TRUMPKINS AND OTHER HALLOWEEN HISTORY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

gotAs if we don’t have enough to worry about right now, I’ve discovered whole websites devoted to “Trumpkins” – pumpkins carved out to look like Trump.  There are also some of Hillary called “Clinkins” but that doesn’t seem to have the same ring.  Frankly, I don’t really know how this whole pumpkin-carving thing started, or even that much about Halloween.  My knowledge on the subject is limited to costumes and Snickers bars.  Lots of Snickers bars.  I’ve been giving Halloween some thought this year because I’ve seen more advertisements for adult costumes and celebrations than ever before.  My assumption was that millennials have popularized the holiday by coming out of their parents’ basements to party with others of their generation.  That young adults have discarded their pajama bottoms in favor of dressing up as Steve Jobs or a Game of Thrones character, and in the process, have stolen Halloween from the kids.  As usual, my assumptions were all wrong.  So I quit looking at all of the Trumpkins on the internet and did a little research.  Turns out that Halloween started as an adult celebration and was then highjacked by kids.  Specifically, the Baby Boomers.  Yes, yet another thing we can chalk up to our overwhelming numbers and our parents desire to make us happy.  But let me start at the beginning.

 

samain

Halloween is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration that took place on November 1, which was the Celtic new year.  People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.   And, knowing my Celtic ancestors, I’m guessing that quite a few of the celebrants were lit too.  By 43 A. D. the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory and thus brought their own religious and cultural celebrations to the region, which resulted in a whole lot of observances – Feast Days, All Martyrs Days, All Saint’s Days, Days to Honor the Dead.  You get the idea.  In the eighth century Pope Gregory III, no doubt exhausted from having to oversee so many observances, consolidated the traditional Celtic and Roman holidays to one single day – November 1, known as All Saints Day.  Pope Gregory III knew how to cut through bureaucracy – we could use him around today. In any event, the night before became All Hallows Eve, eventually shortened to Halloween.

Fast forward a few hundred years when Halloween came to America.  It was not a holiday celebrated by the stuffy, dour  New England Protestants (again, our ancestors so I can say that) but caught on with newer immigrants to the southern colonies.  The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds.  Sounds like they really knew how to par-tay.  In the second half of the 19th century, with the huge influx of immigrants from Ireland, Halloween was introduced to virtually every region of the U.S.  Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.  And thus the tradition continued as a community celebration, primarily for adults, until the latter part of the twentieth century.  In the 1950’s, with so many adorable children bursting on the scene, Halloween was given over to children, with the focus on children’s events at school and calculated forays into neighborhoods where they gave out good (e.g. chocolate) vs. bad (suckers) candy.

pumpkin-dogSo, why are we seeing such an uptick in adult Halloween celebrations?  There are lots of theories and not a lot of definitive answers.  I think it’s mostly because people like to have fun and dressing up on Halloween and partying with friends is a good way to forget that your boss is a jerk and your mother-in-law is coming for Thanksgiving.  Whatever the reason, according to Forbes, Americans now spend $7 BILLION on decorations, costumes, cards, candy and pets.  Yes, pets.  We spend $1.22B on adult costumes, $1.04B on children’s costumes, and more than $370M on doodads for our dogs and cats.  I found that hard to believe but then a quick Google search convinced me that this pet-dressing phenomenon is quite real.  While many of the pictures made me smile (there are definitely pet owners who are spending too much time on Pinterest) I noticed that none of the pets looked too happy garbed up as a fairy princess or bumble bee.  Offhand I’d say that we’d be much better off donating that $370M to animal shelters.  But then again sometimes I’m just a buzzkill.

 

Speaking of which, my brother found an interesting article about the sale of Presidential candidate costumes in an election year.  Turns out that dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidential run, the candidate’s whose Halloween mask sells the most is far more likely to win the election.  This year,  the Trump mask is outselling the Clinton mask by 7%.  I’m not sure that’s really indicative of this year’s election.  I suspect the sales numbers reflect the fact that it’s just more fun to wear a clump of orange hair than a boxy pantsuit.

