today Little Tokyo is thriving again. As we walked its streets, we felt bad that we had just eaten, as the smell of great Japanese food filled the air. After strolling through various passageways and poking into a few shops we headed back to our car for our next destination.

Next stop, The Grove at Farmer’s Market – It was only about a 20-minute drive through some pretty rough parts of town and then through some very high end parts of town to what use to be orchards, a nursery and a dairy farm and is now one of the great outdoor shopping and dining areas in America – The Grove. As it was now turning dark and cool we strolled down the center of the outside mall checking out the stores, restaurants, bars and the Farmer’s Market, which is still a part of this complex. We stopped and had a beer as we watched a band setting up for an open-air concert in February . . . that’s Southern California.

Rodeo Drive

Next stop, Rodeo Drive – No tour of LA is complete without at least a drive down Rodeo (that’s Row-Day-Oh, not Road-E-O) Drive, where every high-end fashion company has a store. While Linda may have wanted to get out and window shop, I convinced her that we shouldn’t stop, we’ll miss our dinner reservation.  Great stores, all lit up – keep going!

Next stop – Dan Tana’s Restaurant  A classic LA eatery you’ll hear all about in two weeks.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week we hosted over 700,000 people in our neighborhood at the “Greatest Show on Grass”, otherwise known as the Phoenix Open.  Sure, The Waste Management Company is the named sponsor, but even though they’ve paid a lot of money and the tournament moved to Scottsdale 36 years ago, it’s still known to locals as the Phoenix Open. For a long time it was officially the FBR Open but that didn’t stick either. I think Waste Management overlooked the opportunity to call it the “Wasted Open”, which is more reflective of the actual event.  The Phoenix Open is unique on the PGA tour because it is one quarter golf and three quarters party.  Many pro players have refused to play here due to the heckling and the general circus-like atmosphere, but more and more of the younger players revel in the alcoholic ambience.  All I know is every year we rely on the advice we got almost 20 years ago when we moved here: the week of the Open just hunker down and watch it on TV.  The traffic is horrendous and the restaurants are jammed.  That said, the Phoenix Open draws some of the largest crowds of the PGA season.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

The average attendee knows little about golf

We actually did attend the event a few times and half the fun is observing the crowd.  Normally golf galleries are filled with people wearing golf attire and sensible shoes.  These are people who know the game and know what it’s like to walk around a golf course.  At the Phoenix Open the crowd is filled with people either dressed in costume (Big Bird was popular this year) or barely dressed at all.  There is fun to be had watching the young women who come expecting to prance around in their Louboutin heels but quickly discover that they are wearing the wrong kind of spikes.  We’ve seen more than one novice ruin a $500 pair of shoes when she goes “heels down” in a combination of soft grass and spilled beer.

Even the pro-am is entertaining

Usually the pro-am of any golf tournament is just a way for local dignitaries to bring in high flying, no-name customers for a chance to play with a pro.  The Phoenix Open, however, attracts top sports stars, business CEO’s and entertainment celebrities.  We could tell when the week of The Open is occurring even if we didn’t have a calendar – an average of 75 private jets fly over our house into Scottsdale airport every day of the Open.  There are so many planes at the airport that they have to double-park them.  This year the pro-am was spiced up by the addition of a streaker!  Yep – a 24 year-old man was breakdancing, practicing his golf swing and throwing sand up in the air while au naturel.   Apparently he also fell down a lot and, not surprisingly, was eventually charged with disorderly conduct.  What makes the story more amusing is that his antics went on for five minutes before anyone came out to stop him and at the end of his “performance” the crowd gave him a standing ovation.  Again, not your usual stodgy golf patronage.

The 16th Hole

Of course, what defines the Phoenix Open is the 16th Hole – the biggest outdoor bar in the world.  Over the years it has gone from having a few corporate tents around the tee box to its current three-story stadium surrounding the entire hole.  It is now literally like entering the lion’s den.  The 16th hole is famous for caddy-races (now banned after one too many accidents), pros throwing items into the stands (also now banned) and for the rowdiness of the spectators.  What other golf tournament sells tee shirts that says “Bring the Noise”?  There are students from ASU that strive to get the front row seats on Saturday each year and from that vantage point, sing or shout a personalized message to each golfer.  A few years ago the TV golf announcers were marveling at the amount of research this group does, digging up fight songs from obscure alma maters to knowing the name of the pro’s first wife.  I suppose the students’ parents might be wishing that amount of analyzing was spent on studying microbiology or something but for the rest of us it’s pretty entertaining to hear their songs and heckles – as long as it’s not mid-swing.

The upside of putting up with traffic and yahoos who yell “You Da Man!” is that the local charities benefit greatly from the tournament proceeds.  In fact, that’s one of the best aspects of the tournament.  As my neighbor observed, it’s also good that we can watch it on TV and miss the drunks vomiting into the trash cans.  Starting today we can relax until Spring Training starts when, once again, our roads are clogged and restaurants are filled to capacity.  Thankfully, baseball fans seem to be much more sedate than the Phoenix Open attendees.  Hopefully no one comes up with the bright idea to build a bar on third base.



