HARVEY WEINSTEIN, BRAVE WOMEN, AND HYPOCRISY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I’ve been obsessed with the fall of Harvey Weinstein these past few weeks.  I was about five feet away from Mr. Weinstein up in Sun Valley a few years ago.  He is just as hairy and creepy looking in person as his pictures indicate and I can’t imagine the horror of being in his radar.  As a former HR executive for a major corporation, and two small companies before that, I’ve seen and heard more than most in terms of sexual harassment.  The only thing Mr. Weinstein got right is that harassment in the workplace was common in the 70’s and 80’s.  For those of us who began our careers in that era we know that leering glances, off-color remarks and outright propositions happened all the time.  A successful career not only required skill in the selected profession but also being able to fend off the inevitable advances.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, our greatest skill was being able to tell the perpetrator to go to hell in such a way that he’d enjoy the trip.  We never reported such events.  Frankly, I don’t think anyone would have cared back then.  I once had the head of HR asked me to “walk on the beach” with him after an offsite dinner.  I think his definition of walking on the beach didn’t include much walking.  He got increasingly angry with each rebuff.  He finally gave up but from that point on his formerly praising attitude toward my work turned to one of criticism.  I reported the incident to the head of personnel relations, but she felt her hands were tied.   After all, going over his head to the President of the company seemed like a far reach in the 1980’s.  I left the company shortly after that.

So I’ve read with interest the remarks some have made castigating the women Mr. Weinstein harassed for not stepping up right after he groped, raped or pleaded with them to watch him shower.  I have an issue with Ashley Judd (more on that later) but I think she got it right when asked to reflect on how she responded in 1996 to Weinstein’s first proposition to her.  She said she would tell her younger self, “Good for you!  Good for getting yourself out of that situation without any harm being done.”  Sometimes that’s enough – just getting yourself out of harm’s way.  The people who criticize the scores of women Weinstein harassed do not understand how frightening and paralyzing it is to be in that situation.

All that said, I do have a problem with the number of very powerful women who have kept Mr. Weinstein’s sexual predilections quiet for so many years.  After all, it is widely reported that his methods for intimidating young women were known for decades.  So well known that a clause was written into his contract citing increasing monetary penalties for each lawsuit brought due to his misconduct.  I understand young, wanna be actresses not wanting to speak up about the most powerful producer in Hollywood.  But where were the women who were already famous and successful?  Why didn’t they speak up, either individually or collectively, to protect those who couldn’t?  Are we really supposed to believe that Meryl Streep “had no knowledge” about his harassment and Hillary Clinton was “shocked” to learn of his behavior?   These women who claim to be so much in the forefront for women’s issues were silent.  They found it convenient, for career or for cash, to overlook it.  Which brings me back to Ashley Judd.  She has been called “brave” by many who laud her for speaking out against Mr. Weinstein.  I was on board with that until I saw her interview with Diane Sawyer in which she said that in 1999 she was seated at a dinner table with him and told him off.  She noted, “I found my power and I found my voice.”  Think of the scores of women who would have been spared his deviant behavior had she used her voice to blow the whistle on him publicly at that time.

I have seen “brave” firsthand.  In the late 80’s I received a phone call from the Administrative Assistant to a senior manager in one of our major offices.  She was sobbing as she told me that the evening before, as she entered her boss’ office at the end of the workday, he pinned her against the wall, kissed her and was trying to get her blouse off.  She was able to escape his clutches and run from the building.  The following morning she called me from home.  She explained that she really needed her job – she was self-supporting and it was a very tight job market after the 1987 crash – but asked if I could call him and ask him to leave her alone.  When I explained that legally I had to have the situation investigated she panicked and asked me to forget that she called.  Of course, we had to proceed with an inquiry and she courageously told her story to the investigator.  We fired her boss the next day.

In my opinion, “brave” is an appellation belonging to that young woman, and all the others like her, who blew the whistle in the moment.  There is little bravery in waiting 20 years, once there is no longer a risk to personal or professional well being.  It seems to me that the height of hypocrisy is to be lectured about standing up for women from those who sat silent for so long.

ALL I WANT IS A CUPPA JOE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

“I’ll have a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon.”  Those of you who enjoy a good comedy will recognize that line from the 1991 movieL.A. Story.  The line was uttered by Steve Martin’s character, Harris, with the deadpan delivery that only Martin can pull off.  At the time that coffee ordering scene was meant to depict how pretentious coffee drinking had become.  We laughed and laughed at how ridiculous people could be about coffee.  Oh how innocent we were then.  Last week The Telegraph reported that Starbucks boasts that they now offer 87,000 different drink combinations.  Thanks to the “secret menu” underground, people have come up with all sorts of ways to bugger up a good cup of coffee.  I know this because I spent most of the summer standing in line behind the person who was trying to come up with drink #87,001.

