DEAR INSTACART…

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Dear Instacart,

I thought this day would never come and I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to break up with you.  We’ve been through a lot together over the past few years.  You have tolerated the last minute changes to my shopping list and I have put up with your delivery fees, ridiculous upcharges and tipping requirements even for poor service.  Oh, we had some good times and I will always be grateful that we didn’t have to haul those 40 pound bags of potassium home from Costco, but no amount of heavy lifting can compensate for the seemingly brain-addled “customer service” delivery people you have in your employ.

I realize that COVID has caused all of us to make some changes to our lifestyle.  For those of us drawing Social Security that has meant staying home a bit more and relying on delivery services such as yours.  I do realize that has required you to hire a lot of people quickly to meet the demand.  But might I suggest that in addition to a drug test you also hold a mirror under the nose of any prospective employee just to make sure they’re functioning?  Or perhaps hold a flashlight up to their ear to see if a beam of light shines through to the other side, to determine if there is actually something in between.  Let me detail my last two experiences with your company.

In May I placed a  very large order – we were at the beginning of “hunkering down” and I wanted to ensure we had adequate supplies.  When the driver arrived my husband and I took turns wiping down the groceries before bringing them into the house (remember those fun days?). As the driver was backing out of our driveway I noticed that quite a few items were missing. I ran out into the street and flagged him down to tell him of the problem. It was then that he remembered that he had another large box of items for us in his trunk. TRUNK??? What happened to your promise of “your items will be kept in a temperature controlled environment” during delivery? In May, in Arizona, the only temperature in the trunk of a car is HOT. I wrote it off as a one time problem. But, alas, I was being way too optimistic.

Two weeks ago we needed more potassium so I ordered three bags plus seven other items. My shopper notified me that she started my order at 11:15.  Because I don’t have much to do these days I obsessively kept looking at my phone for updates as she shopped.  A person with blindfolds on could have shopped faster.  At first I thought maybe she was grazing the “tasting stations” but then remembered they are shut down. It got to be 11:45 and she had three items in the cart. I was screaming at the phone. That didn’t help. She didn’t conclude shopping until 12:10. I could have driven there, shopped and been home in that amount of time. I assumed (correctly, as it turns out) this person had trouble finding things so I called our guard gate and asked them to provide your driver with a very detailed map to our house.  Hansel and Gretl could not have done a better job at highlighting the trail.

It is normally a 20 minute drive to Costco but your driver must have detoured to … well, I don’t know quite where.  She didn’t arrive at the gate until 1 pm. It should take six minutes to get to our house from there. At 1:15 I assumed (again, correctly) that your driver was lost. I got into my car and drove around trying to spot her. No luck. Finally at 1:25 she called to tell me since we weren’t home she was leaving our groceries in our driveway. We were IN our driveway. She asked me to confirm the address – which was on both our Instacart account and the map she was given – and sure enough, she had the wrong house number. Finally, she arrived at our home, unloaded the potassium and a small box of other items and then said, “Oh yeah, I have your case of water in the back of my truck”. I assumed she meant the back seat of the cabin but no, it was actually in the flatbed of her truck, roasting in the 106 degree temperature for the past hour and fifteen minutes. The water was so hot I could have brewed tea. We refused the case, explaining that it’s not healthy to drink out of hot plastic bottles.  She stared at me blankly.  I was speaking Greek as far as she was concerned.  To her credit, she refunded our money and took the case with her, no doubt to foist it on another unsuspecting customer.

So, dear Instacart, I hope you understand that unless and until you can hire people who have some modicum of common sense, we’re finished.  Might I suggest that you start with simple map reading.  I am not holding my breath.

Signed,

Just Another Satisfied Customer

 

On the Path to Social Dysfunction

by Bob Sparrow

(Because I usually write about where I’ve been or where I’m going, I don’t often sit around pondering my navel, but Covid-19 has changed all that.  In fact, it’s got me thinking about today’s two most-used words, ‘Social Distancing’.  Here’s what I pondered).

“We’re all in this together.” How many times have you heard that?  It’s an oxymoron, spoken mostly by morons.  We are social beings and nothing could be further from the truth than us ‘being in this together’.  We have been ordered to stay apart, with serious repercussions if we don’t!  You could wind up in jail if you disobey – solitary confinement probably!

But the reality is, we’ve experienced social distancing for some time – perhaps since the middle of the last century.  Yes, we, as a species, have been ‘distancing’ ourselves from each other for at least the past 50-60 years – so we should be pretty good at it by now.  Don’t believe me?  Let these ‘Then and Now’ photos tell the story, a story that many of you, who have passed the mid-life crisis phase of your life, have witnessed firsthand.

Remember when you stood around and talked to your friends?  Today’s kids have been physically close, but socially distant.

