Adios Amigos?

by Bob Sparrow

Here’s us relaxing on our Mexican cruise

Last week the wife says, “Hey, Bob, wanna go . . . .”, and before she could finish the sentence, I say, “Sure”.  And then ask, where are we going and with whom?  “Mexico, with no one else” she replies.  Then I wondered, ‘Is she just sending me to Mexico with a one-way ticket’?”  She says, “It’s a cruise and we’re both going and it leaves on Monday!”

So, I say, “Let me get this straight, you’ve booked us on a cruise ship, which for the last year-and-a-half has been a germ-infested, floating petri dish and we’re going to a country that is rated ‘HIGH’ in terms of risk level for COVID-19.  Is that correct?”  “Yes, she replies, “but it’s not rated ‘VERY HIGH’ and I got a great deal!”

For Linda, nothing trumps a good deal, apparently not even death.

I Googled ‘Is it safe to travel to Cabo San Lucas?’ and found:

“Because of the current situation in Mexico, all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.”

Not a good start!  I then found a site that gave me the risk levels of the various aspects of traveling to Cabo.  Regarding the ‘risk level’, I suspect that those who are doing the rating may have received a few pesos to make the levels look better than they actually are, so I took the liberty of moving all the levels ‘up a notch’, however the comments remain unedited.

Cabo San Lucas -a beautiful final resting place!

Transportation: (HIGH) there have been reports of people being robbed by the unlicensed taxis. Also, taxis are not metered, so always negotiate the price before the ride.  The public transport is not safe since theft on buses is common and buses have also been hijacked in conflict areas.

Pickpocket: (HIGH+) There is a high risk of pickpocketing in Cabo San Lucas. The risk is especially high for foreigners because thieves usually target them regarding the fact that they have either money or expensive items with them.

Mugging: (HIGH+) Virtual kidnapping is very common, so it is advisable not to share any personal information while in Cabo San Lucas. Also, criminals tend to kidnap people who wear expensive jewelry or watches and who show off with their latest gadgets.

Terrorism: (MEDIUM) Although Mexico does not report recent attacks, you should always be watchful.

Scams: (HIGH) Be watchful of people who offer you help, since they might ask for money for that.

Women Traveler Risk: (MEDIUM) There have been reports of sexual harassment in bars and nightclubs and assaults when traveling on public transport. Females should take precaution, even in areas close to hotels, especially after dark.

Drug-related violence: (MEDIUM) Drug-related violence is occurring less in Cabo San Lucas as the Mexican government makes a lot of effort to stop the crime and protect major tourist destinations from thieves and other criminals.

Natural disasters: (MEDIUM) hurricanes between July and September, earthquakes and volcanoes.  There are some areas, like Land’s End, the tip of the peninsula, where the beaches are not safe for swimming due to the currents.

So, not only am I going to a country that doesn’t really have the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, I’m captive on a boat with a gang of partying, non-social-distancing drunks.  Sounds like a relaxing get-away to me!!!  But “Look at the beautiful ship”, says Linda.

Grand Princess

So, while you’re reading this blog in the comforts of your own home, having a nice cup of coffee or a shot of tequila – whatever gets you started in the morning – I may be in the Cabo San Lucas hospital, jail, morgue or quarantined, albeit on a beautiful ship, for the next two weeks.  And, wouldn’t you know it, my last hope of missing this cruise was lost when I tested ‘Negative’ for Covid!

If this is my last blog, I’d like to thank all you subscribers for your loyalty over the last ten years, especially those who take the time to respond frequently.  Sister, Suzanne, it’s been a great pleasure to be part of this ‘homage to our father’ with you. I suppose it’s only right that I should succumb to the ‘travel bug’?

Hasta Luego?

THE LONGER ROAD HOME

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Before I begin my tale about the second half of our visit to Sun Valley, I have to acknowledge our sharp-eyed subscriber (and childhood neighbor), John Thomas, for pointing out that in my description of our drive up to Sun Valley I said we traveled on Highway 95.  I don’t’ know why I was confused, we’ve made that trek at least 20 times.  Anyway, it was Highway 93 that took us through the lovely town of Ely, Nevada.  93, 95…I never was any good at math.

Marilyn at the North Fork

When I left off last time the snow had begun to fall in Idaho, dusting the mountain tops and causing the trees to begin turning luscious shades of gold and orange.  We decided to venture a bit north, up to Redfish Lake, which is always a serene place in which to observe nature.  Redfish is 60 miles north of Sun Valley and you would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful drive in the United States.    The first landmark one encounters is less than 10 miles north of town – the North Fork Store.  That may not sound too exciting, until you learn it is where Marilyn Monroe filmed “Bus Stop” in 1956.  It is still a going concern, with a café and gas station, and remains popular with film aficionados.