 

As you regular readers know, we travel a lot during the summer months and I am embarrassed to admit that we often schedule our departure times based on when the local Starbucks opens.  “Opens at 5 a.m.,” my husband will report.  Which means that I set the alarm for o’dark thirty and we are cruising through the drive-through window at exactly 5.  The advantage really does go to the early bird in these cases because most people who are crazy enough to be up at that hour just want a plain, strong cup of coffee.  If Starbucks offered to mainline caffeine at that hour I think they get blockbuster results.  The problem with Starbucks occurs later in the day when the Steve Martins of the world arise.  If we venture into a Starbucks between 8-10 a.m. we are invariably met with a long line of people who are seemingly stumped by all of their choices.  The photo (right) was taken in Sun Valley a couple of weeks ago.  I was the 9th person in line at 9 a.m.  By the looks and age of the people in front of me I assumed I was in the company of fellow “plain drip” drinkers.  That’s what I get by categorizing people by age.  Unfortunately I was behind people ordering the new maple drink, which was doubly troublesome because the baristas weren’t quite sure how to make it.  So I stood in line for more than 15 minutes just to get two cups of dark roast drip.  I was ready to leap over the counter and pour the darn stuff myself.

Each time I find myself in this situation I harken back to my working days in San Francisco.  In the 1990’s Starbucks opened a location in the basement of the Bank of America tower.  Directly across the hallway was a Max’s Diner, which featured delectable baked goods and a self-serve coffee station.  The beauty of getting coffee there was you could pour your own coffee and throw the required payment into a jar and walk out.  They operated totally on the honor system.  The managers at Starbucks soon realized that they would lose the plain coffee drinkers like me who just wanted a fast cup of coffee.  Their solution was to establish two lines for coffee: one for just a plain cuppa joe and the other for people who order foo foo drinks.  It was a perfect system.  Unfortunately I have not seen this replicated in any other location.  And with 87,000 drinks available the lines are often filled with confused people who, to my caffeine-addicted self, seem decidedly clueless to the notion that real coffee does not include whipped cream, soy, caramel sauce, coconut water or any of the hundreds of other additives available.  So while I was waiting in that line at Sun Valley I came up with a great idea – why not have a high-end coffee machine that could be self-serve?  One could use either a credit card or the Starbucks app to access it.  It could grind fresh coffee (maybe two choices of blend) and then dispense it into a cup.  I’m sure Starbucks could pay a vending machine company to come up with something appropriately fancy looking so that even Steve Martin would be proud to obtain his coffee from it.  It would save time, labor and money.

Mr. Starbucks:  you are welcome to use my idea any time.  Just consider it my contribution to the “drips” of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

MY AUNT MARILYN MONROE AND SUN VALLEY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Until the age of 10 I thought Marilyn Monroe was my aunt.  Our Uncle Dick had a deep and abiding love for Marilyn.  So much so that he bought a life-size poster of her to hang in the cabin at Lake Tahoe.  As a way to explain why we had a picture of a blonde bombshell in a bikini so prominently displayed, Uncle Dick and my parents tried to sell us kids on the notion that she was our aunt – therefore, it was a family picture.  They didn’t try very hard to sell the idea and my brothers weren’t buying it at all but I wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.  I was mesmerized by her and, as you can see from the photo, I tried to emulate her when I could.  When she died in 1962 I was on my way to Girl Scout camp for two weeks in the Sierras.  The morning paper’s headline screamed “MARILYN MONROE DEAD!”.  So while other girls were shrieking with joy about escaping parental supervision for a week, I was bawling my eyes out over the death of my “aunt”.    Of course, with time, I better understood all of her problems and sexual peccadilloes  with the Kennedys but I still admired her glamour and her intelligence (her IQ was 168).  Today I channel her every December when I sing the “Happy Birthday” song to my brother in my best Marilyn-to-JFK impression.  And, truth being stranger than imagination, I discovered a few years ago that Marilyn Monroe is also a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.  So, she actually IS my aunt – just 15 times removed!

 

But our common ancestry is not the only thing that Marilyn and I have in common.  She filmed the movie Bus Stop in and around Sun Valley, Idaho during the winter of 1956 and frequented The Ram restaurant.  The Ram is our favorite place to hang out and is the oldest operating restaurant in Sun Valley.  Over the years stars from Gary Cooper and Clark Gable to modern media titans Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg have dined there. The photo (right) was taken of Marilyn on the night before the Bus Stop company left Idaho to return to Los Angeles.  As you can see, Marilyn wasn’t afraid to partake in the local cuisine.  No rabbit food for her – she tucked into a steak and baked potato like a truck driver.  Apparently she loved to eat, which is just another reason to adore her.  At the time she was criticized for wearing such a “manly” sweater, as if Marilyn could look “manly” in anything.  But there may have been a good reason for her bundling up – shortly after her return to Los Angeles she was hospitalized for 12 days with pneumonia.  She blamed her illness on having to wear skimpy clothing in the heart of an Idaho winter.  Still, Bus Stop turned out to be one of her best performances.  Today one can drive a bit north of Sun Valley to visit the North Fork Store (named Grace’s Diner for the film) where Marilyn performed her magic.