 

Remember when the neighborhood would get together to play a game?  Now a kid can play a game with another kid half way around the world from his bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember when office meetings were a time when the whole staff came together?  Now you can attend the meeting ‘digitally’ in your underwear.  I’m sure you’ve heard that this, like so many other ‘socially distant’ activities, is the ‘new normal’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember when the family used to go to a game?  Now there is a cardboard cutout in your place and you will root through your phone.

 

Remember when you used to dine out?  Now your meals are delivered to your home.

 

 

Remember the hug?  It’s now been replaced with the elbow bump.  So personal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know what you’re saying – this has all be brought on by Covid-19.  Yes, Covid-19 has exacerbated this issue, but social distancing has been going on for way too long and unless we stop its momentum we’re going to find ourselves as protagonists in an isolated dystopian world, probably in a bubble.    Experts say that Social Distancing leads to loneliness, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder, domestic violence, child abuse, increase in suicide and a broad range of other mental and behavioral disorders.  In other words, Social Distancing is NOT GOOD FOR US!

I’m not advocating ignoring the health warnings that have been issued, as random and illogical as some may seem, I’m just saying, for our own health and welfare, when this is all over we need to get back to ‘socially magnetizing’.

 

HOW’S YOUR YEAR SO FAR?

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Once in a while that great wasteland of Facebook has a pretty spot on post.  I have always “written from scratch” but this was too good to pass up so I’m sharing it today.  Unfortunately I don’t know the author but it’s obviously someone with a pretty good sense of humor!
Dear Diary 2020 Edition,
In ❄️ January, 🔥 Australia caught on fire. I don’t even know if that fire was put out, because we straight up almost went to war with Iran 🇮🇷 . We might actually still be almost at war with them 🤔. I don’t know, because 👩 Jen Aniston and 👨🏻 Brad Pitt spoke to one another at an awards 🏆 show and everyone flipped the crap out 😲, but then there was this thing happening in 🦇 🇨🇳 China, then 👑 Prince Harry and Megan ✌🏼 peaced out of the Royal family, and there was the whole impeachment trial 👩‍⚖️, and then corona virus 🦠 showed up in the US ✔️“officially,” but then 🏀 Kobe died 😭and UK 🇬🇧 peaced out of the European Union.
In February, 🌽 Iowa crapped 💩 itself with the caucus results and the president was acquitted and the 👩🏼‍💼Speaker of the House took Ten. Whole. Years. to rip up a speech , but then The👨🔬 🌎WHO decided to give this virus a name COVID-19, which confused 🤔some really important people 👔 in charge of, like, our lives, into thinking there were 18 other versions before it, but then Harvey Weinstein was found guilty👨🏻‍⚖️, and 🇺🇸 Americans started asking if Corona beer 🍺 was safe to drink🤦🏻‍♀️, and everyone on Facebook became a doctor 👨‍⚕️ who just knew the 🤒flu killed way more people than COVID 1 through 18.
In March, stuff hit the fan👿. Warren dropped out of the presidential race and Sanders was like Bernie or bust 💥, but then Italy 🇮🇹 shut its whole country down 🚷, and then COVID Not 1 through 18 officially became what everyone already realized –  😱a pandemic – and then a nationwide state of emergency 🆘was declared in US 🇺🇸 , but it didn’t really change anything, so everyone was confused or thought it was still just a flu 💁🏻‍♀️, but then COVID Not 18 was like ya’ll not taking me seriously? 💡 I’m gonna infect the one celebrity everyone loves and totally infected Tom Hanks👨🏻, get y’all to close all of the schools so y’all can 🙏🏼 appreciate teachers 👩🏫 for once (because you can’t teach them anything other than how to use a touch screen🤦🏻‍♀️ ) close down all of salons so you can’t get your 💇‍♂️ hair or your nails done💅 , everyone had to work from home and attend Zoom meetings in their underwear. The 📉 DOW took a crap 💩 on itself, and most of us still don’t understand why the stock market is so important or even a thing 🤔 (I still don’t), We were then all introduced to 🐅 Tiger King and the ONE thing we can all agree on this year , 👍🏼Carol totally killed her husband⚰️ ….. whacked him! And then Netflix was like you’re welcome, and we all realized there was no way we were washing our hands enough in the first place because all of our hands are now dry and gross and we’re all searching for lotion.
In 🌧 April, Bernie finally busted✌🏼 himself out of the presidential race 🏃 , but then NYC 🗽became the set of The Walking Dead 💀 and we learned that no one has face masks 😷, ventilators, or toilet paper, or THE FREAKING SWIFFER WET JET LIQUID , and by now our 🦁outgrowth is showing, so there’s a shortage on 📦 box hair dye and all of our hair dressers are like , 😱 NO DONT DO IT!!! But, then Kim Jong-Un died, but then he came back to life … or did he? Who knows, because then the Pentagon released 🎥 videos of UFOs and nobody cared, and we were like man, it’s only April….
In 💐 May, the biblical end times kicked off , historical locust swarms, we learned of murder hornets 🐝 and realized that 2020 was the start of the Hunger Games🙈 however people forgot to let us know. People legit started to protest lockdown measures with 🔫 AR-15s, 🏀⚾️sports events were cancelled everywhere. But then people all over America finally reached a breaking point with race issues and violence. There were 🗣protests in every city🌃 ,which was confusing to some of us because people were definitely gathering in 👫crowds of more than 🖐🏼🤚🏼10 and for sure closer than 6 feet away ⬅️➡️from each other. Those people must have forgotten about the 😖pandemic called COVID Not One Through 18. Media 📺 🗞 struggled with how to 🤬focus on two important things at once, people in general struggle to focus on more than one important thing. A dead whale 🐋 was found in the middle of the Amazon rain forest 🌳 after monkeys 🐒 stole COVID 1 Through 19 from a lab 🔬 and ran off with them, and either in May or April (no one is keeping track of time now) that a giant asteroid ☄️ narrowly missed the Earth🌍.
In ☀️ June, common sense just got thrown 🤾🏼 straight out the window and somehow 😷 wearing masks became a 🏛political thing, but then everyone sort of remembered there was a pandemic,  then 👨🔬scientists announced they found a mysterious undiscovered mass at the center of the earth, and everyone was like 🙅🏽‍♂️🙅🏻‍♀️🚧DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH IT, but then everyone took a pause to realize that people actually believed Gone With The Wind 💨 was non-fiction, but then it was also announced that there is a strange 🛰radio signal coming from somewhere in the universe 🌌 that repeats itself every so many days 🗓 , and everyone was like 👽 DON’T YOU DARE ATTEMPT TO COMMUNICATE WITH IT‼️🚫 but then America reopened 🙌🏼from the shut down that actually wasn’t even a shut down, and so far, things have gone spectacularly … not that great 👎🏼. All of the Karen’s came out at once, and people started tearing down 🔨 statues. Everyone is on Facebook arguing 🤼‍♀️ about masks 👃🏼, but then Florida 🏖 was like hold my beer 🍺 and let me show you how we’re number one 🥇 in all things, including new Not Corona Beer Coronavirus. Then we learned there was a massive dust cloud ☁️ coming straight at us 📍from the Sahara Desert 🐫 , which is totally normal, but this is 2020, so the 👻 ghost mummy thing is most likely in that dust cloud. We then 📚 learned of meth-gators 🐊 , and I’m like that is so not on my flipping 2020 Bingo card 😡 can we use it as the free space?? 🤷🏻 Then we learned that the Congo’s worst ever Ebola 🚨 outbreak is over 😓, and we were all like, there was an Ebola outbreak that was the worse ever? 👀 … and don’t forget we just discovered FLYING SNAKES! 🐍, seriously! FLYING SNAKES!!!!
So here comes July…. at this point we are over it , just tell us what’s next … 👽 Aliens? 🔱Zeus? ☄️ Asteroids? Artificial Intelligence becomes self aware? Can it just be something cool 😎 or fun for once? Maybe even a good laugh , like hahaha 😂 April Fools! We all actually wouldn’t mind that joke at this point.
Also, why didn’t I know about the whale in the Amazon? Or a few other things because I just can’t keep up anymore!
BTW, a squirrel with Bubonic plague was found in CO… because, you know, it’s 2020.