 

clinton-pumpkin trumpkin

THE PIMPING OF PINK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

pink-ribbonsSo…it’s October.  The month of pumpkins, Halloween and the ever-present pink ribbon.  Yes, in case you’ve been in a cave the past few weeks, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.  It’s hard not to be aware since the pink ribbon is plastered on everything from lipstick to toilet paper.  I can’t check out at the grocery store or purchase something online without being asked to donate to a breast cancer charity.   I want to say at the outset that I am very much in support of breast cancer education and research.  After all, one of my oldest and best friends has survived a particularly hellish form of the disease thanks to great doctors and innovations in drug therapy.  And maybe that’s at the root of my problem with the “awareness” movement.  Breast cancer now has a high survivability rate, even for cases that were once thought to be a death sentence.  The American Cancer Society now estimates that the five-year survival rate for most breast cancer stages is close to 100%.  That is tremendous progress and can certainly be attributed in part to the pink ribbon campaign of the past 25 years.   But in my opinion, the pink ribbon has been pimped out.

 

pink-ribbon-wine-glass

First of all, pink ribbons on products signifies marketing at its best – or worst – luring customers into thinking that the company is donating proceeds to breast cancer research.  In fact, according to the Breast Cancer Awareness organization and a report by the Huffington Post, some major products with pink ribbons on the packaging are there for marketing purposes only. In other words, they put the pink ribbon on their product to get the consumer to assume that some portion of the purchase goes toward breast cancer research.  In reality it’s just there for marketing purposes.  No additional funds go anywhere except the pocket of the corporation.  In doing some research for this piece I was taken aback by some of the major product manufacturers that do this – everything from shoes to food.  The height of irony to me is the sale of wine and liquor glasses with the pink ribbon when, in fact, alcohol consumption can contribute to getting breast cancer in the first place.  Pink ribbon product placement where there is no actual financial contribution to the cause is not illegal as there is no trademark on the pink ribbon.  Which means it can be used, and abused, at will.    Certainly there are many companies that do donate their proceeds to breast cancer charities but my caution is that you research the donation details before you plunk down your hard-earned cash.

 

nflThe other major irony that occurs this month is the NFL’s insistence on showing their “awareness” by players wearing pink shoes, wrist bands, socks and…wait for it…pink ribbons on their helmets.  Hmmmmm….if I recall, October is also Domestic Violence awareness month.  Seems to me that if the NFL wanted to do something favorable towards women this month they might have the players sport the purple Domestic Violence ribbons.  Josh Brown has been the latest player to be charged with abuse but, regretfully, he is far from alone.  Benjamin Morris of the FiveThirtyEight organization crunched federal data to measure the league’s domestic violence arrest rate against the general population of American men ages 25 to 29. He found that domestic violence accounted for a whopping 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among the football players, compared to 21 percent among non-football players.  Moreover, relative to the income level (top 1 percent) and poverty rate (0 percent) of NFL players, the domestic violence arrest rate is downright extraordinary.  Roger Goodell’s commission, put together in 2014 after the Ray Rice incident, seems to have had little influence thus far – 2015 saw almost a doubling of the domestic violence arrests among NFL players.  And if you think it’s because it’s being reported more, you need to read this Washington Post article from last week that describes the NFL’s “hush hush” policy regarding the abuse of women: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/10/17/for-battered-nfl-wives-a-message-from-the-cops-and-the-league-keep-quiet/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.5538aa51ef46.

But the greatest driver of my dislike of the pink ribbon is because it takes the air out of the room for other causes.  After all, breast cancer is NOT the leading cause of death among women – that distinction goes to heart disease.  There is minimal red ribbon activity in February but then it seems to fade into obscurity.  Where is the awareness for lung and colorectal cancers, which both kill more women than breast cancer?  And my personal complaint is the lack of funding for melanoma research.  Five years ago I was diagnosed with melanoma.  In my initial panic I searched the internet for local support and education.  Surely a sunny state like Arizona with a high UV index should be replete with resources.  Nope.  Not a support group in sight.  Not even a lousy walk.  Five years later, I’m doing fine – I just look like a beekeeper every time I’m out in the sun.  But a friend died of melanoma last year and another is fighting it.  So I really hate “pink ribbon” month when I know so many more causes could use the research money.   If nothing else the Melanoma Foundation needs the breast cancer marketing people – their ribbon color is black.