For the past 29 years, we have traveled to Sun Valley in September and have had dinner at The Ram.  In fact, because our anniversary is at the end of August, we usually save our special celebration dinner for The Ram.  The photo (left) was taken on our 25th anniversary.  The food is always good and they even have a cocktail named after Marilyn.  Whether sitting inside in the old-fashioned booths with the antler chandeliers or outside on the beautiful terrace overlooking the duck pond, The Ram has always provided great atmosphere and a feeling of history.  Larry Harshbarger, who has been playing the piano at The Ram since 1979 always accommodates our requests.  It is an evening we anticipate with joy each year.

 

This year we marked 30 years of marriage in August so for this special occasion we planned on a romantic dinner at The Ram, listening to Larry and enjoying a Marilyn cocktail.  On our first day in Sun Valley we walked up to the restaurant and were greeted with a boarded up façade. The Ram and the adjacent areas are being renovated for the next three months.  According to the information posted on the fence, The Ram’s interior will be gutted and modernized.  The only remnant of the past will be the antler chandeliers.  The “new and improved” Ram will feature an open kitchen.  I hate open kitchens.  Isn’t the whole reason for going out to dinner is so you DON’T see a kitchen?  I want my meal to appear as if by magic, in the arms of a waiter who bursts through swinging doors carrying a tray filled with plated food.  Open kitchens, in my experience, render conversation with your table mates nearly impossible.  The clanging of pans, shouting of sous chefs and the occasional dropped silverware all conspire to make a cacophony of sound with decibel levels near that of a jackhammer.  So I don’t know what I hate more – that The Ram is being renovated or that it will now feature an open kitchen.

All I know is – I’m sure glad Aunt Marilyn isn’t alive to see this.

Three Stand Up Guys

by Bob Sparrow

“Nothing in life is more exhilarating than being shot at with no results.” Winston Churchill

Bob, Terry, Ken & Joel at 2008 reunion

I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with three gentlemen, Ken, Joel and Terry with whom I attended Westminster College, where we played football together under the tutelage of future San Francisco 49er Super Bowl coach, George Seifert. We were Seifert’s ‘first team’ as a head coach, although he probably refers to us his ‘worst team’. The four of us have reunited on a few occasions since graduation, even one that Seifert attended, but it had been several years since we last saw each other, so it was time.

When you get four 70-something former football players together in Las Vegas, you’d expect a lot of stories under the heading of ‘The Older We Get, The Better We Were’. Not so with this group. While football was certainly mentioned, like during our first beer when we toasted to those players who are no longer with us, it was hardly the main topic of conversation. What was? To that in a moment.

Suzanne has done a great job each Memorial Day of writing about and honoring those from our hometown of Novato, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Viet Nam war; this story is about three guys that made it home, and I’m so glad they did.

Ken Poulsen

Ken and his ‘loaded’ A-6 aircraft

Ken Poulsen – Marine Lieutenant who was a Bombardier-Navigator in the A-6 Intruder jet. He spent 12 months in Viet Nam stationed in Da Nang where he flew ‘close air support’ during the day for troops on the ground and did ‘road wrecking’ of the Ho Chi Minh trail at night, where he was constantly under attack from anti-aircraft fire. Once out of the service, Ken went into education and ultimately became the Superintendent of Schools for a district in the Sacramento area. Ken retired several years ago and now lives with wife, Suzi in Chandler, AZ and when it gets too hot there, they head up to their second home in the mountains of Show Low, AZ. Ken was our cruise director for these couple of days together and put together a line up of shows, golf and meals that hardly gave us time to lose money in the casinos.

Joel and CH-53

Joel Hall

Joel Hall – Marine Lieutenant who earned both his Navy and Army wings and flew the CH-53 Sea Stallion and the UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopters at Marble Mountain, just outside of Da Nang, during his 13 months ‘in country’. He flew various ‘support’ and ‘medevac’ missions and when I asked him if he often came under enemy fire, he said, “Oh yeah, and I had the holes in my aircraft to prove it.” After getting out, Joel went to work for the 3M company and retired from there after a 32-year career. He now lives in Atlanta on a golf course and when it gets too cold to play golf there, he and wife, Gayle have a second home on the east coast of Florida where they spend five months a year. Joel can hit a golf ball further and straighter now than he ever could, and his cigar never gets in the way.

Terry Callahan

TC “making the girls thirsty”

Terry Callahan – Army, Spec 4, Medic. Terry was with both the 25th Infantry Division and the 1st Air Cavalry Division, two of the most decorated units of the Viet Nam war. Terry was in several locations throughout his 12 month tour, mostly in Viet Nam jungles near the Cambodian border. He’d do triage for soldiers brought into the first aid field tent as well as fly into ‘hot zones’ in a helicopters to pull out wounded personnel. It was ‘meatball surgery’, stop the bleeding and pain, sew up gashes where you could and get them to a hospital facility. He clearly saw the ugly underbelly of this war up close. After he got out, he did a little teaching and then spent most of his career working for the Justice Department; working cases for judges to determine sentences as well a working with parole officers. Terry and wife, Teri, who is a Delta flight attendant, were married about a year ago and live in Salt Lake City, and when it gets too cold there they have a second home in St. George, Utah. Terry is a humorous storyteller and a good one, whether he’s telling you about the time the hair under his arm caught fire or telling you how flat his home state of Kansas is when he says, “You can stand on a tuna can and watch your dog run away for two miles.”

