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!

Twilight Zone: The Accidental Sea

by Bob Sparrow

Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling

You are in a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. A world where your imagination is the only ticket required for passage.  Next stop: The Twilight Zone of Travel.

You’re on a dark, desert highway, cool wind in your hair, warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.  Up ahead in the distance, you see a shimmering light.  Your head grows heavy and your sight grows dim.  You had to stop . . . but not for the night.

That shimmering light is 50 miles south of Palm Desert in a place that rivals Palm Springs in popularity and draws more visitors than Yosemite.  You are on the desert floor at 223 feet below sea level.

You have arrived at the wonderfully, bazaar Salton Sea.

Salton Sea in the 50s

You are just in time to witness one of boating’s 21 world speed records, as the high salinity makes boats more buoyant and, at more than 200 feet below sea level, barometric pressure improves performance.  Speed boats, water-skiers and fishermen populate this body of water that is larger than Lake Tahoe.  Its shorelines are dotted with beach-front motels, yacht clubs and fancy restaurants.  It is a place that caters to over one million visitors a year, looking to get away and relax in the sun and possibly to invest in what is called the ‘California Riviera’.

You’re at the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club, which just opened the largest marina in southern California, where celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, the Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis and Desi Arnaz gather at this Salton Sea beachfront motel.  Your plan is to have some cocktails, a nice dinner and take in a performance by the Beach Boys, who were appearing live that evening.  The only problem . . .

You are 60 years too late!

Shoreline of the Salton Sea today

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club today

The North Shore Beach & Yacht Club no longer exists.  In fact much of what was built to lure visitors and investors to this area has been ravaged by 120-degree heat, 75 mile per hour winds but mostly by a body of water that was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, releasing water that became the Salton Sea, an ecological disaster dubbed the ‘Accidental Sea’.

1,000s of dead fish on Salton Sea’s shore

Over the years, due to the heavy alkalinity which causes a lack of oxygen in the water, the sea has become uninhabitable – in fact over 1.7 million fish died in one day . . . yes, in one day.  And if things weren’t bad enough, the Salton Sea sits directly over the San Andreas fault.

Salvation Mountain

If you continued your journey along the east shoreline of the sea, you’ll hit the not-so-bustling town of Niland, population of less than 1,000 – fewer during the summer.  From there, since you’ve already come this far, it’s just a short distance to a must-see attraction – Salvation Mountain.  Constructed by Leonard Knight, who started building the 50 foot mountain in 1984; this masterpiece is resplendent with not only biblical and religious scripture such as the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the Sinner’s Prayer, but also includes flowers, trees, waterfalls, suns, bluebirds, and many other fascinating and colorful objects.

And just when you thought that things couldn’t get any weirder, you continue east on the road another mile or two and find Slab City, ‘the last lawless place in the United States’.  And you ask yourself, can this ‘last lawless place’ really be that unsafe?  Here’s a quote from one of the residence of ‘The Slab’.

Entrance to Slab City

Slab City Library

“There are definitely some murderers in Slab City, but they would be stupid to do anything here. They might have killed people in the past but they surely won’t do it here, they are hiding. So you could say, this is one of the safest places on earth!”

OK, it’s time to get out of the sun and this Twilight Zone episode.  Thanks for joining my virtual tour; can’t wait to actually go there . . . or NOT!

THEY WERE SOLDIERS ONCE, AND YOUNG (2020)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This is my annual Memorial Day piece, written in remembrance of the boys from my high school who died in the Vietnam war. After I first published this in 2014, I heard from many people who related similar stories about the loss suffered in their home towns or, worse, their families. So this weekend, as you commemorate the holiday, please take a moment to remember all of the brave young men and women we’ve lost in conflict.