             Galena Overlook

Half-way through our journey north is another spectacular spot, Galena Summit.  If you stop at the overlook turn-out you can see views of the Sawtooth range to the northwest and the headwaters of the Salmon River.  At a whopping height of 8,701 feet, the view is simply unbeatable.  The Sawtooth Valley below is approximately 15 miles wide and 30 miles long…and you can see all of it from the overlook.  It’s hard to imagine as you spot the headwaters of the Salmon that after the river leaves the Sawtooth Valley it will then travel 900 miles to reach the Pacific Ocean.

             Redfish Lake

Finally, we reach our destination, Redfish Lake, and it does not disappoint.  Somehow all our ridiculous little problems melt away in the presence of such spectacular scenery.  We were surprised by how many people were there, although given how crowded Sun Valley had been we should have expected it.  There is a lodge and small restaurant, along with an outdoor grill and they all seemed to be at capacity.  Still…as we walked the trail that wends around the lake we were reminded of why we keep coming back every year.  I love Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes in California, but there is nothing like the serenity that comes from viewing Redfish.

                 Downtown Kanab

After our visit to Redfish we ventured back to Sun Valley for a few more days before heading home.  We decided to drive the interstates most of the way.  That was my bright idea and as much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong.  It wasn’t a drive home, it was a death march.  First, we drove down to Twin Falls, Idaho, just 90 minutes from Sun Valley, to get a jump start on the long stretch ahead of us the following day.  That required an additional night in a hotel, with all the joys that go along with uncomfortable pillows and people banging doors at midnight.  What was I thinking?  The next day we drove from Twin Falls, through Salt Lake City, down to Kanab, Utah.  Kanab is a beautiful little town, but after TEN hours in a car, I couldn’t really appreciate anything except terra firma.  Finally, on the third day of our trek home, Dash the Wonder Dog decided to make life interesting by getting sick.  We took him to the vet when we got home and turns out he picked up a bacterial infection, plus the vet said that she sees some dogs get very stressed out from very long car rides.

Mom, please don’t make me get back in that car

Well, guess what?  I also get stressed out from long car rides.  I told my husband when we arrived home that he could not use the words “car” or “ride”, especially if they were in the same sentence.  I’ve already started looking for places to visit next year that are less than five hours from home.  So we may have seen Sun Valley for the last time, but who knows what next year will bring.  One thing I’ve learned from the COVID pandemic – don’t plan too far ahead.

 

Water, Water Everywhere, But . . .

by Bob Sparrow

I take you back to the world-wide ‘Great Horse Manure Crisis in 1894’.  Yes, the proliferation of horse manure and the inability to remove it from the streets was considered the greatest obstacle to urban development at the turn of the century.  An article in the London Times stated,

“In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”

 Having the luxury of hindsight, we now know that technology, in the form of the proliferation of the automobile, solved this problem.

Why, you ask, I am writing about horseshit?

It seems to me that we have a similar problem today.  Not with horseshit, but with water. Particularly in California where we are experiencing severe drought conditions and devastating fires.  It occurred to me, on my flight to Hawaii last month, that there is a hell of a lot of water in the Pacific Ocean, and if my geography serves me, California has over 800 miles of coastline that abuts to this salty water supply.  I know I’m not breaking news here and there have been attempts at ‘desalination’, but for my money, and I pay a healthy amount of taxes in this state next to the Pacific, we’re literally doing nothing serious to prevent the horseshit from piling up.

Several of today’s solutions seem to be akin to how people were looking at the horseshit problem in 1894.  They are:

Desalination process

Desalination – costly, increases fossil fuel dependence, increases greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbates climate change, threatens marine life, blah, blah, blah.  Change the process!

Pipelines – We get oil to California from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Africa (not by pipelines, but by ship – I’m simply making the point that if we really want something we’ll go anywhere in the world to get it); today we import most of our oil from Canada and over 90% of that oil comes via a pipeline.  So why isn’t there a ‘pipeline’ sending some of the excess water we get in Washington and Oregon, to California?  The simple answer is that today, water does not have the same economic panache as oil.  Oil keeps most of our vehicles and industries moving, water only keep us moving.

Seed the clouds – expensive, requires the use of potentially harmful chemicals, could create other weather problems, depends on atmospheric conditions, unknown long-term effect.  Stop wasting your time!

Making water – it’s just two elements, right? Hydrogen and oxygen, which are both plentiful in our atmosphere.  So why not just ‘make water’?    Because just mixing hydrogen and oxygen together doesn’t make water – to join them together you need energy – lots of it.  So, if we solve the energy problem have we’ve solved the water problem?