Fortunately, all three of these veterans were shot at without results.

Terry, Bob, Joel & Ken

So the topic of conversation was about each of their personal experiences in Viet Nam; we touched on the Ken Burns documentary, The Viet Nam War, now playing on PBS, and the protests of NFL players in the form of sitting or kneeling during our National Anthem. We all felt that these NFL players can couch it any way they want, but make no mistake, by kneeling or sitting during our National Anthem they are disrespecting their flag, their country and the brave men and women who fought and the many who died, for them to have their freedom of expression. While those that lost their lives fighting for this country cannot be outraged at these demonstrations, these three veterans, who put themselves in harms way, can be and are.

I came away from my time with my former teammates humbled and thankful to be able to call these three men good friends and so very thankful that they made it home safely.

 

 

UP IN SMOKE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The Western United States has just undergone one of the most vicious and destructive wildfire seasons on record.  In Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon and Washington over 2 million acres burned this fall.  That’s bigger than the entire state of Delaware.  Worse, nine firefighters lost their lives and over 500 homes were burned to the ground.  There are many reasons being proffered for this increase in activity – lightning, hotter than normal temperatures, and the ever-present idiots who left campfires burning or, worse yet, intentionally set the forest ablaze.  I can personally attest to the smokey conditions that have caused so many problems since we had the misfortune to be vacationing in three of the wildfire areas this summer.

We arrived in the Central Coast in July just as the Alamo fire in Santa Maria broke out, growing to 29,000 acres and spewing black smoke and ash our way.  The following week the Whittier fire broke out near Santa Barbara, destroying an additional 18,000 acres and consuming a Scout camp.  The fires and smoke, coupled with our already disastrous TurnKey Vacation Rentals condo made for a rather  inauspicious beginning to our summer travels.  But we weren’t done yet.  In August during our two week stay in Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite endured several fires that consumed 14,000 acres of brush.  Each day we would stick our heads out the front door to determine if the wind was blowing the smoke our way.  We lucked out about half the time.

But wait…there’s more!  In September, as we prepared for our annual trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, a spate of new fires broke out.  I checked the EPA Air Quality website only to discover that the entire state of Idaho was either red or maroon – unhealthy for everyone.  Our good friends who were scheduled to visit us cancelled their trip due to respiratory issues.  We wavered a bit but ultimately journeyed up and luckily, the air began to clear the day we arrived and has been increasingly better.  Of course, the reason it’s gotten better is that it’s SNOWING.  In September.  Go figure.

So it seems our summer that was planned to contain plenty of hikes and golf games has been replaced by reading novels and hearing  more than we ever wanted to know about air particles.  But our minor discomfort is trivial compared to the small business owners in these remote mountain towns that rely on tourists to make their bottom line.  Both in Mammoth and Sun Valley we’ve talked to many of them who complain about the Forest Service policy of letting fires burn out if they aren’t endangering structures or humans.  This is a rather new policy that has been increasingly implemented over the past decade.  The argument goes that before the European settlement of America, forest fires consumed  20-30 million acres each year (for comparison, we’re on track for 5 million this year).   The Forest Service only began actively fighting every fire in the 1930’s.  But now they have adopted the new policy, citing that the burning of the forest is Mother Nature’s way of cleaning out and allowing new growth to thrive.  The policy has the added benefit of not endangering firefighter’s lives.  But those arguments don’t take in to account the smokey air nearby inhabitants are forced to breathe or the many forest animals who die or the diminished tourist visits that fuel the engine of small town economies.

Soon we’ll be heading back home but as a coda to our stay in Sun Valley, word around town is that Aspen Company is looking to buy Sun Valley Resort, just as they have swallowed up Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley and so many others.  If true, it would signal the end of the last large family-run ski resort in the West.  The quaint and historic Sun Valley we know and love just might be going…up in smoke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death Dive

by Bob Sparrow

As travel stories go, this one is out of this world . . . literally.

If you read this entire blog, I think you’ll find some pretty amazing stuff.  I understand that most people aren’t that interested in astronomy or astrophysics, but I’ve been fascinated with space for a long time; in fact I was told by my teachers early on that I was just taking up space in school. At the time I didn’t understand what they meant – now I do!  I recently finished the best-selling book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and my brain still hurts from reading it, but the parts of it that I understood were mind-blowing! So watching what happened last week and learning details about the entire Cassini mission has been riveting for me.

Depending on your astronomical interests, you may have heard about Cassini’s Grand Finale, which took place last Friday.  The $3.3 billion Cassini project was a joint effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency (Don’t ask me why Italy is not part of the European Space Agency), to launch a satellite that would orbit Saturn and send back invaluable information about the ringed planet and its multiple moons. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena managed the mission.  Saturn, as I’m sure you’re aware is about 764 times larger than earth.