Five boys from my high school were killed in the Vietnam War. For a small town like Novato, that was an enormous number. We were such a close-knit community that even if we didn’t know one of them personally, we knew a sibling or friend. So on my trip to Washington D.C. last month I scheduled time to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see their names on “The Wall”. To refresh my memory I pulled out my high school year books and found them all – smiling for a formal portrait or posing for a team picture. Each image reflected a boy, fresh-faced and full of hope, his life stretching out before him. I looked at those young faces and found it hard to believe that their lives ended so soon after the bucolic days captured in the photos. None of them reached the age of 22, their dreams extinguished on the battlefield. While we, their classmates, lived long enough to enjoy the internet, smart phones and streaming movies, most of them didn’t live long enough to see color television. I reflected on the stories I’ve read of WWII vets who speak so reverently of the “boys who didn’t come home”. As I perused the yearbooks I finally understood their sentiment. It is only when looking back through a 50 year lens that one can appreciate just how young these soldiers were and how many of life’s milestones they missed. So on this Memorial Day, I’d like to pay tribute to “The Boys from Novato”.

Robert Johnson
Bob Johnson joined the Army in the fall of 1965, in what would have been his Senior year in high school. I remember him as a quiet guy, but very nice. Before he enlisted he asked his high school sweetheart to marry him – it would give them both something to hang on to while he was gone. His entry into the service occurred just as the war was escalating. He was sent to Vietnam in March of 1966 and three weeks later he was killed by enemy gunfire during “Operation Abilene” in Phuoc Tuy Province. As his former classmates excitedly anticipated prom and graduation, Robert had already made the ultimate sacrifice. In the 1966 yearbook, where his senior portrait would have been, his mother placed this photo of him in uniform along with a tribute. He was the first Vietnam casualty from Novato.

 

Mike Tandy

Mike Tandy graduated from NHS in 1965. His sisters, Sue and Sarah, also attended NHS. Mike was very smart and participated in the first swim team our high school fielded. He was an Eagle Scout and according to his friend Neil Cuzner, “he was highly intelligent, a great guy and an excellent scout. He was in the Senior Patrol and a young leader of our troop. He lead by example”. After graduation Mike joined the Marine reserves and was called up in January, 1966. He was sent to Vietnam shortly after that. On September 8th he was on patrol in Quang Nam with another soldier when his footfall detonated a landmine. He was killed instantly. He had celebrated his 19th birthday just five days prior. His classmates had moved on – either to college or working – but the Tandy family was left to grieve the loss of their son and brother. In 2005 Sarah posted to the virtual Vietnam Wall: “Thanks to all of you who come here and remember Mike. All of our lives were changed and I thank you for not forgetting.”

 

Allan Nelson

Allan Nelson played football at College of Marin with my brother, Bob. Allan’s sister, Joanne, was in Bob’s class and his brother, Steve, was in mine. So we were well aware when Allan was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in July, 1966 at the age of 20. Five months later, on December 1, we were devastated to learn he had been killed by gunfire during a battle in Binh Dinh Province. I still remember the day Steve came to school after Allan’s death; red-faced with tears streaming down his cheeks. He had always been such a happy guy but was now changed in ways that were hard for 16 year-old kids to understand. As I look back now, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to go home from school each day and face parents who were shattered by grief. Joanne posted the following on a memorial page and perhaps sums it up the best: “Allan was my brother, not just a brother, he was my best friend. All I know is December 1, 1966 was the saddest time for me and my family. My family loved each other so much, but when Al was killed the joy died in my family. Allan had his whole life planned. He had just turned 21 on Oct. 20th. When we were young, he couldn’t wait to be 21. I am so sorry for all the families that lost a son and a brother. It will be 33 years in Dec. The everyday sad feelings of loss are gone but on special days it still hurts.”

Jim Gribbin

Jim Gribbin graduated from NHS in 1966. He was on the football team and very active in school clubs and was well-liked by everyone who knew him. He joined the Army Reserves and when called up, became part of the Special Forces where he rose to the rank of Captain. He served two tours of duty in an elite MIKE unit. In March 1970 his unit was on a night defensive mission in Kontum Province when they were ambushed by enemy troops. Jim sacrificed his own safety by running into open territory – twice – to aid and retrieve wounded soldiers under his command. He was shot both times and taken to a rear medical facility where he died from his wounds. Ironically, for this affable Irishman, he succumbed on St. Patrick’s Day. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for Valor. Jim’s dad was a veteran of WWII who died in 2011. He requested to be placed in the same grave with Jim, with his name and vitals carved on the back of Jim’s headstone. One can only imagine the grief that he carried all those years. Hopefully he is at peace now that they are forever reunited. A complete stranger paid tribute to Jim in 2018 on the date of his death. You can read my post about it here: https://fromabirdseyeview.com/?p=7111