To be sure, this is not just a California problem, it’s worldwide, in fact we already have a horseshitesque quote from another country that is surrounded on three sides by water:

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today”   

Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Aarhus University, Denmark                                                             

So you’re telling me that we can put people on the moon, create driverless cars, get stuff we ordered from Amazon delivered the next day, but we can’t find a way to effectively use a resource that covers two-thirds of our earth?!!!

Horseshit!!!

And speaking of horseshit, if we only used a small percentage of the money our government wastes on really stupid stuff (possibly my next blog rant) to solve our ‘water problem’, we’d have it fixed by Christmas.

 

ON THE LONELY ROAD TO SUN VALLEY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Highway 95

”I’ve forgotten how to pack!”  Those were the words I muttered as I prepared for our first long vacation in over two years.  While my husband concerned himself with his clothes and golf equipment, I fretted over snacks for the trip, food and bedding for Dash the Wonder Dog, some staples for our stay at the condo, my clothes, knitting projects and, last but not least, golf equipment.  It’s little wonder he thought prepping for the trip was a snap.  But it was all for a good cause, our first trip back to Sun Valley in three years.  We have been visiting there almost every year since 1988, and although we’d heard that the pandemic has changed its small-town feel, we were excited to go back.  Getting there, however, was part of the challenge.  I am all for taking interstates.  Call my crazy but I like a plethora of eating options, bathrooms, and good cell service.  My husband, who insists on doing all the driving, loves the solitude of the smaller highways.  Since prerogative goes to the driver, we drove up to Idaho on Nevada’s Highway 95.  You would be hard pressed to find a more desolate road in the United States.  It is two lanes the whole way, with only four passing lanes in over 400 miles.  Which means everyone is going about 100 miles per hour and passing with great frequency.  As an added attraction, there are hundreds of miles where there is no cell service. I had visions of our car breaking down and the bleached bones of our bodies being found weeks later.  But we made it to our stopover for the night, Ely, Nevada, which is smack dab in the middle of … nothing.  Here’s how remote it is: there is no Starbucks in Ely.

The following morning, having safely survived the trek through Nevada (and no coffee) we made our way up to Sun Valley.  It felt like coming home, a place so familiar that we both breathed a sigh of relief that we were finally back in our “happy place”.   Not everything was perfect.  Normally after Labor Day you can shoot a cannon down  Main Street and not hit anyone.  This year, there was traffic and people everywhere.  We had heard that both bicyclists and drivers were out of control and sure enough, on our first day we witnessed a bicyclist being hauled off in an ambulance.  On the walking path to town the city has painted on the sidewalk,  “If you’re on a bike and you want to wave, make sure you use all your fingers”.  One of our friends, who has lived in Sun Valley for over 30 years, says the vibe has changed in the past year.  “Everyone is more on edge.  People feel entitled and gripe about everything,” she told us.  Still, the mountain and the trees are magnificent, so we chose to look at nature rather than rude people from California and Seattle.  This time of year the trees are beginning to turn and there is nothing more magnificent than quaking Aspen trees, with their full complement of fall colors, framed against the dark green pines.

So we spent the first few days taking in the beautiful views, playing some golf, and drinking Guinness.  And the our first weekend something wonderful happened – it snowed!  It wasn’t much but it contributed to a perfect Sunday – 48 degrees at the peak of the day, a roaring fire, and football on TV.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  As a bonus, the cold weather seemed to weed out the faint of heart.  On Monday morning, as we ventured into town, we noticed that it had cleared out.  Sun Valley was as we’d always remembered it in late September – quiet. Just the way we like it.

Next time: we venture further north and then wend our way home – on the interstate.

On the Road Again . . . Finally!

by Bob Sparrow

Kona Country Club

“It is not a good time to travel to the islands.  We know that the visitors who choose to come to the islands will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect when they visit Hawaii.” Hawaii governor, David Ige   Aug 24, ‘21

Given that there are a lot of places that I’m not welcome, Governor Ige’s admonishment meant little to me, and as I parsed his statement more closely, it was clear he was saying that we shouldn’t come, not that we couldn’t come.  We had already cancelled one trip to Hawaii last year, not again – Aloha Big Island!

Getting There is Half the Fun

I’m here to tell you that, in today’s world of travel, getting there is not ‘half the fun’ – it’s not even a small percentage of the fun.  We wore masks from the minute we stepped into the airport in Long Beach, until we reach the Big Island in Hawaii. We kept it on while we waited for our luggage, kept it on as we waited for the bus to take us to the car rental location, wore it on the bus, wore it while we waited in line for the rental car agent and the car.  Finally, in the car . . . mask off – whew!!  I felt like I was holding my breath that whole time!  But . . 