Birthday on the Central Coast

by Bob Sparrow

The Central Coast

These days the trips are shorter, requiring no air travel, but we’re lucky we live in such a diverse area – not as diverse as say, Seattle, that now has a foreign country in the middle of downtown, but diverse none the less.  The occasion for this trip up to the Central Coast, was brother, Captain Jack Sparrow’s last birthday as a 70-something.

Three hours on the freeway north through traffic that was Covid-light on a Monday morning, brought us to Santa Barbara – where we wondered if anything was open to grab a bite to eat.  Much to our surprise, Santa Barbara’s hot spot, State Street, had been closed off to auto traffic, but restaurants had open their doors and spread out onto the street for foot traffic, making rows of sidewalk cafes dotted with an occasional street musician.  It was a beautiful, Mediterranean climate afternoon, giving State Street a Paris/Tuscany ambiance.

It took a lot of wine for her to put on the 49er sweatshirt!

After lunch, another hour up a beautiful, coastline stretch of Highway 1, finds us in Santa Maria, home to Jack & Sharon.  Late afternoon finds their group of friends, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ stopping by for pre-birthday cocktails.  Later, dinner of BBQ’d hamburgers was highlighted by a cool Central Coast evening that required Linda, a staunch Minnesota Viking fan, to don a 49ers sweatshirt.  Loved it!!

The next morning we decided to take the ‘birthday boy’ for a nice breakfast in Pismo Beach.  We found the beautiful ocean-front hotel, The Lido, which was serving breakfast on their scenic ocean-view patio.  Again, perfect weather and a great menu made for a happy birthday breakfast.

That evening, Sharon’s daughter, Debra, her husband, Steve and one of their four sons, Corey, who all live in Santa Maria, came over for a BBQ rib dinner with lots of great wine.

