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!

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)

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.

 

 

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!

How Terribly Strange to Be 70

by Bob Sparrow

“How terribly strange to be 70”  Old FriendsSimon & Garfunkel

Steve, Terry, Ken, Kent & Ed using ‘aiming fluid’ at Top Golf

We came in the mid-1960s as young men, boys really, to Westminster College, a Christian college that sits at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains on the East Bench of Salt Lake City, for only one reason . . . football. We just wanted to play the game.  While our destination was the same, our paths were quite diverse.  Some came right out of high school, some came after a year or two of junior college, some came from a Division 1 school where they were never going to play and some came because they knew they were never going to play anywhere else.  And while we all came for the game of football, we left with great friendships, great memories and a college degree that positioned us for success later in life.

The ‘we’ is a group of 11 Westminster graduates, all 70-something, who gathered in Las Vegas two weeks ago for an informal reunion put together by my old college roommate and running back on the football team, Ken Poulsen.  You may think that 11 isn’t very many people to gather for a reunion, well, actually only 9 were football players, but that still represented nearly half of our team!  The non-football players, but still successful graduates of Westminster were Dave Chally, who was a fan and a friends to us all, and John Soltis, our ‘spokesman’ who played basketball for Westminster.

Chally & Hall awaiting instructions from Ken

While Ken had planned a number of activities for us – Top Golf, bowling and attending a comedy club show, most of the entertainment came from the recalling of stories and antics from our college days.  Listening to them would make one wonder if or how this group ever made it through college, much less enjoy any success after it, but indeed this was actually a very accomplished group:

Ken ‘Little Poison’ Poulsen – running back; after graduation joined the Marines, was a Bombardier/Navigator in a A-6 jet during the Viet Nam war.  Earned Master Degree in Education and ultimately became Superintendent of Schools in the Sacramento area, now retired with two homes in Arizona, one in the desert, one in the mountains.

Terry ‘TC’ Callahan – tight end; after graduation he was drafted into the Army and became a combat medic seeing lots of action in Viet Nam.  After the service he earned a Masters Degree and worked as a Probation Officer and did background investigations for the Department of Defense. Retired, he now has two homes in Utah, one just south of Salt Lake City, the other in St. George.

John Soltis addressing us at our ‘Awards Banquet’

Joel ‘Herbie’ Hall – running back; joined the Marines after graduation and flew helicopters  (Huey gun ships) in Viet Nam receiving 28 air medals.  He then had a 32-year career with the 3M company.  Now retired in the Atlanta area and has a second home in Jensen Beach, Florida.

(Editors note: I wrote a previous blog on the above three guy after we all met in Vegas in 2017 – here’s the link in case you want to read more.  https://fromabirdeyeview/?p=6648)

John ‘Tiger’ Horan – wide receiver; after graduation became a Navy officer and was a Bombardier/Navigator in an A-6 jet and remained in the Navy retiring after 23 years as a Lieutenant Commander.  John is retired and living in Kanab, Utah and teaching a high school aviation technology class.

Mickey ‘Mick’ McBride – lineman; received Masters Degree in Educational Administration, was a teacher and coach and ultimately retired as high school principal

Steve ‘Hands’ Harmon – wide receiver; Steve transferred to Cal State Hayward where he earned a Ph D in Public Health and now teaches at the University of Utah and works for the Veterans Health Care Administration in Salt Lake City.

Ken, Duffy, Horan & Mick ‘telling lies’

Ed ‘Coop’ Cooper – running back; graduated with a business degree and went on to earn a Masters Degree from the University of Utah.  Ed  worked for Martin Marietta for 38 years, the last 25 has a Regional Sales Manager.  He is now retired in Salt Lake City.

Kent ‘Kicking Lawyer’ Holland – lineman; after graduation became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, then attended law school at the University of Pacific and continues to practice law in Salt Lake City.

Dave ‘Electric’ Chally – friend & fan; after graduation he worked for NECA (National Electric Contractors Association) in northern California, where he grew up, then moved with the company to Spokane where he became Executive Director for the Pacific Northwest for NECA; he is still working for them in Spokane.

John ‘Duffy’ Soltis – basketball player and orator; graduated with a degree in Sociology, which he didn’t know what to do with so ended up going to law school in San Diego and returned to Utah with his law degree and worked in various positions with the Salk Lake County District Attorney’s office.

