Those of you who have been following us for at least a year know that I was in Nepal a little less than a year ago visiting Kathmandu and trekking in the Himalayas, so I felt particularly saddened by the news of the recent earthquake in Nepal. Like most of you I felt so bad for these really good people, who had so little to start with and now have less – their whole world has been turned upside down – literally.
Additionally my personal concern was for the two wonderful people from there that I got to know very well by trekking with them for a week in the Himalayans – Dom, our guide and Kirin our porter (They are pictured on my Facebook homepage). They both lived in and around Kathmandu, Dom with a wife and two children, Kirin, is single. I emailed the travel agency in New York that booked our trip to ask if they had an email address for Dom, or any way to check on the status of both Dom and Kirin.
Everest Base Camp
I heard yesterday morning from the travel agency that Dom and his family are OK, but no word on Kirin yet. Although I knew that communicating with Nepal right now was difficult at best, I sent another email pleading with the travel agent to do everything she could to check on Kirin’s status.
The riots in Baltimore and the continuing California draught have pushed the Nepal story out of the headlines, but those still following it know that the death toll has risen above 5,000 as of this writing and could get to as much at 10,000 before it’s over. Tens of thousands of people are living in tents and are still without adequate food and water, as relief is slow or non-existent to many of the outlying villages.
If you’re so inclined, there are plenty of places to donate to this cause, I chose the one here on Facebook at, https://www.facebook.com/nepalearthquakesupport
The quake that rocked the tallest mountain in the world devastated Everest Base Camp; two major avalanches over the last two years have killed at least 27 Sherpa guides. The climbing season, which just started, is now over for the year.
PS; I just received word from the travel agent this morning that Kirin is all right as well!! Happy for them both, but so heartbroken for all those Nepalese living this nightmare.
Now that the rainy season in Southern California (2 days in January, maybe just one this year due to the draught) is over, it’s time to hit the hiking trails. Spring’s first trek takes us back to Joshua Tree National Park and to Mecca Hills Painted Canyon and Ladder Canyon for the first time.
Patrick ‘Trail Boss’ Michael, my Nepal trekking buddy along with hiking novice, Marc ‘Swizzle Stick’ Webb, who stirs up all the neighborhood parties with his wit and enthusiasm make up our hiking trio. Patrick, the engineer and Marc, the salesman, invariably look at almost everything from two completely different perspectives. I felt like I was watching an episode of the ‘Odd Couple’ all weekend. The banter between them was constant and hilarious on virtually every subject.
Pat & Marc disagreeing about something
We leave Orange County, Friday morning in Patrick’s Avalanche truck, which is pulling a 25’ camper – so we’re not really roughing it this time by sleeping out under the stars. As Marc’s wife, Lisa says, “You guys are going glam-ping”. We arrive at Cottonwood Springs campsite inside Joshua Tree National Park around noon and set up camp, which entails winding out the awning on our camper, unfolding our chairs and cracking open a beer.
Lost Palms Oasis
Lost Palms Oasis
This hike was about an 8 mile round trip trek over a series of ridges and valleys and after reading the brochure’s description of this hike, below, we were very excited about the hike and having lunch at the oasis.
Large boulders, pools of water, intermittent streams, willow thickets and sandy beaches make this a delightful spot to pause.
That description of the oasis turns out to be a verbal mirage, as there were no pools of water, no streams, not even intermittently. There was sand, lots of sand, but no beaches – I think water is a requirement for a beach. We did find some moist ground in places, so perhaps it once was as the brochure described, but thanks to the California draught we ate our lunch in a dry riverbed. But the hike was not without its redeeming features.
Banana, bacon French toast
Those who think of deserts as just brown mountains and sand would have a hard time imagining all the beautiful flowers, robust plant and animal life and beautifully colored rocks that are abundant here. When we realize how the flora and fauna in the desert gets by with so little, we almost feel ashamed wolfing down our banana, bacon French toast and New York steaks, but not ashamed enough to eat lizards and cactus instead.