ELECTION AVOIDANCE BEHAVIOR

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

giant-meteorAs my brother so accurately rhymed last week, we are in a whole lotta trouble.  And I’ve had to write this blog before the Presidential debate on Sunday night.  God only knows what fresh hell that will bring.  I’m not sure I can take any more “news”.  Admittedly I watch too many of the cable shows, switching from one to the other in hopes that I will gain some perspective.  But all I’ve gotten in return is carpel tunnel syndrome in my valiant, but fruitless, effort to find sanity.  Over the weekend I decided I’d had enough and swore off following the election.  The conundrum was, how do I find ways to occupy my time over the next four weeks?   I think I’ve stumbled on some solutions and since we here at “A Bird’s Eye View” always aim to be of public service, today I’m going to share my election avoidance strategies.  So, in no particular order, here they are:

Sports – I’ve always liked watching sports and rooting for my favorite athletes and home teams.  This year I’ve especially appreciated the fact that within a few hours you know who the winner is  and there’s no campaigning unless you count Colin Kaepernick.  Which I don’t.  Plus, let’s face it, it’s a great excuse to eat Doritos and guacamole.  Luckily, we are in the sweet spot of the year for sports.  A quick perusal of the TV listings this week offered a cornucopia of athletic events on TV – pro football, college football, hockey, golf, college volleyball, English “football”, pre-season basketball, the MLB playoffs, motorsports, soccer and tennis.  There is something for everyone on that list – assuming you are a sports fan.  If not, read on.

sock-drawer

Organize – There have been many books out in the past year or so touting the soothing benefits of organizing your life, your home and your mind.  Personally, I think it’s over-rated.  But I decided to organize my closet in an attempt to avoid the news (and Facebook – don’t even get me started on that.  Why do friends insist on re-posting political crap?  Like we care.  Or that it’s going to change our mind.  I’d rather see the ubiquitous pictures of dinner plates/expensive wine bottles/Aunt Gertrude’s 80th birthday cake.) It seems like socks are always in need of organizing.  I think elves mess up my sock drawer every summer.  I spent more time than I care to admit deciding whether to organize by color or length and whether to bundle or roll.  Finally I gave up and went back to my Doritos.  But again, it was a more soothing activity than listening to popularity numbers or, God forbid, “analysis” done by surrogates.

Food/Home – If indoor sports are more to your liking, turn on the Food Channel or HGTV.  It’s amazing how comforting it is to listen to someone stress over whether the sofa should be orange or blue compared to watching endless analysis of debate prep.  I get so invested in “Househunters” that I end up shouting at the prospective buyers.  Why can’t they see that the three flights of stairs in Home #2 is going to be a pain in the butt when they’re lugging groceries?  It’s almost as good as watching sports.  The Food Channel also offers endless entertainment but is decidedly more fattening.  I’m not a great cook but I get so inspired when watching the Barefoot Contessa that I think I can actually turn out a successful meal.  Many failed attempts have been dumped in the garbage but that’s still better than looking at poll numbers.

kids-helpingFind the Good News – Yes, this IS possible.   While the media focuses on the negative, there are plenty of good things going on out there too.  They’re just not as sensational so it’s harder to find them.  One place I discovered dedicated solely to good news is http://abcnews.go.com/us/good_news.  It’s full of stories about people doing all sorts of wonderful things to make our world a better place – helping the homeless, mentoring disadvantaged youth, rescuing animals or simply performing random acts of kindness.  Reading the stories reminded me that we are not the politicians.  Or, more accurately, they are not us.  Especially in an election year the politicians try to put a wedge between us, but I think we all know that most people, regardless of political affiliation, are genuinely good, with honest intentions and a helping hand for someone in need.  That’s who we are – our similarities far outweigh our differences.