Cassini, named after the Italian astronomer, Giovanni Cassini, who made extensive discoveries about Saturn, is a satellite, about 22’ x 13’ in size, that launched from Cape Canaveral in October 1997 and, after a little more than 6 ½ years to travel the approximate 1 billion miles, reached its Saturn orbit in June 2004. So for the last 13 years it’s been beaming home miraculous images and scientific data, revealing countless wonders of this planet, its rings and its 6o+ moons. The most interesting of Saturn’s moons are Titan, the only other body in our solar system that has liquid on its surface, and Enceladus the brightest shining body in our solar system which has geysers gushing up to the surface from hidden oceans beneath the surface.

And while there is more technology in our cell phones today than what went into space with Cassini in ’97, it did some pretty amazing stuff over the last 20 years. Part of its mission included the sending of a landing craft to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The landing craft was named, Huygens, after the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan. Both Cassini and Huygens lived in the late 1600s. The information that this landing craft gave us about Titan’s similarity to Earth would amaze you.

So after 20 years of sending invaluable data back to Earth, Cassini, they say, simply ran out of fuel, but hey, they got 20 years to the gallon. It does beg the question, were they using regular or supreme? OK, I’ll tell you what fueled Cassini, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else. It was powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which use heat from the natural decay of about 73 pounds of plutonium-238 (in the form of plutonium dioxide – obviously!) to generate direct current electricity via thermo electrics. But even that doesn’t last forever, especially when you’re traveling for 20 years at an average speed of around 41,000 mile per hour!

Huygens on Titan

The last hours of Cassini’s mission had it doing its final flyby of Titan, which gave it the gravitational nudge toward the surface of Saturn, where it maneuvered between the innermost rings before it finally disintegrates on its way to the surface of Saturn at around 4:55 PDT last Friday morning. The team planned this ending, as they didn’t want Cassini floating around in space with the possibility of running into something else, like one of Saturn’s many moons.  The Cassini mission changed the course of planetary exploration, it was in a sense, a time machine as it has given us a portal to see the physical processes that likely shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.

If you’re the least bit interested in this kind of stuff, a program I saw it on last Wednesday was on the NOVA channel called Death Dive to Saturn; it may be replayed over the next few weeks on some of the scientific channels.  You can also go to the JPL site below to see more details and photos of the end of Cassini’s mission.

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Total miles traveled by Cassini getting to and orbiting Saturn: 4.9 billion, without an oil change.

 

 

INFLECTION POINTS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Inflection points –  events that not only change the course of  history but our collective psyche as well.  For many of us the first such event was the Kennedy assassination.  Prior to November 22, 1963, we were a nation energized by a young President with fresh ideas and plans – plans that were to be carried out by those “born of a new generation”.  When JFK was cut down it was shocking and unnerving.   And, one could argue, changed who we are.  There is a much-quoted conversation that took place after the assassination between journalist Mary McGrory and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor.  She lamented, “We’ll never laugh again.” He replied: “Mary, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.” Many hopes and dreams died that day, as well as our collective feeling of security and our way of life.  As some sociologists have noted, November 22, 1963 was the end of the Fifties.

The assassination changed us in ways we could not have predicted at the time.  After that, Americans increasingly distrusted the Federal government (particularly after publication of the Warren Report) and yet, ironically, it also precipitated the largest expansion of government into our everyday lives.  We became embroiled in a war that many argue Kennedy would not have supported and our culture was flush with sex, drugs and a whole lot of anger.  Of course, there were good changes as well – civil rights and the women’s movement to name two – but certainly the innocence of the prior decade was gone forever.  It also marked the rise of television over newspapers.  Everyone was glued to black and white screens, watching events unfold for three days.  And why not?  It was compelling and the only way to stay abreast of changing events.  For me, I remember watching Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted down that fateful corridor in the Dallas police station when Jack Ruby shot him.  The experience of seeing someone killed in real time was jarring and disturbing.  Millions of people experienced that same shock.  Coupled with the assassination, how could we not be affected going forward?

The next time I saw anyone murdered was sixteen years ago today – September 11, 2001.  I flipped on CNBC that morning while getting ready for work.  The first plane had already hit Tower One and the hosts were speculating that it was a freak accident.  They mused about whether it would have an affect on the stock market since so many trading firms were in that building.  Then the unimaginable happened – the second plane hit.  I watched it in horror; this time it wasn’t one person I saw killed, but thousands.  Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle we were all witness to  explosions and fire and falling bodies over and over again for weeks.  I’m not sure we yet fully understand the toll that it took on us. Surely our national mindset was altered after watching all of the carnage and grief.  A grief that I believe is still evident after all these years.

To this day many of us tear up when recalling the image of the Twin Towers collapsing.  It remains hard to think about the people who perished that day – people who left home for work on a bright, blue-sky Tuesday morning and never returned.  The very notion of that was – is – frightening and causes us, once again, to question how secure we really are.  The fear of an imminent terror attack began impacting our everyday lives that day.  Suddenly we had to remove our shoes at the airport and limit the amount of shampoo we carry on a plane.   Socially, it brought on a lot of change too.  For the first few months after 9/11 it seemed we were able to put our differences aside, but that fraternity soon dissipated and has now devolved to a point where divisiveness rules the day .   In many ways, it has been the 60’s all over again with an extra dose of anger thrown in.