Back at our campsite, dinner cooked under a billion stars and wine enjoyed around the campfire was all the stage that ‘Felix’ and ‘Oscar’ needed to continue their discussion of things like Patrick’s list of ‘trailer cleanliness tips, campfire protocol and bathroom ‘Dos & Don’ts’ – no matter the rule, Marc managed to ignore them all.
This was the more interesting hike of the two – much more interesting! However, while researching this new hiking destination, we found the following . . .
“The geological formations of Mecca Hills are among the most unusual of their kind in the world and were formed by the convergence of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault, which is overdue for a large quake.”
Which is what?!! ‘Overdue for a large quake’! Well isn’t that special.
We also should have read this other not-so-subtle admonition about the hike . . .
“Wear proper clothing, have proper equipment and follow these hiking tips or you may pay with your life.”
‘Pay with my life?!! Wow, I guess we should have read those hiking tips!
So, if you’re reading this and it ends suddenly in mid-sentence, you’ll know that the hiking tips were more important than we thought or ‘the big one’ hit.
We set out with the hope that the tectonic plates in Ladder Canyon were feeling very comfortable just where they are. The canyon is so named because the walls of the canyon are so steep in places that ladders are needed to get up and down the trail.
The Trail to Nowhere
The hike is incredible; the canyon walls get to 50+ feet in height and as narrow in places as shoulder-width – not for the claustrophobic. Once through the canyon, we were supposed to continue the loop around through Painted Canyon, but we took the ‘Trail to Nowhere’ and had a view of Painted Canyon, but not a way to get down into it, so we ended up having to double back through Ladders Canyon to get home.
The day ends with another beautiful evening around the fire and another episode of the ‘Odd Couple’ discussing their opposing views on campfire flatulent etiquette.
This year I will hit a milestone birthday. I have frequent reminders that I’m getting older, mostly from my knees and memory. But these days the true test of whether one is on the “back nine” of life is dealing with technology. I have long prided myself in my interest in computers and anything the least bit geeky. I owe this to my long-time technology guru at work, Doug Clayton, who always assured me that pressing the “F10” button on the keyboard was NOT going to blow up Hong Kong. He encouraged me to experiment and right-click my way through most problems. I wish that I still lived near him – a man of endless patience who never once rolled his eyes at me or called me an ignorant slut. Although he certainly would have been justified on many occasions.
These days, I browse Best Buy like it’s a candy store. Honestly, I’d rather spend two hours there than at Nordstrom (unless it’s the Nordstrom Cafe with their delightful chocolate cake). I think for someone who started out with a black, rotary phone and a phone number that started with a noun (Twinbrook 23537), I’ve come pretty far. I have lived long enough to marvel through push-button phones, cordless phones, answering machines, cell phones the size of a shoe box and now the Apple watch. As for computers, much like the old TV sets, my first one at work had a 10 inch screen with bright green letters on a black background. I remember when, with more enthusiasm than talent, I hooked up our first DVR back in 1986 and it was a simple matter of connecting two coax cables. Now…well, there is a computer in everything, from my fitness band to the washing machine. And everything connects wirelessly. Even the TV is now called a “smart TV”. I don’t know exactly what that means but I know one thing, it’s a heck of a lot smarter than me.
Last week the intersection of technology and my ineptness crossed when, after 17 years with the same phone and internet company, I decided I’d had enough of their slow speeds and faulty phone lines. So on Friday a nice young man from the new company showed up at our doorstep ready to install everything I’d need to wisk me through the digital age. He said it would take about an hour. That was at 10 a.m. Apparently our home, which is only 15 years old, is the Parthenon of technology wiring. At 4 p.m. he finally finished, having had to cancel every other service call scheduled for that day. I peered over his shoulder (which I’m sure he just loved) to watch how he hooked everything up. When it was all up and running he left. Big mistake. I should have kidnapped him.
