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.






Circumnavigating Tahoe

by Bob Sparrow

Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe. Just the name brings so many great memories rushing back to me. As those who read here know, we have a long history wth ‘The Lake’ and usually try to get up there in October, when most of the tourists have gone home, to visit our parent’s final resting place. Brother Jack & Sharon and their families went up in July, but we were in Europe at the time so we figured we’d make it up next year, until Jack & JJ Budd, long-time travel companions, had a timeshare week they had to ‘use or lose’ at the Marriott Timber Lodge at the base of Heavenly Valley in South Lake Tahoe, and invited us to join them.  We happily accepted.

Sunnyside deck on a summer’s night

The weather was crystal clear; in fact we never saw a single cloud the entire time we were there. The air however was very crisp during the day and more than crisp at night as temperatures dipped into the 20s and high teens. We decided to take a drive around ‘The Lake’, starting the drive up the west shore. The first thing I noticed was the lake level; years of draught had lowered the lake so much that no water was going over the spillway that creates the Truckee River. Now, due to record snowfall in the Sierras last winter, the lake was as high as I’d ever seen it. As we drove past Emerald Bay I recalled the hikes we did from there up to Eagle Lake and the great views it provides. We weaved our way past Meeks Bay, where I could still smell the Coppertone sun lotion our mom use to put on us – in fact I can’t smell Coppertone today without mentally going to that great sandy beach at Meeks Bay. Just prior to getting into Tahoe City at the north end of the lake, we took a quick detour up Chinquapin Lane and drove by the cabin that Uncle Dick bought in 1951 (Suzanne, sorry to report that the picture of our ‘Aunt Marilyn’ is no longer on the cabin wall). As we drove by, so many memories were rushing through my mind. How lucky we were to have such a ‘Summer Place’ in which to play while we were growing up.

Lakeside lunch at Garwoods

We continued up the road less than a mile before we came upon Sunnyside Lodge – now a very haute destination, but back in the 50s it was a rustic lodge/bar with seven rooms and only two bathrooms, one at each end of the hall, a combination liquor store/bait shop and a small marina where Jack and I would fish using drop lines from the pier (and never caught anything!). Today, Sunnyside sports the largest deck on the lake and is the spot to be on a beautiful summer’s day or evening. Continuing our journey, we drove through Tahoe City, where Jack owned The Off Shore Bar & Grill right on the lake, and continued up to Rocky Ridge, which offers the most spectacular view of Lake Tahoe I’ve ever seen and is the final resting place for mom and dad. We checked in with them, soaked up the amazing views and continued on our way. We stopped for lunch at Garwoods, which is one of the only places at the north end of the lake that offers lakeside lunch dining during this ‘shoulder season’. We sat outside on the deck in amazing weather and had the best fish & chips on the lake, or anywhere except Scotland as far as I was concerned.

Visiting Mom & Dad at Rocky Ridge

As we continue our trip, we leave California and enter Nevada and stop by CalNeva, a once very popular hotel and casino on the lake where Frank Sinatra was once one of the owners and the ‘Rat Pack’ made regular appearances. Mom, Dad and Uncle Dick would dress to the nines on a Saturday night and go ‘over the line’ (the California-Nevada border) for an evening of dining, dancing and gambling at CalNeva and come home way after we kids were fast asleep. Today there is a fence around CalNeva as it is in rehab, or rather reconstruction. I’m hoping it will, in time, return to its glory days.

We continued down the east shore, which is mostly Nevada State Park with very few signs of civilization, although it has several spectacular beaches. Between Zephyr Cove and Glenbrook is the Cave Rock Tunnel, created in 1931 and the only tunnel on the trip around the lake.

We pulled into Stateline, south shore Lake Tahoe completing our trip that covered not only the 72 miles around the lake, but the 65-some odd years of wonderful memories.  It was a good day!


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.




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.


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




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.

Four Seasons

by Bob Sparrow

Well with a title like this we could go anywhere – the luxury, five-star hotel chain who has Bill Gates as one of its majority owners; Jersey Boys backup group to Frankie Valli; the classical violin concerti by Vivaldi, or simply the four seasons.

All weighty subjects to be sure, but the oppressive heat in our part of the country over the last several days, begs the question, “Isn’t summer over?”

Unofficially, Yes; officially, No.

You see when I don’t travel I have to write about stuff like Mayberry, Margaritaville and the weather. Unfortunately, for you, I haven’t been anywhere exciting in the last couple of weeks (OK, I was in Vegas last weekend, but I was reminded that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – I know my money stayed there!), so now you get to read about the changing of the seasons. I can sense the anticipation building already!

I thought the subject appropriate since we’re just sobering up from the Labor Day holiday, which is the ‘unofficial’ end of a summer, which ‘unofficially’ started on Memorial Day. Officially summer begins with the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in terms of light in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer officially ends with the Autumnal Equinox, when days and nights are equal (almost) with 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of no sun; equinox actually means equal nights. Am I going too fast for those taking notes?

If you’re wondering, like me, whether we get more ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ days of summer, here’s the math:

Summer officially started on Wednesday, June 21th this year and ends on Thursday, Sept 21nd (at 1:02 PDT to be precise) – that’s 93 days. ‘Unofficially’ summer started this year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (perhaps some cheated and started early on Friday night), May 27th and ended on Labor Day, Monday, Sept 4th – that’s 101 days. So we took eight ‘unofficial’ days of summer this year that I suppose we’re going to have to give back at some point, aren’t we?

One would think that because we declared these ‘unofficial’ starts and stops of summer, borrowing several days from the end of spring and giving a few back during the dog days of summer, that summer would be the season that people like the most – that all depends.