The gang (minus Linda Sparrow who took the photo) at the Malasada truck

It was all worth it as we (the ‘we’ on this trip was Chuck & Linda Sager, Ed & Stacie Hunter, John & Judy VanBoxmeer and Linda & me) finally inhaled that heavenly tropical air, saw the palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze, and actually had the feeling that . . . we had escaped.  There was one drawback, and that was that everyone in Hawaii had to wear a mask, inside and out – it’s was one of the only things that Governor Ige could still control.  But . . .

No masks on the golf course!!  Our first round was at the beautiful Mauna Lani Golf Course, with several holes right on the water – one of the most spectacular being #15 on the South Course, where it is said that more photos are taken there than any other golf hole in Hawaii.  Not sure who’s counting, but in spite of us taking our photo there, you’ll find that it didn’t make the cut for this blog.

In Search of Malasadas

Chuck, who is like a local in Hawaii, had introduced us to Malasadas (which roughly translates to ‘Portuguese Fried Dough’ – basically, they’re fancy doughnuts, but better!) when we were last here and so the next morning the men got up and headed down the road for where the Malasada truck & trailer usually park.  No truck.  We drove a little further with the thought that perhaps the ‘Malasada lady’ parked somewhere else today.  I’m not sure we were looking for her or whether we were just killing time as we visited the resorts of Mauna Kea and Hapuna, then returned to ‘the Malasada spot’, but no Malasada truck, no Malasada trailer, no Malasada lady!  It was a holiday (Labor Day), so maybe she wasn’t laboring this day.  Nonplussed, we drove to the local market and found packaged Malasadas – not bad, but definitely not the same.

Island green at Makani

Dear Diary

What I had written here about our week on the Big Island, sounded too much like a very detailed, boring diary as I reread it.  So, I’ll save you the agony of reading it.  There was lots of golf, eating and drinking – not necessarily in that order

For golf . . .

  • The hidden gem of a mountain golf course that I touted as one of my favorite golf courses of all time, Makani, lived up to all expectations
  • The 15th hole at Mauna Lani is spectacular
  • Another golf course gem, also introduced to us by Chuck Sager, was Kona Country Club, with several scenic oceanfront holes

For eating . . .

Fredricos at Mauna Kea

  • We did eventually find the Malasada truck – which I’m blaming for the several extra pounds gained
  • The ‘Cheeseburger Sliders’ at Tommy Bahama’s in Waikoloa were delicious!
  • Lunch at The Fish Hopper on the water in Kailua-Kona, good food, great view!
  • Dinner at Roy’s – it’s Roy’s!

For drinking . . .

  • Not sure, but . . . Volcanos? Hawaiian Mai Tais?  Pina Coladas? Bikini Blonde Beer? I vaguely remember a Fredrico, a new drink to me – I think it was delicious, but for some reason it all seems a bit fuzzy.

Rainbow Falls – which we didn’t see!

I was hoping to tell you about my adventures to the ‘Five Favorite Waterfalls’ on the Hilo side of the island that I had researched and planned a trip to, but alas that trip got scrapped for either golf, food, drinking or all of the above.

Maybe next time.

In spite of that, Governor Ige, we had the ‘typical kind of holiday we expected’!

 

THE MUSEUM OF SADNESS AND STRENGTH

Note:  I am publishing this post from 2016 in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2016-03-30 09.01.50 (Small)There is a quietness about the September 11th Memorial and Museum.  Visitors appear to be lost in thought as we wait for the doors to open.  Trepidation is etched on everyone’s face – do we really want to re-live that horrible day?  And yet we all file in, bracing ourselves for what we know will be a difficult and emotional visit.  The museum offers three options for viewing the exhibits; we chose a guided tour led by one of the volunteers.  Our guide was a young man from New Jersey who lost neighbors in the terrorist attack, so for him, this museum is personal.  I reflected that we are fortunate in our generation to be guided by such people; future generations will experience it from a more distant perspective.

Our guide started the tour at the bottom of the museum, in Foundation Hall,  where the famous “slurry wall” stands.  When the Trade Center was built in the mid-1960’s,  the slurry wall held back the Hudson River, which lapped at the side of the building.  After the attack on 9/11, when the site was being excavated, the workers were astounded to find that the slurry wall had survived.   Daniel Libeskind, the architect who led the redevelopment of the site, pushed to keep a portion of the slurry wall in place.  He proclaimed that it was a testament to the determination and resilience of a nation; a document “as eloquent as the Constitution itself”.

