BODIE, BUTTS AND…BENTON

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

imageWell, judging from the response we got to Bob’s post last week, I’d say his butt is so popular it should have its own Twitter feed.  He continues to do quite well in his recovery but his now-famous derrière is still stuck at home.  So this week you’ll be traveling with me again to the Eastern Sierras.  Last time I wrote about the ghost town of Bodie, which is a state park that has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay”.  Hmmm, sounds like some people I know.  In any event, this week our travels take us to the towns of Benton and Benton Hot Springs.  If you’ve never heard of them, you’re in good company.

No gas or food here

No gas or food here

Benton and Benton Hot Springs are on California Highway 6, 32 miles north of Bishop and 46 miles east of Mammoth Lakes.  The towns are three miles apart and are literally in the middle of nowhere.  More on that in a moment.  The “Bentons” were established in 1852 by the Paiute Indian tribe who sought out the warm springs that surround the area.  During the gold rush Benton became a stop-over spot for fortune seekers traveling to and from the western Sierras.  With the discovery of gold in Bodie, Benton became a supply center for the mines and the population swelled to 5,000 people.  The heyday of the towns was from 1862 to 1889 and then, much like Bodie, the gold-seekers moved on to other states and the towns that supported the mines fell on hard times.

Today, Benton Hot Springs is noted for a rustic bed and breakfast, aptly named The Inn at Benton Hot Springs.  Remember when my brother wrote about the Inn at Spanish Bay?  This is nothing like that.  However, it is a jumping off point for many of the hiking trails in the area and is busy all summer long.  Note that I said it is “rustic” – only one of the rooms has its own bathroom.  The inn gets varying reviews on Yelp from “fabulous” to “flea bitten .  Since sharing a bathroom with a stranger is my idea of Dante’s Inferno, I’m going to pass on the Inn.  But if you want to hike the area it is your best – albeit your only – bet.

It looks innocent enough but...

Hasn’t changed since the ’50’s

Benton is the real “town” of the two spots, although the current population has dwindled down to 165 hearty souls.  The town’s gathering place is the Benton Station Cafe, which coincidentally is also the gas station, bus stop and post office.  My husband and I have mixed memories of Benton Station.  About 25 years ago on our first trip through the area we decided to stop and use the facilities at the cafe.  It should be noted that Benton Station provides the only bathroom in a 30 mile radius so we assumed they had lots of visitors with urgent needs.  When we walked through the front door everything and everyone came to a standstill.  Every person in the place (and it was packed) stopped talking and turned to look at us as we walked through.  No one said a word to us but they followed our every move.  Images of “Deliverance” raced through our minds.  We scurried to the restrooms, bought a couple of Cokes as a donation, and got the hell out of there.  I have since learned that, like The Inn at Benton Springs, the Benton cafe has widely divergent reviews.  While their pies are rated universally tasty, the food is deemed to be either “best ever” or “sick as a dog for three days”.  It turns out there is a “good” cook and one whose vocational talents lie elsewhere.  The locals have memorized the cafe schedule so they know which days will provide a delicious meal.  After reading that I thought back to the day 25 years ago and surmised that we must have hit the cafe on a day when the “good” cook was working and the locals didn’t want us horning in on the food.

Our wingman

Our wing man

This year we decided to make the trip from Mammoth Lakes out to Benton once again.  Truly, the scenery on the road there is spectacular – a mix of mountains and rolling hills, pines trees and a view of the southern end of Momo Lake.  But knowing that the past can be prelude, we prepared ahead of time for this journey out to Benton.  We brought Dash the Wonder Dog along to act as interference.  After all, the locals might be wary of us, but who can resist the face of a cute dog?

 

BODIE OR BUST!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Bodie Car Show

The Bodie Car Show

A friend recently posted a picture of herself in the ghost town of Bodie, California, an abandoned mining town in the Eastern Sierras.  I thought we were the only people crazy enough to take the three mile, pot-holed, kidney-damaging road back to see Bodie so it was good to know we weren’t alone.  Assuming that most of our readers are not crazy (perhaps a rather large assumption) and therefore have not seen Bodie in person I thought I’d fill you in on this little piece of California history.

First of all, part of the reason Bodie is not well known is that it’s in a rather remote part of the country.  It’s just off Highway 395, about 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe and 12 miles south of Bridgeport, a town so remote itself that it’s claim to fame is it’s high gas prices.  (As a side note, my husband and I have been playing a game of “name the gas price” for 30 years whenever we approach Bridgeport and we always underestimate). The turnoff to Bodie is easy to miss – there is a small brown “State Park” marker but that’s it.  Bodie is 13 miles east of the turnoff, 10 miles paved and the last three the teeth-jarring surface mentioned above.  In fairness, there is a sign posted warning that the road is not paved the whole way, but given the condition of the road it should say “Turn Back Now if You Value Your Tires and Vertebrae”.