A pretty impressive group if you ask me!  And that doesn’t include some Westminster ex-players who didn’t attend the reunion, like:

Parsons at the ‘First Supper’

Craig ‘Doc’ Wilkinson – receiver; graduated with mathematics major and minor in physics and chemistry, joined Army Reserves with the 328th General Hospital Unit, went on to earn medical doctor’s degree from University of Utah and has practiced general and vascular surgery in Salt Lake City for 35 years.

Steve ‘Sugar Bear’ Kazor – lineman; BS degree from Westminster and a Masters Degree from Kansas State.  Coach in the NFL for the  1985 Super Bowl Chicago Bears and continues to work in the NFL in player personnel.

Scott ‘The I’ Iverson – basketball player; served in the Marine Corp prior to coming to Westminster, where he earned a BS degree and then a Masters Degree from BYU.  He taught and coached high school in Utah and Arizona.  He is now retired in Utah

I’m holding my Worst Bowler ‘Stay with Football’ Award’!

But the three nights in Vegas weren’t about accomplishments, it was about hilarious stories and the rekindling of old friendships that could never die.  I came away with pride of being a member of this group and with a big smile on my face thinking of the stories about our days as the fighting Westminster Parsons.

Not so terrible to be in your 70s!

 

 

Polo Anyone?

by Bob Sparrow

  I’ll tell you about my trip to the desert two weekends ago to watch the polo matches, but if you’re not staying where we did, the home of the greatest host and hostess on the planet, Walter & Patty Schwartz, you’re not going to have nearly as good a time as we did.  The ‘we’ is Jack & JJ Budd, Chuck & Linda Sager and Linda & me.  The six of us were invited by the Schwarz’s to stay in their beautiful, magnificently-decorated home in the gate-guarded community of ‘The Polo Club’ in Indio for the weekend, to attend the polo matches on Sunday at the Empire Polo Club.

We arrived Saturday afternoon and were warmly greeted by the Schwartz’s.  Walt is an interesting and engaging guy, who plays straight-man to Patty’s razor-sharp, dead-pan humor; they kept us fed, watered, entertained and in stitches the whole weekend.

We arrived on Saturday at ‘Happy Hour’, although I’m thinking that every hour is happy in this place.  I’m telling you, the Ritz doesn’t have this kind of food and beverage spread; we saw plate-full after plate-full of delicious appetizers everywhere we looked.  Walt was offering us any and every drink possible, while Patty, who is an amazing cook, was preparing the most interesting and tasty meatloaf I’ve ever had.  I took an oath not to say what was in it, truth is I don’t know, but it was delicious.

Getting ready to stomp divots

I know so little about polo that I rushed for a good seat by the pool.  But in fact the matches, on Sunday, were on the magnificent ground where Stage Coach and  the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place each year.

On this day we were going to see two matches, the USPA (United States Polo Association) Amateur Cup Finals and the USPA Presidents Cup Finals.  The festivities started with the Player Parade and Salute with a horse and rider racing around the polo field, which is about 300 yard long and 160 yards wide, streaming an American flag as the Star Spangled Banner was sung by someone with an amazing voice.

Tack Room Tavern

I could bore you with polo positions like Hustler and Pivot or the number of chukkers in a game or why even left-handers have to play right-handed, but I think I’ll bore you with some other little known and less cared about facts.  There are four players on each team and they wear the numbers 1,2,3 and 4 – always!  Did you know that they do not use the end of the ‘mallet’ to hit the ball, as you would in croquet, but rather use the sides of the mallet?   Polo horses are very highly skilled, high-speed Thoroughbreds, whose manes are clipped off and whose tails are braided in order to keep them out of the way of the mallet.  OK, enough, but one of the more interesting parts of a polo match is halftime, when flutes of champagne are provided for all the fans to grab and go out onto the field to stomp divots.  Who won?  Beats me – the red and white team won the first game, the team in the dark jerseys won the second, I think, we left early to get a good seat at the Tack Room Tavern, a great place for food and drink not far from the field.

Ho, Zellweger and Phoenix

Sunday evening was back at the ‘Schwartz Chalet’ for more food and drink and to watch the Academy Awards on their 700 inch TV, at least it seemed that big, although I may have been sitting fairly close.  While I didn’t need a lecture on life from actors Joaquin Phoenix or Renée Zellweger, I think it might have been fun to have gone “drinking until morning” with Parasite director, Bong Joon Ho.

A big THANK YOU to Walt and Patty for a most enjoyable weekend.

Post Script: A few days after returning home, I received an hermetically-sealed envelope from Patty with a note that read, “Laundering fees are yet to be determined” – it was a pair of my underwear.  Not sure where I left them, but our super hostess made sure I got them back . . .  cleaner than I left them!