Wayne Bethards

Wayne “Ed” Bethards was in my graduating class, but I didn’t know him well. His family moved to Novato just before the start of our senior year. His mother, Betty Bethards, was the author of the international best-seller, “The Dream Book”. Again, Neil Cuzner has provided a bit more insight: “Wayne was a good person. He had a great love of baseball and had actually started a small league while over in Nam. He was sharing his love of baseball with the Vietnamese children.” Cuzner went on to say that Wayne was a religious person and did not want to kill anyone; he struggled greatly with his deployment. He was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in October of 1970. In January, 1971, he was killed while on patrol by the accidental detonation of a mechanical device in Quang Tin Province. He was the last boy from Novato High School to die in the war.

 

Jerry Sims

In April, 2017, I heard from a former schoolmate, Dennis Welsh, about Jerry Sims, a boy who died in the conflict whose hometown was listed as Novato. I found in my research that sometimes the Novato “hometown” designation were for those affiliated with Hamilton Air Force Base, not graduates of Novato High School. Since there were no records of Jerry at NHS I assumed Jerry was from Hamilton, but that was not the case. Dennis told me that Jerry moved to Novato from Texas in the Spring of 1966 to live with his sister. He tried out for the football team during spring training and made the squad. But despite that automatic inclusion into a social group, he was unhappy living in California and being the “new kid” going into his Senior year. Dennis said that he never saw him again after football tryouts and didn’t learn of his fate until he spotted Jerry’s name on “The Wall”. The fact is that Jerry left Novato and joined the Army in June, 1966 and was sent to Vietnam in November. On February 6, 1968 he and several others in his unit were killed by small arms fire in Gia Dinh province. Jerry was 19 years old. His former platoon leader said this on his memorial page: “I was Jerry’s platoon leader on the day he died. He didn’t have to be there, since he had a job elsewhere in Vietnam, but he requested a transfer. He had already spent a year with the Wolfhounds, but for reasons all his own, he wanted to come back to this unit. He died doing his job as a squad leader in my platoon.” It would seem Jerry finally found his home – and some peace – with his Army brethren.

When I visited “The Wall” I found the boys from Novato, each name etched on that long expanse of granite. I thought about their families and the sorrow they endured. It was overwhelming to realize that same sorrow replicated 58,286 times. Each of the names on that black, shiny surface represent a family forever destroyed. As I walked along the pathway I looked at all of the mementos that were left as tributes to the fallen – notes, flowers and flags mostly. But then I spotted something different – a tribute from Jim Dart to his brother, Larry. It was a Kingston Trio album (pictured left), along with a note about the good times they shared learning the guitar and singing songs together. I was overcome with emotion reading Jim’s note. My brother, Bob, owned that same album. He and his best friend, Don, often entertained our family playing their guitars and singing songs from that record. Bob was a Naval officer in Japan during the Vietnam war and was safely returned to us. I wept as I stood looking at the album, realizing that but for the grace of God – and military orders – how easily it could have been Bob’s name on that wall and me leaving a Kingston Trio album in his memory. I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without him. I ached for Sue and Sarah and Joanne and Steve and all the other siblings who never got to see gray hair on their brother’s head; their family gatherings forever marred by a gaping hole where their brother should have been. When I stooped down to take the photo I noticed that several other visitors had stopped to look at it too. As I glanced at those who were of a certain age I could see my own feelings reflected in their eyes. We know how much of life these boys missed. We mourn their loss – and ours.