Downtown Bodie

Downtown Bodie

Once you arrive in Bodie you will be transported back in time.  The Bodie Foundation, which now runs Bodie for the State Park system, makes a point in informing visitors that Bodie has not been restored, rather, it’s been preserved in a state of arrested decay.  Walking down the main street in Bodie is the closest you might ever come to experiencing a real mining town.  A town with a storied past and a short lifespan.  In 1859, as the gold rush in the western Sierra slopes began to dry up, miners rushed to the high desert of the eastern slopes in hopes of making their fortunes. W.S. Bodey laid claim to the land around Bodie and then set out to Mono City to get supplies for the town.  Unfortunately, the winter of 1859 was particularly harsh and Mr. Bodey froze to death in a snow storm on his way back to camp.  Nevertheless, others carried on and named the town in his honor – although a sign painter spelled the name phonetically and that’s the spelling that endured.  Some gold was discovered but the town struggled through the 1860’s and early 70’s; by 1868 only two mining companies had been established and that year they both closed.  In 1876, the Standard Company decided to mine Bodie again and discovered a profitable deposit of gold.  Suddenly Bodie was transformed from a has-been mining camp to a boomtown.  More discoveries were made in an adjacent mine in 1878, causing more and more people to seek their fortunes in this remote wilderness.  It’s estimated that in its heyday the population of Bodie was 5,000-7,000 people with more than 2,000 buildings in town.

Bodie had amenities not usually found in a mining camp – a Wells Fargo Bank, several daily newspapers, restaurants, a volunteer fire company and even a brass band.  There was a Chinatown neighborhood with several hundred  inhabitants who had been brought in to work the mines.  And just like in “Gunsmoke”, there was a red light district with their own Miss Kitty – Rosa May.  But what Bodie was best known for was it’s free-wheeling, downright dangerous culture.  There were 65 (!) saloons along the one mile stretch of Main Street.  The cry of miners as they left their hometowns was “Goodbye God, I’m Going to Bodie”.  The town became known for murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups.

The General Store

The General Store

The first signs of Bodie’s decline began in 1880 when silver and gold discoveries in Montana, Arizona and Utah lured the “get-rich-quick” miners to the new boomtowns.   Most of the single men left town and Bodie turned into a family-oriented community.  Despite the population decline, the mines flourished.  A narrow-gauge railroad was built, the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company, bringing much needed lumber, cordwood, and mine timbers to town.  But there was no going back to the boom times.  By 1910 the population was down to 698 people.  In 1912 the last newspaper, The Bodie Miner, shut down and in 1913 the Standard Mining Company finally closed its doors.  In 1917, the Bodie Railway was abandoned and its iron tracks were scrapped. By 1920, the Census Bureau recorded Bodie’s population as 120 people. Despite the decline, Bodie had permanent residents through most of the 20th century, even after a fire ravaged much of the downtown business district in 1932. In fact, the post office operated until 1942, when the federal government required that all nonessential gold mines be shut down to support the war effort.

Just left Bodie

Just left Bodie

Bodie was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and became a California State Park in 1962 when it was named the state’s official gold rush town.  Only a small part of the town has survived, with about 110 structures still standing, including one of the gold mills. You can peer in the windows of the commercial buildings and homes, many remain as they were left – stocked with goods and personal belongings.  Dinner plates on are the tables, food is in the pantry (I’m guessing way past its “best by” date) and cars are abandoned by the roadside.  I think these abandoned items are what most intrigued me.  It’s one thing to decide to leave town, but why did so many leave all of their belongings?  After all, when most of the remaining Bodie residents left it was the height of the Depression, when clothing, food and furniture were in short supply for most.  I’ve read some speculation that most residents just wanted to start over fresh and  gave their belongings to the their friends while some thought they would return for their belongings when things got better at the new gold strike over the next hill. I guess we’ll never know.

Bodie is an attraction not to be missed and if you’re at all interested, make a trip soon.  The cash-strapped California Assembly has had Bodie on the chopping block for several years.  The Bodie Foundation raises money to keep it open but it’s not known how long they can continue to do so.  Just remember, if you go, bring a spare tire and make sure your kidneys are in good shape.

 

 

 

LONG LIVE THE LAND LINE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

landlineIt has come to my attention, somewhat startlingly, that I have become a Luddite.  According to a recent Pew poll,  as of  the end of 2015 49% of household in the U.S. don’t have a landline telephone.  That’s an amazing number.  I shouldn’t be surprised, given that a good many of my family members are part of that 49%.  I’ve always thought of myself as fairly tech savvy, given my age and all.  I pour over the reviews of new phones and computers, I browse the Best Buy ad on Sunday to see the latest gadgets, and I know how to do Ctrl/Alt/Delete to get me out of most computer problems.  Heck, I worked directly for the CIO of a major corporation and often received the “samples” of new equipment left with him by eager tech companies.  So this revelation of a cell phone centric society came as a shock and one, I might add, with which I totally disagree.  My opinion has only been strengthened in the past month when we were in a rental house and dependent solely on the cell phone.