I spent the next two days uttering language that would make a sailor blush. Somewhere over those 17 years I lost count of how many devices I’d hooked up wirelessly until, one by one over the weekend, they stopped working – the printer, the wi-fi extender, both iPads and the cell phones. Don’t even get me started on that “smart TV”. If it’s so damn smart why can’t it hook itself up? Honestly, would it be that hard for it to detect that there is a new wireless router and think “Gee, the old router is no longer online and there is a new router. I think I’ll connect to that one.” I don’t think that’s asking too much of something that purports to call itself “smart”.
In any event, here I am a week later, and everything seems to be working. Of course, we all know that I’ve lulled myself into a false sense of security. I’m guessing that within the next week something will go down and I will have to call Tech Support in India where “Dave” will walk me through all the things I’ve already tried before transferring me to someone in Poughkeepsie. Some days that old black rotary phone looks pretty darn appealing.
P.S. For those of you who kindly commented, and related your own stories, on my blog about “Un-Fun Money”, we can now add “new garbagedisposal” to the list. It never ends.
With Suzanne’s well-written admonitions still echoing in our heads from last week, I thought the weighty topic of Los Angeles and professional football would be an appropriate blog subject as a break from our tax-dulled senses. Metaphorically speaking, if taxes and dying in San Francisco were a rodeo, this blog is the clown that jumps out of the barrel to distract the bull, maybe in this case to sling the bull.
Like many of you, I couldn’t care less whether LA ever gets a professional football team; I am a 49ers fan for life who wouldn’t drive to LA to see a game if I had a seat next to Kate Upton . . . OK, maybe then, but I wouldn’t be watching the game! I do, however, miss that 49ers-Rams ‘north-south’ rivalry and so have paid some attention to all the talk lately around various billionaires building space-age stadiums (paid for with our tax dollars – Oops, I was trying not to mention taxes) in various parts of the city to attract an NFL team. So why am I convinced that the country’s second largest media market, which once had two NFL teams, will not be getting another one anytime soon?
New L.A. stadium . . . in their dreams!
First, after USC’s Reggie Bush took a pay cut to go to the NFL a few years back, some would suggest that LA already has a professional football team, but that would be a cheap shot.
The main reason for no team in LA is the make up of the LA fan. I have observed three types; the first have luxury boxes and are notorious for ‘making an entrance’ sociably late to the game, wearing the latest fashions and then, after being seen, leaving early to avoid the congestion getting out of the parking lot. The limited time they are at the game is used for consuming their Beef Wellington hot dogs, truffle fries and Bombay Safire martinis. These are the fans that would root for their team to ‘kick a touchdown’.
The second type of fan are those that are not originally from Los Angeles, which is about 80% of the southern California population. The only time they go to a game is when their hometown team comes into town to play. Those from Chicago, for example, even though they left the ‘Windy City’ 20 years ago, would not give up rooting for ‘da Bears’ in favor of rooting for the ‘L.A. La De Dahs’. I personally was part of this group when Rams games were being played in Orange County; when the 49ers came to town, I’d go to the games and there would be a sea, make that a bay, of San Francisco red and gold covering the entire stadium. The NFL is concerned that these are the fans that would get beat up, by the third type of fan, in the parking lot after the game for wearing the visiting team’s colors.
Part of the ‘Raider Nation’ Gang
The third type of fan are the ones left over from the Oakland Raiders 12-year, forgot-to-pay-the-rent visit to Los Angeles. This group, who dressed like every game was Halloween, are not so much crowd members as they are ‘gang members’. With this group the NFL would be concerned that if an LA team lost a game or the refs made a bad call that these guys would riot in the streets and then go home and burn their own houses down. Game food for this gang is Beer Chicken, hold the chicken.
Miley’s ‘V’ for Victory
The other NFL franchise owners are another reason why LA will never have a team. They must approve any move to a new city by any other current team, so each team’s owner, always looking to get stadium up-grades (from city taxes – dang, there I go again!), threatens to move to LA – eventually their city acquiesces and the owners breathe a big sigh of relief that they don’t have to move their team, and themselves, to ‘the land of fruits and nuts’.