*YOUR* GOOD

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

There have been many collective revelations over the past several weeks, but a new appreciation for teachers certainly ranks near the top.  Parents who have been required to work from home, with all the technological hiccups that engenders, have also been expected to home school their children.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that wine sales have soared in the past two months.  If I were the head of the teacher’s union I’d be forming a strategy for pay raises.  In fact, low pay was one of the primary reasons I decided not to become a teacher.  That, and I have little patience, which seems to be a requirement for working with six year old children.  Twenty years ago I was president of a non-profit organization that paired business people with local elementary schools.  We spent an hour a week reading to an underperforming child.  I loved it and an hour a week was enough to scratch my teacher itch.  But once a year we “played” at being the principal for a day.  I shadowed the principal, dealt with teacher/student issues, heard about heart-breaking home situations from CPS and tried to reconcile the annual budget.  I couldn’t even make it a full day.  After four hours I fled back to my comfortable office.  I am not proud of that, but it forever cemented for me that I had made the right career decision.

I had some good and bad teachers over the years.  I suspect that’s true for everyone.  Like any other profession, there is a wide range of talent and effectiveness among educators.  I was lucky enough to have three teachers whose examples, guidance and talent have stuck with me all my life.  Of the three, the very best was my high school English teacher, Bette Reese.  Until I landed in her class I was a middling student, with low self-confidence and grades to match.  I was more focused on boys and socializing than schoolwork.  Ms. Reese was a task master, constantly correcting grammar, spelling and composition.  She introduced me to Hemingway, Camus and Dostoevsky – pretty heady stuff for a high school junior.  I so wanted to please her that I found myself working harder and – miracle of miracles  – I became an “A” student.  Ms. Reese and I formed a friendship – I introduced her to Rod McKuen, the poet laureate of 60’s pop culture, and she took me under her wing, helping me to better appreciate good writing and the importance of using correct grammar.  I was lucky enough to be in her Advanced English class my Senior year, where my education was further honed by her unrelenting, steely resolve to make something of me.

 

I’ve been thinking of Ms. Reese during this lock-down as I have spent more time watching the news and reading social media.  I’ve been appalled by the number of people unable to write a cogent sentence.  In general, I am a bit of a stickler for grammar (although regular readers of this blog can attest that I make quite a few errors), but I’ve been brought to the brink of insanity the past two months.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – they are all swamplands of bad grammar.   The most common mistake I see is people confusing “your” with “you’re”.  Clearly they were behind the schoolhouse door the day that contractions were discussed.  I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has posted “Your the best” or “Your going to love this!”.  Ugh. There is no escaping the your/you’re error.  We received an invitation to a tony club opening in Northern California where the front of the card screamed, “YOUR INVITED”.  How many managers had to review that advertisement before it went to the printer?  I decided if they weren’t smart enough to know the English language I wasn’t dumb enough to give them my money.   TV news readers make so many grammatical errors that I can’t decide whether they skipped journalism school altogether or their scripts are written by a third grade dropout.  Whatever the excuse, it’s clear they never learned the difference between “well” and “good”. The reports on the COVID pandemic have generated a common question asked of or by reporters: “How are you doing?”.  About 1,000 times in the past two months the answer has been, “I’m doing good.”.  OMG – NO!  “Good” is used only as an adjective, as in, she makes a good Christmas cookie.  “Well” is an adjective or adverb, as in, I don’t feel well after eating her damned Christmas cookie.  

I wish everyone had been fortunate enough to have had a Ms. Reese in their lives.  There is nothing better than a teacher who instills an appreciation for a subject that gets buried deep in your soul.  Ms. Reese left my high school two years after I graduated and became an English and Journalism professor at College of Marin.  She eventually became the faculty advisor to the student newspaper where no doubt she used her magic on many aspiring journalists.  Sadly, Bette Reese died in 1979 at the age of 44 from pancreatic cancer.  To this day the college awards the Bette Reese Memorial Scholarship to a talented journalism student.  I can only hope they are maintaining her high standards, but I’m not optimistic.  If Ms. Reese were still alive she could make a fortune correcting the grammar of most journalists.  But I guess the point of a good teacher is that we carry on for them, sharing the knowledge they so generously shared with us.  So in the name of Bette Reese I’m going to continue to scream at the infractions on the news channels and social media.  Somewhere, somehow, I just know Ms. Reese is cheering me on.