Bushwhacked at The Ranch Saloon

by Bob Sparrow

Left door restaurant, rt. door saloon/dance hall

A couple of Fridays ago, I felt like I was part of an O. Henry short story, known for their surprise endings. This story actually begins before Christmas of last year when we usually enjoy a great evening of dining and entertainment at Bistangos, one of Orange County’s top restaurants, where Linda’s company, Blue Violet Networks, has their annual Christmas party. It’s a great affair, delicious food, great wine and a gift exchange. Last year, for reasons unknown to me, there was no party. When I learned of this I jokingly told Linda to tell John Paul, the company owner, who has a good sense of humor, that he owes us a dinner. Linda delivered the message and John Paul agreed and a date was set to meet at The Ranch, one of the very best restaurants in Southern California.

The Ranch is an interesting place; the location of this restaurant/saloon/dance hall is on the ground floor of a six-story office building in an industrial area of Anaheim. The building is the headquarters of Extron, an electronics company started and owned by business tycoon Edward Andrews. He loves dancing (He says that the guy that can dance has the best chance to succeed with the girl of his choice) and he loves country music, so the first floor of his office building is divided in half, one side houses a high-end restaurant (Oh yeah, he loves eating good food too) and the other side is home to the biggest and best country western saloon and dance floor in Orange County.

The restaurant is elegantly rustic, in keeping with the country western theme; the food is outstanding (all the produce comes from their own local ranch in Orange Park Acres) and the service is top notch, as are the prices. John Paul, a wine connoisseur, brought a couple of bottles of excellent wine and he and his partner, Linda, and Linda and I enjoyed lively conversations on a myriad of topics and delicious meats – steak, pork chop, lamb chop and braised short ribs – you won’t find bean sprouts and tofu on this menu!

Bushwhacker on the rt., bushwhakee on the left

After dinner we were escorted next door to the saloon and dance floor, where the cover charge was waived and we had a reserved table waiting for us. The dance floor was packed with 20 and 30-somethings dancing to a live band. Edward was right, there were about 40 people on the dance floor and only four of them were men and each had a lovely lady on his arm. I told John Paul that since he bought dinner, I would like to buy the after dinner drinks.  He agreed.

As we were settling into our seats, a server presented us with a drink menu, as we perused it, we were amused by some of the lofty prices. I’m thinking this is a high-end saloon as I pointed out to John Paul the Glenmorangie 1974 single malt Scotch$1,000 for a 1.5 oz glass! The server appeared and Linda and I order a beer and John Paul and Linda each order a glass of whiskey. The second round shortly followed with another glass of whiskey for John Paul and two more beers for us. Linda and I could no longer sit and watch the dancers having all the fun, so we got up and did the ‘Electric Slide’ – we were by far the oldest couple on the dance floor, but we hung in there with those young whippersnappers.

I still hyperventilate when I look at it

It was time to call it an evening and so I asked for the bill. When I first looked at it, I couldn’t see it that well, I thought it read $300, but it was dark and I didn’t have my glasses on. Once I put my glasses on and got some light, I could see that it was not $300, it was $3,000! $3,058.00 to be exact. Eyes wide and heart beating rapidly, I showed it to Linda and looked over to John Paul and said, “You ordered the $1,000 Scotch?” He smiled and nodded, “Yes . . . two of them and Linda had one”. Now my mind was racing, was this some kind of joke or was this John Paul’s way of getting back at me for saying that he owed us a dinner for not having the Christmas party? He kept his word about buying us dinner, but apparently he was going to have the last laugh.  I looked at the bill again and swallowed hard; yes it was $3,058.00 and I did offer to buy the after dinner drinks, so I surreptitiously switched the debit card I had in my hand with a credit card. As I continued to hyperventilate, I kept staring at John Paul . . . really?!! After way too long a pause he cracked a big smile and said, ‘Got ya!’ While Linda and I were out dancing, he got the bartender to print up the bogus bill and our server to present it to me.  I was never so happy to pay the real bill for $94!

In summary it was a very fun evening interrupted only by a few moments of stark terror.  This was a great spoof and fortunately I am able to laugh at myself . . . let’s hope John Paul can too, revenge is going to sweet.





By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Seems like everyone has the flu these days.  We’ve had dinner dates and golf games cancelled in record numbers the past few weeks – all parties citing the current flu epidemic as the culprit.  I was beginning to think we had just offended a record number of people but it turns out that the flu bug this year is unrelenting.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s widespread flu activity from this season’s outbreak in all of the continental U.S. – something that hasn’t happened in the CDC’s 13 years of tracking the spread of influenza.  You know it’s serious when the CDC postpones a briefing on the public health response to a nuclear detonation to instead discuss the response to severe influenza, as happened this past Tuesday.  Tragically, 30 children have died from the flu and the experts believe that number could be doubled due to cases that have gone unreported.  As of this week, thankfully the flu is predicted to peak and the less serious strain will become dominant for the remainder of the flu season.