Before I launch into my defense of landlines I readily admit that I also love my cell phone.  I’m constantly on it to check email, Facebook, the stock market, and the weather.  Oh yeah, and once in a while I actually use it as a phone.   So although I am old enough to remember plug-in switchboards at my first job, I do realize that having a mobile device is a marvelous thing.  I just don’t think it should be the only thing.  Here’s why:

Convenience

money in bra

I have nine telephones in my house so no matter what room I’m in, there is a phone nearby.  But, you say, the cell phone is always with you.  Yes, and that’s a good argument for some people.  People who have pockets.  Having only a cell phone over the past month caused me to realize something – I own several objects of clothing that are without pockets.  My nightgown, for example.  I know of some women that stick their cell phone in their bra but that brings back rather gruesome memories of when I worked as a teller at a bank.  I had “regulars” who would waddle up to the window, reach down into their sweaty cleavage, and hand me a wad of bills that were as limp as yesterday’s fish.  And smelled worse. So, far be it from me to ever do that with my phone.  I suppose I could simply hold it in my hand but somehow I can’t see myself as one of those women who walk around with a death grip on their phone as if it’s the winning Powerball ticket.  I’m just klutzy enough that I like to keep my hands available for those times I trip over the bath mat.

Do Not Disturb

The real problem with the cell phone-only lifestyle is being disturbed because people can literally reach you anywhere – shopping, at the movies, at the gynecologist’s office.  Conversely, if someone calls me on my landline and I don’t answer they know I’m out doing something.  They leave a message and I call them back AT MY CONVENIENCE.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve received calls on my cell when I’m on the golf course, in meetings, and God forbid, the bathroom.  My wish to not be disturbed is also the reason I charge my phone in the opposite side of the house from the bedroom. Once I go to bed, that’s it.  Occasionally I hear my cell phone ring but  I never get up to look at it.  Experience has taught me that certain members of my family are prone to drunk dialing.  Oh sure, they apologize the next day and blame it on butt dialing but I’m not buying it.  When’s the last time someone butt dialed you from a landline phone?

cell phone in carAre You Still There?

I admit to occasional use of my cell phone in the car.  I have a Bluetooth connection so I’m hands-free and I do find it convenient to return a call or make a quick call if I don’t have time to do it before I leave the house.  But most of the time I save my calls for home because frankly, even after all these years, cell phone reception is horrible.  There’s still that awkward pause where you have to ensure that the person you’re speaking with is done or you cut them off, and vice versa.  But worst of all is a cell phone conversation when BOTH parties are using Bluetooth in the car.  The clarity of the call is about what I had as a kid with a tin can and piece of string.  Mostly it’s garbled, cuts out, and is distracting.  Sometimes the reception at home isn’t any better.  Like many people, some parts of our house get better reception than others and in our rental house last month there were whole rooms where there was no service at all.

So for me, I’m sticking with my landline.  Perhaps I will become one of those gray-haired old ladies that gets invited to speak at the local library about life in the olden days when phones were actually attached to walls.

 

1968 REDUX?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The '68 Convention

The ’68 Convention

I had a hard time getting to sleep the night of the Dallas police shootings   I kept thinking about 1968, and how the events of that seminal year affected our society for years to come.  The next morning I heard several news commentators make the same comparison until someone (I forget who – I can remember 1968 but not last week) reminded us how bad 1968 really was.  It was a year that began to show the fissures in our society and a seismic shift in our values.  The Vietnam war was raging – both Mai Lai and the Tet Offensive occurred that year and we lost more men (16,592) in 1968 than any other year of the war.  Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, we saw the demise of Lyndon Johnson and the rise of Richard Nixon, the Zodiac killer terrorized the San Francisco area, North Korea captured the submarine Pueblo and kept the 99 member crew hostage for eleven months.  Finally, violent riots broke out at the Democratic convention in Chicago.  It was a really bad year.

The Graduate

The Graduate

As easy as it is to think about 1968 in rather dark tones, that year was also jam-packed with social, economic and entertainment “firsts”.  We here at From A Bird’s Eye View, in an effort to bring you some lighter memories of that year, bring you the following highlights:

  • The Beatles started Apple records and released their White Album, containing the song Hey Jude.
  • The Boing 747 made its maiden flight and Intel was founded.
  • Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant.
  • The first ATM went into a bank in Pennsylvania and  911 became the nation-wide emergency number.
  • The Graduate was the #1 movie, forever inspiring runaway brides.
  • TV programs ran the gamut from Peyton Place to Flipper, but perhaps the most influential new TV show that year was Laugh-In.
  • The average new car sold for $2822 and you could fill the tank for 34 cents a gallon.
  • The median price of a home was  $14,950, which sounds great by today’s standards but then the average annual salary was only $7,850.
  • The Jets/Raiders game was interrupted by a showing of Heidi, cutting off the last minute of play where the Raiders scored twice to win the game.
563 heart-stopping calories

563 heart-stopping calories

  • Perhaps this should be on the “bad” list, but 1968 saw the invention of the Big Mac.
  • 60 Minutes debuted on CBS and is still going strong.
  • Finally, on Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spaceship to orbit the moon.  As one politician noted when the astronauts safely returned to Earth, “You have saved 1968.”

I write this just as the political conventions are about to take place so I don’t know what will happen – hopefully just peaceful protesting.  It’s hard not to be apprehensive; to hope that we don’t see rioting and injury.  I will endeavor to remember that 1968 had problems, but it also had breakthroughs. After all, it was in 1968 that Paul Lynde entertained us on Hollywood Squares.  Who knows, perhaps in 50 years we’ll look back at 2016 and despite the problems, we’ll remember the nuttiness of Pokemon Go.