Stir Crazy? Cabin Fever? Vinophobia?

by Bob Sparrow

Under the heading of ‘Is the cure worse than the disease? I offer some help to those who are going stir-crazy or are experiencing cabin fever.

First some clinical definitions:

‘StirCrazy’, derived from the use of stir to mean ‘prison’; a person is stir-crazy if they are experiencing isolation from civilization.

‘Cabin fever’ refers to the distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended period of time.

You may also want to be on the lookout for ‘vinophobia’ – the fear of running out of wine while in isolation.

Are these ‘diseases’ real psychiatric diagnosis?  No, but they are real things.  Following are some suggestions by clinical psychologist, Joel Klapow, who wrote the suggestions to help people who are cooped up during a snowy winter, but I think you’ll see that they apply to us all during this ‘covid confinement’.  He says . . .

“These maladies are basically your mind’s way of telling you that the environment you are in is less than optimal for normal functioning.  It’s when you’re in a space of restricted freedom for a period of time that you can no longer tolerate.” He offers the following remedies (I offer my snappy rejoinders, following in italics) 

  1. Change your diet

Avoid high carb, high-fat foods, which can make you feel even more inactive. Instead, seek out lean proteins that contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. These can boost your mood, and often contain B12 and vitamin D, which help regulate your emotions.  (This is where that vinophobia comes in – I don’t know about all that omega-3, B-12 crap, but under no circumstance should you take wine out of your diet)

  1. Get outside 

Time in the sun will give you access to Vitamin D, which will boost your mood. (It will also get you away from your spouse and/or family that is by now on your last nerve)

  1. Get regular exercise 

Don’t feel like you need to go to the gym. Anything you do to keep your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day will help your mood. You can just go for a walk, or make a small change in your daily routine to see big changes in your spirits!! (What could be healthier than a good walk to the wine store?  It will be like lifting weights on the way home)

  1. Have a family game night

Get your kids – and yourself – away from computer/tablet/phone screens for a few hours and bond over some board games or puzzles.  (If the board games fail, try hide and seek, but once the family hides, don’t seek)

  1. Throw a party 

While it was nice to bond with your family over a marathon game of Monopoly, you might want to interact with other people. So consider planning a small party for friends or neighbors. Planning and preparing for the event will keep you active and help pass the time. With nice weather you can gather outside.  (My sense is that the most popular ‘party’ will be the party of the first part or the party of the second part in a divorce law suit)

  1. Change your decor

Sometimes, all it takes to make your surroundings feel different is a new look. Hang a picture or some other wall art or simply rearrange your furniture. (A new look could also include a face-lift, hair replacement or a . . . Oh, he’s talking about changing the look of your house – OK, move)

7. Avoid binge-watching 

Catching an entire season of the latest Netflix or Amazon series might seem tempting while you’re so confined, but . . . (there are not buts!  It’s the only thing that makes being cooped up tolerable – sorry I’m not going to feel guilty about that!!)  

8. Take up an indoor hobby 

Being forced inside can give you time to catch up on work or tackle a home improvement project you’ve been putting off. But you’ve also been given a chance to try out a new hobby; be creative – what have you always been interested in, but never had the time to do? (I tend to disagree with Mr. Klapow here, I am already heavily involved in two hobbies, binge-watching the latest Netflix or Amazon series and wine drinking.  My day is full!)

  1. Open the shades

You’ll not only make your surroundings feel brighter, but you’ll also help warm your house.  Once the sun has set, you may want to add ambiance, charm, and light to your rooms with some unique and stylish lighting.  (My surroundings will feel brighter when they are no longer my surroundings.  You want to brighten something up?  Put your ambient charm where the sun don’t shine)

  1. Think spring

We don’t just mean “Keep a positive attitude!” (Although that’s important too). Think about what you want to do when (he had when the snow melts, but for us it’s ) the pandemic is over and things warm up: adventures to take, an gatherings to plan, and new additions and changes to a new life-style.  Cabin fever doesn’t last, but we will. (Think spring my ass, it IS spring and it still sucks; I’m thinking 2021).  

As always, we here at ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’ are here to help you make it through the week.