The birthday breakfast on the Lido patio

During the course of the weekend Jack received birthday calls from our sister, Suzanne (you remember her from last week’s blog), his kids, Shelley Watson and Matt Sparrow, both living in Arizona, as well as several others, including his two excellent receivers from his high school football team, Pete Ferrarese, still living in our home town of Novato and Chuck Coleman, in Florida. I’m sure they discussed all the touchdowns they were responsible for.

While you many not get coast-to-coast birthday calls from old high school teammates, if you live in the Golden State, you can certainly take advantage of being relatively close to the beautiful Central Coast – take a road trip, you’ll love it!

MAKING MEMORIES

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

         Fireworks at Tahoe City

Last week I received two phone calls that saddened me.  Not in any big way – no deaths or illnesses, just to put it in perspective, but sad nonetheless.  The first was from a friend visiting grandchildren.  He lamented that the kids were bored and depressed.  Due to the COVID risk in their area they must stay at home, are not allowed to see their friends and if they do venture out with their parents they must wear a mask.  He asked me: “What kind of a childhood is this?”.  The next day I spoke with a friend who has a home in Lake Tahoe and she told me that the annual 4th of July fireworks display had been cancelled because they did not want large crowds gathering in town.  These two calls got me thinking about what it must be like to be a young child during this time, and what the long term repercussions might be.  As I think back to my childhood, the 4th of July fireworks at Tahoe were so special that the memory of them still brings a smile to my face.

                Meeks Bay in the 1950’s

We spent many weekends during the summer at our place at Tahoe.  We would often visit Meeks Bay Resort, a throwback destination that consisted of a wonderful, white sandy beach, an old hotel, an arcade room, snack bar and kayak rentals.  The highlight for me was when my dad gave me a nickel to buy popcorn out of the machine on the pier.  The bag invariably was filled to the brim and I spilled a good portion of it wending my way back to our spot on the beach.  Still…I can remember the smell and the sand in my feet to this day.  As I grew older I attended dances at the outdoor pavilion and spent hours on the beach, smothered in baby oil to get a  perfect tan.   More often that not I was burned to a crisp, a situation that I would recall some 50 years later when I was diagnosed with melanoma.  But when you’re young ignorance is bliss.

    Me…enjoying Rocky Beach

Most of the time our family went to a local beach on the west shore that was not sandy at all.  In fact, we called it Rocky Beach for obvious reasons.  The good part was that it was never crowded.  But it was never crowded for a reason:  you had to sit on lumpy rocks and there was no bathroom.   I hate to think of all the pee that went into that pristine lake.  And, oh yeah, the water was freezing cold, as it tends to be at Tahoe in early July.  It was so cold that if our parents and friends overindulged the night before it required a “quick dip” in the water at Rocky Beach to bring them back to their senses.  The photo of me at Rocky Beach shows just how much “fun” it was to wade into the freezing water.

       Pop – the “muscle man”

But the highlight of every summer was the 4th of July fireworks at Commons Beach in Tahoe City.  The fireworks show has been put on by the fire department every year since the 1930’s.  There is nothing quite like seeing the bursting display over the lake, as it produced a mirror image on the water’s reflection.  Truly, it was breathtaking.  And the advantage of being a kid is that we weren’t the least bit bothered by the loud bangs and soaring rockets that went on for an hour.  The first fireworks show I remember was in the mid-50’s and we continued that great tradition until 1972 when the cabin was sold.  This photo of our dad, joking around about his “magnificent” physique, was taken in 1971 over 4th of July weekend.   To this day, Tahoe fireworks are among my best memories.

Even Dash knows to mask up!

Which gets me back to the kids of today.  Sure, COVID will end at some point.  We will get a vaccine and hopefully we can move on.  But who knows when?  In the mean time, our young kids are missing school, missing friends and missing out on a summer of making memories that will last a lifetime. This year they missed the 4th of July fireworks all over the country.   And the thought of that makes me very sad.   Hopefully we can lick this thing quickly so the kids can have some fun and enjoy their carefree days of childhood.  After all, we know that soon enough life has a way of getting harder and they will need some wonderful memories to bolster their resilience.    Be safe and, like Dash the Wonder Dog, wear a mask!

 

Climbing Whitney – Part II

by Bob Sparrow

Mt. Whitney at dawn

It was not a great night’s sleep, thinking about making sure we’d wake up on time, and hoping all conditions would be right for our assault on Whitney.

Three-thirty a.m. found us getting dressed for the day’s hike, putting on our headlamps, eating a small breakfast of an apple, some nuts and some trail mix, going to the trail-head, where there was a scale to weigh our packs (about 25 pounds – mostly water), then heading up the mountain.

We hiked about two hours in total darkness, before we witnessed a beautiful sunrise behind us exposing our goal for the day – the top of Mt. Whitney.  We were fortunate that we had a perfect day, not too hot, no rain, no lightning, no bears and no altitude sickness . . . so far.