I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER – OR NOT

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

imageEvery four years I have a Walter Mitty moment – I fantasize that I am an Olympic Games contender.  This past week I’ve been watching all of the USA Olympic team trials and, as always, think that with a little more effort I could have made the team.  This is totally delusional, of course.  I did swim for my high school and AAU teams but I think I was more interested in how I looked in my Speedo than my split times.  I also participated in gymnastics in school, but soon realized that my “thunder thighs” were not compatible with elegance, grace or balance.  So I have the utmost admiration for those who are talented and dedicated enough to take their skills to the try-outs, putting it all on the line to make the American team.  There are hundreds of competitors, but a few have stood out for me this week.

John Orozco on learning he made the team

John Orozco – In 2012 it looked like the sky was the limit for this talented gymnast.  He made the Olympic team and was heralded as a sure thing for a medal, an athlete with a fairytale story. Born to parents of little means, his mother drove him a hour each day from their home in Brooklyn to the gym in Chappequa.  Early on they slept in their car when they traveled to competitions.  A lot of hard work resulted in his Olympic dreams coming true.    But  those dreams turned into nightmares at the 2012 games.  Uncharacteristially,  he had two disastrous pommel horse routines and then fell on one of his vaults.  He was routinely chided by the critics as a huge disappointment.  But he kept plugging along.  Then in 2015 he was hit with a double whammy – his beloved mother died suddenly and he tore his Achilles’ tendon.  Everyone wrote him off for the 2016 team. But John believed in himself and wanted to honor all the sacrifices his mother made.  During the trials last week he summoned the courage and fortitude to perform at the highest levels.  He was not error-free, but was good enough for the selection committee to put him on the team.  He cried throughout the induction ceremony and anyone who watched his interview and didn’t tear up is just not human.  No matter the outcome in Rio, John Orozco is a winner in all the ways that are important.

imageTroy Dumais – Not everyone’s Olympic dreams come true.  Troy Dumais has been a premier diver for the USA since 1996, participating in the past four Olympic Games.  Think about that – he started his Olympic career when we could still leave our shoes on at the airport.  He dubbed the trials this year as his “Dive for Five”.  Unfortunately, at 36 years old, time had caught up with him and he was in fourth place going into the final round, well out of Olympic team contention. He has contributed so much to his sport that when he climbed the ladder to perform the final dive of his career, the audience gave him a standing ovation.  They continued to clap and cheer, forcing Dumais to pause and take it all in.  He broke down, then summoned the composure to execute his dive almost flawlessly.  He said afterward that he knows it’s time to retire.  He is now married with a family and said that it’s difficult to cobble together enough income to support them.  And that’s the thing that is so admirable about most of these athletes – they do it for the love of the sport.  For every Michael Phelps and Shawn Johnson who rake in the big endorsements, there are hundreds of Olympic-level contenders that have to scrape by just to make a living.  I have untold admiration for their dedication and purity of purpose.

Kevin Cordes

Kevin Cordes – I’m going to admit up front that I’m a bit biased when it comes to Kevin Cordes.  I’m a friend of his grandmother and have been following his swimming career for almost ten years.  He attended University of Arizona, where he was named the Pac 12 and NCAA swimmer of the year – twiceand in 2015 was named the Pac 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, completing his degree in Business with a 3.4 GPA.  Today he is the American record-holder in the 100m breast stroke and if you Google his name you will see a very long list of his awards and medals, both national and   international.  But what makes Keven so admirable is his discipline and comportment.  At the 2012 trials he came in third, just missing out on a spot on the Olympic team.  But he took that disappointment and built on it.  He has dedicated his life to being the best possible swimmer while remaining a good and humble person.  Sadly, that can’t be said of all of the “glamour” athletes we see on TV.  As testimony to Kevin’s reputation, last week when he won the 100m breast stroke event, finally becoming the Olympian he had dreamed about, an observer noted that during the medal ceremony all of the lane judges stood up and gave him an ovation – the first time that had happened.  In Rio Kevin will be competing in both the 100 and 200m events as well as the relays.  I know his family is extremely proud of him, not only for his achievements in the pool but also for his behavior outside of it.  He is truly an All-American in every way.

I can’t wait for the Games to begin.  I have reconciled that I will never make an Olympic team, unless eating and knitting become competitive events.   Instead, I will root for John and Kevin and all the other Olympic athletes who are so hard-working, dedicated, honest and a tribute to our country.  I’m proud that they will be representing the USA.  I wonder if we can get one of them to run for President?

BUSTED IN BOULDER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

CU Campus

     CU Campus

We’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Denver to see family.  We enjoyed fabulous times in their spa-like back yard, a great meal at Shanahan’s, and a lung-collapsing walk at the 5200 foot elevation.  It all seems like a dream now that we are experiencing record heat in the desert.  Were we really feeling chilly just a week ago?  To compensate for today’s triple-digit temps, I’m going to harken back to that time long ago – last week – to describe our day trip up to Boulder.  Maybe just thinking about it will make me feel cooler.  Or more confused – read on.

First, it must be said that Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in the country.  It’s little wonder that Denver is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation – good jobs, good housing and spectacular surroundings.  We have been to Denver a few times so this trip our daughter thought it would be fun to venture up to Boulder.  We were excited to see a city that we’ve read so much about – a burgeoning tech community, fun college town, and haven to hippies and retirees alike.