The NFL might also be concerned that a ‘Tinsel Town’ team might employ people like Miley Cyrus, the Kardashiansisters and Bruce Jenner as their cheerleaders.
L.A.’s new mascot?
In the true spirit of Los Angeles football, one potential owner already indicated his choice for a mascot when he said, “ The team mascot should be The White Broncos, to commemorate O.J. Simpson’s infamous police chase through the city.”
Well, here we are again. The week between Easter and taxes. I trust that you all enjoyed your holiday, whether it was Easter or Passover. As our dad used to say, “I hope the Easter bunny leaves all his eggs in a Ramos gin fizz.” I’m on a diet this week so I’m hoarding all my chocolate bunnies until I lose these last three pounds. Then I will dive into them like a six-year-old on crack, regain the three pounds, and the cycle will begin again. Those three pounds are as inevitable as next week’s “holiday” – Tax Day.
I’d feel a whole lot better about writing that check if I felt that my money was being managed by people who understood their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. A couple of years ago a book was published about tax waste which did nothing to bolster my confidence that public servants are shepherding our monies in any sort of rational way. Here’s just a few examples:
$30 million to help Pakistani Mango farmers: This was part of a four-year, $90 million effort to boost hiring and sales among Pakistani businesses. During a time, by the way, in which millions of American businesses were going under due to the recession.
$765,828 for pancakes: Generally, I’m all for ANYTHING to do with pancakes but in this instance federal funding went to the Anacostia Economic Development Corp to build an International House of Pancake franchise (and train its workers) in an “underserved community.” The underserved community, however, turned out to the a toney area of Washington D.C. – Columbia Heights, which is termed “one of Washington’s more desirable neighborhoods.”
$10 million for Pakistani “Sesame Street”: Again, giving money to Pakistan, where we have trouble distinguishing the good guys from the bad and a country that somehow missed the fact that Osama bin Laden was living within spitting distance of a Pakistani military base for years. Because, after funding the Pakistani Mango farmers, the government felt it needed to spend $10 million of our money remaking big bird and the other Sesame Street characters into a show called “SimSim Humara” for the Pakistani market.
So, you can see why I might be a bit wary about turning my money over to people who make drunken sailors look like pillars of the community. This confluence of bureaucratic incompetence and taxes came to the forefront for me this week. As you faithful readers will recall, my best friend from childhood, Leslie Sherman, died last November. Unfortunately, she died in San Francisco, which, as it turns out, is the worst place in America to die. Her family has been waiting more than FOUR months for the results of the autopsy. If you think that seems an excessively long time, you’re right. The average time it takes to complete an autopsy and secure a final Death Certificate in major U.S. cities is 60 days. Ellen Huet of Forbesdid an expose on the Medical Examiners office in S.F. which uncovered the fact that they were operating under “provisional accreditation”. In other words, they’re totally inept. As a result, the city has hired a new ME who hopefully can provide answers to the untold number of families awaiting autopsy results.
To compound matters, Leslie died without a will or other important documents in place. When we were kids she never cracked a book or crammed for an exam and still got straight “A’s”, graduating from high school and college with honors. Unfortunately, however, financial planning was not her strong suit. So her family is struggling to sell her two homes, close out bank accounts, and take care of all other financial issues without either a will or a completed Death Certificate.
So, why am I bringing this up today, on this bright Spring morning? Because there are some lessons to be learned from all this and really, as a public service, I’m going to point them out for you.
1. Do NOT, under any circumstances, die in San Francisco.
2. Get your financial house in order. Write your will or trust. I know, it’s hard to think about a world without you in it, but believe me, it’s the best gift you can give your heirs. Do whatever your personal situation dictates, especially if you’re single, whether it’s ensuring your bank accounts have a Payable on Death provision to your beneficiaries or that you complete Transfer on Death documents for your investments.
If you don’t do these things the government is more than willing to step in and claim your hard-earned cash. In which case, don’t blame me if your money ends up going to Pakistani mango farmers rather than your kids.