Hiking to Trail Crest

We knew from our training that we hiked at different paces, with Mark ‘Rabbit’ Johnson, being the fastest.  It was hard for him to slow his pace down, so he ended up joining another group of hikers that were ahead of us and hiking more at his pace.  Sullivan, Michael, Pacelli and I stayed together until we reached Consultation Lake at Trail Camp where we filled our water containers, put in some water-purifying pills and left them by the lake to pick up on our return trip.  It was here that Bob ‘Bobby MacD’ Pacelli, a diabetic, said that his blood sugar was not responding well to the altitude and decided that he would not go any further.  Since we did not want anyone hiking the trail alone, Patrick said that since he had already done the hike, he would hike back down with MacD.  Mark was ahead of us, so after a short rest, Rick and I looked at each other, then at the switchbacks ahead of us and said, “Let’s do this!”

The ’99 Switchbacks’ are probably the hardest part of the hike.  You’re over 11,000 feet, you’ve been hiking for 4-5 hours and it’s back and forth until you reach ‘Trail Crest’ at 13,600 feet.  Rick and I are about half way up the switchbacks and Rick says to me, “I’m feeling a little dizzy”.  We stop and sit down.  I know Rick is not fatigued, he is in the best shape of any of us; he runs marathons, works out regularly and has ‘zero’ body fat.  We sit down at the end of one of the switchbacks and realize that he may be suffering from ‘altitude sickness’ and we need to make the tough decision to either head back down the mountain or continue the hike.

Guitar Lake

After a few minutes, Rick says, “I want to go on; I’ll be fine if we go slow – you lead and I’ll follow.” We take our time getting to the end of the switchbacks at Trail Crest. We have reached the crest of the range and can now see Guitar Lake on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.  Rick is doing OK, but we take a short rest at Trail Crest then continue along the ridge, running into Mark on his way back down.  We hit a little snow, but soon reach the summit.  Rick says he feels fine, but he looks a little pale.   We sit down, exhausted, on a large, flat granite boulder at the summit of Mt. Whitney and pull out our lunch and start to eat as we enjoy the spectacular view, but realize that we’re only half way through the hike – it was the hardest part, but even so it’s a long time on your feet.

I’m two bites into my sandwich and Rick says, “We gotta get out of here”.  The altitude sickness had returned at 14,505 feet.  So we throw everything into our packs and head down the mountain – rather quickly.  As we descend, Rick’s stride quickens and color returns to his face.

The Greeter & Avalanche at the Smithsonian building at the summit

We’re about half way down the mountain when we run across a high school-aged boy sitting on the side of the trail.  We stop to ask if he is OK and he says he is just exhausted and his group left him there.  Rick, now feeling better than ever, puts the kid’s pack on top of his and tell the kid to get up and we’ll escort him down the rest of the way.  The three of us finish the hike around 4:30 in the afternoon –13 hours after we started.  We get the kid back to his group, and we find ours, who have packed up our campsite and loaded the van.

‘Wheels’ Affentranger, takes our packs and loads them into the van as we head down Highway 395 for home.  Bobby MacD insists we stop at a McDonald’s for dinner on our way back.

We were exhausted, so not much lively conversation on the way home, just a great feeling of accomplishment with great friends.

 

 

 

Climbing Whitney – Part 1

by Bob Sparrow

Bobby MacD, Trail Boss, Avalanche, Wheels, The Greeter, Rabbit

It was 12 years ago this month that an intrepid group of erstwhile hikers set out to climb the highest mountain in the contiguous United State – Mt. Whitney.  The idea started at a neighborhood holiday party in 2007, when Patrick Michael mentioned that he and a friend had climbed Mt. Whitney earlier in the year.  Several of us at the party said we’d like to do that, so Patrick said, we’ll have to start training now.  Which we did over the next six months, acquiring hiking skills and nicknames.

The group was made up of the six guys from our ‘hood.  Because he had done this hike before and was doing all the research and getting permits, etc., Patrick was nicknamed ‘Trail Boss’.  The rest of the group was Mark ‘Rabbit’ Johnson, thus named  because of the fast-paced hiking stride; Rick ‘The Greeter’ Sullivan, as he wanted to stop and talk to everyone he met on the trail; Bob ‘Bobby MacD’ Pacelli, since his idea of a good trail meal was a MacDonald’s Big Mac and fries; Larry ‘Wheels’ Affentranger, because he was not going to do the hike, but he wanted to be part of the ‘road trip’ so he committed to drive us home after the hike; I was called ‘Avalanche’ based of the way I went down hills – in a rather speedy and haphazard manner.

“Where’s the guy covered in honey?