Which brings me to the unintended consequences of 9/11.  At some level we live with fear on a daily basis – fear that it could happen again to us or someone we love.  We  witness repeated terrorist attacks carried out all over the world that target ordinary people doing ordinary things.  I believe that the discord in our society is, in part, a manifestation of that fear.  I hope at some point we can recapture the unity we had in the aftermath of 9/11 and once again pull together.  Hurricane Harvey, as devastating and heart-breaking as it’s been, has shown me that people really can come together when fellow citizens are in need.  Sandra Bullock put it best when she Tweeted:  “There are no politics in 8 feet of water.  There are human beings in 8 feet of water.”  Amen.  Maybe this is a new beginning.  A new inflection point that causes us to remember that more often than not, most of the time we’re all just human beings in 8 feet of water.

THE END OF AN ERA IN MAMMOTH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

                        Horseshoe Lake

We just spent two glorious weeks in Mammoth Lakes, California.  Glorious because a) the house we were in was recently refurbished, which was a welcome relief from our TurnKey Nipomo nightmare, and b) Mammoth is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Just ask the Europeans – who were everywhere we went.  We thought we had outsmarted the crowds by going when school was back in session but we forgot about August being the “holiday” month for Europeans.  We met some delightful people from England, Germany and Holland but the downside was every restaurant, hiking trail and lakeside was packed with people shouting in a cacophony of languages.  Still, it is one of our favorite places to visit.  My husband has been going there since 1960, when the mountain only had five ski lifts and we’ve been going there together for 30 years.  The majesty of the steep mountains and peaceful lakes never fails to make us gape in awe at the gorgeous scenery.

 

                      Kittredge Sports

Over the years Mammoth has retained a small town feel.  Some might think it too rustic.  Mammoth is known for outdoors activities – fishing, mountain biking and hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.  Unlike many other mountain resorts in the West, it has had problems attracting and retaining high-end businesses.  For many years the local outlet mall was home to a Polo and Coach store, but both of those establishments have now closed and their spaces remain vacant.  The only new store this year was a sporting goods place that had the audacity (or bad luck) to open up directly across the street from Kittredge’s – an outdoorsman’s paradise that has been in business for 44 years.  We’ll see how long they last.  The largest employer by far is Mammoth Resorts, which runs all activities on the mountain and in the Mammoth Village complex.  The rest of the town’s population is made up of small business owners and those who are employed by them.  So one does not go to Mammoth to “see and be seen” or to rub elbows with the rich and famous.  Frankly, one of my favorite aspects about the town is that I only have to bring a pair of jeans and a casual shirt and I’m dressed to go anywhere.  In other words, it’s been a great place for slobs like me.  But all that is about to change.

On August 4th a deal was completed for the sale of Mammoth Mountain to the Aspen Company.   In addition to Mammoth, Aspen will now own Big Bear, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, as well as some smaller ski resorts in the Sierras.  They have big plans for Mammoth, although exactly what changes they’ll make have not been spelled out.  We were curious as to how the local population felt about the acquisition so we engaged in some conversations with people who have been around Mammoth a long time.  The opinions could not be more diverse.  For those who work for Mammoth Resorts – whether on the mountain, the Village stores and hotels or the golf course, they look forward to the infusion of money from Aspen.  They cited broken toilets, outdated facilities and general equipment that needs to be replaced.  Of course, they acknowledge that all of this “fixing” is going to come at a price and that price is going to be paid by the consumer. But hotel rooms and lift tickets are not the only thing that will be going up.  Since the announcement last spring that the deal was being struck, the housing market has gone berserk.  Normally one can find a plethora of deals on second homes that owners want to unload.  No more.  It’s a seller’s market in a big way.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin – the average person who wants to work and raise a family in Mammoth Lakes.  Rents have skyrocketed, forcing many people to find housing elsewhere.  One guy who manages the pet store said he felt fortunate to sign a three year lease, even if it was for a lot of money.  Many workers now are living in their cars.  Mammoth has pledged to build more affordable housing, but the sheer geographic limitations make that a remote prospect. We found many people worried about the effect of Aspen marketing to the “rich and famous”, driving out the very people who have made Mammoth such a relaxed and low-key place to visit.  It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years.

                  Schat’s Cakes

I’m hoping that some of our favorite “haunts” will not be affected.  Burger’s Restaurant offers the best burger anywhere – it’s always our first dinner when we arrive in town.  The Stove is a wonderful place for breakfast – assuming you can get in, as the lines are always long.  It’s the type of place that serves your water in a jelly glass and has wooden benches for seating.   And then there is Schat’s Bakery.  I don’t know how long they’ve been in business but I first salivated at their goodies 30 years ago.  They are renowned for their Basque Sheepherder’s bread and the fresh turkey sandwiches they make, carving an average of 19 large turkeys every day.  But somehow I’ve always been more attracted to their desserts.   To enter their pastry area is to enter Heaven itself.  The photo I’ve included is only one of six display cases.  I can gain weight just standing in line.