So far those are the activities I’ve come up with to divert myself from the news.  If you have developed other coping mechanisms please share.  After all, there is only so much I can do with my sock drawer in the next four weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

PEACE IN THE MOUTAINS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

image

Turning leaves in Sun Valley

Fall is my favorite season.  After all, it’s the time of year when you can get a Pumpkin Spiced Latte at Starbucks and Costco offers their manhole-sized pumpkin pies.  This year Dairy Queen in entering the fray by offering a dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream, bits of pumpkin pie, topped with nutmeg and whipped cream.  No wonder I gain weight every October.  I come by my love of fall naturally – 20 years ago I had my colors analyzed and it was determined I’m a “Autumn”, meaning I look best in the colors found this season.  But mostly I love this time of year because this is when we make our annual trek up to Sun Valley, Idaho where the air is fresh and the leaves are turning.  And, not by coincidence, the kids are back in school so it is also quiet.

 

Redfish Lake

Redfish Lake

There is something very peaceful about being in the mountains.  I’ve read some recent articles about how people who reside in the mountains live longer.  The research indicates that it’s because of cleaner air, more outdoor activity, and increased aerobic function due to the altitude.  I don’t know about all that – I suppose if the researchers say it then it must be true.  But this week as we drove up to Redfish Lake, near Stanley, Idaho, I thought back to a study that I read years ago.  I have searched the internet to find it again but it’s probably too old even for Google’s capabilities.  The essence of the thesis was this: people who reside in the mountains live longer because they see themselves in perspective.  It went on to theorize that it is hard to take our human problems and even our very existence too seriously when staring at the magnificence of high-peaked mountains.  In other words, when we view ourselves in relation to nature we gain a greater realization that we are only a small cog in a much larger scheme.

Snow in September

Snow in September

That feeling has certainly been forefront in our trip this year.  We have marveled at the vibrant colors of leaves turning and the first dusting of snow on top of Mount Baldy.  When we are outdoors experiencing this magical place, it seems as if all is right with the world.  When we drove home from Redfish Lake the other day, with no satellite radio and no cell service, we had only the glorious scenery, the Salmon River and some antelope to occupy our thoughts.  We were both filled with an overwhelming feeling of peace.  But then, as we returned to “civilization” reality crashed down on us.  A basket full of deplorable candidates for President, racial strife across the country and more terrorist attacks.  I certainly don’t have the first clue as to what the cure is for our collective problems.  All I do know is that  John Denver had it right when he wrote the following lyrics:

“Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake”

We’ll be leaving Sun Valley this week and I will miss this beautiful place more than ever.  Am I escaping reality here?  Probably.  I am just sorry that the whole world cannot feel the peacefulness of the mountains.  God knows we need it.

SMALL MOMENTS – A 9/11 TRIBUTE (2016)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I am posting the memorial I wrote on the 10 year anniversary with updates on a surreal encounter and a promise kept.

melissa harrington hughesHer message was my wake-up call.  She inspired me and changed my life forever. Yet I never met her.

Melissa Harrington Hughes died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She didn’t work there; she was on a business trip for her San Francisco-based technology firm. She was an extremely accomplished 31-year-old, who had traveled the world and had been married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes, for the past year.

On that fateful morning she was attending a meeting on the 101st floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck just 6 floors below her.  Many people remember her for the harrowing voicemail that she left Sean minutes after the building was struck.   In that voicemail she said, “Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I am stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit or a bomb went off – we don’t know, but there’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know I love you always.”

The first time I heard Melissa’s voicemail, Sean was speaking to Chris Jansing on MSNBC and played the recording on air.  Ms. Jansing completely broke down upon hearing it.  Clearly, Melissa’s final words resonated with a lot of people.  The internet site dedicated to Melissa filled with posts from people who were touched by her story.  I was among them. When the buildings collapsed I thought about all of the people that worked for my company in those towers.   Three of our employees died that day but Melissa was the one that stood out. Somehow, amongst the overwhelming tales of tragedy, her story elicited the strongest emotions from me.  But why?