The beautiful Flatirons

The beautiful Flatirons

So off we headed for the 45 minute drive and decided to take Dash the Wonder Dog along for the ride.  After all, Colorado is one of the more “outdoorsy” states; you can hardly walk a block without seeing someone with a dog.  Or two.  In Boulder more than a third of the population owns a dog so we expected Dash would be in his element.  As we approached the city the first site that came into view was the Flatiron Mountains, a range of five peaks that have a sheer upright face.  Images of the Flatirons are ubiquitous symbols of the city of Boulder.  The city government, the University of Colorado, and many businesses make use of this symbol in their logos, advertisements, and marketing materials.  The mountains form a perfect background for the CU campus.  Combined with the hundreds of trees and the park-like setting, it has to be the most idyllic school in the country at which to goof off rather than go to class.  The center of downtown Boulder is home to the Pearl Street Mall, a four-block pedestrian mall that has cute shops, numerous restaurants and more than it’s fair share of street “performers”.  We found a parking spot close by and embarked on a tour.  We drifted in and out of many of the stores and in each one, Dash the Wonder Dog received oodles of attention.  In one store the clerk asked to have her picture taken with him.  In the kitchen and home store the clerk engaged me in a long discussion about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  So far, we were loving Boulder.  For a fleeting moment, recalling the forecast for Scottsdale this week, I thought perhaps we should go home, pack up and move to Boulder.

Pearl Street Mall

Pearl Street Mall

About half-way through our tour of the mall we came to the restaurant that our daughter suggested for lunch.  My husband ran in to take a look at the menu (to say he’s not an adventurous eater would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions) and to see if we could sit at one of the tables on their patio that abutted the mall.  He came out of the restaurant with a rather stunned look on his face.  I assumed that the “special of the day” was elk ear or moose gizzards.  But instead he told us that not only was Dash not welcome on their patio, but that dogs were not allowed AT ALL on Pearl Street Mall.  Whaaaaat?  Just five minutes before Dash was sashaying around the place like he was the mayor.  And now he’s not allowed?  Sure enough, we looked at the signs on a pole at the entrance to the mall and in addition to No Spitting, No Loitering, and No Bikes was the sign I hate most of all – No Dogs.  You’d have thought one of the people who worked in the stores might have said something.  I’m guessing that they are secretly dog owners who think the rule is stupid.  We finally found a restaurant perpendicular to the mall where Dash could join us as long as he was tied up on the street side of the patio.  He was not amused.  After we got back in the car, I did a quick Google search and sure enough, Boulder, contrary to what one might expect, is not a dog-friendly town.  Turns out that “man’s best friend” is not allowed in any restaurant patio or to be off-leash at any time.  Uniformed Animal Control agents patrol the city and are quick to give out citations for any violations.  Geez, I guess we were lucky that Dash didn’t end up behind bars.

So, what was my impression of Boulder?  It’s truly a spectacular city with beautiful views, a vibrant college campus, great shopping…and stupid dog laws.

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

vacationIf it’s summer in Arizona it can only mean one thing – get out of town!  I usually look for some signs to tell me when it’s time to leave.  This week we got two – one expected and one, well, out of this world.  The expected sign was in the form of heat.  While the rest of you are enjoying the lapping of an ocean wave or the rustling of a quaking aspen, what we hear all summer is the constant thrummmmm of the air conditioner.  This past week we’ve not only had the usual “summer has arrived in Arizona” heat but staggering, breath-sapping inferno temperatures.  To add to the fun, there was an air quality alert the past four days.  So, not only did we have temperatures that looked more like a steak order, but the air looked like Los Angeles in the 60’s.  Somehow I think that when you can see the air you’re breathing it’s a sign – and not a good one.  We have a lot of travel plans this summer – Denver, Central Coast of California, Mammoth Lakes and Sun Valley – but it took the second sign to put our travel plans into action.

Last Thursday morning, at 4 a.m., we were startled out of a sound sleep by a loud “boom”.  My husband also saw a bright light flash.  I figured the light was the newspaper truck circling our court.  But I couldn’t account for the sound.  Of course, when you’re awakened in this way you are confused about what you heard.  Did the newspaper guy run into the house next door?  Or was it someone breaking into our house?  Ever on the alert, my husband grabbed a flashlight and a bat from under the bed and set out to discover what caused the noise.  Dash the Wonder Dog and I laid our heads back down on the pillow but, of course, sleep is impossible under these circumstances so I decided I’d go help find the culprit.  I grabbed the phone so I could call 9-1-1 and caught up with my husband.  There we were, in the pre-dawn darkness, skulking through our house on tip-toe looking for someone who, ostensibly, was large enough to knock down the garage door to enter our house. This was not going to end well.   Slowly we creeped through the whole house and found nothing.  My husband decided to venture outside but since we just found a rattlesnake in our yard last week, I held sentry at the front door.  There was no sign of an intruder so we put down our bat and phone and decided to brew coffee.