I don’t know how Mammoth is going to change in the coming years but I’ll say this: if they do anything that results in the closure of Schat’s they are going to have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

THE MENTAL RENTAL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

The view – its only redeeming feature

Here I am again…I hope you enjoyed Bob’s travel logs as much as I did.  While he was enjoying the midnight sun in Iceland and playing the Old Course in Scotland, I had planned to spend a month in Nipomo, a small community on the Central Coast of California where we have spent time over the past seven summers.  We have always rented through VRBO and have had wonderful relationships with the homeowners.  It was a good deal – they provide us with a nice house and we treat it as if it were our own.  A win-win for everyone.  But the Wall Street Journal ran an article this past winter cautioning against renting directly with homeowners.  They cited all manner of problems, from “phantom” houses where people would arrive at the given address to find no house at all, to owners who weren’t responsive to plumbing emergencies or insect infestations.  Instead, they advised, go through one of the professional rental agencies where you were assured 24/7 care and responsiveness.  So, since the house we normally rent had been sold, we rented a three bedroom condominium at Blacklake Golf Course through TurnKey Vacation Rentals.  We rented the unit for the month of July and eagerly anticipated getting the heck out of the Arizona heat and over to some cool, coastal fog.

                  Cups from 1985

We have been to Nipomo so many times that we had seen the outside of these condominiums countless times.  Our unit was adjacent to the fairway of the ninth hole and has a beautiful, expansive view overlooking much of the golf course.  Unfortunately, that is it’s only virtue.  As we entered the unit it all looked okay – dated, but comfortable.  Kind of like me.  It was only as we began to settle in the following day that we noticed how grungy the place really was.  Clearly the unit had been “glamour shot” on the TurnKey website.  The coffee pot was grungy and the coffee cups weren’t any better, as you can see from the photo.  The pots and pans were filthy and scratched, the potato peeler didn’t peel, and worst of all, the “pry open” wine opener had pried one too many bottles.  It took both of us 10 minutes to open a bottle.  I was getting so desperate I considred cracking the neck on the edge of the table and guzzling wine straight from the bottle.

     The sink that died 20 years ago

As bad as all that was, the sink was straight out of a horror movie.  In all of my rental apartments, as a starving student or poor working girl who could only afford bologna sandwiches on white bread for dinner, I have never had a sink this disgusting.  I tried to recall when we last had a tetanus shot.  So…what to do?  We decided to suck it up.  We drove to the local Ace Hardware to buy a coffee maker, pots, pans and coffee cups.  As for the sink, I scrubbed it within an inch of it’s life.  But cleaning it was futile…its life had been snuffed out long ago.  We made do and ate out.  A lot.  Four days after arrival the Wi-Fi broke down.  A representative from TurnKey came to fix it later that day and acknowledged that the unit was a bit “dated” and had the good grace to look embarrassed.  She said someone from TurnKey corporate offices would be in touch with us on Monday to discuss compensation to make up for the condition of the unit.

Of course, Monday came and went with no phone call.  On Tuesday I went to the mailbox as I was expecting a package and found a letter addressed to “Occupant” from the City of Nipomo.  The letter was pink.  I don’t know much about utility company billing but I’m pretty sure that pink is not a color you want to see.  I opened it, hoping that the city was simply notifying us of upcoming road work or utility repairs.  Nope.  The owner was delinquent in her payments so they were going to shut the water off within the next week if they didn’t receive their money.  So, again, I called TurnKey.  They were shocked, SHOCKED!, to learn of this.  It was going to be taken up with management and someone would get back to me.  Long story short, I finally heard from someone who said they would refund us $100 for our troubles and “not to worry” about the water bill.  Sure…these owners hadn’t replaced a coffee cup in 35 years but I was supposed to sleep soundly knowing they would pay their delinquent water bill.  Two days later I called again, raised hell, and they offered us another $300.

They specialized in LOUD

So now we had $400 to offset our “inconveniences”.  But we weren’t done yet. Every Wednesday evening they have band concerts on the lawn outside our condo.  Not real bands.  More like garage bands comprised of Baby Boomers who, “back in the day”, dreamed of becoming the next Beatles.  Now, they are just off-tune and loud.  But “loud” was redefined the following Saturday night when a wedding reception took place outside our window.  It featured a live mariachi band and a DJ who played heavy metal.  The windows (which of course were vintage 1985) had all the soundproofing capabilities of Saran Wrap.  For FIVE  hours the windows shook and the music blared.  Surely this is how we torture ISIS prisoners.  Needless to say, we were miserable.  We tried to put the best spin on it but our normally pleasing personalities were getting a bit testy.  Finally we realized that it was better to forfeit two weeks of rent and go home than to stay and be unhappy.  That is when, after 30 years of marriage, you know you’ve married the right person.  So we packed up and got out of there.   I called TurnKey to let them know we were leaving early.  The person had no knowledge of our previous calls.  Over the course of two weeks I spoke with seven different TurnKey “customer experience” people and – at their request – sent them photos of the unit.  Most never bothered to look at the email exchanges or the pictures of the unit.  To say the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing was an understatement.  The best example is when a manager called – at last, someone with some decision-making responsibility! – only to have him tell me he was from Florida and was calling about the water problem in the master bedroom.  Nope.  Not even close.