A recent survey by YouGov was conducted on this very subject (are you on the edge of your seat yet?), and depending on your age group and the particular region of the country in which you live, the results vary. But if we’re looking at all age groups across the entire country, the results are as follows:

  1. 29% favor Fall
  2. 27% favor Spring
  3. 25% favor Summer
  4.  7% favor Winter

Favorite season by age group:

55+                Spring

35 – 54           Fall

18 – 34           Summer

While Winter didn’t score high enough to even rate a place on the chart, we all know that winter in Scottsdale, Arizona is slightly different from winter in Bemidji, Minnesota, so let’s look at favorite seasons by region. Isn’t this fun?!

In answer to the question, “I like the weather where I live” the results by region are as follows:

  1. West 66%
  2. South 59%

3.  Northeast 59%

  1. Midwest 47%

The ‘West’ is probably skewed by Alaska at 33% and Hawaii at 100% (my figures, not theirs)

But, those who DON’T like living in the:

West say it is too rainy (26%) or too dry (36%)

South say it is too hot (70%)

Northeast say it is too cold (68%)

Midwest say it is too cold (62%) or too hot (26%)

Ok, maybe what happens in a YouGov survey should stay in a YouGov survey.  Hope you’re enjoying these last ‘official’ days of summer.



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.

Disneyland or Mayberry?

by Bob Sparrow

One claims to be “The Happiest Place on Earth” while the other just may have actually been.

Only read if you have nothing else to do.

(Cue the whistling of the Mayberry theme song)

Yes, I’m writing about Mayberry this week, or rather something I heard about Mayberry while eating in some international airport during my recent travels. I apologize if you may have heard what I’m about to write, as this kind of thing travels very fast, especially when it’s using international airports.

Let’s first examine the bios of the main characters from that nostalgic television program, The Andy Griffith Show, which took place in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina.

Andrew Jackson “Andy” Taylor: A pragmatic and genial sheriff and justice of the peace, who never wore a gun or a tie and didn’t have too much trouble keeping peace in this bucolic southern town. He was a widower, who had a son, Opie and a paternal aunt named Aunt Bea.  He had a polite charm and  generally keeps the peace with common sense.

Beatrice “Aunt Bea” Taylor: Aunt Bea was a spinster who raised Andy. She was living alone in West Virginia when Andy asked her to come and live with Opie and him when their current housekeeper, Rose, married and moved out of Mayberry.

Bernard (? middle name) “Barney” Fife: This wiry, high-strung deputy was a comic genius, who played the bumbling sidekick to perfection. He was single, but was seriously dating Thelma Lou. He did wear a gun and a tie, but the gun was never loaded. However he kept a bullet in his shirt pocket for emergencies. Most of the time when he pulled it out he ended up nearly shooting himself in the foot. Although Mayberry had little crime, Barney refers to the town as ‘The Gateway to Danger’.  Not as part of any plot line, there was some controversy over Barney’s middle name. In Season 2 he says his middle name is ‘Oliver’. In Season 4, his high school yearbook shows his middle name as ‘Milton’. In Season 5 he states his full name as Barney P. Fife. Sadly this is the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Gomer Pyle: Well Gollll-ly! Gomer is the dim-witted, sleepy-eyed, single, mechanic at Wally’s Filling Station with a toothy grin and a southern accent. He is sometimes deputized when Barney needs a hand at screwing up a case. Gomer leaves the show after Season 4 to start a new series, Gomer Pyle, USMC

Goober Pyle: When Gomer signs up for the Marines, he recruits his long lost single cousin, Goober to replace him as the mechanic at Wally’s Filling Station. Both were very good-natured and always willing to help, sometimes to a fault. The actors who played Gomer and Goober where both from Alabama, so the southern accents were real.

Helen Crump: Helen is single and from Kansas and moves to Mayberry for a teaching assignment. She is Opie’s teacher (he calls her ‘old lady Crump’).  When Opie asks his dad for help on a history assignment, Andy’s advice is misunderstood by Opie which leads to Helen marching down to Andy’s office and giving him a piece of her mind. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know Andy’s walking her home and they become ‘an item’.

Floyd Lawson: The fastidious, slow-paced, often absent-minded local barber who dispensed advice along with his haircuts. Floyd is single and his character is said to be based on Andy’s real barber from his hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, (sounds oddly similar to Mount Pilot the fictional neighboring town to Mayberry) where he owned ‘Floyd’s City Barber Shop’. Howard McNear, who played the character Floyd, had a stroke midway through the third season and could not stand for any length of time or move very well. But he returned to play Floyd as the writers kept his character sitting down most of the time.

Howard Sprague: The milquetoast county clerk with mustache and bow ties had a penchants for philosophy and culture, but was a repressed ‘mama’s boy’ who lived with his overbearing and manipulative mother. Due to is upbringing, he was socially stymied especially when it came to dating. In one episode Howard tries to be a stand-up comic, unfortunately people laughed at him and not with him.

Otis Campbell: The town drunk who was also sometimes deputized so he could let himself in and out of jail. Viewers meet Otis’ wife in an episode where Otis is jailed for assault, the first time he’s jailed for something other than drunkenness, because he threw a leg of lamb at his wife, missed and hit his mother-in-law. Otis stopped appearing toward the end of the series because sponsors raised concerns over the portrayal of excessive drinking. (Perhaps the beginning of political correctness??)

So what we’ve discovered, if you haven’t already realized it, it’s that all the characters, except Otis, who was always drunk, were not married. Perhaps this is why Mayberry was considered by many as The Happiest Place on Earth.

Hey, I didn’t make this up; I just heard it at the airport and am passing it along for your perusal and consideration.