2016-06-02 05.03.24 (Small)We stood in our kitchen, wondering what the sound could have been, when my husband looked out the window and saw what appeared to be contrails in the sky.  I captured it with my camera (picture right) and we surmised it was a plane of some sort that may have crashed.  But when we turned on the news we discovered that Arizona had experienced an asteroid explosion!  Now that’s something you don’t see every day.  Sure enough, the sound we heard was a sonic boom when the asteroid fireball broke apart.  Later in the day NASA officials confirmed that it was a small asteroid, about 10 feet in diameter, that had entered the Earth’s atmosphere near Payson, Arizona.  They estimated that the object was moving at more than 40,000 mph when it sped across the sky.  What everyone who was up early saw (and what I captured in my photo) was the smoke trail of the fireball – the winds of the upper atmosphere had caused the trail to twist and turn.  I learned a lot about asteroids on Thursday, mainly that they happen all the time.  They are considered to be “space debris,” or leftover fragments from the formation of the solar system.  Kind of like the spare parts left over from the bed you bought at Ikea.  There are millions of asteroids orbiting the sun, 750,000 of which are found in the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  This week scientists have been scrambling to find the scattered bits of the asteroid so they can examine them more closely.  Their fear is that amateurs with their metal-detectors will find them first and they’ll end up on someone’s nook so the finder can say at the next neighborhood BBQ, “Hey, want to come see my asteroid?”.  In any event, these remnants tell scientists about the formation of the solar system so hopefully NASA will find them and we’ll know once and for all whether there are little green men on Mars.

As for me, I think when the universe starts throwing rocks at you it’s a sign, so this week we’re beginning our summer travels.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

LIFE BEFORE MODERN CONVENIENCES

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

TVI’ve just read a book by a sociologist about the divergence of the American population.  The book is alternately fascinating, frightening and boring as hell, but since I was a Sociology major in college I found it mostly interesting.  And, as an added bonus, it goes a long way toward explaining how we ended up with the current slate of Presidential candidates.  But that’s a story for another day.  What caught my interest was the author’s timeline for changes to the American culture, beginning in the early 60’s.  He described a world back then that is barely recognizable today.  It got me thinking about all of the conveniences we take for granted that are, historically speaking, really rather new.  I’ve always thought that our parents lived in the most rapidly changing time – going from Model T’s to the International Space Station – but for us Baby Boomers (and let’s face it, our subscriber base tilts to grey hair) the changes in how we live our daily lives has been just as extraordinary.   In case you’ve forgotten, here’s some reminders of what life was like 50 years ago.

Television – First of all, if you were lucky, you had a console TV with an antenna on the roof that received signals from FOUR stations.  We thought we had all the choice in the world!  At 6 pm one could watch Huntley/Brinkley, Cronkite, Amos n’ Andy or the local weather on the independent station.  For those who did not have an antenna, tin foil wrapped around the “rabbit ears” was the next best solution.  As a kid, I often had two jobs – stand at the TV and move the rabbit ears around to improve reception (which varied by the moment) and change the channel.  No remote control, no 500 channel cable packages, and no “smart” TV’s.

phone

Telephones – By the early 60’s almost every American household had a telephone. All of them were black with a rotary dial.  It would be a few years before we marveled at the colored “Princess” phones with touch keys.  Phone numbers started with names.  Ours was TWinbrook 2-3537 (it’s amazing I can remember that but not my current computer password).    Usually there were just one or two phones in a house, permanently secured to the wall in a central location.  As a teenager the major drawback to this was that anyone could – and did – listen in on your conversations.  Although land-line technology hasn’t changed all that much in 50 years there is one  difference in how we use phones – answering systems.  Back then if you called someone and they weren’t home, the phone just rang and rang until you gave up.  In business, you would leave your office for an hour and return to find your desk papered with those pink “While You Were Out” notices.  We somehow managed without answering machines, voicemail and cell phones.

Computers – Nothing has changed everyday life in America like the advent of the home computer.  We now can know anything.  All the information you might want is a Google search away (see Research below).  But computers have also changed the way we communicate.  Fifty years ago if you wanted to send a quick note to someone you hand wrote or typed it.  You then placed it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, deposited it in the corner mailbox and waited a week for it to arrive at its destination.  At the office you received mail once a day.  If something you needed to work on didn’t arrive in that day’s mail it was the perfect excuse to spend the day wandering around the office chatting with co-workers and taking an extra-long lunch.  The advent of email has made social interactions much easier and probably increased the national productivity tenfold.  As for looking things up…see the next section.

typewriterResearch –  Back in the day, when teenagers wanted to escape their parents for a few hours they would say “I’m going to the library to look something up”.  Some families were fortunate to have an Encyclopedia Britannica (sold to them by a door-to-door salesman) but most of us had to go to the library, which was code for meeting friends, goofing off and checking out some random book to take home as proof that we were actually there.  Today, 78% of homes in America have computers and we can assume that if we just counted households with children that number would be much higher.  So now kids have all the information they need at their fingertips right in the comfort of their own home.  I wonder what excuse they use these days to get out of the house?

kodak_brownie_

Photography – Almost every household in the 1960’s had some model of a Kodak Brownie camera.  They required rolls of film and blue flash bulbs that usually rendered the subjects blind and resulted in pictures where everyone’s eyes were closed.  In 1963 the Polaroid camera became a sensation because the photo spewed out of the camera.  The photographer waited one minute and then pulled the negative portion away from the “positive” photo and VOILA! – you had a grainy, wet memento.  Serious photographers still use real cameras with real film, but most photos today are taken with a cell phone.  No film, no taking it down to the drugstore, waiting a week for it to be developed, and no more half a roll of useless pictures that end up in the garbage (or, in the case of our mother, kept in a drawer until she died so we could throw them in the garbage).