The Last Column

Also in Foundation Hall is the “Last Column,” a 36-foot girder that was the last to be removed from the site, marking the end of the recovery effort.  During the excavation it quickly became a makeshift memorial, plastered with Mass cards, rosary beads, flags, photos of missing innocents, and patches from fire and police units.  When it was finally cut down, it was laid on a flatbed truck, draped in black, with an American flag over it, and escorted by first responder honor guards to a place of safekeeping.  It now stands in Foundation Hall as a physical reminder of our resilience and hope.

There are many displays that feature recovered portions of the buildings – bent beams, the only remaining glass window and the “Survivor’s Staircase”, used by many to escape the burning towers.  But I suspect that the main reason most of us come to the museum is to pay tribute to the people who were lost that day.  After seeing massive beams bent and misshapen by the impact of planes and the heat of the fires, it gives new perspective to what the people trapped in those structures experienced.  I recall one of the shell-shocked firemen who survived the collapse of the towers saying, “How bad must it have been up there that people thought jumping out of a window from the 100th floor was the better alternative?”

          The Dream Bike

One particularly poignant display is of the motorcycle that belonged to Gerard Baptiste, a firefighter with Ladder 9 in Lower Manhattan.  Two weeks before 9/11 he bought a broken-down 1979 Honda motorcycle off the street for $100.  It wouldn’t start so he had to roll it to the firehouse.  The guys ribbed him endlessly about buying a worthless piece of junk.  Baptiste died at the Trade Center and shortly afterward, the surviving members of his firehouse decided to restore the bike in his honor.  With the help of Honda, some motorcycle shops and private donors, they were able to transform it into what is now known as “The Dream Bike”.  The bike was auctioned, with proceeds donated to the education fund for the children of firefighters from Ladder 9 who were lost on 9/11.  The winning raffle ticket, selected by Baptiste’s mother, went to a woman from California who donated the bike to the museum so everyone would know its story.

                The Wall of Faces

There is a room called “The Wall of Faces” filled with pictures of the victims.  It is hard see their smiling faces, knowing that their lives would end so tragically.  They are the faces of people who, on a gloriously sunny Tuesday morning,  kissed a loved one good-bye, walked out their front door, and were never seen again.  Down the hall from the “Wall of Faces” is an alcove, a small space with black walls and four benches.  On each of the four walls is a projection of video remembrances of the victims.  Each person who died is remembered with a picture and a bit of personal background information.  For most of them there is also an audio remembrance from a family member or friend.

I sat in the video room for a while, as the images and voices streamed past.  It was heartbreaking to hear a young woman talk about how much her children miss their dad and a father describe how proud he was of his lost son.  One woman remembered her husband through the story of a Thanksgiving dinner when they got into a spat because the gravy was missing from the dinner table.  They argued and both stalked off to the kitchen.  She said they imagined that all of the relatives thought they were in there fighting but, in fact, they were kissing.  She said “that’s just who we were”.  Some voices were very emotional as they described their loved one, some sounded wistful, and others like the woman with the gravy story, chose to remember a lighter moment.  No matter the emotion, the remembrances brought the victims back to life, and made the violent nature of their death all the more jarring.  Our guide told us that if we saw a guide wearing a tan vest, that person is a family member of a victim.  Some of them come every day as a way to work through their grief and talk about their loved one.                

I should note that there is a small portion of the museum that describes the rise of Al Qaeda and the planning of the 9/11 attacks.  There are photos of Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers, along with a video description of how they carried out their plot.  The photos of the hijackers are placed very low on the wall, much below eye level, so you can easily walk past them without having to look at their faces.  After what I seen prior to that exhibit, my instinct was to give those pictures a swift kick.  I questioned why we had to acknowledge them at all in a place of reverence and dedication.  But on further reflection, I realized what the museum designers intended – future generations will not recall the events of 9/11 from personal experience, they will need to learn about it from history books and places like the September 11th museum.   So the “who”, “why” and “how” need to be included to present a complete picture.

Someone's birthday  We finished our tour of the museum and went outside to visit the memorial plaza and the two reflecting pools, where the names of the victims are carved into the steel that surrounds them.  The pools are built on the former foundations of the two towers and are symbolic of the sadness one feels there.  One person has described the water cascading over the four sides of the pools as the endless tears shed over the victims.  Perhaps the most touching site I saw all day was the single white roses stuck sporadically into the carvings of names.  I had assumed that family members laid those flowers on the names of their loved one.  But in fact, each morning the staff of the museum places a white rose on the name of any victim who would have celebrated a birthday that day.  I found that to be such an elegant gesture and thoughtful beyond words.
The Freedom TowerWe left the museum and went for a very long walk back to our hotel, reflecting on the gamut of emotions we experienced on the tour.  I picked up a copy of USA Today in the lobby; the front page headline blared “US Military Families to Evacuate Turkey” due to possible attacks.  Sadly, the beat goes on.  But thankfully, so do we.  The new One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, is now complete and other buildings are going up where once the ground was but a scar.  Would I recommend going to the 9/11 Museum?  I guess that depends on your perspective.  One of the guest services workers at our hotel said he couldn’t go – that it is still too soon.  For me, it was well worth the visit; it is a place where we can reflect, mourn and vow to move forward.