We all know how to prevent the flu – common sense measures such as getting lots of rest, drinking fluids, and staying away from crowds until the symptoms subside.  I have some friends who have recently been brave enough to travel by plane.  Or as a doctor friend of ours calls them – “flying petri dishes”.  One person has emerged unscathed but everyone else who has flown the flu-ey skies has come down with something close to the bubonic plague.  Sometimes you just can’t help picking up the bug, as careful as you might be.  Me – I’m something akin to Howard Hughes these days.  I touch nothing and no one out in public.  The other day I was in Walgreens behind a woman who appeared to be coughing up her lung.  To make matters worse, she was coughing into her hand, rather than using the suggested “Dracula” method of coughing into one’s elbow.  In any event, when I got to the check-out counter the clerk asked me to punch my telephone number into their keypad.  I asked her why I would do that when Typhoid Mary had just had her germ-ridden fingers all over that same keypad.  The clerk explained that’s why they wipe the keypad off with sanitizer pads every so often.  I pointed out that she had not wiped it since the previous customer had slimed all over it but she just stared at me.  I’m no fool – I learned long ago not to argue with an officious clerk so I decided to forgo my “Walgreens points” and went on my merry, germ-free, way.

But all this flu talk had me thinking about what it must have been like during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, before Nyquil and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup were invented.  First off all, it’s hard to comprehend the massive numbers of people world-wide who were infected.  In the two years that this scourge ravaged the earth, a fifth of the world’s population was infected!  The flu infected 28% of all Americans and an estimated 675,000 Americans died from it, ten times as many as in the world war.  In fact, of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them (43,000) fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy.  The effect of so many young people succumbing was that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years.  The Spanish flu virus is still considered to be one of the most virulent in history; entire families were wiped out in less than a week after contracting the flu.

By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity. In 2008, researchers announced they’d discovered what made the 1918 flu so deadly: a group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia.  Since then we’ve had further, if less fatal, flu virus outbreaks.   A flu pandemic from 1957 to 1958 killed around 2 million people worldwide, including some 70,000 people in the U.S., and a pandemic from 1968 to 1969 killed approximately 1 million people, including some 34,000 Americans. More than 12,000 Americans perished during the H1N1 (or “swine flu”) pandemic that occurred from 2009 to 2010.

So, there you have it – everything you ever wanted to know about flu and its deadly consequences.  The good news is that for most people it’s a virus and will clear up on its own within a week or two.  Or, as my brother used to advise, sit in bed with a bottle of whiskey at the foot of it.  Drink until you see two bottles.  It may not cure the flu but in the morning you’ll either be better or the hangover will make the flu seem like child’s play.  As for me, I’m wearing my rubber gloves next time I go to Walgreen’s.


To Your Health in this New Year

by Bob Sparrow

I’ve had some time over the last couple of weeks to reflect on what a new year really means.  A new year suggests we get to reboot, start over, fix all things from the previous year.  But reality sinks in shortly after the ball drops, the reality that you’re really just continuing the previous year, as nothing has really changed except the date. “Happy New Year”, you tell everyone and they return in kind, and you really mean it and you hope they do too – everyone wants the new year to be happy. But I entered this new year with a mind that was occupied by some not-so-happy events that took place in our neighborhood and family as 2017 came to close.

As some of you know, we’ve lived in a great neighborhood for over 32 years and we’re not even the longest standing members of our ‘hood. Unlike most neighborhoods, we actually know our neighbors, many of them – some 20+ couples on two streets. Our kids have grown up together, we socialize together and we take care of one another. When neighbors are sick or have issues that restrict their mobility, we take turns bringing in dinners, running errands and doing whatever it takes to help the neighbor in need. It’s a great feeling knowing that someone close by has your back – actually a lot of someones.

Because we’re so close, we share in both the joy and the pain of our fellow neighbors and the end of 2017 brought significant pain to three couples. Three men suffered hospitalizing, life-threatening events.  I won’t go into the specific ailments or names of the families involved, but at the end of last year, our neighborhood was reminded of both how important our health is and how quickly things can change. To hear and feel the anguish and fear of the unknown from the spouses of these three men is indeed life changing. The sad news in our neighborhood was compounded by the news that one of our very close relatives also had health issues requiring hospitalization.  We somehow mistakenly believe that really bad things are not going to happen to us, but they do, and it really hits home when it’s family or neighbors or anyone that you love.

Through emails, phone calls, text and face-to-face conversations we have shared amongst ourselves the progress of each of these four people, hoping and praying that all four would successfully come through their individual struggles and be able to return to the life they once knew.

So yes, the ending of last year just flowed into the beginning of this year with the fate of these three men and a close relative on our minds. So forgive me if I take this opportunity to remind as many people as I can how important our health is. Some things we can’t control, like genetics, but some things we can, so please remember:

  • Be thankful for your good health if you have it
  • Never take good health for granted
  • Take better care of yourself
  • Let me share an idea that doesn’t require you to spend thousands on the latest fad diet, or go to a ‘healing’ spa:
    • Diet
    • Exercise
  • Also, get to know your neighbors; there are probably some really nice people just down the street who may need your help, or who might help you in a time of need

Remember, “Life is a one time gift”