We drove out of Orange County connecting to Highway 395 to Lone Pine in June on a Friday morning.  We checked into our motel in time to stretch our legs, have a few beers and go to dinner.  We had some wine with dinner and joked with one another about who we were going to spread honey on during the hike to attract any bears we might encounter.  After dinner we walked to a local saloon and had a few after-dinner drinks . . . maybe more than a few.  We were feeling so good after the drinks that we went arm-in-arm, singing down Highway 395 in the middle of the night.  Not the best of training practices for people who were planning to do the most arduous hike of their lives on Sunday.

Saturday morning we drove the 13 miles from Lone Pine to Whitney Portal – a campground, which sits at about 8,400  feet above seal level, and is at the trail-head to Mt. Whitney.  We would spend the day and night there getting acclimated to the altitude.  We set up two tents, three guys to a tent, and then decided to hike the beginning of the trail to Whitney to get familiar with the ground we would be hiking the next morning in the dark.

Whitney Portal quiet campsite

That trail crossed small streams several times during that first hour, so it was important to make sure we got the lay of the land so we could negotiate it in the dark with just our headlamps on.  Getting your feet wet at the beginning of a hike like this could prove disastrous the rest of the day.  We got a good look at the mountain we were going to attempt to summit the next day and it looked awesome . . . and foreboding.

Although it is the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., it can still be hiked in one day.  The total up and back is 22 miles with gains of approximately 6,000 feet in elevation from Whitney Portal to the summit of 14,505 feet.  From the highest point in the contiguous U.S. you can see the lowest point in the entire U.S., Death Valley, which is only 80 miles away as the crow flies.

We had an early dinner, told some lies around the campfire and thought about the odds given for hiking Whitney in a day – about a one-in-three success rate! Why?

The reasons are numerous, ranging from fitness to weather (too hot, too raining, too much snow, lightening <which would cancel all hikes>), to bears to altitude sickness.  Since we were going to be at altitudes none of us had been before, this was a real concern – the more we learned about it, the more concerned we were.  There are basically 3 kinds of altitude sickness:

1. Acute Mountain Sickness – this is the mildest type, you basically feel like you’re hungover, which is not a way to feel if you’re going to hike 22 miles

2. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema – this is a build up of fluid in the lungs, this can be dangerous, even life-threatening

3. High Altitude Cerebral Edema – this is fluid on the brain and is definitely life-threatening.

We all took Diamox, which is a pill that helps your body adjust to high altitude faster, but it’s no guarantee against altitude sickness.

Well, that gave us plenty to think about, so given our antics the night before, we were in bed early as we had a 3:30 a.m. wake up call.

(Part II on Thursday)

THE BLONDE BODY AT BARTLETT LAKE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Bartlett Lake

Beautiful Bartlett Lake

Here in the COVID capital of the nation we are hard pressed for something to do.   So last week we packed Dash the Wonder Dog in the car and drove the 30 miles up to Bartlett Lake, a picturesque body of water known for it’s massive display of wildflowers.  Of course, that only happens in March so by June we were left with the stubby remnants.  Still, it beat walking from the living room to the bedroom as an activity.  As we drove into the marina I recalled the death of Margaret Lesher at this spot back in 1997.  I hadn’t thought about her in years, but as I did so, I still marveled at her life.  It was a cross between a Danielle Steel romance and a John Grisham murder mystery.

Margaret

Margaret and Dean Lesher

I first saw Margaret Lesher back in 1995.  I knew who she was, of course, because she had been married to Dean Lesher, publisher of 27 newspapers in California, most notably the Contra Costa Times.  They were prominent members of the community, forming a charitable foundation and sponsoring the performing arts center in Walnut Creek.  In 1993 Dean died at the age of 90.  They had been married for more than 20 years and by all accounts, despite the 31 year age difference, were devoted to one another.  After Dean died, Margaret was at loose ends, seeking solace in endless cosmetic surgeries, designer clothes and religion.  She sold the newspaper chain in 1995, and she was reportedly worth as much as $100 million.

I was seated near her at a charity luncheon that day in 1995 and as she swept into the room you couldn’t help but notice her – Chanel suit, perfectly coiffed blonde hair and sparkly jewelry.  Lots of sparkly jewelry.  It was a Barbie doll look that I would come to know well when I moved to Scottsdale a few years later.  But at the time I looked at her as a mongoose might size up a snake – completely transfixed.  As a teenager she had been crowed “The Peach Queen” in her small Texas town and at age 62 she still had that beauty contestant strut.

Redone Margaret

Margaret,  at her marriage party on Valentine’s Day

I didn’t give Margaret much thought after that until I read about her death in 1997 at Bartlett Lake in Arizona.  Margaret had been a very lonely widow.  No amount of shopping or surgeries could make up for a lack of companionship.  So when she signed up for a high-end trail ride in May 1996, she was vulnerable to the charms of a 39 year old buffalo-taming rodeo cowboy, TC Thorstenson.  A more unlikely pair would be hard to imagine and Margaret’s friends and family thought it a passing fancy.  But as that year wore on, TC worked his charm on Margaret and she lavished him with gifts and affection – she was completely besotted.  That October, on a trip to Hawaii, TC proposed marriage and told her it was a one time only offer.  Margaret accepted the proposal.  What she didn’t know was TC had been married twice before, not once, as he had told her.  Moreover, his second wife had filed three complaints against him with the police for beating her.