I suppose that, in part, I could relate to her on some level.  I was also employed by a large Bay Area-based firm and had spent most of my adult life working in San Francisco.  At one point I made several business trips to NYC to meet with staff housed in the North tower at the World Trade Center.  I remember navigating the unusual elevator and escalator systems in that building as I rushed to early morning meetings, just as she must have done.  I was also struck by Melissa’s beautiful wedding picture taken up in Napa, California, close to where I grew up.  I knew that she had appreciated what a special part of the country that is. But it was more than the similar business trips and her picture that stayed with me; it was her voicemail to Sean that was seared into my brain.

MHH North Tower (Medium)

In her voice I could sense so many of her emotions: fear, panic, bewilderment.  But mostly, in her final minutes on earth, she wanted Sean to know that she loved him.  I thought about her, and all of the people that died that day, who went off to work as they normally did.  Kissing a spouse or child good-bye, grabbing a cup of coffee, making plans for the weekend ahead.  And none of them came home.  Plans and hopes and dreams were gone in an instant.  Sean Hughes said that he and Melissa were excited about their future and talked about all the things that newlyweds do: moving to a new home, getting a dog, having children.

Her final words to Sean started me thinking about my own life.  My husband had taken early retirement in 1996.  He wanted to travel, spend time with our new grandson, and enjoy time with friends.  I had wanted to continue working.  But I kept thinking about Melissa’s message.  What if that had been me?  Is that how I would want my life to end, without ever having enjoyed what my husband and I had worked so hard to build?

The weeks following September 11 were frightening and incredibly busy for me.  My division of the company had locations throughout the United States and for weeks after the twin towers fell we received bomb threats in our major office buildings. Of course, all of them were false but that didn’t lessen the hysteria of my employees who were in those buildings.  I understood – my office was on the top floor of our Los Angeles headquarters and I jumped every time I  heard a plane or helicopter go by.  After a month or so, I began to hope that the turmoil would pass and that my life would get back to “normal”.   But then I thought about Melissa.  Life doesn’t get scripted.  I knew that the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack might be low, but there were no guarantees that I could escape a car accident or a terminal illness.

So the first week of November, after the initial frenzy had died down, I told my boss that I wanted to resign.  We negotiated that I would stay until March 1, which I did.  I have never regretted that decision and would not trade all of the memories and experiences I’ve had since then for any amount of compensation I gave up.

The author Judith Viorst once wrote that it is the small moments in life that make it rich.   Melissa made me realize that I needed to grab the small moments while I could; that sitting with my husband every morning, sipping coffee and watching the news, is a gift not to be squandered or go unappreciated.

So to Melissa Harrington Hughes: thank you.  Someday I hope to get back to the new September 11 Memorial where I will touch the steel engraving of your name.  And in the hollows of those letters, we will finally be connected.

2016 Update:  This past March I went to New York with my niece and her two daughters.  Visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was one of our highlights (I wrote about it in The Museum of Sadness and Strength post).  I read that buying tickets in advance was key so on February 24 I went on to their website to order ours.  On that same day I received an email that someone had commented on my original post about Melissa.  I thought that was a coincidence – that maybe something that I had typed in the computer had caused an old comment to be recirculated.  But it wasn’t an old comment  – it was this:  “I came across your blog after my son and I just prepared an required oral presentation for his English class about a life event of mine that had great impact. I think of Melissa almost every day –  I was her best friend since childhood.  She was a shining light and people were drawn to her. I miss her and the memories are still clear with detail. Thank you for seeing how her passion, love for life, and love for her husband and family was that shining light, even if it was her last words. She called her Dad and Mom and Sean from that burning building because she loved them deeply. She is well remembered and will never be forgotten.”  I still get chills when I read this note and think about the timing of it.  There are no coincidences in life, of that I am sure.

2016-03-30 12.06.05 (Small)On March 30 I was finally able to fulfill the promise to myself that I would visit Melissa’s engraving at the Memorial.  Her name is carved into Panel N-22 on the large reflecting pool that stands in the footprint of the former North Tower.  I put my hand on her name and thanked her once again for all that she has meant in my life.  May she rest in peace.

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?