We’ve come a long way in 50 years.  Kids growing up today must cringe at how primitive our lives were back then.  But on the flip side, we could play outside in the neighborhood until dark and our parents didn’t have to worry.  We had more chores than homework, which instilled a good work ethic.  We learned how to read maps without GPS and to cook food without ‘nuking it.  On the whole, our lives were lived at a slower pace and without access to everything all the time.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

DASH GETS A JOB

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Dash at his usual station

Dash at his usual station

Dash the Wonder Dog is three years old which, for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, equates to 28 human years.  In other words – he is a millennial.  But it’s not only his age that puts him in that category.  He also fits into that demographic through his actions, or better put, his inactions.  To wit:  he still lives at home with his parents, he lies around all day on the couch watching television, he expects to be served his meals (on time) and he does not contribute one cent to the household coffers.  To add insult to injury, he has never barked so he’s not even a respectable watch dog.  In fact, the welcome mat our on our front doorstep says “Warning – Dog Can’t Hold His Licker”.  Something had to be done.  I began to research how he might contribute – nothing too taxing, after all he is the Royal Dog of England.  As luck would have it, I stumbled upon “Pets on Wheels” in Scottsdale and decided we should give it a go.

Pets on Wheels was founded in 1990 as a visiting therapy dog organization with the mission of enhancing the lives of the elderly and/or infirm in special care centers.  Volunteers visit once a week, providing a bright spot in the day for all of the patients they visit.  For obvious reasons one has to jump through some hoops before being approved by Pets on Wheels, so on a bright Saturday morning in March Dash and I attended the orientation meeting.  Two delightful women talked about the history of the group and showed heart-warming pictures of dogs (I think some people were in them too) and explained what was required of a dog to be approved for the program.  They assured us that the qualifications weren’t too hard – respond well to petting and touching, ignore loud noises, reject any food that may be on the floor, and walk well on a leash.  I began to panic.  Maybe these two ladies felt that was a rather low bar, but I know that Dash has never rejected a morsel of food in his life.  He sits at my feet every night as I prepare dinner, not looking up at me but instead staring straight ahead so that he can best sight any falling crumb.  Nothing escapes his steely eyed gaze.  As for walking on a leash – I have rotator cuff damage from all the pulling and tugging on our daily walks.

But on the plus side, Dash does have his Canine Good Citizen certificate so somewhere, deep in the recesses of his brain, he does know how to use his party manners.  I prayed that those recesses would come to the fore.  So we started the test, him happily unaware and me nervous as a tick.  Of course he loved being petted and didn’t flinch a bit at loud noises.  Next we had to walk down a long hallway so they could see if I had him under control.  Under control????  Are you kidding?  He has had me under his paw since the day we brought him home.  He treats my commands as mere suggestions, and usually obeys only if there is a snack involved.  But, here we were, being tested and as if the heavens had opened up and angels were sitting on his shoulder, he walked down that hallway like he owned the place.  Whew!  We made it through the first round.

Dash in his uniform

Dash in his uniform

The second phase of approval took place at our assigned care facility, Vi at Silverstone.  An experienced observer met us there so he could evaluate how Dash interacted with the inhabitants.  Let’s be honest, I think I was also being evaluated but the observer was too kind to tell me that.  As we walked into the building Dash immediately lurched to the right.  Unfortunately, the nice people at Vi put out a plate of cookies every day for visitors.  So Dash, assuming he was an invited guest, thought the warm, fragrant oatmeal cookies were up for grabs.  So much for first impressions.  The evaluator gave me a look I couldn’t quite place – it was either “Lady, you are dreaming if you think you’re going pass this test” or “Hey, my dog does that too”.  Regardless, on we went, visiting the people in the assisted living unit and then the skilled nursing area.  Finally, we entered the memory care quarters which requires a five digit code to enter and exit.  I am expected to remember it which, considering I am constantly forgetting our four digit security system code, could result in me permanently being locked in.  Well at least that would save my family the trouble of having to officially commit me.  Luckily my Swiss Cheese brain remembered the code so we returned to the lobby where the evaluator told us we passed.  Dash got his official “uniform” – a Pets on Wheels bandana, a leash and a badge.  I got one of those oatmeal cookies.

In the weeks since being approved we’ve made several visits and Dash has been a champ.  I’m not really surprised.  As much as he can disobey me at times, he is the very picture of obedience when he is around strangers.  He is always patient and quiet, accepting of whomever comes his way.  He contentedly sits on laps, savouring every scratch behind the ear or rub on the belly.  But of course, the best part of his new job is seeing the faces of people that he visits. Most of them light up when he jaunts into the room and many want him to sit on their bed so they can get a snuggle.  Even in the memory unit he is petted and loved and for that instant has made someone happy.  As for me, I love doing it too.  I think about the day, hopefully very far in the future, when I might find myself in similar circumstances.  How joyful it will be to once again feel a furry paw on my hand or a moist lick on my cheek.  For now, I’m just happy to accompany Dash to work.