We ended up spending the remainder of the month in Scottsdale, where the weather was blessedly under 100 degrees.  Of course, the monsoons arrived which made my hair frizz and my thighs stick together.  But it was still better than looking at that sink.

The Iceland Cometh

by Bob Sparrow

Linda looking for her ball

We woke up the next morning in the harbor of Reykjavik, Iceland and while the weather was still a bit overcast, we were excited about playing golf in Iceland. We had originally decided that we were either going to play at the northern-most golf course in the world or we were going to play the latest round of golf ever, teeing off at midnight, as it stays light almost all night long. We did neither of these, but we did play golf at a golf course that that was built in 1934. It was a rather blustery day, which apparently is mostly what they get up there, as JJ, Judy and Linda teed off first with Jack, John and me in the second group; we all walked the course under rather gusty conditions. We found that the high winds sometimes worked for us, for example when John, who can hit the ball fairly long, hit a 3 wood and a 7 iron to a 500+ yard par five and had a 15 foot eagle putt. When we were hitting into the wind, it required quite an adjustment, so instead of hitting a 9 iron, you had to hit a 4 or 5 iron! It spite of the wind we enjoyed the round immensely, as we didn’t get rained on. Scores really don’t matter . . . do they? We had big plans for an evening out in Reykjavik, but that wind beat us up pretty good, so we crashed early getting ready for tomorrow’s adventure.

Golden Waterfalls

Salmon escalator on the left

‘The beginning of the end of the cold war’

On Day 2 in Reykjavik we hired a van for the 6 of us for a 7-hour private tour of the ‘Golden Circle’, a well-known loop out of Reykjavik to several of the near-by tourist attractions. We got what would be called a ‘balmy’ day in Iceland, dark clouds, light winds and no rain. The landscape in many places was ‘moon-like’; there’s a joke in Iceland that goes, “What do you do when you’re lost in an Icelandic forest?” Just stand up! What trees they do have are only a few feet high. Our tour included at stop at Thingvellir National Park, a massive lava plain set between two separated tectonic plates, a visit to the geysers, similar to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, only older, but not as faithful. The highlight of the tours was the visit to the ‘Golden Waterfalls’, a spectacular two-tiered waterfall that thunders to the river bottom and shoots mist high into the air. We also saw the Faxi waterfalls, which normally would block the salmon from going any further upstream to spawn, however there was a series of man-made elevated pools built next to the waterfall that provided the salmon an escalator-like ‘detour’ up the river. We were unable to get into one of the most popular attractions, the Blue Lagoon – it had been booked for the week, but on our way back to the boat we toured ‘old town’ Reykjavik with its quaint shops, restaurants and pubs. We also went to the top of the ‘Pearl’ building which provides a 360-degree view of the city and harbor. Our last stop was at ‘Hofdi House’, which is where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held their summit meeting in 1986. That meeting was dubbed ‘the beginning of the end of the cold war’.

It was a full and fun day seeing Reykjavik and the surrounding countryside as we headed to our next destination, Iceland’s northern-most port, Akureyri.

 

Akureyri

Unusual Icelandic sunrise

The ship’s route from Reykjavik to Akureyri (Aock-coo-ray-ree) takes us through the Artic Circle, just in case anyone was mistaking the islands we’re visiting with the Hawaiian Islands. We awoke as our ship was being escorted into port by a pod of whales through the longest fjord in Iceland where we saw a most unusual sight . . . the sun. The picture of this unusually flat sunrise was taken by the Budds sometime around 3-4:00 a.m. – I didn’t ask them why they were up at that hour! It was a crisp clear morning where temperatures were predicted to be in the 70s. We tried to get a tee time at the ‘northern most golf course in the world’, but to our disappointment we found that 1) there were no tee times available, and 2) it wasn’t in fact the most-northern golf course in the world, it is second behind a course in Norway! But we had a great 3.5-mile walk through Akureyri to the golf course, where we sat on the deck overlooking the 18th hole and enjoy an after-the-round-beer . . . it was after somebody’s round, just not ours. We were told in the pro shop about the ‘Arctic Classic’ golf tournament, where every Summer Solstice (June 21), the longest day of the year where here the sun never sets and the first tee time for the tournament is at midnight.  We just missed it by a month!

Enjoying a ‘not-after-our-round’ beer

The picture perfect day made it ideal for walking the city and sitting outside at a sidewalk café and writing my blog. Another cruise ship was in port, so this city, which depends on tourism for a large part of its income, was basking in a sun-filled and tourist-filled day. We head back to the ship and left Iceland for our next destination. We found Iceland to be a bit expensive, OK very expensive, but the Icelandic people very friendly, as they haven’t yet learned to hate Americans – let’s hope we can keep it that way.