 

 

Big Island – Photos & Travel Tips

by Bob Sparrow

Six at sunset

As those who have been there know, landing in Kona at Keahole Airport on the Big Island of Hawaii is like what I imagine it would be like landing at Jurassic Park International Airport while the earth was still cooling.  Black lava dominates the landscape all around the airport and you wonder if there is really any civilization down there.  But indeed, there is.

Linda and I were invited, along with Jack & JJ Budd, to Chuck & Linda Sager’s timeshare at the Hilton Grand Waikoloa.  We arrived at the complex’s tiki bar just in time to watch the second half of the 49er-Viking game.  While the outcome pleased this life-long Niner fan; Linda, a Minnesota native and avid Viking fan, was not that happy, but looking forward to a week in Hawaii seemed to assuage the pain of the loss.

Showing rain everyday, except the day we’re leaving!

Typically, the colors of the Big Island are a mix of azure blue skies reflecting a sea-foam green ocean, contrasting with uneven natural black lava outcroppings against a variety of lush verdant golf courses, but this week Mother Nature had another color in mind . . . gray.  The weather for the week showed rain every day.  It’s no secret why Hawaii is so green!

But we were going to have fun anyway, and as usual, the weatherman was wrong, in fact aside from our first round of golf at Kalani Country Club (previously known as the Big Island Country Club) in a light rain, we never really experienced much precipitation.   Even in the rain, Kalani was one of the most simply beautiful courses I’ve played – because it’s ‘out of the way’ in the mountain and it was raining, hardly anyone was on the course so we played as a six-some – a most enjoyable welcome round to the Big Island.

As a ‘travel blogger’ of sorts, I feel an obligation to share some of the things learned on this trip; so following are a few travel tips.

Kona Country Club

1st Travel tip: Golf – If you come to the Big Island to play golf, forget the expensive ‘named’ courses like Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea (we played those and we all got across the ocean on the beautiful 15th hole at Mauna Lani and the 3rd hole, from the tips, at Mauna Kea: Big deal!) and play Kalani and the Kona Country Club (south of Kona) – great lay-outs, ocean and mountain views, less crowded and much less expensive!

2nd Travel tip: Food – Breakfast was mostly in with all of us enjoying Jack’s smoothies, some delicious bagels, some cheese eggs and some Kona coffee – although we did find some delicious banana pancakes at several locations, which I would recommend.  Lunch was usually late after golf at places like the beach at Mauna Kea Hotel which is looking a little tired these days, Tommy Bahamas in Mauna Lani, or at ‘On The Rocks’ in downtown Kona.  We BBQed a couple dinners at our condo and went to Roy’s for a nice dinner, where we met Wayne Newton.  But the best travel tip on food is making sure that you find the Malasadas truck parked along the main highway and stop and get a Portuguese doughnut or 12.  Eat them while they’re hot, they are delicious!

‘On the Rocks’ Kona

Wayne Newton asking to join the Monday Knights

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Malasadas Truck, where Jack & Chuck found a couple of tomatoes

 

 

 

3rd Travel tip: Entertainment – If you like magic and comedy, you will love the Kona Kozy Magic & Comedy Show in the Mauna Lani shopping center, next to Tommy Bahamas.  It’s a small theater, probably no more than 30 seats; we were six of about 12 people in attendance that night.  He is very funny, he does some great magic and gets the audience engaged.  You can have dinner next door at the Pele Wok restaurant like we did and bring your own alcohol to his show – I think we brought in a case of wine.  A very entertaining evening

Final Travel tip: Drink – If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island in the near future and like wine, you should plan on bringing your own, as we depleted the island of most of its supply while we were there.

No trip to Kona is complete without a visit to the spectacularly gigantic Kona Waikoloa Hilton Hotel, which we visited on our last evening there and watched a beautiful sunset – yes, the weather was clearing up just as we were clearing out.

Sunset on our last night at Waikoloa

A special thanks to Chuck Sager, who knows this island like the back of his hand and was able to get us to all the roads less traveled by most tourists.

 

Wine Down to 2020

by Bob Sparrow

(The first part of this blog was accidentally posted last week as I made the first of many errors to come by putting 2019 in place of 2020.  Sorry to those who read the first half, but I encourage you to finish it, you might be surprised at the ending)

South Coast Winery – Temecula

I will drink no more . . . or no less.

I will lose, wait, no I’ll win

I will exercise . . . better judgement about exercising

No, this blog will not be resolutions that will vanish like a dog’s dinner by the end of January or about resolutions at all.  It’s about wine . . . sort of.