 

SLOBS ON A PLANE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Did this ever really exist?

From a land long ago and far away

Last week my brother was spot on with his observations about our current election process.  Sadly, it only got worse and more complicated as the week went on.  Reading his blog reminded me of the oft-used phrase, “we get the politicians we deserve”, which I thought was off-base this election cycle as who could possibly merit the current field of candidates?  Well, after traveling across country a couple of weeks ago I can tell you who deserves these people – slobs on airplanes.  You know the type; it’s people who dress like they have recently emerged from their cozy bed with nary a thought to actually changing their pajamas for street clothes.  But it’s not just sloppy clothing that make people slobby.   It’s also the people who are so self-centered and clueless that one can only assume they have been raised by feral cats.

Which, oddly enough, is how my journey from airline hell began.  My first flight was at 6:30 a.m. which of course meant I got no sleep at all the night before, what with waking up every 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t sleep through the two alarms I set.  The good news about such an early flight is the line for security is virtually next to nothing.  And yet…four people tried to break into the Pre-Check line because they thought they were too important to wait for the five people in front of them to go through regular security.  Once I had been thoroughly grilled by TSA about my dangerous Fitbit bracelet, I headed for Starbucks.  There is nothing like strong coffee in the morning to improve my mood so I was reveling in my cuppa joe at the departure gate when I heard an odd sound.  Odd because it was a familiar sound, yet strangely out of place.  The sound got louder and louder until it reached the chair across from me.  I casually glanced up and was somewhat startled to see an older woman pushing a wheelchair containing a screeching cat in a canvas crate.  Then to make matters worse, the woman unzipped the crate and tried to calm the cat down.  As a former cat owner I can assure you that there IS no calming a distressed cat.  The guy next to me leaned over and said “we can only pray she’s not next to us”.  Thankfully, she wasn’t.  I don’t know whether she smothered the cat or gave it drugs but I didn’t hear a peep from it again.

SHUT UP!

          SHUT UP!

On the leg of my trip to NYC I was happy that I had scored the aisle seat in the first row of coach.  There is nothing like extra leg room on a long flight.   As I eagerly stepped through the doorway to the plane I heard a man shouting in a panicked voice – I surmised it was an argument about a seat tilted back into someone’s upper groin.  But as luck would have it, “the voice” was seated right next to me yelling into his cell phone.  There was all manner of “I take full responsibility”, “It’s all on me” and “Tell him I’m very sorry“.  I assumed given the volume and urgency with which he was speaking that he was a surgeon who had just amputated the wrong leg.  But a few sentences further into the conversation it became clear that he was an insurance salesman.  I had visions of the hanging scene from “Airplane!”.  On and on he droned, without a thought to anyone around him.  One guy who was passing by on the way to his seat just rolled his eyes at me and said “Gosh, did you know he’s really sorry?”.   This went on until the flight attendant practically had to take a hatchet to his hand so he would turn his phone off. He alone is why the FAA should NEVER allow cell phones to be activated during flight.

Poster child for airplane slobs

Poster child for airplane slobs

My trip returning from NYC was only slightly better.  We had the ubiquitous crying children (only slightly better than a screeching cat) and the person next to me required a seat belt extender so let’s just say that I never saw one inch of the arm rest between us.  Finally, on my last leg home I thought I caught a break.  It was the first flight that wasn’t completely full and again I had the aisle seat in the first row of coach.  As I settled in a woman who looked like a refugee from the 60’s took the center seat next to me.  When the cabin door closed I realized that the window seat was vacant.  I waited for her to move over but apparently the Patchouli oil had gone to her head.  Finally I said “You know, you could move over to the window seat and then we’d both have a bit more room.”  She stared intently into my eyes and said, “You’re my kind of person!” but didn’t make any attempt to move over.  Oh boy.  Once we were at cruising altitude she finally changed seats.  I heaved a big sigh of relief until she bent down, took off her shoes and then propped her feet up on the bulkhead.  To say that the odor smelled like a dung heap would be an injustice to the dung heap.  Thankfully, she fell asleep for most of the flight and my nostrils adjusted to the smell.  But of course, she wasn’t done quite yet.  Upon awakening she took a rotting banana out of her bag and proceeded to eat it.  When I say rotting, it was WAY beyond even being considered for banana bread.  When the flight attendant came to pick up garbage “Ms. Summer of Love” handed the blackened peel off to her.  The attendant handled it like a dead rat.

So, to my earlier point, these are the people that deserve our current Presidential candidates.  On a more positive note, and speaking of Presidents, also on my flight to NYC was the author, Douglas Brinkley, who was on a book tour for Rightful Heritage: The Renewal of America.  Mr. Brinkley is clearly in need of a new agent; he was seated far back in coach.  I came into contact with him as he was waiting in the aisle undoubtedly held up by someone several rows back attempting to hoist their pet goat into the overhead .  I told him that I was a big fan of his writing.  He couldn’t have been more gracious.  Upon reflection, I now realize that I should have knocked off “Cell Phone Man” so Mr. Brinkley could take his seat and we could have had an engaging conversation about the Roosevelts and Presidential politics in general.  I know…the Patchouli oil has gone to my head.