SMALL MOMENTS – TWENTY YEARS LATER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This week, as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I am posting the memorial I wrote on the 10 year anniversary with updates on a surreal encounter and a promise kept.

melissa harrington hughesMelissa Harrington Hughes died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She didn’t work there; she was on a business trip for her San Francisco-based technology firm. She was an extremely accomplished 31-year-old, who had a passion for life and adventure.  Melissa married her sweetheart, Sean Hughes just a year prior to her death.

On that fateful morning of September 11 she was attending a meeting on the 101st floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck just six floors below her.  Many people remember her for the harrowing voicemail she left for Sean minutes after the building was struck.   In that voicemail she said, “Sean, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know I love you and I am stuck in this building in New York. A plane hit or a bomb went off – we don’t know, but there’s a lot of smoke and I just wanted you to know I love you always.”

The bank where I worked had several divisions housed in the World Trade Center; three of our employees died that day.  But somehow, amongst the overwhelming tales of tragedy on September 11, Melissa’s is the one that stood out for me.  I was not alone.  Melissa’s final words resonated with a lot of people; thousands wrote on her memorial website.  Her phone message to Sean was played on news casts numerous times in the weeks following 9/11.  Each time I heard it I teared up .

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

There were thousands of sad stories that day about love lost and children orphaned, but somehow Melissa’s story, above all the others, resonated with me.  I think that was partially due to some life experiences we had in common.  I had also made business trips from San Francisco to the North tower at the World Trade Center.  I remember navigating its Byzantine elevators and escalators as I rushed to early morning meetings, just as Melissa must have done that morning.  Melissa’s wedding photo also brought back memories for me; she and Sean were married in Napa, California, close to where I grew up, so I knew she also appreciated that beautiful part of the country.  But it was more than the similar business trips and her wedding venue that stayed with me; it was her voicemail to Sean that was seared into my brain.

MHH North Tower (Medium)

Her final words to Sean started me thinking about my own life.  My husband had taken early retirement in 1996.  By 2001 he was anxious to travel, spend time with our new grandson, and enjoy time with friends.  I wanted to continue working.  But I kept thinking about Melissa’s message.  What if that had been me?  Is that how I would want to die, without ever having enjoyed the life my husband and I had worked so hard to build?

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

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

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

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

2016 Update:  This past March I went to New York with my niece and her two daughters.  Visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was the highlight of the trip.  When I was planning our visit I read that it was preferable to purchase tickets in advance,  so on February 24 I ordered ours from their website.  On that same day I received a message that I had a new comment on my 2011 post about Melissa.  I thought that was a coincidence – that maybe something that I had typed when researching the September 11 Memorial had caused an old comment to be recirculated.  But it wasn’t an old comment  – it was this:  “I came across your blog after my son and I just prepared a required oral presentation for his English class about a life event of mine that had great impact. I think of Melissa almost every day –  I was her best friend since childhood.  She was a shining light and people were drawn to her. I miss her and the memories are still clear with detail. Thank you for seeing how her passion, love for life, and love for her husband and family was that shining light, even if it was her last words. She called her Dad and Mom and Sean from that burning building because she loved them deeply. She is well remembered and will never be forgotten.”  I still get chills when I read this note and think about the timing of it.  There are no coincidences in life, of that I am sure.

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

Note: On Saturday, September 11, I will publish my piece about the September 11 Memorial and Museum.

The Best of Travel, The Worst of Travel

by Bob Sparrow

Best & Worst

For most of us the past two years have been the worst years for travel. Not so much that we went to uninteresting places or ran into people who thought of us as ugly Americans; no, Covid kept us from going anywhere at all. When I can’t travel, I think about traveling, more specifically, I think about places I’ve been, good and bad, and places I want to go.

So, in order to gather information, not just for me, but for all of our readers, you have a job:

Tell us where your best and worst travel destination have been and why they were best or worst. I’ll start by giving mine.