In spite of being born and raised just miles from America’s greatest wine region, Napa-Sonoma, I am no oenophile and definitely not a ‘wine snob’, although I will admit to often remarking, “I am too old to drink cheap wine.”  Which is why my trip to the Temecula wine region some 20 years ago was most disappointing – really bad wine.

Temecula Creek Inn

Fast forward to this past New Year’s holiday when a group of neighbors planned a trip to the Temecula wine region.  We would be staying at the Temecula Creek Inn, playing golf there and  . . . wine tasting.  It sounded like fun, except for the wine tasting.  I figured I could bring a couple of bottles of ‘good’ northern California wine and not have to drink the swill from Temecula.

I was not alone in my opinion of Temecula wine; wine experts from all over the world were rating their wines as too sweet, the aromas funky and lacking in complexity and flavors like those found in Napa or even Paso Robles.  In fact, some reviews of the Temecula wines said things like, “flavors that were not all that appealing – they smelled like burning tires or rotting cabbage.”  So the region, which consists of 33,000 acres about 85 miles southeast of Los Angeles, became known for bachelorette limo tasting tours and sub-par wine.

So, if you get invited to go wine tasting in Temecula . . . Go!

Yes, you read that right, go.

Glassy Winged Sharpshooter

Mark my words, as someone who wouldn’t have made the short trip to Temecula to taste wine if they’d sent a limo for me, there has been an amazing turn-around not only in the wine being produced, but in the atmosphere created in the 40+ wineries located there.

How was this dramatic turn-around made?  It’s complicated and includes everything from pH factors to the glassy-winged sharpshooter! The sharpshooter is a bug that was responsible for destroying 40% of the vineyards in the Temecula valley in the 1990s, which made the vintners start all over by solving the pH problem as well as creating proper vine balance and better irrigation practices.  They also planted more Italian, Rhone and Spanish varietals which are better suited to Temecula’s Mediterranean climate.

Balloons over Temecula vineyards

I don’t pretend to know anything about what I just wrote, but I tasted the wine and found my favorites, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Super Tuscany, all very good; Chardonnays and other whites were also very tasty.  It’s not Napa or Paso Robles, but it’s much improved and they’ve done a great job of making the wineries and tasting rooms aesthetically, well, wine country-like .  Additionally, unlike most other wine areas in California, Temecula allows restaurants at its wineries.  The main ‘wine trail’ in Temecula is Rancho California Road where you can find most of the major wineries as well as some beautiful homes in the surrounding hills – it’s really become a pretty classy area.  You can get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of it all via hot air balloons, whose colorful canopies populate the morning Temecula sky.

So the new year for me began with an unexpected pleasant surprise – hopefully a harbinger of things to come for us all this year.

Italy’s Foto Finish

by Bob Sparrow

As I recall the ride back from Italy went something like this: Sunday afternoon, van from Cinque Terre to Florence, dinner at sidewalk cafe, pick up at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning to go to Florence airport, fly from Florence to Paris, because of 6+ hour layover, we arranged for a tour of Paris, drove down the Champs-Elysees, drove by the Eiffel Tower, Arch de Triumph, Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum, stopped for a French pastry then drove back to the airport for flight to LAX, arriving Monday night at 7:30. Time on the ground in Florence, Paris and L.A. all in one day – that was a long day!

I am finally able to download some of my photos, so here’s a few that will punctuate the end of our fabulous journey.

 

Here’s the ‘Dirty Dozen’ enjoying a drink at the beach in Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ‘moon shot’ of David

Pasta and tiramisu cooking class outside of Pisa

Restaurant high above Monterosso (I think we had wine that night)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob resting on a bed of rocks – and he wonders why his back hurts

 

 

 

 

 

 

A common sight – the girls ignoring us guys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Alderly Lane’ table

 

 

Patrick taking a small bit of his steak

 

 

 

 

The ‘Ridgeway Road’ table

Linda having 3 quick cocktails

Spooky Nazi bunker in Italy

Hilltop village of Montecatini Alto

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beach in Cinque Terre

Coming down the funicular at night – a memorable experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone forgot to turn the light off on the Eiffel Tower

Doing one of his ‘stand up’ routine on the bus, Sergio turned a very good trip into a GREAT trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the sun sets over Tuscany, I’d like the thank our awesome travel partners, Mark & Kathy Johnson, Patrick & Pam Michael, Mike & Tanis Nelson, Bob & Jeanna Pacelli and Rob & Stefanie Warren, for helping to make this a most-memorable trip.

A final sunset in beautiful Tuscany