Margaret’s friends and family were shocked when they learned of the marriage.  To sooth everyone she threw a lavish wedding party at her Orinda home on Valentine’s Day 1997, complete with TC’s buffalo performing stunts in the foyer.  Not long after that, TC convinced Margaret to buy a small ranch for $1.8M in North Scottsdale.  She moved there with him, redecorating it in a cowboy style that he loved and buying him more toys, including a $6,000 pool table.  TC occupied himself with his buddies and his horses, spending little time with Margaret.  By the end of April when friends from California came to visit, Margaret admitted to them that the marriage had been a mistake.  It was about this same time that Margaret became aware of TC’s second marriage and his history of abuse.

Margaret flew back to California in early May to attend a Lesher Foundation board meeting.  She also took the opportunity to meet with her attorney to pick up a proposed “post-nuptial” agreement that would sharply limit TC’s benefits in a divorce.  He had repeatedly refused to sign it when they had been in California and when she returned to Scottsdale with it in hand he again refused, causing a heated argument between them.

TC Thorstenson

TC Thorstenson, relaxing in Cave Creek

On Tuesday, May 13th, exactly four years to the day after Dean Lesher’s death, TC and Margaret took off for an impromptu camping trip up to Bartlett Lake.  They hitched the boat to their truck and took off in the late afternoon.  After tying the boat’s mooring line to a rock, they pitched camp away from the water, lit a campfire, and unrolled their sleeping bags.  From here on out, what really happened is open to conjecture.  Thorstenson said he woke at 3:30 a.m. to find that Margaret wasn’t in her sleeping bag. Thinking she might have gone to the truck to sleep, he looked for her there.  Eventually he gathered up their belongings and drove to the nearest sheriff’s station.  Later that day, Margaret’s body was found near the shoreline, clad only in her underwear and submerged in 8 feet of water.  The subsequent inquiry cleared TC and ruled her death an accident.  To this day Margaret’s friends and family are skeptical.

TC still lives in this area and continues to train horses.  He sold the ranch he bought with Margaret several years ago for over $8M.  In 2013 he opened a bar in Cave Creek, Hogs and Horses, which has since closed.   In 2014 two young women visited his bar and TC offered them free margaritas.  The women became separated and when one wanted to go home, TC offered to give her a lift.  Instead, he took her to his home and accosted her.  She was able to get away and later that night he was charged with indecent exposure, assault and varying degrees of DUI.

Some times the more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

 

Jailbreak!

by Bob Sparrow

They say that when one door closes, another one opens.  Well, more than one door has closed on a lot of us lately without anything opening.   But, last week we started to hear the sound of doors opening.  That’s when Linda said, “Let’s go to Vegas”.  I screamed, “Yes!” and then asked, “Is it open?”  “Partially” was the reply.  Enough for me – road trip!

So we headed out on Monday morning for ‘Sin City’

MONDAY: We stopped at Primm Valley Country Club, an old haunt that has an interesting history. The two courses there were designed by noted golf course architect, Tom Fazio.  Prior to building Primm, he was hired by Steve Wynn to build a new golf course for him in Nevada, on the condition that he would not build another golf course in the state.  But Primm is just across the border in California, so Fazio could build the courses there – and did.   We arrived there around noon and got out immediately on this perfect-weather day and played an enjoyable round.

South Point bowling lanes that we never saw

After golf we headed across the street, and the border, into Nevada to the Primm Valley Resort & Casino.  After passing the physical (having our temperature taken) we were allowed in.  Had a cold beer and donated a little money to help them get through these tough times – it was the least we could do.  We headed into Las Vegas to the South Point Hotel, a place that has become our ‘go to’ hotel when playing our annual ‘Cinco de Mayo/Kentucky Derby golf tournament, which was cancelled this year – so we felt we owed them some money.  It has great restaurants, but the biggest attraction for me is the 60 bowling lanes upstairs – Nah, just kidding, I hate bowling.

Baked Potato

We had a fabulous dinner at the Silverado Steak House, which included the best baked potato I’d had in years, and then proceeded to help South Point through the hard times it had been going through (actually donating a little more than I was comfortable with), then spent the night somewhere other than our own home for the first time in over three months.

Empty ‘Downtown’ Las Vegas

TUESDAY:  We decided to check out a number of ‘landmarks’ in Vegas, starting with a drive down ‘The Strip’ – very quiet; some hotels had just opened, some were still closed – traffic was virtually non-existent.   After cruising the strip we headed to Red Rock, a hotel-casino west of town at the foothills of the mountains – a great resort, but a little far off the beaten track – even fewer people here, we managed to continue our contribution to the ‘casino go fund me’ pool.  It was a bit eerie to see such a huge hotel/casino almost empty . . . just like my wallet was getting.