Robben Island with Table Mt. in the background

Best travel destination

I have to honestly say that I have two that are tied for best. South Africa in 2013 – Great tour of Cape Town, a visit to Ernie Els winery, the top of Table Mountain and to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned, and a story about how one woman made a difference with ‘tea bags’. The South African people were amazing – so nice and so friendly! We left Cape Town and went to Notten’s Bush Camp in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, where we went on several safaris.  We saw the ‘Big 5’ – elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and African buffalo on our first trip into the savanna. Then on to Zimbabwe to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the WorldVictoria Falls – Spectacular! If you are a new reader, or want to reread the blog that I wrote about that trip, you can access it by copying and pasting these links:

Part 1 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=1702

Part 2 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=1725

Part 3 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=1751

Part 4 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=1803

Funicular up to Montecatini Alto

My other ‘best travel destination’ was to the Tuscany region of Italy – a trip we took in 2019 with a group of our neighbors, along with thirty-some-odd people from around the country. Our base was the great little town of Montecatini Terme, which is located between Florence and Pisa. Aside from visiting those two cities, we hit Siena, San Gemignani and Montecatini Alto – all unique in their own way. Our guide, Sergio, made the trip – he was informative and hilarious! After leaving Montecatini Terme, we spent several days in Cinque Terre – the beautiful Italian town that hangs on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean.  Great people we went with, great people we met, great food, great wine and a great guide. If you want more information on that trip, access the links below:

 

Part 1 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=8425

Part 2 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=8438

Part 3 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=8443

Part 4 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=8461

Part 5 https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=8479

Worst travel destination

“Enjoy shopping”

This one is easy. We were on a Mediterranean cruise in 2008 and made a stop in northern Africa to the city of Tunis in Tunisia. Off the ship we went to an open market where there were guards holding machine guns at the entrance and the exit of the market – I guess that’s in case you were planning of stealing something or a hostile takeover of the market!  We then went to a rug maker, who tried to sell us an ugly ‘magic carpet’ that they promised to ship home for us. Yeah, right!! We decided to stop at a café for a beer, which we ordered and paid for, but when our order came, it was a ‘non-alcoholic beer’! We told our server we wanted (and paid for) real beer and he said that because it was Sunday, they didn’t serve alcohol – something he might have mentioned when we ordered. Couldn’t wait to get back on the ship and on to our next destination.

Fortunately, we weren’t blogging yet, so no links!

OK, it’s your turn to share your travel adventures and misadventures in the ‘comment box’ below, let us know what your BEST and WORST travel destinations are – you don’t have to write a story about them if you don’t want to, you can just list them. Hopefully we can learn about places that should be on our ‘bucket list’ and about places we should make sure to avoid.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Burial of First Cavalry troops at Santo Tomas

In February 1945, over 3700 Allied civilians were held captive by the Japanese in the Santo Tomas prison camp in Manila, Philippines.  General MacArthur knew of their existence and feared that the Japanese would execute them, as they had other prisoners under their control.  MacArthur faced multiple obstacles in attempting a rescue: the Japanese had a stranglehold on the city, the monsoons had brought drenching rain to the area, and his troops were unfamiliar with the territory.  Still, he devised a plan to rescue the civilians and charged the First Cavalry to carry it out.  Just 66 hours after landing in the Philippines, the First Cav tanks broke through the gates of Santo Tomas and liberated the prisoners.  Once the civilians were safe, the military fought the Japanese for over a month, before securing the city.  I am very familiar with this piece of military history, as my husband and his family were among the 3700 who were saved.

The line-up in Kabul, August 21

It was impossible to watch the events in Afghanistan last week without wondering, “where is our modern-day MacArthur?”.  Our exit from Afghanistan has been a debacle, seemingly without intelligence or a plan.  It was always going to be messy, and we were never going to be able to extricate all of the Afghan people who helped us, but it didn’t have to be this bad.  As I write this on Sunday there are still thousands of U.S. citizens trapped by the Taliban, along with untold numbers of Afghani people who helped us and were promised safe passage out of the country.  The President’s message on Friday was filled with untruths.  One only had to juxtapose his comment about Americans’ ability to get out of Kabul with the live reporting by CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who reported that same hour that it was almost impossible to safely get inside the airport. Biden also claimed that there was no rift with our allies over our exit from Afghanistan.  Earlier that same day the Germans, French and British had blistered the U.S. for the way in which we were exiting, exposing not only our own citizens to harm, but those of our allies.  Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Biden’s plan “imbecilic”.   To be sure, there is plenty of blame to be placed on all three of Biden’s predecessors for the problems of the past 20 years, but the way in which we leave Afghanistan is squarely on his shoulders.

We are used to politicians covering their backsides, so Biden’s remarks weren’t that surprising.  What was striking were the actions of Secretary of Defense Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley.   Or more precisely, their inaction.  There are a lot of people calling for their resignations over the fiasco in Kabul, but under the Constitution, they answer to the Commander-in-Chief, and must carry out his orders.  At their press conference last week they exhibited the same enthusiasm for their mission as would a private ordered to empty latrines.  Assuming they disagree with the strategy and are just following orders, I don’t believe they should be fired.  I think they should resign.  When General “Mad Dog” Mattis disagreed with Trump’s policy on Syria, he resigned rather than carry out orders with which he vehemently disagreed.   That’s what people with principles do.  Instead, Austin was asked a question about rescuing all of the Americans and his response was, “we do not have the capability to go in (to Kabul) and get large numbers of people”.  Yes, General, we do.  In fact we have one of the most capable armies in the history of the world.  So clearly t’s not a matter of capabilities, it’s a matter of will.  Can you imagine any of the great U.S. Generals – Grant, Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton – making that statement?  Had MacArthur taken that approach, my husband might very well have died in the prison camp.  There is a report that a U.S. Army general called his counterpart in Britain, asking him to stop the rescue missions for their citizens because it was making the U.S. look bad.  The Pentagon denies that report; the British are standing by it.  My fervent hope is that this blog is rendered obsolete by Tuesday and that the generals have Special Ops teams at work getting people out.

             Women in Kabul, 2001

No matter the events of the next few weeks, we are a long way from knowing how all of this will play out.  In the short term, it’s safe to say that women and girls will have a very difficult time under the Taliban.   There are already reports of women who were turned away from their places of work and young girls denied entrance to their schools.  Young girls are being “married” to Taliban members.  God help them.  In the long run, we can only hope that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists bent on destroying us.

Ultimately, the fate of the Afghanistan lies with its people.  Perhaps the younger generation, more educated and aware of the broader world than their counterparts 20 years ago, will spark a rebellion against the barbarians now in charge.  Only time will tell.

Afghanistan has long been known as “the country where empires go to die”.  We are now one of them.  The shame lies not in our exit, but that the manner of it was not befitting the brave people who fought there.

 

 

 

 

Monday Knights

by Bob Sparrow

The stage is set

My only choice about a blog this week was to write about what has consumed me for . . . I was going to say the last several weeks, but, honestly, it’s been longer than that.

I had an idea at the beginning of the year that our band, Monday Knights (Bandmembers: Dan Autovino, Randy Davis, Larry Eiffert, Ron Vallandingham and me), could do a gig at our golf club by creating a version of America’s Got Talent, without the competition.  We would highlight and MC the show and call it Yorba Linda Country Club’s Got Talent.  Randy Davis and I pitched it to Rob Abbott, YLCC’s food & beverage manager and sold him on the idea.  I think the lack of any entertainment for the last year, due to the Coronavirus, had something to do with Rob agreeing to let our ‘rookie’ band have a Saturday night on the summer schedule.

So, we wrote a show with three phases, 1) us singing some songs, some comic banter and having ‘Elvis’ drop in, 2) showcasing those at YLCC who volunteered to show off their talent, and 3) morph into a ‘dance band’ and get the audience on the dance floor, dancing and singing along with us.

Elvis was in the building!

After a cocktail hour and a dinner, from our first song, we felt that the audience, which was about 120 strong, was with us.  To be fair, the audience was a bit stacked in our favor – much of the audience was golf members who were our friends, other friends who were not members of the club and I was more than pleased to have 18 people from my immediate neighborhood (‘The ‘Hood’) in attendance; so even if we weren’t very good, they might not say it.  Now that I think about it, they probably would! Also in attendance was our new General Manager, Tom Forburger, who, if we ever wanted to play there again, we needed to impress.

The first set went well, highlighted with an appearance by Elvis (Ron).  For the talent portion we had seven performers, six singers (Mary Stolo, Mark Holte, Francine Forquer, Richard Shuldiner, Sa Cool and Joe Leonardi), whose acts were interspersed with comedy from YLCC’s Member President, Bill Tragoes, in various costumes, Irish, Doctor and Pirate to match the joke he was telling.  All acts were very well received.  A special thanks to Shari Henkemeyer, who coordinated the whole event.

The final set was some old-time rock and roll – things like Mustang Sally, a Buddy Holly mash up and Johnny B. Goode.

Given that my last 60 days had included knee-replacement surgery, a bout with Sepsis and the stress of preparing for this event, I now not only feel better, but much less stressed.  I’m looking forward to Hawaii in a couple of weeks, assuming that the Aloha State stays open.

I can almost taste that first Mai Tai now!

But first, a big thank you to all those who attended and made it such a great evening!