We headed into ‘Downtown’ Vegas, because . . . well, just because it’s there.  Actually. when we get there, there really isn’t much to see, including people.  But we continue to pump some more money into the Nevada economy and then head back to our hotel, down the strip – which is easy to traverse with no traffic.

We made a mandatory stop on the way at Margaritaville, because . . . well, it has Jimmy Buffett videos going all the time, great Cheeseburgers in Paradise, Landshark beer and a blender of margaritas that was about the right size to quench the thirst I’d developed during our philanthropic tour.

“There’s booze in the blender”

We had such a great dinner at the Silverado Steak House the night before, that we decided to do it again, with different entrees, but another great baked potato!

My fortunes turned a bit after dinner, not enough to be labeled a ‘winner’, but enough to buy gas to get home in the morning.

OK, it’s not a cruise in the Baltic, a visit to the Italian countryside or a trek through the Himalayas, but it’s a start.  Hopefully, there are better days ahead for us all.

 

 

STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was incredibly excited as I watched the NASA/SpaceX astronauts speeding into the atmosphere last week.  As a person who grew up during the space age, I never tire of seeing a rocket launch.  The technology behind it all confounds me and I marvel at the bravery of the people who willingly jump into a hunk of metal and hurl into the great unknown.  As the week went on and they successfully met up with the International Space Station I found a new reason to admire them – they were no longer on Earth.  Let’s face it – it’s been a crappy year.  A really crappy year.  The notion of being able to leave Earth for a bit is very tantalizing.  I know I’m not alone.  Last week the financial giant Market Watch reported that anti-anxiety medication prescriptions have soared 34% during the COVID crisis.  Antidepressants and anti-insomnia drugs are also at all time highs.  There was some speculation that the pipeline of those drugs might dry up .  On the assumption that we might all need some coping mechanisms right now I decided to do some research on that topic for this week’s post.  I hope it helps.

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.  Okay Captain Obvious, we all KNOW that endless exposure to the news is not healthy.  That said, it’s been hard to turn away from the news as it’s the only source we have for getting up-to-date information about where the virus is and how it is progressing.  Add the protests and looting to the mix and it becomes akin to watching a train wreck – we just can’t look away.  That said, every expert I read advises that while it’s important to stay informed about current events, it’s just as important to take a break from it.  So, read a book, stream a movie, drink a pina colada while lounging in a hammock.

Take care of your body.  Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.  Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.  I’m including cake as part of that because it keeps me mentally well-balanced.  Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep (even if it’s drug-induced).  The “experts” also advise to avoid alcohol and drugs.   I may have to draw the line here and, again, I’m not alone.  Liquor sales have soared during the pandemic.  The primary reason given is that because restaurants were shut down people were given no choice but to drink at home.  Okay, I’ll buy that.  But given the aforementioned increase in anti-anxiety drug use, I’m guessing it’s more self-medication.

Connect with others.  Endless articles have been written in the past few weeks about the importance of talking with someone you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.  I have found this piece of advice to be the most important and the most difficult.  Many of us have relied on friends or family to fill the role of listener-in-chief.  But now I’m 6 feet apart from everyone.  I give elbow bumps where I once gave a hug.  I miss that.  And the problem is, as COVID has dragged on, most people don’t have much in reserve to cheer up anyone else.  As May drug into June I hesitated calling my girlfriends because I knew they were feeling as discouraged as I was.  It’s not fair to expect them to lift me up too. So who’s left?  The dog. It’s amazing how well Dash the Wonder Dog listens and then gives a little lick to let me know that I’ve been heard.  I’m not sure what to advise if you own a cat.  As a previous cat owner my guess is that the cat couldn’t give a shit less about your feelings.  All I know is that as we begin to open up a bit I’m looking forward to lunch with my girlfriends and a good hug.

Focus on the positive.  It’s easy to get down about all that’s going on but there are still plenty of things about which to be positive.  I’m convinced that the reason John Kraskinski’s Some Good News channel on YouTube was so wildly successful is that people crave to see all the good things that we do for one another.  If you haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favor and tune in.  It will restore your faith in mankind.  SGN also does daily updates on Facebook and Instagram, which believe me, are the best things about those social media platforms.

Be grateful.  Yes, there are a lot of people hurting right now for a lot of different reasons. But most people have something for which to be grateful.  Admittedly, sometimes that “something” is quite small, but focusing on the positive can bring an attitude change that leads to a more hopeful perspective.  Sometimes when I’m feeling down I chide myself because I know deep down that I’m really quite fortunate in many, if not most, ways.  Still, it helps when I remember that old mantra, “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”  There is always someone worse off than you and often that person has a better attitude about it so…get over yourself and be grateful for what you have.

These five pieces of advice pretty much sum up every article I read.  I guess if all else fails we could train to be astronauts and get the heck off Earth.  In the mean time, be safe and be well, everyone!